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Amid airstrikes, pride and anger divide Lebanese

Many Shiites support Hezbollah, but others are angry about being caught in the fighting.

Published July 16, 2006

BEIRUT, Lebanon - A mother choked up as she thought of her children stuck in south Lebanon, where Israeli bombing is fiercest. A restaurateur railed against Hezbollah for sparking the conflict. A refugee pledged her life to the militant group.

After four days of a massive Israeli offensive triggered by Hezbollah's capture of two Israeli soldiers, Lebanese remained divided Saturday over the guerrillas' operation. Some were angry, confused and terrified of what comes next. Others took pride in what they saw as a feat no Arab government has accomplished.

The split is mostly along sectarian lines, with Shiites largely supporting the Shiite militant group's action and most Sunnis, Christians and Druze opposing it.

"No one has stood up to Israel the way the resistance (Hezbollah) has," said Laila Remeiti, one of about 130 people sheltering in a school after fleeing Shiite areas south of Beirut.

"The least people can do is support it," the 33-year-old housewife said.

Refugees, many given stoves and foam mattresses by Hezbollah, jostled with each other to express a similar sentiment.

"Although we have been displaced, we remain ready to give up our children and men for the resistance," Huda Faqih, 42, said. "And we shall prevail."

The mood was similar outside a closed restaurant in downtown Beirut built over the rubble of the 1975-90 civil war.

"We tell the Israelis and Americans, we're not scared," said chef Hussein Haj Ali, smoking and discussing the situation with friends.

"So what if the closure means I won't get paid at the end of the month?" he added. "Others are paying with their blood."

At least 106 Lebanese have died, mostly civilians, and the mood was grim at a shuttered Italian restaurant, where managers and cooks discussed how to minimize financial losses.

"I'm more than upset," said Michel Ferneini, general manager of the company that owns the restaurant. "Hezbollah has no logic at all."

"You can repair a bridge that has been destroyed, but you cannot repair the eyes of the people who watch people dying under the bridge," Ferneini said.

Hazem Saghieh, a senior Lebanese columnist with the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, reflected that view.

"It's inappropriate for us at the best of times to trade a whole people and country for a couple of kidnapped Israeli soldiers," he wrote Friday. "It's as if we're admitting that one Israeli soldier ... is equal to half the Lebanese population."

Along with the tone of defiance at the school sheltering Shiite refugees, some families expressed concern for their children.

Sahar Faqih was preoccupied with finding milk for her firstborn, a 6-week-old boy sleeping on a small mattress atop of two desks.

"I'm scared, especially since I have a baby," she said. "I've secured some diapers and I hope I'll find the brand of milk I want."

At another school, others worried about loved ones in the south, cut off because Israel has bombed bridges and roads to that region.

"I sent my three children to my mother-in-law's in the south last week," said Ghada Hasan, 25. "And now I cannot reach them.

"I call her and ask her to take care of them. There's nothing else I can do," she added, turning away to wipe her tears.

[Last modified July 16, 2006, 02:18:18]

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