July 20, 2006

Pictures only sign of Nasrallah in hit Beirut area

By Tom Perry

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah stares defiantly
from posters in Burj al-Barajneh but residents say the
Hizbollah leader was safely elsewhere when Israeli jets bombed
the southern Beirut suburb aiming to kill him.

Israeli military sources said dozens of warplanes dropped
23 tons of explosives on Wednesday night at a site where it
said intelligence showed senior Hizbollah leaders were
sheltering in a bunker.

They struck and partly destroyed a mosque and Islamic
community center being built in the poor Shi'ite area -- hit
for the first time during the latest war between the Shi'ite
militant group and Israel.

Beirut residents heard just three large explosions and
people at the site on Thursday said no one had been killed in
the bombardment. Hizbollah also said in a statement none of its
leaders died.

"They say this is a military target, where are the weapons?
It's a mosque for prayer," said one resident, who declined to
be named, as he surveyed the damage.

Part of the concrete structure was destroyed, its steel
girders exposed. The blast uprooted trees and shattered the
windows of surrounding apartment blocks.

Israel has targeted Hizbollah leaders several times since
the conflict erupted on July 12, including strikes last Friday
that destroyed the building housing Nasrallah's apartment and a
main Hizbollah office in southern Beirut.


With more than 300 people killed in Lebanon by Israeli
forces in the last nine days, most Burj al-Barajneh residents
had already left their homes and drawn down shop shutters,
apparently expecting the worst.

But a few remained. "I will not go. This is my country,"
said Maha Lutf as she took photos of the damage using her
mobile phone. The Lebanese government says the fighting has
displaced 500,000 people.

Najah Burro and her family dashed to a shelter in the
basement of a nearby apartment block.

"We were terrified, shrapnel flew everywhere," she said,
unmoved by the distant thud of another explosion.

"It was like an earthquake," said Abu Saleh, whose home was
just metres from the bomb.

Israel has said its bombardment will last as long as
necessary to free two soldiers captured by Hizbollah and to
ensure the disarmament of the guerrilla group, which has killed
29 Israelis in the recent fighting.

Hizbollah has fired barrages of rockets into Israel,
reaching as far as the coastal city of Haifa for the first
time. Nasrallah last appeared on television on Sunday after a
deadly Haifa strike to say the conflict was just beginning.

"Believe me. To Haifa and beyond," read the slogan on one
of the portraits of the Hizbollah leader in Burj al-Barajneh.