A bloody footprint stains Lebanon 200,000 Lebanese flee Israeli shelling


TYRE, Lebanon -- The big guns bark from hilltops, and the rattle of their echo shakes the empty towns and villages of southern Lebanon.

From a lush banana grove, two Katyusha rockets reply in a voice not unlike their name -- ka-toosh. In minutes, the radio spills out a warning: Israeli artillery will blast the zone, explosive fists seeking to crush the rocketeers.

The barrage of southern Lebanon continued into a sixth day today, a storm of iron raging above a land of stone. Those caught between were its victims.

The death toll was at least 100 with about 450 wounded in six days of shelling. Most of the victims were civilians. Three were Israeli. The rest are presumed to be Lebanese or Palestinian; the mismatch of bombs on flesh sometimes left little by which to tell.

"We had two dead today. They brought them in in pieces," said a doctor at the Jabal Amel Hospital in Tyre.

A brief hope flickered yesterday with reports the United States had arranged a cease-fire to take effect at 6 p.m. The hope died as the artillery's booms continued and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin vowed there would be "no pause."

Instead, columns of tanks crawled northward from Israel into its proclaimed "security zone" in southern Lebanon, renewing fears that Israel planned to follow its bombardment with a ground attack.

There would be few here in Lebanon to greet it. The pounding barrage delivered since the start of the campaign Sunday has sent between 200,000 and 300,000 civilians fleeing northward.

The towns, clusters of stone and cement houses that grip the barren hills, are nearly vacant. Steel shutters of shops are pulled closed. Homes are locked and abandoned. Those who remain do so from zeal or resignation.

"I don't have money to go. My family has gone to Beirut, but someone must stay here to watch our house," said a young man named Nasser, who had piled a dozen sandbags in the cellar of his home in Tyre.

'I won't leave'

"I won't leave. This is my country, and I prefer to die here than go outside," said another man in Tyre, Sherif Adin, 40.

A local official estimated only 20 percent of the city of 100,000 people remained.

The countryside is even emptier. In the dusty main street of a village called al-Hinniyeh an old man bent and shuffling looked after the only other occupants: two cows.

"The ones who are left are the elderly, the people caught without transportation. And the fighters," said an officer of the United Nations Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), who patrol the area.

Israeli military officers contend their chief enemy, the Hezbollah (Party of God) guerrillas, has stayed behind. The daily reply of Katyusha rocket fire from the Hezbollah bolsters their theory. Estimates put the number of guerrillas in southern Lebanon at a few hundred.

The Katyusha fire is now more symbolic than effective -- seven Katyushas fell in Israel yesterday, while Israel delivered about 3,000 shells to Lebanon.

150,000 Israelis at risk

But those rockets were enough to keep much of northern Israel's population of 150,000 in shelters or visiting elsewhere in the south. Although many workplaces remained closed, some stores had reopened and there was traffic on the street in Kiryat Shemona, where two persons died Sunday from Katyusha rockets.

Each time a Katyusha rocket arcs toward Israeli positions, it brings an angry reply. Two Katyushas were fired yesterday morning from somewhere inside a banana grove near the village of al-Qulaylah. The broad green leaves of the plants hid the operators of the mobile launchers.

The clap of Israeli artillery followed quickly. Israeli helicopters circled overhead; a fluttering whistle of a wire-guided missile joined the chorus.

Observers who ducked into an empty home for safety found the gruesome record of a previous hunt like this.

A footprint of blood led from a large red stain. An American-made, wire-guided TOW missile had driven into the concrete of the handsome house, and found the hiding place of 14 members of a family sheltered in the basement below. Two died.

At a hospital in Tyre, 16-year-old Signa Amir lay, her face a grotesque shape in bandages from the attack. Her father, Mohammed, the chauffeur of the homeowner, had remained behind with his family in the basement to guard the property.

The homeowner also was landlord to the nearby banana groves from which Katyushas were fired.

'Hezbollah bases'

Israeli military spokesmen later said they did not know the details of this shooting. But they said all the targets of aircraft fire are "Hezbollah bases" or "Hezbollah positions."

"For years and years, the residents of northern Israel have lived in uncertainty about when they would be hit" from those positions, said an Israeli major, David Dar-El.

"I've been here for three years and I have yet to see a Hezbollah base," said a UNIFIL captain. "What they call a Hezbollah position is his home, where he lives with his wife and kids and hangs his Kalashnikov on the wall when he comes home to watch TV."

The command post for the 240 Nepalese soldiers assigned to UNIFIL is a large complex on a bare hilltop, isolated and obvious, with huge U.N. markings and blue U.N. flags.

It has been there for 15 years. Wednesday, an Israeli jet launched two 500-pound bombs at the compound and returned to launch two missiles. The explosions left a gaping crater and destroyed 10 buildings. By luck, the soldiers were in the mess hall and only three were slightly hurt.

'Pilots lost control'

"The pilots lost control of the missiles they fired," said Capt. Michael Vroman, an Israeli military spokesman. Usually, he said, "They are very accurate." He offered photos of pinpoint bombing done by the Israeli air force.

Yesterday, two artillery shells exploded in the middle of the Irish UNIFIL command post. Captain Vroman said that, too, was an accident.

"The artillery fire is more of a random matter because of the difficulty of aiming from the distance being fired," he said. "It's a .. 'softening' fire to drive those terrorists into the open."

Early today, near the Israeli-Lebanese border, the slow grind of tanks could be heard as Israel positioned its forces.

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