Christian support to Israel dies under hail of bombs

It was the most astonishing escalation on a particularly bloody day.

Gulf News

Jounieh: It was the most astonishing escalation on a particularly bloody day.

For the first 24 days of Israel's campaign against Hezbollah, Lebanese Christians in the Beirut area believed they were protected from the mayhem gripping other parts of the country.

But a 15-minute air raid shortly after dawn yesterday on the attractive port of Jounieh destroyed the complacency of the Christians and served to turn them against the Israelis. The capital of Lebanon's Christian heartland is unused to such violence.

Even during the 15 years of the 1975-1990 civil war, when Christian and Muslim militias sowed destruction across the country, Jounieh survived unscathed a party zone of nightclubs and beach resorts 10 miles from Beirut.

The Israelis' target was not the Christians of Jounieh but its bridges, two in the town and two a little to the north. The intent was to sever the last artery connecting Beirut to the outside world, and in that the Israelis succeeded.

But the strikes also destroyed whatever support Israel still enjoyed among Lebanon's Christians.

Among the dead was Joseph Bassil, a Christian. Out for his morning jog, he passed under the 300 metre Fidar bridge, to the north of Jounieh, just as it was destroyed by a huge bomb that pitched cars into the ravine below. Bassil was crushed to death and three motorists were killed.

"Hezbollah has never bombed us here, yet Israel bombs us here so who are the terrorists?" asked Manal Azzi, a 26-year-old HIV specialist, as she stood in the chasm where the Fidar bridge had stood. "We have spent 30 years rebuilding this country and now Israel is taking us back to the Middle Ages."

As the scale of the civilian casualties in the early stages of the conflict became clear, Lebanon's Christians dutifully expressed their solidarity with the Shias in the south. Yet some Christians remained unconvinced.

On Thursday, the hillside resort of Broummana just outside Beirut seemed a place untouched by war. Many of Beirut's trendy Christians had escaped here at the start of the conflict, and the party was continuing in its bars and restaurants. "We cannot blame the Israelis alone for this," said Elie Dahoud.

"The Shiites are our enemy and it is they who have brought Lebanon to disaster.'"

But by Friday night he had changed his mind. "I was wrong," he admitted. "The Israelis no longer care who is Muslim and who is Christian. We are all enemies to them."