Live from Lebanon: Rania Masri on Democracy Now!

Israel’s bombardment of Lebanon has entered its sixth day and the Lebanese death toll has now topped 150: almost all of them civilians. Meanwhile, Hezbollah is continuing to fire rockets at northern Israel. On Sunday, a missile hit Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. The Israeli death toll since now stands at around 24. We go to Lebanon to get a report.

Israeli warplanes are continuing to attack Lebanon for a sixth consecutive day. Air strikes on Monday killed 23 people bringing the death toll in Lebanon to over 150, almost all of them civilians. The country’s infrastructure has been severely damaged as Israel continues to target roads and bridges. Civilian installations, factories, gas stations and the airport have also hit. Israel has now begun targeting Tripoli in the north of the country, as well as areas in central and eastern Lebanon. The Israeli air strikes began after Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers during a raid into Israel on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah is continuing to fire rockets at northern Israel. On Sunday, a missile hit a train maintenance building in Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, killing eight people. Israel’s death toll now stands at 24. In his first televised appearance since the crisis began, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the battle against Israel is “just at the beginning.”

Rania Masri, assistant professor at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Balamand in Lebanon and the assistant director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the University of Balamand. She joins us on the line from Northern Lebanon. More information at ElectronicLebanon.net

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    AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined on the phone by As’ad AbuKhalil, a Lebanese professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus, visiting professor at UC Berkeley. He runs a blog called the “Angry Arab News Service.” He recently returned to the United States from a month-long trip to Lebanon. In our studio in New York, we’re joined by journalist and author, Chris Hedges, former Middle East bureau chief for the New York Times, senior fellow at the Nation Institute, author of War Is a Force Which Gives Us Meaning, among other books.

    But first we go to Northern Lebanon to speak with Rania Masri, assistant professor in the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Balamand in Lebanon, assistant director of the Institute for Environmental Studies at that university. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Rania Masri.

    RANIA MASRI: Pleasure to be with you, Amy.

    AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what is happening in Lebanon right now, and particularly in your area?

    RANIA MASRI: Well, since 2:00 yesterday morning, the Israeli planes have — I’ve been hearing them over the sides of Tripoli. In particular, they bombed the Mina of Tripoli, the ports of Tripoli, again today, as they had done a few days earlier. However, the majority of the aggression of the Israeli offensive forces is in southern districts of Beirut and in the south and in Baalbek. So that is where you’ve got the crux of the fighting. The latest reports from the Lebanese army is that we have 194 Lebanese civilians that have been killed, 350 that have been wounded, hundreds of thousands, literally hundreds of thousands, that have been forced out of their homes, hundreds of thousands of refugees.

    AMY GOODMAN: And how are people — are people in your area leaving? What is happening to the civilian population?

    RANIA MASRI: Well, we have people here in the north, we have approximately 15,000 families that are in the Jbeil qada, which is an area between Beirut and Tripoli, if I’m going to really simplify the geography of this area. In Tripoli, we also have refugees. They have refugees basically throughout the country; wherever they can get to — to leave the south, to leave Beirut — they are leaving.

    However, the problem is Israel has made it extraordinarily difficult for people to leave the south. And I’ll give you one example. I received an email this morning from a woman in Australia who was [inaudible] for her family in Aitaroun beside Bint Jbeil, which is one of the areas most especially targeted by the Israeli forces. I contacted UNIFIL, and I asked what do they advise for this family to do, because the Israelis have been telling them that they need to leave their home. And he responded that these are the areas that the Israelis have specifically stated that any vehicular movement will be regarded as hostile and will be targeted. He told me to tell them to stay in their homes. So here you have numerous families, such as this family, that are faced in a Catch-22: they leave their home, they get targeted; if they stay in their home, they get targeted. This particular family did manage to escape, though, and they are right now in Sur in Tyre, where there is less bombardment, but there is still heavy bombardment.

    And right now what these areas in the south are facing is a basic isolation, because the roads to the south are all but destroyed. You can only go through side roads. And they are making it extraordinarily difficult for food, for basic fuel to be sent, for medical equipment.

    And they are also frightening people in the north. For example, they have told us two days ago, one of the main tunnels connecting Jbeil to the north, which is Chekka tunnel, will be bombed. And so, for the past two days, it has been really frightening for people to move around in areas that previously were thought to be safe. So, this is a deliberate policy by the Israeli forces. It’s to isolate people as much as possible by destroying their roads and, at the same time, to destroy their infrastructure, basically to make life unbearable.

    I have to say, though, everybody that I have talked to in the south, without exception, and everybody that I have talked to who has been forced out of their homes in the southern districts of Beirut, they are all speaking with a great amount of resilience. It’s a resilience that — I have to say, for the first time I’m extraordinarily proud to be in this country, because they are speaking with resilience, they’re speaking with dignity. They’re saying, you know, “We are going to make it through, and we will stand together and unified.” And it’s just amazing to hear this coming from the people who are suffering literally the most.

    AMY GOODMAN: Rania Masri, we have just gotten word that Israel confirms that ground troops have entered Southern Lebanon. The significance of this, from the bombing to the ground troops?

    RANIA MASRI: Well, you know, for a lot of people in Lebanon, this could be regarded as good news, because it equalizes the conflict. The moment that the Israeli army goes into Lebanon it kind of equalizes it. They have been attempting to do this for several days. They’ve been attempting to get into Sur, where they have not been allowed. They have been attempting to get into the extreme areas of the south, and again they have not been allowed. So, it’s interesting that they say this, because moments ago the Israeli forces, you know, denied that they were going into the south, invading the south, and now they’re saying that they have invaded the south.

    One other area, I want to tell you, which is the latest news is that the national resistance movement, the Hezbollah movement has managed to down an F-16 Israeli fighter jet. This is breaking news, and we have been seeing this on television. This not something that the Israeli army can now attempt to deny.

    AMY GOODMAN: Lebanon TV is also confirming that the Israeli plane is down. And what is the attitude to Hezbollah, before the latest Israeli offensive and now?

    RANIA MASRI: You know, that’s really hard to tell. And I will just be limiting my comment here to the people that I have specifically spoken with, and the mood is really one of — that this is going to be our last battle, we are going to have to make it through. There’s a friend of mine in the south who said, and I quote, “This time it is different. We feel that this time will be our last battle. The people are resilient with the mood that we will either live with dignity or we will die.”

    And so, we hear this every time that Hezbollah manages to do something, such as down an F-16 or destroy a destroyer along the coast of Beirut that was killing civilians. Every time something like this happens, the mood in the country immediately escalates, as people feel a strength and they feel that they can make it through. So, right now it has become a battle of wills to see which community is able to withstand the most.

    And I have to repeat and I want to repeat this again: the people that are being killed in Lebanon are civilians. They are families in their entirety. In the first few days alone, there were literally eight families in their entirety that were massacred by the Israeli forces — eight entire families — and we have this continuing and continuing. So, although the mood right now, especially with this news that Hezbollah managed to down a plane, could be one of “we’re going to make it through.” I want to emphasize again and again that the cost that the Lebanese people are paying for the Israeli acts of terrorism is quite, quite extreme, and all in the face of this amazing silence from the international community.

    AMY GOODMAN: Rania Masri, I want to thank you for being with us, currently assistant professor in the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Balamand in Northern Lebanon. I want to thank you —

    RANIA MASRI: One more comment, if I may. I encourage everyone who’s listening to this to do two things. One is turn off the television and not to watch mainstream corporate American news, because you’re only going to get misinformation. And second is to turn your internet on to electroniclebanon.net, where you will be getting eyewitness reports from besieged Lebanon.

    AMY GOODMAN: Thank you, Rania Masri. When we come back, we’ll be joined by As’ad AbuKhalil, a professor in California, just returned from Lebanon, and Chris Hedges, author of War Is a Force Which Gives Us Meaning, spent years in the Middle East, is now a senior fellow at the Nation Institute.

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