Braving southern Lebanon to save Germans
28 July 2006, SIDON, LEBANON - The mission is clear. The last remaining Germans stranded in southern Lebanon are to be picked up by convoy and evacuated by ferry to Cyprus. However, this excludes anyone living in Bint Jbeil or hiding in cellars in other villages near the Israeli border, where battles are raging. They do not stand a chance of catching a lift. The unarmed German team of helpers does not dare venture where Israeli ground forces are fighting Hezbollah militia. Some dispersed Germans from Sidon
28 July 2006
SIDON, LEBANON - The mission is clear. The last remaining Germans stranded in southern Lebanon are to be picked up by convoy and evacuated by ferry to Cyprus.
However, this excludes anyone living in Bint Jbeil or hiding in cellars in other villages near the Israeli border, where battles are raging.
They do not stand a chance of catching a lift. The unarmed German team of helpers does not dare venture where Israeli ground forces are fighting Hezbollah militia.
Some dispersed Germans from Sidon and the Nabatiye region are to be collected. But the four helpers travelling with a Lebanese driver from Beirut towards Sidon had not reckoned with the Israeli army.
Explosions and the noise of fighter jets is audible as soon as the little convoy consisting of a jeep and minibus arrives in Sidon. The aircraft are not to be seen - and are heard only when they fly of after dropping their deadly cargo.
The convoy, which is marked by a German flag on the roof, stops at a main road. One helper curses: "Damn - that's too dangerous. We can't travel on and there are still children stuck in Nabatiye."
"A lot of Israeli soldiers died yesterday and there will no pause in the fighting today," says his colleague. Frustrated, they telephone the Germans waiting in their villages for the convoy.
Most are of Lebanese origin, and had been spending the summer holidays in their native land.
"If you think you can make it to Sidon on your own, then it's at your own risk. We will wait until 3 p.m.," a Foreign Office official says into his mobile telephone. He is sitting by the roadside in Sidon on a camping stool brought by a resident.
Meanwhile, the flow of Lebanese families heading north in their cars or in taxis with white sheets tied to the roofs increases.
Suddenly, two cars pull up and seven men jump out. One grabs the camera of Josef Assal, a doctor from Munich and one of the helpers who had been waiting for the evacuees to arrive. He had been taking photographs of roads and people to pass the time.
The embassy's driver tries to mediate. One of the men shouts: "Don't speak to me in that tone. We're being bombarded here and we're fighting."
He is wearing a beige cap and has a red-white pen in his shirt-pocket marked SPD (Germany's Social Democratic Party).
An Israeli bomb can be heard striking a target in the distance. The men disappear with the camera and check whether the group with the German flag on the roof of the car are spies taking photographs of targets for Israel.
About an hour later, the digital camera reappears and is handed over to the Germans in the office of military police in Sidon.
The officers are friendly and serve pineapple juice. Their boss apologizes: "You have to understand, the situation is not easy."
Eventually only nine Germans and German-Lebanese arrive at the main street in Sidon to flee the country with the convoy.
They include a young woman from Sidon, a family of four fleeing Bint Jbeil who want to return to their apartment near Coesfeld in Germany, and a couple with their two daughters who join the convoy in their car.
The father says: "I want to leave the car at my uncle's in Beirut." His wife is suffering from shock. Her old hometown of Sifta, where she had just spent the holidays, was bombarded by the Israelis three hours earlier. Nevertheless, the family risked the journey to Sidon.
The journey to Beirut takes three-and-a-half hours. Bomb craters and destroyed bridges force the driver to detour and travel along byroads and through hills.
The MV Serenade, the ship evacuating people from Beirut to Cyprus, is leaving just as the convoy reaches the port.
Next day there will be more ferries for foreigners. The German embassy has helped more than 6,000 people leave Lebanon since the fighting broke out over two weeks ago.
Subject: German news