An eyewitness account of Beirut under attack
BEIRUT: No one moves in Beirut in the evening. Lately, the bombing has started again and for the last couple of nights (not last night), Beirut has been bombed from about 2:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.
First, you hear the drones, unmanned planes used for reconnaissance. They buzz like mosquitoes, like small motorcycles. The bombing is far in the suburbs but as loud as thunder, even though you know it is not thunder. It usually wakes me up. From my hotel window I can see nothing. But, all the cars with alarms in the neighborhood start blaring from the vibrations, adding to the noise.
The bombing is not constant. So you get to sleep again and then wake up with the next falling bomb. By the third, you close the window and forget about it. In the morning, you switch on the news to find out what was hit. Usually bridges and flyovers, an easy way to close the roads.
Now, very few people move around Beirut in the morning as well. The shortage of gas has become a real problem. Starting 6 a.m., long lines of cars wait outside gas stations to buy a maximum of 10 liters (costing about $8). Taxi drivers are suffering the most as they are on the road all the time. Taxis have become more expensive, but that is normal.
But that is not the only reason Beirut is empty.
A lot of people have left Beirut, some early on, on foreign boats going to Larnaca. The foreign boats repatriated foreign citizens (usually people with dual nationalities) to Larnaca and Limassol in Cyprus. In Cyprus, embassy staffs waited for them and sent them to the places they wanted to go to. The boats also took whoever else wanted to go out: Egyptians, Sri Lankans, whoever had a valid passport and went to the harbor. I left Beirut a couple of weeks ago aboard a British destroyer. I only had to ask and they said welcome aboard, very nice, very proper. I was among 400 British citizens (Lebanese with British passports and Beckham T-shirts), being repatriated. I had come [back to Beirut] on a Greek ferry chartered by the French from Larnaca to go into Beirut, but I had visa problems in the harbor and had to return to Cyprus.
Bureaucracy never sleeps, even under the bombs.
Other Beirutis left later, to the mountains where it is safer. Apparently, life in places like Roumana (in the hills overlooking Beirut) is normal, bars and restaurants open like nothing is happening.
The ones that stayed in Beirut hang out in their neighborhoods where local shops are still open. No one travels on the roads unless they have to, and no one goes out in the evening.
Youssef El Alfy has been a journalist since 1981 working for many international broadcasters. He is currently a producer for the Swiss broadcasting service Eurovision and is in Beirut helping to set up a news operation.