The roads in Lebanon are now battlegrounds. We got a firsthand look at just how dangerous they have become as we drove on Monday from Beirut to Tyre, the war-torn city in Southern Lebanon.
We left Beirut at around 8 a.m. this morning. Since we were not sure what exactly we were heading into, we all packed provisions for at least a week. We brought extra fuel, cans of tuna fish, satellite communications, a generator and clothing for a week. We marked our vehicles "PRESS" and we headed out in a convoy with some other journalists.
Just a few minutes after we left Beirut, we hit our first dead end. The road was destroyed, so we had to turn around and find an alternative route. Instead of going through the mountains, which had been our initial plan, we headed for the coastal road, toward Sidon.
The further south we went, the clearer the devastation. Many of the bridges, roads and factories we passed were destroyed. We saw a fuel depot that was roaring with flames and putting out plumes of black smoke maybe a mile across the horizon.
When we arrived in Sidon itself, we saw much more destruction than we had expected. There were several blocks of the city that were basically flat. Several banks and insurance agencies were totally destroyed.
We met a man there who worked for an American insurance provider for 50 years and he showed us his office that was destroyed. You couldn't even recognize that the buildings had been banks except for the fact that there were files, photocopies and papers on the floor that identified the financial institution.
We kept driving and there were huge craters in the sides of the road. Some of the craters had turned-over cars inside them because if you try to drive at night, you have no idea what you are driving into.
This is very much a Hezbollah area, so along the road there are posters of Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah. There are also fighters and propaganda slogans. Near one mosque, there was a poster that said "Where are you Muslim armies? Why aren't you coming to fight to defend us?" As we were driving we were listening to the Hezbollah radio station called "The Station of Light." They are pumping out nothing but wartime propaganda and Hezbollah songs encouraging people to march to the battle.
After we drove through Sidon, we diverted our path again -- at one point we drove through a banana plantation -- and eventually we reached Tyre.
Tyre is a city that has been significantly war torn. Since we arrived we've heard shelling and Israeli air strikes, and we've see some of the leaflets that were dropped by the Israelis with pictures showing Nasrallah as a scorpion stinging the state of Lebanon.
The city is very much abandoned. The hotel where we are staying has been effectively turned into a refugee shelter. There were dozens, if not a few hundred refugees, sleeping in the lounge on all of the hotel furniture. A lot of the refugees tell a very similar story. They say that they are afraid to drive the roads because as civilians leave the city, convoys of vehicles have been attacked.
We met 9-year-old Mohammed Tsrur -- his face was badly burned. He had some sort of a white disinfection cream on his face and his lips were mostly burned away. He had been in a car last night with his mother, two brothers and baby sister. They also suffered burns, but not as badly. We were sitting there talking to him, and he still had blood on his face –- his skin was so thin that the blood was just seeping through. He was waiting to try and get evacuated. But people here are afraid that is what's going to happen to them if they drive out of the city.
At the main hospital, a convoy of two Red Cross ambulances was also hit by an Israeli air strike, according to Red Cross officials. The ambulance driver survived.
There is a palpable frustration and fear. People feel that they are really trapped because the roads have become battlegrounds and there is no safe way out.