WORLD / Middle East

Israel approves wider ground offensive
Updated: 2006-08-01 08:35

Syrian President Bashar Assad called on his army Monday to increase readiness to cope with "regional challenges." Travelers from Syria have reported that some reservists have been called up for military duty - a sign that Syria is concerned the fighting in Lebanon could spill over.

Thousands of Lebanese took advantage of the lull in airstrikes to make a dash for safety farther north after weeks trapped in homes in the war zone, afraid to move because of intense missile strikes on roads.

Across the south, cars and trucks packed with women and children, mattresses strapped to the roofs and white flags streaming from the windows, made their way to the coast, then turned north. They passed flattened houses, shattered trees and burned-out cars strewn on the roadside.

At one point north of Tyre, vehicles gingerly made their way around a gigantic crater half filled with water into which a car had toppled when a missile struck.

In Qana, grocer Hassan Faraj - who had sworn a day earlier never to leave - jumped at the chance to escape. He shuttered his shop and loaded his wife and child into a van to go north into the mountains.

"My mother is very unwell, I must go and see her," he said, explaining his change of mind and insisting he was just dropping off his family to return.

Aid groups were caught off guard by the sudden break and struggled to rush aid to the south.

Outside Marjayoun, a U.N. peacekeepers' convoy carrying food found the bridges across the Litani destroyed. So the trucks drove across the knee-deep waters. Indian peacekeepers assembled a ramp out of stones to get them up the steep opposite bank.
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