Israeli air strikes forced Lebanese Baptists to admit on Friday that the Christian areas of Beirut were no longer safe and caused SAT-7, a Christian satellite-TV network, to close its offices there.
In an e-mail newsletter, the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development said that at 5 a.m. the organization realized that “the Christian areas are no longer safe.”
Baptist leader Nabil Costa, executive director of LSESD, said, “Evidently the plan [Israel’s war strategy] includes not only the isolation of Lebanon from the rest of the world, but also the isolation of Beirut.”
SAT-7 issued a news release that said its Beirut staff “was no longer able to continue their work.”
Naji Daoud, SAT-7’s Lebanon director, said, “Bridges on several main roads into Beirut have been bombed, even in Christian areas, and many of our staff can no longer come to the studio.”
Daoud, a member of Faith Baptist Church, called on Christians around the world to pray for a ceasefire.
“We need this to end because it only seems to be getting worse,” he said.
SAT-7 has a studio in the same building with LSESD. That building is next door to the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and overlooks downtown Beirut.
The New York Times reported Friday that Israeli strikes destroyed four bridges “in what had been the largely untouched Christian heartland north of Beirut and far from Hezbollah territory,” cutting off “the only practical way” to get relief supplies from Syria.
“At the steep gorge here cut by the Fidar River, which runs down the mountains to the Mediterranean, dozens of Maronite Catholic residents gathered to stare in stunned silence at a 200-yard stretch of four-lane highway blasted into rubble. The supports for the bridges rose like cliffs at either end,” wrote John Kifner, the Times reporter.
“Where are the Katushas of the Hezbollah here?” one man asked Kifner about the type of rockets that Hezbollah fires into Israel. “We are used to being a safe area here, but now there is no safety. I blame the Israelis.”
As the Israeli attack expanded into Beirut, the LESED staff debated whether it was safe enough to send a relief team to the Beirut Baptist School.
When a team in two cars arrived at BBS, they discovered that the school’s artesian well had dried up due to the heavy demand from over 700 refugees on campus, reported Costa.
Water was then hauled from Arab Baptist Theological Seminary to BBS.
Maroun Chammas, pastor of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Deir Mimas, located in southern Lebanon, wrote in the LESED e-newsletter that when church members evacuated their homes they expected to return home in a few days.
He said that now they do not know how long they will be housed at ABTS.
“The war has already cost too many dear lives and other losses,” he wrote. “The price that our country has paid thus far would be way too high—much more than we can realize.”
Alia Abboud, LSESD’s external relations coordinator, expressed concern to EthicsDaily.com about shortages of fuel and supplies.
“To date medication is available yet because of the war most people (particularly the displaced) have lost their source of income and are thus unable to afford their needed medicines,” said Abboud. He reported that Lebanese Baptists had received relief funds from Baptist World Aid, BMS World Mission, Canadian Baptist Ministries and American Baptist Churches-USA.
Lebanese Baptists were caring for 1,200 internally displaced people, said Abboud. “This is a huge concern for us, particularly as our country gets more isolated by the hour.”
Calling for a ceasefire, Mark Woods, editor of Britain’s Baptist Times, wrote, “One–and one among many–of the questions which needs to be asked of a war…is ‘Is it worth it? Does the peace which may come out of this conflict justify the lives lost in fighting it?'”
“It is this question which neither Hezbollah nor Israel has so far been able to demonstrate,” Wood editorialized. “Prime Minister Blair and U.S. President Bush have, as we go to press, held back from calling for an immediate ceasefire. Their hope is that the longer the attacks go on, the more chance Israel will have of defeating its enemy and creating the chance of a lasting peace.”
Woods said their hope looked “increasingly forlorn” as the Israeli army was unable to defeat Hezbollah.
“The deaths, the maimings, the traumas, appear utterly pointless, a shedding of innocent blood for no ultimate good,” he said.
Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid, told EthicsDaily.com, “Enough of the fighting! We need to call for, work for and pray for a ceasefire so that countless numbers of Lebanese and Israeli citizens can once again live their lives in peace.”
Montacute, who first visited Beirut in 1963 to attend a Baptist World Alliance youth conference, said he was saddened by what was taking place in Lebanon.
“Already, too many have been maimed, killed and displaced. The incessant bombing has struck surgically at the basic infrastructure of Beirut, leaving many with inadequate shelter, lack of clean water, shortage of food and lack of sanitation,” he said, calling on the worldwide family of Baptists to continue their response of BWAid’s Middle East appeal.
He expressed thanks for the humanitarian aid donations from the European Baptist Federation, BMS World Mission and BWA’s member bodies.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.