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Published: Wednesday, 7/19/2006

Mideast violence felt on both sides in the Toledo area

BY JC REINDL AND ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

As leaders on both sides of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict pledged continued attacks, the bombs that have rained over the region lately are hitting close to home.

Residents in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are losing hope for a peaceful resolution to the strife that began several days ago. Now, their concern has turned toward their loved ones living amidst the escalating violence.

"I just need to make sure they are OK," said Toledoan Hedva Romanoff, who has family and friends living in region of Israel being bombed by the Shiite political and paramilitary group Hezbollah. "Those missiles rain down indiscriminately and can hit any building at any given time."

Ms. Romanoff, who moved to the United States 35 years ago and is now an American citizen, is among a number of residents in the Jewish community who take regular trips to Israel.

She said that during her latest contact, family members reported that between 50 and 100 missiles fell on Haifa, a city in northern Israel on the Mediterranean coast.

Saying that Hezbollah has turned the southern part of Lebanon and its citizens into a "human shield," Ms. Romanoff said most Israelis believe they are fighting an enemy committed to destroying "their survival and their existence." She said she and her family are "watching minute by minute."

"This is definitely an all-out war with very ugly rhetorics to destroy Israel," she said.

Fatima Esseili, a recent University of Toledo graduate, shares a similar account of heartache and destruction - from the other side of the conflict.

After receiving her master's degree in English as a second language from UT in May, Ms. Esseili left Toledo for Lebanon to visit her home and family.

Last week, as Israeli forces began bombing close to her house near Beirut's international airport, she and her family fled for safety.

With many of the country's airports and seaports now closed, she says she is unsure whether she can return to the United States to continue her studies.

Ms. Esseili, who is in her early 20s, shared her story yesterday in an e-mail exchange with The Blade.

She described how bombing has disrupted life in the country's capital, and is altering its physical landscape.

"The bridges, the major streets, the electricity stations, supermarkets, gas stations - everything that is related to the daily life of the Lebanese citizens was destroyed," she wrote. "I do not see how I am going to leave my family at this critical time. Even if I wanted to come back as scheduled next week, I do not see how I am going to."

Ms. Esseili said she lost an older brother during the Israel invasion in the 1982 Lebanon war and, in light of the ongoing conflict, accuses Israel of trying "to exterminate us from existence."

Yet what she really wants is peace.

"I pray for fire to be ceased at once, in order to stop any further casualties and help all those who are in need of it," she wrote.

Contact JC Reindl at:

jreindl@theblade.com or

419-724-6050.



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