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Lebanon’s Plunge to Uncertainty

June 26, 1999

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ Nine years after the end of a bloody civil war that turned Beirut from a regional cultural center into a chaotic shambles, the once vibrant Lebanese capital seemed to be making a comeback.

Luciano Pavarotti sang here earlier this month. The Baalbek arts festival is scheduled for July. And the Miss Europe pageant graced Beirut this week.

But then Israeli missiles slammed into the hills of Beirut, destroying two power stations and plunging the city into darkness, a blunt reminder that it still has a way to go before it will return to normalcy.

As many as nine people were killed and 57 wounded in the airstrikes late Thursday and early Friday. Israel called them retaliation for Hezbollah guerrilla rocket attacks that killed two people in northern Israel.

The attacks _ which damaged the same power stations destroyed in a 1996 blitz _ were a harsh reminder of times Lebanese had hoped were behind them.

State institutions and infrastructure destroyed during the 1975-90 civil war largely had been rebuilt, and people had begun chatting again about everyday problems such as the deficit and taxes.

``I had forgotten what it was like to be so scared, and last night brought back painful memories,″ said Nadine Aoun, 25.

She had just sat down to dinner with her family when the first of the Israeli strikes shook their apartment.

Tony Saniour, a Beirut restaurant owner, said he worried the attack would affect summer tourism.

``As soon as we lift our heads up, they go and destroy everything we’ve worked so hard to rebuild,″ he said.

Lebanese are used to violence and won’t be scared by a few bombs, Saniour said. He spent Thursday on a balcony watching Israeli jets and ground anti-aircraft fire light the night sky.

Economic damage resulting from the strikes was ``practically immeasurable, particularly in light of the fact that the large-scale attack took place at the beginning of an otherwise very promising summer season,″ Prime Minister Salim Hoss said.

Beirut residents, who resorted to candles and camping gas canisters, will have just two hours of electricity a day until the damage is repaired, Lebanon’s electricity company said Friday.

Some scheduled events, such as an equestrian competition, were canceled. But a new Miss Europe was crowned as planned Friday _ with a last-minute addition to the program.

Organizers showed a five-minute clip of the destruction on six large screens and announced that proceeds would go to a special fund created to repair the damage.

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