As we drove through the rubble-strewn road in the predominantly residential area that also contains Hezbollah's main offices, the smell of smoke and acrid burning filled the air.

We had to wait for Ghassan, a Hezbollah media officer, to escort us.

The two minutes of waiting felt very long, an eerie, tense silence bearing testimony to the fact that Haret Hreik had become a ghost town.

To my relief, Ghassan showed up in a BMW with a driver and asked us to follow him.

Moments later, two young men riding a motorcycle emerged from out of nowhere and fired several warning shots in the air until the driver stopped.

They were security members of the Shia party and the group's media officer had to explain to them that he was showing journalists where the Israeli bombings had hit.

Hezbollah are on high alert for spies. On Wednesday, the party detained 26 people in the southern suburbs of Beirut to interrogate them on suspicion that they were marking buildings for Israel to shell.

Hard to recognise

It was hard to recognise Haret Hreik, with many buildings levelled. The few buildings which stood were blackened by the fires which raged within from bombs and missiles days earlier.

The Beirut suburb hosts Hezbollah
offices but is mostly residential

We had to navigate through the debris from destroyed buildings, which was strewn about the streets. Furnishings from apartments had been thrown by the blasts and hung from balconies and open windows.

Cars and other vehicles, their colours either faded or difficult to discern from their shrouding of dust, were tossed on their sides, some bent and misshapen under layers of concrete, brick and metal.

Even residents who fled the area and came to check on their homes when the bombing subsided said they could not easily identify streets where they had once shopped with their families.

Ihsan Mroweh, a civil engineer, fled the area a day before the Israeli bombardment of the southern suburbs of Beirut. When he returned to check on his home, which he renovated only three years ago, he could not find it.

Memories destroyed

He spotted the street he lived in only after seeing a shop there that was still intact. "I counted the flattened buildings one by one, and the third was mine. It was also reduced to rubble," he told Aljazeera.net.

"My wife and I have so many memories in this house. Losing my property is terrible, but what hurts even more is losing all the pictures of my children and their belongings since they were little," he said bitterly.

Mroweh was lucky that his wife and children were on a family visit to Kuwait when the Israeli offensive against Lebanon was launched last week. More than 300 people have been killed, an overwhelming majority of them civilians.

Despite the huge destruction that has gripped the area, Ghassan, the Hezbollah media officer, tried to be optimistic. "We will rebuild all of this," he said with a smile.

When asked where the Hezbollah press office was, which in normal circumstances, would be frequented by journalists, he pointed to a building still standing at the end of one road. It had been struck and several of its balconies had collapsed.

Al-Manar TV

Just a few days earlier, I visited that office to interview Hezbollah's senior press officer, Hussein Naboulsi, about the developments. "What are you doing here?" He asked me.

The destruction is so bad, many
residents cannot find their homes

"We are evacuating our offices. You should leave now," he said.

The area then was still bustling with people strolling the streets casually despite the bombing earlier that July 13 of Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station.

Al-Manar escaped with only some equipment damaged. It was about 100 metres away from the press office.

Upon arrival, an official in charge of the channel's security had told me to leave the area. Asked if I could interview the news editor of the television station, he answered: "There's nobody there. We evacuated it and you should go too. It's a target."

A few days later, Al-Manar was levelled along with the many other buildings there. The only way anybody can identify the channel's premises now is by a banner greeting visitors at the entrance that identifies that the television station once stood here.