Bombed southern suburbs spring to life

Traffic filled roads were lined by bombed homes in Beirut’s southern suburbs as residents began their return, 14 August 2006. (Serene Assir/IRIN)

BEIRUT - A mass southbound movement of displaced Lebanese continued on Tuesday as the United Nations-brokered ceasefire between Hezbollah militias and Israel’s defence forces entered its second day.

“We’re leaving,” said Shams, who comes from Nabatiyeh, 80 km south of Beirut, but has spent the past month living in a Beirut park. “We know it might not be safe, but we want to know whether or not our house is still standing. And we’re tired of living like this, in such unsanitary conditions and in the open air.”

Displaced families are leaving Beirut for southern Lebanon, as well as the southern suburbs of the capital itself, creating traffic jams on main roads in areas like Haret Hreik, a suburb often described as a Hezbollah stronghold.

Most are simply checking on their homes, rather than moving straight back in. “We can’t come back to stay just yet,” says Riwa. “Our building has been wrecked by the bombing. But we want to keep coming back as long as it takes to check on our area, and to get help rebuilding our home as soon as possible.”

Areas of southern Beirut were reduced to rubble in just over a month of conflict, as Israel bombed buildings it said harboured Hezbollah militiamen and munitions.

But by Monday, shop owners had begun cleaning up strips of pavement in front of their shops, and young men and women climbed over the rubble of destroyed buildings to see if they can find any of their families’ possessions.

“We came back this morning,” said Abdel Karim, who comes from Shiah, a district in the south of the capital. “Though I do not trust Israel to honour the ceasefire agreement, I will be spending the night here tonight. My family, on the other hand, will return to their shelter for the night, just in case.”

In Sanayeh park in central Beirut, some do not yet wholly trust the war has ended. “We’re still scared,” said Ibtisam Daher. “My neighbour and her baby died in a bombing in Shiah right before my eyes. I don’t want to take my children back until I know for certain that there won’t be any more bombings.”

Lebanon says more than 1,100 civilians were killed in Israeli attacks, most in areas farther south of the capital. Hezbollah caused damage and some 160 Israeli deaths, both by fighting Israeli troops and firing rockets into northern Israel.

The UN has warned about the danger of unexploded ordnance in areas of Lebanon affected by aerial bombardment or heavy fighting, with David Shearer, the UN humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon saying there are “large quantities of unexploded artillery and mortar shells strewn across the countryside”.

“Entire areas of the southern suburbs of Beirut have had to be closed off to civilian passage,” said a Lebanese army officer on Monday. “It will be a matter of two or three days before the majority of unexploded ordnance will have been dealt with. Until then, it will not be safe for people to enter these areas.”

Lebanon’s relief council estimated that more than 970,000 Lebanese were displaced by the conflict, which started after Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers on 12 July. The two soldiers have not been handed back, nor has Hezbollah allowed them to be visited by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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