BEIRUT - Of the estimated half a million displaced people in Lebanon, some 70 percent are from southern villages, local officials say.
The south of Lebanon is home to Hizbullah militants engaged in firing rockets across Lebanon’s southern border into northern Israel. Tel Aviv started bombing Lebanon on 12 July after Hizbullah militants captured two Israeli soldiers, saying they will only release them in exchange for Israel’s release of Lebanese prisoners.
Hizbullah, an Islamic political party, won all 23 parliamentary seats in the south of the country in the 2005 elections.
Police sources in Lebanon say about 350,000 people have left their homes in cities and villages such as Tyre (80 km south of Beirut), Nabatyeh (95 km southeast of Beirut), Zahrani (60 km south of Beirut) and Bint Jbeyl (200 km south of Beirut).
“They left mostly because of the bombings; some were afraid of the Israeli flyers asking them to leave, saying military operations wouldn’t be over until the Hizbullah militia is dismantled,” the source said. Israel has dropped leaflets calling on civilians to leave areas it intends to attack from the air.
Others have taken shelter in schools in safer eastern parts of the Lebanese capital of Beirut - where the majority of the population is Christian - or in northern and southeastern districts of Lebanon such as Akkar (110 km north of Beirut) and the Chouf Mountains (20 km southeast of Beirut).
Southern families headed to more secure cities like Sidon, the capital of the South (45 km south of Beirut). According to the Mayor of Sidon, Abdel Rahman Bezri, “more than 5,000 people are now taking shelter here, all from border villages. They are living in 13 public schools and centres, and we are working on providing them with what they need.”
Other Lebanese are taking shelter in safer eastern parts of the Lebanese capital of Beirut - where the majority of the population is Christian - or in northern and southeastern districts of Lebanon such as Akkar (110 km north of Beirut) and the Chouf Mountains (20 km southeast of Beirut).
A spokesman for the Progressive Socialist Party of the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt estimated the number of displaced people in the Chouf mountains at 20,000 to 25,000, all staying in schools and other government buildings. On Thursday, he said the numbers of displaced were increasing by the hour.
Minister of Social Affairs Nayla Mouawad told reporters on Wednesday that her ministry was doing its best. “The situation is dramatic,” she said, “we visit a school and take note of what the 100 people there need and when we come back with aid and find the number has increased to 1,000 people.”
Some people have also taken refuge in public areas, such as the 500 people in the Sanaee Garden in Beirut, and another 1,400 in the capital’s public library.
In Sanaee Garden, hundreds of families from Sidon, Tyre and southern suburbs of the capital are spending their days and nights waiting for safer shelter. Mustapha Ahmad Radwad, a 65-year-old disabled man, says he could not stand the sound of aeroplanes in the southern part of the city. “I put my wheelchair on the motorcycle [trailer] and drove here from Haret Hreyk,[a heavily bombed southern suburb of Beirut]. My wife stayed at home. So I took the mattress and decided to flee.”
Amina Fattal and her eight family members share three mattresses. “The day Hizbullah bombed the Israeli warship, we left our house in Ouzaii [Beirut]. Here we sleep in the open air and share these filthy mattresses, surrounded by bird droppings and mosquitoes. We couldn’t find a school to take us in. They were all overcrowded.”
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