For some dual nationality families, a holiday from hell

Over 700,000 Lebanese have been displaced by Israel’s bombing, like this family in Bourj Hammoud High School in Beirut. Not all families have made it to shelter, however, as the Lebanese civilian casualty count keeps climbing. (UNHCR/C. Lau)

TYRE — Sitting beside the dock in the southern Lebanese port of Tyre waiting to register for evacuation, Abu Wassim Jaafar spoke of how he, his wife and three children arrived on holiday in Beirut on 12 July, just two hours before Israeli air strikes on the runway closed the airport.

The family, who hold German passports, drove south to visit relatives in the village of Abassiyeh, 6km outside Tyre, but had been cut off after Israeli attacks closed the roads.

“I was really planning on having a good time in Lebanon, but instead we ended up hiding in the basement for 12 days surrounded by cockroaches,” said Jafaar’s 17 year-old son Mohammed. Nada, his 10 year-old sister, had to have stitches after she ran face first into a wall, terrified by a mortar that struck a neighbouring house.

There were scenes of desperation as distraught families arriving in minibuses from many of the villages worst hit in the Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon, clamoured to be let on to a Canadian-chartered cruise liner bound for Cyprus.

More than 300 Lebanese families holding dual citizenship from various Western nations, were evacuated from Tyre on Wednesday.

Jafaar said he tried to call the German embassy in Beirut but received only answerphone messages. He said he only heard news of the Tyre evacuation of dual nationals from another son in Berlin.

“We left Lebanon in a similar situation in 1981 when Tyre was being bombed then. Now we are leaving again and I don’t think we will return. This is a guerrilla war and it could go on for a long time,” said Jafaar.

Many villagers spoke of chaotic scenes as families who had been living under heavy bombardment decided to evacuate their homes, some getting minibuses organised by a Lebanese development agency, while others were left to make the journey themselves.

Samar Sour said she had left her home in Maroun er Ras, just 2km north of the border with Israel, on 24 July, and had walked along the road towards the coast with her three children - one of them a toddler - for four hours, before being picked up by chance by a Red Cross ambulance.

“Now they are not letting me get on the boat,” said Sour, sobbing as she sat at the water’s edge. “My husband is in Germany and I have his old German passport, but all my other papers were destroyed when my house was hit.”

Sour said she had left her parents behind in Maroun er Ras because she was unable to contact them after telephone lines were cut when the Israeli bombardment began. She had been too terrified to walk through the village to her parents’ house.

“My daughter has a hole in her heart,” she said cradling the toddler. “She needs to get to hospital, but if they do not let me on, I will stay here until she dies.”

As families crammed onto motor boats that ferried them out to the cruise liner anchored off the coast, some Lebanese staying behind expressed their fears for the future.

“I wish I could leave with them, but we have to stay here,” said 23-year-old Khadour Akhdar who said he had come from Sidon, where his home and upholstery shop had been destroyed by Israeli strikes, to watch the evacuation.

“The problem is we are caught in the middle. But Hizbullah is fighting for us. If it was not for them Israel would have turned us into putty by now,” he said.

Hours after the cruise liner disappeared across the horizon into the sunset, Tyre shook to the sound of two thunderous explosions from Israeli air strikes that targeted the home of Sheik Nabil Qaouk, Hizbullah’s southern commander.

Twelve people were injured in the explosion, including six children, Dr Ahmad Mroue, head doctor at the Jabal Amel hospital in Tyre, told IRIN.

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