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Lebanon: Stories From The Frontline

Lebanon: Stories From The Frontline

One of Oxfam's partners in Lebanon, the National Association for Vocational Training and Social Services (Navtss) normally assists Palestinian refugees living in camps across the country.

Since the conflict between Israel and Hizbullah guerrillas broke out last month, however, over 900,000 Lebanese have become refugees themselves. Some have even sought shelter in the Palestinian camps.

Navtss has been doing what it can to deal with this huge problem, providing food boxes to hundreds of displaced families and even throwing open the doors of its offices to people who have fled their homes to escape deadly bombings. Some survivors shared their experiences with Oxfam.

Hasan Abdallah holding two bags containing all his possessions

Hasan Abdallah, 45, and daughter Zaina 19.

"The bombs started falling at about 6 am in my area of south Beirut, where I lived with my wife and four children," says Hasan. "There was no warning. I was at a printer's shop, where I work. My family were at home. I rushed home – buildings nearby had been damaged but the flat where we lived was all right."

"The explosions woke us up," recalls his teenage daughter Zaina. "We were terrified, running from one room to another as the bombs exploded outside as we tried to work out which part of the flat was safest.

"My parents had arrived in Beirut four days earlier, fleeing their village of Aitaroun in the south because of Israeli attacks," recalls Hasan. "Now it was our turn. We grabbed some clothes and left home to escape the danger.

"We first went to a school in east Beirut, which was housing people who had fled from their homes. We spent the night there but the conditions were terrible. There were about 400 people, trying to share two bathrooms. Usually, there was no water. Then we were taken in by Navtss.

We've been staying here at the Navtss office for 18 days now, sleeping on mattresses like the other displaced people here. I think our home is still standing but the neighbourhood has been mostly destroyed – it's too dangerous to go back. We just have a few clothes. I have no money and there are six of us to feed. I don't know what we'll do. We're in shock."

Aynaya Issa, 28, and sister Abeera

"I'm originally Palestinian, living in the southern village of Ghaziyeh," says Aynaya. "It was about 9am and was working in my accounting office when a bomb hit a bridge next to our building. Everyone was suddenly screaming in panic, and I fainted. When I recovered, I went home where I lived with three brothers, my sister Abeera and her two children.

"Many shells were falling on Ghaziyeh so we decided we had to try to escape. The main road was blocked by rubble so we had to find another way out. We eventually escaped and drove all day until we reached Beirut.

Children Marwa and Mahmoud watching the news

"My children, six year-old Marwa and four-year-old Mahmoud, were so frightened that they stopped eating – they would only drink some water," says Aynaya's sister Abeera. They've lost weight and are very stressed. When they hear the explosions from the Israeli air raids here in Beirut, they curl up in fear.

"We've been here three weeks now. We just spend our days watching the news, and crying when we see so much death. So many people have lost their homes because of the bombardment - many can't find their families. We need security, a solution to these problems.

"I'm worried about the effect of all this on the children. There's nothing for them to do all day – it's a big problem. He's only four but Mahmoud listens to the television news and recently he told me, 'Mummy, ten people were killed today – I saw it on the news.' They're very withdrawn these days.

"I'm afraid for the future," says Abeera, tears filling her eyes. "Ghaziyeh was just a residential place, inhabited by civilians only but it is being destroyed. Yesterday, 17 people were killed in Ghaziyeh in the latest bombardment – two of them were my friends."

(Minutes after Abeera spoke to Oxfam, news comes in that mourners at funerals for the Ghaziyeh victims have been bombed – 13 more people are killed.)

Naziah Mustafa, 40

"It was about 11am when the shells came crashing into my village of Aitaroun, near the Israeli border," says Naziah. "I live with my parents, my wife, my two sisters, my brother and his two children. We grabbed a few clothes and some of our ID cards and drove away as quickly as possible.

"I had about 200 sheep, which I placed in the care of my brother's friend before we left. Driving north, we got lost a few times but eventually we made it to Sidon, where my brother lives. My parents are now staying in a school there.

Naziah Mustafa flanked by his sisters Nabiha and Kamila

"The rest of us continued to Beirut. We stayed at my sister's place – but she lives close to Haret Hreik, where many Hizbullah supporters live. The Israeli planes kept bombing the area and we were too close. The bombing shattered our windows so after four days we left.

"We spent one night in a school but it was very difficult – there were over 400 people and only four washrooms. So we ended up here at the Navtss office.

"I don't know what we'll do," says Mustafa, shaking his head mournfully. "My brother's friend, who was looking after my sheep, fled Aitaroun two days after we left and my animals scattered or were killed. I spent all my savings buying those animals so I have no money left – in fact, I have a loan to repay. I've lost my livelihood and I don't know if my house is still standing. My family is depressed – we have to start again from zero.

"I hope people outside Lebanon can understand how we feel. There are people still buried under the rubble of bombed buildings. Those who are still alive are cut off. No one can reach them to help them, bring them food. Many of our people have been killed in bombardments – but now many others face death from lack of food, water and other vital resources."/ENDS


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