BBC tours what's left of south Beirut with Hizbullah
Families jam Beirut to escape rising violence | By Daniel McGrory - Times Online, July 22, 2006Nice going, Israel. As if the world didn't hate you enough.
FOR every family that manages to leave Beirut, dozens more are pitching up in the city that is fast becoming a vast refugee camp.
By last night the Lebanese Public Health Ministry estimated that well over 750,000 people were on the move, a fifth of the country’s population trying to escape the worsening violence.
While there is a daily crawl of traffic making for the Syrian border, most have no choice but to head for the cluttered capital to find refuge in schools, boarded-up apartment blocks, empty offices and parks.
Many would like to run farther but they do not have the money to get across the border, and Western governments are not allowing Lebanese families to board the flotilla of evacuation ships. So they sit marooned and morose in makeshift camps that are already overflowing.* * *
Apartment blocks in prosperous districts are festooned with laundry hanging from balconies as up to 20 refugees bed down in a single room.
Ayad al-Mounzer, of the Lebanese Red Cross, says that city authorities have no emergency plan to deal with the refugees. “Pretty quickly the United Nations, every charity and Lebanon’s ministries must decide how we feed and shelter these people or we will have a real human tragedy on our hands.”
United Nations officials pleaded again with Israel yesterday to agree safe corridors for humanitarian aid convoys. The UN agencies will find it hard to persuade drivers to risk navigating even agreed routes because Israeli fighters have been firing on trucks that they suspect might be carrying military equipment for Hezbollah.
Amer Daoudi, leader of the UN’s World Food Programme assessment team in the city, said: “The damage to roads and bridges has completely disrupted the food supply chain, which is hurting the displaced families.”
Royal Navy ships that have been ferrying Britons to Cyprus were sailing back to Beirut harbour loaded with emergency supplies, though most refugees say they have yet to receive any help ten days after they were bombed out of their homes. That lifeline may soon be shut off: Britain has said that today will be the last day for evacuation of its nationals.
The frigate HMS St Albans was taking another 270 to safety yesterday and a chartered catamaran was due to pick up more. As many as 65,000 people from Lebanon are in Cyprus and the island is running out of capacity to deal with them.
Many Lebanese refugees have gathered at Sanayeh Gardens, a park in central Beirut where at least 600 people were sleeping in the open last night.
Mariam Hajj, 39, and her nine children fled there on the first night of the bombing when their home in the Hezbollah stronghold of the southern suburbs was damaged. Her husband spends his days fruitlessly looking for casual work. They have only the clothes they stand in. There are no showers, only two toilets, and a couple of plastic water tanks that cannot hope to serve this many people.
Mrs Hajj said: “We don’t want charity, but what money we had will have run out by the end of the weekend. I don’t want my family broken up but the authorities tell us they cannot find room for us to stay together, so we stay here.”
Israeli jets yesterday destroyed Lebanon’s Mdairej bridge, the highest in the Middle East. The 70-metre (230ft) tall structure spanned a viaduct along the main road linking Beirut and Damascus.