Accessibility links

Lebanese Seek Shelter Wherever They Can Find It


The Israeli military has been bombing southern Lebanon since two Israeli soldiers were captured by the Lebanese-based militant group Hezbollah on Wednesday. The bombings have killed more than 100 civilians. Israeli attacks also have destroyed roads and bridges and damaged Lebanon's only international airport. Hezbollah continues to fire rockets into Israel as the military campaign intensifies. But as VOA's Challiss McDonough reports from Beirut, options are slim for Lebanese families seeking shelter wherever they can find it.

Ahmed Naanoo and his 11 children took a taxi to safety. On Thursday, they escaped from the southern coastal city of Tyre, which has come under heavy bombardment since the beginning of the Israeli offensive.

Naanoo says the Israelis were shelling the city, and had already cut off the main roads out of town, but the family escaped using back roads. A few hours later, those were bombed, too.

When they finally got to Beirut, they had no idea where to go for help.

Naanoo says, "We came to Beirut in a taxi, and when we got here, we asked some kids on the street where we should go. They said to follow them, and they led us here on their bicycles."

He is standing in a classroom on the third floor of a West Beirut school. It has become the family's new temporary home. He says they have nowhere else to go.

The taxi ride from Tyre cost Naanoo about $60, which was literally all the money he had. The family is now far from home, and destitute, but he says he had to get his children to safety.

Since then Israeli troops have dropped leaflets in the south warning residents to flee.

Nobody knows exactly how many people have left. Hundreds of families like Naanoo's are living in schoolhouses in Beirut, and some even slept in a public park.

But Beirut is not necessarily a safe destination. Israeli airstrikes are also pounding the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital. Like the south of the country, South Beirut is heavily Shi'ite and a stronghold of the militant group, Hezbollah, which the State Department considers a terrorist organization.

The streets of South Beirut are largely abandoned. But on Saturday afternoon, 18-year-old Ali Haidar and a few friends were relaxing outside a local restaurant, one of the few South Beirut businesses still open.

"We are just hanging," said Ali Haidar. "There is no place to leave [to]. Most of the people have their parents, their relatives out in the mountains, but we do not have no one, so that is why we are staying here."

Haidar normally works as a deliveryman for the restaurant, but they have stopped doing deliveries because, with the airstrikes, it is not safe for him to ride around town on his moped.

A few blocks away, in the basement of an apartment building, several families are taking shelter from the bombing raids that have rocked the neighborhood. They will sleep down here, if the shells keep falling all night.

Twenty five-year-old Mohammed Annan says nobody was expecting such intense attacks on Beirut.

"But the people are really surprised with what is happening, especially [because] it's something that suddenly happened, you know? We thought that it maybe will be war, but in the south, and especially in the place where it started," said Mohammed Annan. "But it started in the south, and Israel [attacks] now come to Beirut."

At first, he expected that maybe the Israeli airstrikes would last just a few hours, but the sustained campaign has also been a surprise. He barely remembers the Lebanese civil war, which ended when he was just nine years old. The younger kids do not remember it at all.

A teenage boy steps forward and says his parents have told him stories about the war, but he and the other children had never experienced air raids themselves.

"The children are afraid because it is the first time they live it," he said. "It looks weird. It is horrible."

Back in the West Beirut schoolhouse, Ahmad Naanoo worries about how all of this will affect his children.

He says, In the beginning, when we were still down south, the children were scared. Every time one of the warplanes went overhead, they would cry. He says his three-year-old daughter is still in shock and is not able to stand up

Ahmad Naanoo wants to go to a foreign embassy and ask for help getting out of the country. He does not much care where he ends up - maybe Britain, he says, or Canada, where two of his cousins live.

Western embassies are moving to get their citizens and dual nationals out of Lebanon, but for Lebanese people without foreign passports, the options for getting out are getting narrower by the day.

XS
SM
MD
LG