AARSAL, LEBANON —
The battle between Syrian government forces, supported by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, and Syrian rebels in Qusair north of Damascus is sending waves of traumatized refugees into neighboring Lebanon.
At a refugee camp in Aarsal, a small Lebanese town lying just across the mountains from Syria, most of the people who have arrived in recent days came from Qusair.
They were driven from their homes by heavy fighting between Syrian rebels and government troops reinforced by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters. Qusair lies on a strategic highway linking Damascus to the Mediterranean Sea.
Mohamed Ali Diab said he left after his son was wounded by a stray bullet.
"Why did we leave? For two years we've been resisting this corrupt regime that destroys our houses, the trees, even the children. In the end it joined with Hezbollah to drive us out," said Ali Diab.
Sixty-six year old Hassan al-Hassan said many people left quickly and with few possessions. They need blankets, food and more housing.
"There are two or three families in one tent, one on top of the other. There are no bathrooms, no running water. Soon there will be an outbreak of disease," said al-Hassan.
Aarsal's mayor, Ali Mohamed al-Hujairy, said 24,000 refugees have come to his town of 40,000 inhabitants. The town gets humanitarian aid only occasionally from foreign or private Lebanese donors.
"When we have aid we distribute it. When we don't have aid, we don't. The Lebanese government is not helping at all. Nothing, not even one small thing," said al-Hujairy.
He said tensions sometimes arise because of the congested conditions, but overall the local residents understand the plight of the refugees.
"The majority of the townspeople are sympathetic. They know they [refugees] have nothing. They've left everything behind," said al-Hujairy.
Seventy-five year old Um Adnan al-Sayed arrived the day before. A widow, she said she came with nothing except the clothes on her back.
"We had to leave. But I have nowhere to go. I am an old woman. What can I do?" she asked.
Most of these people are traumatized by what they have seen. They say that as long as the war rages on the other side of the mountains, they will not return.