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Lebanon Storms Crush Palestinian Settlement

Before last weekend, this pile of rubble was the home of a woman who now stays with neighbors, hoping their homes hold weather the upcoming storms. Behind the pile, is another home that withstood waves residents say were between six and 10 meters high.

After months of drought, storms pounded Lebanon during the weekend, destroying or damaging most of the 60 homes in Jal al-Bahr, one of Lebanon's poorest communities of Palestinian refugees.

On the shores of the Mediterranean in southern Lebanon, water laps onto the walls of the tin and concrete houses still standing in this tiny Palestinian community. Residents say waves, between six- and nine-meters high, crushed or permanently damaged most of the homes in this community.

Standing on the broken concrete in a destroyed house, this man says he and his wife were eating dinner when three waves crashed through the building. Now, they are homeless, staying each night with a different friend or relative.

The United Nations says this community is already one of the poorest among Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. A new poverty study funded by the European Union says everyone in Jal al-Bahr lives below the poverty line, and 30 percent live in extreme poverty, which means they cannot afford enough to eat.

Development specialists say communities of Palestinians living outside refugee camps in Lebanon can sometimes be better off than those living in the camps. Rupen Das of the Lebanese Society for Education and Social Development says Palestinians cannot own property in Lebanon, and the residents of Jal al-Bahr are essentially squatters on public land.

"Their housing is not permanent," said Das. "They are vulnerable to the elements. If there is any conflict there is no militia protects them. There is no Lebanese Army around the camp that protects them."

Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are essentially foreigners, even though most are born and raised in Lebanon. In Jal al-Bahr, they are not allowed to rebuild their own properties without a special permit. Residents say often they are not allowed to repair their ramshackle houses. Those who build without a permit are thrown in jail.

Director Salvatore Lombardo of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon says his agency also is not allowed to re-build settlements like Jal al-Bahr. But he says, even if the agency could rebuild, it would not necessarily have the means.

"We have not rehabilitated any shelter anywhere because of lack of funds," said Lombardo. "Here are 4,000 shelters that need to be rehabilitated."

With no other aid organizations in the settlement, and the United Nations unable to help, Jal al-Bahr residents say they do not know what they will do.

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