Refugees head back to south Lebanon
Mon Aug 14, 2006 9:03am ET
Retrieved from Reuters on August 14, 2006
By Hussein Saad
SHIHABIYEH, Lebanon (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Lebanese refugees headed back toward their homes in the south on Monday as guns fell silent under a U.N.-brokered truce to end five weeks of fighting between Israel and Hizbollah.
Hundreds made it to a string of villages south of the Litani River and east of the port city of Tyre, despite bombed-out roads and an Israeli ban on movement.
But none appeared to have immediately headed back to Israeli-held territory in south Lebanon.
Ahmed Nassereddine arrived in the village of Shihabiyeh to find out that his building and petrol station had been destroyed by an Israeli air strike just 10 minutes before the truce.
"Thank God, we survived. Property can be replaced, souls can't," he told Reuters, holding back tears.
Thousands of cars jammed a bomb-ravaged highway leading south from the port city of Sidon. Most roads and bridges to south Lebanon have been bombed by Israel. There were similar scenes on the highway from Beirut to the south.
Cars sounded their horns and passengers made "V for victory" signs. Security sources said tens of thousands were heading home.
Bulldozers scrambled to fill craters and create a makeshift dirt road on which cars and trucks, many laden with furniture, could make their way to Tyre and the town of Nabatiyeh.
"I ask all those displaced to return home," said parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Hizbollah ally, in a statement.
"He who finds his house should return to it, and he who doesn't should stay in his land and at his neighbor's until we are able to rebuild it for him."
But the Israeli army said it was keeping its ban on "unauthorized" traffic in south Lebanon to prevent movement of Hizbollah gunmen. An Israeli spokesman said anyone found on the road risked attack by Israeli forces.
Witnesses said refugees, young and old, cheered and talking of "victory against Israel". Some carried pictures of Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Others handed out leaflets hailing the Shi'ite group's "divine victory" over Jewish state.
Some refugees, impatient with the snail-like pace of the traffic, left their cars, crossed a bridge to the south on foot and looked for a lift from other vehicles on the far side.
"I'm so excited to see my home. I'd heard news it was completely destroyed, but even if there's one room intact, I will stay there with my children," said Sanaa Ayyad, carrying a baby and trailed by two young boys.
More than 1,100 people in Lebanon and 156 Israelis have been killed in the conflict, ignited by a July 12 cross-border raid by Hizbollah guerrillas who captured two Israeli soldiers.
Security sources said several people who had ventured out to bombed villages had been injured by unexploded ammunition. Local television urged people to stay away from unidentified objects.
One road, 20 km (13 miles) east of Tyre, was impassable because of deep craters made by the Israeli bombardment.
"Thank God the aggression has stopped," said Ali Balhas, walking to his village near the town of Qana.
"This has revealed the fake democracy of Israel and the United States because they destroyed houses on top of civilians' heads. Despite all this destruction, we still support the resistance (Hizbollah)."
Witnesses said the mood near Qana, where dozens of civilians, most of them children, were killed in a July 30 air strike that provoked international condemnation, was one of tense caution.
Houses along the route from Tyre to the village of Yater were in ruins. Civilians were scared of unexploded bombs on the streets and reluctant to enter the area yet, they said.
Mariam Saad arrived at the village of Aiteet to find it in ruins: "All our properties, belongings and money are not worth the shoe of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah," she said.
(Additional reporting by Ali Hashisho in Sidon)
It is time for the PHOENIX BIRD to rise again
and show his perpetrators the POWER OF REDEMPTION