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Pace and scale of bloody blitz strand families in danger zones
by Daily Star (reposted)
Friday Jul 14th, 2006 6:40 PM
BEIRUT: The Lebanese people in general and the Shiite sect in particular are accustomed to seeking refuge when faced with the threat of war, whether it comes as the result of civil strife or external attacks. But with Israel having destroyed all routes out of the South and implemented an air and sea blockade of Beirut, hundreds of impoverished Shiite families are stranded.
"During previous conflicts, we used to flee southward when the troubles occurred in Beirut and vice versa when the fighting broke out in the South," said Karim Hammoud, a schoolteacher. "Over 500,000 inhabitants live in the Dahiyeh [Beirut's southern suburbs]. Where would we find enough shelters, especially when the media and some shortsighted politicians keep promoting sectarianism?"

Many families were forced to spend Thursday night in the streets or took shelter in public schools, leading Education Minister Khaled Qabbani to open all public schools as shelters.

Although the government, local non-governmental organizations and many Christian and Muslim associations have prepared all necessary provisions and shelters to aid the displaced, Issam Zeitoun, a social worker with a group called Al-Najda, said there would be no way to accommodate all the families in the Dahiyeh.

"If the Israeli assault escalated in the residential areas, we would expect a mass movement of displaced people, but we do not know where we could accommodate, or how we would provide for nearly half-a-million people," he said. "We've received at least 40 families, mainly with young children, who are now sheltering in three schools in West Beirut, but we expect to receive more families."

Zeitoun said most of those who fled their homes came from neighborhoods near the main roads, bridges and Hizbullah offices that have been targeted by Israeli bombs. However, either out of loyalty to Hizbullah, lack of options, or the belief that the conflict will not last, the majority of families remained in the Dahiyeh to face the onslaught.