Thu, May 24, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Fighting in Lebanon uproots thousands of refugees

AFP , BEDDAWI, LEBANON

"This is the fate of Palestinians: exodus after exodus," cried refugee Faiza Rashrash, sitting on a thin mattress on the floor of a school in the Beddawi camp of northern Lebanon.

Rashrash was among an estimated 10,000 Palestinian refugees who have so far fled to Beddawi and other areas since the start of a truce on Tuesday in the fighting in the Nahr al-Bared camp, further to the north.

"Just like the exodus from Palestine in 1948, we fled on foot, with a bundle of clothes on our heads. Back then, we were welcomed by the Lebanese, today we are seeking refuge with other Palestinian refugees," she said.

"This journey is a painful reminder of when we were forced to flee Palestine, when I was 23 years old. Just like back then, I left my house with just the dress I was wearing," her 82-year-old aunt Amina Audi Hussein said.

By foot or in cars and pickup trucks, refugees continued to flee the battered Nahr al-Bared as the guns fell silent after three days of ferocious fighting between Islamist militiamen and the Lebanese army.

Nahr al-Bared, a sprawl of ramshackle buildings on the coast, is home to more than 31,000 refugees, and relief agencies fear a humanitarian crisis as Beddawi which has more than 16,000 refugees of its own may not be able to cope with the exodus.

The refugees cram schools, cultural centers and residents' homes.

Yussef al-Assaad, head of the Palestinian Red Crescent in the north, said three ambulances entered Nahr al-Bared yesterday to evacuate disabled Palestinians to Beddawi.

Meanwhile, the UN relief agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, had "no plans for relief aid to Nahr al-Bared for today, so far," spokeswoman Hoda Samra said.

"We are providing relief aid to the thousands of refugees who have sought refuge in our schools and centers in Beddawi and Tripoli," Samra said.

"Our clinics are also working double shifts to cope with the numbers," she said.

Mohammed Nadweh, who is paralyzed in one leg, leaned on a cane with one hand and on a desk with the other.

"What is going to happen to us?" he kept asking himself.

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