Many civilians remain in S. Lebanon, agencies say Welfare of thousands an increasing concern amid Israeli bombardment

April 22, 1996|By Doug Struck | Doug Struck,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

CHAATIYE, Lebanon -- The stubborn and the old, the zealous and the careless, those who stayed in southern Lebanon came out to scan the sky yesterday looking to see if diplomats had yet brought relief from the barrage.

From the porch of her house in Chaatiye, a Hezbollah stronghold in South Lebanon, Rafiya Ali Fayad tended her roses and said that diplomacy and the end of the 11-day Israeli bombardment were both matters too big to worry about.

Israel had told a half-million Lebanese to flee their homes, and announced that anyone remaining would be considered a Hezbollah target. But the International Red Cross estimates that 60,000 stayed in south Lebanon, and that their welfare is an increasing concern as the conflict drags on.

"No village is totally empty. There are tens, in some places hundreds of civilians" in areas that have been hit with more than 15,000 Israeli artillery shells since April 11, according to Mikael Lindvall, a liaison officer for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

Those people are living in the shadows of ghost towns. Villages that appear shuttered and empty suddenly reveal families, old men and women when the thunder of artillery pauses and the Israeli jets disappear from the sky.

"All of my children left for Beirut. They told me to go with them, but I stayed," said Mrs. Fayad, who gave her age as 56. Fourteen years a widow, she refused to leave the home where she had raised 10 children.

"Where would I go? To some school in Beirut, to live on the floor and take handouts? I love my home. I will stay," said the woman, with a generous smile lacking teeth but not warmth.

U.N. peacekeepers are struggling each day to reach those who have stayed. The United Nations offers food, water and transportation if they want to leave. After Israel artillery shells hit refugees in a U.N. post Thursday, killing 75 to 100, some are more skeptical of the offer.

"After what happened in the U.N., why shouldn't anyone stay. They are safer in their homes," said a neighbor, Ali Misalman, 37. Mr. Misalman said he was a member of Hezbollah.

Some who remain in the villages are Hezbollah fighters, as Israel contends. They tend to be hard, lean men with beards and walkie-talkies, wary of talking to reporters. Estimates of their number vary from a few hundred to a few thousand.

Israel says Hezbollah members are using civilians as a shield, and that to strike back, it must shell civilian areas.

That puts in jeopardy others who have remained because they are old, have big families, or cannot face the uncertainties and degradation of living in a shelter in distant Beirut.

Many farmers have refused to leave their crops or livestock, their only source of income. Others, so poor they may own only a donkey, had no transportation.

"These are ordinary people. They are not affiliated with any organization. They are just trying to live their lives," Ross Mountain, the coordinator of U.N. emergency programs in Lebanon, said in Tyre yesterday.

He was trying to organize the relief efforts for the refugees and those who have stayed, an effort made dangerous by the continued Israeli shelling in South Lebanon. Even U.N. convoys, consisting of large white trucks with huge letters, have been hit by artillery and rockets, and private cars are declared targets of Israel.

Yesterday, in the small town of Aitanit, a U.N. convoy arrived with food for anyone left in town. At first, the place seemed deserted.

"Where are the people?" an Irish peacekeeping soldier, Capt. Chris Reynolds, asked his headquarters by radio. Slowly, a few people emerged from the shuttered houses.

"I'm still here because I have cows, and I don't want them to die," said Mohammed Sayed Daha, 63.

The half-dozen villagers said they did not need the U.N. supplies. Captain Reynolds left provisions anyway.

"A lot of people are too proud to appear to be taking charity," he said.

There was another reason villagers do not rush to greet the U.N. trucks, he said.

"They said the Israelis watch, and will know people are there and target the place," said the captain.

Indeed, Israeli gunners open fire on virtually anything moving on roads to and in South Lebanon.

The main road connecting South Lebanon, including the major cities of Sidon and Tyre, with Beirut and the north is an artery targeted by two Israeli warships positioned off the coast.

"They are trying to prevent any movement," said Mr. Lindvall of UNIFIL.

"They will say they are trying to prevent Hezbollah movement south, but everybody knows Hezbollah is already there."

Meanwhile, Israelis are also fleeing the border area. As a hoped-for cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas failed to materialize yesterday, Shimon Maman's family packed up and headed out of the town of Kiryat Shmona.

"We kept thinking, 'One more day, one more day,' " Mr. Maman told the Associated Press. "But every day it continues.

"We tried to stick it out as long as we could. But there are no neighbors left, no one for my children to play with. This doesn't seem to be coming to an end."

Pub Date: 4/22/96

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