Thousands flee war-torn Lebanon

July 19, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

JDAIDAT YABUS, Syria -- Damascus is awash in refugees.

Luxury hotels are booked for upward of $300 a night, taken by wealthy Arab families from the Persian Gulf and their Philippine nannies, after their vacations at the Beirut seaside were interrupted by Israeli bombs.

Five temporary shelters set up by the Red Crescent in schools and orphanages house more than 1,000 Lebanese refugees. Tens of thousands more have sought shelter with Syrian friends and family or flooded to the airport. At least 80 have camped out on the sidewalks in front of foreign embassies, hoping to convince their governments to help send them home.

Most foreign nationals are being evacuated directly out of Beirut in a huge air and sea lift, mainly toward Cyprus. Those too frightened to wait, or with no one to rescue them, have ended up at this oven-like border crossing in the stark sandy hills along Syria's border with Lebanon, the war-torn country's only land outlet besides Israel.

Syria is allowing refugees to cross with as little as a driver's license as identification and is distributing free water, meals and international phone cards.

Khaled Erksoussi, a Red Crescent spokesman, said many families fled so fast they became separated from family members, and are desperately searching them out. "There are families missing children. They just left after the bombing of a building, and for these families, obviously, we're offering psychological support," Erksoussi said.

"Most of the people coming here don't have anything. No clothes. They don't even have money to make a phone call. So they need everything," he said. "Yesterday there was a bombing near the border, and we received the wounded here. Many of the Lebanese are finding it easier to hold on to the injury until they can make it here, because to go back into Lebanon is even more dangerous."

At the border and in shelters, refugees tell of spending 12 hours to several days, making their way from shellshocked towns in southern Lebanon, through the continuing bombing in Sidon and Beirut, and across the only remaining intact roads to Syria.

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