IOL, Sept. 5, 2007
Beddawai, Lebanon - The Lebanese may be rejoicing at the crushing of an Islamist militia after three months of fighting at an impoverished refugee camp but the massive destruction inflicted during the standoff has left its Palestinian residents in utter despair.
"Sixty years of hard work have gone in smoke," said Akram, a refugee from Nahr al-Bared who fled the day the battle erupted on May 20 to seek shelter with friends in the nearby Beddawi camp.
The army took full control of Nahr al-Bared on Sunday following a failed bid by besieged Al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam militants to flee, but the fighting has left the camp in ruins.
Most of its registered 31 000-strong population of Palestinian refugees fled when the fighting broke out, with many now crammed into Beddawi some 10km to the south.
Akram, an accountant who once made a decent living, today finds himself and 10 members of his family living and sleeping in a room of about 50m².
"There were big fortunes in the camp. It was a vital market, not only for the residents, but for all of Lebanon. Nothing could compensate for this loss," said the 50-year-old.
He said does not even believe the promise made by Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora who has called for an international donors' conference on September 10 in Beirut to secure aid for the reconstruction of Nahr al-Bared.
The seaside shantytown, now off-limits to civilians, has been left in ruins, with houses bombed-out, pockmarked with shell and bullet holes, and multi-storey buildings collapsed into mangled piles concrete and rubble.
The United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) said more than 500 000 cubic metres of rubble should be cleared from the camp before the reconstruction.
"We are happy that the army got rid of the rabble Fatah al-Islam, but would it have destroyed the camp like this if it was a Lebanese city?" wondered Saeed, a 40-year-old electrician.
Saeed now lives with his wife and 10 children in a garage along one of the winding alleys covered with sewage in Beddawi.
His family sleeps in the garage on mattresses and a sofa offered by camp residents.
"At night, I send my eight sons to sleep at various places in the camp. We used to be all together, today we are all dispersed," he said.
From time to time, charity associations offer them food, but in insufficient quantities.
"We cannot bear this situation for longer. Reconstruction should start immediately," he said.
The refugees remain in complete desperation, particularly that they do not seem to have any proper authority to turn to.
"The situation was chaotic in Nahr al-Bared over the last few years," said Abu Mahmud. "Foreigners were coming in at will, and the Palestinian organisations gave the impression that they were not controlling the situation."
Asked if the refugees would accept a government decision to keep the camp under Lebanese authority, he said: "Maybe, but only if the army is ready to defend us, like it does for the Lebanese."