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LEBANON: Displaced families struggle on both sides of sectarian divide
The state school is home to 34 Sunni families from Bab al-Tabbaneh who are receiving food and medical care from the Sunni-run Future Movement
TRIPOLI (NORTHERN LEBANON), 31 July 2008 (IRIN) - Hundreds of Shia Allawi families who have fled the upsurge in violence since 25 July between the Jebel Mohsen (mainly Allawi) and Bab al-Tabbaneh (mainly Sunni) neighbourhoods of Tripoli are living without basic necessities and have yet to receive support. [Read this report in Arabic]
"Nobody is looking after them. There are many children and they lack the basic everyday needs; food, clothing, medicine," said Marwan Husseiki, an officer with the UN's Children's Fund (UNICEF), who made a first visit to four Allawi villages in the impoverished north of Lebanon on 30 July.
"The families were surprised when I arrived," said Husseiki, who visited the villages of Hisa, Masoudieh, Belbily and Konbor, in the northern Akkar District, just a few kilometres from the border with Syria. "They haven't been visited by anyone from the government or any NGO [non-governmental organisation]."
UNICEF has requested a survey of displaced Allawi families from Akkar Municipality, and is preparing sanitation and medical kits for distribution. Husseiki said he would be calling on international NGOs to provide food and other relief to the families.
Since May, long-standing historical grievances between Tripoli's 500,000 Sunnis and its 50,000 Allawis have flared into a deadly and intractable armed conflict, fanned by ongoing political tensions in Beirut, which has now killed 23 people and injured hundreds. Up to 6,000 families displaced
Officials say up to 6,000 families have been displaced, but as of 30 July only those 700 Sunni families from Bab al-Tabbaneh who have found shelter in schools have been formally registered. These families are receiving food and medical support from the Sunni Future Movement of parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri.
Photo: Hugh Macleod
|Bab al-Tabbaneh is one of Lebanon’s poorest neighbourhoods|
Mona Zaki, aged 20 and pregnant with her first child, arrived at Tripoli's Second State School at dawn on 26 July after grenades and mortars began exploding around her apartment in Manquoubine, facing (mainly Allawi) Jebel Mohsen and backing onto Beddawi Palestinian refugee camp.
"Our car was shot at as we fled. I cannot handle living like this any more," said Mona, whose husband is deployed with the Lebanese army in Beirut and who fled her home with her mother, father and her young nieces and nephews. "I am very anxious for my baby. I don't want food from the politicians. I just want peace."
Saleem Nashabi, an official with the Future movement coordinating relief efforts at the Second State School - one of 11 made available to the displaced by the municipality - said he had 34 families in his care, but the party had requests from 160 families who had yet to be found shelter.
Nashabi said no Allawi families from Jebel Mohsen had sought shelter in any of the schools opened by the Future-dominated Tripoli municipality. "They would feel threatened if they came here, so they prefer to go to Akkar or to Syria," he said.
The violence in Tripoli pits Jebel Mohsen's Allawis, who support the Hezbollah-led opposition and have ties to the Allawi ruling class in Syria, against Bab Tabbaneh's Sunnis, who are backed by the Sunni-majority anti-Syrian March 14 coalition. The army has deployed in both neighbourhoods but has been unable to force either side to maintain a cease-fire.
|Nobody is looking after them. There are many children and they lack the basic everyday needs; food, clothing, medicine. |
Both neighbourhoods are among the poorest in Lebanon, with adult unemployment around 60 percent, according to locals, and school drop-out rates of some 80 percent, according to UNICEF.
In a café in Bab Tabbaneh visited by IRIN, out of six men sitting drinking coffee, four were unemployed. Apart from the coffee shop owner, only one man had a job - as a scrap metal collector - but he said he had been unable to work since May, due to the violence.
Two fathers interviewed randomly in the Second State School had 15 children between them and both worked as litter pickers, earning US$8-$10 per day. Threat of violence hampers aid efforts
Though a fragile ceasefire has held since the end of weekend (26-27 July), the ongoing threat of violence in neighborhoods that border Beddawi camp and the main highway to the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp (from where up to 40,000 Palestinians were displaced last summer) has hampered UN relief efforts there.
A statement by the UN's Palestinian relief agency UNRWA said "recurrent violence in North Lebanon has had an adverse impact on the humanitarian services" it provides, citing its halt on operations on 24 July and a reduced presence on 28 July.
The International Committee of the Red Cross in Beirut has called on those involved in the armed clashes to "spare the lives of the population and facilitate the evacuation of all wounded persons", and allow medical and humanitarian personnel access to the wounded and those in need of humanitarian assistance.