02 August 2006
A Syrian Red Crescent doctor checks a Lebanese refugee at Jdaidet Yabous Crossing at the Syrian Lebanese border on Tuesday, July 25, 2006. Some 200,000 Lebanese have fled Labanon since 12 July when Israel launched its military assault against Lebanon and poured into neighbouring Syria.(AP Photo Bassem Tellawi).
People around the world are despairing and angry about Beirut's rapid transformation back into a conflict zone, just as it was shaking off the reputation of war. For some, those feelings have inspired solidarity and incredible generosity.
In Iran, people are sending money and jewellery to help Lebanese refugees. In Syria, families are opening their homes, lending their cars, and giving free haircuts to the shaken arrivals on their doorsteps.
"I did nothing important," retired Iranian labourer Mehdi Jokar told a crowd at a Tehran mosque after he donated a third of his monthly pension to people wounded and made homeless by Israel's offensive against Hizbollah. "Our Muslim brothers in Lebanon have given their blood," he said.
Syria has taken in at least 140,000 Lebanese refugees so far, and U.N. officials are preparing for more than twice that.
Syria already has more than 450,000 Iraqi refugees, and about 430,000 Palestinians live in crowded, dusty camps in the country, but the new arrivals are being greeted with unprecedented generosity.
Restaurants are giving food to shelters, individuals have turned up with food and mattresses, hairdressers are giving free haircuts and shaves, and more than 7,000 Syrian families have offered to take refugees into their homes.
All this makes Syria's president look good - the Los Angeles Times says it cements his image as "patron of the militant anti-Israel resistance". But the United Nations says the solidarity on the streets has been unbelievable.
A Lebanese refugee who'd driven his family to Syria told the L.A. Times: "Some people saw me driving down the street looking for a place, and they stopped me and told me they will give me an apartment."
Another man said: "When I go to boutiques and they find out we are Lebanese refugees, they refuse to take money from us. Even the taxis refuse to take money from us."
An official from the U.N. refugee agency told the Los Angeles Times there were 5,000 to 10,000 Lebanese people arriving in Syria every day, and about 700,000 more have been displaced but remain in Lebanon.