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Please give us a ceasefire, say volunteers
26 July 2006
by Tamer El-Ghobashy

Beirut, Lebanon: With their supplies of food and medicine being quickly consumed, volunteers tending to the thousands of displaced Lebanese welcomed United States' promise of US$30 million in humanitarian aid yesterday. But what they'd really like from the Bush administration is pressure on Israel for a ceasefire.

"We can endure this for a little longer, but for the children it is impossible," said Hanan Daher, 18, who sought relief from a blazing sun under the shade of a tree in Samayeh public park, which has become one of the largest temporary shelters.

Her 3-year-old sister, Meriem, lay in her lap, moving only to swat a fly from her face or hair. Meriem, who normally drives her sister crazy with chitchat, hasn't spoken a word since she and her family fled their southern Lebanon town after a neighbor's house was flattened by a bomb six days ago.

"What we really want is for this terror to stop," Daher said. "We are civilians, not fighters."

About 400 people who now live in the park rely on a group of energetic volunteers for food and medicine. Yesterday, children swarmed a relief worker who handed out juice boxes and chips. Nearly half walked away empty-handed.

The people in the park were just a fraction of the 750,000 Lebanese who have fled their homes since the fighting began nearly two weeks ago.

The volunteers tending to the refugees said they have been relying on public and private donations to keep the relief going. Their supplies are being strained by the unending stream of people arriving every day.

"We hope that we can sustain this for weeks and months if we need to," said volunteer Sarjoun Kantar, 23. "But the hope is that we won't need to."

At the Amilieh School in Beirut, about 1,000 people have moved into classrooms and hallways.

The school's principal, Mohamad Taha, said a ceasefire would surely stem the humanitarian crises that dwindling supplies could trigger. But even then, there is a massive logistical problem.

"I've already taken into account that even if there is a ceasefire today, we would have to keep the center running for at least a week or 10 days," said Taha, who has taken on the role of the camp's administrator. "Most of these people don't have homes anymore."

Those at the school complained less of their day-to-day discomfort as much as having to languish without knowing when the fighting will end. But there was no question as to where their loyalty and anger lie.

"Bush's democracy has the blood of children on its hands," said Rabab, a 36-year-old from Majdal Zoon, a Hezbollah stronghold known locally as the Village of the Martyrs. "We are prepared to be [at the refugee centers] for months as long as our pride is preserved. Hezbollah is fighting for the pride of our nation."

Hussein Salman, 21, said his uncle and his cousin died fighting the Israeli forces.

"Losing my home does not hurt as much as losing my relatives," he said. "But they died resisting, and that gives me a lot of the strength I have during this difficult time.