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Last Updated: Monday, 24 July 2006, 21:20 GMT 22:20 UK
The travails of escaping Lebanon
By Martin Asser
BBC News, Tyre

Ali Zabad has two major concerns in the midst of Israel's bombardment of his native south Lebanon.

Zabad family
Bombs destroyed the Zabad family home in southern Lebanon

He wants to get his wife, Rose, and their two young grandchildren as far away as possible from the relentless bombing that has killed more than 372 people - overwhelmingly civilians.

But he also has to look after his mother Nayfi, who has suffered a stroke and is in no fit state to make the onerous journey out of the war zone without full medical back-up.

Their home in Mansoureh village was flattened by Israeli bombing, but not before the family fled to Tyre.

They came with just a few belongings on the second day of the crisis, which erupted after Hezbollah guerrillas seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

Now Ali, Rose, eight-year-old Ali and six-year-old Ghadir are waiting at a Tyre hotel where refugees have gathered to be taken by boat to Cyprus.

The children have been in their care for the last five years, since their mother abandoned them, Ali tells me, and their father, Munir Zabad, went to work in Sierra Leone before seeking asylum in Ireland.

Overheated chaos

In the maelstrom of fleeing humanity at the hotel, Ali is nursing ambitions to keep his family together by getting himself and his mother on the boat too.

The problem is the boat is only for foreign passport holders.

While Rose - half-Spanish, half-Lebanese, born in Sierra Leone - has a UK Protected Person's passport, Ali and his sick mother do not have any travel documents whatsoever. Nor do his grandchildren.

But he hopes he can "talk to somebody" at the collection point or the port.

Unfortunately, there is no one to "talk to" at the hotel, just overheated chaos, with flooding in the toilets, bored children squirming on the floor, parents chainsmoking in the lobby, and no one apparently in charge.

However, word is going round that the German authorities who have chartered the ship are unlikely to refuse close relatives of foreign nationals.

Shell bursts

Encouraged by this news, Ali takes me to see Nayfi at the small ground-floor flat they are renting in the centre of Tyre.

Ali and mother Nayfi
Ali fears leaving his sick mother behind as bombs continue to fall
Nayfi is being looked after by neighbours too scared of Israel's shelling to stay in their own home on the fifth floor.

Throughout the morning, shell bursts - some uncomfortably close - have shaken the windows of the hotel, making mothers flinch and children cry uncontrollably.

The undemonstrative Ali talks patiently to his mother, who is sitting upright on a bench but swaying and speaking indistinctly.

"What do you want to do, Mama?"

"Go, my son, go by yourself."

"Do you want to go to the hotel?"

"I am too ill to go anywhere."

Ali himself seems uncertain what to do.

Should he take her to the port, and try to bluff his way on board? Or would it cause unnecessary suffering to an old, sick woman setting off to an uncertain fate in Europe?

In the end he decides they will probably both have to stay.

The decision means she is likely never to see her two great grandchildren again - or her German passport-holding son and two daughters leaving on the same boat.

Official obstruction

Ali goes down to the port to see his wife and children off to Cyprus.

Rose and authorities
Rose pleads with travel authorities to let her grandchildren travel
Any last thoughts of asking about passage for his sick mother disappear in the broiling heat of the quayside, where more than 200 refugees line up to be registered by the Lebanese authorities.

The atmosphere is tense and it is some 30 minutes before Ali is even let through the gate without a passport by the officious police guards.

The biggest shock comes when, after more hours of waiting, Rose learns that the Lebanese officials won't let Ghadir and little Ali travel because they do not have documents.

Several other refugees are in a similar predicament.

Two German-Lebanese women say their documents were left in their house in Aitaroun that is nothing more than rubble.

At the last minute, the police relent and an officer calls out names of problematic cases who are quickly re-registered and hurriedly put on two motor boats to take them to the ship, the Princessa Marissa.

Left behind

Apparently, the ship has been told by the Israeli army she has outstayed her welcome and must depart immediately.

Rose and the children are the last names called and they have to run to one of the motor boats which is already inching away.

The boat comes back and the Canadian naval team running the operation help the three Zabads on board.

Ali watches family leave
Ali experienced mixed feelings watching his family leave for safety
The day has turned out well for them, but not for another family in another boat.

A mother starts screaming that two of her sons have not yet got on board with here. Nevertheless, the boat pulls away.

Astonishingly, the Canadians keep sailing from the quayside, despite the mother's hysteria and angry shouts from those on land to come back.

The boys, aged about 12 and three, are left distraught on the quay, along with their grandmother who also did not manage to climb aboard.

"Don't worry, they'll be another boat to Cyprus in a day or two," said a Lebanese policeman.




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