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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 17:36 GMT 18:36 UK
Ask bombed-out residents in Lebanon
Panel of al-Khiyam residents

Al-Khiyam is one of many towns and villages in southern Lebanon that was heavily bombed in Israel's military campaign against the Hezbollah militant movement.

Residents start rebuilding their lives in al-Khiyam

It was virtually deserted as the bombing reached a crescendo, but since last week's ceasefire residents have been returning home to pick up the pieces.

On Wednesday 23 August, the BBC News website invited readers around the world to put their questions to some of the town's residents. There will be a similar event on the other side of the border in Israel soon.

Click on the links below to read more about the residents.

RIM AL-EID, SCHOOL ADMINISTRATOR

Rim al-Eid

Rim is a school administrator in Dardara in western al-Khiyam. She is unmarried and lives in the family home with her parents.

She was doing end-of-year paperwork at the school last month when Israeli forces started shelling southern Lebanon following the capture by Hezbollah militants of two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid.

"We went back to our houses and listened to the news - we hadn't even heard about the two soldiers until then," she says.

"We did not think the bombardment was going to go on for a long time. We thought the Israelis would get it out of their systems, and things would go back to normal, and they'd exchange prisoners or something."

Map showing al-Khiyam

To begin with the family stayed at home, which has an underground shelter for air raids. But they decided to leave a few days later when bombs started falling inside the town itself.

"The main roads to escape were cut so we had to use side roads, and there was bombing all around us. One bomb landed just 10 metres from the car - only God saved us."

Rim's parents' house was quite badly damaged during the five-week bombing campaign though it is still habitable. Repairs will be expensive, but she is happy that Hezbollah is offering to do the building work at its own expense.

AHMED HASSAN, ELECTED OFFICIAL

Ahmed Hassan

Ahmed is one of al-Khiyam's eight mukhtars, elected officials whose job is to get to know everybody in their area and vouch for them when they have to get legal documents, etc.

In times of crisis, people also look to the mukhtar to help them solve their other problems such as provision of food or medicine or clean water.

"I was one of the last to leave al-Khiyam when the Israeli bombing became very intense, but I came back when there was a 48-hour truce, though I wasn't able to stay for very long.

"When the ceasefire started I was the first to return to the town, because I was very keen to get back to my home."

Ahmed and his wife have sent their three daughters (aged 11, 10 and nine) to Kuwait to stay with their grandparents. His wife's sister came to Damascus and he took the girls there from the Bekaa, where they were staying.

His oldest daughter is the most sensitive of the three. She was crying a lot and saying she did not want to go - but he says they are OK now.

They often communicate by phone, an expense borne by the girls' aunt, who works in Kuwait. Ahmed cannot call them because he does not have an international line on his mobile phone.

He says it will take at least another six days to clear up the damage in his house, which was hit by Israeli shellfire. In the meantime he and Mrs Hassan are staying at his brother's house.

FAIRUZ ABU ABBAS, MOTHER AND BUSINESSWOMAN

Fairuz Abu Abbas

Fairuz is a mother of three boys and owned a lingerie shop on the ground floor of her house in the centre of al-Khiyam.

The house was completely destroyed by Israeli bombing about two weeks into the campaign - and just 12 hours after Fairuz had been persuaded by a friend to flee to a neighbouring Christian town, which was not targeted.

"My friend came back to town to get something, and when she saw me on my veranda she was astonished anyone was still in al-Khiyam with the bombing.

"She begged me to go with her to Marjayoun, if only for one night. I didn't want to go but I said OK, just for one night, and then I would return."

Fairuz and her three sons left their house with her friend to spend a night in Marjayoun on 25 July. At 2000 that evening she heard Israeli planes dropping bombs and saw a house was on fire in her area.

"That night my husband, who was still in al-Khiyam staying with a neighbour, called me and said: 'Our house has been bombed.' I said: 'I know, I can see.'"

Fairuz had braved the bombing longer than others for several reasons, in particular because her sons wanted to stay and because of her own professed indifference to death.

She calls the 1,000-or-so civilians killed in Lebanon in the latest round of fighting a price worth paying in what she considers a victory against Israel.

She insists she is happy, "because what they destroy we can rebuild, unlike if a friend or a relative, a father or a child, is killed".

PIERRE WANNA, TEACHER

Pierre Wanna

Pierre is a teacher at the Amel foundation in al-Khiyam, a health and educational organisation funded by international development agencies. His parents are from the town but he was born in Kuwait where they worked.

The family moved back to Lebanon in 1990 following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. During his education Pierre divided his time between al-Khiyam and Beirut and started working in al-Khiyam full time in 2002.

He is from the Christian minority in a town which is more than 90% Shia Muslim, but says relations between sects are extremely harmonious.

"All people in small towns and villages share the same experience, and they don't see religion as a point of discrimination.

"Some people say the Christians are under pressure, but it is sometimes possible to imagine things that are not there. I personally don't feel any pressure"

In reference to Hezbollah, Pierre says he is against violence as a way of solving problems, but says sometimes you have to act when you are under attack.

"However, the whole war was not justified. Look at the results - nothing has changed except the destruction."

Pierre is currently undecided on whether to accept money from Hezbollah, thought to have come from Iran, to rebuild his house which was badly damaged in Israeli bombing.

LINA ATWI, SECRETARIAL STUDENT

Lina Atwi

Lina is training to be a secretary at the Martyrs of al-Khiyam further education institute.

During Israel's recent bombardment of southern Lebanon she spent some time with her mother, brother and four sisters in the Bekaa valley.

Her father, who is a member of the Hezbollah movement, stayed in the town throughout the five-week conflict, as did many other Hezbollah members.

His job was to supply Hezbollah guerrillas fighting Israeli forces at the battlefront after the Israeli army crossed into Lebanon following the capture of its two soldiers.

"We had no direct contact with him, but we got news from other people that he was OK."

Lina is interested western music and likes the singers Tina Arena and Erika Martin and the boy band Blue.

When electricity and phone lines are restored in al-Khiyam she is looking forward to chatting with her friends by computer - she has contacts in Lebanon and abroad, including Lebanese-Americans living in the US.

She is worried that young people abroad do not see a true picture of conditions in southern Lebanon, but she admits it is difficult for them to understand the conditions if they have not witnessed conflict themselves.

NABIL YAHYA, GRADUATE

Nabil Yahya
Nabil is a law graduate who has studied for his masters diploma in France but had to curtail his education because of the high cost of living in Europe.

He has a Schengen visa which allows him return to Europe, but it runs out at the end of September. Therefore he is preparing to travel to Germany, where he has relatives who will help him settle down and, he hopes, find him a job.

"It is very difficult to find work if you don't have connections or you are unable to pay bribes in the region of $10,000 or even $20,000 to enter a paid profession. I'm sorry to say, but this is Lebanon nowadays."

When he gets to Germany he will accept any work, in restaurants or fixing cars, to give himself time to learn the language and then get a job which befits his education.

His father served in the police and he says the family never had anything to do with politics.

"We are people who love our country, but we don't have any affiliations to one side or another - maybe if we had it would be easier for me to find work."

He is aware that if peace comes to Lebanon there may be more opportunities in the country, and he says many of his friends are banking on this prospect.

"But as for me, I don't want to lose my visa for Europe, so I have to go and if things get better here I will return."

Panel of al-Khiyam residents






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