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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 17:50 GMT 18:50 UK
Lebanese residents answer your questions
Panel of al-Khiyam residents

The BBC News website's Martin Asser spent Wednesday 23 August with residents of al-Khiyam in southern Lebanon.

See a 360 panorama of laptop link-up from al-Khiyam

Al-Khiyam is one of many places in the region that was heavily bombed in Israel's military campaign against the Hezbollah militant movement.

It was virtually deserted during the bombing, but since last week's ceasefire residents have been returning home.

Residents answered your questions in a live laptop link-up. A similar event will be held in Israel soon.

Martin Asser 1940 local time (1640 GMT / 1740 BST)

A final sign-off from me. When we arrived in al-Khiyam a few days ago to prepare, we found a catastrophic situation. We also found a good deal of suspicion about our presence here. Understandably, there was an unwillingness to waste time on our project when there was so much to do in the town.

Unloading relief
There is a steady stream of aid agencies in town

The town is still facing an emergency: no running water and no electricity. Hundreds of houses will have to be demolished and hundreds more will need major repairs.

Once people realised our commitment to the project they began to accept us. In the end they were extremely helpful and gave us their full and generous support.

A big thank you to our driver, Ahmed Zein, who helped recruit our participants. And to Phil Coomes for taking such illustrative pictures.

One of my colleagues will be going to Israel to do a similar link-up shortly. It will be interesting to compare and contrast opinions over the border.

Martin Asser 1930 local time (1630 GMT / 1730 BST)

It's nearly time to go. I ask the panel still with me how they found the day.

Pierre Wanna
Pierre: I like this idea of the laptop link-up very much. Especially because it gave me a chance to understand the way people see us.

I hope that we can send a positive image of the Lebanese people to the outside world - that we are lovers of peace. I would like people to come to al-Khiyam and take part in the reconstruction. At least in their hearts.

They should understand that Lebanon was not made for war. That we were always forced into wars.

Lina Atwi
Lina: It was very worthwhile. The important thing is that we communicated with people abroad. The questions were good and appropriate for us. I enjoyed the experience.

Rim al-Eid
Rim: I am very happy that our voices have been heard in the outside world. We were ready to answer all questions with open hearts. We are pleased to answer any questions that aren't provocative or sarcastic.

And it's fine to answer questions from inside Israel or from Israeli supporters through the BBC. As Lebanese citizens, of course, we are unable to talk to Israelis because of the political situation.

Martin Asser 1915 local time (1615 GMT / 1715 BST)

Finally the mukhtar, Ahmed Hassan, arrives. He is very apologetic for not having participated earlier. But he has a very good reason.

Ahmed Hassan
Ahmed: Today I was responsible for paying compensation for people whose houses were totally destroyed by Israeli bombing. This money is from Sayed Hassan (Nasrallah) and Hezbollah.

Each family got $10,000 in cash which is for one year's rent and furniture. It was my job to vouch for the people who came and said they lived in Khiyam and I was asked by Hezbollah to do this. Three mukhtars were working flat out at the municipality and there were three others going round with Hezbollah engineers assessing the damage to each house.

In all, we paid about 140 families their compensation. My job is to prevent corruption - and there is another Hezbollah committee to double check whether people are eligible or not.

Question from Gordon, Edmonton to residents, 1845 local time (1545 GMT / 1645 BST)

Q: I would like to know how you explain this conflict to your children? Do they ask you why Israel attacks your country - and what do you tell them?

Children in al-Khiyam
Children are told to stay on the roads to avoid unexploded bombs

Rim: When children ask this question, I say of course there is a reason Israel is bombing us. They ask what it is. I tell them Israel came and occupied Palestine and now considers us the enemy.

I tell them that they want our land as well, they want our water and our property to make Greater Israel. The children have to know that. My nephew says: "When I grow up I want to be a king or a resistance fighter." These are the only sorts of people who own their own destinies.

Pierre: My sister is 12 years old and when she asks I just say that the Israelis are used to it and nobody cares when civilians die here.

There are certain communities in Israel for whom targeting civilians is highly accepted as an idea. I see this on Israeli websites with people encouraging the army to demolish whole villages. But I say that only represents part of Israeli public opinion.

Martin Asser 1800 local time (1500 GMT / 1600 BST)

I asked Rim how they are managing without any electricity or any running water in the town.

Rim al-Eid
Rim: We have just received a replacement water tank for the municipality, but we have no electricity yet. We're thinking about buying a generator, but it costs $800 and because Israel is still threatening to start bombing again, we want to wait before committing ourselves.

The water we have delivered from the municipality is not enough to cover our normal needs. So we send our washing to Beirut and we get it back a week later.

Question from Sarah Kelly, UK to residents, 1740 local time (1440 GMT / 1540 BST)

Q: Do you feel that your community has generally become more or less supportive of Hezbollah since the bombing?

Nabil: As far as I know, from the media and the people I talk to, Hezbollah is huge. We are a democratic people and we believe in freedom of expression. Maybe before the bombing 99% supported Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. And now afterwards, if that number didn't stay the same, it will have gone up.

It is Hezbollah who stopped Israel invading our country any more than a few hundred metres. And it liberated the south from Israel in 2000.

Question from Nik Miller, Tel Aviv, Israel to residents, 1720 local time (1420 GMT / 1520 BST)

Q: You called "the 1,000-or-so civilians killed in Lebanon... a price worth paying" in what you consider "a victory against Israel." Here in Israel we consider a single life lost too great a price to pay and will mourn the one life far more than we will celebrate the victory s/he died for. Do you not think you, and Islam in general, would be better off if you considered the lives of your friends and families to be more important than the deaths of your enemies?

Fairuz Abu Abbas
Fairuz: The reason we are happy about our martyrs is because we know there is a price for everything and we are willing to pay that price. If you want water you have to pay the price for it. Our blood is the only thing we have to pay with for what we want.

The difference between our dead and the dead in Israel is that we are on the ground with America and Israel's foot standing on our necks.

What is the point of our blood if we do not have our dignity and our pride? Our blood is not worth anything without dignity.

Pierre Wanna
Pierre: We also value human life, but you can say that the Islamic resistance considers it very normal to accept martyrdom, especially in the light of the suffering that they have experienced over the years.

Hezbollah does care about its fighters and the civilian casualties, but for them it is a joyful thing, it is martyrdom.

Martin Asser 1700 local time (1400 GMT / 1500 BST)

The whole Shebaa Farms area can be seen to the east

It's a really clear, sunny day and we can see the entire Shebaa farms area in the mountains to the east of us. This is the area that Hezbollah says Israel still occupies. However, it's been designated by the UN as Israeli-occupied Syrian territory.

The occupied area is very high up, above the tree line. We can see very clearly four Israeli military observation posts on the hilltops of the Shebaa farms to the east.

A crew of workmen have just turned up at our tent. They have been working all day to clear the rubble from the roads around al-Khiyam.

As luck would have it, someone from a nearby house has just brought us a tray of coffee, cooked on a primus stove, so we're able to give them some refreshments.

Question from Edward Talbot to residents, 1645 local time (1345GMT / 1445 BST)

Q: What would you like to say to the people of Israel's northernmost city of Kiryat Shmona, who were bombarded with over 1,000 missiles during this war? Do you feel any empathy with them, given that they and their children have suffered so much - just as you have?

Nabil: We are people who like democracy and liberty and want to live in peace. We love our land - and the people of Kiryat Shmona love theirs too. I hope there can be peace in the region for all of us. I want to ask people over the border to persuade their government not to practice aggression against us.

Lebanon has suffered from 30 years of war, including many attacks from Israel.

Fairuz Abu Abbas
Fairuz: I advise Israelis not to return to war again. This war will not be good for you. We are very strong. And this war has made us 100% stronger. If they want to destroy us again, let them do so, we will build everything back.

Question from Oscar in Brussels to residents, 1615 local time (1315GMT / 1415 BST)

Q: How will you view the likely deployment of European troops to your area as part of a UN peacekeeping mission?

Lina Atwi
Lina: My view is that I don't want to see European troops coming to south Lebanon because we have a Lebanese army; every country has an army which defends its land.

In the absence of the Lebanese army it is possible for European troops to come. But I prefer the army to work with the Islamic resistance. I don't agree with the plan where the army takes the place of Hezbollah, which is the only one which defends our land and our rights.

Fairuz Abu Abbas
Fairuz: The UN forces that we have here are an object of suspicion for us. We think they're traitors and spies for Israel. Let us see if they'll be strong enough to disarm Hezbollah, when not even Israel is strong enough to do that.

Pierre Wanna
Pierre: It depends on the level of authority they have and the guarantees they have from both sides for their work here. If you don't have a solution to the whole Middle East problem, then the deployment of peacekeepers is pointless.

They won't be able to disarm Hezbollah by force, we as Lebanese people must discuss this ourselves. Otherwise there will be chaos and another war; maybe an internal one.

The UN should take this fact into consideration, that the case of Lebanon is unique.

Martin Asser 1530 local time (1230 GMT / 1330 BST)

A young woman called Huda, who lives in one of the houses near us, has come with her father, to clean up a little bit and salvage some possessions. The house was not hit directly by the bombing, but the house next door was and lies in ruins.

Map showing al-Khiyam

Huda - who happens to be staying in our hotel - invites me inside where the effect of the nearby explosions has been disastrous. The windows are blown in and brickwork dislodged. Most of the cupboards in the house have been knocked over and broken, and everyone's clothes lie in heaps among the dust and broken glass.

Huda retrieves her make-up case and a handbag given her by a friend from Spain.

"We don't even know what happened to our neighbours," she tells me. "They are old and had nothing to do with politics. There is no reason for our house or theirs to have been destroyed like this."

Question from Ruth Levine, Glasgow, Scotland to residents, 1430 local time (1130GMT / 1230 BST)

Q: Firstly, do you acknowledge that there are Jewish people (and Israelis) that did not support the attack on Lebanon? And do you think Hezbollah should return the kidnapped Israeli soldiers?

Pierre Wanna
Pierre: I encourage them and I tell them that we have the same goals - we are all asking for peace. I ask them to put more pressure on their governments to make serious efforts to find peace.

Unfortunately, I don't have contacts with people on this side - but I do read Israeli newspapers like Haaretz and Maariv, and I read comments from Israelis who believe in peace and that is a relief for us.

Lina Atwi
Lina: Hezbollah took the prisoners for a reason. If Israel wants them back there are conditions: firstly to free Lebanese prisoners from Israeli jails. Only then will the Israelis get their prisoners back.

Fairuz Abu Abbas
Fairuz: I do recognise that some Jews and Israelis think like this. But what can they do with Ehud Olmert, George Bush and Condoleezza Rice? Do they have any influence over them? We will join hands with them if they can do anything with Olmert and Bush.

We know that Bush and Condi pushed them into this war. And Olmert wanted it for his role as Israeli prime minister, not because he wanted war in itself.

Hezbollah should not let the prisoners go. There should be a swap of prisoners between Israel and Lebanon.

If they want to kill another thousand in Lebanon - no problem - I'm happy to be the first one to be killed.

Question from Paolo, Foz do Iguacu, Brazil to residents, 1410 local time (1110GMT / 1210 BST)

Q: How does it make you feel that Hezbollah have hijacked your country into a war with Israel - which left your country many years ago and hasn't attacked since? How does it feel that Hezbollah and Syria make decisions about your lives, but not your own government, by attacking another sovereign nation without your consent?

Fairuz Abu Abbas
Fairuz: First of all, Hezbollah and Syria do not control Lebanon. Our government controls Lebanon and the proof of this is the fact that the Lebanese army is here. If I have any problems I go to my government, not to Hezbollah or Syria.

Maybe I should go to America to ask them for help, not Syria!

Israel has been wanting to attack us for a long time, since 2000, when it left Lebanon defeated. Israel was just waiting for a pretext to do it.

Pierre Wanna
Pierre: I'm not sure you can say this country has been hijacked; everything is relative and there are some people who say that and some who don't.

The big dispute is over Hezbollah's timing for their operation - many people say the timing wasn't good, because Lebanon is a country that makes money from tourism and the summer tourist season is important for the economy.

As for Syria, they have allies in Lebanon and if they control the country the responsibility is with our own officials. But we can say Syrian control has receded in the last year.

Question from Olivia, London, UK to Fairuz and Rim, 1345 local time (1045GMT / 1145 BST)

Q: Could Rim and Fairuz explain why they are reluctant to show their faces in the photographs?

Rim al-Eid
Rim: At the slightest occasion Israel will be ready to display our photos and call us terrorists. They would probably put us on a list of terrorists, because Israel lacks democracy and freedom, unlike us.

Fairuz Abu Abbas
Fairuz: It's not important to show our faces; no one knows us; we are not famous. Do people want to know what's in our minds or in our faces?

Martin Asser 1309 local time (1009 GMT / 1109 BST)

We've heard about four explosions in the distance in the last 90 minutes or so. We assumed that this was unexploded Israeli ordnance being disposed of but we just heard on Lebanese radio that Israel has been shelling the Shebaa Farms area, about 8km (five miles) to the east.

There was also shelling in the Taibe area, south-west of us. Two people are reported killed.

Question from Martin, London, UK to residents, 1300 local time (1000GMT / 1100 BST)

Q: I know it's tempting to blame Israel for these problems, but do you feel that if Hezbollah hadn't begun capturing Israeli soldiers in the first place, then Israel would not have intervened, and your houses would remain undamaged?

Nabil: Kidnapping the two Israeli soldiers was a strictly military operation; Israeli military leaders acknowledged that this war was already pre-planned. In our assessment there was a big difference between kidnapping the soldiers and this war of atrocities.

I don't blame Hezbollah for the reason that Israel has been holding prisoners for 28 years. It would have been better to release those prisoners in exchange. That's why Hezbollah kidnapped the two.

Lina Atwi
Lina: The blame is on both sides, Hezbollah and Israel. This war was pre-planned for quite a while and Israel waited for the kidnapping of the soldiers to start the war sooner. There could have been other ways to reach an agreement which would have avoided the destruction of Lebanon. Hezbollah's timing was wrong.

Martin Asser 1245 local time (0945 GMT / 1045 BST)

One of our participants, Ahmed Hassan, the mukhtar, has just arrived to apologise and say that it has been an extremely busy morning for him, which is why he hasn't been able to answer any questions. He promises to come later.

Martin Asser 1230 local time (0930 GMT / 1030 BST)

Our tent is located just next to a store room rented by the municipality. A large lorry has just arrived carrying 170 tents supplied by the UN refugee agency for homeless people. One hundred are being dropped off in al-Khiyam and the rest for the nearby village of Debbine.

The workers are employed on a daily basis by the municipality but it is hot and the tents are very heavy, and it's a very unpleasant job, and many of them seem to be hanging back.

Nabil tells me that the one doing most of the work is Hassan Haydar, a well-liked local official whose role is to organise the working parties - not unload the trucks.

Question from Jo, Sydney, Australia to residents, 1200 local time (0900GMT / 1000 BST)

Q: How long do you think it will take you to rebuild your lives, so you can carry on with life as it was before the war? What do you need from people around the world as far as aid is concerned? What can we do for you?

Pierre Wanna
Pierre: We need a strategy for reconstruction and to set our priorities. If the international community has promised help, then they must provide it.

To you, Jo, we just need your compassion and your understanding of the truth of the situation here.

Rim al-Eid
Rim: We need help and support politically because we are not terrorists. It is Israel attacking us and not us attacking Israel. There is no justification for the scale of Israel's bombing after the capture of the two soldiers.

It's estimated it will take at least four years to rebuild al-Khiyam as it was. We don't need food, we need the international community to stop supplying Israel with smart bombs that hit our houses.

Question from Barry Eaton, Birmingham, UK to Lina, 1145 local time (0845GMT / 0945 BST)

Q: Does Lina feel any contradiction between Hezbollah values and liking some aspects of western culture - for example the bands she mentions?

Lina Atwi
Lina: Hi Barry, there's no contradiction. The way I see it there is a time for music and a time for everything else. I listen to music to relax. Yesterday we started our generator and I listened to a CD by Tina Arena. If you listen, it helps you forget the situation you are in and it calms you down.

Question from Kyriaki, Laval, Canada to residents, 1130 local time (0830 GMT / 0930 BST)

Q: How are the children doing in the face of what happened? Are they missing some of their friends and relatives and whatever "normal" life they had prior to the bombing?

Nabil: My nephew is four and a half years old and this is the first time he has heard bombing. He became very frightened during an air raid. I can't explain the terror. He clung to his father crying, saying "please don't leave me". The raid was less than a kilometre away but the noise makes it feel much closer. Now my nephew keeps talking about his experiences in great detail, how he felt the bombing and how his family escaped.

When the family came back home they found their house destroyed and my nephew keeps saying "Israel did this".

Martin Asser 1115 local time (0815 GMT / 0915 BST)

I now have Lina, Pierre and Nabil with me. We have just heard the extremely loud noise of an Israeli F16 fighter plane going overhead. I've heard this once before in the three days that I've been in al-Khiyam. I asked Nabil what he feels when he hears this.

Nabil: We feel the same thing that you probably feel: fear. You hear that sound and you expect an air raid afterwards. We are a bit more relaxed now though, since the ceasefire. It's something we've come to expect, Israel violating our air space like that.

Question from Richard Currie, Barrow-in-Furness, UK to residents, 1050 local time (0750 GMT / 0850 BST)

Q: Is there widespread bitterness towards Hezbollah for using civilians as human shields resulting in many needless deaths?

Lina Atwi
Lina: Hezbollah never, never used civilians as human shields. It was a matter of pride for us; they were fighting for us. Everything they did was for us, so we could live in dignity and freedom.

Pierre Wanna
Pierre: As far as I've seen, people don't see it this way. I would have to make sure it's true: are Hezbollah really using civilians as human shields? I don't think they would do it. And even if it is true, no one feels bitter because Hezbollah fighters are ordinary civilians themselves. This is how the resistance works. They were probably sheltering in their own homes.

Question from Ashim, Delhi to residents, 1030 local time (0730 GMT / 0830 BST)

Q: Did you find your homes intact? What about community buildings like mosques, schools, roads, water bodies?

Rim al-Eid
Rim: There was complete destruction in all areas. My school was bombed by aircraft and completely destroyed. We have two mosques in al-Khiyam; one was destroyed and the other was partially bombed. To get to our house was very difficult because of the holes in the road and the rubble. So we came on side roads.

Pierre Wanna
Pierre: Seven hundred houses in al-Khiyam were completely destroyed and all others were damaged. All four schools in the town were completely destroyed; and one mosque. The four churches did not receive direct hits but have broken glass. I haven't seen what they're like on the inside yet.

Martin Asser 1010 local time (0710 GMT / 0810 BST)

It's going to be a hot sunny day, so the municipality is kindly setting up a tent for us.

Unfortunately the uncle of one our participants, Fairuz, died last night, so she's going to come after the funeral.

There's a lot of activity at the municipality, with people queueing up for water tanks and others registering for help from the local government.

So far, Rim, Lina and Pierre have arrived.

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