CNEWA – PONTIFICAL MISSION
21 August 2006
Following the cease fire agreement on 14 August 2006, displaced families started heading towards the South. Pontifical Mission staff decided to prepare a visit to some of the villages there to evaluate the situation and assess the needs.
The usual 1¼ hour drive from Beirut to Tyre now takes 3 hours. This is due to the extensive damage to the transportation network through the destruction of bridges, highways and secondary roads. On our way to Tyre, we passed near the Jiyyeh fuel storage tanks that were hit by the Israeli air strikes causing the leakage of 12 million liters of fuel into the sea, polluting the aquaculture, threatening the east cost of the Mediterranean, and making hundreds of fishermen jobless.
As we drove into Tyre, we met several funeral convoys while passing completely destroyed houses and shops with their products scattered and spoiled around, and hundreds of burnt cars were being removed to open the way for traffic.
From Tyre we started our trip accompanied by Father Marios of the Greek Catholic bishopric to Qana village and passed into its Christian district where we found that only a few of its 40 Christian families have returned. Their houses and church were slightly affected (only the glass of the windows) by the shelling that was concentrated on the Shiite section where the great massacre occurred.
As we passed in the Shiite villages of Siddiqine and Kafra, we noticed that most of their families have returned to their villages despite the complete destruction of most of the village houses. You see them living in tents near the ruins of their houses or under trees or in the open air for those who can’t afford to buy tents. These families are all waiting the Hezbollah’s relief committee and the South Lebanon Council committee to visit and assess the damages. In these villages, you see children participating in opening the roads and cleaning the debris while the adults are searching the ruins of their houses for anything that they might save.
Our next visit was to the village of Tibnine with its small Christian community. In this village we saw the Lebanese army in the center of the village assisting the municipality workers in removing the damages and cleaning burnt cars, unexploded bombs and plenty of debris from the streets. We passed through the Christian district which was slightly affected by the shelling (when compared with the other districts) except for the Saint George Church multi-purpose hall and priest’s house. A bomb hit the priest house’s kitchen destroying it completely and penetrating into the multi-purpose hall in the lower floor resulting in some damage there.
From Tibnine, we drove through a narrow road in what used to be the green agricultural area of the neighboring village of Braachit. These fields are now completely burnt along with all their trees and crops due to the extensive shelling. Braachit is a Shiite-Christian village where the Christians are a minority (50 families). In this village, the Christian district took the largest share of destruction. Most of the Christians’ houses are either completely destroyed or badly damaged due to the fact that Hezbollah fighters were launching rockets from this district (as one of the eyewitnesses informed us). More suffering is awaiting the Christian community here since most of their income is from the lost agricultural products of watermelon, olive trees and wheat. We visited the village church of Saint Elie and saw the damages to its roof as well as to its multi-purpose hall, which requires extensive repairs.
The greatest damage that we observed to the churches of the region was the complete destruction of the Our Lady Church of Safad El Battikh. This church needs to be completely reconstructed.
After Safad El Batikh village, we headed towards the Christian village of Ain Ebel and met Father Hanna Sleiman and Mr. Mazen Chaaya (of the local committee) who gave us a brief description of the village’s damages and informed us about their basic needs for electricity and water. We also visited the two churches of the parish which were hit by the bombs as well as a few of the 200 war affected houses (out of a total of 450 houses in the village). This high number of damages was due to the street fighting in the village between Hezbollah and Israelis. In this village, we noticed that around 200 families returned despite the scattered unexploded bombs and mines between the houses and fields; the rest of the families are awaiting the arrival of the Lebanese army to provide a safer environment for the residents. As in Braachit, the main income of the villagers is from agriculture and raising cattle and poultry, and these activities were greatly affected by the war.
Our final visit was to Yaroun village which is also a Christian-Shiite village next to the Lebanon-Israel border. The damages and needs are the same as in Ain Ebel. The church (Saint George Church) was hit through the roof and needs complete reparation. The houses of this village (70% belonging to Christians) were very damaged and need to be fixed as well as the residence of the bishop and the dispensary run by the Basilian Chouerite Sisters. The basic needs of the villagers are:
- Regaining water and electrical resources
- Removal of all unexploded bombs from the streets and fields
- Providing an urgent source of food for the villagers who lost their crops, cattle and poultry and who are not receiving any from the government due to its disorganized distribution methods
- Provide a safer environment to the villagers through the arrival of the Lebanese army
Our trip ended here because we had a long distance to travel back and because of the security situation; there were extensive flights of Israeli aircrafts above our heads and continuous Israeli penetration at the border, very close to our location.