Muslim refugees wash their dishes in a stream in Rmeich, Lebanon. All photos by Houda Monsour
There are few hotels open here in Tyre, Lebanon. With bombs and artillery peppering the outskirts of this port city, most of its 270,000 resident fled weeks ago. Journalists double and triple-up into the few available rooms. And so it is not unusual to see refugees camping on the beach, or grassy areas nearby. They have found their way from the border, but don't have the means to continue safely to the mountains or north to Beirut.
A new group of refugees arrived here last night. They were weary border residents who had finally escaped the prisons that their villages had become. People who were rescued by aid convoys on Monday after Israel paused most of it aerial bombing campaign. Among them was Houda Monsour, her three children, and a young cousin. They caught my eye as they sat glumly on their suitcases holding a sign that simply said "Australia."
Houda is an Australian. For the last 15 years she has lived in the border town of Rmeich, Lebanon, where her husband owns a dairy farm. As the kids prepared for a night's sleep on beach lounge chairs, Houda explained to me how their mostly Christian village had sat in the crossfire of this conflict for 20 days. Brief armed exchanges between Israeli troops and Hezbollah fighters, she told me, are not unusual down along the border, but when this one kept going, and going, she became more fearful. The shells from both sides crashed down on either side of their tiny town. Leaving was an option, but the risk of air attack or dodging bomb craters along the road kept them put.
Nights, she says, were especially scary. Houda and the kids slept with other families, and played games and told stories to distract each other from battles raging outside. Food, water, medicine and fuel were in short supply as other refugees -- perhaps 24,00 of them -- descended on Rmeich.
Houda then shared with me her digital pictures. We sat on the curb of a service road along a stretch of beach as I downloaded them into my laptop. One of the images -- of Muslim refugees washing their dishes in a stream -- tops this post. I've attached three others below.
Houda's husband remains in the town. "He can't leave the dairy, she explained, "and he can't sell it right now." Houda will take the kids to Australia, for now. When I asked her if she feared rescue would never come, she told me "No. But then you see other people, you think, well, if I die I'm just like everybody else. I am not better than anyone else."
Billows of smoke seen from the rear windows of Houda's house
Flares dropped by Israeli warplanes, as seen from Houda's house in Rmeich.
The U.N. convoy that "rescued" Houda and her children in Rmeich, Lebanon.