'Hostages' scuttle into bunkers

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After a miserable morning spent in a urine-reeking underground concrete bunker, Mikhail Faibusovich had no difficulty in summing up his unhappy predicament.

"We are hostages here," he said, as large white clouds of smoke from the latest volley of Hizbollah rockets floated up from the side of the steep ridge that separates his graceless Israeli town from the south Lebanon battlefield. "The war goes on over our heads like a game of ping-pong, and we are trapped in the middle with no possibility of escape."

Ten years ago, just as the Soviet Union was collapsing, Mr Faibusovich emigrated to Israel, like hundreds of thousands of other Soviet Jews, dreaming of a peaceful retirement in the promised land.

When the Israeli authorities offered him a cheap rental flat in Kiryat Shmona, they neglected to mention a few details. Nothing was said about the fact that his new home - in a depressingly characterless, graffiti-scarred housing estate - would be inside the most heavily bombed town in Israel.

They offered no hint that, instead of sleeping peacefully at night, Mr Faibusovich, a retired engineer now aged 70, would find himself regularly scuttling underground with scores of other pensioners from the former Soviet Union who have ended up both in the front line of Israel's demographic conflict and on the edge of a war.

Yesterday he was one of many thousands along Israel's northern border who spent the day underground, wondering why they were still living there.

"We would love to leave this place, but where would we go?" said Tanya, 63, a retired engineer from Ukraine, sharing the same bunker. "We have no flats, no money, no prospect of work."