The family forced to flee Iraq is on the run again

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The Independent Online

Merriam Taiser al-Saied thought he had escaped the Israeli bombs when his family fled southern Beirut for the Lebanese capital's northern neighbourhoods.

That was until yesterday, when Israeli jets bombed Beirut's northern, Christian Maronite, suburbs for the first time. For Merriam, 10, it brought back haunting memories of the destruction he thought his family had just escaped.

"The war in Lebanon is destroying everything," he said from a refugee camp in north Beirut. "The bombing is destroying buildings and killing people, including children, women and old people. When I see what is happening on TV, I feel afraid and anxious and have many questions."

Merriam's story is now a double tragedy. Two years ago his family were forced to flee another conflict zone, Iraq, and they now find themselves refugees for the second time in as many years. "I wish I could go back to my home. I miss my father, my relatives, and playing with my friends. I ask the world to stand beside us and ask to stop this violence."

The camp where his family is staying is run by the charity Naba'a - a partner of Save the Children. The Independent has launched a humanitarian appeal with the British charity that has raised £32,000 in two days.

For the past 24 days, Beirut's southern suburbs, a stronghold of Hizbollah, have borne the brunt of Israel's daily bombing runs and tens of thousands, mainly poor Shias have been forced to flee. Now the airstrikes have hit the north of Beirut.

"What are the reasons for the war? Is it more important than the people themselves? I wish for the return of peace and security in Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and everywhere," said Merriam.

Eight-year-old Mahmoud Bassam al-Najar arrived in northern Beirut with his family from the Palestinian refugee camp at Chatila on the first day of the war. "I miss my friends, Mohammad Abed Al Hadi, Omar, and Mohammad Fraji, and I miss my toys, my room and my home," he said. "I long for the end of the war and to be able to go back home. I felt very scared by the fighting and I wish for peace in the whole world."

In Beirut's Medina Theatre, relief workers are helping to counsel more than 100 children who had fled the fighting in the country's south by staging a series of plays and art classes.

Zeinab Jouneh, seven, was photocopying "no war" stickers to put on the window of her grandfather's car. "On the road I was scared," she said. "We came on a road that was being bombed all the time. We hung white sheets from the car."

For the moment she is at least safe. "I was bored before but now we started acting I am very happy."

South of Beirut, in the Sidon, which has been pounded relentlessly by Israeli warplanes, the condition of pregnant women is a matter of concern. They are crammed into crowded schools where unsanitary conditions pose a danger to newborn babies.

There are more than 1,200 women in Sidon in their ninth month of pregnancy. Delivering their babies in a safe and sanitary environment, and providing newborns with appropriate healthcare is a major challenge for aid workers.

When it became apparent that one of the women living in a school was about to deliver, volunteers rushed her to a hospital. She had a baby girl. She was one of the lucky ones.