Syria + 1 more

Syrians open homes to help Lebanese refugees

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
DAMASCUS, July 18 (Reuters) - Syrians opened their homes, schools and mosques on Tuesday to to help thousands of Lebanese who have flooded across the border to escape Israeli attacks.

"We are finding them places in private homes, mosques and monasteries," said Bassel Hamawi, head of Banque Audi Syria, which set up a call centre along with other companies to house refugees and offer them medical help.

"We want the Lebanese to feel they are receiving help with dignity and that political differences don't matter," Hamawi told Reuters.

Relations between Lebanon and Syria plummeted after last year's assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and the subsequent Syrian troop withdrawal from the country.

More than 30,000 Lebanese have entered Syria through four crossing points since Thursday, fleeing Israeli strikes to avenge the abduction of two soldiers by Hizbollah fighters.

At least 70,000 people of other nationalities have also crossed to flee Israeli bombings, which have killed 235 people in Lebanon, most of them civilians.

Many Lebanese can stay with relatives in Syria -- the two neighbours were only carved into separate states in 1920. Others had no place to go.

"Many need everything from medicine, food, clothes to housing," said Lina Qureih, head of the local charity Bana.

Bana has turned a school for the blind into a refugee centre that can accommodate 400 people. It already houses 290.

Around 2,000 Lebanese from the Bekaa valley and the south, a focal point of Israeli bombing, have already found homes in Saida Zeinab, a Shi'ite district of Damascus.

"God save Nasrallah and Bashar. Other Arab governments should stand up and help if they have any dignity," Said Najat Abbass, from southern Lebanon.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has ordered the government to ease border procedures and open Syrian airports and ports for aid bound for Lebanon without charge. Syria is also sending aid.

The Labour and Social Affairs Ministry has set up refugee hotlines and turned schools and other buildings into shelters.

Health officials say there has been a massive response for calls to donate blood bound for Lebanese hospitals.

At the main border point of Jdaideh, young volunteers wearing t-shirts with the Syrian and Lebanese flags fanned out to help people find housing as government busses waited to take them to Damascus.

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Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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