Sami walks barefoot from Tyre to Shouf to join his family

AFP photo shows a Lebanese family waiting on the sidewalk to be evacuated by the Red Cross as they flee the southern suburbs of Beirut
BEIRUT (11 August 2006) - BY THE Mediterranean coast, through the winding mountain roads, Sami Meslemane walked for dozens of kilometres barefoot to reach his children and grandchildren left destitute after they fled southern Lebanon.

The tall, thin fisherman and grandfather with a tired face and sharp eyes left the port city of Tyre on Sunday for the village of Bekaata in the Shouf region in the centre of the country.

His family went to the relative safety of northern Lebanon three weeks ago to escape the deadly Israeli attacks which have killed more than 1,000 civilians, including hundreds of children.

Sami stayed behind, but the bombs on the south increased and he decided finally to join them.

"I walked on foot most of the way between Tyre and Bekaata where my four children and eight grandchildren were stuck," said the gap-toothed man, a halo of white hair and beard framing his thin face.

He, with the rest of the family, used to work on two boats bought after 60 years of arduous labour despite years of war that ravaged the country.

"My children told me they had not much left, they had spent 800,000 Lebanese pounds (530 dollars) each in three weeks," he said.

"There are 50 families who sleep in the school, on the floor on rags," he said. "There are no mattresses. And my children have spent everything because there is no assistance coming from anywhere.

"I would have never thought I'd grow old to see this. I left with twelve packets of food that they'd given us," he said of the packages handed out by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Tyre.

"When I arrived, they were starving and the children were undressed and crying," he said of his grandchildren who are aged from three to 10 years old.

Sami spent the night with them but couldn't sleep. He drank coffee as he listened to the difficulties of the "forgotten" refugees, thinking all the time he must go back to Tyre and get some more supplies, perhaps some clean clothes for the little ones.

"I took off at five o'clock in the morning and I got to Sidon at midnight," he said of the 30 kilometer journey through the mountains.

"I found an orange out of the road. That's all I had to eat," he said.

"I continued the journey barefoot, because of the blisters and cuts on my feet from the plastic sandals," he said showing his sore calloused feet.

Then, once again, he spent the night in the open air.

The following day, some journalists took him to the Litani river which can no longer be crossed by car after the two bridges linking the banks where destroyed by the Israelis.

Finally, he was able to collect the children's clothes.

"Now I have three bags full and I have a little money," he said. "I need to leave tomorrow (to return to Bekaata). I can't be away from my children."

The fishermen of Tyre in more peaceful times

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