‘This Is All We Brought With Us’
California native Youssef Khalil sat in an armchair in the entrance area of the reception room turned makeshift shelter, fighting back tears. The 27-year-old Bell resident was relieved to have evacuated his two young children from southern Lebanon, but worried about the parents he couldn’t bring with him.
“We only had one car, the other two or three were bombed in the shelling,” he said, as his wife sobbed quietly opposite him, soaking up the tears with her navy blue hijab. “My parents are elderly American citizens, and they’re stuck there because we didn’t have enough cars to transport them out.”
Dozens of Lebanese Americans from the southern border town of Yaroun arrived at the Tyre Rest House hotel on Tuesday after a perilous journey north along roads ripped open by Israeli missiles.
The 11-car convoy was instructed to leave early Tuesday morning by the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, said Ali Chahine, a 54-year-old clothing store owner from Dearborn, Mich.
“We attached white flags to our cars and prayed we’d all get here in one piece,” he said. “I didn’t think the fighting would go on for so long, and when I realized it wouldn’t be over anytime soon, I was stuck, I couldn’t leave. You step outside and you’re a target. It was a scary drive and the worst 12 days of my life.”
Thousands of evacuees trying to escape devastating Israeli bombardments against Hezbollah fighters have sought safety in this seaside hotel. The family from Bell is hoping to leave by ferry from Tyre, a coastal town just 12 miles north of Israel.
About 25,000 Americans were in Lebanon when the conflict erupted between the Islamic militant group Hezbollah and Israel; more than half have now been evacuated. And the U.S. Embassy in Beirut has advised American citizens that the last scheduled evacuation ship is due to depart Lebanon today. Further assisted departures will be handled on an emergency, case-by-case basis, the embassy said.
The State Department said Tuesday that it was aware of Americans who still had no safe way out of the south. A German evacuation official said 300 Americans were still southeast of Tyre, the Associated Press reported. The embassy did not confirm that but suggested the number might be higher.
“I won’t feel safe until I get back home to the U.S.,” said Joumana Fardous, a 36-year-old mother of three from Bell who was at the hotel shelter with 23 members of her family.
Her three young children milled around her, dipping pita bread into a small can of hummus on the floor and reaching into a bag of ripe red tomatoes.
“This is all we brought with us,” she said, gesturing to the food and holding up her purse. “But at least we are out. Yesterday I thought we were going to die, the bombing was so intense.”
Fardous’ 16-year-old nephew Ali Jomaa sat on a lounge chair a few feet away, surrounded by a dozen cousins keenly watching him concentrate on his PlayStation game.
“I came here on vacation,” the bespectacled teenager said. “I didn’t expect war.”