Lebanese refugees pour across Syrian border

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said earlier that up to 500,000 people had been forced from their homes by Israeli airstrikes that began last week after Hezbollah guerrillas seized two Israeli soldiers in cross-border raid.

Syrian authorities report more than 140,000 people have entered their country from Lebanon since the crisis started, according to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

City neighborhoods and ports have come under daily attack in Lebanon, and infrastructure such as power plants and roads have been hit in the offensive that Israel says is designed to break Lebanon-based Hezbollah and halt its attacks on Israeli civilians.

“They destroyed our entire city,” said Samira Saysadiya, who came to the Syrian border in a bus with 10 relatives from southern Lebanon.

“They are killing civilians, even those who came to help us. I pulled seven people by my hand to the hospital. People were trapped under the rubble. I saw men without heads, without legs. It was horrible.”

Saysadiya’s 70-year-old mother held up all the money she had — a bank note worth about 50 cents.

The 11 family members — carrying three bags between them — were among thousands crowding border posts.

Tens of thousands were on the road, fleeing their homes and heading north or east toward Syria, anywhere to get away the Israeli bombardments from the south and the naval blockade off the western coast.

Twenty times the normal traffic clogged one entry point leading from Lebanon to Syria, officials said — hundreds of cars backlogged, thousands of people trying to cross through, many with no idea where they will go next.

Makeshift processing centers have been set up to cope with crowds.

Refugees are asked to fill out registration cards, and officials then are helping them to find shelter.

Some Syrian families are hosting Lebanese refugees to demonstrate solidarity.

The processing centers have become a place where people search for news of missing relatives. Outside, scraps of paper with the names and local phone numbers of refugees searching for family members are pasted to walls.

Lebanese mother: ‘I came to save my children’

On Wednesday, thousands of Lebanese refugees were huddled in a stadium in Damascus, the Syrian capital that lies a scant 50 miles (80 kilometers) from their own war-torn capital, Beirut.

A woman named Lela tried to comfort her young daughter, who was crying for water. The family had had nothing to eat or drink during their difficult journey to Syria, she said.

Beneath the immediate discomfort was anger.

“I didn’t escape,” Lela said. “I came to save my children. To see them grow up and send them back to fight Israel.”

Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, said Wednesday that more than 300 Lebanese have been killed in the attacks. The Lebanese security forces have recorded the deaths of 258 civilians.

Twenty-nine Israeli civilians and troops also have died in fighting with Hezbollah and rockets attacks aimed at northern Israeli towns, where residents head to bomb shelters or take refuge with friends out of range of the militants’ missiles.

Siniora has pleaded for a halt to the fighting, and Annan restated his call for a full cease-fire in an address Thursday to the U.N. Security Council.

Israel has rejected calls for a cease-fire until it can push Hezbollah back from its northern frontier and retrieve the soldiers kidnapped July 12.

Annan condemned Hezbollah for starting the crisis as well as for holding “an entire nation hostage.”

But he also criticized Israel for its “excessive use of force” and preventing U.N. humanitarian workers from reaching the Lebanese people who “have been brutally dragged back into war.”

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