ZABADANI, Syria (Reuters) – Lebanese refugees gather around a small black and white television set at this Syrian summer resort chanting “God is great” every time Hizbollah’s station announces Israeli casualties.
“Damn them. They left nothing in our neighborhood. They destroyed the school, the local charity, mosque, houses,” said Mohammad Sayeed, a resident of Baalbek, a city in the Bekaa Valley famous for its majestic Roman temple.
“The only thing I could really compare the bombing to is pictures of European cities in World War Two,” he said.
Syrian authorities have housed around 600 refugees from the south and the Bekaa valley at a scout camp in Zabadani, a resort on the foothills of the mountain range separating Syria from Lebanon.
More than 150,000 Lebanese have fled to Syria since Hizbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 sparked an Israeli offensive. The United Nations expects the number to double over the next three months.
The Syrian government has already accommodated an estimated 20,000 people in schools, camps and other public buildings.
The majority of the arrivals are staying with relatives and friends — Syria and Lebanon were only carved into separate states in 1920.
With admiration for Hizbollah and its charismatic leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah running high, ordinary Syrians have even taken in Lebanese they do not know. Â
“Nasrallah is the uncrowned Arab king,” a leading Syrian businessman said.
Most of the refuges needing housing, food and medicine are Shi’ite, from the Lebanese underclass, from which Hizbollah and Amal, a smaller Shi’ite party, draw their support.
They came from the “misery belt” around Beirut and from poor villages like Nabi Sheet in the mountains bordering Syria, the birthplace of late Hizbollah leader Abbas Musawi, who was killed with his wife and son Yasser by an Israeli helicopter strike in 1992.
Although Israeli bombing have cost many refugees their homes in Lebanon — some fled without their passports — support for Nasrallah runs strong.
Ali Hamieh Taraya from the Bekaa came to Syria wearing only his pyjamas. But he was stoic, saying the Lebanese have grown accustomed to Israeli attacks.
“Bombs were falling everywhere and we didn’t have time to take anything. I don’t know what happened to my home,” he said.
“Don’t believe the shallow media. This is a historic war. It didn’t start two weeks ago. It began when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, and even decades before, when the Zionists stole Palestine.”
Zeinab Yasmin, who fled from the southern town of Nabatiyeh, said: “Israel has audacity to call Hizbollah terrorist, when it bombed cities, towns and villages. Hizbollah only attacked its soldiers to free our prisoners of war.”
Refugees from southern Lebanon described more ferocious Israeli bombing.
Khadija Hassan from Teeba, a village three km (two miles) away from the front, left her 85-year-old husband behind.
“He simply refused to leave although he is sick and there is no one to care for him,” He didn’t leave during two decades of Israeli occupation and he wasn’t ready to leave now,” she said.