AIN EBEL, Lebanon (AP) — Christians in southern Lebanon’s border villages are preparing for a quiet Christmas, in the shadow of the ongoing war in Gaza and its repercussions in Lebanon.
In Beirut, restaurants were crowded and hundreds flocked to the Christmas markets In the days leading up to the holidays, homes in border towns were empty and businesses closed. Residents fled to stay with relatives or in rented apartments in Beirut or other areas further from the conflict.
Since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas on October 7, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Israeli forces have engaged in military operations. almost daily clashes at the border that killed about 150 people on the Lebanese side, most of them fighters from Hezbollah and allied groups, but also at least 17 civilians, according to an Associated Press tally.
Some 72,437 people The Lebanese are displaced, according to the International Organization for Migration.
In the predominantly Christian village of Ain Ebel, UN peacekeepers on Saturday distributed toys at a private school to some 250 children whose families remained there and in the neighboring villages of Rmeish and Debel .
The Saint-Joseph des Saints-Cœurs school, like most in the region, was closed due to the fighting, which killed three of their students.
The three sisters – Rimas Shor, 14 years old; Talin Shor, 12 years old; and Layan Shor, 10, were killed along with their grandmother, Samira Abdul-Hussein Ayoub, by an Israeli strike that hit the car they were in on November 5.
“We experienced war in every sense of the word,” said Sister Maya Beaino, the school’s principal. “Three quarters of the village fled. The people who remained are in a state of sadness and no one has put up decorations or even a tree in their house.
Still, Beaino said she hopes the small celebration of the holy day will help keep people’s spirits strong.
“As soon as there is a ceasefire, we will reopen the school,” she said.
Charbel Louka, 12, came to the toy distribution with his family who remained in the neighboring village of Debel. At first, Louka said he was afraid of the noise of the bombings, “but after a while we got used to it.”
Adding an even darker note as the holidays approach, violent storms flooded roads across the country on Saturday, sending cars drifting and killing four Syrian refugee children in northern Lebanon when the ceiling of their home collapsed. collapsed and the building was flooded.
In the southern village of Rmeish, about 2 kilometers from the border, where smoke rises daily from surrounding hills from shelling and airstrikes, Mayor Milad Alam said there was “no atmosphere vacation at all.”
The local church has canceled its usual Christmas Eve night service due to safety concerns, but will hold it on Christmas Day morning. On Sunday afternoon, Santa Claus will distribute gifts to the few children remaining in the village.
“It’s not a party, it’s just to let the kids have a little fun,” Alam said.
In the town of Rashaya al-Fukhar, the municipality installed a Christmas tree decorated with red balls and lights in the largely deserted town square.
“People who have children took them out of here, first for their safety and secondly so that they would not miss school,” said city council member Wassim Al-Khalil. “Those who stayed are older, like me.”
Marwan Abdullah, a resident of the village, said his family was “separated and scattered in different places”.
“It is possible that if the situation is stable, we will meet again for the holidays,” he said. “I hope there will be peace and tranquility, especially on this day of celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who gave peace and goodwill to the earth.”
Associated Press journalist Ramiz Dallah in Rashaya al-Fukhar contributed to this report. Sewell reported from Beirut.
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