Region | Palestinian Territories

A few Palestinians of 1948 areas heed Nasrallah warning and flee

Osama Abu Naj wasn't taking chances after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged Arab residents of Haifa to flee to safer ground, threatening more rocket barrages on the city.

  • AP
  • Published: 00:00 August 12, 2006
  • Gulf News

Haifa, Israel: Osama Abu Naj wasn't taking chances after Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah urged Arab residents of Haifa to flee to safer ground, threatening more rocket barrages on the city.

"Nasrallah always does what he says," the 32-year-old explained, while waiting for his wife to finish packing.

"We have a three-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter. After we heard what he said, we didn't hesitate. We decided to go to a hotel in Eilat until the situation calms down."

Hezbollah quickly followed through on Nasrallah's threat, sending a rocket into the Haifa suburb of Kiryat Motzkin on Thursday afternoon.

Palestinians of 1948 areas, heavily concentrated in the north of the country, have already suffered from rocket attacks from Lebanon.

A rocket that hit the Arab village of Deir Al Assad on Thursday killed a child and his mother, bringing the number of Israeli civilian deaths from the attacks to 38, 17 of them Arabs.

Nasrallah on Wednesday night said that he did not want more Arab deaths.

A handful of Palestinians of 1948 areas took Nasrallah's threat seriously and left Israel's third-largest city, known for its spirit of tolerance between Israeli and Arab residents.

The city has roughly 300,000 residents, about 35,000 of them Arabs.

Essam Makhoul, a local politician, said he knew of 20 families that left after Nasrallah's speech. "I am not talking about a collective migration," he said.

Iskandar Amal, a Haifa official, said many Palestinians of 1948 areas were too poor to flee and had nowhere else to go, because their hometowns were in Israel's north, closer to the rocket attacks.

However, several families were reported to have quickly left the Wadi Nisnas neighbourhood of Haifa, where two Palestinians of 1948 areas were killed by rockets on Sunday, after Nasrallah's speech.

"They started to leave late yesterday evening. Several additional families left during the night and early this morning," said Zahi Shehadeh, 49, a shop owner in the neighbourhood's deserted open market.

Sayid Halloun, a 55-year-old father of six, said he wished he could also leave.

"It's going to be very dangerous here. Nasrallah wants to hurt as many Israelis as he can," said the supermarket owner. "I almost didn't sleep last night. But I can't leave because of my business."

Despite the hardships and growing casualties, many Palestinians of 1948 areas won't criticise Nasrallah, a sign of the conflicting loyalties of the minority group, which receives a disproportionately small slice of the country's national resources.

It is very difficult to see "my country at war with my people", Halloun said.

"When [Nasrallah] kidnapped the two Israeli soldiers at the border it wasn't a wise move," he said, referring to the July 12 raid that sparked the month-old fight between the two sides.

Some Arabs did have harsh words for Nasrallah. "Nasrallah doesn't care about anyone. He just wants to kill all the Israelis. He doesn't care if they're Jewish, Arabs or Russians," Sami Basan, 30, said.

"I'm for the Israeli army. They're the ones who are fighting for us all, Jews and Arabs alike, so that we don't get killed by rockets."

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