Asharq Al-Awsat- As Israeli bombs started to fall on Lebanon, Saudi families across the country ended their summer vacation early and returned to Saudi Arabia, as fast as they could.
“Thank God for our safety”, said Umm Khaled, upon returning home, after a short holiday turned into a nightmare.
Staying in Broummana, in the relative safety of the mountains north of Beirut , Umm Khaled said, “We didn’t know what was happening between Lebanon and Israel from death and destruction. When we were told they bombed the South, we didn’t worry as this isn’t the first time!”
Breathing deeply and sipping water, Umm Khaled continued, “For several hours my daughters’ cell phones would not stop ringing. Friends and family were calling us to find out how we were. They said: Why are you here? Leave! Runaway! We felt very scared.”
“On the first day of the attacks, I was going with my sister to shop in Hamra street in Beirut . The atmosphere was stable and we didn’t notice anything to worry about,” her daughter Kholoud said.
The family’s trip away to safety was long and arduous. “We left Broummana at 11pm on Thursday night, leaving behind many belongings in the apartment. We went to Beirut which was heaving with people looking for the first available bus to Syria.”
But Umm Khaled’s family did not board a special bus made available by the Saudi embassy because, “We couldn’t wait until the bus was full as it wouldn’t drive off with less than 55 passengers.”
Visibly angry, she described how, they “left via Tripoli ; they journey was scary and cost us 500 dollars. We reached at 6 am and were greeted by crowds of people on the border, waiting to cross into Syria.”
The family chose to travel directly to Jordan instead of staying in Syria , where hotels and furnished apartments were struggling to keep up with demand for housing. In total, the journey from Lebanon to Jordan took them 20 anxious hours.
“Those watching events on television will think that we were living in danger. But the truth is different, until the last day we continued to Broummana’s nightlife and its cafés,” Kholoud said. Unable to hid away her sadness and shock at the ongoing violence, she added, “I still can’t believe what happened. This won’t stop me from thinking of returning to Lebanon that I love, even if it is destroyed.”
Abdullah al Muhrij, who fled Lebanon with his family as the bombing escalated, said he heard about Israeli attacks from television and quickly inquired about flying out with his family back to Saudi Arabia . However, after Israel bombed Beirut airport, he heard that the Saudi embassy was readying several buses to take its citizens from Beirut to the Syrian capital. Several hours later, upon arriving in Damascus airport, he found out that all flights to Riyadh were booked. “The only solution I could think of was to rant a van and drive with my family to Jordan and then to Amman airport. When we arrived, we had to wait for 14 hours until we could fly back to Saudi Arabia”.
For his part, Abu Turki, who had traveled to Lebanon with his five sons earlier this summer to spend a few months in a newly bought apartment in Aley, returned on Monday, after a lengthy and tiring journey. “On the first day of the bombings, I didn’t really pay much attention and said calm will return within a day or two, but the bombings increased and I was scared for my life and that of my children.”
“When I realized how dangerous the situation was, after I could hear the sound of shelling and smell the bombs, I decided to flee with m family. We left everything behind and searched for a driver to take us to Syria . I had to leave my luxury car and shopping behind.”
Why didn’t he drive in his own car? “I know Lebanon’s roads very well. But I was too scared to be able to maneuver the car and hold on to the steering wheel. I had to leave it behind and flee.”
Despite the rising death toll and destruction, many Saudi tourists Asharq al Awsat spoke to insisted on staying in Lebanon , in the hope of a ceasefire. Speaking from Beirut , Mohammed al Touwayjiri said he would not leave but still planned to have his family join him, once the attacks are over.