SIDON, Lebanon: Rushing her three children through a busy line, Faten Youssef waited anxiously for a doctor to see her family. She was not the only one angling for a spot Sunday. Hundreds of other Syrian refugees bustled around the Sidon neighborhood of Taamir as doctors made diagnoses in moveable clinics and a pharmacist doled out medications nearby.
Youssef fled her home near Damascus three months ago, and like other refugees in Taamir, she is now seeking help from a seemingly unlikely source: Syrian President Bashar Assad’s ally Hezbollah.
This was the first day of Hezbollah’s drive to provide free medical care for Syrian refugees. It had ensured a strong turnout by hanging banners in refugee-strong areas that read: “To our brothers, the Syrian people: Hezbollah invites you to a day of free health care – health checkups and free medication.”
Although Hezbollah has stood by the side of the beleaguered Assad, its officials separate its political stance from its humanitarian work. Sheikh Zayd Daher, a Hezbollah official in Sidon, told The Daily Star, “It is our duty to support Syrian refugees ... Set our political stance aside. I am here to provide aid to our brothers the refugees, and we are providing aid for all refugees in the south.”
He added “we don’t look” to see if refugees back the Free Syrian Army.
Four doctors, 10 nurses, one pharmacist and a team volunteers from Hezbollah’s Islamic Health Committee met with patients from early in the morning. They set up mobile health clinics and pharmacies at the entrance to the village, which is home to both Sunnis and Shiites. Yellow Hezbollah flags hung among the makeshift buildings.
Hussein Nassour, a committee official, explained that its work will eventually extend nationwide, starting with the south. “The campaign is to relieve our Syrian brothers wherever they are,” he said, “and today we began in Sidon. We are operating based on the records of where refugees are living.”
Although refugees had to register for checkups, Nassour said, “we do not ask them for IDs, there are even some Lebanese who registered their names.”
Youssef said she was not concerned about Hezbollah’s political positions. She simply wanted help for her three kids. “We heard about this campaign a few days ago,” she said.
“My children are sick. It is not important who provides help, as long as someone is caring for us.”
Fawzi Sukkar, 68, who was having his blood pressure taken, said he opposes Hezbollah’s support for Assad, but respects their relief work.
“We took care of our Lebanese brothers when they came to us in [the war of July] 2006, and today they are reciprocating this kindness,” Sukkar said. “I disagree with Hezbollah and its support for Bashar, but this is a humanitarian Hezbollah now healing wounds.”
Abla Mustafa, who was attempting to skip the lines because of her daughter’s fever, fled Homs at the beginning of this year. “Hezbollah is a party of resistance, and we cannot forget what it did to Israel,” she argued.
“It defeated Israel, while Bashar has killed us and displaced us.”
One of the doctors on site, Mariam Osseily, said the most common problem she saw was stomach virus. “There is also diarrhea, vomiting, coughs, pneumonia, fever and urinary tract infections,” she said, adding these were all most prevalent in children. She attributed the problems to poor living conditions, malnutrition, and a lack of sun exposure for kids.
Although the health relief campaign is more public, this is not the first time the party has given aid to refugees. For some time, it has been providing food, cleaning supplies and cooking equipment to Palestinian refugees who fled Syria for Lebanon.
Last month, a Hezbollah delegation also delivered aid parces to Syrian refugees in the Iqlim al-Kharoub region of the Chouf.
For much of the Syrian uprising, now in its 18th month, Sunni organizations, back by Gulf states have provided the majority of non-governmental aid to refugees in the country.