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From displacement to homelessness

Palestinian refugees displaced by a battle in their camp in northern Lebanon are still waiting, two years on, for the rebuilding of their "temporary" home.

NAHR AL-BARED, Lebanon — Fadi El Tayaar’s home used to be in the middle of one of Lebanon’s largest Palestinian refugee camps, Nahr al-Bared. It was a bustling center of commerce in Lebanon’s north, and he remembers how the main street was once crammed with Lebanese shoppers during holidays.

“The Lebanese were depending on the items and goods from here,” he said. “It was a market, the prices were cheap.”

Now Tayaar, who works for the United Nations, gazes out from the top of a recently reconstructed building overlooking the site of his old home. He points at a few trucks parked side by side.

“My home was near those trucks, over there, at the end of the hill,” he says, pointing to a position on what is now a massive pile of dirt, about four football fields wide.

Nearly all of what Fadi once knew in Nahr al-Bared was destroyed during fighting that kicked off two years ago this month between the Lebanese Army and a band of armed Islamic insurgents who took over the camp. The battle displaced 30,000 people, many of whom now live in U.N. constructed shelters both inside and outside the camp.

The fighting began on May 20, when Lebanese security forces raided an apartment containing members affiliated with an Islamist militant group called Fatah al-Islam in Lebanon’s northernmost city, Tripoli. The raid was in response to an alleged bank robbery by the group. Ten miles away in Nahr al-Bared, Members of Fatah al-Islam retaliated, ambushing Lebanese army checkpoints around the camp’s entrances. The attack left 27 Lebanese soldiers dead, many of them  killed as they slept.

The Lebanese Army surrounded Nahr al-Bared and began shelling the camp, as Fatah al-Islam fought off attempts by the army to enter. Shells continued to pour into the camp for the next four months. In the end, 168 soldiers, 226 militants and 52 civilians died in the fighting. The camp was all but leveled.

Now, two years later, Nahr al-Bared’s reconstruction has yet to begin. The planning and preparation for what is intended to be a complete overhaul of the camp — which the U.S., as the largest single donor, is financing to the tune of $300 million — is being overseen by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA. The agency has completed the master plan for the camp’s reconstruction, but the plan has yet to be approved by the Lebanese government. A discovery of ancient ruins amid the modern rubble has also slowed the clearance of destroyed buildings and has required additional building permits.