A thin stream of refugees from West Beirut continued to trickle out to the east side of this war-torn capital today during brief lulls in the day-long intermittent shelling.
In one of this war's daily rituals, relatives, friends and taxi drivers crowded the eastern traffic circle of the Galerie Semaan crossing, the only one of the three routes out of West Beirut that is open, to wait for those who held out for so long but finally decided to leave.
"It's like a hell in there, a ghost town of bombed houses," Maruf Kesrouani said angrily, waving a sweaty arm in the direction of his bombed-out Ghobeiri neighborhood in West Beirut. Kesrouani, 51, came out this afternoon, having given up on protecting his property after one of his three houses was destroyed during Sunday's shelling.
Kesrouani said he had sent his family out "weeks ago" to live with relatives in the southern Lebanese port of city of Sidon, where he was going to join them. "Yes, there are still lots of people in there, but they are staying off the streets because of the bombing," Kesrouani said. "They are just too poor to come out. Everything they have is in there with them."
A three-hour heavy artillery duel between Israeli and Palestine Liberation Organization forces this morning kept Galerie Semaan from opening until 10 a.m. By 10:30, a small traffic backlog had built up.
The effects of the daily shelling showed in the frightened, grim expressions of the men, women and children interviewed during the past two days after they crossed Galerie Semaan from mainly Moslem West Beirut into mainly Christian East Beirut.
For some, it was the first trip into the Christian areas of the city since the 1975-76 Lebanese civil war.
Ida Hannoun and her teen-age daughter, Rana, were among the first who crossed into East Beirut over Galerie Semaan Sunday morning. They carried heavy bags and were breathing hard and perspiring in the day's rising heat.
"It is important to live," Hannoun said. "There is no water, no electricity, and all the time the bombing, the bombing."
Later in the morning, an eight-member family, including a mother carrying a weeks-old infant, were evasive and unwilling to talk to reporters. An Arabic interpreter said they spoke with Palestinian accents and probably did not want to be accused of being PLO members or sympathizers by the anti-PLO Christians of East Beirut.
An elderly woman with two younger women, all struggling with heavy suitcases, were willing to talk when helped with their bags but refused to give their names. The interpreter said they spoke with Syrian accents; the Syrian occupation army, just 15 miles east of here, is another sore point with the Christian Lebanese.
Switching to English, one of the younger women said, "Our house was not bombed, but all the houses around us in Sanayeh neighborhood are down to the ground. It has become too dangerous to stay." Israeli bombers knocked down a high-rise apartment building in Sanayeh on Friday, burying dozens of people in the rubble.
The first woman's companion told the Arabic interpreter that she was going to Damascus to see her children. The first woman cursed at her in Arabic, and explained, "I just told them we're going to Bhamdoun," a town 10 miles east of Beirut. Switching back to English, the angered woman said nervously, "I can't talk to you; he's watching us," indicating a Christian Lebanese Forces soldier standing nearby.
To pass through Galerie Semaan to the east side, the refugees must walk or ride past questioning Lebanese Army soldiers in their distinctive camouflage uniforms at the first checkpoint. They then pass a sandbagged Israeli Army position whose soldiers sit in silence. Finally, their baggage is searched and credentials are scrutinized by Christian Lebanese Forces troops.
Zeinab Nazzal and her plumber husband, both of whom are 18 and were married a month before the the Israeli invasion began June 6, came across the checkpoint smiling and holding hands.
"We've been in Burj al Barajinah the whole time," Zeinab Nazzal said. Burj al Barajinah has been one of the hardest hit of West Beirut's neighborhoods and was shelled by the Israelis again on Sunday.
"There is food and water, but it is too expensive to buy," she continued. "Burj Barajinah is still full of Palestinian fighters. The only civilians left are those too old to leave and those too poor to have any place to go." She and her husband were off to her home village of Srifa in southern Lebanon, she said.
All of the refugees interviewed said they were relying on friends and relatives to look after them.
Hassan Hajal, 19, and his cousin, Ahmajid Hajal, 17, both said they had been in the Chiah Chiah quarter during the siege. "We're leaving now because it has become too scary," Hassan Hajal said. "The bombing last night was really savage," added Ahmajid Hajal. Two PLO-Israeli artillery duels broke the cease-fire on Saturday night.
Asked how they were going to survive, Hassan, a muscular construction worker, said he was confident that he could find work. "Allah will provide," he said.
Leila Ayoub, 55, came out from the heavily damaged Hay Sellom neighborhood saying she was going to the eastern Lebanese city of Baalbek to look for friends. "I'm going to Allah's door," Ayoub responded when asked how she would feed herself.
"Poor Allah," said a Lebanese reporter standing nearby. "Everyone is counting on him."