Monday, July 17, 2006

HAIFA, Israel — Israelis in this northern city said they had to break down shelter doors to escape Hezbollah rockets, accusing the municipality of inadequately preparing for war on the home front.

“When we got here there were no beds. Now we have no radio or television, so we don’t know what’s going on,” said Rivat Buganim, sitting in a cramped public shelter with her husband and four children. “The mayor is only looking after himself, not us.”

Twenty persons were still inside the underground shelter in Hadar, one of the city’s poorer districts and home mostly to Russian Jewish immigrants, yesterday. Those remaining said twice as many people spent the night there.

Disgruntled occupants said they had to break the lock on the door to get in Sunday, as Israel’s third-largest city came under a barrage of Hezbollah rockets, killing eight railway workers and evoking memories of past wars.

Another two persons were injured, one seriously, when a rocket plowed into an apartment building in another neighborhood yesterday, causing two stories to collapse in flames and leaving smoke pluming into the air.

Calls to the municipality to confirm the shelter was locked and to respond to its occupants’ complaints went unanswered.

Sunday’s victims were the first to die or be injured by a rocket attack on Haifa. More than 200 people have been killed in Lebanon in an Israeli offensive mounted after Hezbollah militants crossed the border and kidnapped two soldiers.

While three of the persons inside the air-conditioned Haifa shelter spoke Hebrew, the rest of the mostly women and children could only communicate in Russian.

“We were 100 families trying to get in last night; those that couldn’t, went home,” said Mrs. Buganim, who had brought bedding and food from home.

“We live on the first floor; is it better to be here or there?” one old woman asked. “I want to go to the shop, we need bread and water and cigarettes; what should I do?”

The shelter’s disgruntled and tired occupants bickered with each other, complaining when a door banged or someone tripped over a person stretched out, trying to rest. The smell for those who had not spent the night was almost unbearable.

“We think we’ll be here two or three weeks, the situation is getting worse and the war is just beginning,” said Mrs. Buganim’s husband, Etan. “The government is doing the right thing in Lebanon, but they need to look after the home front, look after us.”

Some children played on swings outside the shelter, where a few cars and pedestrians moved on Haifa’s streets, though almost all shops in the usually bustling metropolis were closed.

“I don’t want to go back to our apartment,” said Oli Petrovna, 27, as she sat with her mother and 4-year-old son. “I think we’ll be here at most another 10 days. Still, life here is much better than in Moldova; but, well, now we have a war.”

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