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Uprooted by war, Lebanese yearn for home at Ramadan

Volunteers prepare to distribute Iftar meals at a school turned into shelter, in Tyre

By Aziz Taher and Ahmad Kerdi

TYRE, Lebanon (Reuters) - For families who fled Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon, being away from home is especially hard in the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan - a time when they usually enjoy special meals together but this year are scattered by conflict.

"In peacetime, the whole family gathers in one house," said Emad Abdallah, 64, as he broke his Ramadan fast alone at a school sheltering displaced people in the city of Tyre. "But in Ramadan in a time of war, we are suffering from a few things," he said. "For example, you are far from family."

More than 90,000 people have been displaced from the south since October, when hostilities erupted between Lebanon's Hezbollah and Israel - a spillover of the Gaza war that has rumbled on ever since.

Tens of thousands of people have also been displaced across the border in northern Israel.

Abdallah said his wife and three daughters had left their home in the border town of Bint Jbeil early in the conflict. He stayed put for 2-1/2 months, only leaving when the town had emptied out and it was no longer possible to find food.

His family moved three times before finding rented accommodation in Beirut, he said. Abdallah is meanwhile sharing a room with five other people in the collective shelter in Tyre, 25 km (15 miles) from his hometown.

The conflict marks the worst hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel since they fought a war in 2006, commonly known in Lebanon as "the July war".

Local authorities are supplying people at the shelter with their daily iftar, the meal eaten at sundown during Ramadan. Breaking his fast with a ready meal of chicken and potatoes served in a foil tray, Abdallah said he was missing the iftar staples of fresh juices and Lebanese salads.

For Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that concludes Ramadan, the best gift would be "going back to our hometown" and ending the stressful uncertainty of displacement.

"The July war went on for a limited period - 33 days - so we were able to absorb it with less physical and psychological harm," he said.

"Whereas now, there is no horizon. We don't know how long the war will continue and what might happen," he said.

"There's a question being asked by all the displaced: when will we return to our hometowns?"

(Reporting by Aziz Taher and Ahmad Kerdi; Writing by Tom Perry; Edited by Maya Gebeily and Alex Richardson)