An abandoned hotel in southern Lebanon has become a sanctuary for dozens of displaced families

As the war in Gaza continues, fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon has forced dozens of families to leave their homes near the border. Some are now sheltering in an abandoned hotel.

The World
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The route from the capital Beirut to southern Lebanon takes you along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea where on a recent Sunday, people had flocked to the beach to relax and sunbathe.

But a short distance from the beach, in southern Lebanon, it’s as if you’re in another country.

Israel and Hezbollah, the powerful Shia militia group in Lebanon, have intensified their attacks against each other in the months following the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas and Israel’s response in Gaza. Hezbollah says its rockets and drone attacks are a showing of support for the Palestinian people and that it won’t stop until the war in Gaza has ended.

The clashes, meanwhile, have had dire consequences for the people living along the Israel-Lebanon border.

Thousands flee

Daily airstrikes have forced about 150,000 people to flee their homes in the south, most of them to Marwanieh. Those who have the financial means and are lucky to find apartments, rent them. One group of people, though, has been staying at an old, abandoned hotel.

The town of Marwanieh, where people from southern Lebanon have taken shelter.Shirin Jaafari/The World

Hotel Montana is now home to about 60 families, according to Salam Nehme Baddredin, the head of the Committee for Crisis Management in the area.

Its owner hit financial troubles in 2005 and had to sell the building to the local municipality. Four years ago, Hotel Montana was used as a COVID-19 quarantine center. Today, it serves as a shelter for families caught in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah.

The entrance of Hotel Montana in Marwaniyeh, which houses displaced Lebanese families.Shirin Jaafari/The World

The three-story building with pink walls and marble floors has seen much better days, Baddredin said. When families started streaming in, it wasn’t safe or livable, so the committee had to repair the water tanks and power lines with the help of international nongovernmental organizations.

Hotel Montana was abandoned for years but now it is home to displaced families.Shirin Jaafari/The World

“Most people here have lost their homes,” Baddredin explained. “Some have lost relatives and neighbors. Initially, we thought this was going to be a temporary situation but, as the weeks turned into months, it slowly became clear that people are not going back.”

Salam Nehme Baddredin, the head of the Committee for Crisis Management in the town of Marwanieh, has been working to make the abandoned hotel livable for displaced people.Shirin Jaafari/The World

This time is different

Occupying a room on the second floor was 57-year-old Adnan Hassan Khoshaysh, his wife and daughter.

They fled the village of Khiam, which is just 3 miles away from Lebanon’s border with Israel.

“Khiam is a dead place,” Khoshaysh said. “Everyone has left.”

Adnan Hassan Khoshaysh and his wife Um Ali in their room at Hotel Montana. The couple say they are hopeful they can return to their home in southern Lebanon.Shirin Jaafari/The World

For three months, he refused to move out of his home, hoping that the war would end quickly, like it did many times in the past. Khoshaysh, having lived all his life on the border with Israel, has seen many wars. The last time he was displaced was in 2006 during the monthlong war between Israel and Hezbollah.

“I love my village,” he said, holding back tears. “I didn’t want to leave.”

It was only after his house was struck directly that he realized he could no longer stay. So, he packed his bags and left reluctantly.

“I love my village. I didn’t want to leave.”

Adnan Hassan Khoshaysh, resident of Hotel Montana displaced from southern Lebanon

His wife, Um Ali, who had been urging him for weeks, said she was glad that he was finally out of danger.

This time, Khoshaysh explained, the fighting has gone on longer, and there is no end in sight. In fact, every day it seems like Israel and Hezbollah are inching closer to an all-out war.

Work is being done at Hotel Montana to make it safe for displaced families in Lebanon.Shirin Jaafari/The World

Calls to de-escalate

In recent days, the United States and Arab and European countries have tried to mediate between the two sides, urging them to de-escalate.

“Such a war would be a catastrophe for Lebanon,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said as he met recently with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at the Pentagon. “Another war between Israel and Hezbollah could easily become a regional war, with terrible consequences for the Middle East.”

The few belongings that Um Ali and Adnan Hassan Khoshaysh were able to take with them as they fled their home in southern Lebanon.Shirin Jaafari/The World

Meanwhile, Khoshaysh, who hasn’t been able to return to his home for five months, wonders if his olive and walnut trees are still standing. He thinks of his house, too, which was handed down to him from previous generations.

Adnan Hassan Khoshaysh had to flee his home in southern Lebanon after it was directly hit by an Israeli airstrike.Shirin Jaafari/The World

But that’s not all he worries about. He said that he doesn’t know the fate of his three cats: Loulou, Lashlousha and Mashmousha.

“They were born in my house,” he said. “I raised them, fed them and I became attached to them. Where are they now? Are they even alive?”

At one point, one of their neighbors was able to return to pick up some things and he stopped by their home and left some opened cans of tuna for the cats, Um Ali said. He also took some videos.

The video shows the destruction of their home. The strikes hit their son’s bedroom.

“When I see this,” Um Ali said, “I get goosebumps. We were so lucky no one was in the room at the time.”

Relatively safe

Life at the Montana Hotel is not easy, Um Ali and her husband said. But at least it’s safe. The respite allowed them to hold a small celebration for their daughter’s wedding.

Um Ali proudly showed a video of the ceremony — the bride, in a large, flowy gown — held the hand of her husband. Both were smiling and behind them there were giant wedding sparklers.

Days in the decaying hotel can get long and boring, the couple said.

A group of people displaced from southern Lebanon play a game of cards to pass time at the Hotel Montana in Marwanieh.Shirin Jaafari/The World

Sometimes, the displaced families get together, though, and sip coffee in the yard. They sing to keep up their morale. Sometimes, they cry for those who have been killed in this war.

Despite the daily airstrikes, Khoshaysh and his wife said they have hope they will return soon, and he invites others to visit.

“You’ll see with your own eyes what a beautiful house I have.”

Related: As Hezbollah buries its fighters, supporters say they are defiant

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