Tinned food, fruit juice, pasta, nappies and washing powder were amongst the supplies, mainly donated by local companies, being delivered to the thousands of Lebanese sheltering here indefinitely.

They are just a fraction of the estimated 100,000 people who have escaped across the Syrian border since Israel firepower retaliated against last Tuesday's capture of two of its soldiers by the Lebanese Shia group, Hezbollah.

"The best thing that the Syrian public and private sector can do is to make donations and send aid both to Lebanon and to Lebanese families stranded here," Imad Firas, social services manager at the ministry of social affairs, told Aljazeera.net.

Most wealthier escapees from Lebanon, especially western nationals and Gulf tourists holidaying in Beirut, have already flown out of Damascus over the past five or six days, with some hotels in the capital reporting that rooms are available for the first time in a week.

Local donations

Yet poorer families continue to arrive. Here, at the school, most have few belongings, sleeping together with their families on foam mattresses laid out on classroom floors.

"We left too quickly to take anything with us," said, Mohamed el-Echab, 22, who fled on Tuesday from his home in Baalbeck, in the Bekaa Valley.

About 100,000 people fled to
Damascus to escape the attacks
 

"The planes were bombing as we left, we didn't think we would make it," he says. "My brother and my father refused to go. They're still in Lebanon and I don't know what will happen to them."

Local companies including Syria’s two mobile phone operators, as well as a private-sector bank headquartered in Lebanon, have sponsored a billboard campaign with the Syrian Red Crescent to encourage donations.

Damascenes have also been receiving SMS messages urging them to give blood and host Lebanese families with no place to stay.

As the sole transit point into Lebanon, Syria is now a vital conduit for food and medical supplies being sent into stricken areas of the country, as NGOs warn of a brewing humanitarian crisis.

Red Cross

On Tuesday, Syrian state news agency SANA reported that two International Red Cross lorries had driven into Lebanon through the northern coastal crossing of Arida. Supplies donated by local firms are being sent to the Syrian-Lebanese border, from where the Lebanese Red Cross is distributing them onwards.

The Syrian government says it has waived airport, land border and port fees for all aid cargo arriving in the country, and also facilitated visa entry for anybody, including US nationals, crossing into the country by land.

Mohamed Sadik Safadi, a chef at the school, told Aljazeera.net that despite the frosty official relations between Syria and Lebanon since the assassination of former PM Rafik Hariri in February last year, he was happy to help out.

"Before this, it's true that the Lebanese and Syrians were a bit angry with each other, but this situation is bigger than that," he says, dishing out a robust portion of chicken and rice.

"We’re like brothers in the same house. We fight in the home, but if someone from out of town attacks us then we help each other against him."