Hoda Saab, a retired teacher, cried when she landed at Philadelphia international airport after being evacuated from Beirut.
She said: “They have destroyed Lebanon not Hezbollah, they have set us back 50 years.”
Yasser Alkhatib was in Beirut to visit family when the fighting broke out on July 12.
He said: “It’s like knowing a very beautiful woman your whole life and suddenly knowing that she has been struck with a cancer that has deformed her face into something grotesque, she is Lebanon and it hurts.”
Lebanon, ravaged by a civil war and Israel’s 1982 invasion, was beginning to show signs of returning to its former glory as the “Paris of the Middle East”.
Billions of dollars had poured in from expatriates who maintained strong cultural ties to Lebanon.
Thousands of Lebanese who had immigrated to the West or became part of the skilled labour force in the Persian Gulf returned to invest in the reconstruction of their country.
After Syria withdrew its military and security presence in Lebanon, many expatriate Lebanese believed a new era was about to dawn on their country of origin.
That’s what Kamal, a home repair entrepreneur in Toronto, who was visiting family in the Furn al Shibak district of Beirut, believed.
He had been considering returning to Lebanon to start a business. Instead, he says his premature departure through Syria and Jordan and eventually back to Canada was a horrible deja-vu.
He said: “I don’t think any Lebanese expected what happened to happen.
“We spent our blood and sweat from our foreheads rebuilding Lebanon and in one day … just one day, it’s gone. Just like that?”
Initial estimates indicate that Lebanon has suffered at least $2billion in damage to infrastructure in the past 20 days of fighting. Many services such as telephones and utilities have been damaged in areas of Beirut, while in the south, roads and transportation infrastructure have been completely destroyed.
Despite having endured a major conflict in each of the past three decades, the Lebanese say they are determined to rebuild the country and restore it as one of the tourism hubs of the Middle East.
Several countries have promised to provide financial assistance. In the past week, Saudi Arabia has pledged up to $1.5billion and Kuwaiti officials said they deposited the equivalent of $1.9billion into a Lebanese national bank in addition to $300million in private donations.
In the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi TV held a 24-hour telethon calling on the Arab world to help Lebanon meet its humanitarian and reconstruction needs.
Eager to rebuild
But many Lebanese are not waiting and have already started roadwork projects to rehabilitate Beirut.
In parts of the capital, caretaker services have deployed dozens of workers to clear the streets of debris while municipalities have started repair work on damaged water and sewage pipes.
Chaafic Naamani, a civil engineer in Beirut, believes lessons from the past will help rebuild Lebanon’s future.
“We kicked the Israelis out … we kicked the Syrians out. We were on a good pace to catch up with the world but in a week everything, every single thing was destroyed and you realise how fragile it was and the only blame is on the Lebanese.
“I am scared of civil war but I am not scared of the future. I am an optimistic guy. We are going to rebuild.”
Strength in unity
Jumana Sahyoun and her husband Ahmad Traboulsi are waiting for a ceasefire before they return.
Sahyoun said: “We are used to war, we can survive them, we will survive this one and rebuild Lebanon right away.”
But Asmahan Soueid says Lebanon’s strength can only be realised in the unity of its people.
“Lebanon is surrounded by enemies all around its frontiers and we have to stay united. The more united we are, the more likely Lebanon will re-emerge stronger and be the Lebanon we all want it to be.”