War ruins athletic chances

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 July, 2006, 12:00am

Of the hundreds of focused athletes, one runner seemed to be pre-occupied at the 12th Asian Junior Athletics Championships in Macau. He had just escaped death and knew he couldn't go home.

The recent Israeli bombing prevented 18-year-old Oussama Farhat, the only Lebanese representative, from returning home after the competition ended on July 18.

He had to travel to Syria, a country bordering Lebanon, and stay there, because the only Lebanese airport was paralysed and the Lebanon-Syria border temporarily shut.

On his way to Macau on July 12, Oussama narrowly escaped Israeli fire - his plane left Beirut 15 minutes before the airport was bombed.

The Israeli army began to attack Beirut on July 12 after Lebanese guerrillas captured two Israeli soldiers and killed seven others on the same day.

More than 300 Lebanese have been killed and hundred of thousands displaced, while at least 29 Israeli soldiers have died in the conflict.

Oussama finished 10th in the men's 5,000 metres, with a time of 17 minutes 53 seconds. The university student said he could have done much better had he not been troubled by the war. He said he ranked 10th among junior long-distance runners in Asia.

'I couldn't concentrate. My mind was on the bombing when I was running,' he said. 'I was very sad to hear that my neighbourhood had been demolished.'

The runner could not even remember his time for the distance in the contest. He said he was aiming at 5th or 6th place, but now the result didn't matter .

Oussama's parents, brother and two sisters lived in Beirut's southern suburb of Dahya, one of the worst hit districts of the Lebanese capital. After the bombing started, they moved to the town of Alayh, southeast of Beirut.

'Thank God they were all right - I talked to my sister on the phone,' he said.

'They moved to my grandma's home in Alayh.'

But Oussama said Beirut's telephone network had failed and he could not contact any friends there. He eagerly read news reports every day for the latest development of the war. 'I'm very worried, but there's no way of reaching them. The phone lines and internet cables are down,' he said.

Oussama said he did not understand why people hated and killed each other, and he could only pray for peace to return soon.