( Newsvine ) - They came in buses, cars and even on foot, clutching plastic bags and boxes of food.
About 100 Palestinian families become the first of 30,000 displaced people to return to this refugee camp, destroyed in three months of fighting with Islamic militants inspired by al- Qaida . More are expected to arrive in the coming weeks even before reconstruction begins.
Buses and pickup trucks with mattresses and pillows piled on top and packed with canned food, bottled water, bread and dates queued at an army checkpoint on a dusty street at the camp's eastern entrance in front of shell-poked and burned buildings.
Most of the families were returning for the first time to the camp since the army crushed Fatah Islam militants on Sept. 2 after more than three months of heavy fighting. Many did not know if their homes and shops were still standing.
The government has said it would cost $382.5 million to rebuild the camp, and the U.N. has appealed for $55 million in emergency funding.
Lebanon has about 400,000 Palestinians - mostly refugees who fled after Israel was created in 1948, and their descendants. They live in 12 impoverished camps, including Nahr el-Bared, banned from all but menial jobs and mostly living off U.N. aid.
The issue is so sensitive that the refugees - and the government - are eager for a quick return to Nahr el-Bared even though large parts are unfit to live in. The refugees fear being permanently resettled elsewhere in Lebanon as a prelude for a larger Palestinian resettlement, and the government has taken pains to calm their anxiety by promising a quick return to Nahr el-Bared.