Southern Lebanon has witnessed daily fire exchanges between Hezbollah and the Israeli army over the past 50 days. On Saturday and Sunday, some of the tens of thousands who were forced to flee when fighting broke out near the border with Israel have returned home. During the four-day truce between Israel and Hamas, L’Orient Le Jour visited some of the affected villages in the south.
‘Every two years, we are attacked’
In Dhayra, there were little to no signs of life. The metal shutters of most shops were closed. Most of the town’s residents left weeks ago, joining the ranks of the nearly 50,000 displaced from the south, according to the United Nations. But not everyone managed to escape. At least 13 civilians were killed in southern Lebanon, according to Reuters.
In this Sunni village, the damage caused by Israeli strikes was apparent. Olive trees were burned, walls were marked with holes and a shell damaged a road. Three Lebanese army soldiers stood in the middle of the road. They said that the remains of a metal shell that lay on the roadside grass was a phosphorus bomb.
L’Orient Le Jour was unable to verify this information, although multiple reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have accused Israel of using white phosphorus in southern Lebanon.
In the village square, a family’s home was seriously damaged by an Israeli bomb on Oct. 9. “I arrived home 10 minutes before my car was hit by a shell. There are no fighters in this house and it’s a civilian car,” said a family member in his twenties, who requested anonymity for security reasons. Outside, L’Orient-Le Jour saw the remains of the car. The floors and walls of the house were covered in black ash.
After the bombing on Oct. 9, the family fled immediately and took refuge in a school in Sour. On Nov. 25, during the truce, they returned home for the first time to assess the damage. Their house was partially damaged, along with the solar panels. “When we returned to our village, everything had changed. Some people came back and found their houses uninhabitable... We will leave again if the ceasefire is not extended,” said the same family member.
This village is no stranger to conflict.
“The situation in Dhayra makes us cry. We’re not happy with the way things are going here. Every two years, we are attacked. Before 2000, when we were children, Dhayra [then in the zone occupied by Israel] was bombed every day. Then, in 2006, we were attacked again,” added the young man. “It’s hard to see your home village, where you were born and raised, attacked in this way,” he said.
At around 1 p.m. on Saturday, the precarious calm that had held out for 24 hours of the truce was interrupted by alarm sirens. A loud bang quickly followed. The inhabitants of the village immediately rushed to their cars and escaped towards Sour. An Israeli army spokesman, quoted by Haaretz, said that a “suspicious target” crossing from Lebanon had infiltrated Israeli territory and had been intercepted by the Israeli army.
Hezbollah told L’Orient Le Jour that it did not fire any missiles toward Israel at that time. The inhabitants of the border villages were reminded that the war is far from over. They do not know when they can return home for good.
‘No one is helping us’
Wafika and Hassan Jawad arrived this morning in Aita al-Shaab, a Shiite border village. They do not intend to stay. The couple’s house was hit by a strike, part of the wall collapsed and several windows were broken. “Nobody is helping us. We’re on our own and we’re living in schools [opened near Sour to house displaced people from the south]. Only the scouts from the al-Rissala al-Islamiya Scouts group are there for us. Where is the government?” said Hassan Jawad. He stood next to the facade of his house, which was cracked by the bombardment. “All I want is for this truce to last,” said his wife, as she gathered up their winter clothes to take back with her.
According to Imad Lallous, the mayor of Ain Ibl, the Christian town has been emptied of some 70 percent of its 4,000 inhabitants. Only the sound of bells and the noise of cars heading to church for Sunday mass could be heard. While the area was not directly targeted by Israeli strikes, eight rockets fell on the locality, probably the result of failed Hezbollah fire, the mayor told L’Orient Le Jour. “The last few weeks have been very difficult. Rockets hit two houses,” he added.
Some residents were repairing the damage caused by the rockets. A few weeks ago, Wadih Diab left his house ten minutes before a rocket hit. “Thank God, when the rocket hit, there was no one around, so it was a very close call,” he said.
Wadih explained that six rockets fell on his house, three of which did not explode. This weekend, he repaired one of the damaged walls. “It’s Hezbollah... Who else is waging war? Or the Palestinian factions, or the Amal movement... Who else? Those rockets came from Lebanon,” he said.
Now the questions begin: what will happen if the truce does not continue? Fears over the conflict’s long-term impact are high. This village and others may never be the same again. “It was horrible. Almost everyone has left and I’m afraid that if the war continues, people won’t be coming back,” said the mayor. “Those who have stayed are old people. They can’t afford to go to Beirut. Other families have lost their income. It’s the olive harvest season and we’ve lost two-thirds of it. So people have no money to buy food,” he added.
However, Lallous said that a contingency plan has been put in place if the war continues. “We hope to get more aid. We don’t have any shelters, so we’re trying to work out a plan to use some of the basements.”
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.
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