world : Shadow of war with Israel looms over anxious Lebanese

world : Shadow of war with Israel looms over anxious Lebanese
world : Shadow of war with Israel looms over anxious Lebanese

Monday 1 July 2024 10:31 PM

Nafeza 2 world - In Lebanon's south, a Hezbollah stronghold, an estimated 90,000 residents have fled, according to the United Nations. Villages are empty with houses and other buildings destroyed. Agricultural fields have been burned by white phosphorus dropped by Israel, possibly an attempt to create a buffer zone and limit the group’s presence there.

Kameli Hammaid’s house in Meiss El Jabal, across the frontier from the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, had been built by her grandparents, with olive trees in the garden and a large patio for gatherings.

“It was the place where everyone in the village would come together,” Kameli told me in Beirut, where she lives.

She showed pictures of the damage that, she said, was caused by two Israeli rockets. The second-floor balcony had collapsed, crashing down on everything.

“I go to bed and wake up with tears in my eyes. This is the history of my family,” Kameli, a 54-year-old seamstress, said. “I’m concerned that things can escalate, of course I’m concerned.” But there was nothing she could do - “just pray to God”.

In Israel, where tens of thousands of people have been displaced from northern communities, and vast tracts of land destroyed by fires sparked by Hezbollah rockets, the authorities are under growing pressure to act. But Western officials say no decision has been made.

The expected scaling down of Israel’s military operations in Gaza could lead to more troops being deployed to the northern border. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said security would be restored “one way or another”, and that the military was “prepared for very intense action”, although some of his recent remarks have been less confrontational.

Hezbollah, seen as a significantly more formidable foe than Hamas, has been preparing for another conflict with Israel since their last one, in 2006. The group has about 150,000 rockets and missiles, according to Western estimates, which could overwhelm Israel’s sophisticated air defence systems.

The arsenal also includes attack drones and precision guided missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel. Hezbollah also relies on thousands of men who have battlefield experience from fighting in the civil war in Syria, and Hassan Nasrallah has warned Israel to expect “surprises” in the case of a large military offensive by Israel.

Other Iranian-supported groups in the region, part of what Tehran calls the "Axis of Resistance", have vowed to join the fight. “A war is possible but not inevitable,” a senior Hezbollah official told me.

Lebanon, meanwhile, has been in a state of permanent crisis for more than half a decade. In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic hit; then, the Beirut port explosion. The economy has collapsed, with 80% of the population estimated to be in poverty. There has not been a president for almost two years because of seemingly never-ending political disputes.

Any war would be disastrous for the country, and the government has limited influence - if any - over the group which, like Hamas, is considered a terrorist organisation by the UK, the US and others.

“What’s happening is already affecting us all,” Faad Assaf, a 48-year-old salesman, told me recently. The shop where he worked in Hamra, Beirut, was empty. “We’re afraid for the younger generation. We don’t want them to live what we went through – war.”

As Raymonda Chamoun, the party organiser, put it: “The general mood in the country is of burnout. People are tired.”

Additional reporting by Leena Saidi

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