Thu, 22 February 2024
The Daily Ittefaq

Israel-Hezbollah conflict: Uneasy times for border residents

Update : 25 Jan 2024, 12:30

In the distance, the snow-capped peak of Mount Hermon looms over Kiryat Shmona, a town in northern Israel.

For the past three months, Kiryat Shmona has resembled a ghost town with empty streets and few open shops. From time to time, the eerie silence is broken by the sound of loud explosions. 

The city lies close to the Israeli-Lebanese border. The military bases of Hezbollah, a Lebanese Shiite militant group, are only a few kilometers away on the other side of the border demarcation line.

"You hear an alert, and you have five seconds to go to the shelter. Most of the time you hear the boom and then afterwards you will hear an alert," says Ariel Frish, who is part of the municipality's emergency team. "It means that if I am driving through the city, anything could hit me."

Around 23,000 people live in the town in normal times. However, shortly after the terrorist attacks by the militant Islamist Hamas on towns and military bases along the Gaza Strip in southern Israel on October 7, the Israeli government ordered its evacuation — alongside all villages in the north up to 3.5 kilometers (2.2 miles) from the border.

Since then, at least 50,000 people have left their homes in the border area. In addition, the military estimates that up to 35,000 people from further south have relocated towards central Israel.

Three months after the start of the war in Gaza, it is uncertain when these displaced people will be able to return home. In the past weeks, the cross-border fighting involving anti-tank missiles, rockets, and Israeli airstrikes has intensified.

Will the conflict with Hezbollah escalate?

Every day, potential indications of a major war against Hezbollah are discussed in the Israeli media, and considered risky but inevitable. Both sides could miscalculate the situation, military analysts say, or Israel could opt for a preemptive strike to change the current status quo.

The October 7 Hamas terror attacks have reinforced Israel's military doctrine that it must never again be defenseless.

"I don't know when the war in the North is. I can tell you that the likelihood of it happening in the coming months is much higher than it was in the past," said Israeli army chief Herzi Halevi in a statement while visiting an exercise for reserve troops in northern Israel.

Frish is one of the estimated 2,000 residents who have remained in Kiryat Shmona. His family has left town. A school principal of a religious school for boys, he is now part of the city council's emergency team.

"People are scattered all over the country," explains Frish. Most of them are staying in hotels, while others have rented private flats. Children are placed in other schools, businesses are struggling to survive and the fields are lying idle in the surrounding countryside.

The last major war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006 lasted six weeks. "But this war that started with the invasion of Hamas in the south frightened everyone because we understood that the Hezbollah threats could come true," said Frish.        

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