Lebanese return to find bombed-out houses near Israel border
Lebanese farmer and minibus driver Abdallah Abdallah went back to his village near the Israeli border on Saturday to find that weeks of bombing had badly damaged his house and destroyed his tractor.
"What can I say? Israel has always been criminal, it has always targeted our houses," said Abdallah, 50, his face weary as he pointed to gaping holes in the walls of his two-story home in Aitaroun, just across from an Israeli military position.
Since the Israel-Hamas war began on October 7, the frontier between Lebanon and Israel has seen intensifying exchanges of fire, mainly between Israel and Hezbollah, but also Palestinian groups, raising fears of a broader conflagration.
Abdallah fled after the cross-border skirmishes began, and like others, timidly returned on Saturday to inspect his home, under the incessant buzz of Israeli surveillance drones.
Few frontier residents told AFP they intended to stay, fearing renewed violence after the end of the four-day truce between Israel and Hamas that began on Friday.
A source close to Hezbollah told AFP that the group would adhere to the truce if Israel did.
"My tractor was destroyed and also the van I used to take the children in the area to school," said Abdallah, a father of six.
The ground around his house was strewn with shrapnel, and burnt fruit trees stood in the garden.
Hezbollah says it has been acting in support of Hamas after the Palestinian movement's October 7 attacks, which Israeli officials say killed 1,200 soldiers and civilians, and saw about 240 people taken hostage.
Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, and its retaliatory air and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip has killed nearly 15,000 people, thousands of them children.
Across south Lebanon, houses with smashed walls, shattered windows or doors ripped off their hinges bear witness to the violence of recent weeks.
In some villages, Hezbollah has put up banners paying homage to its fighters who have been killed.
The cross-border exchanges have killed 109 people in Lebanon, at least 77 of them Hezbollah fighters and 14 civilians, according to an AFP count.
The International Organization for Migration says more than 55,000 people have fled their homes, mainly in south Lebanon, since the hostilities began.
Fatima Taha, 55, breathed a sigh of relief when she discovered her house in the village of Mays al-Jabal was mostly intact, with just a few broken windows.
"We came back when they announced the truce but everyone is afraid," she said, picking lemons from a tree in her garden.
- 'Won't leave' -
"Some people came just for the olive harvest but don't want to stay" because they fear renewed bombing, she added.
In many villages near the border, authorities have put up signs asking residents not to use roads close to Israeli positions.
On Saturday, Israeli soldiers fired into the air to frighten farmers who were working on their land, according to Lebanon's official National News Agency.
Authorities have also warned farmers against harvesting their olives near the border, fearing the harmful effects of what Lebanon says is the Israeli use of the incendiary substance white phosphorus.
In Kfarkila, just a few meters from the frontier, Yahya Ahmad, 62, inspected the damage at his cafe, whose front and windows had been smashed.
"I want to clean things up and put the tables outside. I can't wait to sit here again," he said near a large tree in the courtyard.
The 62-year-old, who has lived through previous conflicts in the area, decided to stay, despite the risks.
"It's our country," he said.
"I won't leave here."
A family on an outing posed for photos in front of brightly colored block letters proclaiming "I (HEART) ODAISSEH" in one border town, with the tense frontier as a backdrop.
Abdallah Quteish, a retired school principal, and his wife, Sabah, fled their house in the village of Houla — directly facing an Israeli military position across the border — on the second day of the clashes. They went to stay with their daughter in the north, leaving behind their olive orchard just as the harvest season was set to start.
They returned to their house on Friday and to an orchard where the unharvested olives were turning dry on the branches.
"We lost out on the season, but we're alright … and that's the most important thing," Sabah said. "God willing, we'll stay in our house if the situation remains like this."
Others were less optimistic.
On the western side of the border in the village of Marwahin, Khalil Ghanam had come on Saturday to pack up the remaining stocks from his cafe on the frontier road and take them to Beirut.
The cafe has been closed since Oct. 13, the day that Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah was killed and six other people were wounded in an Israeli strike in nearby Alma al-Shaab. Shells also fell next to the cafe, leaving mangled remnants of what used to be its outdoor seating.
"We say God willing nothing bad will happen, but the situation now is difficult, and as I see it we're heading into a long difficult period," Ghanam said.
Others never left their villages.
In Kfarkila on Saturday, iron worker Hussein Fawaz picked through the charred shell of his house, hit by an airstrike two days earlier — no one was inside at the time, but the family's furniture, school books and household goods were destroyed.
Fawaz had sent his wife and three children to stay with relatives soon after the war began, but he stayed in the village because his parents refused to go. He still has no plans to leave.
"Where would we go? This is our land and our home. We're staying here," he said. "No one knows what will happen, but we hope things will stabilize and the war will end."
The general calm of the cease-fire was punctuated by scattered moments of tension. The Israeli military said Saturday that its air defenses intercepted a "suspicious aerial target" that entered Israeli airspace from Lebanon and that it had shot down a missile launched from Lebanon at an Israeli drone.