Funerals offer displaced Lebanese villagers a chance to go home


For displaced south Lebanese villagers, funerals for those killed in months of cross-border clashes are a rare chance to return home and see the devastation caused by Israeli bombardment.

"My house is in ruins," said Abdel Aziz Ammar, a 60-year-old man with a white beard, in front of a pile of rubble in the border village of Mais al-Jabal.

Only a plastic water tank survived.

"My parents' house, my brother's house and my nephew's house have all been totally destroyed," said Ammar, who was back in Mais al-Jabal this week for the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter from the village.

Hezbollah began attacking Israel in support of ally Hamas a day after the Palestinian militant group's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that sparked war in the Gaza Strip.

Many residents of towns and villages on either side of the Israel-Lebanon border have evacuated their homes for safety.

The Iran-backed Lebanese movement has been intensifying its attacks, while Israel has been striking deeper into Lebanese territory, in cross-border violence that has killed at least 419 people on the Lebanese side, according to an AFP tally.

Most of the dead are Hezbollah fighters, including seven from Mais al-Jabal, but at least 82 are civilians, three of whom journalists.

Israel says 14 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed on its side of the border.

For funerals in the south, the Lebanese army informs United Nations peacekeepers, who then inform the Israeli military, a spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon said.

The peacekeepers usually patrol near the border, and act as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel.

- 'Collect their belongings' -

Ammar fled his village for Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, two weeks after the violence broke out.

The International Organization for Migration says more than 93,000 people have been displaced in south Lebanon, while authorities in Israel have evacuated tens of thousands from Israel's north.

"We come for the funerals, but we inspect our homes. Those whose houses haven't been destroyed use the time to collect their belongings," Ammar said.

"The house meant a lot to us, it was big," with plenty of space for the children outside, he said of his home in Mais al-Jabal.

"My daughter always tells me, 'I miss the house, when will we go back?'"

An AFP photographer saw dozens of houses razed or partially destroyed in the village, which resembled a battlefield surrounded by green countryside.

A funeral procession crossed the rubble-strewn streets, with people chanting slogans in support of Hezbollah, not far from Israeli positions across the border.

Hezbollah flags fluttered in the wind as women in chadors walked together, some wearing yellow scarves -- the color of the Shiite Muslim movement -- or holding pictures of the fallen "martyr".

"Whether I carry a weapon or not, just my presence in my village means I am a target for the Israelis," Ammar said, noting the fighting does not always stop for the funerals.

- 'We will rebuild' -

On May 5, a man, his wife and two children were killed in a strike on Mais al-Jabal while a funeral took place.

They had returned to the village to collect things from a store they owned, believing it to be a moment of calm, local media reported.

In front of a half-destroyed house, people piled a small truck with whatever they could -- a washing machine, a child's stroller, a motorbike and plastic chairs.

Amid rubble in the village, a sign was propped up reading: "Even if you destroy our houses, your missiles cannot break our will."

Lebanese authorities are waiting for a ceasefire to fully assess the damage, but have estimated that some 1,700 houses have been destroyed and 14,000 damaged.

Emergency personnel have reported huge damage and villages emptied of residents, while many journalists have been reluctant to travel to the border areas due to the heavy bombardment.

The overall bill already exceeds $1.5 billion, authorities estimate, in a crisis-hit country where compensation procedures remain vague.

But to village resident Khalil Hamdan, 53, who also attended the funeral, "the destruction doesn't make a difference."

"We will rebuild," he told AFP.

Comments 0