In shadow of war, Lebanese find respite on Tyre beach


After the roar of Israeli warplanes terrified her baby grandson, Umm Hassan's family sought solace on a south Lebanon beach, hoping to escape the escalating cross-border violence.

Life goes on but "the children are frightened," the 60-year-old told AFP from the beach in Tyre, about 20 kilometers from the Israel-Lebanon frontier.

Women in two-piece swimsuits tanned in the sun, while others fully clothed and wearing head coverings enjoyed the waves, even as the bombardment sometimes echoed in the distance.

Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, and Israel have been trading near-daily fire since the Gaza war was trigged by the Palestinian militant group's October 7 attack on southern Israel.

Against the backdrop of the ongoing cross-border fire, Umm Hassan's one-year-old grandson played in the sand with his mother Fatima, in a moment of tranquility.

Only a few days earlier, an Israeli fighter jet broke the sound barrier over their inland village of Srifa, which has come under Israeli bombardment in recent months, said Umm Hassan.

The thunderous sonic boom upset the baby so much that he began sobbing, then laughing, then sobbing again, for an hour and a half, clearly in distress.

"I called the doctor, who said it was a fit of hysteria," the grandmother said.

"We take him to the riverside, and to the sea, so he can forget," she said, wearing a loose, flowery shirt.

Umm Hassan was among hundreds of beachgoers -- many from the country's south, where Hezbollah largely holds sway -- who were trying to disconnect from news of war at the beach in Tyre at the weekend.

Israel has previously targeted Hezbollah and other fighters in and near the city, whose district now hosts thousands of people displaced by the violence.

- 'You'll go mad' -

Drinking a beer and smoking a water pipe, Abbas Oueidat sunbathed with his wife Aya.

"We would never think of going anywhere else. I feel relaxed here," said Oueidat, 34, noting the need for distraction from the doom and gloom.

"If you don't, you'll go mad," he added.

People in the south "are scared or they're waiting for the big battle to happen. Even at work everyone says war is coming," said Oueidat.

But he also struck a defiant tone: "We have Hezbollah here, if they (Israel) strike, our people will strike."

Each summer, Tyre's sandy public beaches are packed with bathers -- a haven for people from different backgrounds and regions, where alcohol is tolerated.

But the Gaza war has cast a shadow over this year's summer season, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week Israel was "prepared for a very intense operation" on its northern border.

Hezbollah has said it will only stop its attacks on Israel if a ceasefire is reached in the Gaza Strip.

Oueidat said he regularly heard Israeli jets breaking the sound barrier in his village of Aazze, near the southern city of Nabatiyeh, their pressure waves causing buildings to shake and glass to shatter.

- Fear, beer -

But he said that rather than the threat of open war, Lebanon's crushing four-year economic meltdown had pushed him and his wife to consider leaving.

"There is no future here," he said.

"But at least you can sit by the sea and have a beer."

In Lebanon, the cross-border violence since October has killed more than 460 people, mostly fighters but including about 90 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

On the Israeli side, at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed, according to the army.

Lazing in the sand under a beach umbrella, Wael El Hajj, 42, said he drove to Tyre from his hometown of Koura, about 125 kilometers further north, just to be with friends from the south.

"There is no reason to be scared," said the 42-year-old, who now lives in Saudi Arabia.

"Let them (Israel) sit with their fear and we will sit with a beer," he added.

Hajj, one of millions of Lebanese living abroad, is among those who have come back home for the holidays.

Summer tourism, in large part driven by Lebanese expatriates, is a crucial source of income for Tyre residents and small businesses.

Beach restaurant owner Nasser Mohsen expressed surprise that turnout this season had so far exceeded expectations.

"Despite the security situation... people (in the south) have no other outlet but this beach," he said.

"The season is only just starting but we haven't been greatly affected," he added.

"It's been eight months. We got used to it."

Comments 0