How fierce but undeclared Israel-Hezbollah war is hurting civilians in south Lebanon

Special How fierce but undeclared Israel-Hezbollah war is hurting civilians in south Lebanon
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Updated 02 May 2024
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How fierce but undeclared Israel-Hezbollah war is hurting civilians in south Lebanon

How fierce but undeclared Israel-Hezbollah war is hurting civilians in south Lebanon
  • IDF and Iran-backed Lebanese group began trading fire across the border following Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack
  • Farming communities in southern Lebanon have seen their fields burned, homes destroyed by Israeli strikes

BEIRUT: For more than six months, an undeclared war has been raging along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, leading to the displacement of some 92,000 Lebanese citizens and the destruction of homes, businesses and agriculture.

The front line of this conflict between Hezbollah and the Israeli armed forces stretches some 850 km, incorporating parts of the UN-monitored Blue Line, with missiles fired by both sides reaching up to 15 km into their respective territories.

Although the exchanges have remained relatively contained, Israeli attacks have caused civilian deaths, damaged and destroyed homes, infrastructure and farmland, and ignited forest fires. Civilians on both sides of the border have been displaced.

“Our town is right on the border, and there are now only 100 out of 1,000 residents, and the rest are those who are unable to secure an alternative livelihood,” Jean Ghafri, mayor of Alma Al-Shaab, a predominantly Christian village in the Tyre District, told Arab News.

“So far, the shelling has destroyed 94 houses, and 60 percent of the olive groves, mango, and avocado orchards, vineyards, olive and carob trees have been burned, and some of the olive trees that were burned are 300 years old.”

Most of the people in the border region are Shiite. The rest are Sunni, Druze and Christians, along with dozens of Syrian refugee families, some 10,000 troops of UNIFIL, or UN Interim Force in Lebanon, and a few thousand Lebanese soldiers.

Members of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militia began launching rocket attacks against Israel on Oct. 8, a day after the Hamas-led assault on southern Israel triggered the war in Gaza.




A bulldozer removes rubble after an Israeli strike on a house in the southern Lebanese village of Sultaniyeh. (AFP/File)

Since then, Hezbollah and the Israeli military have traded fire along the shared border, raising fears that the Gaza conflict could spill over and engulf Lebanon in a devastating war reminiscent of the 2006 Israeli invasion.

“The town, although it is in a conflict zone, did not witness this level of direct destruction in the 2006 war,” said Ghafri. “It is impossible to know the exact damage because the area is considered a war zone. Those who are still there are receiving food rations from religious or international organizations.”

Al-Dahira is another town that has come under heavy shelling on an almost daily basis since the conflict began. It was from its nearby border that Hezbollah began its military assault on Oct. 8.

Its mayor, Abdullah Ghuraib, counts “17 houses that have been completely destroyed and dozens of houses that are no longer habitable due to the force of the shelling.”

He said: “There is only one woman, Radhya Atta Sweid, 75 years old, who insisted on staying in her house and not leaving. She had stayed in her house during the 2006 war and her brother’s wife, who was with her in the house, was killed and she remained there.”

Hassan Sheit, the mayor of Kfarkela, a village that is only a stone’s throw from the Israeli border, painted a similar picture of destruction and displacement.

“The material losses are great. This is a town where people live in summer and winter, of which only 7 percent of the 6,000 inhabitants remain,” Sheit told Arab News.

“The displacement from the town caused people to be homeless, living with relatives and in rented apartments, and living on aid from civil society and Hezbollah, which varies between financial and in-kind assistance.




Flames rise in a field near the border village of Burj Al-Mamluk after an Israeli strike. (Reuters/File)

“The town lost 15 martyrs as a result of the Israeli bombardment. What is happening today in the town was not done in the 2006 war.”

Thousands of families from towns and villages across southern Lebanon fled as soon as the first exchanges began. Many of these communities are now ghost towns, having lost some 90 percent of their residents.

The displaced, most of them women and children, have moved to towns further away from the border, including areas around Tyre, Nabatieh, Zahrani, Sidon, Jezzine and even the southern suburbs of Beirut, where they rent or stay with relatives.

Those without the means to support themselves have been forced to reside in shelters established by local authorities. These shelters, most of them in school buildings, are concentrated in the city of Tyre, within easy reach of their towns and villages.

This protracted displacement has been accompanied by economic hardship brought on by the financial crisis that struck Lebanon in late 2019. To make matters worse, many south Lebanese have lost their livelihoods as a result of their displacement.




Funeral for Hezbollah members Ismail Baz and Mohamad Hussein Shohury, who were killed in an Israeli strike on their vehicles, in Shehabiya. (AFP/File)

Ghafri, the mayor of Alma Al-Shaab, said several displaced residents had said expenses in Beirut were different from those in the villages. One person had told him residents “do not work and therefore no income reaches them, except for in-kind assistance from civil and international organizations and from wealthy expatriates.

“There are no political parties in Alma Al-Shaab, no militants, and all its people are in favor of the Lebanese state and refuse to allow their town to be used as a battlefield. People are worried about their future, and I am trying to convey this position to Hezbollah.”

Those who initially benefited from reduced or rent-free arrangements are now being asked to pay more or move on. The rent for some apartments has reportedly jumped from $100 to $1,000 per month, placing a significant strain on household savings and incomes.

INNUMBERS

• 92,621 Individuals displaced from south Lebanon by hostilities as of April 16 (DTM).

• 1,324 Casualties reported, including 340 deaths, as of April 18 (OHCHR, MoPH).

According to media reports, Hezbollah has intervened in support of displaced households, calling on apartment owners in the south and in Beirut’s southern suburbs to cap their rents, and providing families with financial aid.

Families who spoke to local media said Hezbollah provided a quarterly payment of $1,000 for three months, then reduced the amount to an average of $300 per month, covering about 15,000 displaced families.

Like other displaced households, the people of Al-Dahira have complained of “running out of money and relatives’ discomfort with their presence,” said the town’s mayor Ghuraib.




Students hold a large banner with the images of three sisters killed in the south of Lebanon during Israeli shelling. (AFP/File)

“Two days ago, we came to the town to pay our respects to someone who died. We entered the town in a hurry and quickly inspected our homes, and I saw men crying about the loss of their livelihoods and possessions.

“The people of Al-Dahira make a living from growing tobacco, olives and grains, but the (crops of the) previous season burned down and now the land is on fire.

“The problem is that the situation is getting worse day by day. People’s lives have been turned upside down. If the war drags on, the land will die. The Israelis are deliberately turning it into a scorched earth.”

What is undeniable is that the displacement of entire farming communities has brought the once bountiful agricultural economy in many areas to the brink of collapse.

“The people of Aitaroun make their living from agriculture, especially tobacco farming, and the losses today are great,” Salim Murad, the mayor of the southeastern border town, told Arab News.




Smoke billows during Israeli shelling on the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila. (AFP/File)

“There are 40 dairy cattle farmers with about 500 cows and two factories for making cheese and dairy products. With the displacement, production stopped and the displaced people most likely sold their cows or slaughtered them, which means that another link of agricultural production has been destroyed.

“There were 2,200 beehives distributed along the border, as the area is rich and varied in pasture, but these hives were completely lost, and farmers lost the olive season, and these orchards lost their future suitability for cultivation.”

It is unclear whether any kind of compensation will be paid to these farming households once the violence ends. Although the situation appears bleak, Kfarkela mayor Sheit is confident the region’s resilient communities will bounce back.

“Once the war stops, people will return to their homes and rebuild them,” he said. “Because we are the owners of the land.”


Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
Updated 15 July 2024
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Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school

Gaza civil defense says 15 killed in Israel strike on Gaza school
  • The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The civil defense agency in Hamas-run Gaza said Sunday that 15 people were killed in a strike on a school sheltering war displaced where the Israeli military said it had targeted “terrorists.”
The strike on the UN-run Abu Araban site in central Gaza’s Nuseirat camp was the fifth on a school-turned-shelter in eight days.
The Abu Araban school was housing “thousands of displaced people,” civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told AFP, adding that most of the dead were women and children.
Schools in Nuseirat were the target for two of the earlier school strikes as Israel keeps up its offensive against Hamas Palestinian militants who triggered the war with their October 7 attack on Israel.
The Israeli military said its air force “struck a number of terrorists who were operating in the area of UNRWA’s Abu Araban school building in Nuseirat.”
It said the building had “served as a hideout” and base for “attacks” on Israeli troops.
AFPTV images showed the three-story complex standing, with clothes and bedding airing out over its railings. A wall bearing the UN logo had been blown out, and rooms inside were damaged.
On July 6, Israeli aircraft hit Al-Jawni school, also run by the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), in Nuseirat. UNRWA said about 2,000 people were sheltering there at the time.
The following day, four people died in a strike on the church-run Holy Family school in Gaza City, in the territory’s north, according to the Civil Defense agency.
On Monday, Israel hit another Nuseirat school, again saying it was targeting “terrorists.”
The next day, a hospital source said at least 29 people died in a strike at the entrance to Al-Awda school in the Khan Yunis area, southern Gaza.
Israel says Hamas uses schools, hospitals and other public infrastructure for military purposes. Hamas denies the accusation.
France and Germany on Wednesday called for an investigation into the school strikes.
After the Al-Jawni strike, UNRWA spokesperson Juliette Touma told AFP that when the war began “we closed the schools and they became shelters.”
UNRWA is the main relief agency in Gaza but more than half, or 190, of its facilities have been hit — “some more than once” — in the military response to the October 7 Hamas attacks, she said.
 

 


As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
Updated 14 July 2024
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As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel

As war rages, Palestinian culture stifled in Israel
  • About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian

TEL AVIV: Comedian Ayman Nahas said he has kept a “low profile” since Oct. 7, fearing reprisals as an Arab artist in Israel while the country wages war in the Gaza Strip.
He is one of many Arab artists in Israel or annexed East Jerusalem who describe facing increasing hostility and harassment and fearing looming funding cuts or arrests.
“You never know where your place is, and that is not the right atmosphere to perform,” said Nahas, the artistic director at the Arabic-language Sard theater in Haifa, in Israel’s north.
He said that his theater depends on government subsidies “like 99 percent of cultural spaces” in Israel.
But he fears the money could be cut, as happened in 2015 to Al-Midan, another theater in the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa, after it put on a play inspired by the story of a prisoner jailed by Israel over an attack on troops.
One 25-year-old performer, who asked to use the pseudonym Elias to avoid a backlash, said he has put acting aside and became a swimming pool attendant because he was fed up with only getting stereotyped roles.
Other Arab actors say that since the war, they can no longer find work in Israel. Elias has finally found a role in Berlin.
“I have had to go into exile to practice my art,” he said in a Tel Aviv cafe.
“I don’t wear my ‘Free Palestine’ bracelet anymore, and I take care of what I put on social media. I have friends who the police have visited.”
Nonprofit group Mossawa has documented an increase in human rights violations against Israel’s Arab minority since October, including arrests, discrimination at work, and harassment at schools, as well as curbs on the right to protest.
Singer Dalal Abu Amneh, who is also a neuroscientist, was detained for 48 hours for a social media post after Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that said “the only victor is God.”
Abu Amneh later said she had been harassed in her Jewish-majority hometown of Afula in northern Israel. Her lawyer said she had received hundreds of “death threats.”
About 20 percent of Israel’s 9.5 million inhabitants are Arab, and many of them identify as Palestinian.
They say they are frequently the targets of discrimination by the Jewish majority, and those complaints have grown through more than nine months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
Huda Imam, who promotes Palestinian cultural sites in Jerusalem, said that “a cultural silence has taken hold since Oct. 7.”
“There has been a shock, an inability to produce out of fear and respect” for the war’s victims, she added.
“There was a Palestinian cultural life before the war, especially in east Jerusalem,” Imam said, referring to the sector Israel captured in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognized by most of the international community.
“Now people don’t go out.”
And it is primarily exiles “who give a voice to Palestine,” said Imam, highlighting the rapper Saint Levant, who played at the Coachella music festival in the US in April, and the European-based singer and flute player Nai Barghouti.
Palestinians still express themselves through their “living heritage, like drinking coffee or dancing dabkeh,” a traditional dance, said artist Hani Amra.
Some artists wondered about the relevance of their work now.
“You turn on the television, and you see the war live. The reality is more powerful than any artistic work,” Amer Khalil, the director of east Jerusalem’s Al-Hakawati, also known as the Palestinian National Theater.
The theater, founded in 1984, “has been closed more than 200 times in 40 years” and is again in the crosshairs of Israeli authorities, said Khalil.
“Running a theater is always difficult, but after Oct. 7 things became even more complicated,” he said, adding that Al-Hakawati was preparing a play about that day.
“It is a game, like censorship. It comes and goes.”

 


UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
Updated 14 July 2024
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UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps

UAE delivers medical aid to Gaza after Israeli attack on refugee camps
  • The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday
  • The aid includes supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries and insulin

DUBAI: The UAE delivered three tonnes of medical supplies and a range of medicines to support the healthcare sector and hospitals still operating in the Gaza Strip, the UAE state news agency reported on Sunday.

The initiative follows Israel’s targeting of displaced Palestinians at camps in Khan Younis on Saturday.

The medical aid includes medical supplies for hospitals facing shortages, medicines for various injuries, insulin for diabetic patients, and other solutions to bolster the healthcare sector during the crisis.

The UAE on Sunday condemned Israel’s attack on refugee camps in Khan Younis, which claimed the lives of 100 people.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Saturday expressed its strongest condemnation and denunciation of what it termed “continued genocidal massacres against the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli war machine.”


Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
Updated 14 July 2024
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Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth

Kuwait says government spending must be fixed to control budget growth
  • Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars

KUWAIT CITY: Kuwait's budget is projected to show a deficit of 5.6 billion dinars ($18.33 billion) for the 2024-2025 fiscal year, the Kuwait News Agency reported on Sunday citing the Ministry of Finance. 

Its statement added expenses were estimated at 24.5 billion dinars and revenues at 18.9 billion dinars.

Government spending must be fixed at 24.5 billion Kuwaiti dinars in the 2027-2028 budget to control budget growth, the ministry also said.

The liquidity of the General Reserve Fund, from which the budget deficit is financed, decreased to 2 billion dinars last March from 33.6 billion ten years ago due to increasing withdrawals, it added.


Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis
Updated 14 July 2024
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Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis

Egypt condemns Israeli airstrikes on Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis
  • Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law

CAIRO: Egypt has condemned the Israeli airstrikes on the Al-Mawasi area west of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.

The deaths in Al-Mawasi, an Israeli-designated “safe zone” where aid groups said hundreds of thousands of people were sheltering, drew condemnation from governments across the region.

The Health Ministry in the Gaza Strip said at least 92 people had been killed, more than half of them women and children, and 300 wounded in Saturday’s strike

In a statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emigration and Egyptian Expatriates, Egypt condemned in the strongest terms the Israeli bombing of Al-Mawasi, which is crowded with displaced people, resulting in the death and injury of dozens of innocent Palestinian civilians.

Egypt called on Israel to cease its disregard for the lives of unarmed civilians and to adhere to international humanitarian law.

It also stressed that such crimes would not be subject to a statute of limitations and could not be justified under any pretext.

Egypt emphasized that these continuous violations against Palestinian civilians add serious complications to the current efforts aimed at reaching de-escalation and a ceasefire and exacerbate their suffering amid disgraceful international silence and inaction.