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.”


Jordanian king, French president discuss war on Gaza

Jordanian king, French president discuss war on Gaza
Updated 24 June 2024
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Jordanian king, French president discuss war on Gaza

Jordanian king, French president discuss war on Gaza
  • Leaders urged the international community to intensify efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza

AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah and French President Emmanuel Macron met on Monday in Paris to discuss the dangerous developments in Gaza and the severe humanitarian plight resulting from Israel’s war on the Strip, Jordan News Agency reported.

During their meeting at the Elysee Palace, the leaders urged the international community to intensify efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza by all available means.

They reiterated their commitment to providing continued assistance to the region.

More than 37,500 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s war on Gaza, the majority of them women and children, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

King Abdullah and Macron underscored the urgent need for a ceasefire and emphasized the protection of civilians. The discussions, attended by Queen Rania and Brigitte Macron, also touched upon broader regional issues.

The king expressed concern about the potential spillover of the conflict, which poses a threat to international security. He reiterated that the two-state solution remains the sole pathway to achieving a just and comprehensive peace.

The two leaders highlighted the importance of maintaining Lebanon’s stability and security while King Abdullah cautioned against the persistent targeting of relief organizations in Gaza and praised France’s support for UNRWA, which plays a crucial role in delivering essential services to nearly 2 million Palestinians in the region.

Addressing the situation in the West Bank, King Abdullah condemned the violence by extremist Israeli settlers against Palestinians and warned against any unilateral actions that violate the historical and legal status of Jerusalem’s Islamic and Christian holy sites.

The meeting was also attended by Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi and the Jordanian ambassador to France, Leena Al-Hadid.


 


Qatar Fund, IRC launch health project for Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp

Qatar Fund, IRC launch health project for Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp
Updated 24 June 2024
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Qatar Fund, IRC launch health project for Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp

Qatar Fund, IRC launch health project for Syrian refugees in Zaatari camp
  • IRC’s CEO emphasizes severe impact of declining humanitarian funding

AMMAN: The Qatar Fund for Development, and the International Rescue Committee have launched a project aimed at delivering primary healthcare services to over 23,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, the Jordan News Agency reported on Monday.

In partnership with Qatar Charity and the Qatar Red Crescent Society, the IRC will provide reproductive healthcare, treatment for non-communicable and chronic diseases, and vaccination services at the Zaatari refugee camp.

The two-and-a-half-year project will also establish a health information system to manage healthcare data and enhance service delivery across three clinics.

Sultan Al-Aseeri, QFFD’s acting director general, reaffirmed the body’s dedication to ensuring a dignified life for refugees by offering essential healthcare and easy access, which he identified as crucial for developing effective primary health systems.

David Miliband, CEO of the IRC, emphasized the severe impact of declining humanitarian funding for the Jordan Response Plan for the Syria Crisis.

He highlighted how the funding shortfall had led to reduced health service availability in the Zaatari camp, compelling many humanitarian organizations to withdraw.

This situation has left more than 80,000 refugees, half of whom are children, without crucial medical services.

Nivedita Monga, the IRC’s country director in Jordan, said that studies indicated rising health needs within Syrian refugee camps, while primary health services were dwindling. She expressed her gratitude for the QFFD’s financial support, which will help extend essential healthcare services through IRC’s clinics and partner organizations to thousands of refugees in Zaatari.
 


Houthi attack targets another ship off Yemen’s remote Socotra island

Houthi attack targets another ship off Yemen’s remote Socotra island
Updated 24 June 2024
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Houthi attack targets another ship off Yemen’s remote Socotra island

Houthi attack targets another ship off Yemen’s remote Socotra island
  • Campaigners urge UN and international community to do more to help free detained Yemeni civilians and halt militia’s campaign of torture and terror
  • Houthi abuses will continue unless punished, says rights activist as he calls on UN and donors to ‘face this escalation with strength’ and ‘take a stand’

AL-MUKALLA: The Houthis reportedly attacked another commercial ship in the Gulf of Aden on Monday, as the Yemeni militia appears to be stepping up attacks on vessels along key maritime routes.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations, an agency that tracks attacks on shipping, said it received an alert from a ship’s master about an explosion in “close proximity” to the ship. It happened in an area 246 nautical miles southeast of Nishtun, a coastal town in the government-controlled Yemeni province of Mahra, close to Yemen’s remote Socotra island.

“The crew are reported safe, and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” the agency said.

It was the second incident in the area reported by the UKMTO in the space of 24 hours. The captain and crew of a vessel abandoned ship on Sunday after it was damaged and took on water about 96 nautical miles southeast of Nishtun, the agency said.

On Sunday, the Houthis claimed credit for two other strikes on commercial shipping. A vessel called the Transworld Navigator was attacked with an explosive-laden drone in the Red Sea, and another called the Stolt Sequoia was targeted with ballistic missiles in the Indian Ocean, Houthi military spokesperson Yahya Sarea said in a televised statement. He accused the owners of the ships of violating the militia’s ban on shipping to Israeli ports.

According to the Marine Traffic ship-tracking app, the Stolt Sequoia is a Liberian-flagged oil and chemical tanker traveling from Bahrain to France.

The US Central Command reported on Sunday night that the Houthis were thought to have used a drone to strike the Transworld Navigator, a Liberian-flagged, Greek-owned and operated bulk cargo ship traveling from Malaysia to Egypt.

“Today, at 4 a.m. (Sanaa time), the crew reported minor injuries and moderate damage to the ship, but the vessel has continued underway,” the US military said.

Since their attacks on shipping began in November, the Houthis have sunk two ships, seized one and fired hundreds of ballistic missiles, drones and remote-controlled, explosive-laden boats at commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean in what they say is a campaign to put pressure on Israel to end its war in Gaza.

Yemenis have disputed the Houthi claims of support for the Palestinian people, accusing leaders of the militia of using the public outrage in Yemen over the killing of civilians in Gaza in an attempt to divert attention from their own internal problems, including growing public resentment over their failure to pay public-sector employees, and to recruit and rally the Yemeni public against opponents in Yemen.

Meanwhile, Yemenis from all sections of society and human rights organizations have launched an online campaign to draw global attention to the plight of dozens of Yemeni employees of the UN and other international organizations who are being held by the Houthis.

The militia abducted about 50 people in Sanaa this month, drawing widespread criticism from the UN as well as local and international rights groups.

In the online campaign, Yemenis call on the UN and the wider international community to take more action against the Houthis to secure the release of the detained workers, and to name and shame the militia for torturing and terrorizing the Yemeni people.

“This silence on their misdeeds serves as an indirect justification for them. The UN must take a stronger stand and compel them to end their crimes against humanity and free all abductees promptly and unconditionally.”

Yemeni human rights activist Riyadh Aldubai urged the UN and international donors to condemn the Houthi crackdown on Yemeni workers and relocate their agencies’ offices to government-controlled Aden, warning that the Houthis will continue their rights abuses if not punished.

“UN and donors must face this escalation with strength. Condemn the abductions, enforce strict measures, and relocate operations to reduce Houthi control. It’s time to take a stand,” he said in a message on X.


UNRWA is sued by Israeli victims of Oct. 7 Hamas attack

UNRWA is sued by Israeli victims of Oct. 7 Hamas attack
Updated 24 June 2024
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UNRWA is sued by Israeli victims of Oct. 7 Hamas attack

UNRWA is sued by Israeli victims of Oct. 7 Hamas attack
  • The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for what they allege was UNRWA’s “aiding and abetting Hamas’ genocide

NEW YORK: The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency was sued on Monday by dozens of Israelis who accused it of aiding and abetting the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.
In a complaint filed with the US District Court in Manhattan, the plaintiffs said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) spent more than a decade helping Hamas build what they called the “terror infrastructure” and personnel needed for the attack.
The plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages for what they allege was UNRWA’s “aiding and abetting Hamas’ genocide, crimes against humanity, and torture,” which they said violated international law and the federal Torture Victim Protection Act.
UNRWA declined to comment, saying it had yet to be served with the lawsuit.
The agency has said it takes accusations of staff misconduct seriously, and terminated 10 staff members accused by Israel of involvement in the attack. Two others died, it has said.
UNRWA’s commissioner-general, Philippe Lazzarini, and several current and former agency officials are also defendants.
The plaintiffs include 101 people who survived the attack or had relatives who were killed.
While many of their accusations have been made by Israel’s government, the plaintiffs want UNRWA held liable for allegedly funneling more than $1 billion from a Manhattan bank account to benefit Hamas, including for weapons, explosives and ammunition.
The plaintiffs accuse UNRWA of providing “safe harbor” to Hamas in its facilities, and letting its schools use Hamas-approved textbooks to indoctrinate Palestinian children to support violence toward and hatred of Jews and Israel.
They also said the attack was “foreseeable” to the defendants, regardless of whether they knew the specifics.
“We are talking about people who have been killed, lost family members and lost homes,” Avery Samet, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said in an interview. “We expect damages will be substantial.”
WARNING FROM UNRWA CHIEF
The Oct. 7 attack by Hamas militants killed 1,200 people, while about 250 other people were abducted, according to Israeli tallies.
More than 37,000 Palestinians have since been killed in Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip, health officials in the Hamas-ruled enclave have said.
Several countries including the United States halted funding to UNRWA after Israel alleged that staff members were involved in Hamas’ attack.
In April, Norway called on international donors to resume funding UNRWA, after a UN-authorized independent review found that Israel had not provided evidence supporting its accusations that hundreds of UNRWA staff were members of terrorist groups.
On Monday, Lazzarini urged resistance to Israeli efforts to disband UNRWA.
“If we do not push back, other UN entities and international organizations will be next, further undermining our multilateral system,” Lazzarini said at a meeting of the agency’s advisory commission in Geneva.
Established in 1949 after the first Arab-Israeli war, UNRWA provides schooling, health care and humanitarian aid in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. It is funded almost entirely by UN member states.
The case is Estate of Kedem et al v United Nations Relief and Works Agency et al, US District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 24-04765.


Morocco sends 40 tons of medical aid to Gaza

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip pass through the inspection area at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.
Trucks carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip pass through the inspection area at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.
Updated 24 June 2024
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Morocco sends 40 tons of medical aid to Gaza

Trucks carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip pass through the inspection area at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.
  • The aid includes surgery equipment and supplies to treat burns and fractures as well as medicine for children
  • Moroccan authorities say they are using their ties to Israel to promote peace and defend the rights of Palestinians

RABAT: Morocco has begun sending 40 tons of medical aid to Palestinians in war-torn Gaza, the Moroccan foreign ministry said on Monday.
The aid includes surgery equipment and supplies to treat burns and fractures as well as medicine for children, it said.
The aid was transported by air and will be loaded into Palestinian red crescent trucks at the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which was first used by Morocco to deliver aid in March, a senior diplomatic source told Reuters.
Moroccan authorities say they are using their ties to Israel to promote peace and defend the rights of Palestinians, but there have been many protests in Moroccan cities criticizing these ties since the onset of the war in Gaza.
Israel’s ground and air campaign in Gaza was triggered after Hamas-led militants stormed into southern Israel on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli offensive in retaliation has killed more than 37,600 people, according to Palestinian health authorities, and left much of Gaza in ruins.