Residents leave as tension grows at Israel-Lebanon border

  20 October 2023    Read: 613
Residents leave as tension grows at Israel-Lebanon border

For days, tensions have been high along the Lebanese border with Israel, with frequent exchanges of fire between heavily armed militants in Lebanon and the Israeli army.

These skirmishes have prompted fears that the violence could escalate into a bigger confrontation.

Not far from the frontier on the Lebanese side, in the southern town of Bein Jbeil, there was quiet in the streets. Most shops were closed.

Many residents here, and in other border villages, have left, fearing that an escalation of the war between Israel and Hamas will turn this area, dominated by the powerful Shia Islamist group Hezbollah, into another front in the conflict.

Half a dozen men, among the few people seen outside, sat around a plastic table. Some ate pizza; others were smoking. They did not seem to be concerned.

"I'm not going to leave unless [the situation] gets out of hand, which I doubt," 52-year-old Mohammed Baidoun said, under the watchful eye of a handful of Hezbollah minders, who came from multiple directions as soon as we arrived. "I have faith in the resistance that we have here... I believe deep down that [Hezbollah] will protect us."

The question about what Hezbollah will do hangs over the whole country. The group, like Hamas, is considered a terrorist organisation by the UK, the US and others. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has remained silent since the Israel-Hamas war broke out.

Naim Qassem, the Hezbollah number two, described the group as "fully ready", saying they would not be intimidated by calls from the US and others to stay away. But their secretive nature means it is difficult to know what preparations they could be making.

Israel has long seen Hezbollah, which is also a social and political movement created in the 1980s, as a far more formidable force than Hamas: the group has a vast arsenal of weapons, including precision-guided missiles that can strike deep into Israeli territory, as well as tens of thousands of well-trained, battle-hardened fighters.

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