Residents cautiously return to homes in south Lebanon amid Gaza truce

Border villagers wary after several incidents threaten the fragile pause in fighting

Residents return to destroyed homes in south Lebanon amid 'truce'

Residents return to destroyed homes in south Lebanon amid 'truce'
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Residents from evacuated towns in south Lebanon are cautiously returning to their homes on the second day of the unofficial fragile truce between Israel and Hezbollah, which has been threatened by incidents on the Lebanon-Israel border.

Hamas and Israel agreed on a four-day temporary pause that came into effect on Friday. The Lebanese front was not included in the deal, but Hezbollah said it would adhere to the truce, provided that Israel also pauses attacks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country made no commitments regarding violence on its northern border, but Israel has not launched any major attacks since Friday.

However, several incidents have risked jeopardising the uneasy truce.

Early on Saturday morning, the Israeli army said it had downed a surface-to-air guided missile fired from Lebanon at a drone.

The Israeli army said it retaliated by targeting Hezbollah sites, while there were unconfirmed reports of missiles from the Israeli Iron Dome air defence system exploding in the air in the afternoon.

Despite the risk of the conflict reigniting in the area, many Lebanese people chose to return to their homes near the border on Saturday.

Residents told The National they had little faith in the truce holding, but wanted to seize the opportunity to pick up belongings, check on their homes and inspect any potential damage from missiles or air strikes.

The road to the southern border was the busiest it had been since the outbreak of the war on October 7.

Ayta Ash Shab, a few hundred metres from the border, has been the scene of intense fighting for almost six weeks.

For the first time, there were no reports of shelling in the border town, prompting villagers to start returning. Loud drones could still be heard, and the sky showed traces of what seemed to be jet streams.

“It's nothing to be afraid of,” said Imane Reda, a 39-year-old resident. “We are used to it. Can you imagine, it is our new reality now,” she added.

Ms Reda left to stay with relatives in Sour, with three children, when the Israeli army started bombing the outskirts of her village on October 9.

“I would have stayed, we are resilient, but it is for the kids, all of this, and the white phosphorus they are launching, it’s all disease for them,” she said, holding the hand of her 10-year-old.

Human rights groups and Lebanese officials have accused Israel of using white phosphorus against civilians, a highly toxic substance that can cause fires and inflict severe injuries.

Israel has denied using white phosphorus against civilians.

Doctor warns of complications due to white phosphorus inhalation

Doctor warns of complications due to white phosphorus inhalation

Ms Reda is one of about 40,000 people who fled the border violence which has killed at least 107 people, among them 15 civilians, AFP reported.

“It started without a warning; first, the outskirts, but then they started to bomb the village's centre,” she said, standing in the debris of her relative's house, which was badly damaged by an Israeli air strike that injured her nephew, Mohamed.

“He was cooking when the rocket hit, in the kitchen next to the living room,” said Mohamed's father.

“He got injured in cheekbone and eye. I told him not to come back but he did anyway … you know how young men are,” he said, adding he did not plan on spending the night in his village.

Ms Reda said this was proof that civilians, not only fighters, were a target. The Husseini, a religious edifice in the village centre, also suffered severe damage.

The smell of burning still hangs in the air, three days after the attack.

In Dhayra, another border town, residents told The National that 80 per cent of the village population had returned.

“There are the Red Cross and the press, it's safe again,” said one resident over the phone.

A couple of hours later, reports of missiles from the Israeli Iron Dome system exploding broke the fragile calm in the area.

Updated: November 25, 2023, 1:57 PM