Alma al Shaab in Lebanon is now in the war zone, as militant factions such as Iran-backed Hezbollah, as well as fighters belonging to groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, launch munitions across the border into Israel.
By John Sparks, international correspondent @sparkomat
Tuesday 14 November 2023 10:31 p.m., United Kingdom
There is a place in Lebanon called Alma al Shaab that clings to the sun-baked hills rising from the Mediterranean.
The community is surrounded by olive groves and trees with ripe oranges, but living there is a stressful time.
In fact, the vast majority of its 900 residents have already left for cities like the capital, Beirut, as rockets and projectiles fly overhead.
Their village is now situated in the war zone, as militant factions such as those backed by Iran Hezbollahas well as combatants belonging to groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, drop munitions across the border into Israel.
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Using the trees and hills surrounding the community, its operations are increasing and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah says it is introducing powerful new weapons to the battlefield.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that Hezbollah is making a “fatal mistake”, while its Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, has threatened to return Lebanon “to the stone age”.
Despite the war of words – or perhaps because of them – the conflict is escalating rapidly.
Remaining residents of predominantly Christian Alma al Shaab have been caught in the crossfire.
They meet every morning at the local store to drink thick Lebanese coffee and talk about what happened during the night.
Anton Konsul is the principal of the local high school.
He said: “When I tell you we’re not afraid, we’re afraid, you don’t want to know what’s going to happen. When you wake up in the morning you think, thank God, we’re still alive.”
“Is this your war?” I asked. “Is this a battle you have interest in?”
He replied: “It has nothing to do with us, that’s the problem, it’s sad, but what can you do?”
As for the question of blame, no one we spoke to in town was willing to point fingers, and that seems like a reasonable precaution.
Alma al Shaab is the only Christian village among 104 communities in southern Lebanon; the others are mostly Shiite Muslims.
When I asked the group at the local store if they had seen Hezbollah militants operating in the district, no one seemed willing to talk.
“Maybe about 20 days ago,” said Milad Eid, who runs the local guesthouse. “We stay in our houses. They don’t come close.”
And he added: “You can’t blame anyone, well, it’s hard to say. It’s over, it’s over.”
This small group of residents seems determined to stay as long as possible.
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Sipping coffee in a black shirt was the head of the local Maronite Church, Monsignor Maroun Ghaffari.
His friends at the store joked that Monsignor Ghaffari had “lost a lot of customers” since the conflict broke out and the church leader admitted that his once-buoyant congregation has dwindled to six.
“I am from the village and I have (a lot of) experience in the wars in Lebanon, so I will stay with our people, there are older people, they have no one, we must be close to them during this tragic situation,” he says.
Monsignor Ghaffari noted that neither side had attacked the city center and he hoped they would survive the war.
He said: “I am not suicidal, but the situation is still bearable. We believe that if we leave the town it could become a battlefield.”