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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Retour des réfugiés dans un pays dévasté

by Pierre Barbancey

Refugees Return to a Devastated Land

Translated Sunday 20 August 2006, by Henry Crapo

Southern Lebanon: Thousands of people return to their villages. The destruction is terrible. The soldiers and militants of Hezbollah are everywhere. A report.

Aït-Chaab, at the Lebanon-Israël border, by special envoy

It is a sure sign: in Tyr, children have found their way back to the seashore. Yesterday, on beaches of fine sand, they tried to forget this nightmarish month. The highways, deserted for weeks, began to fill up a bit once again. To the north of Tyr, authorities have temporarily filled the river bed of the Litani, using steam-shovels, opening lanes of traffic in two directions in order to compensate for the loss of bridges destroyed by the Israëli air raids. It is by thousands that the Lebanese have taken to the roads leading to the south of the country, a region that they had abandoned, fleeing the bombardment.

No one pays any attention to the leaflets dropped by an Israëli plane. "The situation will remain dangerous in the south, so long as the Lebanese army and the United Nations force are not deployed throughout the south", warn the leaflets signed by the commander of Israëli defense forces. "For your security, we ask you not to return until the forces charged with assuring your safety are deployed," the text continues.

Some people have piled mattresses on the roofs of their vehicles. Relief is mixed with anxiety, since they have no idea in what condition they will find their homes. Leaving Tyr, in the direction of frontier localities, it is a scene of veritable desolation that greets us. The routes are severely damaged, power lines torn out. Despite the violence of the Israëli offensive, not all inhabitants had left. In Alma-Chaab, a Christian village, 156 people remained to brave out the bombing. "We found refuge in the church, explains Jamil Haddad, a former policeman. But we were determined to stay because this is all we had, and we didn’t want to leave our belongings."

"They came in and broke everything up"

In Thaine, the same scenes. "The Israëli are everywhere, all around us", indicates Ali Darwich, his voice trembling. "We have three dead here, one of whom is a little girl". He adds, "What we want is peace". At the entry to Yarine, an old man laments "They fired on all the houses, they came in and broke everything in sight". He points to the crushed façades, pitted with shell holes. Some kilometers further, in Al-Boustane, a little old lady waves to us to stop. She is alone with her handicapped husband, Mustapha, and they have nothing any more. Mustapha is on the porch, with a big sack of empty medicine bottles at his side. Ill with acute diabetes, he has been amputated of both legs. He implores, "Give us medicine and something to eat."

No village was spared, and many were totally destroyed. This is the case of Aït-Chaab, on the israëli frontier where the battles were particularly violent. The Hezbollah combattants are there. Some are still in uniform, and all carry their arms. Their chief, also in uniform, his face masked by a keffieh, sun glasses, and a black cap. "The Israëli tried to get in by the east side, but they didn’t manage. They never occupied Aït-Chaab. They had heavy losses. They fled leaving their arms behind them." For proof, he brandishes an M16 rifle that he says he "took from the body of a dead soldier". Some distance away, the charred remains of an Israëli tank seem to indicate that the man is not lying. In the village below the road, we find large stocks of food, canned goods with labels in Hebrew, which leave no doubt as to their origin, as well as arms, even a mortar. Yesterday the Hezbollah again sorted the arms, the trucks carrying rocket launchers, with Israëli army forces still present.

"We will not bend before the enemy"

The political branch of the Hezbollah hasn’t lost any time either. Its militants plod the highways of the south showing the flag of their organization. The Chiite movement offers its aid and some savings to displaced persons who have lost their roof in the Israëli bombardment. At the entry to Tyr, they distribute candies, and the big yellow banners they hold proclaim "Beautiful little Lebanon has beaten Israël", and "We will not yield in the face of the enemy". A megaphone broadcasts excerpts of an address by the Hezbollah chief, and slogans shouted by enraged crowds, "Death to Israël", "Death to America".

At a crossroads in the city, an officer of the Party of God supervises 150 militants who have just arrived in thirty trucks heavily loaded with rice, sugar, canned goods and milk for children. "Since the beginning of the Israëli offensive, our job has been to help displaced people in the schools of Beirut. Now that we have the cease-fire, we have returned to the south, and another team has gone to Nabatiyé", the party leader says. Here, we work on three axes: Tyr-Abbassiyé to the north-east, Tyr-Cana, and to Kafra and Yater, to the south-east, and Tyr-Naqoura, to the south. We will try, if possible, to rent apartments. When we will have completed the survey supervised by 60 Hezbollah engineers for the Tyr region (which includes 60 villages and hamlets), the report will be submitted to Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah", he explains, using the name of the head of the Hezbollah movement. This is an activity that is not entirely to the taste of the Amal, the Chiite movement of Nabih Berri, president of the parliament. But they were unable to do anything when the Hezbollah arrived to plant their flags in the villages, where those flags now float over the south of Lebanon, the Hezbollah fingering their noses at the Israëli, who were unable to defeat this resistance.

published in l’Humanité on Wednesday 16 August 2006, pages 2-3

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