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Lebanese and Israelis Flee Homes Along Border Amid Fighting

The border between Israel and Lebanon has become a landscape of abandoned towns and neglected farms as escalating tensions and tit-for-tat strikes between Israeli forces and Hezbollah militants have displaced more than 150,000 people in both countries.

Prospects for an end to the cross-border hostilities have grown only dimmer since the assassination on Tuesday of a senior Hamas leader in a suburb of Beirut, the Lebanese capital, fed growing fears of a wider war. The strike has been widely ascribed to Israel.

In northern Israel, near the border with Lebanon, military orders to evacuate have kept people from their homes for nearly three months amid daily missile and rocket attacks by Hezbollah and other armed factions in Lebanon. The prolonged dislocation and economic fallout have increased pressure on the Israeli government to put an end to the attacks.

“Every day people are being fired on,” said Moshe Davidovitz, who leads a regional council in the western Galilee region of northwestern Israel. “Every day they’re running into shelters. It’s intolerable, and it cannot continue. We can’t go on being ducks in a shooting range.”

Many residents near the border work in agriculture and have been all but cut off from the farms, hothouses and chicken coops that are their livelihood, Mr. Davidovitz said. Day trips to tend to their farms are fraught with risk: One farmer, a father of three, was killed in a strike launched from Lebanon last month as he drove to his apple orchards in Mattat, just south of the border.

In southern Lebanon, where many residents also work on farms, some voiced trepidation, defiance or resignation as they wrestled with whether to flee Israeli strikes on Hezbollah targets. Those who have left have received little help from Lebanon’s government, which has been hit by a financial meltdown precipitated by years of corruption and mismanagement. In Israel, the government pays for housing and meals for displaced residents.

Mohamad Srour, the mayor of Aita al-Shaab, a Lebanese town of 12,000 less than a mile from the Israeli border, said that 10 people there had been killed in the fighting along the border.

“I didn’t want to leave the town,” Mr. Srour said. “I was going back and forth. But now I have left for good.”

Imad Zayton, 69, who lives with his wife and three children in the southern Lebanese town of Deir Kifa, about 10 miles from the Israeli border, has so far chosen to stay.

“Hezbollah are defending my country,” said Mr. Zayton, who runs a small printing shop. But he added that “if things get worse,” his family would have to leave the town, though he plans to remain.

“We will have no choice,” he said.

The death of the Hamas official, Saleh al-Arouri, who was killed in an explosion, has only increased fears of a broader conflagration in the region.

At Mr. al-Arouri’s funeral on Thursday, many pledged to avenge his death as his coffin, draped in the flag of Hamas and topped with a rifle, was carried in a procession through the streets of Beirut. Mourners also carried coffins holding the bodies of two Hamas members — including a commander from its armed wing, the Qassam Brigades — who were also killed in the explosion.

“With our soul and our blood, we will redeem you!” the mourners chanted, as gunfire rang out and crowds of young men jostled one another to catch a glimpse of Mr. al-Arouri’s coffin.

When the procession arrived at a cemetery in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shatila, the voice of Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s top political leader, sounded over a speaker system, and the crowd fell silent.

“The enemy believed that assassinating the leaders would deter them,” said Mr. Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar. He added, “The enemy failed, and will never succeed.”

Other speakers echoed threats made by the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, in a speech a day earlier. “The enemy should know that the response is coming, and this incident will not go unpunished,” said one Hezbollah official, Hassan Hoballah.

On Thursday, Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, met in Tel Aviv with Amos Hochstein, a senior adviser to President Biden, to discuss the crisis on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Afterward, Mr. Gallant said in a statement that there was “a short window of time for diplomatic understandings.”

The defense minister reiterated recent calls by other Israeli officials for “a new reality in the northern arena, which will enable the secure return of our citizens,” without specifying how Israel might achieve that.

The Biden administration has been pushing for a deal to ease tensions and move Hezbollah forces away from the border, but with little apparent progress. On Thursday, the Israeli military said it had responded to a new round of strikes from Lebanon by launching airstrikes at a Hezbollah observation post and an anti-tank unit.

As the fighting along the border continued, Israel’s military pressed on with its bombardment of the Gaza Strip, where nearly two million residents have been forced from their homes and many are starving, according to the United Nations. A strike on Thursday on a home west of Khan Younis, the largest city in southern Gaza, killed at least 14 people and injured several others, including women and children, according to Wafa, the Palestinian Authority’s official news agency.

The Israeli military did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report. It said on Thursday that it had been striking Hamas infrastructure around Khan Younis and had dismantled a tunnel shaft in the area.

The displacement of Israelis is the largest in the country’s history.

Of the 200,000 Israelis who have relocated since the Hamas-led attacks on Oct. 7, more than 80,000 live near the border with Lebanon. The decision to move them was precipitated not only by Hezbollah’s attacks, but also by worries that the group might try an incursion similar to the Hamas one, which killed an estimated 1,200 people.

In southern Lebanon, about 75,000 people have been displaced, according to the United Nations.

One resident who has stayed put, Najib al-Amil, is a 72-year-old priest in Rmeish, a Maronite Christian town near the Israeli border where the schools and shops are closed, the streets are empty and the only remaining medical facility is a makeshift field hospital. He is determined to tend to his flock of parishioners, however dwindling it may be.

Mr. al-Amil said he and others tried to avoid areas of intense conflict, and noted that unlike the Israeli government, Lebanon’s had made no provisions for bomb shelters.

“Whatever the big leaders’ plans are, nothing is in our hands and we can’t change anything,” he said. “We are dependent on God.”

Euan Ward and Hwaida Saad reported from Beirut, Lebanon, Roni Caryn Rabin from Tel Aviv and Michael Levenson from New York. Hiba Yazbek contributed reported from Jerusalem and Ameera Harouda from Doha, Qatar.

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Nathan is an experienced journalist. He's covered a broad spectrum of topics, including politics, culture, and human interest stories, always aiming to engage and inform his audience. Nathan has a degree in Journalism and upholds the highest standards of integrity and accuracy in his work.

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