Monday, May 20, 2024

Fears of war with Israel grow in Lebanon after rockets exchanged

(Al Jazeera Media Network) In Lebanon, people are no strangers to conflict.

“If there has to be a war, then there will be a war. Do you know how many wars we have been through since I have been alive? We are used to it,” 55-year-old Ahmed Ali told Al Jazeera at a transport hub in Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.

In just his lifetime, Lebanon has been through a devastating civil war, a conflict with Israel, internal battles between armed factions, and spillover from the war in neighbouring Syria.

But since the Palestinian group Hamas launched an unprecedented operation against Israel on Saturday, residents in Lebanon have looked on with trepidation.

The tiny Levant country of 6 million people – already reeling from a historic economic meltdown – is on the cusp of conflict following an uptick in cross-border violence with Israel.

On Monday, Israeli shelling killed three members of the Lebanese Shia group Hezbollah, according to a statement from the Iran-backed organization. An Israeli deputy commander and two Palestinian fighters in southern Lebanon were also killed.

The next day, Hezbollah fired a guided missile at an Israeli military vehicle. Israel retaliated by hitting a Hezbollah observation post that belongs to the mainly Shia armed group.

The escalation in violence has forced hundreds of Lebanese to remain inside their homes or flee towards the southern suburbs of Beirut.

“Most of the neighbours of my relatives have all fled their homes [out of caution],” Zein Abdeen, 21, told Al Jazeera. “Those with small children left right away, but young men living alone have stayed behind. They are not afraid.”

In the summer of 2006, Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers with the aim of doing a prisoner swap deal with Israel. However, Israel responded by bombing the home of Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah, prompting a 34-day war.

The conflict ended in a stalemate and the human cost was steep: about 1,100 Lebanese and 165 Israelis were killed.

The war gave Hezbollah a huge reputation boost across the wider Arab world as it celebrated its ability to withstand Israeli assault.

But faced with an acute financial crisis for years now – about 80 percent of Lebanon’s population lives below the poverty line – many fear the country will not be able to recover from another all-out war with Israel.

After the devastation of Lebanon’s infrastructure in the 2006 war, several Gulf states donated large sums of money to repair the country. Saudi Arabia pledged an aid package of $500 million and deposited $1 billion into Lebanon’s central bank.

But with those same Gulf countries having withdrawn much of their support to Lebanon in recent years, angry at Hezbollah’s ties to Iran, many Lebanese fear they will not get that level of support again.

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