Lebanese Confront War Toll As They Return to Their Homes

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The New York Sun

GHANDOURIYEH, Lebanon — Amid the stench of death that wafted from the crumpled homes of southern Lebanon, a nation tried to come to terms with the aftermath of war yesterday.

The survivors smiled and waved, relief etched on their faces. Those who fled began to return, anxiously weaving their cars through the rubble-strewn roads in the first few hours of peace.

Others walked in silence, their mouths open in shock, through the devastation of their villages.Wailing women picked through the ruins of their homes searching for the buried corpses of loved ones they could smell but not see.

Exhausted, disheveled, and filthy, Hezbollah fighters also emerged — tentatively at first, peering nervously from behind trees in the cease-fire’s first hour and then jubilantly, waving flags and dancing as they proclaimed victory over their Israeli foes.

All hoped for peace, but few seemed to expect the U.N.-brokered cease-fire to last long.

“We are committed to the cease-fire, but if the Israelis do anything, we are ready to respond,” Ibrahim Alayan, who spent most of the war hiding in the citrus groves outside the village of Bouri al-Khalaway, said.”We will attack Israel if they start to bomb us or shoot at us.”

He declared himself still ready to fight and ready to welcome death — a fanaticism born of a lifelong commitment to resistance against Israel. “We like to be martyrs,” Mr. Alayan, 30, said. “We don’t feel danger, and we don’t fear death.”

Exhaustion was also evident farther up the hill toward the village of Ghandouriyeh, scene of a ferocious last stand between Hezbollah and Israeli forces advancing toward the Litani River.

On their new frontline, on the western outskirts of the town, Hezbollah fighters boasted of a great victory. “They reached that valley, but the Islamic resistance slaughtered many of them,” a fighter who identified himself only as Ahmad said. “We shot from all sides, all of us young people sharing in fighting with Jews.”

The battle was the costliest of the conflict for the Israelis; at least 24 soldiers were killed as they advanced through the hills toward the strategic village that overlooks territory across southern Lebanon.

But the reality of Ghandouriyeh belied Hezbollah’s boast. Virtually every home in the village has been flattened by the Israeli onslaught.

Everywhere, signs of a Hezbollah defeat were apparent: abandoned rocketpropelled grenades, munitions factories, and even anti-tank missiles seemingly provided by Syria and Iran. On the veranda of one house lay the fresh corpse of a dead Hezbollah fighter.

Across the ravaged landscape, Israeli soldiers from the Nahal Brigade were securing the eastern sector of the village.

Unshaven soldiers slumped on the staircases of bombed-out homes as they reflected on the tough six-hour battle fought a day earlier as the Israeli army made its last push from the valley to reach its final objective of the war.

“It was a very hard fight,” Lieutenant Colonel Avi Dahan, who led the assault on the village, said. “I lost two of my young boys here, and 32 were wounded. It is not like fighting the Syrian army or the Egyptian army. This is fighting village to village, house to house.”

More than 1,000 civilians were killed by Israeli fire in the last five weeks.

“These are civilian houses,” the mayor of Srifa, Hussein Adim, said as he walked through the ruins of his village. “Israel kills children and old people, yet it call us the terrorists.”

The New York Sun

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