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Israelis displaced by fighting with Hezbollah want to go home as conflict edges closer to full-scale war

Tens of thousands of people in both Israel and Lebanon have been displaced by the volley of cross-border missiles launched by Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and by the Israeli Defence Forces in Israel in a conflict that observers say has long been threatening to escalate into a full-blown war.

Evacuees want a solution to ongoing cross-border clashes with Iran-backed group based in Lebanon

A man wearing firefighting gear uses a hose to spray water on a pile of burning, smoking rubble in a field.

In November, Avi Avraham and his wife left their home in Northern Israel's Kiryat Shmona to attend a wedding. Moments later, a missile blasted through their third floor, shattering the windows — in effect wrecking their life as they knew it.

They and their son moved south to safety and have been living as evacuees ever since, at a hotel paid for by the Israeli government in the hills of Birya, Israel, halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Lebanon border.

"To live in hotels is not a solution," said Avraham, in Hebrew, speaking to CBC through a translator. The 72-year-old retired bus driver's family has lived at the hotel for seven months, and there is no clear plan for what's next.

A home is seen with a large, round hole puncturing a wall on the top floor.

"We don't know what will happen. That puts us in an unpleasant situation."

He's one of the tens of thousands in both Israel and Lebanon who've been displaced by the volley of cross-border missiles launched by Hezbollah, the Iran-backed group in Lebanon, and by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) in Israel, in a conflict that observers say has long been threatening to escalate into a full-blown war.

Defending the northern border

In recent days, talk of further defending this northern border has been rolling off the tongues of both Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, before his Sunday trip to Washington, D.C., and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a Sunday interview with Israel's Channel 14.

"After the intense phase [in Gaza] is finished, we will have the possibility to move part of the forces north. And we will do this," said Netanyahu. "First and foremost for defensive purposes. And secondly, to bring our [evacuated] residents home."

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Hezbollah has been exchanging strikes with Israel almost daily since the war in Gaza erupted on Oct. 7 after a Hamas-led attack in southern Israel, with the aim of pulling Israeli forces away from the embattled Gaza Strip.

Ofer Shelah, a senior researcher with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, says that with the longer range weapons and drones Hezbollah is now using, "the margin for error is becoming smaller," and the conflict is edging toward a full-scale war "without either side deciding that they really want it."

He says there's no way to really guarantee security for displaced Israelis to go back to their homes.

Researcher Ofer Shelah.

"The problem is, once again, as it is in Gaza, what are you trying to achieve? What is the end state that you want to achieve? And I don't think we'll be able to reach a stable end state by military means."

The end of the conflict can't come soon enough for Yakov Naftali, another resident who's been evacuated and is living at the hotel in Birya.

"I think that the situation as it is, honestly, has been stretched to the real brink of the capabilities," he said in Hebrew.

Naftali, 62, held out at his home in Margaliot, nestled along the Lebanon border, until this March when his six sisters and four children finally convinced him it wasn't safe to stay.

His parents helped found the agricultural community in the 1950s and he'd lived there all his life, but he says that after two workers on his farm were killed in missile attacks, his family finally persuaded him that it was too dangerous, so he left, begrudgingly.

A man with close-cropped white hair wears a black sleeveless shirt while sitting in a stone-walled courtyard draped with Israeli flags.

"In my opinion, the solution is to go in and destroy them," said Naftali of Hezbollah.

"There is another solution, a political one," he said, adding he feels that would only last for a few years before the situation returns to what it is now.

Missile strikes lead to fires

At the fire station in the nearby town of Hatzor HaGlilit, firemen are left to handle the now near-daily missiles landing across the northern landscape — often in smoldering pieces.

Fire chief Dror Buhnik, 49, who was also a firefighter in the 2006 war in Lebanon, says the main difference between then and now is the intensity.

A man with close-cropped greying hair wears a firefighter's uniform and stands in front of an emergency vehicle bay as a group of firefighters speaks behind him.

"In 2006, there were rockets, but they were weaker, and it was temporary," he said through a translator. "Hezbollah is launching more rockets that have greater strength, and those attacks have escalated in recent weeks."

The problem is only exacerbated by the dry, hot summer weather.

"Now, every rocket has the potential to lead to a big fire," he said. "And it happens. In the past few weeks, we have had to deal with some very large fires."

On the afternoon CBC News visited the fire station in Hatzor HaGlilit, there was an emergency call about a missile landing at a nearby military base. The fire trucks went out to the site and plumes of smoke could clearly be seen rising from the ground.

The IDF put out a notice on its Telegram messaging channel stating that a soldier was severely wounded as a result of a drone hit.

A red fire truck is parked outside a fire station.

An uneasy holding pattern

It's all been going on for too long for Avi Avraham.

"We have not seen anything that has changed in the slightest the situation in which we are suffering these eight months," he said.

"I prefer an agreement. But if there will be a war, that's the government's decision, not mine."

In the meantime, he longs to return to Kiryat Shmona, but has settled into a kind of uneasy holding pattern, waiting to see what happens next.

A man with close-cropped grey hair wears a t-shirt and folds his arms across his chest while sitting in a courtyard.

He saved a fragment of the missile that struck his home as kind of a dark souvenir, going back to his room at the hotel to grab the metal chunk to show the CBC News team.

"Now I have an ashtray," he said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sylvia Thomson

Producer

Sylvia Thomson is a producer with the CBC in Toronto. She spent several years as a producer covering politics in Washington, D.C., and Ottawa and has covered major international stories.

    With files from Margaret Evans

    *****
    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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