Shtula, the last spark in the powder keg between Israel and Lebanon: “We fear a new escalation” | International
The fine drops that fall water down the pool of blood without diluting its intense red. “This is where it happened,” comments Shalev Hatan, a 22-year-old soldier, in the rain despite the obvious impact. He points to the place where he hit the missile launched towards the Israeli town of Shtula, in the Upper Galilee region, from across the neighboring border with Lebanon. The attack, after nine in the morning on Sunday, left one dead and three injured. It was claimed by the Lebanese Shiite guerrilla Hezbollah, supported by Iran, which admitted having launched twenty projectiles. The four victims were Arab construction workers of Israeli nationality and were hit while laying the foundations for a new home. At the scene, the truck in which they had gone to work lies half destroyed by the bomb. The hit point is not an Israeli military installation, as the guerrilla claimed.
It is impossible, in quantitative terms, to compare this Shtula incident with the more than 4,000 people who have lost their lives around the Gaza Strip in the last eight days, since Hamas carried out its deadly attack and Israel began bombing Palestinian territory indiscriminately. But that worker's life has vanished in an area considered a tinderbox and the rocket fired by Hezbollah is much more than a simple match. The risk of an escalation in these border hills is maximum and, with Gaza and its surroundings turned into a hell, it could open a new front in the war. In fact, tension and shooting from both sides have increased since October 8, a day after Hamas committed its massacre. So far, there are at least 16 dead, most on the Lebanese side. The Shiite guerrilla stated this Sunday through its television channel that its men had managed to plant their flag and take over an Israeli checkpoint.
“I fear a new escalation,” says Shlomi Hatan, 54, Shalev's father. The two are part of the handful of uniformed men who defend the town, stationed in front of the yellow metal fence that flanks the access along the road that winds down the mountain. “We have no choice but to defend ourselves,” he says. The previous war he refers to is that of the summer of 2006, which left more than a thousand dead in Lebanon and more than 150 in Israel. All the men guarding Shtula are part of the corps of more than 300,000 reservists mobilized in recent days by Israel amid growing violence.
In the early afternoon, silence, stillness and emptiness reign in the town. A handful of meters away is the border known as the Blue Line, around which the UN peacekeeping mission (UNIFIL), led by a Spanish general, tries to keep calm from Lebanon. One of the projectiles fell this Sunday at the headquarters and its origin is being investigated by the blue helmets. The few residents who remained in Shtula—about 300 inhabitants—were almost entirely evacuated after the latest attack. That calm held on pins and needles is only broken by the noise of Israeli artillery towards Lebanese territory. “They are ours,” emphasizes one of the soldiers. Hezbollah acknowledged that one of its members died in the area on Sunday.
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Meanwhile, Shalev Hatan scans the horizon and then points out the point where Aita al-Shaab rises, towards which the Israeli counterattack is heading. Shortly after the bombing of Shtula, authorities imposed a four-kilometer closed security zone south of the border. Through the military radios they warn of a new attack from Lebanon, in this case against the Hanita kibbutz, in that same area. On the Lebanese side, a projectile from Israel killed a Reuters reporter on Friday. Sunday's missile launches are a response to that death, Hezbollah said. Two other Lebanese lost their lives on Saturday around the farms of Sheba, an enclave in Syria and Lebanon that Israel has occupied since 1967.
Next to the fence that gives access to the town, a concrete hut serves as a shelter. “All this is very simple,” summarizes Gilad Samipur, 35, brandishing his rifle, while adopting an analyst's tone to highlight the importance of the dead worker in “a strategic place.” “This is the beginning of World War III. The spark flew in Gaza. The United States supports Israel. The conflict will expand here, to the north. And opposite, Iran, Syria, Russia, China...”, concludes this man who defines himself as an “Iranian Jew”, since his parents had to escape to Israel in the late 1970s under pressure from the ayatollah regime. He does not, however, give excessive importance to the fact that the enemy in front is, precisely, the guerrillas that Tehran supports. “I am here not to attack, but to defend my homeland, Israel,” he concludes.
The road that runs almost parallel to the demarcation between both countries was a constant coming and going of troops this Sunday. Dozens of tanks and armored vehicles could be seen among the trees. Near Hanita, the other border enclave on the Israeli side bombed from Lebanon, dozens of soldiers arrive aboard two buses. Behind, a large convoy with military vehicles.
Hatan is the prevailing surname in Shtula, highlights Ora Hatan, a 58-year-old woman who is one of the few civilians who resists. “The missiles hit everywhere. Tel Aviv, Haifa… This is our land and no one is going to move us, even if the war comes to our house,” she comments. “If they attack us from the south, from Gaza, and from the north, from Lebanon, only God will be able to save us,” she adds. Next to her, indignant at her, Shlomi Hatan makes the gesture of slicing her throat. “The Palestinians are animals who want to destroy us. Why are there people who support them in Spain? ”He asks insistently with anger. “About animals, nothing. Have compassion,” Ora tries to stop him in vain.
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