As attacks reach deeper, fear spreads

Israel's Homefront


HANITA, Israel -- As Hezbollah launched scores of rockets into northern Israel yesterday, killing two people, the phone rang at Yaakov and Orna Kariv's home on Israel's border with Lebanon. On the line was their son in Tel Aviv, asking them to come stay with his family, out of range of Hezbollah.

Orna Kariv smiled and politely refused her son's offer. She and her husband preferred to stay where they believed the deep calm that brought them to this kibbutz overlooking the Mediterranean Sea 40 years ago would soon return.

"I am not afraid when we are sitting here," she said, at ease in an armchair on her grapevine-shaded patio. "Here, I feel quiet."

While she was speaking, Israeli artillery shells whistled overhead, landing with an earth-shaking thud inside Lebanon. Coils of smoke climbed into the air from the pine-covered hills on the Lebanese side of the border. Nearby, two Israeli helicopters hung in the air seeking targets.

Outsiders might consider them foolish, but many longtime residents of the Israeli-Lebanese border confronted yesterday's rocket attacks with a fierce determination to continue with life as usual.

They have seen flare-ups on the border before. Watched Hezbollah launch rockets. Spent nights in shelters. They are familiar with the risks of life here.

But that was not the case a few miles to the south, where Hezbollah rockets reached farther into Israel, striking Haifa, Israel's third-largest city, and introducing thousands of Israelis to a new kind of fear.

Israeli police ordered residents in towns near the border to stay close to their home or in a shelter listening for updates on their radios.

In Nahariya, a rocket killed a 40-year-old woman in her home, clipping the edge of her apartment building before hitting her on her balcony where she had been drinking her morning coffee.

The blast tore a hole in the balcony floor, shattered glass and sent apple-sized chunks of concrete falling.

Rockets also hit Safed last night, killing one person and wounding 11, according to reports by the Israeli press.

Taking shelter

In many communities in northern Israel, the streets emptied and became eerily quiet as residents took shelter or fled south. Shops and other businesses closed for the day. Factories closed. Children went to summer camps in bomb shelters.

At Nahariya Hospital, doctors and nurses moved dozens of patients to a stuffy, crowded underground shelter. Handwritten signs divided the large room into wards for maternity, urology and rehabilitation.

Ruthie Yifrah, a kindergarten teacher from Nahariya, sat with her three daughters in her living room watching news updates. Police with loudspeakers drove through the neighborhood, urging residents to take shelter.

Yifrah's family spent five hours in a "safe room" - a reinforced concrete bunker - but she said her family grew weary inside the windowless room with nothing to entertain them.

She was planning to drive her daughters to Tel Aviv to stay at a relative's house.

Sign of mistake

Melissa El Hajj, 17, was in her living room when she heard an explosion and a shower of glass rained down from the fifth-floor apartment where the 40-year-old woman was killed.

"It was so hard for me. It was the first time I was in a situation," said Al Hajj.

Standing amid the broken glass left by the rocket strike, Botrous El Hajj, her father, said it was proof that Israel had made a mistake by withdrawing its forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, after 18 years of occupation.

"They left Lebanon in such a situation that it allowed Lebanon to go to Israel's border and see with binoculars what is happening in Israel," he said.

One of Hezbollah's monitoring posts overlooks the Hanita kibbutz and the Shlomi municipality next door. The two towers, one flying a yellow Hezbollah flag, have been a menace to Israelis living here, just south of the border.

Surprise attacks

Residents say that Hezbollah knows the zig-zagging border of craggy green hills intimately, enabling its members to plot and execute surprise attacks against Israel.

In 2002, two members of Hezbollah killed six Israelis near Shelomi, including a resident of the kibbutz, during an ambush on a car.

"Hezbollah has very, very good soldiers and they know exactly where we are weak," said Yaakov Kariv, who moved to Hanita kibbutz 40 years ago.

Still, Yaakov Kariv was surprised by Wednesday's cross-border raid by Hezbollah in which eight soldiers were killed and two others abducted; he had hoped Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon six years ago would smooth away the parties' enmity. Now he realizes he might have been foolish.

"Human beings just hope things will be better," he said. "We are like kids. We believed we left Lebanon and we had an agreement and all things would be OK."

Yugeni Lozinsky, Shelomi's city engineer, said that after living here for seven years he refuses to let the violence unsettle him.

"I'm calm and not calm," he said. "We live here and we have to work. We can't walk around with our eyes closed. We have to get our work done."

And yesterday afternoon the work at the municipality included loading up trucks with mattresses, to be distributed at bomb shelters for the many uneasy days and nights ahead.

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