Israeli Forces Watch Over Lebanon Villages
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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
U.N. peacekeepers and elements of the Lebanese army continue to deploy in southern Lebanon, taking up positions in territory that was controlled for decades by Hezbollah guerillas. The slow pace of the deployment is frustrating many Lebanese villagers. They complain about continued harassment and abuse by Israeli forces who remain in the area.
NPR's Peter Kenyon reports.
PETER KENYON: The highway south from Beirut is still littered with bottlenecks as cars negotiate riverbeds and valleys strewn with the rubble of destroyed bridges bombed by Israeli fighter jets during the war. South from Nabatiya through the village of Taibe, you soon enter territory where the Lebanese and U.N. peacekeepers haven't reached yet. Villagers report that Israeli checkpoints continued here after the cease-fire.
(Soundbite of traffic)
KENYON: In the village of Qatirah(ph), 55-year-old Hussain Al-Hajazee(ph) sits with a few family members. He says the abuses at Israeli checkpoints didn't stop when the cease-fire was declared. Hajazee says things got worse when a reporter from the Hezbollah-run Al Manar Television showed up and filmed damaged Israeli tanks. The next day, he says, the soldiers seemed intent on letting the villagers know they hadn't left yet.
Mr. HUSSAIN AL-HAJAZEE (Resident, Qatirah, Lebanon): (Through translator) And the first one that went up, they stopped the guy. They made him take off his clothes and they took his picture. And they've been humiliating him for like an hour before they saw another car coming up the road. So they told him to get dressed quickly and they stopped the other car. And there were two guys in the other car.
KENYON: According to Hajazee, the soldiers took the two men to Israel and held them for a few days before returning them to a UNIFIL post. A U.N. official confirmed the incident.
Straddling the border with Israel, residents of the divided town of Razer(ph) are trapped with their own unique difficulties. On the Lebanese side of the town, Hezbollah dug deep trenches around the perimeter in the vain hope of keeping Israeli tanks from using the town to enter southern Lebanon. On a recent afternoon the streets on the Lebanese side of Razer were almost deserted, with faces peering out of windows at a pair of visiting reporters but quickly ducking away when asked to speak.
(Soundbite of people speaking foreign language)
Everyone here seemed nervous. One car came around a corner and those inside seemed surprised to see Western journalists. Although this is Lebanese territory, residents say they're completely under the control of the Israelis.
Unidentified Man: (foreign language spoken)
KENYON: You're in danger here. You must leave, says one passenger in the car, which like all the others visible on this street carries yellow license plates - Israeli plates - which means these cars belonging to Lebanese citizens can never be driven anywhere else in Lebanon.
We're Lebanese, says the man, who refused to give his name, but right now the Israelis are in charge. What can we do?
There are no Israeli soldiers in sight, but the car quickly pulls away.
(Soundbite of water fountain)
Farther east the picturesque village of Shibay(ph) is wedged into a tree-covered hillside, an oasis of green in the dry landscape. At the I Know Joe's Café, 58-year-old Jalio Hescham(ph) has fashioned a quirky coffee shop and restaurant with water flowing all around it. The mountain stream is channeled in all directions, gurgling through a large fountain, splashing into miniature homemade water wheels, squirting from various fixtures. Hescham says there wasn't much fighting here. The Israelis are so close they always know when strangers come into the village.
Mr. JALIO HESCHAM (Resident, Shibay, Lebanon): (Through translator) I went from here to just, like, behind those mountains and I came back. And the Israeli plane was over my head. And as soon as I came back and sat in my café it disappeared. Everything that we do here the Israelis can see.
KENYON: As the late afternoon sun settles toward the hillside behind him, Hescham points to the east. Over that hill lies the farm where he was raised - one of the disputed Sheba Farms now occupied by Israel.
He remembers his family always being on friendly terms with the Israeli neighbors. But times change, he says, and sometimes your neighbor becomes your enemy.
There's new discussion of restarting talks over the fate of Sheba Farms, which the U.N. and Israel say belongs to Syria. But Hescham can't say if he'll ever see his farmland again.
Mr. HESCHAM: (Through translator) God only knows. My father, every time you mention Sheba Farms to him he used to cry. And he died and he never saw the farms again. For me, I don't know. It's up to God.
KENYON: The U.N. peacekeeping force is growing, with the first Arab troops pledged yesterday. The people of south Lebanon hope they can maintain this cease-fire but they have their doubts.
Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Beirut.
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