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In the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, most residents have fled as the fear of war with Hezbollah takes hold

“I'm not afraid of war, and I think something must happen,” Mr. Davidowitz said.
He added: "We cannot continue like this. From my point of view, we will only be able to solve this problem through war."
“I will never leave my home, and I will never leave my property,” said Ms. Issa from the town of Al-Habbariyah in the south. "If we die, we die. It's better to die at home than somewhere else."
The ongoing fighting also led to the displacement of about 100,000 Lebanese citizens and 60,000 Israeli citizens from their homes.
Australia already advises its citizens not to travel to Lebanon, while other countries, such as Canada, have recently begun urging their citizens to leave, due to the unpredictable security situation.
With no end in sight to the war in Gaza, the threat of escalation to a second war in the Middle East continues to grow.

In the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, most residents have fled as the fear of war with Hezbollah takes hold
By Middle East Correspondent Allyson Horn, Orly Halpern and Haidarr Jones in Kiryat Shmona, northern Israel
(See translation in Arabic section)
Sydney - Middle East Times Int’l: Inside a city on the brink of war on the Israel-Lebanon border, Israeli bus driver Tamir Davidovitz makes his usual route around the empty streets, rarely stopping to pick up a passenger.
More than three-quarters of the population of Kiryat Shmona has fled the city since October, when cross-border rocket and missile attacks kicked off between the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and Israel's military.
The Israeli city, which lies about 1 kilometre from the Lebanon border, now faces near-daily rocket and drone attacks from Hezbollah.
And after a recent spike in the intensity and scope of the cross-border fighting, Israel's military and government say they're considering an invasion into Lebanon to "restore security" to the country's north, that could lead to a full-scale war.
Mr Davidovitz said his city has been terrorised for nine months, and a war is needed to resolve the situation.
"I'm not afraid of war, and I think there needs to be something," he said.
"We can't continue in this way. In my view, only in war will we solve this problem."
Mr Davidovitz's extended family, including his wife and four children, are among the 22,000 people who have fled the city and been displaced for nine months after Israel ordered evacuations.
About 2,000 people have remained in the city — mostly residents considered essential workers — and some who said they refused to be driven from their homes.
Others said it was worse to stay displaced in a hotel and preferred to stay at home — despite the dangers.
Each day, Mr Davidovitz hops on his bus and drives around the ghost town, even if there's no-one to ride it.
He said he knew he was putting himself in extreme danger, but that he felt a sense of civic duty by keeping city operations running.
"There is fear that one [rocket] will hit you at some point," he said.
"I was driving here in the city and one fell really close next to me — 30 meters from me, on a house.
"I got out of the bus and laid down on the ground. There was no place to escape to be protected.
"But, again, no one is forcing me to be here. I have one goal — to work, to do what needs to be done and to return home safely."
Destruction throughout Kiryat Shmona
After Israel began striking the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the Hamas attack on October 7, Hezbollah opened a front too.
From Lebanon, Hezbollah fired across Israel's northern border, hitting Israeli military bases and communities.
Israel has been responding by firing into Lebanese villages on the border and assassinating Hezbollah commanders, claiming it is targeting combatants and militant infrastructure.
According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), there have been more than 6,000 reports of Israeli strikes and shelling attacks inside southern Lebanon since October 8.
Israel's military would not provide information on how many Hezbollah rockets and attack drones had been fired into northern Israel in the same period.
On both sides of the border, it's not hard to spot the physical signs of damage and destruction.
Several houses have been torn apart by rockets throughout the streets of Kiryat Shmona.
In one home, a missile punctured a wall, exploded inside a kitchen and sparked a fire that engulfed the house.
The home is still standing, but is unlivable.
At another home, the impact of a missile has left a giant crater in a backyard and the outside of the house has been pockmarked by shrapnel.
In the corner of the backyard is a dead pet dog, still wearing a pink collar.
A child's swing hanging from the rafters on a verandah has been ripped apart.
Kiryat Shmona spokesman Doron Schnapper says at least 200 houses have been damaged, and the city is a shadow of its former self.
"As someone who was born and raised in Kiryat Shmona, there isn't anything sadder than seeing this," he said.
"The city is deserted, there is almost not a soul here.
"Our biggest fear is that people … won't want to return. They'll want to be in a safe place in the centre of the country."
Just three hours after ABC News left the city, a barrage of more than a dozen Hezbollah rockets was fired into Kiryat Shmona.
Some were intercepted by Israel's missile defence systems, but others hit their targets and sparked fires in the city.
Israel returned fire with air strikes and missiles into southern Lebanon.
Resilient villagers prepare to die in their homes
Across the border in Lebanon, entire villages have been flattened by Israeli attacks.
Unlike areas in northern Israel, Lebanon does not have anti-missile defence capabilities, like the Iron Dome, to intercept incoming attacks.
Israel said it had been targeting militant activity, but Lebanese locals in the areas claimed civilian areas were being targeted.
Homes and buildings inside the small village of Hebbariye have been turned into piles of concrete and twisted metal.
About half of the town's 3,000 residents have left, but Fatima Issa and her son have stayed behind.
They're also preparing for a full-scale war.
"I will never leave my home, I won't leave my possessions," Ms Issa said.
"I won't leave what's around me and most of the people feel the same here.
"If we die, we die. Better to die at home than somewhere else."
As Ms Issa spoke, two more Israeli bombs dropped nearby, and the boom from the explosions reverberated across surrounding areas.
"You can see what is happening to us," she said, as a blast hit.
One of the single deadliest Israeli air strikes recorded over the last nine months was in Hebbariye.
Lebanese officials said seven volunteer paramedics were killed in an attack on an office of the Islamic Emergency and Relief Corps in March.
Israel claims it struck a military building in the village.
Ms Issa's son, Anouar Issa, showed the ABC the area where the men were killed and disputed the Israeli military's version of events.
"As you can see there are only civilian homes, it is not a military centre," he said.
"Suddenly, they bombed and as you can see, I mean where are the guns?
"These are 100 per cent civilians. There is not even a hunting rifle."
Israel ready for ground invasion
Since the fighting began, 17 soldiers and nine civilians have been killed in northern Israel by Hezbollah attacks, according to the Israeli government.
The Lebanese Health Ministry said more than 400 people had been killed in Lebanon's south by Israeli strikes.
They don't differentiate between civilians and combatants, but at least 50 of the dead have not been claimed by militant groups.
The ongoing fighting has also displaced about 100,000 Lebanese residents and 60,000 Israeli residents from their homes.
United States officials have been brought in to help defuse the escalation and say they have been working on a diplomatic solution that will allow Israeli and Lebanese civilians to return to their homes.
But Israeli government officials have threatened to launch a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated move to push Hezbollah away from the border.
"If reality forces us, we will know how to fight," said Israel's Defence Minister Yoav Gallant.
The United States and European leaders fear any invasion could escalate into a wider regional Middle East conflict, that draws in Iran as well as proxies in Syria and Yemen.
Iran's mission to the United Nations said that if Israel embarked on a "full-scale military aggression" against Hezbollah in Lebanon, "an obliterating war will ensue".
Medical centre moves underground
In a worrying sign of the increased fragility of the situation, more than 200 Hezbollah rockets and 20 drones were fired from Lebanon into Israel last week in under an hour, marking one of the most intense attacks in to Israel since the start of the fighting.
Hezbollah said the barrage was in response to the Israeli killing of a senior commander the previous day.
Australia already advises citizens not to travel to Lebanon, while other countries, like Canada, have recently begun urging citizens to leave, citing the unpredictable security situation.
In Kiryat Shmona, the city looks mostly abandoned.
Houses are empty and nearly every shop is boarded up.
Some parts of the community that needed to keep operating, like the Clalit medical centre, have literally moved underground.
Doctors and nurses from its family practice now work in the subterranean bomb shelter, treating patients from the city and surrounding communities.
Nurse Ilana Zwilik said working underground had become a new, but strange, reality.
"It's difficult. You're trying to work as normally as possible and it's not easy," she said.
"But this is what we can do to provide for the community and the people that are still here and have chosen to stay."
Ms Zwilik said despite being underground, it had been difficult to endure the near-daily rocket attacks.
"You hear the rockets for sure. It's loud. Very loud," she said.
"But this is the safest point of the clinic."
For residents on both sides of the border, there is a sense of trepidation, but also acceptance that a full-on war may break out.
Both Hezbollah and Israel have warned they wouldn't back down if provoked.
And with no end to the war in Gaza in sight, the threat of escalation for a second Middle East war continues to grow.


Copyright 2007