Hezbollah barrages deal heavy damage in northern Israel

Hezbollah barrages deal heavy damage in northern Israel


Lebanese group Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily cross-border fire with the Israeli army.

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SHTULA (AFP) – A momentary shriek presages a bone-juddering blast, followed by a plume of thick black smoke. Refrigerator-sized holes mark where Hezbollah anti-tank missiles like this one have hit along Israel's northern border.

Lebanese group Hezbollah has been exchanging near-daily cross-border fire with the Israeli army since Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack triggered war in Gaza.

The Iran-backed militants have launched thousands of rockets, mortar rounds, anti-tank missiles and attack drones at northern Israel.

The exchanges of fire have killed at least 11 civilians and 14 soldiers in Israel, according to the army.

At least 429 people have been killed in Lebanon, mostly militants but also including at least 82 civilians, according to an AFP tally.


The barrages have dealt a heavy blow to Israeli towns and villages near the border which have been evacuated for more than six months. They have also served as a warning of the far greater destruction that would be wrought by a full-blown war.

The Israeli defence ministry body responsible for rebuilding northern communities said it had received 930 reports of damage -- around a third of them categorised as moderate to critical -- the vast majority of it inflicted on residential buildings.

Hundreds more cases remain unassessed in towns like Arab al-Aramsheh, Menara and Metula because it is considered too hazardous for inspectors to enter.

The report did not cite an estimated cost, but a senior defence official who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said reconstruction in the hardest hit locations could take months to a year.

In Kibbutz Menara, around 30 percent of buildings have suffered substantial damage, the official said.

At least 26 percent of the reported damage was caused by Israeli troops who have entrenched themselves in evacuated towns and villages along the 120-kilometre (75-mile) border, according to the Northern Horizon Directorate report.

The Israeli military said it "regrets any damage to the residents' property" and is working to minimise damage as much as possible.


The most vulnerable communities were evacuated immediately after the outbreak of hostilities, displacing some 60,000 civilians. Access to them is restricted by the Israeli military.

But AFP reporters managed to visit Shtula, a village of 300 people sitting on the border that has 44 recorded cases of moderate to critical damage.

Although her neighbour's house suffered a direct hit, and missiles pounded several other nearby buildings facing Lebanon, Ora Hatan, 60, is one of the few residents who has stayed on.

"An anti-tank missile flew over the chicken coop and right into the house," said Hatan, pointing at a neighbour's property.

"A direct hit. Fortunately, no one was home."

Even after more than seven months of intense bombardment, Hatan won't leave.

"It's my house. It's my land. It's my country. Where would I go? Why should I go?" she told AFP on her balcony overlooking the Lebanese village of Raymeh two kilometres (little more than a mile) away.


As the war grinds on, and Hezbollah attacks show no sign of relenting, northern residents have grown weary of what many see as talk and little action.

For months, Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has said Israel will restore security -- diplomatically or militarily. The two sides fought a devastating war in 2006.

Israel's Channel 13 reported that National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told lawmakers Wednesday that "the cabinet hasn't defined any clear objective concerning the north -- not dates, not targets, not strategic aims."

A poll published Thursday by Israel's public broadcaster showed that 46 percent of respondents backed military action in Lebanon, while 29 percent opposed.

On Thursday, a few hundred activists set up a protest camp to demand urgent action to restore security and allow displaced residents to return to their homes in the north.

One of the organisers, Nisan Zeevi, lives in kibbutz Kfar Giladi and serves on its emergency response team.

Across the valley from his home, a fortified tower seven storeys high looms over the kibbutzim in the valley below that have been frequent targets of drone and missile strikes.

A house in the neighbouring kibbutz bears a gaping hole where a missile strike killed a woman and her son in January.

Zeevi said the camp aimed "to express our protest to the Israeli government and to the world until they find a solution to the severe security situation".