‘No End in Sight’: Evacuated Israeli City Braces for Possible War With Hezbollah

‘No End in Sight’: Evacuated Israeli City Braces for Possible War With Hezbollah

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‘No End in Sight’: Evacuated Israeli City Braces for Possible War With Hezbollah

As tensions escalated on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon after Oct. 7, Israel evacuated tens of thousands of residents from the region, including from Kiryat Shmona, a town with 24,000 people. Months later, evacuees remain in limbo, and the mayor insists they cannot return until Hezbollah militants are pushed back.

On the Lebanon-Israel border, an almost daily exchange of missile fire that started on October 7 threatens to trigger a larger war. And communities on both sides are caught in the crossfire. Avichai Stern, the mayor of Israel’s northernmost city, Kiryat Shmona, heads to the scene of a recent Hezbollah rocket attack to assess the damage. His city is located just a mile from the Lebanon border, making it an easy target. But buildings here are mostly vacant now. In the days after October 7, Israel’s military evacuated 125,000 residents from border areas over fears of another major attack. It is the largest internal displacement in the country’s history. Now more than three months after the Hamas attack, the government is facing increasing pressure to push Hezbollah forces back from the border and to get more than 20,000 evacuees from Kiryat Shmona home. There are others, like the city’s former mayor, who decided to stay and say they’ve lived with the threat of Hezbollah for years. He argues the government should not have made residents leave in the first place. Israel’s defense system intercepts some rockets, but here many get through. Mayor Stern shuttles between his city and state-funded hotels to the South, reminding residents and evacuees that Hezbollah’s elite Radwan force is still a threat. Speaking to soldiers in Kiryat Shmona on January 9, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will hit Lebanon with the same intensity as it hit Gaza if Hezbollah doesn’t pull back. In recent days, Israel’s military said it’s deployed along the entire northern border and is poised at high readiness to defend and attack. Despite pleas from his residents, Mayor Stern says there is no end in sight for his city’s evacuation.

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