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What's it like to live in southern Lebanon, where Israel trades fire with Hezbollah?

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In south Lebanon, residents near the border with Israel enjoyed the relative calm of the weeklong halt in fighting. Now Israel and Hezbollah are trading fire again. During the pause, NPR's Jane Arraf went to one village where people returned to assess their damaged houses, and some said they were staying despite the danger.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBRIS CLATTERING)

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: All around is destruction, but Ali Suleiman (ph) has come back to try to repair the apartments his grandparents worked for years to build for their extended family. Their home is just about 400 yards from the border with Israel in the Lebanese village of Kfarkela. He says the building was hit four times by Israeli artillery since the war in Gaza began. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from both sides of the border. Hezbollah says 82 of its fighters have been killed, along with what Lebanese media say are at least 14 civilians. At least nine Israelis have been killed, including soldiers, according to Israeli media. In Lebanon, towns like Kfarkela have been particularly hard hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEBRIS CLATTERING)

ARRAF: This whole apartment building is pretty much destroyed, so badly damaged that they're tearing down some of the walls. Most of the walls are scorched and blackened. One has a tank round-sized hole punched through it. On the roof, near broken solar panels, Suleiman tells us the destruction is a price he's happy to pay for having the Iran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah fighting for them.

ALI SULEIMAN: (Through interpreter) I mean, if Israel could manage to do to us what it's doing to Gaza, they would have done it. But they can't because Hezbollah is here.

WIDAD GHAREEB: (Speaking Arabic).

SULEIMAN: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: Suleiman's next-door neighbor, Widad Ghareeb (ph), drops by to see who's around. Her husband has stayed in their house every night, but she leaves by nightfall and returns in the day.

GHAREEB: (Through interpreter) Now it's become like a ghost town around me. There are no neighbors around anymore. I'm alone now and afraid. I'm staying with my daughter while I figure out what to do. At least there is someone there to keep me company.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRONE BUZZING)

ARRAF: As we go with her to see the damage to her own house, Israeli surveillance drones buzz overhead, as they have every day since the war in Gaza started. Hezbollah has strong support in this town, although not everyone backs the group.

IBRAHIM HAMOUD: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: We find the Ghareeb's husband, Ibrahim Hamoud (ph), sitting with a friend. Inside, part of the living room ceiling has caved in. And the red velvet sofas are covered in plaster and bits of glass. Hamoud says he was sleeping upstairs when the first floor was hit. He worked five years in construction in Africa to build his dream home, and he says he won't leave it.

HAMOUD: (Through interpreter) There's no one who doesn't know fear except a fool. If there were a shelter, I would go to it. But in Lebanon, everything is chaos.

ARRAF: Hamoud's wife, though, is packing to go to her daughter's for the night.

GHAREEB: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: "I'd rather they call me a coward a thousand times than for them to say once God rest her soul," she says. It's been seven days of relative calm, and Ghareeb prays it will hold the next day.

GHAREEB: (Through interpreter) Tomorrow, God willing, things will improve and there'll be a cease-fire so we can come back and not leave.

(CROSSTALK)

ARRAF: She climbs into a crowded car, leaving behind her husband sitting in a plastic chair surrounded by the shattered glass. Their friend has stayed in his home in Houla, a town that has been even harder hit by Israeli strikes than this one.

HAMOUD: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: The men, both in their 70s, say it would be humiliating to stay with relatives more than a day or two. On Friday, the day after we meet them, the temporary cease-fire is broken and attacks between Hezbollah and Israel resume, along with the war in Gaza. We check in again with the two friends. Hamoud's friend says his aunt and her son were killed that day in an airstrike in Houla. They died in the rubble of their home. Hezbollah claimed the young man as one of their fighters.

HAMOUD: (Speaking Arabic).

ARRAF: Two days later, Hamoud tells us he and his wife are all right, but another airstrike has hit their house. The video he sends shows it almost completely destroyed. Here, it seems, you can count on peace only one day at a time.

Jane Arraf, NPR News, Kfarkela, South Lebanon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jane Arraf covers Egypt, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East for NPR News.

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