Saturday, July 29, 2006

A night at the Israel/Lebanon border

Arrived safely in Tel Aviv and immediately headed for the northern border, unfortunately by the time we arrived it was dark so I couldn't get photos, but anyway to give you a feel for it this is the copy that the writer I was with, Andrew Wander, filed the next day.

"ARRIVING in Tel Aviv does not feel like entering a country at war. The ultra-modern airport, with its high vaulted ceilings and expansive marble floors could be the entry point of any peaceful Western country. The air-conditioned arrivals lounge, where children clutching colourful balloons wait to welcome loved ones, is a hive of activity. You could almost forget there was a war on. It was here that we met George Javor, a retired teacher from Israel's troubled north. He told us that he lived in Metula, Israel's northernmost settlement. His house, he said was the last in the country- 300 yards away from the border itself. Nestled in the hills of Northern Israel, this sleepy fruit growing village has found itself at the centre of an international crisis. "Actually, I need to collect some things from the house tonight," he said. "You guys wanna come along?" So I found myself, just hours after arriving in Israel on the road to front line, leaving the relative normality of the south for a cauldron of rocket attacks, military checkpoints and artillery fire. As the roads became gradually quieter and the military presence increased, smoke from Hezbollah's rocket attacks hung over the horizon, producing a haze that thickened over the cities we passed. Beyond Haifa, the roads were almost deserted. As the setting sun drenched the hills in soft light helicopters glinted in skies above. Only flatbed trucks carrying tanks crawled up the roads. Scorched hillsides slipped passed as we approached the border. We passed the skeletal shell of a smoking building perched on a ridge above us. It had been hit by Hezbollah rockets. As the rolling hills of Southern Lebanon rose into view, flashes lit the darkening sky, accompanied by an ominous rumble in the distance. Metula appeared deserted except for soldiers. Many of the residents had left, others spent their time in shelters- the children had been evacuated at the start of the crisis. As George unlocked his house, shells crumpled into the black landscape around us, explosions that you felt as well as heard. It was a sobering thought that each one was landing on people less than a mile away. "This is it," said George. "Wave to Hezbollah. They have observation posts on that hill." Small arms fire rattled from a nearby valley, indicating Hezbollah movements in close proximty. The sky lit up as jets flew over head, dropping flares every second or so to confuse heat seeking missiles. We collected George's belongings and left, passing a CNN crew on the way down. Ten minutes later an explosion echoed from the valley floor. That was a Hezbollah strike George said. As we drove down the winding roads, a volley of Katyusha rockets slammed into the opposite hillside. "That was too close" George said. "Its time to get out of here." That night 122 Hezbollah rockets landed in Israel. Back in Tel Aviv, I could not help but smile to myself when I saw the headline of the previous day's copy of the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz. "I must be crazy," it said, "I went to Metula"

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