Israelis desert villages bordering Lebanon

An Israeli man evacuates his house in the northern city of Shlomi on the Israeli-Lebanon border, on October 11, 2023AFP

A stationary cable car, an abandoned tourist van, empty roads -- the scene around Rosh Hanikra, an Israeli seaside kibbutz bordering Lebanon, looked like still life if not for the goats grazing languidly under the hot wind.

The kibbutz has over the years seen its share of rockets launched by Hezbollah militants from Lebanon, but this time, it has become a ghost town over fears that it could be the target of an Islamist incursion like the deadly attack by Hamas fighters in southern Israel.

Under cover of a barrage of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip, Hamas militants breached Israel's border on Saturday, storming kibbutzim and gunning down civilians in the streets, at a rave party and in their homes, claiming more than 1,200 lives.

Israel has responded by declaring war on Hamas, pounding targets in Gaza where officials said more than 1,300 people have been killed.

Wary of Hezbollah -- also backed by Iran like Hamas -- in its north, Israel has rushed troops to villages like Rosh Hanikra. But terrified inhabitants were not taking any chances.

In the neighbouring town of Shlomi, Ida Lannkri said she was still "shaking with fear" hours after an anti-missile rocket fired from Lebanon landed near a military post on Wednesday morning.

"There was a loud boom that set fire to all of the mountain," said Lannkri, recalling the "smell of gunpowder".

Israeli soldiers stand guard near the Israeli-Lebanon border in the northern town of Shlomi, on October 11, 2023.

From her balcony, Lannkri has a view of a green slope where a thick wall zig-zags across, marking the Israeli-Lebanese border.

She will be leaving for the Red Sea coastal resort Eilat imminently, the 61-year-old with short dark hair said.

Only "a family or two remain" in her 28-apartment building, said Lannkri.

'Same trauma'

With most civilians gone, Israeli soldiers have fanned out across Shlomi's numerous homes, casting a watchful eye on the mountain border.

Tanks were also parked near the village while Hummer armoured trucks could be spotted in walled compounds.

The village's petrol station is now one of the rare places that has stayed open, becoming the go-to store for the few residents remaining to get water, biscuits or milk.

Israel Ravid, 34, who works at a petrol station, said his wife had already left Shlomi with their two children.

Deeply shaken by the bombing that she had suffered during the 2006 war with Hezbollah, he said "she doesn't want our children to suffer the same trauma".

The 2006 war left more than 1,200 dead in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 in Israel, mostly soldiers.

Since then, cross-border skirmishes have been common, but both sides have refrained from all-out conflict.

Ravi said he suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome, but wanted to keep busy because staying at home and watching the horrors unfold on television news was "horrible".

Teacher Leon Gershovich, 40, also tried not to let his fears take over him.
From his garage, the border is less than a kilometre away.

His elderly mother had sought to dissuade him from talking to AFP, fearing that the journalists were Hezbollah fighters in disguise.

"She isn't afraid so much of rockets, but of what can repeat itself like it happened in the Gaza border. And we know how close we are to the border," said Gershovich.

"If they cross and run, how many will it take for them to get here? Knowing that actually it could happen right here like it happened there in itself is extremely frightening."