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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Fear and stoicism in Haifa
By Raffi Berg
BBC News, Haifa

A policeman in Haifa looks up to the skies after a rocket strike
Haifa is easily within range of Hezbollah's missiles
Haifa is a city on edge.

After days and nights of bombardment, the streets are empty, roads are quiet and shops and businesses have shut down.

The normally tranquil but bustling 'capital' of the north has suddenly found itself on the frontline in the conflagration between Israel and Hezbollah, and the strain is beginning to show.

"I'm going crazy," said 44-year-old Haifa resident Rivi.

"Today is the first day I left my home for a week. I'm very scared."

Sitting alone at a bus stop on Hanassi Street, Rivi was leaving for Tel Aviv, following the trail of hundreds of other Haifans who have fled the city.

Rivi
It's good the war began because it's the only way to stop the terror
Rivi

But despite fears for her own safety and that of her 18-year-old son, Rivi said she had no misgivings about the Israeli operation in Lebanon.

"It's good the war began because it's the only way to stop the terror," she said.

Within the first week of the fighting, more than 30 Katyusha rockets landed in Haifa - with its major port and petrochemical plants, a key target for Hezbollah militants.

The missiles have caused damage and death, but the main impact has been psychological.

Rumbling

Wailing sirens warning of an incoming missile send people hurrying for underground bomb shelters, not knowing where the next rocket might land. Sometimes it is a false alarm, but the drill is always the same and nerves are frayed.

Map

When the rockets aren't falling in Haifa, the sound of rumbling can be heard in the distance, echoes of explosions as missiles rain down on neighbouring towns and villages.

The violence has erupted at the height of the tourist season and most foreign visitors have left. There are some, though, who are still arriving in spite of the threat.

The Kuykendall family from Seattle in the US arrived on Sunday as part of a 150-strong group of Bahai pilgrims. They came to visit the majestic Bahai temple, the focal point of their faith, which adorns the slopes of Haifa's awe-inspiring Mount Carmel.

"The violence saddens more than worries me, but it makes this a uniquely different experience," said Marsha Kuykendall, as she ate breakfast in the Dan Panorama Hotel with her husband and two teenage children.

"We waited seven years to do this pilgrimage, so even in the midst of all this, you look on it as a life-altering experience, hoping our prayers will in fact bring humankind together."

Shmuel Golden
The army say they're destroying Hezbollah's capability, but it has not got any better here and I'm concerned for myself and my family
Shmuel Golden
Haifa bookseller

Our conversation was interrupted by another siren, and the Kuykendalls and other guests left their half-finished meals and filed down several flights of stairs to the underground shelter.

Outside in the bright sunshine meanwhile, the few people on the streets carried on, either out of necessity or a determination to continue to lead their lives as ordinarily as possible.

These are not, however, ordinary times, and even stoicism can give way to fear.

"It's not so easy to hear the alarm every few minutes," said bookseller Shmuel Gulden, 50.

"People are afraid to come out. Haifa is unusually quiet and business is down by 90%," he said, waiting for custom in his cramped and cluttered kiosk.

"The army say they're destroying Hezbollah's capability, but it has not got any better here and I'm concerned for myself and my family."

Perhaps somewhat hopefully though, Mr Golden said he felt there was an end in sight when he could see life returning to normal.

"I think in a few days it will be quieter and then afterwards I'm going on vacation."




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