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Last Updated: Monday, 21 August 2006, 10:30 GMT 11:30 UK
Dangers await Lebanon returnees
By Martin Asser
BBC News, Bint Jbeil

Interior of a bombed house
Bint Jbeil is one of the worst hit areas in the south
When Um Ali Mihdi returned to her home in the southern Lebanese city of Bint Jbeil two days ago, she found a 1,000lb (450kg) Israeli bomb lying unexploded in her living room.

The shell is huge, bigger than the young boy pushed forward to stand reluctantly next to it while we get our cameras out and record the scene for posterity.

The bomb came through the roof of the single-storey house and half-embedded itself into the floor, just missing the TV.

There is a hole in the roof with exactly the same profile as the shell itself, like when a cartoon character runs through a wall. The tailfin - complete with skull-and-crossbones marking - still lies on the roof next to the hole where it broke off.

This is just one of thousands of nasty surprises greeting those coming back to southern Lebanon after Israel's five-week war with the Hezbollah militant group.

"I'm waiting for the resistance [Hezbollah] to take it away," Um Ali tells me. "But I have many other problems - there is no money, no work, my husband passed away two years ago."

Fierce battle

Bint Jbeil - a city of 60,000 inhabitants which styles itself the capital of Lebanon's liberation from Israeli occupation in 2000 - is one of the worst hit areas in the south.

There is hardly a building left standing in the city's historic market or along its main roads.

Lebanese villagers return home

The eastern Mihaniya area, where Um Ali lives, is also largely destroyed, mostly the result of aerial bombing and artillery fire from over a hill which separates Bin Jbeil from the Israeli border less than 5km (three miles) away.

For much of the time, the locals tell me, there were 2,000 people sheltering in the Mihaniya school, too frightened to leave because of bombing on the roads north.

There was also house-to-house fighting here, after Israeli troops entered Mihaniya and were engaged by Hezbollah fighters at close quarters.

A neighbour, Ghassan Dabaja, shows us congealed blood on the floor of his kitchen where an Israeli sniper was carried by his comrades after being hit by incoming fire or shrapnel. 

Pride in resistance

As he takes around his three-storey house, Mr Dabaja warns us to be careful of an anti-personnel mine fitted with a tipping device that the Israeli troops left near the front door.

Photo:Bent Jbail
View a 360 panorama of damage in the village of Bint Jbail

A joint team of engineers from Hezbollah and the municipality has sprayed a series of letters and numbers on the wall to indicate the building needs to be demolished and rebuilt, with Hezbollah footing the bill, because it is structurally unsound.

During the fighting, Hezbollah fighters blew a hole through a wall on the ground floor with a rocket-propelled grenade, while the top floor was hit by Israel's aerial bombing.

"Our boys came into the building at the ground floor and attacked them from below," Mr Dabaja says proudly. When I ask what he thinks of the government's attempts to wrest control of this area from Hezbollah, in line with the UN ceasefire resolution, he is adamant.

"Of course we want help from the government, but not the Lebanese army - if it wasn't for the resistance, Bint Jbeil would still be under occupation."

Fleeing again

Israeli troops are still dug in at strategic points to the south and east of Bint Jbeil.

To the east, some of the few people who have come back to the town of Aitaroun are thinking of fleeing once more.

Destroyed car outside building

One family has reopened their grocery shop, which was hit by Israeli rockets, and customers choose their purchases from among the broken shelves and shattered glass.

"There's no security here, the Israeli tanks come and go all the time and helicopters fly over us at night," says the mother. "We came back yesterday but we will try and find somewhere to stay in Beirut again tomorrow."

On the steep hill overlooking Bint Jbeil on the south side, the village of Maroun al-Ras has only received two families back since the ceasefire.

Many of the houses in the main street and the orchards dotted in the village appear to have been bulldozed. Israeli troops are occupying the southern side of the village, and earlier in the day they opened fire to warn off a team from Medicins Sans Frontieres which had come to assess the situation.

One of those returning, a 75-year-old who has come back from Tyre to check on his house, admits this was one of the most important assets for the "resistance" - high ground that offers a line of fire over a large swathe of northern Israel.

Hezbollah still maintains a discreet presence in Maroun al-Ras, scouts crouching among what is left of the orchards with walkie-talkies, just a few hundred metres from the Israeli position.

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