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Last Updated: Saturday, 23 September 2006, 06:40 GMT 07:40 UK
Doubts in Israel over Lebanon pull-out
By Martin Patience
BBC News, Israeli-Lebanese border

Mort Lehman
Mr Lehman believes the conflict could easily start again

Orchard manager Mort Lehman knows more than most about Israel's conflict with Hezbollah fighters.

Standing beside rows of apple trees, the 62-year-old points towards two rusty, barbed-wire fences a few feet away running along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

The father-of-four says that during the conflict he watched Israel fire artillery at the khaki-coloured hillsides and tanks rolling across the border with the Israeli infantry following behind.

Sometimes he would see a Hezbollah rocket flying in the opposite direction.

UN force

But as Israel prepares to pull out its last soldier from southern Lebanon, Mr Lehman is wary that the relative peace and quiet since last month's ceasefire between the two sides will hold.

"I'm not sure that this is going to be the last time that Israel withdraws from Lebanon," he says. "Hezbollah still have weapons and they can still hit us."

Mr Lehman is one of many Israelis in the north of the country who believe that the 34-day conflict between Israel and the militant Lebanese group could easily start again.

We were ambivalent at the end of the war
Galia Mor
Nahariya resident

They have little faith that the new beefed-up UN force deployed in southern Lebanon will prevent Hezbollah from re-arming.

But most are thankful for a return to normal life. They no longer run to shelters taking cover from Hezbollah rockets.

Melted clock

The northern city of Nahariya is 10km south of the Israeli-Lebanese border and was hit by 195 Hezbollah rockets during the conflict.

Streets that were absolutely empty during the war are now choked with traffic. Shops and restaurants are open for business, and damage to the city has been repaired.

Gabi Abutbul's grocery shop was set on fire by a Hezbollah rocket.

He's now back in business. But the 46-year-old keeps a clock, melted by the fire's heat, on his wall as a reminder of the war.

Mr Abutbul is among a majority of Israelis when he criticises his government's handling of the war.

"We should have gone in harder from the beginning," he says. "We should have used everything at our disposal to defeat Hezbollah but instead we didn't finish our job."

Memories

Galia Mor, 53, a manager at the local municipality, says that the withdrawal from Lebanon does not give Israelis a feeling that the conflict is over.

Gabi Abutbul
Mr Abutbul believes the government didn't finish the job

In 2000, Israel withdrew its troops from Lebanon after an 18-year-long occupation of the south of the country.

But Ms Mor says that the mood now is very different from six years ago.

"I felt relief because it was my country leaving another country (Lebanon) that was not mine," says Galia Mor, 53, referring to the withdrawal in 2000.

"But we were a bit ambivalent at the end of this war," she adds. "It wasn't like we had a clean victory."

Without a "clean victory" and the disarmament of Hezbollah, Israelis are still nervous.

Back on the border, Mr Lehman says the situation is very tense.

Before the war, Mr Lehman used to throw some apples over the fence for the Lebanese farmers who gratefully accepted them.

But now when Mr Lehman throws the fruit the farmers run away.

"They think it's a grenade," he says.




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