THE bombs and shells stopped falling on south Lebanon yesterday, for a spell at least, and for the first time in weeks Hezbollah’s rockets remained hidden on their hillsides.
As the firing died away rescue workers from Tyre and Sidon ventured out for the first time in days to clear shattered roads and search for bodies, defying a fresh warning from the Israeli Defence Forces that their threat to attack civilian vehicles in the region was still in force, ceasefire or not.
Israeli jets and drones still flew high overhead, but at the time of writing most of the front had lapsed into silence.
The exception was when Israeli soldiers opened fire at Hezbollah militants who had approached a patrol in the town of Hadata.
The road to Tibnin, cut off in recent days by Israeli air strikes, was choked with the debris from the Israeli Air Force’s final night of destruction, houses and buildings still smoking from bombs dropped hours before the ceasefire.
At Kfar Douneine civil defence volunteers worked bare-handed to clear the rubble and twisted metal from a roadway so ambulances could pass. “You must be very careful of the rubble,” said Naim Rakka, chief of the civil defence base at Juwaya. “One of our men was hurt this morning by an Israeli cluster munition. There could be more under there.”
A colleague, Khalid Baidoun, was cutting away at a fallen telephone cable with a large pair of bolt cutters. “Our first job is to clear the roads, and then we can bring people in to start looking for the bodies,” he said. “There were a lot of massacres around here and we know there are bodies. We just don’t know how many. It could take weeks to finish this job.”
Further on, a bulldozer was brought forward to begin probing the ruins of a mosque, its minaret toppled into the rubble of a residential building. Somewhere underneath, locals said, was a 60-year-old man who had refused to flee the bombardment.
Several thousand displaced Lebanese began heading back to the south soon after the ceasefire took effect. Hundreds of cars jammed a ravaged highway leading south from Sidon. Most roads and bridges to the south were hit by Israel during the conflict.
“I’m going to make sure my house is OK,” said Adel Abbas, from a village near Tyre. “If Israel sticks to its word and continues to stick to the ceasefire, I’ll take my family back home later today.”
Unexploded ordnance posed a danger for civilians returning home. A five-year-old girl died and 15 people were injured by cluster bombs or artillery in southern villages and towns. The Interior Ministry urged people to stay away from their homes until army engineers ruled them safe. Ed O’Loughlin, Sydney Morning Herald