ALMAA AL SHAAB, Lebanon—A lot of sentences go unfinished here.
They're interrupted by a video-game array of sounds: the whoosh of a rocket overhead, the crash of a missile into the nearby hills, the sharp buzz of a drone recording people's every move.
From this hilltop village on Lebanon's border with Israel, it's impossible to see either the Israeli jets firing from the sky or the Hezbollah guerrillas answering from their dug-in positions in the valley below. But for more than three weeks, the sounds of war have been the soundtrack of life in Almaa al Shaab.
As Israeli air strikes in search of Hezbollah targets have flattened neighboring villages, nearly everyone along the border has fled north or into Christian villages such as Almaa al Shaab, where Hezbollah's Shiite Muslim fighters are less likely to be hiding.
But Almaa al Shaab isn't safe, either. It's perched on a narrow ridge between the Israeli border, a half-mile away, and a valley from which Hezbollah launches dozens of short-range Katyusha rockets each day, from positions so close that the crack of an outgoing Katyusha rattles windows and silverware.
Still, 142 people continue to live here, for one reason or another.
"We are all dead. To die here is better," said Anton Konsul, a paunchy, gray-haired man of 49 whose family has lived in south Lebanon for generations.
When the latest war started, he sent his wife and children to live with relatives in Beirut. But he stayed to look after their house, figuring that the attacks would die down in a few days.
Instead, the past week has brought the heaviest fighting seen here since Israel ended its 18-year occupation of Lebanon in 2000. On Thursday, an Israeli missile hit a building on the outskirts of the village, killing a woman.
The constant shelling has made it impossible to leave. The three-mile trip to the town of Naqoura, the base of Lebanon's United Nations peacekeeping force and therefore relatively safe, is a harrowing journey down the ridge to the ocean, in plain view of Israeli troops.
Water, bread and generator fuel are running low, and some people are boiling rainwater to drink. The U.N. doesn't even come here anymore. The few cars to pass through this week, Konsul said, belonged to foreign journalists.
Two dozen refugees from the Shiite village next door arrived 10 days ago, after the Israeli military warned them over loudspeakers to leave.
"We are sleeping in our cars," said Immat al Hwaid, 49, pointing to an old Renault minivan. His family left last week for Sidon, a large town to the north, but he said things are no better there.
"It's not like they are having barbecues or a very good life," he said. "There is no place to go."
Most of the people in the village spend their nights in the church basement, sleeping on foam mattresses under thin blankets, crammed together "like goats," Konsul said. The noise of Israeli F-16 jets has made it difficult to sleep the past few nights, said Johnny al Kassis, 21.
Shrapnel from an Israeli missile nicked al Kassis below the left eye last week and sent his father to the U.N. hospital with a minor leg injury. But like many in Almaa al Shaab who remember the conflicts of recent decades, he tried to put on a brave face.
"We don't want to leave our country," he said, standing in the church basement. He had returned from college in Beirut to tend to a friend's cows for the summer, and he said he didn't want to leave behind the animals either.
Suddenly, an Israeli missile zoomed overhead, exploding a second later. The metal grates on the church doors shook, and so did al Kassis. As two journalists turned to leave, he asked one of them in Arabic whether they could help him get to Beirut.
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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