Israel: Wall "of calm" on Lebanon border

Co-existence difficult along border road

04 May, 09:59

(ANSAmed) - METULLA (UPPER GALILEE), MAY 3 - With reinforced concrete as a guarantee of good neighbourly relations, Israel has in the last few days begun replacing security fencing with concrete slabs of between 5 and 7 metres tall along a short stretch of its border with Lebanon. The work does nothing for the landscape but means that within a few weeks the 1,500 inhabitants of the town of Metulla, in Upper Galilee, will sleep more easily.

In her café -cum-gallery on the main road of Metulla, a tourist village popular with the elderly for the refined hilltop air and the rural calm of its apple fields, Vered is completing the decoration of some ceramic tiles.

With the strains of Enrico Macias in the background and "Art Nouveau" wallpaper, Vered's café seems to be the most peaceful place in Israel, despite lying only 500 yards from Fatima Gate, the entrance to Lebanon, where Hezbollah flags flap in the wind and posters of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are stuck to the walls.

The construction of the wall caused surprise in this café. There have been no serious incidents in the past, Vered says. Yet along the border, there is a continuing sense of unease. Israeli farmers whose plots of land lie next to Lebanese soil enter the fields with their hearts in their mouths.

From Metulla, the nearby Lebanese village of Kila can be seen with the naked eye. The road that runs at the bottom of the town is parallel with a border track used by the Israeli army. The two are only 15 metres apart. This extreme proximity is seen as a potential source of trouble, so the arrival of concrete to separate them is viewed positively.

"In the last few years this area has been relatively calm," an Israeli official tells foreign journalists in the area to observe the start of the works. Apart from the "gratuitous" killing, he says, of an Israeli official by a Lebanese sniper a year ago. Yet it is the routine that gives food for thought, he adds. Lebanese soldiers and civilians sometimes disrupt Israeli patrols, hurling insults and stones. One day, someone from other either side could lose control and load their weapons, turning a banal feud into a serious incident.

There is also the fact that drug smuggling draws shady characters to Metulla at night, say local citizens. While the border fencing is patrolled, it is not hermetic. Two weeks ago an unarmed Palestinian man and his two sons entered Israel without much difficulty.

For these reasons, in agreement with Unifil, a stretch of wall of just over a kilometre is being erected on Israeli soil between Metulla and Kila, at a cost of 2 to 3 million euros. The army says that this is an isolated case as there are no other similar points of friction across the "Blue Line" that separates the countries. Israeli officials are then asked what their Lebanese neighbours think of the construction. Through Unifil, Israel has sounded out is neighbours and are said to have been assured that the wall, on which sensors will be installed, will not be attacked in any way. "This wall will increase the calm in the area, for everyone," the Israeli official says. (ANSAmed).

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