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The assassination of Hamas number two on Tuesday, in a strike attributed to Israel in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital, raises fears of an escalation of the conflict shaking the Middle East. On the ground, the Lebanese are already saying they are polishing their weapons, and others are worried about the consequences of a conflagration. Because already, since October 7, Hezbollah and the Israeli army have been clashing in southern Lebanon, without really going to war.

On this afternoon of January 4, the streets of the predominantly Sunni neighborhood of Tariq el-Jdideh are particularly lively. Large ambulances, alarms blaring and headlights on, are stopped in the middle of one of the main arteries of this area of ​​southern Beirut. More than a thousand people are gathered near the Imam Ali mosque. In their hands are flags of Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad and even Hezbollah. Music comes out from large speakers. Religious chants emanate from the minaret and drown out the noise of backfiring motorcycles.

Palestinians, but also Lebanese, are here to pay their last respects to Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas number two, and two of his six companions killed on January 2 during a drone strike in Dahiye, a residential area in the southern suburbs of Beirut. The place is known to be a stronghold of Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian Shiite Lebanese political party with a powerful militia.

Mohamad is standing on one of the sidewalks that line the avenue where the coffins will soon pass. The young Lebanese came to watch the procession because he knew one of the deceased. “We are angry about what just happened, but we are not afraid. I don’t know if war will come… For the moment, it is very limited to the south. But it’s certain that if we knocked, then…”

Walking up the street, a group of women calls out to the journalists: they proudly wave the Palestinian flag and ask that their photo be taken. “We are with Hezbollah, we are with [the spokesperson for the armed wing of Hamas] Abu Obaïda… They will not let go of anyone,” says Anissa al-Moustapha, a Palestinian refugee, who welcomes the actions of Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas.

Here, among those who accompany the deceased to the Shatila cemetery, the growing conflict in the region does not seem to cause fear. Already, on the evening of January 2, young people gathered to observe the damage said they were ready to take up arms to defend Lebanon. Their feet were still trampling on the glass shattered by the explosion as they thought about the response to give it. War and martyrdom are part of the rhetoric used by the “Party of God” (the French translation of the name Hezbollah).

“An anxiety that continues to grow”

But other Lebanese fear this possible escalation of the conflict which is shaking the region. “We are afraid that there will be other explosions, we do not want this whole situation with Israel, we do not want war,” alarms Zeina, referred to here by a fictitious name for security reasons, met in a Christian neighborhood of Beirut.

Although Lebanon is still officially at war with Israel, the Jewish state's army has not bombed the Lebanese capital since the 2006 war, which left 160 Israelis dead and 1200 on the Lebanese side, mainly civilians. “In fact, I have been worried since October 7,” sketches M. K., who also wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons. “I am worried about my parents, who already do not have access to health services and good infrastructure. But also for civilians who have nothing to do with this war. »

As soon as the attack attributed to Israel was announced, the question on everyone's lips concerned Hezbollah's response to it.

On January 3, the party's general secretary, Hassan Nasrallah, spoke in a long-planned speech to mark the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, killed in a US strike in January 2020. He then stressed that the attack the day before would not go unpunished, but he remained mysterious about the nature of the actions that will be taken.

“Now there is an anxiety that continues to grow,” explains Karim Émile Bitar, professor of international relations at Saint-Joseph University in Beirut. “And Hassan Nasrallah's speech did not erase this anguish, because he explained that this would not go unpunished… And the risk with a response is that we could witness a devastating response from 'Israel. »

Like Iran, Hezbollah does not seem to want to engage in a high-intensity conflict with the Jewish state. But there is still this desire to wage psychological warfare: no one knows how long the current situation can last, and what maneuvers on either side of the border would drag the country even deeper into conflict.

The big boss of Hezbollah is scheduled to speak again on Friday, January 5; he indicated on Wednesday that he would then address current issues.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116