Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, the Lebanese Shia militant group Hezbollah and Israeli forces have engaged in near-daily clashes on the border that have reportedly killed 159 people on the Lebanese side, most of them militants of Hezbollah and their allied groups, but also at least 17 civilians.
Fears of an escalation to a full-scale war have further mounted in recent days after Israeli forces killed six Hezbollah fighters, including Hussein Ibrahim Salameh, also known as “Nasser”.
Christian villages hit in cross-fire
While Israeli strikes have been directed at Hezbollah targets, located mostly in Shia areas, a number of Christian villages have also suffered collateral damage, forcing many families to flee towards the North.
According to data obtained by the Pontifical foundation Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) in Alma Al-Shaab, the worst-affected village, 15 homes have been destroyed by missiles.
While Christian families in Beirut have offered accommodation to displaced families, some of those who fled have since returned to their devastated homes because of a shortage of long-term shelter in other parts of the country.
Xavier Stephen Bisits, ACN’s Head of Projects in Lebanon, reported that some agricultural fields have also been damaged impacting the livelihoods of many families who are already poor as a result of Lebanon’s ongoing economic and financial crisis.
Mr. Bisits said that all priests and religious have remained in the villages to minister to those too old or frail to relocate. He added that the Maronite Bishop of Tyre recently celebrated Mass in the village of Rmeich, under threat of bombs and that the Melkite Bishop of Tyre also went on a tour to check on the faithful in the villages along the border. “It is a testament to the solid faith and resilience of the people in this region, he said.
Fears of escalation in Lebanon
Mr. Bisits confirmed that there is widespread fear of the fighting escalating, with the present conflict bringing back memories of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War.
Local religious leaders told ACN that another war would be a major threat to the historical Christian presence in the area. ACN has helped relieve the suffering, providing food packages, medical assistance and access to online education for pupils at Catholic schools in southern Lebanon.
Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi pleas for Lebanon to remain neutral
Amid increasing hostilities between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, on Christmas Day Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Bechara Al-Rahi reiterated his plea for Lebanon to remain neutral. “We reject the spread of the war to the southern villages,” the Patriarch said in his Christmas homily. “Lebanon is not a land of war but a land of dialogue and peace.”