In Tyre, hope, scepticism that peace is near

TYRE — The lights went out across Tyre Saturday for the first time since the war began, but finally there is a hint of optimism that the end may be in sight.

“God willing, this war will end within the next two days I think,” says Riyad Shahin, 25, a government bureaucrat enjoying a spot of shade on the Tyre waterfront.

Across the street, Hassan Yussuf, 33, the owner of a store that sells women’s shoes and handbags, is also confident the war is on its last legs. Though his city is cut off from the world by bombed bridges and roads, and though an expanded Israeli ground offensive is rolling farther into south Lebanon, he believes that Israel, not Lebanon, cannot stomach much more.

“Israel doesn’t want to come any farther into Lebanon,” says Yussuf, smiling outside his shop, which he keeps open out of boredom more than good business sense.”It knows that if it comes to the Litani it will die. Hizbollah has won. Israel hasn’t been able to take and hold anything in one month and three days, and every day they lose 10 or 12 tanks.” Still, few here trust their southern neighbour. “Anything is possible with Israel,” is a popular refrain among Lebanese.

The sceptics of Tyre are not so confident that peace is any closer.

“Israel agreed to the UN resolution to end attacks and then they expanded their attacks today,” says a bewildered Jamil Nassar, 22, a poultry seller. “They’re the ones who want this war.” He points to the building of an Islamic charity organisation said to be run by Hizbollah.

Early Saturday morning, hours after the UN Security Council approved a resolution aimed at ending hostilities, Israel slammed a pair of missiles into the building, just 100 metres from where Nassar now stands.

In Tyre’s Sunni Muslim mosque, Sheikh Hassan Mussa, 35, waits for the noon prayer and shares his views on the conflict with the same passion and vehemence that he reserves for Friday sermons.

“The Security Council never acts without US approval — and this resolution proves that,” he shouts, leaning forward and pointing an accusatory finger. “This resolution is what Israel wants, but still it continues to escalate its attacks against Lebanon.” The scowling sheikh has no faith in UN-backed ceasefires, or that an end to this bloody conflict is near.

“This war won’t end today or tomorrow, not this easily,” he says. “Today Israel accepts peace, but tomorrow it will change its mind and demand more.” For many here, Hizbollah fighters have succeeded in holding off the might of the Israeli army.

“In 1967 all the Arab armies were defeated by Israel in six days, but our resistance, God protect them… Israel hasn’t been able to hurt them or stop them in weeks,” says Nabil Abu Rowish.

“This is a giant victory for Hizbollah.” The 17-year-old tattoo artist says the Shiite Hizbollah movement has stunned the world with its prowess.

“No one could have expected that Hizbollah could do this,” the lean, tattooed teenager says. “They were fighting a state and a mighty army which everyone says can’t be defeated, but after more than a month they [the Israelis] haven’t done a thing.” Lebanese, especially those living in the south, boast of their ability to endure the hardships of war — a toughness born of nearly three decades of conflict and tension with the Jewish state.

Still, this conflict has dragged on for more than a month now, and Tyre is losing steam with each passing day. On Saturday, the lights finally went out in the first major power cut since the war began, and fuel and food stores are nearly cashed out.

A ship chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross finally unloaded 200 tonnes of urgent humanitarian aid in Tyre Saturday after its arrival had been delayed by Israel.

There is no business and little life in the city. Despite their vows of defiance, many have grown weary of the conflict.

Any solution that brings peace and security is fine for Jonny Barbour, 31, a hair stylist with few jobs to do nowadays.

“Just let there be peace and security and lots of pretty women who need haircuts, and let there be no more headaches and problems,” he says.

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