Many Israelis on border see a lull - not peace

Prime Minister Olmert said Monday that Israel had prevailed – and would continue to target Hizbullah.

When Zevulun Cohen awoke early, as farmers do, the hills still rattled with the sounds of war – the blast of artillery shells on their way out, the thud of Katyushas on their way in.

And then, at 8 a.m., the big guns fell silent, the quiet punctured only by the usual sounds of cows and chickens.

But even as the Israel-Hizbullah cease-fire rolled into effect, life here seemed far from returning to normal, with many fearing that the truce represented more of a timeout than a time for peace.

Small, sporadic clashes between Hizbullah militants and Israeli forces suggested that the cease-fire was tenuous and issues related to its implementation were still unsolved. "I don't believe the Hizbullah will agree to be disarmed. I'm convinced we'll have to do this again in a few years, or sooner," says Mr. Cohen, who sat with a fellow farmer at a sidewalk falafel stand, the first in the city to reopen. Most of this border city remains shuttered, having been the target of more than 1,000 rockets since the war began last month.

"It was a good idea to agree to a cease-fire, but we could have fought this war much more wisely," he sighs, as the radio calls out names of fallen fighters. "To lose 115 soldiers in a month, it's just too much."

Addressing some of the many streams of criticism of his leadership, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a speech Monday that he took full responsibility for the conflict. As a democracy, he said, Israel would have a full accounting of how the war was waged.

But he also defended the conflict in strong terms, and sought to assure Israelis that they had prevailed – a debatable point in a war that appears to have no real victor. "In every altercation with Hizbullah, Israel Defense Force soldiers had the upper hand. Hizbullah leaders went into hiding and are lying," Mr. Olmert said. He also warned that Israel would continue to target Hizbullah.

"The people who did this will not be forgiven, and we will pursue them in any place at any time," Olmert said. "We'll do it unapologetically and without asking for permission from anyone."

Mr. Cohen, who lives near Kiryat Shemona in a farming village called Ramot Naftali, says that most of this year's crop has been damaged by the exodus of people at the height of picking season. "Our biggest losses are economic," he says. "Thank God, it wasn't our son who was killed. But you can't say that because in a country such as ours, it's like all of them are your sons."

Many here seemed to feel that way, attending funerals of soldiers they knew only tangentially. In one of the more poignant losses felt by the nation, news broke Sunday that one of Israel's most renowned novelists, David Grossman, had lost his 20-year-old son, Uri. Mr. Grossman, author of "The Yellow Wind" and other books, has long been a peace activist but initially supported the war. A week ago, he and other novelists came out against its continuation, and pleaded for a cease-fire.

Rows of Israeli soldiers could be seen leaving Lebanon Monday, on foot, by jeep, or in tanks. A few columns of tanks sat outside the border town of Metulla, and on the road north of Kiryat Shemona, returning troops were seen camping out in the fields. But the returning units were expected to be only a handful of the large number of troops now deployed around southern Lebanon – up to 30,000 as of this weekend. Israel has said that it will not pull out in full before a 15,000-strong multinational force is deployed in southern Lebanon. Hizbullah has said it will view all Israeli soldiers in Lebanon as an occupying force that it will fight.

The gap between the Israeli and Hizbullah positions increases international uncertainty over the cease-fire's holding power.

Inside Kiryat Shemona, some residents who had fled south or had been living underground were gingerly returning to homes and businesses, surveying damage and sweeping up. Restaurant owner Yaakov Peretz pushed broken glass and chunks of shrapnel out onto the sidewalk. He was disappointed with the cease-fire – for him it was a sign that Israel would simply face another war against Hizbullah.

"We had quiet for six years, since we ran away from south Lebanon, but it was a quiet of lies," says Mr. Peretz. "I would have continued until we destroyed Hizbullah in Beirut, because they still want to destroy us. With all the pain and sadness, it's a war, and in war, you lose a lot, including some of your men."

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