More than 19,000 displaced in Lebanon amid tensions on Israeli border: UN agency

AFP , Monday 23 Oct 2023

More than 19,000 people have been displaced in Lebanon amid an uptick in tensions between Israel and Hezbollah at the country's southern border, figures released Monday by a United Nations agency showed.

People with their luggage wait in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona on the border with Lebanon, to be evacuated to a safer location on October 22, 2023. AFP


"An increase in cross-border incidents" has resulted in the displacement of 19,646 people in Lebanon, "both within the south and elsewhere within the country", said the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

"We expect the numbers to rise as the cross-border tensions continue" or if there is an escalation in violence, IOM spokesperson Mohammedali Abunajela told AFP in a statement.

Hamas militants stormed into Israel from the Gaza Strip on October 7, killing at least 1,400 people according to Israeli officials.

Israel's retaliatory bombing campaign has killed more than 5,000 Palestinians, mainly civilians, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Iran-backed Shia Muslim group Hezbollah has launched escalating attacks on Israel, raising fears the group intends to open a front from Lebanon in support of ally Hamas.

Israel has carried out cross-border strikes and bombardments on Lebanon, while Palestinian groups have also launched limited infiltration attempts into Israel.

Dozens of communities have been told to evacuate in Israel. At the same time, thousands of civilians in Lebanon have fled, many heading to other parts of the south or areas in or outside the capital Beirut.

Lebanon, grappling with political paralysis and a four-year-long economic crisis, has not implemented an evacuation plan, but Prime Minister Najib Mikati has said the country was developing an emergency response "as a precaution".

'Fragile health system' 

The IOM's Abunajela said that "amidst a deteriorating economic situation and the significant rise in poverty across all populations in Lebanon, internal displacements may add additional stress to the resources of host communities".

Most of the displaced are currently "sheltered in host and family settings, while there are three designated schools, managed by local authorities that are also used as shelters", Abunajela said.

An AFP correspondent last week saw families taking refuge in public schools converted into shelters in the southern city of Tyre, where authorities said they were looking for a place to open a fourth center.

According to an AFP tally, at least 40 people have been killed on the Lebanese side of the border, mostly combatants but also including at least four civilians, one of them Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah.

In Israel, three soldiers and one civilian have been killed.

While the tit-for-tat exchanges have so far been relatively contained, analysts have warned that the chances of Hezbollah scaling up involvement could hinge on any Israeli ground invasion of Gaza.

Lebanon's crisis has crippled basic services, from electricity to health care and education.

"The country's health system is facing severe resource shortages, including medicines" and medical personnel, Abunajela said.

"In this context, responding to large-scale displacement and health causalities that might occur... may overwhelm the already fragile health system," he warned.

Short link: