- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

KIRYAT SHEMONA, Israel — The return home yesterday was bittersweet for residents of this devastated border town; the daily barrage of Hezbollah rockets has stopped, but few think the cease-fire negotiated by the United Nations will permanently end the threat.

“The rockets will come back. Maybe not today, but the next month or the next year,” said Charlie Peretz as he sat on a lone couch amid the shattered glass from the storefront of his ceramics business.

“If the Lebanese want to sit and negotiate, that’s the best. But if not, the military will have to go back in. We’re three generations with the Katyushas; we need to solve this once and for all.”

No community in Israel was hit harder than Kiryat Shemona in the monthlong war with Hezbollah. About 1,000 Katyushas landed in the town of 24,000, damaging kindergartens, factories, synagogues and two of its three shopping malls. Three of every four residents fled the town rather than stay in the bomb shelters.

“Look at this bed. It’s lost,” said Shuli Pinchas as she stepped through the broken beams in her daughter’s attic room, careful not to trample on the high school diplomas and matriculation exam certificates strewn on the floor. Amid the fallen ceiling plaster lay a blue bumper sticker from the first days of the war, boasting, “We will win.”

“I don’t know where to start cleaning. My hands are still shaking,” Mrs. Pinchas said. Like many residents of the town, she faces months of living with relatives or in rented housing while her home is repaired.

Kiryat Shemona is about to be invaded again, this time by an army of government appraisers, charged with assessing the damage to each house and determining how much compensation to allot to the owners.

Mrs. Pinchas’ brother-in-law Hertzl, who lives two doors away in a similarly damaged apartment with a panoramic view of the Hula Valley, has assembled the family to plot strategy for the appraisals.

“Now begins the real war — to rebuild,” Mr. Pinchas, 54, told the family yesterday. “We need building contractors, and carpenters, plumbers and assessors. But try finding them.”

Town spokesman Doron Shmaper said Kiryat Shemona will not survive without a major infusion of government aid.

“The economy … has been completely destroyed. Many businesses will collapse in the coming days,” he said. “There isn’t one street that hasn’t been hit.”

At a press conference in the town on Tuesday, officials from the central government said they expect 16,000 claims for compensation. The government estimates the cost at $1 billion, but independent analysts say it could be three times as much.

For three decades, Kiryat Shemona’s residents have lived with the threat of Katyusha attacks, never knowing when the sirens would sound, warning them to run for the bomb shelters. Before the formation of Hezbollah in the early 1980s, members from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s Fatah militia fired the rockets.

Whether it was Operation Litani in 1978, the 1982 Lebanon War, Operation Accountability in 1993 or Operation Grapes of Wrath 10 years ago, no round of fighting has ended the strikes.

That history accounts for the belief among many of the town’s residents that the end of the latest war has brought nothing more than a brief respite.

“There’s no place like home. From the moment I left, I always thought about coming back,” said Yarom Peretz as he stopped off at a bakery for a snack before heading home to the kibbutz Shar Yeshuv for the first time in a month.

A guide for all-terrain buggy tours, Mr. Peretz said he expected long months of slow business because the mountain trails have been burned by fires touched off by Hezbollah’s rockets.

“For six years, we built tourist cabins, while they rearmed,” he said. “You know it’s not over. This is only the first round. It’s a matter of time before the U.S. goes into Iran and everything will explode all over again.”

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