Tuesday, July 18, 2006

HAIFA, Israel — Israelis on the front lines of the battle with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia are girding for more attacks but say they are willing to endure temporary hardship if the government succeeds in getting Hezbollah off their backs once and for all.

The wreckage of his third-floor apartment loomed over Geda Young. The exterior was ripped away by a Hezbollah Katyusha rocket Monday and left living-room chairs and a rug visible, with the exposed floor hanging from metal rods.

Several Israelis were injured when the missile slammed into the apartment in the Haifa’s bayside Bat Galim neighborhood, but Mr. Young was undaunted by either the scene of destruction or the tedious routine of taking cover from incoming Hezbollah missiles.

“If we don’t want to pay the small payment now, in the future we’ll have to pay a much bigger price,” he said, explaining his support for Israel’s offensive even though his neighborhood has suffered from the latest firepower exchange with Hezbollah.

Along with the rest of northern Israel, this port city has been nearly silenced by rocket fire as the army tries to destroy Hezbollah’s military capability. Haifa shops are shuttered and traffic is light as locals stay as close to home as possible.

Haifa boasts a naval base, a shipping port and oil refineries, but the vulnerability of Israel’s third-largest city to Hezbollah rocket salvos has taken some residents by surprise.

Yesterday, Miriam Levy finally emerged from her home to survey the damage around the corner.

“It’s scary. You see this in other places, but not here in Bat Galim,” said Mrs. Levy, 56. “We’re not used to this in Haifa.”

Haifa locals are resigning themselves to ducking into shelters or stairwells at moment’s notice as part of their routine. Their stoicism is good news for Israel, because domestic morale is considered critical to Israel’s ability to sustain its campaign against Hezbollah.

“It’s the first time since the 1948 [Arab-Israeli] war that the Israeli home front has been so exposed to attack and by an outside party,” said Sami Michael, an Israeli author who lives in Haifa. “The population is showing maturity in dealing with the situation. The country believes that it is in the right.”

Mrs. Levy said she has heard a range of opinions on whether the offensive to rout Hezbollah justifies the interruption of business as usual across northern Israel, a region that attracts thousands of tourists each year to vacation cabins in the Galilee mountains.

“We’ve already started, and we should continue to the end,” she said. “My hope is that there won’t be any more Katyusha rockets. That’s what this is all about.”

Public-opinion polls suggest that Mrs. Levy is not alone.

A survey in the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot yesterday found that 86 percent of Israelis think the operation is justified, 81 percent want it to continue, and 58 percent say it should last until Hezbollah is destroyed. The poll had a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

Meanwhile, sirens continued to sound throughout northern Israel as at least one civilian was killed in yesterday’s rocket attacks.

An eerie calm has settled over the streets of Haifa as many residents remain at home to be close to relatives. There are rumors among neighbors that others have left the city, moving south with friends and family. Others have hunkered down in public bomb shelters, with infants and older children in tow.

A row of mattresses were spread across the floor of an underground shelter alongside Bat Galim’s elementary school. Stereo speakers were perched in a small shelf closed off by an iron door labeled “Emergency Exit.” One extended family of Russian immigrants was seated on couches. Vadim Raisen, 44, said his wife and children had spent the night in the shelter.

“We hope the [Israeli army] will do the work, and we’ll be out of here in one or two days. We understand that we need to defeat terror,” Mr. Raisen said.

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