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Israel's fighting with Hezbollah, on its border with Lebanon, is intensifying

ROB SCHMITZ, HOST:

It's been more than eight months of Israel's war in Gaza after the surprise Hamas attack on October 7.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

But Israel has also been fighting on another front, exchanging frequent fire across the Lebanese border with Hezbollah. Now that low-level conflict is becoming more intense, and many Israelis are eyeing the possibility of a full-on war against the Iranian-backed group.

SCHMITZ: NPR's Kat Lonsdorf was out near the border yesterday and joins us now from Haifa. Good morning, Kat.

KAT LONSDORF, BYLINE: Hey, Rob.

SCHMITZ: So, Kat, what did you see near the border?

LONSDORF: Yeah, so my team and I started in a town called Kiryat Shmona. It's mostly a ghost town right now. You know, all the shops are closed, there's no cars on the road, apartment buildings are empty. It's a town that's gotten many direct hits from Hezbollah in the past few months, but there are still some people living there. You know, yesterday, we had just arrived and a man walked up to us and started talking to us. And suddenly, there was a big explosion. And just to warn listeners, we're gonna play a sound of that here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

LONSDORF: And, you know, you can hear, the man, he just keeps talking.

SCHMITZ: Wow.

LONSDORF: He was just like, yeah, that happens all the time now. We're used to it. You know, we also went down to a town on the Mediterranean, a town called Nahariyya. It hasn't been evacuated yet, but just yesterday, several rockets or drones were fired towards it. And as far as we know, most of those were intercepted. You know, Israel shoots down about 90% of those up here. And Israel fires back, causing a lot of destruction on the Lebanese side, too. And I'll also just add, Rob - just a while ago this morning, a siren went off here in Haifa. And I watched a rocket get shot down outside my hotel room window. You know, that's unusual, for something to be fired...

SCHMITZ: Wow.

LONSDORF: ...This far south. Yeah, I'm more than 80 miles from the border right now.

SCHMITZ: Well, I mean, it certainly sounds like the situation there is becoming much more intense. What are Israelis saying needs to be done about this situation?

LONSDORF: Well, people here are anxious for the military to do more. There have been tens of thousands of people displaced for months now and they're eager to go back home. You know, everyone, every single person I talked to yesterday, said they thought a war with Hezbollah was the only option to alleviate the tensions, even though there's already a war going on in Gaza, like you mentioned. Here's 58-year-old Sara Benhamou. She was back visiting Kiryat Shmona yesterday.

SARA BENHAMOU: (Non-English language spoken).

LONSDORF: You know, she told us that she thinks war, not diplomacy, is the only way people in the town will feel safe to come back. I know that sounds a little counterintuitive, but a lot of people here remember the 2006 war against Hezbollah. It was a horrible war but there was relative calm afterwards, and that's what many here think would be the outcome if another war were to start. You know, meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and several military officials have made it clear that they are preparing for a war in the north, that they're ready. And the government recently raised the number of reservists the military can call up specifically for that purpose.

SCHMITZ: Wow. So Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in your region today trying to bring an end to the eight-month conflict in Gaza. Are there signs that he's having any success there?

LONSDORF: Well, you know, there are some. But, you know, a lot remains to be seen. You know, talks about possible peace talks have been dragging on for weeks. Yesterday, Blinken met with Netanyahu and reiterated afterwards that the U.S. and other countries are behind President Biden's three-step plan to end the war in Gaza.

You know, this is the plan that Biden announced a few weeks ago and referred to as the, quote, "Israeli plan." Although, I should note, Israel has not agreed to it, and neither has Hamas. Meanwhile, yesterday, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution backing the deal. And the feeling here is that a breakthrough in a cease-fire of some kind in the Gaza war would almost certainly ease the tensions up here. Hezbollah started firing at Israel when the Gaza war began in what they said was solidarity with Hamas.

SCHMITZ: That's NPR's Kat Lonsdorf reporting from Haifa in northern Israel. Thanks, Kat, and stay safe.

LONSDORF: Thanks so much, Rob. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.