AITA SHAAB, Lebanon — More than three years after the last war between Israel and Hezbollah, south Lebanon residents are bracing for new conflict amid Israeli warnings against both Hezbollah and its backer Syria.
"If you come back, we'll be waiting for you," the Shiite militant group warns Israel on a billboard near the southern village of Aita Shaab.
It was across the border from Aita Shaab that Hezbollah fighters captured two Israeli soldiers in a deadly cross-border raid in July 2006, provoking a devastating month-long Israeli offensive against Hezbollah strongholds in south Lebanon and Beirut's southern suburub.
The war killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mainly civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
"We are afraid, of course," said Hayat, a resident of the southern village of Qana, which came under deadly bombardment in the 2006 war.
"Every day we hear news of a possible new war," she tells AFP from her terrace which overlooks the village cemetery.
She said she feared any renewed fighting would see even the heart of the capital Beirut bombed. "Where will we hide?" she asked.
Her neighbour Diba agreed that any new conflict risked being more devastating than 2006.
"If war erupts, Syria and Iran will participate too. Next time it will not be limited to Hezbollah."
Israeli officials have warned repeatedly in recent weeks that any attack by Hezbollah will meet with a tough response.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday accused Lebanon of allowing Hezbollah to develop its stockpile of weapons, which Israel estimates at some 40,000 rockets, a significant rise from the group's 14,000 rockets in 2006.
Last month, Yossi Peled, an Israeli minister without portfolio and a reserve army general, warned Israel was heading towards a new war with Hezbollah.
"We are heading toward a new confrontation in the north but I don't know when it will happen, just as we did not know when the second Lebanon war would erupt," Peled told Israeli radio.
In Aita Shaab, new houses and villas are under construction, visible to Israeli soldiers across the border.
But a third of the homes in village remain in ruins after the 2006 war. Farmer Hassan Srour's house was reduced to rubble.
"We are rebuilding, and if war breaks out again, then we will rebuild again," the 39-year-old said.
"We have got used to occupation, war and destruction. Where are we expected to go? This is our land," he said.
Unlike in northern Israel, villagers in Aita Shaab are not building bomb shelters as they reconstruct their homes.
"What for?" said Srour. "In 2006, two of our neighbours were buried alive in their bomb shelters."
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has voiced fear of another "Israeli intervention" and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the next war would "change the face of the region."
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem warned Israel that war against his country would turn into a wider conflict.
"Israelis, do not test the power of Syria since you know the war will move into your cities," Muallem said on Wednesday.
His Israeli counterpart Avigdor Lieberman retorted on Thursday that any war would cost Syrian President Bashar al-Assad his grip on power.
In the village of Yarin, Khaled and his wife Dima, who run a shop near the border, carry on with their daily lives amid the mounting war of words.
"This time with the first explosion we're packing our bags," Dima said, adjusting her black veil.
Akel Hammoud, from the nearby village of Beit Leef, said Hezbollah's fighters were prepared for any Israeli move.
"Everything is ready," he said. "The weapons and equipment are there. All we need is anti-aircraft defence."
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