In Haifa too, there is no peace as the rockets fall

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The Independent Online

The anxiety etched on her handsome face, the gold crucifix unmissable around her neck, Janet Balan explained that she had not ventured out since the war started nearly four weeks ago until she felt compelled to do so for the funeral of her good friends and neighbours, Hana Hamam, 62, and Labiba Mazawi, 67.

It was little more than 300 metres from the St Elias's Church in the poor, Christian/Muslim Arab neighbourhood of Wadi Nisnas to the little garden in front of Mr Hamam's house, in which he and Mrs Mazawi had been killed by shrapnel from the 220mm Hizbollah rocket that demolished the house next door on Sunday night. But the journey I made with Mrs Balan, 52, her 83-year-old mother, Adiba, and two other women of the neighbourhood was twice interrupted by the sirens. There are no public shelters here - a source of frequent complaints by Israeli Arab community leaders.

So when the first siren sounded the women looked around, anxious for somewhere to take shelter. We alighted on a roofless space between two walls, hoping that if Hizbollah's lightning did strike twice in the same area, the rocket would not descend vertically.

The second time the sirens sounded, about five minutes later, we took shelter in the basement of what appeared to be a gambling den, a poker table laid out in the ground-floor room. Despite the fact that this was probably the best security the women had enjoyed since the war started, they soon registered their disapproval. "This place smells," one of them said.

Karem Houri, 25, who joined us under cover, shouted "Hallas [Enough]" above the siren before declaring to the company: "As a Christian Arab citizen of Israel I am ready to join the Israeli Army take care of Iran, Syria and even Lebanon."

The prevailing view, however, among many of the hundreds of mourners who packed into St Elias's for the requiem mass for Mr Hamam and Mrs Mazawi had been less bellicose, if sometimes critical of Israel. Adel Malshy, 53, the headmaster of the local secondary school, said Israel should not have left Lebanon in 2000 without dealing with the issues like the disputed Shaba Farms in the Golan and Lebanese prisoners, which had given a pretext for Hizbollah to conduct their raid on 12 July.

But they listened as the Melkite Archbishop of Nazareth told them that the two deaths were the work of human beings and not of God, and that it was incumbent on ordinary people on both sides of the border to work for peace.

At the end of the journey, as she surveyed the shrapnel dents in the wall of Mr Hamam's garden, where his son and four grandchildren had run into the house when they heard the sirens, Mrs Balan said sadly of the old couple: "They didn't have time." Then she alluded proudly to Haifa's reputation for peaceful co-existence. "I have a lot of customers - Jewish, Christian, Muslim - and they all want peace. If it was left to the little people like us there would be peace."

Whether those like Mrs Balan get their wish now depends on deliberations in New York and Jerusalem, over which she has no control. Yesterday's barrage of 160 rocket attacks appeared to have only wounded three people. But Sunday's attacks, when 12 reserve soldiers and the three civilians - including Mr Hamam and Mrs Mazawi - were killed is creating pressure for just the escalation Mrs Balan and her neighbours would like to avoid. A Cabinet meeting as early as tomorrow could approve the expansion of Israeli ground operations in Lebanon foreshadowed by the Defence Minister, Amir Peretz, yesterday. Whether the slow-moving diplomatic process can finally bear fruit before then, remained as doubtful as ever last night.

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