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Many people have chosen to remain in southern Lebanon as tensions increase on its border with Israel.Nathan Vanderklippe/The Globe and Mail

A dull thud of shelling echoes in from the hills of south Lebanon as Jamileh Ibrahim Fares attends to customers in her neatly arranged shop filled with calculators, coloured pens and backpacks.

Not far from here lies Lebanon’s border with Israel, where simmering conflict has, many times before, erupted into war.

On the other side of the border, close enough to reach by bicycle if not for the guns that regularly strafe these hills, entire communities now stand empty. The Oct. 7 attacks from Gaza – what U.S. President Joe Biden has called the single deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust – have fractured feelings of security for many Israelis.

On Tuesday alone, constant clashes left three Israelis injured and at least five dead in Lebanon.

That has made the border with Lebanon not merely a potential new front in the war, with Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner warning Tuesday “we will exact a serious price if they continue to threaten and attack Israel,” while Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly gave new urgency to warnings for Canadians to leave Lebanon.

It is also a dividing line between fear and the obstinate rage that keeps Ms. Fares selling school supplies at a moment like this.

“I won’t leave whatever happens,” she says.

Ms. Fares is not naive. In 2006, a 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon damaged her house and killed people she knew. Her own relatives are fighters with Hezbollah, the militant group whose expansive armoury – including guided missiles and some 130,000 rockets – threatens catastrophic consequences in a full engagement with Israel.

But she argues that people in Lebanon have reason to stay.

“This land is ours,” she says. “And our pride is more valuable than our lives.”

War has grown routine for southern Lebanon. Along the road to Baraachit, posters display the names of Hezbollah’s dead, who are commemorated as martyrs.

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Bilal Kassem left his home in Ayta ash-Shab, just metres from the border, soon after he heard about the Hamas attacks on Israel. He is now living with his family in a school in the coastal city of Tyre, where he was photographed Oct. 17.Nathan Vanderklippe/The Globe and Mail

And even as the violence of the past 10 days has pushed some people away from Lebanese border communities, many remain in their homes, said a Lebanese Red Cross official, whose name The Globe and Mail is not using because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

That is despite the evident increase in hostilities, an indication that what is now taking place at Israel’s border with Lebanon is moving beyond the regular skirmishes of the past 17 years, the official said. “This is a war.”

Fear of that possibility is why Mike Mazeika, a 41-year-old Canadian who normally lives in the Israeli town of Metula, was evacuated last week with his wife and two young children. Their home – along with the Canada Centre, the ice rink where Mr. Mazeika coaches hockey – is flush against the Lebanon-Israel border, inside the two-kilometre evacuation zone mandated this week by the Israeli military.

Mr. Mazeika, who was born in Toronto and moved to Israel a decade ago to help develop the country’s hockey program, said it was commonplace even before the current surge in violence to hear gunshots and explosion – as well as antisemitic shouts – from across the border. But with the growing possibility of his home becoming a second front to Israel’s war with Hamas, he knew it was time to leave.

The Canada Centre now stands closed.

“This is obviously my first time going through something like this, but I obviously knew it was always a possibility,” said Mr. Mazeika, who first relocated elsewhere in northern Israel, then moved again as tension in the north continued to rise.

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Zaharaa Chammout has refused her boss’s request to close a shoe shop in Baraachit.Nathan Vanderklippe/The Globe and Mail

“We’re just trying to keep the kids as happy and safe as we can so that they have as few scars as possible from this,” he said, as Israeli fears of a new war with Hezbollah have grown more intense.

Writing in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, columnist Amos Harel suggested that Hezbollah may be misreading the mood in Israel by continuing the “deadly ping-pong” of cross-border fire.

“Perhaps its experiences in years past, when it was clear that Israel did not want war, raised the self-confidence of the organization’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah,” Mr. Harel wrote.

“It could turn out to be a fatal error for him.”

In Lebanon, too, some are worried enough to uproot their lives. Bilal Kassem left his home in Ayta ash-Shab, just metres from the border, soon after he heard about the Hamas attacks on Israel. He immediately thought back to the 2006 war and the bloodshed it brought to his doorstep.

“I was scared of reliving the memories of 2006,” said Mr. Kassem, a tobacco farmer. “It’s natural that when things start off elsewhere, the entire region will be drawn in.”

He is now living with his family in a school in the coastal city of Tyre, along with more than 600 others who have taken refuge there. Still others have left for Beirut or the relative safety of Mount Lebanon.

Since arriving in Tyre nine days ago, Mr. Kassem has made one trip back home, to feed his cat.

“I got very emotional,” he said. He feels deeply conflicted. “I should protect my family. At the same time, I should not leave my land.”

Rami Mohammad Ayoub has bridged that conflict by delivering his family to safety in Beirut, while he returned to his home in Houla, a short walk from the border with Israel. Mr. Ayoub is a dentist and maxillofacial surgeon, who knows his skills may be needed if bombs tear apart faces.

“I want to stay here and do my duty,” he says.

Across the street from Mr. Ayoub’s clinic in Baraachit, a similar determination has kept Zaharaa Chammout working at a shoe shop. “The owner told me to close down, but I will stay open,” she said, defiance in her voice.

She recalled fleeing in 2006, at the age of 8. What she learned then, she said, was to not give in to fear.

“I am not afraid of bombing. I am not afraid of being injured,” she said. “The worst that could happen is I die.”

With a report from Steven Chase

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