In a clear test of peace prospects in the embattled south, the Lebanese army yesterday opened the Kfar Falous crossing after a 12-year closure sending hundreds of jubilant Jezzine residents pouring towards Sidon to celebrate the end of their virtual siege.
In June, the government had announced a plan to reopen the crossing, but it was delayed after Lebanese army units came under shelling from Israel and its allied militia, the South Lebanon Army.
“It feels as if blood is again circulating in an artery that was dry for 12 years. At last, we’re back to life,” said Jezzine resident Jeanette Harb.
The Lebanese army had been working over the past few days to remove land mines in the area and barbed wire has been erected on each side of the road to keep civilians from venturing into mined areas.
The Kfar Falous crossing will enable residents of Jezzine to reach the Sidon area in 20 minutes. In the past, they used the Bater mountain crossing, which has been the only gateway to the area since 1985.
The new crossing will help inject more life into the enclave of Jezzine and neighbouring villages like Roum, Haitoura, where only 6,000 civilians remain, compared to the 70,000 population at the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975.
“The opening of this crossing is very important to us; we feel part of Lebanon again. We hope that from now on the government will take us into consideration a bit more,” said Pierre Harb who hoped that all roads would soon open again.
The crossing was officially opened at 9.30am with an ISF car driving through the crowds towards the SLA position at the other end of the stretch of road that forms the crossing.
People cheered enthusiastically and lines of cars that had been waiting on both sides started driving through the crossing. About 400 people came from both sides all applauding, singing the national anthem, as the two groups met and people embraced.
“Congratulations on your return to the nation,” said a banner in the name of Hizbullah.
Commenting on the opening of the crossing, Hizbullah secretary-general Sayyed Nasrallah said: “Hizbullah and the resistance supports all moves that help ease the burden of our people all over Lebanon.”
At Kfar Falous, people met long lost relatives and friends.
“We have been waiting for this moment for a long time. Twelve years is too long to wait,” said Zalfa Mansour as she introduced her six-year-old son to his aunt who lives in Jezzine. She had never seen the boy before.
“We have been longing to see our brothers of Jezzine and its neighbouring villages. We all thank those who helped in making this possible especially just before the holidays. This is a gift from the Lebanese army to the people,” said a priest from Ein al-Meer.
At the checkpoint, an SLA officer wearing an olive-green Israeli military uniform with Hebrew writing inspected passing cars as other officers with automatic weapons stood by.
“I hope that no problems will arise in the area around the crossing,” said Gen Antoine Lahd, commander in chief of the SLA militia.
The reopening of the crossing came a day after a Hizbullah roadside bomb killed an SLA officer and wounded another, just 2km east of Kfar Falous.
Asked by a journalist whether the SLA was preparing to hand Jezzine over to the Lebanese government, an SLA officer at the checkpoint led the journalist to Lahd.
Earlier, Lahd said the SLA had agreed to the opening only to “ease the lives of our people in Jezzine”.
US ambassador to Lebanon Richard Jones denied that the opening of Kfar Falous was a first step towards the option “Lebanon first”.
“The opening of Kfar Falous was dictated by humanitarian concerns and people should not try to find far-fetched political explanations,” said Jones.
“I cannot say that this is a step towards an Israeli pull-out from the south, especially since Jezzine is not under Israeli occupation.
“However, this is a sign of the amount of work being put in to find a solution to the problem of the south,” he added.
Zahrani MP Michel Mousa said that the people had, by their will, imposed this first step towards the negotiations for peace “They took the power of decision from the decision-making countries,” Mousa said.