A strange calm prevails in bombed-out south Lebanon

My translator laughs that we'll be in Israel before we see a United Nations battalion. We've been driving south from Beirut for more than two hours. Tyre, Qana, Bidikin, Tibrin, Kafra - the names of southern Lebanese villages flash by - somewhat familiar after Israel's recent war with Hizbullah. Potholes litter the roads and bombed-out buildings silhouette the landscape. One residential complex in particular stands out. Its front and side walls have been blasted away - in a bizarre way it reminds me of a child's doll house in which you can peek into all the rooms from the open side. On the second floor of this three-storey building sits a man and two women. Ahmad Grabi lives here with his wife and 10 children. He laughs when I approach and ask if we can enter. "There's nothing to keep you out," he chuckles, delighting in his own sense of humor before jumping up to make us a pot of hot black coffee. Downstairs the constant hammering of metal chiselling stone reverberates through the tiny village of Kafra. You can't quite see Israel from here - but you can certainly see the destruction from the recent war. "We are working all day and all night to fix our house," Ahmad remarks. "Half our home was bombed away and we are living now in three rooms - in what used to be our kitchen, dining room and one bedroom." The 65-year-old restaurant owner lost his business and one distant relative. "The situation between Israel and Lebanon is very bad. This is the third time our house has been bombed. All the time Israel attacks and then lies to say that it was because Hizbullah was bombing it. Israel is violating the airspace. It doesn't respect the United Nations resolution. If Israel comes again into our territory, we will send more Katyushas across the border." The threat, for the moment, is a wasted one. The mood in the village is calm and residents here don't expect a repeat of the recent war - at least not any time soon. Lebanese soldiers dot the landscape every few hundred metres. They won't talk to journalists and simply wave us through their checkpoints. Finally a United Nations convoy drives past. We follow it down an unpaved road to a nearby gas station. The group of 15 officers belongs to the Belgium contingent and have come to repair a vehicle. "It's very calm, we don't have problems," says Sgt. Dimitri Brams. "The people are very nice to us and the border is quiet. There are some overflights by Israel, but that's all." Sgt. Brams says the Belgian mission is focused on disarming mines and cluster bombs - and treating the local population in a hospital they brought over. But Ebrahim Mehdi, the owner of a small cigarette stall, overhears the conversation and later tells me he's noticed the troops almost daily searching the area for tunnels where Hizbullah guerrillas store their weapons and explosives. Not that he'll give us any more details. Everyone here is a Hizbullah man and deeply suspicious of strangers. Khodor Noureldine, a member of the political council of Hizbullah, points to the extensive damage in southern Lebanon and blames the government for not doing anything. "Yes the situation between Israel and Hizbullah is quiet for the moment. But that's because we've got our own internal problems to sort out. The war has been over for more than two months but nothing has been done in this region." Noureldine says Hizbullah is agitating for more representation in government for no other reason than that it deserves it. "We don't trust this government and from our experience before and after the war, this government is not ready to rebuild Lebanon and take it to development and stability."•