The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) says up to 90 per cent of the population of southern Lebanon’s Christian villages have left their homes since the war between Israel and Hamas began in October.
Since the beginning of the military operation in Gaza, tensions have been rising between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah – and those living closest to the border with Israel are seeking shelter from daily rocket fire.
ACN says more than 130 people have died in Lebanon because of violence in the border region, including 17 civilians, according to media reports.
While Israeli strikes have been directed at Hezbollah targets, located mostly in Shi‘a areas, a number of Christian villages have also suffered collateral damage.
In Alma Al-Shaab, the worst-affected village, 15 homes have been destroyed by missiles, according to data obtained by ACN.
While Christian families in Beirut have offered accommodation to displaced families, some of those who fled have since returned to their homes because of a shortage of long-term shelter in other parts of the country.
Xavier Stephen Bisits, ACN’s Head of Projects in Lebanon, said:
“The bombing is still happening daily. The streets are very quiet.”
He added that some agricultural fields have also been damaged, causing concern for olive and tobacco harvests: "[they] are an important source of income for the local communities, but farming has stalled because people are afraid to go out to their fields.
“There is an economic impact on these families, many of whom are already poor as a result of Lebanon’s ongoing financial collapse.”
Xavier Bisits said that all priests and clergy have remained in the villages to minister to those too old or frail to relocate: “The Maronite Bishop of Tyre recently celebrated Mass in the village of Rmeich, under threat of bombs.
“It is a testament to the solid faith and resilience of the people in this region.
“The Melkite Bishop of Tyre also went on a tour to check on the faithful in the villages along the border.
“He was clearly affected by the haunting emptiness he witnessed in Yaroun, where only a few young men remain, watching over the houses, including a blind man who cannot bear to leave.”
ACN says there are fears the fighting could escalate, with the present conflict bringing back memories of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War.
Local religious leaders told ACN that another war would be a major threat to the historic Christian presence in the area.