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Late night calls from Israel spook jittery Lebanese

July 22, 2006

Late night calls from Israel spook jittery Lebanese

BEIRUT (Reuters) - At first, Bushra Khayyat tried to ignore the incessant ringing of the phone at her house in Lebanon's southern port city of Sidon. It was 4 a.m., but she finally got out of bed. 

"I said hello and got a recorded message from Israel," she told Reuters. 

In clear Arabic, the strong voice on the phone said: "Oh Lebanese people, we tell you not to follow Hizbollah. We will continue to strike and no one will bring your prisoners back from Israel except the Lebanese government." 

Other residents of the south have received similar calls. 

"My grandmother got two calls at 5 and 6 in the morning saying the Israeli state would not stop the attacks and asking everyone to leave the area south of the Litani," said one woman who is stranded in Sidon. "She slammed the phone down." 

Israel has dropped flyers on Lebanon during its 10-day-old conflict with Hizbollah guerrillas, warning people to stay away from the group's strongholds, warning them to evacuate their villages in the south or caricaturing the chief of Hizbollah. 

But there was something eerie about the phone calls. 

"It was a shock to get a call from Israel," said Khayyat, who has since fled the bombardment to Syria and then France. 

"I have caller ID on my landline and when I checked it came up as 'out of area'. It's not that I was scared, I just wished I could talk back to the voice but it was a recorded message." 

Khayyat got a similar call two nights later, this time answered by her maid, who, panicking when she heard a voice announce "this is Israel", immediately put down the phone. 

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