LITANI, Lebanon: Visitors often flock to the southern Khardali River to kayak and swim or hike along its banks, even though it runs through areas patrolled by UNIFILpeacekeepers enforcing U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the July 2006 War. The river is connected to the Qaraoun Lake in the Western Bekaa, and though the odd altercation between Hezbollah and the Israeli army is rare these days, security near the U.N.-demarcated Blue Line is still considered precarious. But this hasn’t stopped visitors to the area from taking advantage of its natural surroundings and the activities it offers.
Water issues, caused by the milder-than-usual winter that hit Lebanon this year, have not affected the river, which can be heard rippling along, along with the sounds of UNIFIL armored vehicles rumbling past. The area lies in the Arnoun valley and is considered secure.
Hunting is forbidden in the area; in fact carrying weapons is not permissible past the Army checkpoint to the south, where only the military and UNIFIL peacekeepers are allowed to brandish their guns. The area attracts hundreds of foreigners from many different countries, especially from the Arab world. But Lebanese tourists from the capital and the north also make their way there to water ski and go fishing in the river.
By the river is a canoe/kayak club. The manager responsible for activities, Ali Awada, told The Daily Star that visitors stayed in a natural reserve, where cutting down trees was forbidden.
“We have collaborated with the Lebanese Army, the Arnoun municipality and a number of environmental organizations to plant hundreds of trees, such as carob, along the river banks,” he said. “And we constantly clean the river and organize other environmental projects.”
Awada takes people who try to cut down trees seriously. In 2010 he was attacked by someone who didn’t like his policies.
“Thank God the Lebanese Army is by our side,” he said. “There is no place to hunt here, and strict restrictions are imposed on river fishing and fishermen, who have to put the fish back into the river if they are small.”
He said the Environment Ministry provided him with feed to throw in the river for the fish. “We have odd birds nesting all over the place, and they have started to increase in number,” he said.
The area is an important spot for migratory birds and provides ample viewing opportunities for watchers during key times of the year.
Visitors to the park like to paddle in canoes and kayaks along the river. The club organizes trips for these two activities in particular. A number of tourists stay in the reserve overnight.
“I came here from Sidon,” said visitor Mohammed Ateb.
He added that although the border with Israel was nearby, he and his family felt no sense of danger. “The area is safe and we were not influenced by the firing of rockets from here – the Lebanese Army protects us,” he said.
When The Daily Star visited, both sides of the Litani River had tens of families who had come from south Lebanon and the Greater Beirut area.
“The area is secure and the river is beautiful, and most importantly you don’t have to pay a thing to enjoy it,” said another tourist, Abed Rahman Qallit. “But it’s important to protect the river and the environment.
“We don’t pay attention to the noise of aircraft flying above us.”
Those fond of canoeing also have to be careful when navigating the river. The water sport is considered to be dangerous if precautions are not taken, as boats can easily overturn.
However, the popular sport is pushing the economic wheel in the town forward by creating job opportunities, according to Awada.
“People are safe here, and they should know the waters of the Khardali are waiting for them.”