Mohammed Shehadi was not at home when the Israeli Army came calling for him here at 6 a.m. Monday.
The soldiers arrived in several trucks, about 15 armored personnel carriers and one American-built M60 tank. Loudspeakers blared through the streets of the village, ordering the men to report for questioning in the school and the women and children to remain at home.
It was another Israeli Army search of another Lebanese Shiite Moslem village east of Tyre, in the center of Lebanese resistance to the Israeli occupation.
In one house, the Israelis found two Soviet-made AK47 assault rifles, but it was not weapons that they came in search of in Maaroub. They came looking for Shehadi, described as in his late 20s and director of the local school but more importantly a leader of the Shiite militia Amal, which has carried out most of the attacks on Israeli forces in the area.
When they were unable to find Shehadi, the Israelis got a bulldozer and destroyed the home of his father. Later, Israeli Army officials said the house that was destroyed contained weapons. Observers from the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, who were in the village throughout the search, said, however, that no weapons were found in the house.
It was a routine, uneventful search by the current standards in southern Lebanon. No one was arrested and there was no gunfire. Still, two men were killed, their bodies found in the morning south of the Litani River by a patrol of Finnish soldiers from the U.N. peace-keeping force.
The Israelis later said that their soldiers in Maaroub killed "two terrorists who tried to flee the area." It was not clear whether these were the bodies discovered by the Finnish patrol.
At mid-morning on Monday, the village was quiet, with only a few women and children visible on the front porches of their homes. The men of the village were gathered in the schoolyard, hidden behind a high stone wall. Above them, a single soldier, part of the French U.N. contingent stationed in the area around the village, peered down at the men from the minaret of the mosque.
The U.N. soldiers were here throughout the day, bystanders at another village search. There are 5,800 of them attached to the peace-keeping force, and almost daily now they are engaged in an elaborate game of cat-and-mouse with the Israeli Army units that conduct searches in the mountain villages that rise steeply east of the coast.
The Israelis usually begin their searches shortly after dawn. The U.N. units track their movements, and rush troops and observers to the village that is the Israeli target of the day. Inside the villages, U.N. officers protest the destruction of houses, but otherwise they can do little but watch and wait.
"Certainly, we serve as a restraining influence," said Timur Goksel, the U.N. spokesman in southern Lebanon.
Yesterday morning, the U.N. force's radio network crackled with reports on the search of Maaroub. Finnbatt, the code name for the Finnish U.N. contingent located east of the village, reported the approach of five Israeli armored personel carriers to Frenchbatt, the French units stationed around Maaroub.
The radio reported the arrival of an Israeli Army helicopter in Maaroub, and the progress of two automobiles toward the village. The U.N. soldiers said the cars carried Israeli civilian security agents, who regularly question guerrilla suspects rounded up by the Army in the villages.
"The IDF Israel Defense Forces has destroyed one house in Maaroub," a U.N. observer reported over the radio shortly before noon. "They ignored our protests. No reason was given except that it was the house of a terrorist."
The Israelis began their crackdown on the Shiite mountain villages last month in response to increasing guerrilla assaults on Israeli forces in the area. The vast search operations, the continuing guerrilla attacks and the fear that permeates the atmosphere have transformed the look of the southern Lebanon countryside.
The narrow, crumbling coastal highway no longer has huge traffic jams. Israeli military convoys are seldom seen on the road, and when they are, Lebanese drivers often pull off the road and stop. This, a U.N. official explained, is a new local custom designed to keep nervous Israeli gunners from firing on suspected suicide car-bomb drivers such as the one who last week killed 12 Israeli soldiers.
Ripened fruit hangs heavily from trees in the orange groves that line the coastal highway. Much of the fruit will not be picked this season. It is dangerous to be in the orange groves, where Israeli patrols look for hidden guerrillas.
There are also fewer people around to do the work. Many of the villages in the area look like ghost towns, evidence of flight from the area.
"There is a shortage of flour, fuel, cooking oil," Lt. Col. Hannu Paronen, deputy commander of the Finnish U.N. contingent, said, "and the people are afraid. So they go."
For those who remain, southern Lebanon offers an endless variety of surrealistic sights.
In the town of Bazuriye, two Israeli soldiers, assault rifles at the ready, peered around the wall of a building. Four others crouched on the other side of the road. From the outside, Bazuriye appeared deserted, but the young Israeli soldiers were clearly tense and frightened, looking for something or someone. Fifty yards down the road, three French U.N. soldiers watched the scene from a jeep. From their relaxed manner, the French could have been watching a tennis match.
South of Tyre, a Lebanese taxi carrying an NBC television correspondent and camera crew had stopped to change a flat tire. The NBC men were being served pizza and champagne by a southern Lebanese merchant. The merchant, who knows the television crew and spotted them on the road, is part of the local support system that offers assistance to western journalists who reach southern Lebanon.
Nearer the Israeli border, three automobiles with Lebanese license plates rapidly overtook traffic on the coastal highway and began closing in from behind on a lumbering Israeli Army convoy. With the fear of car-bomb attacks, this is normally a suicidal maneuver and most drivers keep a healthy distance from Israeli military traffic on the roads.
But suddenly, men in the three cars held up small signs with Hebrew lettering, identifying themselves as agents of Israel's civilian General Security Services, apparently in a hurry to get back to Israel.
It is in this increasingly tense and bizarre atmosphere that soldiers from the Israeli Army and the U.N. battalions encounter each other in and around the Shiite villages.
"We are working in the same area, and we have to work hard not to have a very strained relationship with the Israelis," said Col. Tenhunen Juha, commander of the Finnish battalion. "Within the U.N. mandate, what we can do is try to keep the violence down. That means we have to be able to persuade the Israelis to let us witness what is happening. It's not so easy always, but we have to do it that way."
The U.N. force, with soldiers from 10 nations, has been stationed in southern Lebanon since 1978, after the first Israeli invasion. They were brushed aside when Israel invaded again in 1982, and since then the two groups of armed men have shared the same small patch of Lebanese territory.
Juha, who is completing a one-year tour as Finnbatt commander and has watched the Lebanese resistance grow and the Israelis take increasingly harsh countermeasures, said: "Sometimes it is difficult to hold your tongue, but we have to have patience. It is the only way we can influence what is happening."
By early afternoon Monday, the Israelis were gone from Maaroub, moving east into the Finnish U.N. zone where for the last week they have been camping out, choosing a different location nightly to reduce the chance of a guerrilla attack.
Two observers from the U.N. headquarters in Naqura remained in the village, gathering details of the search and photographing the destroyed house. Ahmed Salim Shehadi, father of the man the Israelis were seeking, and his family, posed for a news photographer on top of the rubble of their house.
Fayad Dimashk, a school teacher, was among the men rounded up and questioned. He said the Israelis entered the village at 6 a.m. with loudspeakers, ordering the men to gather in the school.
After brief questioning about weapons and the whereabouts of Mohammed Shehadi, with no threats and no one being hurt, Dimashk said, the men of Maaroub were addressed by an Israeli Army officer.
"He told us that in about 10 weeks they will be surrendering this area, going back to Israel," Dimashk said. "He said they hoped we will not fight them, but that we didn't welcome them in a very good manner.
"The officer said they hoped to leave Lebanon without any dangers to them and we should not do anything to them while they are here. He said they hoped to visit us sometime with their families, and that we and our families should visit them in Israel."