The men and boys of the village, their faces grim and their voices low, moved slowly away from the cemetery along the hot, dusty main village road.
Inside the cemetery, the immediate family remained huddled around the freshly dug gravesite, the final resting place of Hassan Sayi. At the age of 24, Sayi was killed in Beirut, fighting, his neighbors here said today, for the control of this and the other cities and villages of southern Lebanon that recently saw an end to almost three years of Israeli military occupation.
Sayi was a fighter in the Shiite Moslem militia Amal that has taken almost full control of the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut. The Lebanese capital is far removed from this village located just northeast of the port city of Tyre, but to his friends here, Sayi died in a defense of his home.
"We think fighting in Beirut is the same as fighting in southern Lebanon," said Hussein Fawaz, a local Amal leader here, shortly after the funeral. "We fight in Beirut to protect the south."
Amal went into the Beirut refugee camps to disarm the Palestine Liberation Organization guerrillas who have returned there. The militia, the strongest force in southern Lebanon now that the Israeli Army almost has completed its withdrawal, is determined that the Palestinians never again will use southern Lebanon as a base from which to attack Israel.
At best, the return of the PLO to its former strongholds could mean more suffering for the residents of southern Lebanon when the Israelis mount their inevitable counterstrike. At worst, it could mean another Israeli invasion and perhaps permanent Israeli occupation.
The Israelis withdrew from this area on April 29. To the residents, it marked the first time that Israel was forced to abandon Arab land that was taken by force. "We conquered the Israelis," said Ali Jaber, a key Amal political figure in southern Lebanon.
Buoyed by that experience, Amal, which was in the forefront of the resistance to the Israeli occupation, appears to have taken firm control of this area and is riding a wave of public support in its effort to seal off southern Lebanon from the PLO guerrillas farther north.
One result of the militia's strength and lack of serious armed rivals has been to spare this region much of the agony that other parts of Lebanon experienced as the Israelis withdrew. Each pullback by the Israeli Army opened up a vacuum, into which rival Lebanese militias rushed to fight for control.
In 1983, Christian and Druze militias fought bitterly for control of Chouf Mountains. Earlier this year, the Israeli withdrawal from Sidon and the surrounding area was followed quickly by clashes between the Christians and their Moslem and Palestinian rivals.
But this has not happened in Tyre, or here or in any of the other villages of the area where Amal is unchallenged for the moment. The result is that places which resembled ghost towns in the last days of the Israeli occupation have sprung back to life.
"Life is basically normal," said Nasib Basma, a merchant in Tyre, adding a complaint about skyrocketing prices that have hurt his business. The streets of Tyre are jammed with traffic, and in the orange groves that line the coastal highway, the fruit is being harvested.
With the Israelis finally gone, the major threat to this sense of normalcy is now seen as the PLO. Throughout the Israeli occupation, Amal leaders vowed that they would prevent a return of the Palestinian guerrillas to their old bases. They now appear to be making good on the pledge.
"Amal is saying that the days of war in southern Lebanon are over," said a longtime observer of the region's politics and conflicts. "The Palestinians can fight their wars somewhere else. Palestine is an Arab cause, and if they all fight together, that is okay, but it should not be fought illegally from southern Lebanon."
But for PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, there is no better place from which to continue the Palestinians' "armed struggle" against Israel. "The only hope that Arafat has left is southern Lebanon," noted an official in the area. "Shouting from Beirut is like shouting from Tunis."
This view of the PLO as a threat has placed Amal in a curious if unspoken alliance with Israel, whose principal aim remains keeping the Palestinian guerrillas as far from its borders as possible.
It could, in the view of some, involve into a tacit understanding between the Shiite militia and Israel, each working against the Palestinians for their own purposes. But if it does, Amal leaders made clear today, it will only be because of a rare convergence of interests, and not because the people of southern Lebanon remember the Israelis with fondness.
"As we said before when the Israelis were here, we are going to liberate our country and have a peaceful life," said Jaber, the Amal political official. "We don't want any interference, and we will defend against any interference, from Israel or others. We are not going to make our situation like it is in Sidon."
Jaber said Amal has prevented Palestinian guerrillas from reaching southern Lebanon from Beirut and is keeping a close watch on the Palestinian refugee camps in this area, which contain relatively few armed guerrillas. Beyond that, he said, the militia, its confidence boosted by the Israeli pullback, will continue its resistance until the Israelis and the Israeli-supported South Lebanon Army also abandon their so-called "security zone" along the Israeli-Lebanese border.
"The security zone belongs to Lebanon, and we are not going to stop until we liberate all the land," Jaber said.