Beirut Suffers Through Third Day of Air Attacks

Israeli air attacks and artillery shelling are being felt across Lebanon and its capital, Beirut. In addition to the attacks, the air, sea and land blockade Israel has placed on Lebanon appears to be holding.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. Here are some of the sounds of Beirut, Lebanon, on a day when the city is effectively under siege.

(Soundbite of explosions)

INSKEEP: For the third straight day, Israeli airplanes flew over the city. Israel struck the Beirut airport again and also continued a blockade of roads and highways. It's all in response to Wednesday's raid into northern Israel by Hezbollah guerillas. They're based in Lebanon. So far, the air strikes have killed some 60 people, most of them Lebanese civilians.

And we begin our coverage with NPR's Ivan Watson, who is in Beirut. And Ivan, what's the situation?

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Steve, I've counted at least five airstrikes outside the window of my hotel room since noon local time this morning. They've been sending up mushroom clouds of smoke and dust. The target appears to be Beirut Airport again, which juts out into the Mediterranean Sea. I saw two Israeli helicopters hovering a mile or two off the coast facing the airstrip before the first explosions. Five flights, passenger flights, were reported to have taken off from the airport this morning before these air strikes, despite a similar series of explosions against the airport yesterday.

INSKEEP: Imagine being a passenger on one of those planes. Now, Ivan, I gather that there were also some air strikes overnight. Have you had a chance to get out and look at the damage?

WATSON: Absolutely. There's a plume of smoke that's still arising from what appears to be a fire that's still burning a fuel depot near the airport that was hit overnight. The Israeli blockade appears to be working because the highway, as you mentioned, between the Syrian border and Beirut over Mt. Lebanon, was severed by attacks overnight. I had to drive in this morning on circuitous back roads. There was also an intense bombardment of southern Beirut, the so-called southern suburbs, which is a stronghold of Hezbollah. The Israeli military bombed two overpass bridges there and a series of nearby intersections that were only a couple of yards apart. It seemed designed to hamper movement of traffic through that area.

INSKEEP: Do all the Israeli targets count as military targets?

WATSON: Well, these explosions, these bombs and missiles were landing in the middle of intersections in very congested areas where there are shops and residences. There are civilian casualties. There's a hospital near one of those overpasses that had its windows blown out. The hospital staff said that they moved their patients into the basement after the first explosion. But they received 23 victims, they said, all civilians, two of whom died. I spoke with some of the survivors, a woman, for instance, who had had her back broken when she and her husband were fleeing the neighborhood during the bombardment last night and their vehicle was struck and her back was broken.

That said, it is a Hezbollah stronghold. There are Hezbollah members in plain clothes throughout that neighborhood running security around the bomb sites.

INSKEEP: Ivan, thanks very much.

WATSON: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ivan Watson in Beirut.

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