Israeli Border Towns Absorb Rocket Attacks

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Israel's response to the capture of two of its soldiers by Hezbollah has been swift and dramatic. But many Israeli towns have also absorbed damage from Hezbollah rocket attacks.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Tens of thousands of Israelis in the northern border areas are hunkered down in bomb shelters or are fleeing south as Hezbollah rocket fire into Israel continues for a fourth straight day.

One of the hardest hit targets is the northern coastal city of Nahariya. NPR's Eric Westervelt is there.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

The Israeli army says nearly two dozen Katyusha rockets hit Nahariya Friday. More than 350 across the north over the last three days.

City workers here were trying to repair electric lines struck by an earlier rocket when more began to fall.

(Soundbite of explosions)

WESTERVELT: Those rockets struck a largely empty apartment building. Many residents here have already fled. Those that remain venture outside cautiously. 43-year-old Ria Coculan(ph) had just stepped out of her home and its hardened safe room to buy food for her family and a disabled mother when the latest barrage began to land.

Ms. RIA COCULAN (Nahariya Resident) (Through Translator): Fear, only fear. I'm afraid of it. We can get used to it, but I don't have any choice. I work here in the hospital and I have to be here.

WESTERVELT: Nahariya has been hit by Hezbollah fire before but it's been relatively quiet here since Israel pulled out of south Lebanon six years ago. Now residents say this is the worst violence they've seen.

Earlier in the day, a rocket struck a main downtown road in a building whose fa├žade is now badly pockmarked with shrapnel. The large central bus station just next to where the rocket landed is deserted, its shops closed. This normally buzzing beachfront tourist town is now eerily empty. A few people are still walking the streets, including a handful of security guards.

Mr. ADIR RAHN(ph) (Nahariya Security Guard): Well, you can see all the shattered glass everywhere. Luckily that's the closest I've been - a bit afraid to say the word yet.

WESTERVELT: Twenty-year-old student Adir Rahn and his father were called into work after the day shift guards were badly shaken up following the rocket strike just next door. Rahn is now pulling 15-hour guard shifts. Most of his friends have left town.

Mr. RAHN: They're all calling me, you're crazy, why are you staying? And come with us. And, well, someone has to stay behind and do the dirty job. And right now it's my father and I.

WESTERVELT: We're looking at tree limbs a few feet away that were downed by a rocket. We're looking at broken glass. You're doing your job next to where rockets have fallen.

Mr. RAHN: I just, I'm hoping for the best, I guess.

WESTERVELT: Israel continues to fight on two fronts - against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and now on the northern front against Hezbollah. Rahn says that Israeli air and artillery strikes in Lebanon are not enough to end the threat of cross-border attacks and rocket fire, and most residents here agree.

Mr. RAHN: Maybe send in some troops, some tanks. Push them back behind the range. The range is 20 kilometers, so push them 30 kilometers away from the border. Just push them back so they won't be able to hit us.

WESTERVELT: But Israel has been there before, nearly 25 years ago when ground forces invaded southern Lebanon, in part to halt rocket fire at Israeli towns. A two-decade-long occupation of the south ensued. Israel pulled out in 2000.

(Soundbite of bells ringing)

WESTERVELT: Every half hour, a police loudspeaker reminds residents to stay in bomb shelters. Medical officials in the north say so far more than 300 people have been hospitalized. Most were treated for light wounds, doctors say, as well anxiety attacks and stress. Ten people have been seriously wounded. Four civilians have been killed.

On Friday, just east of here, a Katyusha slammed into a home in Maron(ph) in the northern Galilee. A woman and her 5-year-old grandson were killed. And today four Hezbollah rockets hit the sea of Galilee resort city of Tiberius. It's the first time that city has seen combat since the 1973 Yom Kippur war, and it's one of the southernmost Israeli cities yet hit Hezbollah rockets. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Nahariya.

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