Israel Claims Progress in Fight with Hezbollah

Rockets fell on Israel overnight, the first after-dark Hezbollah attack. Israel, however, says it is making progress against the militants, saying it has destroyed at least 10 of Hezbollah's long-range Iranian-made missiles. Israel says it also stopped an attempt by Hezbollah guerrillas to cross the border into Israel.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

The weeklong fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon shows no signs of ending. Israel has carried out dozens of air raids against targets in Lebanon today. Some two-dozen people were killed.

In the last week, at least 200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, have been killed in the airstrikes. Israel says it has also destroyed at least ten long- range Iranian missiles and stopped an attempt by Hezbollah guerillas to cross the border into Israel. Hezbollah fired dozens of Katyusha rockets at Israel overnight, wounding at least five Israelis.

NPR's Linda Gradstein is in the northern Israel town of Akko, and she joins me now. And what's the situation today where you are?

LINDA GRADSTEIN: Well, overnight about 50 Katyusha rockets were fired throughout northern Israel. Five people were wounded. One of the rockets hit a hospital. It's the first time that they've been fired at night. Just a few minutes ago, in fact, there was a siren and I heard the thump of a rocket landing. So it's continuing, although Israel security sources say they believe that they've hit about 30 percent of Hezbollah's long-range rockets; those are rockets that could hit Tel Aviv; they have a range of up to 100 miles. And Israel says they feel that they're hitting Hezbollah's capability, and they say that they want to make sure that Hezbollah will be disarmed completely.

MONTAGNE: The fighting has disrupted normal life in Israel. More than a million citizens are in bomb shelters for five days now. The port in Haifa is closed. These Katyusha rockets are continuing to fall.

GRADSTEIN: That's right. And certainly in northern Israel, which is from Haifa northward, normal life has completely come to a stop. Once you get south of Haifa, life is more or less normal. The army has asked people to show greater alertness and that if there is a siren to go into the sealed rooms, a bomb shelter in the apartments. So life really has been disrupted and Israelis are getting tired of it. But they say that they're willing to stick it out if it means that Hezbollah will no longer threaten northern Israel.

MONTAGNE: And, Linda, what about diplomatic efforts to end this crisis?

GRADSTEIN: Well, United Nations officials are here today. They met with Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and at the end of the meeting she said that, you know, Israel wants to make sure that Iran and Syria will not be able to rearm Hezbollah. Israel's very cautious about efforts for a ceasefire. What they say they're afraid of is that there will be a ceasefire and then things will go back to the way they were before when Hezbollah had more than 10,000 Katyusha rockets aimed at Israel and could fire them whenever they want.

The sense among both Israeli officials and the Israeli public is that Israel didn't start this conflict, this current conflict; it started when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid exactly a week ago. But many Israelis say now that it's started they want to finish it. They don't want the situation to go back to what it was before and they say they're willing to stick it out. At the same time, privately, Israeli officials say they think they really don't have more than a week. That within a week the international community is going to step in.

So today, in her meeting with U.N. officials, Tzipi Livni said that Israel doesn't want Iran and Syria to rearm Hezbollah. At the same time, she said Israel will cooperate with the international community. So Israeli military officials say privately that they know it's a matter probably of days before they're going to have to end their strikes on Lebanon.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

NPR's Linda Gradstein speaking from the Israeli town of Akko, just south of the Lebanese border.

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