Hezbollah-Israeli Conflict Enters 7th Day

Israeli warplanes struck more targets in Lebanon as Hezbollah rockets rained on northern Israel in the seventh consecutive day of hostilities. New York Times reporter Steven Erlanger, reporting from Jerusalem, talks with Noah Adams about the latest efforts in the region to negotiate a cease-fire.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Noah Adams.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, in Lebanon, a TV station run by Hezbollah, the group battling Israel, manages to stay on the air.

ADAMS: But first, Hezbollah rockets have again struck the city of Haifa, in northern Israel, in the past few hours, and as Israeli jets continue to pound targets in Lebanon.

Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has renewed his demand for the return of two Israeli soldiers, captured by Hezbollah last week. And he says, Israel's offensive in Lebanon will continue until that goal is achieved.

New York Times bureau chief, Steven Erlanger, joins us now from Jerusalem.

Mr. Erlanger, could it be that simple? That Olmert would be willing to negotiate a ceasefire if the two soldiers are given back?

Mr. STEVEN ERLANGER (Bureau Chief, New York Times): No. It's not that simple. And I don't believe he would be willing to have a ceasefire on that basis. They've made it very clear that a ceasefire that doesn't do more than that would be a win for Hezbollah, and their aims are bigger. They want Hezbollah pushed back from the border with Israel. They want UN Security Council resolution 1559 implemented, which means disarming Hezbollah.

I think there'd be a ceasefire, short of full disarming of Hezbollah, but they'd want Hezbollah pulled back about 20 kilometers. They'd want their soldiers back. They'd want a complete cessation of rocket fire. Otherwise, I think, Olmert would have a very hard time justifying all this to his own people.

ADAMS: The idea - just the idea of disarming Hezbollah, would be quite a thing to achieve, to even start talking about.

Mr. ERLANGER: It would be very difficult. It is what the Security Council has demanded in its resolution of 2004. But like many Security Council resolutions, it has no way of implementing what it demanded, and it left the rather weak, hapless Lebanese government with a dilemma the Lebanese government chose not to pick up.

Israel's hoping, that through attacks on Hezbollah, it would be sufficiently weakened, that Lebanon with international help - possibly an international force - could then move down to govern its own border and police Hezbollah, to make sure that this kind of confrontation can't happen again.

ADAMS: Condoleeza Rice is apparently going to the region, but generally, what is the Bush administration doing at the moment, do you think?

Mr. ERLANGER: At the moment, the Bush administration, in my view, is buying Israeli's army time to further degrade Hezbollah.

You heard President Bush's off the cuff private comments at lunch with Tony Blair, and it made it very clear that he believes Israel was in the right on this one, and the real problem is Syria and Hezbollah. So my understanding is, Rice will only get moving after a few days, which would give the Israelis more time to continue their assault on Hezbollah.

ADAMS: Any indication now - let's talk about Hezbollah for a second. Would they be willing to return the soldiers, after this exchange of armament back and forth, and negotiate a stand down?

Mr. ERLANGER: Well, it's hard to know. They say no. They want to trade these Israeli soldiers they've captured, for at least three Lebanese prisoners that Israel has. But also, they did it in the first place, they said, in solidarity with the Palestinians of Gaza, who have been besieged by Israel after Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier inside Israel on June 25. So there are three kidnapped Israeli soldiers.

The hope would be there'd be some kind of package deal that would involve the release of these soldiers plus a cessation of hostilities on all sides, and a pullback of Israeli troops, et cetera. But there's a long way to go, it seems to me, and Hezbollah and the people holding the soldier in Gaza, have indicated no flexibility that I've heard.

ADAMS: Steven Erlanger, Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times.

Thank you, sir.

Mr. ERLANGER: Thank you.

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