Israel Expects Two More Weeks of Fighting

Israeli officials say they expect the military campaign targeting Hezbollah forces and rocket sites in Lebanon to last at least two more weeks. Israeli ground troops have entered southern Lebanon to raid Hezbollah posts. Meanwhile, Hezbollah rockets continue to hit northern Israel.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

For now, though, NPR's Ivan Watson joins us from Beirut. Ivan, as we've heard so far today, a lot of fighting and action is focused in southern Lebanon. What are you hearing there?

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Well, Hezbollah is claiming that it has been fighting Israeli soldiers at four incursion points along the frontier. And it claims to have destroyed three tanks and killed and injured a number of Israeli soldiers. The Israeli Defense Forces confirm two fatalities so far.

Along that border, though, before today, there has been steady Israeli artillery fire landing around villages in this area. Residents of the village of Sarifa are claiming more than a dozen dead and wounded as a result of Israeli strikes that brought down several houses.

And there are still large numbers of civilians in these border villages and areas. We spoke to some elderly residents of the border village of Adaisa(ph) today. They said their electricity had been knocked out. There was no fuel to run the village generator because they couldn't bring any fuel in, the roads were too dangerous to drive, and that bread was being rationed to the villages. And there were even people fighting over food.

It sounds very grim, with people sleeping in garages and under staircases. And they're afraid to leave the village by car, because there have been several lethal Israeli strikes against vehicles carrying evacuees, leaving on roads from southern Lebanon.

CHADWICK: Ivan, you mentioned these incursions along the border here, Israeli troops going into southern Lebanon. But from the reports that we get, these are - this is not a full-scale invasion. The Israelis are not trying to actually occupy southern Lebanon.

WATSON: At this stage, it doesn't sound like a full-scale invasion. The Israeli Defense Forces indicated it does not want to occupy Lebanon again. It fought a disastrous war of attrition against Lebanon - against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon - after it invaded in 1982.

And Hezbollah was created during that period. It did not exist before Israeli occupied the south of the country. And then it dubbed itself as a resistance force against occupation.

CHADWICK: Well, Israel does say it's trying to destroy the threat that Hezbollah poses - in southern Lebanon - to it. What kinds of targets are the Israelis saying that they're hitting in these villages?

WATSON: At least here in Beirut, I've been watching Israeli aircraft repeatedly bomb southern Beirut, the Shiite Muslim neighborhoods that are a stronghold for Hezbollah. And they've been burning for days, these neighborhoods.

In addition to that, I've seen gas stations that have been hit, in towns south of Beirut as well as bridges, factories, the airport, as well as Lebanese army bases. That is even though, in the past, Israel has called on the relatively weak Lebanese government and the army to help replace Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.

Today, there was a strange strike on two parked construction trucks that were parked in a vacant lot in a Christian neighborhood of northern Beirut. And these strikes all around the country, not just in the Hezbollah heartlands, have pushed some Lebanese, who initially criticized Hezbollah for capturing the two Israeli soldiers last week, which touched off this crisis, to now denounce Israel for punishing the entire country, they say.

CHADWICK: Ivan, we heard a few moments ago from an American who was leaving Beirut by boat. How is the evacuation of foreigners progressing in general, for Americans and others who are caught there?

WATSON: It's picking up pretty dramatically. Several ships, have been leaving, a day from the port here in Beirut, since Monday. And today's ship that was carrying about a thousand Americans, it was the cruise ship, Orient Queen, it was loading those Americans on. They were being processed through an air-conditioned tent for a passport check. And strangely, that tent was decorated with tourist posters of Beirut as these Americans were fleeing to safety in Cyprus.

Another ship today was carrying Europeans, loading about 500 of them. There have also been some helicopter flights for emergency cases. There's a huge population of foreigners here, Alex. U.S., Canada, France, and Britain, each of those countries has more than 10,000 of their own citizens in this country.

A British government official has said that the scale of this evacuation operation will eventually be bigger than the evacuation of Dunkirk in World War II.

CHADWICK: NPR's Ivan Watson in Beirut. Ivan, thank you.

WATSON: You're welcome, Alex.

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