Israel Steps Up Ground Operation Along Lebanon Border
DON GONYEA, host:
From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Don Gonyea.
Israeli warplanes struck cities and towns in southern Lebanon today and Hezbollah forces fired rockets into northern Israel. At least three civilians were killed in Lebanon and 13 were injured. In Israel, at least two people were killed and 25 injured. Israeli forces also pressed ground operations with tanks, bulldozers and foot soldiers.
NPR's Eric Westervelt is with Israeli forces. In a conversation taped earlier this morning, he described where he was and what was happening around him.
ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:
I'm in the northern Israeli village of Av-Aveen(ph), right across from the Lebanese village Maroun al-Ras, which the Israel defense forces moved in yesterday with armored infantry forces. And they say taken control of that town. But just a few minutes ago, we can see some artillery fire right on the ridge top, right across from where I'm looking. We can hear some small arms fire.
(Soundbite of gunfire)
WESTERVELT: So, if they have taken control of the town, it certainly isn't pacified completely because we see attack helicopters overhead and some continued artillery fire, both into the area of Maroun al-Ras and a little bit to the West. And it looks like Israeli forces continue to do some ground fighting in this village, just on the other side of the border.
GONYEA: Eric, the Israelis have said they do not intend to launch large-scale ground attacks. Does that appear to be the case, from what you've been able to see in the past two days or so?
WESTERVELT: That's right. Israeli forces, both soldiers on the ground and commanders you talk to, say, look, this is not some massive invasion. We're going to do pinpoint in-and-out operations. We're going to try to clear out Hezbollah bunkers, weapons caches, hardened position.
They found some tunnel networks that were sophisticated. And they say Hezbollah had six years to dig in, create fighting positions, arm themselves and prepare for this battle, but we're not going to go in with massive, you know, divisions of tanks.
But on the other hand, you're also seeing continued rocket fire into Israel. More today hit the city of Haifa, Israel's third largest city. More than 30 rockets have fallen already today. Yesterday, 120 rockets, which is one of the highest days we've seen - sorry, I'm seeing some rocket fire here. Hold on. Sorry, I just need to keep an eye on what's going on here.
So rocket fire continues. And after 12 days of pounding positions in south Lebanon, from the air and with heavy artillery, and now going in with ground operations and tanks to try to clean up some of these smaller villages, rocket fire's continuing.
Some Israelis are starting to question the strategy and wondering whether ground forces will have to go in in a greater scale to fight in these villages, and whether in fact air and artillery power is going to be enough to stop what appears to be the, you know, the continued firing of Katyusha rockets to civilian areas throughout towns in northern Israel.
GONYEA: Are there any civilians left in the town where you are?
WESTERVELT: I'm in Av-Aveen and it's mostly soldiers. I see a few civilians, but very few. We spoke with the rough equivalent of the mayor here, who said there's just very few people left. And we asked why he's sticking it out, and he said he wanted to give moral support to soldiers and he wanted to continue feeding some of the livestock around here.
A lot of people in this town make their living from chickens, livestock and orchards. A lot of the orchards are simply being unattended, but he wanted to stick around and try to keep some of the livestock alive. But very few people have stayed here. Most have fled southward.
This time, this conflict, even further south, as Hezbollah has increased the range of its rocket fire, Israelis have had to move further south.
GONYEA: NPR's Eric Westervelt in a conversation recorded earlier, from Israel's northern border with Lebanon.