Rice in Beirut as Fighting Enters 13th Day

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in Beirut to speak with Lebanese officials about the ongoing fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants. The violence has reportedly claimed more than 30 lives in Israel and 375 in Lebanon.

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NOAH ADAMS, host:

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

Coming up, will President Bush's United Nations ambassador get to keep his job?

But first, to Lebanon, where Israel continues its offensive against Hezbollah militants. The conflict, which began when Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, has now lasted nearly two weeks. More than 300 have died in Lebanon, more than 30 Israelis have been killed.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the Lebanese capital, Beirut, today. Rice met with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. And I'm joined now from Beirut by NPR's JJ Sutherland.

JJ, the secretary's left Beirut, I assume, we can assume, can we not, that she's still insistent on no immediate cease fire?

JJ SUTHERLAND reporting:

I think we can assume that. She did tell reporters on the plane that she urgently wants to end the fighting. She and President Bush did meet with representatives from Saudi Arabia yesterday in Washington who urged them to call for a cease fire.

But, you know, as you said, they really do not want something that returns the situation to the status quo ante. She did meet with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and also with the Speaker of the House, Nabi Beri, who's an ally of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

Now, Nasrallah apparently has told the Lebanese government they can negotiate some sort of peace deal. But it's really unclear what those, what those terms might be. International diplomats - everyone - including Israel, everyone seems to agree there should be some sort of international force on the border in the south of Lebanon.

But no one seems to quite know what Hezbollah thinks of that idea.

ADAMS: I assume no shelling during the time span of the secretary of state's visit, but what about the latest fighting? What have you heard?

SUTHERLAND: Well, there was shelling in the south of the country during her visit. The latest fighting in the south, Israeli ground forces have made additional, what they're calling incursions, meeting fierce resistance from Hezbollah fighters in villages down there.

In the southern city of Tyre, where I just spoke with NPR's Ivan Watson, the bombing today has apparently been fairly constant outside the city. And last night and this morning it became very close and very loud. Buildings were rattled across the city.

One story he told me was that last night in Khana, which is south of Tyre, two Lebanese Red Cross ambulances were transferring victims from one ambulance to another and Israeli missiles hit both ambulances, injured all six Red Cross workers and the three civilians being transferred. The father had his leg amputated. The 14-year-old son lost some toes, has serious scalp and abdomen wounds, and the boy's grandmother was also hurt.

And because of that strike, the Lebanese Red Cross is actually now saying it will not leave the city limits of Tyre. And he says there are 50 volunteers at the Lebanese Red Cross in Tyre who've been working very hard, but they're afraid if they actually go out and try to help people in some of these areas that are being hit, they'll be the next target.

ADAMS: And tell us, please, a bit about Beirut. Beirut was in a strong economic recovery. Things were looking up. This happens. What's the economy like right now?

SUTHERLAND: The economy is shattered. Across the country there are estimates ranging well over a billion dollars worth of infrastructure damage. But almost more heartbreaking, in some ways, is the businesses.

I spoke with a man last night who had opened two restaurants in the past year in Beirut, both of which were packed nightclubs. They said normally you couldn't even get to the bar for half an hour. I went in last night. There were maybe 10 people in there.

This is a Lebanese man who had left the country, decided to invest in the country after the political changes here, and he has lost everything. Now he says he can keep one of his restaurants open for maybe another two weeks and then he's going to fire everyone, sell everything he can, and leave the country.

ADAMS: NPR's JJ Sutherland talking with us from Beirut. Thank you, sir.

SUTHERLAND: Thank you, Noah.

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