Fighting Constant Along Lebanon-Israel Border
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
DON GONYEA, host:
And I'm Don Gonyea in for Steve Inskeep.
(Soundbite of rocket fire)
The Israeli Army continues to battle Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon. Fierce fighting has raged for several days, but it has done nothing to stop. Hezbollah rockets from raining down on northern Israel. Today, a fresh barrage of rockets slammed into the northern Israeli city of Haifa. Much of the current fighting is centered in and around a major Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon.
NPR's Ivan Watson is in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, and he joins us now. Ivan, please give us the latest on the fighting.
IVAN WATSON reporting:
Well, we've been watching Hezbollah and Israel trade fire in the hills south of Tyre. There's the steady low thud of what sounds like incoming artillery. You often can't see where it's landing. And then sometime midmorning, local time, I saw a series of rockets, Hezbollah rockets, being fired, at least a dozen of them; they were glowing and going out one after another, leaving behind a trail of smoke. This was just from countryside, launched a few miles south of Tyre in the direction of Israel. And we've since gotten reports that the Israeli city of Haifa was hit sometime after that rocket launch.
Now, soon after that we heard the buzz of an Israeli spy drone overhead and then suddenly the roar of Israeli warplanes. You can sometimes see them throwing chaff of to throw off surface-to-air missiles that could be fired against them. And then we heard the rumble of airstrikes on hilltops and villages just a few miles away from our vantage point. This has been going on in this area for more than a week.
GONYEA: And talk about what we know now of the objectives of the Israeli Army.
WATSON: Well, Israel has said its goal is not to reoccupy southern Lebanon. It ended that occupation in the year 2000. It says its goal is instead to destroy the threat that it says Hezbollah poses to it, especially the ability to fire rockets from the border area.
They now appear to be trying to take the town of Bent Jbail. It's located less than ten miles from the Israeli border. Locals describe it as a large town on a high point. And from there, they say, you can control the surrounding territory from there. And it was a major base, they say, for the Israeli military during its long occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000, again. It is now a Hezbollah stronghold. Israel has said that it has captured the village Maroun al-Ras that's on the road from the Israeli border to Bent Jbail. And now its military has encircled Bent Jbail and there is fierce fighting underway there.
GONYEA: And, again, Ivan, you're in the city of Tyre. How are these ongoing clashes effecting the people living around there and elsewhere in southern Lebanon?
WATSON: Well, the mayor of Tyre says that some 70 percent of the population has fled this town and the surrounding areas. There's a steady stream of people trying to get out, those who have taken longer to flee. There have been frequent Israeli warnings to evacuate southern Lebanon.
The death toll has been quite high for the civilian population. Yesterday, the United Nations Children's Fund put out a statement saying that an estimated more than one-third of the total Lebanese dead - and their figures were more than 340 dead since this conflict began - more than one-third of them are children. And we have seen a large number of civilian casualties here, dead and wounded. 82 civilians buried in a mass grave in Tyre last Friday.
GONYEA: Okay, thanks much, Ivan.
WATSON: You're welcome, Don.
GONYEA: NPR's Ivan Watson is in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre.