Tenuous Calm Settles over Beirut

The south of Lebanon continues to be pounded by Israeli warplanes, while Hezbollah fighters are firing longer-range missiles into northern Israel. Meanwhile, Beirut is slowly, warily, coming back to life. Each day that goes by means more shops open, more people go back to work, go shopping, share a coffee with a friend, and return to their daily routines.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Israelis rejected a plea by the United Nations for a 72-hour truce in the fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerillas. Israel says they have already opened a corridor for humanitarian relief.

Israeli warplanes continue to pound southern Lebanon, but troops have withdrawn from the border town of Bint Jbail, where fighting has been fierce.

Hezbollah fighters have stepped up their rocket attacks, firing longer-range missiles into northern Israel.

But in Beirut today there seems to be a tenuous calm settling over the city. NPR's Jackie Northam reports.

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

For many people in Beirut, this sound must be like sweet music to their ears.

(Soundbite of whistle and car horn)

NORTHAM: This gridlock of cars and motorcycles in downtown Beirut, with the accompanying horns and curses, may be exasperating, but it also means Beirut is slowly, warily coming back to life. You can still hear the occasional whine of Israel unmanned aircraft drone as well as warplanes when they fly low over the city.

But for three days, Israel has not dropped bombs in or near Beirut. Each day that goes by means more shops open, more people go back to work, go shopping, share a coffee with a friend, all the routines of daily life. But this is still Beirut, this is still Lebanon, and as fast as they go up, the shutters on storefronts can slam down.

And no one is under any disillusion that many other parts of Lebanon are still under bombardment: the eastern part of the Beqaa Valley, which is a Hezbollah stronghold, strategic targets in the north, and in south Lebanon. The fighting in the south has shifted from the ground to the air. Israeli warplanes continue to target homes, roads, schools, mosques, anyplace where there many be a Hezbollah rocket launcher.

Hezbollah continues to send scores of rockets into northern Israel. On Friday, the guerilla group fired a new type of rocket, one that goes longer than any of the hundreds of others it's already launched.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice returns to the region today. There are reports she will be back in Lebanon to meet with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who continues to call for an immediate ceasefire to end the destruction of his country and stop the suffering of hundreds of thousands of his people.

Israel is not guaranteeing safe passage for relief convoys. Now there are severe food and clean water shortages in the south and no end in sight to the fighting between and Israel and Hezbollah guerillas.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, Beirut.

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