Combat Eases in Lebanon, Rice Returns to Israel

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Ground combat came nearly to a halt Saturday between the Israeli army and the forces of Hezbollah in Lebanon, as Israel pulled its troops out of the Lebanese town of Bint Jbail. But Israel kept up its air and artillery barrages of southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah continued to fire rockets into Israel. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rice has returned to Israel for further talks.


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Ground combat came nearly to a halt today between the Israeli army the forces of Hezbollah in Lebanon. But Israel kept up its air and artillery barrages of southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah rockets continued to fall inside Israel.

This, as Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice returned to the region for talks about U.S. proposals to end the violence.

In a moment, we'll hear how some Lebanese are coping with the conflict, but we began with NPR's Mike Shuster with the latest from northern Israel.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

Israel has been steadily reducing the number of troops near Bint Jbail since Wednesday when fierce fighting there and in nearby Maroun al-Ras left nine Israeli soldiers dead and 25 wounded.

That encounter with Hezbollah also led the Israeli military leadership to question its ground strategy and to pull its troops back from Bint Jbail, which is about 2.5 miles inside Lebanon. That was completed today, the army announced, but Israeli tanks and artillery continued to pound the area.

While the strategists debate what to do next, Israel mounted scores of air strikes against targets mostly in southern Lebanon. Reuters reported that one Israeli air strike on a house killed a woman and six children.

Scores of Hezbollah rockets were reported today to have hit numerous locations in Israel, including Acko and Nahariya on the Mediterranean, and the inland cities of Safed and Tiberius. No one was reported killed.

Secretary of State Rice arrived in Jerusalem amid reports that the U.S. has put together a proposal to end the fighting that involves the establishment of a multi-national force for southern Lebanon, a security zone along the Israeli-Lebanese border, and the expansion of Lebanese government authority in areas now controlled by Hezbollah.

The U.S. is also preparing to incorporate this plan into a proposal to the UN security council as early as Tuesday.

There were indications from the Lebanese government that Hezbollah was open to elements of this plan. The Lebanese government wants an immediate ceasefire, but Israel appears committed to continuing its offensive.

In an appearance on television, Hezbollah's leader, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened more missile attacks on central Israel if the offensive is not stopped.

Still, the difficulty Israel has encountered in trying to destroy Hezbollah's capacity to hit it with rockets has resulted in a complete reevaluation of Israel's initial war aims. Now, according to a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Israel will not seek to disarm Hezbollah if an international force can take up positions along the border and Hezbollah agrees to pull back.

Mike Shuster, NPR News. Near the Israeli-Lebanese border.

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