Lebanon Prepares Mass Graves in Tyre

A Lebanese army soldier marks a name on a wooden coffin. i i

A Lebanese army soldier marks a name on a wooden coffin before it is carried to a refrigerated truck and taken to a hospital in Tyre, Lebanon, Aug. 2, 2006. Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images
A Lebanese army soldier marks a name on a wooden coffin.

A Lebanese army soldier marks a name on a wooden coffin before it is carried to a refrigerated truck and taken to a hospital in Tyre, Lebanon, Aug. 2, 2006.

Nicolas Asfouri/AFP/Getty Images

Israel has stepped up its military offensive against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon during a third week of hostilities in the region. Officials say more than 500 Lebanese civilians have been killed since the conflict began, and more mass burials are planned Monday in the southern port city of Tyre.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Just before dawn today in the Middle East, Israeli commandos flew by helicopter into the town of Balbec in northern Lebanon. They raided a hospital and captured five members of Hezbollah - that according to the Israeli army.

Hezbollah says no, only civilians were in the hospital at the time. But the raid did lead to two hours of fighting. More than a dozen Lebanese civilians were killed.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

For its part, Hezbollah today fired the most rockets into Israel in a single day since the conflict began three weeks ago.

NPR's Ivan Watson is in Tyre, Lebanon - both a Hezbollah stronghold and a target of many of Israel's air strikes.

And Ivan, I understand you actually had your tape recorder rolling while Hezbollah was firing these rockets.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

That's right, Madeleine. We started recording a series of rocket launches. Here you can hear two of these rockets going off at one time.

Let's take a listen now.

(Soundbite of explosion)

(Soundbite of shriek, crowd chatter)

WATSON: Now, Madeleine, this was quite startling. You can hear people speaking in English. These are a group of foreign journalists. It's startling because it's the closest we've heard rockets fired to the center of this town of Tyre, and there were a series of rockets launched throughout the day.

Now, in this instance, we saw six smoke trails going out in the direction of Israel. And then, within minutes, there was a puff of white smoke and then grey smoke rising from the area where those rockets were launched from. We presume that was some kind of an Israeli air strike.

And then moments later, there was actually a Red Cross freighter ship that was docked here in Tyre delivering humanitarian supplies. It steamed out of the port at top speed, I would assume because the crew was terrified at the possibility of being caught in the crossfire here.

And once again, this was just the latest in a series of Hezbollah rocket attacks launched from areas around Tyre today.

BRAND: It's been reported that Hezbollah fired over 150 rockets today, and that seems like a lot. And you have, as I understand, spoken to representatives of Hezbollah. What have they told you about their plan?

WATSON: Yes. This was Sheikh Ahmed Murad(ph). He showed up at the state hospital here in the center of Tyre and described himself as the - he claimed that this conflict had been forced on Lebanon, on Hezbollah. He described it as a pre-planned invasion by Israeli forces, and he said that Hezbollah was only firing rockets after - in the first two days of this conflict, Israel unleashed a massive bombardment on Lebanon. He described it as self-defense, and he said the rockets would continue to be fired at Israeli cities and towns.

BRAND: And you have seen the effects of the Israeli attacks. What have you seen?

WATSON: Well, there's different types of battles. First, the far reaching air strikes which have hit targets all over this country, and which have incurred massive damage on the country's infrastructure and huge civilian casualties. The latest figure is more than 600 dead. And at the state hospital here in Tyre, workers were preparing the bodies of more than 90 victims, putting them in wooden coffins - crude coffins -and preparing them for what is expected to be the third mass burial of victims since this conflict began, just in this town. This is victims brought in from around the countryside.

Now when Israel makes ground incursions, we saw the aftermath in the town of Bint Jbeil, which is right near the border. There was nothing left of that town. That town was utterly demolished. The Israeli soldiers were pushed back in the end. They did withdraw. What was most startling was seeing dozens, scores of Lebanese civilians who were trapped in shelters and basements throughout those days of intense fighting - emerging from those shelters shell- shocked, dehydrated, hungry, without access to medication, and just terrified.

BRAND: NPR's Ivan Watson in Tyre, Lebanon.

Thank you, Ivan.

WATSON: You're welcome, Madeleine.

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