Israelis Launch Pre-Dawn Raid on Tyre
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
A U.S. envoy is now in Lebanon in hopes of bringing about a negotiated resolution to the ongoing war between Hezbollah fighters and Israel. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch met with Lebanon's prime minister yesterday, and today talked with that nation's parliament speaker, a top negotiator for Hezbollah.
Mr. Welch's meetings took place against a backdrop of a worsening crisis, as each side penetrates deeper into the other's territory. Overnight, Israeli commandos raided the Mediterranean coastal town, Tyre, in Lebanon, and Hezbollah rockets struck areas in Israel north of Haifa.
NPR's Ivan Watson joins us from Beirut. Ivan, thanks for being with us.
IVAN WATSON reporting:
You're welcome, Scott.
SIMON: And what can you tell us about this fighting along the border and that Israeli commando raid at Tyre?
WATSON: Well, the United Nations peacekeepers stationed along the frontier, they report that Israeli military forces continue to hold positions up to a mile or two into Lebanese territory, and that there is fierce fighting going on along that frontier, with at least one Israeli soldier killed there in clashes with Hezbollah guerillas over the past 24 hours.
The commando raid occurred in Tyre, a coastal town. Locals say they heard helicopters firing canons over the city at around four o'clock in the morning. It appears Israelis commandos landed and attacked a house there, and clashed with Hezbollah guerillas.
At least eight Israeli soldiers were wounded in that battle. The Israeli military claims to have killed several Hezbollah fighters. Lebanese army soldiers were also involved in the clash, with one Lebanese soldier killed and a Lebanese vehicle damaged.
And overnight we also had some bombing here in southern Beirut.
SIMON: Well, I want to ask about the condition in Beirut. I know you've been out to see a port area there in town today that was struck recently. What's it look like? What can you tell us?
WATSON: Scott, it's called Uzai. It's a little fishing port in the south of the city, and it was hit two nights ago repeatedly. The buildings around the port have largely been demolished, and I cannot tell whether or not they were some kind of Hezbollah installation or not.
What was striking, though, was the port itself. Several hundred fishing boats had been stationed there, and it appeared that Israeli aircraft had repeatedly strafed those little fishing boats, destroying all of them, but not really bombing the concrete pier that ran out into the port.
These boats were livelihood for fishermen who make perhaps $600 a month. The fisherman were joking, calling their sunken boats Hezbollah aircraft carriers, and were questioning what the strategic value of such an attack could have been.
SIMON: I suppose the Israelis were worried that small boats can in fact be used to transport missiles in and out.
WATSON: Perhaps. Hezbollah has claimed several rocket attacks, though, against Israeli warships over this three-week conflict.
SIMON: Please tell us what the mood in Beirut is like. Are people hunkered down and resigned? Do they make an attempt to go about and live - I don't want to use a terrible phrase like ordinary lives - but go through the motions every day?
WATSON: Scott, this may be very hard to believe, but behind me in the hotel pool are more than 100 Lebanese people, families sunbathing and swimming. They're trying to live as normal a life as possible here. And they have a remarkable capability to compartmentalize the threats and dangers facing them. I guess it's a holdover from the civil war.
This, even though the southern part of the city, which is within sight here just a few miles away, was bombed as early as this morning. That said, life is getting harder here. There are long lines at the gas stations, there are fuel shortages, and gas is being rationed.
Further to the south, it is a war zone. It is a no-go zone. There you have food shortages, people trapped in villages, unable to escape. The roads are completely dangerous there. There the situation is much, much more dire, Scott.
SIMON: And before we go to Eric Westervelt, who's on the border, as we noted, U.S. envoy David Welch is there. Any Hezbollah or Lebanese government officials offering anything, workable framework?
WATSON: Well, there are a number of proposals floated, including proposals to put United Nations peacekeepers, a beefed up force, along the frontier. The U.S. reportedly is pushing for Israeli forces to remain within Lebanese territory until those peacekeepers arrive.
Hezbollah has said that it will not agree to a cease-fire until Israel withdraws from territory it has captured during this offensive.
SIMON: Thanks very much. Ivan Watson in Beirut.
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