Israeli Soldiers Describe 'Difficult Fight'
SCOTT SIMON, host:
The Israeli army says it's established positions in 11 border villages in southern Lebanon to help secure a five-mile buffer zone. In many of these areas, the Israeli soldiers have met fierce resistance. NPR's Eric Westervelt is on that border. Eric, thanks for being with us.
WESTERVELT: Good morning, Scott.
SIMON: You've been talking with soldiers who have just come out of Lebanon. What have they been saying?
WESTERVELT: That's right. I just spoke with some soldiers from an infantry battalion, Scott, who came out this morning. They switched out with another unit after some five days of fighting inside south Lebanon.
Scott, they describe Hezbollah as a highly trained military force that was using guerilla tactics. They said it's a bit of a mistake to describe them as some kind of rag-tag militia. They said the tactics they encountered against this force were those of well-trained fighters who knew the terrain well, were very well armed.
They also described going very slowly on foot into these villages, encountering very few civilians there. Most describe the frustration, Scott, in not seeing their enemy face-to-face. The soldiers were fired on - they took mortar fire, the took some rocket fire, but they said it was often difficult and confusing to tell where the fire was coming from, not being sure a house nearby was empty or had a guerilla hiding in the shadows.
You know, they overall described a difficult house-to-house fight.
SIMON: What can you tell us about the rocket attacks striking near Haifa today?
WESTERVELT: Well, police in Israel's third largest city say half a dozen medium-range Hezbollah rockets fell in villages around Haifa Bay. Six people were lightly injured, and a few rockets struck other towns in the north. I just passed a field that was Hula(ph) Lake here in the northern Galilee.
But overall, Scott, today so far, the rocket fire is down from the last three days, which saw a near record number of rockets fall, and 11 Israelis killed. Thirty killed so far in the conflict from Hezbollah rockets. But the day's not over. There's a lot of daylight left, and rockets could fall at any time.
Military officials say Hezbollah has a significant number of these short-range 122 millimeter rockets left - several thousand at least - and they believe they're certainly willing, able and capable to use them at any time.
SIMON: Eric, you know, we were just - you might have heard - we were just talking to Ivan Watson in Beirut about the semblance of everyday life there in Beirut that goes on. What can you tell us about some of these cities in northern Israel that have now endured three weeks really of rocket fire?
WESTERVELT: Well, it's interesting. I've traveled all across northern Israel these last three weeks. The majority of the people in many of the towns and villages have left to go stay with family and friends southward in the central or southern parts of the country.
There are some people that (unintelligible) and villages around the north who are toughing it out. Many of those who stayed behind are advised to stay in their bomb shelters. Some do, some don't. You do see a few people on the streets, but very few.
And many who stayed are - in the northern Galilee, in particular - are mostly farmers who say they have to stay and tend to their crops and their livestock, that they just have no choice there. Many of their employees, however, have left and fled southward. I spoke with some farmers around here who stayed behind. He said his workers from Thailand, most of them left. A few of them stayed behind and said, you know, we just can't afford to leave the area or the country and just have to keep on working.
SIMON: Yes, the crops keep growing and the cows need to be fed. Thanks very much. NPR's Eric Westervelt along the Israeli/Lebanese border.