Israeli Forces Return from Lebanon

The cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon is bringing relative calm to hard-hit areas on both sides of the border. Host Madeleine Brand speaks with NPR's Eric Westervelt, reporting from northern Israel.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up on the show, President Bush has used the term Islamic fascists for terrorists. In a few moments, we'll ask exactly what that means.

BRAND: First, we go to the Middle East. Israel is moving some of its forces out of southern Lebanon today and the Lebanese government announced plans to send its troops into the area.

With the end of fighting, people are returning to their homes in southern Lebanon and northern Israel.

NPR's Eric Westervelt is near the border in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona, and he joins us now.

And Eric, the cease-fire appears to be holding, but I understand there were some incidents today. What happened?

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

That's right, Madeleine. Israel Defense Force officials say since the cease-fire went into effect yesterday morning, Hezbollah fighters have fired mortar rounds, at least one anti-tank rocket, and a few Katyusha rockets, they say. No Israeli soldiers were hurt, and all of the ordnance landed inside Lebanon, so there's been no major Israeli retaliation to these incidents.

The Israeli army commanders here, you talk to, say they'll continue to do everything they need to to protect the lives of their soldiers if they're threatened or fired upon. And several Hezbollah fighters have been killed, the Israelis say, since the cease-fire took effect.

But yes, by and large, these have been minor clashes and they have not undone the larger truce, which is still holding.

BRAND: Okay, and Israel, as we said, started pulling back some of its troops already. What's next?

WESTERVELT: That's right. They pulled back some troops, Madeleine, from just a few spots today - military sources confirm - and they say that some more forces could be pulled out of Lebanon altogether tomorrow. A hand over to some UN forces in at least one village, we're told, could also happen tomorrow.

But Israeli forces still control the high ground in large stretches of south Lebanon, and officials here are cautioning that the scope of Israel's redeployment is completely dependent on the Lebanese army and UN forces moving south.

Israel's Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is touring some hard hit Israeli cities across the north today. She was just here in Kiryat Shemona, where I am. She said the cease-fire has a chance to become a lasting peace, but only if the UN resolution behind the truce is fully implemented - in her words - quickly and completely by Lebanon and the international community. And if, in her words, robust and effective UN forces are quickly deployed to assist the Lebanese army.

And so far, there are still big questions about how fast this expanded UN force and the Lebanese army will be able to deploy southward.

BRAND: And you were there on the ground talking to Israelis as they are returning from shelters to their homes. What are they saying? What are they telling you?

WESTERVELT: Well, the devastation is nothing like it is in parts of south Lebanon, but still, these communities around the northern border area were hard hit by Katyusha rocket fire for more than 30 days.

I was at a local community center where dozens of angry residents were there to register, to try to get compensation and have a government assessor come to their house.

Many of the people were frustrated and angry. They were venting at local officials. They were wondering who to talk to, who's going to help me? Who do I turn to?

And you know, one woman said, my house got hit a month ago. No one has come by, even, to assess the damage and offer assistance.

More than 200 houses in the city suffered direct hits, we're told, many of them very badly.

I spoke to a city councilman, Madeleine, who called this emerging fight between local residents and their local and national governments - he called it the next war. He said, we fought Hezbollah and now it appears we're fighting each other.

BRAND: NPR's Eric Westervelt in northern Israel. Thank you.

WESTERVELT: Thanks, Madeleine.

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