JOHN YDSTIE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie, sitting in for Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Israel continues to pound Lebanon with bombs today, targeting primarily Shiite areas in the south and east of the country. An Israeli general warned that Israel could expand ground operations in southern Lebanon, where there have been fierce clashes between its troops and Hezbollah.

Two Israeli helicopters collided near the Lebanese border, killing one pilot and wounding three crewmen.

Meanwhile, thousands of foreigners are still trying to flee the country.

NPR's Jackie Northam is in Beirut, joins us now. Jackie, what's going on there today?

JACKIE NORTHAM reporting:

Well, there's a lot of bombing today. We've been able to hear Israeli warplanes flying overhead for much of the morning. And they seem to be targeting, once again, primarily Shiite areas in the southern suburbs of Beirut. But certainly, late last night there was intensive bombing as well for about three hours in the southern part of the city.

Beyond Beirut, the Israelis are going after targets in many parts of southern Lebanon, trying to hit Hezbollah positions there. They're also bombing an eastern swath of the Bekaa Valley. This is another key Hezbollah area. They went back and bombed a bridge on the main road between Beirut and Damascus, Syria, even though that had been hit a couple of times before. And they are still continuing to target trucks that they think are carrying weaponry to Hezbollah.

Renee, I drove in from Damascus yesterday and there were several trucks that had been hit along that same road. It's precision bombing, they go right in through the cab of the truck and that's the only part that's hit. The rest of the truck is okay, but what you see in the rest of the truck, for the most part, are vegetables and fruit, that type of thing. Certainly not any sort of weaponry.

MONTAGNE: Jackie, you were part of a group that toured Beirut's southern suburbs yesterday with members of Hezbollah. How did it look to you?

NORTHAM: There were parts that were completely devastated. We walked for several blocks in one neighborhood, and on one road alone, about five high-rise buildings had completely collapsed. So there was just mountains of rubble on these narrow streets, you know, and twisted metal and wires hanging down and some of the buildings were still smoking.

That road was particularly bad, but each block that we toured there were buildings that were flattened. And I have to say it was an unnerving experience, because there was no one left in the neighborhood but us. The whole area has completely cleared out.

And by the way, the local newspaper, The Daily Star, reported today that Israeli warplanes came in about an hour after we left and bombed the area again.

MONTAGNE: And was it possible for you to figure out on this tour whether this was a Hezbollah stronghold or merely civilians?

NORTHAM: It - no, it's certainly Hezbollah in there. The fellow that took us is a spokesman for Hezbollah and he took us to his office, you know, the media center there. So definitely this is a very predominantly Hezbollah area that we were in.

MONTAGNE: So you say the area is empty, everyone has left? Where were they going? Where did they go?

NORTHAM: Well, in many directions. Certainly, many people are going to hospitals. More than 300 Lebanese have been killed so far and many injured in the bombings. Thousands more are leaving the southern suburbs and heading to parts of Beirut, which is where I am. You know, the parks are filling up with people trying to escape the bombing. More than 120 schools have opened up, and more than half of those, 70 actually, are being run by members of Hezbollah. They're coming in to make sure that people have food and water and clothing.

We're getting reports that people are heading to the north, you know, north of Beirut. They're going into the mountains, really wherever they can find safety.

And human rights groups are getting, you know, very anxious about this because they say this is a disaster in the making. They say that more than half a million people now are displaced within Lebanon itself, and, you know, with a blockade of Lebanon's ports and airports, this means there's going to be severe shortages of food and water.

MONTAGNE: And how are these folks coping?

NORTHAM: You know, I went out onto the streets of Beirut this morning. I talked to, you know, with people over the last couple of days, and they say there is a rhythm developing here, much like it was during the war. That people get out in the morning, they get whatever they have to get done, and come back again. And Renee, this was a city that was really rebuilding itself and that, so to have all this start up again, you know, they're obviously very upset.

MONTAGNE: Jackie, thanks very much. NPR's Jackie Northam, speaking to us from Beirut.

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