DON GONYEA, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. Israel has agreed to a 48-hour suspension of its air strikes on targets in Lebanon. This decision came late last night after the tragic bombing yesterday of an apartment building in the southern Lebanese town of Qana that left more than 50 civilians dead, most of them children.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had pressured Israel's Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, to order the suspension, but Israel has also said it would still strike if necessary. Rice left Jerusalem this morning saying she would now pursue a cease-fire and a lasting settlement at the U.N. Security Council.
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (United States Secretary of State): As I head back to Washington, I take with me an emerging consensus on what is necessary, both an urgent cease-fire and a lasting settlement. I am convinced we can achieve both this week.
MONTAGNE: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
NPR's Mike Shuster joins us now from northern Israel, near the Lebanese border. And, Mike, is the suspension of airstrikes actually now in effect? And is it holding?
MIKE SHUSTER reporting:
It is in effect, Renee. It began according to the Israelis at 2:00 a.m., local time, in the middle of the night; and as best I can tell, it is holding. The Israelis have said that it's a limited suspension. They say they're not going to bomb sites around Lebanon. They're not going to bomb infrastructure, but they hold out the possibility of attacking Hezbollah guerrillas when they see them preparing to launch rockets. And they also say they may use airstrikes in support of their own soldiers who are inside Lebanon in ground activity.
(Soundbite of artillery fire)
SHUSTER: You can hear - you can hear Israeli warplanes in the air, so they're still patrolling. But as best we can tell, they are not bombing at the moment. What you just may have heard is Israeli artillery nearby.
MONTAGNE: And what about the actions of Hezbollah? Has - we hear also about it also dropping rockets on Israel still.
SHUSTER: There may have been some Hezbollah rockets falling on Israel today, but there are far fewer than there have been, certainly yesterday. Yesterday, there were 156, according to Israeli police; that's the most in this war in any one day so far. Right now, if there are any, there are far fewer. I'm in an area where - just out side of the town of Qiryat Shmona where there were nearly 100 rockets that hit the town yesterday, and so far none have. So it appears that Hezbollah has reduced its activity as well.
MONTAGNE: Now, you just spoke of the Israeli artillery that we heard. What about continuing Israeli ground action inside Lebanon?
SHUSTER: As best as I can tell, I'm near the only place where there is continuing Israeli ground action. Israeli troops went in - across the border from the northern most town called Metulla on Saturday night; they're still there. There have been some engagements with Hezbollah guerrillas in several villages across the border. The Israelis have suffered a few casualties, some wounded. And Hezbollah guerillas have also hit some Israeli tanks with anti-tank missiles. But no fatalities have been reported on the Israeli side. And as best as I can tell, this is ongoing.
MONTAGNE: And how will this suspension of airstrikes affect the call by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a full-fledged cease-fire and a settlement? Will it - will one lead to the other?
SHUSTER: It's not clear, Renee. It's possible. The Lebanese government in Beirut wants an immediately cease-fire, the Lebanese more broadly want a cease-fire, and even some who speak for Hezbollah have said they want a cease-fire.
But at the same time that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, last night, agreed to this suspension of airstrikes, he told Secretary of State Rice that this doesn't mean that Israel is going to stop fighting. He told her, in fact, that Israel needs ten days to two weeks more. And today, in Israeli parliament, the Knesset, the defense minister told members there that there will be no immediate cease-fire and that Israel will expand its ground operations in the coming days.
So the Israelis don't look like they're eager for a cease-fire. For the first time, Secretary of State Rice does. So for the first time, there seems to be some distance opening up between the United States' position and the Israeli position on a cease-fire.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much. NPR's Mike Shuster speaking in northern Israel, near the Lebanese border.
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