Air Attacks Force Mass Evacuations in Lebanon Five U.S. Navy ships head to Lebanon to evacuate Americans, while more than 100,000 Lebanese have already fled to Syria. In Israel, Hezbollah rocket attacks have shut down the country's largest port, and at the United Nations, calls mount for a larger peacekeeping force in the region.
NPR logo Air Attacks Force Mass Evacuations in Lebanon

Air Attacks Force Mass Evacuations in Lebanon

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Israeli air strikes continued throughout southern Lebanon Tuesday, including targets in and around Beirut. Hezbollah has retaliated, firing rockets into the Israeli towns of Haifa and Nahariya. Civilian casualties are mounting on both sides. Jeremy VanderKnyff, NPR hide caption

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Jeremy VanderKnyff, NPR

Jeremy VanderKnyff, NPR

Lebanese-Canadians hold their Canadian passports in front of al-Qaderi hotel in Zahle city in the Bekaa valley as Canadian nationals get ready for evacuation from Lebanon, July 18 2006. Joseph Barrak/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Joseph Barrak/AFP/Getty Images

Israel's seven-day assault on Lebanon -- aimed at retrieving two abducted soldiers and ending rocket attacks against its territory -- could last for weeks, according to a top Israeli military commander.

"I think that we should assume that it will take a few more weeks," Maj. Gen. Udi Adam, head of Israel’s Northern Command, told Israeli Army Radio.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is expected to visit the region when conditions allow, according to White House Spokesman Tony Snow. Rice told reporters that a cease-fire "should happen as soon as possible, when conditions are conducive."

With the fighting showing no signs of ending, a five-vessel U.S. Navy unit is on its way to Lebanon in a bid to begin the large-scale evacuation of Americans in Lebanon. It's estimated some 25,000 American citizens are currently in the country, trapped by the fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerillas.

Late Tuesday afternoon, a barrage of rocket fire struck several Israeli towns in the north. At least one person was killed in the northern Israeli city of Nahariya after a rocket slammed into an apartment building.

In the port city of Haifa, Israel's third largest city, air raid sirens wailed throughout the day as Hezbollah rockets rained down. The port, Israel's largest, is now closed.

Air Assault Targets Hezbollah Stronghold

In Lebanon, Israeli warplanes continued their overnight air assault -- mainly targeting sites in the Hezbollah stronghold of south Beirut. Some 200 Lebanese have died over the past seven days of fighting. About two dozens Israelis have been killed.

Neighborhoods in south Beirut have been left battered, and many residents have fled the area, sleeping in churches and mosques. The Italian, French and Swedish governments have already begun to evacuate their citizens stranded in Lebanon and U.S. military helicopters have evacuated Americans with emergency medical conditions.

Nearly 100,000 Lebanese have fled the country east to Syria. Hotels in the Syrian capital Damascus are overwhelmed with arriving guests.

Israeli army officials say airstrikes in southern Lebanon destroyed at least 10 long-range missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv. Israel says Hezbollah has more than 10,000 missiles deployed along Lebanon's border with Israel. Army officials also say they thwarted an attempt by Hezbollah guerillas to carry out a fresh cross-border raid into Israel.

U.N. Call for Peacekeeping Intervention

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan is calling on European governments to contribute troops for a strengthened U.N. peacekeeping force on the Israel-Lebanon border. "It's urgent that the international community make a difference on the ground," Annan told reporters in Brussels. Currently, a small contingent of U.N. peacekeepers monitors the area but has been largely ineffective in halting Hezbollah fire into Israel.

Since fighting began on July 12, after Hezbollah guerillas killed eight soldiers in a cross-border raid and abducted two others, Israeli warplanes have pounded Lebanon in a bid to neutralize Hezbollah.

A poll in Israel shows the vast majority of the public backs the campaign. The Israeli government has said the assault on Lebanon will continue until Hezbollah is removed from south Lebanon, the Lebanese army is deployed in its place, and the two abducted Israeli soldiers are released.

But regional analysts, like Haaretz newspaper military correspondent Ze'ev Schiff, believe Israel's military window is rapidly closing. Soon enough, international pressure may force a cease-fire. "We are not going to find a military solution here," he says, "only a political one."