A Progress Report from Israel
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Israel today, a least ten people were wounded by rockets fired by Hezbollah guerillas. The Israeli army also reported that three more soldiers were killed in battles with Hezbollah in villages in southern Lebanon.
NPR's Anne Garrels joins us from the border between Israel and Lebanon and Anne, Israeli leaders have talked about possibly expanding ground operations inside Lebanon. What's the latest on that?
ANNE GARRELS reporting:
Well, a decision to move forward does seem close, though there's been no final decision announced. The army is certainly pushing hard to get the okay to move further into Lebanon. Troops are now about eight miles in and they want to push up to the Litani River, which is about another five miles or so.
The army says progress has been made. As evidence of this, they say rockets are landing further north in Israel, meaning Hezbollah is being pushed further back from the border. But Brigadier General Yossi Cooperwasser today acknowledged that Hezbollah is far from defeated. He didn't give any specific figures on how many rockets have been destroyed and said Hezbollah still has thousands of short-range and hundreds of longer-range rockets.
Now, military officers have expressed frustration with politicians who they say have tied their hands. The Israeli commander here in the north today said the military's ready and anxious to push further into Lebanon. He said we need to go further north. Though he indicated the final political okay hadn't yet been given, he said it would probably come soon, and if and when it does, Israel's expected to add as many as 5,000 troops to the 10,000 already in Lebanon.
BLOCK: And what more can you tell us about the rockets that were fired into Israel by Hezbollah today?
GARRELS: Well, there were about 140 rockets that landed here in the north. That's about average for the past week or so. There weren't any deaths today. Ten people were wounded. Some buildings were hit. They were empty. Some rockets sparked more brushfires, one of which threatened an urban area. There are only four planes, crop dusters, which have been turned into the fire brigade. The pilots were desperately trying to keep the fires under control. They took off loaded with fire retardant chemicals and water, dumped their loads, raced back for more, and this went on for nine hours.
BLOCK: When you talk to Israelis there in the north of the country, this fighting has been going on for almost a month now, how are they coping?
GARRELS: Well, people are pretty frazzled by the constant alert and hours spent in shelters. And while there weren't any deaths today, rockets yesterday killed 12 army reservists and that really rattled people. The soldiers hadn't gone into a shelter, probably figuring the odds are pretty small they're going to be hit. The soldiers could have found shelter because they were next to a kibbutz. But the military acknowledged today it can't provide shelter for all the thousands of soldiers who are now in the north as they rotate in and out. Many are camped in fields, far from any reinforced buildings.
BLOCK: Anne, Israel has received a lot of criticism over the number of civilians that are being killed in Lebanon. What's the military's response to that?
GARRELS: The military is adamant that's it's doing everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and the commander here in the north was emphatic that Israel has taken all necessary precautions. It has warned the populations to get out of the areas where it's battling Hezbollah. He said the villages where Israeli troops have been moving through were empty of civilians, that only Hezbollah or their supporters were left behind.
And he said that the troops are finding that almost every other house is packed with weapons and that the mosques are also being used as arsenals, and he concluded his briefing this evening by saying we are very human.
BLOCK: Anne, thanks very much.
NPR's Anne Garrels on the border between Israel and Lebanon.
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