Israeli Missiles Hit Convoy, Killing Refugees
BLOCK: We're going to turn now to the situation on the ground in the Middle East. Israel's Prime Minister has signed off on a plan to expand his army's ground offensive in Southern Lebanon as we've just heard. That expansion has not yet begun and the Israeli Government has indicated that it could be called off if an agreement is reached on the UN resolution.
Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes continued bombing targets from the North to the South of Lebanon today. Israeli ground forces backed by tanks are still fighting Hezbollah guerillas in Southern Lebanese villages and towns close to the Israeli border. And tonight, Lebanese security forces say Israeli aircraft attacked a large convoy of refugees fleeing north. Killing at least three civilians and wounding at least 10.
NPR's Ivan Watson joins us now from Beirut. And Ivan, what can you tell us about this convoy that was hit tonight?
IVAN WATSON: Michele, the United Nations peacekeepers have since also confirmed that this attack took place. The convoy consisted of at least a hundred vehicles. It included 350 Lebanese police officers and soldiers, as well as hundreds of civilians who are all fleeing this southeastern Lebanese town of Marje-Un. The convoy left Marje-Un today with the Israeli militaries permission and it was escorted at the start of its journey by United Nation's peacekeepers.
A Lebanese general tells me that the convoy was on its way back to Beirut when shortly before 11 p.m. local time, an Israeli unmanned aerial drone fired at least eight rockets at some of the civilian vehicles in the convoy, killing and injuring civilians as well as Lebanese soldiers.
NORRIS: Is it known, at this point, if there were Hezbollah fighters in that convoy?
WATSON: I asked United Nation's peacekeepers that same question, and they said no. A spokesman for the peacekeepers, he said not only did United Nations peacekeepers escort the convoy out of Marje-Un at the start of the trip, but he said that the convoy was cleared in advance by the Israeli military.
And the UN says that it had secured guarantees in advance from the Israeli military that the convoy would not be attacked as it traveled up this same road. The UN peacekeepers say they have since been in touch with the Israeli military and have asked them to stopped bombing the convoy.
NORRIS: The Israeli military issued a strong warning asking people not to travel by car. Do you know why this convoy was leaving Marje-Un?
WATSON: Yesterday, Israeli troops captured much of Marje-Un after some fierce fighting, and they captured, according to the Lebanese military, and the United Nations, the joint Lebanese army and police base there and the 350 soldiers and police officers there surrendered without firing a shot. Because unlike Hezbollah, the Lebanese army has not been attacking the Israeli military, even though they've repeatedly been bomb by Israeli warplanes.
The UN won permission from the Israeli military to escort the soldiers and police out this afternoon and they were joined by hundreds of civilians who are also desperate to get out of this town. The convoy was greeted by live Lebanese TV cameras when they reached the first major Lebanese town after Marje-Un.
NORRIS: Ivan, can you quickly tell us what else has been happening in and around Lebanon?
WATSON: Hezbollah claimed to have sunk an Israeli gunboats off the coastal city of Tyre. They released some footage of something smoking, burning in the Mediterranean. Israel has denied these claims. After sunset tonight, Israel bombed transformers that serve Tyre. That city has been plunged into darkness. Already its last-remaining bridge linking Tyre to the rest of the country was destroyed last Sunday.
NORRIS: Thank you, Ivan.
WATSON: You're welcome, Michele.
NORRIS: That was NPR's Ivan Watson speaking to us from Beirut.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.