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There has been a second day of heavy fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerillas in southern Lebanon, and the conflict is intensifying. Israel says at least one Katyusha rocket from Lebanon hit the Israeli port city of Haifa. Israel has imposed an air, sea and land blockade on much of Lebanon. At least 50 Lebanese civilians, at least two Israeli civilians, and eight Israeli soldiers have been killed so far. The two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hezbollah sparked the fighting have not been returned.
From Jerusalem, NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
The rocket landed in Haifa, about 30 miles from Israel's border with Lebanon. There were no casualties, but that's the farthest south rockets fired from Lebanon have ever hit. Haifa, with its 270,000 people, is Israel's third largest city, and Israel's ambassador to Washington said the strike on Haifa was a major, major escalation. Hezbollah denied it had fired the long-range rockets, a denial that Israel dismissed. Israeli officials say Hezbollah has fired more than 100 Katyusha rockets into Israel over the past two days.
Israeli planes bombed dozens of targets in Lebanon, including the main Beirut-Damascus highway and the international airport in Beirut, putting it out of commission. Colonel Boaz Cohen, the head of Israeli army operations in northern Israel, says more Israeli attacks are on the way.
Colonel BOAZ COHEN (Colonel, Israeli Army): We're ready to handle a long operation with every target in Lebanon as a legitimate target.
GRADSTEIN: Israeli planes dropped leaflets over Beirut, warning residents to stay inside their homes and not to approach Hezbollah offices. Cohen says Israel tries to avoid hitting civilians, but Lebanese officials say most of the dead are civilians. In one village, ten members of one family were killed. In another village, seven members of a family.
Lebanon's information minister said Lebanon wants a comprehensive ceasefire and an end to what he called Israel's open-ended aggression. Lebanon also called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to demand a ceasefire.
But Col. Cohen says there will be no ceasefire without the release of the Israeli soldiers.
Col. COHEN: The Lebanese ask for a ceasefire but we will not cease fire until we see those soldiers safe, back at home.
GRADSTEIN: Israeli officials say they hold the Lebanese government responsible for the rocket fire and the fate of the captured soldiers because Hezbollah is part of the government. Lebanese Social Affairs Minister Nayla Mouawad says the Lebanese government does not support the rocket fire on Israel, but she says the Israeli response is disproportionate.
Ms. NAYLA MOUAWAD (Social Affairs Minister, Lebanon): We were very clear yesterday night in our communiqué. We said that we were not aware of this operation and we did not adopt the principle of this operation, but also we think that the Israeli response is too hard on the Lebanese people and on Lebanon.
GRADSTEIN: Efraim Halevy, a former director of the Mossad and currently a professor at Hebrew University says Israel's goals have expanded far beyond the return of the captured soldiers.
Professor EFRAIM HALEVY (Director, Center for Strategic and Policy Studies, Hebrew University): It's an order to create a new situation on the ground where it will not be possible for the Hezbollah to carry out further acts of this kind, and this will entail new restrictions on the deployment of Hezbollah forces in the south.
GRADSTEIN: Both Israel and Hezbollah say they're prepared for a long war. Thousands of civilians on both sides have already fled their homes.
Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem.
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