Israeli Forces Clash with Hezbollah Inside Lebanon Fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border has been punctuated Saturday by confrontations inside Lebanon between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerillas. The ground combat came in addition to continuing Israeli bombardments of Lebanon, and Hezbollah rocket attacks on Israel. NPR's Eric Westervelt reports.
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Israeli Forces Clash with Hezbollah Inside Lebanon

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Israeli Forces Clash with Hezbollah Inside Lebanon

Israeli Forces Clash with Hezbollah Inside Lebanon

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

There's been more fighting along the border and inside south Lebanon today between Israeli forces and Hezbollah guerillas. The Israeli army has called up several thousand more reservists to help strengthen border units, and Israeli soldiers have moved into a few villages inside southern Lebanon.

Eric Westervelt reports from the Israeli/Lebanon border.

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

Here on the northern border, Israeli soldiers have pushed into Lebanese villages in and around Maroun al-Ras, just north of the Israeli towns of Zariq(ph) and Av-Aveen(ph), what the army calls pinpoint operations. Seven Israeli soldiers have been killed in fighting around this area in the last three days.

At a border artillery battery, 18-year-old Israeli Corporal Maron Cohen(ph) says a wider ground push into Lebanon may be inevitable.

Corporal MARON COHEN (Israeli Soldier): We must go in there. We must destroy the Hezbollah. With the time, it will be tougher, so we must do it now.

WESTERVELT: Hezbollah guerillas regularly respond to the Israeli artillery with volleys of rocket fire, including new attacks this morning that struck Kiryat Shmona and near Metulla. Seven people were wounded and the rocket sparked forest fires.

All through the night, the thump of artillery, tank and small arms fire echoed along the border. So far the ground battles are robust but relatively narrow in focus. And soldier Assaf Bloomberg(ph) says any wider ground invasion would inevitably mean more Israeli casualties.

Mr. ASSAF BLOOMBERG (Israeli Soldier): It's not easy to hear that our sons are getting killed on the other side. But if it's part of the mission, we have to do that because our mission is to give some peace and quiet to the citizens of the Israel.

WESTERVELT: Israel Military Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said Friday that Israel will continue limited ground attacks, quote, to harm the terror that harms us. Soldiers here are backed by tanks and heavy armor, but there are few signs of a major ground invasion. The main war effort remains air power and unrelenting heavy artillery fire.

(Soundbite of explosion)

WESTERVELT: The 155 millimeter rounds whistle up a valley, over fir trees and in theory, strike up Hezbollah positions in south Lebanon. Just two weeks ago, 21-year-old Alex Gronoff(ph) was firing artillery into the Gaza strip, fighting Hamas militants after they'd attacked an Israeli border post and abducted Gilad Shalit, a 19-year-old Israeli corporal.

Now Gronoff works this artillery battery in the northern Galilee, trying to take out Hezbollah rockets.

Mr. ALEX GRONOFF (Israeli Soldier): Here (unintelligible) Katyusha, it's more serious. It has more power.

WESTERVELT: Gronoff calls this a different fight and a much bigger challenge than Gaza. Israel must, he says, defend herself.

(Soundbite of music)

WESTERVELT: Next to the artillery, Arabic music plays in a makeshift camp. Some soldiers rest on cots, smoke cigarettes of flip through porn magazines. Sergeant Amir Saban(ph) tries to give 21-year-old First Sergeant Rafi Ezra(ph) a quick haircut, if Ezra who just sits still through the outgoing artillery fire.

Sergeant AMIR SABAN (Israeli Soldier): Don't move. I'm trying to cut your hair.

WESTERVELT: First Sergeant Ezra says the civilian deaths in Lebanon from air and artillery fire are unfortunate. But, he says, those people made poor choices.

Mr. RAFI EZRA (First Sergeant, Israeli Army): Most of the people killed in Lebanon was people who lived Hezbollah neighborhoods. So I think you need to choose better where you're living. People should know better.

WESTERVELT: Soldiers at this border artillery site are relatively exposed. Hezbollah guerillas regularly fire rockets and mortars near the position. As outgoing rounds boom, 22-year-old sergeant Igal Noodleman(ph) says he just hopes for the best.

Mr. IGAL NOODLEMAN (Sergeant, Israeli Army): And this is pretty much an open field. So if anything comes our way, we hope we know about it some time before so we (unintelligible). And we hope that it doesn't hit too close.

WESTERVELT: Eric Westervelt, NPR News, near Kirat Schmona on the Israel/Lebanon border.

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