Israel Struggles to Gain Upper Hand in Lebanon Israeli warplanes destroy several bridges in the Christian heartland of northern Lebanon, shifting focus from bombing raids on eastern and southern Lebanon. Meanwhile, Hezbollah guerrillas continue to battle Israeli troops in several Lebanese villages along the southern frontier.

Israel Struggles to Gain Upper Hand in Lebanon

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Good morning. In this part of the program, we turn to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants.

Israel has been bombing eastern and southern Lebanon. Today, as the fighting went into its fourth week, Israel moved its attacks north, destroying several bridges in the Christian heartland of northern Lebanon. Meanwhile, Hezbollah guerillas continued battling Israeli troops in several Lebanese villages along the southern frontier.

From the southern coast city of Tyre, NPR's Ivan Watson files this story.

IVAN WATSON reporting:

This week, Lebanese soldiers and Red Cross volunteers performed what has become a grizzly chore throughout this three-week conflict. They laid out dozens of rotting corpses in a parking lot and, one-by-one, placed each body in a crude wooden coffin and then hammered on the lid.

Since the fighting began, hospital workers have been storing the bodies of hundreds of victims gathered from the countryside in refrigerated trucks. They have then periodically buried the coffins in mass graves. In the parking lot, the stench of putrification was overpowering. These workers hosed out the empty refrigerator truck, leaving puddles of maggots on the asphalt.

Red Cross volunteers said the dead here included a Nigerian United Nations worker, killed more than two weeks ago, and this family of seven. They had the word unidentified written in marker on their coffin lids beside the address of the house they died in.

Unidentified Man: From the same house: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven - from the same house. And they are of unknown names. They put notes: that's a girl, that's a boy, that's a baby.

WATSON: Yesterday, Lebanese Prime Minister Foaud Siniora announced more than 900 people had been killed in Lebanon since the conflict began. On Wednesday, near the parking lot, a Hezbollah spokesman named Sheikh Ahmed Murad stood next to a stack of empty coffins and spoke to journalists. Dressed in the robes and turban of a cleric, he announced that they Shiite militia would keep fighting, no matter what the cost.

Sheikh AHMED MURAD (Hezbollah Spokesman): (Through a translator) This open war - this is from America and Israel. We will resist it as long as it goes.

WATSON: As journalists questioned Murad, the sound of Hezbollah rockets being fired at Israel echoed in the distance.

Unidentified Woman: Is Hezbollah going to continue to attack Israel after [indiscernible]? Will they continue?

Sheikh MURAD: (Through a translator) (Unintelligible)…because Hezbollah is defending its people.

WATSON: Despite Israel's dominance of the skies over Lebanon, Hezbollah guerillas have continued to fight fiercely against Israeli ground incursions at several points along the border, carrying out lethal ambushes of Israeli tanks. But the cost has been high. Southern Lebanon is now a no-go zone. Most of the civilian population has fled, leaving behind bombed out villages and towns. This week, the International Committee of the Red Cross brought a freighter in to the port of Tyre to deliver 200 tons of aid to the beleaguered population that has stayed behind.

But Red Cross worker Dean Manderson(ph) said the Israeli military often refused to give the Red Cross security assurances to send convoys by road to distribute aid to civilians trapped in the interior.

WATSON: And what's the most urgent thing the people need right now?

Mr. DEAN MANDERSON (Aid Worker, Red Cross): In the villages?


MANDERSON: A cease-fire. But they'll be getting water, food, ration packs, things like that just to keep them going.

WATSON: Moments after this interview, Hezbollah fighters launched a salvo of rockets at Israel from the edge of town.

(Soundbite of rockets)

Unidentified Man #2: Jesus Christ.

WATSON: Soon after, Israeli warplanes bombed Tyre. And within minutes, the Red Cross ship was seen steaming out of the port at full speed.

Last night, Hezbollah's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, gave a long televised speech.

Sheikh HASSAN NASRALLAH (Hezbollah Leader): (Speaking in foreign language)

WATSON: If you attack Beirut, we will attack Tel Aviv, and we are capable of doing it - by God's will. Anytime Israel stops bombing our cities and people, he added, we will stop hitting Israeli settlements.

Israel's response appeared to come in the form of new air strikes this morning, this time targeting three bridges in northern, predominantly Christian Lebanon, which has so far been largely spared from the conflict. And Israeli planes continued bombing Shiite neighborhoods in south Beirut.

Ivan Watson, NPR News, Tyre, Lebanon.

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