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Israel Maintains Pressure on Southern Lebanon


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Debbie Elliott.

There are signs today of more serious diplomatic efforts to end the fighting in the Middle East.

Here in Washington, President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice met with Saudi officials. The Saudis are asking the U.S. to help seek an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, something the administration has so far rejected.

Secretary Rice flies to Israel tonight. Today, the Israeli government suggested for the first time it would welcome an international force.

We begin our coverage with an update on the fighting. More Hezbollah rockets fell into Israel as Israeli warplanes bombarded southern Lebanon and Beirut.

NPR's Jackie Northam in Beirut reports the humanitarian situation is growing more dire, with 600,000 refugees on the move.


Two hundred thousand of them have crossed over into Syria, but really, there are still about another 400,000 that are just moving around the country. The government here says that more than 120,000 now are staying in the local schools. You know, there's not enough shower facilities for them. There's problems with getting food to them, that type of them.

Many of them are in parks, which is even more dire situation. And there are others who have taken to the mountains and various other places that are - it's relatively safer, and they're staying with families or friends.

So you can imagine, you just have this massive of movement of people. Many have lost their homes to Israeli bombs.

The chief UN humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, is here in Beirut at the moment, and he said today that it's going to take about $100 million over the next three months alone to help those people who have been displaced.

ELLIOTT: Jackie, what can you tell us about Israeli targets?

NORTHAM: Well, Israel says it is not deliberately targeting civilians, although many civilians are getting caught in the crossfire dying. There was a minivan today that was hit. It was carrying 16 people and three of those people died. The rest are severely wounded.

But over the past few days, we've seen this actual strategic bombing in Lebanon, so they're hitting things like transmission masts which control television networks and cell phone networks. In fact, yesterday several television networks were knocked out for a while including Al-Manar, which is the Hezbollah network.

But they've also hit and destroyed bridges, including a massive suspension bridge in the Bakah Valley. Israeli war planes have also hit key roads around the country, making many of them unpassable, and certainly Israeli bombs have taken down numerous high rise buildings, particularly in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

And Jan Egeland, the humanitarian affairs chief, said it's going to cost billions of dollars to repair the damage to Lebanon.

ELLIOTT: What's the relief picture? Is aid coming in from the outside?

NORTHAM: Aid is coming in from the outside, slowly. But the relief picture as a whole is dire. The Israeli government has said that they will allow aid to come into Tripoli in the north of the country, Beirut in central, and Tyre down in the south. They can come in by sea or by air.

However, once it gets here, the problem is getting it to the people who need it, primarily in the south of Lebanon and certainly in the Bakah Valley. The Israeli government will not guarantee safe passage of convoys taking in medical supplies or food or many other supplies.

And this is a real problem. They've had a real problem with Lebanese medical crews and ambulance drivers going out and actually getting hit by bombs. So first of all, they can't find drivers anymore that are going to do that. And even if they could, they're not guaranteed safe passage to these really very dangerous areas where they think people need help, they think people - you know, there's people who are disabled, who are elderly, who are too poor to move from the bombs, and they're stuck there, and they need help.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Jackie Northam in Beirut.

Thank you.

NORTHAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jackie Northam
Jackie Northam is NPR's International Affairs Correspondent. She is a veteran journalist who has spent three decades reporting on conflict, geopolitics, and life across the globe - from the mountains of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Saudi Arabia, to the gritty prison camp at Guantanamo Bay and the pristine beauty of the Arctic.