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Hezbollah Rockets Rain on Israeli Towns

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Hezbollah has fired scores of Katyusha rockets at northern Israel. So far today, there were no casualties. Yesterday, two Israelis were killed and more than a hundred wounded as the Katyusha rockets rained down. Two rockets even hit Israel's third largest city, Haifa. And Hezbollah threatened more attacks on that city. Israeli officials say they intend to continue the offensive against Lebanon until Hezbollah is disarmed.

NPR's Linda Gradstein reports.

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

The United Nations Security Council meets today to discuss the escalation of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon. There has been some international condemnation of Israel's airstrikes in Lebanon. The European Union accused Israel of exercising disproportionate force.

Israeli officials are closely monitoring the Bush administration's reaction to the Israeli strikes. So far there has been support for Israel's actions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice:

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (United States Secretary of State): Israel, of course, has a right to defend itself. And we would not ask of any country that it not take steps to stop the kind of rocket attacks that have been going against Israel. It is extremely important that these abductions stop and that the soldiers be returned safely.

GRADSTEIN: At the same time, she urged Israel to exercise restraint. Lebanese officials say most of the more than 50 dead in the Israeli attacks have been civilians, including 10 members of one family. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev says Israel tries not to target civilians.

Mr. MARK REGEV (Spokesman, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Israel): I have no doubt there are innocents being caught up in this conflict and that's unfortunate and I think everyone regrets that. But I would remind you that, I think, close to a quarter of million Israelis on our side of the border are in the bomb shelters. You've had more than 17 missiles, I believe, launched into Israel over the last 24 hours. This situation is intolerable.

GRADSTEIN: Israeli aims have also moved far beyond the return of the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah Wednesday in a well-planned cross-border raid. Eight Israeli soldiers were also killed in that raid.

Israel's Defense Minister Amir Peretz says Israel wants to break Hezbollah. Spokesman Mark Regev says there will be no ceasefire until the Lebanese government disarms Hezbollah, as called for by a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Mr. REGEV: Israel does not want to return to a situation where we look north from our northern border and we don't see Lebanese flags, we see Hezbollah flags, and we don't see Lebanese army or police units, we see Hezbollah military formations.

GRADSTEIN: On Israel's other front, Israeli troops pulled out of central Gaza today after spending two days there. An Israeli Army spokesman said 30 gunmen were killed in the operation.

Palestinians say more than 80 Palestinians, gunmen and civilians, have been killed in Gaza in the past two weeks.

Also today in Gaza, Israeli troops fired an anti-tank missile at a truck that apparently took a wrong turn and approached Israeli troops. The driver escaped, but a passenger was killed.

Linda Gradstein, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linda Gradstein
Linda Gradstein has been the Israel correspondent for NPR since 1990. She is a member of the team that received the Overseas Press Club award for her coverage of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the team that received Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism for her coverage of the Gulf War. Linda spent 1998-9 as a Knight Journalist Fellow at Stanford University.