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Israel Pounds Tyre in Southern Lebanon

JOHN YDSTIE host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. With the Israeli bombardment of Lebanon now in its ninth day, Israel is again warning the occupants of towns and cities in southern Lebanon to leave. The south is largely under the control of Hezbollah guerillas.

NPR's Ivan Watson is on the dock at the southern Lebanese port of Tyre. And it's an area that has been the scene of some of the fiercest Israeli airstrikes.

Ivan, what are you seeing there?

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Renee, the first lifeboat, an orange lifeboat has just taken about 50 evacuees - foreign nationals - from the dock here to a ship that's anchored just off the coast. There's several hundred people here being organized by United Nations observers, military observers. And it's quite dramatic because you've got these scared families here and on hilltops just a mile and a half, two miles away, Israeli warplanes are bombing those hills. So these people are looking at this ship as really their salvation.

There were phone calls, some kind of automated phone calls going out to residents of this town today with a recorded message in Arabic - from the Israeli military it's presumed - warning them to evacuate this town as fast as possible north of a river north of here and, of course, warning of further attacks.

MONTAGNE: And you traveled there to Tyre from Beirut. What was the journey like? How dangerous was it?

WATSON: Well, you had to take back roads through the mountains because the coastal highway has been completely destroyed by airstrikes. And the further south you got the more the roads were clogged with thousands of cars jammed with families, many of them holding white t-shirts out the windows as kind of signs warning that they are fleeing civilians. And as you went further south you saw more and more of these cars and then the towns were just deserted.

South of the town of Sidon it was a terrifying drive, actually. Because as we drove south into Tyre there were airstrikes against the very same road we drove down on. Our car had to skirt around several craters in the road and at the entrance to Tyre and here in the center of Tyre as well. This town itself is almost completely deserted, however there are a few residents, for instance, in the old city of the town. It's a traditional Christian quarter. They say no, we're not going to go, despite the Israeli warnings. We're peaceful people, we're neutral people, and we pray to God that they will leave us alone.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much. NPR's Ivan Watson in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ivan Watson
Ivan Watson is currently based in Istanbul, Turkey. Following the 9-11 terrorist attacks, he has served as one of NPR's foreign "firemen," shuttling to and from hotspots around the Middle East and Central Asia.
Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
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