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A Deadly Day in the Middle East

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

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

A day of bloody attacks in the Middle East and diplomatic moves at home. The United Nations Security Council could vote as early as tomorrow on a draft resolution put forward by the U.S. and France to end the fighting.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was speaking out in support of the resolution today, hoping to bring all sides along.

Lebanese officials have spoken negatively about this approach, but on NBC's Meet the Press, Secretary Rice said it's the best solution for the long run.

Ms. CONDOLEEZZA RICE (U.S. Secretary of State): The disarmament of Hezbollah isn't going to take place before a cease-fire. Nobody expects that.

But what is expected is that the status quo ante in the south where you had Hezbollah able to go into Israel without the consent of the Lebanese government. That has to be changed quickly by the deployment - not just of the Lebanese armed forces but also the deployment of international forces to help them.

ELLIOTT: While Secretary Rice and other diplomats pushed forward with their draft UN resolution, fighting continued in the region. In fact, it was a particularly fierce day on both sides of the border. Israeli bombs killed at least 13 people in Lebanon, and Hezbollah fired its deadliest barrage of rockets yet at Israeli targets.

NPR's Eric Westervelt is in northern Israel, where a dozen soldiers were killed today. He joins us now.

Eric, what's been happening where you are?

ERIC WESTERVELT reporting:

Debbie, I arrived on the scene of this attack near the border shortly after it happened. Black smoke was billowing up into the sky all around from this multiple rocket hits from Hezbollah.

Army rescue helicopters were landing in nearby farm fields to try to ferry the wounded to hospitals. At least one, perhaps more, 122 millimeter Katyushka rockets landed in a parking lot area next to a cemetery, just inside an entrance to a kibbutz named Kfar Galadi right on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Local residents and army officials I spoke with said it was a direct hit on an area where soldiers were resting outdoors. Others were in their cars, they said. Twelve soldiers, as we told you, were killed. All of them were reservists who'd been called up for fighting in south Lebanon.

At the attack site, it was, as you can imagine, a grim scene. Workers attending the dead bodies, several cars were on fire, firefighters trying to put them out.

A leader of the kibbutz who was one of the first on the scene said what he saw was too gruesome for words. He told us I will never speak in public about what I saw.

ELLIOTT: How well are the Israeli soldiers and civilians there able to protect themselves from these attacks?

WESTERVELT: Well, I spoke with several people at the kibbutz and army officials and all say they heard the warning alarms for people to seek shelter at least 10 minutes before the rockets hit. They say most people around the area sought shelter.

There are protected areas, we're told, on the kibbutz. But truth to tell, the warning announcements and sirens - particularly in this area near Kiryat Shemona - go off several times a day. Kiryat Shemona and the larger area around it has been hit more than 550 times by Hezbollah rockets, the army says. You know, that's quite a bit.

ELLIOTT: What is that we're hearing behind you, Eric?

WESTERVELT: That's outgoing artillery fire. There was an incoming Hezbollah rocket attack about 15 minutes ago.

ELLIOTT: There are also reports today of a heavy attack on the port city of Haifa. What can you tell us about that?

WESTERVELT: That's right. Hezbollah fired a barrage of rockets at that port city, Israel's third largest. It was the biggest attack on Haifa since rockets killed eight people last month, Debbie, in a rocket attack on a rail yard.

Medical and police officials say at least three people were killed and more than 30 others were wounded, at least two seriously, when rockets hit several heavily populated residential areas. Rockets hit two adjacent homes, causing them to partially collapse.

It's certainly possible that the casualty toll in Haifa could rise, but it appears 15 killed today by Hezbollah fire. Certainly the highest single day casualty toll so far in Israel since the war started.

ELLIOTT: What are people there saying about the diplomatic efforts going on at the U.N.?

WESTERVELT: Not much. People up here are not monitoring the finer points of U.N. diplomatic move. They're hunkering down from the constant rocket attacks. There were more just a few minutes ago. Fields every day around this area, Debbie, are on fire from the rocket attacks. Streets are largely deserted much of the day. There's constant outgoing artillery fire throughout the north. There's little talk of a ceasefire. It's mostly talk of survival. And when you talk to soldiers about a possible cease-fire, most of them will tell you, well, we hope we can continue to do damage to Hezbollah before they make us stop fighting.

ELLIOTT: NPR's Eric Westervelt near Kiryat Shemona in northern Israel.

Thank you, Eric. Please stay safe.

WESTERVELT: Thanks, Debbie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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