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Fighting Rages On in Southern Lebanon


To talk about the ongoing hostilities on what is supposed to be the last full day of war before the ceasefire takes effect, we turn to New York Newsday's Matthew McAllester. He's in the southern Lebanese city of Tyre and joins us on the line.

Mr. McAllester, does this look like the last day of war to you?

Mr. MATTHEW MCALLESTER (New York Newsday): Well, if it was the last day, then it was a particularly violent spasm and the Israelis were bombing very heavily in and around Tyre today. I've been here for quite some time and today was one of the worst days, I would say.

ELLIOTT: What have you seen today?

Mr. MCALLESTER: Well, in waking up, you know, you see all sorts of smoke and dust from the distance, to some extent. But this afternoon I was in a hospital and the building shook from an explosion and at the same time, throughout the day, I've seen katyusha rockets being fired out. Now, they arc in sort of smoky lines heading south towards Israel, so I got the sense that this was two combatants battling it out and in a sense giving it all they had for the last day.

I think Hezbollah sent 250 rockets towards Israel, which is the highest number so far.

ELLIOTT: How long have you been there in Tyre?

Mr. MCALLESTER: I'm slightly losing count, but I think it's a week. The problem has been for journalists here that - it produces a sort of monotony - is that we can't drive. About five days ago, I think it was, the Israeli military issued an edict saying that any vehicle south of the Litani river, which sort of delineates southern Lebanon, is a potential target.

And they're serious about it. I mean, we've seen them targeting civilian vehicles here and that is a strong disincentive to getting into one. And so some journalists have been taking the risk, and some civilians take the risk and drive around, but not me.

ELLIOTT: What did the people around you think of the ceasefire agreement? Are they at all optimistic that this could be what ends the violence there?

Mr. MCALLESTER: They are, actually. I was surprised. I sort of went out and asked people, including a 17 year old guy who'd been buried under the rubble of his living room today, this morning. And you know, he seemed relatively optimistic. This was a Hezbollah supporter, I should add, and he seemed relatively optimistic. Doctors I spoke to seemed, you know, relatively optimistic.

Now, whether their optimism comes from desperate hope, which is common currency in this city which has very few supplies - gasoline, medication is running out in some places, and so on - I don't know. I suspect that I could have happened across other people that have deep skepticism in their views of what's going to happen at 8:00 o'clock or one minute past 8:00 tomorrow morning.

ELLIOTT: What do the people there that you've spoken with that are supporters of Hezbollah, what do they think will become of Hezbollah after the ceasefire?

Mr. MCALLESTER: Well, I think the sense will be of great victory. I'm sort of expecting to see, you know, shooting in the air and this sense that Hezbollah was not defeated by Israel, and those images will be carried around the Arab world on Arab networks and around the world and to Israel itself. And so the perception in the Arab world that this will have been a victory for Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah will carry enormous weight in the Israeli political scene as well.

ELLIOTT: Matthew McAllester is a correspondent for Newsday. He's in Tyre, Lebanon.

Thank you.

Mr. MCALLESTER: Thank you, Debbie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.