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Fighting Escalates Between Israel and Hezbollah

August 1, 2006 at 6:10 PM EDT

GWEN IFILL: Our coverage of the crisis in the Middle East begins with two reports on the fighting from Lebanon and from Israel. First, Julian Manyon of Independent Television News in Bint Jbail, Lebanon.

JULIAN MANYON, ITV News Correspondent: In the ruins of Bint Jbail, wild dogs now roam the wreckage. Beneath the rubble are the bodies of people killed in massive Israeli bombardments.

This is a key part of the buffer zone that Israel is trying to seize. Today, it is an empty wasteland.

The town’s small Islamic hospital has also been hit. A rocket struck the roof, but doctors are still working, treating a steady flow of casualties with shrapnel wounds.

With a team of European volunteer doctors, we set out for Aitaroun. A way through was cleared by bulldozer this morning, but terrible devastation all around.

Coming the other way, people desperate to get out of Israel’s planned security zone. They travel in any way they can, hoping that no bombs fall.

When we reached the village, small groups of people coming out of hiding, begging anyone with a vehicle for help. We went with one of the volunteer doctors to rescue an elderly couple stranded in their home.

Hussein Basi (ph) is 86 years old. He could only walk with difficulty to our car. His 90-year-old wife, Megmai (ph), needed no persuasion to join us.

We’re now trying to inch our way out of the village of Aitaroun with the two people we’ve helped from their house. It’s a difficult drive, because the road is absolutely littered with rubble and shards of metals, and any of those could burst one of our tires…

At that very second, one of our tires was punctured by a piece of debris. With Israeli jets circling overhead, we worked as fast as possible to change the wheel. The old couple waited nervously in the car.

When we got moving again, Hussein told me about the nightmare they’d lived through. “This is the worst of all of the wars I’ve seen,” he said. “We haven’t eaten for days.”

Finally, we reached the hospital at Bint Jbail where the elderly couple could find at least temporary shelter.

Situation in Israel

GWEN IFILL: Now from Israel, a report by ITN correspondent Lindsey Hilsum.

LINDSEY HILSUM, ITV News Correspondent: Israel's expanded ground incursion began overnight. Their aim: to destroy Hezbollah's arsenal and push them back from the border. The Israeli Defense Force says some 6,000 troops are now operating inside southern Lebanon.

ISRAELI CITIZEN: This is not about succeeding. This is about defense, and this is the point. Our citizens here in the north border cannot live here now.

LINDSEY HILSUM: By dawn, some units were returning. They're meeting resistance and taking casualties as they flatten Hezbollah command posts, trying to create a buffer zone one-to-four miles wide.

MATAN VILNAI, Knesset Member: We need to clean the whole area of south Lebanon for the capability of Hezbollah to launch rockets against Israel. My division did it 20 years ago in three hours.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The bombardment of Lebanese villages Meis al Jabal and Adisa continues. So far, the operation has taken not three hours but 21 days, and Israeli intelligence says Hezbollah still has some 9,000 rockets.

Old hands who served in Lebanon in the last war and occupation know the government's initial aim of breaking Hezbollah was somewhat ambitious.

REUVEN MERHAV, Former Israeli Foreign Ministry Official: We cannot break the backbone of the Hezbollah. The Hezbollah is the majority of the Shiites in Lebanon, and they have a charismatic leader.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The prime minister spoke at the National Security College this evening, hoping to avoid accusations that he authorized an over-ambitious conflict which was doomed to fail. He now says he never thought they'd destroy Hezbollah.

But the war's not over yet: Further incursions are expected overnight.