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Haifa Adjusts as Hezbollah Rockets Rain Down

NOAH ADAMS, host:

From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. Madeleine Brand is away. I'm Noah Adams.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

I'm Alex Chadwick.

The lead today, more of the grim news out of the Middle East. Israeli warplanes attacked targets in Lebanon for a sixth straight day, and a fresh volley of rockets, fired by Hezbollah militants, struck the northern port of Haifa.

Authorities closed the port, one of Israel's key shipping center's. Normal life in northern Israel is virtually shut down.

Yesterday, eight Israeli's were killed in Haifa when a rocket hit a train repair depot. Today, another rocket hit a three-story building, wounding six people, one of them seriously.

NPR's Linda Gradstein spent the day in Haifa. She joins us now. Linda, what's the mood like there? This is Israel's third largest city, yes?

LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:

Yes. And many people never believed that Hezbollah rockets could reach Haifa, which is about 25 miles from the border. And people said that they always thought that was something that people living on the border had to deal with.

I was there for three separate rocket attacks. And people are supposed to be inside anyway, but, you know, there are people out on the streets. They run for cover. You know, you hear the siren and then pretty soon afterwards you hear the thump of the rocket landing. And then often, you know, you hear ambulances going there.

And I went over to this building that was hit, where the whole front was basically torn off. And, of course, all the neighbors, you know, were very nervous - and people looking for relatives.

So, there's basically a pretty high level of anxiety.

CHADWICK: When you say these rockets land with a thump, they are carrying bombs, right? How big an explosion do they make?

GRADSTEIN: The closer you are, the louder it is. But if you're, you know, just about a kilometer or a half a mile away, you just kind of hear this thump. And then, and then it's hard to tell.

But these rockets also have in them, I picked up today at the scene, you know, lots of small metal balls. And the shrapnel can also wound people. The shrapnel, the pieces, are very, very sharp.

And anything that's near the rocket, when it lands, is likely, you know, to get damaged or if it's people, obviously they get hurt.

CHADWICK: Are people leaving Haifa, and indeed trying to get out of northern Israel? If, you know, 25 miles from the border is a place where you can get hit, what are they doing?

GRADSTEIN: Well, some people are leaving. I talked to one woman, in fact, who said that she wanted to send her children and her granddaughter out of the country. She even made reservations for them to fly to Budapest. But her four-month-old grandson has no passport, so they couldn't leave.

So I said, well, what about Eilat in southern Israel? And she said, believe me, I called every hotel in Eilat and they are booked 100 percent solid. And then, of course, there are some people who say that they refuse to leave. They refuse to be, you know, forced to leave their houses.

So, people are leaving, but it's not a mass exodus. Haifa has 270,000 people. And from what I've heard, maybe a few thousand have left.

CHADWICK: What is the sense of support, or maybe non-support, for the government's decision to undertake this offensive in Lebanon?

GRADSTEIN: There are, you know, some mixed feelings, although most of the people that I spoke to did seem to support the Israeli offensive in Lebanon. They said that Israel didn't start this, that it started when Hezbollah crossed the border and captured two Israeli soldiers. That Israeli can't live in the situation where anytime Hezbollah wants, they can just fire rockets. And they wan Israel to just get rid of Hezbollah, once and for all.

There were some voices who said that a military solution won't work, that this isn't the way to get the freedom of the soldiers or to stop the rocket attacks. And some people did express, you know, concern and sadness about the innocent Lebanese, on the other side of the border, who are being killed.

But most people that I spoke to did seem to support it. And they said that, you know, if it means that they have to stay in bomb shelters for another few days, that's a price they're willing to pay.

CHADWICK: NPR's Linda Gradstein reporting from Akko, Israel. That's right next to Haifa and just south of the border with Lebanon. Linda, thank you.

GRADSTEIN: Thank you. 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.
Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.