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Lebanon Hosts U.S. Diplomat for Conflict Talks


And in Lebanon today, a U.S. official arrived for an unexpected visit. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch held talks with Lebanon's prime minister and also was to meet with the speaker of Lebanon's Parliament.

The visit coincides with intensive international efforts, as we said, to end four weeks of fighting between Israel and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group.

Israel's ground offensive intensified in the south. Israel also continued its air assaults on targets around the country. One Israeli air strike leveled a building in the Bekaa Valley, reportedly killing six people. It happened at a town called Mashghara where a local Hezbollah leader appears to have been the target.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Beirut.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

PHILIP REEVES: As the sun rises over Beirut, Mutada Fahat(ph) is in an exhausted daze. He's hardly had any sleep since Monday night. That's when the Israelis bombed his neighborhood, flattening two apartment blocks just ten minutes drive from central Beirut. For most of the hours since that attack, he's been rummaging through a giant mound of rubble, fishing out the remains of men, women and children.

Fahat works for the local municipality. He says today he'll continue the search.

MUTADA FAHAT: We must work here today. Yes, we must. There is body inside here. About 12 person, I think.


REEVES: So far, he says, 39 bodies have been found. He and everyone else here insists they were all civilians. Some of them were people who'd fled from the war zone in Lebanon south to these streets, a Shiite neighborhood, but not one controlled by Hezbollah. Its loyalties, in fact, lie with Amal, another Shiite political and paramilitary group. The search was still going on after dark yesterday, but then this happened.


REEVES: Another Israeli bomb. One which, says rescue worker Kahlid Kange(ph), gave everyone digging at the site a terrifying jolt and brought down half a building overlooking it.

KAHLID KANGE: (Unintelligible) a huge (unintelligible). Yeah, it's very close and huge.

REEVES: The search was called off for the night. In fact, the bomb landed about a mile away, destroying an empty high-rise apartment block. Unlike Monday's attack, it hit an almost deserted Hezbollah neighborhood.

This war is estimated to have killed about 1000 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians. Now, the Lebanese government's making a fresh move to secure peace - an offer to dispatch 15,000 army troops to South Lebanon, along with U.N. sponsored forces, so long as Israeli forces withdraw. Hezbollah, which would also have to leave the south, has evidently agreed to go along with this.

Rami Khouri, columnist for Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper, says the proposal is significant.

RAMI KHOURI: I think what the Lebanese government is doing is showing its serious intent. More importantly, it's showing that Hezbollah and the Lebanese government are actually working together.

REEVES: The issue is whether Hezbollah will cooperate. Lebanon's army is low on equipment and on combat experience. Yet some people here believe it is up to the job.


REEVES: People like architect Yves Garcon(ph), who is to be found among hundreds of others engaged in the now daily ritual of lining up to fill their cars with gas.

YVES GARCON: (Unintelligible) security to the south of Lebanon (unintelligible) great man and the army, in the military army. They can do the job. They have the power to do it.

REEVES: Like gas, such optimism's in short supply in Lebanon, drained by four weeks of war. Further down the same line, a woman who gives her name only as Marie is in despair.

MARIE: It's like a huge nightmare, and it's just not ending. And it (Unintelligible) and still now, really I can't believe that this is happening. It's like a computer game and all of them are enjoying their time while people are dying here and that's all.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Beirut. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.