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Marines Arrive in Lebanon to Help with Evacuation

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JOHN YDSTIE host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. More bombs are falling across Lebanon today. Yesterday was the deadliest day yet in Israel's air assault on that country. Also today, there were more clashes between Israeli troops and Hezbollah guerillas along the Israeli-Lebanese border. In Beirut, the exodus of foreigners is in high gear. Today, U.S. Marines landed on a nearby beach to help evacuate Americans.

NPR's JJ Sutherland is in the Lebanese capital. And, JJ, Lebanon's prime minister has said the country - and I'm quoting here - has been torn to shreds.

JJ SUTHERLAND reporting:

Well, he gave a very angry speech last night on television. And he said that 300 civilians have died in the past nine days and a thousand injured. Israeli airstrikes continue throughout the country. Last night there was a huge bomb. Israel says it dropped 23 tons of explosives on a bunker that held Hezbollah leaders. Hezbollah says it was just an unfinished mosque.

NPR's Ivan Watson is actually road south towards where the heaviest fighting is, and he's seen dozens of cars headed north with white sheets and white t-shirts flying from them. And he also reports that there will be a French ship leaving the southern city of Tyre with French nationals on it. And there are also many Americans there that are also desperate to leave the country.

MONTAGNE: How are the Lebanese people coping with this? Obviously, unlike foreigners, most are not able to escape.

SUTHERLAND: Yes, a huge humanitarian crisis is unfolding. An estimated 500,000 people have been internally displaced by the fighting. Many of them are living in shelters in the Beirut area. Some are in parks. Some have headed to the mountains. Thousands more fled to neighboring Syria. But, you know, 500,000 is a very significant percentage of the whole population - there's only about four million people here - and international aid groups are worried that this depending humanitarian crisis will just continue to grow. And they're worried that medical supplies in the south are running out.

MONTAGNE: And U.S. Marines are back in Lebanon for the first time in more than 20 years.

SUTHERLAND: Yeah, this is the first time the Marines have been here since 1983 when a Hezbollah bombing attack killed more than 200 of them. The Marines came onshore this morning on a landing craft to help with the evacuation of Americans stranded in Lebanon. They'll be taken to the USS Nashville. There are about 40 Marines here, and it's expected to take about 1,200 Americans today to Cyprus.

MONTAGNE: JJ, thanks very much. NPR's JJ Sutherland in Beirut on this the ninth day of Israel's air campaign against Lebanon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Renee Montagne, one of the best-known names in public radio, is a special correspondent and host for NPR News.
JJ Sutherland
JJ Sutherland covers the Pentagon for NPR. Since 2004 he has regularly spent time in Iraq as part of NPR's award-winning team of reporters and producers who have dedicated themselves to covering the conflict.