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Military leader refuses to rule out ground in -

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Military leader refuses to rule out ground invasion

Reporter: Matt Brown

KERRY O'BRIEN: Welcome to the program on another day of bombardments on both sides, rising
casualties and fleeing refugees in the conflict between Israel and the militant Islamic Hezbollah
group in Lebanon. International efforts to force a ceasefire are making no headway. Some Israeli
Government sources are talking of maintaining their attacks for up to several weeks and a senior
Israeli military leader has refused to rule out a ground invasion of Lebanon. In a moment we'll
assess Hezbollah's capacity to withstand Israel's withering air attacks. But first, for an update
on the picture from Lebanon, I spoke just a short time ago to ABC correspondent Matt Brown in the
centre of Beirut. Matt, how do you summarise the day so far in Beirut, both in terms of missile
attacks and evacuations?

MATT BROWN, ABC MIDDLE EAST CORRESPONDENT: A little bit quiet since daylight broke over Beirut.
There were at least 50 Israeli attacks across Lebanon overnight. What is happening now is that
thousands of people are fleeing Beirut and Lebanon. They're getting out of here any way they can.
Foreign nationals are obviously being evacuated by ship and by air. But for the Lebanese, they're
left to make their way, however they can, by car, in taxis, in buses, in mini vans, across the
mountain range, across the Bekaa Valley and into Syria if they can get through a very congested

KERRY O'BRIEN: Now, it's been confirmed here early tonight that 81 Australian citizens, a further
81 Australian citizens, were evacuated in four buses into Syria in the course of the day. But are
you getting any sense at all of how that is taking place? Is this all happening under wraps or do
you get a sense of how the operation is being carried out?

MATT BROWN: What they are doing is they are notifying people by telephone to get themselves to a
rendezvous point and then they are getting them on the bus. Those buses are in some cases
accompanied by police officers who are stationed here, security personnel, and they are heading out
in a convoy, which I believe is being coordinated with the Israeli military, so they don't get
killed along the way and heading out in a convoy across the border with Syria. There's a lot of
concern still in the Lebanese-Australian community here. As many as 25,000 Australian citizens
here. 3,000 visitors were here at the start of the crisis. That number presumably coming down a bit
now these evacuations are under way. But, we spoke to a woman just yesterday, just north of here in
a tourist centre called Byblos. She was very frightened. Her and her son were looking at hunkering
down and waiting for the embassy to contact them, but they were getting no information from the
embassy, nothing but an answering machine. So when bombs landed near her house overnight she fled
in a taxi on her own to the Syrian border and we've lost contact with her.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Matt, is there any way of assessing exactly what damage is being inflicted on
Hezbollah by the Israel attacks?

MATT BROWN: It's very difficult. It's very difficult to assess. The difficulty really pointing
possibly to the need for Israel to make some sort of ground incursion to carry out its operation of
trying to rout Hezbollah. It's difficult to assess it from the air. It is difficult to assess it
here in Beirut from a distance. Israel has been releasing that sort of cockpit vision that we are
used to seeing these days of the missiles hitting. They've been hitting targets that obviously have
just been firing rockets into Israel. But more than 200 Lebanese killed. What proportion of those
are Hezbollah fighters? What proportion is that of the active Hezbollah force? Obviously very small
in both cases. So missiles being hit, people who are firing missiles being hit. Some cargo
containers have been hit here in Beirut in the Bekaa Valley. Israel says they have been carrying
missiles. So, according to Israel, some success. According to the pictures we're seeing, some
success. But I guess what is concerning a lot of people in Israel and in Lebanon is that if you
really want to rout a guerilla force with some modern weapons, it's very difficult to do that just
from the air.

KERRY O'BRIEN: And that of course does raise the issue of a ground attack and Israel has refused to
rule out the possibility of a "massive" ground invasion. Now is there any - there must be some
sense of nervousness in Beirut about that prospect again.

MATT BROWN: There certainly is. Of course Israel invaded in the 1980s and only withdrew in 2000 so
there is a lot of concern in Israel as well about being stuck here. What Israel is most likely to
do is a ground force with overwhelming force for a limited period of time. Time to establish the
buffer zone. They want a buffer zone around 30 kilometres up into Lebanon. A lot of concern here
about what will happen with refugees flooding into the city if they can get through the blown up
roads that separate central Lebanon and south Lebanon and some concern, too, because if Israel
wants to rout Hezbollah, can Israel afford for Hezbollah to retreat into Syria? Can they afford for
those fighters to get safe refuge in Syria? If they can't afford that, if they're not prepared to
wear the prospect of those fighters returning, what will they do to stop it?

KERRY O'BRIEN: Matt Brown, thanks for talking with us.

MATT BROWN: A pleasure, Kerry.