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Robertson: Lebanese hope U.S. will pressure Israel

Nic Robertson reports from Beirut early Thursday.


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BEIRUT, Lebanon (CNN) -- The Lebanese have endured more than a week of Israeli airstrikes. Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Wednesday that the conflict so far has caused "immeasurable loss": more than 300 people have been killed in Lebanon, 1,000 have been wounded and 500,000 displaced. Beirut has been hit particularly hard. spoke with Senior International Correspondent Nic Robertson about life for the people of the Lebanese capital.

QUESTION: What is the mood in Beirut among residents?

ROBERTSON: It's one of apprehension. In the southern suburbs, a lot of people have moved out because the bombing is really heavy. There are concerns now in Christian neighborhoods where there weren't yesterday, and there's concern there because there was a small missile fired at a what turned out to be a truck used for well-digging that from the air might have looked like a missile-launching truck. That was the first targeting in a Christian neighborhood, so there's growing concern in those neighborhoods now.

QUESTION: You spoke with a minister who said there is an impending humanitarian crisis. What kind of evidence is there of that?

ROBERTSON: The United Nations says that half a million people -- out of a country with 4 million people -- are displaced from their homes. The road network in the country has been crippled by bombing, and the country has been cut off from getting food by ship. The airports have been closed because the runways have all been destroyed by bombings. So, the country is cut off and cannot resupply itself.

The minister of social affairs says the country is now living in a humanitarian disaster.

QUESTION: Do you get the sense that many people there support Hezbollah?

ROBERTSON: Certainly the Shia community, which is where Hezbollah typically draws its support. There are more people in that community -- people whom you might have considered moderates before -- who tend to support them.

But what unites people in the country at the moment is the fact that they're being attacked by an outside country, being attacked by Israel. So there is a feeling in the country that they need to be united in the face of attack from outside the country.

So they're not criticizing Hezbollah openly as much as they might have done in the past. While they're angry and they fully understand that Hezbollah has gotten them into this mess, they feel that they need to be united at the moment and then sort out the Hezbollah issue after there is a cease-fire.

QUESTION: We've heard the stories of foreign nationals evacuating. Are many Lebanese people evacuating, and those that are, are they finding the situation confusing as well?

ROBERTSON: Frightening. They're finding the situation frightening and distressing and disturbing because they don't know what roads are open to drive out of the country. For the Lebanese, the only way for them to really get out of the country is to drive. And for many of them, even that is not an option because they would have to drive through Syria. The only roads open are out through Syria, and there are many Lebanese who oppose the Syrian involvement in Lebanon and they don't feel comfortable going to that country. Also, they're very afraid of being bombed and targeted on the roads as they drive around.

QUESTION: The Israeli military said it dropped huge bombs Wednesday on a Hezbollah bunker. How often are Israeli shells coming in and was today a particularly bad day?

ROBERTSON: There is no typical day here. And again that down to the skill, I think, of military strategists, that you do not give your enemy the ability to predict what you are going to do next. The timings of the bombings change. There have been bombings early in the morning; there have been bombings last night that started around midnight. But tonight the bombings started right after dark. Around 8 o'clock there were several bombs dropped.

QUESTION: Do the Lebanese people feel like once foreigners are completely evacuated that Israel is going to invade?

ROBERTSON: There is certainly a feeling that once the foreigners are out of the country, that foreign nationals have left, that there is the potential for Israel to ratchet up its operations and possibly invade or to start attacking Beirut more aggressively. That's a very big fear for them at the moment.

They certainly look at any element of international involvement or Western involvement in Lebanon as a step closer to peace. They would like to see the diplomats -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others -- get involved in the Lebanese situation. They believe in Lebanon that it's only American involvement that is going to de-escalate this crisis, because they don't believe anyone else can put the political pressure on the Israelis to do it.

As far as foreign nationals being evacuated, once they are gone and embassies are at a skeleton staff, the Lebanese are really going to feel very much on their own, and they worry about that.

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