JERUSALEM -- Israel's bombardment of Lebanon is intended to drive thousands of civilians from their homes and may last for two weeks, according to government sources.
"The point of this is to pound home the message," said a ranking Israeli official. "We want the villagers to think twice before they play host" to anti-Israeli guerrillas.
By some estimates, more than 200,000 Lebanese civilians had fled by yesterday, the third day of fierce firepower brought by Israel on villages in southern Lebanon.
The highway to Beirut is "bumper-to-bumper," said a United Nations observer in Naqoura, Lebanon. "The only people who aren't leaving are those who are too poor to go."
At a closed parliamentary committee meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin said he wanted to continue the attack -- the most intense in a decade -- to flood Beirut with refugees, according to Voice of Israel Radio.
Uri Lubrani, Israel's coordinator of activities in Lebanon, predicted the refugees would "apply massive pressure on Beirut" to curb the actions of the Shiite Muslim guerrillas of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah (Party of God) and the Palestinian guerrillas of the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
"It is clear that the collective memory of many tens of thousands of Lebanese bears the imprint of the formula: They will not be able to live in peace in their homes as long as there is no peace in the north" of Israel, he said on Israel Radio.
Christopher heads home
U.S. Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher cut short an Asian trip yesterday to return to Washington because of the bombardment in Lebanon.
He said he still expects to arrive in the Middle East on Sunday on a scheduled trip intended to revive the stalled peace negotiations.
Several Israeli government officials said the attacks are expected to last about two weeks. But Mr. Rabin denied there was such a timetable, and another official predicted Israel will end its bombardment as a gesture when Mr. Christopher arrives. However, all the officials left the careful impression that the matter will not end quickly, as have most previous Israeli attacks.
"It seems we must give the Hezbollah a long lesson," Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said.
"It's going to take time," agreed another member of Mr. Rabin's Labor Party, Haggai Merom.
In three days of intensive bombings, Israeli intelligence officials say they have killed about 20 guerrillas. The army deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Amnon Shahak, acknowledged that "we are not looking for a large number of terrorists."
He defended the dislocation of civilians. "It was planned that if we have to attack against the civilian targets, we didn't want the civilians present," he said.
An estimated 150,000 Israeli residents also have either left their homes in northern Israel or taken to bomb shelters for fear of guerrilla rockets.
'All along the sector'
Israeli bombers and ground artillery poured fire on targets "all along the sector" of southern Lebanon yesterday, according to an army spokesman. The bombardment was answered by Katyusha rockets fired by the guerrillas into northern Israel.
News agency reports from Lebanon said at least 14 people were killed there, bringing the death toll from both sides in three days of violence to 55 killed, with some 290 wounded, most of them Lebanese.
Four soldiers with the U.N. peace keeping force that patrols areas adjacent to Israel's "security zone" in southern Lebanon were moderately wounded, according to a U.N. spokesman. The soldiers were hurt when Israeli aircraft dropped bombs on a Nepalese U.N. post, the spokesman said.
The chief of Israel's air force, Maj. Gen. Hertzel Boudinger, said the bombing of the U.N. post and an earlier bombing of Syrian soldiers in Lebanon were accidental.
The Israeli army issued warnings yesterday to more than 70 villages in Lebanon that they are targets of artillery and urged the population to flee, according to Israel Radio.
Uri Savir, director general of the Foreign Ministry, said sending the population fleeing is "difficult and painful."
But he said that the responsibility is with the Hezbollah. "It's part of a very tragic and cruel pattern of the Hezbollah game to take that population hostage and hide among that population," he said.
Unlike Palestinian guerrillas in southern Lebanon, who mostly stay in well-known camps, the Hezbollah guerrillas are a part of the population and blend in with civilians in the villages and towns of the area.
Although the Hezbollah has strong ties to Iran, many Lebanese defend the group as a legitimate resistance movement fighting Israel's continued occupation of Lebanese territory.
Mr. Rabin had threatened Monday to make the area of southern Lebanon unlivable. On a visit to northern Israel, he said, "If there is no quiet here, there will be such unquiet [in south Lebanon] that they won't be able to live there."
The Israeli military has fired more than 5,000 shells and conducted 300 aerial missions since Sunday, when the army, air force and navy began the bombardment. Israel has said it was reacting to the killing this month of seven soldiers in southern Lebanon and the mortar fire that has fallen on Israeli towns along the northern border.
They have said the operation is aimed at silencing the Hezbollah, whose goals include ending the Jewish state and disrupting the Middle East peace talks.
Memories of 1982
Israel has not ruled out using troops to advance further into Lebanon from the 9-mile-wide "security zone" it holds.
But the Israeli public is loath to repeat the invasion of 1982 that led to a quagmire and cost the lives of 650 Israeli soldiers.
Reuters reported scenes of devastation and casualties from the shelling in Lebanon.
The news agency said women and elderly were among those who arrived bleeding at a hospital in Tyre, and hospital workers treated screaming children with injuries to their legs and arms.
Homes were on fire in the villages targeted by Israelis. In one such village, Kfar Hatta, residents flew white sheets from their houses in surrender, the news agency reported.