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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Israel and Hezbollah Continue Trading Deadly Attacks; Interview With Israeli Ambassador to United Nations Dan Gillerman

Aired July 17, 2006 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And appreciate all of you out there being with us.
Coming up this hour, we're taking you in depth on the day's top story, the crisis in the Middle East. Here is the very latest for you right now.

Just a short time ago, bright flashes light up the Beirut skyline, as at least two loud explosions rock the city. All indications are, Israel is making good on its threat to continue airstrikes against Hezbollah positions.

As we speak, thousands of visitors to Lebanon, including some 25,000 Americans, are trapped in the middle of a war zone. Only a few dozen U.S. citizens have gotten out so far, and the State Department says the U.S. will launch a large-scale evacuation in the very near future.

Short- and medium-range Hezbollah rockets are hitting Israel tonight, as they have throughout the day. One exploded near a hospital. At least 24 Israelis are dead in the latest fighting, with 300 wounded.

In Lebanon, close to 200 people are believed to be dead, 429 wounded.

Diplomats, meanwhile, are trying to stop this fighting. The French prime minister is in Beirut at this hour. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads for the Middle East soon.

In our control room, we're watching developments in Beirut, in the cities, and along the border near northern Israel and on the island of Cyprus.

The first story in our top story coverage is Beirut, which, along with other parts of Lebanon, is enduring another day and night of attacks. The latest explosions were just a short time ago.

Let's quickly go to senior international correspondent Nic Robertson, who is there to bring us up to date -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, just over an hour ago, four loud explosions in Beirut coming from the southern suburbs -- that's about two miles from where we're standing.

You could feel the area here shake. Before that, we heard Israeli aircraft flying overhead. The Lebanese army says, a base of barracks about 12 miles northeast of the center of the city here was targeted. They say there were casualties among the Lebanese army. They couldn't say how many.

But the bombing here began much earlier in the day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): Just after dawn, the first airstrikes of the day, destroying two trucks, killing both drivers in Beirut's harbor area -- Israeli aircraft also blasted the port cities of Tyre and Sidon, hit the Bekaa Valley in the east, and targeted Hezbollah's heartland in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

They also fired just inside Lebanon's southern border, from where Hezbollah continues to launch attacks against Israel. Through the day, the death toll continued to rise, Lebanese security officials saying it topped 170.

With fear for their safety rising, barely a mile from the attack on the two trucks, the first French citizens trying to flee the violence began to board a ship sent by their government.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very bad, very, very, very bad, very bad. I thank the -- France and the embassy and the -- and all them, Chirac, all of them.

ROBERTSON: Twelve hundred people managed to get aboard this vessel. Another 5,000 French are still waiting to leave. A few Americans were allowed to board, too, some angry the U.S. hasn't moved fast enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The American Embassy has not done anything. Americans can wait. I don't know how long we will be waiting. I would have waited. So, the French rescued me.

ROBERTSON (on camera): This evacuation is only the beginning. There are many more foreign nationals desperate to get out of Lebanon. The British have two ships on the way to get their countrymen out. And, right now, the Americans are planning to potentially evacuate 25,000 people.

Diplomatic efforts continued. U.N. envoys met with Lebanon's prime minister, later suggesting, talks about a cease-fire may be making a little headway.

VIJAY NAMBIAR, UNITED NATIONS ENVOY: I must stress that this -- or these are first steps, and much diplomatic work needs to be done before we arrive at any grounds for optimism.

ROBERTSON: French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin came to Beirut, adding his diplomatic weight to calls on Hezbollah to stop its attacks and hand back the two soldiers it kidnapped last week.

"It's difficult," he said. "There is no magical solution."

Experienced Lebanese politicians, like Druze leader Waleed Jumblat, say they see problems, too.

WALEED JUMBLAT, LEBANESE PROGRESSIVE SOCIALIST PARTY: I don't think there's going to be a cease-fire soon, because the -- the -- the way that Israel is reacting, is brutal, as usual, is destructive, as usual, and counterproductive.

ROBERTSON: For those leaving, the war is behind them. For the Lebanese they leave behind, that luxury remains a distant hope.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, Nic, let's talk about all of those that remain behind. Obviously, the psychological impact of the death and destruction around them must be huge. How are they holding up, according to the conversations you have had?

ROBERTSON: Well, Paula, you can probably hear the big explosions going off just now. Again, I think they're coming from the southern suburbs. That's four blasts I have just heard in the last 30 seconds to a minute. I can hear aircraft overhead.

What worries people is the fear of just these type of explosions. They don't know exactly where they're going to go off. They don't know if they're going to go off near living where they are. Or if, where they're trying to get out through crossing the border, coming to the harbor area, are those the places that -- that are going to be attacked?

In the southern suburbs of Beirut, the streets are really deserted. In the northern area of Beirut that hasn't been targeted, a more Christian area, people there -- businesses are closed. The streets are relatively busy, not half as busy as they -- as they might have been recently.

But it is the fear of hearing the aircraft, of hearing those explosions, not knowing what's going to happen next. Businesses are closed. Food is harder to find in the markets. Life is getting harder for those choosing to stay -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Nic, you described a series of four explosions in a pretty close period of time and hearing aircraft overhead. Describe to us where you think that is coming from, in relationship to other sites that have been hit already.

ROBERTSON: Well, Paula, I'm standing pretty much in the center of Beirut, about a mile from the harbor area down to my right in this direction.

Over here is the southern suburbs. And that's where we could hear those explosions coming from. Two -- two or three of those four sounded quite -- as if they were quite dull explosions. One had a louder crack to it, which made me think it was perhaps closer to us, within two or three miles, the other ones perhaps further out on those southern suburbs, perhaps out toward the international airport, four or five miles away from here. It's very hard to tell. Were they big explosives dropped? Was that why the explosions were quieter, or they were just louder because they were closer? We don't know. The targets in the southern suburbs typically have been the radio television stations that Hezbollah officials use, the headquarters and the houses of Hezbollah leaders.

And -- and those are the type of places that have been targeted. We know that -- that the airport's been targeted. That could be what's being hit right now. We just don't know, precisely at this moment, exactly what was targeted by those four blasts -- Paula.

ZAHN: Nic Robertson confirming the breaking news out of Beirut tonight -- just as he was on the air, as you saw, speaking with me, a series of four explosions in some 30 seconds, he believes, if history repeats itself, perhaps targeting some of the, as he just mentioned, television stations, and perhaps more of the outlying headquarters, where Hezbollah may be held up at this hour.

Again, Nic Robertson, thank you.

As we saw in Nic's report, Israeli tanks keep blasting away at suspected Hezbollah positions inside Lebanon. But the guerrillas are still finding safe places to launch their rockets. Late word is that a nighttime Hezbollah rocket attack hit a hospital in the northern Israeli town of Safed, wounding at least five people.

Let's quickly bring in John Vause, who's on the border. He has been dodging rockets all day long -- John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, that barrage of Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah came down within the past few hours.

Sixteen Israeli communities were hit. And, as you say, at least five people have been reported wounded in that recent attack by Hezbollah. Israel has responded with hundreds of rounds of artillery, as -- as we have just seen with Nic Robertson in Beirut, airstrikes as well.

The government here, though, wants to create a buffer zone in southern Lebanon between Israeli towns and cities and Hezbollah militants, who have fired almost 100 rockets in the past 24 hours alone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE (voice-over): Hour after hour, day after day, for almost a week now, these Israeli howitzers have pounded southern Lebanon, while warplanes and helicopters attack from the air.

Just across the border, the impact is devastating. Lebanese civilians are dying; homes, buildings and bridges destroyed. The Israelis are aiming for mobile rocket launchers like these, small, quick to set up, hard to hit.

MAJOR ZVIKA GOLAN, ISRAELI ARMY: Wherever you can see Katyusha rockets launched from Lebanon, we actually can see it here as a target. So, these people here -- actually, the artillery, are shooting exactly to the place that's been shot from in Lebanon.

VAUSE: But there's little Israel can do once the Katyushas are in the air. About 1,000 Hezbollah rockets have hit Israeli towns and cities.

Kiryat Shmona is right on the front lines. And life here has come to a standstill. For a few hours, residents come up for air. They spend most of the day and all of the night terrified in underground bunkers.

(on camera): So how many people would be -- would stay in here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thirty people, something like that.

VAUSE (voice-over): Mordekai Kadusha (ph) says, along with many others, he's close to breaking. The bomb shelters are hot and stuffy. There's little to do, he says, except wait for the next attack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot go relax when you -- when you hear boom, boom, boom.

VAUSE: And if this firepower is not enough to stop the Hezbollah rockets, Israel still has the option of sending in ground forces. Tanks, armored vehicles and soldiers are gathering on the border. They are waiting and praying.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: And, today, Israeli defense officials say an airstrike destroyed a long-range Hezbollah missile -- missile capable of reaching Tel Aviv. The incident was originally reported on Lebanese television as a downed Israeli F-16. But, tonight, Israel says all of its warplanes are accounted for -- Paula.

ZAHN: John Vause, thanks so much for that update.

I want to clarify something that we just reported about late word that a nighttime Hezbollah rocket attack hit the hospital. Apparently, it came as close as you can get to hitting it, within a couple hundred yards away, wounding about five people.

So, where are we all in the process tonight? We're still hearing plenty of talk. Is there any hope diplomacy can end this crisis?

Joining me is Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Daniel Gillerman.

Always good to see you. Welcome.

DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Hi. Good to be here, Paula.

ZAHN: So, we heard a Lebanese official say that we are baby steps closer to reaching a cease-fire. When is it realistic that a deal will be struck? Are we talking about days away or weeks away? GILLERMAN: Well, I hope it's days away.

But a deal will only be struck once the soldiers are handed back, once the shelling of Israeli towns and villages stops, and once Hezbollah is removed from the border, and has no longer the capability of shelling our cities and our towns. Only then will a deal be struck.

ZAHN: Are you confident those three conditions can be met?

GILLERMAN: I hope very much. I hope very much that we meet them.

We're doing everything in our power to make sure that this happens. We have been attacked by Lebanon. We went in after an act of war was declared against us. And when you look at these pictures, you -- you realize how sad and how tragic that story is of a country that has actually been taken hostage by terror.

And with the influence, the deadly, vicious, bloody influence of Iran, through its proxies, the Hezbollah, are ruining their own country.

ZAHN: But, in all due respect, you also know, Mr. Ambassador, many of the Lebanese people who do not support Hezbollah feel like they're being held hostage. It's believed a couple hundred civilians have been wounded in the process, over -- or killed -- some 400 wounded, and Hezbollah saying only two of their own have been killed.

In the act of targeting the infrastructure in Lebanon, how do you justify that kind of loss, particularly the loss we're talking about of innocent civilians?

GILLERMAN: Well, we -- first of all, I fully agree that the Lebanese people have been taken hostage. Actually, it's not me who's saying it, but a Lebanese minister on Friday said that, while Hezbollah has captured and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers, it did take the whole country hostage.

Israel left Lebanon over six years ago. There was absolutely no reason for the Hezbollah to attack Israel the way it did. The Lebanese government has been urged by the international community and the Security Council time and time again to exert its sovereignty over the whole of Lebanon, to deploy its forces in the south. It hasn't done it.

It's allowed this cancerous growth of terror to fester in the cesspool. When you look at the magnitude of the arsenal of the weapons that the Hezbollah has amassed over the years, you ask yourself, how did Lebanon allow this to happen?

ZAHN: But when you talk, Mr. Ambassador, about festering wounds, there are a lot of people out there who are saying that the aggressiveness of the Israeli attack is -- is disproportionate to the impact of two soldiers having been captured, eight having been killed.

GILLERMAN: The two soldiers are the heart of the issue, but they're not the only issue.

When you look at the capability of the Hezbollah, when you look at these deadly weapons, when you look at missiles that have hit our third largest city and can reach Tel Aviv, you realize the potential for danger which exists there. And that danger has to be eliminated.

ZAHN: Mr. Ambassador, we hope you will return to us maybe within days with -- with a breakthrough.

GILLERMAN: Well, I would hope so very much.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: ... indication we're getting. They're working very hard, particularly this team of U.N. workers.

Again, thanks for your time tonight.

GILLERMAN: All right. Thank you very much.

ZAHN: Appreciate it.

GILLERMAN: Thank you. It's always good to be here.

ZAHN: Right now, it's time to count down to the 10 top -- most popular stories on CNN.com.

Let's go to Melissa Long of CNN Pipeline, our broadband service.

Hi, Melissa.

MELISSA LONG, CNN PIPELINE: Good evening, Paula.

Back to work on this Monday, and more than 21 million people logged on to CNN.com to try to get up to date on the news, of course, from the Middle East. And many other stories caught the attention of dot-com readers.

Coming in at number 10 on our list this evening -- Jennifer Aniston, she's busy traveling, promoting her film "The Break-Up." She says she's ready and willing to be part of a "Friends" reunion show. Of course, you know Aniston played Rachel Green on the hit comedy, which ended its 10-year successful run on NBC back in 2004.

Number nine on the list this evening -- police in Benton Harbor, Michigan, are investigating whether an apartment complex was a prison for a 14-year-old boy. The teen told police he escaped because his aunt kept him chained up and refused to feed him.

We will continue to check on some of the most popular dot-com stories still to come -- Paula.

ZAHN: See you in a little bit, Melissa. Thanks so much.

LONG: OK. Sure.

ZAHN: We're going to move on to our top story coverage, including terrified Americans desperately trying to get out of Beirut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): After days of deadly attacks, only a few Americans are making their way out of Lebanon. With thousands more desperate to leave, why is the rescue taking so long?

And Hezbollah's new weapons -- a guerrilla group that used to fight with homemade rockets now has long-range missiles and threatens millions of people -- all that and more just ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our top story continues with a disturbing question: Is the U.S. government lagging in the rescue of thousands of Americans stranded in the crossfire in Lebanon?

Beirut airport is out of commission. Roads and bridges are destroyed, and escape by sea is the only hope. There are an estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon right now, and U.S. officials are on the ground there looking at the best and safest way to evacuate those who want to leave.

Now, a small number of American evacuees have already arrived on Cyprus.

And that's where our Chris Burns joins us from now -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, you might also ask, why is there an Italian destroyer over my shoulder here that just came in this evening with 400 evacuees? How come the United States couldn't do that sooner? How come they only were able to evacuate very sort of high-priority cases with helicopters from Beirut back over here -- it's about a half-an-hour flight -- ill people, elderly, children? Why couldn't they get this into action much earlier?

And the argument that we heard from the Pentagon was that they want to make sure this is a very, very secure operation, that -- that any kind of operation like this could become a target itself. And why -- and in order to try to fend off any kind of possible attack, they're going to send in the destroyer, the USS Gonzalez, as well as the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, along in -- as a task force group with -- with six other groups. And that's how they intend to secure and make sure that this evacuation goes on without a hitch -- Paula.

ZAHN: Chris, give us some more details, once they bring that -- that ship in, how this plan works. I know there's a lot of concern about the volume of people they have got to process here.

BURNS: Well, they're expecting a few thousand, perhaps around 5,000. Keep in mind that many of these 25,000 people are -- have dual -- dual nationality. They're also Lebanese. They don't intend to leave. What they're -- they're planning to do is to commission a Greek cruise ship to help to move people over here, and then on to planes, and fly them back to the states, either by charter or commercial ship. Also, they're going to bring in some more helicopters. It will be kind of a mix of different kinds of evacuation. Those helicopters would be boosted and moving people by the dozens.

And they do expect and hope that this will happen in the next couple of days -- Paula.

ZAHN: A lot of people hoping that. We heard from a very frustrated American who happened to get out with the French. And she said a lot of Americans are very angry about how this seems to be dragging along.

Chris Burns, thanks so much for the update.

Now, for many Americans, the urgency to get out is even greater because they have their children with them.

A short time ago, I spoke with Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at Sarah Lawrence University who took his three children on vacation to meet some Lebanese relatives. Well, tonight, he finds himself wondering when and how he will get them safely out of Beirut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Professor, we understand that evacuations are slowly getting under way of Americans. Do you and your family have any way out at this hour?

FAWAZ GERGES, EXPERT ON MIDDLE EASTERN STUDIES, SARAH LAWRENCE COLLEGE: Well, I don't think we see a way out at this particular moment. I mean, most of us are hunkering down. We're waiting to see when and how the dust would settle on the battlefield.

For example, my family, we registered with the American Embassy today. They told us they -- they will contact us back in four or five days. And then we will see.

ZAHN: So, how concerned are you that you may not even hear from the American Embassy for another four or five days?

GERGES: Really, Paula, we're trying to get the, I mean, necessities, the bread, the butter, the -- the vegetables, the fruits. This is really the major concern, is survival on daily basis.

And, as you know, Paula, there have been some major shortages, of fuel, of bread, of meat. The country is isolated. And this is why my fear is that the shortages, if the war continues, if the escalation continues, the shortages of the necessities of food could easily turn into a humanitarian crisis. My own family, myself and I, we're trying to cope with this particular crisis on daily basis.

ZAHN: I know you're a very thoughtful, calm guy. How scared are you about your own family's welfare? Your voice certainly isn't betraying that tonight.

GERGES: I think my family and I are a bit luckier than most families here, because we live about 20 minutes from the center of Beirut, from the major bombings.

As you know, the overwhelming number of casualties have been civilians including many children and elderly. Do I feel anxious? Absolutely. Am I terrified? Absolutely. Truly, if I were by myself, I would not, probably, mind. I am really terrified, because I have three children with me. And I know they have difficulty sleeping at night, because of the presence of fighter planes, because of the bombing, because of the psychological state that exists in the country.

ZAHN: How real is the threat of death, even for you, who are 20 minutes outside of the areas that have been heavily bombed?

GERGES: Paula, you know, every time I get in the car -- for example, I -- I -- I came in a taxi today here. And, truly, it's terrifying.

It's terrifying because the streets are deserted. The bridges -- every time we go on a bridge, I'm terrified, because you never know if the bridge basically disappears. It's very serious. It -- it -- it's dangerous.

And, yes, I think, every single Lebanese citizen, at this particular moment, feels vulnerable, not only because of the fear of death, feels vulnerable because of the unknown.

ZAHN: Fawaz Gerges, we will leave it there. Best of luck to your family. And hope you hear from the American Embassy sooner than four days.

GERGES: Thank you, Paula.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And now we continue with our CNN.com countdown with Melissa Long from CNN Pipeline.

Welcome back.

LONG: Hello once again.

Perhaps trying to escape the heat over the weekend, a lot of people went to see "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" -- the treasure at the box office, $62.2 million over the weekend. That film has earned a total of $258.2 million since it opened 10 days ago. This film is now the year's top grossing film.

Coming in at number seven -- what everybody is talking about, complaining about, rightly so, the heat. Temperatures are soaring well into the 90s and beyond across much of the nation. Paula, I checked the forecast for New York for tomorrow. I hope you like the heat, 96 degrees. ZAHN: It was so awful out there today. We all felt very privileged to be tethered to our desk for 12, 14, 16 hours, because...

LONG: In the air-conditioning.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: We feel very fortunate we have air-conditioning, period. Yes, it's going to be a scorcher. And you have got to really worry about the elderly tomorrow.

LONG: Mmm-hmm.

ZAHN: Thanks for the warning, Melissa. Appreciate it.

Coming up: Who's pulling the strings and providing the weapons for Hezbollah. Coming up: a look at the bigger picture -- how do Iran and Syria fit in?

Plus, he didn't happen to know the microphone was on. Hear President Bush's description of the crisis, complete with an undeleted expletive. I don't think his mom is going to be too happy with him tonight. You will see.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back.

More now on tonight's top story -- as Israel and Hezbollah continue trading deadly attacks, the subject of war overshadows everything at the G8 Summit in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

And you can hear the frustration, as President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke, forgetting, for a moment, a live microphone on the table.

The meaning is clear, and it's aimed at Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: See, the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and it's over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Well, despite the harsh language, many from Saint Petersburg to the Middle East agree with the focus on Syria and, beyond that, the influence of Iran.

Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour joins us now from Haifa, Israel -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, all along, the big concern amongst people in this region has been whether this is going to spill over and become a wider war. Of course, Iran and Syria are being blamed by Israel and by the United States for this crisis. Tonight, as U.N. and other European diplomats are trying to bring some kind of solution, also we've heard a couple of things out of Damascus and Tehran. From Damascus, they've said that the government should take precautions for all eventualities. From Tehran, the foreign minister has said that they should prepare for some kind of cease-fire and exchange potentially of hostages -- talking, of course, of the Israeli prisoners and the Arab prisoners in Israeli jails.

However, that doesn't seem to be in the offing yet. And surprisingly, many here don't actually believe that this will yet anyway become a wider conflict.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Israel awoke again to the sound of sirens screaming. The port city of Haifa afraid, one day after Hezbollah missiles killed eight people. And, again, rockets landed near the port city.

As casualties mount here and many more in Lebanon, there is great fear around the world that this could escalate into a wider, hotter war. Yet many Israeli officials and analysts say that it won't. They say Israel has its hands full with Lebanon and Gaza. And besides, Syria and Iran are getting what they want.

AMATZIA BARAM, ISRAELI ANALYST: The Syrians are ready to fight Israel until the last Lebanese. That's the basic Syrian approach. By the way, the same way the Iranians are ready to fight Israel until the last Syrian and Lebanese.

AMANPOUR: In other words, even though Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Syrian President Bashar Assad regularly verbally assault Israel, statements from both countries now are careful to distance themselves from the current fighting. Even though Israel says both give Hezbollah its arms and its orders, it is not threatening to go to war against those countries.

SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI VICE PREMIER: It's not for us to handle the Iranian issue. It's a world problem, and the world should handle it.

BARAM: We cannot attack Iran unless we use long-range missiles and F-15, and this is war. This is all-out war.

AMANPOUR: And rather than go to war against Syria, Baram says Israel sees it as part of the eventual solution, if the international community puts enough pressure on Damascus in order for it to extract a political resolution from Hezbollah.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: But Israel says that first, it will have to continue to squeeze Hezbollah so that it feels the heat. And one Western diplomat who's knowledgeable about the current diplomatic efforts say nobody in this region, apparently he says, according to the people in various parts of this region, thinks that there is going to be a cease-fire without a political solution -- Paula.

ZAHN: So what kind of incentive does Hezbollah really have at this hour to stop?

AMANPOUR: Well, not a whole lot of incentive, they say, other than the fear that it could be so weakened by this Israeli onslaught that it loses whatever strength and power it does have, not just militarily, but politically. And that's what they're trying to bank on, that they can so squeeze Hezbollah that they ask for indirect support in trying to end this politically.

ZAHN: And in an interview I just did with one of the Israeli ambassadors, to the end he was saying that he feels that they have significantly degraded Hezbollah militarily. Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much for that update.

Now, we're going to quickly go back to the CNN.com countdown with Melissa Long -- Melissa.

LONG: Good evening once again. Counting down the stories, we've reached number six on the list. And their decades-long friendship is very well publicized, and Oprah Winfrey says it is just that, it is a friendship. The talk show queen is clearing up what she says is a misunderstanding about her close relationship with her best friend Gayle King. Winfrey tells the August issue of "O" magazine -- that's her magazine -- that she and King are not gay.

Number five on our list this evening, welcome home. A smooth landing for the space Shuttle Discovery. That 13-day mission ended this morning with a touchdown at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Paula, they traveled some 5.3 million miles. What an amazing adventure.

ZAHN: It's amazing, and it never ceases to just make me shiver when I see them land.

LONG: I have the exact same reaction.

ZAHN: I hope we always have that reaction. It's nice to see a mission end up that successfully. Melissa, again, see you a little bit later on.

LONG: OK.

ZAHN: So why can't Lebanon's government get control of Hezbollah? Next in our top story coverage, a Lebanese official gives me his government's point of view on Hezbollah's strengths, its weapons and its enemies.

Plus, they don't call it the holy land for no reason at all. Which sites from the Bible may actually be in the line of fire?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: We continue our top story coverage right now. Thousands fleeing from missile barrages in Israel and bombs in Beirut and the rest of Lebanon. As casualties mount on both sides, both sides call it aggression.

With me now, the Lebanese special envoy at the United Nations, Ambassador Nouhad Mahmoud. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

It's been two years since the U.N. passed a resolution calling on the Lebanese army to patrol the border, to be in control of the border, and for Hezbollah to be disarmed. Why hasn't that happened?

AMBASSADOR NOUHAD MAHMOUD, LEBANESE SPECIAL ENVOY: It didn't happen because, first, we had the tragedy of the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri, and then we came -- the country came to a standstill for some time, and then we had a new government only a year ago. And this government is taking care of many issues which are now on the table to be solved. One of them is the armament of Hezbollah.

It is on the national dialogue table. This issue was a taboo a year ago. Now everyone is talking about it, and we're headed towards something.

ZAHN: You say you were heading towards something, but you also hear that there were fears of civil war underlying confronting this issue. By disarming Hezbollah, you could just break open this fledgling democracy.

MAHMOUD: We never intended to disarm Hezbollah by military force. That cannot be done, not by the Lebanese army or the Lebanese government. We don't have the will also to do that, because that would break the country. Even the Israeli, they were in Lebanon for 20 years, and they couldn't disarm Hezbollah. How they can ask -- the mighty Israel, which couldn't do that, how can they ask the Lebanese present government to do that for them?

ZAHN: So with Hezbollah members now making up 20 percent of basically your legislature or structure, how much contact is there between the military and the political people, and are they trying to get them to get rid of their arms?

MAHMOUD: Well, the leader of Hezbollah is on the table, sitting on the table with the others, and they are discussing that.

ZAHN: The political and the military leaders?

MAHMOUD: Yes, one year ago that was not possible. I mean, we're a country which came from a long war, from occupation, and there are many remnants of that period. That will take some time to solve. It cannot be solved overnight.

ZAHN: When you say it can't be solved overnight, if you have the presence of international peacekeepers, are you optimistic then that you could see the disarming of Hezbollah?

MAHMOUD: Peace keeping, that will be not enforcing something. That would be executing something which everyone agreed upon. They cannot do it by force. It's not by force. Things cannot be solved by force. Internally or regionally or internationally.

ZAHN: Do you think three or four months from now we'll see Hezbollah disarmed? I need a real brief answer.

MAHMOUD: That's possible. It depends on how we're dealing with this. The earlier the better because now every Lebanese feels that he's subjected to the Israeli aggression and hostility. And that doesn't help too much.

ZAHN: Thank you so much for coming here in person.

Now we're going to go straight back to Melissa Long for our countdown.

LONG: Some of the other stories peaking the interest of dot com readers. We take you to South Carolina where investigators are trying to figure out how the chairman of the Hooters restaurant chain died. The body of Robert Brooks was found at his Myrtle Beach home yesterday. He was 69.

Number three on the countdown list, you heard it a moment ago on the program and millions of CNN.com readers listened today as well. President Bush making some colorful, candid remarks at the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg and this was while speaking with British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the Middle East crisis, and Paula, as you said earlier, you've got to wonder how mom feels about that.

ZAHN: Colorful, some would say would be putting it mildly. Melissa thanks. The countdown continues in just a moment, but first there is a very dangerous wild card in the Middle East crisis. Next in our top story coverage Hezbollah's longer range rockets, what's in the line of fire and how could they change Israel's strategy? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our top story coverage turns to the rockets and missiles that are Hezbollah's weapons of choice in this new fight with Israel. The guerrilla's short range Katyusha rockets, secretly fired from Lebanon, have always posed a threat to northern Israel but for the first time Hezbollah has long and medium range missiles which put some of Israel's largest cities and millions of people at risk. Tom Foreman has more on what's in the line of fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Military analysts believe over the past five years or so Hezbollah has been bringing more powerful, longer range rockets in from Iran via Syria. For years the group has relied on a stockpile of thousands of portable Katyusha rockets which are not very accurate and often have a range of only five or ten miles. These new rockets must be launched from special equipment, normally mounted on a vehicle, which makes them more easily spotted and attacked by airplanes. But look at the difference these rockets make.

In this simulation a rocket is being fired from Lebanon south into Israel. By this point in its flight an old Katyusha would already be out of fuel and falling. Not these new rockets. Armed with warheads that can weigh several hundred pounds, military experts say they can be reasonably well targeted on cities about 20 miles away. So far authorities believe a couple of dozen of these new rockets have slammed into the port city of Haifa.

(on camera): Israeli military officials say their war planes destroyed at least one truck carrying some of these new rockets but Hezbollah is believed to have hundreds more.

(voice-over): And Hezbollah leaders have dropped ominous hints that some of their rockets may be able to strike other Israeli cities, even further away from the Lebanese border. And threatening many more previously unreachable Israelis. Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And you can see more of Tom's reports on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." Tonight Anderson will be reporting live from Cyprus, the destination of many refugees from the fighting coming up at 10:00.

Right now we're going to take a closer look at how Hezbollah's rockets and missiles could change Israel's strategy. What dangers may be on the horizon? Joining me now from Washington is retired Brigadier General James Spider Marks. He is a CNN military analyst. Welcome back to the show. So how does Israel counter this new longer range threat from Lebanon?

BRIG. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Paula, the primary way that the Israeli defense forces are going to handle this is by pushing the sanctuaries that Hezbollah has right now in Lebanon, primarily southern Lebanon further north. It just decreases the amount of, that of Israel that can be targeted by these rockets.

ZAHN: And they've got to do that with ground troops?

MARKS: Well, it's going to be a combination. What you're going to see, clearly what you've already seen is a lot of artillery, use of artillery by the IDF. You're also going to see the use of air, the increasing use of air, you have to suppress any type of Hezbollah surface to air missile, that would primarily be shoulder fired capabilities. That needs to be suppressed.

You've got air and artillery working in concert and you have air, land, battle, the synchronization of the airspace over the ground and you probably would see ground forces in that southern portion of Lebanon, just to assure that you can clear out these sanctuaries. And the Israelis, I don't think, have any desire to remain in southern Lebanon at all. What they would like to do is turn that over to an international force or possibly the Lebanese army.

ZAHN: You've just described, Spider, the land, air, and sea blockades. How else can Israel limit the amount of movement of resources and supplies throughout the country?

MARKS: Paula, it's very, very difficult, as you know. The key thing about rockets being launched are the launchers. The rockets themselves are irrelevant. If you can eliminate that capability to launch those things, and these are rockets, not missiles, in other words, they're not guided very well, they're area weapons, they're terror weapons, in that you give them an azimuth and you give them an attitude and you let them go. They can be precise, but they aren't guided.

So the key thing is you have to have really aggressive intelligence collections, that requires eyes on the ground, some form of stare, as you call it, and that could be used by unmanned aerial vehicles, could be used by manned aircraft, you certainly can use it through a number of electronic means as well, but primarily you've got to have great human intelligence on the ground to identify and pinpoint where those launching locations are for the rockets.

ZAHN: General Marks, thanks so much, and a lot of people are hoping that none of what you've just gone through will have to move ahead, that perhaps in the next couple of days we'll see some sort of deal coming together, but we will be here to see if that happens. Thanks so much.

Let's check back in with Melissa Long. Melissa what's on the countdown now?

LONG: Well 21 million readers have weighed in to make this number two on the list, and that's news of a tsunami that has struck the south coast of Java in Indonesia after a powerful undersea earthquake. This latest report from the "Associated Press" puts the death toll at 110. And still to come, the top story and it is about a leader in the Middle East, Paula.

ZAHN: See you in a couple minutes. The fighting in the Middle East is taking place near some of the world's most revered holy sites. Coming up next, which holy places could be blasted out of existence by a stray missile?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We're back and our top story coverage moves on with a new concern. Many people are increasingly alarmed about the violence in the Middle East because it's going on so near many important holy sites. Faith and values correspondent Delia Gallagher joins me now. Welcome.

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Paula. You know, there is a reason they call it the holy land. The Middle East is the home to many of the world's great religions and there are important churches and religious landmarks there that are also caught in the cross fire.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GALLAGHER (voice-over): It's almost impossible to bomb a town in the Middle East without hitting a piece of history. Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, full of ruins and shrines, provide a foundation for many of the world's major religions. Biblias, the Mediterranean sea town where Israeli ships are now blockading Lebanon, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

Just 22 miles from Beirut, the city dates back to 7000 B.C. The world bible comes from Biblias. The papyrus on which the bible was written is believed to have entered through this port, now under siege.

JON ALTERMAN, DIRECTOR, MIDDLE EAST PROGRAMS, CSIS: The number of religions and religious movements that have started not only in Lebanon and Israel, but even in places like Syria that may soon come under conflict. There are people all over the world who look here for their spiritual inspiration and now they seem bombs and bullets flying both ways.

GALLAGHER: The Israeli city of Haifa, where two missiles landed Thursday, is the worldwide headquarters of the Bahai faith. Founded in Persia in the 19th century. Mount Carmel, high above Haifa is the site of the Jewish prophet Elijah's Cave. Mount Carmel's also home to the Carmelites, a Roman/Catholic monastic order of the 12th century that is still there today.

Also hit by bombs was Tzfat or Safed, the ancient home of Kabbalah, the mystical form of Judaism begun in the 16th century. The book of Genesis traces Noah's son and grandson to this area. In the middle of the fighting in southern Lebanon is the town of Canaan, the place where Jesus was said to have turned water into wine.

ALTERMAN: One of the things we see in other conflicts is that when something does get hit, people all over the world feel a personal connection, they see the images, but there's also a spiritual connection. So in the event that something goes horribly wrong and one of these religious sites does get hit, we can imagine that residents of that are going to be much, much more than nearly gunfire back and forth.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: All right. So we have seen many citizens seek bomb shelters, so it makes you wonder with all this incoming and outgoing fire whether any safety precautions are in place for these very important religious sites?

GALLAGHER: Well it's interesting, I've talked to several of the priests that are sort of custodians of these sites and said to them, is there any extra security, is there anything you can do?

And of course the problem is these are archaeological sites as well, so it's not as if they can just take relics and take them out of the place. I mean, these are sites where Jesus was born or where he lived or where Mary's house was, these kinds of things. So you can't take them places.

So they say no, there's no extra security, they don't even ask for extra security in fact because they feel like that they're like the rest of the people there and they're going to wait it out and their security, of course, is in prayer, so they've all told me that they're praying for the quick end to this crisis.

ZAHN: Hope there's a lot of that going on. Thanks so much, Delia, appreciate it. You can see more of Delia's reports on "AMERICAN MORNING." You have to get up really early tomorrow, Delia.

Right now we're going to wrap up tonight's CNN.com countdown with Melissa Long. Melissa?

LONG: The Middle East crisis is No. 1 on that list, Paula and Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is vowing that his nation will do all it can to win its battle with Hezbollah and Lebanon and with Hamas and Gaza. Back to you, Paula.

ZAHN: Appreciate it, Melissa, thanks. It's been a very busy night for Israeli bombers. Stand by for an update on this hour's developments in Beirut. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The bombing and shooting continue in the Middle East. And as we just heard at the top of the hour during Nic Robertson's live report, Beirut is still being shaken by huge explosions. The Israeli bombers once again attacking the southern suburbs of the city. It is not clear at this moment exactly what's been hit, but Beirut isn't the only place being pounded. Reuters is reporting that six Lebanese civilians, all from one family, were killed when an air strike hit a house shortly after midnight in Lebanese border village. And John Vause says Hezbollah guerrillas have fired at least 100 rockets into Israel in the last 24 hours.

That's it for all of us, thanks for joining us, good night.

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