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AMERICAN MORNING

Crisis In The Middle East; Cruise Ship Trouble

Aired July 19, 2006 - 07:00   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Israeli tanks and war planes at it again, taking aim at Lebanon. Ground troops battling Hezbollah at the border and beyond. Fighting on both sides escalating. No letup in sight on this American MORNING.
Good morning to you. I'm Miles O'Brien in New York.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Soledad O'Brien coming to you live from the port of Larnaca in Cyprus.

This is the landing point for many of the people, Americans and others, who have been evacuated out of Beirut. In some cases, an 11- hour trip across the sea. Let's take a tour -- David, if you'll give me a shot here of this Greek destroyer. This is carrying about 160 Greek nationals, four Americans and about 100 other folks onboard. They docked around 8:00 p.m. last night and had a pretty straightforward disembarkment. They processed everybody through relatively quickly.

If you take a look across the way, though, this ship here is the Norwegian cargo ship. Onboard, cars and tractors, and about 1,000 now as well who hitched a ride with the Norwegian's who are getting out of Beirut. Somewhere between 100 and 200 American students. One of those students took some home video.

This is the first time that we're seeing home video onboard this ship. Take a look at just how crowded the condition were. I mean pretty awful as you heard people describe it as they stepped off, as they were all packed in there, very, very warm, covered the flies throughout the entire 11-hour trip. In many cases, no food or not a lot food and people, at one point, by one description, fighting over the food when it finally arrived.

You know, the other thing we've seen as the folks came into the dock, really just wiped out, exhausted after more than a day of travel for many of them. Many young children as well. And some of the very littlest wearing little life preservers as they made their way off. And here to safety, but also to a lot of questions as to what they're going to do now.

We talked to the American ambassador of Cyprus and he told us that this is just the beginning of the ship evacuation of Americans, even though this one was done by the Norwegians. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RONALD SCHLICHER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CYPRUS: This is just the first tranche today of our fellow Americans who are coming in. And, as you know, in the evening, we expect another ship that's basically full of Americans to come in. And over the next several days we're looking at several operations like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: He's talking, Miles, about The Orient Queen. You'll remember, we expected that ship to dock a day ago. In fact, it was delayed. Now we're expecting it to come in this evening with something like 800 Americans onboard. That will be the very first American ship that is bringing passengers through. And then they're going to try to get them housing here and then move them off and back to the states if that's where they want to go.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Soledad. Back to you in just a little bit.

Let's get you up-to-date now on the crisis in the Middle East.

Israelis fighting with Hezbollah guerillas on the Lebanese side of the border. There's a report of Israeli troops being killed there. Hezbollah says eight days of attacks have not weakened their capabilities. They vow to fight to the death.

President Bush supporting Israel by not insisting on an immediate cease-fire. But he warns Israel not to destabilize the Lebanese government.

Israeli troops also on the move to the south in Gaza. Six Palestinians died as tanks moves into a refugee camp there. Israel says its troops are not invading Lebanon, but are on a mission to destroy Hezbollah outposts. CNN's Paula Newton live along the Israeli/Lebanese border. She's with some Israeli tanks there that have been just continuing a constant barrage, as you say, Paula, for quite some time now.

Paula.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For quite some time now and now they're repositioning their guns again. They are treating, apparently, a couple soldiers for smoke inhalation. As I said, they have been going fast and furious here and they've gotten into some problems with some ammunition catching fire on the ground.

More importantly, though, they've been flying, in terms of the ammunition actually going into southern Lebanon. They have some new intelligence, they say, where they have some locations that were hit before that they want to try and revisit and also some new locations. As I've said, they continue to tell us that they feel that they've wiped out more of the Hezbollah capability and especially the long- range missiles. The commander told me here that at one point they feel they got in as far as 15 miles with these shells and actually took out an ammunitions dump that had some long-range missiles in it and some long-range missile launchers.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Paula, you mention this constant barrage. Are these troops able to sustain all this? Are they constantly bringing in support for them?

NEWTON: I'm sorry, Miles, I did not copy that. We have a bit of a situation here with ambulances and cars. Can you just repeat it one more time, please.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, I'm just curious if they're sending in reinforcements for the troops there or -- I mean, are they able to sustain this for an extended period of time given the numbers they have there?

NEWTON: Yes, definitely. They are here 24/7 right now and they have been calling up reservists and we pass ammunitions cars on the roads here quite frequently. They are well supplied here and they will continue as long as they feel that they have new targets.

About four to five days ago now I spoke to the army about those targets, and they, at that time, told me that they felt -- military sources said they felt that they'd be out of targets by Saturday or Sunday. It seems that from other media reports they're saying that they would need another week from now. As you can see though, from the amount of times that they reload and reload and reposition their guns, they have enough targets to keep them busy they feel right now.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: And just if you can set the scene for us there. If you can pull back -- have your photographer pull back a little bit. Just give us the wide shot there and give us a sense of how they're positioned there.

NEWTON: Walt (ph), if you can pull out a little bit for them and show them exactly what's on the ground here. We have about, at any given time, 12 tanks here on the ground right now and they keep loading and reloading. They were quite slow here for a few hours and then when they get ready they go into position and really start an entire barrage. They are pretty relentless when they hone in on those targets and these guys on the ground here are ready for it.

As I was mentioning before, they are having trouble with some fires on the ground. It is quite dry here. The landscape, too, here, Miles. We should point out, we're in a valley. We have mountains, low range mountains on almost every side of us and they volley right over those mountains at certain times.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Paula Newton, who's right along the border there in northern Israel, thank you very much. Let's move to the other side of the border now, on the Lebanese side. CNN's Karl Penhaul joining us on the line right now. He's been reporting quite a few civilian casualties there.

Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed interesting to hear Paula there talking about the shelling operations. We've heard a lot those shells exploding here on the Lebanese side and also Israeli warplanes have been flying constant sorties over this part of Lebanon, about 10 miles from the border. And those warplanes have been flying over for the last 24 hours at least.

About two hours ago now, I got back from one of the main hospitals in the city where I am and that hospital is teaming (ph) with civilian casualties. As we were in the hospital, we heard constant explosions in the distance and each explosion was met by more civilians being dragged in to the hospital.

One man, a 45-year-old, came in as I was there. His life just ebbed away. He received multiple shrapnel wounds from a bomb explosion and his leg was hanging off.

I also met a very brave 13-year-old girl. Her body was pockmarked by shrapnel damage from an Israeli bomb. She had been trying to flee the conflict with her family in the family car when that car was bomb. And she spoke perfect English. She just said to me, "just tell them all this should stop. Tell them to stop this. Tell them it's not our fault."

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Karl Penhaul on the Lebanese side of the border.

Let's get to Soledad in Cyprus.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, Miles, where we are, the Port of Larnaca is where many of those refugees out of Beirut will end up eventually. And many of the people here say they are just despairing. They thought that the fighting would actually be tapering off, not increasing, as we have been seeing. Warplanes, in fact, though, are attacking the capital, continue to attack the capital. Anthony Mills is reporting from Beirut for us this morning.

Anthony, what's the latest where you are?

ANTHONY MILLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as we speak, hundreds of Americans are boarding the cruise ship The Orient Queen. They're getting ready to evacuate to Cyprus. And this follows action yesterday in which four helicopters, four U.S. helicopters, had took 30 people apiece, 30 Americans apiece, out of Lebanon from the U.S. embassy to Cyprus and another ship that took 180 Americans, we understand, over to Cyprus. And we can expect this to continue for some time to come because we understand that there are something like 25,000 American citizens in Lebanon.

Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. That's Anthony Mills reporting to us from Beirut. He's giving an update on the boarding of that Orient Queen. And, in fact, we're expecting that ship to dock here with some 800 Americans. The times keep shifting. First we were told 5:00 p.m. local time. We're now being told more like 9:00 p.m.. And, of course, with all the events happening in the ports and on the ground, we expect that time to change a lot.

Matthew Chance is in Gaza where fighting continues there as well.

Matthew, good morning.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you also as well, Soledad.

As much of the attention, of course, focuses on Lebanon. The Israelis, for one, certainly have not forgotten this, their other front in the Gaza Strip. Over the course of the last 12 hours or so, Israeli tanks have been rolling in to the center of the Gaza Strip, just a short distance from here, in the Elmugazi (ph) refugee camp.

And there's been fierce fighting between Palestinian militants there and Israeli forces. At least six Palestinians have been killed. Three of them militants, according to our medical sources, three of them civilians. The Israeli say five of their soldiers have been killed as well in pretty fierce exchanges between those two sides.

It's not exactly clear what the tactical reason for this specific incursion in to the central Gaza Strip is, but certainly over the past weeks Israeli forces have been conducting large-scale operations across the Gaza Strip. Following that incident that really sparked off this latest terrible Middle East crisis, namely the abduction of the Israeli corporal just across the border into Israel from here, Gilad Shalit. He's still believed to be alive. He's still believed to be held by Palestinian militants somewhere here in the Gaza Strip. Israel says it will keep up the military pressure on the Palestinian militants until they surrender their soldier.

They also have a secondary motive as well and that's to try and stop those militants from pounding southern Israel with their makeshift rockets they've been firing into that part of the country for the past several month, indeed, the past several years. So far, though, since late last month when these operations started in Gaza, they haven't achieved either of those things yet. The rockets are still being fired into southern Israel. The soldier, Gilad Shalit, is still being held. What they have succeeded in doing though, Soledad, is really deteriorating the infrastructure in the city, making life very difficult for many Palestinians here.

S. O'BRIEN: Matthew Chance with an update of what's happening in Gaza. Matthew, thank you.

And let's send it back to Miles in New York.

Miles. M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Soledad.

We have reports of yet another earthquake striking Indonesia. Reports of buildings swaying in that region. You recall, of course, on Monday that 7.7 magnitude quake which triggered a tsunami. Now more than 500 people dead in the wake of that. Tall buildings in Jakarta swaying in the wake of this latest earthquake. No word yet on the exact magnitude of that quake or if any tsunami warnings have been kicked up as a result. We will keep you posted on that.

Time for a check of the forecast. Chad Myers at the CNN Center with that.

Chad, good morning.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Is the United States doing enough to solve this problem diplomatically. The president says he will send his secretary of state to the Middle East, but when and where? Coming up, we'll hear from one of Condoleezza Rice's top deputies.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Also coming up this morning, Miles, see that ship right there? That's the Norwegian vessel that brought a couple hundred, approximately, Americans out this morning. We hear from a 21-year-old American student from New Jersey who's been rolling videotape and blogging as she's escaped Beirut. We'll talk to her and hear her story just ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back from Cyprus, everybody.

Imagine you are an American student and you are studying in Beirut. Up to 25,000 Americans who are estimated to be in Lebanon, somewhere between 100 and 200 were able to get out on this Norwegian vessel right behind me. The ride, incredibly unpleasant. It was a long ride. It was hot. It was dirty. This young student, though, rolled videotape along the way, blogged as well. Here's her story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN, (voice over): In the dark, from the dock, you could make out passengers onboard the Norwegian car ferry, clearly eager to get off after an exhausting 11-hour ride. They were hot and hungry and miserable.

ASHLEY MARINACCIO, AMERICAN STUDENT: We knew that it was going to be over and we were going to safety and that was just the only thing that you think about.

S. O'BRIEN: Twenty-one-year-old Ashley Marinaccio of Long Branch, New Jersey, was one of approximately 100 students from Lebanese American University and American University of Beirut evacuated, given just 15 minutes to grab a bag and go. The trip, a favor from the Norwegians.

MARINACCIO: The Dutch students got out the day, you know, three days ago. The Swiss students, they sent a convoy. They got out. The French students, I believe they also got out and a bunch of other embassies. Like everybody, you know, had their people out already. And, you know, here we are just sitting there and it was really disappointing.

That's the destroyer that was escorting us.

S. O'BRIEN: From Ashley we get the very first pictures from onboard that ship. It's crowded. People on two decks baking in 100- degree temperatures.

MARINACCIO: It was a floating refugee camp. People were huddled in plastic bags, boxes. They were making shelter out of anything they could find so there's like that blue tarp that they had. Boxes. Once the night came, people were sleeping in plastic bags.

S. O'BRIEN: Down below, even more crowded with hundreds of children onboard. There was no food for hours. Ashley says things got ugly and quickly.

MARINACCIO: There wasn't enough supplies. The Navy SEALs did come and send in boxes of food, which was kind of interesting. It was cool because they came on little rafts and they were throwing boxes. And it was for American citizens only and that actually made a big stink on the boat because people who weren't American citizen were trying to get the food.

S. O'BRIEN: There were only a handful of bathrooms for about 1,000 people in all. Still, Ashley says, she's grateful for the ride out.

MARINACCIO: I'm going to get a ticket I hope.

S. O'BRIEN: Safely in Cyprus, Ashley now faces another dilemma, navigating a trip home. She's got a ticket but for a flight out of Beirut.

MARINACCIO: Apparently they're not allowing us to transfer the ticket, but there's no Beirut International Airport anymore. So I don't know what they're going to do about that because I'm sure there's a lot of people who were on that flight out of Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: And that's sort of the big problem at this point. She and soon will be, when the next ship comes in, a lot of Americans trying to rejigger their plan, frankly, as they try to figure out how they can get out of here and move on to the next leg.

Now we were talking a lot, Miles, yesterday about the documents that you had to sign. Essentially a loan. This is the document here. This is what Ashley gave us. She was forced to fill one of these out for told to fill one of these out. This is the emergency loan application and evacuation documentation. And you can see here, I'm a citizen of the United States. I promise to repay the U.S. within 90 days of the signing of this note and the interest rate established, blah, blah, blah, it goes on and on. We know now that the administration has been able to back away from that.

They won't be charging Americans to get them out of Beirut. But you're going to have a lot of people who are in Ashley's situation which is, OK, the trip over in the freighter was free. But now that you're here, how do you get out? Unless you have a charge card and you can pretty much put yourself on any flight out, you might be stuck, as she is, to some degree, trying to get to Amman, Jordan, right now.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, and I bet those flights are just jammed getting out of Cyprus right now. Is it difficult getting on a plane even if you have the money?

S. O'BRIEN: Well, I've got to tell you, you look at the lines at the airport and if it's not already, it certainly will be when that next ship comes in. As we mentioned, The Orient Queen expected to come in tonight. The embassy has been helping people either make accommodations here or getting them on flights. They've got a little travel service set up. But, you're right, as soon as people start really coming in, not just Americans, obviously, but all the foreign nationals who have escaped, you've got a big problem, a big glut at this relatively small airport here in Cyprus that's going to have to deal with all these people just trying to get out of town.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Soledad, back with you in just a little bit. Thank you very much.

A Princess cruise line ship that suddenly rolled to one side now docked safely at Port Canaveral, Florida. About 100 people aboard the ship injured yesterday when the ship rolled suddenly. Two of the injuries considered critical. The sheriff's department there says a first mate indicates that there was some sort of computer glitch and it had the stabilizers operating in opposite directions. That's the current thinking, anyhow. CNN's Susan Candiotti live now from Port Canaveral with the latest.

Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

At this hour, announcements being made on the ship. Passengers starting to leave to go home. An unforgettable scare for passengers on the Crown Princess cruise lines cruise ship. As they are happy to be going home, even though it is sooner than expected.

There is still no reason why this happened. It occurred about 11 miles out to sea, shortly after it left its port of call at Port Canaveral. When all of a sudden, as you indicated, the ship started to tilt, to list to one side and there was described as pure pandemonium on the ship. As you also indicated, about 98 people injured, two of them critically. One described as a young girl. Another, an adult male. The rest of the people being treated at area hospitals.

We are hearing descriptions of people who were on the top deck who described water pouring out of the pool. The ship literally listing some describes 45 degrees, even as far as 20 degrees where they could see water approaching over the side of the ship before the ship righted itself. Some saying in a couple of minutes. Some say in five minutes.

We talked a short while ago with Charlene Hopkins (ph) of Ft. Worth, Texas, who described what she saw when she was standing out in the hallway near her state room.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLENE HOPKINS: I went out in the hall and I noticed that it was tilting and then it started tilting more and people started screaming. And there were people falling down the stairs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Paramedics were taken out to the ship to treat some of the injured. Some of the people were airlifted to area hospitals. Again, the ship docked all night. It is said to be sea worthy. Obviously, there will be an investigation to determine exactly what happened. People here at this hour exhausted, frightened, happy to be going home, and they will get a full refund.

Miles, back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: We're glad to hear that. Susan Candiotti, Port Canaveral, thank you.

Coming up, we'll look at how the Mideast crisis is playing out online, including a chilling tape of a teen apparently hiding from rocket fire. Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: We'll get back to our coverage of the crisis in the Middle East in a moment. But first, let's talk business. Carrie Lee is here with a look at future, oil prices and more.

Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've got it all covered, Miles.

Let's start with Yahoo!. A company out with second quarter numbers last night. The numbers weren't so bad. They met Wall Street expectations as far as profits are concerned. However, Yahoo! unexpectedly announced a delay in a big technology much touted for boosting ad revenue. So that took Wall Street by surprise. As a result, Yahoo! shares down 15 percent this morning. And that, you can bet, is putting a damper on technology futures across the board.

Overall, though, it is looking like a mixed market. S&P futures looking higher.

And here's what happened yesterday. Dow, Nasdaq, S&P actually managed some gains. Strong reports from Coca-Cola, United Technologies. Also a mild inflation report encouraged some buying. But, of course, weakness, unease about Middle Eastern events keeping a lid on the gains. Another thing though helping, oil prices down sharply over the last two days.

Also out this morning, we're keeping an eye on shares of big blue. IBM saw profits up 11 percent during the recent quarter thanks to cost cutting and they continue to shift business to India. So a lot happening on that front.

Also today, Miles, Ben Bernanke, you know how important he is, speaking in Washington to Congress. The latest Fed take on the economy and people looking for clues about what the Federal Reserve will do when they next meet in August.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting that with all that's going on in the world the market would still be up. Modestly, but still be up.

LEE: But, you know, we haven't -- we've seen so much selling over the past week. You know, three days in a row, the Dow down 400 points. So probably some people coming in at the bottom as well.

M. O'BRIEN: Time to do some buying.

LEE: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Carrie Lee, thank you very much.

LEE: OK.

M. O'BRIEN: Back with more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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