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PAULA ZAHN NOW
Interview With Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; Middle East Air War Escalates; Israel's Strategy?
Aired July 20, 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 thank you all for being with us tonight. Welcome.
Tonight, our "Top Story" coverage of the crisis in the Middle East goes in depth, starting on the front lines.
There is constant shelling, bombing and rocket attacks, and now heavy fighting inside southern Lebanon. Israel estimates it has destroyed about half of Hezbollah's military strength. Hezbollah's leader denies it. In a new interview, Hassan Nasrallah says, Israel -- quote -- "is unable to do anything to harm us." Both sides are under tremendous diplomatic pressure to call a cease-fire, because the bombing and fighting are destroying Lebanon.
The U.S. evacuation effort, which was slow to get started, is picking up steam tonight.
And, in our control room, we're bringing in live updates from Israel, Beirut, Damascus, and the White House.
Our "Top Story" coverage begins on the front lines, with the air war.
Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour has been to an Israeli air base.
She joins me live from northern Israel with the details -- Christiane.
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, some of the peril is highlighted by what happened quite near to here earlier this evening.
Two Apache helicopters crashed, according to the Israeli military, and there have been casualties. It's on this side of the border. It didn't crash over in Lebanon. And they're investigating as to what it actually is. At first, they told us it was an accident. Now they say they're investigating the cause.
We, at this point, have no reason to believe it was about hostile fire. We did go to an air base. We talked to the pilots about the challenges looking for some of the arguments, which amount to very low signature, as they call them, in other words, small and movable targets, the Katyusha rockets and their launchers.
When we were there, according to Israeli censorship rules, we were not allowed to reveal, fully, either the faces or the names of the pilots we talked to.
AMANPOUR (voice-over): Wave after wave of Israeli fighter jets take off from Ramat David air force base, on the hunt for Hezbollah leaders, infrastructure, communications, and logistics centers. Last night, this squadron dropped 23 of this one-ton bombs on what Israel says was a Hezbollah leadership bunker in Beirut.
Captain Y. was among those doing the dropping.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We know that it was a bunker and we know we hit the targets. I don't know the exact result or how much of it was destroyed.
AMANPOUR: Nor does the Israeli military. And Hezbollah says the target actually was a mosque under construction, and denies its leaders were hit.
(on camera): Despite more than 1,000 sorties, and despite the onslaught of the command-and-control infrastructure, it doesn't seem to have had an immediate effect on the ability of Hezbollah guerrillas to fire their rockets from near the border.
(voice-over): The military says, Hezbollah Katyusha cells can still operate relatively autonomously at the border. They can't easily be seen. And Major E. admits it's virtually impossible to get their rocket launchers from the air.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a tremendous effort to get those launchers. And, as you know, is -- it can be a -- a single guy with a rocket launcher on his deck. So it's -- it's very, very difficult.
AMANPOUR: But hunting them is the main focus up here at Israel's northern command.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we don't go and occupy the territory, which we don't want to do, you can't stop the one single rocket that they want to launch.
AMANPOUR: A ground invasion would be painful, as Israel already knows, from its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, that finally ended six years ago.
AMANPOUR: Now, today, there were more casualties in the current limited ground operations near Avivim and elsewhere. There were two more Israeli deaths. Two more soldiers were killed by Hezbollah guerrillas. And there were eight injuries.
In addition, the pilots that we talk to are mindful about the rising casualties on the Israeli side. And the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has now ordered and said that he's going to permit some kind of humanitarian corridor to be opened, to bring supplies and humanitarian relief to the Lebanese -- Paula. ZAHN: Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much for the update.
Now, while Israeli jets have been in the skies for days, as Christiane has just shown you. Our "Top Story" tonight is that Israeli special forces ground troops are fighting and dying inside southern Lebanon.
Paula Newton just filed this update on the border battles.
PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Explosions boom from hilltops. Heavy machine gun fire echoes across the valley. The Israelis are battling a phantom force in enemy territory.
Hezbollah fighters take shots at an Israeli tank, and then vanish, only to bait the soldiers once more. And, so, the shelling begins. Over and over, Israeli shells pound Hezbollah positions. These are the hills of southern Lebanon, for years, the site of border skirmishes, today, a real battlefield.
The Israelis moved in to southern Lebanon early in the day, trying to cleanse the border area of Hezbollah cells and rocket launchers. Blowing a smokescreen for cover, Apache helicopters fire decoy flares, as they move in to provide air support.
(on camera): And, still, the guerrilla fighting force of Hezbollah remains stubborn, trying to take on Israeli forces whenever they set foot into southern Lebanon.
(voice-over): Confronted with tanks, the guerrillas have a crude, but effective arsenal, anti-tank missiles, mortar rounds, and heavy machine guns.
Early on, two Israeli soldiers are wounded. The military ambulance moves in, and CNN is told to move out. Troops like these have been scrambling to take on Hezbollah in recent days. The Israeli government says it wants to avoid a full-scale ground invasion.
Back on the hills, the fighting continues. At least two Israeli soldiers are dead, several more injured. Even outgunned and outnumbered, Hezbollah will not go quietly.
Paula Newton, CNN, on the Israeli-Lebanon border.
ZAHN: So, an important question tonight is, can Israel actually destroy Hezbollah? Will its military tactics work?
We focus our "Top Story" coverage now on Israel's military strategy.
A short time ago, I talked with Ehud Barak. He's a former Israeli general, and happened to be one of the commanders when Israeli forces invaded Lebanon in 1982. He was also Israel's prime minister when it pulled out of Lebanon six years ago.
He joined me from Tel Aviv.
ZAHN: Mr. Barak, what would it take for Israel to wipe out Hezbollah?
EHUD BARAK, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: It might take more time, more effort, more fighting from the air, certain special operation units operating on the ground, and short-term incursions into Lebanese territory, in order to destroy physical infrastructure.
ZAHN: When you talk about special operations forces on the ground, are you talking about house-to-house searches by these forces?
BARAK: I don't think of a major, fully fledged-invasion into Lebanon. We had it already. We don't like it.
ZAHN: Today, the head of Hezbollah saying that Israel has inflicted no damage at all on its leadership, and limited damage on its arsenal of weapons.
BARAK: Well, what -- what could you expect for him to say during such a struggle?
They launched already some 1,600 rockets, which is about 15 percent of what they had. We destroyed several, 3,000 or 4,000 more. So, probably, they had, by now, six or seven, somewhat more than half of what they had at the beginning. In another two weeks, they might have few enough to significantly reduce the rate -- rate, or pace, of rocket launching into our territory.
ZAHN: Lebanon's defense minister said today, if Israel launches a ground invasion, the Lebanese army will join Hezbollah in defending his country. What would the ramifications of that be?
BARAK: Yes. It -- it could be very severe ramifications. It's time for the Lebanese government to govern. And leadership is about leading, not about kind of crying or complaining.
ZAHN: Is Israel prepared for the potential of mounting casualties of its own if a ground invasion is launched?
BARAK: Yes, I think so. That's where we live. It's a tough neighborhood. We're living in the Mideast, not in the Midwest. And that's a neighborhood where there is no respect for the weak. And whoever cannot defend himself will disappear.
ZAHN: Ehud Barak, thank you so much for joining us.
BARAK: Thank you, Paula, for having me.
ZAHN: Now, another aspect of our "Top Story" is the U.S. effort -- and some say it's been way too slow -- to evacuate Americans who are caught in the war zone. And even though the comparisons to Hurricane Katrina are still going strong, the exodus shifting into high gear tonight.
My colleague Anderson Cooper is in Beirut.
We understand there has been, really, no letup in the bombing there, but how is the pace of the evacuations going?
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": It -- it's definitely ramped up significantly today -- U.S. officials saying that they evacuated more than 2,000 Americans.
As you know, Paula, the evacuations began last Sunday, sort of in drips and drabs. They created this -- this air bridge, using helicopters. And that's how they were bringing people out, primarily, over the last -- for the first several days. They could only bring about 30 people out with each helicopter ride. We actually got an exclusive access to one of the choppers today flying in from Cyprus, landing in the U.S. Embassy here in Beirut.
As soon as we landed, and as we got off the empty helicopter, that helicopter was filled up with another group of about 30 or so Americans. They -- they bring out about four choppers filled with Americans every day.
But the activity now has really shifted to the water. The USS Nashville arrived earlier this morning. CNN's Barbara Starr was on board that -- for the first time, Marines actually landing back in Beirut since 1982, when the mission, of course, here ended with withdrawal, after a suicide bombing by Hezbollah of the U.S. Embassy.
They brought more than 1,000 Americans out on the USS Nashville -- those Americans now back in Cyprus, looking to get flights back home. They're hoping, in the next several days, to be able to bring out thousands and thousands more Americans. And, of course, thousands of other European and other nationals have already been evacuated -- Paula.
ZAHN: Exactly how many Americans do we think are left in Beirut, and what are the conditions they're living under tonight?
COOPER: Well, 25,000 was the -- the figure that was being thrown around over the last several days, the total number of Americans in Lebanon.
They don't have an accurate number of how many people want to get out. There were estimates of 8,000 to 10,000. But they, frankly, don't know. It changes every day. People change their minds. Some 400 people, Americans, got out through Syria today. So, the numbers are shifting. The U.S., while not putting an actual number on it, will say, look, they're going to, you know, continue this evacuation as long as it takes.
But if they were able to remove some 2,000 Americans today, if they can remove another 1,000 or 2,000 tomorrow, we should see the numbers -- numbers dwindling rapidly -- Paula.
ZAHN: Anderson Cooper, thanks so much.
You can see much more of Anderson's reporting tonight from Beirut at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on his show, "ANDERSON COOPER 360."
Coming up: more of our own "Top Story" coverage of the crisis in the Middle East, including the agony of innocent civilians, with no escape from a desperate situation.
ZAHN (voice-over): Our "Top Story": the human cost in Lebanon -- after days of destruction, terrified families are cut off in the conflict, as food, medicine, and time run out. Why are diplomats taking so long to stop the fight?
And "Top Story": the captives, Israeli soldiers whose abduction triggered an international crisis -- their families keep an anguished vigil at home -- all that and more just ahead.
ZAHN: Right now, our "Top Story" coverage turns to the growing humanitarian catastrophe in Lebanon. Half-a-million people are fleeing the fighting, the bombs, and the rockets. One-third of those are children. And a top U.N. official warns, disaster looms, because this war is hurting civilians more than soldiers.
Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has the very latest on the human disaster in Lebanon.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): A week after the war began, this is what the Lebanese are hearing and watching on TV, the increasing destruction of their country -- more than 200 Lebanese killed, according to the government -- of that total, only one Hezbollah guerrilla confirmed dead.
Hezbollah is proving it's still in the fight by firing more rockets on Israeli towns, at times, firing from inside civilian neighborhoods. And, so, Israeli jets pursue Hezbollah, hitting warehouses, car parks, and truck stops. In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said both sides could bear criminal responsibility for targeting of civilians.
LOUISE ARBOUR, UNITED NATIONS HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: The scale of civilian casualties in this conflict raise very serious questions about breaches of the laws and customs of war.
ROBERTSON: Ali (ph) and his wife and four children say this school is their second shelter, since fleeing bombing in south Lebanon. "We have nothing. The children will have to sleep on the floor tonight," he says.
(on camera): Every day, the situation seems to get worse. For many here, Lebanon feels like a country teetering on the verge of chaos. The stakes of staying at war are rising -- leadership objectives superseding suffering.
(voice-over): Serious food shortages, too, particularly for the displaced.
Aid worker Cassandra Nelson, back from what was a village of 5,000, now home to 37,000:
CASSANDRA NELSON, COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, MERCY CORPS: Things like rice and sugar, lentils and chickpeas -- these are things that make of the -- kind of the core of the diet here -- are not available.
ROBERTSON: As night fell over Beirut, so did the bombs, flashes illuminating the skies.
(on camera): Well, that was another blast going off, a secondary echo there. We're right in the center of the city. I think the blasts are going off in the southern suburbs. The streets are pretty deserted down here. There's a big -- I see the sky being illuminated. It just flashed a big, sort of bright orange over there.
(voice-over): And, so, the war continues, the people of this country able to watch the losses mount on TV or out of their windows.
Nic Robertson, CNN, Beirut.
ZAHN: The current Lebanon crisis started when Hezbollah captured a pair of Israeli soldiers. And, in just a minute, we continue our "Top Story" coverage with a visit to one captive's family. Have they heard anything about his welfare? And do they believe he's alive?
Later: Are U.S. diplomats doing enough to end the fighting? We have put together a "Top Story" panel that will be anything but diplomatic tonight.
Before we move on, though, our "Top Story" coverage from the Middle East, time for the countdown of our top 10 most popular stories of the day on CNN.com.
You recognize her. That's Melissa Long of our broadband news service CNN Pipeline.
What's up on the countdown tonight?
MELISSA LONG, CNN PIPELINE: Hi, Paula.
More than 21 million people have logged on to our Web site today, CNN.com. And a lot of you wanted to know more about the storm traveling up the coast, now toward New England. It's number 10 this evening. Tropical Storm Beryl is moving up the East Coast, as I mentioned, and storm warnings and watches have been posted from southern Massachusetts up to New Haven, Connecticut.
Now, the story surrounding some surveillance video we're going to show you in a moment is number nine on the countdown. It shows two Pontiac, Michigan, police officers beating a suspect in an elevator. Both officers have been fired and are charged with assault.
And CNN.com readers also wanted to learn about a new clue in the search for a serial killer terrorizing Phoenix. It is number eight on the list this evening. Police say the so-called "Baseline Killer" often strikes up a brief conversation with his victim before he attacks. And that's a new clue, again, for the law enforcement officials trying to solve that crime -- Paula.
Melissa, thanks so much. See you...
ZAHN: .. a little bit.
And we're going to be right back with more of our "Top Story" coverage of the crisis in the Middle East.
Please stay with us.
ZAHN: Our "Top Story" coverage continues with the anguish of war , and the families of two Israeli soldiers who haven't been heard from since they were captured by Hezbollah guerrillas.
Now, in the nine days since then, nearly 300 people are dead in Lebanon, more than 30 in Israel, more than 1,000 wounded on both sides. And a half-a-million people have been driven from their homes. But what have those nine days been like for the families of those captured soldiers?
Fionnuala Sweeney has this firsthand look.
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Karnit Goldwasser married her husband, Udi, just 10 months ago.
KARNIT GOLDWASSER, WIFE OF CAPTURED SOLDIER: He's the love of my life. They wanted to (INAUDIBLE) married and they want, if I chose, to have family, children, and -- and family that they want to see, not only to dream on.
SWEENEY: Udi was serving his last day of annual month-long military duty when he was captured more than a week ago. Nothing has been heard from him since.
K. GOLDWASSER: It will be hard for him, but he will manage, because he know that he -- when he will be back, he will have me.
SWEENEY: Udi's parents spend every waking hour trying to find out whether their son is dead or alive.
SHLOMO GOLDWASSER, FATHER OF CAPTURED SOLDIER: Everyone trying to get any information about his condition, and there is nothing.
MICKEY GOLDWASSER, MOTHER OF CAPTURED SOLDIER: I know only one thing. As a mother, I know that all mothers suffering. All mothers want their sons back home.
SWEENEY: The Goldwassers say they don't know what kind of impact Israel's fierce military action in Lebanon will have on Udi's fate.
S. GOLDWASSER: Maybe if you will hate them more, they will be more willing to -- to negotiate. Maybe the opposite. We don't know. We don't know. We are not expert. We are just a family, a father and mother, and -- and a wife. We don't know.
K. GOLDWASSER: We know that we are waiting here and working here in Nahariya, which is seven mile from the border. And we are suffering, too. We are suffering here. And it hurts, because we're waiting for Udi. We're waiting to find, and prove that he's alive, maybe a phone call, I don't know, a message, a signature. And we're suffering, also, because we're under a bomb attack.
SWEENEY: Not five minutes away from here, this apartment block was damaged by a Hezbollah missile strike a week ago.
And, now, after a series of rocket attacks, Nahariya is a ghost town, its residents ordered to stay indoors. The beaches are deserted, the shops closed. Nahariya looks and feels like a film set without a cast. Not much is normal about Karnit's evening either.
SWEENEY (on camera): And this is taken when?
K. GOLDWASSER: In the military reserve. It's 2003, November.
SWEENEY (voice-over): July 2006 sees Karnit putting on a brave face before heading out to do another television interview.
K. GOLDWASSER: I want Udi back. I want the killing from both side of the fence to be stopped. I want to raise children. I want to continue living my life in peace.
SWEENEY: Fionnuala Sweeney, CNN, Nahariya, Israel.
ZAHN: And while Israel says the attacks will continue until the two soldiers are freed, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Nasrallah is vowing to release them only as part of a prisoner swap.
Now, should U.S. diplomats be twisting more arms to end the fighting? Do you think they're way too slow to get involved? We're going to show you exactly what they're doing at this moment. And I will ask a "Top Story" panel if that's enough.
Also, a rare visit inside Syria -- refugees are streaming in. Where exactly are they going?
ZAHN: As we speak right now, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her first trip that's directly related to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah -- no, she's not on her way to the Middle East yet. She's here in New York for a dinner meeting with the United Nations secretary-general.
Now, a lot of people think the U.S. should be putting a heck of a lot more diplomatic heat on Israel.
With that part of the story, here's White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, a member of the best political team on TV.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid criticism of American foot dragging to bring an end to the crisis in the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will up the diplomatic stakes by engaging in talks on the ground.
SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: She intends to travel to the region as early as next week.
MALVEAUX: While the international community continues to pressure the Bush administration to call for an immediate cease-fire.
KOFI ANNAN, SECRETARY GENERAL OF THE U.N.: What is most urgently needed is an immediate cessation of hostilities.
MALVEAUX: Although the Bush administration rejects calls for a cease-fire, it also rejects the suggestion that its giving Israel time to neutralize Hezbollah, even as civilian casualties mount.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Au contraire, I mean what we've said, Secretary Annan wants the same thing we want which is the cessation of violence.
MALVEAUX: Senior administration officials say U.S. diplomatic efforts are focused on getting donors to help reconstruct Lebanon and to create lasting change in the south, including establishing a 12- mile buffer zone along the Israeli-Lebanese border, expanding the U.N. force that's been there since 1978, imposing an international arms embargo aimed at Hezbollah and beefing up Lebanon's army. But how will Secretary Rice help broker the peace?
MARTIN INDYK, DIR. SABAN CENTER, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There's no question that we're not in a position now to talk to Iran, Syria, or Hezbollah about this crisis.
MALVEAUX: The Bush administration has no diplomatic ties to Iran, nor does it recognize Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization. So far talks with Syria have been dismissed by U.S. officials as pointless. SO where would Rice even begin?
DAVID SCHENKER, WASHINGTON INST. FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: There's a close relationship between the United States and Israel. Secretary Rice can be effective in dealing with Israel. However, in the case of Lebanon, there's really no address and no one to talk to.
MALVEAUX (on camera): And that's because political analysts say that Hezbollah has a great deal of influence within the Lebanese government. Paula.
ZAHN: Suzanne Malveaux thank you so much for the update.
SO does diplomacy have a chance when no one seems to want a cease-fire? We put together a top story panel on the diplomatic front tonight. Joining me here Mort Zuckerman, the editor and chief of "U.S. News and World Report," Joe Klein from "Time Magazine," and in Washington David Makovsky, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Great to have all of you with us tonight. In the short term, Joe, what is it that diplomacy could yield?
JOE KLEIN, "TIME MAGAZINE": Not much in the short term. I think --
ZAHN: Does it stop the fighting?
KLEIN: No, I think the first place we have to start, though, is with the recognition that there is not a military solution to the problem of Hezbollah. No matter how long the Israelis pound Lebanon, and I think it's really reaching a point of diminishing returns, they're not going to be able to wipe them out. Hezbollah is a virus. You don't kill a virus with bombs. SO, ultimately diplomacy is going to have to be called upon here, and you can't do diplomacy unless you're talking to the other players. We're going to have to talk to Syria, we're going to have to talk to Iran without preconditions and one on one if that's what the Iranians want.
ZAHN: You say we're going to have to do that, but will we talk to Syria? Will we talk to Iran? And where is it that Ms. Rice will be traveling to?
MORT ZUCKERMAN, "U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT": Well, I'll be amazed, actually, if we end up talking to Iran. We don't recognize Iran, we have no discussion, direct discussions with them on the issue of their nuclear weapons program. I don't think we're going to have a direct discussion with them on this. And I must say I disagree a little bit on this whole issue of sort of what you would call international heat on the diplomatic front. What's remarkable about what happened here is that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates publicly, for the first time, basically criticized and attacked Hezbollah for the extremism of their behavior as did basically the G-8 statement, it basically blamed Hezbollah.
ZAHN: That may be true, but that same community is not going to stand by and watch a thousand people, civilians, potentially get killed.
ZUCKERMAN: I don't know about that.
KLEIN: The reason why you have all those Sunni countries speaking out now is that they are tremendously afraid of a newly empowered, emboldened Iran, which has been empowered mostly as a result of the Bush administration's foreign policy.
ZUCKERMAN: And at this stage of the game the biggest disaster that they would see in this part of the world is for Hezbollah to emerge victorious, even if it's symbolic and the same thing would be true for Israel. It would be disastrous for Israel.
ZAHN: David jump in here. Yes, please jump in.
DAVID MAKOVSKY, WASHINGTON INSTITUTE FOR NEAR EAST POLICY: I would just say that, look, I think here the United States needs to be like a conductor of an orchestra, and basically there's two wings. There's getting the French, for example, who are very proud that they got the Syrians out of Lebanon and Chirac personally believes that he owes Hariri, the slain prime minister. And then as Mort Zuckerman pointed out, there's the Sunni wing of the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Jordanians who don't want Iran to emerge on top. And what you're trying to do, essentially, is to create two coalitions.
A U.N., G-8, Security Council coalition, that gives legitimacy, citing 1559, the Security Council resolution that the Lebanese government can deploy in the south and an Arab umbrella as well, with these three countries at the core that also provides an Arab cover for this, and I think that working with those two wings is America's best hope because no one, none of these countries want to see Iran and its Hezbollah proxy come out on top.
ZAHN: We have been told, Joe, that the United States isn't going to join the call for a cease-fire for at least perhaps another week to allow Israel to further degrade Hezbollah. At what point --
KLEIN: I think that's a big mistake.
ZAHN: You think it is?
KLEIN: I think that we've now had 10 or 11 days of this and that's quite sufficient. At this point our silence is beginning to really hurt us with the rest of the world, and it's increasing the instability of the region. I'd just like to ask David though what were you talking about, what would those two coalitions be giving us cover for?
ZAHN: Need a brief answer.
MAKOVSKY: They would be cover to the Lebanese government for doing what has not been done in 31 years, and that is deploying in the south. It's not an Israeli dictate or an American dictate, but it's the call of the international community. There's a common interest of all these players and now I believe Condi Rice is going to take it to the next level when she goes to the Middle East and working the phones now, but going increasingly public. The story is going to become a political story I think soon enough.
ZAHN: Mort, you've got ten seconds for a closing thought.
ZUCKERMAN: Well, I would just mention that Hariri's son who heads up the biggest party in Lebanon also is determined to reduce the power of Hezbollah, so there are people within Lebanon who are perfectly willing to work with the United States.
KLEIN: But Hariri's son is a Sunni, not a Shia.
ZUCKERMAN: But he heads up their biggest party.
ZAHN: We've got to leave it there. Gentlemen, thank you. Mort Zuckerman, Joe Klein, and David Makovsky, glad to have all of you with us tonight.
Now some estimates say that a half million Lebanese civilians have been fleeing the fighting and are homeless tonight. Where are they now? Well, hundreds of them are seeking safety in Syria. What are they finding when they get there? We're going to get a rare look at what is happening inside Damascus.
That's ahead along with more of our top story coverage from the Middle East. First let's go straight back to Melissa Long for our CNN.com countdown, Melissa.
LONG: Good evening once again Paula and there's a lot of curiosity today of our CNN.com readers. They wanted to learn more about the latest missions in Iraq. And at number seven on the countdown a story about U.S. and Iraqi soldiers launching an offensive to drive al Qaeda terrorists out of the oil rich city of Kirkuk. The military says those militants have killed dozens of Iraqi soldiers and policemen in recent weeks. There are new concerns about North Korea's nuclear program, possible cooperation with Iran, this story also ranks high in the countdown tonight.
A top State Department official says one or more Iranians witnessed North Korea's recent missile tests. And number five relates to the top story coverage of this program. U.S. marines are helping to evacuate Americans from Lebanon. They are back in Beirut for the first time in two decades, and Paula, there's some really touching photos of our U.S. troops evacuating children from Lebanon on our website, CNN.com.
ZAHN: We showed a lot of them tonight. Plenty more for us to share with the audience as well. Melissa, thanks, we'll see you in a little bit. We'll continue our top story coverage of the crisis in the Middle East right after this short break, don't go away.
ZAHN: Our top story coverage shifts to Syria now, a short distance but a world away from all that violence you've seen in Lebanon, the war has sent more than 140,000 Lebanese and tens of thousands of others traveling the road to Damascus with their families, many with only the clothes on their backs. Aneesh Raman managed to make his way to a refugee camp in Damascus, Syria, and well, I am told he won't be able to join us now.
Let's try very quickly to see if we can get him up. No, we can't. But he's obviously had the opportunity to talk to a lot of folks in the Lebanese community about what these folks were up against as they streamed into Syria and hopefully when we get him back he'll be able to describe to us the conditions under which they are living right now and exactly what they escaped back home.
More of our top story coverage of the crisis in the Middle East in a moment, but first let's take a quick Biz Break.
ZAHN: And now our Crude Awakenings, our daily look at gas prices all over the country. The states with today's highest prices are in red, the lowest in green. The average today for unleaded regular, $2.99. Our graph shows the trend over the last month or so.
We told you we'd try to reestablish contact with Aneesh Raman, who now joins us from Damascus, Syria, where he will be able to tell us what the trip has been like for so many people that have escaped the violence of Beirut. What can you tell us about what they've been up against, Aneesh?
ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, it's just getting towards the 4:00 a.m. here. We're at the main refugee center within Damascus. Some 500 people are staying at the school behind me, 50 rooms, this is maxed out. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have been crossing the Lebanese-Syrian border, fleeing the violence there. Today alone 40,000 Lebanese refugees came into Syria. I've been at the border over the weekend, all through the week, it is a scene of utter chaos, hours long backlog in cars, people walking for hours from Lebanon, and they detail really startling stories of the violence that's taking place within that country.
Apartment buildings completely destroyed, the very instrumental decision that they have to make as to whether to stay or go, many of them saying they saw people flee that were then killed, food, aid trucks that were inadvertently hit, one family told me when the house next door to theirs got hit by a bomb, that's when they decided to leave. At this refugee center they range in age to a 7-day-old child to a 90-year-old woman. There are two women who are pregnant, expected to give birth in just the next few days. Syrian officials have opened their borders and are providing accommodations here, but it could be, if we see the same rate in the days and weeks ahead ...
ZAHN: Well please bear with us. It is quite some feat even getting this technological link so you can hear that report from Damascus, but Aneesh Raman once again reminding us of what some of the Lebanese refugees have been through on their way out of their country.
One of our own CNN family members is caught up in the top story. Her sister is trapped in Lebanon, phoning in reports on her efforts to get out. It's an amazing story. We're going to have it for you coming up. Before we continue our coverage of the Middle East, let's go straight back to Melissa Long and hopefully her voice is a little better than mine at this hour.
LONG: I'm going to give you a break and tell you about something, but I hope you'll watch, because this next story, number four on the countdown, pretty intriguing. The story is a former porn star who's become one of the GOP candidates for the Governor of Nevada. We're not showing you the video, the images, but I will tell you the posters are eye catching. Not much red, white, and blue.
And now the skinny on a law suit involving Goldie Hawn's daughter. It is number three in the countdown tonight. Kate Hudson has accepted liable damages and an apology of the British edition of the "National Inquirer." The magazine printed an article, claiming that Hudson looked and quote, looked like skin and bones. I think it's amazing how much she actually looks like her mother. Beautiful young lady, Paula.
ZAHN: Yes, she looked pretty good in that picture. All right, Melissa thanks.
We have more of our top story coverage from the Middle East right after this very short break. Don't go away.
ZAHN: We're beginning to get in some new details about one of today's more surprising developments in our top story coverage. Al- Jazeera's new interview with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. He says yesterday's rocket attack on Nazareth, which killed two young children was unintentional. Nasrallah calls the children martyrs for Palestine and their funeral was held earlier today. Paula Hancocks was there.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Abdul Rahim Diab kisses two of his children for the last time, killed by a Hezbollah rocket as they played in the street. But he doesn't blame the direct hand that killed them. He accuses Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his defense minister, saying they're responsible for what happened with Hezbollah. He adds Olmert says he's defending Israel. So what is Hezbollah doing? Three-year-old Rabiya (ph) and seven-year-old Mahmoud (ph) are the first Israeli Arabs to be killed by a Hezbollah rocket. But many choose to blame the Israeli operations rather than the Arab weapon.
A small protest gathers to call on the government to stop its operations in Lebanon. Some drivers show their support. Others clearly disagree.
NABILA SPANIOLA, FAMILY FRIEND: Most of the people when they think about terror, they think about terror of individuals or groups and they don't speak about state terror and we think that what is happening right now in Lebanon is a state terror. HANCOCKS: Nazareth is home to Israel's largest Arab community. There is anger among many Arabs because they say there are no air raid sirens. Anger there is little shelter if the rockets fall again.
RAMEZ JARAISY, NAZARETH MAYOR: We don't have public shelters. It's part of the whole situation of the Arab minority in Israel. It's not only the issue of shelters.
HANCOCKS: Many Israeli-Arabs have complained of being treated like second-class citizens since the creation of the Jewish state.
Towards the end of the first day of official mourning, anger has left Abdul Rahim Diab. He accepts condolences, vacantly trying to make sense of losing two of his children in a split second.
Now, he tells me no matter who I blame, it will not bring back my kids.
Arabs being killed by Arabs only complicates a furious debate. A debate brought to the forefront once again by one father's pain.
Paula Hancocks, CNN, Nazareth.
ZAHN: And our coverage of the Middle East continues at the top of the hour with Larry King. Hi, Larry. Who's going to be joining you tonight?
LARRY KING, HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: We've got quite a program tonight. We have the prime minister of Lebanon on this evening, and we also have the family of the two Israeli soldiers that were taken as hostages by the Hezbollah. That's all tonight, plus reporters, journalists from all over the region.
But we do have the prime minister of Lebanon.
One note, Paula. Tomorrow night, the secretary-general of the U.N., Kofi Annan, will be my special guest -- Paula.
ZAHN: We'll be watching. Have a good show tonight, Larry. Thanks.
ZAHN: But before we continue our Middle East coverage, let's go back to Melissa Long for the rest of our countdown -- Melissa.
LONG: Paula, number two tonight on the countdown, actually a story you covered earlier in your show. The Israeli army is estimating its air strikes have destroyed half of Hezbollah's rocket arsenal, but Hezbollah's leader is denying that claim. And Hollywood news is topping the countdown tonight. Actor Haley Joel Osment was hospitalized this morning after crashing his car into a mailbox very early. Doctors say the 18-year-old, who you may know from the film "The Sixth Sense" suffered a fractured rib and hurt shoulder. He's expected to be OK. And for those keeping track of his career, where they can see him next -- he's in a film to be called "Home of the Giants."
ZAHN: I know lots of very, very young teenagers who are looking forward to that. Melissa, thanks.
LONG: All the little tweens are waiting.
We're going to shift gears quite a bit from all of the fare Melissa and I have been talking about tonight. It is the first day of the British Open, and maybe you're one of those people who dreams of playing more rounds at your favorite golf course. Well, in tonight's "Life After Work" segment, Andy Serwer found a guy who doesn't waste his time dreaming about it.
JOHN FURIN, MARATHON GOLFER: 3:45. Tee time is at 4:00.
ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): While most people are counting sheep, 64-year-old John Furin is counting strokes.
FURIN: Golfing in the dark, I've found, the most fun I've ever had with this game. Nice and peaceful. Nobody else is out here.
SERWER: Four years ago, this retired butcher traded in his meat cleaver for a 9 iron. He plays three to five rounds per day, seven days a week, at his home course in Hibbing, Minnesota.
FURIN: Last Wednesday, I was here 18 hours.
SERWER: Furin spends the winters shoveling snow and working on home projects, but from April through October, it's marathon golf. He put over 2,000 miles on his golf cart last summer. That's like driving from Manhattan to Salt Lake City. He played 572 rounds.
This summer, he's going for 600.
GARY YEAGER, GOLF PRO, MESABA COUNTRY CLUB: I almost get nauseated, you know, a sickening feeling just envisioning having to play 600 rounds a year. It's insane.
FURIN: There's a lot of them that say I'm crazy, but they would love to be able to do it. Oh, come off it, will you? As bad as I play, I always want to play more.
This is our little paradise. When you were young, you used to go to a playground with slides and all that. When you get older and all, you go to a golf course. Many hours of entertainment out here.
SERWER: Andy Serwer, CNN, New York.
ZAHN: And there is a new development to talk about in our top story coverage. We're going to show you some pictures we're just getting in. Hundreds of evacuees from Beirut have just arrived in Cyprus. These pictures are just in, showing the USS Nashville carrying Americans arriving in Larnaca just a little bit ago. Of course, no one is too sure how all of these evacuees will be accommodated once they get settled into Cyprus, because they're so short of rooms, given the volume of people going through there.
Now, when the fighting started, thousands of Americans were visiting Lebanon, but were nowhere near Beirut. Well, now they're trapped. It's a nerve-wracking situation for them and of course for the relatives back home, including one of our colleagues. Chris Lawrence has more on a correspondent's sister who's caught up in this top story.
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A frantic phone call to California, from a sister trapped in the Bekaa Valley, two hours' drive from Beirut.
SANDRA CHOKR, TRAPPED IN LEBANON: I know that the roads are all being bombed, bridges and those are being bombed, and, you know, we just all kind of wonder how the heck we're going to get out of here?
LAWRENCE: On the other end, CNN correspondent Thelma Gutierrez, telling her sister thousands of Americans are leaving Beirut.
THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If that's where the evacuations are going to be happening, how exactly are you going to get to Beirut?
S. CHOKR: It's all speculation. You know, they're telling me, oh, the army is going to come and pick you up, they're going to pick you up in a helicopter -- no, they're going to land a plane somewhere in the middle of a field -- and nobody knows.
LAWRENCE: Sandra Chokr lives in Seattle with her husband and sons.
RAMADAN CHOKR, SANDRA'S HUSBAND: I mean, I'm their father and I'm supposed to be protecting them, and I can't.
LAWRENCE: Before the bombs started falling, she took the boys to visit family in Lebanon.
R. CHOKR: And the plan was they go for -- to spend the summer there, so my mom and my dad will have the opportunity to get to know their grandkids.
LAWRENCE: Thelma's nephew has been e-mailing her whenever he can. Sandra is reading parts of her journal to her sister.
S. CHOKR: Mafishi (ph), mafishi (ph). That's the favorite phrase. Bombs are exploding all around us, but as long as our house is not directly hit, mafishi (ph).
LAWRENCE: A lot of Americans may be receiving similar calls.
GUTIERREZ: All right, Sandra. Love you.
S. CHOKR: Love you too, Thelma. Talk to you later, OK?
S. CHOKR: Bye.
LAWRENCE: And like those other families, there is nothing to do but wait and hope the next call brings better news.
ZAHN: And we are all keeping our fingers collectively crossed here.
That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. Hope you'll join us same time, same place tomorrow night. Until then, have a great night and "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.
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