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AMERICAN MORNING

Crisis In The Middle East; Tropical Storm Beryl

Aired July 21, 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: Within the past hour. The other cities, Maroen (ph), Safed, Eron (ph) and Avivim. Injuries are reported. As many as 10 reported by the Israeli medical services in Haifa. Other injury reports coming in to us at this moment. This all happened within the past half hour or so. Hezbollah fired Katyusha rockets suspected in every case.
Meanwhile, 1,000 Israeli troops inside Lebanon now. Israel says it has enough troops massed on the border for an all-out invasion of southern Lebanon. Israel warning civilians there to get out of southern Lebanon today. And the Lebanese army says it is prepared to meet an Israeli invasion.

Three more Israeli soldiers confirmed dead today. In 10 days of fighting, 19 Israeli troops, 15 Israeli citizens have been killed. In Lebanon, at least 258 dead, perhaps more than 330. Difficult to get good numbers.

Meanwhile, the evacuation continues. Three plane loads of Americans fleeing Lebanon arriving in Baltimore while you were sleeping. More Navy ships on the way to help get Americans out of harm's way. Four thousand Americans are now out. Another 4,000 would like to be. We're tracking that as well.

Soledad in Jerusalem. Good morning, Soledad.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Miles, thanks.

Let's get much more now on the latest round of attacks on both sides of that border. Fionnuala Sweeney is just about an hour north of where we are in Jerusalem. She's in Haifa. She's got the latest on what's happening there.

Fionnuala, good morning.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

It's just after 2:00 here in the afternoon and within the last hour the city of Haifa, which is just 20 kilometers from the Lebanese border, was struck by a barrage of rocket attacks. As Miles reported, there has been a launch of attacks, a barrage of rocket launches, across the northern band of Israel, hitting several times. But this is a major port city and in the attacks that happened within the last hour, the first indication we had was that the air raid sirens went off. And then about a minute or so after that, we heard the first of four rockets landing in and around this city. We understand that there are 10 people injured, one critically. And the sound here of the city is filled with ambulance sirens. These are the emergency services and the air is filled with police helicopters.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Fionnuala Sweeney for us, updating us on what is happening north of where we are in Jerusalem in Haifa.

Let's get to Paula Newton now. Paula's further north. She's right on that border between Israel and Lebanon.

Paula, is there any indication that there are some kind of preparations for a ground offensive at this point? She joins us by phone, by the way.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you right now that Israeli defense forces confirmed to CNN that several thousand reservists are now being called up. They still say that they have not made any decisions on a ground invasion, but that this is, obviously, in preparation in case they need to do that.

In the meantime, Soledad, I'm just over a ridge overlooking a continuous battle that's now been going on for more than two days between Hezbollah guerrillas outside the town called Avivim. We have seen Katyushas landing very close to the town. An agricultural town just west of Avivim. There isn't anyone there right now. The army tells us that no one has been injured in those attacks.

We also see outgoing, not just shells flying into southern Lebanon, but also leaflets. We continue to see those rocket carriers that go into southern Lebanon, those leaflets drop on the towns here, and they are telling people to get far away from southern Lebanon. They're suggesting that they are at least 20 miles from the border. I can tell you, we're about two miles from the border right now and there are still people in a few of the villages that I'm looking at right here.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Paula Newton joining us by phone. Paula, thank you.

If there is some kind of ground offensive or ground invasion, what will the Lebanese army do to protect its own citizens and sort of Hezbollah? Let's join Nic Robertson. He is in Beirut with the latest word from the Lebanese prime minister.

Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, I just got through with meeting with Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud. He is also the chief of staff of the army. I asked him, what would Lebanon do, what would he do with the Lebanese army if, in fact, Israel went ahead with a large ground invasion across the border. And he said it was very clear that if, indeed, Israeli troops came across the border in numbers, he would send in the Lebanese army to meet them.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT EMILE LAHOUD, LEBANON: First the army is going to defend its land. And inside Lebanon, they can do a lot. They cannot be strong enough to be against Israel on the frontier because they have much more stronger material and weaponry. But inside Lebanon, they know the land and, of course, they will fight the invading force of Israel if it tries to come inside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTSON: Now there are already about 60,000 soldiers inside the Lebanese army. As the president said there, they're not as well- armed and equipped as the Israeli forces. But this appears to indicate a hardening of Lebanon's position, a hardening against what it sees as continuing aggression. The president told me that the country is united in the face of everything that's going on.

I said, is there any diplomacy underway to bring this situation back down? He said there are plenty of talks going on but there's absolutely nothing concrete on th table for anyone to sign up to or indeed for him to have a whole lot of hope in. Although he said he was still optimistic that an all-out war can be avoided.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Nic, let me ask you a quick question, if I may. The Lebanese military has certainly been under a lot of criticism for not being strong enough to deal with Hezbollah. When they talk about getting their forces ready to go against Israel, realistically speaking, what could be the end result of that?

ROBERTSON: Well, I put that in the president as well. I said, you'll lose a lot of soldiers. He said, if we line them up along the borderline as Israeli troops come across, then we will loose a lot of people. But that isn't the intention. But they would put them into the fight. But he kept repeating the unity of the Lebanese position and that the Lebanese are fighting for something that they believe in, for their land, and he said that they're willing to die for it.

Now one of the reasons why he said and other analysts here have said that they haven't been able to disarm Hezbollah is, one, they consider them a resistance and that they wouldn't want to disarm them. And this prime minister, this president does indicate a good deal of support for Hezbollah. But that the army here is made up along the same ethnic and sectarian lines that the country is. And the fear has been that if you put in this 60,000 army to demilitarize and disarm Hezbollah, then all the Shias in the army who would be likely sympathetic toward Hezbollah will drop their weapons and that will internally divide the army, which in turn would divide the country. That is how it's looked at here, at least in government level.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Sort of the big threat of civil war. Nic Robertson is in Beirut with the latest from the Lebanese president. Thank you, Nic.

Let's head it all back to Miles who is in New York.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Soledad.

The Pentagon says it has enough ships in the eastern Mediterranean to handle the evacuation of U.S. citizens who want out of Lebanon. We're told about 4,000 Americans are out now. Another 4,000 still waiting for a lift out of harm's way. CNN's Barbara Starr spent some time aboard the USS Nashville as it evacuated Americans. She joins us now from Larnaca, Cyprus.

Barbara, how did the whole operation go?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hello to you, Miles.

We did ride in with the Nashville overnight from Beirut. It brought in about 1,000 Americans here to Larnaca. It was quite a moving sight, I must tell you. People lining the deck. People spending the night on deck on cots with blankets. The sailors, the crew, stripping their own bunks to give Americans escaping from Beirut a place to sleep overnight on the deck of the ship. Elderly people, young people, all of that.

But here today in Larnaca, a very interesting U.S. military story is shaping up because now, as of today, four U.S. Navy amphibious warships are on station in the eastern Mediterranean. The Floatilla (ph) is in place, the USS Trenton, the Whidbey Island, the Iwo Jima and the Nashville all now today in the eastern Mediterranean. Several of those ships planning to send later today their landing craft into the port in Beirut, exactly what happened yesterday with the Nashville. They expect to run around the clock operations in and out of Beirut, bringing Americans out. They hope to bring 4,000 out, as you say, by the end of the weekend.

And, Miles, it is a very significant operation for the U.S. military. They are moving an awful lot of people on very short notice. They believe it is what they call a permissive environment that the Lebanese will cause them, obviously, no problem. But there is a Hezbollah threat. And one of the most interesting things we noticed yesterday, as we were in the harbor in Beirut, there was a U.S. Navy destroyer off to the south, standing stationed between us and Hezbollah areas in southern Beirut, ready to protect the U.S. Americans as they came onboard the U.S. Navy ships.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

Barbara, one more quick thing here. Let's talk a little bit about the airlift. There's a lot of helicopters going back and forth as well. Generally helping out people with special needs or medical conditions and so forth. Is that continuing? STARR: That is, Miles. But you point something out, extremely interesting, the helicopter operation. What everyone is waiting to hear now is whether there will be U.S. military helicopters touching down over the next several days in southern Lebanon. What they know is that there are a number of American citizens still in southern Lebanon. Some of them Lebanese-American Christians, some Shia.

People that cannot escape that fighting and get north to Beirut to get on that sea lift out of Lebanon. So the U.S. military privately has made it very clear, if the order comes, they have the helicopter capability, if they are told to, U.S. military helicopters will, under orders, go into southern Lebanon and get Americans out. Those orders have not come yet, but the U.S. military now has assembled the capability to do that if the call comes.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Barbara Starr in Larnaca, Cyprus.

Delta Airlines trying to make it a little easier for Americans getting out of Lebanon to get back home. The airline is offering a 50 percent discount on flights out of Baltimore to hundreds of destinations in the U.S. and Canada. The discount offer good through Tuesday.

Let's change some gears now and talk weather. Much of the U.S. sweltering this week. Record-high temperatures in many parts of the country. St. Louis had a problem with storms, high winds knocking out power to nearly a half million homes and businesses. The governor ordering about 300 National Guard troops to help evacuate people to cooling centers. The heat index there, 112 degrees.

To the east coast now, Nantucket, Massachusetts, Tropical Storm Beryl blew through. It did little more than bring the surf up and cause some problems on the beaches. Otherwise, looks like things are OK there. Let's get right down to the ground and see how things are doing. Rob Marciano on the eastern part of the island. You know it. They call it Sconset.

Hello, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Miles.

A lovely part of the island, as you may know. A very quiet spot. And it was a little bit less quiet last night when this storm rolled through. But in the end, this storm didn't do nearly as much damage as say some of the thunderstorms that have rolled through other parts of the country that have just been baking with that heat wave. And often that heat is the instigator of worse thunderstorms than can be produced in just a tropical storm.

Beryl moved through here quickly. The rains didn't start really till last night, 10:00, 11:00 at night and they ended pretty much 4:00, 5:00 this morning. We're left with northwest winds 20-25 miles an hour and that's really just pushing some of the water out to sea. The eastern tip of the island here, you see the Sconset lighthouse behind me and then the bluff that it stands on, out in the ocean, laying down pretty flat right now. Now that we have northwest winds kind of pushing the water out to sea, even though the tide is trying to come in, the breakers that were just a couple of hours ago, 10, 12, 15 feet are now what, a foot, maybe two-foot? It's pretty calm out here now. It's amazing what the wind can do just with the direction. Now that it's blowing offshore, the sea completely flat unless you go about a half-mile out then you see some white caps. But a few hours ago when the winds were more onshore, then the waves were really piling up.

We had tropical storm warnings in effect all last night. They were just canceled a couple of hours ago. As far as damage is concerned, really just some tree limbs down, some debris in the roadways and quite a bit of puddling on the roadways. It's difficult to get around the island this morning, but that water will begin to evaporate.

Forty-five-mile-an-hour winds, the max gusts here on the island, Miles. So certainly could be worse. But a little bit early in the season, the locals are telling me, for a tropical storm to make a direct hit here in Nantucket. So a little bit nervous about that. But they're tough here in New England, so this one didn't seem to bother them too much.

Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. I think I have a limerick. There once was a storm on Nantucket, whose name was Beryl, made the waves curl, but Rob barely had to duck it. What do you think?

MARCIANO: I've heard much worse limericks than that, so I'll take it.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

Chad Myers, how did I do?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Not even thinking about that one. You got that in my head now.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow will be our guest. I'm going to ask him if he feels the U.S. is undermining the fledgling democracy in Beirut. And we'll ask him also about the secretary of state's mission to the region.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And we've been reporting all morning, Miles, about those rockets going back and forth over the border between Israel and Lebanon. Well, we talked to some people who live in Israel, in Jerusalem, about what they think of the latest crisis. That's ahead right here on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back with more of our special edition in just a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: The United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is condemning what he calls excessive use of force by Israel and he's pleading with both sides for a cease-fire. CNN's Richard Roth live at the U.N. with more on that.

Good morning, Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

Annan also yesterday blaming Hezbollah for holding a nation, Lebanon, hostage. Throwing around criticism on both sides and calling for a halt in the fighting. Annan last night having dinner with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the Waldorf Astoria. The U.S. already rejecting Annan's cease-fire call even before the dinner. And all of this has left the entire overall United Nations increasingly frustrated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROTH, (voice over): The world's chief peacemaker could only make a Mideast plea, not a deal.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: I repeat, hostilities must stop.

ROTH: In true diplomatic style, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan blamed both sides.

ANNAN: Both the deliberate targeting by Hezbollah of Israeli populations centers with hundreds of indiscriminate weapons and Israel's disproportionate use of force and collective punishment of the Lebanese people, must stop.

ROTH: The conclusion of Annan's team of returning shuttle diplomacy artists, serious obstacles to a cease-fire remain.

TERJE ROED LARSEN, U.N. ENVOY: Let me first say that one of the sad conclusions that the mission had during its visit to Cairo, Beirut and Israel, is that it seems to be highly unlikely that a cease-fire can take hold without a broad political agreement.

ROTH: The Security Council is divided. The U.S. and Britain oppose a demand for a cease-fire. Lebanon wants one immediately.

NOUHAD MAHMUD, LEBANESE FOREIGN MINISTRY: We insist on the necessity of a cease-fire.

ROTH: Demanding a cease-fire is too simplistic, says the United States.

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: How do you hold a terrorist group accountable? Who runs the terrorist group? Who makes the commitment that the terrorist group will abide by a cease-fire? ROTH: Israel, confident of U.S. backing, still has the diplomatic space to pursue Hezbollah.

DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAELI AMB. TO U.N.: It will take as long as it will take.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROTH: U.S. Secretary of State Rice visits and meets in about an hour with that special U.N. Middle East negotiating team. There will be an all-day Middle East meeting here, Miles, that was already scheduled by the Security Council and the full council will get an in- depth briefing from a member of that team.

M. O'BRIEN: Give us a sense, Richard, of kind of the range of options that they'll be discussing as they meet today.

ROTH: Well, Kofi Annan presented a possible blueprint, which was rejected, which began with Hezbollah turning over two abducted Israeli soldiers to Lebanese authorities under the auspices of the Red Cross. But at the moment it appears to be a non-starter. The range of options is really going to be hoping that Condoleezza Rice can go to the region and maybe knock some heads together, but nobody here is holding much hope at the moment for that. They're going to be listening to the diplomats explain what might or might not work, though I don't know how much of that will be made public inside the Security Council chamber.

M. O'BRIEN: And to what extent is Syria in the loop on this at the United Nations?

ROTH: Look, Syria is the U.N. member country, not a member of the United Nation Security Council. Syria said it didn't want one member of that U.N. panel, Terje Roed Larsen, to visit. Kofi Annan pulled the team back to brief Rice obstensively (ph) and they didn't have to deal with that. The secretary-general yesterday, we were told, said he'll make the decision on who gets to visit Syria. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador, says you can't get anywhere without talking about Syria.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Richard Roth at the United Nations, thank you very much.

And U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will be Larry King's guest tonight. "Larry King Live", 9:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

More on the Middle East ahead with rockets still falling. We will ask the White House press secretary if the U.S. is doing enough to nurse along that fledgling democracy in Lebanon.

Plus, those alleged mercy killings in New Orleans. You'll hear from the family of a 90-year-old woman who is convinced she was murdered by medical workers in the wake of Katrina. That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) M. O'BRIEN: We'll get back to our coverage of the Middle East in just a moment. But first, the Renault alliance. Not just a car from the early '80s anymore, it's a big deal. This guy, Carlos Ghosn, which will make GM stand for Ghosn's mega company, I think. Gerri Willis is here with that and more.

Hello.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Good to see you, Miles.

Nissan, Renault and GM not talking takeover. You know we've been talking about this for days. Is it a takeover? It turns out the companies are engaged in 90-day talks about simply a possible alliance.

Nissan's CEO, Carlos Ghosn, says it's not making an investment in GM, just deciding if a partnership makes sense. Toyota says it's not interested in negotiating its own alliance with GM. Now Toyota was rumored as a possible partner for GM and would be desirable because of its success in hybrids, from GM's point of view, particularly the Prius. In fact, the Prius has sold so well its reached its tax break quota. The $3,000, $150 hybrid tax credit was only good on the first 60,000 vehicles sold by each manufacturers. Now Toyota has already sold its limit in the U.S. So that tax credit will be cut in half if you want to buy later this year. And President Bush has asked Congress to extend the full credit for at least the rest of the year. So we'll see about that.

And on the other hand here, Miles, Ford yesterday posted $123 million second quarter loss. Blamed its dependence on SUVs, which it sells in big numbers, and their high profit margins, not selling, losing favor because of high gas prices. You know, there's a lot of people who make fun of American consumers for buying SUVs. But apparently not so much anymore.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. You know it's interesting, a lot has been written about Ford of late and, Bill Ford, the guy on top, is a big environmentalist, so would like to move the company that way. Tried to years ago but met with resistance. If he had, he probably would have the Prius-type franchise now, you know.

WILLIS: Exactly. And that's where everything is going right now. I think you're going to see lots of solutions out there. But, you know, it's all about who gets there first.

M. O'BRIEN: I wonder if Toyota would do an alliance with Ford? Is that possible or are they ruling out all alliances?

WILLIS: I've got to tell you, that's a great question. I think we're going to have to wait and see.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, interesting, Gerri Willis. Thank you very much.

WILLIS: Thank you. M. O'BRIEN: Top stories straight ahead, including the latest on the Middle East. Why the U.S. is waiting to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the region. We'll try to get some answers from the White House press secretary, Tony Snow, about that.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And, Miles, also today, we're getting word of clashes during noon prayers here in Jerusalem. Police were preventing young Arab men from getting into the mosque to pray. It's an indication of just how high tension is running here even in this city south where all of the fighting is going on. We're going to talk to some Israelis about the latest crisis just ahead as we continue on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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