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AMERICAN MORNING

Crisis in the Middle East; Tropical Storm Beryl Hits New England

Aired July 21, 2006 - 08:00   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Rockets once again raining down on northern Israel. Pictures there from Haifa. Several injuries as that port city in the north is hit once again. Israel, meanwhile, locked and loaded at the border, ready to invade. The winds of war also carry a stern warning from Lebanon's president.
All that ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning to you.

I'm Miles O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

We're reporting to you live from Jerusalem this morning. North of here in Haifa, as you mentioned, Miles, the rockets continue to rain down.

Let's get right to Fionnuala Sweeney.

She's live for us this morning -- Fionnuala, good morning.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Soledad.

Well, about an hour-and-a-half ago, we heard the first air raid sirens of the day. And shortly after that, at least four Katusha rockets fell on the past couple of hours here, in and around it. Nineteen people were injured, at least one critically.

And just about 15, 20 minutes ago, the air raid sounded again, which, of course, is the indication that another attack is incoming. And police sources telling us that three rockets fell in and around Haifa, two in open areas, one in an inhabited area, which is now being checked by the ambulance services and police for injuries -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: So what's the mood like? What's the tone there in Haifa?

I know there -- it's been a short while since there has been a rocket attack before this.

SWEENEY: Well, of course, the last major fatality in a rocket attack was last Sunday night here, when eight people were killed. And what seems to be the pattern here is that there is a barrage of rocket attacks across all of northern Israel. And, for example, we were in Nahariya, which is a town just 20 minutes north of here, closer to Lebanon. And the streets were practically deserted. There was nobody on the streets. The beaches were empty, all the shops were closed and the mood here in Haifa when we got here seemed to be pretty much business as usual because there haven't been any attacks.

And this morning when we went out and about in the city, which, of course, is Friday, the day of the Jewish Sabbath, people were out and about having coffee, preparing for the weekend. But I would say now that these last two strikes in the last couple of hours have made people go back into their homes, which is usually what the authorities say, go back inside to your homes. Each building here, of course, in Israel has at least one room which is completely reinforced. And that is usually the area to which people go.

But, of course, there will be people out on the streets. And once these air raid sirens sound, you only have about 30 seconds to get indoors, into a place of safety. The Katusha rockets take about two minutes to come from Southern Lebanon. It's a distance of about 20 kilometers. So a 30 second warning is cutting the warning time by giving you about 25 percent warning that there is an attack on its way. Thereafter, it depends on whether you're lucky to be inside or unlucky to be outside -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it certainly does.

Fionnuala Sweeney for us this morning right there in Haifa as those rockets fall.

Fionnuala, thanks.

Paula Newton is further north.

She's right on the border between Israel and Lebanon with the very latest of what's happening there -- does it sound, Paula, as if there are preparations underway now for a ground war, troops to enter into Lebanon?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is a big mobilization toward this Israeli-Lebanese border, Soledad. We've seen some of it ourselves. They've called up as many as 5,000 Reservists. It seems evident to everyone that the air strikes can only go so far. And if they want to try and hit some of those Hezbollah positions deep within Israel that are hitting Katushas, they're going to have to go in on foot.

Soledad, we've said many times that these missiles, these rockets, these launchers are deep within, buried within tunnels and caves. And the only way they're going to be sure that they knock them out is to go in and figure that out with forces on the ground.

We're going to speak with Shalom (ph) here, who's been -- he is from a farm here in the village. And they have a bird's eye view of the war going on. And he has a Katusha. They continually get sprayed into the countryside here.

And, Shalom, when did you find this, sir?

SHALOM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yesterday evening it fell in while he was in the orange grove.

NEWTON: How far did it fall from him?

SHALOM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Thirty meters, about.

NEWTON: Thirty meters.

It must have -- how did you feel when you saw that? What were you thinking?

SHALOM (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): He hit the ground as soon as it happened. It started a fire. It damaged some of the trees. He was lucky he wasn't there with the kids, because they're normally with him. They could have gotten hurt. And he says there are others that also fell there. In fact, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) a lot of danger when he goes to work in the field, he's saying. He has no other choice. He has to go water the trees.

He's saying in a month-and-a-half, the harvest will be ready, so he has to look after his plants. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) keeps away now.

NEWTON: So, as you can see, that's the kind of people that we're finding here right now, Soledad. It is a bit of a dangerous place to be. Like Shalom, many people have sent the families away and they're here to just continue to take care of their livelihoods on these farms around me -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Paula Newton for us, right on the border between Israel and Lebanon.

Paula, thanks.

If, indeed, Israel is preparing for a ground war into Lebanon, well, Lebanon is responding by saying the Lebanese military will protect its border. That's coming from the Lebanese president.

Let's get right to Anthony Mills.

He's in Beirut for us today -- Anthony, good morning.

ANTHONY MILLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning there.

As you said, the Lebanese here are bracing for suggestions or following suggestions of a possible ground assault (AUDIO GAP). Now, that's something that Hezbollah officials here have said they would actually welcome. They've said they want to fight the Israelis on the ground and not have to face them in the sky.

So far, the Lebanese Army in Lebanon has not really been involved in this face-off against Israeli forces. There have been some half- hearted bursts of anti-aircraft fire from fairly outdated anti- aircraft guns. But other than that, there's not been really any fighting backed by the Lebanese Army.

However, if there is a ground assault, that may well change. Let's hear what Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, himself a former Army commander, had to say about the possibility of a ground assault and any involvement by the Lebanese Army.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT EMILE LAHOUD, LEBANON: Of course, 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)

MILLS: Lebanese President Emile Lahoud there saying that the Lebanese Army will fight Israel if it launches a full scale ground invasion, saying they can't fight them, maybe, on the border, but they know the terrain. And, indeed, Hezbollah itself knows the terrain, especially in South Lebanon, where it fought Israelis for years.

And so the question is, to what extent will the Lebanese Army and Hezbollah coordinate? And, quite ironically, if they were to fight together against the Israelis, then, in fact, they'd be doing the exact opposite of what Israel wants them to do, the Lebanese Army, and that is take Hezbollah on -- back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: Anthony Mills reporting to us from Beirut this morning.

A look, Miles, at some of the action that we are seeing here in Israel and also in Lebanon, as well -- back to you in New York.

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

Back with you in just a bit.

Back here in the U.S. Nantucket Island shrugging off Tropical Storm Beryl. I'm not going to repeat my limerick this time, just to spare Rob Marciano the embarrassment. But he joins us now from the eastern tip of the island -- hello, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Miles.

You'll be sparing our viewers, as well.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

MARCIANO: So we all appreciate that.

Nantucket a lovely island, as many folks know. We came here because it's really the southeastern most point of New England, to catch this storm. And, indeed, Tropical Storm Beryl made landfall around 3:00 in the morning and rolled right over the top of this island, an island that during the wintertime has about 10,000 residents. That population swells in the summertime to about 40,000. And I don't know of one that evacuated last night in anticipation of this storm.

Behind me, you can see a lighthouse. This is on the eastern tip of the island, an area called Sconset. This bluff stands about 20, 30 feet above the ocean, eroded by water and wind over the years. And that's really been a big deal here with this storm and all the other storms that rolled through, not only in the summertime with tropical storms, but also in the wintertime with nor'easters.

Right now, the ocean is laying down pretty flat. We have winds that have switched to the northwest now almost feel westerly, which is kind of pushing the water out and laying down these waves which, about four or five hours ago were curling in here and breaking in here at 10, 12, even 15 feet.

So amazing to see the power of the wind, even only at 45, 50 miles an hour. The direction will completely dictate how that ocean acts.

Earlier today, there were tropical storm warnings out. Those have all been discontinued. Forty-five mile an hour wind gusts is really all we found as far as the peak winds here. That took down a few power -- a few tree limbs, but no power lines. The power is not out here and the rain pretty much has stopped.

You gave me a limerick about an hour ago, Miles. I'll give you a little math quiz.

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, boy.

MARCIANO: Back in 1954, Hurricane Edna was a major hurricane that made landfall here. Nantucket averages -- or, I should say, Massachusetts averages a major hurricane landfall every 52 years. So what does that mean about this year? What are our odds of seeing a major hurricane this year?

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting.

MARCIANO: Pretty good. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

M. O'BRIEN: Doing the math, I would say, I would say, on average, this could be a year to watch.

MARCIANO: It could be.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

MARCIANO: We'll see.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Rob Marciano.

MARCIANO: You bet.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's get a little bit more on Beryl and what else is going on in our weather forecast. Clearly, we've got a big heat wave. Our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, has been up all night watching this thing because that's what he does. He couldn't sleep while this was happening, could you?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I couldn't sleep anyway, right.

M. O'BRIEN: That's right.

MYERS: You know what, Miles?

I've got another question for you.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes?

MYERS: If you buy 50 lottery tickets one week and you don't win and you buy 50 the next week, are your odds better or the same?

M. O'BRIEN: Either way you're going to lose.

MYERS: They're the same.

M. O'BRIEN: You're going to lose.

MYERS: Good morning.

There goes Beryl. It's headed on up toward Halifax now. In Halifax, you probably could still see winds of about 45 miles per hour.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, America's role in resolving the war in the Middle East. The U.S. is ignoring Syria, even though it holds a lot of sway over Hezbollah.

Would talking to the Syrians make matters worse or end scenes like this?

We'll ask a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and Syria about that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Rockets continue to be lobbed across the border, both in Lebanon and also here, in Israel.

Is Israel making any kind of preparations for a ground offensive?

Mark Regev is the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry and he joins us.

It's nice to have you.

Thank you for talking with us.

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY: Thanks for having me. S. O'BRIEN: It certainly looks like, from our reports from Paula Newton, who's further north, right on the border, that you're mounting a -- preparing to mount a ground offensive.

Are you going to, indeed, bring troops into Lebanon?

REGEV: There's no -- there's no plan to invade Lebanon, to occupy Lebanon. And ultimately we want Lebanon to be free and independent.

There is a necessity to have operations, incursions to deal with the very strong Hezbollah positions there in the south, in order to neutralize the missile threat that is attacks Israeli cities.

S. O'BRIEN: The Lebanese prime minister has said whether it's encouraging or you're talking about invasion, that he's going to have troops along that border who will fight Israeli forces that are coming in.

Are you prepared for that?

REGEV: The Lebanese Army is not our enemy. The Lebanese people is not our enemy. Our enemy is the Hezbollah, this terrorist group that over the last 10 years has been arming and re-arming and re- arming with some of the most up to date equipment -- missiles of various sorts. And we have to now deal with this threat.

And as you've seen today, we've had a whole volley of missiles across the north -- Haifa, Tiberius, Isfiya (ph). No democratic society can tolerate what Israel has had to go through, these missiles deliberately targeting our cities.

S. O'BRIEN: But theoretically you're setting up a...

REGEV: And we're trying to stop that.

S. O'BRIEN: But theoretically, you are now setting up a scenario where you have Lebanese troops fighting Israeli forces...

REGEV: We don't

S. O'BRIEN: Theoretically.

REGEV: We don't want to see that. We urge the Lebanese not to follow through on that. We don't see the Lebanese people or the Lebanese Army as our enemy. On the contrary, we'd like to see a better set of relationships between Israel and Lebanon. We want to see peace between Israel and Lebanon. And I think once Hezbollah leaves the scene, there really will be a unique opportunity for peace.

S. O'BRIEN: But if you listen to what the Lebanese president is now saying, which is we are going to defend our border, even if we are, granted, outnumbered, outnumbered by the Israeli Defense Forces, isn't that essentially exactly the opposite of what Israel wanted in the first place when all this fighting began, which was to get Lebanon to move away from Hezbollah? Now it seems like they're actually working in concert.

REGEV: I think you've got to remember who the Lebanese president is and who he's close to. And I'm not telling any state secrets when I say that many people in Lebanon itself see him as a Syrian stooge. But let's be clear here. It's not just that we've got two Israeli servicemen being held hostage by Hezbollah. Unfortunately, that Hezbollah terrorist organization is holding an entire country, Lebanon, hostage. It's holding the people of Israel hostage through these missile attacks, missile after missile targeting our cities. And they're ultimately holding everyone who wants to see peace and tranquility here in the Middle East hostage, as well.

S. O'BRIEN: Part of the mission -- said the return of these soldiers. If, indeed, the soldiers were returned tomorrow, is it sort of too late, that that wouldn't bring the troops out, that wouldn't stop the shelling on both sides, that, in fact, the horse has left the stable, essentially, and now it's going to come to some other conclusion, really, regardless of what happens with these troops at this point?

REGEV: The two soldiers have to be returned period. Kidnapping is abhorrent period. But what the whole international community, not just Israel, the whole international community -- that's the U.S. Canada, Europe, Russia -- everyone says that Hezbollah, as a military organization, must be dismantled. That's good for Lebanon. It's good for Israel. It's good for everyone who wants to see peace.

S. O'BRIEN: There are some in the international community who also say what we're seeing right now is excessive.

Listen to Kofi Annan.

Here's what he said about Israel's right to defend herself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY GENERAL: While Hezbollah's actions are deplorable, and as I've said, Israel has a right to defend herself, the excessive use of force is to be condemned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: And Spain and France and Greece have all said the force is excessive.

REGEV: I would say to everyone who's got that criticism, I'd say what would happen if your country had been bombarded with more than 1,600 missiles targeting your cities, your civilian population? How would you respond?

And I think if that question is put fairly to an honest person, I think Israel's response has, in fact, been very exact, very precise and very understanding.

S. O'BRIEN: But when the response kills civilians who may not support Hezbollah at all -- I mean talk about collateral damage -- that, in fact, in some ways that analogy doesn't necessarily work, you have civilians who are being killed, really, hit because of where Hezbollah is.

REGEV: Well, we've spent a lot of time and effort dropping leaflets from aircraft to try to tell civilians, please stay out of the area of the combat. We don't deliberately target Lebanese civilians. On the contrary, we want to have peace with the Lebanese.

But we've got to deal with the these missiles, with this Hezbollah terrorist infrastructure that it's bombarding Israeli cities. It's -- we've got to defend our citizens' rights. And, please, we urge the Lebanese civilians, please, if you're next to a Hezbollah position, if you're next to a Hezbollah rocket, please leave the area temporarily. Wait a couple of days for the fighting to be over. It's good for everyone.

We have no hostile intentions whatsoever toward Lebanon. We want peace with Lebanon. And it's time that Hezbollah just got out of the way.

S. O'BRIEN: When will the fighting be over? Is it another week of fighting before you get that buffer zone that's been talked about?

REGEV: That's a lot of balls in the air being juggled at the moment. There's what's going on militarily. There's the diplomatic track. As you know, we've got some very senior European and American officials expected here next week. We're looking forward to discussions.

No one wants a cease-fire that's just going to bring about, once again, the re-strengthening of Hezbollah, because if you have a cease- fire tomorrow without understandings, so then Iran and Syria start giving Hezbollah more and more weapons once again, and then we're back to square one.

The idea is to follow through on the U.N. resolutions and disarm Hezbollah. That's ultimately in everyone's interests, first and foremost, anyone who wants to see a free, democratic and independent Lebanon.

S. O'BRIEN: Mark Regev is the spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Nice to see you.

Thank you so much for talking with us.

We certainly appreciate it.

REGEV: I appreciate it.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, we're going to be talking with Hanan Aswari to get a little bit of the Palestinian perspective. That's ahead on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "Money" magazine went in search of this year's top 100 best places to live in America.

ERIC SCHURENBERG, MANAGING EDITOR, "MONEY": We were trying to find the best living small cities in the country. You had to be sort of in the upper tier in the quality of your schools. You had to have low crime. It had to be very safe, housing to be affordable. We wanted racial and economic diversity.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: In third place? Sugarland, Texas. Naperville, Illinois is second.

And...

SCHURENBERG: The number one best place to live in America for 2006 is Fort Collins, Colorado. It's a place where there is an incredible amount of greenery. It doesn't feel like a city and yet it has the nightlife of a city.

UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: Other towns making the list with different points of interest, Bloomington, Indiana, where more than half of its residents are single; Dubuque, Iowa, the town with the shortest commute -- 11 minutes; and the skinniest town, Roseville, California. Its residents have the lowest body mass index in the country.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Israel also fighting on a second front today, in Gaza. That's where it all began about three weeks ago with the kidnapping of an Israeli corporal. Gaza City shelled by the Israelis, although the Israelis had pulled out of a refugee camp that they had targeted over the past couple of days.

CNN's Matthew Chance in Gaza City.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly the level of military action here in the Gaza Strip is nowhere near as intense as has been witnessed in Lebanon, in the south of Beirut and elsewhere across the country.

But certainly, as you say, this is Israel's other front and Israel certainly has not forgotten it.

You mentioned Israel troops have pulled out of one of the areas they've been in for the past several days, clashing with Palestinian militants. But they've come back into an area just south of where I'm standing right now, just to the east of Gaza City, where they've been clashing again with Palestinian militants, firing tank shells, returning fire in those clashes.

At least four people from one family, we understand, were killed in one exchange with the Israeli forces. We witnessed their funerals earlier today.

Israel is trying to do two things in the Gaza Strip. First of all, get the release of that Israeli corporal, Gilad Shalit, who was abducted late last month in an incident that really sparked this latest crisis. They want him released. They haven't achieved that yet.

The other thing they're trying to do is deprive the Palestinian militants of areas from which they can fire their makeshift rockets into southern Israel. Those rockets are nowhere near as accurate or as powerful as the rockets being fired by Hezbollah from Lebanon. But they have still been a real thorn in the side for Israelis over the past several years. They're still doing that, as well, though. And so these Israeli operations are still continuing to try and put an end to them -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Matthew Chance in Gaza City.

Thank you very much.

More on the Mideast crisis in just a moment.

World leaders would like to find a diplomatic solution to this, of course.

But can that happen without involving Syria or Iran?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: If you're like me and you don't carry a lot of cash -- listen up to that, New York City muggers -- what, with all those plastic alternatives, who needs cash anymore, right? In the future, cash will no longer be king.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most of the time, you just don't even think about not having any cash in your pocket anymore.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't carry cash. I hate carrying cash.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm definitely always depending on my debit card. I never have cash with me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You always want to charge it on your credit card.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I had a wish, it would be that the operation behind all that I carry -- keys, wallet and cell phone -- could all be combined into one. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One thing that just did everything for me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If everything was put into one thing, maybe you could actually keep track of it a lot better.

M. O'BRIEN: Or you could spend it faster. Either way, saying good-bye to greenbacks is something people have dreamed about for years.

(voice-over): Technology analyst Rob Enderly (ph) sees a sea change on the horizon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: E-cash is a system that allows you to use a cell phone or other electronic device to make your transaction. It replaces the credit card, and it replaces cash, to do a transaction.

M. O'BRIEN: In Japan, nearly 50 million people use e-cash every day. When it's time to pay, instead of reaching for their wallet, they wave their cell phone over a scanner and then enter a secret p.i.n. The transaction is included on their phone bill. But it may be a while before American consumers embrace this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I figure around 2012, 2013, we'll probably have the crossover point where most purchases will be done through some type of electronic device.

M. O'BRIEN: Worried about electronic pickpockets? E-cash is actually more secure than credit cards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to enter in a pin code to make the transaction complete, so they can get your phone, but they can't really do much with them but make phone calls.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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