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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Full-Scale Invasion of Lebanon Imminent?; Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Heads to Middle East; Interview With New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; Interview With Israeli Ambassador to United Nations Dan Gillerman

Aired July 21, 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: Hi, everybody. Really appreciate your joining us.
There are a lot of late-breaking developments tonight.

In our "Top Story," we are going in depth, as the crisis in the Middle East is poised at a turning point tonight. Is a full-scale invasion of Lebanon coming soon? As we speak, the Israeli military is massed all along the border. Officials tell CNN that a full-scale invasion is under consideration.

All the while, day and night, Hezbollah rockets keep flying and they keep hitting northern Israeli cities. Thirty-four Israelis are dead since the fighting started.

Lebanon's president, in an exclusive interview with our own Nic Robertson, says his country's army is -- quote -- "ready to defend the nation" -- Nic's very important interview just a few moments away.

At least 261 Lebanese are dead in the 10 days of Israeli air and artillery strikes. And a search for a diplomatic solution moves into high gear this weekend, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to the region.

Now, at this hour, all eyes are on the Israeli-Lebanese border. Israeli troops could start moving into Lebanon at any moment.

Our "Top Story" coverage begins along with chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour -- Christiane.

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, for several days now, people have been wondering whether this was going to get into a ground invasion.

And, certainly, today, some of this reached a crescendo. We saw a lot of troops and armor massing at the border. We talked to the deputy commander of the northern command in charge of the operations up here. And they were saying they are ready, if the order comes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR (voice-over): Israeli warplanes are dropping bombs and messages. The latest flurry of leaflets tells residents of southern Lebanon to move back, about 25 miles back, from the border with Israel.

The Israeli generals want the battlefield -- quote -- "free of civilian restrictions."

After days of artillery fire, war from the air, and a limited number of troops on the ground, Israel is preparing now for a possible large-scale ground invasion, mobilizing all its forces, even reserves.

GENERAL SHUKI SHACHAR, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES NORTHERN COMMAND: Some of the forces are active forces coming from different sectors of the country, reinforcing the active forces in Lebanon. The reserve units, some of them are going to the northern border with Lebanon. All the reinforcements are going to the direction of Lebanon.

AMANPOUR: A senior military source says Israel already has several battalions on the ground in southern Lebanon. That's more than 1,000 troops. But General Shuki Shachar would only confirm, he does have forces there.

SHACHAR: We entered with armor forces and engineer forces, and we started, systemically, to destroy the Hezbollah positions along the border.

AMANPOUR: Israeli infantry, he says, have crossed anywhere between a mile and a few miles into Lebanon, and some special forces are even deeper in, because they can't get some of the targets from the air.

SHACHAR: We identified bunkers in the open area that, without entering to the place itself, and looking on the ground for these camouflaged bunkers, we would have never found them.

AMANPOUR: General Shachar won't say whether these tanks and troops moving towards the border means that a ground invasion has been authorized, just that the army is ready and evaluating the need minute by minute.

(on camera): With troops and armor being redeployed from all over the country to the northern battlefront, Israelis are watching to see what happens next with concern. As one former tank commander told me, Israel going back into Lebanon is like the United States going back into Vietnam.

(voice-over): For now, though, the Israeli people overwhelmingly back the strong military response, according to the first poll taken since the war began 10 days ago.

Will that change if Hezbollah guerrillas mount stiff resistance? At a ground battle still going near Avivim, at the border, Hezbollah has already killed several Israeli soldiers, injured others, and taken out a tank, and promises more.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: All right, Christiane, when you say Hezbollah promises more, what is it these Israeli forces expect, if they launch this full-scale invasion?

AMANPOUR: Well, they expect typical guerrilla resistance.

And, as we have seen, Hezbollah has, in the past, been very successful at this, especially when the Israelis were there as an occupying force in southern Lebanon, which just ended six years ago. So, they fully expect to get resistance if they do go in. They have already had it. They have had a limited battle with Hezbollah in several areas we have been reporting over the last several days, particularly near the town of Avivim, on the Lebanese border here.

ZAHN: Christiane Amanpour, thanks so much for the update.

Now, an invasion, of course, could make this crisis bigger and much bloodier. And Lebanon's president says, if Israel moves in, he will order his troops, the Lebanese army, to fight back.

He made that very clear during an exclusive interview with senior international correspondent Nic Robertson today.

Here is Nic's report from Beirut, a capital city that is under siege and suffering.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

EMILE LAHOUD, PRESIDENT OF LEBANON: Exactly. Exactly.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): From the gardens of his palace, Lebanon's president is watching Beirut burn.

LAHOUD: This is the area there they have been shelling all the time.

ROBERTSON (on camera): And the planes are still flying. I can hear them.

LAHOUD: Yes, they are here. You can hear them. They're all the time.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Even as Israeli jets fly overhead, he insists that his country, which, barely a decade ago, ended a brutal civil war, is now united, in the face of an Israeli attack.

LAHOUD: The Lebanese will stay united, all together. And all this will not affect them. Of course, we are being hurt a -- a lot, but, at the end, I am sure that right will prevail.

ROBERTSON: In an exclusive interview with CNN, President Lahoud, a close ally of Syria, repeated Lebanon's unity many times, and went further. As commander in chief of Lebanon's armed forces, he says, he wants the country's army to back up Hezbollah, if Israel invades.

LAHOUD: Of course they will fight the invading force of Israel, if it tries to come inside. ROBERTSON: Lebanese troops are not now part of the fighting with Israel, and Lebanon's tiny 60,000 under-equipped force would be no match for Israel's on an open battlefield. But, Lahoud says, the Lebanese army knows the land, implying it can fight a guerrilla war, Hezbollah-style.

Whether Lahoud is posturing to keep an Israeli invasion at bay is impossible to say. But, as of today, he sees no diplomacy that would stop an escalation.

LAHOUD: We have had a lot of visitors coming from abroad. But, unfortunately, they are talking, going and coming and talking all the time, but with no result.

ROBERTSON: Across town, Hezbollah's parliamentary ally, head of the Amal Party and parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, believes Israel rejected peace initiatives that Lebanon offered to U.N. mediators.

NABIH BERRI, LEBANESE PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER (through translator): I later heard a confirmed report that the negotiations with the Israelis were nonexistent and hopeless.

ROBERTSON: His interpretation may not be the whole picture. But it is shaping thinking here. Berri, too, says his old civil war militia, the Amal, will join Hezbollah if Israel invades.

BERRI (through translator): It would not be just the Lebanese army, but all the Lebanese people, not Hezbollah alone, nor the Amal movement alone, not the army. Any attempt at a ground invasion, all of Lebanon will stand together as one front.

ROBERTSON: Again, posturing or promise? Impossible to say, as Israel builds forces on the border.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And, Nic, what a lot of Israelis are saying tonight, it doesn't much matter whether it is a promise or a threat; the fact is, it is an empty threat, that the Lebanese army is so weak, that any resistance it forms with Hezbollah will be all but meaningless.

ROBERTSON: The president here would probably take issue with that, and say, no, they could use their ability and knowledge of -- of the -- the terrain here, the mountains, the hills, and that they could be an effective fighting force.

The reality is, is that 60,000 under-equipped soldiers, with -- perhaps with poor communications, on a battlefield dominated by Israeli forces, who might outmaneuver and outgun them, would obviously amount to a very one-sided -- one-sided battle.

But the passions that one hears expressed here are that people are willing to sacrifice their lives. And that is the one difference, they say, the Lebanese -- or some of them, at least -- say they have, that they are willing to die for their country. And that is the sort of passions that are running right now here -- Paula. ZAHN: Well, congratulations on your exclusive. I will tell you, pretty surrealistic watching you tour the palace grounds, as you saw Beirut -- Beirut burn.

Nic Robertson, thanks so much.

And, tonight, we are keeping our eyes and cameras and correspondents on the Israeli-Lebanese border. If Israel starts moving in, we will take you there live. You know. You have heard it as well from Christiane's report. The army is ready. It just needs the order to go in.

Coming up, more on tonight's "Top Story": Is the Middle East fighting, already bad, about to spiral out of control?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN (voice-over): The desperate search for peace -- after 10 days of bloodshed, and no end in sight, the U.S. finally takes the diplomatic lead, but is there any hope for a quick end to the suffering?

And what if talking won't stop the fighting? With Israeli troops poised for a full-scale invasion, what happens if the war expands?

Coverage of our "Top Story," crisis in the Middle East, continues after this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And welcome back.

An important part of our "Top Story" is the global reaction to the crisis in the Middle East.

In streets across the Muslim world, people are carrying red and white Lebanese flags and green Hamas flags, but they are burning U.S. and Israeli flags.

In Damascus, Syria, a man tears apart an Israeli flag with his teeth.

In Egypt, protesters carry posters of Hezbollah's leader.

And, in Malaysia, signs label President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair as war criminals.

Now, with passions running so high, one of the most surprising turns in our "Top Story" coverage is the U.S.' diplomatic approach to the crisis. Critics say it is nonexistent. Finally, after being accused of standing on the sidelines for days, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going into action.

White House correspondent Ed Henry picks up the "Top Story" coverage with this dramatic change on the diplomatic front.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Announcing plans to leave for the Mideast Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had a sharp answer for critics who say the Bush administration should have engaged in shuttle diplomacy much sooner.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling, and it wouldn't have been clear what I was shuttling to do.

HENRY: But mindful her trip will raise hopes of a peace deal, the secretary downplayed expectations by admitting she still is not sure what can be accomplished.

RICE: I know that there are no answers that are easy, nor are there any quick fixes. I fully expect that the diplomatic work for peace will be difficult.

HENRY: What the secretary is certain is, despite growing pressure, the U.S. still does not support a cease-fire.

RICE: A cease-fire would be a false promise, if it is simply returns us to the status quo, allowing terrorists to launch attacks at the time and terms of their choosing, and to threaten innocent people, Arab and Israeli, throughout the region.

HENRY: She called for a robust international peacekeeping force on the ground in Lebanon, but suggested, the U.S. would not contribute boots on the ground.

RICE: I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces would -- are expected for that force.

HENRY: In a sign of the growing urgency, President Bush's schedule has been shaken up, to add a rare Sunday meeting at the White House, where he and Secretary Rice will host top Saudi officials. Then, the secretary heads to Israel and the West Bank, followed by a summit in Rome with Arab leaders, where she will keep the heat on Syria to stop supporting Hezbollah.

RICE: The Syrians have to make a choice. Do they really wish to be associated with the circumstances that -- that help extremism to grow in the region, or are they going to be a part of what is clearly a consensus of the major Arab states in the region, that extremism is one of the problems here?

HENRY (on camera): Democrats charge, the White House moved too slowly, and are now urging the president to appoint a special envoy to the Mideast. But the White House says, it is already sending its top envoy, Secretary Rice, to the region, and says it will take time to achieve a sustainable peace.

Ed Henry, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, is the U.S. getting into the diplomatic game too late? With Israeli tanks poised at Lebanon's border as we speak, can diplomacy possibly work?

Next in our "Top Story" coverage: a veteran diplomat who handled the Middle East and other thorny issues when he was the U.S. ambassador at the United Nations during the Clinton administration. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson joins me now.

Always good to see you, sir.

I don't know whether you heard our interview at the top of the hour, an exclusive one, with the president of Lebanon, but he says there is absolutely no diplomacy that can stop this invasion.

So, does that mean Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is wasting her time?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: No, she is not wasting her time. In fact, the United States should have had a special envoy permanently. But that is another story.

I think she can make a difference. She is skilled. She represents the United States. She should immediately persuade our European allies to put sanctions on Hezbollah and make sure that they are sanctioned, no visas, frozen assets. And she should be very firm with the president of Lebanon, that, basically, there is going to be isolation and sanctions, if they continue this effort to not just back Hezbollah, but stir things up in Lebanon.

ZAHN: All right.

RICHARDSON: But I do believe, Paula, that the American presence, shuttling around, with Israel only trusting the United States and being a major player, that we should be there.

ZAHN: All right.

But , Governor, Condoleezza Rice said today that, basically, you can't have any kind of truce that would lead to another conflict here. Do you think she has made a mistake by not joining in a call for an immediate cease-fire?

RICHARDSON: No. She is right on that score.

I fault them for not being there and getting engaged, but you can't just have a cease-fire, without anything else. I think what has to be established is the scope of an international peacekeeping force. Hezbollah has got to get sanctioned. And there has got to be an agreement that, eventually, they will be disarmed.

ZAHN: Well, that -- that's the issue.

RICHARDSON: Syria and Iran have to be persuaded...

ZAHN: Do you think that that...

RICHARDSON: They have to be persuaded...

ZAHN: ... is possible?

ZAHN: Let's -- let's talk about the international...

RICHARDSON: Well, yes, I...

ZAHN: ... peacekeeping force. They obviously have to have the ability to disarm Hezbollah. That hasn't been done, after the U.N. leaning on Lebanon to do just that for two years.

RICHARDSON: Well, but you have to have an international peacekeeping force. If you can't authorize it through the United Nations, through a resolution there that promises sanctions, sanctions and an international peacekeeping force, Secretary Rice, Muslim countries, and European nations should do one.

We're eventually going to need one. And I believe that should be some effort to get that constructed, at the same time that you are talking cease-fire, and a simultaneous cease-fire. You have got to do both of them at the same time.

But I do agree that just having a cease-fire, without any infrastructure in place, is not going to work. The main point, Paula, is, an American secretary of state, the country with the most leverage in the Middle East, trusted by Israel, and major military power, with the Europeans, can make a difference. And...

ZAHN: All right.

RICHARDSON: ... I just believe we should have been there before.

ZAHN: Well, we always appreciate your perspective, Governor Richardson. Thanks for your time tonight.

Now a reminder...

RICHARDSON: Thank you, Paula.

ZAHN: ... that we are keeping a very close eye on the Israeli- Lebanese border. Our live crews are standing by, in case Israel's army starts moving into Lebanon. We are told they are ready. They are just waiting for an order.

Now, even without an all-out assault, thousands of Lebanese civilians are suffering, and suffering deeply. Next in our "Top Story" coverage, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta makes his way inside a Beirut hospital. He will have an amazing report about how lives are being saved, as a city burns.

Also, we are going to take you to an Israeli emergency room in a city that has become a target for Hezbollah rockets. What is that like?

We will return with both of those reports on the other side.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Our "Top Story" coverage of the crisis in the Middle East takes a unique turn now.

With so many civilians, both Israeli and Lebanese, suffering the miseries of war, what is the other side's answer to that misery?

Well, first, we will begin with the Lebanese. They are taking the brunt of the casualties, living and working in horrific conditions, as you are about to see. Then, we will ask the Israeli ambassador to the U.N. about the damage inflicted by his military.

It is the middle of the night in Beirut, just after 3:00 a.m.

And that is where we find our senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who spent a grueling day with fellow doctors at Beirut Hospital.

What did you find?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Paula.

It's been interesting. You know, you hear so many things about what the situation is going to be like, after so many days of bombing. How are the hospitals coping? The best way to learn, as we found out, was to just go see it ourselves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUPTA: We are hearing stories, I mean, dramatic ones, of doctors being unable to practice medicine in the hospital itself, actually having to go underground, being unable to do the operations they normally perform, again only being able to do small operations, underground.

(voice-over): We arrived at Mount Lebanon Hospital in an area close to heavy Israeli airstrikes. And that's where I met 36-year-old Zagot Melam (ph). He had been taking an early-morning walk south of Beirut.

In a flash, he became another victim of an Israeli bombing, thrown 30 feet through the air, with shrapnel piercing his feet, hands, and his intestines. He will live.

Things look more grim for 27-year-old Lebanese soldier Lahud Lahud (ph), also the victim of an airstrike. He lost his right leg. He may lose the left one as well, a mangled face concealed behind tight bandages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A very deep wound here.

GUPTA: If he does survive, Lahud (ph), like many others here, have Dr. Nazi Garios (ph) to thank. He is the leader of Mount Lebanon Hospital. (on camera): I mean, you have had explosions all around this hospital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

GUPTA: You have a bridge over there which is a target. You have had actual explosions over there. We are two kilometers from Hezbollah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

GUPTA: We're a target here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, of course. We are a target. And we are very afraid. It is like Russian roulette. You -- you don't know if you will arrive safe at the hospital, or you will have some -- some airstrike or, I don't know.

GUPTA (voice-over): Just standing on that roof made me nervous, but Dr. Garios (ph) made sure his hospital stayed open when every other business around had been shut down.

(on camera): Why do it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think -- I am a doctor. I have a responsibility. I run this hospital. And I -- I think people need me. Patients need me.

GUPTA (voice-over): So, how does a hospital and its leader practice medicine in wartime?

(on camera): Let me give you a sense of how a hospital works during a war.

First of all, we have come two levels below the ground. That's where all the patients need to be. And everything changes once you get down here. First of all, that is the radiology waiting area. Now it is a maternity ward. You have pregnant women can actually deliver their babies. The babies are here as well.

(voice-over): Babies arriving in a troubled homeland.

(on camera): So, I guess this really makes it hit home. You see a baby. She was actually born June 8. She weighed less than a pound. And, in the middle of her already very short life, she had to be transported in the middle of a bomb raid to the basement, to the cath lab, which is now her new home.

(voice-over): Both staff and patients feel safer in this improvised subterranean ward, away from the all-too-familiar whine of sirens and the thuds of missiles.

Doctor Garios (ph) said that his hospital can cope for a few weeks, at most. Supplies are running short. Some of his staff are starting to leave, concerned for their own families.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, Sanjay, just for perspective, this is a hospital in a part of the city that has a lot of Shias. They are supporters of Hezbollah. Just how dangerous is it for anybody to be working there?

GUPTA: Extremely dangerous.

I mean, you know, Paula, that -- that is one of the first things they said, was that, look, we are already in a very vulnerable area. But some of the rules have changed as well. You know, doctors could count on a couple of things in the past. One is, they could take care of their parents.

And two is that ambulances and hospitals were usually off limits, in terms of the airstrikes and the bombings -- not so. I mean, there is a hospital just 10 kilometers away from Mount Lebanon, the one you just saw, that has just been pummelled. I mean, they have gone underground. They have been unable to take care of their patients.

It is a -- it is a remarkable thing. And -- and -- and I don't know what is it going to be like for Mount Lebanon in a few days from now.

ZAHN: Well, we will be watching along with you.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks so much.

Now, Israel has agreed to clear a corridor for vital food and medicine that could be flowing into Beirut in the next day or two.

But, a bit earlier, at the United Nations, when Syria's ambassador started complaining about what he called war crimes by Israel, the Israeli ambassador got up and walked out in disgust.

Ambassador Daniel Gillerman joins me now. Nice to see you.

I want to start off..

DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: Good evening, Paula.

ZAHN: ... with the breaking news tonight.

We know that that Israeli forces are amassed on the Lebanese border. Will they launch an attack tonight?

GILLERMAN: I don't know, quite frankly, whether we launch an attack tonight.

But what I do know is, from -- that, from day one, we said that we will do whatever we have to do in order to rid the region, to rid Lebanon of this monster that has grown up inside it. And we will do it. And it will take as long as it takes.

ZAHN: We know the troops are ready to go. Has an authorization for an invasion been given? GILLERMAN: I don't know. And I'm not sure it has been given.

But we are keeping all options open. And we will do whatever is necessary.

The president of Lebanon, as well as its defense minister, says that, if Israel invades Lebanon, the Lebanese army will fight side by side with Hezbollah. What does that mean? What do you expect to encounter?

GILLERMAN: Well, first of all, I think the statement by the president of Lebanon was pathetic.

This president is a Syrian puppet. This president takes orders from Damascus, from one of the world's most ominous engines and generators of terror.

And, when talking about his army engaging Israel, the United Nations, the international community, has been demanding that this very army engage Hezbollah, deploy its forces in the north, and take care of Lebanon. It couldn't do that. So, how can -- now, all of the sudden, this great, glorious, brave Lebanese army, that couldn't handle a few militias, is going to handle the Israeli army. Come on.

ZAHN: But there's a lot of debate whether this is a promise, a threat, an empty threat. You have already lost soldiers to some very aggressive Hezbollah attacks. You have to be concerned even though you think that he is a puppet of the Syrians that they can inflict damage on your troops?

GILLERMAN: Well, we are very concerned and we take Hezbollah very seriously. Hezbollah is a well trained militia, supplied by Iran and Syria, funded by Iran to the sum of $100 million, that has amassed a huge arsenal of missiles and cruise missiles and bombs and mines over the last six years, but the Lebanese army, that should have taken care of it, was actually besieged and was demanded by Resolution 1559 of Security Council to dismantle Hezbollah, couldn't do it. Now they are going to face the Israeli army. That seems very, very strange.

ZAHN: The head of Hezbollah has now offered an apology for two Israeli children who were killed. He said it was an accident. It was not intended. Do you want to take a moment now to offer an apology to all of the innocent Lebanese civilians that have been killed during this ten-day conflict by Israelis?

GILLERMAN: We are very, very sorry for every civilian life taken and by every Lebanese hurt. We have no quarrel with Lebanon and we have no fight with Lebanon and I just saw those heart-breaking pictures of babies who are begin hurt, of children who are being hurt. Believe me, Israel is really very sorry and heart broken about every civilian that is killed, but the huge difference between the leader of the Hezbollah, who offered his apologies, and us, is that while they specifically target civilians, women and children, aiming to kill as many as possible and maim them, we carry out an action in self-defense and sometimes, mainly because the Hezbollah operates from very densely populated areas and in Lebanon it's still, the Lebanese ambassador, who claimed that you can not distinguish between Hezbollah and Lebanese, because Hezbollah is everywhere and has infiltrated Lebanon and infiltrated society. Civilians get hurt. We are very sorry for every civilian that gets hurt. The problem is and the equation is that while for us, every dead Lebanese child is a tragedy and a mistake, for them, every dead Israeli child is a victory and a cause for celebration.

ZAHN: Except for the case of these two that he apologized for. Ambassador Gillerman, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate your coming by tonight.

We will continue to top story coverage from the Middle East in just a moment. But first our countdown of the top ten most popular stories of the day on CNN.com. For that let's go straight to Melissa Long of our CNN pipeline, broadband news service. Hi Melissa.

MELISSA LONG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello Paula. It was a wild police chase in Houston that was a hit in CNN.com this afternoon. Some 20 million readers made that story number ten on the countdown. You can also see it today on pipeline live. Now it started after a robbery, lasted for a couple of hours. Police say that the suspect went as fast as 80 miles per hour and at times drove into oncoming traffic.

Number nine, I think you will see why this is ranking number nine. Video that has become a hit on the web. You can see President Bush teasing German Chancellor Angela Merkel by pretending to give her a back rub during the G-8 summit in St. Petersburg.

And number eight tonight, a five day long blackout in a New York City neighborhood. Tens of thousands of people are still without power in a pocket of Queens. The cause of the blackout, still a mystery. It is a hassle and obviously potentially quite dangerous. Paula?

ZAHN: We hope we can figure it out. Thank you, Melissa. We will check back with you in a little. The next story in our top story coverage is a hospital on the Israeli side of the front lines. How is Haifa coping with its daily rain of rockets? And then a little bit later on, with all signs pointing to an imminent invasion of Lebanon, what is Israel's strategy? How far in should its troops go?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We continue our top story coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. The human toll of the war. We just showed you the misery of patients and medical staff inside a Beirut hospital, and you heard the reaction from the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., well, now we will ask the Lebanese ambassador for his reaction to the suffering in Haifa today. Hezbollah rockets firing from Lebanese soil, landing in the northern Israeli city, wounding at least 19. Our Paula Hancocks witnessed the disturbing aftermath.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This woman just lost part of her leg in a rocket attack. Doctors move the line of beds outside, ready for the next casualties, close behind. Some are in shock. Others, clearly closer to the impact. But the patients are not out of danger even inside. The hospital is close to Haifa's sea front and very close to where rockets have hit before.

RAFAEL BEYAR, HOSPITAL DIRECTOR: This is the first time ever in the history of this hospital that it has been under real attack not far away from this region itself.

HANCOCKS: The air raid siren is barely audible in the children's Leukemia ward. A loud speaker tells patients to go into a safe room, but it's not safe enough. There's no bomb shelter in this hospital, just ordinary rooms away from windows. Just minutes after the rockets hit, contractors rush once again to cover the north facing windows, to prevent them from shattering.

(on camera): This used to be the maternity ward, but it faces north, which means it faces Lebanon. Now since rockets have been falling regularly on Haifa, that department has been moved further into hospital, and doctors tell me that is the plan, to try and leave as few patients as possible on this side of the building.

(voice-over): Sami (ph) was in critical condition when he arrived here at the beginning of the week. A pellet from a Katyusha lodged in the wall of his heart. He tells me he is scared every time he hears the siren. He is scared the next rocket will hit him. Doctors have no choice but to keep working literally in the line of fire.

DR. ALON BEN NON, SURGEON: When you treat a patient, this patient becomes the center of your world. You don't do, you don't think about anything else. It doesn't matter if you were bombed or there is siren. There is a patient, the team, and that is it.

HANCOCKS: Doctors work feverishly inside to treat the wounded, whose relatives wait with anguish outside. Paula Hancocks, CNN, Haifa, Israel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And that is the reality for Israeli civilians who have the misfortune to live near the Lebanese border. Lebanon's special envoy to the United Nations, Ambassador Nouhad Mahmoud joins me now. Thank you so much for being with us. Are you sorry about what has happened to Israeli civilians? Your counterpart at the U.N. just said that Hezbollah is specifically and intentionally targeting these citizens. These are not military targets, they are out to kill men, women, and children.

NOUHAD MAHMOUD, LEBANON'S SPECIAL ENVOY TO THE U.N.: Well, I feel sorry for every human suffering from both side. But, the escalation is taking place from both sides, and they new it from the very beginning. And they were promising each other, Hezbollah and Israel, more escalation and they delivered, unfortunately.

ZAHN: You say they are escalating on both sides. Why hasn't your government, the Lebanese government, stopped Hezbollah? You have had two years since the U.N. has given the mandate to disarm them.

MAHMOUD: Well, things are not so easy. There is complex realities in the Middle East, and those who know the area, they know that it was not feasible this way. By war, it won't be achieved.

We took our time, peacefully, by negotiation. It was on the national dialogue agenda. But the war, it won't be faster in solving this problem.

ZAHN: But your president, in an exclusive interview with our Nic Robertson, made it pretty clear that people support Hezbollah because they credit Hezbollah with getting the Israelis out of Lebanon.

MAHMOUD: Yes.

ZAHN: So there is a vast amount of support for Hezbollah, including from your president.

MAHMOUD: Yes, because -- yes, because for 20 years, a big part of Lebanon was occupied by the Israeli, and they were inflicting heavy bombardment and heavy damage to the population there. And there was no way for them to withdraw without resistance. Hezbollah was the resistance. That's why they get their legitimacy with the people and the population, because they were resisting occupation, occupation.

ZAHN: Are you saying today they are freedom fighters or are they terrorists?

MAHMOUD: They were freedom fighters until the liberation of Lebanon in the year 2000. Now...

ZAHN: But do you acknowledge they are terrorists today?

MAHMOUD: Well, subjecting civilian is an act of terror from anywhere. If it's from Hezbollah or from Israel, because in Lebanon also, the civilians are killed. We have much more civilians killed, unfortunately, it's not getting enough coverage, than in Israel. We have maybe ten-fold or more. In damages, it is a thousand-fold, also.

ZAHN: But quickly in closing, if Hezbollah is targeting children, innocent children, men, women, why is it then that your government says it will fight side by side with Hezbollah, if Israel launches a ground invasion? You just acknowledged they are terrorists by definition.

MAHMOUD: No, but what do you expect if a foreign army's invasion (inaudible) your country? Even the civilian will resist. I mean, that should be normal. That should be news. An army is to defend the country. We know that our army is very small and we cannot compare to the Israeli army. But...

ZAHN: Even if you fight side by side with terrorists.

MAHMOUD: No, they cannot, sure. That is why guerrilla war was the way against the Israelis. Because by regular war, you cannot win. So that is what happened. These are the realities on the ground. ZAHN: Mr. Ambassador, we thank you for your time tonight.

MAHMOUD: Thank you.

ZAHN: Really appreciate your coming by.

We are going to have more of our top story coverage from the Middle East in just a moment, but first, let's go back to Melissa Long for our cnn.com countdown -- Melissa.

LONG: Hi, Paula.

She is cute, she's accomplished, and now causing some controversy. I'm talking about actress Dakota Fanning, just 12 years old. Some people are upset that her next movie has a scene in which her character is raped.

Coming in at number six tonight, former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who is behind bars in Holland, as he awaits trial for war crimes, is now complaining about the food he is getting in prison.

And number five on the list tonight, to Tennessee. A supermarket employee is under arrest for attacking eight co-workers with a knife. Four were seriously hurt. Police have not yet determined a motive for that attack -- Paula.

ZAHN: Melissa, thanks. See you in the next block. We will continue now with our special coverage tonight, with the Israeli forces massing along the Lebanese border and an invasion of Lebanon possible at any moment. What is the best route in and what's the ultimate goal? Next in our top story coverage, some military experts who have been there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As we speak, Israeli ground forces are massed along the Lebanese border. If the order comes to go in, what can they accomplish and just how quickly? For that part of our top story coverage, our Brian Todd assembled a panel of experts.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Leaflets in Arabic, warning civilians, get out of Lebanon's southernmost frontier. An Israeli armored column poised for a possible ground assault that experts say would be a vicious fight.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The nature of that fight is very up close, it's very personal, it's very complex terrain.

TODD: Former American and Israeli officers, some who've served in the region, say if Israeli forces launch across the border in bulk, their goal will likely be to establish a buffer zone.

COL. GARY ANDERSON, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): The Israelis are likely to advance along one of three axis. Those are the main lines of communications into southern Lebanon. And they'll likely advance to the Litani River, which seems to be the maximum range of ...

TODD (on camera): Where are we talking about here? There it is.

ANDERSON: ... of -- along this line. That seems to be the maximum range of most of the missiles that are being fired into Israel now.

TODD (voice-over): Retired Marine Colonel Gary Anderson and other experts say Hezbollah has got a mobile, well organized force, numbering anywhere from 1,000 to more than 10,000, with rockets, other heavy weaponry, and a web of underground tunnels and bunkers.

ANDERSON: They probably use them to hide the equipment, pop off a round, fire it, and try to get it back underground before an Israeli unmanned aircraft or manned aircraft can get overhead to spot them.

TODD: Hezbollah can also draw the Israelis into close combat, possibly negating the use of airstrikes that might hit friendly forces, but analysts say the Israelis will be attacking in tanks and armored personnel carriers and deploying massive bulldozers that can level small buildings.

But once they've taken it, how do they keep the buffer zone secure?

COL. PATRICK LANG (RET.), MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: I know the IDF does not want to occupy part of Lebanon again. But they've somehow gotten themselves into a position in which there may be no other choice.

TODD: No other choice except to leave that occupation up to some other entity, possibly a U.N. stabilization force. But analysts say the Israelis are not likely to trust that outside force more than its own army to keep that buffer zone secure.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So will Israeli troops actually invade Lebanon tonight? A spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry tells CNN that Israel has no desire to take any inch of Lebanese land, but he adds, quote, "there is a threat there, and you have to deal with that threat."

Our top story coverage of the crisis in the Middle East continues in just a moment, but right now we are going to take a quick biz break.

Tech stocks dragged the market down today. The Dow lost 59 points, the Nasdaq 19; the S&P lost 8. BellSouth shareholders approved the sale of the company to AT&T for $67 billion in stock. The deal includes Cingular Wireless.

Now, "Crude Awakenings," our daily look at gas prices across the country. The states with today's highest prices are in red, the lowest in green. The average today, $2.98. That's down one cent since yesterday. The graph shows the trend over the last couple of months.

And "LARRY KING LIVE" is coming at you in just about 11 minutes from now. Larry is going to give us a preview at this moment. Hi, Larry.

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Hi, Paula. We have got quite a show tonight. A major portion of it devoted to the secretary- general of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. We'll also talk with the admiral who is in charge of getting Americans out of Lebanon. Kofi Annan, that admiral, a round-up of reporters as well, and staying atop breaking news in Lebanon as well. All that at the top of the hour, Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Larry. Look forward to it. See you at 9:00.

Just ahead, much more of our top story coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. Let's quickly, though, go to Melissa Long first for our cnn.com countdown -- Melissa.

LONG: And a story from the Virginia prison ranks number four tonight. A convicted killer there becomes the first person in the U.S. to die in the electric chair in two years. State officials say Brandon Hedrick requested electrocution because he feared lethal injection.

And entertainment news at number three. Justin Timberlake is telling "GQ Magazine" that even though he no longer speaks to ex- girlfriend Brittany Spears, he wishes her well. The singer also calls his years with Britney, quote, so high school. Paula.

ZAHN: He is so cute. Melissa, thanks, see you again in a couple of minutes. Next, we get back to the Middle East crisis, and we will visit some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Beirut. Anderson Cooper has been to an area that is one of Israeli bombers top targets. What did he see? Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: More now of our top story coverage, Israeli forces are primed and ready along the Lebanese border, waiting for orders to start a ground campaign in southern Lebanon, an extremely tense situation. It's one that Anderson Cooper continues to follow at this early morning hour in Beirut. Anderson, great to see you. We just had a special envoy from the U.N. to Lebanon on and he told me off camera he wouldn't be surprised if this invasion is launched tonight or some time this weekend. What is the expectation with the folks that you have spoken with?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I think there is a lot of concern here in Beirut, certainly people sort of waiting for the other shoe to fall, if you will. All day they've been seeing more and more Americans getting out, fleeing Beirut, fleeing Lebanon, some 5,000 Americans getting today, out according to the U.S. ambassador with whom I spoke with earlier. A real sense that sort of it is getting down to bone here now. We've heard one explosion here in Beirut, a short time ago and we drove around in the southern suburbs of Beirut a little bit today in Hezbollah-controlled Beirut, if you will, and it is a territory which they still control, despite devastating bombing and you go to that part of the city, and it is a completely different Beirut.

It looks like parts of Baghdad after a car bomb has exploded. Just streets decimated, most of the residents have left, but you see Hezbollah fighters still lurking in the doorways, some of them dressed in black with their weapons around them. You will also see a lot of young men riding on the motorbikes, talking on their cell phones, watching you wherever you go, watching you very closely. There is a lot of fear and paranoia here, certainly on the part of Hezbollah that Israel is sending in agents on the ground or has people on the ground, helping Israel target bombs, and continued attacks. So there is a lot of concern and a lot of fear about what is going to happen in these next 12-24 hours, Paula.

ZAHN: Anderson, we are seeing bombed out building after bombed out building that you took in in your tour today. Where the have those residents gone and where are they getting any help?

COOPER: Well, a lot of them have gone to the city parks. They've moved into other parts of Beirut. I mean, the part of Beirut that we are in right now, which is sort of the downtown area, really has not been hit very badly at all and although the shops are closed, I mean, life sort of continues here with some semblance of normalcy. So you go to these city parks, you go to city schools, and they are filled with refugees or internally displaced people, not just from the Shia suburbs of Beirut, but also from further south and as Israel is already, in advance of what may be a ground invasion, Israel is telling people in the south to just keep moving north, just keep moving north.

A lot of them are going to be ending up here in Beirut, and that is a real concern down the road. How are they going to be cared for? What sort of humanitarian resources are going to be devoted to them? Right now there is food here, there is water. They are getting some help, but as this conflict moves into another week and then another week and then perhaps a ground war, all bets are off in terms of how many people may arrive here and what kind of resources they are going to need.

ZAHN: Anderson, thanks for joining us and we will see much more of you a little bit later on during Anderson's show which of course gets under way at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time right here. Thanks Anderson.

We will get back to the top story coverage of the crisis in the Middle East in just a moment. Let's go back to Melissa Long though first for our continuation of the countdown.

LONG: There has been a sighting, Paula, a Suri Cruise sighting from the King of Queens star Leah Remini. Now the public has yet to see Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes baby daughter, but the actress says she has seen the child and that she's doing fine.

And our top story is actually the big story in the minds of CNN.com readers this evening. Israeli forces gathering on the border of Lebanon, poised for a possible ground invasion and Lebanon's president says his nation's troops will fight if that happens. Paula?

ZAHN: Melissa, thanks so much. We, of course, are just minutes from the top of the hour and LARRY KING LIVE exclusive. U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anna is Larry's guest. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And updating tonight's top story, as we speak, large numbers of Israeli troops and tanks are amassed at the Lebanese border. A full-scale ground invasion appears to be imminent. We know from Christiane Amanpour that the troops are ready to go. They're just waiting for the order to go and an authorization. That wraps it here. For all of us tonight, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate your being with us for a very busy week. See you Monday night.

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