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THE SITUATION ROOM

Israel Massing Troops Along Lebanese Border for Possible Ground Invasion; Lebanese President Vows Country Will Defend Itself Against Israeli Ground Invasion; President Bush, Condoleezza Rice to Meet With Saudi Officials; Haifa Residents Jolted by Rocket Attacks; Mideast Conflict May Impact Midterm Elections; Mark Regev Interview; Terje Roed-Larsen Interview

Aired July 21, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ali, thanks.
To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by, CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you today's top stories.

Happening now, it's 11:00 p.m. in Israel and Lebanon where Israeli troops and tanks are now massed along the Lebanese border. Is the start of a full-fledged ground war between Israel and Hezbollah?

It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where Condoleezza Rice warns against an immediate cease-fire and says she's looking for a lasting peace. This as the secretary of state packs for a diplomatic mission to the Middle East.

And it's midnight in Baghdad, where there's been absolutely no let up in another deadly conflict in the region. Iraqis suffering through one of the bloodiest weeks since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Day 10 of open warfare between Israel and Hezbollah and critical new developments in the story today. There's now open talk of a possible full scale Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon. Israel is calling up thousands of reserve troops and massing them along the Lebanese border.

And Lebanon's president says his army is ready to defend against the ground invasion. Meanwhile Hezbollah rockets are falling on towns in northern Israel once again today, injuring at least 19 people earlier in the day in Haifa. Israeli officials say 34 people have been killed in the 10 days of fighting.

Israel is responding with new air strikes on targets inside Lebanon. The Israeli Defense Forces report at least 40 such strikes in the last few hours alone. Lebanese officials say 261 people have been killed in the fighting in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she will leave Sunday for the Middle East to meet with key players. But she says she won't be pursuing an immediate cease-fire. She calls that, quote, a false promise.

We're covering all angles of the story with reporters in all of the key locations. Standing by live in this hour for us in all of those locations. Ed Henry, standing by at the White House. Ben Wedeman is in Beirut. Christiane Amanpour is in northern Israel. Andrea Koppel is on Capitol Hill. Let's begin in northern Israel with Christiane.

Christiane what happened today?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, coupled with the idea that Condoleezza Rice is coming to the Middle East and is allowing this green light to continue, in other words hoping that Israel will do most of the work against Hezbollah before the proper diplomacy can actually get under way. Israeli forces and military leaders are extremely conspicuous now about what they're talking about being a potential ground invasion.

What they're saying is that they have called up all of the reserves. They've called up all the active duties. They're moving active duties from certain areas, replacing them with reserves. Moving everybody, as they said to us today, the deputy commander of the northern command, moving all of the power towards Lebanon and towards this border. They already say that they have a ground operation under way. Although, the general wouldn't be drawn publicly on the exact number of troops.

He told, other military sources told us that there was several battalions already operating inside Lebanon on a daily basis, going in and out, some staying, some one mile in, some a few miles in, and special forces even deeper inside. They're dropping leaflets.

They're telling the residents of southern Lebanon to move back, presumably back beyond what is known as the Litani river, which is a sort of de facto border between southern Lebanon and the rest of Lebanon. It's about 40 kilometers, 25 miles away from the Israeli border. So, the push to move Hezbollah and disarm it is continuing, Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, you said that the Israelis have called up all of their reserves? I had heard they called up significant numbers, but not necessary all of the reserves, because that would be a mobilization, virtually, of every man over the age of 18.

AMANPOUR: That's right, they're calling up significant numbers. They told us, lots and lots of reserves are coming in and they're going, for instance, here's a scenario, they're bringing reservists to go over to the West Bank to relieve some of the active duty troops there, so that those active duty troops can come over to Lebanon. Other reservists are being mobilized here to the Lebanese border.

So they're moving their troops around and trying to get, as they said, the maximum power, all concentrated on the Lebanese border here. But it's a very conspicuous declaration. It's a very, you know, public warning. It's not like they're doing this is in secret. We're getting lots of pictures of this mobilization. So I'm sure a lot of it is also to send a message to the other side.

BLITZER: And that message to Hezbollah being, get ready, the Israeli forces are coming in with their tanks, and their armor and their heavy equipment. That would be a powerful message if they want to see the Hezbollah forces scatter, if you will, and try take advantage of that.

AMANPOUR: Potentially, yes. They've already been in, as I say, in and out. And they say they have to go in to engage and to find some of the things that they just can't see from the air. For instance, bunkers. They told us, the general told quite a vivid story about how the ground troops were in there and it took, you know, several passes over one particular area before they moved some leaves, and brush and undergrowth and actually found a bunker, according to the general.

In other words, illustrating that they cannot get the things that they want to get, the important things, many of them by air power alone and it will take some kind of ground operation, as I say, that is already under way. The question is, will there be a mass invasion of the country.

BLITZER: We're going to watch together with you, Christiane. Thank you very much. Christiane will be back in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let's go to Beirut now, the Lebanese president there vowing his country will defend itself against an Israeli ground invasion. Ben Wedeman is on the scene for us. Update our viewers Ben, what has happened in the Lebanese capital today?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, actually, Beirut has been relatively quiet. No reported Israeli bombardment of the Lebanese capital. Much of the action has taken place down in the south where Israeli aircraft and artillery have been very busy, especially around the area of Tyre, which is the largest Lebanese city near to the Israeli border.

The residents there bracing for, as we've all heard, a potential Israeli ground invasion. Now, on the question of the ground invasion, Lebanese President Emil LaHood told CNN today that if Israeli forces enter Lebanon, the army, the Lebanese army will join the fight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EMIL LAHOOD, PRESIDENT OF 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 would fight the invading force of Israel if it tries to come inside.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WEDEMAN: And of course, while everybody is bracing for this potential ground invasion, the Lebanese and international relief organizations are busy to try to deal with the more than 500,000 people who have been displaced by the fighting in the south, and bombing of Beirut.

Now, today, I was in a village on the mountains outside of Beirut. Normally the population there is 5,000. It's now almost 50,000. Local officials telling me that because of this sudden influx of people, for instance, the local reservoir has gone dry, so they have to truck in water from elsewhere.

In Lebanon, Mercy Corps and International Relief Organization was up there today distributing food to some of these people who are living in private houses, in schools and government buildings and in hotels. Now, outside one hotel we went to, we encountered a large group of angry refugees. When they found out we were American journalists, they became very agitated. I tried to calm the group down, speaking to them in Arabic, trying to discuss the situation.

However, at one point one man came barreling out of the crowd trying to beat me and my cameraman. So Wolf, the mood here is getting very resentful against the United States. Many people say the United States has given Israel the green light for its operations, that it's given Israel the weaponry to make this offensive possible. So the mood is turning rather sour and ugly.

BLITZER: All right, just be careful over there Ben, you and all of our colleagues. Ben Wedeman on the scene for us in Beirut.

President Bush and Condoleezza Rice will meet with Saudi officials, including the foreign minister this Sunday at the White House before the secretary of state heads to the Middle East. Let's go to the White House. Our correspondent Ed Henry has the latest details, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf the urgency increasing here at the White House. As you noted, a late add to the president's schedule for Sunday, when he returns from a weekend at his Texas ranch. He and Secretary Rice will be here at the White House on Sunday, meeting with the Saudi foreign minister as well as the head of the Saudi national security council, Prince Bandar.

Then Secretary Rice, later on Sunday will leave for Israel and the West Bank. She's going to be meeting with the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert as well as the Palestinian President Abbas, as well as a stop in Rome for a summit with various Arab officials. The White House is engaged in a real balancing act here.

On one hand, they're really stepping up their efforts, amid criticism they have not move quickly enough to try to help end the violence, but on the other hand, they're also trying to downplay expectations. They know Secretary Rice can not just head to the Middle East and wave some sort of a magic wand.

Here's Secretary Rice responding to critics who said this shuttle diplomacy would have started a lot sooner.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, of course, Secretary Rice mindful that her trip will only raise hopes of some sort of peace deal coming out of it. She quickly tried to tamp down those expectations, noting that there will not be what she called a quick fix from this trip. And despite growing to -- for the U.S. to support a cease-fire, she quickly dismissed that idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: Any cease-fire cannot allow that condition to remain. Because I can guarantee you, if you simply look for a cease-fire that acknowledges and freezes the status quo ante, we will be back here in six months again, or in five months, nine months or in a year, trying to get another cease-fire because Hezbollah will have decided yet again to try and use Southern Lebanon as a sanctuary to fire against Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, the secretary said that there would need to be what she called a robust international peacekeeping force at some point on the ground in Lebanon, but she also said she does not anticipate that there while be U.S. boots on the ground needed in that peacekeeping effort.

Also, in a preview what she can expect from her trip, she once again put the onus on Syria, saying they have a clear choice here; they're either going to side with extremists like Hezbollah or they're going to join what she's calling a new Middle East -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to be a hectic several days for the secretary of state, maybe much longer. Thank you for that. Ed Henry at the White House.

Meanwhile a fresh barrage of Hezbollah rockets hit northern Israel, injuring at least 19 people in Haifa. Let's go live to Haifa. CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney is joining with more on this part of the story.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed, Wolf. Five times they heard those air raid sires wailing across this city, shortly followed by five barrages of attacks, maybe three, four, five, Katyusha rockets, depending on what time of the day it was, and when those rockets fell. Thirty-nine people injured in all, three of them critically.

And in fact, there were attacks not just in Haifa, Wolf, but across the whole northern band of Israel. And a reminder to the Israeli army, which acknowledged earlier today the difficulty of the challenge facing them as they tried to cripple, as they put it, Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon.

According to the Israeli military, they say the difficulty lies because there is no front line as such, and every time they destroy one particular target, another one surfaces, which they feel they then have to destroy.

But as I say here, it's now the Jewish Sabbath. It's just after 11:00 at night. All has been quiet for the last number of hours, and really Israelis have been lulled into a rather false sense of security, if that can be the right description, after a barrage of rockets over the last nine days or so. There hadn't been a rocket attack here for two or three days, and this series of rocket barrages really jolting people and getting everybody off the street -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fionnuala, thank you very much. Fionnuala Sweeney in Haifa for us, where the residents clearly were jolted earlier today.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now, where a House delegation is getting ready to leave for the Middle East, even as some Democrats now are criticizing the Bush administration's response to this crisis.

Andrea Koppel, our congressional correspondent, is standing by with this part of the story -- Andrea.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in an interview with CNN, one of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's top Democrats, Connecticut's Chris Dodd, complained that for the last ten days, the Bush administration has been sitting on the sidelines, in his opinion. And he said during her trip to the region next week, Secretary Rice must -- in his words -- must engage with key players like Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: I was in Lebanon in April. I wanted to go to Asir (ph), I wanted to meet Lahoud in Lebanon. I was specifically asked by the administration not to even talk to these people.

KOPPEL: Not to talk to the Lebanese?

DODD: Not to talk to Lahoud, the president of the country. I agreed with it. If that's what they wanted me to do, I said fine. I didn't understand it. I said, I think it's a crazy idea not to be talking, carrying a message about our concerns to them. So that avoidance of any contact by anyone...

KOPPEL: Including Syria.

DODD: ... including Syria, I think has been a huge mistake. Somehow we're going to punish them for things they're doing wrong. You don't -- you know, when you're dealing with people like that, you have to engage them. That's what every administration has done for decades.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Dodd also said that he hopes Rice will stay in the region for a while, Wolf, in order to diffuse the crisis -- Wolf. BLITZER: Andrea, thank you very much.

This Sunday, by the way, we'll hear more from Chris Dodd and Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Both of them will join me on "LATE EDITION." That airs this Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Jack Cafferty is in New York with "The Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf, just -- I'm getting some feedback in my IFB -- just what a wartorn region needs. We've got a bunch of U.S. politicians on their way over there to assess the situation. House Speaker Dennis Hastert announced yesterday that he's a bipartisan congressional delegation to Israel this weekend. The group will be led by Intelligence Committee chairman Peter Hoekstra. Joining him, Democrat Jane Harman, Republicans Rick Renzi, Darrell Issa.

Hastert says they will bring the message that the U.S. stands by Israel in the fight against terrorism. They're scheduled to meet with American, Israeli and Palestinian officials about the ongoing conflict, and to talk about ways to end the crisis.

Here's the question, then. Is it a good idea for a congressional delegation to go to the Middle East? E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you very much. Two of those members of the delegation also will be joining us on "LATE EDITION," Jane Harman and Peter Hoekstra, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee. Both of them will be on "LATE EDITION" from Jerusalem this Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Coming up, will the fighting in Lebanon have a political impact back here in Washington? And out on the campaign trail, Bill Schneider is standing by with that story.

Plus, is an international peacekeeping force crucial to ending this crisis? I'll spoke with a top U.N. diplomat just back from the region.

And the other very deadly Middle East conflict. Stand by for a report from Baghdad, where Iraqis are suffering through one of the bloodiest weeks since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Much more of our special coverage on the crisis in the Middle East, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're monitoring all the new developments in the Middle East. Among the latest, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying she'll leave Sunday for the Middle East. But she says she won't be pursuing a cease-fire, at least not yet.

Israeli military officials say IDF forces -- that would be the Israel Defense Forces -- have killed 100 Hezbollah fighters over the last ten days, although Lebanese officials dispute that.

Meanwhile, Israel is massing troops and tanks along the Lebanese border while a fresh barrage of Hezbollah rockets fell on northern Israel in Haifa earlier today. Lebanon now reports 261 people killed in the fighting, 582 wounded. Israel reports 34 people killed in Israel, more than 300 wounds.

While the world's attention has been focused on Israel and Lebanon, Iraq has been inundated by a wave of very, very deadly sectarian violence over these same past 10 days. CNN's Arwa Damon has the latest from Baghdad -- Arwa.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, 14 more Iraqis have lost their lives in clashes throughout the country, the deadliest attacks coming just south of the capitol Baghdad in Mahmoudiya, where 13 Iraqis were killed when armed gunmen clashed with Iraq security forces.

Seven Iraqi security forces lost their lives in that attack, and we're told that six gunmen were killed, another 46 suspected insurgents detained. Now, this comes after a week of deadly violence against Iraqi civilians.

BLITZER: Unfortunately, it looks like we just lost Arwa Damon's report. Arwa Damon, though, reporting on the extensive, extensive death and destruction in Iraq over these past 10 days. That situation showing no letup in sight at all. We'll continue to watch the Iraq story unfold together with the Middle East crisis.

President Bush is in Colorado where he met in the past few hours with some of the servicemen and women just back from Iraq. Also on the president's agenda, a fundraiser in Denver for Republican House candidate Rick O'Donnell, the president in Colorado today.

Where there is war, there usually are politics as well. Our senior political analyst Bill Schneider is joining us now, with a closer look at the growing conflict in the Middle East and how that's playing out in the U.S. political arena -- Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, will the Middle East conflict have any impact on this year's mid-term elections? Well, a simple formula can help answer that question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): An average of more than 100 civilians per day are being killed in Iraq, the United Nations reported this week. But the press and public have been focused, understandably, on the escalating warfare in Israel Lebanon. That shift has political implications.

STUART ROTHENBERG, ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT: There is this international, global terror threat that could actually help the president.

SCHNEIDER: That's because the war on terror is a Republican issue. Iraq is a Democratic issue. A recent poll showed Republicans with an 11 point lead on terrorism and Democrats with a 10 point lead on Iraq.

Israel is fighting a war with radical Islamists, America's enemies in the war on terror. Democrats could argue that the Bush administration's policies have made the Middle East problem worse by allowing Iran's power and influence to grow.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Iraq is not going to be a major power in any foreseeable future, no matter what happens militarily. So Iran is the dominant power in the Gulf.

SCHNEIDER: By supporting elections that allowed extremists to gain power in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority -- those arguments require some understanding of the Middle East. The Democrats' best bet? Change the subject.

ROTHENBERG: They don't want to transfer the debate of the discussion over to Lebanon. I think that's not a winning issue for them. Democrats know that they have a winning issue in Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid says that he's concluded Iraqi has devolved to a civil war, and he plans to bring the Iraq issue back up for debate in the Senate.

Now Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic whip said, quote, "We know, and the Republicans know, that this is the number one issue on the minds of people across America. When they say they want significant change in America and you ask them what they're talking about, their answer is Iraq" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So far there seems to be extraordinary support for Israel among Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. If you look at those resolutions that were passed in the House and Senate, does that show any sign of changing?

SCHNEIDER: Not really. What we're seeing in the polls is that both Democrats and Republicans sympathize with Israel, Republicans somewhat more so, but Democrats too. It is not a bitter, polarizing issue like Iraq.

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you for that. Bill Schneider, always looking at the political ramifications of these major stories.

Coming up, Israel masses troops and tanks at the Lebanese border. Is this the start of the full-fledged ground war? A top Israeli official will join us live from Jerusalem. That's coming up.

And later, a lay of the land. We'll take a closer look at southern Lebanon which could soon be the scene of a new front in the fighting. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

We're monitoring new developments in the Middle East crisis. Among the latest, Israel calling up thousands of reservists and moving troops and tanks to the Lebanese border as officials talk openly about a possible ground invasion in southern Lebanon. At least 19 people have been injured in the northern Israeli city of Haifa by a new barrage of Hezbollah rockets.

Israel now reports 34 people killed since the fighting began last week in Israel. And there have been fresh Israeli airstrikes in and around Beirut. Lebanese officials report 261 people killed in the past 10 days in Lebanon.

Joining us now from Jerusalem to shed some fresh insight on the Israeli offensive is Mark Regev. He's the spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Thanks very much for coming in. Extraordinary images we're seeing of troops and tanks poised on the border with Lebanon, potentially to launch a major ground assault. Is that about to happen?

MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: Yes, well, we have to get ready. You know, even some of my personal friends have been called up for reserve duty. You have a situation there on the southern edge of the border. You have a number of Hezbollah strongholds, very fortified positions, bunkers deep underground.

It's been difficult to deal with these particular Hezbollah positions through airstrikes, and we are going to have to use surgical ground forces in order to deal with some of these strongholds because what happens, is out of these strongholds come people who lob missiles into Israeli civilian communities, and we have to prevent that, of course.

BLITZER: So you're confirming now that Israel troops and tanks and armored vehicles will move into south Lebanon?

REGEV: I can say the following. You have a threat there, and we have to deal with the threat. We have had land incursions in the past and we're going to have land incursions in the future. That's part of our strategy is to hit Hezbollah from land, from sea and from the air.

We have to deal, we have to neutralize their ability to reign down on Israeli cities, to reign terror these missile attacks that gone as far south as Haifa, Afula, Tiberias, Nazareth. We have to stop them killing Israeli citizens through these missiles.

BLITZER: There's been some speculation that Israel wants to create a sort of 12-mile buffer zone in the southern part of Lebanon, along Israel's border. Would that be the objective of this kind of assault into Lebanon?

REGEV: Wolf, Israel has no intention to reoccupy Lebanon.

Israel has no desire to take an inch of Lebanese land, a gallon of their water. We want Lebanon to be for the Lebanese. And the ultimate tragedy of the situation has been that Hezbollah has not only kidnapped two Israeli service people. They have kidnapped the entire country of Lebanon.

And I think it's about time that the international community took seriously its own resolutions. U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559 says that Hezbollah must be disarmed. Now, we are hitting Hezbollah hard, to defend ourselves. But, ultimately, that creates a window of opportunity for the international community to bring about the implementation of that resolution to disarm Hezbollah.

It's good for Lebanon. It's good for Israel. It's good for everyone who wants peace and quiet here in the Middle East.

BLITZER: So, if Israel goes into Lebanon -- and you're assuming and a lot of Israeli officials and analysts are assuming Israel will make that move in -- when do you get out, because, as you know, there is an 18-year history of Israeli occupation of Lebanon that was not the most pleasant in Israel's history.

REGEV: No.

I'm saying very clearly, Wolf, there's no decision taken to reoccupy Lebanon. And I want to be clear about that. We're talking about incursions to go in, to deal with targets, to deal with fortresses, to deal with their ability to launch rockets. No one wants to go into Lebanon and to stay.

The idea is to defend our country, to defend our citizens. And, ultimately, we all understand that the solution is diplomatic. And that is for the full implementation of those Security Council resolutions that call for disarming of Hezbollah and for the Lebanese army to take control of every inch of Lebanese sovereign territory.

BLITZER: We heard yesterday from the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, on Al-Jazeera, say this. He said: "The Israelis are unable, up until this moment, to do anything to harm us, and I assure you of that. Hezbollah has stood fast and absorbed the strike, and now is going to initiate and will deliver surprises that it promises."

I know there's a lot of concern in Israel what he might have up his sleeve, as far as surprises are concerned. What are your immediate concerns about what he is alluding to?

REGEV: Well, we are concerned. And you're right about that.

I mean, they have had 10 years where they have been getting Iranian support, Iranian money, Iranian missiles, Iranian explosives, Iranian military advisers from the Revolutionary Guards on the ground, training Hezbollah. That's why they have got these fortresses that are so hard for us to penetrate.

That's why they have been able to launch missiles so deep into Israeli territory. That's why they were able to take out one of our naval vessels with a very, very state-of-the-art shore-to-sea missile, with a radar-guided system. They are a fierce fighting force, Hezbollah. And that's why this operation that we're doing now is difficult, but just so necessary. The whole idea that you have this private army in Lebanon, a proxy for the Iranians, this is just unstable. This is not good. And we have to deal with the roots of the question.

And that is, we have to end the situation where the Iranians and the Syrians, through proxy, can start a global conflict like this -- sorry, a regional conflict like this, a global diplomatic crisis. We have to disarm Hezbollah and prevent them from ever again launching this sort of regional crisis.

BLITZER: I know there's deep concern that Hezbollah may have rockets that could even go further south, maybe even reaching Tel Aviv, or even further than that.

If they have those kinds of armaments, why haven't they used them yet?

REGEV: I can't answer that.

But you're 100 percent right. I mean, we have said already publicly that we're concerned that the Iranians have given them even more long-range missiles. Now, we, through our strikes, I hope we're crippling their ability to launch these missiles. But I can't assure the Israeli public, not at this stage, that those missiles have been dealt with already...

BLITZER: The U.N. ...

REGEV: ... that all those missiles have been dealt with already.

BLITZER: The U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, says that Israel's excessive use of force should be condemned. He's condemning your excessive use of force. And he -- and he's being echoed. That -- that kind of condemnation is coming in from a lot of quarters.

What do you say that, in the process of trying to deal with this Hezbollah threat from the south, you're effectively destroying much of Lebanon's infrastructure and killing a lot of Lebanese innocent civilians?

REGEV: Every death is a tragedy. And no one wanted to see this conflict.

And it must be remembered who initiated the conflict. And that was Hezbollah. We are being as surgical as we can be in very difficult circumstances. We are trying to hit the Hezbollah infrastructure, and nothing else. It's difficult. And there are innocent people being caught up in this on both sides of the international frontier, both in Lebanon and in Israel.

But we have to say the following, and say it clearly. There's no moral comparison. Israel is trying to hit the Hezbollah military structure only. That's a far cry from what Hezbollah is doing, this indiscriminate barrage of rocket after rocket, missile after missile into Israeli cities.

As to the disproportionate issue, I would ask -- those friends in Europe and those other people who have said Israel's reaction has been disproportionate, I would say the following. If a European country had faced a situation where two million people of its population were in the target area of missiles being fired from across the border, if you had sustained more than 1,500 missile hits into your cities, how would you respond?

BLITZER: Mark Regev, we have got to leave it right there.

Mark Regev is the spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.

Mark, thank you very much for coming in.

And, in our next hour, we will get a very different perspective on this Middle East crisis. I will speak with the Syrian ambassador to the United States, get his view on whether Washington should be talking to Damascus to ease this conflict.

And if thousands of Israeli troops do enter Lebanon, where exactly would they go, and what would they do? We will map out the strategy behind a potential Israeli ground invasion of Lebanon.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The massing of Israeli tanks and troops at the southern Lebanese border raises the question of what those ground forces hope to accomplish.

CNN's Tom Foreman is standing by to try to map it out for all of us -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, let's take a look at the lay of the land and figure out what Israel is talking about here.

Once again, we're at the north end of Africa, Israel down here, Lebanon up there. The gold area is the part controlled by Hezbollah. Israel has about 1,000 people along the border right now who have been launching incursions into Lebanon to strike at Hezbollah. They're going to bring up about 6,000 more, and, then, they want to move in, effectively, about 12 miles to occupy, in some form, all of this area.

Now, whether they will do that in force or in small incursions, we don't know. But we do know why they're interested in this area. Israeli intelligence believes that Hezbollah has about 10,000 short- range rockets in this part of Lebanon. Why does it matter that you go 12 miles in? Well, look at this.

These rockets, if they're launched from just this side of the border, will sail over the border and about 10 miles into Israel, maybe 12 miles, before they hit. Israeli intelligence believes they also have some longer-range rockets that would go all the way to Haifa, and some that could go all the way down the coast to Tel Aviv.

But those are not located close to the border. And that's a different matter than these short-range rockets. Israeli intelligence can deal with that later on, if need be.

Right now, what they're interested in, and saying, if they can control and get a buffer zone of this far, then a rocket launched over here would just make it to the border, no further.

Now, Israel has been in this situation before. Much of the '80s and '90s, they occupied the southern end of Lebanon, precisely for this reason, because they wanted the security. They pulled out in 2000, under the promise that Hezbollah would be disbanded and disarmed, and they wouldn't face the situation they are facing today.

But that has not happened. That's why we're now looking again at Israel saying, they want a buffer zone. And they want it to be about this big -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom Foreman, thank you very much -- excellent explanation.

Coming up: He's a key U.N. player in the effort to diffuse this crisis that has got the whole world watching. Straight ahead, I will speak with the U.N. special envoy to the Middle East, Terje Roed- Larsen. And does he think peacekeeping troops are the solution right now?

And Lebanon vows to put up a fight, if Israeli troops do cross the border. But can Lebanon's military back that up? That's in our next hour.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. Secretary- General Kofi Annan have been getting briefed on the Middle East crisis from a United Nations team just back from the region.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now is Terje Roed-Larsen, the special U.N. envoy. He's joining us from the United Nations.

Mr. Ambassador, even as we speak right now, it looks like Israeli troops and tanks are ready to move into South Lebanon in a major way. What do you make of this situation?

AMBASSADOR TERJE ROED-LARSEN, UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL ENVOY TO THE MIDDLE EAST: I think we are at a very fragile point. We are at risk of escalation. And deepening and, worst case, broadening of the conflict might occur.

And this makes it now so incredibly important to get into full swing and a yet again robust international diplomatic initiative. BLITZER: The secretary-general, Kofi Annan, has called for an immediate cease-fire. Only a little while ago the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, responded to that in this way. Listen to what she said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: A cease-fire would be a false promise if it 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.

That would be a guarantee of future violence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You disagree with her on that?

ROED-LARSEN: I think the message of the secretary-general, when he spoke in the Security Council yesterday, is that it is, sadly, unrealistic to believe that we can have a cease-fire for the moment, and that any such cease-fire has to have political underpinnings.

And this -- these are the very issues which I discussed in the Security Council today. What should the elements of such a political underpinning be?

Secretary Rice has also announced today an initiative for the key players, some of the key players of the region, and key players in Europe, the so-called Core Group for Lebanon, to meet urgently at the highest level in Rome on Wednesday next week, and at -- the main focus of this meeting will be precisely that, to try to establish an action plan which can provide the necessary underpinnings for a cease-fire.

I think we have to recognize and be realistic here that, for the moment, a cease-fire is not possible. This is why there is such an urgency now to establish these political underpinnings.

BLITZER: Should NATO play a role in such an international stabilization force in Lebanon?

ROED-LARSEN: One of the issues which will be on the table in Rome next Wednesday will be either reorganization or reconfiguration of the U.N. peacekeeping force there now, UNIFIL, or maybe to establish a completely new and more robust force on the ground, which is adapted to the new reality.

This has to be paired with the establishment of a zone where the Lebanese army now has to deploy to work together with a new international force on the ground or a reorganized UNIFIL. These are two of the most important elements, which I think there now there is broad agreement on in the international community and amongst the key players in the region.

Political realities in Lebanon has to be changed. Militias, Lebanese and non-Lebanese, Hezbollah and Palestinian militias, have to be disbanded, consistent with Security Council Resolution 1559. This is part and parcel of any political underpinning which can change the status quo ante in Lebanon.

And, also, unless there is a broad consensus, I think, amongst the parties and in the international community, it is not sustainable to get back to the old status quo. The political ramifications have to be changed fundamentally.

BLITZER: All right.

ROED-LARSEN: And the most important thing is the disbanding and disarming of these militias who are operating without informing or consulting with its own government, a government which they themselves are a part of.

BLITZER: And that explains why the Syrians refused to let you in with that U.N. delegation this week, your support for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559, which calls for the disbanding of all the militias in Lebanon, including Hezbollah. Does this mean you're no longer persona grata in Syria?

ROED-LARSEN: This question, you have to ask Syrian authorities.

But the main point here is that it is the secretary-general of the United Nations, and he alone, who decides who are on his missions. And he has put me into a mission together with two other colleagues. And it's not up to member states, or to a single member state, to influence the secretary-general's decisions on his own personnel. This is consistent with the letter and spirit of the U.N. charter.

BLITZER: Terje Roed-Larsen, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck to the mission. Good luck to you.

ROED-LARSEN: Thank you very much, Wolf. Always a pleasure being with you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And up next: You have seen it from almost every perspective, but how is the story of the crisis in the Middle East being told online? Our Jacki Schechner is standing by with that.

And, later: Israeli forces right now gathering at the border with Lebanon, signaling powerfully what could come out to be an all- out invasion. CNN's Christiane Amanpour is standing by for a live update, right at the top of the hour.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: There's a story coming in.

I want to bring in CNN's Fredricka Whitfield from the CNN Center.

What are we learning about an Israeli soldier?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Well, all we're being told right now is, the Israeli army has recovered the body of a soldier in southern Lebanon, according to the Arabic-language news network Al- Arabiya and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation.

Now, two Israeli soldiers were previously confirmed dead today, after battling Hezbollah guerrillas in southern Lebanon -- that was Thursday -- increasing the previous toll to four soldiers killed in the battle. Israeli Defense Forces are now telling CNN that the latest deaths in southern Lebanon bring the number of confirmed Israeli military deaths during Israel's 10-day-old campaign against Hezbollah to 19 -- the number of deaths involving Lebanese in the hundreds.

BLITZER: So, Fred, I just want to be precise. This body of an Israeli soldier that they found, we know about that thanks to these Arabic-language TV stations. Are -- what are the Israeli military strategy?

WHITFIELD: Right now, not much, only that they have recovered the body. No information is being given about who this soldier is, the circumstances as to how his body may been found or how he may died, none of that yet.

BLITZER: OK, Fred, thanks very much. We are going to have a lot more on this story coming up at the top of the hour.

Christiane Amanpour is in northern Israel right now. We will go to her live in a few minutes.

With massive evacuations out of Lebanon still underway, the Internet is giving us some unprecedented access into the personal and very dramatic stories of those on the ground.

Let's bring in our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we're starting to see some of the first personal video of evacuations showing up online, from the evacuations from Lebanon throughout the week -- this posted online by a 26-year-old from Great Britain.

You can see people scurrying between terminals at the Damascus airport.

Now, one of the things that we are continuing to do, also, is check in online with Julian (ph), who is at BloggingBeirut.com. This is a 24-year-old who has stayed behind to document his experience in Beirut. He says, today, that electricity is spotty; his Internet connection is in and out.

You can see here how he documents how difficult it is for somebody to decide what to take with them as they leave Beirut, you can see, trying to pack your home into a small car. He also documented the foreign nationals leaving out of Beirut. Here, you can see the Russians getting on to a bus heading out to Syria. He also documented the Canadians. He said that this gathering was a little bit disorganized. There was also a gathering of German nationals trying to leave Beirut.

Now, what we also have online at CNN.com/SITUATIONREPORT is an incredible collection of photographs that have been posted online by CNN.com, and all of the links to all of the information that we give you that we find online -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Jacki. We're going to check back with you.

Up next: the Middle East clearly involved in a serious war right now -- and Jack Cafferty is bemused by the decision to send some members of Congress to the region right now. His question this hour: Is it a good idea for a congressional delegation to go to the Middle East?

Jack and your e-mail -- when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're going to go, at the top of the hour, to Christiane Amanpour -- she's in northern Israel -- for the latest on this body apparently recovered, an Israeli soldier -- much more on that story coming up.

Let's go to Jack, though, in the meantime -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: A bipartisan congressional delegation is going to go to Israel this weekend. They're going to meet with American, Israeli, and Palestinian officials about the ongoing conflict, and talk about ways to end the crisis.

The question we asked is: Is it a good idea for a congressional delegation to go to the Middle East?

Some of the answers aren't even fit for a family program such as ours. However, some of the ones that are, are as follows.

Michael in San Diego: "It's only a good idea if they are not allowed to come back to the United States."

Rod in North Attleboro, Massachusetts: "No, they will just come back with partisan observations and ignorant comments. I got what's going on in the Middle East by watching CNN. So should they."

Robert in Greeley, Colorado: "The Congress should try to rein in their group attention deficit disorder, and concentrate on fixing the problems we have here at home. Putting an end to our involvement in the war in Iraq would be a good start. Then, concentrate on closing our porous borders and stopping illegal immigration."

Mike in New York: "Of course it's a good idea. We must reinforce to the people of Israel, and, indeed, to the whole world, that we will stand united in the fight against those who want nothing more than to plunge the whole world back in to the Dark Ages."

Another Mike writes from New York: "I think anywhere that bombs are falling is a great place for..."

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: "... a congressional delegation."

And Andy in Sun Valley, Nevada: "Anything that gets them out of the country is OK with me. Who knows. If they get themselves involved in the war itself, they might figure out a way to ruin it" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

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