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CNN BREAKING NEWS

Four United Nations Observers Killed; Humanitarian Crisis

Aired July 26, 2006 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to show you some live pictures right now. They're coming into us from Tyre, in Lebanon. We've been talking about some of the Americans who are still there and trying to get out.
You can see now, if you look up on your screen, mostly to the right side -- and the left, as well -- you can see some of the smoke that's wafting over the city there. And that's because it looks as if there has been some kind of a recent bombing campaign.

We've got reporters on the scene.

We're going to bring you a live report on that and the situation there in just a few moments.

Also, we've been watching this news conference, waiting for it, really, for 30 minutes now, a joint press conference between Kofi Annan and Condoleezza Rice coming to us from the foreign ministry office in Rome.

Well, there's the office. We don't see the two of them, and that's because there have been some big sticking points.

Let's get right to John King.

He's been following this story from the region -- hey, John, both sides very entrenched on this, right?

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, CNN, in fact, is told that these talks have failed to reach an agreement on the big question, and that is, of course, a plan for a disarmament, a plan for the end of the fighting, a plan for a cease-fire. And the key issue is that disarmament question. The United States has insisted that Hezbollah must disarm as part of any cease-fire. But we are told from a number of sources inside the talks here and also in key capitals around the world, including back in Washington, that there simply is no agreement.

The talks, at points, have been on the verge of total collapse. The reason you have not had that news conference is because they are trying to come up with some form of a statement.

But we are told that there will be no summit-wide communique. That is traditional after a meeting like this. All of the participants issue a joint communique. We are told they simply can't agree on one. So instead they are trying to come up with some sort of a statement laying out the goals going forward. There is agreement on a humanitarian aid package. There is an agreement on a reconstruction package. But, of course, those are of no good to the people of Lebanon or the people of Northern Israel, for that matter, if you cannot stop the hostilities.

One Washington official describes Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as "under siege" at these talks, being pressured by the Europeans and the Arabs to give in, to allow just a cease-fire and then deal with the very difficult political questions about Hezbollah.

But we are told she is holding firm.

In the room there is a great sense, an unspoken resentment, that the United States is simply trying to buy more time for Israel to continue it's military offensive. But the bottom line, Soledad, is barring a last minute breakthrough -- and we are told the talks are in over time because of the sense of urgency -- but we also are told by a number of forces -- a number of sources, excuse me -- that from everything we could put together, they have simply failed to reach an agreement on the critical question. And that, of course, would be some plan to negotiate a cease-fire, orchestrate an end to the fighting -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: John, let me ask you a question.

While we're looking at you, we're also taking a look at the foreign ministry office in Rome, which is where we were expecting to see Kofi Annan and Condi Rice come out and address the reporters who are assembled there.

If they have this statement, which is kind of, I guess, a face- saving statement for all sides, does that mean they go ahead and address reporters? Do they skip it now that there's this huge, huge problem and they're already running at least 32 minutes late here?

KING: There's no question they will speak reporters and they will try to put the best face on this. They will commit themselves to continuing if our source accounts, if it continues to be that they cannot reach an agreement, they will, of course, commit themselves to continuing. And they will make clear that they certainly want an end to the hostilities.

We are told the talks, at one point, were on the complete verge of collapse, until the Lebanese prime minister implored them to stay at it, to try to come up with some plan, because, as he put it, his country is on the verge of collapse.

But, again, there are these fundamental disagreements between whether you need a comprehensive approach that deals with disarming Hezbollah and then an international force goes into Lebanon or simply a cessation of hostilities and then negotiate all those difficult issues.

We are told they will say something. But they are in this meeting, first, Soledad, trying to figure out what they can say coming out of this meeting, if they can't say what they wanted to say, which was that they had a plan at least to move forward toward a cease-fire.

If they can't get that, they are trying to craft a statement to say something about their goals going forward. And then, of course, they will come out and explain it as best they can. The term the diplomats would use is face-saving -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: So this is sort of the last item on the agenda for Secretary Rice. I mean, she started in Beirut and then, of course, she met with the Israelis and she met with the Palestinians and now this meeting in Rome. Then she goes off to other business.

Now that this has fallen apart, imploded, essentially, is it back on the calendar? Do they wait a week to take it up? Does she blow off the meeting that she's got coming up and actually now commit herself to staying in the region? What happens now?

KING: Well, that's an interesting question.

Secretary Rice is planning to leave for Asia this afternoon for what she describes as a critical meeting with Asian nations. She's already trimmed back that trip. And the expectation was -- they haven't publicly confirmed this yet -- the expectation was that she would come back to the Middle East, perhaps as early as Sunday, and that perhaps she would be in New York if they were negotiating a Security Council resolution, trying to implement any cease-fire.

Obviously, at least as of this moment, they don't have an agreement. So would she stay for these conversations or would she move on to Asia and leave it to deputies to keep the negotiations going?

We have been told that she has every indication of going to Asia. But, of course, we were told that before the talks went into the severe difficulties they are in today.

So that is a question worth asking. And there's a beginner dynamic to that, too. Moths at the table are quite critical of the United States. They think the United States put Iraq first when it came to the Middle East, has not invested enough time in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, has not done enough over the past two years to help the Lebanese government deal with Hezbollah.

So U.S. credibility in the region, and, in fact, because of the disagreement, the disputes over Iraq, U.S. credibility in the world, is a subtext of these conversations. Obviously, the urgent goal is to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. But U.S. credibility very much a them of this, as well -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: John King watching it for us this morning.

John, thanks.

We'll continue to check in with you and get the answers to some of those questions, John.

KING: Thank you. S. O'BRIEN: I was looking at this picture as we were talking to John.

This is the joint press conference that we were expecting. Now at least put on hold. They're running 35 minutes behind schedule. As John points out, that's because of this massive, massive failure to come to any kind of agreement. And now they we're working on some kind of a statement.

We'll take this live, this joint statement, live when it happens. We're expecting to hear from both Kofi Annan and the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Who knows what is going to happen, though, as they try to draft some kind of statement.

Let's head back to Miles.

He is in Haifa, as we've been reporting -- Miles, earlier you were saying something like 37 rockets were fired into Haifa today.

Is that right?

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: That's the current count, Soledad.

And that is pretty much on par with an average day over these 15 days of this war. About 100 or so landing in northern Israel. In this case, 13 injuries, one of them seriously.

It is suspected -- as a matter of fact, it's pretty much widely known that one of the key launching points for the rockets which make their way to Haifa is about 30 miles up the coast in Lebanon, in the port city of Tyre.

We have been telling you about repeated Israeli air strikes trying to take out those rocket launchers.

CNN's Karl Penhaul has more from Tyre now -- Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just over the last few minutes, Miles, we've seen more artillery fire coming into the hills about three miles south of our position now. It's a little hazy now. But just over my shoulder is where that artillery fire has been coming from.

But on the humanitarian front, the big story this morning is ongoing efforts by U.S. Embassy officials to get out U.S. passport holders for Southern Lebanon, now, not just from the city of Tyre. That would be relatively easy, even though the city of Tyre has been hard hit.

But the real difficulty has been bringing out U.S. citizens who are much, much closer to the border. This morning I was talking to Hussein Saleh, a 17-year-old high school student from Queens, New York. And he came from the town of Yaroun. That's just one mile across this side of the Israeli-Lebanese border. And what he described to me sounded like a trip along a highway from hell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUSSEIN SALEH, NEW YORK RESIDENT: It was like two hours to get here. It took us, the roads -- missiles all over the roads, pieces of missiles; airplanes in the sky, all over the sky, everywhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PENHAUL: Hussein Saleh went on to tell me how he and his family, his mother, his brother and his sister had spent 14 days in a basement that they used as an underground bunker. That enabled them to survive days of Israeli artillery shelling and bombing by Israeli warplanes. They said that food and water was running low. And quite dramatically, he explained how other houses of the neighbors crumbled like cards around them, amid a sustained artillery attack from the Israelis. And he said neighbors moved from house to house, looking for shelter -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: CNN's Karl Penhaul in Tyre, Lebanon with the latest from there.

Yesterday afternoon, the Israeli Air Force struck a United Nations observation post right in the middle of the heavy fighting that Israeli Defense Forces and the Air Force are engaged with, with Hezbollah, in Southern Lebanon.

Four United Nations observers were killed. There are reports today that, first of all, it was a precision weapon that was fired on that outpost. And secondly, according to diplomatic sources talking to our Paula Hancocks, there were repeated calls from those observers to their conduits in the Israeli Defense Forces, Israeli Air Force, that they were under fire and to cease fire.

We get more on all of this now from our senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, the United Nations Security Council will likely receive a briefing today from a top peacekeeping official about what exactly happened in Khiam.

Secretary General Kofi Annan, himself the former United Nations peacekeeping director, before he became the world's top diplomat, outraged over what happened. Annan is in Rome for that Lebanon conference. He issued a statement yesterday, shortly after the news broke.

In that statement, Kofi Annan said: "This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long established and clearly marked U.N. post at Khiam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared Israeli fire. For the moment, General Alain Pellegrini, the United Nations force commander in South Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular U.N. position from attack." There's international outrage over what has happened. China called in the Israeli ambassador. Finland, which lost a soldier, like China, wanting an investigation. Israel promising an investigation into what happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We still don't know how it took place. We are investigating it. We promise to investigate it thoroughly and to share our findings with the United Nations.

But, you know, this is a war. This is a very brutal and difficult and cruel war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: The Security Council was already considering this week what would have been, a month ago, a routine renewal of the U.N. mission there in South Lebanon, called UNIFIL. The French ambassador, moments after the news broke yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEAN MARC DE LA SALBLIERE, FRENCH AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We condemn all these bombings on UNIFIL positions and the U.N. -- the U.N. forces should always be protected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROTH: It's likely that that U.N. force will be renewed for another month, to buy time while the overall picture of a new international force there, Miles, is discussed in Rome or here -- back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Richard, these U.N. observers are unarmed observers in the midst of some very heated fighting, really sitting ducks.

Was there any talk at the U.N. of pulling them out?

ROTH: The French ambassador, currently president of the Security Council, kind of ducked that. He said it's going to be up to what the reports they receive and what the peacekeeping officials say.

They were put there in '78 when Israel withdrew from Southern Lebanon and they're just an observer mission. They have not been given an enforcement mandate. People always say well, the U.N. is screwing up there. That's all the responsibility they were given, to watch who's doing what. Hezbollah has been firing rockets near their positions. Israel incoming has wounded, even before the four deaths, other United Nations observers.

M. O'BRIEN: Richard Roth, thank you very much.

Of course, Richard misspoke. He meant the Israelis pulling out of Southern Lebanon in the year 2000. I just want to set the record straight there.

Let's move on and talk about the possibility of this widening in some way, shape or form.

The Israelis are focusing their attention on Hezbollah. These are, depending on how you look at them, either terrorists or freedom fighters, depending on which side of the aisle you are on, so to speak. But either way, they are a state within a state.

The question is, as the attacks continue and seem to broaden out and include places like the southern suburbs of Beirut, where it is believed that Hezbollah has some headquarters and compounds, will the Lebanese Army be somehow drawn into it?

This is the government of the fledgling democracy based in Beirut.

CNN's Anthony Mills with more on that.

ANTHONY MILLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yesterday, Lebanon's interior minister, Ahmed Fatfat, said that the Lebanese Army has fired at Israeli warplanes and that it will counter any aggression directed against it.

He appears to be concurring with the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud, who told CNN a few days ago that the Lebanese Army would fight back if it was attacked, if an Israeli ground force rolled into Lebanon.

So he appears to be strengthening the position of the Lebanese president, Emile Lahoud.

And we know, of course, that the Israelis have warned the Lebanese Army against firing at its planes. They have said that that is not acceptable. And, indeed, so far, the Lebanese Army has really stood by in this conflict. Although some of its positions have been targeted, including the deaths of a number of Lebanese soldiers, the only response thus far, really, has been some half-hearted bursts from anti-aircraft batteries -- of course, ineffective, as we know.

So that's really been the only response so far of the Lebanese Army. But it appears, from the words of the interior minister and, indeed, backing up the Lebanese president that the Lebanese Army will, indeed, fight back if Lebanon is invaded, if its positions are attacked in any form of invasion of Lebanon.

And one would assume, since Hezbollah really is coordinating the resistance to any Israeli invasion in the south, that the Lebanese Army would be working together with Hezbollah. And, of course, the irony of that would be it would be doing precisely the opposite of what America and Israel have asked it to do, namely take Hezbollah on forcefully, prevent it from firing rockets into Israel.

Instead of that, it would be working with Hezbollah.

Anthony Mills, Beirut, CNN. M. O'BRIEN: That from Anthony Mills in Beirut -- back to you, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles, thanks.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon's condition apparently getting worse. He is in the intensive care unit this morning, suffering from kidney failure complications. He's being treated with I.V. antibiotics. He's been in a coma since he suffered that stroke back in January.

We continue to watch that story. That's new to us this morning.

Coming up this morning, the White House pushes for a more democratic Middle East.

But has democracy backfired by now giving the Hezbollah more power in Lebanon?

We'll take a look at that that issue just ahead.

And aid arriving in Beirut. But Lebanon's humanitarian crisis is getting worse every day. We'll look at some of the biggest problems there right now.

Plus, if there ever is a cease-fire in the Middle East, can international troops really enforce it?

We'll check in with a military expert.

That's all ahead on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: The first relief flight from Jordan has landed in Beirut. It's the first plane to land at the battered Beirut Airport, bringing in some medical supplies, including a field hospital. The relief plane won't be leaving empty. It's going to carry out about 150 injured civilians.

U.S. Special Operations soldiers were the first to bring relief supplies into Lebanon. They did so in heavily armed helicopters that landed well north of Beirut's airport at the U.S. Embassy.

CNN the only news organization to ride along with that humanitarian mission.

And CNN's Barbara Starr filed this exclusive report.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is the first U.S. military humanitarian relief mission into Beirut. Two heavily armed Air Force Special Operations helicopters leave Cyprus for a 90-minute flight into Lebanon. One ton of emergency medical and health care supplies are on board, enough to care for 10,000 people over a three month period.

CNN is the only news crew here.

Under extraordinary security measures, which CNN agreed not to show, the helicopters land at the U.S. Embassy compound and Marines instantly begin unloading. When one helicopter approaches the landing zone, it's easy to see how vulnerable the U.S. air crew might be. As we approach Southern Beirut's coastline, the tail gunner knows we are just a couple of miles from Hezbollah's turf.

The Israelis have agreed to hold their fire while the Americans are here delivering aid. But within hours, the bombing begins again. For the Marines on the ground, the risk is put aside for the job at hand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just glad to be here to help.

STARR: After the boxes of supplies are unloaded, there is one more job -- another American family that needs to get out. And Marines are there to help carry the youngest the last few steps to safety.

(on camera): The emergency supplies delivered here today by the military are just a very small part of what the people of Lebanon now so desperately need -- help.

Barbara Starr, CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, how are the folks in Haifa, Israel coping with the constant barrage of rocket attacks? We're going to talk to Haifa's mayor, as you watch a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

And now let's take you live to Rome again.

We've been watching this shot for a lot of the morning.

This is the foreign ministry office in Rome. We had been waiting to hear from the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and also the U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan. But then word of a huge inability to come up with some kind of an agreement. There has been agreement, we're told, on humanitarian aid; agreement on a reconstruction package, as well. But unfortunately they have failed to reach agreement on the biggie -- the plan for ending the hostilities.

And at this point, we've been told that they're trying to come up with some kind of a face-saving statement. They will be addressing the media, the large number of media assembled there.

We're going to hear from them as soon as we -- as soon as they come to us live.

We'll take that in just a moment.

A short break before that, though.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back.

You're looking at a live picture from the foreign ministry office in Rome. That's where we're expecting to get a briefing from the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the U.N. Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

But, because there has been a failure to reach an agreement on a plan for ending the hostilities, though there has been some progress on humanitarian aid and reconstruction, because of that failure, though, that has been delayed almost by an hour now.

We'll continue to monitor this picture.

We're going to bring it to you live when that briefing actually happens. But we are just watching and waiting.

Let's get right back to Miles.

Miles is in Haifa this morning -- hey, Miles, good morning.

M. O'BRIEN: Hello, Soledad.

We're inside. We're in the shelter. The air raid siren has blown for, I think, the fourth time today now. We've had reports today of no less than 37 rockets landing in northern Israel. Thirteen injuries, one of them serious. In total, we have 19 Israeli civilians dead in now 15 days of rocket firings on the part of Hezbollah into northern Israel, much of it centered around this beautiful port city of Haifa.

Just a little while ago, I spoke with the mayor, Yona Yahav.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

MAYOR YONA YAHAV, HAIFA, ISRAEL: Ten years back, I was a member of the Israeli Party and I -- Israeli parliament. And I established, together with a friend of mine, Dr. Yosebalian (ph), the one sided withdrawal from Lebanon movement. And we started to -- and we took over the whole parliament and the whole government and Israel withdrew from Lebanon. So we delved on all the details with regard to Hezbollah in order perfectly well.

So I'm absolutely not astonished, but I am very furious because I convinced the state of Israel to withdraw from Lebanon. We did it. The international community recognized the border between Israel and Lebanon. We have nothing to do in Lebanon. We don't interfere. We are not involved.

So why Hezbollah has any right to shell on us rockets?

M. O'BRIEN: Do you think it was a mistake to withdraw from Southern Lebanon back in 2000?

YAHAV: No. Absolutely not. I wish we should withdraw from all territories. But with regard to Hezbollah, I became hawkish. No way out. The only way is the dismantle, the total dismantle of Hezbollah. I couldn't care that they should become a political party within the political structure of Lebanon. But to be a state within a state in Lebanon and to try and to initiate terror activities against us, by no means.

M. O'BRIEN: Is it a realistic goal to go after the utter eradication of Hezbollah when you're talking about an insurgency closely tied in with the civilian population, difficult to root out?

Fighting an insurgency is not easy.

YAHAV: The characteristic is exactly what you have described right now. But we have no other choice, because if we are not smashing now the military ability of Hezbollah, in two, three, four years, we should be in the same situation like now. And you have to bear in mind, this is a line which commences in Tehran, continues in Damascus. Hezbollah and Hamas, today it's the address Israel. Tomorrow it will be Britain, England, France, the rest of the Western world.

M. O'BRIEN: Should Israel reoccupy a buffer zone?

YAHAV: No. Absolutely not. We have nothing to do in Lebanon. We have to hit the Hezbollah, to smash their forces and to pull out immediately.

M. O'BRIEN: Your city, a city known for Arabs and Jews getting together, a city known to be a safe place, a city known for good things -- it must be very difficult to endure this and see people being hurt, terrorized, the streets virtually vacant?

YAHAV: Yes. We are under fire for the first time. You know, the city's economy is on a halt. This is a wonderful city. Look, this is a city which grabs, during the summertime, hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people coming in. The beaches are wonderful. The cultural life here during summertime is outstanding. And now everything is on a halt. And I opened up an open account with Mr. Nasrallah. He should know it.

M. O'BRIEN: What do you mean by that?

YAHAV: That I am absolutely furious. He is trying to destruct this wonderful jewel. But he won't be able, because we should prevail over. This is a very strong community, the Haifa, yet. Haifa is a strong community. We can overcome it.

Even though we are going through a very difficult period of time, especially economically.

M. O'BRIEN: Mr. Mayor, thank you for your time.

YAHAV: Thank you. (END VIDEO TAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: Yona Yahav, the mayor of the city of Haifa, with us just a few moments ago.

Of course, on both sides of the border of this war, there are civilians caught in the crossfire. There are people living in terror here and, of course, in Lebanon. There are -- there is a huge humanitarian crisis that is underway as that war continues -- 800,000 people displaced. Growing concerns about people actually going hungry. Medical supplies, all the things you would associate with normal life, not getting through, of course, as the Israeli attacks continue.

Joining us now with more on what the pressing needs are is Amer Daoudi, who is with the World Food Program, coordinator in Beirut for emergency operations.

Can you give us a sense, first of all, of where the real needs are specifically and whether those needs are being met?

AMER DAOUDI, WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: Sir, the needs are almost everywhere in the south, because people are on the move. Those who have managed to get out of the villages or towns that they are in, as well as the towns that have been shelled and bombed.

So the 800,000 are spread all over the south, in addition to the people who managed to flee to Beirut and the northern areas of Lebanon.

Now, on aid...

M. O'BRIEN: Are people going...

DAOUDI: ... it's getting through -- go ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: I apologize.

The delay makes it difficult.

My apologies, Mr. Daoudi.

DAOUDI: No problem.

M. O'BRIEN: But are people going hungry right now in Lebanon?

DAOUDI: I wouldn't say they are really going hungry. But, however, today we have managed to get the first convoy into the city of Tyre. It consisted of 10 trucks. It -- actually, as we speak, it's offloading right there. And this is the first of many convoys to follow.

But you have to understand that it requires a lot of coordination, very, very tricky coordination with all parties involved. We are planning to just send more to all different parts of the south. Friday we are planning for two additional convoys and on Sunday we are planning for additional convoys. And then, as of next week, hopefully, we hope, all going well, we will continue with two daily.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, let me ask you this.

How are you able to be assured of safe passage? Do you get in contact with the Israeli Defense Forces, the Israeli Air Force? Do you have direct contact with Hezbollah to indicate here's a convoy that you should not target?

DAOUDI: Well, sir, we have an office in Jerusalem, a U.N. office that we coordinate through. We coordinate here through the government. And all parties concerned, we inform them of the convoy. We inform them of the contents of the convoy, and we proceed accordingly, once we are assured of the safe passage.

M. O'BRIEN: There were allegations that the Israelis were making it difficult for much needed aid, food to get to people in need. Is that happening still?

DAOUDI: Well, it -- now it's eased up. The channels are open and the communications are open. And as I said, today was a first convoy that went through, has all been coordinated with all parties concerned. And we are planning for more convoys as the time progress. It was difficult at the beginning. There was a lot of trucks and ambulances and everything that were targeted, which made it very, very difficult to come about with trucks and drivers to drive south.

M. O'BRIEN: Amer Daoudi, who is running the emergency operation for the World Food Program in Beirut, thank you very much.

If you at home would like to help out this worthy charity, we invite you to go to their Web site. It's really simple, www.wfp -- World Food Program -- dot-org. And it will give you some indication of how you can contribute, how you can participate, how you can help in this humanitarian crisis in Lebanon.

Back to you -- Soledad.

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