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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Hezbollah Launches New Powerful Rockets Into Israel; City Under Fire; U.N. Aid Convoy in Tyre to Evacuate Citizens; War on the Middle Class; California Heat Wave Kills People; Bashar Ja'afari Interview

Aired July 28, 2006 - 18:00   ET

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


LOU DOBBS, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, Hezbollah has fired its most powerful rockets yet against Israel. Israeli aircraft have launched more than 100 airstrikes against suspected Hezbollah positions in Lebanon.
We'll have complete coverage of the conflict from both Israel and Lebanon.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are demanding Iran and Syria end their support of Hezbollah. The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations will be here to give us his response.

And millions of middle class Americans can no longer afford healthcare. The White House and the Congress, they are simply talking about the issue. They are also talking about raising the minimum wage while cutting taxes on wealthy estates.

We'll have a special report here tonight on the continuing war on the middle class.

ANNOUNCER: This is LOU DOBBS TONIGHT, news, debate and opinion for Friday, July 28th.

Live in New York, Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: Good evening.

Hezbollah today sharply escalated its rocket offensive against Israel. Radical Islamist terrorists fired their most powerful rockets so far in this conflict, each rocket carrying more than 200 pounds of explosive. Israeli officials believe the rockets are manufactured in Iran.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush today told Iran and Syria they face the risk of increasing confrontation if Tehran and Damascus do not stop their support of Hezbollah.

Matthew Chance tonight reports from northern Israel on the Israeli military struggle to stop those rocket attacks.

Ben Wedeman reports from the Lebanese city of Tyre on the mass evacuation of Lebanese civilians from the war zone.

Suzanne Malveaux reports tonight from the White House on the president's summit meeting about the Middle East with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

We turn first to Matthew Chance in northern Israel -- Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, thanks very much.

Well, it's being seen here as a major escalation with Hezbollah militia firing these really powerful rockets at Israel, far more powerful, packed with far more explosives than anything we've seen over the course of the past two weeks as those much smaller Katyusha rockets have been raining down on towns and cities across the north of this country.

Israeli forces are very concerned, Israeli people as well very concerned about the extent of the arsenal controlled by Hezbollah, the kind of missiles that they -- they have at their disposal. They are concerned because Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Hezbollah militia, has vowed to strike Tel Aviv at some point, Israel's biggest city. He hasn't done that yet, but there are big concerns that could soon happen.

Now, on the ground, in the meantime, Israeli forces are battling in close contact with Hezbollah militia fighters. They say within the past few hours they've killed 24 Hezbollah fighters still battling around the area of Bint Jbeil, where there have been heavy Israeli losses over the course of the past several days as well.

In the meantime, hundreds of rockets have been raining down on Israel over the past several days. At least 100 every day. Despite Israel hitting Hezbollah strongholds hard, they still seem able to strike whenever they want -- Lou.

DOBBS: Matthew, thank you very much.

Matthew Chance reporting from northern Israel.

Israel today said Hezbollah rockets have killed 18 Israeli civilians since the conflict began 17 days ago. And as Matthew Chance reported, nearly 1,600 rockets have been landing in Israel since this conflict began. Just about 100, each and every day.

Fionnuala Sweeney reports now from the city of Haifa in northern Israel -- Fionnuala.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, more than 84 rockets fell across northern Israel on Friday. There were 34 injuries, some landing on open spaces, some landing directly on houses and buildings. A hospital in Nahariya, for example, was hit, but there were no injuries there.

In the meantime, it has been released by the IDF that the army chief of staff, Dan Halutz (ph), was taken to hospital in Tel Aviv this evening, suffering from stomach pains. He gave an interview to an Israeli newspaper earlier in the day in which he described his strategy for trying to beat Hezbollah, but also noting that he was only grabbing sleep when he could, perhaps a half an hour at a time since the conflict had begun. However, he was released from hospital shortly later. His condition is said to be OK -- Lou.

DOBBS: Fionnuala, thank you.

Fionnuala Sweeney reporting from Haifa.

Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon today killed at least 10 Lebanese civilians. About 400 Lebanese have been killed in this conflict. Tens of thousands of Lebanese are trying to flee the war zone near the border with Israel.

Ben Wedeman now reports from the southern city of Tyre -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Lou, the destruction in the Tyre area is not in the city itself. Several buildings have been hit. Most dramatically, on Wednesday, a 10-story building, but, really, the bombing goes on around the city.

To the north, the bridges have been blown. Many of the roads have been hit, making it very difficult to really get around this area. But despite that, day after day we see dozens, possibly hundreds of cars on a heavy day, bringing people from the south, from distant, remote village and towns stretching down about 12 miles to the border with Israel.

They come speeding through, because they are very afraid of being hit by Israeli rockets and other aircraft. And so, they drive with white flags streaming out the side. They've got no time to stop and talk with you.

They come to Tyre. They spend a little bit of time here just to refresh themselves, rest a bit, and then possibly get some food supplies. And then most of them head up north, because they know that Tyre is not the safest place in Lebanon. We've seen two buildings being hit in the last three days. So, really, they try to get out of this area as soon as possible, up to Beirut, up to the mountains, where they think they'll be safer -- Lou.

DOBBS: Ben Wedeman reporting from the Lebanese city of Tyre.

A U.S.-chartered cruise ship today left Beirut, 500 people escaping the war zone. The U.S. Embassy saying that ship is the last rescue ship to leave Beirut carrying American evacuees to Cyprus. About 15,000 of an estimated 25,000 Americans in Lebanon when the conflict began have now fled the country.

President Bush today said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go to the Middle East tomorrow in a new effort to end this conflict. At the White House today, President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair called for a United Nations resolution that would provide for what they call for lasting peace in the Middle East.

Suzanne Malveaux reports from the White House -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, of course, both of these leaders under tremendous pressure not only from European alleys, but Arab alleys to support an immediate cease-fire. Neither leader did, but there was definitely a renewed sense of urgency to ending the violence. Both of them outlining a plan, what they believe is a plan for the long-term peace.

Three immediate things to take place.

First, Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice to be traveling to the region to meet with the leaders of Lebanon and Israel once again for talks.

Secondly, Monday, the United Nations meeting to come up with an agreement over an international stabilization force to help the Lebanese army secure, protect its border, establish a buffer zone.

And then, finally, of course, perhaps a bit ambitious, U.S. officials say, is a U.N. Security Council resolution as early as next week to set up conditions for a lasting peace.

What does that mean? It means Hezbollah disarming, stopping its attacks against Israel and returning the Israeli soldiers. It also means Israel stopping its counterattacks and engaging with the Palestinians in long-term talks.

Both of these leaders stressing today they understand the concern about civilian casualties but they believe that this long-term plan is the right one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The temptation is to say, it's too tough, let's just try to solve it quickly with something that won't last. Let's just get it off the TV screens. But that won't solve the problem. And it's certainly not going to help the Lebanese citizens have a life that is normal and peaceful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The brutal reality of the situation is that we're only going to get violence stopped and stability introduced on the basis of clear principles. Now, as I say, we've set out a way to do this. But it requires the long term as well as the short term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Lou, of course both of these men very sensitive about the criticism here. They are sticking together, but increasingly more isolated from other allies around the world about this cease-fire.

Blair saying today that he recognizes what is happening in Lebanon is a complete tragedy, in his words. President Bush, however, also saying that it's essential to do what is right, not popular. It is a very similar refrain of what we heard from these two leaders in the lead-up to the Iraq war -- Lou. DOBBS: Suzanne, thank you very much. Unfortunately, it is very similar to what we've heard from world leaders for just about 58 years.

Thank you very much.

Suzanne Malveaux reporting from the White House.

The United Nations Security Council may extend its deadline for Iran, may give Iran, in fact, even more time to respond to an offer of talks about Tehran's nuclear weapons program. Security Council members tonight saying that Iran must reply to its offer now by the end of August.

Iran has repeatedly ignored previous international deadline. It says its nuclear program is only for electricity generation. And, of course, there is no response at this hour, since the deadline extension has just been offered from Tehran.

Coming up next here, middle class Americans struggling to pay for their healthcare. The federal government and Congress have simply no answers. Now state governments are stepping in.

We'll have that special report.

Also, a heat wave has killed more than 120 people in California over the past two weeks. We'll be going live to Los Angeles for the very latest.

And the illegal alien lobby is stepping up its campaign to sign up new voters. Many illegal aliens look certain to be voting in our midterm elections.

We'll have that special report for you.

And Israel says it's killed dozens of Hezbollah terrorists in southern Lebanon. We'll have the latest for you from Lebanon and Israel. The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations joins us next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: In the war between Israel and Hezbollah, Israel today said it killed 26 radical Islamist terrorists in a battle for a key town in southern Lebanon. Israel has been using helicopter gunships, aircraft and ground troops, trying to win control of the town just across the border. Israel says it's killed 200 Hezbollah terrorists in this conflict. The Israeli assault has so far failed, however, to stop Hezbollah rockets from being launched into Israel.

Hezbollah firing today its most powerful rocket yet at a town in northern Israel. No one was wounded in the attack.

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair today called for a United Nations resolution to end the fighting. But they said any cease-fire in the conflict must lead to lasting peace in the entire middle east.

Later here, I'll be talking with the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations.

On Capitol Hill tonight, efforts to raise the minimum wage for the first time in almost a decade are in jeopardy. And middle class Americans are being forced to turn to states for their healthcare because of congressional and presidential inaction on our healthcare crisis.

Lisa Sylvester reports from Washington, where lawmakers tonight are fighting over an increase in the minimum wage.

Kitty Pilgrim reports on new efforts across the country to solve our worsening healthcare crisis.

We begin with Lisa Sylvester -- Lisa.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, as you mentioned Congress has not raised the minimum wage in nearly a decade. Now the House is prepared to vote on a bill, but political jockeying could easily doom the legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER (voice over): A minimum wage employee working a 40- hour week makes less than $11,000 a year. Congress has considered raising the wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 an hour.

REP. MIKE CASTLE (R), DELAWARE: I think it's basically just time. In fact, I think it's after time. I think it should have been done on a more gradual basis, so we're playing catch-up. But we should do it.

SYLVESTER: Moderate Republicans hope to use the issue to win votes this November. But the House Republican leadership opposes a wage hike. To get it through may take some type of sweetener for business interests, permanently reducing the estate tax, passing so- called association health plans that allow insurers to bypass state coverage mandates, or extending tax cuts.

Democrats call these poison pills.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: It's about the Republicans putting on the floor a bill that they know is doomed and try to pass that off as an attempt to increase the minimum wage when they have no intention of doing so.

SYLVESTER: The number of times the minimum wage has been increased since 1997, zero. The number of times Congress has given itself pay raises, three times, and is on its way to a fourth next year, raising salaries from $133,000 to $165,000.

The current debate underscores a larger issue, the disparity between those at the upper end of the economy and middle and lower- income families. JARED BERNSTEIN, ECONOMIC POLICY INST.: We're in the midst of a very unbalanced recovery with profits as a share of GDP the highest on record, yet low wages are falling.

SYLVESTER: Political haggling has also stalled the pension bill that would help shore up ailing pension plans for workers. It would give companies seven years to make up funding gaps.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And the House is expected to have a late night tonight and be back tomorrow to try to iron out their differences before they take a five-week break for the August recess. And now, the current plan is to try to pass the pension piece as a standalone bill, then to lump in everything else, the minimum wage, tax extenders, the estate tax, even mine safety provisions, into one massive other bill. But there's so much Republican infighting, that in the end, Lou, nothing could get done -- Lou.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Lisa.

Lisa Sylvester, as the war on the middle class continues.

Tonight, states across this nation are being forced to come up with healthcare plans of their own to help out their citizens. States are expanding their healthcare coverage as Washington, D.C., simply refuses to fix our broken healthcare system.

Kitty Pilgrim reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Forty-five million people in this country don't have health insurance. Sixteen million more people don't have enough insurance to cover their medical bills, with middle class families also coming up short in terms of coverage.

The federal government has debated and dithered over the problem for years. Now some states are responding to the crisis by coming up with health insurance plans of their own.

This year, Massachusetts was the first state to pass a law requiring every state resident have health insurance. It's the first law of its kind and a possible model for the rest of the country.

GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R), MASSACHUSETTS: Every citizen with affordable, comprehensive health insurance. Small businesses able to conveniently buy insurance for their employees at a cost that's competitive with big businesses.

PILGRIM: The new health insurance program will be paid for by the state with matching federal funds.

Vermont has a bill that would guarantee coverage for nearly all of its residents by 2010. Vermont's plan would be paid for by a higher cigarette tax and a fee on employers who don't often health insurance.

In New York, a debate this week between candidates running for governor gave uninsured New Yorkers reason for hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you achieve universal healthcare in the state? Again, universal healthcare in the state, if you are elected governor?

TOM SUOZZI, NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I can't answer that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes or no, Mr. Suozzi?

SUOZZI: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Spitzer?

ELIOT SPITZER, NEW YORK GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Yes.

(APPLAUSE)

PILGRIM: And in California, the city of San Francisco just voted to provide all residents with healthcare there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, the creative thinking on this is clearly coming from the states. A dozen states or more are looking at various types of universal coverage and also help for the working poor, those who work but cannot afford the additional expense of healthcare coverage -- Lou.

DOBBS: Which is an ever-increasing number of Americans.

Kitty, thank you very much.

Kitty Pilgrim.

The war on this nation's middle class is the subject of our poll question tonight. The question: Do you believe it is reasonable and equitable to link, as Congress is now suggesting it will, a minimum wage increase to a tax cut for the wealthy? Yes or no?

Please cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. As always, the results at the end of the broadcast.

Corporate America tonight is continuing its war on the middle class. General Electric has announced that it will for the first time manufacture the majority of its products outside the United States. It will shift more of its manufacturing to countries with cheap labor markets. GE says products made overseas will be sold overseas and will not be shipped back to the United States, however.

And a federal judge has approved the extension of a multimillion- dollar bonus for executives of Delphi, the bankrupt auto parts maker. The Delphi rank-and-file workers are being asked to accept steep wage cuts and benefit cuts to help Delphi executives meet those earnings goals and earn those large bonuses.

Still ahead here, more than 100 people are dead in California as a result of the heat wave. The intense heat now moving into the Midwest.

We'll have a live report for you tonight from Los Angeles.

And democracy summer is in full swing across this country. We'll have an update on this aggressive push to register illegal alien voters. Most likely they will be registered along with what is being called an "immigrant voter drive."

We'll find out and we'll report to you tonight.

And Hezbollah now firing powerful new missiles into Israel. The rockets packed with more than 200 pounds of explosive. The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations joins me here next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Supporters of amnesty for illegal aliens tonight are intensifying their efforts to sign up what they are calling new immigrant voters for the upcoming November midterm elections. Nothing, however, stops non-citizens and illegal aliens from signing up to vote under this new program.

It's called "Democracy Summer." It may be the winter for democracy.

Casey Wian reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): First they marched, now they say they are going to vote. Supporters of amnesty for illegal aliens are trying to register a million new voters by Election Day in November. The National Council of La Raza is distributing these public service ads.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Become a citizen and make your vote count.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My vote counts for my family.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH).

WIAN: So-called immigrants' rights activists are signing up voters at churches, schools, and street fairs, and when they encounter non-citizens, or even illegal aliens, they welcome their help.

MARISSA GRACIOSA, ILLINOIS COALITION FOR IMMIGRATION RIGHTS: We are trying to engage all members of the immigrant community, no matter what their status. Anyone who can't necessarily register to vote themselves can be a volunteer. One of the things that we really are pushing for this November is to have people who have taken the day off to go to a rally for immigration reform. They should take the day off on Election Day as well to help us get out the vote out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING IN SPANISH)? No?

WIAN: Nearly halfway into their six-month voter registration drive, organizers say they are only about a fifth of the way to their goal. They also claim they are not registering non-citizens.

ELISEO MEDINA, SERVICE EMPLOYEES UNION: We are going to have a very fight system of checking to make sure that everybody that registers is a U.S. citizen. First of all, we're making sure that verbally everybody affirms that. To the best that we can, we're also trying to ascertain that they are citizens. We're asking them for documentation, where possible.

WIAN: In other words, no proof is required.

Illegal alien activists are fighting a bill by Illinois Congressman Henry Hyde that would require proof of citizenship for voter registration and a photo I.D. to vote. Hyde responded this week, saying, "Requiring an official I.D. to vote represents no greater hardship than people face performing everyday activities."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WIAN: Organizers say their efforts mean the immigrant vote will be felt this November. Unfortunately, it also means that illegal aliens are likely to influence the outcome as well -- Lou.

DOBBS: Now, you're talking to a representative in the services industry. We know that churches are involved in this. And certainly in Los Angeles, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, led by Cardinal Roger Mahony.

Why -- in California, there's really no proof of citizenship required for voter registration, is there?

WIAN: The only thing that is required is an affirmation that you are a citizen to the person who is handing you the voter registration form. These organizers say that there's no way an illegal alien would risk being discovered as being an illegal alien by signing up to vote.

But I can tell you that recently, a report issued by former secretary of state James Baker and former president Jimmy Carter recommended that photo I.D. and proof of citizenship be required for voter registration, because there is so much potential for fraud in the system -- Lou.

DOBBS: Absolutely. But seemingly, not something that is concerning those on this -- on this drive.

We thank you very much, Casey. We're going to continue to follow this story very, very carefully. Casey Wian reporting tonight from Los Angeles.

Taking a look now at some of your thoughts.

Diane in California, "The 'Los Angeles Times' printed a front- page article today regarding an illegal immigrant family who has lived in the Los Angeles area for 22 years and still does not speak English, have 10 children, use Medi-Cal for all their medical bills, use the free public school system to feed their children through the subsidized lunch program, et cetera."

"I am a fool for paying my taxes. Please help us in Los Angeles. The mayor will do nothing because he is pro-Mexican and knows that the Mexican vote is his ticket to becoming governor."

Linda in Arkansas, "If they continue to change names" -- as Congressman Hostettler did here last night talking about the McCain- Kennedy bill, which he called the Kennedy-Reid bill -- "if they continue to change that bill, the amnesty bill in the Senate, will it finally get down to the truth in labeling: The La Raza Chamber of Commerce Bill?"

Well, it is here, declared absolutely that. So no worries.

Donna in Pennsylvania, "Lou, it's ironic that I have heard both Tony Snow and Bill Frist comment on the current situation with Israel, 'They have the right to protect their borders.' When will we practice what we preach?"

Send us your thoughts at LouDobbs.com. More of your thoughts coming up here later in the broadcast.

Flooding in Ohio and a heat wave in California claiming lives. We'll be going live to Los Angeles. We'll have the latest for you from Ohio.

Three of the country's top political analysts join us to discuss the Middle East, the war in Iraq, and the war on our middle class.

Tonight, escalating violence between Israel and Hezbollah. We'll have a live report for you from Beirut and Israel.

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations joins us as well.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: In just a moment we're going live to Beirut for the very latest developments in the war between Israel and Hezbollah. The Syrian ambassador to the United Nations will also be joining me here.

But first, the death toll from extreme weather continues to rise in this country. In California, more than 100 deaths being blamed on record-high temperatures. Since the 16th of July, triple-digit readings have been the norm. Power usage in Los Angeles has hit record levels.

Sumi Das is in Los Angeles with the report for us -- Sumi.

SUMI DAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, 116 people are believed to have died from this heat wave that began two weeks ago. That figure accounts for some, but not all, of California's counties. As more counties report casualties, the death toll may climb even higher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: These conditions are not only uncomfortable, but they're very dangerous.

DAS (voice-over): What started as an unusually oppressive heat wave in California has also become one of its most deadly. More than 100 people have died from heat-related causes in the past two weeks, most of them elderly. California's Central Valley has been the hardest hit, the highest death toll in Fresno County where the mercury has risen above 100 degrees for 14 consecutive days.

To stem further casualties, police officers went house to house checking on residents, cooling centers opened their doors, air conditioned busses were dispatched. Little has escaped the scorching sun. Losses have extended to livestock, cattle carcasses piled up because haulers couldn't dispose of them fast enough.

And while it is too early to put a dollar amount on crop damage, the California Department of Food and Agriculture says grapes are shriveled to the size of raisins, walnuts are burning in their shells and peaches are shutting down, simply not growing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not even worth going and picking them.

DAS: Equally at risk, those who tend these crops, as well as others who work outdoors. New state regulations that took effect this week imposed stiff penalties against employers who don't protect outdoor workers from excessive heat.

SCHWARZENEGGER: This is their right, to get enough water, enough shade, if someone feels dizzy to get the protection that they need.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAS: Lou, California may see more fallout from this heat wave. The damage to crops and livestock could affect the food and dairy supplies but, Lou, those effects won't be felt for several weeks.

DOBBS: Sumi, thank you very much. Sumi Das reporting tonight from Los Angeles.

In Ohio, 10 inches of rain have fallen there over the past 24 hours. In Lake County, east of Cleveland, rising flood waters forcing hundreds of people to evacuate their homes and businesses. Firefighters and Coast Guard crews have been pulling people to safety in the flooding. At least one person is believed to have drowned in the swollen Chagrin River. Meteorologists saying the region has about a 30 percent chance of more rain over the next several days.

In the war between Israel and Hezbollah, radical Islamist terrorists today fired their most deadly weapon yet against Israel, firing rockets carrying more than 200 pounds of explosives at the Israeli town of Afula. None hit their presumed target, no one was wounded.

At the same time, Israel carried out more than a hundred airstrikes against suspected terrorist strikes in Lebanon. Nic Robertson has the latest for us from Beirut -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, Al-Manar TV, the Hezbollah-affiliated station here didn't have pictures of that missile taking off the new -- what they call the Khaibar 1 missile, but they were trumpeting it on their station, the anchors announcing that Hezbollah had fired this new missile. They didn't give any of the technical details and did show repeatedly missiles being fired out of south of Lebanon toward Israel.

We've also heard from the U.N.'s top humanitarian relief coordinator calling for a 72-hour cease-fire in the conflict. So there are humanitarian organizations here and they're lining up with aid, lining up to bring in the aid. He wants to get aid in to the south of Lebanon and get the young, the old, the injured people all out of south of Lebanon.

We've talked to Hezbollah this evening and another affiliated group that is in the fight in the south. They both say that they haven't heard officially from the U.N. but they will give this issue of a 72-hour cease-fire some consideration.

Also today in the south of the country, a convoy -- a humanitarian convoy trying to get sick and injured people out of one of the towns close to the border came under Israeli fire. That according to journalists who were traveling with the convoy, children among the injured there, Lou.

DOBBS: Nic, thank you very much. Nic Robertson reporting from Beirut.

President Bush today said Hezbollah and its Syrian and Iranian sponsors are using violence to stop the spread of peace and democracy in the Middle East. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Syria and Iran face the risk of, quote, "increasing confrontation unless they change their conduct."

Joining me now is Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari. Good to have you with us, Mr. Ambassador.

BASHAR JA'AFARI, SYRIAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: Thank you for having me.

DOBBS: The idea that the president and Tony Blair both are saying straightforwardly that Syria and Iran must stop their support of Hezbollah, what is the reaction of your government? JA'AFARI: The reaction of my government is that we are not the only ones on earth to try to solve the crisis positively. We are a small country in the area. We have our own political agenda but we are not a superpower. We are not the ones who have the upper hand with the Israelis. The upper hand is in the Washington's hands and Washington should exert its pressure on Israel to stop this holocaust against the Lebanese and the Palestinians.

DOBBS: The United Nations called for the disarming of Hezbollah two years ago. Syria's forces and its intelligence agents removed from Lebanon in the interim. Yet, that has not happened. Iran and Syria stand charged clearly of supporting Hezbollah.

And while, as you say, the United States has significant influence over Israel in the purpose of -- in this conflict, certainly no doubt of that, but there is also no doubt that Syria has great influence over Hezbollah.

Is Syria, in your judgment, prepared to follow the United Nations resolution and to end this conflict and to build the basis for a peace in the Middle East, if the two, if the words are not an oxymoron, disarm Hezbollah and to retire its sponsorship of Hezbollah?

JA'AFARI: Well, first of all, Hezbollah is not a Syrian party. It is an integral part of the Lebanese society, of the Lebanese government, backed by Washington and London and by too many countries. Hezbollah is representing a huge portion of the Lebanese people.

It's up to the Lebanese to decide on the future of their own country. It is not up to Syria. It's not up to Iran. Using Syria and Iran to justify the failure of some policies in the Middle East would lead nowhere.

DOBBS: I have to agree with you, Mr. Ambassador, if anyone here were trying to suggest that Syria is responsible for the failures of policies which have been backheaded and wrongheaded for 58 years on the part of all parties -- Arab, Israel, U.S. and Europe and the United Nations -- in particular. Forgive me for criticizing institution you were representing your country in front of.

But the fact is, if you and Iran would retire your sponsorship of what you say is part of Lebanese society, it's -- at the most it is 200, perhaps 300,000 out of a population of just about four million people in Lebanon. It has three ministerial positions within the government. This is not exactly an awesome force without the support of Iran and Syria.

What will it take to create an end to this conflict in your judgment? I don't mean a cease-fire, but I mean an end to the conflict that makes Hezbollah irrelevant as a terrorist force -- its social activities, certainly its social service activities, that's not at issue here -- and to resolve the Palestinian conflict simultaneously and assure Israel security and a peaceful existence, coexistence in the region?

JA'AFARI: Any wise voice emanating from any international leader in the currency of competencies should be encouraged, providing that this wisdom fits with the realities on the ground in our area. These realities are linked directly to the Israeli occupation of our territories in Palestine, in Syria Golan, and in the Lebanese territory. I am referring here to Shebaa Farms.

We should cope with this problem and their comprehensiveness. We shouldn't only talk about disarming Hezbollah and Lebanon but we should go back 242 and 338, dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict. Otherwise, any cosmetic touch to this Lebanese crisis would lead nowhere, because we don't really get to the deep root causes.

Today Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair were talking about these deep cause roots but it seems that people are not reading the definition of these words as the same way.

DOBBS: Well, the argument persists that even as to what is a terrorist organization. The arguments of semantics, the discussion over land, for peace and security, for Israel, which is the basis for Oslo which the PLO and Yasser Arafat threw away as if it were meaningless.

It turns out that that was a great mistake. Could Syria embrace something on the order of what Yasser Arafat dismissed? And I have got to ask you for a quick answer.

JA'AFARI: Our diplomacy has been based for a long time on finding out a solution, a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Syria has always been part of the solution, not part of the problem. So we want to reach a common solution with the help of the international community. We have been suffering from this conflict -- we too, for quite some time.

DOBBS: It would appear that patience in that region is greater than any other for bloodshed and for conflict, and I'm sure that we all hope that it can be ended rationally and successfully, soon.

Ambassador, we thank you for being with us.

JA'AFARI: Thank you very much.

DOBBS: Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, we thank you. Syrian ambassador to the United Nations.

Coming up, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, they say they support a U.N. cease-fire, but Hezbollah terrorists launching powerful new rockets against Israel, Israel maintaining its offensive in southern Lebanon. Three of the country's most distinguished political journalists join me.

And in "Heroes" tonight, we bring you the story of former Army Specialist Eric Castillo, who was critically wounded in Iraq. He will soon fulfill a life-time dream. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The war between Israel, Hezbollah entering its 18th day. More American troops going to Baghdad to stop rising sectarian violence in what appears to be coming very close to a civil war. What is Congress doing, what is the president doing, how are they doing?

Joining me tonight to assess all of that, Ed Rollins, former Reagan White House political director and political strategist par excellence. Michael Goodwin of "The New York Daily News" and the instigator of World War III, and Democratic strategist, instigator of the terminology I should say.

MICHAEL GOODWIN, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: There you go. Thank you.

DOBBS: Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf.

Hank, let's start with you. Nancy Pelosi, Senator Harry Reid, how are they doing? Let's start with the Democrats tonight.

HANK SHEINKOPF, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Not so great. I mean, you know, this is all a mess, and people are standing by hoping that there will be some electoral gain, rather than taking principled stances to move things along.

DOBBS: What in the world are they thinking about?

SHEINKOPF: Well, sometimes the quest for power overrides the need for major policy changes. And frankly, we're in an election year, so it's not unusual.

If the Democrats were not the minority, the Republicans were the minority, and they had a shot at taking back the chamber, they would be behaving the same way, frankly.

DOBBS: Do you think Pelosi and Reid are bolstering those chances, or do you think they're interfering with those chances?

SHEINKOPF: Chances get bolstered by what the political campaigns look like. There are a lot of seats in play, and anything can happen.

DOBBS: Very politically well analyzed, I thought.

Michael Goodwin, this war is -- this conflict has been going on for 58 years. This is just the next chapter. The president, Tony Blair meeting. What do you make of U.S. policy in the Middle East, and is it discernible?

GOODWIN: I think by and large, yes, it is discernible, Lou. I think the call for an immediate cease-fire that much of the world wants is clearly not something that Washington and Great Britain want. They want, in Condi Rice's words, a sustainable cease-fire. I think that is the right policy, but getting there has proven very problematic.

DOBBS: That's a goal. That's a goal, Michael. It's something that everyone wants. I don't think there is an Arab who doesn't want that, an Israeli who doesn't want it, an American or a European.

GOODWIN: I'm not sure. I think the Arab governments would be very happy to have Israel just stop and Hezbollah stronger. No, not all of them, but some of them, and I think that is what the United States and Great Britain do not want.

Now, the problem I think for Israel is that this war has not gone as smoothly or as quickly as they had hoped, and so now the problem becomes how do you end this? How do you get the multinational force in there that is willing to disarm Hezbollah? Because if Israel has failed to disarm Hezbollah, no multinational force I think is going to take on that task.

DOBBS: The idea -- let's go back to the Democrats, Ed Rollins, because they've had a big week in a not always quiet way. Howard Dean lashing out this week. His language, calling President Bush the most divisive president in our history. He says that the president blames the gays, the immigrants, the liberals, the Democrats, Hollywood. People he said are sick and tired of that. Even if you win elections doing that, you drag down the country. How do you respond to the hyperbolic rhetoric of Howard Dean?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Howard Dean is by far the most irrelevant party chairman that I've seen in my lifetime, and I think even the leadership of his own party is sort of at war about the priorities. The most serious part of this is the Democrats really do have an opportunity to pick up some seats, both in the Senate and the House. Whether they get to the majority or not is going to depend a lot on the ground game and who is going to fund the ground game.

And there is a great debate going on about not putting your focus on the priority seats but putting your focus spread around the country. And I think to a certain extent, Dean is not cooperating with the House leadership or the Senate leadership.

DOBBS: So he is a problem?

ROLLINS: He is definitely a problem.

DOBBS: Do you agree, Hank?

SHEINKOPF: They have got to get united. Chuck Schumer is pretty clear -- Senator Schumer is pretty clear about what he wants to do. Rahm Emanuel is doing a good job of what he's supposed to do. Howard Dean seems to be not part of the game.

DOBBS: Turning to the idea that the -- this Republican-led Congress has discovered the minimum wage. Now, I'll tell you, I've been calling for an increase in the minimum wage for some time. Now, the leadership is hooking, Michael Goodwin, the minimum wage increase to what would be -- it would barely get a person to the poverty line, to cutting taxes on the estates of the wealthiest people in this country. Your thoughts?

GOODWIN: Well, I think this is another Republican war with itself. And so, this is the only way to get Republican support for a minimum wage, is to bring in a lot of the conservatives who want to cut the estate tax.

I think it's a mistake. I think the minimum wage is too low. It's $5.15 since 1996 or 1997. Many states...

DOBBS: '97.

GOODWIN: ... have passed their own, New York among them, to in effect just nullify the federal minimum.

DOBBS: We should point out that every state that has done so, despite the mythology of some faith-based economists, the fact is those economies have actually done better, not worse, as a result of raising the wages.

Hank, your thoughts?

SHEINKOPF: This is a disgrace. This administration's idea of economic policy is increasing tax breaks for the rich, the wealthy and others, while refusing to do for the people that elected them. That is the problem.

DOBBS: And you get the last word here.

ROLLINS: What they don't realize is it may not be about policy. This may be an election that Democrats can go to the public and say if you're satisfied with what's going on in Washington, vote for the team that's there. If you're not, vote for change. And that may be a message strong enough in spite of Reid and everybody else to give them some seats and some gains, and that is a scary thing for Republicans.

DOBBS: Is there a discernible difference between the Democrats and the Republicans? Michael Goodwin?

GOODWIN: There is. Right now there is a slight difference. I think Republicans are a little stronger in terms of Iraq and everything if it goes well. Democrats are...

DOBBS: (INAUDIBLE) last word.

(CROSSTALK)

SHEINKOPF: Big difference between them? Well, there are some great Republicans -- great Democrats, not so great Republicans, and the government is being run by them, and they ain't doing such a good job.

DOBBS: Let's get back to the government of the people. What do you think of that?

ROLLINS: I'm all for that. They've got to abolish the parties.

(CROSSTALK)

DOBBS: Ed Rollins, Michael Goodwin, Hank Sheinkopf, thank you very much, gentlemen.

ROLLINS: Thank you.

DOBBS: Coming up at the top of the hour, "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer reporting from Jerusalem tonight -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. Negotiating a cease-fire, a United Nations official calling for a three-day halt to the fighting. This as George Bush and Tony Blair meet at the White House. We'll find out what their plan for making peace is.

Plus, longer-range rockets, Hezbollah striking deeper into Israel. We're taking you to the front lines on both sides of the border. And Israel continues its attacks against Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. The death toll climbing.

Explosives on the water. We'll have an exclusive look at this terror threat by the sea. All that, Lou, coming up right at the top of the hour here in Jerusalem.

DOBBS: Thank you, Wolf. A reminder now to vote in our poll tonight. The question, do you think it is reasonable and equitable to link a minimum wage increase to a tax cut for the estates of the wealthy? Yes or no? Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com.

We'll have the results for you in just a matter of moments.

Coming up next, more of our troops are heading to Iraq as U.S. and Iraqi troops try to stop rising sectarian violence in Baghdad. We'll have the latest for you and in "Heroes" tonight, our tribute to our men and women in uniform around the world, the story of a former soldier, who was critically wounded in Iraq, but who's about to live out a long term dream. We'll have his story and more, coming right up. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: One day after the Pentagon announced an infantry brigade will stay longer in Iraq than had been planned, the military is now preparing to send more troops to Iraq from the United States. Thirty two hundred soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division begin deploying to Iraq next month. The military is insisting this deployment is part of a scheduled rotation, but it comes as U.S. and Iraqi troops are struggling to contain escalating sectarian violence.

Insurgents have killed another of our troops in Iraq. A U.S. marine was killed in al-Anbar province, west of Baghdad, 2,569 of our troops have been killed in Iraq now, 19,157 wounded, 8,773 of them seriously wounded.

Time now for "Heroes" our salute to our men and women in uniform. Tonight the story of former army specialist Erik Castillo who was critically injured in Iraq two years ago. He is struggling to lead an independent life and is about to realize a long-time dream. Bill Tucker has this story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ready? Set? Go.

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erik Castillo is training his brain, learning to march again, the way he did as an army specialist back at Fort Hood, Texas.

ERIK CASTILLO, U.S. ARMY (RET): I think this is the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life.

TUCKER: Castillo has no memory of the day his life changed forever, no memory of the mortar blast in Baghdad and flying shrapnel that shattered almost half of his skull in the right side of his face.

CASTILLO: I was in a coma for a month and 20 days.

TUCKER: Reconstructive surgery has made him physically whole again but his damaged brain takes much longer to heal.

CASTILLO: Since I was injured on the right side of my brain it crisscrosses the right side of your brain, controls your left side, so since I was injured, it made me paralyzed on the left side. That was the biggest thing I've had to try to overcome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are doing a lot of things today that there was no way we could have done two months ago.

TUCKER: Castillo has spent the past year relearning not just to walk but to live independently.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So what you're going to do is you're going to write a check out on this. This is a life insurance premium. You have to write a check.

TUCKER: The work is hard but Castillo is determined to return to a normal life.

CASTILLO: I want to do so many things. I'm young. I want to do everything.

TUCKER: Helping him stay positive and focused on the future? An unlikely new friend, an Air Force veteran.

HARRY BAILEY, PRES. FRANK LUCK CHAPTER, AFA: I was trying to find an Air Force guy that was injured and I didn't. That was lucky, so Eric's my guy.

TUCKER: Castillo told Bailey of his dream to take a beach vacation when he returned from Iraq. Bailey has arranged for Castillo and his family to travel to Puerto Vallarta in September. Bill Tucker, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DOBBS: Our best to Specialist Castillo. Remarkable young men and women. Still ahead the results of our poll tonight and your thoughts on the media's coverage of the war in Iraq or our lack of it. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The results of our poll tonight, 83 percent of you responding to say it is not reasonable and equitable to link a minimum wage increase to a tax cut for the wealthy.

Now more of your thoughts. Jack in Florida said, "Maybe you can give me the straight dope, Lou. Is the war in Iraq over? There doesn't seem to be any coverage on it that I can find on the news outlets. I'm sure there must be some reason for this." We're covering it and covering it each and every night here I assure you.

Ted in Massachusetts, "OK Lou, riddle me this, why are there a hundred people a day dying in Iraq where our young girls and boys are also getting killed fighting for Iraq's freedom and the main coverage is going to Lebanon and Israel where our young people are not? Is this a media set-up?" It is what it is.

Ronald in Florida, "Lou, we threw King George III a tea party. Would it be appropriate to invite the United Nations to our next party?" I think it is worth considering.

And Michael in Tennessee, "Lou, allowing the U.N. to tax us makes as much sense as asking Mexico if we can defend our border." As the Senate recommends.

And Frank in Pennsylvania, "We already support the U.N. taxation of U.S. citizens for the United Nations, hell no."

And Ken in Tennessee, "Lou, I don't feel that our own corrupt administration should have the power of taxation, let alone another bunch of corrupted officials from other countries."

And Hank in New Jersey, "Lou, I get it. The new way to win elections is to disregard the lawful electorate and pander to the illegal one."

And Bob in Tennessee, "Lou, would you please tell Arnie," Arnold Schwarzenegger, "not to be a girlie-man when it comes to border security and illegal immigration."

We thank you for sharing your thoughts.

And Paul in Michigan, "I would like to thank you for having the guts to let Americans know exactly what is going on with their government. Please stay true to the constitution and our civil liberties." We're sure going to do our very best.

We love hearing from you. Send us your thoughts at LouDobbs.com. Each of you who's email is read on this broadcast receives a copy of Senator Byron Dorgan's important new book, "Take This Job and Ship It." Thanks for being with us tonight. Have a pleasant weekend. For all of us, thanks for watching, good night from New York. "THE SITUATION ROOM" begins right now with Wolf Blitzer, Wolf.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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