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Three Hezbollah Rockets That Hit South of Haifa May Carry 220 Pounds of Explosives Each; U.N. Chief Humanitarian Relief Coordinator Calls for 72-Hour Cease-Fire; Blair and Bush Discuss Mideast Crisis; Pending Security Council Resolution on Iran; Gideon Meir Interviewed; Iraq Still Holds Bush's Approval Numbers Down; Minimum Wage Legislation Before House

Aired July 28, 2006 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ali, thanks very much.
To our viewers, you are 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, and they are happening right now.

Does Hezbollah have a dangerous new weapon? It's 11:00 p.m. in northern Israel. The target today of what may be the most powerful rockets ever fired by Hezbollah militants. Could that ratchet up the conflict here in the Middle East and the fear?

Also this hour, the U.S. and Britain presents a united front. It's 4:00 p.m. in Washington where President Bush and Prime Minister Blair laid out their new moves in the Middle East. Will it bring the region, though, any closer to peace?

And Americans share their conflicted feelings about the Middle East crisis. What does it mean for President Bush and for U.S. policy? We are crunching all the newest poll numbers. I am Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Up first this hour, a new and dramatic call for a pause, a pause in the warfare here in the Middle East. The United Nations emergency relief coordinator is asking for a 72-hour cease-fire to allow relief workers and humanitarian aid to get into crucial combat areas in Lebanon. Jan Egeland says this, there's something wrong with a war where there are more dead children than armed men.

A new threat tonight to the people of Israel. Police here say three rockets that hit an area south of Haifa, carried 220 pounds of explosives each. That makes them the most powerful missiles launched by Hezbollah guerrillas in Southern Lebanon in this conflict. It's not clear which side fired a mortar round that hit a convoy in Tyre, in Southern Lebanon, slightly wounding two civilians and a journalist. The U.N. says it is removing U.N. armed observers from two outposts caught in the crossfire elsewhere in Southern Lebanon.

And in Washington President Bush and the British Prime Minister Tony Blair say they want to see a U.N. resolution aimed at ending the conflict, introduced next week. We have correspondents standing by to cover all of these late-breaking developments. Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is in Beirut. Let's go to northern Israel first, to the front lines of this war.

CNN's Matthew Chance standing by with all of today's important developments. What a day here in Israel, Matthew.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. And what a day to see what the Israeli authorities are describing as the first missile of its kind to strike Israeli soil ever in the Israeli town of Afula in the north of Israel.

Some rockets, as you mentioned, hit some outlying areas of that town, causing extensive damage, as you say, authorities there that have been testing, judging from that damage that the missiles were much, much more powerful than any of the Katyusha rockets that we have been seeing raining over onto Israel's towns and cities for the past several weeks.

Now, there was a great deal of concern, of course, here in Israel and elsewhere about the arsenal of weapons and missiles that are controlled by Hezbollah. Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader has vowed to strike Tel Aviv, the biggest city in Israel, of course. That would be, obviously, a major escalation. Israeli police officials and explosive experts are currently examining this latest missile that has struck Israel to determine exactly what type it is and how much of a threat it poses to Israel's population, Wolf.

BLITZER: Matthew, there was also a rocket that hit a hospital north of Haifa in the town of Nahariya. What do we know about that?

CHANCE: Well, all over northern Israel, across the towns, across the cities, including Nahariya, there has been a barrage, yet again, of Katyusha rockets and, as we've seen, other kinds of rockets as well, causing extensive damage, causing injuries as well.

This rocket, one of many that has hit in Nahariya over the past several weeks, it actually struck a hospital where a number of patients are of course being treated. But because there have been so many rocket strikes there over the past several weeks, those patients, most of them at least, have been moved into underground shelters.

So, as far as we understand, there have been no injuries, no significant injuries as a result of that strike. But, certainly, many people across Israel are increasingly frustrated because despite the heavy artillery strikes and despite the heavy air strikes that Israel's military has been conducting against Hezbollah strongholds and other infrastructure targets in Lebanon, it seems that that Lebanese militia's ability to strike at will at northern Israel has not been diminished.

BLITZER: Matthew Chance in northern Israel, thanks very much. Let's go north of the border to Beirut. Nic Robertson is standing by. Nic I know there's a lot of concern here in Israel that today those rockets hit Afula, which is about as south as these rockets have come since the start of the war. Update our viewers now what's going on today in Lebanon.

NIC ROBERTSON, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the very latest from here, Wolf, reaction to Jan Egeland of the U.N., the chief humanitarian relief coordinator, calling for a 72-hour, 3-day, cease-fire. We called the Amal movement here. That is the political party that's allied with Hezbollah in the government to ask if they had heard about it. They told us that they hadn't heard through official channels but were open to the idea.

They said that they had been calling for an immediate cease-fire as soon as possible, to begin to negotiate other issues from there. We haven't been able to reach any spokespeople from Hezbollah to gauge their intent, but the initial reaction, at least, from the protagonists and those associated with them here is that a 72 hour cease-fire is something that would work for them.

We certainly know from the humanitarian officials here, the World Food Program, UNICEF, the U.N. Program for Children, Mercy Corps is here, many, many non-governmental organizations, along with the U.N., the UNHGR as well, all wanting to delivery relief supplies, all wanting to get into the south of Lebanon, where a relief convoy just today was targeted or was hit, at least, by mortar fire, according to journalists traveling with that convoy and that convoy was going in to get some injured people out of the danger zone.

So certainly the U.N., the non-governmental organizations all here, keen to see that 72-hour cease-fire put into place. The al- Manar Hezbollah television here playing up the launch of this new missile, the missile they call the Kybar-one (ph) missile. It was played many, many times on television.

I was in the southern Beirut suburbs today, Hezbollah's heartland, in a small grocery store and the store keeper there, that's what he was watching on the TV. Time and again played on TV, on al- Manar TV. The picture of that missile taking off, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, thanks very much. We will check back with you and later here in THE SITUATION ROOM we will get official Israeli government response to this proposal from Jan Egeland, the U.N. emergency relief coordinator, whether Israel will allow a 72-hour cease-fire in order to allow humanitarian supplies to get in to people in Lebanon. We'll here what the Israeli government is saying. That's coming up live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile back in Washington, important meetings today between two allies, the president of the United States, and the prime minister of Britain, meeting at the White House, discussing this crisis in the Middle East, among other subjects. But clearly the crisis in the Middle East topped the agenda. Let's go to Suzanne Malveaux.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf both of these leaders, of course, under tremendous pressure, not only from European allies but Arab allies, really to sign on to support this immediate cease-fire. Neither one of these men did that today but there was definitely a renewed sense of urgency in ending the violence. Now, both of them, essentially, putting forward a plan. Tomorrow, of course, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to travel back to the region to meet with the leaders of Lebanon and Israel for additional talks. Monday the United Nations meeting to come up with an agreement over an international stabilization force to help the Lebanese army secure and protect its border, to create some sort of buffer zone with Israel and then finally, perhaps an ambitious plan, some U.S. officials say is to try to get a U.N. resolution as early as the end of next week, to set up conditions for what they call a lasting peace.

What does that look like? Hezbollah to put down its arms, to end attacks, to return Israeli soldiers. Israel to stop the fighting, for Israel and Palestinians to come together to try negotiate a long-term peace. Both of these leaders trying to impress upon the international community that they understand the pictures on the ground and civilian casualties, and yet they believe this long-term peace plan is the right way to go.


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 get it off the TV screens. But that won't solve the problem. It's certainly not going to help the Lebanese citizens have a life that is normal and peaceful.

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 to say we've set out a way to do this, but it requires the long-term, as well as the short-term.


MALVEAUX: And President Bush says it's essential to do what is right, not necessarily popular. Wolf, a familiar refrain, of course, we heard in the lead-up to the Iraq war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Suzanne, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, I take it the president has authorized her now to return to the region. We are fully expecting her to show up this weekend here in Jerusalem. I assume she is going to make some other stops as well?

MALVEAUX: Well, yes, of course, she is going to be meeting with the leader of Lebanon as well as Israel. She is going to be going on the ground and, essentially, laying out this plan, trying to convince them here that the way to go is this U.N. resolution, this four-point plan when it deals to Hezbollah as well as Israel moving forward to that.

Wolf, it is something that they believe is very difficult and they don't necessarily think that there's going to be an answer or even a resolution in the next week or so. They believe perhaps a little bit too optimistic, but they certainly hoping that it comes together in the next couple of weeks. BLITZER: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House. Suzanne, thanks very much.

There are some important new developments on another crisis here in the Middle East involving, this time, Iran. Let's go to the United Nations, our senior U.N. correspondent Richard Roth -- Richard.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the Iran situation, Wolf, remember that one? Well, Iran, under a pending Security Council resolution, will have until August 31st in which to freeze its uranium enrichment program or face, at that time, a major discussion here and maybe imposition of economic and diplomatic sanctions. The full Security Council is discussing the resolution now, potential vote Monday morning -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Significant in the sense that all of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, including Russia and China, are they on board as far as sanctions against Iran are concerned?

ROTH: We believe they are, but there's still wiggle room under this resolution because they will discuss after 30 days, if Iran fails to comply, but it's significant because there have been hard days of negotiating. China very upset at how the U.S. is blocking certain language on any Lebanon statement, taking it out on the U.S. in progress on this Iran resolution.

BLITZER: Clearly some linkage between all of these crises here in the Middle East. Richard, thank you very much.

Let's stay in New York. That's where Jack Cafferty is. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf. Well, as everybody just reported, we have got the world going to hell in a handbasket and Congress is getting ready to go on vacation. The bad news is, they do plan to return at some point. The House is set to leave today. They'll be off five weeks. The Senate will start its recess a week later. They'll return in September.

Meanwhile, things are going from bad to worse in Iraq. You've got Iran, you have got the Hezbollah-Israeli thing, you got North Korea. We have got more troops moving into Baghdad in Iraq to try to control the increasing violence that's occurring there.

On the domestic front, Congress hasn't done much of anything. There's been no immigration reform, there's been no ethics reform. They might pass in the House an increase in the minimum wage before they get out of town.

That would bring the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.25 an hour over the next two years but only if the bill includes cuts in future inheritance taxes on multimillion dollar estates. They are shameless. There hasn't been an increase in the minimum wage since 1996.

So here's the question: Does Congress deserve to take off the month of August? E-mail your thoughts to or go to, and try to keep it clean -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you, Jack. Jack Cafferty in New York, thank you.

And coming up, much more of our coverage of the crisis here in the Middle East, the new power behind Hezbollah's rocket attacks on northern Israel. Our military analyst, U.S. Air Force Major General Don Shepperd, will help us map out the threat.

Plus the U.N. aid coordinator's new call for a cease-fire. Will Israel agree to stop its attacks for 72 hours for humanitarian reasons? A top Israeli Foreign Ministry official standing by to join us live.

And how do Americans see the conflict in the Middle East and the way President Bush is responding to it? Bill Schneider going over some new poll numbers. We are live in Jerusalem and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Some new and more powerful Hezbollah rockets were launched today against Israel's city of Afula. That's as south as these rockets have managed to reach over the past two weeks plus of this war. Let's get some analysis of what's going on.

Joining us, our CNN military analyst, retired U.S. Air Force Major General Don Shepperd. General Shepperd, the significance that you suspect of these new, more powerful rockets coming into Israel?

MAJ. GEN. DONALD SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Yes, Wolf, let me give you a little idea on the map here of the significance of this, because there's still a lot to be reported on this. This has been called the Kybar rocket and when you get on the Web and look for information you are not getting any information on it.

So let me talk to you about the significance of the city of Afula in northern Israel and then let me superimpose on this map, if you will, the range of the various rockets that we're talking about here and zoom out on it. The Katyushas that we are familiar with are shown here in red, and they come about 12 miles into Israel.

The Fajr-3 comes that we've been talking about is the next range here and it comes about 25 miles into Israel. The Fajr-5 class rocket comes about the distance that Afula is here, and also south of the city of Haifa.

Now, the one we are really worried about is a longer-range one, and that is the Zelzel rocket. That one can go all the way up to 120 miles and that includes the city of Tel Aviv.

Now, the significance of this is that these rockets go further into Israel. All right, it's an escalation, and also they have bigger warheads. This warhead that hit today reportedly was 100 kilograms, almost 50 pounds.

The Katyusha rockets that we've been talking about have warheads of about 20 kilograms. So this is about four or five times as powerful. So, again, this is seen as an escalation or a step further ahead in the war.

BLITZER: A hundred kilograms, about 220 pounds, General Shepperd, so that is clearly a powerful, powerful rocket. In this particular case, three of them landed in a field not causing much damage, but give our viewers a sense of how much destruction, how much death, that powerful kind of rocket could cause if it landed in a congregated -- in a community with houses, apartments, and people walking around.

SHEPPERD: Yes, sorry about my math there, Wolf, but indeed 220 pounds of explosives is a lot. A 500-pound bomb that we've seen lots of, it's half as powerful as a 500-pound bomb. It can bring down an entire apartment house. It can kill a lot of things in the area.

I have been under attack by Katyushas many times, and they are very, very frightening, and this being four or five times as powerful as a Katyusha, it's a really, really powerful and serious weapon, Wolf.

BLITZER: General Shepperd, thank you very much. We're going to continue to have these conversations with General Shepperd and all of our military analysts to make sure we know and understand betters what's going on here in the crisis in the Middle East.

Still to come here in THE SITUATION ROOM, much more our coverage, including this -- Israel all too familiar with rocket attacks, but it faces another threat, this time from the Mediterranean. How terrorists could make use of it. We have some exclusive video you're going to want to see. That's coming up in the next hour, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And what do Americans think about how President Bush is handling the Middle East crisis? New poll numbers are out, and we've got them for you.

All that coming up. We're live from Jerusalem, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The United Nations today appealing for a 72-hour cease- fire in order to allow humanitarian assistance to come into the people of Lebanon. We're standing by for the first official Israeli governmental response to this appeal from the U.N. emergency coordinator. We're going to bring that to you live coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM, all the day's other important news on the Middle East crisis.

But first let's check in with Zain Verjee. She's in Washington with a closer look at some other important stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. American Tour de France winner Floyd Landis says he'll take as many tests as necessary to clear his name. He's awaiting results from a second anti-doping test after an initial one showed high levels of testosterone. Landis says he was tested throughout the three-week race and none of the other tests were abnormal. He says that his body naturally produces high levels of testosterone.


FLOYD LANDIS, TOUR DE FRANCE WINNER: I declare convincingly and categorically that my winning the Tour de France has been exclusively due to many years of training and my complete devotion to cycling, to the sacrifice of an entire life to carry out my dream, a dream of thousands of kilometers that I have completed through an absolute respect for the cleanness of this sport.


VERJEE: You can hear more from Floyd Landis when he talks exclusively to CNN's Larry King tonight. That's at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You can also e-mail your questions to him. That's at

Oscar-wining actor/director Mel Gibson has been arrested and charged with driving under the influence. That's according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Office. Police say the 50-year-old Gibson was pulled over early today on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. Officers on patrol say he was driving at an excessively fast speed. Gibson was charged with a misdemeanor, and posted a $5,000 bond.

In California, a high toll from a nearly two-week-long heat wave. The scorching weather may be to blame for at least 116 deaths. Most of the victims have been elderly people, but a 38-year-old gardener also collapsed and died. Forecasters say temperatures are slightly cooler today and may dim below normal on Monday.

A three story garage under construction in New York suddenly collapsed today. Fire department officials say one construction worker, who was inside the garage, was killed. They say at least one other worker was injured. He's been hospitalized. It's not yet known what caused the garage to collapse -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thank you. Up next, a live report from battle- scarred Beirut. How desperate is the situation there, and is the Hezbollah threat to Israel really more powerful? Michael Ware standing by live in Beirut.

And is there new hope for a short-term cease-fire? Coming up, I will speak live with an Israeli official and ask if his government will give the United Nations what it wants, namely a 72-hour cease- fire to get humanitarian assistance in to the people of Lebanon.

We are live in Jerusalem and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's take a quick look at the latest developments in the crisis in the Middle East. The emergency relief coordinator for the United Nations is urging a 72-hour cease-fire in the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. That's so humanitarian assistance can be safely distributed in Israel, Lebanon and Gaza.

Hezbollah has launched its most dangerous rockets at the northern Israeli town of Afula. The three rockets, which landed in a field, carried 100 kilograms of explosives each, about 220 pounds. Israeli air strikes targeted more than 100 Hezbollah sites overnight.

And as the fighting continues, the secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, will return to the Middle East tomorrow.

The latest casualty toll: Lebanese security sources say 398 Lebanese have been killed, more than 1600 Lebanese have been injured; Israel says 51 Israelis have been killed and 1,377 Israelis have been wounded.

Let's bring in CNN's Michael Ware. He's on the ground for us from Beirut.

Michael, it looks like the Israelis have been somewhat surprised by the military capabilities of Hezbollah. What do we -- what do we know? And you are there on the scene. You have studied this group for long time. What kind of capabilities do they have? Are there any real surprises that they might have in store?

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's still the possibility, Wolf, that they have an even longer-range missile, though small in number, some analysts predict only about a dozen, if any at all, of the Zelzal rocket, which, theoretically, could reach as far as Tel Aviv.

So far, we have seen no evidence of that, although there was a question by the Israeli Defense Force about whether they had actually blown one of these missiles up.

The real mystery, Wolf, is, just what does Hezbollah have? These guys have kept such a tight-knit circle of security around their intelligence and capabilities. Speaking to some of its members, they talk about compartmentalization of the organization, like never before in recent years.

So, no one really has the ultimate handle on who has what. There could still be further surprises in store -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Michael, you have spent a lot of time, as all of our viewers know, in Iraq. You know the Iraqi insurgency. Some are already making comparisons between Hezbollah and the Iraqi insurgents.

You're in Lebanon right now. Do you see similarities, or are these two very different groups?

WARE: Well, there is a very different look and feel, but there are some common tactics, methodologies. Certainly, we have even seen a transfer of technology from Hezbollah to Shia insurgent groups in Iraq. The deadliest roadside bomb, commonly known as an IED, that has been penetrating U.S. Abrams tanks like a fist through a wall originated from Lebanon.

U.S. intelligence believe that there has been an exchange of personnel and training, potentially via Iran, to share that expertise. Nonetheless, Hezbollah has done something that Iraqi insurgents aspire to, and certainly al Qaeda aspires to. That is, they have their own territory. They have created their own mini-state.

Plus, they are able to put semi-conventional units in the field. So, there's a degree of development with Hezbollah that has come from decades of hardened, battled experience that puts them some steps ahead in certain regards.

BLITZER: Michael Ware, on the ground for us in Beirut -- Michael, thank you very much for that.

Let's bring in a top Israeli government official now, Gideon Meir. He's a minister -- he's the Foreign Ministry deputy director for public diplomacy. He's joining us in Jerusalem.

You know that Jan Egeland, the United Nations emergency relief coordinator, is appealing to your government right now, asking for a 72-hour cease-fire, so they can start delivering humanitarian assistance to the Lebanese people. Is Israel going to comply?

GIDEON MEIR, SPOKESMAN, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY: I know it from the media. This appeal has not progressed -- reached the government of Israel.

BLITZER: So, there has been no official request yet?

MEIR: No official request yet.

BLITZER: He has made that public statement, though.

MEIR: Statement, but no official request yet.

I can tell you that Mr. Egeland was here on Wednesday. There were talks between him and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and other Israeli officials. There's an agreement, that as of Sunday, a representative of the United Nations will join the military relief center.

Only today, three convoys of relief were allowed through a corridor through to Sidon, Tyre, and -- and Jezzine. The prime minister said to Dr. Condoleezza Rice that we will make our utmost to help the humanitarian issue and to help those convoys to go through this corridor.


MEIR: But... BLITZER: ... Israel will not attack locations where you know that these convoys, these corridors that the U.N. has marked out to get assistance to these people in Lebanon?

MEIR: Absolutely not. It's our interests, because we are not there -- we are not fighting the Lebanese people. We are not punishing the Lebanese people.

We have a war with the Hezbollah terror organization. The Hezbollah -- I can you, Wolf, that the Hezbollah today is preventing convoys from going -- reaching their villages. They are blocking food to go into the villages. They are even blocking their own people from leaving the villages, because they want to use a civilian population as part of the propaganda machinery of their campaign of terror against the people of Israel.

BLITZER: If he does come with a formal request to the Israeli government -- you say that that hasn't been made yet, but let's assume he does -- would Israel respond affirmatively or negatively to a 72- hour cease-fire?

MEIR: We will have to evaluate it. Let's also make one point clear. We are not talking here about a truce between two states, between a government and a government. We are talking here about terror organization. Terror organizations don't make any kind of agreements.

They attack. They do what they have to do. They are using their own civilian population. And they are not interested in truce whatsoever. If there will be a truce, from their point of view, it's only to rearm and to take better positions, in order to continue launching rockets and shelling rockets onto Israeli cities, as you have witnessed today and in the past two weeks.

BLITZER: Is there an update in your -- in your government's investigation on the killing of those four U.N. military observers, which Kofi Annan suggested may have been a deliberate act on the part of Israel? Israel, of course, strongly denying that.

MEIR: Not only are we denying it.

The -- it -- there's no interest that it serves Israel by killing, deliberately, four U.N. servicemen. I can tell you, even more, Israeli soldiers were killed by friendly fire. It happens. It's a war.

And, unfortunately -- and we regret it -- it happened here with the first servicemen. Deliberately? Impossible. On the other hand, we will investigate it thoroughly. And once the investigation is over, we can come up with a -- what the investigation found out.

BLITZER: And, so, I just want to get back to the Jan Egeland proposal for a 72-hour cease-fire.

What you're saying is, once you get a formal request, you will study that request. But I don't hear you, necessarily, ruling out the possibility that Israel could go with a 72-hour cease-fire.

MEIR: What we are interested is, is that the people of Lebanon will get the humanitarian relief, which they deserve. And this is our commitment. This is a commitment of the prime minister, and this is a commitment of the Israeli government.

BLITZER: What about Condoleezza Rice? She is coming here, I assume, tomorrow.

MEIR: Tomorrow night, she will be here in Israel. I don't know for how long. She will meet the prime minister. And all those issues will be discussed between her and the Israeli leadership.

BLITZER: So far, you are not feeling any heat or any pressure from the Bush administration to accept a cease-fire, are you?

MEIR: So far, we are doing what is necessary.

And there is an understanding of the international community that what we are doing is actually relieving our people from this threat of the Hezbollah, but, at the same time, also relieving the Lebanese people from the threat of the Hezbollah.

BLITZER: Gideon Meir, thanks for coming in. It's late here in Jerusalem. Appreciate it very much.

MEIR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Gideon Meir, a top official of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

And coming up: President Bush's role in trying to end the Middle East crisis. Do Americans think he's doing a good or a bad job? Our Bill Schneider is putting the latest poll numbers together to get the big picture.

And a powerful force behind Hezbollah and its attacks on Israel -- is Syria the key to ending the fighting?

And is the Bush administration doing enough to try to get Syria behind a cease-fire?

We're live from Jerusalem, and you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: With open warfare still under way here in the Middle East, President Bush is back in the diplomatic spotlight once again today, after high-profile talks with the visiting British prime minister, Tony Blair.

Do the American people think Mr. Bush is doing a good job right now?

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill. WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Wolf, four new polls out this week, and the news for President Bush is mixed.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): First, the good news for President Bush: He gets relatively high ratings for his handling of the Middle East conflict. Why? Most Americans are sympathetic to Israel. So is President Bush. Most Americans want the U.S. to stay out of the conflict. President Bush is doing that, so far.

But it's not helping him much. His job ratings are stuck below 40 percent -- the average, 38. What's holding President Bush down? Iraq. The public calls Iraq the nation's number-one problem. For years, he has promoted a new approach to peacemaking in the Middle East.

BUSH: This commitment to democratic reform is essential to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict.

SCHNEIDER: But what Americans see is intensifying violence, in Iraq and across the Middle East.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: It is time for a new Middle East.

SCHNEIDER: Does the public think the Bush administration's efforts to promote democracy in the world have been successful? No.


SCHNEIDER: So, while the president gets pretty good marks for his handling of the crisis, because he's kept the U.S. out of it, his model of a new Middle East, where Iraq will spread democracy and stability, seems to be in shambles -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Bill, thank you very much -- Bill Schneider with the latest numbers.

President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair side by side, but Blair's visit comes amid serious criticism back home. The Internet is giving us a peek at the mood across the pond from Washington.

Let's bring in Abbi Tatton. She's watching that mood -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, "Call For a Cease-fire Now," that was the headline in the left-leaning "Independent" newspaper today, as Blair headed to Washington.

Blair has been criticized in the U.K. press in the last week for not standing up to President Bush. Now, this is nothing new. The U.K. press has, in the past, likened Tony Blair to a poodle of President Bush.

But this is criticism that has been renewed in the last week, after that overheard conversation between the two leaders at the G8 Summit. It's known in the U.K. as the "Yo, Blair" exchange, for the way that the president addressed the prime minister. And it was the "Sun" newspaper that summed it up this way, that Blair seemed like an eager-to-please bridesmaid hovering around the top table of President Bush.

Now, "The Daily Telegraph" newspaper -- that's a conservative- leaning newspaper in the U.K. -- published a poll by YouGov, that generally does its polls online, in advance of Blair's visit to Washington -- that showing that almost two-thirds of Brits think that Blair gives the impression of siding with the Americans, whatever the Americans say.

After this side-by-side press conference today, it seems unlikely that that sentiment is going to change any time soon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you.

And, up next: It's a conflict with huge ramifications for the Middle East and the world. But, in the heat of summer, are Americans paying all that much attention? -- Jeff Greenfield standing by with our report.

And is Congress ready to increase the minimum wage for the first time in a decade? We will have a live report on what could be a big change for Americans' bottom line.

Stay with us -- much more of our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: Let's take a quick look at some of the "Hot Shots" coming in from our friends over at the Associated Press, pictures on the Middle East,, pictures likely to be in your hometown newspapers tomorrow.

First, let's go to southern Lebanon: German TV journalists scrambling, after their convoy was struck by a mortar round. It's unclear whether they were hit by Israeli or Hezbollah fire.

In Kiryat Shmona, in northern Israel, a police officer carries a young girl to an ambulance after an Hezbollah attack.

South Africa: A boy holds a sign condemning against Israel during a protest outside the Israeli Embassy.

In Beirut, a girl enjoys a cookie on board a French navy ship being used to evacuate French citizens from the war zone -- some of today's "Hot Shots," pictures often worth 1,000 words -- dramatic pictures, indeed.

Here in the Middle East, the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel is a matter of life and death. But it may not necessarily be quite as compelling for Americans caught up in their summer vacations.

Let's bring in our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield -- Jeff.


JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Wolf, the news from the Middle East is compelling and consequential. But does the impact of the news change because of when it's happening? Does it count less in the public mind now because it's summertime?

(voice-over): After all, this is the time of year when tens of millions forget work and school, and head for the mountains, the beaches, the open, or the not-so-open, road.

Sigmund Freud took his vacations in August, so that's what just every shrink does now. And no self-respecting Frenchman or woman would be caught dead at the office in August heat. Even the killer heat wave couldn't summon back French officials three years ago.

But does the pace of big events really slow down when the mercury rises? Not exactly. Take a look back at Augusts past. The atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in August 1945. The Japanese surrendered days later. The Berlin Wall went up in August 1961. The Watts riots erupted in August of 1965. The Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in August of 1968.

President Nixon resigned in August of 1974. Elvis died that month in 1977. Princess Diana was killed in 1997.




GREENFIELD: President Clinton Moni-confessed in 1998. And, just a year ago in August, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf.

If your broaden the view a little bit, summer news includes such minor incidents as the start of World War II in 1939...




GREENFIELD: And the moonwalk 30 years later.

And this raises a political question about timing. To paraphrase an old song, it's a long, long time from August to November. If the news right now is essentially grim, if, for example, the public seems more skeptical about the Iraq invasion than ever, will that matter when the leaves are falling and the polls are opening?

(on camera): It's tempting to repeat the cliches about the short attention spans of voters, about how three months is a lifetime in politics. But let me suggest a different approach, that impressions and views may come and go, but what remains is a steady accumulation of how things are going, about whether people in charge deserve more time with the power they have.

If that's right, then those hoping that the lazy, hazy days of summer will burn away bad news may be in for a fall come fall -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you -- Jeff Greenfield reporting.

Let's go to Zain once again in Washington for a closer look at some other stories making news -- Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, more details about the U.N. Security Council resolution now being circulated among the full council.

It would essentially give Iran until the end of August to stop enriching uranium, or face the threat of economic and diplomatic sanctions. An earlier draft supported by the U.S., Britain, France and Germany would have made the sanctions threat actually immediate. But Russia and China apparently won out on this draft's weaker language. A council vote could come next week, possibly on Monday.

A scene of massive destruction in eastern and central China -- at least 35 people are reported killed after a typhoon pounded the region with heavy rains and high winds. Dozens of people are missing. The flooding has caused landslides, in some areas, destroying homes. An army barracks was just swept away. This is the fifth typhoon to hit China this year.

A volcano on an eastern Indonesian island is gushing lava and hot ash again for the second time in less than two weeks. Thousands of people living nearby have been evacuated. There are no injuries reported, though. Officials say that the volcano has been rumbling for weeks.

And we have this just into CNN. The Associated Press is reporting that a federal appeals court has blocked the Justice Department from reviewing evidence that was seized from Democratic Congressman William Jefferson's office. The document review was to begin this week. The Justice Department had seized the documents in a raid in May in connection with a corruption investigation. We are going to bring you more details as soon as they become available -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Zain, thanks very much -- the courts apparently playing some ping-pong with that whole issue of Congressman Jefferson's documents. We will continue to watch that story.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives is moving toward a vote that could make a huge impact on many Americans' pocketbooks -- on the table right now, a measure to increase the minimum wage, for the first time in a decade.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Dana Bash -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this really snuck up on House Republican leaders.

They had no plans to bring up an increase in the minimum wage. But about 50 Republicans threatened to stop the House from going on the five-week recess planned for tonight unless they brought this up. They simply did not want to go home on the campaign trail without this vote.


BASH (voice-over): Fearful of getting pummeled by Democrats in an already tough election year, a band of moderate House Republicans are forcing their reluctant leadership to allow a vote increasing the minimum wage.

REP. STEVEN LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: Because they were going to come back and say, those mean Republicans wouldn't raise the minimum wage, and begin to bash our vulnerable Republicans. It's not right, because 50 of us believe that it's good policy.

BASH: The measure boosts the wage from $5.15 an hour to $7.25 over three years. It has been nearly a decade since Congress last increased the minimum wage.

Democrats see that as a great campaign issue, pointing to statistics like this: since 1997, a stagnant minimum wage. Yet, lawmakers voted themselves raises, from $133,000 to $162,000, and now another $3,000 raise is on the table.

House GOP leaders agreed to a vote, but with this catch: Raising the minimum wage is linked to a Republican priority, tax cuts, including slashing the estate tax.

Democrats called it a cynical ploy.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: To have, for nine years, a $5.15 minute wage, and then to come to the floor with stunts and acrobats and all kinds of animal acts is not worthy of the American people.

BASH: Tying the minimum wage hike to an estate tax cut could doom the measure in the Senate. That would be fine with many Republicans, who long argued the marketplace, not Uncle Sam, should determine wages.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Many House conservatives are disappointed that we will -- we will take up an increase in the minimum wage during a time of economic expansion in our country.


BASH: Now, we are waiting, Wolf, to see the final language of this.

But what has been going on this afternoon has been some fascinating election-year horse-trading. Republican have been considering trying to use some sweeteners to lure Democrats on to this bill, which would include an estate tax cut, as well as a minimum wage hike.

One example of some -- one senior Republican aide told me that they were thinking about is trying to get, for example, Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu on board with this by extending some Katrina- related tax credits, and -- get this -- another idea to try to get Hawaii's Democrats, a tax credit for spouses to go on business trips. That would be a big boon, they think, for the tourism industry in Hawaii -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dana, thank you.

And still to come: Speaking of members of Congress, they are about to take a break, a long one. Should they be going while so much is going on here and overseas? Jack Cafferty with your e-mail, that's coming up.

And terror from the Mediterranean. Is there a hidden threat to Israel in the water? We will find out in our next hour of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Stay with us. We are live in Jerusalem.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The House of Representatives is expected to leave on a five-week summer recess today. The Senate begins its break a week later. And, then, they all come back to us in September.

The question is, does Congress deserve to take off the month of August? Here's some of the ones we can read to you.

A. in Topeka, Kansas: "Jack, these hardworking Americans deserve some time off. They have been busy all year, protecting my rights and freedoms, helping the environment, controlling gas prices, growing the economy for better jobs and pay, handling the crisis in Iraq. If the NSA is reading this e-mail, please put me down as a loyal American."

Joe in Amherst writes: "Since they don't really accomplish anything useful while they're in session, I suppose it doesn't matter if they're not there at all. At least there's less chance of damage. Its' just that tourists will be disappointed. It's like going..."


CAFFERTY: "... to the zoo and finding the cages empty."

James in Florida: "Only in their minds. This Congress has done nothing productive since they were elected. They can have August, if they repay the Treasury for the 11 other months since last August that they were supposedly working for the nation's benefit."

Stanley in South Carolina: "Jack, the House can take off, but the Senate should be sent to the Mexican border, and told to do what took an oath to do. That is to protect the U.S. from foreign invaders, not help them enter this country illegally."

Andy in Sun Valley, Nevada, just north of Reno: "I'm actually of two minds about this issue. They should either get to work, and not take a vacation, or they should go and never come back."

And Maria in McAllen, Texas: "The only thing Congress deserves is to be voted out of office."

Coming up this weekend on "IN THE MONEY," an expert on the area discusses the policy of throwing billions of dollars into the Middle East year after year after year, with very little to show for it. And a "New York Times" columnist refers to some of America's highest paid black athletes as slaves.

"IN THE MONEY" airs Saturday at 1:00, Sunday at 3:00 Eastern. We invite you to join us.

That includes you, Wolf. We will expect you to be there.

BLITZER: All right. You got it, Jack. Thanks very much -- an excellent program that Jack hosts on Saturdays and Sundays. I recommend it to our viewers.


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