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THE SITUATION ROOM

Israel Rejects Calls for Cease-Fire

Aired July 31, 2006 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: 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. Happening now -- Israel on the attack and rejecting a cease-fire. It's 11:00 p.m. in southern Lebanon where Israel struck despite an earlier pledge to temporarily hold its fire, we have live reports on the Hezbollah rockets and the Israeli bombs flying on both sides of the border.

Also this hour President Bush pushing for what he calls a sustainable peace. It's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington. The secretary of state Condoleezza Rice on her way back from the nation's capital from the Middle East. Right now, can she help secure a settlement this week?

Plus should the White House be pressing Israel to stop the bloodshed now? Just a short while ago here in Washington, a leading Republican senator put new pressure on the president to seek an immediate cease-fire. I am Wolf Blitzer. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is renewing his vow to keep pounding Hezbollah targets, saying the attacks will end only when the militant group's threat to Israel ends. Israel launched new air and ground attacks in southern Lebanon today and Hezbollah fired more rockets in northern Israel. The fighting resumed just hours after Israel agreed to halt air raids while investigating a bombing that killed 56 Lebanese civilians. Israel says it reserves the right to hit targets that are an immediate threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EHUD OLMERT, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): They have been very seriously hurt and it will take them a long time to recover from this, if they ever can. We have moved the Hezbollah from along the border with Israel, and we have removed this immediate threat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: President Bush says the United States is working toward a sustainable peace in the Middle East. He's due to meet tonight with the secretary of state Condoleezza Rice at the White House. She's on her way back to the U.S. right now from her diplomacy mission in the region. She told reporters earlier she believes a comprehensive settlement in her words can be reached this week.

Our senior international correspondents are standing by in the region, Nic Robertson is in Beirut. Let's go to northern Israel first. That's where we find Matthew Chance. Matthew, update our viewers on the latest.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. Well, all this talk of a cease-fire certainly isn't being reflected here on the ground in northern Israel. You joined me at an artillery field across from the Lebanese border, a short distance away from that frontier and throughout the course of the day, the artillery pieces you may be able to see behind me have been pounding away at positions inside southern Lebanon, positions the Israeli military says are Hezbollah strongholds.

That's been accompanied by a strong ground action, as well, by Israeli soldiers. You can hear some of the shots being fired around me right now, but a strong ground action by Israeli soldiers fighting in very close quarters we're told with those Hezbollah guerrillas to try and prevent them from launching their rockets into Israel.

There's been an amount of air support as well, as a result of that, even though Israel says it's observing a hiatus on its air strikes. It is still using air power to support its ground forces an to deal with what it says are immediate threats against its troops and against its civilians.

So we have seen air strikes in southern Lebanon as well. Coming in the other direction, however, there has been somewhat of a reduction, a lull in the amount of rockets being fired by Hezbollah over the course of this day into northern Israel. As we know, over the past several weeks, almost 100 a day over average have rained down on towns and cities across the north of this country. But today their have been just three explosions and within the last few minutes, I have been told by the Israeli Defense Forces and they were not Katyusha rockets but rather they were mortars fired from the Lebanese side of the border into Israel. Still deadly, of course, but nowhere near as powerful and nowhere near as able to cause disruption as those Katyushas rockets, Wolf.

BLITZER: And the explanation for? Anything to do with that 48- hour cessation of air strikes that the Israelis earlier in the day suggested they would implement.

CHANCE: It's a good question and it's something I have just been speaking to Israeli defense officials about. They have got absolutely no idea they said. But the real concern they have and this is the concern Israel has expressed all along is that this lull in fighting as it's being scene, at least from the Israeli side may be used by Hezbollah as an opportunity to rearm, to regroup and to re-gather their forces in preparation for other battles ahead. Certainly from the Israeli side, they believe the time is not now for a cease-fire and they are preparing, they say, for more battles in the day ahead with Hezbollah, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we are approaching the first of the 24 of that 48- hour cessation of air strikes. Stand by. We're going to getting back to you, Matthew.

Let's head north to Beirut. Nic Robertson is on the scene for us there. What is happening in Lebanon today, Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the very latest, the French foreign minister has been in Beirut on a mission of diplomacy and met with the prime minister, Fouad Siniora a little earlier today and is about to hold a press conference with the Iranian foreign minister. The two foreign ministers have been meeting at the Iranian embassy and they are expected to brief reporters very shortly. It's not clear the content of their discussions, but certainly during the meeting with the prime minister here, the French foreign minister stressed that it was important this time to build an era of trust with the Iranians, that the Iranians should trust the international community as well.

So we will see what they have to say in their meeting. In the south of Lebanon today, the relative lull in the early part of the day has given some a chance to go back to their homes to retrieve possessions that they were forced to leave when they fled. Other people, we have seen them leaving the towns of Bint Jbeil, huge bottlenecks of traffic trying to get out of the port city of Tyre and head north. One missile strike, according to Israeli Defense Forces, fired from the reconnaissance surveillance aircraft, targeting what Israeli defense officials called a senior Hezbollah commander. That missile struck a vehicle carrying a Lebanese army aide to a general and three soldiers.

The aid to the Lebanese army general was killed and those three Lebanese army soldiers wounded in that particular attack. Also roads close to the border with Syria on the Lebanese side struck today, and missile strikes just to the east of Beirut. Aid officials here now saying between 800 and 900,000 people forced from their homes, one senior spokesman from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees said that they believe, the U.N. believes that the country is at a tipping point in terms of a humanitarian crisis, that people are running out of their stored food supplies at home and can no longer rely on what they have had in stores and now need to depend entirely on international and local aid handouts, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic, perhaps one of the most intriguing developments, as you point out today, the arrival of the Iranian foreign minister in Beirut for meetings with the government of Fouad Siniora as well as the French foreign minister in Beirut who is in Beirut, as well.

You know that a lot of U.S. officials, certainly a lot of Israeli officials. I was just there this past week -- suspected Iran is calling the shots for Hezbollah, egging on Hezbollah to divert attention from Iran's nuclear program. Give us a little flavor how the Iranian foreign minister showed up, what he's doing there and what Lebanese officials are hoping will be accomplished if anything.

ROBERTSON: Well, the timing, of course, it's a very interesting day of timing, this is right around where the U.N. is debating what moves it should take regarding Iran's uranium processing and its own commitment to nuclear enrichment within Iran. This day, however, the Iranian foreign minister has been here in Lebanon not dealing with that issue at all. Dealing with the politics of Lebanon. It's not entirely clear to us at this time what has been said at the meetings within -- with officials here, with the French foreign minister. So we are still waiting to be briefed about that. But the timing, of course, very interesting.

Many analysts throughout this region bemoaning the fact that the United States has not been able to have its own direct face-to-face talks with the Iranians, knowing their leverage with Hezbollah, their influence over Hezbollah, knowing that bringing the Iranians into the political equation here is one way perhaps to end the fighting at the moment. It seems it would appear at this stage that the French are beginning to do that. The French appear to be taking the lead in the diplomacy here at the moment in Lebanon, but also the French appear to be in the lead as well as far as the multinational forces are concerned. The French have indicated they could provide very quickly an army, a readiness of about 5,000 troops who could come in to that border zone between Lebanon and Israel and begin to provide that international stabilization force that is likely, it appears at this stage, to be called for in any comprehensive peace initiative, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nic thanks very much. Nic Robertson reporting for us from Beirut.

The secretary of state Condoleezza Rice now heading back to Washington from the Middle East. Later today she is going to be briefing President Bush on her diplomatic mission. Our chief national correspondent John King now has more from Jerusalem on what the secretary has been trying to accomplish. John?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the secretary talked on the way home how difficult and draining her work was here in the Middle East not only because the issues are tough but because she was under constant attack for those around the world saying the United States are contributing to the bloodshed by standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

Secretary Rice says she kept focus on what she was doing not what people were saying about her and that she heads home optimistic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): It is a proposal aimed at ending the hostilities within days and at quieting critics who label U.S. diplomacy ineffective and biased towards Israel.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: Both an urgent cease-fire and a lasting settlement. I am convinced we can achieve both this week.

KING: Before heading home to oversee negotiations at the United Nations, Secretary Rice called on the U.N. to embrace an approach that includes a permanent cease-fire, deployment of the Lebanese army in areas now controlled by Hezbollah. A global embargo against rearming Hezbollah and creation of a new international force to help police any cease-fire. The toughest requirement for Lebanon will be confronting Hezbollah.

RICE: Lebanon should assist as appropriate by the international community and disarm unauthorized armed groups.

KING: Secretary Rice did not list demands of Israel. But U.S. and Israeli sources tell CNN she was assured this weekend Israel is ready to discuss prisoner exchanges and returning disputed land to Lebanon as long as the soldiers that Hezbollah kidnapped to provoke the conflict are released. The administration plan rejects again calls for an immediate unconditional cessation of hostilities. The White House dismisses that approach as short sighted and says its plan will keep Hezbollah in check.

RICE: To make a cease-fire more than words alone, the international community must be prepared to support and sustain it and I call on my international partners to do so this week in New York.

KING: U.S. officials anticipate a spirited Security Council debate including questions about the wisdom of deploying a peacekeeping force in a potentially hostile environment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING (on camera): But after a grueling Middle East mission during which she was at times exhausted, at times exasperated, Secretary Rice heads home with a plan that she hopes quiets some of the Bush administration many critics and perhaps redeems her own credentials as a peacemaker.

Wolf?

BLITZER: John King reporting for us from Jerusalem. Thank you. Let's go to New York. Jack Cafferty is joining us with the "Cafferty File."

Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome home, Wolf man. "The sound heard around the world Sunday was Israel losing the moral high ground and its window of opportunity slamming shut." So says an editorial in "USA Today" about Israel's attack yesterday on the Lebanese village of Qana.

Israeli air strikes killed 54 civilians there, many of them children. Israel called it a tragic mistake. That's an understatement.

As a result, Israel is now under increased pressure to stop its campaign. The Arab street is enraged. Arab TV networks like al- Jazeera feeding the people in the Middle East a constant diet of the carnage from Qana since it happened. The Bush administration could lose leverage with the moderate Arab states in the region of a rift develops between the citizens of those countries and their governments.

So here's the question -- how does Israel's attack on Qana, Lebanon change the war? E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@cnn.com or go to cnn.com/caffertyfile.

Wolf?

BLITZER: Jack, thanks. Good to be home. Appreciate it. Coming up a key Republican senator appears to be breaking with the president's stance on the Middle East crisis. We're going to tell you what Senator Chuck Hagel said just a short while ago and why it matters politically.

Also ahead is Israel's offensive against Hezbollah a boon or a blow to democracy in the region? Bill Schneider considering that question.

And could the conflict save one senator's political career? We'll have the latest on Democrat Joe Lieberman's primary challenge and whether Israel, that issue, might help his Iraq problem. Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A leading Republican senator is now urging President Bush to call for an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East, Chuck Hagel spoke on the Senate floor just a short time ago. Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Why is this significant, Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this really is the most high profile challenge to date of the president's approach on this Middle East crisis from either party here on the hill.

Senator Chuck Hagel, as you mentioned, is an influential Republican when it comes to all things foreign policy. And he went to the Senate floor this afternoon and he essentially said that the U.S. should remain a staunch ally of Israel, remain committed to defending Israel but he said it should not be at the expense of Arab and Muslim relationships. Therefore he said President Bush should call for an immediate cease-fire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL, (R) NE: How do we realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an American friend, the country and people of Lebanon, is going to enhance America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and sustained peace effort in the Middle East? The sickening slaughter on both sides, Mr. President must end and it must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate cease fire. This madness must stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: Now, a few quick points to put this into context. Chuck Hagel is a Republican but it should be noted he has been a frequent critic of this administration, especially when it comes to the Mideast, particularly Iraq in recent months. Also right now it appears he is just one senator saying this, but it certainly could provide ammunition to the administration's critics around the world. What he is saying is that he does believe there should be U.N. Security Council resolution to provide political security and economic framework for some kind of settlement but specifically he says a cease-fire should come before that. That is not what the administration wants and interestingly no Democrat we have found has really said what Chuck Hagel has said on the Senate floor with regard to challenging the administration on this specific point.

Broadly, certainly, they are challenging the administration's general approach towards the Middle East but not on this issue of the cease-fire, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Dana, thanks very much. Dana Bash on the hill.

President Bush is framing the Middle East conflict as part of a larger struggle between the forces of freedom and the forces of terror, but is it that clear-cut? Let's bring in our senior political analyst Bill Schneider. Bill?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, for President Bush, Iraq and Lebanon are part of the same crisis which he views as a crisis of democracy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: People fear democracy if your vision is based upon a totalitarian view of the world. And that's the ultimate challenge facing Iraq and Lebanon and the Palestinian Territories.

SCHNEIDER: In President Bush's view, Islamic radicals are fighting because they are threatened by his plan for a new Middle East, a democratic Middle East. But Hamas came to power democratically in the Palestinian Territories. Shiite parties with armed militias gained a share of power through elections in Iraq. So did Hezbollah in Lebanon. One expert writes, "The model of Islamist organizations that combine electoral politics with paramilitary tactics is fast becoming the calling card of the new wave of Arab democratization."

Voters in many Middle Eastern democracies face a difficult problem.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: People have two real choices, and only two real choices. The ruling elites and the Islamists. There's nothing in between.

SCHNEIDER: In his radio address on Saturday, President Bush called the current conflict painful and tragic. But he also called it, quote, "a moment of opportunity for broader changes in the region."

It's all part of the democracy agenda, Israel weakens Hezbollah and hams militarily. Lebanese and Palestinian voters punish them for provoking this war, Iran ends up even more isolated. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah understands that agenda. HASSAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH LEADER (through translator): What is requested now is to eliminate those obstacles and remove them from the way of the American plan, historical plan, that is planned for this region.

SCHNEIDER: The risk is that the reverse could happen. Lebanese and Palestinian voters could see Hezbollah and Hamas as heroes for standing up to the Israelis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And governments like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia that are friendly to the U.S. may face a wave of popular discontent, leading them to crack down on dissidents. Undemocratically. Wolf?

BLITZER: Bill Schneider, thank you. Bill Schneider reporting.

Still ahead, the Israel raid on Qana has sparked outrage worldwide. The Israeli military says it deeply regrets the attack. Find out how the IDF is now going on-line to explain why Qana happened.

And if you are feeling the heat today, sweltering temperatures are baking much of the country. What you need to know to stay cool. That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Much more coming up on the crisis in the Middle East, but first though let's check in with Zain Verjee for a closer look at some other important stories making news. Hi, Zain.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Wolf. Welcome back.

Parts of the country could see and feel record highs today. And people are doing whatever they can just to stay cool as you can see. A heat wave is rolling across the Midwest and Plains States. Officials say it's crucial to drink lots of fluids and keep from getting overexerted. The heat index could go as high as 110 degrees in Minnesota. But cooler weather should arrive a little bit later this week.

The morning-after pill could end up being sold without a prescription after all. In a surprise move, the FDA says it's going to consider allowing over the counter sales of the emergency contraceptive plan B to women 18 years and older. It had delayed such sales, citing the concern that teens would get medicine. President Bush's nominee to head the FDA appears before a Senate Committee tomorrow where he could face questions about the delay.

NATO forces have now taken control of security in southern Afghanistan from the United States. The transfer of command ceremony was held at a military base just outside of Kandahar today. This is one of the biggest ground operations in the western alliance's history. Violence, though, still flaring. At least eight people were killed when a bomb exploded today in Jalalabad. Wolf? BLITZER: Thank you, Zain.

Coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, our Internet reporters will look at the Qana tragedy from another angle. They are going to show us how citizen journalists are documenting reaction to the deadly air strike of southern Lebanon. Plus a live report from Tyre, that's in southern Lebanon, on the latest attacks.

And the fallout of the killing of civilians in Qana. We'll get reaction from the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations as well. Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back to the SITUATION ROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We are following all the new developments in the Middle East crisis. The Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saying there will be no cease-fire until Hezbollah is driven away from Israel's northern border and he says quite a few days of fighting, quote, "are still before us."

Meanwhile, Senator Chuck Hagel is now urging President Bush to call for an immediate cease-fire in the Middle East, saying -- and let me quote -- "The madness must stop."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, a comprehensive settlement can be reached this week. She is on her way back to Washington from the region right now, scheduled to arrive in a few hours back in Washington.

Lebanon now reports 438 people killed in 20 days of warfare. Israel puts its death toll at 51. Hezbollah doesn't give casualty figures.

CNN correspondents are continuing to bring all of us up-to-the- minute coverage across the Middle East.

We're going to check in with CNN's Aneesh Raman in Damascus in a moment.

First, though, let's go to CNN's Ben Wedeman. He's on the scene for us in Tyre, in southern Lebanon -- Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF: Yes, Wolf.

We went up to Qana today, the day after that Israeli airstrike that killed dozens of civilians. What I found was a town reeling from this tragedy. I found what is essentially becoming a ghost town.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Nezi Hashahub (ph) is packing up, moving out, while her cousin, Hazewa (ph), weeps for the two sisters and brother she lost in Sunday's attack.

She's leaving for nearby Tyre with what she can carry, as an Israeli drone buzzes overhead. Her kitchen looks out over the ruins of the house where her relatives took shelter and died.

But she hasn't lost faith in Hezbollah.

"We're all with Hezbollah," she says. "I don't deny it."

But everyone we spoke to denies Hezbollah fired rockets from here.

"Is this a military base?" asks Jamal Shahoub (ph).

"Go ahead," his uncle, Saneen (ph), tells me. "Search the entire neighborhood. If you find a single bullet, then I will tell you, Israel was right."

Qana is -- or was -- a typical Southern Lebanese village, composed of farmers, shopkeepers, bureaucrats, old people who have made their fortune abroad, and returned home to retire. But normal life in Qana has come to a screeching halt -- the village largely abandoned, pets left behind, this dog forgotten, locked up in a garage.

(on camera): This is a home of one of the Shahoub (ph) families. The Shahoubs (ph) are a large extended family here in Qana. Several of them died in Sunday's bombing. Now, they clearly left this house in a hurry. The freezer, the fridge are full of rotting food.

(voice-over): Tobacco farmer Razi Abibi (ph) is staying -- his only company, a pair of kittens. He says he will be sleeping in the village's only purpose-built bomb shelter, dating back to the 1980s. He will stay there until peace returns to Qana.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: And, Wolf -- Wolf, news from Israel that the government there has no intention of engaging or entering or initiating a cease- fire. Obviously, it's going to spur more people to leave southern Lebanon -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman on the scene for us -- Ben, thank you.

The deadly airstrike in Qana has whipped up a fury against Israel in the Arab world. Thousands of people have taken to the streets in protests in several cities, denouncing Israel and the United States.

CNN's Aneesh Raman is joining us now with more from Damascus, Syria.

Aneesh, what has been the reaction there?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, anger within the Muslim world, and, as you mentioned, denouncing the U.S., denouncing the Israel, and, as well, growing support for Hezbollah.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN (voice-over): In Iran, they wore mock suicide vests, chanted " Death to Israel, "and Down with America," and, in the thousands, mostly women, demonstrated against the attack in Qana, Lebanon.

Iranian children, too, joined the protest.

"We have come here," says Hassan (ph), to tell the Lebanese kids they are not alone.

In Iraq as well, in the Shia area of Baghdad's Sadr City, several hundred protesters took to the streets in response to the attack, praising Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Here, they warn that war could spread to the entire region.

"First in Iraq," says this man, "now in Lebanon, then Syria, then Iran. Then the whole region will be under conflict."

And, here in Syria, Lebanon's neighbor to the north, protesters carry black coffins and pictures of children injured and killed in the attack on Qana. One top official here says it's Washington that is out of step, not Damascus.

BUTHAYNA SHA'BAN, SYRIAN MINISTER OF EXPATRIATE AFFAIRS: Well, yesterday, the foreign minister of Egypt was here. Nine foreign ministers called our foreign minister and talked to him. So, we don't feel lonely at -- at all. Syria is not isolated. I think it's only in the minds of the U.S. administration that Syria isolated. I think, at this crisis, the U.S. is isolated in the Middle East, and the U.S. has shown itself not to have any vision or any credibility in the Middle East.

RAMAN: Syria says, the U.S. must directly engage both Damascus and Iran, if a permanent solution to the crisis is to be achieved. And, they say, Hezbollah must agree to any international peacekeeping force planned for southern Lebanon.

SHA'BAN: Of course troops we will say international troops are occupying force, because they are not consulting with the resistance.

RAMAN: The resistance is how many here label Hezbollah, seen by Israel and the U.S. as a terrorist group. And on the sheets of Arab capitals, it's more and more difficult to find people who think there is any chance of compromise with Israel or neutrality on the part of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAMAN: Well, Wolf, with no deal set to take place that would include both the U.S. and Syria, Syria then says there is no deal in place yet that will bring lasting peace to the region -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Aneesh Raman, reporting for us from Damascus, thank you.

U.N. aid officials are urging Israel to begin its promised 48- hour pause in its bombing campaign. They want it to begin immediately. They are very concerned they still don't have the full safe passage they need to deliver humanitarian relief.

Zain Verjee is here. She is looking into what's going on, on this vitally needed effort.

Zain, what are you picking up?

VERJEE: Wolf, two U.N. aid convoys left today. They left from Beirut. And one headed toward Tyre in -- the southern port city in Lebanon.

The other headed Qana via Tyre. They are going to stay there overnight and then go to Qana tomorrow. It has been very slow and arduous, though, for the U.N. convoys. It usually takes about 80 minutes just to get from Beirut to Tyre. And it's taking them about seven to nine hours.

Now, why is that? Well, because all the people in the south are heading up north toward Beirut. They are getting in their cars. If they can afford a $400 taxi ride, they are taking that. And if they are too poor to afford either of those, they are just walking -- walking toward Beirut.

And, so, it's creating a lot of human traffic that's going up, while the aid convoys are trying to come down. They are also trying to take some of the side roads that deviate from the main routes, because a lot of the roads have been bombed and ruined.

There are four other aid convoys, though, planned for tomorrow. They're going to all leave from Beirut. The first is going to head toward the Syrian border to a place called Arida. It's a town on the Syrian-Lebanese border. And what they are going to do is, they're going to load up trucks with supplies.

And that's going to actually be quite a significant thing. If they are able to be do that on a daily basis, they can in about 140 tons of humanitarian aid.

Now, the other three convoys are going to head from Beirut to three towns in the south, to Naqoura, Rmeich, and a town we have heard a lot about, a Hezbollah stronghold where there has been a lot of fighting, Bint Jbeil.

The U.N. officials that I talked to today, though, said that, you know, what -- the really difficult thing about this is, we just don't know how many people actually need the aid. But they are estimating between 500,000 and 800,000 people.

BLITZER: And, presumably, all of this has been coordinated with the Israelis.

VERJEE: Yes, it has, actually. One U.N. official that I spoke to today said that, basically, what they have to do is, they have to give a 28- to 48-hour advance warning that: This is what we want. This is the route we want to take. This is the driver's name. This is the time, you know, that we want to start. This is when we anticipate we will arrive. Here's all the cargo. And it goes on a case-by-case basis. And it's either a yes or a no.

BLITZER: Still very, very dangerous. It could be a -- potentially, there could be disasters there as well. Let's hope it doesn't happen.

Zain, thank you very much.

Coming up: The battle in Iraq left Senator Joe Lieberman fighting for his political life against a fellow Democrat. Could the warfare between Israel and Hezbollah make a real difference? We will have the latest on his primary campaign struggle.

And the U.S. role in trying to broker a lasting truce -- should President Bush be calling for an immediate cease-fire? Insights from the former Defense Secretary William Cohen -- he's standing by live.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Ominous words today from Egypt's president. He is warning that the entire Middle East peace process could end up in shreds if the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah does not stop, and does not stop right away.

But Israel insists that it's not safe until it has driven Hezbollah off its northern border. And what is the U.S. role in all of this?

Joining us now, the former Defense Secretary and our world affairs analyst William Cohen. He's with the Cohen Group here in Washington.

Your friend, Chuck Hagel, a respected Republican senator from Nebraska, said this earlier today, just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: The sickening slaughter on both sides, Mr. President, must end, and it must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate cease-fire. This madness must stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right. Give us a little perspective, his decision to go ahead and say, this madness must stop.

WILLIAM COHEN, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, first, we have to look at Chuck Hagel (AUDIO GAP) himself. He is a veteran of the Vietnam War, a war hero.

He has known the horror of being in warfare. So, he speaks with credibility when he talks about, this madness must stop. Secondly, he no doubt is aware that (AUDIO GAP) Shakespeare said every picture is worth 1,000 words. In this particular case, every picture of a dead child is worth 1,000 or 10,000 new recruits for Hezbollah. And, so, there's an element here...

BLITZER: Hold on one second. We are having a little trouble with your microphone.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

COHEN: There's an element in which the Hezbollah, playing this game, "Heads, I win; tails, you lose," because, every time they fire a Katyusha rocket at the Israelis, and the Israelis respond by bombing a civilian target, as such, or a target that will injure civilians, Israel loses, certainly, the battle of public opinion, which becomes critical in terms of the United States trying to broker a peace.

So, I think that Chuck Hagel, speaking out, as he has, he may be a lonely voice now. But I think he probably represents a -- a much larger opinion in this country.

BLITZER: The Israelis fear that, if they accept an immediate cease-fire, which, politically, might be attractive, in terms of international public opinion, that would merely give Hezbollah a chance to rearm, to regroup, and strengthen their position for future attacks.

And the only time they say they will be ready for a cease-fire, if they know there's a force there, a Lebanese force, an army, or an international stabilization force that can prevent Hezbollah from rearming.

COHEN: One of the great ironies is that Iran is now in Beirut, acting as a peace broker, apparently.

Here's the country that is responsible for arming and supplying the munitions and the moral support for Hezbollah, now in Beirut, obviously talking about ways they can bring about a peaceful settlement, along with the French.

And, so, the United States, by virtue of not being able to broker a peace agreement at this particular point, or even be willing to talk about a cease-fire, will put the United States, I think, at a disadvantage, when it goes to the U.N. later this week, hopefully to bring about some sort of sanctions.

I would argue, again, the -- go to the root cause. The root cause is Syria and Iran supporting the Hezbollah. And the root cause is, again, Israel, in terms of its continued expansion of settlement on the West Bank. Those have to be part of this overall agreement that Condoleezza Rice, Secretary Rice, is talking about.

BLITZER: You were defense secretary when you put together an international force to stabilize the situation in the Balkans. That took some time.

How much time are we talking about now to get a force of 15,000 or 20,000 mostly European troops into south Lebanon?

COHEN: Given what's at stake at this particular time, it would seem to me, the French, who have pledged as many as 5,000 troops, the Norwegians, who have also indicated they would be prepared to put troops in, the Italians and others, I would think that a force could be assembled fairly quickly.

But it has to be based upon the fact that the Hezbollah and the Iranian supporters of Hezbollah also agree to a cease-fire that's -- that's real. Do not put a so-called peacekeeping force in that region, unless there is a true cease-fire, because they will become targets. And, again, you will see the spread of conflict.

BLITZER: A lot of people remember the American Marines who were killed, but there were French troops who were killed in 1983 in Lebanon...

COHEN: Exactly.

BLITZER: ... as well. There's a history there.

Secretary Cohen, thanks very much for coming in.

COHEN: Pleasure to be here.

BLITZER: In response to that tragic bombing in Qana that killed dozens of civilians, the Israeli military is trying to explain its actions online.

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

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: That's right, Wolf.

The IDF web site has the official response to the events in Qana. They say that they targeted the town because that's where the rockets were coming from. Part of the evidence that they present online is this video. They say that these are rockets actually coming from Qana. You can see that they point that out there.

This video is actually also making the rounds online. Going back to the IDF Web site, they have also presented this map. They say these are the towns within Israel that have been targeted by rockets, again, coming specifically from Qana. They also say, civilians should have already left, because they pamphleted the area with leaflets, telling people to get out of the area where they see the rockets are coming from.

Now, today, in a -- an article in "Haaretz," one big Israeli newspaper, it says that IDF says it may not be responsible for the Qana deaths. IDF says it is in fact investigating. But there is a seven-hour gap, they say, between one Israeli airstrike and when the building collapsed. They just say it is something that they're looking into. Obviously, this is very controversial. It's stirring up a lot of response online.

And coming up in just a little bit, Abbi Tatton is going to be back with the Lebanese blog reaction -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jacki, thank you.

Up next: Will the fighting in the Middle East be a factor in the midterm election? We are going to take a closer look at the political plight of Senator Joe Lieberman. Does his support for Israel cancel out his support for the Iraq war?

And the importance of Israel in U.S. politics has long been a given at the White House. Our senior analyst, Jeff Greenfield, takes a closer look at the reasons why.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: With Connecticut's primary just days away, will the war in the Middle East make a difference in the dead-heat race between Senator Joe Lieberman and his opponent, Ned Lamont? Some Jewish voters in Connecticut say that, while they oppose Lieberman's stance on the war in Iraq, they do want a strong supporter of Israel in the U.S. Senate.

Let's bring in CNN's Mary Snow. She is watching this race for us -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's a dilemma over two wars in a race where every vote counts for the three-term Democratic senator and the political newcomer challenging him.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Hey, guys. And look who is here.

SNOW (voice-over): On a hot summer afternoon, Senator Joseph Lieberman courts Connecticut voters, giving no signs he's feeling the heat in the political fight of his life.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. How are you?

(CROSSTALK)

LIEBERMAN: How are you?

SNOW: Even with a friendly audience, he faces anger from lifelong Democrats like Marilyn Marks over his support of the Iraq war.

MARILYN MARKS, CONNECTICUT DEMOCRAT: The war thing really threw me over the fence.

SNOW: Now enter the Israel factor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And make sure you have your support for Israel there.

LIEBERMAN: You bet I do. I don't have to worry about that.

(LAUGHTER)

SNOW: Therein lies Marilyn Marks' dilemma, opposing the Iraq war, but wanting a strong Israel supporter. In Lieberman, Marks sees an ally to Israel, and she decides to back him. She believes it will make a difference among the estimated 7 percent of likely Democratic primary voters who are Jewish.

MARKS: Several people that I have talked to, they have said that they are voting for Joe Lieberman because he is a Jew.

JENNIFER DUFFY, MANAGING EDITOR, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": It probably will increase turnout for people who were not feeling very strongly about voting in the primary. That probably is true. With a primary this close, every vote makes a difference.

SNOW: I asked challenger Ned Lamont if he thinks the Mideast crisis will have an effect on the race.

NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: I think it will. People will have to make up their minds, whether the invasion of Iraq has done much for Israel's security or not.

SNOW: It's Ned Lamont's challenge over Iraq that many say pulled him from obscurity into a dead-heat race with Lieberman, leading to an endorsement from "The New York Times." Lamont has harped on Lieberman's support of the Bush administration, with supporters making a kiss from the president a campaign fixture.

Lieberman's camp countered with the hug, wasting no time touting an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton.

LIEBERMAN: I think we are going to look back and say that President Clinton's visit to Connecticut in this campaign was a turning point for me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SNOW: But Lamont supporters predict, President Clinton's endorsement will have little effect, saying it's too late to change minds for the August 8 primary -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow, thank you -- Mary Snow, part of the best political team on television -- CNN, America's campaign headquarters.

Much more ahead on the Middle East crisis -- among my guests in a few minutes, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, Dan Gillerman. Also, the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is standing by to join us live.

Is the deadly Israeli airstrike in Qana the turning point in this crisis? We are going to tell you what Jack Cafferty has been hearing. And Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney could be facing the political fight of her life -- what she's doing tonight to try to save her seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: More on the crisis in the Middle East coming up in just a moment or so, including a live interview with Israel's ambassador to the U.N. and a separate interview with the former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.

But, first, there are some political stories we're following in our "Political Radar" this Monday.

We are exactly 100 days away from the midterm elections. And Republicans and Democrats are using various backdrops today to speak out on major policy issues. Some possible Democratic presidential contenders may be looking beyond this November to 2008 -- some examples, Senator Clinton talking about the concerns of rural Americans, while fellow Democratic Senator Kerry unveiling his health care plan.

A possible Republican presidential hopeful is apologizing for using racially charged words. Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts referred to the troubled Big Dig construction project in his home state as a tar baby, said it's -- said it at a fund-raiser with Iowa Republicans on Saturday. Romney now says he didn't know anyone would be offended by the term, which some consider to be a racial epithet.

This is a potentially critical night for Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. The controversial Georgia Democrat is set to debate her primary runoff challenger, Hank Johnson. McKinney failed to win the primary outright. It was the first time she faced voters after a scuffle with a Capitol Hill police officers -- the runoff, August 8.

Jack Cafferty will be watching that race. He's watching all the races. But he's watching a lot. He's with us in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: You want -- you want to bet on that McKinney runoff, Wolf?

BLITZER: No, but I trust your assessment.

(LAUGHTER)

CAFFERTY: I don't have an assessment.

It's comforting to -- to look at guys like Romney and the tar baby remark and -- and know that we have such a -- a high-quality stable of candidates waiting to take over the nation's highest office. What the hell is he thinking? Tar baby? I mean, come on.

The question is about the war in the Middle East. How does Israel's attack on Qana, Lebanon, change the equation of that war? We got a lot of mail.

Paul in San Antonio, Texas: "Qana doesn't change the reality of the war at all. That is what Israel does. Those children would just grow up to be Hezbollah anyway, right? Kids, U.N. observers, doesn't matter to them."

Jonathan in New York: "Hezbollah and its supporters will do everything they can to gain maximum benefit from this tragedy. The truth, however, is that it is Hezbollah, and not Israel, who is responsible for those civilian deaths. The Geneva Convention specifically prohibits soldiers from hiding among the civilian population."

Allan in Cameron Park, California: "Maybe now people will realize who the real terrorists are. Israel has the most efficient intelligence organization in the world. They have the most accurate bombs and rockets, thanks to the United States, and they still bomb the wrong buildings? There's no excuse for the collateral damage they're inflicting."

Mike in Washington: "Everyone who does not have their head in the sand knew that a Qana was coming. Chuck Hagel is right. It's time to cease-=fire now. By the way, Jack, there's no clause in the subject Constitution that says, 'Protect Israel."

And Walter in Arlington, Texas: "Well, no one is talking about the Katyusha rockets packed with ball bearings that Hezbollah terrorists have been firing indiscriminately into Israel, with every intention of killing civilians. No one is talking about the fact that the stated aim of Hezbollah and its Iranian patron is the annihilation of Israel and its people. The reason for this violence, Israel's desire not to be subjected to rocket attacks by a terrorist group operating with impunity inside a failed nation state, has been forgotten" -- Wolf, back to you.

Jack, thank you very much.

I want to show our viewers Air Force One. There it is, a live picture at Andrews Air Force Base, the president of the United States inside, just coming back from his trip to Florida. He's going to be heading over to the White House from Andrews Air Force Base. And, later, in a few hours, he will be meeting at the White House with the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, who herself is flying back from the Middle East right now.

She's expected to touch down at Andrews Air Force Base, herself, fairly soon.

We're watching all of these developments. We will bring you any new information as soon as we get it.

Again, we're seeing some strong angry reactions in the Arab world to that Israeli bombing in Qana.

Standing by with what we're seeing online, let's bring in our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton -- Abbi.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, outrage online from Lebanese bloggers -- this video here of the protest in Beirut yesterday from Blogging Beirut, an accompanying description on another site, Beirut Live, from somebody who was actually at the protest, saying he has never seen so many everyday Lebanese people so angry, saying, surely, this can only sway moderates towards Hezbollah.

Looking around these online sites in Lebanon that we have been following for a couple weeks now, you're seeing a lot of people calling this Qana 2, or Qana again, that in reference to an incident 10 years ago, when Israeli shelling struck a U.N. base, killing over 100 people.

Over this incident this past weekend, the outrage is clear, this from the Lebanese blog forum here, rounding up world reaction in newspapers with a question: Did the world get it at last? And Wolf, we're going to be looking at those world newspapers in some greater depth in the next hour -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Abbi, thank you.

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