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THE SITUATION ROOM
Israel Launches Larger Ground Offensive in Southern Lebanon; Israeli Air Campaign Resumes Targetting of Beirut; Israeli Forces Raid Possible Hezbollah Base in Northern Lebanese Hospital;
Aired August 2, 2006 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Lou. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now, it is 2:00 a.m. in the Middle East war zone where the fighting takes an ominous new turn, Hezbollah launching more rockets than ever before and one traveling farther than ever before. And we have some new exclusive pictures of Israel's air war in southern Lebanon. It's also now quickly becoming a major ground war. As the Israeli military releases the new pictures of its deepest strike yet, we will take you inside that commando raid on what Israel says was a Hezbollah stronghold in northeastern Lebanon.
And it's 3:00 a.m. in Baghdad where Iraq's president says Iraqi troops can take over the security mission by year's end. Is there an end in sight for American forces? I'll ask Senator John McCain about both wars and about his 18-year-old son enlisting in the United States Marine Corps.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
After three weeks of punishing air strikes, Hezbollah today still managed to fire a record number of rockets into Israel, more than 200 of them, according to the Israeli military. One reached as far south as the West Bank. And that comes as Israel moves from an air war toward a grinded-out ground war with thousands of troops slowly pushing farther and farther into Lebanon. That's happening right now. We have exclusive pictures from southern Lebanon.
The casualty count is climbing steadily. In Tyre today, Lebanese dug a mass grave to bury the dead. Lebanese authorities say 603 people have been killed in Lebanon, more than 2,100 wounded. Israel's military says 55 Israelis have been killed and 580 have been wounded.
As the fighting continues without letup, our reporters are near the front lines with all the latest developments. CNN's Michael Ware is standing by in Beirut. Let's go to northern Israel first for a complete wrap-up of today's dramatic developments. John Roberts on the border -- John.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NAT'L CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Wolf. There had been a huge debate raging in Israel between the military, which wanted a major ground campaign to push Hezbollah all the way back to the Litani River and Israeli politicians who wanted something that was much more scaled back. From what we saw on the border today, it appears the military won that debate.
ROBERTS (voice-over): It was another intense day in the Lebanese town of Aita Al-Shaab, just a couple of miles from where two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped back on July 12.
ROBERTS: Israeli guns pounded Hezbollah bunkers on the western side of the town, sending columns of thick smoke pouring across the hillsides.
ROBERTS: The sounds of a fierce gun battle rolled up from the valley while Hezbollah took aim at Israeli positions on the high ground.
(on camera): This is probably one of the most dangerous places on the Israeli side of the border right now. We're at an outpost, a tank bunker overlooking the town of Aita Al-Shaab. You can hear in the background -- there is still artillery hits. We hear the artillery flying very close overhead. This was a scene of a very fierce battle yesterday between Israeli military and Hezbollah guerillas. The Israeli army lost three soldiers, more than 20 wounded. And it's clear today from what we're hearing today that the vicious fighting is still going on.
ROBERTS (voice-over): In other areas, the Israeli army is holding ground in preparation for an international stabilization force. An Israeli army video obtained exclusively by CNN, an armored personnel carrier fires fuel bombs to clear a Hezbollah outpost of possible booby traps. A bulldozer knocks over another Hezbollah watchtower while ground troops clear the remaining buildings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
ROBERTS: Israeli soldiers show off a missile launcher next to a mosque. Evidence they say that Hezbollah is using religious sites as cover. Another video obtained exclusively by CNN shows the bodies of what the Israeli military says are Hezbollah fighters. Israel claims it has killed more than 300 Hezbollah guerrillas in this three-week campaign.
Hezbollah denies that figure but hasn't said how many fighters it has lost. Israel says 36 of its soldiers have died. As diplomatic pressure mounts to bring an end to the hostilities, the question, how long will the combat last? Major General Benny Gantz (ph) was the last Israeli soldier to leave Lebanon in the year 2000.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It can take a while. It can be done in a few days. It can be done in a few weeks. As everybody knows (INAUDIBLE) anywhere, so as long as we're here we are willing to fight (INAUDIBLE).
ROBERTS: After a two-day lull, Hezbollah today proved it still has plenty of rockets and the capability to fire them. More than 230 Katyushas landed in northern Israel, a new record by a wide margin. And Hezbollah struck deeper than it ever has before with one long- range rocket that made it all the way to the West Bank, more fuel for critics here in Israel who complain that military waited far too long to go into Lebanon with a major invasion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those criticisms need to be talked -- will need to be talked later on. I think that for the moment, we have a war to win. We are doing it. And we'll discuss all those issues you know, as we are saying -- there is an expression, six after the war -- 6:00 after the war. We'll have tea and then discuss those criticisms.
ROBERTS: With the ground war now expanding dramatically, many more Israeli forces will join the fight. There is a nonstop flow of tanks, troops and armored personnel carriers toward the battlefield and an ever-intensifying effort day and night to drive Hezbollah back from the border.
ROBERTS: It appears that the strategy right now, Wolf, is for ground forces to move up from the southern part of the border between Israel and Lebanon, while at the same time up in the area we are in the Galilee Peninsula for ground troops to start moving west. They would meet up somewhere around the town of Zirit (ph), which is about 15 miles from the Mediterranean Sea, creating a large cordon (ph) to keep Hezbollah bottled up until that stabilization force can come in -- Wolf.
BLITZER: John, you're talking to Israeli commanders, to Israeli soldiers all the time, give us a sense, a flavor of their mood right now. Are they confident? Are they concerned? How are they dealing with this now three-week old war?
ROBERTS: You know, they do exude a lot of confidence. Morale continues to be high with the troops that we've seen going into battle for the fist time, but there's no questions that the Israeli commanders believe that they have got a tough enemy and a tough enemy to fight and they are all concerned that if they do not significantly degrade Hezbollah, it will turn it back 20 years, if you will, if Nasrallah can come out of that bunker, just show his face and proclaim victory, then the Israeli military may suffer a humiliating defeat. They're very cognizance of that, Wolf. They want to do everything in their power to make sure that doesn't happen because that could embolden other extremist groups in the region.
BLITZER: John Roberts on the border for us. Once again, John, thanks very much. An excellent report as usual. Let's go to Beirut right now. Michael Ware is our reporter on the scene there. Michael, we're getting new information. I know you have been working this story all day on that Israeli commando strike into the northeastern part of Lebanon and Baalbeck, what would be described as a hospital. The Israelis saying it was really a Hezbollah headquarters, if you will. Give our viewers a sense of what we know.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, driving out to this Hezbollah stronghold, there was a host of things to be learned. I mean the first thing was the complete absence of Hezbollah fighters on the street.
WARE: Wolf, I'm not sure if you can hear that, but that sounded like an Israeli air strike here in Beirut, certainly a large explosion.
BLITZER: Well hole on one second...
BLITZER: Michael, I just want to make sure that you're OK and that you're not in any danger. We of course could hear that. Whatever it was, it was an explosion, a powerful explosion. We saw you clearly flinch. If you sense that you're in any danger, let us know and we will continue this conversation down the road.
WARE: absolutely, Wolf. I think for the time being that our position here is fine. But in Baalbeck, the other thing to notice was that it clearly is the Hezbollah heartland. There's no question about the support of the people in the Bekaa Valley. It was displayed overtly in all manner of ways.
The other significant thing was it was instructive to see the relationship between this support base and the Lebanese army. There's a Lebanese army presence there very, very clearly, but it's so obvious that these Lebanese army units are the de-conflict with the presence of Hezbollah, if not actually coordinate.
The other thing is this town, this stronghold, this command and control center or logistics base is nestled right against the Syrian border. And seeing the terrain for yourself, you come to appreciate how difficult, if not impossible, it will be to close these smuggling routes that are bringing in the material and weapons that Hezbollah so desperately needs. But what we found at the scene of the raid is it clearly is a hospital, however, it does not have inpatients. It's an E.R. clinic.
So that explains the absence of patients. We were not allowed in the hospital itself. We were only allowed on its outskirts or outer perimeter. There was clear signs of the battle that had raged. Locals claim 16 civilians were killed. The Israeli Defense Force say that they can account for 10 deaths, all of them Hezbollah fighters. So the accounts still differ -- Wolf. BLITZER: Michael, let's get back to that loud noise we heard when you first got up on the screen tonight. It sounds like an explosion. Could be Israeli air strikes. Is it an area based on what you can see in south Beirut? Because that, as you know, has been a familiar target in recent weeks, although it hasn't been necessarily a target by the Israeli Air Force in the recent days, a stronghold, if you will, of Hezbollah.
WARE: Yes, as you rightly point out, Wolf, southern Beirut is one of linchpins of the Hezbollah infrastructure within this country. And certainly that explosion, be it from Israeli air strikes or be it from some other means, does appear to have come from that direction. So first glance, first take, one would assume that this was an Israeli air strike, but that's subject to confirmation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Twenty-four hours after the Israelis resumed their air strikes full speed ahead. Michael Ware, be careful over there, reporting for us from Beirut.
Meanwhile, the Bush White House suggesting today that a Middle East cease-fire could be reached in a matter of days despite this clearly intensifying attack situation in the air and on the ground. But tonight there are some serious question about the timeframe and about the president's strong support of Israel. Here's our White House correspondent, Ed Henry -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are also questions tonight about why this President Bush's approach to Mideast diplomacy is so different than his father's.
HENRY (voice-over): President Bush made a surprise visit to the ratty, old White House briefing room before it gets nine months of massive renovations.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is like the end of an old era and let me just say we felt your pain.
HENRY: Plenty of laughs, but the president took no questions.
HENRY: Leaving Press Secretary Tony Snow to face a barrage of queries about why the U.S. has not stepped in to end the Mideast crisis.
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: As I've said many times, we would love a cease-fire yesterday. We want an end to violence. We think that what has happened is a tragedy not merely for the people of Lebanon, but the people of Israel.
HENRY: But Snow acknowledged three weeks into the war the president has still not called Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, leading critics to charge the U.S. has given Olmert tacit approval to obliterate Hezbollah regardless of the toll it's taking on innocent victims in Lebanon and Israel.
SNOW: We don't have a green light. I mean it's -- the idea that the United States government is saying go, go, go I think is a disservice both to the Israeli government, which operates independently, and to this government.
HENRY: After a White House meeting Wednesday, Israeli Vice Premier Shimon Peres did show independence by saying the campaign will continue for weeks, not days, the opposite of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's prediction. But Peres also highlighted Israel's close ties to the administration when asked if the White House is privately urging him to stop the bombing.
SHIMON PERES, ISRAELI VICE PREMIER: I don't feel any pressure. (INAUDIBLE) a real sincere dialogue and we appreciate very much the words of the president who says Israel has the right to defend ourself.
HENRY: Some Republicans are raising questions about whether the relationship is too cozy.
SEN. CHUCK HAGEL (R), NEBRASKA: The United States and Israel must understand that it is not in their long-term interests to allow themselves to become isolated in the Middle East and the world.
HENRY: This stands in stark contrast to the president's father who appeared to be more neutral in Arab/Israeli conflicts.
AARON DAVID MILLER, FORMER MIDDLE EAST NEGOTIATOR: The priorities that he has set in the Middle East, Iraq, Iran and preventing another attack on the continental United States by a terrorist group in the wake of 9/11 automatically by definition pushes the United States into a posture where it's going to be extremely supportive of Israel.
HENRY: Officials here deny that the White House's staunch support of Israel is hampering the diplomatic effort to bring peace to the Mideast and they say they're still hopeful that they can get a U.N. resolution passed to halt the violence as early as this week -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Ed Henry thanks very much. Let's go up to New York right now. Jack Cafferty is in New York. Jack, when we see our reporters on the front lines like Michael Ware and an explosion went off right as he was starting his report and John Roberts clearly in harm's way, I think all of us and all of our viewers have to tip our hats and say thanks, job well done because these guys are really courageous.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's not just that, but it's the facilities that we bring to bear on a story of this magnitude in a location like this one is. I said it the other day. This kind of story, there isn't a news network on the planet that can compete with CNN because of the resources we have available and that includes those people that are on the front lines over there.
The subject of a cease-fire in the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she's seeking a solution in days, not weeks. The deputy prime minister, Shimon Peres, says the military campaign is a matter of weeks not months and in the meantime the fighting goes on hot and heavy, Israeli media reporting 6,000 Israeli soldiers now involved in the campaign in southern Lebanon.
The history of the Middle East, of course, littered with cease- fire agreements that at the end of the day were worth less than the paper they were written on. And at some point there'll be a cease- fire in this conflict as well, but you have to wonder when it comes, is it going to be worth any more than any of its predecessors.
The question is this. How will the current conflict change the equation in the Middle East? E-mail your thoughts on that to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you very much. And we're monitoring that story, that development you saw live here on CNN, a huge explosion rocking Beirut only moments ago. We're checking in to see what's going on. Is it an Israeli air strike against Hezbollah targets in the southern part of the Lebanese capital? We will go back there and update you as soon as we get more information.
Also coming up, we'll take you on an exclusive tour of an Israeli warship leading the blockade of Lebanon. We'll take you on board for a behind the scenes look.
And Iraqis taking over the security of their own country, can they make it happen by Christmas? We're doing a reality check.
And Fidel Castro's sister is speaking out. She lives in Miami but has very strong feelings about the celebrations of his illness. She shares what insiders she says are really saying about his health.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: If you've been with us since the top of the show, you know we just heard a loud explosion in Beirut, presumably in the southern part of the Lebanese capital. We're going to go back there and update you as soon as we know what's going on. Is this a resumption of Israeli air strikes against Hezbollah targets in the Lebanese capital? We'll update you on that.
In the early days of this Middle East conflict, Hezbollah dealt Israel a stunning blow, hitting and badly damaging an Israeli warship with an Iranian made missile. Israel continues its blockade of Lebanon right now and as our John Vause got an exclusive piece of access to an Israeli warship off the Lebanese coast. Here's his report.
JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (INAUDIBLE) flagship of the Israeli Navy. This helicopter just returning back from a reconnaissance mission. It's been up in the sky for about an hour and a half and essentially now this ship, the command and control center for that sea blockade of Lebanon now controls all of the vessels which come and go from Lebanon.
VAUSE (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) west of Beirut, the INS (ph) (INAUDIBLE) flagship of the Israeli Navy, importing a sea blockade of Lebanon. These are international waters, but here Israel decides who comes and who goes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Motor vessels (INAUDIBLE) motor vessels that have the Israeli Navy warship go into Channel One, Six, over.
VAUSE: All ships like this Liberian freighter are intercepted.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Israeli Navy warship, good afternoon, sir. We would like to ask you a few questions, over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir, go ahead.
VAUSE: The Israelis want to know its destination, captain and cargo.
JUNIOR LIEUTENANT YONATAN, ISRAELI NAVY: If any merchant vessel will attempt to break it, then yes, we have the authority to stop her.
VAUSE: The freighter is cleared, allowed to resume course and that is how it's been out here for three weeks. No ships have been bordered. Warning shots only fired once.
VAUSE: A flotilla of missile and smaller patrol boats enforce this maritime checkpoint.
VAUSE: And from the air, surveillance helicopters send back real-time information including video to the command and control center, a darkened room on a lower deck in the (INAUDIBLE). Because of Israeli wartime censorship, it's not allowed to show the information on the computer screens but the Israeli Navy says this technology gives them a detailed picture up and down Lebanon's coast and far beyond.
(on camera): Israel says its naval blockade serves two purposes, to stop weapons, especially missiles from coming from Iran and Syria from reaching Hezbollah and also to prevent the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers from being smuggled out of Lebanon.
(voice-over): The (INAUDIBLE) is heavily armed with harpoon missiles, anti-aircraft defenses and torpedoes. (INAUDIBLE) ship slightly smaller than a frigate and sister ship of the (INAUDIBLE), which was hit by an uranium made Hezbollah missile in the first few days of this conflict, an attack which Israel's Navy says took them totally by surprise.
JUNIOR LIEUTENANT ZVIEL, ISRAELI NAVY: We weren't prepared then because we didn't know they had the missile. In the moment we knew, in the moment we heard that (INAUDIBLE) was hit by a missile, we turned all of our defense systems on and from that moment on, that ship is totally defense.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
VAUSE: Most commercial shipping now avoid these dangerous waters, especially after a Cambodian freighter was also hit and sunk by a Hezbollah missile, leaving Lebanon even further isolated and under siege.
(on camera): And Wolf, the Israeli Navy says for the most part the sea blockade has been observed by international shipping vessels which are now for the most part avoiding this area of the Mediterranean. Once in the last two and a half weeks warning shots were fired but they say for now most vessels are steering clear of waters around Lebanon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: John Vause filed that report for us off the coast of Lebanon. And if you have been watching THE SITUATION ROOM for the last several moments, you heard a large -- a loud explosion live here in Beirut. Just a few moments ago Michael Ware was doing a report. We're now being told the Reuters News Agency saying Israeli aircraft have resumed their bombing of Hezbollah targets in the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital only moments ago.
This being the first such Israeli air strike against a target in Beirut. Over these past several days there had been a lull in the fighting. We're going to go back to Michael Ware, our correspondent in Beirut, get a complete update right after this.
BLITZER: To our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now, there's breaking news, reports of an Israeli aircraft striking Beirut again. Also this hour, Hezbollah guerrillas firing back with a vengeance. They launched more than 200 rockets into northern Israel today. This is their most intense day of attacks yet.
One rocket lands farther than ever before in this conflict, actually inside the Palestinian-controlled West Bank. Israeli forces, meanwhile, are pushing deeper and deeper into southern Lebanon pounding Hezbollah targets. Is there any end in sight? I will ask Senator John McCain about U.S. diplomacy and whether President Bush should be pushing Israel toward a cease-fire.
And it's hotter than words can describe across the East Coast. It's cooling off a little bit tonight but not much. And temperatures are expected to reach the triple digits once again tomorrow.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
And the breaking news coming into CNN, Israeli aircraft have pounded a target in south Beirut. Once again that's seen by the Israelis as a hotbed of Hezbollah activity. There had been a lull in striking targets in the Lebanese capital but now it's the middle of the night in Beirut, a rude awakening for the residents who are still there, a huge explosion. You heard it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM right at the top of the program.
Our correspondent Michael Ware is on the scene. We're going to go to him momentarily, much more coming up on this. There's other developments in the crisis in the Middle East as well. In fact, there's some compelling new video out from the Israeli Defense Forces showing some of the operation in the Lebanese town of Baalbeck.
Let's bring in CNN's Zain Verjee. She's here to join us with more -- Zain.
ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, as we've reporting the IDF raided a hospital in Baalbeck that it says was a Hezbollah headquarters. The operation was recorded by the IDF and the video released at a news conference today.
VERJEE (voice-over): A bold Israeli raid deep inside Lebanon. The town of Baalbeck, some 70 miles north of the border, a Hezbollah stronghold according to the Israeli Defense Forces, with this hospital operating as the group's logistical base. An Israeli general provided play-by-play commentary as the IDF released video of the operation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): As the terrorists are firing here. This is the headquarters, the entrance to the hospital. You can see these vehicles coming to provide the troops with supplies.
VERJEE: Once inside the hospital, which both sides say it was empty of patients, Israeli commandoes and Special Forces conducted a thorough search probing file cabinets inside a hospital office.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): And here we are inside the headquarters. We found various ammunitions, weapons, within the office, within the hospital, inside drawers.
VERJEE: Israel says the mission was carried out under fire, but reports no IDF casualties. It says 10 Hezbollah militants were killed and five captured in a precision operation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): And we have the fighters leaving exactly on time, leaving the objective. You can see the planned departure now, leaving various targets, going to the helicopters, all exactly as planned.
VERJEE: Israel isn't identifying those five captured in the raid. Hezbollah says they were civilians and not militants -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Zain Verjee reporting, thanks very much.
We're now hearing additional explosions coming in from the Lebanese capital of Beirut. We heard a loud one live here on CNN maybe 20 minutes or so ago. Clearly, the Israeli Air Force resuming looking for targets in the Hezbollah-controlled area of south Beirut, as defined by the Israelis. More of these targets apparently being struck right now. Michael Ware on the scene for us. We're going to reestablish contact with him. We're going to go to Beirut momentarily.
In the meantime, let's go back to northern Israel. John Roberts is on the phone. John, as we get word that the Israelis now have resumed their targeting of sites in south Beirut, give us a little perspective. What are Israeli military commanders, what have they been saying about these airstrikes. It's been exactly now 24 hours, as you know, since the Israelis lifted their cessation of airstrikes on targets in Lebanon.
ROBERTS: Well, yesterday, Wolf, the Israeli justice minister said that the moment that the clock ran out on the 48-hour pause in the bombing campaign, and it was only a partial pause at best because Israeli Air Force jets continued to offer ground support or air support for the ground forces that were going in. So for there to be explosions in Beirut earlier this morning would seem to follow exactly what the Israeli officials have been talking about.
In terms of the ground offensive, we're seeing a ramp up in it. We understand from talking with commanders that the reserve forces have not yet been brought in. Since the call-up earlier this week -- earlier this week, late last week, it all becomes a blur after awhile -- that since the reserve call-up, they've been in training but they've not yet come to the frontlines.
There are a lot of reserve forces that were called up earlier that are involved in the fighting in the frontline, but those three division that were called up by the Israeli Security Cabinet have not yet entered the fight.
But it would appear that over the next 48 hours or so, a lot more of them are going to go to the front, because we traveled along the border today between Metulla, and over to Shiptulla (ph), which is a space of about 25, 30 miles, getting about two-thirds of the way to the Mediterranean Sea. And we see at every entry point to the border more and more troops, more and more armor, more and more tanks being brought to the front -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, John, stand by for a moment. I want to go to Beirut right now. Michael Ware is our correspondent, once again, on the scene. Let me reset the stage. Michael -- what -- 20 minutes, 25 minutes or so ago, you heard a loud explosion. Tell our viewers what you heard and what you've learned and seen since then.
WARE: Well, Wolf, since you and I last spoke on air, there has been two follow-up explosions of less intensity, either suggesting the second and third devices were not as large or perhaps that they were farther away.
But as you saw when we were on air, there was a detonation in southern Beirut. So I think it's safe to say that the Israeli air campaign targeting Hezbollah sites in southern Beirut has recommenced -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael, what time is it now? It what, 2:30 in the morning -- just after 2:30 in the morning in Beirut. A loud explosion like that is certainly going to wake up the entire city I assume.
WARE: Yes, very much so, Wolf. But, I mean, it doesn't mean that the lights are going on around the city as perhaps one might expect back home. I mean, you need to bear in mind, there is gasoline rationing here. There is electricity rationing here. People who may wish to switch on a light probably can't. And as loud as that was, it was still some distance away.
As we were speaking, I saw the flash in my peripheral vision. I was uncertainly as to precisely whether it was a detonation or not, but I started counting. And it was more than a few beats before we heard the bang, the explosion. So that indicates that it really is some distance away in southern Beirut -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Michael, because just a few moments ago, that second and third explosion that you're reporting on, we were rolling our camera as it occurred. I want to play this videotape for our viewers.
That's a pretty loud explosion, Michael Ware. Have you seen or heard any Israeli jet fighters flying overhead?
WARE: No, not at all. I mean, I've been on the roof for quite some time now this evening and there hasn't been a whisper, so to speak, from the skies. And it doesn't necessarily have to be. I mean, the state of modern warfare as it is, there's a lot of standoff with these weapons. So the jets really don't have to be within proximity to unload that kind of device.
But you can certainly feel it on the ground as I'm sure you saw. There very much was a palpable, very tangible, concussive wave that washed over us here at this position. I mean, I actually felt it flush over me. And you really get a sense of the explosion. Now, that's the concussive wave driving out. It goes much further, of course, than any shrapnel or any debris -- Wolf.
BLITZER: And we are showing our viewers live pictures of Beirut courtesy of new TV, satellite TV in Beirut. You can clearly see some lights in the Lebanese capital. Normally a bustling, beautiful city, clearly a city feeling itself under siege right now.
Do you get a sense during the day when you're out and about in Beirut, Michael, that most of the people are still there or most of them fled?
WARE: No, it does appear that the heart of the city has retreated to the mountains or to the north. I mean, in some way or another, most people here in Beirut do have family connections elsewhere, be it even distant connections.
That said, there are still great pockets of this resilient community, who have chosen to stay, some because they have nowhere to go, some because they don't feel that they can afford to be it for work opportunities or otherwise, and some because they refuse to let their life -- the life that they live here -- be crushed by this war.
In some ways, it's a mini act of defies, but by and large, the streets are much less than the streets of Beirut that I knew here last year. The activity is much down. What one normally encounters in this bustling, thriving, cosmopolitan -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Have you had a chance, since you've come to Beirut in recent weeks, to get into the southern part of the city into south Beirut where Hezbollah had a lot of their main offices, their headquarters? Because I take it it's not an easy thing to do and clearly very dangerous.
WARE: Yes, I've done it several times now, Wolf. I mean, clearly, one has to see the level of destruction for one's self. I mean, you can't just take description of it. And even seeing it on video just does not do it justice. That doesn't make it real.
I mean, to be honest, there is large tracks of southern Beirut within these Hezbollah domains that is eerily reminiscent of something that you would see out of a grainy World War II photograph. Entire blocks of multi-story apartments, indeed high-rises, brought crashing to their knees and spilling onto the sheets.
Many of the streets you can no longer navigate. Those buildings that remain are teetering in many cases, their faces shorn off of them. I mean, the level of destruction within this particular part of the city has to be seen to be believed, Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael, stand by. John Roberts is along the border on the Israeli side in northern Israel. John, you're listening to this discussion we're having with Michael Ware on the scene. Give us a little flavor, some perspective, because you have been there almost from day one.
ROBERTS: Well, Wolf, tonight the artillery, which is not too far away from the town of Metulla that we're staying in, opened up. It was hitting targets that were very, very close to us, not far behind our hotel, maybe a quarter to a half mile or so.
And it was the most eerie site because by the time that you hear the concussive wave from the detonation, as Michael was talking about, and you actually hear the show from the Howitzer, you see the flash. So what happens is, you see the flash on the hilltop, this bright burst of sort of orange fire as the artillery shell hits. Then about three seconds later, you hear the boom, which was the cannon shot, and then about two seconds after that, you hear the shell ripping through the air and then the bang on the hillside. It really is quite surreal. It's a very sort of strange, war-time fireworks display as they're hitting those Hezbollah positions.
BLITZER: John, hold on just one second, because I want to just report this precisely. We just got a statement from the Israel Defense Forces. They do now confirm -- they confirm -- that the Israeli warplanes have resumed targeting sites, Hezbollah sites, they say, in south Beirut. Official confirmation, John and Michael, in Beirut, coming in from the IDF that these explosions, three of them, (INAUDIBLE), are indeed explosions, the result of an Israeli air strike against what they say are Hezbollah targets in Southern Beirut. Michael Ware, you're there. What are you hearing and seeing right now?
WARE: Wolf, in the interim when you crossed to John, we had yet another explosion. Unfortunately it was a little bit closer to our position here. Nonetheless it was still over enough of a distance away to be within a relatively safe range. I mean, you have to bear in mind, I mean, this is in relative turns. I've been on many battle fields, dealt with a lot of ordnance, outgoing and incoming. When you're experiencing it in such a in such a clustered, urban environment as this, where a lot still continues around you, that very much is jarring, the juxtaposition of war and life clashing together, very much brings it home.
BLITZER: Michael, we were rolling our cameras when you just heard that explosion and I want to play it briefly for our viewers.
So that would be the fourth such explosion that you've heard since what, over the past half-hour or so?
WARE: That's correct, Wolf. Now with the statement by the Israeli Defense Forces, we can accurately announce that the Israeli air campaign targeting Hezbollah positions or movements within Beirut has resumed. We've had quite some respite of several days throughout the suspension or partial suspension of Israeli offensive air activity. We were even given another 24 hours of grace yesterday. Almost 25 hours after the lifting of that voluntary, partial suspension, we see that the air campaign targeting Beirut has returned with some vigor, might I say, Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, when I spoke earlier in the day Michael, with the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Daniel Ayalon. I asked him point blank whether the Israelis were trying to target the leadership, the leadership of Hezbollah, including Hassan Nasrallah, the overall leader of Hezbollah for what they call targeted assassination and he basically confirmed that as have so many other Israeli officials. Do you get the sense that these strikes, they're loud explosions, are going after, perhaps, individuals or after sites where there could be weapons or infrastructure. WARE: Well, that's very much guess work at this stage Wolf. You just have to take it as red. It's almost standard operating procedure here in Lebanon as much as it is in Iraq, for example, where we saw essentially the assassination of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader a couple of months ago. He also was killed by air strike. His position was targeted, it was confirmed, it was checked, it was confirmed again. But, jets, during refueling were pulled off their refueling to move in haste to get that target, which was the leadership. It was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Almost certainly, it doesn't surprise me that the Israeli Defense Forces are doing exactly the same thing. Now, as to other targets, we're moving into what I think is going to be a complicated phase of the war in terms of the air campaign.
For my experiences in the past, what I see happening now is that in many ways, particularly in Beirut, the Israeli Air Forces are left with bouncing the rubble. I mean the infrastructure within the Hezbollah areas really has been destroyed. What they're looking for now is targets of opportunity. When they see movements, when they get what's called actionable intelligence. When information from signal intercept or human intelligence comes in to identify a person in a place at a precise point in time. from sin gal. The problem is you need to rely on that intelligence. If it's shaky, then we start to see grievous mistakes.
BLITZER: I want to also welcome our CNN INTERNATIONAL viewers who are joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Michael, stand by for a moment. John Roberts is with us on the phone from northern Israel. Unfortunately we have just lost our connection with John Roberts in northern Israel. Michael Ware just for update for our viewers who may just be joining us, give us a little recap what's happening in the Lebanese capital?
WARE: Wolf, over the last 30 minutes, we have seen the resumption of the Israeli Defense Force aerial campaign targeting Beirut. In the past 30 minutes we have had four significant explosions rippled across the city. The targets appear to be in Southern Beirut, the traditional stronghold of Hezbollah within this capital of Lebanon. So, to repeat, we can confirm that the Israeli air campaign targeting positions within Beirut has re-commenced and with some vigor, Wolf.
BLITZER: And we did get a statement moments ago from the IDF, from the Israel Defense Forces, Michael as you know, confirming themselves, they're official now. They are saying that they have resumed their air strikes against targets in south Beirut. Targets that they say are Hezbollah related. It's going to have an impact, presumably, the targeting of Beirut once again among the political leadership of Lebanon. The Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, this comes at a time when the U.S. and the Europeans and others are trying to get some sort of United Nations Security Council resolution passes that would stop the fighting and set the stage for an international force coming in to try to disarm and keep the peace in South Lebanon. Do you get a sense in you conversations, Michael, with Lebanese political leaders that they see this drawing down or is this war simply moving on to a new and more robust level? WARE: Well, you can even take it from the ground level, Wolf. I mean, if one wants to harden the hearts of the Lebanese people against the Israeli Defense Forces, indeed against the U.S. government, which is being seen on the street as underwriting this entire military offensive and indeed if you want to see them harden their hearts against the United Nations, whom it is perceived is either standing idly by, or whose weaknesses and inability to intervene in this conflict are being exposed for all to see, then this is the way to go about, pound Beirut and you pound its people.
You pound their psychology, their psyche, their morale. I mean, we saw an explosion of this frustration in the wake of the Qana killing in Southern Lebanon where Israeli air attacks killed more than 50 people, most of them children in a southern town. We saw people flood the streets, ordinary people. Though the demonstration was ultimately hijacked by Hezbollah and its very savvy media apparatus, at its heart, that may have been another small explosion, at its heart that demonstration was a venting of pent-up rage within the Lebanese people of what they see is punitive, collective punishment in the most discriminatory form, targeting them as a population, targeting their government in punishment for the deeds of Hezbollah, Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael, stand by just for a moment. We're picking up some extraordinary images coming in from south Beirut for some targets before and after, not this Israeli air strike but earlier Israeli air strikes. Abbi Tatton is going to show those images to us, Abbi.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, yes, quite extraordinary before and after shot. They're taken July 12th and also July 31st. Just to give you some context of this area of South Beirut where we're talking about. Here's the whole city. I'm going to show you this area here. This is in the Shia neighbors in the southern suburbs. This is it before. This is the neighborhood here. This is about a quarter of a square mile here. This taken on July 12th.
Now look at it again, just a couple of days ago, you can see entire sections here which are pretty much leveled. I'm going to zoom in a little bit further for you. Again, this is the before shot from July 12th, before those Israeli strikes. Look at it, you can make out the actual buildings there, again afterwards, this from just a couple of days ago, you can see debris in the streets, you can see areas that the highway that have great chunks out of them and some building just completely flattened, Wolf.
BLITZER: Abbi, thank you very much. Michael Ware, you were there. You have been to these areas in south Beirut and as you accurately point out, as dramatic as these satellite images are, when you see it up close and personal, it's even more stunning.
WARE: Yes, I've seen those photographs that you've just viewed as well Wolf and it does give some sense, I hope, to people sitting in their homes right now of the scale of the destruction in that significant part of the Lebanese capital. As you can tell from those photographs, entire blocks of hi-rise apartments either cease now to exist or are so badly damaged that their is no repair. There is absolutely no help, or hope sorry, to rebuild. I mean, just look at it. It's like a path has been carved through the city leaving an ugly scar.
Now you also need to wonder, we talked about this now being a campaign of targets of opportunity and the Israeli air force operating on actionable intelligence. One has to wonder, what targets remain? I mean, very clearly, I mean this is standard insurgency process. You protect the leadership. You protect the main body of the fighting force. The leadership simply, to be honest, would not be here. So these have to be, I would assume, tactical strifes. I mean, Hezbollah is a sophisticated insurgent organization that is not only prepared for loss, it's able to replenish both leadership, men and material with some sophistication.
But it avoids that loss, so it does not leave its leadership or its material in the places where you would expect them. So one really has to wonder, what is being pursued in these strifes. Wolf?
BLITZER: Michael, stand by for another moment, because I want to replay what we captured on videotape just a few moments ago. There have been at least four, maybe five huge explosions in south Beirut over the past 40 minutes or so. The Israeli Defense Forces officially confirming they have resumed targeting what they say are Hezbollah sites in south Beirut. Listen to this.
I assume Michael, that those explosions are waking a lot of people up. It's now 2:51 a.m. in the middle of the night in Beirut. People were sleeping, they're probably are scurrying right now. And I just want to make sure that you feel that you're in a safe, relatively safe location and that you don't want to yourself scurry someplace else.
WARE: No Wolf, thank you very much, but as you said, it's only a matter of relative safety here. I mean, what you need to understand, here in this city, this what used to be called the Paris of the east, you have a civilian population essentially under siege, blockaded, starved and choked, of not just essential foods and luxury items, but of the necessities of life. In pharmacies, they are rationing medicines. Hospitals are running out of medicine to give to patients.
There's great concern for people undergoing dialysis or chemotherapy. And Beirut's main hospital right now is on power rationing itself. And it's deeply concerned that if fuel reserves, which are currently sitting offshore, two tankers, waiting for the Israeli blockade to open long enough to let them through.
If they don't make it within the next week to 10 days, then the hospital faces the risk of having to further reduce its operations, it's ability to serve the medical needs of this city. I mean, this is a population at war, Wolf. And this is from a modern, sophisticated, very well targeted defense force -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Michael, a few moments ago, you'll remember, we were speaking with John Roberts in northern Israel. You were not on the air then, but our cameras were rolling, as you heard yet another explosion. And I want our viewers to see what the cameras saw then.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WARE: Oh, Wolf, I'm not sure if you heard that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There you were, Michael. I don't blame you for being a little shaken by that. Anybody would be shaken. That was what, about 14 minutes or so ago. That, I believe that either the second or third such explosion.
WARE: Yes, I mean, sadly, you know, as accustomed as one comes to being around explosions like that, you're never really impervious to them. You never cocoon from them. I mean, as we discussed, what you see in that film is the shockwave, the concessive wave of that massive detonation washing over our camera position. I mean, it really is a physical experience. I felt it just drowning me. And it's a very much physical feeling that that comes through you. So there's a physical reaction, Wolf.
BLITZER: Stand by for a moment, Michael. Zain Verjee is watching all of this unfold as well. There's another story that's happening right now. Zain, what are you picking up?
VERJEE: Wolf, the Israeli military's inquiry into the attack in Qana that killed 56 civilians is out. The report says that they made a mistake. It also goes on to say, Wolf, that Hezbollah guerrillas used civilians as human shields for their rocket attacks. You remember Israel targeted an apartment building in Qana in the early hours of Sunday morning, via a building collapsed, killing 56 people, most of them women and children, a huge international outcry followed that. The statement, Wolf, goes on to say, that Israel didn't know that there was civilians in that building. It says, quote, "Had the information indicated that civilians were present, the attack would not have been carried out." Wolf?
BLITZER: All right Zain, we're going to continue to follow up that story. I want to go back to John Roberts, our correspondent on the border between northern Israel and southern Lebanon. John, there's been a lot of news happening tonight. Most dramatically the resumption of air strikes against what the Israelis say Hezbollah targets in south Beirut. But also on this day, a record number of Hezbollah targets crossing in to Israel, more than 200, maybe closer to 250 as well as thousands of Israeli forces moving in on the ground into Lebanon. Give us a little perspective.
ROBERTS: Last count that I got, Wolf, on the Katyusha rockets was 231. It has declared that it has degraded Hezbollah's capability. It has destroyed 80 percent of its infrastructure. It has also said that it has made headway against those long-range missiles. But those short-range Katyusha rockets, the ones that we see most often used here against northern Israel, are very hard to find.
The missile launchers can be hidden in orange groves. They can be hidden behind houses in basements. They can be brought it in the space of just a few minutes time, fired off and then the people who fired them can run away again. It's pretty clear that while Hezbollah kind of held its fire for the two days of that 48-hour partial pause in the bombing campaign, it's bringing out the missiles that it didn't use in those two days and it's firing them all toward northern Israel. There was one death today. A rocket landed in a kibbutz and killed a woman. But thankfully Wolf, it almost remarkably, no one else was killed in that huge barrage of missiles.
BLITZER: John, stand by, because I know you're going to be with us throughout the night here on CNN. Michael Ware, as well. Let's bring back Jack Cafferty. He's watching all of this unfold, together with our viewers, in the United States, Jack, and around the world.
CAFFERTY: You know the question this hour is how is this current conflict going to change the equation in the Middle East? We got a lot of mail.
Barbee in Utah writes: "Hopefully Jack, with two powerful military forces in the Middle East, you'd think the townspeople and governments can rid their countries of most terrorist regimes. Is that too simplistic?"
Al in Latham, New York: "When the Islamic world realizes the U.S. has paid for the current deaths of women and children in Lebanon with more than $2 billion in military grants to Israel, they might be a little more upset with the United States."
James in North Carolina: "Itt's like the Hatfield and McCoys. It doesn't end until everybody on either side is dead. Cease-fire simply means give me time to reload."
A particularly touching letter from a New York City firefighter. "After the Israeli army finishes destroying Hezbollah, extreme Islam is going to look weaker and more vulnerable. This works to the American advantage, as the same people wishing to destroy Israelis are also hoping to destroy Americans. It has come to this: a fight to the death, hand to hand, up close and ugly in Iraq, and now in Lebanon. Innocent people have died, soldiers have died, terrorists have been eliminated. All one has had to have done in order to understand why this tragedy must take place, was to have stood upon the rubble of the World Trade Center or attended funerals for New York City firefighters that went on for a year after September 11th."
And Dave writes from Fairlawn, New Jersey: "Nothing will change in the Middle East due to the current conflict because you have a nut running Iran, you have a nut running Syria, you have a nut running North Korea and you have a puppet running Lebanon. Iran, Syria, North Korea and Lebanon are filled with Mel Gibsons."
If you didn't see your e-mail here, you can go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile and read more of them online. Wolf?
BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much. See you tomorrow. We just want to recap and play for our viewers what our cameras caught over the past hour.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WARE: Oh, Wolf, I'm not sure if you heard that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We did hear that loud explosions. The Israeli air force resuming their strikes on south Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold. That's it for us. Paula Zahn is going to continue our breaking news coverage. Paula?
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