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No Word on Israeli Soldiers Held Captive; Young People in Beirut React to Conflict

Aired August 6, 2006 - 17:30   ET


HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello and welcome to this special program as CNN continues its coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. I'm Hala Gorani in Beirut.
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And in Haifa, Israel, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Well Israel and Hezbollah have exchanged some of the heaviest blows of this conflict. Here are the latest developments. Haifa endures the heaviest barrage of Hezbollah rockets the Israeli port city has yet experienced. At least three people are killed, at least 100 are wounded. Israel says more than 180 rockets landed in the north Sunday.

Also the greatest number of Israelis killed in a single incident occurred in Kfar Giladi. A dozen Israeli paratrooper reservists were killed. Israel responded with its heaviest artillery barrage of targets in southern Lebanon.

And Israel also staged air raids on targets in Lebanon near the border with Syria, in the southern suburbs of Beirut and here in southern Lebanon -- rather, I beg your party, in southern Lebanon. Lebanon says at least 14 people were killed in raids on Sunday, both sides of the conflict more than 600 people have been killed.

Well in the midst of the attack and counterattack, we had heard very little lately about the two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah, an act that touched off the latest conflict. But as Gary Nurenberg tells us, if the experience of previous hostages held by Hezbollah is any indication, the two Israeli soldiers are in for a rough time.


GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The draft United Nations resolution agreed to by France and the United States Saturday calls for the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah has so far refused Red Cross requests to visit the men, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, whose wife made an appeal on CNN's "LARRY KING LIVE."

KARNIT GOLDWASSER, WIFE OF HOSTAGE: I ask for the wives of Hezbollah to help me go get a sign that Udi and Eldad are still alive and to know if something happened to them, if they are injured or not.

TERRY WAITE, FORMER HEZBOLLAH HOSTAGE: I would tend to think that they would be treated with reasonable consideration.

NURENBERG: Terry Waite was among the more than two dozen westerners grabbed by Hezbollah in the '80s and '90s.

WAITE: I myself was kept in solitary confinement for four years. I slept on the floor, I was chained to the wall and I had no contact with the outside world.

NURENBERG: Hezbollah has killed hostages. American Marine colonel William Rich Higgins was hanged after his capture in 1988. An American hostage Joseph Cicippio was held for five years, starting in 1986.

JOSEPH CICIPPIO, FORMER HEZBOLLAH HOSTAGE: They had the authority there, if we did anything, they can kill us. So you had to be careful.

NURENBERG: He was tortured by his captors and carefully hidden.

CICIPPIO: And I was moved in the dark. I mean, I was moved with my eyes closed. So I had no idea where I was at. And I was put into a, I was put in this cardboard box, carried out of the building in the box.

NURENBERG: Some hostages like American reporter Terry Anderson were forced to tape messages for Hezbollah.

WAITE: Who are quite capable of keeping hostages for a very long period of time. Terry Anderson, the American journalist, was kept for seven years in total security in the middle of Beirut. So if they could do that then, they can still do that now.

ELHAM CICIPPIO, WIFE OF FORMER HOSTAGE: Some people who were kidnapped and up to now never showed up. Their loved ones know nothing about them up to now, for quite 20 years, whatever. So we're lucky. We're quite lucky.

NURENBERG: The kind of luck the families of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are hoping for today. Gary Nurenberg, CNN, Washington.


GORANI: Well, there has been much activity on the military front, but also on the diplomatic front. We saw Arab League foreign ministers coming into Beirut. But the Lebanese cabinet has said that the U.N. Security Council resolution, the draft text is inadequate, that in the words of the Lebanese prime minister.

Our Beirut bureau chief Brent Sadler joins us now. Has the diplomatic process taken such a hit that it won't be able to recover in the coming days as some in Washington and Paris would hope, Brent?

BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF: Hala, we're going to say over the next 24 hours or so some furious Arab activity spearheaded really by the Arab League as secretary-general in town and also the Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem in town, ahead of the Arab foreign minister's meeting plan for Beirut Monday. It has to be noted, Hala that as Amr Moussa arrived at Beirut's international airport, opened really only for special flights, humanitarian and diplomatic missions, as Moussa arrived, you see from the pictures there, a lot of concern.

Those people rattled by air strikes on the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital in Hezbollah stronghold. Now that was the first time we have seen a daylight air raid by the Israelis conducted. And some on the ground here, some analysts suspect that maybe some message there for Arab diplomats as they gather in this country.

Walid al-Muallem and the Syrian foreign minister, first time there has been a diplomatic representation here from Damascus, at that level since Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon April 26th last year.

Also Saudi Arabia weighing in with pressure to try to get the draft resolution to reflect more of what the Lebanese government wants in its seven-point plan that was offered to the international community before that draft resolution from France and the United States gained traction with U.N. Security Council members in New York.

A seven-point plan, the most important part of which the Lebanese as far as they're concerned, is that a cease-fire on condition really of a total withdraw of all of those Israeli troops that are in Lebanon now. That, of course, being a hair trigger for Hezbollah saying that they are not going to go along with the cessation of hostilities as planned in that draft resolution. Hala?

GORANI: Brent, what can the Arab league achieve, do you think, in this -- or hopes to achieve that hasn't been tried before? What in this meeting that is going happen in Beirut tomorrow is going to be the strategy of those Arab nations getting together?

SADLER: The strategy is going to be an attempt to try to push the security council members to bear in mind what the draft in its present form means to Arabs in general. Not just Lebanese, but Arabs in general.

At a time when Hezbollah is recognized by many in Arab capitals at the street level as fighting Israelis who have launched a war of aggression against Lebanon. That's the perception in much of the Arab world. Why? Because Lebanese infrastructure is being targeted, not just Hezbollah's military machine, but, of course it all mixed up together as far as Hezbollah tactics are concerned.

But there is growing antagonism, we have seen protests throughout the Arab world and what you're seeing is the Arab leadership trying to be seen to be putting pressure at the highest levels of the diplomatic community in New York at this crucial time.

And there is a widespread expectation among Lebanese, not just those Lebanese who are caught in the middle of all this who want to see Hezbollah stopping that rocket fire and trying to come to some sort of agreement that will really end this war, getting bigger. There is really a concern that this draft resolution is really in the words of the Syrian foreign minister, a recipe from the Arab perspective of a continuation of the conflict.

GORANI: All right, our Beirut bureau chief Brent Sadler, thank you, Brent. Well, we heard from the Lebanese cabinet saying draft U.N. Security Council resolution is inadequate, but we also heard from Hezbollah ministers, there are two of them in the Lebanese cabinet and they rejected the text as well as coming from the Lebanese speaker of parliament, Nabih Berri. Now earlier I spoke with a political analyst, Amal Ghorayeb. She explained Hezbollah's point of view and why they're not happy with that text that was agreed upon by the U.S. and France in New York.


AMAL GHORAYEB, LEBANESE POLITICAL ANALYST: Well first of all, I mean, it's a matter of context. I mean, in the midst of the context, in which this answer appears that you're referring to, it doesn't look very significant.

And more significantly I would think that it doesn't call for an Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon. So even if it does stipulate somewhere in that resolution that at one point or another there will no foreign forces, that could be well down the line.

GORANI: Let me ask you about the overall atmosphere here in Lebanon because we have seen demonstrations in support of Hezbollah. But I've also heard from other people who have told me, you know, Hezbollah is really actually endangering the Lebanese nation, the central Lebanese government, by exposing us to the military aggression. What do you respond to that?

GHORAYEB: Well I'd like to respond with statistics, not with just generalizations. I was involved in conducting a survey on the 24th and 25th of this month, before the Qana massacre. And 87 percent of Lebanese said they supported Hezbollah's resistance against Israel.

There was also another survey done by another think tank and it came out with similar results as well. So I think, yes, of course you're going find voices here and there which complain about Hezbollah's rocket attacks against Israel. But the majority of Lebanese are united over this response.

GORANI: Let me tell you, it is not just random voices here and there. I spoke to a high-level cabinet official who told me everyone knows Hezbollah is a subcontractor to Iran. This is basically a war between Israel and Iran, fought through Hezbollah.

GHORAYEB: That's an interesting perspective because in fact, first of all, Hezbollah is not an Iranian instrument. Yes, Hezbollah enjoys a very close relationship with Iran's clerical and political establishment.

GORANI: And military establishment.

GHORAYEB: And military -- OK.

GORANI: I mean, you get the bombs from Iran.

GHORAYEB: Hezbollah has an organic relationship with Iran, much as Israel has an organic relationship with the United States. But at the same time, this does not reduce Hezbollah to a tool. In fact, the main act which was transformed this war into a regional war, you know, posing one strategic axis against another is the United States. It transformed what was essentially a local conflict between Lebanon and Israel into a wider regional war with its calls for a new Middle East.

GORANI: Well let's talk about within Lebanon's borders. Is it possible to have in the future of this country an armed militia in the southern part of this country and a weak central government? Is it possible for this country to survive under these conditions? What would it take for Hezbollah to lay down its arms?

GHORAYEB: Basically I think the question that we should pose is how do we resolve, as I said previously, how do we resolve the very causes which led to the existence of Hezbollah's armed wing? And I think that doesn't actually take all that much in fact.

All that Israel has to do is to adhere to the government's seven- point plan to withdraw from the Shebaa Farms, to end its violations of Lebanese sovereignty and what have you. And I think that in itself -- I'm not saying that will guarantee a disarmament of Hezbollah, because no one in fact in Lebanon is now calling for the implementation of 1559. But at least that would guarantee is that the Lebanese army would be deployed to the south, as would United Nations forces.

GORANI: Is Hezbollah seriously willing to be absorbed by the national state here in Lebanon and become just a political force? There is no trust, not only from Israel, but from elements within Lebanon who say that Hezbollah wants to keep its arms and wants to keep its authority, its political and military authority on a large portion of this country.

GHORAYEB: You know, I seriously doubt that if all of Lebanon's demands, I'm not going to say Hezbollah's demands -- if all of Lebanon's demands were met, if Israel no longer posed a threat to Lebanon, I really don't see how Hezbollah could retain any justification for retaining arms.

I think it would be fairly easy to say a formula could be worked out very easily with the Lebanese government which would somehow -- I'm not going to say integrate Hezbollah into the army necessarily, but which would appease both sides.


SWEENEY: Well, here in Haifa the residents and rescue services literally picking up the pieces following six rocket explosions in the city nearly five hours ago now. Now three people dead, 100 wounded. Earlier I spoke to General Ruth Yaron. She's a spokeswoman for the Israeli foreign ministry about the latest Hezbollah attacks. I began by asking her if Israel's ground and air strikes had diminished Hezbollah's capacity to launch rocket attacks against northern Israel.


GEN. RUTH YARON, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTRY: Well, diminished yes, and we will continue to do our best in other to diminish it even further. But yet, as long as they have still rockets left and still launchers left, they will stop at nothing but continue to send them and launch them as we have seen.

SWEENEY: So how much success has the Israeli military having to destroy the rocket launchers?

YARON: Well what we need is perseverance and we need persistence. This is not something that is going to end in a day, two days or 10 days. This is a type of war that we need to continue for a longer period of time and in any case, the military action is only part of what it will take to stop the Hezbollah. It has to be accompanied with a diplomatic and international foot if you will or dimension in order to put a wall, literally a wall, to stop this terrorist organization from continuing this murderous killing.

SWEENEY: What is the difficulty in tracking the rocket launchers?

YARON: Well a terrorist organization, by its definition, what they do is they masquerade as civilian, they hid among -- or hide among civilians and using the poor Lebanese people...

SWEENEY: ... Many of whom support them as well.

YARON: Some of them support them. But I don't think that they support the damage that has been inflicted on them because of whether Hezbollah has taken if you will, they have taken Lebanon hostage.


SWEENEY: Well there are those who would argue with that and say in fact that Hezbollah has grown stronger and has more support and that even the divisions within Lebanon, between Shia, Sunni and Christian, is galvanizing if not so much support for Hezbollah, but anti-Israeli support.

YARON: I would argue that if we were to go back to before this war started and Lebanon was on the road to being really a blooming and prosperous nation, if you were to ask, I bet you 95 percent of the Lebanese would have said this is how we want to continue in going on living. Nobody asked them, but somebody dragged them into a war.

And Hezbollah did that. Now, in the heat of the war, you could see opinions swing from one place to another. But I think that both Lebanese people and the Israeli people have one strong common interest, and that is to get rid of this terrorist organization that has been terrorizing our life.

SWEENEY: All right, let me ask you again, what is the difficulty with tracking these rocket launchers? Because even though people say that-- and Ehud Olmert has said as recently as Wednesday or Thursday that its infrastructure has been, quote, "completely destroyed."

More than 200 rockets have fallen into this country by Hezbollah over the last three or four days. And today we've had at least 180 and Haifa saying probably one of the worst days since this conflict began. What is the difficulty with tracking the rocket launchers?

YARON: You're right. The difficulty is that those launchers are very mobile. They are easily hide. And they take them out, they just launch the rocket and go back into their hiding place. They're extremely difficult to track.

Now it is true that we have inflicted a lot of damage to the infrastructure of the rocket launcher of the Hezbollah. But we did not destroy all of them. And as long as they have some capabilities, and it takes for them only one good hit, as you just have seen here in Haifa, one good hit on a four-story building and look at the number of casualties which will rise because we have people trapped there.

And remember that today this is not the only loss that we have suffered. We have suffered 12 soldiers killed in our northern border as well.

SWEENEY: But we're hearing from John Roberts, our correspondent who is in southern Lebanon, embedded with Israeli troops, that he saw these rockets being launched just at sunset an hour and a half ago, headed towards ultimately it seemed to be Haifa. But he said Hezbollah were more or less saying even though it is sunset and we usually strike during the day, daylight hours, masqueraded by the sun, we don't care.

YARON: That's exactly -- they don't care because for them, they don't care who they hit, where they will hit as long as they do hit Israelis and kill them. And you have seen what happened in the last couple of days.

SWEENEY: But the question is, how is this going to be -- clearly they're getting supplies from somewhere. How can you stop them getting supplies?

YARON: The question is two-fold. First of all is a question of supply and we need to remember who furnished them, all of those rockets in the past six years ever since we have dutifully withdrawn from Lebanon and back to the international border.

SWEENEY: But they are still getting supplies.

YARON: They are apparently still get maybe some or plus they have a huge stock. We have hit a large number of it. But not all of it. But there say second aspect to this. And the second dimension that needs to be mentioned and this is the ideological dimension. We're dealing here with terrorist organization that really is all about a culture of death. Kill as many people as possible. And we need to put a wall against that.

SWEENEY: How long -- you mentioned earlier this is not something that is going to take days, but how long is it going to take?

YARON: Well clearly we're already 26 days into this war and right now as long as we see those rockets being launched at us, we still have the capacity to do it, so we'll need to continue on both arms, both diplomatically and internationally and with military until we put a stop to it.

SWEENEY: Can you put a time frame on that?

YARON: No, we cannot put a time frame on it. But I think that we need to dismantle Hezbollah from its power are clear tonight with the tragedies that we are witnessing here, we need to do it as quickly as possible.


SWEENEY: General Ruth Yaron of the Israeli foreign ministry there talking about the attacks on Lebanon and northern Israel.

Ahead on world news, more on the conflict in the Middle East. On the streets of Haifa, we hear what residents say about the relentless rocket attacks.

And a blogger in Lebanon shares his perspective about the Israel raids against Hezbollah.


SWEENEY: Welcome back to our special coverage of the conflict in Lebanon and Israel. I'm Fionnuala Sweeney in Haifa, Israel, where just almost exactly five hours ago, Israel's third largest city, this port city of Haifa, population of some 300,000 people, was hit by a barrage of rockets from southern Lebanon.

In all six rockets fell on this city, three people dead, 100 wounded. Well, earlier in the day before this rocket barrage at sunset, we went to the streets of Haifa and spoke to a number of residents about their thoughts on the conflict and their neighbors.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have very bad neighbors. This is our problem. This is our problem. And they are very mean and I don't know what to think about them. It is hard for us. But we're going to win in the end, is what I hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that Hezbollah have started it. So you may take into consideration that Israel has no side of -- no intent to harm any civilians there. So I'm very sorry about what is going on there. But I'm very sorry about what is going on here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The situation is very bad because we see and we hear all the time the Katyusha come to Haifa, in the area. And you don't know what will be. But this is big problem and I hope that this week will be finished because we don't know in the morning when it will be the end of the day, what will happen.

SHIMON PERES, VICE PREMIER, ISRAEL: We don't feel we have to compensate the Hezbollah because they took two of our soldiers. But if then Lebanon would like to talk about exchange of prisoners, we are always ready to.


SWEENEY: Shimon Peres there ending that selection of comments from residents of Haifa and its environs about that what is taking place here. There is a sense of increasing frustration, Hala, among Israelis that despite the huge Israeli offensive in southern Lebanon, that Hezbollah still has the capability to rain rockets down on northern Israel. Not just three people dead here in Haifa, but 12 Israeli reservists killed in one rocket attack up near the border earlier in the day. That is an Israeli terms a huge casualty figure for them. Hala?

GORANI: All right, Fionnuala Sweeney, thanks so much. Well here in Beirut life as many Beirut residents know it has come to a stand still, essentially in the last 25 days since this conflict began. Behind us here you see a completely, completely empty street which is something very unusual.

I'm joined by a cross section of young Beirut residents who are here to talk about what life has been like really over the last three weeks plus. Habib Battah, who's a journalist. Marianne Sarji, works in the fashion industry and present a T.V. show and Mazen Nakib is a banker. Habib, I'm going to start with you. Earlier you were looking back, even if you look back now, there is absolutely not a single car here in Beirut. What would it normally be like?

HABIB BATTAH, MIDDLE EAST BROADCASTERS JOURNAL: I mean, this is like a horror movie, like a Stephen King movie. I mean, it's unimaginable. This would be packed with cars, the parking lots would be packed with cars. I mean, our lives have come to a stand still. And we feel like really sitting ducks here because not only do you hear F-16s over your head all day long, but you are cut off from food, from fuel, from medicine.

So it is only a matter of days before our hospitals close, before our schools are not functioning anymore, before there is no more life support in hospitals, before we can't -- we don't know how long the food will last. So it's really a precarious situation where you feel like at any moment, it is only a matter of time, our time is running out.

GORANI: All right, Marianne, you're here in Beirut. You didn't leave, you were stuck essentially here.

MARIANNE SARJI, FASHION INDUSTRY WORKER: I'm stuck. I'm stuck like almost a big amount of people. There is nothing much to do and the most frustrating part I guess is not really being able to do anything. I mean, lots of people wonder how they could in a way help, maybe, you know, be supportive.

GORANI: What would you normally be doing tonight, Sunday night in Beirut, a Sunday night in August?

SARJI: Well I think everybody knows how much Beirut specifically is social. You know, it's a place where everybody is just is out every single night of the week.

GORANI: Parties, nightclubs, restaurants.

SARJI: All the time. All the time. People just go out, mingle, talk. So I think, yes, this is something I have never, ever, ever seen.

GORANI: Mazen, you're a banker. You're still going to work every day. What do you do there?

MAZEN NAKIB, BANKER: Yes, I am. Work is pretty much -- there is nothing to do. We have stopped issuing credit to a lot of people. So a lot of our customers, many are not paying their dues because their businesses are shut down. So it is pretty much just going to work from 8:00 to 5:00 and just hang out at the office, but not much work to do.

GORANI: All right. Tell me, Marianne, I'm going to come back to you. You described sort of the city coming to a stand still and how normally you would be out with your friends tonight and you're not doing that. But do you have wider ranging fears? I mean, do you have fears for your safety?

SARJI: Maybe not for my safety as much as for my career maybe. Not just as working in fashion, but I mean, I am 26 and I want to go somewhere. I want to do something with my life. I just don't want to have war memories...

GORANI: Like the previous generation, you don't want to be the previous generation.

SARJI: ... Exactly. My parents avoided the war. They left their youth to go outside the country to allow us not to live a war and now actually everything they've done is coming back.

NAKIB: Well I do remember the war when I was a young kid. And I don't want to live it again. I don't want my kids or the next generation to live it as well. So that's something that we want to get out of.

GORANI: Habib, I'm going to come back to you. The fears that this might be another generation confronted with war, are you pessimistic about the future of your country?

BATTAH: Well, it is really uncertain now. It is hard to say what is going to happen. But it's really sad to watch this all happen again like deja vu. This is deja vu for us. We spent the last 15 years trying to climb up from the rubble and all of the sudden we have been reduced to rubble once again.

GORANI: Who do you blame?

BATTAH: It is not a question of blame I think. It is a question of violence is not the answer. I mean, once violence starts, it is a vicious cycle. When you start assigning blame, we don't move anywhere. You continue violent activities. As we can see today, the rockets are still falling on Israel. This campaign has had no effect. This war is hitting the Lebanese people, not Hezbollah. GORANI: All right, do you agree with that?

SARJI: I don't have any political background. But what I think honestly is violence is not a solution. It will never lead anywhere. We were taught to communicate and communication always leads somewhere.

GORANI: Mazen quickly, what needs to be done?

NAKIB: I mean, we have to think about our future, how we should get there, have a prosperous future in Lebanon, live our lives, live peacefully, something that, you know, we have to figure out.

GORANI: All right. We've have left politics out of this, we have managed it. Thanks very much, Mazen Nakib, who's a banker. We also have Marianne Sarji, who works in fashion. Good luck to you in future. And also Habib Battah, a journalist here in Beirut. A cross section of young people and how they have really been living over the last three weeks plus, since this conflict began. Life really at a stand still here. It is an eerie silence in Beirut, like nothing I have seen before. Not a car behind us. And that's the view in and the scene from here. I'm Hala Gorani in Beirut. Fionnuala?

SWEENEY: And in Haifa, I'm Fionnuala Sweeney. Thanks for joining us.



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