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PAULA ZAHN NOW

United Nations Approves Resolution to End Mideast Fighting; Interview With Israeli Ambassador to United States Daniel Ayalon; Interview With Lebanese Consul General Mohamad El-Harake

Aired August 11, 2006 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: And thank you all for joining us on this extraordinary Friday night.
As we speak, there are dramatic new developments in two of this years's top stories.

In a little bit, we will bring you full coverage of the terrorism arrests in connection with what the British say was a plot to bomb U.S.-bound airliners and kill thousands of innocent people.

But I want to go straight to the high-stakes vote at the U.N. Security Council. Just moments ago, the council voted unanimously to approve a resolution to finally end the fighting and bloodshed in Lebanon and Israel, 31 days into this war. The council is still in session, as you can see from this live shot.

And we should be hearing at any minute from the representatives of both Lebanon and Israel.

Let's get straight to some of the specifics of the U.N. story.

And we get that now from chief national correspondent John King, who has been following the diplomatic moves all day, and joins me live.

John, do we know exactly what was approved?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, we know the resolution was approved. We know it calls for an end to the fighting.

The key question is, it doesn't say when the fighting will end. The resolution was just passed unanimously, 15-0. We are told that the Lebanese cabinet is ready to embrace it. That will come Saturday. The Israeli government is scheduled to embrace it. That, presumably, will come on Sunday.

And it will fall on the secretary-general, Kofi Annan, to decide exactly when the fighting will end. He will consult with both of those governments. What happens then? The Lebanese army, assuming the two governments accept -- accept it, and set a date to end the fighting, the hostilities stop. The Israelis prepare to withdrawal, Paula, but they don't withdrawal until the Lebanese army and a new international force start to come south.

So, hopefully, after the passing of this, the fighting ends within days.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING (voice-over): The resolution calls for a full cessation of hostilities and the unconditional release of the two Israeli soldiers, whose kidnapping by Hezbollah a month ago sparked the confrontation.

Every line was subject to tense, weeklong negotiations. And, as Secretary of State Rice joined the talks at end, both Israel and Lebanon were pressured to accept provisions they don't like.

The biggest fight was over the international force that will police the deal. Lebanon wanted just the existing 2,000-strong U.N. force already in the country. Israel preferred a NATO-led force of perhaps 30,000 troops.

The resolution, though, endorses expanding the existing U.N. force to a maximum of 15,000 troops, and gives it broad new powers to take all necessary action to assist the Lebanese army in creating a buffer zone in southern Lebanon, prevent Hezbollah attacks, if necessary, and enforce an embargo against armed shipments to Hezbollah.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: This force has a very firm mandate to defend itself and to defend its mandate, in other words, to resist those who would try to keep this force from doing its job.

KING: The plan also calls on Lebanon to enforce existing U.N. resolutions and disarm Hezbollah, a step it has resisted for years.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The Lebanese government will not be able to require Hezbollah to do this. There may be some agreement by Hezbollah to at least pretend to do it, or do it partially or temporarily. But it's not going to be lasting.

KING: Lebanon wanted an immediate Israeli troop withdrawal. But the resolution calls for Israeli troops to leave at the earliest and in parallel with the movement of Lebanese troops and the international peacekeepers into the south.

Lebanon also wanted the immediate release of Hezbollah prisoners by Israel and a promise that Israel will abandon a tiny sliver of disputed land known as Shebaa Farms.

But Israel first wants proof Hezbollah will honor the deal. So, the resolution talks of encouraging prisoner releases and calls for a plan to resolve the land dispute within 30 days.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, John, we just heard one your experts in that piece saying, although the resolution states explicitly that the Lebanese government is in charge of disarming Hezbollah, this person, Michael O'Hanlon, said they could pretend to do it temporarily; it won't last. Why would the Israelis agree to that?

KING: Well, Paula, that has been the debate, the core of the debate, over how robust, how big; what will the mandate be of this international force?

Israel does not trust this Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah. This -- Leb -- Israel -- Israel believes, and the United States, frankly, believes that the Lebanese government wouldn't do this before the crisis, and that you have Hezbollah now, which is more popular, especially on the Arab street, for standing up to Israel.

So, there's a great deal of skepticism there. Why did Israel agree? Because it is under profound pressure to end the crisis. Some think Israel agreed, in part, because it needs a political way out. The fighting has not gone as well as Israel has -- has hoped.

But Israel, we are told, will say it supports this plan, with some reservations. It wants to see proof that the international community will disarm Hezbollah, that the Lebanese government will disarm Hezbollah. So, Prime Minister Olmert, we are told, will leave himself the option to go back into military mode if this does not work out.

ZAHN: And, of course, no one can say tonight when this fighting will stoop, can they?

KING: No, they can't. That falls to the secretary-general.

The expectation from all involved is perhaps as early as Monday. The Israeli government -- Beirut should go first, the Lebanese first, the Israeli government on Sunday. If they both approve it, Prime -- Kofi Annan -- excuse me -- the secretary-general, will be in touch. The hope is Monday, maybe Tuesday, at the latest, but that's a hope -- Paula.

ZAHN: John King, thanks more -- for the updates on some of the specifics of this resolution that just passed, unanimously, at the U.N. -- once again, the resolution calling for a full cessation of hostilities and the unconditional release of two Israeli soldiers, whose kidnapping by Hezbollah a month ago sparked the confrontation.

Lebanon also wanted the immediate release of some Hezbollah prisoners by Israel, and a promise that some disputed land known as Shebaa Farms will be returned -- all of these details worked out in a negotiation that has gone on for a week now.

Basically, these members of the Security Council that you been watching now have gone through them, line by line -- and both sides conceding tonight, they didn't get exactly what they want -- nevertheless, unanimously approved in the Security Council.

Now, even as the U.N. negotiations reach their final stretch in New York, Israel was sending troops deeper into Lebanon, and a barrage of rockets struck Israel.

Tonight, John Roberts is on the front lines of our "Top Story" along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

John joins us now.

So, John, we knew the prime minister was saying that he wants his government to adopt this, accept this resolution.

Any early reaction from where you are?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Paula, as far we can tell now, there -- there is no cessation of anything, no hint of a cessation of anything.

But, by the most optimistic measure, we could be within 48 hours of the end of this conflict, but, of course, there's still plenty of time for diplomacy to fall apart.

And, as you mentioned, even as the United States and France were preparing to introduce this resolution for a vote in the United Nations Security Council, Israel ordered an expansion of the ground campaign. It is clear, Paula, that they're going to take whatever time they have left to try to gain as much territory as they can, and put as much pressure on Hezbollah as possible.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS (voice-over): Israeli armor rolls toward the border, part of a bigger push into Lebanon, with the order now given by Israeli political leaders to expand the ground war.

Whether through force or diplomacy, Israel is determined to remove the threat from Hezbollah, firing Katyusha rockets at towns and villages. More than 120 fell today, many of them on the border town of Kiryat Shmona. We spent part of the afternoon with the fire department there, chasing Katyushas as they rained down almost constantly.

(on camera): We have been waiting at this fire station for about a half-an-hour now. The firefighters say they had some intelligence that Hezbollah was going to fire Katyusha rockets at about 2:00. It's now five minutes of 2:00, and the air-raid sirens have just now gone off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're near the border. And the -- the Hezbollah are sitting on the border, and make war with us.

ROBERTS (voice-over): The firefighters wait for the first volley to come in. Within moments, it's time to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now it's two Katyushas, they come to Kiryat Shmona.

ROBERTS (on camera): Two Katyushas coming in?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

ROBERTS (voice-over): Reports of a house on fire, they race to their truck, speeding through the streets under continual threat of another attack. They arrive at the scene to find smoke billowing from the home.

(on camera): This latest volley of Hezbollah Katyusha rockets shows just how random they are. The first one landed harmlessly in a field. The second one made a direct hit on this house at the edge of a neighborhood. As you can see, it's -- it has literally torn the entire backside of the house apart.

ROBERTS (voice-over): There were no injuries here. No one was home. Kiryat Shmona is almost a ghost town, and no wonder. The firefighters had not even cleared the scene when the air-raid sirens wailed again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very, very, very dangerous here. All the people here is running, running from Kiryat Shmona.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on. Go.

ROBERTS: And running from the rockets.

(on camera): Yes, there's a shelter here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get in it.

ROBERTS (voice-over): Another air-raid siren drives us from our vehicle, forcing us to shelter in a hardened bunker nearby.

(on camera): We were just leaving Kiryat Shmona when the air- raid siren went off again. So, we thought that it would be best to take cover. In this area, so many rockets have come in, that it's just not worth taking a chance. They can land literally anywhere.

(voice-over): And it wasn't just us seeking cover. Moments later, the fire captain ducked inside. From the bunker, we can hear the sounds of Katyushas hitting home.

The Israelis fire back with rockets of their own. Then, the air- raid siren sounds again, four times in a half-hour. It's just another typical day for these emergency workers, dodging rockets, dousing fires.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go back -- a danger zone.

ROBERTS: It is stressful work. And it shows in the anger firefighters have for Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hassan is very stupid man...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... because make a war about nothing, nothing.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ZAHN: So, John, we're going to quickly jump back to the breaking news of the night. And that is the fact the U.N. Security Council has voted unanimously to end the hostilities between Lebanon and Israel.

The question I have for you, you were saying that -- that you have gotten a sense from military officials it could take maybe 48 hours for that actually to be put in place. What I don't understand is, I am told it's going to take a good 10 days to beef up the UNIFIL forces that are already on the ground. So, how is that going to work?

ROBERTS: Well, I mean, that's -- that's talking about with -- the withdrawal.

I was saying, in the most optimistic of circumstances, it could be as little as 48 hours before the guns go silent. As John King was mentioning, after the resolution is adopted and voted on by the Lebanese cabinet and the Israeli cabinet, then, it's up to Kofi Annan to come to the two sides and say, let's set a timetable for a cessation of hostilities.

Based on what Kofi Annan has been saying for the past month, he will probably come to these two governments and say, let's end the hostilities immediately. But an end of hostilities doesn't mean that Israel immediately begins to withdrawal. The Lebanese army has to move down. They have to get another -- it's almost like 14,000 more -- no, it's more like 12,000 more troops, U.N. troops, in to southern Lebanon.

That's going to take some time. They have got to bring them in, I would imagine, by ships, since they probably can't fly into the Beirut airport in any great numbers.

So, it's going to take some time before that progression to the south can start. At the same time, when the Lebanese army and the expanded UNIFIL force comes in, Hezbollah will have to move out of the area as well. So, yes, Paula, it could take a number of days for those forces to come in and Israel to start withdrawing.

But the guns could go silent, at the very earliest, within about 48 hours, though it's likely it may take a little longer than that.

ZAHN: John Roberts, thanks so much.

Now our "Top Story" coverage moves on to Lebanon, where Israeli warplanes and a naval gunboat kept up sustained bombardment today. In Beirut, explosions rocked the southern suburbs all day long.

Jim Clancy joins us now from there.

Jim, of course, it's the middle of the night there, but any official government reaction to this vote that just came down in the Security Council?

JIM CLANCY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, there's no reaction since that vote was taken. However, we talked to the senior adviser to Prime Minister Fuad Siniora about an hour before the vote was taken. Obviously, the Lebanese knew what was the context, what was the content of that resolution. They seemed satisfied. They predicted a quick approval by the government come Saturday.

When asked whether or Hezbollah's two ministers in the government would go along, the -- Mohamad Chatah, the adviser, said he couldn't predict that, but he said the Lebanese people are overwhelmingly for an end to this conflict -- Paula.

ZAHN: So, Jim, let's talk about the mechanics of -- of what it is that the Lebanese government is going to be expected to do on the -- under this resolution.

They have to disarm Hezbollah. Have you been given any insights as to how that will be done, when they have had two years under a U.N. resolution to do that, and haven't done anything at all?

CLANCY: Well, they have been hoping to do that for a long time.

I think, when you look at this, Paula, they have got some immediate things. The disarming of Hezbollah is going to come later. The Lebanese are relieved tonight, relieved that their forces are going down to the border. If Israeli forces had stayed there, Hezbollah would have stayed there. The fighting would have continued, along with the destruction and loss of civilian life.

This is a tall order for the Lebanese. They have got to take their army down there. They have to take up the security post. They know they have got to invest a lot in that army, train in that army, recruit in that army, and improve it to take over their own security.

They're going to need a lot of international help on that front, and ensuring that Lebanon builds its democracy now, builds its -- its freedom and independence from regional countries.

ZAHN: Jim Clancy, we have got to leave it there and move on to further north of where you are. Thanks so much.

Even as the diplomats were talking today, at least four people died, and dozens were wounded when Israel's warplanes struck a convoy of Lebanese military and civilian vehicles in the Bekaa Valley.

Michael Ware got there just after it happened. He joins me now on the phone from the Bekaa Valley.

Michael, describe to us what you saw.

MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, what we found was a convoy of mostly civilian vehicles, led by some Lebanese army trucks and jeeps, which had clearly been struck by some kind of airstrike.

From the evidence that we saw, and from speaking to some of the rescue workers and the locals, it appears that this convoy had broken off from the main body of the 1,500 civilian vehicles, who, this evening, were trying to make their way north.

They have been given safe passage in a U.N.-brokered deal to escape the fighting around the besieged city of Marjayoun. When they reached the north, in the Bekaa Valley, there was many bottlenecks and traffic jams. It appears this is one of many that broke off and created a different stream.

When they were hit, the military con -- military lead vehicles were struck first. Civilian vehicles behind them, then did a U-turn, trying to escape. They, too, were -- were hit. And we have at least four dead and over 20 injured, seven of whom are Lebanese soldiers -- Paula.

ZAHN: I understand that many of the civilians had been trapped there for many weeks. What condition were they in before this strike?

WARE: Listen, Paula, watching this convoy roll out as it was leaving the free-fire zone, we have been tracking it all day down there in southern Lebanon.

The bombing was just relentless. Even as the convoy was moving, there were bombs falling all about, even with this supposed U.N. safe passage. And, as the vehicles moved up the road, the bombing continued up the road behind them, as if to close it.

When these people came out, they had been trapped in there for weeks and weeks. It was old men, old women, fathers, mothers, little children, all crammed into any vehicle that would move. There were daughters driving old mothers. It really was heartbreaking to see the condition of these people.

As we were heading north with this convoy -- we ourselves traveled with them -- the people here in the villages, as they passed, stepped out onto the street, to clap, to wave, to cheer, to hand out water to the desperate. That's what it was like. It was a stream of these people who were hit -- Paula.

ZAHN: And that's something that we hope to talk to Israeli officials about a little bit later on.

Michael Ware, once again, the pictures graphically showing what Michael is talking about.

Want to come back to the breaking news for a moment. We're going to go to a live picture of the U.N., where the Security Council just unanimously passed a resolution calling for an immediate end to the month-long fighting in Lebanon, and authorizing the deployment of some 30,000 Lebanese troops and U.N. troops to the south of the country, close to the border of Israel -- that vote coming down right here at the top of the hour.

Now, as part of tonight's in-depth "Top Story" conference, I will be talking to officials from both Israel and Lebanon in just a minute. We were told it was not a perfect agreement, that both sides had to give up something. We will find out exactly what their level of satisfaction is with this final draft. And, then, a little bit later on, full coverage of tonight's other "Top Story." Please stay with us for the very latest in the alleged terrorist plot to kill thousands of innocent passengers on jets from England to the U.S.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: First, it puts in place a full cessation of hostilities. There is an insistence of an unconditional release of abducted Israeli soldiers. Hezbollah must immediately cease its attacks on Israel, and Israel must halt its offensive military operations in Lebanon, while reserving the right of any sovereign state to defend itself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: We are following late-breaking developments on our "Top Story" tonight, the fighting in Lebanon, and tonight's diplomatic efforts at the U.N. to put an end to it.

Just minutes ago, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution calling for an end to the month-long fighting in Lebanon. The resolution also authorized the deployment of 30,000 Lebanese and U.N. troops to help keep the peace.

Joining me now is Israel's ambassador to the S. -- U.S., that is, Daniel Ayalon.

Thanks for joining us tonight, sir.

We understand your government is supposed to approve of this on Sunday. Does it have any concerns about what was passed in this draft resolution and -- and its enforceability?

DANIEL AYALON, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO UNITED STATES: Well, Paula, this is a good resolution.

And I tell you, we must applaud the leadership of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who navigated U.S. diplomacy, international diplomacy, through very, very stormy waters. I think the result today is a good result.

And without pre-judging Israeli's cabinet decision, which will convene only on Sunday, I believe, I expect it will approve it. And, of course, now we would all like to see a full implementation and a complete and thorough implementation of this resolution, unlike...

ZAHN: All right. You -- you...

AYALON: ... the resolutions of the past, which were not fulfilled.

ZAHN: Well, that -- that leads me to this question, then.

If you expect a thorough implementation of this resolution, do you have full confidence in the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah?

AYALON: Well, we would like to.

And we certainly would like to give diplomacy a chance. And this is what we're doing right now. They will be assisted by a robust UNIFIL, which, as the secretary said, it's the same name, but it's a different mandate. And, with the assistance of UNIFIL, I believe that they will achieve the results, which are, namely, the disarming of the Hezbollah, a -- stopping the arms, armament shipments, from Syria and Iran to the Hezbollah.

And this will create a new reality, a new security reality and a new political reality on our border and in Lebanon itself. I think, if this can be achieved, this will be a real achievement for the Lebanese people, for Israeli people, and for the entire area, as we are clipping the wings here of Syria and Iran, and, first and foremost, of course, the Hezbollah.

ZAHN: You say you want to give it a chance, but I just want to make sure I'm understanding this clearly. You have complete confidence that this is going to work out and Hezbollah is ultimately disarmed?

AYALON: Well, we have now more than 30 years' experience of resolutions, which were good resolutions, but they were never implemented.

I believe, if there is any lesson for all of us, the -- in the international community is that we are now paying the price, a very heavy price, which is borne...

ZAHN: Right.

AYALON: ... basically by Israelis and -- and Lebanese, for not adhering to past resolutions.

ZAHN: But will they get it done this time?

AYALON: Well, they have to, because, if they don't, we have not created any new situation, and we will have to implement it by force.

Israel -- and -- and, Paula -- and I think this is very important to -- to clarify. Israel could have achieved the results in a very forceful way. We did not use all our firepower, because we did not want to threaten southern Lebanon and to kill so many civilians. We were very careful to try and distinguish between Hezbollah and the -- the civilians...

ZAHN: All right. But...

AYALON: ... as -- as they embed themselves.

ZAHN: But, quickly, in closing, that left Hezbollah intact, and is leading a lot of people, including 20 percent of the public in Israel, saying that Hezbollah won. AYALON: Well, I think this is the wrong perception. And, at the end of the day, everybody will realize, if we can achieve what we want to, disarming of the Hezbollah, without a -- further violent moves, that would be great for everybody.

And -- and I believe this can be achieved, because this is what the resolution calls for, a real disarmament of the Hezbollah. If this is not achieved, I believe both the Lebanese and the Israelis' interest would to do it in a different way, which we hope we will never have to test.

ZAHN: Ambassador Daniel Ayalon, thank you for joining us so quickly after this vote in the U.N.

Now we're going to quickly turn to the Lebanese side.

With me now, Mohamad El-Harake, consul general of Lebanon.

Thank you so much for being with us.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: Are you as satisfied as the ambassador said he was?

MOHAMAD EL-HARAKE, CONSUL GENERAL OF LEBANON: It's not a perfect resolution. But it's better than the war.

The government, Lebanese government, will discuss it tomorrow, and he will give his approval, probably, about it.

ZAHN: Probably?

EL-HARAKE: Yes. I mean, I can't know right now.

But all the indicators are in the -- in the direction of approving it.

ZAHN: Let's talk about the major sticking point in this resolution that negotiators have gone back and forth for, for weeks. And that is the idea that your government, under this resolution, is required to disarm Hezbollah, something that you either chose not to do or weren't able to do over the last two years, under another resolution.

How are you going to do it? How will that work? How will you get the arms out of Hezbollah's hands?

EL-HARAKE: It's very simple. Hezbollah was created in response to the Israeli occupation of the land of Lebanon, in reaction to the many invasions of Israel to the land of -- the land of Lebanon.

And, once the occupation stops, once the Shebaa Farms issue is addressed, once the prisoners are released, once there's no violation of airspace and territorial water, once there is a map delivered -- delivered to the U.N., about 400,000 land mines killing shepherds and children, who don't pose any threat to Israel, all these issue, once addressed, Hezbollah will be disarmed, even indirectly, without even taking his weapons.

ZAHN: But the Israelis are counting on you to honor this resolution and take those weapons. So, how will you actually collect those weapons? How does that work, once all these things, those conditions you have talked about, are met?

EL-HARAKE: Yes. We cannot put the cart before the horse. Let -- let us proceed...

ZAHN: But that's a critical question.

EL-HARAKE: Yes, I know that. Let us proceed step by step.

Now, we were asking for a cease-fire since day one. Now there is a cessation of hostilities. We had certain reservations about that, because the -- the resolution was talking about offensive Israeli actions and attacks of Hezbollah.

ZAHN: But that's all nailed down in this latest resolution.

EL-HARAKE: Yes, I know.

But, you know, one -- the Israeli defense army is called defense army. So, we are a bit scared that it goes within that definition of defense, all the attacks of Israel.

ZAHN: Will Hezbollah honor a cease-fire?

EL-HARAKE: Hezbollah, since day one -- day one, I mean, has mandated our government to go -- to do all the necessary for a cease- fire.

ZAHN: And we are told by John Roberts on the ground, by Israeli military sources, that perhaps the fighting could stop as soon as Monday.

Is that what you're hearing? Can you confirm that?

EL-HARAKE: Yes, because the resolution right now is adopted. And the necessary steps are taken, and, hopefully, the war will stop, and the tragedies will stop, also.

ZAHN: Mohamad El-Harake, thank you...

EL-HARAKE: Thank you.

ZAHN: ... for coming in tonight.

EL-HARAKE: It's my pleasure.

(LAUGHTER)

ZAHN: Really appreciate your time.

(CROSSTALK)

ZAHN: We're going to keep watching developments at the U.N. tonight and in the Middle East, of course.

But, in just a minute, some new details about the worldwide scope against the terrorist plot against airliners and thousands of passengers headed to the United States.

Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We keep on watching developments in the Middle East from here, but for now, we move on to today's other top story, the alleged terrorist plot to bomb U.S.-bound airliners and kill thousands of innocent passengers. Here is the very latest. As we speak, Britain remains at its highest state of alert for terrorism. It has been that way since early Thursday when police started rounding up suspects accused plotting to smuggle liquid bomb components aboard as many as 10 airliners and detonate simultaneous explosions over the Atlantic Ocean.

Now just hours ago, police announced that one of the 24 people under arrest has been released without being charged. That person's identity hasn't been disclosed. But earlier today, the Bank of England identified 19 of the 24 suspects by announcing it had frozen their bank accounts.

Meanwhile lines at airports in Britain and the U.S. are finally starting to get a little bit shorter, as passengers get used to the new carry-on restrictions, prohibiting liquids and gels. There are even tighter limits on carry-ons for passengers in England. No electronic devices at all allowed on carry-on baggage.

Now tonight, investigators detecting the shadow of al Qaeda and a trail that stretches half way around the world to suspects in Britain. So our top story coverage goes now to London where Deborah Feyerick joins me with the very latest developments on that investigation. Deborah?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, we can tell you that now there are now still 23 people in custody and they are considered terror suspects, though, British authorities did release one earlier tonight. At least tonight by UK time. They would not give us any reason as to why they were doing this. They only said it was not unusual. As for the others, who are in custody, they are wanted for further questioning as part of this investigation. Authorities aggressively trying to gather evidence.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

FEYERICK (voice-over): With key suspects believed to be in custody, British investigators set about pouring over bank accidents, trying to find the money trail. At least one wire transfer originating from Pakistan, sources say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will continue to maintain a vigilance at the highest level. FEYERICK: The Bank of England froze financial assets of 19 of those arrested, releasing their names, as required by law. Suspects are between 17 and 35 years old, many of them British of Pakistani decent. U.S. officials tell CNN at least one of the suspects recently placed two phone calls to the United States. The calls were investigated but at this time, no American-based co-conspirators have been uncovered. Meantime in London and its outskirts, authorities continued searching homes, seizing key items, like computers and laptops. A U.S. official tells CNN, an analysis of hard drives reveals virtually every aspect of suspect's lives, including websites visited, items downloaded and people contacted. Authorities are seeking out friends, acquaintances, and anyone else who came in contact with the alleged terrorists.

Crime and Justice Minister John Reid oversees this investigation.

JOHN REID, CRIME AND JUSTICE MINISTER: We will go where any further evidence takes us. We will take whatever further action is necessary. We will apprehend anyone else who appears to be linked or connected to this

FEYERICK: The suspects are accused of plotting to blow up 10 jetliners in a coordinated, almost simultaneous attack. Glenmore Trenear-Harvey spent 40 years in British security. Had the planes exploded over the water, he says, it's likely all evidence would have been wiped out and lost to investigators.

GLENMORE TRENEAR-HARVEY, INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: When they pick up the pieces, there will be no indication of what caused the explosion. That would have enabled them to repeat this operation time and time again.

FEYERICK: Trenear-Harvey says, with U.S. and British policies so closely aligned in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon, the accused terrorists may have been trying to strike both countries in one blow.

TRENEAR-HARVEY: Because the United States is the leader in the global war on terrorism, it also becomes the prime target.

FEYERICK (on camera): So it really does send a message that these two countries are in it together and they will be attacked as one.

TRENEAR-HARVEY: Very much so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, Deborah, give us some more details on some of the other evidence that investigators have collected by this hour.

FEYERICK: Yes, it's very interest, Paula. Because of the laws here in this country, they're very loathe to release any information. It's very difficult to get them to say anything. We do know that they did confiscate a vacuum, for example, and that the contents of that vacuum will be analyzed. Authorities will not say whether, in fact, they discovered any sort-of trace explosives or wiring or any of the bomb components. All they will say is that this is part of a long investigation and this is just the start of it, Paula.

ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick covering London end of the investigation. Thanks so much.

Now back across the Atlantic here where American investigators raise a disturbing new possibility. Whether there, in fact, is a link between the latest terror plot in a country that's a U.S. ally on the war on terror. Our top story coverage turns now to justice correspondent Kelli Arena. Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Paula, the investigation is still ongoing but many roads are leading to Pakistan. Counterterrorism officials aren't surprised by this at all. The Pakistani government has little control over the tribal areas near the Afghan border where al Qaeda is very strong.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARENA (voice-over): A British official says an alleged terrorist operative in Pakistan gave the go signal for the airliner plot to go forward after arrests in Pakistan. Both U.S. and British officials say Pakistan played a very important role in helping foil the plot. But they say the connections between the alleged operatives in Britain and seven individuals arrested in Pakistan are very troubling. Bob Grenier is a former CIA station chief, who was based in Pakistan.

BOB GRENIER, KROLL ASSOCIATES: Fairly clear that these operatives in the UK received some form of support from elements in Pakistan. What is not at all clear right now is the extent to which al Qaeda, as narrowly defined, was actually involved in that. And whether or not there was actual command and control exerted from Pakistan.

ARENA: U.S. and British sources say one of the men in custody in Pakistan, identified by Pakistani officials as Rashid Rauf (ph), had a key operational role in the alleged plot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: About those in Pakistan at the moment I wouldn't like to say anything. Investigations are continuing.

ARENA: And there are other connections. U.S. government officials say wire transfer records show funds being sent from Karachi to members of the alleged terror group in Britain. Intelligent sources on both sides of the Atlantic say at least one member the group trained in an al Qaeda camp in Pakistan and at least two of the British suspects travelled to Pakistan to meet with an alleged al Qaeda explosives expert, Matuir Rehman. Terror experts say Rehman was directly involved in an attack on U.S. consular officials in Karachi back in March.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's clearly a very dangerous individual and it is speculated that he may be playing a key role in the link between Pakistani extremists and members of al Qaeda. But at this point, it's really too soon to say precisely what his role is.

ARENA: Pakistan's border with Afghanistan is home for many of the world's most dangerous Islamic terrorists among them, Osama bin Laden. And they still exert tremendous influence on extremists around the world.

JOHN BRENNAN, FMR DIR. NATL. COUNTERTERRORISM CTR: I really believe that the Pakistani officials have to stay on top of this, because they have the links then to the Pakistani communities in the United Kingdom, as well as to here in the United States.

ZAHN: So Kelli, in addition to what we're learning about the involvement of Pakistani officials here in the investigation, we're also learning more about the whistle-blower in the Muslim community, that helped break open this investigation. What can you tell us about him?

ARENA: Well, Paula, it was just after the London subway bombings last summer, when everyone was very much on edge, that an individual from the Muslim community in London noticed that an acquaintance was acting strangely. Now there aren't any details on that front. But this individual thought it was peculiar enough to notify the police there. So the tip was followed up. The investigation was opened. And Paula, you know, this just shows how important the public role is in this war on terror.

ZAHN: Something that the secretary of homeland security reminds us of every day. Kelli Arena, thanks so much.

Just how strong is this al Qaeda possibility? Let's ask our top story experts tonight. CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen and Steve Emerson, who wrote "American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us." Good to see both of you.

So Peter, you've just heard Kelli's report. How significant are those facts.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Kelli's report was, you know, I think it substantiates the notion that al Qaeda was involved. We have people going to training camps, meeting with explosive experts. There's some suggestion of al Qaeda command and control. Obviously the investigation, we we're only 24 hours into it. But if we had this set of facts coming out of the first London attacks, July 7th of 2005, which was initially treated, you may remember, entirely as homegrown terrorism. As time went on, it became more and more clear that this was really an al Qaeda operation. We would have made the conclusion very quickly that that first London attack was an al Qaeda operation. Now we believe that operation was an al Qaeda operation. I think this one is very similar. I think al Qaeda was trying to get something in the frame for the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and this was it.

ZAHN: I see you nodding in agreement. So there's no doubt in your mind that it has all of the hallmarks of an al Qaeda operation.

STEVE EMERSON, AUTHOR "AMERICAN JIHAD": That's the operative word, Paula, hallmarks. The problem right now is that since al Qaeda's ranks have been depleted in the last few years because of arrests, or because of detentions or arrests. Because they've gone undercover, underground, there have been new lieutenants appointed and we're not so sure about who they are in the al Qaeda organization. Therefore, when there are contacts made with these new lieutenants, U.S. intelligence is sort of hamstrung because it doesn't know really who is in the new generation of al Qaeda.

ZAHN: I know you also think we all get hamstrung in spending a lot of time about talking about whether al Qaeda conceived this plot. Because you think that al Qaeda has such an impact, that it's almost a state of mind that influences home grown terrorists out there.

EMERSON: Part of my reaction when I'm asked is it al Qaeda? Is it doesn't really matter. Because if you have militant Islamic theology that basically mandates suicide bombings or mandating attacks against the infidel, then if it's al Qaeda or it's home grown, the problem is the larger common denominator here of radical Islamic theology.

ZAHN: The scariest thing, I think, for all of us Americans watching this story unfold was that yesterday we were told it didn't look like there was any ties to a U.S. operation. And then we hear this morning from someone at the White House, and in fact the FBI is following up on leads of potential connections between cells here and perhaps the suspects involved in what happened yesterday.

BERGEN: Well I can't really comment on that Paula, but I'd like to pick up on what Steve said. I mean, I think, yes, the ideology is very important but on 9/11 we weren't attacked by an ideology, we were attacked by an organization. I think this London plot we just saw, my assumption is that most of the 24 people arrested are just throwaways, not very important.

ZAHN: One of them already released.

BERGEN: But two or three of the people who went to Pakistan, you only need two or three people who get the training on how to make bombs, how to run a cell. For those people to come back and basically have the operation, get moving with these sort of throwaways who are not that important, who are influenced by the ideology. So I think the organization remains important as much as the ideology. While agreeing the ideology is important?

ZAHN: Come back to what our concerns should be as Americans. Was that a red flag as far as you heard this morning, when we're talking about the FBI following up on some potential leads here.

EMERSON: I spoke to someone in the intelligence community who said there were hundreds leads that were followed-up or developed by the FBI as well as other agencies, that would be the CIA and the NSA. So it's clear that there were connections that they wanted to check out. Now, they haven't found any U.S. connection but that doesn't mean they can't find it in the future with the exploitation of the hard drives and the computers that they just found today.

ZAHN: Do you think this was linked potentially with the five- year mark as September 11 as Peter suggested at the top? EMERSON: I think it was probably linked to the five-year anniversary, with an attempt to have the attack occur before Labor Day, when they know that most Americans would be flying back from London to the United States.

ZAHN: Well, we appreciate you're helping us better understand what this investigation is revealing tonight. Thank you, Steve Emerson, Peter Bergen, appreciate your time.

Now as part our in depth coverage of the terrorism arrest, we're going to look at the new security regulations on every single airline passenger here in the U.S. Are the new restrictions here to stay?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Tonight 23 suspects remain in British custody in what officials say was a plot to blow up at least 10 airliners and kill thousands of people heading from Great Britain to America.

Now our top story coverage continues on one of the bloodiest terrorist plots since 9/11. Our Jason Carroll has been in London, where he's been working hard all day long, tracking down people who know some of these suspects and turned up some surprising discoveries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: British police confiscated more items from Ibrahim Savant's (ph) home in east London early Friday. The 26-year-old belongings wrapped up in plastic bags. Several block away, more police stationed in front of the home of 22- year-old Wahid Kahn (ph). Ishtiaq Hussein can't understand why any of this is happening. He's friends with both of them and says neither is capable of terrorism.

ISHTIAQ HUSSEIN, FRIEND OF TWO SUSPECTS: They would never hurt a fly. They never used to talk in anger.

CARROLL: Hussein's friend are two of the 24 arrested in connection with the terrorist plot. Most are of Pakistani descent. Thirteen of them live in East London, an area with a large Pakistani community. Hussein knew Ibrahim through sports.

HUSSEIN: I used to play football with him back in the day, few years ago and still contact. He's around the corner from me. When I speak to him, there's no hatred in him, there's no anger. There's no reason for him to be associated in the plots.

CARROLL: He said he knew Wahid Kahn from school. They studied bio-chemistry together at college. Kahn was also head of the school's Islamic Council and was studying to be a doctor.

HUSSEIN: He was into Islam, but he wasn't into like the extreme side of it and he stay away from the people that were always voicing it.

CARROLL: And then there is Faisal Hussein (ph), he's the father of three boys, Tarik, Umer and Moran (ph). All are suspects in custody. He says he was too upset to speak in his sons' behalf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody who knows them, he's a father. I know them. The community that knows them. Anybody who knows his three children will swear on the Koran, anything, that, to say that they're innocent.

CARROLL: They believe police made a serious mistake. In fact, many in the Muslim community feel the same.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can't go around, knocking down people's houses. Smashing their doors down, causing friction, upsetting people's families. It's not right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's absolute propaganda.

CARROLL (on camera): Do most of you not believe what is happened in terms of the arrests.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't show no proof that look we've arrested 21 people. Where is the evidence? Show us the evidence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Innocent is until proven guilty. The thing is, right. They'll name all the people. And then three weeks later you'll find out they're all innocent and yet we get a bad name.

CARROLL: And many believe the same as Faisel Hussein.

HUSSEIN: They went to prayer. They went to prayer and that's their guilt because they went to prayer.

CARROLL: So a father and community wait for answers and for authorities to present solid evidence linking those arrested to terrorism. Only then will some here be convinced what happened was justified.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: All right, Jason, so if they don't think any of those suspects were in fact involved, who do they think was responsible for this plot?

CARROLL: Well it's an interesting question there, Paula. In terms of those that we spoke to, they believe that this is some sort of an exaggeration made up by the U.S. government as well as the British government to try to draw attention away from what they say is the real issue and that is the conflict going on in the Middle East.

ZAHN: Jason Carroll, thanks so much, reporting for us from London tonight.

Coming up next in our top story coverage, the question every single airline passenger is asking right now, is it safe to fly? We're going to hear what the country's top homeland security official had to say just a few hours ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: So as most of you know out there, this is the peak of the summer travel season and the terror arrests in Britain are making life even more difficult on this side of the Atlantic. Our top story coverage turns to travelers and the nation's huge air security system all struggling with tough brand new rules. You can't bring anything liquid on the plane with you anymore not even a bottle of water. But the bottom line from the experts tonight is this, 100 percent security is almost impossible. Here's homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): His department does not have a technology to detect liquid explosives like those the alleged terrorists wanted to use. But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says the blanket ban on carrying liquids and gels onto aircraft is working.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECY. OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Again I want to reiterate, flying is safe.

MESERVE: But some experts say aviation security is chock full of holes. Most air cargo is not screened. There's no system to ward off attacks with shoulder-fired missiles. Some airport personnel with access to secure areas and even aircraft don't have to pass through security checkpoints and over and over again, the government's own security watch dogs have smuggled prohibited items past screeners and their machines.

One expert is most horrified by this. The airlines, not the government, are checking passenger names against terror watch lists.

JAMES CARAFANO, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: Here we are, we'll be at the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and we still haven't done the one kind of practical, common-sense thing we could do to keep terrorists off airplanes.

MESERVE: A member of the commission that investigated 9/11, says aviation security is rife with questionable decisions and pork barrel spending.

TIM ROEMER, FMR. 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER: Too often some of these contracts are let to particular businesses in districts of members of Congress rather than based on an intelligence assessment and the best technologies.

MESERVE: With threats morphing and multiplying, absolute security is impossible, the head of the Transportation Security Administration says. But he argues that federal air marshals, reinforced cockpit door, combat air patrols and technology, provide effective layers of security, if routines are varied and kept unpredictable.

EDMUND "KIP" HAWLEY, TSA DIRECTOR: What we don't is to allow a terrorist to engineer his process, knowing exactly what we're going to do. MESERVE: Hawley also wants to expand the training of security personnel to recognize suspicious behavior. He says it is inexpensive yet effective.

HAWLEY: We'd rather put the effort into that security, which guards against any kind of threat, rather than spend millions of dollars, wait many years, and then only deploy it where you can afford it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: So, Jeanne, when we think about these measures that were put into effect yesterday, do we expect them to be in place permanently?

MESERVE: Well, Secretary Chertoff said today that there would be adjustments over time and Kip Hawley, the head of the TSA, told me he did not expect the ban on gels and liquids to be permanent. But he said travelers should not expect any relaxation of that rule for the next several weeks at least. Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Jeanne Meserve, thanks so much. Right now, we're going to take a quick "Biz Break."

(MARKET REPORT)

ZAHN: Our coverage of tonight's breaking news continues at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE." Larry will have reaction to the U.N.'s newly-passed peace plan for the Middle East. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And I want to quickly recap this hour's breaking news. The U.N. Security Council has unanimously passed a plan to stop the fighting in Israel and Lebanon. Both the Israeli and Lebanese governments will meet over the weekend. But both countries have pretty much said, they will accept the resolution. It calls for a complete cessation of hostilities and sending some 15,000 international peace keepers to the area along the Israeli/Lebanese border.

The U.N. vote comes on the 31st day of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. So tonight we are told by some of our military officials on the ground at the border, there is a chance the fighting might stop as soon as Monday. Of course that's a very tough thing to evaluate and we will be on the story all week long and keep you posted on all the developments going on in the Middle East. That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for being with us on this very busy Friday night. Have a very nice weekend. See you back here Monday night.

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