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Former President Gerald Ford Hospitalized; Apocalypse Now?; Eight Israeli Soldiers Killed in Lebanon

Aired July 26, 2006 - 15:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it's day 15 of the Middle East crisis, and there's no letup in the violence.
Here's what we know. You are seeing the aftermath of new Israeli airstrikes on the city of Tyre. The attacks leveled a 10-story building in the heart of that city. Meantime, Israeli troops are engaged in a deadly ground battle in southern Lebanon. Eight of them have been killed in fierce clashes with Hezbollah fighters in Bint Jbail. Now, just yesterday, Israel claimed to have that city under control.

And the United Nations is demanding answers, after four of its observers were killed by Israeli bombs in Lebanon. Lebanese sources say, at least three precision-guided bombs hit an observation post. Israel denies it was deliberate.

CNN does have reporters all across the region. LIVE FROM will have live reporters throughout the news program.

It has been a frequent target of Israeli forces. And it has come under fire once again.

Our Ben Wedeman joins us from the city of Tyre in southern Lebanon with the latest -- Ben.


And, even at this time -- it's 10:00 at night here in Tyre -- we are still hearing and seeing flashes on the horizon behind me, to the south of the city, as Israel continues its bombardment of southern Lebanon.

But it was this afternoon, really, this evening, when we heard these two big explosions which ended what had been an otherwise quiet day. Those explosions were when Israeli missiles were hitting a 10- story building, not on the outskirts of Tyre, but right in the middle of the city.

Now, we are told that that building has completely collapsed. It's a scene of utter devastation. Local officials tell us, 10 people were wounded in that blast, in those two blasts. It's not clear at this point whether anybody was killed, because when 10 -- when 10 floors go down, there's a lot of rubble. It is going to take a lot of time to clear that rubble away, to find if there are any bodies underneath. But what we saw after these missiles hit this building -- it's only about 600 meters from where I'm standing -- was a huge cloud of thick, black smoke.

Now, Karl Penhaul, my colleague, rushed to the scene. He said it was utter pandemonium. He watched as women and children and other people were stumbling through the streets in a complete daze, covered with this thick, gray dust, some of them with blood flowing down their faces, others with blood coming out of their ears.

Now, at this point, we have no idea why this particular building was targeted. We have spoken with people in the municipality. And they say, for -- as far as they know, there was no target that Israel might have wanted to hit there -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Now, Ben, I'm curious on your take, because I know you talk with a lot of people that live in Beirut. And, just as the evacuations are -- are pretty much coming to a close -- of -- of course, not everyone is out yet, but it's -- the big operations are over -- you have all these diplomatic meetings that have been taking place.

What's the sense in Beirut, that the worst is yet to come, or this is going to get better?

WEDEMAN: The feeling, Kyra, is that the worst has yet to come.

Really, people are sort of terrified at what's going to happen next. The feeling was that, while the United States and Britain and France and all these -- and Canada and all these countries were engaged in this evacuation effort, that Israel was holding back to a certain extent, while the diplomatic effort was being undertaken by U.S. Secretary Condoleezza Rice, that there was an certain element of restraint.

The feeling is that, today, that restraint is gone, that the real hard might of the Israeli military may be about to fall on Lebanon. So, many people are worried. Many more people than we have seen recently are heading out of the city. They feel that, as you said, the worst is yet to come.

PHILLIPS: Ben Wedeman, in Tyre, Lebanon, thanks so much.

Well, the U.S. exodus out of Lebanon isn't quite over yet. More Americans are getting out of harm's way and heading to Cyprus.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is there.

Barbara, we understand there has been great progress in the evacuations of Americans from southern Lebanon.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Kyra, an amazing story unfolding over the day. And it will finish here, later tonight, here at the pier in Larnaca, Cyprus.

The Princess Marissa, which is a Canadian charter ship, was in Tyre, in southern Lebanon, earlier today, loading Westerners, including some of those Americans that had been trapped in southern Lebanon, because of the fighting and because of the bombing, for so many days.

Well, now many of those Americans, we are told by our sources in Lebanon and our sources here in Cyprus, having made their way on to that boat, they will arrive here shortly.

But, Kyra, there is a story of American heroism that is going to emerge here -- sources in Beirut telling us there are a number of Lebanese-Americans that were in southern Lebanon at the time that organized their own rescue effort, essentially working with the embassy.

There were some Lebanese-American people from Los Angeles who basically used up to $8,000 of their own money to hire cars and drivers. And they began to convoy people out of the hills, and bring them down to the port. This was all done through text-messaging, e- mailing, sat phones, cell phones, going back and forth to the embassy in Beirut, which was directing these convoys using a phone and a map, to these drivers.

It was very dangerous. They felt they had safe passage from the Israelis. But, of course, after that bombing of that U.N. post in southern Lebanon, nobody was very sure what would happen -- some of these people now expected to arrive here in Larnaca overnight. And there is every indication we will see quite an amazing story of American heroism -- some of these convoys moving through the hills of southern Lebanon today, Kyra, reported to be 20, 30 cars long. It was quite an operation by all accounts -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Barbara Starr, in Larnaca, Cyprus, thanks so much.

Well, extremely intense, that's how Israeli soldiers are describing the fighting in a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon. Israel said it was in control of the city just yesterday, but it is reporting casualties today.

CNN's John Roberts joins us now live from northern Israel with details, and a bit of a show-and-tell of where he is and the action taking place around him.

John, tell us.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, we just wanted to take a couple minutes here to kind of give you a flavor of the place.

If the -- if the light is a little funky, it's because we're -- we are going by streetlights here and -- and some other lights that are around.

But let me tell you what you're seeing behind here, reinforcements for the battle in southern Lebanon, particularly around the area of Bint Jbail. Because of Israeli censorship rules, we can't tell you the number of forces that are in here, but they have got a lot of these Marab (ph) tanks lined up.

We just saw, a couple of minutes ago -- unfortunately, a couple of minutes ago, a little more chaotic situation. A couple of tank transporters brought in some more of those Marab (ph) tanks to join in the fight, one of them just over here.

You can see Israeli troops over here on my -- my right. This is an -- an area just south of -- of the Lebanese border, where it's -- it's by a cut in the border where the Israeli forces (AUDIO GAP) going through to -- to join (AUDIO GAP) here.

Obviously, what's happening in Bint Jbail in this fight is the -- the big (AUDIO GAP) in Israel. We are the only American television network here right now. We have some Israeli TV over here.

Bring you up here and show you something else. Channel 10 Israel is located over here. And if you can sort of see through the crowd of Israeli soldiers Channel 2 Israel, which is one of their big channels here, has got an entire field studio set up here -- so, obviously, a tremendous amount of interest in this country. And why wouldn't there be for what's going on there in Bint Jbail?

Here's what we can tell you about the fighting. Yesterday, the Israeli army believed that it had control of that area. They got up this morning. They were clearing out some areas. And there was a counterattack by Hezbollah.

They set up a bunch of booby-traps. Sagger missiles, which are those anti-tank missiles, were being fired, also had other explosive devices. We saw some of the armor that was involved in that fight earlier, showing a lot of damage from mortars, also those anti-tank rockets, though there wasn't any kills on any of the tanks that we saw, but there were casualties.

Eight Israeli soldiers died in that fighting. Twenty-two others were injured, three of them seriously.

So, Kyra, it shows you how quickly things can change. You have -- you have -- have control of the town at one second -- or at least you think you do -- and, then, the next second, you don't.

General Udi Adam, who is the head of the northern command here in Israel, backtracking a little bit on this idea that they had control of the city -- today, in a press conference, which was in Hebrew, so we can't bring you any of those sound bites for you, without translations on them, saying: Hey, wait a minute (AUDIO GAP) not (AUDIO GAP) control of the town. We had control of the territory.

So, the Israeli army now saying there's a difference between being able to control an entire city or having control (AUDIO GAP) area around it. And still pretty clear, at this point, Kyra, that Hezbollah still a very strong fighting force. It shows the effectiveness of what the military calls this asymmetrical warfare, where you have a standard military unit with tanks, guns, uniforms, against a -- a force that is able to kind of meld into the community. You look at a person standing on a street corner, you might think they're going to a shop one second. The next second, they have got a -- a -- a rocket-propelled grenade in their hand, and they're going after you.

So, they are still trying to clear out those pockets of resistance in Bint Jbail. They're even getting some pockets of resistance in Maroun al-Ras, which was the first town that they were taking.

But the -- the -- the situation on the ground here for the Israeli army does keep expanding. Just over the ridgeline behind me, we saw a pretty intense volley of artillery fire going in there. They were laying down a lot of fire on the city, obvious -- obviously going after some strongholds.

Last night, we thought they were going to open up a new front in the very tip of the Galilee Panhandle in the area of Metulla. A tremendous number of forces were brought in. And that's right in that area where that U.N. outpost is, the one that was destroyed. It looked like they were about to launch an invasion.

And, then, suddenly, when the news of that broke, everything backed off, and -- and they -- and they went into a -- a -- a posture which is just kind of a wait-and-see attitude for now. I think they want to let things cool down in the international community, and the reaction to the bombing of that U.N. compound, before they decide to open up any new fronts to the north and -- and east.



PHILLIPS: Let me ask you a question, John.

First of all, the show-and-tell is fantastic, because it's finally giving us kind of a perspective of -- of -- of what you are dealing with, with regard to be able to cover this story. And you and I have been talking about your access. And you said you have been trying really hard to get across the border, and that it -- the Israelis are not allowing you to do this at this point.

And -- and let me ask you about that, because you are showing me, like, Channel 2 there in Israel has set up shot, a number of various media outlets. You're the only one from the U.S. And I -- I -- I know I forwarded this information to you from one of my sources that used to be within the IDF, saying that they're not allowing reporters over there or Israeli port -- reporters to cross the border, because the -- the IDF is worried about safety, and that they don't embed reporters with combat units, and don't really care if someone is getting the good pictures or not, because that's just how they have operated.

Now, you know, through Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, that has been a great advantage for us, to be able to embed with the military and be able to get more of the story. Do you think that could change? Do you think this is a hard-line approach that they are just not going to waver on right now?

ROBERTS: It's something that they are not prepared to waver on now, but we're -- we're making our requests known. We are pushing them hard.

I have been talking with the -- the -- the spokespeople, you know, the P.R. wing of the Israeli army, saying, look, you have got to get us inside there. We want to tell the story. They say: Yes, we know. We're trying. We're trying.

We are pushing it hard, but we're still meeting resistance from the -- the -- the generals. You know, this was the attitude that the American military took for so long, to think that, you know, after the Vietnam War, they thought having the media with them was not a good idea. And, then, when Torie Clarke came along in the Pentagon, she had this idea where the argument was being made that Saddam Hussein was such a bad guy, but a lot of people were not buying it, and the best way to be able to tell that story was to have the media on the ground there with the American forces..

And, so, she launched the embed program. And it was very successful, I think, for the media, and, as well, for the military during the Iraq war, because they got their side of the story out. And -- and -- and some people might say, there's a very narrow line between "embed" and "in bed," and a lot of the stories that came out after the war, as to -- as to whether or not the media was just sort of -- sort of buying into all of this, and the rationale for war, I think, was a little bit of a hit on the media as well.

So, we have to treat this in a very balanced fashion. But I will tell you, Kyra -- and I -- and I have lost my -- my contact with you. But we desperately want to get over there.

PHILLIPS: John Roberts, we will keep checking in. Sure appreciate it. Great discussion.

Well, it's burning up the blogs and packing them into the pews. It seems there's just no end to all this talk about the end times. We are going to talk to a couple of guys keeping a close eye on the earthly hourglass.

Stay with us.


PHILLIPS: Well, if you have not heard, we wanted to give you an update on the former President Gerald Ford. He was hospitalized -- hospitalized today.

It happened in Vail, Colorado. He was taken to Vail Valley Medical Center in this mountain resort area, where he does have a home. Apparently, he was experiencing shortness of breath, but we're told that he is expected to be released today. He will return to his home in Beaver Creek. Ford is 93 now. He is the nation's oldest living former president. He has had a few bouts with pneumonia within the past year, but really tries to maintain as an active person, playing golf, swimming.

But he does continue to fight some health issues, pneumonia being one of them, today, experiencing shortness of breath, taken to the hospital, but is expected to be released. We're following everything concerning the the former president and his health today.

Fredricka Whitfield also with another developing story that we're following -- Fred.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In Houston, Texas, after a jury found Andrea Yates, that mother of five who drowned her children, not guilty by reason of insanity, her attorney, George Parnham, has spoken after the case.

During the reading of the verdict, you will recall that he looked rather emotional. He then choked up during the reading of the verdict. He said afterwards that this case underscores the need that everyone work together to improve mental illness. He said, we need to understand mental illness is a real issue.


GEORGE PARNHAM, ATTORNEY FOR ANDREA YATES: ... body understands. I think the right thing was done. And, you know, mental health, I think, has been addressed. That's so important, that this -- this case is almost a watershed for mental illness in the criminal justice system.

It has brought out conversations and discussions with -- with families and just -- just about the reality of what we're looking at. And -- and maybe it will provide an impetus, that -- that, you know, we accept, and we get better. We work at getting people better, so that future generations of kids, as I told the jury, can look forward to being raised by moms as free from mental illness as possible.


WHITFIELD: The attorney for Andrea Yates there, George Parnham -- Andrea Yates found not guilty by reason of insanity, now will spend time at a mental institution -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right, Fred, thanks so much. We will continue to update that, obviously, throughout the day.

So, dig this. A man was bulldozing a bog in central Ireland the other day, when he noticed something unusual in the freshly turned soil. It turns out he had unearthed an early medieval treasure, an ancient book of psalms that experts date to the years 800 to 1000. Experts say it will take years of painstaking work to document and preserve this book, but, eventually, it will go on public display.

Now, here is the kicker. The book, about 20 pages of Latin script, was allegedly found opened to Psalm 83. Now, if you're a scholar, as you know Psalm 83, "God hears complaints that other nations are plotting to wipe out the name of Israel." Well, that's precisely the kind of news nugget that would get the attention of my next guests, a seemingly random event with an eerie coincidence to reality.

Jerry Jenkins is in New York. Now, along with Tim LaHaye, he co- authored the widely popular "Left Behind" series -- only 63 million books sold, by the way. Also joining me, Joel Rosenberg in Washington. He's the author of "The Copper Scroll," the latest of several apocalyptic novels.

So, gentlemen, from books, to blogs, to the back pews, the buzz is all about the end times. What do you think about the Book of Psalms? Is this going to be the next thing that both of you will write about?


PHILLIPS: I'm getting...



PHILLIPS: I'm getting smiles from both.

All right, Jerry...


PHILLIPS: ... will this be your next book?



JENKINS: It's an amazing news story. I had not heard it. In some...

PHILLIPS: Really? OK. This is your -- this is news to you, then.

JENKINS: Yes. In some ways, it's -- it's not terribly surprising.

I mean, I think God finds ways of communicating with us. And -- and he does that through his word. That's an incredible story. And it would probably have to be written in fiction form, because people are going to find it hard to believe.


PHILLIPS: Well, Jerry, you have sold 60 million -- 63 million- plus books about the end times. Why do you think they have been so successful? And -- and why did you go that rite -- route? Why did you want to write about it? JENKINS: Well, the idea for fiction about the end times was really Dr. LaHaye's. He's a prophecy scholar and theologian, has been studying this stuff longer than I have been alive.

But he just had the idea that, after writing several nonfiction books about the subject, if -- if we could put it in fiction format, more people would find it accessible and understandable. And that has proven true.

And, because of the end of millennium, and because of 9/11, and because of what's happening in the Middle East right now, people are scared to death about the future. And I think they hear about books that are based on the prophecies of scripture, and it just intrigues them, and -- and makes them want to find out what we think.

PHILLIPS: So, Joel, are we living in the last days? I mean, let's talk about the specific signs to watch. You have written about them. What does the Bible say? And are we there?

ROSENBERG: Well, people are very interested, I agree.

You know, Tim and Jerry's books deal with the rapture, the disappearance of the church, and the events going forward in Revelation. My theories, "The Ezekiel Option," "The Copper Scroll," are about events that could lead up to the rapture and the return of Christ.

Yes, people are interested, because the rebirth of Israel, the fact that Jews are living in the Holy Land today, that is a Bible prophecy. When Iran, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, they begin to form an alliance against Israel, those are the prophecies from Ezekiel 38 and 39.

I have been -- that's what I'm basing my novels on. I have been invited to the White House, Capitol Hill. Members of Congress, Israelis, Arab leaders all want to understand the Middle East through the -- through the lens of biblical prophecies. I'm writing these novels that keep seeming to come true, but we are seeing Bible prophecy, bit by bit, unfold in the Middle East right now.

PHILLIPS: And you talk about epic battles for Jerusalem, you know, the -- the biblical prophecy. Get specific with us. Tell us...

ROSENBERG: Well, that...

PHILLIPS: ... what's happening now that -- that totally correlates with what you have written about biblically?

ROSENBERG: Well, that's right.

Ezekiel 36 and 37, those are chapters in the Bible, the Old Testament, about the rebirth of the state of Israel, and Jerusalem coming back under Jewish control. We have seen those prophecies happen. Ezekiel 38 and 39, what my novel "The Ezekiel Option" is about is an alliance of Islamic countries to destroy Israel and liberate Jerusalem. We're -- we're -- are we seeing that come true yet? That's the big question. Then, Ezekiel 40 through 48, that's the rebirth of the Jewish temple, the rebuilding of it, in Jerusalem. Now, you know, if that happened in our lifetime, that alone could unleash the wrath of a billion Muslims worldwide.

That's what "The Copper Scroll" is about, hunting for treasures, hunting -- hunting for ancient document, and the series of events that could unfold that would lead to the Jewish temple and an apocalyptic war in the Middle East.

PHILLIPS: All right.

Now, Jerry, you know, there are a number of people, I'm sure, that would sit back and go: You know what? That Jerry and that Joel, they are crazy. How can you take this book that was written more than 1,000 years ago? These are just stories. There -- you -- you can't relate it to what's happening now.

What do you say to those critics?

JENKINS: Well, I think that's the uniqueness of how we treat the scripture.

So many people try to interpret Revelation symbolically or figuratively. And they can interpret it a couple hundred different ways. Dr. LaHaye's view has always been, let's take what we can take literally, what we can take literally, and tell it as if John, the revelator, meant what he said.

When he said, "I looked and I saw," unless he's making some comparison, let's just tell it as a -- as a literal story. It's really made it come to life for people, and -- and open it up and make it understandable. It -- it has for me as a writer.

And the -- all the prophecies of the Old Testament about the -- the coming of Christ as a baby were fulfilled literally. So, we're saying, what if all the prophecies of the New Testament about Jesus coming back and rapturing his church are also literal? We should treat those that way, and -- and just see what it looks like.

PHILLIPS: Joel, you also write about the prophet Zechariah. And if I remember right -- let's see -- I think it was 12, right, 12:1-3.

ROSENBERG: That's right.

PHILLIPS: Make the correlation...

ROSENBERG: Well, this is...

PHILLIPS: ... for our viewers.

ROSENBERG: This is about -- this is the prophecy that says that God is going to cause the nations of the world, the leaders of the nation, almost get drunk with the dream of recapturing Jerusalem. Now, the Bible says that Jerusalem will come back under Jewish control in the last days. That will be one of the indicators. Well, that's where we are today. But what are we watching? Saddam Hussein, or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, or Hezbollah leader Nasrallah, they are all drunk with the dream of capturing Jerusalem.

That's what "The Copper Scroll" novel is about, which is this battle, this intense battle, to liquidate the Jewish people and -- and liberate Jerusalem.

Are -- I mean, are we seeing that happen? It's hard not to say that we are. I mean, that's why I have gotten invited over to the CIA and the White House and Capitol Hill, because people -- it's not that they necessarily believe the prophecies, but they want to understand the prophecies in the Bible, in light of what's going on right now.

PHILLIPS: Do you think they are taking what you are saying and -- and -- and incorporating it into foreign policy?

ROSENBERG: I wouldn't go that far.

But I would say...


ROSENBERG: I would say that Bible prophecy is an intercept from the mind of God. It's actually fairly remarkable intelligence.

And that's why my novels keep coming true, because mine are on this side of the rapture, leading up to Jerry and Tim's books. But they suggest events that the Bible does lay out that will get us closer to those events. And, in fact, one by one, in "The Last Jihad," my book "The Last Days," "The Ezekiel Option," and now "The Copper Scroll," have this feeling of coming true.

I think that's why a million copies have sold, they are "New York Times" best-sellers, because they are based on Bible prophecy, and they are coming true bit by bit, day by day.

PHILLIPS: Jerry, what do you think about what Joel wrote about watching the Russian-Iranian alliance seeking to wipe out Israel?

JENKINS: Well, I find it very fascinating. And, of course, Joel is a real geopolitical watcher. You know, compared to him, I'm just a novelist.



JENKINS: ... as -- as he said, we are talking -- you know, Dr. LaHaye and I are writing about things that are yet to come in the far future.

But one of our takes is that nothing else has to happen before Jesus returns. He could do it at any time. And regardless who is in charge or -- or what the state of the temple is, we feel all the prophecies have been fulfilled leading up to the return of Christ, which means it could be today, tomorrow, next week, or 100 years from now.

I'm fascinated by all the stuff that -- that Joel is watching and seeing, and -- and just love hearing him talk about it.

PHILLIPS: Joel, do I need to start taking care of unfinished business, and -- and telling people that I love them, and I'm sorry for all the evil things that I have done?

ROSENBERG: Well, I think that would be a good start.

I mean, Jesus loves the people of the Middle East. Matthew 15, Jesus was in southern Lebanon. Why? Telling the people of Lebanon that he loved them, that God loved them.

What's interesting is, I was just at the Iraqi prime minister's speech today. You know, the Bible talks, in Jewish theology and Christian, that Iraq will be reborn as a country and be phenomenally peaceful and prosperous. And then a huge dictator, known as the Antichrist, will arrive.

Watching the speech today in the House of Representatives, the first speech by an Iraqi prime minister to a joint session of Congress, bit by bit, we are watching revelation and the other prophecies get closer and closer to fulfillment.

PHILLIPS: Joel Rosenberg and Jerry Jenkins, you both scare me, but you both fascinate me.


PHILLIPS: Gentlemen, thank you so much. I appreciate it.

ROSENBERG: Thank you.

JENKINS: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, a midsummer nightmare -- intense heat and no power. What's behind it all? LIVE FROM investigates right after this.