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American Morning

Mideast Conflict Grows; Bush in Europe; Raging Wildfires; Crime Emergency

Aired July 13, 2006 - 06:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Thursday, July 13. I'm Miles O'Brien.

Here is a look at what's happening this morning.

Israel is stepping up its military campaign in Lebanon. Overnight, Israeli aircraft bombed Beirut's airport and a Hezbollah- run television station. Israel is also blocking Lebanese ports today. The strikes follow the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah militants.

M. O'BRIEN: President Bush in Germany meeting today with German Chancellor Angela Merkel ahead of the G-8 summit in Russia. Just about 25 minutes from now, they are expected to hold a news conference. You'll see it here.

S. O'BRIEN: Turn to North Korea now and the missile tests there. China says its president could discuss the matter with President Bush next week. They're going to meet at the G-8 summit. Meanwhile, South Korea says it is cutting off aid to the North until it returns to those six-party talks.

M. O'BRIEN: In India, police casting a wide net as they search for culprits in the commuter train bombings. Investigators interviewing about 350 people. Still no charges or arrests, though. Bombs at seven sites killed 185 on Tuesday.

S. O'BRIEN: Flash flood warnings are in effect this morning in Ohio. Heavy rains flooded streets and highways all across the northern part of that state on Wednesday. Near Cleveland, the Coast Guard had to rescue six swimmers out of a swollen creek. Another man still missing.

Just north of New York City, folks in Westchester County cleaning up from a tornado. It uprooted hundreds of trees, tore the roofs right off buildings, left thousands of people without power, too.

M. O'BRIEN: In southern California, that huge wildfire in Yucca Valley still burning out of control this morning. Thirty-seven thousand acres now charred, more than 40 homes destroyed.

To the north, firefighters battling a fire that has burned more than 16,000 acres southeast of San Francisco. Eight buildings destroyed there. Chad Myers at the CNN Center with a forecast for the West Coast and beyond.

Hello, -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, good morning guys.


Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad, we'll look for that, thanks.

MYERS: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get to a little closer look this morning at that breaking news out of the Middle East today, the escalation of fighting. It's now spreading. Israeli bombs hit the runways of Beirut's airport today. Israel is imposing a sea and air blockade of Lebanon. Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the actions of Hezbollah. Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers yesterday.

Intense warfare is going on along the Israeli-Lebanon border. Israeli civilians hunkered down in bomb shelters while Hezbollah rockets are being fired into their cities. And Lebanon says civilians were killed when Israeli forces attacked a Hezbollah command center.

Israel is still very heavily engaged in Gaza, bombing the Palestinian Foreign Ministry today, and Hamas militants fired rockets into southern Israel.

We're covering today's latest developments from Jerusalem with Paula Hancocks and from Beirut as well with Alessio Vinci.

Alessio, let's begin with you. Good morning.

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

We are beginning to see here evidence of what the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday said, reacting to the kidnapped here of two soldiers, that the response by Israel was going to be swift and painful. And indeed Israeli jets this morning bombed Beirut's International Airport, bombed the runways of Beirut's International Airport. They did not yet bomb the terminal, but all of its three runways have been hit and the airport has been closed ever since.

The Interior Ministry in -- minister in this country has reacted, saying that the bombing constitutes an act of war against Lebanon and he said an act of war in general against the tourism industry of this country.

Of course Lebanon, in this period of the year, counts very much on thousands and tens of thousands of tourists arriving here during this period of the year. And therefore this attack and the closure of the airport represents a serious blow to the Lebanese government. At the same time, a couple of hours later, the Israeli jets also have hit an al-Manar television station, which is a television station affiliated with the Hezbollah movement here. Indicating, perhaps, that Israel, besides of course holding Lebanon and the Lebanese government responsible for the kidnapping of the two soldiers, it is also pinpointing, of course, Hezbollah, which is considered in the United States as a terrorist organization, but in this country it does hold significant power.

We understand the television station remains on the air and no one was hurt during both of these attacks.

Now meanwhile, the attacks continue also in the southern part of Lebanon on the border with Israel and that is where we're seeing the highest number of casualties so far. According to the Lebanese Health Minister, at least 45 people have been killed so far, including 10 children and members of an entire family.

Soledad, back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: Alessio Vinci reporting for us this morning from Beirut.

Let's take you from the Lebanese capital to the Israeli capital, Jerusalem, now. Paula Hancocks is there for us.

Hey, Paula, good morning.


Well the Israeli military operation in southern Lebanon is continuing, as is the military operation in Gaza, which has been ongoing for well over two weeks now. Israeli politicians are all telling us that this will take as long as it takes. They're giving us no timetable of how long they will be carrying out these military operations.

It is interesting that the Lebanese interior minister said this was an act of war by Israel. Just one day earlier, Israel had said that the Hezbollah attacks on the Israeli soldiers, killing eight and capturing two, was also an act of war. So the rhetoric on all sides in this region is getting stronger.

Now we have heard from Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah chief, that there would be a prisoner swap and that would release these two Israeli soldiers. We're hearing here in Israel, though, constant rhetoric of no negotiations, no prisoner swap. Israel saying we will not negotiate with terrorists.

S. O'BRIEN: Paula, the rhetoric getting stronger, the regional conflict also getting stronger, isn't it?

HANCOCKS: That's right, yes. Just in the last three weeks, the stability of the Middle East, the delicate stability of the Middle East, has been severely shaken. Just three weeks ago, we saw Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hugging Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, warmly embracing at a breakfast hosted by King Abdullah in Jordan, and they were talking about peace talks. They said in a couple of week's time we will meet officially.

Now of course things have deteriorated rapidly. Even by the standards of the Middle East, this is a severe and very fast escalation. We know that the military operations are ongoing on two fronts with Israel. And we know that in Gaza at least 93 Palestinians have been killed in those military operations, according to Palestinian medical sources. Now we also know that many of those are civilians.

So obviously public opinion on all three sides will be changing somewhat the longer that these military operations continue and the longer that the casualty list becomes -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Paula Hancocks for us this morning from Jerusalem.

Thank you, Paula -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: The White House is blaming Syria and Iran for the fighting, insisting Israel has a right to defend itself. Right now the president is meeting in Germany with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

CNN's Chris Burns joining us now from Rostock with more -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, the president is also asking for restraint by all sides in that conflict. And these hot spots, including in the Middle East, the Iranian nuclear question, the Korean missiles, these are issues that the president and Angela Merkel are talking about over my shoulder in that building.

But they are also trying to develop closer ties just to be able to deal with these crises, and what better place than in the place where Angela Merkel grew up, the former communist Eastern Germany. She's playing tour guide to him.

And they -- both of them have very intense six degrees of separation. Both their mentors were very close friends around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mr. Bush's father, Bush Senior, was the president at the time, Helmut Kohl was the Chancellor at the time, and that relationship between the two helped to engineer the unification of Germany.

Angela Merkel, as she met with President Bush this morning, she gave a statement thanking the American people for the unification of this country, thanking them, actually, because she would still be a nuclear physicist if she hadn't seen the unification of this country.

President Bush also raising that issue, saying that so much has happened now here since the fall of the Berlin Wall.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For decades, the German people were separated by an ugly wall. Here in the East, millions of you lived in darkness and tyranny. Today, your nation is whole again and the German people are at the center of Europe that is united and free and peaceful.


BURNS: Now we're likely to expect to hear more about the Middle Eastern crisis as well as other issues, perhaps the Guantanamo detention center. Mrs. Merkel has raised her opposition or her criticism of that. There could be some comment during that press conference coming up.

Meanwhile, there have been protests here. There are some thousands of people taking to the streets here around Talshund (ph). There are -- even Greenpeace held up a banner calling for an end to war and no Bush. So there is some opposition here. But this town is, for the most part, conservative and there are a lot of friends of President Bush in this town -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Chris Burns, thank you very much.

That news conference he refers to scheduled for 6:25 Eastern Time, just a few minutes from now. And you'll see it here live -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's take a look at what's happening domestically now. Firefighters working around the clock against a devastating wildfire in southern California. Let's take a look at what it looks like right now. Thirty-seven thousand acres burned. That number, they are predicting, could triple before long. The fire is only 15 percent contained.

About 300 homes have been evacuated. No word yet on when the thousands of evacuees are going to be allowed to return home. So far, 42 homes are lost, many more are still in danger.

CNN's Kyung Lah is live in the Yucca Valley this morning.

Kyung, good morning.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Firefighters now are getting a little bit of shuteye. They're sleeping in three four-hour shifts, hoping to try to get a little sleep before they have to put that heavy gear back on and go into this rugged terrain.

What they see right now is a little bit of humidity overnight. And they're also seeing the fire lay down. So we're not really seeing any particular glow in the hills, but firefighters do say that this is smoldering. When the sun comes up, they fully expect to see the same difficult conditions that they saw yesterday.

The fire did grow in size, about 10,000 acres yesterday. They were able to work on a containment line. They say they have grown about a 15 percent containment line, but there is still no figure on exactly when they might be able to fully circle around this fire. Now the residents here say that they are still evacuated. They want to return to their homes. Some homes have been lost. In the town of Pioneer Town, 42 homes were lost there. The loss of cars is about double that figure. Residents say as they look up to the hills and they see that vegetation that's all burnt, it's just an eerie sight.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fact that the vegetation is gone, you know that you can actually see what's out there now, whereas before it was actually a pretty lush area for the desert. But with all of this ash in the air and it's very unsettling.


LAH: There's also a new challenge for firefighters. There's a Millard (ph) fire. It's called the Millard fire. It's over in Riverside County, which is just west of where we are, a little bit south of where we are. That fire picked up yesterday with all the high winds, with all the heat. Firefighters say if that fire merges with this one, they've got a very serious problem on their hands. Because, Soledad, as you mentioned, they fully expect that this fire may triple in size -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Such a huge problem.

Kyung Lah for us this morning.

Kyung, thanks. Thanks for watching it.

LAH: You bet.

S. O'BRIEN: Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Also happening in America this morning.

In Phoenix, a tense community meeting last night as police hunt for possibly two serial killers. Five killed, 34 others shot and wounded in a crime spree that began in May of 2005.

Fresno, California, a pair of college football players, charged in the gang rape of an 11-year-old girl, in jail this morning. Twenty-year-old Mackey Davis and 19-year-old Eddie Scott pleaded not guilty to the charges yesterday. Police say eight others might be involved.

Florida now, a lawsuit after the videotape beating death of a 14- year-old boy in a juvenile boot camp. Martin Lee Anderson's family is suing state and local agencies for more than $40 million. The family had proposed a $3 million settlement, but the sheriff's office rejected that offer.

And is Indiana really the nation's number one target for terrorists? That's the word in a report from the Department of Homeland Security. Among the nearly 8,600 potential terror targets listed in Indiana, a petting zoo, a flea market and a popcorn company.

In Massachusetts, the debate over same-sex marriage will have to wait until November. Lawmakers recessed their constitutional convention yesterday without discussing the amendment that would define marriage as solely between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts more than two years ago.

And here's a promotion run amuck, a gas giveaway in Milwaukee, Wisconsin backfired. Long lines, heated tempers, fender benders and fights as hundreds of drivers waited for their free tank.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Skipping in line and all that stuff, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like punching each other?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Bleeding in the face and everything, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you believe that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, it was unbelievable.


M. O'BRIEN: Allstate Insurance offered the free gas as a reward for Milwaukee's safe driving record.

S. O'BRIEN: And it was $30 worth of free gas, isn't that right? I think it was.

M. O'BRIEN: I believe that was it.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Thirty dollars of free gas. They don't get any award for being polite I guess.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Apparently that tops their tanks (ph).

M. O'BRIEN: Not that. Not that.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, a crime emergency to tell you about in our nation's capital. Criminals apparently now targeting places that were once considered very safe. We'll take a look at what's being done to stop the burst of violence.

M. O'BRIEN: Then some good news for fliers, some new rules may mean fewer weather delays for you.

S. O'BRIEN: Two popular automakers recalling more than half a million vehicles. We'll tell you if your car or your SUV is affected.

And Carrie Lee has got business headlines for us.

Good morning.

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thank you. Good morning.

Despite a record weekend for "Pirates of the Caribbean," Walt Disney is reportedly cutting its movie output and some jobs. We'll have that story and more coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning.

Israel stepping up its military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Reuters reporting just a few moments ago, just in to us right now, the Israeli army warning Lebanon to evacuate residents from a southern Beirut neighborhood where a Hezbollah leader, Sheik (ph) Hassan Nasrallah lives. Israel stepping up reprisals against Lebanon after those Hezbollah fighters seized those two Israeli soldiers. We'll keep you posted as tensions rise there in the Middle East.

President Bush in Germany today. He's meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel. They're expected to hold a brief news conference in about 10 minutes. Live picture right there. We'll bring it to you as soon as it happens.

And police in India casting a wide net as they investigate the commuter train bombing in Mumbai. They have questioned about 350 people. Still no arrests or charges. Bombs at seven sites killed 185 on Tuesday -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: There is a crime emergency in Washington, D.C. this morning. Police beefing up security around the national landmarks and some crime hot spots in a hope of stopping an alarming trend.

AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken takes a look.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to the nation's capital known far and wide for its monuments and the seat of government and for its violent crime.

Murder and attempted rape are not supposed to happen in exclusive neighborhoods like Georgetown, but a particularly violent killing and assault did last Saturday night.

Last January, former "New York Times" Editor David Rosenbaum was bludgeoned to death in his prosperous northwest Washington neighborhood.

In the first half of this month alone, there have been 14 homicides in all parts of the district. And that was enough for the police chief to declare a crime emergency. CHARLES RAMSEY, D.C. POLICE CHIEF: Now we're starting to see a trend where more and more people are being arrested in neighborhoods that they do not live in.

FRANKEN: The truth is, there has only been one more homicide this year than the same period last year, but robberies are up 14 percent, and both the locals and tourists are on edge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is not a real encouraging thing, especially when I'm here with a family.

FRANKEN: In late May, a series of robberies near the D.C. monuments targeted Memorial Day tourists in a Mall area where crime is very rare. There have been a couple more this week.

ROBERT BIGLEY, PHOENIX, ARIZONA: You just kind of try to avoid putting yourself in a position you shouldn't be in, being out late at night or, you know, alone.

DAVID JACKSON, OXON HILL, MARYLAND: You really do need to pay attention, and you know, keep your eyes open.

FRANKEN: The Mall area is actually patrolled by a separate police force, but the D.C. mayor points out that doesn't really matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If crime is increasing, it hurts your tourism.


FRANKEN: And it's the last bit of advice that officials here would like to have the millions of tourists skip, but probably the best advice right now, Soledad, you come to Washington, be a little bit careful -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Good advice.

All right, Bob Franken for us this morning.

Bob, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Frequent fliers may find weather delays are a less frequent part of their life. The FAA announcing some new rules for weather delays. The FAA planning to hold fewer flights by delaying only those scheduled to fly right through the storm areas. The FAA wants to avoid penalizing other flights so passengers won't be stuck in ground delays at unaffected airports.

To which we say, why haven't they done that already, Chad Myers? You would think that would have been part of the plan from the get go. But it is the federal government and the FAA. They move slow.

MYERS: I sat in Atlanta trying to get to Cincinnati, but storms were in New York City, so we couldn't leave Atlanta to go to Cincinnati. M. O'BRIEN: Classic example. That's what they do. Big zones, big swathes.

MYERS: Yes, I know.

M. O'BRIEN: From now on, you'll be in Cincinnati sooner.

MYERS: Yes. That's -- well, there you go.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

MYERS: No, I decided to drive now. I'm not getting back on it. Two hours...

M. O'BRIEN: That's actually -- that's probably faster.

MYERS: It's a lot faster.


Back to you guys.

S. O'BRIEN: Kind of ugly.

All right, Chad, thanks.

MYERS: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up in just a few minutes, we're expecting to hear from the president and also the German Chancellor Merkel. They are holding a news conference. There you can see the shot of the two podiums there. We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it happens.

First, though, a quick break. We're back in just a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: President Bush and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel are holding a news conference this morning. You're looking at some live pictures of some of the press that's assembled. There's also some shots we've been showing you of the two podiums where the two will be addressing the media, taking some questions as well.

We're expecting that in just a few seconds. We will bring it to you live as soon as it happens as we continue to watch. This is happening in Germany this morning.

M. O'BRIEN: Well if you own a Lexus or a Toyota or a Nissan, you should listen up, there's some big recalls to tell you about. First on the list, 367,000 Toyota SUVs, including the 2006 Highlander, the Lexus RX hybrids, the 2004 and 2005 regular versions of those vehicles, a piece of the panel console can break free interfering with the gas pedal.

Meanwhile, Nissan is recalling more than 200,000 cars. There's a problem with the engine stalling. The 2003 Altima and Sentra models with the 2.5 liter engines. If you don't know whether you have a 2.5 liter engine, just call your...

S. O'BRIEN: Drive that baby right to your dealer and find out.

M. O'BRIEN: Get right to your dealer. Hopefully it won't stall on the way. All right.

S. O'BRIEN: A huge number of those Altimas, a huge -- I mean a huge percent. It's almost like all of them they sold. What a mess.

M. O'BRIEN: Big numbers. Big numbers.

Carrie Lee is here to tell us about the bad news on oil prices.

LEE: Yes, they are going up, once again, breaking last week's record. So we're seeing oil continue to climb. $75.88 a barrel early this morning. So a new record there. Violence in the Middle East contributing to the rise. Doesn't directly threaten the oil supply, the conflict that's been going on there, but any instability in the region does add to risk and cause some jitteriness on Wall Street.

That's part of the reason we did see stocks down yesterday. The Dow Jones industrials down 121 points. As you can see here, the Nasdaq, technology stocks, down nearly 40 points.

Dell and Apple both seeing broker reports talking about those companies. Apple Computer, one analyst says, could potentially lower its sales and profit forecast for the September quarter because of potentially delayed shipments for the latest version of its iPod. Also the analyst saying iPod Nano sales have been weak. Apple shares down 4 percent yesterday and looking a little weak for this morning.

Also, Walt Disney lost some ground yesterday. The company -- there is a report that the company will substantially reduce the number of movies that it makes from about 18 to 6. They're all going to be Disney branded. And also cut jobs -- some jobs there.

You know they've had successes like "Pirates of the Caribbean," but some other films not so successful. I don't know if you've even heard of "Stick It," "Annapolis" or "The Wild." Those are Disney films as well.

S. O'BRIEN: I saw "The Wild," actually.

LEE: You did. OK.

M. O'BRIEN: You did, really?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

LEE: So some wins, some losses and they basically want to...

S. O'BRIEN: Not so great.

M. O'BRIEN: Kind of a straight to DV type thing. LEE: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Exactly. Not too hot (ph) about "The Wild" not being a huge hit.

LEE: OK, there you go.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Carrie, thanks.

LEE: Sure.

S. O'BRIEN: Hey, let's put up that picture again from Germany we've got. We're waiting on President Bush and the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. They're going to be holding a news conference. You're looking at live pictures as the assembled media is sitting and waiting. We'll be showing you some shots of the podium, too.

We're watching and waiting as well. And we will take a short break and come right back to it as soon as we see the two of them arrive and start with their presentations. Back in a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning.

Israel is stepping up its military campaign against Hezbollah in Lebanon. Overnight, Israel hit Beirut's airport. It also blocked naval traffic in Lebanese waters.

Police in India casting a wide net as they investigate the commuter train bombing in Mumbai. They are questioning about 350 people. Tuesday's bombing killed 185.

And Chinese President Hu Jintao is set to meet with President Bush at the G-8 summit in Russia. The two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea's missile tests.

Let's take you some live pictures. You're looking at Germany. We're waiting for President Bush. These are some members of the media assembled to hear the press conference. President Bush, along with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, they will be holding a news conference and then be taking some questions from those reporters assembled. It was supposed to start just a couple of minutes ago. We're going to bring that to you live as soon as it gets under way.

Welcome back, everybody, I'm Soledad O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: And I'm Miles O'Brien.

As soon as that news conference happens, we'll go to it of course.

In the meantime, let's press on. We have breaking news out of the Middle East, of course. The fighting escalates and so does the concern. Israeli bombs hit the runways of Beirut's airport today. Israel is imposing a sea and air blockade of Lebanon. Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the actions of Hezbollah. Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers, you'll recall, yesterday.

Intense warfare is going on along the Israel-Lebanon border still this morning. Israeli civilians are hunkered down in bomb shelters while Hezbollah fires rockets into their cities. And Lebanon says civilians were killed when Israeli forces attacked a Hezbollah command center.