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American Morning

Refugees From Lebanon Arriving in Cyprus; Israeli Tanks Pounding Southern Lebanon; Continued Fighting in Gaza

Aired July 19, 2006 - 08:58   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Wednesday, July 19th.
Welcome to a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

I'm Miles O'Brien in New York.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Soledad O'Brien, reporting to you live from the Port of Larnaca, in Cyprus.

Miles, you know, when you take a look at this port, it's actually -- outside of the fact that it's about 107 degrees in the sun, it's quite beautiful. This is a working port, obviously, in spite of some of the ships full of refugees that have been coming through.

One of the big problems, it's the high season. And that means that some of these refugees have to figure out a way to get into the hotels that are just filled with tourists.

So folks who came off on these big ships here, for example, that Norwegian ship carrying cars and tractors and also about a thousand people, they've had to kind of make their way through, figure out exactly how they're going to stay and how long they're going to be able to stay. The embassy here offering to help out with that kind of situation.

We're expecting the Orient Queen, the cruise ship that's been chartered by the United States, to arrive. The time, though, they keep pushing back. We're now told it's going to arrive 6:00 a.m. local time here tomorrow. That's a big, big delay from what we first heard. And that's going to bring 800 Americans more to try to figure out how they're going to -- where they're going to stay and how they're going to basically bide their time until they're able to get flights out of here.

Then, of course, over here you've got this Greek destroyer. That came in last night, bringing with it about 260 people, four Americans onboard there.

They made their way through pretty quickly, but, again, as more of these ships arrive -- and we're expecting more, if you believe the ambassador -- U.S. ambassador to Cyprus -- it could really stretch the ability of Cyprus to hold all of these folks, because it is the high season. It is hard to find a room here.

Let's get to the Port of Beirut, where people are preparing to evacuate. They've only often been given a few minutes' notice, 15 minutes to pack a bag and get out of town.

Alessio Vinci is there. He's got a report for us this morning -- Alessio.


I've just heard that people in there Cyprus are telling you that the boat is about to arrive tomorrow morning. Well, here they're telling us that -- the ship is clearly leaving soon, and we understand that it is going to arrive in Cyprus in just about eight hours. Now, of course, this is what we're hearing here on the ground by the American officials.

There are 1,011 Americans on the ship, and as you can see, they're all happy to leave Lebanon right now. A lot of interesting stories in there, obviously. People have been waiting for days now to be able to board this cruise ship.

It is a beautiful boat inside. It's very luxurious. There are stewards and stewardesses. There is a full buffet. There is a playroom for the kids. There are computers where people can check their e-mails.

It is really a piece of America back here in Lebanon for the time being. And obviously, a lot of the people there extremely happy.

I met a family from Washington, D.C., who actually was at the airport, at the international airport in Beirut, just the same time when the Israeli jets bombed the runways, and they told me that they heard the ground shaking. They weren't really sure what was happening. Perhaps they feared a terrorist attack or something like that.

Interesting, perhaps, also to note that this woman then who has a father here in Lebanon, because this American citizen is married to a Lebanese, she was basically saying how she remembered when she was a little girl during the civil war here, how she had to leave this country by a container boat. And now was able to leave via a container ship -- via this cruise ship -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, Alessio, let me just clarify something, because there was a big horn that went off just as you were giving me what I thought was sort of the critical information. Has the ship already left?

VINCI: Soledad I cannot hear you. I cannot hear you. Sorry. I'm hearing other voices in my ear. I'm not able to hear you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Obviously, we're having some audio difficulties.

Miles, the reason I ask the question is that we've actually, while we've been reporting here all morning, have been getting updates that push back the arrival of this ship. It's -- you know, obviously everything's very fluid when you're talking about a war zone, but even in that sort of context, it's pretty remarkable. We've been told five or six, I think it's fair to say, different arrivals for this ship. And I was just curious to know if Alessio was reporting that in fact it's less, because then we could more or less do the math. It's unclear to us. We've now been told it's going to be a long time, a much longer time than what he was just reporting -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Soledad.

New pictures coming in to CNN showing the intense fighting this morning in the Middle East. Israeli tanks firing along the border. Shells going right into southern Lebanon today. Reports of houses and military targets being flattened, and Israeli troops cross the border on a mission to destroy Hezbollah outposts. Hezbollah engaged the Israelis in a fierce gun battle on the Lebanese side of the border.

Arab TV is reporting Israelis being killed in that, but Israeli defense forces say there have been casualties, and leave it at that.

And those Israeli tanks pounding southern Lebanon incessantly. The military is homing in on Hezbollah rocket-launching sites, hitting the mark in many cases, but also hitting homes and hurting civilians.

CNN Paula Newton is along the Israeli-Lebanon border.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For quite some time now -- and now they're repositioning their guns again. They are treating apparently a couple soldiers for smoke inhalation. As I've said, they have been going fast and furious here, and they've gotten into some problems with some ammunition catching fire on the ground.

More importantly, though, they've been -- they've been flying -- in terms of the ammunition actually going into southern Lebanon, they have some new intelligence, they say, where they have some locations that were hit before that they want to try and revisit, and also some new locations.

As I've said, they continue to tell us that they feel that they've wiped out more of the Hezbollah capability, and especially the long-range missiles. The commander told me here that at one point they feel they got in as far as 15 miles with these shells, and actually took out an ammunitions dump that had some long-range missiles in it and some long-range missile launchers -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Paula, you mentioned this constant barrage. Are these troops able to sustain all this? Are they constantly bringing in support for them?

NEWTON: I'm sorry, Miles. I did not copy that. We have a bit of a situation here with ambulances and cars. Can you just repeat it one more time, please?

M. O'BRIEN: Well, I'm just -- I'm just curious if they're -- if they're sending in reinforcements for the troops there, or -- I mean, are they able to sustain this for an extended period of time, given the numbers they have there?

NEWTON: Yes, definitely. They are here 24/7 right now, and they have been calling up reservists. And we pass ammunitions cars on the roads here quite frequently. They are well supplied here, and they will continue as long as they feel that they have new targets.

About four to five days ago now, I spoke to the army about those targets, and they at that time told me that they felt -- military sources said they felt they'd be out of targets by Saturday or Sunday. It seems from other media reports they're saying that they would need another week from now. As you can see here, though, from the amount of times that they reload and reload and reposition their guns, they have enough targets to keep them busy, they feel right now -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: And just if you could set the scene for us there, if you could pull back, have your photographer pull back a little bit and just give us the wide shot there and give us a sense of how they're positioned there.

NEWTON: Walt (ph), if you could pull out a little bit for them and show them exactly what's on the ground here.

We have about, at any given time, 12 tanks here on the ground right now, and they keep loading and reloading. They were quite slow here for a few hours. And when they get ready, they go into position and really start an entire barrage. They are pretty relentless when they hone in on those targets, and these guys on the ground here are ready for it.

As I was mentioning before, they are having trouble with some fires on the ground. It is quite dry here.

The landscape, too, here, Miles, we should point out, we're in a valley. We have -- we have mountains, low-range mountains on almost every side of us, and they volley right over those mountains at certain times -- Miles.


M. O'BRIEN: While Israel says it is trying not to target civilians, we have heard about several casualties in southern Lebanon.

CNN's Karl Penhaul is just across the border from where Paula Newton is reporting. He joins us on the phone right now -- Karl.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For the last 24 hours, this area of southern Lebanon has been constantly pounded by Israeli warplanes. There's also been missiles and shells that we have heard coming in. Across in the distance you can see plumes of smoke rising, and then occasionally some of those -- some of those bombs will land a lot closer to home.

So the real way to see the impact, in terms of this human cost of what has been going on, is down at one of the local hospitals. And that has, for the last few days, been filling up with civilian casualties, according to doctors. A lot of civilians with shrapnel wounds to varying degrees. One doctor we spoke to this morning said that in the last 24 to 48 hours, 16 people in the city where I am have been killed, and at least 50 other people wounded. Some of the people, when you listen to their stories, say that, in fact, they were in family vehicles trying to flee the scene of the fighting when those vehicles came under fire from Israeli warplanes.

M. O'BRIEN: Karl Penhaul on the line with us in southern Lebanon.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, Miles, of course we've been focused a lot on the region where Karl is reporting from. Also, Paula Newton, too, as we talk about that border and the back and forth between the Hezbollah fighters and Israeli troops, too. But there's fighting going on as well in Gaza, just south.

Let's get right to Matthew Chance to follow up on what's happening there.

Matthew, good morning.


That's right, the focus is very much on Lebanon, quite rightly because of the intensive air raids and bombardments there. But there is another front, of course, in this conflict that Israel is involved in. It's here in the Gaza Strip.

Israel certainly hasn't forgotten about it, because within the past day or so, they've been really stepping up their military actions here across the Gaza Strip. There's a constant artillery barrage coming in from artillery pieces and tanks just across the border into northern areas of the Gaza Strip to try and deny the Palestinian militants territory here to fire those makeshift rockets that have been such a thorn in Israel's side from -- there's still rockets being fired, though, as we speak.

Also, Israeli troops are here on the ground in the Gaza Strip just to the south of where I'm standing, in the center of the Gaza Strip. Israeli tanks have gone in. There have been fierce clashes with Palestinian militants. At least six people, six Palestinians, are said to have been by Palestinian medical sources killed.

The exact tactical reason for that operation hasn't been disclosed to us, but certainly, as I mentioned, over the past several weeks Israel has embarked on big-scale military operations across the Gaza Strip since that incident that really sparked off this latest crisis in the Middle East; namely, the abduction by Palestinian militants of the Israeli corporal, Gilad Shilat.

They're trying to look for him. The Palestinians want to swap him for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails -- Soledad. S. O'BRIEN: Matthew Chance is in Gaza for us, reporting on the fighting there.

And more fighting to talk about this morning in the southern suburbs of Beirut. Let's get right to Anthony Mills. He's reporting from there for us this morning.

Hey, Anthony. What's going on there?

ANTHONY MILLS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. In the early hours of the morning, more explosions rocked south Beirut, the Hezbollah stronghold of south Beirut. And then later in the day, another explosion echoing across the city to here in downtown Beirut.

And then a short while ago, as well, another explosion. This time, though, in the Christian part of the city, in east Beirut. That came as a surprise to residents there, because that part of the city hasn't been associated in any way with Hezbollah, certainly to their minds.

We understand that it may have hit a truck that appeared to be carrying something that looked like a missile. That conceded to me by a security source here. But nonetheless, that must have come as a great surprise to residents of that part of the city. But overall, yes, the bombardment continues, not just near Beirut, but across the country.

Back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: That attack, Anthony, by the way, was a big source of conversation for some of the Americans who were evacuating early this morning, that the focus would be on the Christian section where they feel very confidentially Hezbollah -- the people there -- Hezbollah is not...

MILLS: I'm not hearing you.

S. O'BRIEN: OK. Don't worry about it, Anthony. Thanks for that report out of the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Let's get back to Miles in New York -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Soledad.

Some other news now.

Another earthquake in Indonesia to tell you about. Perhaps an aftershock of Monday's tsunami triggering event.

Indonesian officials say the epicenter of the 6.6 quake is centered about 125 west of Jakarta in the Indian Ocean. No tsunami threat this time, and so far no reports of casualties. The tsunami kicked up by Monday's 7.7 quake killed more than 500.

Let's get a forecast in. Chad Myers at the weather center with that. Chad, good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're talking about Beryl this morning, Miles.

Good morning.


M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: More of our Middle East coverage in just a moment. American evacuees won't have to pay their way out of Lebanon after all thanks to some intervention from the secretary of state. Why the high-ranking about-face?

And later, the tension of the Middle East crisis eerily captured on a cell phone video file and posted online. We'll tell you about that ahead.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

You're taking a look at live pictures from the Port of Larnaca in Cyprus this morning. And what you're seeing is -- if you can make out those masts in the difference -- distance, rather -- just a moment ago we saw a patrol boat or something like that, a smaller ship come through, and that can be a boat that's escorting a larger ship. And this is those masts in the distance, heading toward the harbor or the port. Unclear exactly what's happening, but it's some of the first action that we have seen in the port so far.

One of the things we want to tell you about is some of the timelines we've been getting, and these are very fluid timelines, I should say.

First of all, we're being told that the Alkiana Danish EU (ph) ship should be arriving really any minute now, and then something called the Kriti (ph), which is a Swedish and Scandinavian ship, also should be arriving. And that might be some of the action that we're going to see here in the port any moment.

And we are getting an update on the Orient Queen. This is the ship that's carrying 1,111 Americans out of Beirut.

Told that the Orient Queen is, in fact, leaving Beirut. So you can add anywhere between seven hours and 11 hours for that -- that ship to make it here.

And if you take a look over here to this Norwegian ship, that's a vessel that arrived early this morning. It's not a cruise ship, obviously. And, in fact, what it's actually meant to carry are cars and tractors. And the people who were on board were both very grateful to get out, courtesy of the Norwegian government, but also very uncomfortable for the 11-hour ride across the Mediterranean.

We spoke to some of those folks as they made their way off that ship early this morning, just before sunrise, and you've got to take a look at these pictures. It was a long flight -- long ride, rather, and you could tell they are warn out, wiped out, and it was very unpleasant.

This is not a ship that was made for carrying a lot of people. Very few bathrooms, difficult to get around with a suitcase, and many small children. An estimated 50 percent of the people on board, in fact, were small children. And we could kind of make that out when they finally got into port.

And we spoke to some people who said they were grateful for Norway's help, but also very frustrated, at least some of the Americans we spoke to, by the actions of the Americans Embassy.

Take a listen.


BRIAN BERRY, AMERICAN EVACUEE: I'd say extremely chaotic. Very disorganized.

We got on the boat around 4:30 in the afternoon. So we just got off now. So it's good to be on ground, but, yes, very -- and no food, too. So it could have gone better, I'd say.

TONY LABAKI, SWEDISH EVACUEE: Since 1:00 yesterday, up to now we had nowhere to sleep or to sit. It was very bad.

S. O'BRIEN: How many children are you traveling with?

LABAKI: Three.

S. O'BRIEN: How old?

LABAKI: Thirteen, 11 and 2.

S. O'BRIEN: How are they holding up?

LABAKI: Well, it's very hard for them, you know, but we're grateful to be here.

MARTA KAYAT, AMERICAN EVACUEE: But I expected different from the embassy. It was like five days. And imagine waiting five days with two children in the middle of the war. It's terrible.

S. O'BRIEN: Did you feel that the embassy and everybody was helpful, organized to the best degree possible, or did you feel like it was just a crap shoot for you?

MICHAEL BAY, AMERICAN EVACUEE: It was -- the Norwegian government has been very helpful to us. This is a Norwegian vessel. Obviously -- well, there were only 200 Americans on it. So we were pretty lucky to get here today. GEORGE HALE, AMERICAN EVACUEE: Disorganized, the evacuation coming out of the country. I appreciate the help of the embassy, but, I mean, this -- we could have had better circumstances.

Like, my parents heard it was a cruise ship. And it was definitely not a cruise ship. There were no seats. We got wet on the way here. But, I mean, we're here, and that's what counts. It seemed like my parents and people in the U.S. knew more than I knew.


S. O'BRIEN: As you could see, people grateful, but also pretty frustrated after a very long and what sounds like a very unpleasant trip across the Mediterranean. But, you know what? They're safe. And at the end of the day, Miles, I think that's really what's most important for them.

Back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Absolutely. In the final analysis that is what counts. Soledad, thank you very much.

We've got some pictures coming in to us right now. We told you a few moments ago about a renewed attack focusing on the Beirut International Airport. There you see reporter for Al Arabiya. That's the Arab language network.

We're hoping they're going to pan off as they were just a moment ago. I'm afraid they're not going to, unfortunately.

But what she -- she's on a bluff that overlooks Beirut International Airport. And I saw a column of smoke, perhaps some evidence of further Israeli airstrikes, targeting Beirut International Airport.

You'll recall from the very outset of this campaign by the Israelis to target Hezbollah, one of the first things they did was to strike the runways and the fuel depots at Beirut International Airport in order to cut off any supply lines for Hezbollah. So, renewed attacks on Beirut International Airport, presumably Israeli fighters responsible for that.

We're tracking it for you.

Coming up, Congress weighs in on the Middle East. Another show of support for Israel.

Americans trapped in Lebanon get a free ride out of harm's way after all. We'll find out why the State Department backpedaled.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Here are the latest developments in the Middle East. Israeli troops in a fierce gun battle with Hezbollah on the Lebanese side of the border. Israel says it's not an invasion, just a mission targeting Hezbollah outposts.

To the south, Israeli troops also on the move in Gaza, where all this began weeks ago. Six Palestinians died as tanks moved into a refugee camp there.

The U.S. expects to evacuate 2,400 Americans from Lebanon today. One thousand Americans on board a ship right now just left Beirut on its way to where Soledad is in Cyprus.

And in Washington, the House expected to pass a resolution supporting Israel today. The Senate passed one last night. And the White House backing Israel's operation to cripple Hezbollah by not calling for an immediate cease-fire -- Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We'll talk a little health news now.

In this morning's "House Call," birth control options are still few, but there is a new one on the market that is 99 percent effective. It requires no pill-taking and reduces your number of periods. The FDA just approved it. If you want to know more, let's head to Atlanta and check in with our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

Tell us about this.


Carol, it's called Implanon, and it's going to be the only implantable birth control on the market. Here's how it works.

A woman would show up at her doctor's office and the doctor would implant it just underneath the skin in her upper arm. It's about the sizes of a matchstick, and it would work for about three years. And if a woman decided she did want to get pregnant, very simple, it would just be removed.

Now, an interesting side-effect is that about 20 percent of women who were taking it stopped getting their period, which apparently is OK with doctors and makes some women happy. And this new birth control will become wildly available early next year -- Carol.

COSTELLO: It sounds so familiar to me. Wasn't there a similar one out a couple years back?

COHEN: Yes. It was called Norplant, and it got a lot of attention, because it was also an implantable birth control. It was taken off the market six years ago, however. And the reason why is that some women complained of being injured when it was removed.

Now, the makers of this new one say that this won't happen, that this new one is much smaller. It's one rod instead of six rods, and they say they're giving extensive training to doctors about how to put it in and how to take it out. COSTELLO: OK. One side-effect, maybe no periods, and a lot of women would be happy about that, frankly. But there have to be other side-effects to this.

COHEN: Right. Every medicine has side-effects, including this one. And some of the side-effects are common to other types of birth control as well, such as irregular bleeding, headaches, mood swings and blood clots.

And all -- you know, it's very individual. Some women do quite well on birth control of this kind that relies on hormones. Other women have these problems and feel they can't take it.

COSTELLO: And I know there's another new birth control method on the market that touts, you know, few periods, no periods. How is it different from this one?

COHEN: Right. That one called Seasonale, and that one is a pill. It is not an implantable. And that one means that women will get about four periods a year.

The one that you're seeing here, the pill, it contains estrogen, whereas the implantable, the Implanon, contains progestin only. Some women do better with one than the other.

COSTELLO: Elizabeth Cohen, reporting live from Atlanta.


COHEN: Thanks.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, the race to evacuate Lebanon. Americans now getting a free ride after all, after a lot of criticism of a plan to make them pay their own way. We'll talk to a senator who helped lead the charge.

And later, the Mideast crisis online. Some scary pictures of a mad dash for shelter as the sirens blared and the rockets fell. You're going to want to see it, so stay with us.