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American Morning

Rocket Attacks in Kiryat Shmona, Israel; Israel Cabinet Decides Against Expanding Offensive; Ominous New Message From Ayman al- Zawahiri

Aired July 27, 2006 - 09:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: An ominous new message this morning. Al Qaeda's number two is now warning that action is coming in response to Israeli attacks in Lebanon and Gaza.
And an unexpected turn in Israel. A just-ended cabinet meeting has leaders saying no to an expanded offensive.

Those stories, much more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back, everybody.

Hezbollah rockets continuing to fall on some of those towns in northern Israel. One town is called Kiryat Shmona. Its' right on the border.

Anderson Cooper is there taking a look at the aftermath.

Anderson, good morning.


It has been a very bad morning here in Kiryat Shmona. In the last hour, hour and a half, there have been anywhere from seven to 15 Katyusha rockets which have landed in the area in and around Kiryat Shmona.

This is a town which is certainly used to incoming Katyusha rockets. It has become an almost daily occurrence these last 15 days or so.

Right now I'm actually standing in front of a warehouse building which continues to burn. It has been burning now out of control for about 30 minutes.

We were actually driving around Kiryat Shmona when we saw the smoke from the rocket. We arrived actually just right before the first fire truck got here.

They have -- the blaze has literally been moving through this warehouse for the last 30 minutes. Another rocket landed very close by. And while firefighters were on the scene -- and there are now probably three or four vehicles on the scene -- more rockets landed in the distance. You could see new plumes of smoke emerging.

For firefighters in Kiryat Shmona it has been a very difficult time, a very busy time. Just yesterday we hiked up a mountain watching firefighters trying to battle a forest fire which had been ignited by Katyusha rockets which fell along the side of the mountain.

So they are stretched thin. They brought in equipment. Some of the equipment looks like it's from the 1950s. They're bringing in volunteers as much as they can to try to battle these flames.

We talked to emergency workers here, the chief of police. He said there have been no fatalities so far in Kiryat Shmona today, but there have been a number of minor injuries, he said, in the area of five or six people, sort of more anxiety-related injuries, panic attacks, things like that, nothing serious at this point.

Right now it has certainly just damaged property. But these blazes continue to burn this morning, Soledad, in Kiryat Shmona.

S. O'BRIEN: Anderson Cooper joining us by phone from Kiryat Shmona with a look at some of the aftermath there.

Anderson, thanks.

Of course, "AC 360" can be seen weeknights 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Let's get right back to Miles this morning.

Hey, Miles.


We're in Metula. We're not too far away from Kiryat Shmona. As a matter of fact, we're in the northern most tip of the Galilee panhandle, if you will. Anderson just a few miles down the road from where we stand where those Katyusha rockets just fell.

Remember that air raid we had to take shelter for about an hour or so ago, or less than that now, that was what that was all about.

CNN's John Roberts is in town here as well, and he scurried down there and brought back some compelling videotape showing this.

You know, John, I was watching your tape. You were down there lickety-split.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We were actually on our way to the front lines.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. So you were -- and what was amazing to me in seeing these pictures, as we roll in some of these pictures, three separate sites. One at a playground, one at a parking lot, an automobile that was taken out. How quickly they respond.

ROBERTS: They do respond very quickly. We got there just as the fire department was arriving at one that hit beside that playground, which was also not too far from a fairly substantial shopping mall in the area, as well. And by the time that we got there they were just beginning to run the hoses out to try to put out the flames, but it ignited quite a substantial brushfire.

There was not any damage to the actual building itself. Not likely that there would have been anybody inside, either, because Kiryat Shmona has been hit by rockets so many times that any time that siren goes off everybody goes to the bunker.

M. O'BRIEN: People listen to those -- heed the warning sirens.

It was interesting looking at the videotape you shot. We experienced this also in Haifa. The shrapnel that is used -- Pelen (ph), why don't you come in here?

We picked up these BBs, if you will, buckshot, whatever you want to call it. These Katyusha rockets are just packed with thousands of these things. And it gives you a sense of the swathe of damage they create. It's not just the point where it hits the ground, it creates this radius of injury and death, doesn't it.

ROBERTS: Because actually the explosive force does not go down. Unlike an artillery shell, which will carve a hole that could be as much as eight or 10 feet deep, or a large bomb, which could give you a crater of up to 30 feet deep, they basically go off at the surface, and the blast force goes out in a radius.

If the explosion doesn't kill you, the force of the blast doesn't kill you, these ball bearings, which come out just like as you said, really, really high gauge or low gauge buckshot, you know, each one of them is like almost like an old musket ball. Not quite as a big as a musket ball, but comes out with the same kind of force.

We also went into a neighborhood where a couple of cars had been hit. The Katyusha hit right on the curb, and on the force of the blast completely went out, particularly since it hit concrete, destroyed two cars. And you could see it's like somebody took a machine gun and raked both of those vehicles with machine gunfire.

And if -- that's how the person died in Haifa a few days back. He was driving on a road. It wasn't the force of the blast that killed him, it was the shrapnel.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, and what was particularly bad in that case, the shrapnel kind of was deflected off the side of a cliff. So he got the full force of it, kind of directed force right into him. So, you know, terrible injuries that would result in all this.

What's interesting to me is Kiryat Shmona is just down the road here. Dozens and dozens, perhaps, in excess of a hundred attacks there. This little town has been spared.

ROBERTS: It has. And people have theories as to why there haven't been any rockets falling on Metula.

The geography is such that much of the town sits on the top of a hill. Hezbollah tends to target cities and towns and villages that are in the valleys. Also, there are a couple of Shiite villages not far from here just on the other side of the Lebanese border. As you've been reporting all morning, the border is just a couple of hundred feet away. And it could be -- people theorize this -- that Hezbollah is concerned that if they were to fire one of these notoriously inaccurate Katyushas at Metula it might hit a Shiite village instead.

M. O'BRIEN: So, I mean, the fact of the matter is, a Katyusha does not need to be accurate to do what it does, which is terrorize the civilian population. The trick in this case is it wouldn't be accurate enough to say it's going to hit Metula. It could very well hit a Hezbollah ally.

ROBERTS: Exactly. Not designed to be accurate. This is not a tactical weapon to take out strategic targets.

This is -- this is really a weapon of fear, a weapon of terror, the Israelis call it. You sort of, you know, point and shoot it at a country, if you will.

They've got their range down pretty well, because a lot of these are hitting in the general area of where they want them to go. Thankfully, for the people who live in those towns and villages, the direct hits are few and far between.

M. O'BRIEN: John Roberts, good thing you had this with you.

ROBERTS: Good thing my producer Linda Roth (ph) had it with her.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. Absolutely.

ROBERTS: She was the one who brought this with her.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate that...

ROBERTS: You bet, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: ... for that firsthand account of what happened just the road in Kiryat Shmona.

While those air raid sirens were blaring, they were also feeling the same effects, hearing the same sirens in Haifa, which, of course, has been the repeated target of these Katyusha rockets. We're probably over 30 Katyusha attacks just today, not just in Haifa, but all throughout northern Israel. Kiryat Shmona as well.

Let's go to Fionnuala Sweeney, who is high above the city of Haifa right now -- Fionnuala.

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Miles. In total, we are hearing about 45 Katyusha rockets have fallen so far across northern Israel. The air raid sirens have gone off here four times during the day, but no reports of direct hit ors injuries. But just to recap, in total, a total of two injuries up near Kiryat Shmona, where we have just been hearing about.

The focus today on the political front, a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv which just finished in the last hour. It went over schedule because the focus of the debate of the meeting was whether or not Israel would expand its grand offensive in southern Lebanon.

It has decided not to for the time begin, but is calling up more reservists in preparation for any further developments. That's how the cabinet statement puts it.

So, for the moment, continued military airstrikes against Hezbollah, continued deployment of soldiers all along the Lebanese border. But for the moment, no change. It's still the status quo -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Fionnuala Sweeney.

And we will get back to Soledad now.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles. Thank you very much.

A new warning to tell you about this morning from al Qaeda's top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, with some very strong words, promising action by al Qaeda in response to Israeli attacks in Lebanon and in Gaza.

What else is in that message? Joining us this morning, CNN's senior editor for Arab Affairs, Octavia Nasr. She's at the CNN Center.

Hey, Octavia. Good morning.


Indeed, a chilling message from the number two man in al Qaeda. Experts in the Arab world, al Qaeda experts, are saying this is an all-out call for all al Qaeda cells everywhere to basically stand by and perhaps activate any plans that they might have plans to activate.

You are looking here at the video that was released by al Qaeda. You see Ayman al-Zawahiri wearing a white turban. In the last tape which was about a month ago, when he was mourning the death of Zarqawi in Iraq, he wore the black turban. And basically, when you look in the background, you're seeing images of 9/11.

You're also seeing the commander on the left-hand side of the screen, the man who was supposed to have planned the whole 9/11, Abu Hamza al-Masri. He was killed in an airstrike in Afghanistan earlier back in 2001.

Interesting to look at this tape, because experts are saying that this is a tape that could have been produced to mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11. And when they heard news of what's going on in Lebanon, al Qaeda took advantage of the situation and added a message about Lebanon.

Let's take a listen to portions of that tape.


AYMAN AL-ZAWAHIRI, AL QAEDA (through translator): The dangerous events going on in Gaza and Lebanon are proof to any sane person that the crusader Zionist war is targeting us. No one budged for 10,000 prisoners in Israeli jails; however, the whole world went up in arms for three Israeli prisoners.


NASR: And you see, Soledad, another important message today from Zawahiri is that the world is an open field for him and his men. He called on attacks everywhere. He said just like they attack us everywhere, we are going to attack them everywhere.

Experts everywhere are looking at this message, the images behind him, what they could mean. The man on the right-hand side is not known to many. People are trying to determine if he is an old fighter that died somewhere, this man on the right-hand side, or if he could be a possible future martyr. It is not known.

We continue to look into all the clues.

Another important thing about this tape is that you can see it was produced in a studio-like environment, unlike the previous tapes that were produced with a very plain background that's made of plain fabric. Also, Zawahiri looks like he's reading off a prompter or perhaps a script on the side. And you can see that he lost his -- the weapon in this shot.

So, interesting to see the full tape. This is only -- portions of this tape aired on Al Jazeera this morning. We will continue to look on the Internet, on the jihadist Web site, where we expect the full tape to be released soon.

As soon as that happens we'll bring it to our audience. Of course, we'll tell them about the analysis of it and what else it carried.

S. O'BRIEN: Octavia Nasr.

Thanks, Octavia.

NASR: Sure thing.

S. O'BRIEN: To the east of the Israeli-Lebanese conflict, the violence rages on in Iraq. Mortar attacks and car bombs rocked central Baghdad today, killing at least 27 people, injuring more than a hundred others.

Let's get to CNN's Arwa Damon. She's in Baghdad for us this morning.

What's the latest, Arwa?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, this was actually quite a complex attack. It was a car bomb simultaneously. Just afterwards, mortar and Katyusha rockets were also fired into the same area.

Now, this happened at about 10:00 in the morning in a central Baghdad neighborhood that is both a commercial and a residential area. Quite crowded at that time. At least 27 killed, over a hundred wounded.

The scenes of devastation that came out of this attack site are not -- unfortunately are not uncommon to Iraq. This does happen on a fairly regular basis.

Now, this is a fairly upscale neighborhood. It is mixed both Sunni and Shia. However, we are told by the Iraqi police that the area that was targeted is predominantly Shia and also home to offices, as well as residential areas that are part of Iraq's largest Sunni -- Shia party, sorry, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

Now, state television was the first to broadcast those devastating images, as well as angry reaction from civilians who managed to survive this dreadful bombing. And they were saying, "Where is the security plan that the Iraqi government promised us?" And that security plan is in fact what is topping Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's agenda as he's wrapping up his trip to the United States.

We are told and we do now know that there will be additional U.S. and Iraqi troops deployed to the capital in an effort to stem this ever-increasing violence. Now, whether or not that will actually be able to decrease the violence will become clear once it actually happens, once those troops actually arrive in the capital. But, until then, it seems that the death toll will only be rising -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Arwa Damon in Baghdad for us.

Arwa, thanks.

Also in Baghdad this morning, Saddam Hussein's crimes against humanity trial is adjourned until October 16th. The court's chief judge says the verdict will be announced at that time. Next month, Hussein's second trial on charges of genocide will get under way.

Still to come this morning, we talk to an Israeli soldier who says there's only one way to defeat Hezbollah and that this conflict is just the beginning of a much bigger war.

And then later, an American who traveled thousands of miles to join the Israeli military. It's all part of a long family tradition for him. We've got his story just ahead on the special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back to Metula, Israel, the northernmost part of Israel.

Right over there, that's Lebanon. And these are border guards. Many of them are reservists. Many of them have gotten the call to duty just within the past couple of weeks.

Just a short time ago, I spoke to one of them who actually grew up, spent most of his time in the United States, in Connecticut, Micah Avni. I asked him what went through his mind when he got the call.


MICAH AVNI, ISRAELI SOLDIER: What went through my mind? I don't want to leave my son at home. I think that's the first thing.

The second thing that went through my mind is, I've got to go and protect my son. And I think that's what goes through everybody's mind here. And the country is at war and we have to do what we have to do.

M. O'BRIEN: Now, you've been down this road before on a previous engagement, shall we say, in Lebanon. You know a lot about what is on the other side of that border.

AVNI: Indeed, I have. I have been in the Lebanon in the late '80s and during the '90s, know the place pretty well. And unfortunately, we're going to have to be there again.

We were in Bint Jbeil in '78. We were there again in '82, and we will be there again in 2006. It will take a few weeks, but I think we're going to take over all of southern Lebanon, move the Hezbollah out up to the north. Hopefully that will quiet things down.

M. O'BRIEN: Now, Bint Jbeil is what you're talking about. That's a city of some 20,000, very tight streets. And the Israeli Defense Forces there have met with very fierce fighting. And it's been perhaps a little longer than people expected to clear Hezbollah out of there.

How about you, did you expect such a fierce fight?

AVNI: I'll tell you, it's really a question of approach. You know, Israel is an army that's made up of teachers, doctors, philosophers, and so we're a little bit more humane -- more humane than our enemy. I think if we would have taken a little more strong- handed approach, things would probably go smoother.

I think that's probably going to be the conclusion of the government of what happened over the past few days. We'll see a more massive call-up of reserves and full-scale invasion of Lebanon, which is the only way to solve this problem, I think.

M. O'BRIEN: So you see it as nothing short of a full-scale invasion?

AVNI: I see it nothing short of a full-scale invasion. In the longer term, I think this is just one battle in the class between fundamentalist Islam and Judeo-Christian values. And I think that, you know, the ultimate enemy is in Iran, and we're going to have to deal with that as this goes on. But in the short term, there's no solution other than moving back up to Beirut.

M. O'BRIEN: Border patrol duty obviously very dangerous. This all began July 12th, when two border patrol guards were kidnapped.

Do you think much about the dangers?

AVNI: I didn't used to, but since I had my first son born I think about it a lot, yes. It is pretty dangerous. But we do what we've got to do. And I think everybody here has a good attitude about it and knows that there is no choice. And so we're out there and we're protecting the borders.

M. O'BRIEN: Yesterday was a very dark day for the Israeli Defense Force as nine soldiers in all killed, many others wounded. What do your commanders say to you after a day like that?

AVNI: You know, the real question is, what do you say to their parents? What do you say to their parents? And there is no answer for that. Those people's lives have been changed forever.

M. O'BRIEN: Do you think things are going well, though, or is it, as some would suggest in the media here, bogged down?

AVNI: I think that Ehud Olmert hasn't yet reached the decision he needs to make, which is that we have to have a full-scale invasion. And I think his inexperience in military matters has probably slowed us down over the past few weeks and cost a lot of lives. And I would hope that over the next few weeks he'll change that and do what he needs to do.

M. O'BRIEN: Final thought. You're bringing your wife and your son here. Why?

AVNI: To Israel, this is where we live. It's our country. And I don't think that we can let the Hezbollah scare us. And I think that they are not going to be the only spouse and child of people in my unit who will be up here during this time.


M. O'BRIEN: Live pictures now. You're looking at Lebanon's. That is a United Nations outpost not unlike the one that was targeted by the Israeli air force just the other day, killing four U.N. observers.

For these soldiers here it is, as they put it, sometimes tedious duty. But as we found out on July 12th, and as we continue to find out, it can be very dangerous duty as well, too -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: It certainly can.

Miles, thanks.

Coming up this morning, we're going to meet the parents of another American who is fighting for Israel. They will tell us how really their son is just following in the family footsteps.

First, though, you're morning "House Call." Big news about the search for a bird flu vaccine. We'll tell you all about that coming up next on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: A possible new outbreak of bird flu to tell you about. The government of Laos saying that 2,500 chickens are dead. So far, there are no human cases.

In this morning's "House Call," preparing for a possible pandemic. Promising news about a vaccine for the bird flu.

Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen at the CNN Center in Atlanta. She's got some details for us.

Good morning, Elizabeth.


Soledad, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline says that they have come up with the best results yet for an experimental bird flu vaccine for humans. Now, of course, this is very important. Bird flu a big problem in various parts of the world, 133 people have died and millions and millions of birds.

Lots of different pharmaceutical companies are racing to get a vaccine ready, and here's what GSK found when they did their clinical trial. They found that 80 percent of the people who they gave this vaccine to, their bodies developed a good immune response. That's a good thing. And 80 percent obviously a very high number.

And they found that it works at a low dose. This is important, because it will make mass production of this vaccine even easier.

Now, these results have gotten great reviews from various experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, at the National Institutes of Health.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIH: It's an important step -- I don't think anyone can deny that -- an important step in our quest to being able to get a vaccine in response to a pandemic influenza virus in a way that would not necessarily require enormous amount of doses.


COHEN: GlaxoSmithKline says that they could start mass production as early as next year -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: It's a long way out, and it's only in trials. And the virus mutates really, really fast.

Isn't that kind of a big problem there?

COHEN: There is a huge "but" with this story. And here's what it is.

This vaccine appears to work against the bird flu that is out there right now, but the bird flu that's out there right now does not transmit easily from person to person. It's proven that year after year after year.

So, what they really need is not so much a vaccine for this particular bird flu, but if this bird flu mutates it really could become a nightmare. If it mutates into something that transmits easily person to person, that's where you have that terrible scenario.

Now, the big question then, will this vaccine work against a mutated strain of this virus? It's not completely known. The makers say that they're optimistic that it would provide at least some relief for a mutated virus, but, of course, you don't know until the virus mutates.

S. O'BRIEN: Right, the big unknown.

Now, this is a vaccine, unlike Tamiflu, which is a treatment of the disease, right?

COHEN: That's right. That's right. Tamiflu is something that you take once you already have the disease. This is a shot you would take to prevent getting avian flu.

S. O'BRIEN: Is there a sense, Elizabeth, that one day we'll be vaccinating our kids with something like this, whatever it ends up being, you know, just like you give a measles and rubella shot and a mumps shot, that this would be one of those on the list?

COHEN: That's of course possible. However, there are a lot of questions that would need to be answered before that would happen.

First of all, would bird flu ever be enough of a threat in the U.S. to warrant vaccinating schoolchildren?

Secondly, is this vaccine safe to give children? That's another big question.

Thirdly, whatever strain would reach the United States, would this vaccine work against it?

So there are a lot of things that they would have to decide before putting it on what's called the schedule, which is you get this shot at 18 months and then you get a shot against measles and mumps again at two years old, that schedule that us parents are very familiar with.

S. O'BRIEN: The one we keep hauling our children back for.

A quick final question for you. Expensive or cheap?

COHEN: Actually, it is relatively inexpensive. They say it will cost about the same as other vaccines that they make, that it won't be out of line with other vaccines. S. O'BRIEN: Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

COHEN: Thanks.

S. O'BRIEN: Elizabeth, thanks, as always.

A look at our top stories straight ahead, including the developing story out of the Middle East this morning. Osama bin Laden's right-hand man issuing a new terror tape. We'll tell you what he's saying about the crisis.

Plus, an American who has joined the battle in the Mideast. His family tells us why he left his home in the U.S. to fight for Israel.

You're watching a special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Opening bell ringing on Wall Street this morning.


We're following lots of stories this is morning, not only out of the Middle East. Let's get a look at some of our other stop stories. Carol Costello has got that.

Hey, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

Good morning to all of you.

An ominous warning from Osama bin Laden's top deputy this morning. Ayman al-Zawahiri is promising al Qaeda will respond to the Israeli attacks in Lebanon and Gaza. Zawahiri made his threat in a videotape aired on the Arabic language network Al Jazeera. He warned of attacks everywhere.