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The Situation Room

All-Out Ground War in the Middle East?

Aired July 21, 2006 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Lou. And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Standing by CNN reporters across the United States and around the world to bring you tonight's top stories.
Happening now -- the Israeli army has found the body of an Israeli soldier in southern Lebanon, that according to the Arabic language television news network Al-Arabiya and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. Meanwhile, there are fears of an all-out ground war. Along the Lebanese border Israeli tanks and troops are massing right now for a possible all out assault on Hezbollah.

The Lebanese government is warning Israel not to count on its help. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will go to the Middle East, but she won't call for a cease-fire, and she won't talk to Hezbollah, which she says started this fight. Seven p.m. in New York where at this moment there's a new verbal war under way at the United Nations as Iran is blasting Israel and the United States for their roles.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Amid fresh violence and fresh casualties the Israeli army has found the body of an Israeli soldier in southern Lebanon. According to the Arabic language television news network Al-Arabiya, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation that body was recently found. Meanwhile there are fears that the 10 days of chaos and carnage about to get even worse. Israel is massing more troops and tanks along the Lebanese border, and there are fresh concerns of an all-out ground rule.

In Tel Aviv, meanwhile, there's a heightened state of alert. Officials in that -- Israel's largest city fear something could happen in Tel Aviv or in the area, and that's caused police to nab three suspects right now. Meanwhile, the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the region in the days ahead, yet Rice is warning against any immediate cease-fire, and she says instead she's looking for a lasting peace.

CNN is uniquely positioned inside the Middle East to report what's happening from every perspective. Our reporters are keeping track of all the late breaking developments. Our senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth is standing by in New York. Nic Robertson is standing by in Beirut.

Let's start our coverage this hour, though, with Christiane Amanpour. She's in northern Israel. What do we know, Christiane, about this report of this Israeli soldier, a body that has been found?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INT'L CORRESPONDENT: Well, nothing official from the Israeli army. Under certain rules they don't give us information pending notification, but in this case, they're simply not talking about it, and we've only got the reports from the Al Arabiya and the Lebanese television, so those are the only reports saying that one Israeli body has been found in southern Lebanon. We don't know who you know that soldier is, if in fact it's the case.

On the other hand, Israel saying that it has killed 100 Hezbollah guerillas and has the bodies of 13 of them. Lebanon saying that only six Hezbollah militia people have been killed. And at the same time we're hearing from the deputy commander of the Northern Command, which is in charge of all of these military operations on the Israeli side saying that many reservists, many active duty units, a lot of armor and military hardware is being galvanized and moved towards the Lebanese front. So that if their orders should come for a bigger ground operation, then they would be ready to do so.

Of course, there is already a ground operation under way. According to military sources several battalions, perhaps more than 1,000 or so Israeli troops are on the ground. The deputy commander told us that troops are on the ground and they are doing all sorts of different operations, some just inside the border, some a few miles inside, and some special forces even deeper than that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, we're going to have much more coming up shortly in this program. Stand by for that. I want to go to Beirut right now. Nic Robertson is standing by to tell us what's going on in the Lebanese capital and surrounding areas on this day -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INT'L CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we know along the border area where Israel is amassing forces their aircraft were dropping leaflets on the Lebanese villages in that area telling the Lebanese living there to push out, to move out of the area, to move north of the Litany River (ph). That's somewhere about 25 miles north of the border area.

In Beirut here today I met with Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud. He is an ally of Syria. I strolled with him in the presidential palace gardens that overlook Beirut. There was smoke rising from the southern suburbs. Israeli aircraft could be heard flying overhead. It was just after a bombing raid.

He told me that the country and that the people of the country are united. He insisted through a half-hour interview that they are united in the face of all these attacks, but he also told me that if Israel crosses the border in large numbers, then he would want the Lebanese army to go down and join the fight with Hezbollah.


PRES. EMILE LAHOUD, LEBANON: Of course, the army is going to defend its stand, and inside Lebanon, they can do a lot. They cannot be strong enough to be against Israel on the frontier because they have much more stronger material and weaponry, but inside Lebanon, they know the land, and, of course, they will fight the invading force of Israel if it tries to come in.


ROBERTSON: And he wasn't the only senior politician who I met with today. I met with the parliamentary speaker, who's head of the Amal Movement, who is a political ally of Hezbollah and the government here. He told me that if Israel crosses over the border, it wouldn't just be the army, it wouldn't just be Hezbollah, it would be all the people of Lebanon, all the able bodied men that would join the fight including his Amal militia who fought for the Amal Movement back during the 1975-1990 civil war -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the Lebanese army though? It's mostly a symbolic army. He says that the Lebanese army would be dispatched to fight the Israelis, but is that a serious contingency?

ROBERTSON: Sixty thousand, not very well equipped, not able to meet the Israeli army on an open battlefield, but as the president told me their knowledge and their advantage in the situation is knowing the terrain. He's - terrain - he's indicating that their best ability would be to fight like Hezbollah as a guerilla force; they don't have a big military might he said.

BLITZER: Nic Robertson in Beirut for us. Thank you very much. Nic doing some outstanding reporting as our viewers have certainly come to realize over all of these years.

Meanwhile, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, today announced she will head to the region in a move to try to defuse the crisis, but at this hour, get this, Iran once again stealing her thunder with an outburst at the United Nations. Let's bring in our senior United Nations correspondent Richard Roth. What is going on over there, Richard?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. UNITED NATIONS CORRESPONDENT: Well every country had a chance to talk about the Middle East inside the Security Council today and Iran made its first public pronouncements on what's happening in Lebanon. Of course for the Iranians, the same line, it was Israel backed by the united states, a campaign of terror, according to the ambassador, smoke screens, propaganda, all designed to harm the Palestinian people and the Arab people and the ambassador responded to allegations in the council made by Ambassador Bolton of the U.S. and Gillerman of Israel that Iran was behind it all.


JAVAD ZARIF, IRANIAN AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: My government categorically rejects the basic allegations against Iran that were repeated today in this council. These allegations are nothing but part and parcel of an elaborate Zionist scheme to break resistance against aggression and invasion in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROTH: The Iranian ambassador said it was Israel's signature form of aggression. Of course, Wolf, the ambassador may find himself back in the council next week with a looming resolution regarding suspension of nuclear enrichment, punishment for Iran, and earlier the Israeli ambassador walked out before the Syrian ambassador spoke in the chamber. We've seen that against Israel many times over the years - Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Tit for tat at the United Nations, thanks very much, Richard, for that. Let's stay in New York. Jack Cafferty has got the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: As you mentioned, Wolf, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice packing her bags heading to the Middle East this weekend. She spoke at the State Department today -- pardon me -- and she says she plans to go to Israel, the West Bank, and Europe for meetings with various leaders. The United States will not be pursuing a cease-fire just yet, she said, because Hezbollah -- pardon me -- is the source of the problem and the cease-fire is a false promise if it turns us -- returns us to the status quo.

Rice also spoke about the need to push forward the sovereignty of the Lebanese government. There are concerns the war between the Hezbollah and Israel could destabilize Lebanon's democracy. So the question is this for this hour.

What instructions should President Bush give Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her trip to the Middle East? E-mail your thoughts to or go to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: See if she gets the job done. Thank you, Jack, for that. Jack Cafferty in New York.

And coming up, Hezbollah rockets raining down on northern Israel today injuring residents leaving an entire region on edge. We're going to go to Israel's third largest city, Haifa and find out what happened there earlier today.

Also, our senior medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, right now he's in Beirut. He's looking at the conditions of all the injured in the Lebanese capital and the surrounding areas. Sanjay Gupta standing by to join us live.

Plus, very disturbing scenarios of an Israeli ground invasion of southern Lebanon. We'll talk about experts about what it could look like.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We're following all the developments in the Middle East crisis tonight and on all the fronts including in Beirut, which continues to be hit by Israeli air strikes. Our senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us now live from the Lebanese capital. I know you're looking at the hospitals, you're looking at the wounded, Sanjay. Give us some initial impressions of what you're seeing.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, it's very interesting, Wolf. The numbers are sort of remarkable if you look at the overall effectiveness of the air strike campaigns. The ratio, for example, of injured to dead, about 3-1, so that's very high if you look at all the history of all wartime situations.

Hospitals have a hard time keeping up. There's two problems, really, Wolf. One is the obvious one, which is the injuries and the casualties that are coming in from the air strikes, but it's also this sort of biting away at the infrastructure of the hospitals as well, so even taking care of some of the chronic patients becomes that much more difficult.

I visited one hospital today, Mount Lebanon Hospital. It's one of the biggest hospitals in southern Beirut, and they've had a hard time. They've actually had to take all their patients and move them a couple of floors underground. They've evacuated the entire top of the hospital. Everyone's underground in these subterranean almost like corridors. That's where they've been able to try and take care of patients, but you can imagine it is frightening; it is hard to practice medicine. A lot of the staff are leaving. The supplies are short. If you talk about humanitarian crises, it has all the elements of one. It's not there yet, Wolf, but it's starting to develop. That's the sense you get.

BLITZER: Southern Beirut is where a lot of the Shia live, supporters of Hezbollah, and that's an area the Israelis have targeted. I've been to Beirut. The hospitals in Beirut pretty much excellent by almost anyone's standards, but I assume in the southern part of the country in some of the more remote areas medical treatment is not necessarily all that first rate.

GUPTA: You're absolutely right. In Beirut the hospitals are some of the best quality hospitals in this part of the world. As you get further south in Lebanon, they are a little -- not quite up to par as compared to Beirut, but here's the thing, is that a lot of patients, patients who are you know injured in the air strikes, for example, have a hard time making it further north because of the condition of the roads, just getting around, for example, is very difficult. So they're often times stuck in some of these smaller hospitals.

So you'd like these patients, for example, in American University, which is a big hospital. You may have visited it, Wolf, but only about 10 percent of the casualties are actually going there right now because of the overall condition of the country. And you also mentioned the Hezbollah.

I thought it very interesting as I was doing some of the reporting today that about 40 to $50 million actually is donated by the Hezbollah to upkeep the hospitals in this area south of Beirut. So they pay a lot of money for the hospitals themselves, as was the hospital that we visited today. BLITZER: The normal -- normal is a relative word. The normal kind of injuries you're seeing in warfare, because all of our viewers remember what you saw in Iraq, for example, when you were embedded with the U.S. Navy.

GUPTA: That's right, Wolf. Over there in Iraq you know you saw a lot more of the penetrating type injury, direct rifle rounds, for example. Here you're seeing a lot more shrapnel type injuries. There are what are called blasts of shrapnel, so you have the primary blast, which is actually a concussion sort of air blast that can knock somebody out cold.

It can have damage to their organs. The secondary blast is all the shrapnel that sort of follows that. Those are some of the terrible images that I'm sure you've seen, the viewers have seen, shrapnel just attacking (INAUDIBLE) someone's body. And then the third wave, the third blast, if you will, is the bodies moving against one and against the other, moving into walls. Those can cause concussions to the brain, to the heart, you know, so it can be a very terrible injury obviously dependant on how close someone is to the actual origin of the blast.

BLITZER: Sanjay Gupta, be careful over there. Thanks very much. And I have a very important programming note for our viewers.

GUPTA: Thank you.

BLITZER: Tomorrow morning and Sunday morning 8:30 a.m. Eastern Sanjay's going to be hosting a live special edition of "HOUSE CALL" on the Middle East crisis. Sanjay will be on the front lines, live Saturday morning, live Sunday morning, 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

Still to come tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice poised to leave for the Middle East. But she says she won't seek any immediate cease-fire. We'll have the latest on the diplomatic front.

Plus, there are new details of a possible Israeli ground invasion into Lebanon. Christiane Amanpour talking to Israeli commanders along the Israeli/Lebanese border. She'll join us live. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We're following all the late breaking developments on all fronts in the Middle East crisis tonight including in northern Israel where residents clearly are on edge after another barrage of Hezbollah rockets.

CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney is in Haifa for us. Fionnuala, what's the latest number of injuries there?

FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're being told that there were of course a barrage of rockets all across the northern Israel. Now the first rocket barrage that hit Haifa at about 1:00 this afternoon injured 19 people as you said, but in total 39 people injured, three of them critical. Now several rocket barrages fell on this city after a relative lull of two days.

Haifa has been the target of many attacks from Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. We are just 20 kilometers from the Lebanese border, and eight people were killed in a rocket barrage on Sunday here. But it would appear that whatever the Israeli military, the pounding the Israeli military are giving as the Lebanese Hezbollah guerillas up in southern Lebanon, it is not having that much of an impact.

The difficulty the Israeli military say is that 1,500 or so targets that they have been pounding, once they destroy one, another one is created. In the words of one of the Israeli military officers here in Haifa today, there is a new frontier in this war. This is a different kind of war.

So Haifa quiet at the moment because apparently, Wolf, it is difficult for Hezbollah to launch rockets at night because they can be more easily traced than during the day, but residents here at Haifa bracing themselves for more rocket attacks on Saturday.

BLITZER: Fionnuala Sweeney, thank you for that. We'll watch obviously everything going on in Haifa and every place else in the region.

Meanwhile, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is urgently doing some crisis management. She will leave for the region on Sunday. While she will meet with key players, she will not meet with Syria or with Hezbollah, which she says is trying to strangle Lebanon's infant democracy in its crib.

Let's get the latest now from our White House correspondent Ed Henry -- Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today when the secretary announced her plans to head to the Mideast Sunday she had a sharp answer for critics who charged this White House waited too long to start its shuttled diplomacy.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I could have gotten on a plane and rushed over and started shuttling and it wouldn't have been clear what I was shuttling to do.


HENRY (voice-over): But mindful her trip will raise hopes of a peace deal, the secretary downplayed expectations by admitting she still isn't sure what can be accomplished.

RICE: I know that there are no answers that are easy nor are there any quick fixes. I fully expect that the diplomatic work for peace will be difficult.

HENRY: What the secretary is certain about is despite growing pressure the U.S. still does not support a cease-fire. RICE: A cease-fire would be a false promise if it simply returns us to the status quo allowing terrorists to launch attacks at the time and terms of their choosing and to threaten innocent people, Arab and Israeli throughout the region.

HENRY: She called for a robust international peace keeping force on the ground in Lebanon, but suggested the U.S. would not contribute boots on the ground.

RICE: I do not think that it is anticipated that U.S. ground forces would -- are expected for that force.

HENRY: In a sign of the growing urgency, President Bush's schedule has been shaken up to add a rare Sunday meeting at the White House where he and Secretary Rice will host top Saudi officials, then the secretary heads to Israel and the West Bank followed by a summit in Rome with Arab leaders where she'll keep the heat on Syria to stop supporting Hezbollah.

RICE: The Syrians have to make a choice. Do they really wish to be associated with the circumstances that help extremism to grow in the region or are they going to be a part of what is clearly a consensus of the major Arab states in the region that extremism is one of the problems here.


HENRY: Late today Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid fired off a letter to the White House urging the president to appoint a special Mideast envoy to handle the situation, focus on it full time. The White House response was quick and sharp saying basically they already have their top envoy Secretary Rice heading to the region and she needs the time to build what they're calling a sustainable peace -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Ed Henry at the White House. Thanks very much. We'll see how Condoleezza Rice does. She's leaving town on Sunday.

Just ahead we'll take you back to Beirut. CNN's Anderson Cooper is there. He's joining us live. He has the latest on the Israeli air strikes and the overall conditions in the Lebanese capital.

Plus, the growing likelihood of an Israeli ground invasion of Lebanon. CNN's Christiane Amanpour is near the border where Israeli troops and tanks are massing right now. We'll go back to Christiane in her report right after this.


BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM where new pictures and information are arriving all the time. Happening now in -- is Israel on the verge of an all out ground war? It's calling up more reserve units, massing tanks along the Lebanese border, but Lebanon's president says if Israel wants a ground war, the Lebanese army is ready to shed its blood to defend its land. The Bush Administration hoping for peace, but not just in the short term. It says a peace that will hold for the future. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice set to leave Sunday for the region.

And as the fighting intensifies, innocent civilians are getting out, mass evacuations continuing in Lebanon including thousands of Americans and Lebanese themselves.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now Israel is massing troops and tanks along its border with Lebanon and officials are talking openly of a possible ground invasion. CNN's Anderson Cooper is standing by live in Beirut. Let's go to Christiane Amanpour. She's in northern Israel. You've been talking, Christiane, to top Israeli military commanders.

AMANPOUR: Wolf, they're very careful to draw a bit of a distinction between what they say in public and what people are expecting. What they're telling us is there already is a ground operation under way, one way or another, and it has been going on for the last several days, limited one. But what they're also saying is they're building up to be ready for a bigger one if necessary.


AMANPOUR (voice-over): Israeli warplanes are dropping bombs and messages. The latest flurry of leaflets tells residents of southern Lebanon to move back -- about 25 miles back from the border with Israel. The Israeli generals want the battlefield -- quote -- "free of civilian restrictions".


AMANPOUR: After days of artillery fire...


AMANPOUR: ... more from the air and a limited number of troops on the ground, Israel is preparing now for a possible large scale ground invasion, mobilizing all its forces, even reserves.

GEN. SHUKI SHACHAR, ISRAELI DEFENSE FORCES: Some of the forces are active forces coming from different sectors of the country, reinforcing the active forces in Lebanon. The reserve units, some of them are going to the northern border with Lebanon. Other enforcements are going to the direction of Lebanon.

AMANPOUR: A senior military source says Israel already has several battalions on the ground in southern Lebanon. That's more than a thousand troops. But general Shuki Shachar would only confirm he does have forces there.

SHACHAR: We entered with armored forces and engineered forces, and we started systematically to destroy the Hezbollah positions along the border. AMANPOUR: Israeli infantry, he says, have crossed anywhere between a mile and a few miles into Lebanon and some special forces are even deeper in because they can't get some of the targets from the air.

SHACHAR: We identified bunkers in the open area that without entering to the place itself and looking on the ground for these camouflage bunkers we would have never found them.

AMANPOUR: General Shachar won't say whether these tanks and troops moving toward the border means that a ground invasion has been authorized, just that the army is ready and evaluating the need minute by minute.

(on camera): With troops and armor being redeployed from all over the country to the northern battle front, Israelis are watching to see what happens next with concern.

(voice-over): As one former tank commander told me Israel going back into Lebanon is like the United States going back into Vietnam. For now, though, the Israeli people overwhelmingly back the strong military response according to the first poll taken since the war began ten days ago. Will that change if Hezbollah guerrillas mount stiff resistance? At a ground battle still going near Avi Vim at the border, Hezbollah has already killed several Israeli soldiers, injured others, and taken out a tank, and promises more.


AMANPOUR: So with all this talk about potentially an imminent increase in the ground operation in southern Lebanon and talk of diplomacy by the U.S. secretary of state, people are wondering which is it, is it war, is it ratcheted up war, or is it diplomacy, or is it both? Wolf?

BLITZER: Christiane, what's the latest on that body of apparently of an Israeli soldier found in southern Lebanon?

AMANPOUR: Well, there's no latest that we can tell you from here. The only news of that we have is that it's been reported on al- Arabia and LBC, the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation, but we don't have that confirmed at all from here. From here, all they're saying is that they've got Hezbollah bodies, about 13 they say have been brought back from battle. Wolf.

BLITZER: Christiane, thanks very much. Let's go to CNN's Anderson Cooper. He's joining us from Beirut tonight. Beirut clearly a city on edge, Anderson. I know you've had a chance today to spend some time taking a look, seeing what's going on, some of your impressions.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is a city on edge. I mean there's a lot of uncertainty about what happens next. Several things going on at once. The Lebanese are seeing U.S. ships right off the coast, seeing large numbers of Americans being taken out, some 5,000 Americans, that was the plan to get 5,000 Americans out today alone. That would bring the total number of Americans who have evacuated thus far, according to the American ambassador, who I spoke with earlier today, up to about 8,000 Americans who have left. They're not sure how many more Americans, frankly, there are left to evacuate.

The early estimates had been 8,000 to 10,000. So the evacuations on the American side are certainly well under way. They've ramped up very quickly. It could be wrapped up as early as Monday, they simply don't know. They're waiting to see really on a day by day basis how many people show up to get evacuated, how many people get called, but as Lebanese are watching these Americans pull out, there's a lot of people who have concerns that once all the foreigners, all the westerners have left Beirut, that there will be more shelling here, that as one person said to me today, that Israel will be unleashed on Beirut.

At the same time you hear these Israeli drones circling overhead throughout the day, sort of a low, dull, motor sound, a very strange sense that you're being watched, yet it has been a relatively quiet night here in Beirut. We've not heard any major shelling. That would be the first night that we have not heard that sort of shelling. There's still a few more hours of darkness left. In the Hezbollah controlled territory, Wolf, in the southern part of Beirut, it is a very tense environment. We drove through it earlier yesterday. And it is a very strange, I mean all the residents are gone, while much of Beirut seems untouched by the bombing, the southern suburb of Beirut, which is the Hezbollah controlled territory, is virtually destroyed.

It looks like just constant bomb blasts have just decimated the place, buildings, apartment buildings, offices. Israeli military saying they have hit just about all the Hezbollah targets they can in those regions. You do see Hezbollah fighters lurking in door ways, some of them in uniform, wearing black with weaponry around their shoulders, around their waist. Also a lot of young men just on motor scooters following you around on their cell phones, watching you very carefully wherever you go, Wolf, in Hezbollah controlled territory.

BLITZER: We've been showing our viewers, Anderson, some of the video you and your team shot earlier. Anderson, thank you very much, stay careful, be careful over there in Beirut, and this programming note to our viewers, Anderson will anchor both areas of "A.C. 360" later tonight from Beirut. In addition to all the latest breaking news. He's also going to take us on an in depth look at Hezbollah, it's weapons, it's warriors and its mission. "Anderson Cooper 360" airs tonight live from Beirut, 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

The possibility of thousands of Israeli soldiers swarming across the border into south Lebanon comes just six years after Israel pulled its troops out.

Joining us now from Jerusalem to shed some fresh insight on the Israeli offensive is Mark Regev. He's the spokesman for Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thanks very much for coming in. Extraordinary images we're seeing of troops and tanks poised on the border with Lebanon, potentially to launch a major ground assault. Is that about to happen? MARK REGEV, ISRAELI FOREIGN MIN. SPOKESMAN: Yes, well, we have to get ready. You know, even some of my personal friends have been called up for reserve duty. You have a situation there in the southern edge of the border, you have a number of Hezbollah strong holds, very fortified positions, bunkers deep underground. It has been difficult to deal with these particular Hezbollah positions through air strikes, and we are going to have to use surgical ground forces in order to deal with some of these strong holds because what happens is out of these strong holds come people who lob missiles into Israeli civilian communities and we have to prevent that of course.

BLITZER: So you're confirming now that Israeli troops and tanks and armored vehicles will move on into south Lebanon?

REGEV: I can say the following. You have a threat there, and we have to deal with the threat. We've had land incursions in the past, and we're going to have land incursions in the future. That's part of our strategy is to hit Hezbollah from land, from sea, and from the air. We have to deal, we have to neutralize their ability to rain down on Israeli cities, to rain terror, these missile attacks that have gone as far south as Haifa, Afula, Tiberius, Nazareth, we have to stop them killing Israeli citizens through these missiles.

BLITZER: There's been some speculation that Israel wants to create a sort of 12-mile buffer zone in the southern part of Lebanon along Israel's border. Would that be the objective of this kind of assault into Lebanon?

REGEV: Wolf, Israel has no intention to reoccupy Lebanon. Israel has no desire to take an inch of Lebanese land, a gallon of their water. We want Lebanon to be for the Lebanese, and the ultimate tragedy of the situation has been that Hezbollah has not only kidnapped two Israeli service people, they've kidnapped the entire country of Lebanon, and I think it's a about time that the international community took seriously its own resolution, U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 says that Hezbollah must be disarmed. Now we are hitting Hezbollah hard to defend ourselves, but ultimately that creates a window of opportunity for the international community to bring about the implementation of that resolution to disarm Hezbollah. It's good for Lebanon. It's good for Israel. It's good for everyone who wants to see peace and quiet in the Middle East.

BLITZER: So, if Israel goes into Lebanon, and you're assuming and a lot of Israeli officials and analysts are assuming Israel will make that move in, when do you get out? Because as you know there is an 18-year history of Israeli occupation of Lebanon that was not the most pleasant in Israel's history?

REGEV: No, I'm saying very clearly Wolf, there's no decision taken to reoccupy Lebanon. I want to be clear about that. We're talking about incursions to go in, to deal with targets, to deal with for fortresses, to deal with their ability to launch rockets. No one wants to go into Lebanon and to stay. The idea is to defend our country, to defend our citizens and ultimately we all understand that the solution is diplomatic, and that is for the full implementation of those U.N. Security Council resolutions that call for the disarming of Hezbollah and for the Lebanese army to take control of every inch of Lebanese sovereign territory.

BLITZER: Mark Regev, we've got to leave it right there. Mark Regev is the spokesman for the foreign ministry in Jerusalem. Mark thank you very much.


BLITZER: And still ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, military strategy. If there is an Israeli ground invasion of southern Lebanon, experts are warning of fierce fighting. We're going to take a closer look at how such an invasion might play out.

Plus, Syria struggling to absorb tens of thousands of people fleeing the fighting in Lebanon. We'll take you to the border between Syria and Lebanon, a scene of some growing crisis. Stay with us. Much more of our special coverage, right after this.


BLITZER: Israel has invaded Lebanon in the past. What would happen if Israeli forces go in again right now? Brian Todd has been looking at some scenarios -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, today a former chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Force was very confident to me over the phone. If this operation is launched, he says, they can take the areas they need within days or weeks, but he also says Israeli troops know they're going up against a formidable enemy.


TODD (voice-over): Leaflets in Arabic warning civilians, get out of Lebanon's southernmost frontier, an Israeli armored column poised for a possible ground assault that experts say would be a vicious fight.

BRIG. GEN. JAMES MARKS (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: The nature of that fight is very up close, it's very personal, it's very complex terrain.

TODD: Former American and Israeli officers, some who've served in the region, say if Israeli forces launch across the border in bulk, their goal will likely be to establish a buffer zone.

COL. GARY ANDERSON, U.S. MARINE CORPS (RET.): The Israelis are likely to advance along one of three axis. Those are the main lines of communications into southern Lebanon. And they'll likely advance to the Litani River, which seems to be the maximum range, of ...

TODD (on camera): Where are we talking about here? There it is.

ANDERSON: ... of -- along this line. That seems to be the maximum range of most of the missiles that are being fired into Israel now.

TODD (voice-over): Retired Marine Colonel Gary Anderson and other experts say Hezbollah has got a mobile, well organized force, numbering anywhere from a thousand to more than 10,000, with rockets, other heavy weaponry, and a web of underground tunnels and bunkers.

ANDERSON: They probably use them to hide the equipment, pop off a round, fire it, and try to get it back underground before an Israeli unmanned aircraft or manned aircraft can get overhead to spot them.

TODD: Hezbollah can also draw the Israelis into close combat, possibly negating the use of airstrikes that might hit friendly forces, all tactics the Israelis can counter with their experience fighting Hezbollah. But once they've taken it, how do they keep the buffer zone secure?

COL. PATRICK LANG (RET.), MILITARY INTELLIGENCE ANALYST: I know the IDF does not want to occupy part of Lebanon again. But they've somehow gotten themselves into a position in which there may be no other choice.


TODD: No other choice except to leave that occupation up to some other entity, possibly a U.N. stabilization force, but Israelis say they're not likely to trust that outside force more than their own army to keep that buffer zone secure -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thank you, Brian, good report.

The United Nations estimates that 130,000 people have fled Lebanon into Syria. That desperate effort to escape the violence continuing tonight.

CNN's Hala Gorani is reporting from a crossing point along the Syrian border -- Hala.

HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, night has fallen on the Lebanon-Syria border, and although the number of refugees has gone down today, this Friday, still upward of 20,000 people made the crossing fleeing the violence in Lebanon. I'm at a Red Crescent distribution center, and volunteers are handing out food and water to those who need it.

Now, some of these people have to spend the night here because they haven't been able to get their documents stamped. Those who do make it across try to find host families and some schools as well have opened in the Syrian capital, Damascus, to provide shelter, food, and water for those refugees.

The question going forward is if the violence continues, will the number of people we've seen cross over go up once again? I'm Hala Gorani, reporting at the Yabusk (ph) crossing in Syria. Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: Hala, thank you very much.

And still ahead tonight in THE SITUATION ROOM, Jack Cafferty ponders the U.S.-Middle East agenda as the top U.S. diplomat prepares to hit the road. What instructions should President Bush give Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her trip to that red hot region? We're taking your e-mail.

And up next, policing peace. CNN's Mary Snow takes a closer look at U.N. peacekeepers in the Middle East -- not only eyes, but also more teeth. What's going on? Mary Snow coming up. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Calls are growing for a beefed up international force to help keep the peace in the Middle East. There already is a largely ineffective peacekeeping unit along the Israeli-Lebanese border, but the mandate for the United Nations interim force of Lebanon or UNIFIL, as it's called, expires July 31st.

So what's the future of the peacekeepers? CNN's Mary Snow is joining us from outside the United Nations for our "Welcome to the Future" segment -- Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, many want that international force to be much bigger and better armed than the current U.N. peacekeeping force. The big question, though, is how will it be run?


SNOW (voice-over): Can an international force really stop the fighting in the Middle East, or will it turn out to be like the 2,000- member U.N. peacekeeping force currently stationed along the Israel- Lebanon border that can only observe the fighting?

UNIFIL, the U.N. interim force along the Israel-Lebanon border, can't even help with humanitarian escorts, and its own headquarters came under fire today.

A former UNIFIL official spoke to us by phone from Beirut, saying their hands are tied.

TIMUR GOKSEL, FORMER UNIFIL OFFICIAL: Because they cannot move around.

SNOW: The unit is viewed as completely ineffective, and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan says a new future must be decided upon for UNIFIL.

KOFI ANNAN, U.N. SECRETARY-GENERAL: Should it be withdrawn, should it be strengthened, should it be replaced with something else altogether?

SNOW: Many say that something else of the future needs to be very different from the peacekeeping unit originally put in place in 1978.

WILLIAM DURCH, HENRY L. STIMSON CENTER: Any kind of force that goes in, and I think it should be -- it would be a coalition force, if any, to begin with, should be prepared for residual combat, should be tough enough to defend itself and the mandate.

SNOW: Should it be a NATO-run force?

HAIM MALKA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTL. STUDIES: There's a NATO-led force in Afghanistan, which has a mandate to take broad action against the Taliban, against other militant groups. If the international community, if the United States and Israel are willing to empower an international force that can confront Hezbollah and other militant groups, then there's a possibility that this could work, but I'm very skeptical.

SNOW: Looking towards the future, that skepticism is shared by many who don't hold out much hope there will be a peace to keep in the region any time soon.

DURCH: Ten years from now, I think either the political questions have been resolved, or we'll probably be lapsing into more combat.


SNOW: Now, in addition to establishing a peace treaty, a former UNIFIL official says unless there is a clear mandate, there will be what he describes as a toothless U.N. peacekeeping force that will turn out only to be a disaster -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary Snow at the United Nations. They are continuing to debate the situation even as we speak right now.

Meantime, the United Nations is gearing up its relief efforts in Syria and in Lebanon. For more on that and the mass exodus out of Beirut, let's go once again to our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner -- Jacki.

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: Wolf, we're picking up more and more images online of people evacuating out of Lebanon. Here, a video posted as people scurry from terminal to terminal at the airport in Damascus. Photos online as people pack up their lives and cars. Others, Russian nationals waiting to board a bus to head out into Syria.

At the same time, thousands of locals are streaming out of Beirut into smaller towns. Here, children in a school that's now serving as a shelter. Refugees that are gathering in these smaller towns to collect water. There's a need for humanitarian aid. United Nations Refugee Agency has emergency teams in Syria, they're assessing need in Lebanon. Wolf, go to We have all the links to these organizations and images online for you there.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thanks very much.

Let's find out what's coming up right at the top of the hour. It means Paula Zahn is standing by. Hi, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Wolf. In just about six minutes from now, we're going to take you live to the Lebanese border, where Israeli troops and tanks are massing right now. Could an all-out invasion be about to start?

And is there any possible way for diplomacy to put a stop to all this killing? I'll ask the ambassadors who represent Israel and Lebanon at the United Nations, as well as former U.S. Ambassador Bill Richardson. A lot going on tonight, and we'll go in depth at the top of the hour, Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll be watching, Paula. Thank you very much.

Still ahead tonight, Jack Cafferty is wondering, what instructions should President Bush give Condoleezza Rice for her trip to the Middle East? That's coming up next. Stay with us.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack in New York -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Wolf, the question this hour is what instructions should President Bush give Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her upcoming trip to the Middle East?

Cruz writes from California: "President Bush would be a lot smarter to send Colin Powell, a man they respect and who has knowledge of the situation from the get-go as a special envoy with full powers to negotiate. As a female, I hate to say it, but this is a testosterone-flooded area, and no place for a Westernized female, no matter how smart she is or how capable."

Diane in Ontario writes: "I think President Bush should tell her not to bother going. I'm no fan of George Bush or his policies, but I am so sick and tired of hearing the constant rant against the West, against the U.S., its allies, against President Bush. The minute there is a crisis over there, they scream for the U.S. to get involved to fix what they can't or won't. They walk on our flag with their feet, and put their hands out for our help."

Richard in San Diego: "Rearrange your trip after you go to Israel and stop in Beirut. At least try to make it look like we care about the Lebanese."

Andy in Fairfax, Virginia: "Yes, Madam Secretary should be allowed to go to the Middle East, provided she has adult supervision. Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell or Harry Potter come to mind."

Larry in Virginia: "Jack, I'm all over this one. Condi should offer Hezbollah the contract to run our ports if they'll lay down their weapons. Offer the Palestinians New Jersey as a homeland. We're not doing much with it anyway. And while our planes are not in use, they can fly some of our folks home from Lebanon."

Amy in Lawrence, Kansas: "Condi, I don't care how cute the Ferragamos are in Rome, let's not get caught shopping for shoes again."

And Mary in Pittsburgh: "He should tell her to watch her language, chew with her mouth closed and try not to touch anybody." Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, have a nice weekend. See you Monday. Appreciate it very much.

Let's close this hour with some of the hot shots, some of the best pictures coming in from the crisis in the Middle East right now, pictures coming in from the Associated Press.

First to Tyre in Lebanon. Seventy-two coffins line a mass grave in southern Lebanon, reportedly victims of Israeli bombings.

In Haifa, a wounded man gets assistance after a rocket fired by Hezbollah hit a building in the northern Israeli city.

And in the West Bank town of Nablus, smoke and dusk billow into the sky after Israeli troops destroy a building of the Palestinian security forces during a standoff.

Beirut, once again U.S. Marine medic Natasha Stevenson (ph) carries an American girl toward an evacuating landing craft on the beach.

Some of today's hot shots, pictures often worth a thousand words.

That's all the time we have. Thanks very much for joining us. Please join me Sunday for "Late Edition." Among my guests, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton. "Late Edition" airs Sunday, 11:00 a.m. Eastern.

Until then, thanks very much for watching. Let's go to Paula in New York.