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Fighting Between Hezbollah Militants in Israel Intensifying; Israel Casualty List is Growing; California Battles Wildfires; Ehud Olmert Calls for Security Meeting

Aired July 14, 2006 - 9:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien. Thanks very much for being with us.

Hezbollah rockets falling in Safed, once again, in Northern Israel. CNN's Paula Hancocks is there.

Paula, tell us what you know.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Miles, we're hearing that just in the last five minutes or so the Israeli defense forces confirming that a barrage of rockets has also hit another Northern Israeli town. That's the town of -- I'm sorry, I haven't got name here, but it's just on the border northeast of the border. And we haven't got word on casualties there, but know there have been approximately 16 rockets just in one hour, about a couple of hours ago that hit Israel. We know a couple of people have been lightly wounded. But the fact that people are just wounded, it's the fact that many people in this area are absolutely terrified at the moment.

This is where two of the katyusha rockets of the five in Safed, about 20 kilometers away from that border hit a couple of hours ago, destroyed the bottom floor of this apartment building. There were people in the apartment building at the time, but we understand only a couple of people were wounded.

Now, the ruckus behind me is the mayor of the town arriving to assess the damage. People here, you can see and hear, are very angry, but they're also very determined. They're not going to be cowered by these rocket attacks.

Now, we also know that Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, is going to be meeting in just about half an hour now -- meeting his top security officials to discuss exactly what is going on. This is a specially called meeting. So, hopefully we'll all get some insight from Olmert or at least one of his officials in the next couple of hours -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Paul Hancocks in Safed, thank you very much.

Let's go to Paula Newton now who is in Jerusalem -- Paula.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: And as Paula Hancocks mentioned Prime Minister Ehud Olmert did call the security meeting. He's well aware of what's going on in the north and what Paula Hancocks just described. They are afraid what is going to happen at this point is people will begin to panic. In fact there are already some reports of people panicking in those areas. Wanting to know what to do with themselves. They keep being told to go sit in the bomb shelters. But you wonder how long people can really handle that kind of pressure and that kind of anxiety. At the same time here, Miles, U.S. assistant secretary of state David Welch is still in the West Bank in Ramadi. He's trying very gingerly, very slowly to try to lay the foundation to get some type of a 24-hour, 48-hour cease-fire going so that the barbs going back and forth will actually stop if only for a little while -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, you say he's working gingerly at this point. What sort of progress could he possibly be making with this environment, this atmosphere?

NEWTON: Well, at this point he's talking to Palestinian authority, President Momad Mahmoud Abbas and that is really key, although Abbas does not seem to have a lot of power at all, he is one of the moderate voices. Again, I stress, he doesn't have any influence in Lebanon, doesn't have any influence with Hezbollah.

But at this point they're trying to get as many moderate Muslim voices as they can together to try and come up with some kind of a brainstorming breakthrough type of arrangement that will at least lead to cessation of the violence for like I say, Miles, 24, 48 hours, whatever, just to get people thinking.

As I've said previously, everything hinged on a prisoner swamp and Israel is saying that right now any kind of prisoner swap is absolutely out of the question. So, it going to be interesting to see what the meeting of the minds is here over the next few days -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: They say that publicly, but they've said that publicly in the past and there have been swaps.

NEWTON: There have been swaps, certainly not recently, but we knew and were told that behind the scenes when it just involved that one Israeli soldier, that's Corporal Gilad Shalit, who's still being held, the Israelis believe, somewhere in Gaza, that there was some kind of opportunity for some kind of a prisoner swap even if it didn't happen in a close period of time, as in a one-for-one kind of a trade. No, it wasn't going to happen like that, perhaps the corporal would be leased and then several weeks down the road they would have a slow release of prisoners. All of that, Miles, was wiped off the table when Hezbollah came into Israel and, you know, killed several soldiers and is now still holding two of them. And that is really the big hurdle that people are trying to get over here.

M. O'BRIEN: Paula Newton in Jerusalem. Thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Speaking of influence, what role is Iran really playing in this escalating violence? What options are available to the U.S. Robin Wright of the "Washington Post" has been writing extensively on the Middle East. She met with members of Hezbollah and Hamas, she's in Washington this morning.

Robin, also nice to have you, thanks for talking with us.


S. O'BRIEN: And in fact you write today about, while there's this focus on the recent conflict, actually there's two other conflicts that are -- kind of make up one big problem in the Middle East.

WRIGHT: Yes, in fact the United States in one week faces an escalation on three fronts not only in Lebanon, but also with the referral of Iran to the Security Council because of its failure to agree to a package that would ensure it can't subvert a peaceful energy program into a nuclear weapon. And then there's the danger in Iraq that we are crossing now into what is a full blown civil war. So the United States has a full plate in the Middle East.

S. O'BRIEN: Of course there is a connection with Iran and a connection with Syria, right? So what is that fact have to do with the negotiation options that are now available?

WRIGHT: Well, this is an extraordinary time. In 1993 and 1996 the United States was a key broker in agreements between Israel and via Syria with Hezbollah. That is not an option this time for a variety of reasons related in large part to Iraq. The United States ambassador to Syria has been withdrawn and in fact resigned to Iraq. We don't have any kind of dialogue with Iran and tensions, in fact, have never been higher with Iran probably since the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. So, we have limited mean this is time around to be able to negotiation as we did a decade ago.

S. O'BRIEN: So, who do you talk to? I mean, you laid out the partial list. The Syrian ambassador, the U.S. Syrian ambassador, is not there. So, she can't be part of it. No relationship really to speak of with Iran. The Lebanese government certainly has shown that they're really not in control. The U.S. says well we don't negotiate with terrorists and it's Hamas and Hezbollah who are in charge of things. Who do you sit down and talk to in order to bring this to a close?

WRIGHT: Well, the United States has reached out to its moderate Arab allies, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. They have influence on Hamas, but they don't on Hezbollah. We are talking about a difference between Sunni regimes and a Shiite movement, so there are -- it plays out in a lot of different ways. And of course the Lebanese government has very limited control over Hezbollah. It is a member, ironically, became last year, a member of the Lebanese government, but it is the last remaining private army in Lebanon and there is no military force that can try to confront it and force it to either stop fighting or to release the two Israeli prisoners.

S. O'BRIEN: We've talked a lot about the influence of Iran, but you know frankly Syria is closer and I'd be curious to know -- to hear if you think that Syria in fact will be drawn more than they have been into this crisis -- like literally into the crisis? WRIGHT: Well, there's a real danger the conflagration will begin to include Syria. Events on the ground in the Middle East, having lived there during 1982 when Israel first invaded, often overtake the kind of diplomacy or the initial pace of events and partners or players who were not originally involved get drawn in and there is a danger that whether Israel goes after Hamas leaders in Syria or Syria tries to engage more provocatively along its own border or nearby or to help its ally in Hezbollah, there's a danger that Syria will be some kind of player. This doesn't play into its vulnerable hands right now of a young new leader, but there is that danger if there isn't some kind of cease-fire soon.

S. O'BRIEN: Robin Wright is with the "Washington Post." Your article today is just excellent. Thank you very much for being with us, Robin, as always.

WRIGHT: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING, Former CIA agent Valerie Plame taking aim at the White House, we'll tell you what she's doing. And then later this morning in "AM Pop," Ed Burns is the writer, the director, and one of the stars in latest film, it's called "The Groomsmen." It's about a bachelor who's coming to grips with commitment. We'll talk about that ahead. He's in the studio.


S. O'BRIEN: Former CIA operative, Valerie Plame, is seeking payback for her leaked identity. She's filed a federal lawsuit against Vice President Dick Cheney, his former aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, and White House political strategist, Karl Rove. AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken's covering this story for us. He's in D.C. this morning.

Hey Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, and it's an unspecified amount of damages that being sought, but charged the constitutional rights of Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson IV, were violated during his disclosure as the CIA leak -- CIA secret operative. They're claiming that this was done to avenge Wilson's criticisms against the administration in 2003. And according to the lawsuits say those being charged were "motivated by vindictiveness and illegitimate animus," and goes on to say, "...the defendants fraudulently among other things giving false or misleading testimony to federal law enforcement personally and/or the federal grand jury."

It should be pointed out here there has not been a charge against any of those to that effect except Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the president's former chief of staff. In any case, they're filing the lawsuit. It has the advantage to them of forcing the possibility of more information out there that they would consider embarrassing to the administration. The only one of the defendants who responded at all put out a very brief statement through his spokesman, Mark Corallo, and that's Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser. The statement read, "It is clear that the allegation are absolutely and utterly without merit."

No surprise there. This is going to be fought out in the courts. The first thing is, of course, going to be a battle over whether it should be dismissed. That'll be followed by a battle over who can be forced to give a sworn statement. So, as we've said so many times in this story, it's not winding down. Stay tuned -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: I can tell we'll be talking about this for a long time to come.

FRANKEN: For the rest of time, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Feels like it. Bob Franken, thanks.

We're going to hear from Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson, later this morning. CNN's got live coverage of their news conference and we're expecting that at 10:00 a.m. Eastern -- Miles

M. O'BRIEN: Happening in America this morning, House speaker Dennis Hastert to spend the weekend in the hospital. He checked into Bethesda Naval Hospital with a skin infection. Doctors say Hastert will be treated with antibiotics and kept off his feet for 72 hours. Plus they say he'll be up and at 'em on Capitol Hill by next week.

S. O'BRIEN: In New York, some dramatic new surveillance videotape has been leased by the NYPD and it shows that massive explosion of the upper eastside townhouse, happened on Monday. Authorities think the doctor who lived and worked in the building blew it up in a failed suicide attempt. He apparently rather sell -- rather than sell the house we rather just destroy it. He was in the middle of a very bitter divorce settlement.

Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney now signing an emergency bill that gives him ultimate control of the "Big Dig" investigation. The move comes after inspectors found more than 200 problem spots where these bolts are holding up the heavy panels. You'll recall a woman was killed on Monday night when her car was crushed when one of the big concrete panels fell loose, hit the car.

M. O'BRIEN: In New Orleans police say they've solve a killing spree. They arrested 19-year-old Michael Anderson accused of killing five teens in June. He was arrested a block away from the scene of that crime.

Groundbreaking with Louisiana governor, Kathleen Blanco, for a new five and a half mile bridge. It goes across Lake Pontchartrain connecting New Orleans to Slidell, Louisiana. The cost about $800 million. The largest public works project in that state's history. The bridge will rise 30 feet above the water, and thus be better able to withstand hurricane than the previous bridges which were about 10 feet, as you see there, above water level.

S. O'BRIEN: In Hazelton, Pennsylvania, the city councils approve a law designed to make the town a tougher place for illegal immigrants to live or work. Provision of the law include $1,000 fine for landlords that rent to illegal and requirements that all city documents be in English only.

Also in Pennsylvania Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's surgeon said earlier this week that the colt's chance of survival are now a long shot. Latest reports, though, this morning, are that Barbaro's doing much better. He had a good night last night, he even slept on his side. He's developed, thought this severe case of laminitis. It's the same ailment that eventually killed the Triple Crown Winner, Secretariat.

M. O'BRIEN: Ferocious 48,000 acre wildfire in Southern California threatening to merge with another large fire nearby. The Yucca Valley fire has already destroyed 150 homes and buildings. It could link up with the 8,000 acre fire burning just five mile away, San Bernardino County under a state of emergency as a result.

One hundred and twenty miles to the West, Los Angeles, three suspects in custody after these quick but dramatic high-speed chase. You see right here, where in South central L.A. Boom! Into the pole there. Driver plowed into a fire hydrant, you see it spraying water everywhere, the arrest subsequent to that. "CNN Live Today" is coming up next, Daryn Kagan here with a preview.

Good morning, Daryn.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Miles.

Coming up on "CNN Live Today" we're going to continue to follow the crisis in the Middle East. Israeli forces and Hezbollah launching new cross border attacks. We'll look at efforts to broker a cease- fire.

An ex-CIA officer says top Bush administration officials blew her cover. Now Valerie Plame is suing. I know you've been talking about this on AMERICAN MORNING but we're going to have her news conference coming up, that's starting at the top of the hour. For now, back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: We will be tuned in for that. Daryn Kagan, thank you very much. See you very shortly.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on "AM Pop," actor and director Edward Burns is going to join us live right here in the studio. He's got a new movie out, it's called "The Groomsmen." It is fantastic. It's about a guy -- that guy right there -- coming to terms with commitment, marriage, fatherhood, all the stuff that he likes to write about.

M. O'BRIEN: He would be that guy...

S. O'BRIEN: Kind of mirrors his life now as a relatively new dad. We're going to talk to Ed Burns just ahead this morning.


S. O'BRIEN: In this morning's "AM Pop," in the movie game, Edward Burns is what you call a triple threat. He's a writer, he's an actor, and he's a director. He's got a new film out, it's called "The Groomsmen." Burns' character, getting ready to marry pregnant fiance, kind of coming to grips with it during one last, I guess you call it a guy-a-thon before the very big day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what this does? It's like -- a wed something one thing, you know, there's all the sanity that goes around that in preparing for that and everyone gets nervous before they get married. But, you know, we got a kid coming in a couple of months. A kid that we didn't plan for and I guess I'm just -- you know, I don't know if I can be a good dad. You know, I don't know if I can do it.


S. O'BRIEN: Edward Burns is with us this morning.

It's nice to see you. What a pleasure. Everybody's so excited. We're getting e-mails all morning -- oh, we love him! We love him! You're a guy who likes to tell stories of a family, anyway, and fatherhood and relationships between family members, but this is kind of a different take on it.

EDWARD BURNS, "THE GROOMSMEN": Yeah, I was trying to sort of paint hopefully funny, but also honest or realistic look at, you know, my generation of guys, mid 30s and why we are fighting maturity or the next stage of adulthood, so...

S. O'BRIEN: Why is that? Because, I always wanted to know.

BURNS: You know, nobody came to any conclusions at the end of the shoot. It just, I think maybe because you hold off for so long, those habits are so much tougher to break.

S. O'BRIEN: It's called "The Groomsmen" because it's really the story of your character is about to get married to his pregnant fiance, Brittany Murphy who we saw there, and the groomsmen all come in for their sort of last little hurrah. I think the actors you are working with is just terrific in this. And I have to imagine that getting the chemistry, you're brother, you know, the character who plays your brother, and guy who've been friends forever, it's got to be hard to get that to gel.

BURNS: Yeah, but I got very lucky here because I think Jay Mohr know Donal Logue from before, I knew John Leguizamo from before. Matt Lillard knew Donal, so the minute we were thrown in together, and we're all like-minded. Everyone was a pretty recent dad, so we had that to connect over. And I do allow my actors to improvise a little bit, so immediately they felt relaxed on set. And when you see the film you can tell we feel like guys who've known one another since childhood.

S. O'BRIEN: It really does, it has that feel. One of the actors, I can't remember who it was, was quoted in saying that instead of allowing people, like hang out in their trailers -- which is how I kind of visualize how Hollywood works -- that you were making people work so hard no breaks between, you know, the next scene that they were carrying their clothes from the next scene with them. Is that right?

BURNS: Well, you know...

S. O'BRIEN: Is that a budget thing or a like, strategy?

BURNS: Well, it's sort of both in a way. You know, any time you make these personal films, your budgets are so much smaller. You know, so we made this film for $3 million, he shot it in 25 days. Given that kind of schedule, there is no time to hang out in the trailer and the way I work, if guys are on the set and we finish the scene, and we're ahead in the schedule, I'll quickly say, hey, guys why don't we try a completely other scene, we'll improvise and we'll go to another part of the location and see what we get. And there are a number of scenes in this film that weren't scripted that came from my cast's willingness to play with me in that way.

S. O'BRIEN: So you work them like dogs, supposedly.

BURNS: You have to do it. You know? When you're not paying them you have to work them extra hard.

S. O'BRIEN: You're a relatively new dad yourself, two kids. How old are they now?

BURNS: My girl will be three in October and my little guy is five months.

S. O'BRIEN: How much of this is auto biographical, because there's a lot grappling, I mean Matthew Lillard, is kind of the voice of reason. He's kind of the guy who's got a family and I think the other guys in the movie sort of look to him so fatherly advice, maybe.

BURNS: Yeah, yeah. I'll always take some -- an incident from my life or the backdrop of something like a wedding, and use it as the catalyst for the script. I very rarely will like dip into my own experiences, but there are a couple of scenes between Brittany and I where my character is -- described that he's mourning the death of his single self, knowing that once his child shows up certain things he won't -- you know, he just won't have the time to do. And then, so I was able to pull from some of my own personal mourning period.

S. O'BRIEN: How is that going to change, you think, what you decide to work on as a director?

BURNS: Well it's already changed, it's sort of my approach to my career. When my daughter was born I decided to walk away from my acting career for a couple of years. Focus on making my personal indie films in New York and that's a way I get to dictate my schedule, stay home, have dinner with my family, those kind of things that when you're on location, obviously, you don't get to do.

S. O'BRIEN: And maybe theme wise, too. You're not going to be doing "Cheaper by the Dozen, No. 5?" BURNS: No, no, no, no, no, no I mean, you know, even as a kid I didn't like kids movies. So, I can't imagine I'll be making anything, you know, PG anytime soon.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, "The Groomsmen" it is such a moving film. I was crying at the end.

BURNS: That's great.

S. O'BRIEN: It was so moving.

It opens today in New York and Los Angeles and then a wider release later this month. Edward Burns, thank you so much. What a pleasure.

BURNS: Thank you very much. Yeah, appreciate it.

S. O'BRIEN: A short break, we're back in just a moment.


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