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Crisis in the Middle East

Aired July 16, 2006 - 20:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Israelis say the aim is to try and wipe out the Katyusha rocket launch facilities and push them back in southern Lebanon out of the range of those Israeli towns and cities.
MELISSA LONG, CNN ANCHOR: And we'll take you to the front lines of the Middle East crisis.

Hezbollah rockets reach Haifa causing death and destruction. Tonight, Israel vows to fire back.

As the tit for tat strikes cross the borders, civilian casualties rise on both sides.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the gateway between Lebanon and Syria and amid this crisis it has seen an influx of people like this, carrying what little they have, leaving most of it behind... (INAUDIBLE).

LONG: The innocent trying to get out of harm's way. Tonight how Arabs and Americans are trying to get back home.

Good evening, this is CNN SUNDAY, I'm Melissa Long, in tonight for Carol Lin. And ahead this hour:

Here's what's happening right now in the news. In the Middle East, the crisis is deepening. Deadly attacks were launched by Israel and Hezbollah. Our complete coverage begins in a moment.

Some of the other stories in the news this evening: from the g-8 meeting in Russia, President Bush and other world leaders issued a statement blaming the Middle East crisis on extremists. They also call on Israel to exercise restraint.

India puts peace talks with Pakistan on hold. Indian officials suspect terrorist coming from Pakistan were involved in the bombings that killed more that 180 people in Mumbai last week.

A U.S. soldier died today in a firefight in southern Afghanistan. Coalition soldiers are mounting the largest offensive there since the invasion that toppled the Taliban.

A New York City doctor is dead from injuries suffered when his town home blew up last week. Police believe Dr. Nicholas Barth triggered the explosion as part of a bitter divorce dispute.

And the space shuttle crew spending their last few hours in space with a beautiful view. The Discovery is scheduled to land tomorrow morning, 9:14 AM eastern time, at the Kennedy space center.

And now to our continuing coverage of the escalating crisis in the Middle East. Here's what we know. Israelis aircraft have blasted Palestinian Authority offices in Gaza. The strike followed Hezbollah rocket attacks on three northern Israeli towns. Israel also launched another round of attacks on Beirut International Airport. Lebanese officials say that the raids exploded a fuel depot.

At least nine Lebanese soldiers were killed in Israeli air strikes in northern Lebanon. Security sources say two army bases near Kapuli (ph) were hit.

We have CNN reporters stationed all across the Middle East from Israel to Lebanon to Syria and Gaza. We are following this crisis from all angles this evening. Do stay tuned to LARRY KING LIVE next hour. Then Anderson Cooper is live in northern Israel at 10:00 PM eastern time with his Special Report "Middle East on the Brink". This a team effort.

Now let's check in with my colleague, that's Anand Naidoo, who's at the update desk. Good evening.

ANAND NAIDOO, CNN ANCHOR: Melissa, good evening. As you say, the violence is escalating. The Israeli offensive against Lebanon is intensifying. Just in the past hour, Israeli jets pounded Beirut airport; that's the second time the jets have hit the airport. Earlier today, they hit fuel storage depots as well.

For the latest, let's go to our Nic Robertson. He is in Beirut -- Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON: CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, just a few miles south of me, Anand, is Beirut International Airport. About five hours ago, Israeli aircraft struck the fuel storage depots on the edge of the air field igniting at least one of them. It is still burning now, sending flames into the night sky.

I was down there earlier on today. One of the tanks had been hit on Thursday night; even today it was still burning. These fuel storage tanks, it seems, can go on burning for quite some time. That tank was hit just as the prime minister here was concluding a meeting with the most senior international diplomats who arrive here to talk about the possibility of bringing a cease-fire.

European Union Foreign Affairs and Security Chief Javiar Salana met for several hours with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. They didn't come up with a concrete plan, at least didn't put one out publicly, about how to bring about a cease-fire. But Mr. Solana said and implied that Hezbollah needed to hand back the two Israeli soldiers abducted last week, and they needed to end hostilities immediately, and that all this needed to happen very quickly.

We've seen violence flair later tonight in Tripoli, several Lebanese military bases struck there. Most of the shelling, though, coming into east and south of the country. Israeli aircraft dropping leaflets on people in the south telling them to get out of their homes and leave the area. Of course the south of Lebanon is where Hezbollah are strong. It is the place where Hezbollah have been firing missiles into Israel from, we've seen, in Beirut as well.

Families, Lebanese families, trying to get out of the country, trying to find ways to take their families out. And at the U.S. embassy today, two CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters came in bringing military and state department experts who arrived here to help expedite the possible evacuation of up to 25,000 Americans who are in Lebanon. When I talked with one embassy official early on, she told me that they hope, the embassy hopes this evacuation will happen very soon.

JULIET WURR, U.S. EMBASSY PUBLIC AFFAIRS OFFICIAL: Oh, no, it will definitely happen in the next few days. When will depend on the conditions. And that's what this team of people who have arrived are going to give us the expertise, they're going to help us look around and see how's the best way of doing it. So very soon it will be happening.

ROBERTSON: And that's the real question. What are the conditions going to be like? We've seen the poor town of Tripoli targeted tonight. We've seen the airport again targeted. The port of Tyre was targeted earlier on today. Exactly how will they get the Americans out of Lebanon. Exactly how many of that possible 25,000 will want to leave? Not clear at the moment. But the embassy accelerating plans to find a safe and controlled way to get everyone out who wants to leave, Anand.

NAIDOO: Thanks a lot, Nic Robertson there talking to us from Beirut -- Melissa?

LONG: Thanks you so much. We'll check back in with you shortly.

Now, Gaza continues to be a second front for Israel. Today its aircraft hit the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry for the second time in less than a week. Stephanie Halasz joins us by phone from Gaza city - Stephanie?

STEPHANIE HALASZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At 6:20 p.m. eastern, Israeli F-16s did target the foreign ministry here in Gaza city. They did destroy an entire wing of that building, which includes the offices of Mahmoud Zahar, the Palestinian foreign minister. Now the Israeli defense...

LONG: Our apologies. I believe we just lost our connection with Stephanie. We will see if we can reconnect with Stephanie again live from Gaza.

In the meantime, I want to tell you more about the thousands of people that are fleeing the danger zone in Lebanon. CNN's Aneesh Raman has been monitoring the main border crossing with Syria where today a steady stream of people managed to make it across.


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For thousands of people this is the only way out of the spiraling situation between Lebanon and Israel. This is the main border crossing between Lebanon and Syria. Thousands of people, hundreds of thousands according to Syrian officials, have made their way through, many of them walking for hours, carrying what little they can from inside Lebanon.

The majority of those who have come are Syrians working in Lebanon who have come home, given the violence. But, Lebanese people we have spoken to say that the scenes back home are of utter destruction. Coming into this area at the other border crossing, the scene is one of chaos. People are leaving their vehicles and walking the hours-long journey in order to get into Syria.

They say the bombs are detonating too close. They are coming here for the survival of their family. Meantime on the other side over here is where one would go into Syria. You can see it is empty; it has been virtually empty all day. The only vehicles going in are taxis that are looking to try and make some money.

Also the Red Crescent is here for the first day. They are surveying the situation.

The Syrian officials are keen to let as many people as they can in, expatriot Arab tourists who are there, because they know, whether they want it or not, the Syrian government is entwined in this crisis. Their relationship with Hezbollah is now under an international microscope.

You see behind me a tour bus that's coming -- we've seen a number of those. Vehicles just now being able to get through. It is packed, there are children, there are families, desperately trying to get out of the situation. But there is fear as well, that while they are departing from Lebanon and coming to Syria, Syria could soon see what Lebanon sees now: bombings. And that is what the biggest fear is of those we have spoken to.

Aneesh Raman, CNN, on the Syrian side of the Syrian-Lebanese border.


LONG: And before Aneesh's report, we were chatting with Stephanie Halasz from the Gaza city. She's actually joining us by phone. We did want to reconnect and find out more about the attack of the Palestinian Authority foreign ministry -- the second time now in less than one week -- Stephanie?

HALASZ: That's right, Melissa. Almost two hours ago, F-16s attacked the foreign ministry that's in the center of Gaza city. They did destroy the wing in which the offices of the foreign minister are situated. And they did this, they say, the IDF says, to stop the terror activity that is being planned in that office.

Now of course the foreign minister is Mahmoud Zahar, he is a senior Hamas member. And he must have gotten that message, as you said, because four days ago his office was already bombed and then the top floors of his office were destroyed. And now F-16s, Israeli F- 16s, have come back to destroy the entire wing -- Melissa?

LONG: I would like to talk to you about the soldier who was kidnapped in late June. Of course, the soldier's kidnapping is what led to the offensive. I'm curious whether or not we know about that soldier's whereabouts. The past days, there were reports that the Israeli forces did know his whereabouts.

HALASZ: Well, they are, what the Israeli defense forces are saying, is that they are in Da Haneeah (ph), which is in the south of the Gaza Strip. This is as close to the former, now defunct airport of Gaza. And they are there, they say, because they guess this is where he may be and they want to prevent Gilad Shalit, who of course was kidnapped June 25th, to be smuggled out to Egypt. This is close to the border of Gaza with Egypt

Now, a few days ago, interestingly enough, militants blew a hole into the border that divides Gaza and Egypt. This was mainly it seems, to allow stranded Palestinians who are on the Egyptian side of Gaza to come back in, because the border had been closed since the incident June 25th. But then we saw a lot of Israeli air activity because, it seemed, they were concerned this hole in the border would allow somebody to smuggle Gilad Shalit out. But the suggestion is that he may be somewhere in the south of the Gaza Strip, but, of course, no one knows for sure.

LONG: We discussed how the latest air strike of the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry affected officials, but how is it affecting civilians?

HALASZ: Well, it is always frightening when attacks occur. They usually occur at night. And we've talked a lot about the psychological effects, especially on children.

In the beginning of the crisis, right after June 25th, we heard a lot of sonic booms. There are very, very loud booms that are created by very fast planes flying overhead, always at night, usually coming in pairs. This is very frightening, even for adults who knew this may be coming during the night. They have stopped. We haven't heard those sonic booms in many days. But, still, we hear constant shelling during the day. A lot of air activity during the night. Usually something, at least one target gets hit during the night.

And then there are psychological studies being done on children, how is this affecting children? Because they don't necessarily know where these sounds are coming from, what they are. But life is very rough here in the Gaza Strip as it is, and with this fear of attacks it is just increasing.

LONG: That's CNN's Stephanie Halasz, joining us live by phone from Gaza city. Stephanie, thank you so much.

Now, there have been several Hezbollah rocket attacks on northern Israel today. Some hitting as far south as Nazareth. But the most deadly, in the coastal town of Haifa. Here's CNN's Paula Hancocks.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Panic in Haifa Sunday as Hezbollah launch at least 20 rockets into Israel's third largest city. Those who are on the streets run for cover when the sirens sounded.

It was Hezbollah's deadliest rocket attack on Israel in more than a decade. A train maintenance depot in Haifa's industrial zone. Eight Israeli railway workers died, more than 20 injured.

This where the rocket came through the roof of this train depot. There were about 30 people working in here at the time of the blast on Sunday morning, and you can see exactly where the rocket hit. Now, anything that was left in that hole was taken away to be investigated, and to discover exactly where the material came.

Now, the people who managed to walk out of here alive said to me that there were no sirens and no warning.

Arnie survived. He tells me he tried to help the friends he worked with for many years.

Israel's former army chief instantly pointed the finger of blame. This was not the only rocket that hit Haifa but it was the most deadly.

MIRI EISIN, ISRAEL GOVERNMENT SPOKESWOMAN: Israel for the last six years has gone through cycles with Hezbollah. We're not in a cycle now, we're in a war. And we're determined that at the end of this war Hezbollah will not be on our northern border.

HANCOCKS: Israel deployed Patriot missile batteries in the northern Israeli town of Saffet (ph) Sunday, a town that has been hit by numerous katyusha rockets. The missiles have already been deployed in Haifa to try and intercept rockets from Lebanon.

A heightened alert across the whole of northern Israel spread Sunday to Israel's most popular city, Tel Aviv. Just a precaution according to authorities.

GEN. YITZHAK GERSHON, ISRAELI ARMY: The area south to Haifa will be alerted by a siren, and when that siren is heard, they would have a minute at least to enter structures, lower floors, security rooms, which will significantly reduce the ability to hurt the body and soul.

HANCOCKS: At least a dozen Israeli civilians have been killed so far in hundreds of rocket attacks. Hezbollah warns this is only the beginning.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Haifa, Israel.


LONG: And again a programming reminder of a Special Report from northern Israel later this morning. Join CNN's Anderson Cooper, 10:00 PM eastern for "Middle East on the Brink." He will be live in Haifa.

Politics and the push for the Middle East peace. World leaders at the G8 summit are searching for solutions. The details coming up.

AIDOO: And I'm Anand Aidoo at the CNN international desk where we're tracking the unfolding drama in the Middle East minute by minute.

In the past hour, there have been attacks by Israeli warplanes on Beirut Airport. There've also been attacks by Hezbollah militants on northern Israel.

We'll bring you those details. That's coming up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 0:06:22.3 Thank you, and I love you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you, honey.

LONG: And an American in Beirut caught in the crossfire. Family ties in the Middle East and the struggle to get out and get home.

Much more straight ahead on this special edition of CNN LIVE SUNDAY.


LONG: Again, a live picture of our international desk, where journalists are working extremely hard around the clock to bring you the latest developments in the Middle East crisis. They are monitoring the networks in the Middle East, of course, and also sorting through all the information coming in to us from the field.

We're keeping you up to date on the crisis in the Middle East, and here's what we know right now.

Israeli aircraft have again blasted Palestinian Authority offices in Gaza. A section of the building that houses the foreign ministry offices collapsed. But Palestinian sources say no one was inside.

Israel is again targeting Beirut's international airport. Within the last hour another round of attacks hit fuel depots there.

Israeli aircraft are also pounding northern Lebanon. Security sources say two army base near Tripoli were hit and at least nine Lebanese soldiers were killed. Continuing to follow this story with my colleague Anand Naidoo at the update desk.

NAIDOO: Thanks Melissa. Across Lebanon, and in northern Israel, the violence has been escalating. Israel has intensified its offensive against Lebanon.

In the past few hours this is what has been happening. Israeli jets have hit Beirut airport yet again. They've hit fuel storage depots at Beirut airport, you're looking at pictures of that right now. They've also hit targets in Tripoli, in Baalbeck. South of Beirut they hit a village that was gun fired from a gun boat which was in the waters off the Lebanese coast. Four Lebanese have died in that attack considered according to Lebanese security sources. Israeli, earlier on, their warplanes also hit a residential building in Tyre, that's in the south of Lebanon. Twenty people were killed in that attack, 50 people wounded.

Canadian officials telling us that among those 20 people killed were eight Canadians.

Hezbollah has intensified its attacks across the border into northern Israel. For the first time they struck very, very deep into Israel. They hit the towns of Afula and Nazareth with Katyusha missiles. There were very light injuries there.

These are towns near the West Bank, nobody was in air raid shelters there. But this is the first time that these missiles have reached so deep into Israel. In the past attacks they have Nahariya and Haifa. This morning missiles that hit Haifa killed seven people, wounding 17.

Now, on the diplomatic front, G-8 leaders meeting in St. Petersburg issued a statement expressing deepening concern about the situation, particularly those rising civilian casualties - Melissa?

LONG: Anand, thank you so much. We'll check back in shortly.

And let's talk a little bit more about the meetings in St. Petersburg. The crisis in the Middle East was the top of the agenda for the G8 leaders. They agree on a call for the end to the violence by all sides. There is a difference of opinion on whom is to blame.

Suzanne Malveaux is traveling with the president in st. Petersburg.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With the possibility of all out war erupting in the Middle East, leaders of the world's major industrialized democracies came together to try to find a solution to end the crisis.

They called for the safe return of the abducted Israeli soldiers, an end to Hezbollah's shelling of Israel, an end to Israeli military operations, and the early withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, and the release of the arrested Palestinian ministers and parliamentarians. Conditions, they say, that will lay the foundation of a permanent peace, just short of endorsing a cease-fire which Mr. Bush does not promote.

GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Our message to Israel is, look, defend yourself, but as you do so be mindful of the consequences. So, we urge restraint.

MALVEAUX: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said a temporary truce would not be very helpful in reigning in terrorist groups like Hezbollah. Instead, the U.S. is working with the United Nations and Arab allies to isolate countries like Syria and Iran whom the administration says is supporting the terrorists. CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: The real peace for Israel comes in having moderate partners in Lebanon and moderate partners in the Palestinian territories. So, we have international frameworks that would help us to isolate the extremists.

MALVEAUX: The statement comes after two days of debate over how to bridge the divide among G8 members. The leaders of France, Russia, and Italy, rebuked Israel for going too far, while President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair defended Israel's action.

While G8 leaders did agree on a framework to address the Middle East crisis, they also recognize that achieving piece will be a long and arduous process. Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, St. Petersburg, Russia.


LONG: Help has arrived at the U.S. embassy in Beirut, but it may not be soon enough for loved ones at home. One woman's story is straight ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This war transcends Shia Islam and Sunni Islam. It's over Jerusalem, it's over the Israeli-Arab conflict.

LONG: Also, understanding the Middle East crisis at its root, perspective on Hamas, Hezbollah and their roles in the conflict.

You're watching CNN LIVE SUNDAY.


LONG: The crisis in the Middle East hits home for so many Americans with loved ones stranded in Lebanon. All they can do now: wait, hope. CNN's Kareen Wynter has one family's story.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, how are you?

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the midst of crisis, Linda Antonius finds comfort in a cell phone and the soothing voice on the other end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you, honey.

WYNTER: Her husband and soul mate of 15 years, Terry, one of thousands of Americans stranded in Lebanon, caught in the violent political conflict with Israel.

LINDA ANTONIUS: How are you doing?

TERRY ANTONIUS: Good. Excellent, excellent. We just had to quickly go to the store to get some food and bring it back.

WYNTER: Terry and his sister flew in from California to Beirut more than a week ago to visit relatives they haven't seen in decades. A family reunion months in the planning that's now turned into one unforgettable trip.

How anxious are you to return home?

TERRY ANTONIUS: I couldn't even describe how anxious I am. It's on my mind every minute.

This morning there was bombings that we hear, you know, quite a few. Everybody is staying inside. So that's been, you know, if there's a bomb that would happen to hit close by, the idea is to stay inside and put your head down. So, I mean just like an earthquake drill back in California, you know, just stay inside and duck for cover.

WYNTER: Terry hopes to get home soon now that the U.S. military is planning to evacuate Americans.

TERRY ANTONIUS: I'm kind of shocked it took that long particular a planning team to arrive.

WYNTER: Until that happens, Antonius says she'll continue leaning on close friends.

This Sunday ride to church was an emotional one. She has no doubt her husband will return safely.


WYNTER: She believes his fate and those of other Americans overseas are in the hands of a higher power.

Kareen Wynters, CNN, Laguna Niguel, California.


LONG: Glad you're joining us for our continuing coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. This is a special edition of CNN SUNDAY.

And still to come, a live report from Anderson Cooper live from Haifa.

You're watching CNN.


LONG: It is early Monday morning in the Middle East, Israel and Hezbollah begin the week exchanging rockets and mortar bombs. Israeli aircraft have bombed Beirut's airport and the Foreign Ministry office of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza. Hezbollah sends more rockets deeper into Israel. Continuing coverage is just a minute away.

Continue with our coverage right now, President Bush and fellow G-8 leaders call for an end to violence in the Middle East. A joint statement blames extremists for the violence and calls for the utmost restraint from Israel.

The deadly Mumbai train station bombings are slowing peace talks as well as the country's commuters. India's top Foreign Minister official says talks with Pakistan are on hold for now. India suspects the bombings are the handiwork of Pakistani militants.

A U.S. soldier died today in a firefight in southern Afghanistan. Coalition soldiers are mounting the biggest offensive there since the invasion that toppled the Taliban.

And here's what we know right now. Hezbollah targets towns in northern Israel, including Nazareth, the strikes are deeper in Israel than any other previous rocket attack. Earlier a deadly attack on the Israeli town of Haifa. Eight people are dead after that Hezbollah rocket slammed into a train station. And tonight in Gaza, Israeli aircraft blasted the Palestinian Authority's Foreign Ministry office for the second time in a less than a week.

And now we take you live to Israel where CNN's Anderson Cooper is finishing his preparation for his special program this evening at 10:00. Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening, this city still reeling, still reacting to the deadly blast yesterday, Katyusha rocket, as you said hitting a train depot. Eight workmen in that station dead, more than 10 wounded. A grisly scene, pools of blood of course at the scene. That is said to be just one of some 20 Katyusha rockets believed to have hit in the Haifa area. Some of those landing in the sea harmlessly of course but this makes the Israeli death toll at least 12 people thus far killed in Israel, obviously far smaller than the number of people killed thus far in Lebanon. They say more than 100 there killed. No one knows what today will bring. This crisis has been escalating it seems with each day.

Just yesterday we heard more very tough rhetoric from the leader of Hezbollah. Also now the Israelis - also Israeli military officials yesterday warning those living in southern Lebanon to move out because they are going to be facing some very heavy bombardments there as well as they have been thus far. Already this morning, it's very early in the morning, darkness still blanketing this country, we can hear booms off in the distance, we can't tell if they are outgoing artillery fire or incoming Katyusha fire from Hezbollah, it's simply at this point too early to tell but no doubt it is a warning of what is to come today.

LONG: Anderson, obviously still very early in the morning, very if I people likely out at this hour. But of course you've been reporting during the daytime hours as well, I'm curious, the people you're running into on the streets, what are their thoughts?

COOPER: Well, you know, among the Israelis there is a sense of resolve, I think. You find that just about no matter where you go. I've heard people expressing concern for the Lebanese people, but basically saying, look, Hezbollah is a threat that is intolerable. Some have described it as a dagger at the neck of Israel. They're in control of the southern border of Lebanon. That they are saying is something they simply can't tolerate, there are a lot of people will say to you, look, if this is going to happen, we want this done right and we want it done quickly and we want Hezbollah destroyed, pushed out at the very least of that border region from southern Lebanon. That is of course now one of the demands being made by the Israeli government to the government of Lebanon.

LONG: Anderson Cooper, thank you so much. And we'll see you shortly here of course on our special report later this evening. 10:00 p.m. Eastern, join CNN's Anderson Cooper for his special program "Middle East on the Brink." He will be reporting live from Haifa.

From Lebanon, reports of more than 100 people killed after five days of Israeli air strikes. Arab nations are pledging millions of dollars in aid for their neighbor. Americans, Europeans, Syrians and Lebanese are all trying to find out how to get out of that country. CNN's Nic Robertson is in Beirut with the latest.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well the very latest, a fire blaze burns still at Beirut airport just south of the capital here, the pictures being carried live on Lebanese television. That's how people here are getting their information. I was sitting earlier on today with a group of Lebanese Red Cross workers. They were all glued to the television looking at live pictures like this, looking at what was happening, where it was happening and knowing where to respond to.

We know that there have also been strikes in the north of Lebanon tonight in the port town of Tripoli, Red Cross workers likely being on hand there. Lebanese television stations here reporting that the target struck in the north in Tripoli, one in Tripoli, one just north of Tripoli, what Lebanese army facilities, Lebanese army won't confirm to us yet how many casualties they have at those bases but the attacks continue through the night.

The-- most of the attacks coming in the south, in the south of Lebanon today where Hezbollah are at their strongest and where they have been launching all of those strikes against Israel. Melissa?

LONG: Thousands of Americans have loved ones overseas trying to get home. Earlier in this broadcast, we met a woman from California who is waiting for her husband to come back from a family reunion in Beirut. Have we learned more about when they might be coming home?

ROBERTSON: You know, I was at the embassy today and while I was trying to get in through the gate, there are a lot of people crowding around there, talking to an embassy official filling in forms. What they wanted to know how would the embassy get in touch with them when it was time to leave? They were registering with the embassy, so the embassy could call them, they were being given the embassy's Web site so that they could check and get the most up to date information. They were asking questions like how many bags can we take out of the country?

They were told just bring one handbag with you when the time comes. Now it's not clear yet when this evacuation of up to 25,000 Americans who are in all corners of Lebanon at the moment and according to embassy officials are calling in every minute, somebody is calling in, asking embassy officials what they should do. The advice at the moment is to sit tight but embassy officials are telling us that the evacuation of people, they don't want to call it an evacuation, they would like to call it, you know, getting people out of the country, rather than evacuation, but it amounts to an evacuation, they are saying they will give people that information they hope it will be in the next couple of days. They're planning to make it happen as soon as possible.

Two helicopters are carrying specialists and planning evacuations. They've planned evacuations in other countries, have come here, they're going to work with the embassy staff. Liaise between the embassy staff and the Department of Defense to get this evacuation under way. What they want to do is do it safely, do it quickly and they're looking at the changing situation which is very dynamic, very fluid about where to get people to gather, how to move them out. How to transport them out of Lebanon, do they do it by ship? The French are bringing in a ship tonight to transport French nationals out of Lebanon and other Europeans. Do they do it by ship or do they try and do it by air?

It's all going to depend on conditions on the ground, all going to depend on exactly how many of those 25,000 Americans in Lebanon say want to get out. Right now, the embassy says it is getting deluged with inquiries from people who believe this it is the time to bet out, they need to get out now before things get worse, Melissa.

LONG: And possibly moving them on to Cyprus as well?

ROBERTSON: That seems to be the likely place to go to. Sort of air bridge or sea bridge to Cyprus. It is sort of the nearest location that has the potential to offer a lot of hotel space, the embassy facilities there where people might be able to get loans from the embassy because they obviously won't have the money in their pockets in many cases, they may have been here on vacation, they may not have been able to get the banks, the banks might have been closed. They'll be offered facilities to help them make them their next step to getting back home, getting back to the United States.

So Cyprus is probably the most likely base at the moment that what planners are thinking about. But it is a very dynamic situation, Melissa.

LONG: I understand, Nic Robertson reporting to us live from Beirut where it is still very early in the morning. 3:40 in the morning Thank you, Nic.

Now, crossing the border between Syria and Lebanon. Up next, we're going on the ground with civilians caught in the crossfire. We have a live report still to come.


LONG: Continuing with our coverage now with the crisis in the Middle East. Thousands are fleeing the danger zone in Lebanon. CNN's Aneesh Raman has been monitoring the main border crossing with Syria. He joins us now live with more.

Aneesh? ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Melissa, it's just heading towards 4:00 a.m. here in Syrian, the Syrian-Lebanese border. This the main border crossing. It is open 24 hours a day. But right now, of course, it is quiet.

Some interesting scenes though behind me. First, there's a family here of about five. They came in just before we got here. They say a bomb landed on a factory near their home. They are waiting for the rest of their family to come, just sitting on the side. And you'll also notice a bunch of taxi drivers, and we'll sort of pan down the road. We're told that normally there are no taxis here whatsoever, but there's about 15 by my count sitting here waiting for the influx of expected people to start coming in in the next few hours and take them into Damascus as they come out of the violence in Lebanon.

So it's a sign of how many people are coming in. Hundreds of thousands by the count of officials here at the border crossing have come through. Mainly Syrians, poor Syrians working in Lebanon but in addition Lebanese that I have spoken to who have talked of tales of bombs landing, having to run from explosions and simply trying to save their lives as they came out. The other side over there is how you go into Lebanon. It has been virtually empty throughout the day, remains so now. There are a few Lebanese who are going back, they feel they should be home but this is the humanitarian side of the conflict just beyond that border in Lebanon can be seen, Melissa.

LONG: Aneesh, we were just looking at images, video of people crossing the border, lugging whatever they can with them. What are they carrying? What are they telling you they're taking with them?

RAMASH: Just what little they could gather, clothes, what valuables they had, family ornaments, many of them have left the rest behind. It was utter chaos, scenes of chaos on the other side. This is sort of the final crossing people go through. But on the Lebanese side they describe scenes of just mass crowds trying to get through. People leaving their cars because the traffic was simply too congested, and walking that final distance into Syria. Other people simply too poor to have transportation who are living in Beirut further into Lebanon and they had to walk from there here into Syria carrying whatever they could on their heads or on their sides.

So the majority of people we have seen coming through have been poor Syrians, the Lebanese have been driving, again, it's just incredibly congested on the other side. They come out, just startled, unclear what comes next. Where they go from here, when they'll be able to go home. There's a very palpable fear within Damascus, within this border area, as these Lebanese and Syrians come to this, now, their safe haven, there's fear this place itself, Syria, could be the next front of this escalating war given this country's strong relationship with Hezbollah. Melissa?

LONG: Aneesh, you said the adults seem to be startled. Are you getting a sense of the children and how they are reacting?

RAMAN: The children are sort of taking it in stride as they often do. I've been in Baghdad as well and that situation always you see the children the first able to smile amid situations like this. For them it's sort of an outing as they travel with their parents, they're incredibly tired all of them, the heat can be unbearable at times during the day and it just weighs on you. Keep in mind these people are in mass crowds for hours on end that adds to the heat and uncomfortable situation that they're. And I've asked a couple of parents when you look at your children do you think the situation will be any different, do you think, this regional conflict will have changed all when they grow up? Will they have to walk across the border to escape violence with their children? And all of them have told me that was that would be the case. None of them told me peace is on the brink especially given this current escalating crisis, Melissa.

LONG: Aneesh Raman, live for us from the main border with Syria, Aneesh, thank you so much. And our continuing coverage with the Middle East crisis continues at the top of the hour. We have a special edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Let's check in with Larry to see what's coming up. Good evening.

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Hi, Melissa. We're going to have a major panel discussion with the usual suspects including Senator George Mitchell, the former negotiator in many hot spots around the world. And our principal guest will be Shimon Peres, the former prime minister, now deputy prime minister of Israel, Senator John McCain, the Republican of Arizona and Ambassador John Bolton, the United States ambassador to the UN. Plus our far-flung correspondents on the scene. All that ahead at the top of the hours, special edition of LARRY KING LIVE, Melissa.

LONG: Busy program. Thank you, Larry, we look forward to seeing you in just about 13 minutes.

KING: Thank you.

LONG: As you know, many Americans are anxiously awaiting word on loved ones in Lebanon. Fattan Elkhajil is stuck in Beirut with her two sons. They are both very scared. She joins us now by phone. Thank you so much for your time, Fattan. We appreciate it.


LONG: Tell us where you're staying at the moment and how your kids are coping with this.

ELKHAJIL: Okay. Right now I'm in the capital, I'm in Beirut. And my kids are just waiting for somebody to take us out of here. We are very scared. Especially my older son because he knows a lot about what's going on.

LONG: How old are your children?

ELKHAJIL: My older one is 13 and my younger one is 10.

LONG: So what are you doing to try to pass the time and try to stay calm? ELKHAJIL: Just sitting and waiting. We have other cousins with us also that are just of course trying to stay in and play in games inside but my kids can't stay away from watching TV and watching the news, especially it has to be CNN in English so they can understand what's going on exactly.

LONG: Fattan, I understand your husband livers in Georgia. You're trying to get back to the States. What were you doing originally in the Middle East.

ELKHAJIL: Well, we were here just for vacation. Usually we come here. We come here every summer and the kids love it. Usually we come and stay for two months every summer.

LONG: So considering the fact that you've been going for years, have you ever been caught in a predicament like this before?

ELKHAJIL: No it's the first time. Especially for my two boys. That's why it's very scary for them. They've never lived through this before. And it's something very scary for them to hear all this noise and to know what's going to happen, you know.

LONG: You've been in close touch with your loved ones and husband back in Georgia.

ELKHAJIL: Of course. Just trying to everyday, trying hard to get through.

LONG: What information are you getting from the embassy? And do you feel like you're getting enough information at this point?

ELKHAJIL: OK. That's a good question. Because you know, hour first plan was to wait for the American embassy to do something about it. And we thought we were going to hear very soon about this. But until now we don't have any information, nobody contacted us. We have been trying to contact the embassy, to call them. We have three numbers to call them, but no one is answering at all.

So until now we didn't hear anything. And I think we're going to start thinking about a plan B for us, which is something that I really doesn't want to do, which is to cross from here to Syria and we've heard that a lot of people there are having a lot of hard time doing that.

LONG: Fattan Elkhajil, thank you so much for sharing your story of course we wish you a safe and speedy return to your States and to your husband.

ELKHAJIL: Thank you, I hope so.

LONG: Thank you for your time.

We're continuing to follow the crisis in the Middle East. Still ahead, we have a live update from the international desk on this special edition of CNN LIVE SUNDAY. Also, breaking news of a plane crash in Oregon still to come. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LONG: This story just coming into us from Oregon. We wanted to share these pictures with you of a plane, a plane that was participating in an air show in Hillsborough crashing into a home. Witness accounts say that the crash happened about an hour and a half ago in a neighborhood about a mile and a half from the airport where that air show was going on. Another witness said that the house literally exploded when that plane described as an older model jet hit that home and sent what is described as a fire bomb that lit two other homes on fire.

Again this story, the pictures you're looking at right now, firefighters trying to dowse the remaining flames an the smoke after that plane, an older model jet, as it's described from the air show, went astray and ended up crashing into a residential neighborhood. It's a story we'll continue to keep you posted on here at CNN this evening.

And now continuing coverage of the crisis in the Middle East, where Israeli ground forces are firing across the border into Lebanon. So far though no ground invasion by the Israelis. CNN's John Vause filed this report earlier from northern Israel.


JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These howitzers are firing 155 millimeter rounds from this position not far from the Lebanese border, they travel about 10 miles into southern Lebanon, the target, those launch facilities for Katyusha rockets. The Israeli military says about 450 Katyushas have been fired over the last couple of days, many of them landing in Israeli towns and cities, this is part of the far reaching consequences promised by the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

This artillery is targeting an area of southern Lebanon which is also being hit by Israeli air power. According to the Israeli military, the Lebanese residents who live in that part of Lebanon were warned earlier that they should leave their homes. They were given about two to three hours warning this military offensive would be escalated and it was time to their leave their homes.

The Israelis say the aim is to try and wipe out the Katyusha rocket launch facilities and try and push them back out of the range of those Israeli towns an cities. Another development, Israeli media also reported that an infantry reserve division has been called up, possible preparations for a ground offensive in this area and we have also seen a build up of Israeli tanks and armored personnel carrier. John Vause, CNN on the Israel-Lebanon border.


LONG: And you're watching a special edition of CNN SUNDAY. Still to come, much more on the Middle East crisis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LONG: Good evening once again. Now more on our top story. The escalating crisis in the Middle East. Hezbollah is now reporting new rocket attacks deep into Israel. Anand Naidoo joins us now from the update desk with the latest. Good evening.

ANAND NAIDOO, CNN ANCHOR: Right, Melissa. And the aftermath of those attacks, Israel has renewed its strikes against targets all over Lebanon. It has hit Beirut airport again. You can see oil storage tanks still on fire there at Beirut airport.

Now, anxious western nations expecting a drawn out fight. They have started moving out their nationals. Marine Corps helicopters have evacuated 21 American's from Lebanon. These helicopters flying from the U.S. embassy which is in a suburb of Beirut and taking the 21 people to Cyprus.

U.S. security teams have also landed there, planning evacuation of others. Italian military flights have also landed, taking about taking about 350 people out. The French have moved some people out as well.

LONG: All right. Anand, thank you so much. This is it for the CNN LIVE SUNDAY. Thanks for joining us. Now, LARRY KING LIVE.


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