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Hezbollah Rocket Strikes Nazareth; Many Americans Expected to Arrive in Larnaca, Cyprus Today

Aired July 19, 2006 - 11:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN "LIVE TODAY" ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan. Welcome to our second hour of CNN "Live Today."
Let's talk about what we know right now. A Hezbollah rocket has struck Nazareth, a city revered by Christians as the childhood home of Jesus.

Israeli says two civilians were killed. It's the southernmost point of Israel where casualties have been reported.

A chartered cruise ship is now ferrying some 800 U.S. and British civilians out of Beirut and the heart of the conflict. Several more ships and at least one helicopter are due to help ratchet up the evacuation of Americans.

And with more of these new pictures we're getting in from Nazareth in northern Israel, let's go to Carol Lin.


CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, we've been looking at these pictures and what a dramatic strike, indeed. The death toll going up now. The latest report is that three civilians were killed, according to Israeli police. Israeli ambulance services say 12 others suffered minor injuries.

You're looking at the chaos on the streets after a Hezbollah rocket attacked Nazareth, the city where Jesus was born. Israeli television showing police trying to control these crowds of people congregated on the streets of Nazareth, while massive clouds of white smoke are billowing from the top of the building, which appear to be, initially, a car dealership in the middle of the town. The ambulance standing by outside.

Now, Hezbollah rockets have hit Nazareth in recent days, but it is the furthest southern point that we are reporting that Israeli civilians have been killed in these continuing rocket attacks from southern Lebanon.


KAGAN: Carol, thank you.

Let's go ahead and take a look at the latest death toll reported from both sides of the Israeli-Lebanese border. Just within the last hour Israel announced its death toll has risen to 27 people, 15 of the people were civilians. In Lebanon, a much higher death toll, 212 people reported dead in the seven days of fighting.

Lebanese authorities offered no breakdown between civilians and military personnel.

So many, many Americans expected to arrive in Larnaca, Cyprus today, the port city that is taking in the evacuees from Lebanon.

Our Octavia Nasr, our senior editor for Arab affairs, is standing by there live. Octavia, hello.


KAGAN: What can you tell us about those arriving?

NASR: You know, the scene here is all set. As you know, everybody awaits the arrival of boats with refugees from Lebanon. We expected it to be a little bit busier, but as you can see behind me, it's kind of quiet.

You see the boats there. They brought in some people earlier today, but we continue to wait for the U.S. citizens to arrive.

Everything is set here. Cypriotes are not strangers to this kind of situation, Daryn. They're used to it. They've served, actually, they had ships take people, not as refugees or evacuees back in the late '80s from Lebanon, because that was the only means out of Lebanon. The airports were closed back then during the war. So Cypriotes are used to the situation.

I've spoken to so many people who are saying this is deja vu all over again. The Cypriotes feel a little bit sorry for the people of Lebanon for what they're going through and, also, they feel sorry for all those tourists. These are people that, from all kind of nationalities, went to Lebanon to have a good time, spent the holidays, and the holidays were interrupted and their lives were really turned upside down. Very important to say that the ships behind me are bringing back refugees, really, people evacuating. This is no fun trip from Lebanon to Cyprus. This is a hardship, as a hardship can come.


KAGAN: Tell us more about Cyprus. This is an island nation that also knows its own amount of strife.

NASR: Yes, cypress is an island nation that is bustling really with tourists this time of year, very much like Lebanon. You know, people point out all the time that it's kind of sad. They tell me that people here, tourists everywhere, restaurants filled with people here to have a good time, a lot of Europeans here and, basically, they compare it to Lebanon.

This could be the same scene in Lebanon. Unfortunately, what Cyprus is doing right now is taking all those refugees from Lebanon, the evacuees, and trying to accommodate them. So Cyprus is filled with tourists as it is and as a matter of fact, hotels are already scrambling trying to figure out what to do today.

I was called in to say that, you know, it was time for me to leave the hotel. I had to find my way to stay into the hotel for one more night and they were telling me people are standing in line just trying to get a hotel room and they're not sure how they are going to accommodate all these people.

This is a very high season for Cyprus as it is. And we're talking about tens of thousands, tens of thousands of people that are going to flee from Lebanon and try to find a place to stay, because, again, it's not like they can come here and then get on a plane and go back home. They have to wait because airlines are full. They're operating at full capacity.

So they're trying to accommodate all these people at hotels and also at the airport, trying to get them on flights back home as soon as they can.

KAGAN: But this latest flood of people coming in from Lebanon, you still think, several hours away.

NASR: Yes, several hours away. Very important to say, you know, if you're riding a boat from Lebanon to Cyprus, it's a trip that can take anywhere from 10 to 12 hours. So this is not really a short trip. And, also, a lot of hardship on those boats.

Back in the late '80s, Cyprus, like I said, used to operate ships back and forth twice, three times a day from Jounieh port to Larnaca. These days are gone. So now they're scrambling to find the ships to be able to carry all the people stranded there in Lebanon.

So governments are stepping in, trying to hire ships to bring their nationals out of there, to bring them here. So the trip is long and, also, it's not that easy. So all these ships are not equipped. They're not tourist ships.

So people getting here are telling us of really nightmares on the ships, heat and no services, little food. You know, the stories are really horrible from people getting here. They get here and they look tired, they're pale. They can't wait to rest somewhere and, unfortunately, the hotels are not ready to take them in.

So if you go to a hotel now in Larnaca, you're going to see a lot of people stranded.

And, again, we didn't see the brunt of it. We didn't see the huge numbers arrive here yet. That is to happen later in the day.

KAGAN: All right, and you'll be tracking that for us.

Octavia Nasr, live from Larnaca, Cyprus, thank you.

Let's get the military angle now and go to the Pentagon for that. Here is Jamie McIntyre.

Jamie? JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Daryn, I was just struck by what Octavia just about how some of the passengers are arriving, some of the evacuees, with very little services on very uncomfortable voyages.

And in one way, that is part of the explanation for why it is taking the U.S. a little bit longer to get its citizens out. They have been planning this evacuation meticulously, trying to avoid just that situation, where Americans are on an uncomfortable voyage, without the services they need, without basics like food and water and medical attention, if they need it and that's one of the reasons it's taking a little bit longer. The U.S. today, the Pentagon, said that as of today, they have the ability to take about a 1,000 people out of Lebanon. That includes about 900 on that ship, the "Orient Queen," which departed Lebanon a little bit late because, we're told, they waited for additional people to get on the ship.

They wanted to make sure everybody had a chance that was supposed to be on that ship get on it and get out on time. So they did delay the departure of the ship for that reason.

They say by tomorrow they'll be able to take 2,000 Americans out. That's when the "USS Nashville," an amphibious assault ship, is scheduled to arrive to take part in some of the evacuations.

And by Friday, they say, they'll have the capacity, not sure that they'll be able to take this many, but they'll have the capacity to take 4,000 Americans out. That includes, by the way, a few that are going out by helicopter. We're told that today about 120 went out by helicopter.

So the U.S. is ramping up the operations, but they've been stressing that their primary concern is safety, their secondary concern is efficiency, the most efficient way to get people out. And then the third concern is also that they do it with some degree of comfort so that Americans are not put in a situation where they have a horror story to tell when they get out about the voyage over.


KAGAN: Jamie McIntyre, at the Pentagon. Jamie, thank you.

Now let's get some news from the Israeli military and our Carol Lin has that.


LIN: Daryn, we've been following the track of fighting right now which is taking place in southern Lebanon.

Earlier today, Israeli forces moved their ground forces into southern Lebanon. We've been following some clashes there and the latest is that two Israeli soldiers have died. Nine of them have been injured in clashes just over the border in southern Lebanon. Seven of those injured are not as serious. But we did hear from the U.N. ambassador, Israel's U.N. ambassador to the United Nations. Dan Gillerman did stress that Israeli forces had no intention of reoccupying southern Lebanon, but that is where the fighting is taking place right now and as the death toll is starting to mount.

KAGAN: All right, Carol, thank you for that.

Our Christiane Amanpour is actually in northern Israel, where much of this is taking place right now. She joins me right now on the phone.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, what we've known for most of this morning is now being confirmed by the Israeli military, that two of their soldiers were killed in one of the fiercest battles that has happened yet between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah guerrillas.

And we were up there witnessing this. We also saw some soldiers wounded and being taken off in ambulances away from the battlefield. But what the Israeli military describes as an operation to take out Hezbollah outposts along the Lebanese-Israeli border has turned into a pretty fierce clash, with Israelis sending up tanks up there, firing their tanks at the Hezbollah position and Hezbollah returning with mortar and rocket fire.

And we saw an immense barrage of Hezbollah rockets falling on the hillsides, in the towns, in some villages in that area as we drove up and down. And as we were up there, we could see the hillsides billowing with smoke and, in some instances, flames.

We saw an aerial, you know, flying fire extinguisher, a small plane that's loaded with a powdery substance, red, trying to drop it and dampen down some of those blazes.

We also know that as part of its incoming salvo today, Hezbollah has hit a target in the town of Nazareth, quite far south, the town of Haifa, again, Tiberias and elsewhere. We understand that two people have been killed in the town of Nazareth.

We don't know how much of the Hezbollah military capability or its rocket and missile capability is taken out, but some IDF, Israeli defense force, sources say about 50 percent. But there isn't any sign that this is letting up at the moment, Daryn.

KAGAN: Right, now, when you describe this as some of the fiercest fighting yet, what makes it that, Christiane?

AMANPOUR: Well, because it's a direct engagement. Up until now we've been told about the Israeli air force. You've been seeing the damage that it's doing inside Lebanon, in southern Lebanon, in southern Beirut.

We've been talking about the casualties on both sides. You know, Lebanon has something like 10 times more casualties incurred than has happened here in Israel.

So this is what we've been told. This is the first sort of direct face-to-face encounter and it's fierce. And it's really been going on for several hours.

KAGAN: Christiane Amanpour, live on the phone from northern Israel. Thank you.

We're going to head north after the break. We're going to go to the other side of the border and go live to Beirut. That's coming up after this. We're back in a moment.


KEVIN JOSEPH, EVACUATED AMERICAN: I left because I was hearing bombs all night. I couldn't even sleep and it was getting very dangerous. We were going to stay if they only bombed the south, you know.

We didn't think -- everyone kept saying, "They're not going to go north, they're not going to go north, you're going to be safe." And one day they definitely hit north, you know, only two kilometers from AUB where we were. So that's when I decided I was getting out of the country.



KAGAN: Let's go ahead and check these markets. We haven't seen numbers like this in a long time. The fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, speaking on Capitol Hill today. Investors liking what they hear. You can see the Dow up significantly, up to 161 points.

The NASDAQ up, as well. It is up 26 points.

Back to our coverage from the Middle East. Here is what we know right now at this hour.

A Hezbollah rocket has struck Nazareth. Nazareth, that is the city revered by Christians as the childhood home of Jesus.

Israeli now says three civilians were killed, including two children. It's the southernmost point of Israel where casualties have been reported.

A chartered cruise ship is now ferrying some 800 U.S. and British civilians out of the Beirut and the heart of the conflict. Several more ships and at least one helicopter are due to help to ratchet up evacuation of Americans.

Journalist Anthony Mills is in the Lebanese capitol of Beirut. Anthony, what can you tell us about the Americans who are still standing by there waiting to get out?

ANTHONY MILLS, JOURNALIST: Well, today the evacuation did get underway in earnest. That's following a tentative start yesterday in which we saw four helicopters evacuate 30 Americans apiece to the safety of Cyprus and also a boat carrying, we understand, around 160 Americans over to the island.

But today just a short while ago, the cruise ship "Orient Queen" did get underway, set sail for Cyprus with over a 1,000 people aboard, the vast majority of them Americans. But, of course, there are still thousands left here and so that's going to take still quite a bit of activity via sea to Cyprus over the next couple days, possibly, maybe more, to get them out.

Back to you.

KAGAN: Anthony, meanwhile, while this is all happening, Lebanon and Beirut still under attack.

MILLS: That's right. Anybody on that boat right now I think will be feeling a sense of very great relief. Beirut, Lebanon as a whole, are still under attack.

Just a short while ago, an attack on the Christian part of Beirut, until now had not been hit. We understand that a truck was hit, which appeared, according to a security source here, he acknowledged that it appeared to be carrying a missile or looked as though it could have been carrying a missile,. It wasn't.

It was a water pump truck. But, nonetheless, it was hit in the Christian part of Beirut, dealing a shock to the residents of that part of the city, which is in no way, in their minds, associated with Hezbollah.

And, indeed, throughout the day, there have been further bombardments of Beirut and of the country as a whole. So, yes, a city still under attack and for those nationals, those Americans who remain here, still quite a terrifying place.

KAGAN: Anthony Mills, live from downtown Beirut, thank you for that.

Let's focus on some stories happening here in the U.S., including weather off the coast of North Carolina. The storm now known as Burl. Chad Myers, Chad weather. We should just call you Chad Weather.

CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You should, I've been called that before. I've been called worse.

KAGAN: OK, Chad Weather and our Myers Spencer, how about that?

WETZ: Fair enough. Tropical storm Milton Burl behind me now, the storm moving on up.

Here we can see the storm kind of fell apart in the overnight hours a little bit, but we are seeing a little bit more convection this morning, kind of around the center, especially on the northwest side of the center. Here's the official forecast track. It does keep it completely offshore, although I want you to see, I want you to see that just this west side of the cone is still touching the United States. It could still wobble to the left, especially now when it tries to reinvigorate itself.

You always can get a wobble to the left or to the right that could change the angle by a degree or two. And literally, when you're talking this much distance, all it takes is a degree or two to go one way or the other.

Here are some of the other things going on around the country. Significant weather around Minneapolis, bit thunderstorm complex there. We have a severe thunderstorm watch going in all the way until 3:00 south of Minneapolis.

Rolling events through Eau Claire and maybe even smashing right through Madison later on this afternoon. Have to keep advised if you live in the upper Midwest. Even some tornado threat later on today as the storm moves on by you here in the upper Midwest for tonight.

And a couple more things I want to take you to. This is a map. We always show you the spaghetti map from Some of the computer models now are actually moving it back to the west a little bit. Look at that. That's over the Hamptons. There you go. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, the Cape.

Most of the models were well offshore yesterday. Well, that now has changed a little bit. So that could change the forecast significantly as we get later into the forecast period, as we get this thing finally turning maybe a little bit farther to the right or possibly staying a little bit farther to the left. That is a significant forecast change if it does turn left, especially for you in Atlantic City, New York, all the way on up into Rhode Island. Not expecting this storm to become a hurricane. The water's just not quite warm enough out there.

Let's look, 40, 50, 60 mile per hour storm running over the Hamptons, that'll do some damage anyway. A 102 in Kansas City, a 106 in Dallas today. Hot one there.

The relief in the northeast did, though, did come yesterday, but it came with some severe weather. Some wind damage around Bergen County, New Jersey, headwind damage, Westchester County, New York had wind damage.

Here's some pictures here from Bergen County, trees across the road. A lot of the roads were closed. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, I guess now, of people without power there. There you see some power lines down. They're finally back up and running. Most of the power lines are back up this morning.

The road crews have been out there doing some hard work today and will continue into tonight in some spots.

For tomorrow, temperatures are mild again, New York City 81, Boston 81, as well.


KAGAN: All right, Chad, thank you.

MYERS: You're welcome.

KAGAN: We're going to head to the Internet for the latest coverage on what's happening in the Mid-East.


KAGAN: Bombs, bullets and blogs. Internet journals capturing a rare glimpse inside the Middle East war zone.

A closer look is head. This is CNN, the most trusted name in news.


KAGAN: And we will get back to our Middle East coverage momentarily. But, first, some health news for you, including some political news on health.

A stem cell showdown. President Bush prepared to raise the veto pen today. This would be the first time he has vetoed a bill since he became president.

The Senate, as you can see here, passed a measure on stem cell research 63-37. The bill would lift limits on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. The president considers using the embryos for research a form of murder.

We'll hear more from the president on this issue, 2:15 p.m. Eastern. You'll see that live here on CNN.

To get your daily dose of health news online, log on to our website. You'll find the latest medical news, a health library and information on diet and fitness. The address is

Other news today, they're removing debris from one earthquake when another one hits the region. It is turbulent times in Indonesia. A magnitude 6.2 earthquake, shown here on the left, struck today in the Indian Ocean.

It was just Monday that a stronger quake triggered a tsunami that crashed into the Java Islands coastline.

The death toll from Monday's twin strike has now topped 500, with more than 35,000 people losing their homes. There's no word on damage or casualties from today's quake.

To Iraq now, more deadly attacks with bombs and bullets today. Police say at least 15 people were killed in a wave of assaults in Baghdad and Kirkuk. Plus, police found the bodies of ten people who had been killed and dumped in Baghdad. And more than 20 members of a Sunni endowment were kidnapped. This comes one day after the U.N. reported more than 14,000 civilians killed in Iraq over the first half of this year.

Today is the day, at least for many Americans who had been hoping to get out of Lebanon. With more on the evacuations or, as Anderson Cooper told us, the military wants to call them "assisted departures."

LIN: Well, Daryn, a lot of people are very frustrated. We are getting e-mails from around the world and different families here in the United States about their situation. We heard from Lina Fleihan in Greensboro, North Carolina. This is what she wrote to us.

She says that, "We are desperately trying to evacuate and have become more and more disappointed and angry with the way the evacuation is being handled. Every time we call the embassy they say they don't have a plan, yet hundreds will be evacuated today. We hear more about what's going on from CNN than we do from the U.S. government and the American embassy here. Planes fly very low over us every day and night. Bombs drop in Dohi, in southern Beirut, and shake the house." That's from Lina Fleihan, Greensboro, North Carolina.

We also heard from Susan Omar from Clifton, New Jersey. This is what she says about her family.

She says, "I have family stuck in Marjayoun, Lebanon that cannot reach the ports or Beirut. What happens to them? We have contacted every government office from here to the entire Middle East, but the response is the same. No one can help and it seems like they are on their own. We have begged and pleaded with anyone and everyone, but kids still don't have water, food or medicine. But the media is telling everyone that those with medical necessity have already been evacuated. I guess that only means those lucky enough to be near Beirut."

Now, Susan's family, Daryn, is about an hour's drive from Beirut. But checking with the international desk, the situation in Marjayoun, which is south of Beirut, is such that it is simply too dangerous for civilians to be out on the roadsides. Several civilians have been killed in rocket attacks and bridges and roads have been struck. So it looks, at least for now, that her family may be trapped.

Now, we also heard from Kellee M. Khalil, out of Los Angeles. She says, "My father and I have been patiently waiting for relief from the U.S. embassy to take us out of here, with no luck. It has been seven days of air strikes and the United States seems to care little about the 25,000 Americans that are trapped here. My father has diabetes and a heart condition, in which he already received a quadruple bypass heart surgery, and the embassy has not put him on a priority list. I hope that whomever reads this can help express the desperation that us Americans trapped here are feeling."

Now, Daryn, you talked with Jamie McIntyre out of the Pentagon, who did report on the "Orient Queen," which left the port of Beirut earlier today carrying about 800 U.S. and British civilians out of Beirut to Cyprus.

Clearly, that is not enough at this point in the middle of a war zone, as we hear from Americans who are still trapped in Lebanon.

KAGAN: Carol Lin. Carol, thank you.

LIN: Sure.

KAGAN: Let's review now what we know right now at the half hour.

The death toll in the conflict continues to climb. Israel says three people were killed a short time ago in a rocket attack on Nazareth in northern Israel. Hundreds of Americans now on their way to trying to get out. OK, and we'll have more on what we know in just a minute.

Let's go ahead and talk to a man who is very concerned about his family stranded in Lebanon. A husband and father desperate to get back home. Omar Baltali says his wife and three sons are scared. He is worried. He is joining me on the phone now from Houston, Texas. Mr. Baltali, hello.


KAGAN: What can you tell me about your family?

BALTALI: Well, my family is in Tripoli, which is OK for now, but the children have been very scared. There have been some bombings over there and we're just anxiously waiting to see how they can get out.

KAGAN: And when we say Tripoli, you mean Tripoli, Lebanon.

BALTALI: Tripoli, Lebanon, yes.

KAGAN: Right, OK, just to be clear on that. They were there for a summer break to visit family that still lives there.

BALTALI: Yes. They went to see -- I have three kids, 4, 10 and 12, and it had been a while since they had visited the family. So they decided to go visit this summer and get to know the family and this is what happened.

KAGAN: No, I was going to say, because of all summers, this would seem to be the one to do it. Beirut was on a renaissance, things finally safe. This was the time to go.

BALTALI: Yes, yes, absolutely. And they were having great time, you know, until this happened and now, you know, this situation.

KAGAN: How much contact have you been able to have with them?

BALTALI: You know, I've been lucky to be able to call them. I sometimes spend two hours calling and I get the line, but normally I try to call when it's like the middle of the night over there, because a lot of people, I suppose, aren't trying to call. So it's sometimes difficult.

KAGAN: And tell me about efforts to get them back, because they've been in touch with the embassy?

BALTALI: They have. They indeed (INAUDIBLE) early. About a week ago, they registered with the embassy, but they're not getting as much information, and I talked to Suzanne, my wife, today and she's trying to call, but she can't get an answer at the embassy, so she's asking me here to keep her informed, basically. She hasn't gotten any call, and they're just basically waiting.

The concern is if thousands of people are going to be taken to Cyprus, you know, she has (INAUDIBLE). We don't know how long she's going to be there before she's able to leave Cyprus. So we're thinking about all that, and we're trying to look at the alternatives to go through Syria, but no airlines have any seats available.

So we've been trying day and night, trying to talk with different airlines, but they're still trapped there. There is no way out.

KAGAN: Now, as we look at -- we had the map up there. We can see where Tripoli is on the coast, in the northern part of country. There has been some concerns for Americans who are not in Beirut, how difficult it would be it get, let's just say, from Tripoli to Beirut. Any concerns about that?

BALTALI: I really don't know if they will be able to get to Beirut and how difficult it will be now. You know, we've heard of destroyed roads, but I think most of the destruction is in the south, although there is more -- there is destruction in the north, but it's not as big of a damage. So I'm hoping that we'll be able to get there.

And also, from what I'm reading on the State Department's Web site that they will provide some buses from areas to transport the people that cannot make it to Beirut. So we're just hoping for the best and praying for everybody there.

KAGAN: Understandably. And we know this is a difficult and challenging time for your family. We wish you the best in reuniting with your wife and children.

BALTALI: Thank you very much, and I hope for peace and pray for all the civilians and the children and their safety. And I pray for our leaders to get wisdom and to act and stop this violence, nonsense violence.

KAGAN: I know there's many people who appreciate your comments. Thank you, sir.

BALTALI: Thank you very much.

KAGAN: Omar Baltali, joining us on the phone from Houston, and you can see his beautiful wife and children. They're stuck in Tripoli, Lebanon. Now if you're an American in Lebanon and need help getting out, you can call 202-501-4444. Or if you have loved ones in Lebanon, the number is 888-407-4747. And we will put those numbers up periodically through the next couple hours.


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