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War in the Middle East

Aired July 30, 2006 - 11:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is a special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East."

FOUAD SINIORA, PRIME MINISTER OF LEBANON: There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion other than an immediate and unconditional cease-fire.


EHUD OLMERT, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: We are not fighting the Lebanese government. We are not fighting the Lebanese people.


BLITZER: Day 19. The war in the Middle East rages on with more death and destruction. Is there an end in sight? And what's next for the region? We'll get perspective from all sides.


CONDOLEEZZA RICE, UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: We all committed to dedicated and urgent action to try and bring about an end to this violence.


BLITZER: Desperate diplomacy. Is there anything the U.S. can do to bring an end to this crisis? We'll ask the undersecretary of state, Nicholas Burns. Plus, perspective from two influential U.S. senators, Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The root cause of the problem is, you've got Hezbollah that is armed and willing to fire rockets into Israel.


BLITZER: Deep concern over more deadly weapons Hezbollah might have. Has Syria been arming and aiding the militia? We'll get reaction from Syrian Cabinet Minister Bouthaina Shaaban in Damascus.

Plus, updates from all of our CNN correspondents in the region, and an inside look at my week at war. "Late Edition's" special lineup begins right now.

It's 6 p.m. here in Jerusalem and in Beirut, 11 a.m. in Washington, 8 a.m. in Los Angeles and 7 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East." It's been a truly awful day in this region. We'll get to my interview with Lebanon's justice minister, Charles Rizk, in just a moment. But first, let's go to CNN's Brianna Keeler at the CNN Center for a quick check of what's in the news right now. Brianna?


BLITZER: Thanks, Brianna. It's been a day of breaking news in the Middle East. Israeli jets struck in the small town of Qana in southern Lebanon, collapsing a building on civilians who were hiding in the basement. Dozens of people are dead or wounded. CNN's Ben Wedeman has been to Qana today. He's now back in Tyre in southern Lebanon. Ben is joining us live with what he saw. Ben?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, what we saw was that the town of Qana came under massive bombardment over the night. I heard from a Lebanese army officer who told me they had counted 80 individual strikes on that town. And certainly I saw building after building after building (inaudible), destroyed completely.

When we got to the house itself, we found that there was a huge crater right next to it. The house was tilting at a precarious angle, and it had collapsed onto the basement. The basement was full of people, as many as 60 people, we're told by local residents. Women, children, old people who had gone there thinking that that was the strongest building in the town, the best place to hide.

We watched as body after body after body was pulled from the rubble. Women, children, old people, people in the town were obviously shocked by all of this, shocked by the level of destruction they saw when the sun came up in the morning. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ben, the Israelis say they gave plenty of warning to all the individuals living there, dropping leaflets. They showed us some of those leaflets that they say they dropped. Among other things, it said to civilians in villages located south of the Litani River, "Because of the terrorist acts that have been executed against the Israeli state from inside your villages and houses, the IDF had to react immediately against these actions, even inside your own villages."

The leaflets supposedly go on to say, "For your safety, you are required to evacuate your villages immediately and head further north than the Litani River." The State of Israel is how it's signed. Have you seen those leaflets? Were they widely dropped over southern Lebanon?

WEDEMAN: I've seen those leaflets in Tyre. They're all over Tyre. And in Qana, and we were rushed. We didn't have a lot of time to go around, but I did not find any leaflets. But they have been dropped. And in fact, I've listened -- if you listen to the local radio station, the Israelis will butt into the frequency and basically convey the exact same message.

And in Qana, and in much of southern Lebanon, probably more than 50 percent of the population has heeded those calls and left. In Qana, there really are hardly any people left, and so most of the people did listen to them, but we were told that these were poor farmers who didn't have a lot of money. They had livestock to tend. They simply didn't want to leave everything behind, move to Beirut, where they would be living in crowded schools and other buildings that have been set up as refugee camps.

So really it was a question of they felt they were safer. Their property was safer if they stayed at home rather than go to Beirut. Now we're hearing more air strikes behind me. It's a hazy day. But it's been all afternoon, really, a pretty steady pounding from the air, Wolf, as well as from the sea.

BLITZER: Ben Wedeman reporting for us. Thank you, Ben, very much. We'll check back with you. And just a little while ago, the White House released a formal statement. Let me read it to our viewers: "We extend our condolences to families of the Qana victims and to all of the people of Lebanon. This was a terrible and tragic incident.

"We continue to urge the Israeli government to exercise the utmost care so as to avoid any civilian casualties. This tragic incident shows why this is so critical. Secretary Rice is in the region now and is seeking to arrange the conditions that would permit a sustainable cessation of violence as soon as possible."

That statement just released by the White House. CNN's John Roberts is covering this war for us. Once again, he's on the Israel- Lebanese border, where military action right now and overnight has been continuing. What's the latest, John?

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been a dangerous day up here in northern Israel, Wolf. We're in the town of Matula, which today for the first time in this engagement came under direct Katyusha fire. Three of those 134 rockets that were fired at Israel today landed inside the perimeter of the town of Matula, which up until this point has been fairly well untouched by those Katyusha rockets.

The very first one about landed 300 feet away from where we were standing. You hear this sort of hissing, whistling, ripping sound and then the large explosion as this one impacted on a hillside. Not long after that, we heard a couple of other massive booms closer inside the city.

We went running after it. We found remnants of the rocket in the middle of the street. It hadn't hit in an area where there were a lot of people. It had set large fire off, though, in a courtyard and in a garden of someone's home and destroyed a car or a van that was parked on the street there.

So now Matula definitely in the danger zone here. We believe the reason why is because not too far from here the elite Nahal Brigade of the Israeli Defense Forces have launched incursions into Lebanon. They're going into the town of Adisa, which is where they believe some of these rockets that have been fired at Kiryat Shmona and other areas have been coming from. All night last night we heard the sound of outgoing artillery fire. We heard the explosions very close by. We heard machine-gun fire in the valley. They were attacking those Hezbollah positions. According to the Israeli Defense Forces, more than ten Hezbollah fighters were killed.

We haven't heard about casualties on the Israeli side, but at this point we do not believe there were any fatalities. And those operations are still continuing as we speak, Wolf. We hear the odd bomb, and we see the smoke from it over the ridge lines.

We still hear the sound of machine-gun fire, but those rockets still coming in, Wolf. So as much they want to push into those areas to try to suppress fire from the Hezbollah side, it's still coming in here in a new sort of reality here for the people in Matula. And I'll tell you Wolf that it's true what they say. Nothing focuses the mind like being shot at.

BLITZER: John Roberts. Be careful over there. We'll check back with you. The bombings today in Qana have caused a huge new rift between Israel and Lebanon in their effort to try to achieve some sort of cease-fire.

So what's next? Joining us now from Beirut is Lebanon's justice minister, Charles Rizk. Minister, thanks very much for coming in. Would it make any sense at this point for Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, to come from Jerusalem to Beirut to talk to your government as part of an effort to achieve some sort of cease-fire?

CHARLES RIZK, LEBANON'S JUSTICE MINISTER: As a matter of fact, Ms. Rice was coming, and yesterday, an air of optimism was floating here since Ms. Rice welcomed the plan presented by the prime minister, the seven-point plan to help solve the crisis.

Unfortunately, this horrendous massacre occurred. And Ms. Rice and the prime minister decided, after having consulted each other, that, maybe, it would be preferable now to postpone this trip because the tension was so high and emotions were so high that it was deemed preferable to postpone this trip.

But we hope that, after the tension subsides that...


RIZK: Beg your pardon.

BLITZER: Do you still have confidence in the secretary of state?

Do you believe she can be an honest broker in trying to resolve this crisis?

RIZK: Well, we have, now, to wait for the tension, as I said, to subside, because the shock and the trauma has been so deep that we have to wait until all this tension subsides. But later, definitely, we believe that diplomacy is the best way for us to go in order to solve this crisis. We address ourselves to the Security Council tonight.

And we are aware the Security Council is made of the great powers and the United States is playing such an important role there. All I can tell you is that, on a personal basis and on the personal plan, Ms. Rice is very well respected in Lebanon.

She had to postpone and we had to postpone this trip only because of the tension and because of the emotion. But we are very hopeful that, in the future, after things evolve and if they evolve favorably, we will resume diplomacy. And we count very much on Ms. Rice, who everybody here respects very, very much.

BLITZER: Let me read to you, Minister, what the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, said today.

He said, "All the residents of Qana were warned and told to leave. No one was ordered to fire on civilians and we have no policy of killing innocent people... The village and its surrounding areas were a source of launching hundreds of rockets."

What the Israelis claim is that Hezbollah was using this village, using this building as a human shield, deliberately thinking that Israel wouldn't strike back.

They were launching missiles from very , they say, to this building that was destroyed, killing all these civilians today.

Does Hezbollah bear some responsibility for the deaths of those Lebanese men, women and children?

RIZK: I would say two things. First of all, the best way to check what the prime minister of Israel is saying is to conduct an international investigation like the prime minister of Lebanon has been asking today.

After witnessing this horrendous scene of crime, we said we want, first of all, a complete cease-fire; but also, we insist on having an international, fair, nonbiased multilateral investigation.

That would be the best way for us to control what happened exactly. This is the first thing which I would like to say.

Now what was the second thing you mentioned?

BLITZER: Whether Hezbollah was deliberately using this village and this building and the civilians who lived there as human shields to protect themselves while launching missiles into Israel?

RIZK: Well, this comes under the first point which I stressed. Let's have an international nonbiased investigation. Second, when the prime minister of Israel says that it's not their policy to bombard civilian populations, I refer you to the result of this three-week war. It was a war essentially conducted against civilian society. Out of the 700 casualties, dead, that we have, the majority is made of children and women, not only in Qana -- in Qana, it's obvious -- but also for the rest of the country during these three deadly weeks that we have been living.

As a matter of fact, what happened in Qana today is a representation, an illustration of this whole war which is conducted in these three weeks. It's not a war; it's a slaughter. It's a massacre of the civilians.

Generally, in a war, you have two types of damages. You have the principle damage, which is suffered by the combatants. And you have the collateral, which is suffered by civilians, which comes second.

In our case, in Lebanon, the collateral comes first. I'm not saying that Hezbollah has emerged unscathed from this war.

All I am saying is that, out of the 700 casualties, most of them -- 90 percent of them are civilian. And the majority is made of children and women. This is to answer the second point which you made, sir.

BLITZER: President Bush, on Friday, at his news conference with the British prime minister, Tony Blair, said Hezbollah's responsible for this war.

Let me read to you what President Bush said.

He said, "The root cause of the problem is you've got Hezbollah that is armed and willing to fire rockets in Israel; a Hezbollah, by the way, that I firmly believe is backed by Iran and encouraged by Iran. And so, for the sake of long-term stability, we've got to deal with this issue now."

Is it the policy of your government, the Lebanese government, that Hezbollah must be disarmed, according to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.

And will the Lebanese army do that?

RIZK: Our policy is being defined by the seven-point plan presented three days ago by the Lebanese prime minister to the Rome conference on Lebanon three days ago.

And this plan has been adopted and approved unanimously by all the ministers of the government, of which, incidentally, I remind you, two are representative of Hezbollah.

So it was unanimously accepted on the seven points which outline the plan.

Now, about the responsibility: It's true two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped.

But does this justify the slaughter of the whole Lebanese population, the 700 dead, the Qana massacre this morning, the fact that the whole infrastructure of the Lebanese country, the Lebanese economy, the bridges, the roads, the airports, all this which has been rebuilt by the Lebanese during the last 10 years -- does this justify all this destruction?

I'm asking you the question.

As to our answer, we have very clearly, unanimously defined it in the seven-point plan which I presented three days ago, which incidentally, as I said before, Ms. Rice approved and welcomed. And this is why we were so optimistic, waiting for her.

Everybody here was prepared to welcome her. Unfortunately, this awful massacre happened as if it was done on purpose to sabotage Ms. Rice's trip to Lebanon.

BLITZER: Charles Rizk is the justice minister of Lebanon. Minister, thanks very much for spending some time with us here on "Late Edition."

And coming up in the next hour of our program, we'll get a different perspective, the Israeli view on this Day 19 of the crisis. The Israeli security cabinet member, Isaac Herzog will discuss his country's next step in the military campaign against Hezbollah.

That's coming up in the second hour of our special "Late Edition." But up next, desperate diplomacy with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice here in Jerusalem.

Will a peace deal be brokered any time soon? Her top aide, the undersecretary of state, Nick Burns is our guest.

And is Syria arming and aiding Hezbollah in the war against Israel?

Some in the bush administration think so. In fact, everyone in the Bush administration thinks so. We'll get reaction from Syrian cabinet minister Buthaina Shaaban.

This special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East" will be right back.



GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The temptation is to say, "It's too tough; let's just try to solve it quickly with something that won't last. Let's just get it off the TV screens." But that won't solve the problem.


BLITZER: President Bush, earlier this week, calling for what he said would be a real solution to the problems in the Middle East.

Welcome back to this special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East." I'm reporting live from Jerusalem.

And as we are reporting, right now at the United Nations Security Council in New York, representatives are arriving for an emergency meeting called for by the U.N. secretary-general, Kofi Annan, of the Security council, getting ready to discuss this crisis in the Middle East, especially in the aftermath of that Israeli bombing of a building in Qana in southern Lebanon earlier today.

Dozens of civilians, men, women and children, were killed or injured in that bombing. It's caused a huge, huge uproar.

Meanwhile, the secretary of state has returned to the region. She's here in Jerusalem right now, pushing for an end to the fighting. But is the option of a cease-fire even on the table?

Just a little while ago, I spoke with one of her top aides, the undersecretary of state Nicholas Burns, about the U.S. role in this crisis.

Secretary Burns, thanks very much for joining us. I know you just got off the phone with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She's here in Jerusalem where I am.

What's her game plan, now, in the aftermath of this incident at Qana?

NICHOLAS BURNS, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: Well, Wolf, obviously, it's been a tragic day for the people of Qana and the Lebanon. As you know, Secretary Rice expressed the condolences of our country to Prime Minister Siniora.

Secretary Rice is remaining in Jerusalem today. She's going to be meeting over dinner with Prime Minister Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni. And then I think she will, tomorrow morning, leave the region and head back to the United States because she very much wants to continue the work towards this political framework that we hope might be able to lead toward a cease-fire.

And I think you will see a lot of the action in that vein shift to the United Nations this week. We'd like to see the two sides, Israel and Lebanon, agree to this political framework.

We'd like to see the international community commit to an international force that will go into southern Lebanon to police that area and to prevent the kind of rocket attacks and trans-border aggressions that Hezbollah has committed over the last 2 1/2 weeks.

And we certainly also want to see the provisions made to bring in a considerable amount of humanitarian assistance to the people of Lebanon, especially the people of South Lebanon, who have suffered so much over these last 2 1/2 weeks.

BLITZER: How much of a setback is the fact that the prime minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora, basically told Secretary Rice today, don't bother showing up in Beirut? BURNS: Well, Wolf, I'm not sure that's the full story. I know that Secretary Rice talked to Prime Minister Siniora. She told him that she felt, out of respect for him and the people of Lebanon, that this would not be the day for her to come to Beirut.

And she felt that she had work to do in Israel, meeting with the Israeli government. And I know Prime Minister Siniora accepted that and agreed with it.

Obviously, Secretary Rice will be talking to Prime Minister Siniora on the phone. We very much respect him. We support his government. In fact, we want to see a strengthening of his government. One of the elements that has produced, of course, this tragedy is that Hezbollah has become a state within a state, especially in South Lebanon.

And we'd like to see the sovereignty of the government of Lebanon extend all the way down to its southern border with Israel. We'd like to see the Lebanese armed forces, the national army, be able to deploy to the South.

And we'd certainly like to see Hezbollah not be the force that it is, such a pernicious force, for war, which it has been over the last couple of weeks, and indeed over many, many years in that part of the world.

BLITZER: Let me read to you what the prime minister of Lebanon said earlier today.

He said, "the persistence of Israel and its heinous crimes against the civilians will not break the will of the Lebanese people. There is no place on this sad morning for any discussion, other than an immediately and unconditional cease-fire, as well as an international investigation into the Israeli massacres in Lebanon now."

Who do you blame for the deaths of these men, women and children in Qana?

Do you blame Israel, or do you blame Hezbollah?

BURNS: Well, Wolf, obviously, what happened today in Qana is a tragedy. And we hope very, very much that this kind of incident will not be repeated in the future.

We have cautioned Israel to use the utmost restraint in its military operations, but Israel does have a right to defend itself. And we can't forget that it was just 2 1/2 weeks ago when Hezbollah committed the crime of crossing the international border, of taking the Israeli soldiers hostage and of firing more than 4,000 rockets into northern Israel, holding hostage one million people in northern Israel over the last 2 1/2 weeks.

So, obviously, we regret enormously the loss of life. No one would want to see a repetition of the kind of incident that occurred in Qana. But what we have to do now is we have to turn to create the kind of sustainable cease-fire so that these kinds of incidents cannot occur in the future. And that has to mean that Hezbollah has to stop firing rockets into Israel as well.

BLITZER: The Israelis say that they have evidence, and they're going to be releasing it, that there was rocket fire coming from near this building that was demolished by the Israelis today, with all those people inside.

If that was in fact the case, if they have such evidence, and I don't know if they've shared it with the U.S. government, would they have been justified in taking out that building under international law?

BURNS: Well, Wolf, we'll have to see what the Israeli government says. I have not seen such statements from the government of Israel. We'll have to see what kind of evidence the government of Israel puts forward.

But there's no question that what Hezbollah has done here is to co-locate some of its military forces with civilian populations.

And you haven't seen Hezbollah warning the population of northern Israel about the rocket attacks that it has fired down. So I think if you're going to try to look back honestly at the roots of this present conflict, it starts with the party that began it two and a half weeks ago, and that is Hezbollah.

Now, obviously, Secretary Rice said on a number of occasions in her press conference this morning that we believe that Israel has to take special care in the prosecution of its military activities and act with restraint. But at St. Petersburg two weeks ago today, when all the world leaders met, they all agreed that in this case, in this particular war, Israel was attacked. Israel does have a right to its self-defense.

It's in our interest now and it's in the interest of the world community to see progress made towards a cease-fire. Secretary Rice said this morning that she feels that progress has been made in getting towards, in reaching a political framework between Lebanon and Israel. We want to see the sovereignty of the Lebanese government respected by Hezbollah.

We want to see the international force, an international force to be agreed upon at the United Nations and go into southern Lebanon. And we want to see humanitarian assistance to the people of southern Lebanon. So that's our agenda, and Secretary Rice is pushing that agenda very aggressively. We want to see peace in the Middle East and an end to the current fighting.

BLITZER: Let me read to you what Republican Senator Chuck Hagel said on Friday. He said, "As we work with our friends and allies to deny Syria and Iran any opportunity to further corrode the situation in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, both Damascus and Tehran must hear from America directly. The United States will need to engage Iran and Syria with an agenda open to all areas of agreement and disagreement."

What's wrong with re-establishing a direct dialogue with Damascus right now, if that is what is needed to, A, try to wean Syria away from Iran, and B, bring some sort of stability to Lebanon?

BURNS: Wolf, I can tell you as a diplomat, the problem is not the lack of contact or communication between Damascus and Washington. There is a Syrian ambassador in Washington. There's an American charge d'affairs in Damascus. We have diplomatic relations.

The problem, as President Bush and Prime Minister Blair said two days ago at the White House, is that Iran and Syria have acted irresponsibly. They're the ones funding Hezbollah. They are the ones providing those long-range rockets that have made -- that have caused so much damage to Israeli towns and casualties in Israel itself.

The Syrian and Iranian governments know exactly what they have to do to be responsible and to try to help the international community bring this conflict to an end, but they are acting in a reverse fashion. They're the ones who have stoked this conflict. A lot of the responsibility for what's happened in the last two and a half weeks rests with the government in Tehran and certainly the government in Damascus as well.

BLITZER: So no immediate plan to start a high-level dialogue with the Syrian government? Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador in Washington, has told me on many occasions that no one in the U.S. government -- in the State Department talks to him.

BURNS: Well, you know, the Syrian government was responsible, implicated in the assassination of Rafik Hariri in February of 2005. The Syrian government has been shunned by the Arab countries, as well as the European countries, as well as by the United States.

But Wolf, again, the problem here is not that somehow we don't have a sustained, active, daily, high-level political dialogue with the government in Damascus. That government bears much of the responsibility for what's gone wrong in Lebanon over the course of the last 30 years, but also the course of the last two and a half weeks. And so, it know what it has to do.

And I think President Bush sent a very clear message to the Syrians the other day: Syria should act responsibly for peace, and it is not doing so, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Burns, the undersecretary of state, thanks very much for joining us.

BURNS: Thank you.


BLITZER: And we're watching the United Nations Security Council. Coming up, an emergency meeting to deal with this crisis in the Middle East. The secretary-general, Kofi Annan, expected to speak, as well as the representatives from Israel and Lebanon. We'll watch that story for you.

Also coming up on our special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East," Haifa under siege as a top target of Hezbollah rocket fire. The usually vibrant port city is now desolate, depressing and at times very frightening. I went there for a firsthand look at the disaster and the devastation. That's coming up.

But up next, some of the top stories of the day. Stay with us. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: Thanks very much, Brianna. Over the past 19 days, hundreds of rockets have rained down on Haifa, which is only about 20 miles south of the Lebanese border. Earlier this week, I saw firsthand what Israelis in Haifa deal with every day when those air- raid sirens alert residents that Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah are on the way.


BLITZER: Shortly after arriving in Haifa, we hear a wailing sound, a warning that Hezbollah Katyusha rockets are on the way.


BLITZER: All right, we're at this Israeli air force base. Sirens have just gone off. You can hear them behind us. And so they're telling us we should go to a shelter, which is what we're going to do right now.


BLITZER: Israeli civil defense officials say the rockets could land as quickly as 20 seconds after the sirens sound. Sometimes, you have a little longer.


UNKNOWN: But if they don't hit in the first two minutes, then you'll get an all-clear sign.


UNKNOWN: (inaudible) from here. The other (inaudible).

BLITZER: Did they get the all-clear?


BLITZER: That does not give someone a lot of time to run. And that explains why so many residents in the northern part of Israel have moved south to more secure areas.


BLITZER: How often do these sirens go off?

UNKNOWN: They've been going off every two hours.


UNKNOWN: As we've seen, since this morning, we've had three of them (inaudible).

BLITZER: All right, we just got the all clear. That means the sirens are off. If Katyushas have landed, they've landed. We don't know if there was any damage or destruction, but we're going to get out of here now and walk back to our van, and head over to our location in Haifa where we're working.

The ride through this city is bleak -- not many cars on the streets; not many people either.

As I take a look at this port and this Haifa bay, it's pretty depressing to see there aren't many ships at all docked at Haifa right now -- pretty much empty, understandably, because those Katyusha rockets -- they have been coming in Day 15, Day 16.

And there's, according to Israeli military authorities, really no expected end in sight, at least over the short-term. If you take a look down there, you see that beautiful Ba'hai temple, the shrine here in Haifa. It's such a great attraction. People come from all over the world to see it.

And you see these buildings pretty much deserted. You see the infrastructure; you see what was a robust city and probably will come back to be a very robust city down the road, but right now, it's not.

For the future of Haifa and the northern part of Israel, this will be a turning point. It's still not clear, though, in which direction things turn.

And coming up on our special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East," should the U.S. negotiate directly with Iran and Syria over this crisis in the Middle East?

We'll talk with two leading U.S. senators about the U.S. role in trying to resolve the conflict. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to this special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East." I have been here in the Middle East all this week, where the war has been ongoing, now, for 19 days.

Joining us with their take on what's going on, two guests: Republican Senator Mitch McConnell -- he's the majority whip; he's joining us from Washington; and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer. He's joining us from his home state of New York.

Senators, thanks very much for coming in.

Senator McConnell, this incident in Qana today, in which dozens of civilians, mostly children, at least many of them children, have been killed in this Israeli air strike. Some are suggesting this is a turning point and the pressure is going to build now for Israel to accept a cease-fire. What do you say?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Well, it's important to remember who started this, Wolf. Imagine the United States, if you had a couple of terrorist organizations in either Mexico or China that came across our borders, captured two of our soldiers and then started launching rockets against our civilian population. We'd go after them, too, just like Israelis have.

Unfortunately, Hezbollah uses civilians as shields. The Israelis don't do that. There is a moral asymmetry here between Israel and Hezbollah that I hope everyone will remember.

BLITZER: Senator Schumer, I know, in the past you've often criticized the Bush administration on various issues, including Iraq.

How do you think the president and Condoleezza Rice are doing on this crisis?

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Well, I have no criticism of the president on this issue because I think he is doing the right thing. Any country faced with what Israel is being faced with, rockets raining into the northern fifth of their country, their third largest city incapable of functioning, would have to defend themselves.

I know some in the world have called for an immediate cease-fire. But that says Hezbollah has a gun to Israel's head; let's let them continue to keep the gun there which they can use at will. It's just not fair to Israel.

The loss of civilian life is awful. And you see the pictures of the children. And it turns your stomach; it wrenches your stomach. But who's to blame here?

Hezbollah uses, and has in the past, civilians as shields. There was a story in the newspaper, how a Hezbollah militiaman barged into the backyard of a Lebanese civilian, fired a rocket and then went back to his house.

So the blame of the world should be on Hezbollah. I agree with Mitch McConnell. There is not moral equivalency here. Israel goes out of its way not to kill civilians. They distribute leaflets and say we're going to invade this town.

Now, that doesn't just let the civilians know; that lets Hezbollah know and Israel suffers losses for that. Hezbollah doesn't believe there should be...


Sorry. Go ahead.

BLITZER: I was going let Senator McConnell -- a lot of people are suggesting, and we've heard this, certainly, from many of the U.N. diplomats right now, in the Security Council meeting, Kofi Annan addressing them.

But there's a sense, at least, out there that this strong support that the U.S. gives Israel is creating a situation where the U.S. can no longer be the honest broker in resolving these disputes. And in the end, that hurts Israel.

MCCONNELL: Well, look. Israel needs a strong supporter. It certainly doesn't have any in the neighborhood. And what we ought to be trying to achieve here is a permanent settlement, of sorts, to the problem.

You've got the country of Lebanon occupied in the South, and to some extent, throughout its entire borders, but particularly in the South, by a terrorist organization not dissimilar to Al Qaida.

What we ought to do is try to achieve -- and I think this is what the administration is trying to achieve -- is some kind of international force along the southern Lebanon border that will give the Lebanese government, the democratic government that is just now, in recent months, gotten rid of the Syrians, an opportunity to control their own territory and not have an armed terrorist organization, in effect, a de facto ,country along southern Lebanon.

That's an unacceptable situation, it seems to me, for Lebanese. And it certainly, as we've seen demonstrated in the last two or three weeks, unacceptable to the Israelis.

SCHUMER: Wolf, if we were to just do an immediate cease-fire, then Hezbollah could start firing the rockets a month or two from now. And the same thing would happen all over again. You need a more permanent solution.

BLITZER: Senator Schumer, is it time for the U.S. to engage Syria at a high level to try to wean Syria, as some diplomats are suggesting, away from Iran and make Syria a more constructive player?

SCHUMER: Well, there is nothing wrong with talking to the Syrians, provided you don't accommodate their position, which thus far hasn't been a very good one.

But Syria is in a precarious position. It's a Sunni country allied with a Shiite country. And trying to break Syria from Iran would be good for everybody.

Whether that can be done -- Bashar Assad has shown no inclination to do it so far -- is a big question. But trying to do it -- I don't think that would cause any problems for anybody. And I don't have a problem if we talk to the Syrians, provided we make our positions clear and make it clear, too, that Hezbollah is the cause of the real problems here.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that assessment, Senator McConnell?

MCCONNELL: Yes, we are talking to them any way. We've been talking to them for quite some time. Unfortunately, they've missed a number of opportunities in the past to be constructive players. This would be another opportunity for them to try to do something in a positive direction. And I'm sure those kind of conversations are going on, even if they are back-channel.

But let's go back to the fundamental point here. We ought to use this crisis as an opportunity to get a more solution to the problem.

I agree with Chuck. If you just have a cease-fire, nothing changes. And a few weeks from now, Hezbollah starts it all over again. And presumably, you don't get the Israeli soldiers back that have been captured by Hezbollah at the beginning of -- which started the whole crisis.

Let's not back down. Let's try to get a more permanent solution. I think that's what the administration is trying to do, and I think that's what Chuck Schumer and I are looking for, as well.

SCHUMER: Yeah, in the Congress, Wolf, there is broad...

BLITZER: We have only a few seconds left. Senator Schumer.

SCHUMER: There is broad bipartisan agreement.

BLITZER: Only a few seconds left. Are you ready at this point to reassess your opinion of John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., and vote to confirm him?

SCHUMER: Well, let me say this. There's a good part of Bolton. He's been a staunch and very good defender of Israel at the U.N. There's a bad part of Bolton. He seems to have a "go at it alone" attitude at a time when we need the nations of the world on our side. We've seen that in Iran and North Korea in particular.

So I'm assessing it. I think that if you count the votes, a filibuster is unlikely, but a lot of Democrats are deciding, weighing the positive of Bolton that he's been for Israel and negative that he has almost an antagonistic, "go at it alone" attitude to the nations of the world, which we need with us to fight a war on terror.

BLITZER: So you're open-minded? You haven't made a final decision?

SCHUMER: Correct.

BLITZER: Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell, thank you both for coming in. Much more of our special coverage, "Crisis in the Middle East." We'll be right back. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to this special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East." While here in Israel this week, I've managed to get a firsthand look of the impact of the war on the ground in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa. We were also to get an entirely different perspective as we took to the skies over Israel.


BLITZER: A USA Blackhawk helicopter waits to take Israeli air force Brigadier General Ido Nehushtan and us to the war. We fly north at a relatively low level along Israel's Mediterranean coast line toward Haifa and beyond.


NEHUSHTAN: We are approaching the Carmel region, which eventually ends up in Haifa.


BLITZER: The further north we go, the less traffic we see along the coastal highway. And that's for good reason, since Hezbollah rockets have rained down over northern Israel by the hundreds for more than two weeks. Many Israeli citizens living in those areas have relocated for their own safety.

Haifa, a city of some 300,000 under normal circumstances, is drained. We fly over warehouses, factories and garages, including one struck by a rocket the other day, killing eight people working inside. The huge port area, usually full of cargo ships from around the world, is largely empty. So are the beautiful Mediterranean beaches nearby.


NEHUSHTAN: The beaches are empty.

BLITZER: No traffic.

NEHUSHTAN: The port is empty. Beach is empty. No traffic, very low traffic in the streets. No people out. The city has no life. This is the third-largest city in Israel.


BLITZER: We continue north from Haifa about 20 miles.


NEHUSHTAN: We are now approaching the border with Lebanon.


BLITZER: Flying overhead underscores how tiny these areas are.


NEHUSHTAN: On the right is the beach of Nahanya, completely empty. The city makes a living from tourism. (inaudible) industries. There's nothing there now. A ghost town. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We can easily see Lebanon, though we don't fly there. We stay completely on the Israeli side. As destructive as this side of the border, I know there is more destructive on the other, the result of heavy Israeli shelling and air strikes. General Nehushtan knows that, as well.


NEHUSHTAN: This is our challenge. How to give these people security. How can we restore life here? Here and on the other side.


BLITZER: Some 90 minutes after we took off back near Tel Aviv, we touch down at a military base near Haifa.


BLITZER: And there's much more ahead on this special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East." Is Syria helping Hezbollah in its fight against Israel? We'll ask Syrian cabinet minister Bouthaina Shaaban in Damascus. All that coming up in the next hour on this special "Late Edition." We'll be right back.



EHUD OLMERT, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: Israel is determined to carry on the fight against Hezbollah. We'll reach out to them. We'll stop them.


BLITZER: As the war in the Middle East reaches day 19, what will it take for all sides to stand down? We'll ask the Israeli security cabinet minister, Isaac Herzog.


HASAN NASRALLAH, HEZBOLLAH LEADER (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The enemy has not achieved, until now, any real military accomplishment.


BLITZER: Hezbollah and the Syrian connection. Can Lebanon's neighbor put a stop to Hezbollah's attacks. We'll talk to Syrian Cabinet Minister Bouthaina Shaaban in Damascus.

Plus, updates from all of our CNN correspondents in the region, and an inside look at my week at war.

And welcome back to our special "Late Edition." We'll talk to a top Syrian official and a top Israeli official about the current crisis in the region in just a moment. First, though, let's check in with the CNN Center in Atlanta. Brianna Keiler joining us for a quick look at what's in the news right now. Brianna?


BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much. A day of fast-moving events here in the Middle East. International furor mounts over an Israeli air strike that killed dozens of civilians in the Lebanese town of Qana. Let's go to Beirut. Our bureau chief, Brent Sadler, standing by with details. Brent?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. Shock and revulsion really emanating throughout Lebanon in the aftermath of that Israeli air strike and that heavy loss of life. There have been some graphic and disturbing pictures, particularly those images shown on local television on throughout the Arabic world on Arab TV satellite channels.

And after those pictures were shown, we saw a violent backlash to the Israeli attack in downtown Beirut. We can show you some pictures at the start of a protest that built into several thousand strong, protesters initially storming the headquarters of the United Nations in downtown Beirut. Protesters armed with rocks and iron bars breaking through a security cordon that's around the building.

Some of them getting inside and really creating difficulties, great difficulties for the staff, some of whom we understand took refuge in a basement. Now, Lebanese security forces and religious leaders were pretty quick off the mark, and the protests became calmed. And religious leaders, political leaders sympathetic to Hezbollah urging calm but continuing to condemn the Israeli attack that led to the loss of life, particularly among so many children.

There were calls for a second demonstration to be held outside the U.S. Embassy several miles from downtown, but that didn't really materialize. Wolf?

BLITZER: Brent Sadler reporting for us from Beirut. Brent, thanks very much.

How is all of this affecting Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice? John King is here in Jerusalem watching this part of the story. What does it look like? What is she up to?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Imagine that she's in a meeting with the Israeli defense minister this morning, and they come in and tell her and the defense minister about the tragedy in Qana. Simple, quick read. Obviously, it makes very difficult diplomacy all the more difficult.

And Listen to Secretary Rice. First of all, I want to have you play a little bit of her reaction. Listen to her tone. We are for the first time now seeing tensions between the United States and Israel. Here's the secretary of state earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICE: In the wake of the tragedy of the people -- that the people and the government of Lebanon are dealing with today, I've decided to postpone my discussions in Beirut. In any case, my work today is here. I will continue to meet with Israeli officials as we work to put in place the elements necessary to bring an end to this conflict.


KING: My work today is here. My work today is here, the secretary is saying. Obviously, Wolf, saying that the issues to be resolved need to be resolved with the Israelis. And even since that statement, we're told there are even more tensions. Prime Minister Olmert told her in a meeting he needs ten days to two weeks for Israel to reach its military objectives.

The United States is saying it is not giving Israel a green light. Secretary Rice wants that United Nations Security Council resolution considered within several days, by the end of next week at the latest.

More tensions with Israel. And a key question for the United States, now. What does it do with all this world pressure mounting? France says it will table a resolution in the security council calling for an immediate cease-fire. Will the United States veto that? Some tough questions facing the administration.

BLITZER: We'll watch as a little bit of friction developing between Washington and Jerusalem. John, thank you very much.

Fighting has been fierce once again in this 19th day of Israel's military campaign against Hezbollah, and Israeli generals are now predicting that it might take a few more weeks to root out Hezbollah from southern Lebanon. Just a short while ago here in Jerusalem, I spoke to Israeli Security Cabinet Minister Isaac Herzog about today's bombing in Qana, the progress of Israel's military offensive in Lebanon and more.


BLITZER: Minister Herzog, thanks very much for joining us. The reaction, the condemnation of Israel coming in, including from some moderate Arab leaders. King Abdullah of Jordan saying, "This criminal aggression is an ugly crime that has been committed by the Israeli forces in the cities of Qana that is a gross violation of all international statutes."

How is it possible that Israel's formidable, highly efficient military could go ahead and commit this kind of civilian casualties?

ISAAC HERZOG, ISRAELI TOURISM MINISTER: First of all, it's a very tragic event. We are very sorry for it, and we made it clear that we are very, very sorry for it. However, one needs to know that out of the kind of village, out of that spot, out of the surrounding spots, hundreds of missiles were launched on Israel in the last few days. BLITZER: How close to that building that was destroyed?

HERZOG: Very close, according to our identification. From that village were three spots, including the spots which are adjacent to that building...

BLITZER: When you say very close, what dose that mean? Ten feet, 30 feet, 100 feet?

HERZOG: It means that well, we've identified missile launchers which were used from that area constantly. Hundreds of missiles throughout the whole perimeter of that village and from the center of the village. We've warned the citizens all the time to move out so that we can handle these launchers.

And by the way, under all statutes of international law, we are permitted to attack such a village if there are attacks on Israel by aggressing forces. By the way, non-Lebanese, Hezbollah forces, that have been using this as a launch pad constantly on hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the last few days.

BLITZER: Do you have evidence, because there's some suggestion you're going to release photographs or some surveillance, aerial reconnaissance photography, to prove your point.

HERZOG: The military is exactly working on this right now. The whole area, the whole area, from the center of the village outside the village, was used constantly on Kiryat Shmona, on Afula, on the Jezrael Valley, on Kiim (ph), on Mrar, all our villages and others. And people have been wounded heavily. Today over 50 Israelis wounded by these types of missiles, horrible missiles. And let me tell you one more thing. It is now known by the whole world, including by human rights organizations which investigated the original Qana tragedy...

BLITZER: Back in 1996.

HERZOG: Yes, that the Hezbollah is using these villages as human shields. The Hezbollah has left them there as human shields.

BLITZER: Did you know...

HERZOG: And Hezbollah is fully responsible for this tragedy.

BLITZER: Did you know there were civilians, men, women and children, dozens of them, in this building that you targeted?

HERZOG: None at all. On the contrary, our instructions are always to the military, if they know of anything, not to carry out any operation. We are very cautious.

We are trying to do the highest morality, but you know yourself from Afghanistan, to Iraq, these things unfortunately occur when terrorist organizations use civilians as human shields, hiding them in all sorts of places and trying to use them as their protectors.

BLITZER: Is this a turning point in this crisis right now, as the Qana incident back in '96 clearly was a turning point?

HERZOG: It's a big in the chain of events. But the engines toward the contours of the exits from this conflict are clear. They are backed by the whole world. They are the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559. They are the pullout of the Hezbollah from that area. The incapability for the future of the Hezbollah to attack Israel.

It's all there. By the way, they could have stopped these shootings and sending missiles, and things would have stopped. But they keep on sending missiles and they threaten to send more on the center of Israel.

And they sent today, a huge barrage of missiles in northern Israel. And therefore, what we are doing, we are protecting our citizens and we are trying to dismantle the infrastructure of one of the worst organizations on earth.

BLITZER: As we're speaking, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, is still here in Jerusalem. She had hoped to go to Beirut today, but that was postponed. What's her next step?

What is Israel's next step?

HERZOG: I believe that the secretary's intentions are very clear. She wants to come out with a formula or contours of the exit strategy, of a kind of a new arrangement so that the pattern of behavior of the Hezbollah will not recur in the region and Lebanon will imply its sovereignty.

That's why I am surprised at the initial Lebanese response today, because, while it makes sense in the P.R. sense of the word, it doesn't make sense in terms of the future of Lebanon.

What does the prime minister of Lebanon want, that the Hezbollah will still hold him in the neck, or does he want, really, to be able to implement his sovereignty in southern Lebanon, as we're all expecting him to do, and as the world is backing him to do, and as the Lebanese government has decided to do? And we are agreeing to that.

BLITZER: We heard yesterday from the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and he said this among other things.

He said, "There are many cities in central Israel which will come into target range in the period after Haifa if the barbaric aggression on our country and people and our towns continues."

Is it still your assessment that he has capabilities, Hezbollah, of launching missiles, rockets, further south than Haifa, perhaps into Tel Aviv?

HERZOG: He has the capability. We know he has the capability. We take, of course, always, his speeches seriously, although yesterday, when you looked at him, he was baffled; he was weak. He lacked self-confidence. And more importantly, he lied big time. He said so many lies in a couple of minutes that showed us that he's under huge pressure.

And therefore, the international pressure on us right now, on the whole region, to come to a cease-fire without understanding how, what will be the mechanism for further peace, only helps the Hezbollah right now, only supports the Hezbollah, because what he wants, now, is to stop everything, come out of the bunker 30 meters underneath and say, hey, I'm here and I'm a hero.

And the truth of the matter is that we have to make sure that he won't be able to send those missiles any time in the future.

BLITZER: Here is what Ayman al-Zawahiri, the number two Al Qaida leader, said on Thursday: "The Al Qaida organization will not stay silent regarding what the Muslims in Palestine and Lebanon are facing... It is a jihad for the sake of God, and will last until our religion prevails, jihad to liberate all of Palestine and liberate all of the lands that used to be Muslim, from Spain to Iraq. We will attack everywhere."

How concerned are you now that Al Qaida is going to get into this struggle against Israel?

HERZOG: We know of Al Qaida. The whole world knows of Al Qaida. This speech of Zawahiri simply explains something very, very simple that has to be disseminated to all peace-loving people around the world, to all those who care about liberalism and modernity and sanity, is that there is a streak of lunacy, somewhere out there, of fundamentalist Islam, that wants to conquer the world, and uses us as an excuse.

Basically, there is a conflict here and a confrontation, and a threat to the modern civilized world by some elements. And I hope that there is a coalition of moderate Muslims and Christians and Jews that confronts this insane view.

BLITZER: You're a member of Israel's security cabinet, so you are well briefed on what's going on. There was an incident the other day in Seattle, Washington involving a Jewish community center.

I understand that you were briefed that there is fear, perhaps evidence, that terrorists might launch attacks against Israeli or Jewish targets outside of Israel.

What can you say about that assessment that the Israeli intelligence community has?

HERZOG: There is an experience from the past, a very sad experience, whereby, when the Hezbollah wanted to attack further, they attacked two Iranian operations worldwide, or extreme Shia Muslim fundamentalist operations, mosques or madrassas and others around the world.

They've attacked and they've demolished a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in the mid-90s and they've attacked other sites. It's known to everybody that these elements know no rules of the game, and they are simply using any excuse possible to deteriorate the situation.

And we are a coalition of modern people, modern, liberalized people, peace-seekers, who really want peace and believe in a peaceful arrangement in the region. And we believe this will prevail at the end if we all stand strongly together.

BLITZER: Isaac Herzog, a member of Israel's security cabinet, thanks for coming in.

HERZOG: Thank you very much.

BLITZER: Coming up next on this special "Late Edition," does Syria have a hand in Hezbollah's attacks on Israel? We'll talk to a Syrian cabinet minister in Damascus.

And later, terror on the water. Is Israel prepared to deal with new threats coming from the Mediterranean? My report on the dangers facing Israel from the sea. Don't go away. This special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East" will be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back. As Hezbollah keeps launching rockets into northern Israel, the question remains, how much military and financial support the militia receives from neighboring Syria?

Just a little while ago, I asked the Syrian cabinet minister, Bouthaina Shaaban, in Damascus, about the relationship between Syria and Hezbollah and what, if anything, the Syrian government can do to stop Hezbollah's deadly attacks.

During the taping, there were a few technical audio glitches, so please bear with us.

Bouthaina Shaaban, thanks very much for joining us. Let's get right to one of the key issues at hand.

Is Syria ready to stop facilitating weapons shipments to Hezbollah, as alleged by the U.S. and Israeli governments as well as other governments?

BOUTHAINA SHAABAN, SYRIAN MINISTER OF EXPATRIATES: Well, I'm glad you're saying "alleged" because Syria is not facilitating any weapons transfer to Hezbollah.

Syria is trying to send food and medicine into Lebanon, in view of all these massacres that Israeli is perpetrating. But Israeli is preventing any food or medicine to get through Syria from the Emirates or from Kuwait or from any other country that's donating help to Lebanon.

BLITZER: Here's what the State Department counterterrorism report that was released in April said: quote, "The Syrian government continued to provide political and material support to both Hezbollah and Palestinian terrorist groups. Syria continued to permit Iran to use Damascus as a trans-shipment point to resupply Hezbollah in Lebanon.

You're saying that's a lie?

SHAABAN: Well, I'm saying that I think all events in the Middle East, Wolf, prove that the United States administration does not know the reality, if we assume good intention.

Hezbollah is not a terrorist organization. It is a resistance movement. And I think there is a lot of anger today, as you know, in view of the massacre of women and children that Israel has perpetrated.

And Arab people are really blaming the United States, who is at the meantime, sending weapons and bombs to Israel so that it continues killing Lebanese civilians and destroying Lebanon's infrastructure. That is the problem here.

BLITZER: Here's another way of rephrasing the question. And I'll quote the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. She said this in Rome on Wednesday.

She said, "The question is whether Syria, which has obligations under Resolution 1559 of the U.N. Security Council intends to exercise those obligations in a way that leads to a fully sovereign Lebanon.

It's not a question of talking to Syria. It's a question of whether Syria is prepared to act.

Will Syria comply with Resolution 1559 and try to make sure that Hezbollah is dismantled and is disarmed?

SHAABAN: The performance of Secretary of State Rice in the region leaves a lot to (inaudible) how the secretary of state could come to the region and not call for a cease-fire.

We're addressing a very difficult problem now. We are addressing a war against civilians in Lebanon. Both Hezbollah and Syria have been calling for a cease-fire right from the beginning of this war and for an exchange of prisoners.

If the United States will refuse to call for a cease-fire, and only after this horrendous massacre, now, the secretary of state is calling for a cease-fire.

But the problem, Wolf, honestly, cannot be solved by one security resolution only. Secretary Rice should look into all resolutions that govern the Arab-Israeli conflict and, as a foreign minister of a superpower, should address all real issues and should make steps which would bring peace and security into the region.

I think the American people should know what is happening in our region, death and destruction and lack of any action on the United States, except for sending bombs to Israel, which is not what we expect from a country who is as responsible as the United States to do. BLITZER: If there's a new cease-fire -- and a lot of people around the world hope there will be one -- and a new U.N. Security Council resolution, saying that Hezbollah must not be rearmed, will Syria make sure that it does everything to prevent any weapons shipments coming into Hezbollah from Iran or any place else?

SHAABAN: Wolf, if I can answer your question in a better way, it is not the problem how Hezbollah is getting its arms. Hezbollah was not even in existence before 1982 and before the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. There is a big problem in the region, Wolf, which is Israel is occupying Arab territories, killing even U.N. officers. And there's not even a condemnation of killing these people.

The international community has to make a stand about killing civilians and destroying bridges and airports and churches and orphanages. Is this acceptable to Western opinion or does the Western opinion not see what is happening?

We need a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict that should start with a cease-fire, exchange of prisoners and then a comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict so that the entire Middle East could live in peace and in security. That is what's needed.

BLITZER: The Israeli defense minister said this, Amir Peretz said this, Bouthaina Shaaban, on Friday.

He said, "We have said on numerous occasions that we have no intention of an offensive toward Syria. We hope that Hezbollah does not drag Damascus into the conflict. As you know, there are a lot of people concerned, especially here in the Middle East that Syria could effectively be dragged into this conflict. There could be an expansion of the war, not only involving Israel and Hezbollah but also Syria.

How worried are you, or is this a realistic fear that Syria could get involved militarily?

SHAABAN: Well, you know, what is happening now in Lebanon deeply affects us. I could not watch children and women being pulled from under the rubble. It's not as if Syria is not involved now.

We have hundreds of thousands of Lebanese who are coming to Syria. And we are taking care of them and welcoming them into our homes. But if I want to measure by Israeli behavior against Palestinians and Lebanese, I would say that, if the world does not stop Israel here, it's going to go much beyond Syria and much beyond Egypt and much beyond the Middle East.

Remember, Nazi Germany was claiming that it was fighting terrorism. And then the whole world had to stop that. We are facing something very similar to what happened as a result of the actions of Nazi Germany against civilians.

BLITZER: Is Syria ready to give up its claim to the Shebaa farms disputed little area along the Israeli-Lebanese border? Lebanon says that that Shebaa farms is part of Lebanon. What is the position of the Syrian government?

Because as you know, the U.N. says it's part of the Golan Heights, part of Syria. That's what Israel's position is. What is the position of the Syrian government as far as who should control the Shebaa Farms area?

SHAABAN: Shebaa Farms -- Syria said that Shebaa Farms is part of the Lebanese territories, but it is governed by the Resolution 242 that should govern the Arab-Israeli conflict and the solution for the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Wolf, you know that Syria has been an extremely constructive player in the Middle East since the Madrid conference. And for the last five years, we have been warning that if the situation continues like this, there's going to be big problems for everyone in the region.

Unless there is an end to Israeli occupation of Arab territories and unless there is an end to Israeli crimes, there is always going to be these massacres and these disasters. And Syria has always said that it is ready to be a very constructive player, to bring a just and comprehensive peace into the Middle East region.

BLITZER: So we're out of time, Bouthaina, but is Shebaa Farms Lebanese territory or Syrian territory?

SHAABAN: Shebaa Farms is Lebanese territory, and Syrian officials have said that many times. And there are resolutions and letters that show that Shebaa Farms is Lebanese territories.

But Wolf, for your American audience who I really love and appreciate, we should really talk about the basic issues and the real issues. You know, we have been living in this terrible war for years, and therefore, things should be addressed duly.

And I'm really disappointed that only after 18 days of Israeli carnage in Lebanon, Condoleezza Rice called only today for a cease- fire. She should have called for a cease-fire right from the first day, because she shouldn't have accepted to see all these civilians killed and all this destruction without even calling for a cease-fire.

BLITZER: Bouthaina Shaaban in Damascus, thanks very much for spending a few moments with us here on "Late Edition."

SHAABAN: Thank you very much, Wolf.


BLITZER: And when we come back, we're going to go to the United Nations. The Security Council has been meeting in emergency session. We're going to go to Richard Roth, our senior U.N. correspondent, for a complete update on what, if anything, was decided there. Stay with us.


BLITZER: The United Nations Security Council has been meeting in emergency session, considering what's going on in the crisis here in the Middle East. Let's go to our senior U.N. correspondent, Richard Roth. Richard, what did they do?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: This was called at the urging of Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He was the first speaker in this public session. Annan has been demanding an immediate cease- fire, something the U.S. inside the Security Council had not been willing to do up until and including today. Annan urging desperately the Council to take action.


KOFI ANNAN, UNITED NATIONS SECRETARY-GENERAL: Preliminary reports says that at least 54 people have been killed, among them at least 37 children. Excellencies, we must condemn this action in the strongest possible terms, and I appeal to you to do likewise.


ROTH: Lebanon's representative here at the U.N. criticized the Security Council for not taking action previously against what he called Israeli massacres. That's what he said today's attack was also.


NOUHAD MAHMOUD, LEBANON UNITED NATIONS REPRESENTATIVE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The Lebanese people who demonstrated in the streets and squares of Beirut last year who called for the truth, for independence and freedom, the Lebanese people that you supported in your many resolution resolutions, whose democracy and vitality you proclaimed and welcomed, that people are today mourning their martyrs in one voice with their government.

They are calling upon you, cease the fire immediately without delay. Take an effective and serious investigation of this massacre and in the massacres that Israel has perpetrated in the past three weeks on the land of Lebanon.


ROTH: Demonstrators he was talking about also were in the streets today in Beirut, setting a fire outside U.N. headquarters there. Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman stridently telling the U.N. Security Council that the people in Beirut should not be upset at the United Nations or at Israel. It should be against Hezbollah.


DAN GILLERMAN, ISRAEL REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Those people, including women and children, who were killed in this horrible tragic incident may have been killed by Israeli fire, but they are the victims of the Hezbollah. They are the victims of terror. If there were no Hezbollah, this would never have happened. If Lebanon would be free of the throes and strangle of this monster, this would never have happened.


ROTH: Now, the Security Council, Wolf, is in closed-door consultations again. Annan making probably the critical point here, saying, put aside your differences on whether there should be a cease- fire, cessation of hostilities, who's doing right or wrong. He's saying, put those aside. Come to an agreement on the most critical point, the immediate cessation of hostilities. Wolf?

BLITZER: Richard at the U.N., thank you. And up next, we're going to get an inside look at the war's impact from the ground, also from high above the Israeli-Lebanese border. My exclusive reporting from here in the Middle East, that's coming up.

But the top headlines are coming up, as well, and that's coming up next. We'll be right back.




BLITZER: Hezbollah's rockets have been a major threat to Israel over these past 19 days, but they aren't the only thing posing a real danger. In this exclusive report I prepared earlier in the week, I found out that there are also some new threats from the Mediterranean Sea.


BLITZER: Take a close look at this extraordinary video provided to CNN by the Israeli navy. A seemingly innocent jet skier races toward Israeli shores, ignoring repeated orders to stop. As a result, he's shot and killed. A senior Israeli navy officer says the jet ski was loaded with explosives.

And check out this video. An Israeli naval vessel intercepts this small boat with two men on board. The same Israeli Navy officer says they are suicide bombers. The Israeli sailors survive but are seriously injured.

Finally, take a look at this deflated raft the Israeli navy comes upon. Israeli sailors opened machine gun fire to make sure there's nothing hidden inside. But under fire, it explodes. Here's how it looked from a second Israeli camera onshore.


BLITZER: Most people think of the threats facing Israel coming from the north, whether from Lebanon or from the east from the West Bank or from the south from Gaza. But there's another major threat facing Israel, and that's a threat from right behind me, the Mediterranean Sea.


BLITZER: The senior Israeli navy officer tells CNN there have been 80 maritime terror plots that Israel has detected over the years. Most have been foiled. Still, Israel has established an elaborate network of early warning devices to monitor threats from the sea including the nightmare of a cargo ship loaded with explosives. And there's now heightened fear involving the Katyusha rockets that Hezbollah has been firing into northern Israel.


UNKNOWN: The very same rockets that hit, say, Nahariya these days can be launched from the sea, even easier than they are launched from the ground. They have the prolonged-range Katyusha rockets, range of about 30 kilometers, that can be launched from very deep in the sea, way beyond the Israeli territorial water.

BLITZER: We're in Ashdod, Israel's major port along the Mediterranean. You can see the facilities right behind me waiting off the coast here right off the beach, a few ships, they're waiting to bring some cargo into Ashdod.

Ashdod all of a sudden becoming even more important now that Haifa, the big port up in the north, has been effectively shut down because of the rockets coming in from Lebanon, from Hezbollah. If you go down a little bit further down this beach, there's Ashkelon, another big Israeli town. That town earlier today saw two Israeli kids who were injured as a result of Palestinian Qassam rockets landing in Ashkelon, landing in a park. Right down the road, only a few miles down from where I am right now, is Gaza.


BLITZER: The bottom line for Israel: The threats come in all sizes and from all directions.


BLITZER: The bombings in Qana today have brought more death and destruction to the Lebanese people, causing more bitterness toward Israel. What's next in the process in this effort to try to stop the fighting?

Joining us now from Beirut is Lebanese political analyst Roula Talj. She's a former adviser to the Lebanese government. Roula, it looks like this could be a turning point in the crisis. The question is, will it turn for the better now and stop the fighting, or is it about to turn for the worse? What's your assessment?

ROULA TALJ, LEBANESE POLITICAL ANALYST: Good evening, Wolf. I think it's up to the Lebanese, Israelis and American people to decide which way this conflict is going to go. I think it's a historic moment. This tragedy that we are going through today is an historic moment to achieve what was to be thought impossible lately. I think peace is still possible. It only takes a will. When there is a will, there is a way, and I truly believe that it's up to us to decide what we want.

BLITZER: The reaction in Beirut that we saw earlier today, the anger, spontaneous, if you will, against the United Nations, against the United States suggests that the government of the Prime Minister Fouad Siniora under enormous pressure. Even the visit by the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice postponed, if not canceled. Is there a sense right now that this Lebanese government can effectively control Hezbollah?

TALJ: It's not about controlling Hezbollah, Wolf. It's about controlling the anger of the people of Lebanon. This government, Siniora government, was perceived as a somehow pro-American government, and the anger in the streets is against Americans more than Israelis.

Because, at the end of the day, you could understand that the attacks from Israel probably might have an excuse, which I don't believe. It's inexcusable, but nevertheless we do not understand the position of the United States in opposing a cease-fire a week ago. So the anger is growing. And I do not think the government will last longer, to be honest with you.

BLITZER: What do you want the United States to do next?

TALJ: I think the United States should take a bold, courageous position to secure its interests in the region, Israel's interests and the interests of all of us, only through a comprehensive peace, a two- state solution that the United States could provide a better environment for all of us.

We should go back to the '68 borders, create a Palestinian state once and for all. I think Israelis should leave West Bank. I think that the refugees in Lebanon should be replacing the settlers in West Bank.

Prisoners should be sent back to their countries, whether Palestine or Lebanon, Shebaa Farms given back. And that's it, Wolf. It's not a very complicated issue. It's really simple if you look at it from this perspective.

BLITZER: Roula Talj, joining us. Roula, we've got to leave it there, unfortunately. We're out of time. Roula, we'll continue this conversation. Thanks very much.

Up next, is Tel Aviv the next target for Hezbollah's longer-range rockets? My report on the importance of Israel's commercial capital to both sides of the war.

And don't forget, for our north American viewers, coming up right at the top of the hour, John Roberts will be live from northern Israel with a special "This Week at War." We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome back to this special "Late Edition: Crisis in the Middle East." Our "Late Edition" Web question asked, "Would a greater U.N. presence in Lebanon help ease the violence in that country?"

Here's how you voted. Check it out. Thirty-one percent of you said yes; 61 percent of you said no. Remember, though, this is not, repeat, not a scientific poll.

This week, Hezbollah fired a bigger, longer-range rocket that the Israeli defense forces had not seen before. It's called the Khyber-1 (ph) and it fell more than 30 miles south of the Lebanese border.

And it has some Israelis wondering whether Hezbollah may have the two million people in metropolitan Tel Aviv in its sights. I went there earlier in the week to see firsthand how Hezbollah's new and improved arsenal threatens Israel's commercial capital.


BLITZER (voice over): The drive from Jerusalem down to Tel Aviv is majestic and only about an hour.

It's going to be pretty flat from now, as we head toward the Mediterranean and Israel's largest city, a city that is nervous right now as threats emerge from the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, that they have rockets -- they have missiles, potentially, that can go further south than Haifa.

And a lot of people in Tel Aviv are beginning to wonder whether they could reach the commercial capital of Israel. We're on the way there to find out what's going on in Tel Aviv.

On the surface, the city looks the same. Traffic is intense, just like any major city in the world. We stop by Israel's military headquarters for a background briefing with the senior military officer. No camera is allowed inside the building. But outside, you could feel a country at war.

I think it's fair to say that where I'm standing right now would be ground zero as far as Israel's enemies are concerned. They'd like nothing better than to launch a rocket or a missile that would hit this spot right here, the headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces, the IDF.

I remember, going back to 1991, when Scud missiles from Iraq were landing in Tel Aviv, Ramicha (ph), not very far away, in this whole area.

Clearly, they were targeting the headquarters of the Israeli military. That would have been a huge, huge bonanza for Saddam Hussein.

Similarly, if Hezbollah in the north has that capability to hit this spot, that would be a significant, significant bonanza for Hezbollah. As a result, security at this location, understandably, is quite intense.

Not far away, it's mostly business as usual at the beaches of Tel Aviv, even though the government's threat level is higher. And the shops and coffeehouses are certainly open for business.

But for many residents of this city, life has suddenly become more complicated as a result of the latest threats from Hezbollah. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're very, very afraid, very scared of that, for our kids. But what can we say?

BLITZER: So what are you going to do?

Are you going to stay here in Tel Aviv?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to stay here. We don't have a choice.

BLITZER: But do you take that threat seriously?


BLITZER: I'm speaking to people in Tel Aviv, asking them if they're worried about that threat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, we are worried, of course.

BLITZER: Does life go on for you?


BLITZER: What are you going to do about it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing. What can we do?

BLITZER: You're going to stay here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, of course. Where can I go? I don't have anywhere to go to.


BLITZER: And one final note before we go: I've been covering this Middle East story, now, for more than three decades this past week, here in the region, once again dramatically underscored the hatred and the violence.

I can't tell you I see any light at the end of the tunnel right now. More people, unfortunately, are going to die on both sides. The tragedy is that I know there are so many Israelis and so many Arabs who are genuinely ready and anxious for some sort of peace.

One common refrain I do hear from both sides of this conflict is that only the United States, only the United States can help make that happen.

And that's your "Late Edition" for this Sunday, July 30. Please stay tuned to CNN for continuing coverage of this crisis in the Middle East. And please be sure to join me next Sunday and every Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern for the last word in Sunday talk.

I'll be back in Washington tomorrow. Until then, thanks very much for joining us.


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