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THE SITUATION ROOM

Violent Turn in Egypt Protest; Gunfire, Explosions in Tahrir Square

Aired February 2, 2011 - 17:57   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news. The crisis in Egypt takes a violent and deadly turn as supporters of President Hosni Mubarak clash with demonstrators, demanding his ouster. Hundreds of people are injured.

Also, international journalists attacked, including CNN reporters and their crews. You're going to see what happened to them.

Plus, the man behind that controversial Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero in New York is here to weigh in on the unfolding drama in Egypt.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

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

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news, the latest developments, very disturbing developments in Egypt. Clashes between supporters and opponents of Hosni Mubarak have left at least three people dead and more than 600 injured. Many of them very seriously, with head injuries.

CNN reporters and crews on the ground throughout Cairo captured the bloody mayhem that broke out on this, the ninth day of protests demanding President Mubarak's immediate ouster.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is in the middle of all of this. He's joining us now on the phone.

Anderson, we're seeing live pictures coming in from outside the Cairo Museum there. You see the fires in the middle of the screen, Molotov cocktails being thrown out.

Set the scene for us, what you're seeing and hearing right now.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360" (via telephone): Well, the images you're seeing I believe are in front of or on the north side of the Egyptian Museum. It's one of the entrances to Tahrir Square, to Liberation Square, which has been held by anti- Mubarak protesters now for nine days. Now we're just about -- we're entering now the 10th day. It's after midnight here in Cairo.

The fires that are burning you see are vehicles that have been set alight. To the right of those fires there's a line of what looks like white material. Those are metal barricades that have been erected by the anti-Mubarak protesters who have set those barricades up, and they have slowly advanced.

They have retaken the entire street in front of the Egyptian Museum. This is where we have witnessed pitch battles all day, more than 11 hours now, between pro-Mubarak forces and anti-Mubarak forces who hold the Liberation Square. It clearly appears, at this point, that the pro-Mubarak forces have regained the upper hand. They've slowly gained control of the square, and now, they control the entire access route, the northern access route into that square. The numbers of pro-Mubarak forces has dropped dramatically now.

It looks almost like at least in the grouping here that the pact has been broken of the pro-Mubarak protesters. What is going to occur, though, tomorrow, that, of course, is a big question now. Clearly, this is a standoff which is going to continue all night. The anti-Mubarak forces are not going to be leaving the square. They have fought all day to hold onto it. And they are hardcore elements at this point that are holding onto the square.

But we still see very limit involvement by the Egyptian military. The question is, will that continue to be the situation tomorrow. No doubt, reinforcements from both sides will want to try to converge on the square. This very well could enter another day, Wolf.

BLITZER: Hold on a minute, Anderson. Hala Gorani is also watching what's going on. She's got a different vantage point. Hala, tell our viewer what you're seeing.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Well, the pro-Mubarak demonstrators have sort of it seems as though the anti-regime protesters were able to push them back, these pro-Mubarak agitators. Some of them seem to be truly intent on causing trouble today and attacking journalists or anybody who looks as though they may be a journalist entering the square. Right now, it is calmer. And the number of pro-Mubarak demonstrators has certainly dwindled. They are out of that crucial side street where many of these battles took place today.

They're now on an overpass overlooking these barricades that you see there on the left-hand side of your screen, these barricades behind which the anti-regime demonstrators have gathered. So, really, if you were to draw any conclusions from today, it is that the anti- regime demonstrators seem to have the upper ground. The big question, as you discussed there with Anderson is, what happens tomorrow if these demonstrators decide to clash again or if these pro-Mubarak demonstrators, whoever sent them.

By the way, there's a joke in the Middle East sometimes that there's the ministry of spontaneous demonstrations whenever the government wants sort of their side represented in demonstrations. Whoever sent them, and of course, the speculation is some of them might be sent by government agencies or they might be plain clothed officers. Even though, I believe some of the elements genuinely, potentially are pro-Mubarak or want stability back, as some of them told me.

But it is an irony, Wolf, that this is happening right outside of the Egyptian museum, some of the ugliest scenes in the protest, so far, right outside of the repository of the best of what this ancient civilization has to offer. I mean, you can't help but think that when you see this beautiful Egyptian museum that anybody who's been to Cairo has visited, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I think all of us who have been to Egypt over the years would never have imagined that this area right outside of the Egyptian museum would see such a violence and this kind of disturbance. Molotov cocktails being thrown. Anderson Cooper, standby. Hala Gorani, standby as well. I want our viewers to get a sense of what occurred on this very, very dramatic day.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Let me just set the scene for you right here. The Egyptian museum is behind me. That is now kind of ground zero for the confrontation between the pro-Mubarak forces and the anti-Mubarak forces.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It looks like building up some sort of massive clash whereby the anti- government demonstrators are concentrated in Tahrir Square. They are surrounded by thousands of pro-government forces. It's not a protest. It looks like it's going to be a lynch mob of massive proportions.

In Tahrir Square, it's a scene of panic. There's lots going on everywhere. Back and forth. The police aren't here. The army is doing nothing to stop it. Both sides are facing off here. This is the biggest clash we've seen yet between the two sides.

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Perhaps one of the saddest things about these clashes now taking place is that at the start of the day, both factions, both the opposition and the pro- regime supporters, who waving the same symbols of Egypt, Egyptian flags, where we saw hostility this morning erupting from the regime supporters. Anger where journalists like myself, other CNN crews were being attacked and chased through the streets.

GORANI: I'm a little bit shaken. I was just shoved out of the way there. This is just a completely surreal experience. OK. OK. I'm not -- I'm being told walk, walk. Don't stay. OK. OK. This is a little chaotic. I have someone helping me out here. This is the scene.

COOPER: But the flash point right now is right in front of the Egyptian museum, that's where I was just about 15 minutes ago. We were trying to make our way to kind of the no man's land between the two groups. We never got that far.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mubarak! COOPER: We've been hit now like ten times. The Egyptians soldiers -- the Egyptian soldiers are doing nothing.

(SPEAKING IN DIFFERENT LANGUAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, calm down! Calm down!

COOPER: It was pandemonium. There was really no control to it. Suddenly, a young man would come up, look at you, and then punch you right in the face. You know, the instinct is to try to punch back or push back, but in a situation like that, you really can't, because that just inflames the crowd all the more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please come to help us! This is crazy, man! This is crazy, man!

WATSON: What you're looking at right now is what appears to be the Egyptian military spraying water from hoses in front of the Egyptian museums at some of the scenes where flames erupted after the pro-regime combatants appeared to have thrown Molotov cocktails, petrol bombs at the anti-regime position and that appears to have been yet another one thrown.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Some of what our reporters on the scene saw earlier today. One of those reporters being Hala Gorani who's joining us on the phone.

We saw the look on your face, Hala, when you were in danger right now. Tell our viewers if you feel endangered right now at the location where you are.

GORANI: No, no. Right now, we are overlooking the square. We're all safe. We're all able, though, it's a good vantage point because we're all able to sort of have a bird's eye view of what's going on in Tahrir Square. And the pro-Mubarak side has definitely dwindled. We're just waiting to see what happens tomorrow. But, you know, as I watch what this unfolds, and of course, you'll remember, Wolf, the Tunisian protest that led to the ouster of President Ben Ali, and now these scenes today and these pro-Mubarak protesters who did nothing but breathe new life into an urgent issue, which is what do you do with this autocratic leadership?

Can Hosni Mubarak last, really, until September, as you said, that he would? It's just -- it's such a sea (ph) change in the region in the Arab world. It's really awe-inspiring to imagine just how historical these scenes today might end up becoming and what they might lead to in terms of the leadership of this country, the most populous country in the Arab world, and what impact it will have on others, Wolf.

BLITZER: It is amazing when you think about the history that's unfolding right now. Hala, I know you've been to Egypt many times. You see these fires now that have erupted. It looks like Molotov cocktails had been thrown. I don't know if you can see what our viewers are seeing now here live on CNN, but it looks like this one fire to the left of the screen, if the camera pans over, we could see it, there it goes. You can see that one fire is really getting apparently out of control. I don't know if you can see it. It looks like a tree that may be on fire outside the Egyptian museum.

GORANI: Yes, it does certainly look like that. It's getting bigger and bigger, and Molotov cocktails are being thrown. Both sides in fracture (ph) tossing these Molotov cocktails around. And the pro- Mubarak, pro-agitators have said it seems as though it's a tree on fire. And again, right outside of the Egyptian museum, which something that was literally unthinkable a few weeks ago. This is just, I think, more theater right now than actual clashing. This is something that is a little bit scary to look at, but we're not seeing actual physical contact between the two sides at this point, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Hala, standby. I want to get back to you in just a few moments. Anderson Cooper is standing by, Ivan Watson, all of our reporters there, eyewitnesses to this history that unfolding. I want to bring in Jack Cafferty. He's watching all this as well.

Jack, this is one of the stories all of us will always remember.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Just stunning. Our coverage is stunning. But the repetitive of which this happened and how quickly it became a violent situation after Mubarak played that taped statement yesterday, it's breathtaking how fast events have been moving. The Middle East beginning to look like one big game of dominos as the kings and unelected presidents and emirs watch what's going on in the streets of Cairo. They've got to be wondering if they're going to be next.

Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak's days are clearly numbered. It seems at this point highly unlikely he'll be able to make it through the rest of his term, the September, and be lucky to make the weekend. Mubarak would be following Tunisia's president out the door after similar popular street movements shoved him out of power. There is no doubt about it. Some sort of genie is out of the bottle. Yemen's president says he's not going to seek re-election when his term ends in 2013.

That's after three decades in office. He also says he won't turn power over to his son. Of course, he made that announcement ahead of a day of rage protests that scheduled for tomorrow. Thousands of people have already been demonstrating in Yemen in recent weeks. Over in Jordan, King Abdullah has sacked his government appointed a new prime minister in the face of protest. The king is now asking the new government to implement what he calls genuine political reform.

Funny how reform has suddenly become a priority in some of these countries after decades and decades of repressive governments. Meanwhile, demonstrators are also calling for change in Algeria and Sudan. And in Syria, there are protests planned for this week. Experts say these protests that are sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa are unprecedented and a watershed event for the Arab world. For now, Saudi Arabia and Libya seem secure, but it's safe to say there is a new day dawning.

Here's the question. What's next in the Middle East? Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile. Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: It is a new day, indeed. All right. Thanks very much, Jack. We'll get back to you.

The White House is using more urgency in its tone regarding Egypt. American officials are calling for change, and they want change now.

And we're just getting new information from inside the Egyptian government. We're covering all the angles of the breaking news in Egypt. Much more of the coverage coming up right here in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: You're looking at live pictures right outside the Egyptian museum in Cairo, near Tahrir or Liberation Square. The crowds are still there. The anti-Mubarak demonstrators, the pro- Mubarak demonstrators who have come in as well, well organized. They're throwing Molotov cocktails. That's why you see those fires right in the middle of your screen. This is a very, very volatile, dangerous situation that has unfolded right now. We're watching the breaking news very carefully.

There you see another Molotov cocktail that was just hurled and fire erupting. Six hundred people plus have already been injured, many of them seriously. Three confirmed dead.

Meanwhile, fresh shock waves from the crisis in Egypt are rippling across the Middle East right now, prompting other Arab governments to take action. Will it, though, be too little, too late?

CNN's Brian Todd is here. He's working this part of the story.

It's remarkable. I've covered the story for a long time. How fast this is all exploding and spreading throughout the region?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is remarkable, Wolf. We're going to give people a sense of that. First, it starts about a month and a half ago in Tunisia with these protests that drive President Ben Ali out of power. You know, that started on December 17th. Moved at a relative snail's pace compared to what we're seeing now in Egypt. He gets driven out of power by mid-January. That took about a month. Then, it spills over into Egypt. What we're seeing now is, of course, those events moving at a very rapid pace.

That enormous (ph) started only a little over a week ago, on January 25th. Still very sensitive, obviously, still very volatile, could continue in the coming days, so we're going to see how that progresses. Now, we're being told as you just went over with Jack, a so-called day of rage in Yemen, possibly in the coming hours on Thursday. We're getting reports that there will be protest in Jordan and Syria on Friday and Saturday. So, this is all moving very, very fast, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Yemen, for example, the president of Yemen has been around for forever, President Saleh. He says he's not going to seek re-election, quote, "re-election" in 2013. He says his son won't run for office. But a lot of folks there are not going to be satisfied with that, just as in Egypt they're not satisfied with President Mubarak saying he's not going to seek re-election in September.

TODD: That's right. And they've already been protesting in Yemen. We've seen it in the last few weeks. People are taking to the streets there, and you know, expressing their dissatisfaction with President Saleh. This is one of those images from Yemen in recent weeks. And again, as we're told, there's going to be a day of rage just in the coming hours. It's already almost Thursday there. As you mentioned, he is not going to run for re-election, but what happens if he steps -- when he steps down?

A key void there, Wolf, because as you know, al Qaeda and the Arabian Peninsula operates out of Yemen, one of the most dangerous branches of al Qaeda. This is the man to look out for. If President Saleh leaves, people like Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. born cleric who insights a lot of patriot in the region, who recruits people for al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, he and his comrades could step into some kind of a void. Not necessarily take leadership, obviously, but could create a lot of trouble if President Saleh, the strong man leaves, and there's a power vacuum in Yemen.

BLITZER: I can tell you, Brian, a senior American officials, they lose sleep at night worrying about Yemen precisely because of the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula base there. But they're also nervous right now about Jordan.

TODD: That's right. Jordan, where, as you mentioned, president -- excuse me, King Abdullah has just sacked his prime minister and hired another one. But again, very restive, young population. He and his family have ruled there since 1953. Along dynasty, he's a younger leader than Mubarak, than the Tunisian leader. He's more agile, trying to get ahead of this. It may be too little, too late, as you talked about that.

All eyes are going to also be on this man, President Bashar al- Assad of Syria. His family has ruled that country since 1970. Again, a younger man, maybe more savvy, but we're going to see how he reacts to protests in Syria. Traditionally, of course, they've crushed them.

BLITZER: And no country watching all of this as closely as Israel right there.

TODD: Look at the borders, they're all right there.

BLITZER: Israel's got a huge headache going on right now as a lot of other countries including the United States wondering and worrying what's happening. Brian, thanks for that explanation.

The White House sending its message to the embattled Egyptian president. Now, the Egyptians are trying to send their own message through one of our very own correspondents. She's joining us.

And look at this, this is a live picture from outside the Egyptian museum, in Cairo right now. Molotov cocktails were thrown in, and it looks not just like a tree is on fire, but it looks like the building, at least, one of the buildings out there is on fire right now. This is getting more dangerous, more ominous by the minute as we watch these live pictures come in. The anti-Mubarak demonstrators seem to have the upper hand right now, but those supporting the government of President Hosni Mubarak, they are there.

They started, according to our own correspondents, throwing these Molotov cocktails. They came in on buses, rather well armed with machetes and other light arms, if you will. Some of them in plain clothes, some of our reporters suggesting some of these demonstrators, so-called pro-government demonstrators may, in fact, be plain-clothed police officers in Egypt. But these are live pictures you're seeing right now as we watch this situation explode in Cairo. Those of us who have covered this story for a long time, I must say, are flabbergasted, amazed to see how rapidly the situation has unfolded in Egypt.

And as Brian Todd was just telling us how quickly what is happening in Egypt, earlier in Tunisia, is spreading throughout the entire Middle East with enormous, enormous ramifications for the entire world.

Jill Dougherty is watching all of this at the state department for us.

Jill, as we watch these fires seem to be getting more intense in near Tahrir Square, in Cairo, outside the Egyptian museum right now, state department officials, Obama administration officials, must be not only worried, but they must be wondering what's going on right now. Do they have any ability to influence events in Egypt?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they really don't. And I think, at this point, everybody realizes that they are essentially watching and waiting, seeing what's going on. And, you know, also, we have another development here and that is the Egyptians are bristling at the suggestion that President Obama, remember when President Obama suggested that President Mubarak not run for office again. They are bristling at that suggestion. In fact, the senior Egyptian official called and said that they have serious problems with what he called the spin coming out of the Obama administration, that that should happen.

He said that Mubarak didn't cave to Obama. That it was his decision, Mubarak's decision. He did it for the good of the Egyptian people, he said. And this official also went on to say that this transition shouldn't be rushed. The transition process should take its time. So, now, what you have at this point is a diametrically opposed view on the part of the Egyptians and this administration which is saying this transition should happen right now.

BLITZER: Jill, I understand you've been talking to Egyptian officials as well. And tell our viewers what they tried to do through you.

DOUGHERTY: Well, they did. What they're trying to get across the message is that the Obama administration didn't tell President Mubarak what to do. I mean, they would argue that it is President Mubarak who is concerned about the Egyptian people, who made his own determination. They don't want any implication that he was a patsy for President Obama. And also, what they're saying is this idea that things should be speeded up, that you're hearing from the Obama administration is not correct.

In fact, what they're saying is no transition can happen if there's, what they're calling, a vacuum of power. They think that is dangerous. So, they want to do it slowly at their time. They're not going to be pushed, they say, by President Obama or anybody else. But the Obama administration, Wolf, as everyone knows sees it completely differently. They say that Mubarak now quickly has to show something to the people of Egypt.

BLITZER: Jill, standby. Fred Pleitgen is on the scene for us.

Fred, we're looking at a fire. It looks like a structure near the Egyptian museum, near Tahrir Square. Tell our viewers what we know about this fire. We assume it started by a Molotov cocktail that was tossed in.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, you're absolutely right, Wolf. It was caused by several Molotov cocktail. We've been monitoring that scene as you've been taking this video of that fire that's been growing. This is on the edge of Tahrir Square. It's really right on the front line between the two sides, between the pro and the anti-Mubarak protesters. There aren't really very many pro-Mubarak protesters left here.

However, it seems as though some of the anti-Mubarak protesters seems to have thrown some Molotov cocktails off of the roof of that houses, which are now on fire, trying to keep those people on the overpass that you see in front of us there. And I guess, some of them just simply fell short. Now at the same time --

BLITZER: Let me interrupt for a moment, Fred. This building that's on fire right now, do we know what this building is?

PLEITGEN: I'm not sure what that building is, but it is one that was heavily contested throughout the day. And you're absolutely right. It's just across from the Egyptian museum, which, of course, is a very important building in itself. And if we can maybe short hand-down to the Egyptian museum, there's actually a little fire in front of that as well. We're also hearing now what might be gunshots again in the city.

That might be the army firing into the air again, but there's also a little fire in front of the Egyptian museum. Those, however, have not overcome this museum itself just yet, but this building was heavily guarded throughout the day because it seems to be something like a vantage point for the demonstrators. Of course, if you're up there and you're on the higher ground, then you can just lob those fire bombs down at the opposing side, Wolf.

BLITZER: And so, if we go back to that big fire just right across the street from the Egyptian museum right there, we see the demonstrators behind those shields who have gathered. If we can, over a little bit more, we'll see that fire at that building there. It looks like -- we're going to find out what exactly is that building is, but you can see, and every time you see a burst of flames, that's another Molotov cocktail that's been thrown out there. It looks, Fred, like there's no shortage of Molotov cocktails. These folks have come free well supplied.

PLEITGEN: Yes, yes. That's exactly what we were just talking about here as well. And you know what, we're seeing sort of cars arrive on the scene here. There's a big main road with an overpass going past here. The cars are stopping and the pro-Mubarak demonstrators are getting sort of resupplied of Molotov cocktails, probably of gasoline bottles and sort of cloth that you need to make these fire bombs because that's the one thing that they still have a lot of.

There's not that many (INAUDIBLE). There's not, unless you have many 200 to 300 or less, but there is no shortage of these fire bombs as you can see that main fire that you were just talking about seems to be growing and seems to be climbing up now. But, yes, cars keep stopping. Guys keep gathering around these cars and then building new fire bombs and then just lobbing them over there.

That right now seems to be the sort of weapon of choice of the pro-Mubarak demonstrators. The others who'd be anti-Mubarak demonstrators, you'll see those as well, Wolf, they sort of fortified the position here in front of us at the entrance of Tahrir Square. They set up the metal sheets, I guess, they are. And you can hear them pounding against the metal sheets. They've been doing that for the better part of the day.

And they're sort of just waiting now, throwing the occasional rock at the other side, throwing the occasional Molotov cocktail, but it's really a standoff here right now. It looks like there really aren't very many of these pro-Mubarak demonstrators left that could mount anything like a serious charge at those positions, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And if we could pan over to see that big fire across the street from the Egyptian museum, we can see that what could start off with just one or two or three Molotov cocktails could escalate dramatically into a major fire. There you see that building. It's really -- the blaze is continuing there. It doesn't look to me, Fred, like there a whole lot of firefighters on the scene, any equipment. No one is trying to put this fire out.

PLEITGEN: No.

BLITZER: Are they just missing in action right now? We know that police officers are not operating. We know the military is just sitting in tanks. Armored personal carriers, they're not doing anything. What about firefighters? PLEITGEN: Well, there isn't very much in the way of firefighters, Wolf. I haven't seen a single fire truck out here. There were some ambulances. So, the ambulance services seem to be working or seem to be allowed to go through this (INAUDIBLE). That would came here to put out a fire. This was a little earlier close to the Egyptian museum, sort of one of those water cannon trucks. Those were there earlier.

However, now with the street (ph) fire, there's not a fire truck in the vicinity. I don't hear any sirens going off. I don't hear anything that could be coming here. So, I mean, it looks like this building is going to burn, and it's probably going to burn out because there's not going to be any firefighters on the scene here, because quite frankly, it appears as though it would just be too dangerous for a fire truck there in between the front lines as these two sides are throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at each other, Wolf.

BLITZER: And just want viewers to know, Fred, you are right there. You're with our camera man or camera woman shooting these pictures. These are live pictures we're seeing from Cairo just across the street from the Egyptian museum on the outskirts of Tahrir Square, Liberation Square, where the demonstrators have been protesting now for these nine days or so. You're right there. you're seeing what's going on, is that right?

PLEITGEN: Yes, absolutely. I'm at a vantage point right here, as you said, with our camera woman, Claudia, who is taking the shots and has been for the better part of the night. And we actually have a very good overview of the situation. We've been seeing lying (ph) between the two sides that you will go back and forth, and it's been very interesting. It's quite an evolving situation. Right in the beginning, you have these melees where you had wild charges from either side and that sort of has gotten more entrenched.

The anti-Mubarak protesters have sort of been moving forward. They have been slowly retreating. Really a trench situation where before it was quite wild. I'm sure that in the program you've already had the pictures one of those wild camel and horse charges that were going on before here. I mean, that was sort of freaky situation. But now it's sort of died down a little. Now it's just this lobbing back and forth of these -- of these Molotov cocktails that's going on. And that, of course, is taking its toll on the houses around here, as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. I want you to stand by, Fred. Because only a few blocks away from you is our own Ivan Watson. He's got a different vantage point.

Ivan, we're seeing these building -- this building on fire, clearly. It looks like that fire is spreading, the Molotov cocktails being thrown in. I guess both sides are throwing them, but I think they were introduced by the pro-government, pro-Mubarak demonstrators who came in and were bussed in earlier in the day. It looks, though, like the anti-Mubarak, anti-government protesters right now seem to have the upper hand. But this is a dangerous, dangerous situation as these buildings -- these fires could spread. Ivan, tell our viewers where you are and what you're seeing.

IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Yes, Wolf, you're right. It is scary to think about if they're going to start torching buildings here, considering that we are holed up, basically barricaded in a building.

(CROSSTALK)

WATSON: ... where Fred is talking to you from. We're south of him on the opposite side of the Egyptian Museum, around which this battle has raged throughout in the day.

I'm looking at the south side of the Egyptian Museum right now, and I can see the smoke rising from that growing fire over there. And we did see earlier in the -- earlier in the afternoon, as the sun was setting for the first time, the pro-regime combatants hurling those petrol bombs. And it wasn't until sometime afterwards, perhaps an hour or two later, that I saw the opposition start to throw their own Molotov cocktails.

Now, I'll tell you where I'm located right now is in Tahrir Square, the scene of what have been days of anti-government peaceful demonstrations. Until today, until this battle erupted.

And you know, it has really been an incredible piece of human drama that has unfolded beneath us, with a constant stream of wounded people being brought from these front lines between these two roaring camps. People being treated on the sidewalks underneath the street lamps, now that night has fallen, by medics in lab coats.

We've seen teams of opposition protesters who've been hard at work digging up the asphalt here in Tahrir Square to pull out stones to use as ammunition in the ongoing battles that have gone throughout the day. We've seen women working, both digging up the stones and also treating some of the wounded people who have come out, and I estimate hundreds. Because there has been a constant stream, Wolf, of ambulances pouring in from the south end of the square from the direction of the U.S. embassy that have been taking away some of the more heavily wounded cases and casualties that we've seen throughout this incredibly violent and bloody street battle.

BLITZER: And we keep seeing more and more Molotov cocktails thrown in. There you see one, and the flames. Obviously, someone has made a conscientious decision to try to burn this building down.

As you say, Ivan, for days the demonstrators, thousands, hundreds of thousands of them, it was very peaceful. But today all of a sudden, it took a dramatic shift when pro-government, pro-Mubarak people were brought in and as you can see, with some weapons and some Molotov cocktails, and all of a sudden it became very violent.

The question is: who made that decision to allow the violence to erupt today? This was not an accident that there was violence today, Ivan. WATSON: I'm not really sure. I mean, Wolf, we were standing in the same place at this time Tuesday night after the so-called Million Man March when this square was flooded with peaceful protestors calling for the downfall of Hosni Mubarak after nearly 30 years in power. Many of these people were calling this a revolution.

I think Wednesday we saw the beginning of a counter revolution with the streets filled with very hostile, very aggressive, not all of them, but many of them very aggressive supporters of Hosni Mubarak, people who targeted journalists. They were angry. It was clear that many of them were spoiling for a fight.

And they chased us, our crew through the streets where we had to run for cover here in Tahrir Square, and ran smack dab into this street battle as it was just beginning to erupt. Very tense moments there as we ran for cover and then eventually managed to squeeze into this building where we have taken shelter ever since then with a number of other foreign journalists.

BLITZER: Are you feeling -- are you feeling -- are you feeling fairly -- Ivan, are you feeling, you and your colleagues, fairly secure in that building where you are right now? Because we know you were endangered earlier in the day by pro-Mubarak demonstrators. And Anderson Cooper was attacked. Hala Gorani and her team were attacked. Are you feeling fairly secure right now? Or how insecure is the situation?

WATSON: I think the uncertainty is on what will come next. And the sad irony is that the government turned on the Internet again Wednesday after shutting it down for days. And now the Egyptian twittersphere and social networking and text messaging on phones is putting rumors and fears that another assault on Tahrir Square will come on on Thursday.

And if a building is already burning here, I don't even want to think about what could ensue if that, in fact, was to take place here. What we are seeing on this side of the barricades, and I'm in opposition-controlled territory, about a square mile of it in the heart of the city, is that the opposition have been barricading themselves. They've been preparing for what seems like a siege, preparing for more fighting, even though some of the people have been able -- are now sleeping in the grass here in the square, warming themselves around campfires.

Many of the men I'm seeing walking around are walking wounded. They have bandages on their head, Wolf. They have slings on their arms. But they have also been saying that they will not leave without a fight. Some saying they will die here.

And there's been a man speaking on a loud speaker at one end of the square, saying, "We refuse to negotiate with the Mubarak government. We refuse to deal with people who have business with Israelis," calling anybody who does that a traitor. That's just to give you a sense of the atmosphere here inside Tahrir Square behind the barricades. BLITZER: And those flames continue at that building right across the street from the Egyptian Museum, which houses some of the most precious antiquities and artifacts in the world right now. Those are Molotov cocktails continuing to be hurled in Egypt and Cairo right now.

Ivan, stand by. We're going to check in with all of our reporters. We'll take another quick break. Our special coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM will continue after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: These are live pictures. You can see the Molotov cocktails were hurled near Tahrir Square. This is right in the outskirts of Liberation Square, as it's called, near the Egyptian Museum. You see the protesters there.

It's 1:40 a.m. It's the middle of the night in Cairo, already Thursday morning there. We're watching what's going on closely. We'll get back to those live pictures in a moment.

The White House certainly following all the breaking news in Egypt right now. There's a lot more urgency today than even yesterday to what's going on. Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is joining us now.

What are officials there saying right now, Dan?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, officials here at the White House are concerned about all the violence that's played out on television today. There's a lot of uncertainty, as well, as to how this will all end. President Obama, upon viewing those dramatic images, called them outrageous and deplorable.

Nonetheless, as you pointed out, they are turning up the heat, calling for restraint and for a transition to happen now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice-over): The message from the White House to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been loud and clear.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: An orderly transition must be meaningful. It must be peaceful, and it must begin now.

LOTHIAN: But with President Mubarak showing no signs of stepping down before next fall, the message is also a bit murky.

(on camera) How do you define now? Because "now" means today not September?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, no, "now" means yesterday. Because when we said "now," we meant yesterday.

LOTHIAN: It means now? GIBBS: What the people of Egypt want to see is not some process that starts a week, a month, or several months from now.

LOTHIAN: So you're not satisfied with September?

GIBBS: If you're asking me if now is September, it is unseasonably warm, but it is not September.

LOTHIAN: So is the White House then satisfied with Mubarak in power until September?

GIBBS: Again, I am not going to -- I'm not going to get into all the details of what they discussed. The conversation was Frank, and the transition must begin now.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): That was Robert Gibbs doing a diplomatic dance, since the White House won't publicly call for President Mubarak to step down now.

But Republican Senator John McCain, after a meeting at the White House with President Obama on foreign policy and domestic issues, tweeted, "Regrettably, the time has come for President Mubarak to step down and relinquish power. It's in the best interests of Egypt, its people, and its military."

The violence on the streets is adding new urgency as a high-level dialogue continues between the U.S. and Egyptian government officials.

DAN KURTZER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO EGYPT: The administration, I think, is finding its way and trying to send the right messages publicly, as I am sure they're conducting a more intensive private dialogue. At the end of the day, I think Mubarak will listen to what the administration has to say privately.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Now, the Obama administration's special envoy to Egypt, Frank Wisner, is on his way back. A senior State Department official telling my colleague, Jill Dougherty, that the mission went, quote, "as far as it could" and indicated that the U.S. had not gotten everything that it wanted from the mission -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House. And you see on the left part of the screen, there are live pictures. The Molotov cocktails continue to be thrown right now. It's 1:43 a.m. in Cairo, but there's no letup. Molotov cocktails being thrown all the time right now. One of the major buildings right near the Egyptian Museum on fire. We saw that just moments ago. We'll pan over. We'll see it again as we do.

Let's get some more now on the crisis in Egypt and today's violent new developments. Kelli Arena is a former CNN correspondent who's been in and out of Egypt for the past year, working as a communication strategist with a coalition of people representing political parties, civil society, young people, youth movements. She's trained women in Egypt right now. You saw this coming, Kelli. You were just there. Tell our viewers why this exploded right now the way it has.

KELLI ARENA, FORMER CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the youth there have been very upset and frustrated for years. They can't get jobs. They get educations. They can't find well paying jobs. They are -- they are -- they have only known one president, President Mubarak, for their entire lifetime.

They were really geared up for this past November's election and really hoping that they could institute some change by voting. And as you know, those elections were closed to outside monitors. There were allegations of fraud and corruption. Many reports came in that these young people tried to vote. The polling places were closed, and they were angry.

They saw what happened in Tunisia. That -- that gave them some hope. And so they -- and then they picked January 25, which is a day in Egypt which is a national police day, a good target. Most people in Egypt are not fans of the police, and so it was a good day for them to mobilize.

Right now, though, they're -- they're very frustrated because they feel that their voice is not being heard. You're hearing from opposition voices, like the Muslim Brotherhood, people who were not part of this original movement. I mean, it was a youth movement after all.

And so the whole purpose of this, they feel, has been co-opted. And it's largely because there's no one who's speaking for them.

BLITZER: And it's amazing how important the social networks, whether the Facebook or Twitter. All of this played such a significant role.

ARENA: Well, you cannot gather and rally in Egypt. You cannot hand out political fliers on college campuses. There is no other way for the youth to mobilize, except through social media. And so they used it, and they expanded their networks over the years.

This didn't happen overnight, Wolf. These groups were mobilizing and getting ready for this, and figuring out ways to strategize and communicate and ally and work together as a coalition to try to bring change.

BLITZER: And we'll see what happens. All right, Kelli. Thanks very much. Kelli Arena, just back from Egypt. She's been going in and out for the past year. Good to have you back here.

Kelli is working this story like all of us.

These are live pictures you're seeing from Cairo right now. Gunfire, explosions, Molotov cocktails. The violence escalating today. More than 600 people injured, many of them very seriously with head injuries. We heard Arwa Damon report from one of the hospitals there. It's a crisis. It's an emergency going on. And three people, at least three people officially reported by the government as dead.

Jack Cafferty is asking, "What's next for the Middle East?" He's back in a moment with "The Cafferty File." And our live coverage will continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: This was just a little while ago. Look at this. This is a building right near Tahrir Square across the street from the Egyptian Museum, which houses some of the most important artifacts, antiquities in the world. Molotov cocktails have been hurled left and right throughout the night. We're watching all of this unfold.

We're going to go back live to Cairo in a moment. But let's check in with Jack right now. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: It's historic stuff and a little scary. The question this hour that we asked is "What's next for the Middle East?" Because there are a bunch of other countries that undoubtedly are watching a lot of this and wondering what the future holds for them.

Mark in Arkansas writes -- pardon me -- "Don't worry about what's next in the Middle East. Worry about what's next in America. The riots in the Middle East are economic related. They're driven by high unemployment, economic disaster and a government that doesn't do its job. Sound familiar? I'm sure Greece, France and Ireland understand perfectly well what's happening in Egypt."

Dave in Vancouver writes, "What's next for the Middle East is playing catch-up on nearly a thousand years of human rights history, from Britain's Magna Carta in 1215 until a desperate Tunisian set himself on fire last month. It's -- in a 'let's get it done by breakfast' world, already precariously balanced, this is not a task for the fainthearted."

Dee in Pennsylvania: "I think we can expect to see more people taking to the streets in other Middle Eastern countries, seeking change. It's like a fever that sweeps over an area, and everybody catches it. What's next for us is higher oil prices."

Nick in San Diego: "If we side for the people for democratic reform in that whole region, tell Israel to get serious concerning the Palestinians or the money stops now, we'll be OK. If not, brace ourselves for more 9/11s."

Lou in Iowa writes, "What's next is we finally see if democracy is really all we've been building it up to be."

And Carla says this, "More of the same. The Middle East has been a hot bed of unrest since God was a little boy. It's not going to change. Our interference will only result in more Americans being sent home in pine boxes and a bigger hole in our budget. It's none of our business. I doubt seriously the Egyptians are asking what's next for Chicago or Des Moines."

If you want to read more on this, you find it on my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

BLITZER: The whole region is in turmoil right now, I think it's fair to say. All right, Jack, thanks very much.

Gunfire, firebombs, Molotov cocktails right in the heart of Cairo, we've been watching it live here on CNN. Can supporters and foes of the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, though, find any common ground? "JOHN KING USA" will explore the explosion of violence in one of the most critical allies that the United States has in the Middle East. That's coming up right at the top the hour.

And another massive winter storm is also bearing down in the northeastern part of the United States right now, leaving drivers going absolutely nowhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Get back to the breaking news out of Egypt in a moment, but thunder -- thunder snow, fire breathing snowman and roofs falling in pieces in seconds. CNN's Jeanne Moos has this "Most Unusual" monster of a blizzard in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Having to abandon your car on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago is bad, but not as bad as having your car's nose rubbed in the snow. There were accidents like this one in Salem, New Hampshire, and roof collapses.

But as some things went down, others went up and up and up. This 35-foot snowman in Champion, New York, has a snow cone for a nose and a swimming pool for a top hat.

(on camera) It's enough to give Frosty button envy.

(voice-over) These buttons were made out of racing tires.

IReporters have sent in Packers and Steelers helmets in Wisconsin, a snow squirrel in New Jersey, a giraffe in Staten Island, and our personal favorite. Nick and Anna Burton (ph) of Bel Air, Maryland, call their creation...

NICK BURTON (PH), BUILT SNOWZILLA: Snowzilla.

MOOS: Godzilla out of snow. The fiery breath is supplied by a flame flower made out of carburetor cleaner and a butane lighter.

BURTON: The flame actually ignites a little bit past the snow so it doesn't melt it that much.

MOOS (on camera): Now if there's a buzzword coming out of this latest mega storm it's...

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, CBS'S "LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Thunder snow. It's -- it's God's first new work in 500 years. It's thunder snow. MOOS (voice-over): Thunder during snow. Is a weatherman's snow fantasy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, Jesus. Listen to that! Son of a...

MOOS: Weathermen get dumped on by comedians during snowstorms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that spells that nasty four-letter word, ice.

MOOS: CNN's own Ed Lavandera got the Jimmy Kimmel treatment.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sorry. Somebody got to be careful. As these cars drive by, want to make sure they don't lose control or anything like that. But...

MOOS: From sliding dogs. To a joker who thought it would be funny to go shirtless in Chicago, how you view the snow can help you weather it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You live up to north you have to expect weather like this on occasion. So, you know, got to grin and bear it. It's kind of a fun challenge, don't you think?

REGIS PHILBIN, CO-HOST, ABC'S "LIVE WITH REGIS AND KELLY": I love those glasses.

KELLY RIPA, CO-HOST, ABC'S "LIVE WITH REGIS AND KELLY": She has four inches of snow on her glasses.

MOOS: And a 100 percent chance of near zero visibility.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my goodness.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Holy smoke.

MOOS: ... New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And, of course, fortunately Ed Lavandera, he really didn't get hit. That was just Jimmy Kimmel having some fun with our own Ed Lavandera.

Remember, you can always follow what's going on behind the scenes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm -- I'm on Twitter, @WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

We're also on Facebook. Go to Facebook.com/CNNSituationRoom to become a fan.

That's all the time we have right now. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. For our international viewers, "WORLD REPORT" is next. For everyone else, "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.