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YOUR WORLD TODAY

Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman: Operation Will Take 'As Long As It Takes'; Israeli Soldiers Encounter Fierce Resistance on the Ground From Hezbollah Fighters; Tony Snow Briefs Press

Aired July 20, 2006 - 12:05   ET

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


RICHARD ROTH, CNN SR. U.N. CORRESPONDENT: That's Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman speaking live outside the U.N. Security Council following a briefing by an angry U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, angry at a lot of people and a lot of sides, condemning Hezbollah for starting this, condemning Israel for over-aggression in Lebanon, condemning Hezbollah for holding Lebanon hostage, criticizing Israel strongly for its actions, pinning down the United Nations observer mission there, and causing many humanitarian casualties. He says right now 500,000 people are affected.
Israel's ambassador saying it will "take as long as it will take," defining Israel's operations. And he was upset that Secretary- General Annan's remarks did not include the words "terror," "Syria" or "Iran," who he says are at the root of the problems, a "cancer". Again, he used that word to describe Hezbollah there in southern Lebanon.

Annan, Michael, also describing that the current U.N. negotiating team that traveled around the region sees serious obstacle right now to diplomacy succeeding. Annan wants a Security Council resolution and a series in steps of sequence as a possible solution. But based on what we heard from Israel's ambassador, it may be a little premature for that, before that is considered. And earlier, John Bolton said, how can you negotiate with terrorists or have any type of cease-fire?

Back to you.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Yes, Richard, that's the key. I mean, Kofi Annan outlining a series of definite steps that he would like to see taken, and speaking of the urgent need on a humanitarian level, in particular, to get something done, to have a strong statement from the U.S. Security Council.

Then we hear John Bolton say, how do you conduct a cease-fire with a group of terrorists?

We hear Dan Gillerman describing Hezbollah as ruthless, indiscriminate animals, and basically saying, we're going to continue until it's done.

So, realistically, all the talk is just talk.

ROTH: That's right. So far. Anger will grow here at the U.N., not just in the Arab community, but other nations if attacks continue in Lebanon.

Hezbollah was asked to disarm, told to disarm by the Security Council a couple of years ago, but no mechanism was really put in place with a weak Lebanese government. Annan proposed several elements to go ahead for the Israeli abducted soldiers to be turned over to legitimate Lebanese authorities under the auspices of the International Red Cross, with a view to repatriation to Israel and a cease-fire, and then an expanded international peace-keeping force, which Annan has proposed and members of the G-8 for them to go into work with the Lebanese government to get control of southern Lebanon. And then to have a follow-on international conference to make sure all of this succeeds, more funding for Lebanon.

We're probably very early before any of this happens.

HOLMES: Yes. And also, Richard, something we talked about before is worth raising again. Around the corridors there, is there any sense, and particularly following what we've just seen and heard, is there any sense the U.S. is going to find itself at odds with its own allies? I'm thinking particularly in Europe.

It's backing Israel all the way, essentially sitting on its hands. And they're probably going to ignore what Kofi Annan is calling for, at least for now.

How is that likely to perhaps impact their relationship, the U.S. relationship, with their own allies?

ROTH: We talked about that earlier, and I said there was an public anger right now with the U.S. here. I think the U.S. will need these allies as it moves ahead currently on an Iran resolution.

France has come up with these ideas about solving this which Bolton says is simplistic. Will France and Britain and others put the U.S. to a test with a resolution, incurring a possible U.S. veto? I think it's too early to say right now.

And if Secretary Rice goes overseas, it still may buy the United States more time here. It may depend on what happens on the ground. But they're not rushing in right now to challenge Washington, in their view, currently inside the Security Council to a showdown.

HOLMES: Interesting days ahead both in the Middle East and in New York, where we find our Richard Roth at the U.N. Security Council.

Thanks so much, Richard, for all of that and the analysis.

We're going to take you now -- live pictures coming from Lebanon, the city of Tyre. Some sort of explosion occurring there.

We're trying to get details on this. Occurring there just really minutes ago. And you can see there a large blaze continuing on there in Tyre in Lebanon.

And let's stay in Lebanon. That's where we find our own Becky Anderson reporting to us now live. Becky, take it over from here for a moment.

BECKY ANDERSON, CORRESPONDENT: Thank you very much, indeed. And welcome to our ongoing coverage of the crisis in the Middle East.

The head of the Israeli defense forces has warned his troops that they may be in for a very long, very protracted battle with Hezbollah. In his words, he says, "until security is restored to Israel."

These are the latest developments.

In another day of heavy fighting, Israeli special forces directly engaged Hezbollah fighters inside southern Lebanon. Hezbollah destroyed an Israeli tank, wounding three soldiers.

Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz toured northern Israeli towns battled by rocket fire. Peretz said Israel had no intention of occupying Lebanon, but he said that the military would launch a full- scale ground offensive if that were necessary.

Meanwhile, civilians from all over the world are scrambling to get out of Lebanon. The Red Cross says 500,000 people are now on the move, hinting at an impending humanitarian disaster.

In the Israeli Arab town of Nazareth a grieving father is blaming the Israeli prime minister for the deaths of his two children. A Hezbollah rocket attack killed the children aged 3 and 9 on Wednesday.

And on the diplomatic front, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan later in the day to discuss efforts to resolve the crisis -- Michael.

HOLMES: Becky, I've got to ask you this. You mentioned there Kofi Annan's report, a widely quoted figure now of half a million people on the move or under siege in Lebanon. This -- we've got to remember, this is a country of just four million people. It's a massive percentage.

You came in yesterday. You crossed over that border. Fifty thousand people went into Syria, apparently, in the last 24 hours. What did you -- what did you experience coming across? Give us a sense of the first person.

ANDERSON: Yes. All right. We came in from Amman, and we went from Jordan into Syria, and in Syria here into Lebanon. And it was utter chaos, let me tell you, at the border with Syria. And these are the facts, effectively.

At that border -- and that that was one of three border crossings -- only two are still open. But at that border crossing, it's not the busiest one, by any stretch of the imagination. On a daily basis, there are about 1,500 people coming through that border each way.

Obviously, at this point, most people are going from Lebanon to Syria. And the guards at the border told me that some 30,000 people a day are now moving through that border. That is 20 times the amount of people who would normally be moving through.

So you can imagine the chaos. Fifty percent of those coming through pretty much Lebanese, but many, many other nationalities.

They were getting there by bus, by taxi. They were walking. They were getting there whichever way they could effectively to get out of the country.

Now, the other border crossing that's closed is on a road which is effectively unusable at the moment. Lots of concerns that that road will be bombed if you go down it by the Israelis.

So, a very, very difficult situation. As I say, absolutely utter chaos -- Michael.

HOLMES: Extraordinary scenes, I'm sure. Becky, we'll be back to you in just a moment.

But let's go now to the border region between Israel and Lebanon. Israeli soldiers again crossing into southern Lebanon. They have encountered fierce resistance from Hezbollah fighters. There have been developments.

Paula Newton joins us now live near the border between Israel and Lebanon.

What can you bring us, Paula?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we just got back from the front line right now, and it really was a firefight. It's been going on for hours, since 7:00 this morning.

We're waiting an update from northern command. But what we can tell you is that the Israeli soldiers had suffered about three casualties up until mid morning, but I'm told now that there could be as many as six or seven casualties. And they're unwilling to say exactly how many of them are serious casualties.

At this point, what happened there on the ground is there were mortar shells coming in. Hezbollah used an anti-tank missile as well. They hit a tank and an armored bulldozer, as well as continuing to shoot those mortars.

And where these soldiers were injured, where a couple of them were injured, on the tank. But then besides that, they did come under heavy machine gun fire. So it is possible that some of these injuries are serious.

What has happened here, Michael, is that the minute that they've gone in the last couple days with these special forces into Lebanon, Hezbollah has taken them on. Now, according to the IDF, the Israeli defense forces, they claim to have disbursed six terrorist cells.

They wouldn't tell me how many. They can only confirm that they killed one Hezbollah fighter, and they do not know what happened to the rest. They will continue, they say, to confront Hezbollah on that border where they are conducting those border operations. What they're doing, trying to find those missiles, those rockets, the launchers, and cleanse that border, if you will, of those Hezbollah positions -- Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Paula. We'll leave it there. Keep updating us if you hear anything new.

All right.

The Lebanese finance minister -- Becky, let's go to you.

ANDERSON: All right.

Yes, and I was just about -- thanks, Mike.

Coming up next here on CNN, I'll be joined by the Lebanese finance minister to talk about the huge impact on this country of this ongoing crisis.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANDERSON: Welcome back to ongoing coverage of the crisis in the Middle East.

I'm Becky Anderson in Beirut.

Now, as the government here says, it is almost impossible to assess the damage to this country and the impact on its economy. The prime minister has said this country has been torn to shreds by this ongoing crisis.

But what is the real economic impact to date, and what happens going forward? How long does this last, of course, is the big question. Without knowing that, it will be difficult to assess what happens next.

But we're joined now by the Lebanese finance minister, Jihad Azour, and he joins me now to perhaps answer just some of those questions.

Firstly, just give us a sense of the impact of the economy at this stage.

JIHAD AZOUR, LEBANESE FINANCE MINISTER: Well, the impact is huge. There is destruction of infrastructure, houses, even factories, mill factories, basic -- basic goods.

The biggest impact is the impact on the economic activity. Lebanon was expected to have at least six percent growth. The economy was booming, we were on a takeoff. Lebanon was back as a regional (ph), financial and economic center.

And in one week's time we see all of this destruction. In addition, there is a lot of lost opportunities and need to do reconstruction for all of the suffering and the destruction we got in the last week.

ANDERSON: Lebanon was effectively looking at six percent growth this year and had a balance of payments surplus. It was looking at low interest rates and it had good foreign exchange.

At this stage, Minister, is Lebanon closed for business?

AZOUR: No, it's not. There is -- the community is still working, the banking center is still operating. Even government agencies are operating.

We're able to operate the various ministries, the Ministry of Finance is providing support to all government agencies in charge of relief, as well as other ministries. The banking system, as I said, is working, the central bank is working, and the financial situation is stable.

ANDERSON: The problem though, surely, sir, must be this: that so many people, if they -- even if they do want to go to work can't get to work. Many of them are displaced at this point. You've got 500,000 displaced in this country.

Even those in Beirut living in middle class environments which haven't been bombed, aren't able to go to work because their businesses aren't effective, are they?

AZOUR: Of course. There is a lot of disruption in the economic activity. But what we are trying to do is to have at last the minimum to make the various institutions working.

The Lebanese have this ability to overcome problems, and even to work during a very tough period. Of course what we are enduring is very tough. It's very tough on our society.

We have a lot of casualties. The whole population is under stress, because, as you said, 500,000. It's even 20 percent of the population is on the street. It's very difficult for us as government agencies to provide support to all of these agencies in charge of relief, as well as also for the private sector to operate.

ANDERSON: There are those who are saying that the government here is unwilling or unable to act against Hezbollah. What do you say?

AZOUR: No. In fact, I think the situation is the reverse. Lebanon is now -- is now being destroyed.

There's 250 killed people, more than 1,000 injured people, 500,000 people on the street. I think it's unbalanced between what happened and the reaction. It's not the truth.

ANDERSON: OK. We're going to have to leave it there, Finance Minister. We thank you very much indeed for joining us.

The Lebanese finance minister talking there about the situation here in Lebanon, not just in Beirut. But if you can see just over my shoulder, you'll see that there are some cars on what is a three or four-lane highway. That would normally be absolutely packed at this time of the day. Things have pretty much ground to a halt here, although people are certainly moving around just a little bit.

Well, we have been hearing about the ongoing bombing by the Israelis of facilities here in Lebanon, in the south, of course, and, indeed, around Beirut at the international airport. Of course that continues, and indeed at the broadcast center, Al Manar.

Also, we heard last night of a bombing in the south of Beirut once again.

And Alessio Vinci now joins me. He's been out to that site.

Alessio, talk by the Israelis that they had bombed effectively a bunker which housed Hezbollah fighters and facilities for Hezbollah. Hezbollah themselves say that this was a mosque.

What is the truth?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, very difficult to establish the truth, of course, at this time of war. But it certainly looked like a building under construction.

It did look like they were building a mosque. They had a sign up there in Arabic that said they were building a mosque. The entrance had those arches that clearly marked a religious site, but it was a building under construction.

It did have a large underground bunker. So, you know, it's difficult to say. But clearly, it could be used for both, but clearly I think it was a mosque.

ANDERSON: Just behind you here, of course, is south Beirut. And that is the area that you went into just earlier on today. I know Ben Wedeman, one of our colleagues, was in last night just after we heard that explosion.

What did you find there?

VINCI: Well, that's exactly what happened last night, is that he couldn't get there because the Hezbollah militia was actually controlling that part of town. It is off limits to police, to Lebanese army. No one can get there unless you have permission from Hezbollah.

And he actually did not manage to get as far as the building that had been struck. So that may suggest, perhaps, that there was something sensitive there.

And, of course, we also have to understand that because that area is controlled by Hezbollah, we don't know, really, if indeed that's the site that was targeted by the Israelis, if we're talking about the same site. These are all things that have to be taken into consideration when you cover this story.

ANDERSON: Remind our viewers that we hear here in Beirut the sound of drones on a regular basis. We heard this explosion at about 8:30 local time last night. We heard more explosions at dawn this morning. We don't know, do we, a lot about what is going on in these southern suburbs?

VINCI: I think we know nothing, honestly. I think what happens is that you have the Israelis pounding a certain area, and then to the drones, through an electronic monitoring, they perhaps try to intercept telephone calls, and eventually try to pinpoint again where the traffic is going, where the phone traffic is going, perhaps suggesting that there is a high concentration of Hezbollah sympathizers.

Very important to note, Becky, that in certain areas of town, it's totally evacuated. There are only very few people left. And those people are Hezbollah sympathizers.

People have told me today that if need be they would go out and fight. So, you have to understand that on that -- in that part of town, the line between the civilian area and the front line, if you want, are really blurred.

ANDERSON: Not everybody, though, Alessio, wants to go out to fight.

We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us.

Alessio Vinci there with a description of just one site where the Israelis confirmed they dropped a 23-pound bomb last night. They say it was the headquarters, or certainly part of a facility, for Hezbollah. Hezbollah say that that was a mosque.

As I say, not everybody, though, determined to fight. Many, many people trying to leave Beirut at this point.

When we come back, more on the exodus from this, Lebanon's main city.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone, to YOUR WORLD TODAY.

I'm Michael Holmes.

For the first time in 22 years, U.S. Marines are back on Lebanese soil. They landed in Beirut to help Americans evacuate. They are ferrying hundreds of people to a warship that is bound for Cyprus.

This evacuation of foreign nationals from Lebanon finally gaining some momentum. It is estimated that more than 50,000 foreigners are waiting to be rescued.

Eight thousand French citizens -- that's out of 20,000 in Lebanon -- want to be pulled out. And of an estimated 22,000 British nationals in the country, about 5,000 have asked to be moved.

All right. Let's take it back now to Beirut, where we find out Becky Anderson -- Becky.

ANDERSON: Yes. Thanks very much indeed, Michael.

Many Lebanese are facing a very, very difficult decision at this point. Stay put in Lebanon and face what could be more and more and more bombardment. Many fears that once many of the expats, those who aren't nationals, have gone out of here and been evacuated, that there could be more bombardment to come. So that's one decision.

The other decision, of course, is to get out themselves. We're talking about the nationals here. And if they're looking to move themselves, they are facing quite serious concerns how they are doing that.

A lot of difficulties on the roads getting out of Lebanon, particularly getting out of Beirut. It is extremely dangerous.

Our Hala Gorani is on the Syrian-Lebanese border, where many people are headed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm really right at the border. Right above my shoulder is Lebanon right there. And as far as the eye can see, cars, vans, buses, open-air trucks with people cramming themselves inside.

A family of 12 I saw earlier. I'm going to step out of the way there. A family of 12 I saw earlier that had belongings that they hope will last them for the next few days.

The big question now is, if all of these individuals who are here feel that they need to stay in Syria, and if they feel that the conflict in their homeland just makes it impossible for them to go back, the question is, will this become a longer-term refugee crisis? Right now we're told that officials and the infrastructure here is able to absorb them.

I'm going to get back into the frame so I can take you and show you a bit around.

But the question is, of course, in the next few days and in the next few weeks what happens.

OK, here you have, of course, a traffic jam with cars. But let me show you here, this is where individuals are asked to fill out a little card, then they're given the phone number of a host family, a Syrian host family, that has said that they're willing to take refugees in. You see here lines of people waiting for those formalities of filling out the card, getting their passport stamp to happen so that they can go to Syria where they feel safer.

And on the walls and the doors of this administrative office right here, you see families put up phone numbers. So families that have been separated, essentially. So you have family names and the phone number, telling family members who may come out now and hoping to rejoin those family members that are already inside of Syria -- how to get in touch. And you see emergency numbers for embassies, the Venezuelan embassy, the Kuwaiti embassy, the Saudi embassy, as well. So this is a very chaotic scene where you have people just scrambling to get and telling harrowing stories of what they saw.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON: That the evacuation on the border, for mainly nationals, some 50 percent Lebanese but many, many other people trying to leave by road. The mass evacuations by sea and by air have also started. The U.S. says that by the end of today, there will be something like 3,000 who have left the port here in Beirut, and headed for Cyprus, where we find Chris Burns -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Becky, the first of seven ships having arrived here just over my shoulder in this port, seven ships overnight that are going to be bringing thousands of people here, thousands more evacuees. We'll have more details for you after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: All right. Welcome back, everyone, to YOUR WORLD TODAY. Along with Becky Anderson, I'm Michael Holmes.

Now, the United Nations, to update you now, says at least half a million people been forced from their homes in Lebanon, a country with a population of only four million. On the Syrian border, as many as 50,000 passed through one crossing point Thursday alone, a massive exodus. Foreigners also fleeing Lebanon, many of them from boat. Hundreds of people leaving the border of Tyre in a ship under U.N. protection.

Meanwhile, Israeli war planes continue to pound targets in Lebanon, including what is being described as a Hezbollah bunker in southern Beirut. Hezbollah says none of its leaders were at the site at the time. Lebanon says 70 people, almost of all of them civilians, were killed in Wednesday's fighting, making it the deadliest day since the violence began. Israeli troops, meanwhile, meeting fierce resistance from Hezbollah guerrillas during an incursion into southern Lebanon. Three Israeli soldiers reportedly wounded.

Meanwhile, the U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities to prevent the loss of lives, to allow humanitarian access to those in need, and, he said, to give diplomacy a chance. Annan briefed the Security Council earlier. He condemned Hezbollah's actions. He also said Israel's actions have torn Lebanon to shreds.

All right. Let's go back to Lebanon; Beirut, in fact. There we find Becky Anderson -- Becky.

ANDERSON: That's right, Michael. Thank you very much indeed. Welcome back to our ongoing coverage of the crisis in the Middle East. Now, it is nine days since Hezbollah fighters captured those two Israeli soldiers, triggering an Israeli campaign and tit for tat rocket attacks from Hezbollah. The Israelis say that they have hit more than a thousand targets. In turn, they say that Hezbollah has fired more than a thousand rockets.

Well, in all of this, of course, people trying to leave the country, finding it extremely difficult, by any route they can. A lot of complaints in the past 48 hours about just how efficient the evacuation process has been from Beirut, the capital city here in Lebanon. Now, the massive evacuations have begun to pick up pace.

Many people on their way by ship or by warship to Larnaca in Cyprus. That is where we find Chris Burns.

Chris, just give us a sense now of the scale, the volume, of incoming people out of Beirut into Cyprus at this point.

BURNS: Becky, we can give you an idea of this massive sea lift. Over my shoulder is one of two Greek Navy ships that just arrived. It is supposed to be between the two ships there. They're supposed to be holding several hundred, perhaps 800, people, mostly Greek. But other nationalities managed to climb aboard, as well, mainly European or American.

And we can pan over here now, also, to this ship. It says "Lane Lines" (ph) on it. It's actually a Greek ship, the Yeti Petra (ph). And that is what the French government has been commissioned to bring people over. So far, it's made two trips, brought about 2,000 people over, mostly French. But then, of course, also Europeans and other nationalities.

And this gives you an idea of really how big this port is, too. It's not really big, and it's sort of an assembly line process, where two or three ships will come in a couple of hours. They just gorged their -- the people on them, they're put on buses. The buses are brought over to a center over here, where they are processed and either put on planes or they're put in places -- hotels or other areas where they can stay. In fact, the Americans commissioned a large fairgrounds area where they can put hundreds of people in there if they have to, as they wait for planes to take them off.

We also have pictures of you -- for you -- of some of the Canadians who have arrived. There's a large Canadian population in Lebanon, some 25,000 or so. That is a very large population. Thousands are them are making their way over here.

We have some pictures, too, of the evacuation in Lebanon. The marines that have arrived for the first time in 22 years. Forty of them, not a very large force, but very significant that they came for the first time in 22 years, since the marine barracks bombing back there in 1984 by Hezbollah extremists that killed some 241 U.S. military personnel at that time. That prompted the U.S. to pull out at that time of that peacekeeping -- peacemaking, peacekeeping, effort. Now, at this point, what they're doing is they took on some 1,200 people, Americans, to put on the USS Nashville. The Nashville is to be steaming its way over here, arriving sometime tomorrow, early tomorrow, in the wee hours of the morning. That is also among the some -- at least seven ships that we see on the list here at the port register. They're supposed to be arriving overnight, carrying several thousand people all together from various nationalities. This effort continuing through the days. They expect at least -- up to now some 7,400 people, they say, have arrived through the port since Monday's sea lift evacuation began.

KAGAN: And we're going to break into that so that we can go to the White House. Here's White House spokesman, Tony Snow.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... is guaranteeing the security of Baghdad and also making sure that Iraqi democracy works and works effectively. That's what they spend the bulk of their time working on.

And that the prime minister would express a contrary view is hardly new. The president speaks quite often with people and works quite often with people who disagree with him.

QUESTION: Is the administration at all concerned that the prime minister either has any ties with Hezbollah himself or his party has ties with Hezbollah?

SNOW: No. I doubt it. I'm not aware of that. But, no, I don't think so.

QUESTION: Tony, Kofi Annan called again for an immediate cease- fire. He criticized both parties. He criticized Hezbollah for destabilizing the region and making it hard to achieve peace. But he said Israel had created a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon by what it's done.

Does the administration view it as a humanitarian crisis? And is it important to move more quickly rather than more slowly?

SNOW: Well, first, nobody's dragging their feet. There is considerable activity on that front.

If there is a humanitarian crisis, it's the responsibility of Hezbollah, which not only began this by crossing over into Israeli soil and kidnapping soldiers and also firing rockets into Israel -- Israel does have a right to defend itself -- but furthermore, using the people of south Lebanon, as I said this morning, as human shields; putting rockets in their houses and radars on their barns and saying in effect, "If you're going to fight against us, you're going to have to go after civilians."

And we are deeply, deeply concerned about the loss of civilian life. And the president, as you gather from the conversation with Prime Minister Erdogan, was talking about that. And the United States has also said repeatedly to Israel, "Practice restraint."

So we certainly are aware of what's going on in humanitarian terms.

And as I've said also, we'd love to have a cease-fire. But Hezbollah has to be part of it. And at this point, there's no indication that Hezbollah intends to lay down arms.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) or will you let this string, kind of, play out?

SNOW: Don't know.

One thing is, you know, people want time frames for wars. The fact is, human events are constantly shifting and changing according to a variety of factors, internal and external. And the idea of trying to impose a calendar on something like this is very difficult.

We want there to be peace and stability in Lebanon at the earliest possible date. And as a consequence, we've been engaged, diplomatically, with parties throughout the region, and also around the world, trying to get everybody to exercise what leverage they may, especially on Hezbollah and its sponsors, Syria and Iran, to make sure that there can be a peaceful resolution that also preserves the government of Lebanon and creates the conditions in the long run to make sure that the Lebanese people have a prosperous and democratic way forward.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. conducting its own assessment of how -- to what degree, Hezbollah's assets are being debilitated by this assault? Or is it leaving that up to Israel to work?

SNOW: I think we're looking at whatever intelligence we can on it.

But our people will conduct -- they obviously will be sharing intelligence with a number of people in the region, trying to get a gauge on it. So it's, kind of, the standard exercise in gathering mission in that sense. We're not relying solely on any single source.

QUESTION: Does the president have an opinion today about whether or not he would be willing to contribute military resources to a stabilizing force?

SNOW: Again, that's something that's premature. As I've been saying all week, and it's still true, people are trying to figure out the proper way to do it.

The first thing you've got to do is have a cessation of hostilities, so that you can bring forces into the region in such a way as to allow the government of Lebanon to assert effective control. And that is a key consideration.

QUESTION: What is all this diplomacy? Does Secretary Rice have a proposal she's taking when she goes on this trip? SNOW: Don't know yet. Secretary Rice is still working out what may or may not be on her schedule. And I'm going to let State not merely announce her travel plans, but also the intentions. I think they're still working on it.

And Secretary Rice, as you know, has been very actively involved in talking with regional leaders and not only getting their views, but also expressing our concerns.

And again, they're pretty simple: We want the government of Lebanon, we want the Siniora government, to survive and thrive. We want an end to hostilities. And we want Hezbollah to take that first step of returning the prisoners and stop firing the rockets.

QUESTION: There is a perception that this is so one-sided for Israel, and that we really are not trying to get a cease-fire. That's the perception in the world.

SNOW: Understood. And unfortunately, sometimes, whatever the perceptions may be, there are times when you conduct diplomacy that you do it in a confidential manner for a reason: You want it to succeed.

And I'm sure there are many temptations for diplomats to go out and thump their chests and talk about the wonderful things they're doing, but in the process they may unravel coalitions that may be forming and agreements that may be in the offing. And therefore, I'm just not going to say.

QUESTION: Are you saying something is happening?

SNOW: I'm saying that the United States has been expressing its concerns to the government of Israel and also been talking to our friends and allies in the region.

QUESTION: But not very out-loud?

SNOW: Well, again, you know, the thing is, do they want to make you happy or do they want to get something done? And that, sometimes, is the choice.

QUESTION: I think it's a question of making the world happy, of stopping the killing...

SNOW: You know what, you're absolutely right about that -- absolutely agree. To get the killing to stop would make the world happy. And we've also indicated who we think needs to take the first step.

QUESTION: The president's been president for five years now. And he told them that he regretted the fact that many African- Americans distrust the Republican Party.

What has he done for five years to change that?

SNOW: Well, for one thing, the president has done consistent outreach with African-Americans.

Look, this is a president -- you take a look at his political career. What has George W. Bush done? He's tried to do outreach.

He understands that there is a history in which Republican Party was seen as the active enemy of black voters in this country. It's one of the reasons why you have such lopsided Democratic majorities.

As governor of Texas, between his first and second elections, he doubled the percentage of black voters.

He considers that important, not because he views black voters as a constituency, but because he believes that for an America to be whole and fulfill the American dream, you can't be divided along racial lines. And so, as a consequence, it's important.

Now, the other thing is, you need to realize that, in trying to move down the road of opportunity, a lot of the programs, a lot of the things you do are common sense. For instance, he made the point today on schools. A lost of minority kids, a lot of poor kids in this country are stuck in second- rate schools. And he considers that an absolute shame. He's got No Child Left Behind. He's put together a number of programs.

That is not a program specifically aimed at African-Americans.

Similarly, he put together an economic program that's designed to create jobs for Americans. You also aim tax breaks at those in the lower income levels.

But the point is, a lot of these things are necessary for all Americans, but they also help advance the original civil rights agenda, which is equal opportunity for all.

QUESTION: What did the president think of his reception?

SNOW: I haven't talked to him. I mean, he looked like he enjoyed it.

It was interesting. I guess there was a LaRouchie who disrupted things. We were told that the disrupter was a member of Lyndon LaRouche's whatever. And Julian Bond expressed some happiness about that and passed it on.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SNOW: There were two of them?

QUESTION: Two of them.

SNOW: OK, the LaRouchies.

QUESTION: But could you (OFF-MIKE)?

SNOW: But in any event -- I wasn't there. I mean, I'll leave it to people who were there to characterize it. I was back here getting ready to deal with you.

QUESTION: Tony, could I just follow on that real quick?

SNOW: Oh and by the way, happy birthday.

QUESTION: Well, thank you, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: You just said that a majority of president's tax cuts have actually been geared toward...

SNOW: The president's tax cuts -- if you take a look at what the president has been doing -- and this has been doing on for a while here -- is shifting the tax burden.

And as a matter of fact, if you take a look at it, again, the upper brackets are carrying more of the burden, and he's been reducing taxes. And you take it as a proportion of overall income, it is larger at the lower ends of the income scale.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Iraq?

A Republican congressman, Gil Gutknecht from Minnesota, came back from a trip last week to Iraq, an official trip. And he came back and said he believes the conditions on the ground are worse than the administration has been telling the public. He's also now calling for troops to start coming home.

What's the White House reaction to that?

SNOW: The White House reaction is that, number one, we understand that there is a real attempt, especially in and around Baghdad, to create violence, create havoc and weaken the government.

And the response to that is not to run away, but to figure out how best to deal with the terror elements so that the Maliki government is going to be able to operate effectively.

And I guarantee you that's going to be one of the key things that the president and the prime minister talk about next week.

QUESTION: But when John Murtha and other Democrats called for troops to come home, Karl Rove and others have said that this is cutting and running. But here you have a Republican congressman, in tight re-election. He's saying troops should come home and that the conditions on the ground are not as good as you're saying...

SNOW: We also disagree with him.

QUESTION: Is he waving the white flag of surrender, Tony?

(LAUGHTER)

SNOW: No. He's expressing his opinion.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Thank you, Tony. Two questions.

First, following up on the question...

SNOW: By the way, you'll have to ask him. Ask him. That's the best way to get the good answer.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Following up on the NAACP speech, while it is significant the president addressed the group and it is the oldest civil rights group, it's also been a group that's been very critical of the president for a lot of things.

Has he ever considered addressing other groups, notably, the Congress of Racial Equality?

SNOW: Well, he's spoken to the Urban League and he will speak to other groups. I'm not going to go through and now start trying to tick off groups that may or may not be visited by the president.

But look, let's face it: This is a large and serious civil rights organization, the oldest in the country, and he thought it was important to address them.

QUESTION: But it's also been a group that's critical of him. CORE has not been.

SNOW: Yes. Well, that's understood.

QUESTION: The other thing I wanted to ask, this morning you mentioned the president was in talks with Chairman Lugar following Senator Voinovich's decision to support Ambassador Bolton.

SNOW: Right. Actually, the talks predate that. They've been talking about this for some time. But go ahead.

QUESTION: Do we have any kind of a time frame when the president will make a permanent appointment, if he'll make a permanent appointment, of Ambassador Bolton?

SNOW: Well, the nomination of Ambassador Bolton is still before the United States Senate. He was re-nominated right after the recess appointment.

So that is a nomination that is pending before the United States Senate. And the question now is whether you move through the committee and have another set of hearings or you go to the floor. And so it's a technical question, So he's already done that.

QUESTION: The president has said that it's important to...

KAGAN: We're going to leave our coverage of the White House press briefing right now. If you'd like to keep following it, just go to CNN.com/Pipeline. You can follow it there. Right now, we rejoin our coverage on CNN International.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SR. INT'L CORRESPONDENT: ... drove the Palestinian militants' capability to launch those makeshift rockets into southern Israel. Now, they're nowhere near as strong or powerful or accurate as the rockets that are used by Hezbollah. They're only homemade efforts of rockets really, but they have been a thorn in Israel's side for the past several months and, indeed, the last several years.

The Israelis, though, haven't managed to achieve, at this stage, either of their stated objectives. The rockets are still being fired into southern Israel. Corporal Gilad Shalit is still very much being held somewhere here in the Gaza Strip.

What they have succeeded in doing though, Michael, is really degrading the infrastructure here in the Gaza Strip to such an extent that there's no electricity, there's very little water, there's very little sanitation, and life for ordinary Palestinians is even harder than it was previously.

HOLMES: This is something, Matthew, that Kofi Annan raised in the U.N. that we heard just recently. I mean, he wrapped Gaza in with all of this, talking about the humanitarian crisis going on there. The Gazans feel that they've been a little bit forgotten. As you say, a million people without power for much of the time.

CHANCE: Well, certainly, that's the impression amongst many Palestinians here in Gaza that we speak to, that while the emphasis of world attention is very much on Lebanon and for good reason, that their plight is being pretty much overlooked.

They also have a great deal of hardship they're enduring, and that hardship has been ongoing, not just for the past nine days, but for the past several years. It's just got worse and worse and worse for them. They are living with electricity, as I say. Life is very difficult here.

And if the Israelis can be believed, they've been dropping leaflets over the Gaza Trip over the past 12 hours of so, warning the residents of the Gaza Strip to stay clear of any areas where there may be Palestinian or militants' weapons, because they say if they have to, from now on they'll strike private homes, civilian residences in the Gaza Strip in order to take out those rockets, Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Matthew, thanks for that. Matthew Chance reporting from the other front on this war, Gaza -- Becky, over to you in Beirut.

ANDERSON: Yes, OK, well as the fighting, Michael, continues and to a certain extent gets worse, as we've been hearing, the humanitarian crisis grows as well. There are now food shortages throughout this country. I was speaking to an NGO earlier on who has got something like 300 tons of aid at the Syrian border -- that is from Jordan -- 200 tons from Kuwait, 22 ambulances sitting at the border.

They cannot get confirmation that this aid convoy, if it leaves Syria to try and get into Lebanon, will get through without being hit. So they will not leave until they know that their drivers are safe. As we say, a growing humanitarian crisis here. You see food shortages throughout the country.

I'm joined now by a Lysandra Ohrstrom who's a senior reporter at the "Daily Sun" newspaper here in Beirut. Things are getting really tough, aren't they?

LYSANDRA OHRSTROM, "LEBANESE DAILY STAR": Yes, they are. It seems that since the roads have been bombed, people can't get to -- companies can't get their general shipments out to the south and, basically, most people are saying that they can wait about one month in the southern villages, and in Beirut they'll go about two months of raw materials, and then they don't know what will happen.

ANDERSON: We're listening to prayers, of course, just behind us, so it might be slightly difficult for viewers to hear what we're saying here, but when you hear the stories from the NGOs about the aid getting stuck at these borders, and them not being able to get this through because they cannot get confirmation that these roads will not be bombed, this is a significant problem for all of those who are trying to get aid through. They got the donations, but they can't get the distribution at this point.

OHRSTROM: Yes, and also, the problem is a lot of people are staying in their homes in the south now. They -- after some pamphlets were dropped and they left and fled their homes and went to the U.N., I think they were turned away, and then they were killed. So now a lot of people are staying at home, because they are worried that ...

ANDERSON: OK. Give us a sense, Lysandra, if you will, of what life is normally like here in Beirut, because you've been here for a year. You worked for the English-language daily newspaper the "Daily Star." This is Thursday evening. It's a four-lane highway, effectively, just behind us here. I can count four or five cars or six cars just coming by now, and yet it should be rush hour, shouldn't it?

OHRSTROM: Yes, it should. Usually you can't move at this time. Usually it takes about a half hour at the height of traffic to get across town from Hamra (ph) to Ashupia (ph), and three weeks ago or a month ago, during the World Cup, downtown was packed with people.

ANDERSON: OK. We're going to have to leave it there. We thank you very much, indeed, for joining us live. Life has certainly changed an awful lot, not just for people in Beirut but for people in Lebanon as a whole. We are into the ninth day of what appears to be an open war from both sides. We certainly heard that from the head of Hezbollah. It seems now we're hearing it from Israel as well.

You've been watching YOUR WORLD TODAY with Michael Holmes in Atlanta, and me, Becky Anderson, in Beirut.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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