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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS
Fighting Between Israel and Hezbollah Continues; American Muslim Goes on Shooting Rampage at Seattle Jewish Center
Aired July 29, 2006 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well just a few moments earlier we told you about air raids in Haifa, Israel. Well we are getting word now out of Reuters News that an Israeli air strike on a house in Lebanon has killed a woman and six children, according to Lebanese medical sources. The strike was on the village of Nimriya (ph), which is in southern Lebanon. Again, an Israeli air strike on a house in Lebanon has killed a woman and six children. We'll have more information as it comes in.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And other headlines now in the news. Israel says no to calls for a temporary cease-fire in its fight with Hezbollah. The request came from the United Nations to allow for humanitarian relief. Israel kept up its attacks on targets in Lebanon today. A live report from Haifa, Israel is just two minutes away.
NGUYEN: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives back in the Middle East today. She's going to hold talks on a U.N. resolution to end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. Up first, a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. That is expected to begin just a few hours from now.
HARRIS: House lawmakers vote to put more money in Americans pockets or do they? A bill to hike the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour also cuts estate taxes on multimillion dollar estates. The legislation's next stop is the Senate. There democrats oppose the estate tax cut.
NGUYEN: In California, more than 140 people have died from relentless heat. That's according to the Associated Press, quoting officials in that state. Now let's put this in perspective for you. Counties that might record one heat related death per year this year have recorded dozens due to daily temperatures of 110 degrees or hotter. And there's concern that August could be even worse.
Crackling flames get too close for comfort. Residents flee their northwest Nebraska homes. As many as six fires were burning last night across a 25 mile area. Triple digit temperatures and low humidity fueled the flames. About 900 residents in Chadron, Nebraska evacuated, several homes are damaged but no injuries. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
NGUYEN: Day 18 of the Middle East crisis. Here's what we know right now. Air raid sirens sounded in the Israeli port city of Haifa within the last hour. Haifa has been hit with repeated Hezbollah rocket fire since the conflict started. Now, Hezbollah representatives agree to a Lebanese government peace plan with some reservations, Hezbollah says it supports a cease-fire and increased international presence in Lebanon. But the group objected to a "robust force of international peacekeepers." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice calls the Lebanese plan a positive step. Rice arrives back in the region today to push for an end to the fighting. She meets with Israel's prime minister in just a few hours.
Our Middle East coverage begins in Haifa, Israel, where sirens have sounded just within the past hour.
CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney joins us live with the latest on that. Fionnuala the last time we spoke we were waiting to see where those rockets, if indeed they were fired, were going to fall. Do you have any information on that?
FIONNUALA SWEENEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No rockets have fallen in and around Haifa this day. However the air raid sirens have been going off quite frequently in the last couple of hours. In total however, 39 rockets at least have fallen across northern Israel and six people have been injured. This as Israel continues its military action in southern Lebanon and Hezbollah still clearly having the capability to launch rockets into Israel.
I'm joined now by Avi Pazner, he is the Israeli government spokesman. Is Israel in danger of getting into an expanded war rather than a short shop operation that people thought would be over by now?
AVI PAZNER, ISRAELI GOVERNMENT SPOKESMAN: We hope not. It is not our intention to have a lingering war. It's not our intention to occupy Lebanon. It's not our intention to have a presence there whatsoever. The only thing we want is to get rid of the Hezbollah on our northern border and we are doing whatever we can to do that.
SWEENEY: But by calling up the reservists as well, is that a catalyst for any diplomacy by putting everybody on notice that you're prepared for an expanded operation.
PAZNER: We must be prepared but it is not our intention. You know troops need refreshment. We have now for two weeks have engaged our troops, they need a little bit to pull back to have some rest. There is also the possibility that we might decide that there is no other possibility but to enter Lebanon in greater force.
SWEENEY: This is what the opinion polls are saying. In fact one published yesterday saying that 82 percent of people here support the Israeli government but actually think you're being too soft?
PAZNER: We think we are doing the right thing. I know that we are being criticized outside Israel for being too strong. I think we're exactly where we want to be. Our aim I want to remind you is to weaken the Hezbollah, to beat it back from our border. It's not to conquer, it's not to occupy. We just want peace and quiet here.
SWEENEY: But Hezbollah is putting up a pretty strong fight. If Nasrallah doesn't lose does that mean he's won?
PAZNER: He will lose. It's true they are fierce fighters. They are being supported by Iran, by Syria. They are very well equipped, well armed. They have accumulated a staggering amount of missiles and rockets. They have the firepower to continue. But at the end they will lose this war.
SWEENEY: Well you say at the end they will lose the war, but there has been fierce fighting and casualties on the Israeli side in terms of military casualties. Has Israel underestimated Hezbollah?
PAZNER: No, never. We don't underestimate Hezbollah. We know Hezbollah, we know Hezbollah for 20 years or 25 years. Those are tough people. They are fierce fighters. They are fanatical and they are being supported as I told you by the Iranian revolution and they are quite, quite devoted Islamic fighters. So we do not underestimate, but I want to tell you something, yesterday there was a battle in Bint Jbeil and 26 Hezbollah were killed there. They didn't announce it but it was a big setback for the Hezbollah.
SWEENEY: Very, very briefly because we're out of time. Reports that a woman and six children were killed when an Israeli aircraft strike on a house in southern Lebanon, more casualties and more innocent civilian deaths. If this report turns out to be true and how does it help Israel's image abroad.
PAZNER: If it is true we regret it profoundly but one has to understand the Hezbollah hide behind civilian population, fires it rockets and missiles behind houses where you have also civilians, without the civilians to get out of the fighting areas.
SWEENEY: We have to leave it there. Avi Pazner, chief senior Israeli government spokesman. Thank you very much indeed for joining us. Back to you.
NGUYEN: Thank you Fionnuala Sweeney joining us live from Haifa for that report. Tony?
HARRIS: Well Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says efforts to end the Mideast crisis are entering a critical phase. In a briefing with reporters en route to Jerusalem Rice said, "I am now going to go into some fairly intense, I expect not easy give and take with officials. These are really hard and emotional decisions for both sides, under extreme pressure in a difficult set of circumstances. And so I expect the discussions to be difficult but there will have to be give and take."
CNN's Paula Hancocks joins us live with the latest from Jerusalem. Paula good morning.
PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello Tony. Well, Condoleezza Rice is expected to touch down within the hour here in Israel. She will be meeting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert this evening. And as you say, she has made it very clear to everybody that these will be tense and also emotional negotiations.
Now she has said to reporters on her way to Israel that this will not be a case of her arriving with a portfolio with five main points that she wants both sides to agree with. She said it's definitely going to be more of a give and take situation. Now we heard from George Bush and also U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair on Friday, both saying that there has to be a U.N. Security Council resolution as early as next week to make sure that there is an end to the hostilities. And also to try and put in place details for this international peace keeping force that could be stationed in southern Lebanon.
Now, what we're expecting Rice to be discussing with Olmert is about that international force and also we know that on Monday in New York there will be a meeting of countries who might possibly want to be involved in that particular force. So Condoleezza Rice has said before she even touches down here that it is not going to be easy, it will be give and take. And also she will be speaking to the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, as well. Tony?
HARRIS: CNN's Paula Hancocks for us in Jerusalem. Paula thank you.
NGUYEN: Hezbollah has fired its most dangerous rocket so far into Israel and joining us to talk about that and the Israeli military strategy CNN military analyst retired air force major general Don Shepperd. Thanks for being with us today general.
MAJ. GEN. DON SHEPPERD, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: My pleasure, Betty.
NGUYEN: First of all, let's talk about this Khaybar-1 rocket. How much larger and more powerful is it than the previous missiles that Hezbollah has been using?
SHEPPERD: Yeah a lot is the answer to both of them. This rocket has a range of looks like a little over 45 miles. Maybe as much as 60 miles whereas the Katyusha rockets have a range of about 12 miles. Also a Katyusha that we have been seeing lobbed, modified Katyusha lobbed into Haifa has an explosive head of around 20 kilograms, about 45 pounds. Whereas the Khaybar has an explosive head of around 100 kilograms, 220 pounds. That's half of a 500-pound bomb. This is a big escalation, this is a very powerful and very terrifying weapon for the Israelis.
NGUYEN: All right. A big escalation, a larger rocket with a longer range. So does that mean the launch site is that still mobile? Can you still put that on the back of the truck? What is Hezbollah using?
SHEPPERD: The difference between a Katyusha and a Khaybar is that you have to put the Khaybar on the back of a truck or some type of large launching tubes. They are easier to detect but that doesn't mean they're easy to detect. There's lots of places you can hide these things in buildings and what have you and then bring them out, fire them and leave or fire them and drive your truck back. So even though the Katyusha is a harder target, the Khaybar is still a hard target and evidently they have a lot of them.
NGUYEN: So what's next do you suspect in the arsenal that Hezbollah has amassed? What could they also have that they could be using as this thing escalates?
SHEPPERD: The intelligence on them says that they also might have the zelzal missile which is a missile with a range of around 120 miles. It's very large, even -- not only a big range but big explosive warhead. And if they have that that means that from the area of southern Lebanon they could hit Tel Aviv and even beyond. If they hit the Israeli capital of Tel Aviv that would be seen as another hallmark, another major escalation and could lead to serious implications.
NGUYEN: Indeed it could. General Don Shepperd we appreciate your time and your information today.
NGUYEN: Ahead in our next hour of CNN SATURDAY, former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discusses the crisis in the Middle East. His live interview coming up in about an hour.
HARRIS: This morning in Seattle, along with Saturday prayers, synagogues or mosques are getting increased protection, this following a deadly shooting late yesterday at a Jewish center. A suspect is in custody.
With the latest, let's go to Katherine Barrett who joins us live from Seattle. And Katherine, start by giving us an update on the wounded if you would please.
KATHERINE BARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, the reaction of urban neighbors here is one of shock, disbelief and sorrow to that half dozen shootings on this downtown Seattle street yesterday afternoon. A few overnight offerings on the doorstep of the Jewish Federation Center behind me here. One candle, a few flower arrangements and some cards.
A much more subdued doorstep than was the scene yesterday afternoon when it was a chaotic scene of police S.W.A.T. teams, screaming shooting victims and scared pedestrians running in the streets. All told at this hour one woman is dead. Five others remain hospitalized, three of them in critical condition as of late last night, the women's ages range from age 23 to age 43. The alleged gunman himself apparently called police from inside the building as the shootings were under way. Witnesses reported that as he forced his way in, he allegedly said he was a Muslim American who was angry about what was going on in Israel. Tony?
HARRIS: Katherine Barrett for us in Seattle. Katherine thank you.
NGUYEN: Well evacuations in Lebanon, did the U.S. government do enough to get its citizens out? One group says no and they are suing two high level officials. We're going to tell you who those officials are ahead.
HARRIS: And get ready to cast your ballots. Today marks 100 days until Election Day. Can republicans hold on to their majority or will democrats take control? Ahead we'll speak to the RNC press secretary.
Reynolds Wolf, good morning sir.
REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. We've got so much to talk about in weather today. We're talking about some incredible heat in parts of the Midwest, some possible flooding for the southwest and in the Great Lakes, could get some strong storms. We have a lot to share with you coming up. But first here is Veronica.
VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, good morning Reynolds. What are users clicking on at cnn.com? I have got the countdown to the most popular stories. That's coming up.
DE LA CRUZ: And a very good morning to you. What are people clicking on at cnn.com? We're taking a look on our dotcom countdown. We go to Nebraska for number ten. At least 900 people have evacuated because of the panhandle fires. There are six fires burning in all, spanning a 25-mile area.
And number nine Floyd Landis is saying it was heart and determination and 15 years of hard work that helped him win the Tour de France. The 30-year-old has been accused of doping and tested positive for higher than average amounts of testosterone.
Number eight, four more marines have died in Iraq. A military report says the units were operating in the Ramadi area of Al Anbar Province. 38 marines have died since the beginning of July alone.
And number seven, Owen Wilson is saying the movie "You, Me and Dupree" has nothing to do with the song Cousin Dupree by Steelly Dan. The band has posted a note on its website claiming that Dupree is a character ripped off from one of their songs. They would like the actor to make an appearance at one of their concerts to apologize.
We will have number six, five and four when CNN SATURDAY MORNING returns. I'm Veronica de la Cruz for the dotcom desk.
HARRIS: Let's give you a look now at pictures from Tyre, Lebanon, that coastal region that has been hit hard by Israeli air strikes. Taking a look at some of the smoke, trying to make out the picture --
NGUYEN: Big black plumes of smoke.
HARRIS: Yeah, yeah, you can make that out, it looks to be a pretty hazy day there. But if you look closely you can see some of the smoke coming from -- obviously from the most recent strike there by Israeli missiles and rockets. It's a situation we will continue to watch. Our Ben Wedeman is on the ground there in Tyre. We'll try to check in with him shortly and get the latest on the situation on the ground there in Tyre, Lebanon. NGUYEN: Well back in the U.S. record heat across much of the country is the blame for a sharp spike in deaths and voracious wild fires. The "Associated Press" now reports 141 heat related deaths in California where temperatures for the past week topped 110 degrees. Now in Las Vegas, look at these pictures here. Lightning ignited propane tanks at a truck stop along interstate 15. The blast was so powerful one man said he felt the shockwave a mile away.
And this is what it looks like in the Nebraska panhandle. Lightning touched off blazes in grasslands which had spread out across 25 miles. About 900 people evacuated the small town of Chadron as flames closed in. At least several homes have been damaged so far.
HARRIS: While we have a second, can we go to those pictures now. Do we have them ready? These are live pictures, Reynolds and everyone, these are from southern Lebanon.
NGUYEN: In Najayoun (ph), I believe.
HARRIS: It is the town in southern Lebanon that seems to have bourn the brunt of a recent air strike from Israel. You can see the plume of pretty thick black smoke there. You can see it's kind of a mountainous region, at least hilly. No word yet of any casualties related to this air strike. But of course it's a situation we will continue to watch and bring you the latest information as soon as we get that.
NGUYEN: Well did report just a little bit earlier that in Nimriya (ph), an air strike there had killed a woman and six children. That is also in southern Lebanon. And then we heard earlier today with our Fionnuala Sweeney who is in Haifa, Israel, hearing air raid sirens in that area. So a lot of back and forth this morning, we'll stay on top of each and every move of it. But in the meantime, American evacuees are suing members of the Bush administration. Were they stranded too long or did the government do everything it could? We're going to examine this issue straight ahead.
HARRIS: Plus allegations of cheating, Floyd Landis has an uphill climb but this time it is not on his bike. Up next a portion of his exclusive interview with Larry King.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Ever wish you could do a keyword search through all of your memories to find that name, number or other piece of essential information? Well Sunil Vemuri is busy turning that dream into a reality.
SUNIL VEMURI, CO-FOUNDER QTECH INC.: What I have is a portable device I carry around with me at all times, which allows me to explore anything that happens in my life.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The audio is then concerted into text by using a sophisticated computer program. And the resulting files are then searchable similar to what you do when searching the internet.
VEMURI: The eventually goal of all this is to help people with everyday memory problems.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But don't expect to see this device on the market any time soon. Still to be worked out issues with privacy laws and how to protect these memory recordings from being subpoenaed.
HARRIS: And again we are trying to bring you the very latest information as we get it on the Middle East crisis. We've been reporting all morning of air raid sirens being heard in Haifa. We also just moments ago had pictures and maybe we can go back to those pictures right now of air strikes in southern Lebanon. Israeli air strikes in southern Lebanon in the town of Marzeyun (ph).
And now I understand that we have our John Roberts is in northern Israel and, John, good to see you. Give us the latest on the situation where you are on the ground in northern Israel.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SR. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you Tony. The big news of the day is that the Israeli army has pulled its forces out of that town of Bint Jbeil which has been the scene of so much heavy fighting over the last four days. The reason given for that is that they had just pulled back so that they can go in there with probing missions and try to clear out little pockets of resistance in the city.
There was heavy bombardment there all day yesterday and the day before. Things have lightened up quite a bit here. It is also the Jewish Sabbath. That might have a little bit to do with it, as well. But right now the Israeli army says no forces in Bint Jbeil. But they do occasionally go in with these probing missions.
As to where the battle goes from here is going to be a big political decision. There is a real split here in Israel between how far the ground attacks should go. There are some people, hardliners who say that they want to see a full scale invasion. They want to see Hezbollah pushed all the way back to the Litani River, which would be about 14 miles away from the Israeli border.
But the politicians are balking at the scope of the ground force that that would take to do that. So they are now saying well maybe we just do a more modest approach, get a security zone of a little bit more than a mile in there, something that we can defend from our side of the border as well as putting troops in there. You see they are very cognizant of world opinion. Even though opinion here in Israel is running overwhelming in favor of this war, down a little bit but still about 82 percent of Israelis approve of it.
There is growing pressure in the world community to bring a quick end to this crisis. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of course is here today. U.S. President George Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair from Britain yesterday were talking about trying to get a U.N. resolution on the table as early as Monday that would set the framework for a cease-fire and the establishment of an international security force in southern Lebanon.
So as all of that moves forward there is pressure on Israel to sort of dial back the scope of the operation. We have also, Tony, today learned a little bit more about the Khaybar rocket that fell into Afula yesterday. You might remember that a couple of weeks ago, back on July 16th, an area just north of Afula was hit by a rocket that was also believed to be perhaps of this (INAUDIBLE).
What we believe it is at this point and could be, is a modified version of an Iranian Fajr rocket. It's about that big around, carries 100 kilogram or 220-pound warhead. It's the most powerful rocket that has so far fallen into Israel. And in a place where symbolism is very important, there's a little bit of history that perhaps is attached to the name Khaybar. Khaybar back in ancient times around the 600's, was an oasis about 95 miles north of Medina. It was a Jewish settlement -- it was a Jewish settlement until the year 628, in the rise of Islam in this area. 629 it fell to the Islamic armies and all the Jews were either kicked out of that area or they were killed.
And there is an Arabic saying that goes along with it, which roughly translates to "Oh Khaybar, oh Khaybar, oh Jews, Mohammed's army is rising." So as I said, in a place where symbolism is very important that's a sort of thing that for Arabs would carry a lot of weight with it. As to where Hezbollah may be with this, there has been some encouraging signs from the Lebanese side of the border.
The Hezbollah cabinet ministers after consultations with the Lebanese prime minister say they might be up for a cease-fire, a cease-fire that could even see the disarming of Hezbollah. But for the moment Tony, Israeli forces out of Bint Jbeil. You can see some of them getting re-supplied, getting rested behind me. As to whether or not they'll go back into the fight, that's something we may learn in the next 24 hours or so.
HARRIS: That's -- John, thank you. That's tremendous, that history lesson. I had no idea of the history of that name. What is in a name? John Roberts for us in northern Israel. John, appreciate it. Thank you.
Our coverage of the crisis in the Middle East continues coming up in about 20 minutes. American evacuees suing over their lack of safety. You might be surprised just who they are taking to court. We'll talk to one American who was stranded in the region.
NGUYEN: First an attitude check on the streets of Israel. What do ordinary people think about their government's resolve to battle Hezbollah? We'll tackle that question after this.
HARRIS: An update in the crisis in the Middle East. Here's what we know right now. Reuters is reporting that an Israeli air strike on a house in southern Lebanon today killed a woman and six children. We are checking that report and we will keep you updated as we get additional information. Israel has pulled its forces out of a Hezbollah stronghold in southern Lebanon. Israel says it has completed its current operation there.
And we're getting new pictures from an Israeli strike in southern Lebanon. The Israeli air force says it carried out 60 air strikes overnight.
NGUYEN: Well there is a clear message being conveyed from the front lines of the Mideast conflict, but it's the message behind those lines that a lot of us are interested in. CNN's John King is in Jerusalem with that part of the story.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The (INAUDIBLE) market, a staple of Israeli life, crowded and colorful, full of life. And yet again talk of war.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think that our war is a justified war.
KING: Ivan (ph) (INAUDIBLE) reports for duty this weekend, one of thousands of army reservists called up for possible duty. Hezbollah is the enemy, but like many Israelis, Ivan sees this as something bigger.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Another holocaust shouldn't happen, shouldn't appear again to the Jewish people.
KING: Gabby Cohen (ph) has two sons in the fight, yet wants a more aggressive ground war and suggests those accusing Israel of overreacting consider the source of Hezbollah's rockets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see Iran (INAUDIBLE) Hezbollah.
KING: An overwhelming 82 percent of Israelis back the military campaign in a new (INAUDIBLE) poll. If they have a complaint, it is that their government is being too soft; 71 percent of Israelis favor using more force.
MINA TZEMAH, ISRAELI POLLSTER: It's the first time for a long time that Israeli really feels that frightened for the existence of Israel.
KING: Iran's president has talked of wiping Israel off the map and veteran pollster Mina Tzemah says the Iran Hezbollah relationship overrides at least for now traditional concerns about rising casualties or tactical missteps.
TZEMAH: (INAUDIBLE) cannot be rapid.
KING: Yet there is some evidence in the polls and at the market that Hezbollah's determined resistance has dampened expectations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We would like to see Hezbollah eliminate but I don't think it's realistic.
KING: (INAUDIBLE) doubts even his 4-year-old daughter will know an Israel at formal peace with its neighbors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't believe this kind of course will be in the next maybe hundred years.
KING: Sarit Shpitzer and Manyon (ph) Levy are just back from visiting relatives and bomb shelters in the north.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even if they totally destroy Hezbollah, I don't think our problems are going to end.
KING: Eating here is part of their defiance. Three years ago, Cafe Hillel (ph) was destroyed by a suicide bomber. Do you feel safe here? Do you think this is a war in the north or do you think it could come to Jerusalem?
SARIT SHPITZER: I think living in Israel you live it. You know that this is - this is life here, like you get used to it.
KING: Even in tiny Israel, Jerusalem can seem far from the current fight. But Gila Rockman says Israelis know better.
GILA ROCKMAN: It could come back, the people who were killed, I knew the doctor and his daughter (INAUDIBLE) knew them very well.
KING: Her son (INAUDIBLE) was born a week into the fighting. His second name, Aviad (ph), chosen to make a statement.
ROCKMAN: Aviad was the minister of peace in biblical times. That is how we gave him the second name, Aviad (INAUDIBLE). We just want peace in this country and that's all we want.
KING: And yet even amid the laughter, talk of war is once again part of the routine. John King, CNN, Jerusalem.
NGUYEN: Coming up in the next hour of CNN SATURDAY, we will talk live with former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What is next in this Mideast crisis? Don't miss that interview. It's live right here on CNN.
HARRIS: Exactly 100 days until the congressional midterm election, one that's very important to Republicans, hoping to keep their majority in Washington. So the GOP focuses on the opposition. In our first hour, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said this about the war in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN: The speaker of the parliament in Iraq said that the bombings and the beheading were the responsibility of quote, Jews and the sons of Jews. Now we're spending an awful lot of money in Iraq. I don't think that we want the kind of government in Iraq that is anti-Semitic.
HARRIS: He doesn't speak for everyone in the parliament.
DEAN: That's correct. He doesn't speak for everyone, but he's one of the highest elected officials in Iraq. I think it's extremely disturbing what is going on in the Iraqi government. I worry about that a lot. We really need peace in the Middle East. We need a commitment to fight terrorism in the Middle East.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: Tracey Schmitt, press secretary of the Republican National Committee is with us. Tracey, good to see you this morning.
TRACEY SCHMITT, RNC PRESS SECRETARY: Thanks for having me.
HARRIS: Tracey, would it have been too much for the prime minister to have at least acknowledged Hezbollah's role in the current crisis in the Middle East?
SCHMITT: Well, look, the prime minister came to the United States to meet with the president, to meet with leaders of both parties to talk about progress in Iraq and he's frankly playing a pivotal role in the war on terror. He's putting his life on the line in the interests of a stable Iraq. And for Howard Dean to attack him says more about Howard Dean than it does the prime minister. It's important to remember with Howard Dean, this is not the first time he's worked to interject religion into politics. This is someone who last year called the Republican Party a white Christian party, something our Jewish chairman found a little bit offensive. This is someone who said Osama bin Laden is innocent until proven guilty. So when it comes to Howard Dean, it's really important we take his comments with a grain of salt. He's more concerned with the sexy sound bite than with the truth.
HARRIS: All right, Tracey, before we do that, if it's a bit silly for Howard Dean to not your word, for Howard Dean to call the prime minister an anti-Semite, how do you explain him giving a pass to Hezbollah?
SCHMITT: Well, look, I'm not going to entertain that notion. I don't speak for the prime minister of Iraq. Frankly at the Republican National Committee, we've got 100 days left until the midterm elections, so we're more focused on working closely with our candidates and we'll leave diplomacy to the State Department.
HARRIS: Tracey, stay there for just a second. We just got some breaking news that we want to get to, but don't go anywhere. We want to take you now to Haifa, Israel, where once again you can hear the air raid sirens. Let's listen in. OK. This is a situation we have been reporting on all morning for the last hour or so on and off. We have heard these air raid sirens over Haifa giving people about a minute, minute and a half, two minutes to get to a shelter.
Fionnuala Sweeney is on the ground in Haifa and we will get back to her in just a couple of minutes. Right now let's continue with Tracey Schmitt from the Republican National Committee. Tracey, OK, some would say that the prime minister was at least tone deaf. You don't seem to want to entertain that. You want to move on?
SCHMITT: Let's talk about, we're 100 days until the historical midterm elections.
HARRIS: All right. The war in Iraq, for many people this midterm election, the '08 election is going to be a referendum on the Bush administration and the war and the way the president and Republicans have handled the war. The state of affairs now in Iraq, why shouldn't voters go into the polls in November, decide, you know what, this has not gone the way it was advertised. That alone is reason enough to vote out Republicans and bring in Democrats.
SCHMITT: Well we acknowledge it's a difficult war. We acknowledge we are still working very hard to make progress there, but the bottom line is, we understand we want to bring our troops home, but not at the expense of the mission and Democrats are splintered on this war. The ones that do speak up are in favor of cutting and running. We believe as most Americans believe that to cut and run would send the wrong message not only to our enemy, not only to the terrorists but the wrong message to the troops.
HARRIS: Let me move on, let me get another couple in here before we lose you. Why shouldn't Americans look at the budget deficit and say you know what, this is absolutely out of control. We have had enough.
SCHMITT: If you look at the budget deficit, we just learned it predicted to be 30 percent lower than prior expected and if you want to even take a step back further and talk about the economy, we've had 5.4 million jobs created in the last three years alone. The economy is moving at a faster rate, growing at a faster rate than any other major industrialized nation.
HARRIS: Hey, Tracey, do you understand some of the anxiety even about the economy in America that it feels pretty good for some people, but that it doesn't feel good for everyone?
SCHMITT: Absolutely. There's definitely more work that needs to be done. The House of Representatives last night passed more continuing tax relief and if you look at what the Democrats, when they want to talk about their agenda, they continue to layout $2.4 trillion in tax hikes for the working Americans and we understand that is exactly the wrong approach to a growing economy.
HARRIS: And what if Americans go to the polls in November they could certainly say, you know what, I paid $3 a gallon to get to the polls to vote, Republicans haven't done enough.
SCHMITT: Well, the president understands that gas prices are clearly a problem. That's why when he first went into office, he put forth and we passed energy legislation. Democrats when they were in power they put forth a higher gas tax. So we understand this is a problem. Republican leaders and the president are working towards this. But you know when you look at the big picture, you've got Democrats want to raise taxes on working Americans, including gas taxes and they want to cut and run in Iraq. So the big picture we believe that we will maintain the House and Senate regardless of the political climate. Really this is going to be about local candidates and local campaigns. All politics is local and we've got some great candidates.
HARRIS: I think you're right there. And the final analysis it comes to those districts and those local races. Tracey, out of time. Thanks for your time this morning.
SCHMITT: Thanks Tony.
NGUYEN: We do have some developments that we want to tell you about right now. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has just arrived in Tel Aviv, Israel. A little bit later today, she's going to meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (ph) in another attempt to try to stop the violence in the Mideast.
Speaking of that violence, let's go now live to Haifa, Israel, where CNN's Fionnuala Sweeney is. Fionnuala, just a few moments ago we heard the sirens go off yet again. What's the situation?
SWEENEY: The sirens happened and occurred several times during any given day. The question is whether or not rockets fall shortly thereafter. Here in Haifa no rockets have hit today, but across northern Israel, at least 40 rockets have been fired and six people injured, an indication that despite Israel's military pounding of Hezbollah positions in southern Lebanon, that there is no let-up in the capability of Hezbollah to launch rockets into Israel.
Here in Haifa it is now just coming up to a quarter to 6:00 in the evening. It's the end of the Jewish Sabbath almost underway and that is when one would normally expect to see people out on the street. But because of the heavy bombardment that this town has been taking over the last 17 days or so and the injuries and casualties and deaths that have resulted from that, people are mainly staying indoors. Shops are mainly shuttered and there's not very much activity at all Betty.
NGUYEN: That is good news out of the area. Of course, we will stay on top of this should the sirens go off or you see any direct hits, obviously we'll go live to you.
In the meantime we have been talking about the strikes in Lebanon. There have been several this morning, including one in the southern section that killed a woman and five children there, six children. And then we just saw some of the smoke billowing from another area of Lebanon.
HARRIS: That's a story that we are still working to get additional information on and as soon as we get that, we will pass it on to you.
NGUYEN: Bring it to you.
Evacuations in Lebanon are winding down, but the debate over the U.S. response, well that is heating up. Ahead one group is suing two top government officials. We're going to tell you why. That's ahead on CNN's SATURDAY MORNING.
HARRIS: An evacuation nightmare, about 15,000 Americans have left Lebanon since fighting began, but while most are grateful to be out of the line of fire, some tell a tale of disorganization and disappointment in the U.S. government. And they are suing members of the Bush administration. Joining us now is Aida Said, one of the evacuees filing the lawsuit against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. She is joined by Kareem Shora, legal director for the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee or ADC. Thank you both for being here. Aida, let me start with you. Give us a bit -- we don't have a lot of time -- but give us a bit of your story and tell us about how difficult it was for you to get out of Lebanon.
AIDA SAID, PLAINTIFF, ADC LAWSUIT: It was hectic. It was hard. It took a long time. We were waiting to be evacuated by the U.S. embassy, but there were no signs of it. And things start getting worse and the fighting increased and more areas are being bombed and there was no sign of a cease-fire. We were told by the embassy going to start evacuating us in two to four days. We did not want to wait.
HARRIS: Sure, Aida, I have to ask you, honestly, it was a war. It's a war zone, hostilities. Don't you think the U.S. government did about as good a job as it could under the circumstances?
SAID: You mean taking care of the Americans there?
SAID: Oh, yeah, because other embassy were taking their people. Like we had an Italian lady who was in the same building where I was when we went north and we asked -- I asked her what did your embassy do for you. She says they call me about 20 times a day. When I was trying to call my embassy, the U.S. embassy, I wasn't getting no answer or anything. Nobody was contacting us, not even once.
HARRIS: OK, Kareem, why the suit?
KAREEM SHORA, LEGAL DIRECTOR, ADC: Well, Tony, unfortunately what we're hearing in the media is not exactly what is taking place on the ground. I mean, for example, CNN is reporting as of yesterday that there was a ship leaving Beirut with approximately 500 citizens on board. We know for a fact that that ship did not get to Beirut and did not leave the port of Beirut and we have about 500 or 600 of our own citizens still trapped in Beirut waiting for that ship. So let's remember that what we hear in the media is not necessarily what is happening on the ground.
HARRIS: So what do you want to see happen here?
SHORA: The lawsuit calls, first of all, we do not ask for any monetary damages of any kind, but we, as you reported, we have approximately 10,000 of our own citizens still trapped in Lebanon. They can't even get to Beirut to be evacuated, let alone get in touch with the embassy. So what we're asking for Secretary Rice and Secretary Rumsfeld is number one, to call for a temporary cessation of hostilities so that we can get our own citizens out of harm's way. And number two, stop shipping those urgent weapons to Israel, because they are being used against our own citizens there.
HARRIS: Kareem, it feels political.
SHORA: Tony, our issue is, hold off whatever you want to do, do it, but let our citizens get out of harm's way first.
HARRIS: Let me read a statement from I guess -- this is a from the State Department. We cannot comment on pending litigation matters and will direct questions about this litigation to the Department of Justice. While we continue to support Israel's right to depend itself, we urge Israel's leaders to do so with the greatest possible care to minimize civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure. Protecting our citizens is our top priority. We have a task force operating 24/7 that is focused on this issue and senior U.S. government officials are actively engaged in ensuing that we have safe and secure means of evacuation. That from the U.S. State Department, and Kareem, a quick comment please?
SHORA: Well, it doesn't address the question we're asking. We've got 10,000 of our own citizens. We're still hearing from them, from their relatives in the states who remained trapped and they are getting bombed and they're using -- they're getting hurt by the bombs that we're sending over there. So what we're saying is, temporarily hold off, get our citizens out and then do whatever you want as far as foreign policy goes.
HARRIS: Sure, Kareem, thanks for the time. We're happy that you are safe. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
SHORA: Thank you.
NGUYEN: We're going to shift gears in a big way. Actress Lindsay Lohan finds herself in some hot water with her current studio boss.
HARRIS: Up next, find out what prompted his public scolding. That's right, a public scolding of the 20-year-old star.
VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN.COM: I'm Veronica de la Cruz. Like we promised you, our countdown continues with the top stories at cnn.com. Number six, the House has passed a minimum wage hike. Get the details at cnn.com. Then to California for number five where 10 people have been injured after a car crashes into a Starbucks. Number four, Mel Gibson has been arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. Number three, six-toed cats are becoming a problem at the home of Ernest Hemingway. More than 50 cats are on the grounds of the writer's historic home in Key West, Florida. Number two, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is back in the Mideast to discuss a peace plan. Israel is rejecting a U.N. proposal calling for a temporary three-day cease-fire for humanitarian relief.
And number one, drum roll, please.
DE LA CRUZ: Thank you, Tony. A spoiled brat.
DE LA CRUZ: That is what a studio executive has called actress Lindsay Lohan. He charges that Lohan has been showing up for work on his film late due to partying all night long.
NGUYEN: The girl has got to have fun.
DE LA CRUZ: Lohan has been rude, irresponsible and unprofessional. Her publicist told a TV show that Lohan has been suffering from heat exhaustion after working 12 hour long days in 105 degree heat. You can find all those stories online at CNN.com/mostpopular. And like you said, a girl has just got to have fun.
NGUYEN: I'm suffering from exhaustion, too, but it's not going to get me a day off. That just won't work around here.
DE LA CRUZ: This guy did it in a letter and he cc'd everybody, her agents, producers, everybody.
NGUYEN: On record. All right.
HARRIS: Thank you.
NGUYEN: Next hour of CNN SATURDAY MORNING continues in just a moment.
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