LF: Live from Beirut
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KYRA PHILLIPS: As thousands of Americans continue to hit the eject button in Beirut, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads in with pledges of humanitarian aid. Her surprise stop is just one of many headlines out of Lebanon today. CNN's Michael Ware has the latest for us now from Beirut. Hey, Michael.
MICHAEL WARE: Hey, Kyra. Well, today we were at the US Embassy watching the helicopters ferrying in from the US warships just offshore here from Beirut, as they came in with Secretary Rice. She made a lightning, unannounced visit where she met with the Lebanese prime minister and other leaders. She expressed US support for the Lebanese government, their regard for their steadfastness, and according to US officials, it was a statement of support to the Lebanese people that, "we, the US, are here." Ironically, however, we also saw Hezbollah itself make a very similar statement today during a tour for the media of the southern suburbs of Beirut, their stronghold which had been pummeled by Israeli jets. The take from that Hezbollah tour was that they, too, are still here in Beirut and operating.
PHILLIPS: What more, Michael, can you tell us about Hezbollah? Obviously we can't watch Hezbollah television here in the US, it's banned from being aired here. Do you feel that we're covering that side of the story in a balanced way? Are we getting the real story from what they are saying via other media types?
WARE: Well, clearly it's very difficult. I mean, this is literally a battlefield. So the term 'fog of war' very much applies. But we can glean some things about the state of Hezbollah. Just take a look at the press tour today -- it was not a unique event, in fact, this is a daily occurrence very much like a Pentagon press briefing that are held in Baghdad and Washington on regular occasions. This is very slick, very well-orchestrated, with a spokesman speaking excellent English very much on-message with talking points. You can also see Hezbollah members providing inner and outer security cordons and herding the media, keeping them within the Hezbollah control. We even saw Lebanese police officers with cameras attending this Hezbollah briefing, further reflecting the sense of a state within a state which is affected by the Hezbollah organization.
At the same time, we can look at the military activity on the southern border. We are seeing fierce fighting between Hezbollah ground forces and the Israeli Defense Force. We are seeing evidence of bunkers, trenches, complicated defenses and ambushes, all of which is a sign of on-going command and control. Israeli Defense Forces say their aim is to cripple Hezbollah. Well, from the indications that we are seeing here, that is yet to take place. Kyra.
PHILLIPS: Michael Ware, reporting for us from Beirut. Thank you so much.
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KYRA PHILLIPS: CNN's Michael Ware has the latest now from Beirut.
Michael, this has, for the longest time, been your beat and you've met with main players on both sides of this battle. What do you think is keeping it going right now? Is it Israel's determination to dismantle Hezbollah or is it Hezbollah just building up stronger assets?
MICHAEL WARE: Well, you basically have two very determined outfits of markedly different natures going head-to-head here, Kyra. You've got the Israeli Defence Forces, by far the most sophisticated military in this region, coming up against Hezbollah, which is the most sophisticated, the most organized, the most deeply entrenched Islamic militant group in the region. So this really is a battle of relative titans here in the region, and by looking at the state of Hezbollah right now, we get some kind of a sense of what is the state of this war and how long it might go. And I have to say that as it stands at the moment, Hezbollah continues to put men in the field in the battles in the south and here in Beirut they are still operating very effectively. And we're seeing that particularly in their media operations here in the capital. Kyra.
PHILLIPS: So let's talk more about the strength of Hezbollah, Michael. Like you mentioned, the IDF has incredible air assets, it's got troops on the ground, it's got tanks -- what is it Hezbollah has? Is it what's coming from Syria and Iran? Is it what it already has hidden in the bunkers? Because we haven't talked about Hezbollah air assets at all.
WARE: No, well, clearly Hezbollah has no air assets, but it certainly has indirect fire capability, which is what we're seeing with the onslaught of the Katyusha rockets that are striking Israel. Hezbollah's arsenals are an unknown quantity. The only thing that can be said with any kind of surety is that they are large, they are formidable, and they are heavily protected. As Israeli commanders have said, "We can pound and pound and pound their arsenal, even if we take out 50% of their weapons, that still leaves thousands." And what we're seeing is an extremely disciplined, an extremely well-organized, and a relatively effective guerilla outfit that is fighting on home soil against a foe that it knows intimately, and it's been down this road before. So this is a resilient enemy for the Israeli Defence Forces. Kyra.
PHILLIPS: And the open-ended question, finally, Michael -- any idea on how long this could go?
WARE: Well, that's the big question, clearly. But so far we're not seeing either side take a decisive advantage. We're seeing the Israelis making surgical strikes inside Lebanon, but it's heavy going. They're meeting very stiff resistance from bunkers, from trenches. Their armor is being ambushed. We're seeing clear signs of ongoing Hezbollah command and control. So right now the Israelis seem to be quite some distance away from achieving their goal of crippling Hezbollah, and as the Israelis keep saying, they're in this for the long haul. Kyra.
PHILLIPS: Michael Ware, and no doubt so are you, live from Beirut. Appreciate it, Michael.
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KYRA PHILLIPS: CNN's Michael Ware has the latest now. Michael, bring us up to date.
MICHAEL WARE: Well, as you point out, Kyra, Secretary Rice made a lightning, unannounced visit here, to Lebanon, today. She brought the promise of aid, which is something for a deepening humanitarian crisis. Yet the most difficult element here is, as you yourself said, the US is not at this point looking for an immediate cease-fire. This says that the Israeli Defence Forces have not yet achieved their arm of crippling the Hezbollah troops battling them in southern Lebanon. And there's plenty of evidence of that, the stiff resistance that the IDF is meeting, and even here in Beirut, there is clear signs of Hezbollah displaying that its infrastructure remains intact. Its media operations, as just one example, continue to keep pumping out information -- daily briefings, tours of their strongholds -- very well-orchestrated, very well put-together. Kyra.
PHILLIPS: Michael, the Secretary of State said this before she headed to the region, that she is dealing with an organization -- we're talking about Hezbollah -- that has one foot in politics, legitimate politics as part of the Parliament, and another foot in terrorism. Let me ask you just about the looming humanitarian crisis and those that live in Hezbollah stronghold areas. Is Hezbollah doing anything to help its people?
WARE: Oh, absolutely. This has been one of Hezbollah's strong points for a considerable period of time. They're very effective at the 'hearts and minds.' In fact, in many ways they have operated to some degree as a state within a state, delivering services to their constituency. We see it now, at this moment, in southern Beirut. Areas that have been absolutely pummeled, decimated by Israeli air strikes, there are masses, congregations of refugees. One such grouping is at an unfinished Beirut shopping mall. There are now hundreds and hundreds of refugees hunkered down there. Hezbollah provides them protection, services, it's even pumping in its own broadcast of its TV station. So very much they are bearing in mind their grassroots support and attempting to ensure that that does not whither away. Even under fire, they're still trying to consolidate their power base.
PHILLIPS: Michael Ware, live from Beirut. Michael, thanks so much.