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Sunday, July 23

Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Daylight.

Rice en route to Middle East for talks

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- With the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah into its 13th day, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice headed to the Middle East Monday for meetings with Israeli officials only hours after huddling with Saudi Arabia's foreign minister in Washington.

Rice talked with reporters en route to the Middle East, saying the need for a cease-fire is "urgent," but only when the conditions are right.

"We believe that a cease-fire is urgent," Rice said. "It is important, however, to have conditions that will make it sustainable."

In Washington, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Sunday he urged President Bush to call for a cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas during a meeting at the White House. (posted 2:20 a.m.)

Rice: need for cease-fire is 'urgent,' but not just yet

SHANNON, Ireland (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the need for a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas is "urgent," but only when the conditions are right.

Rice spoke with reporters en route to the Middle East, where she was scheduled to meet with Israeli officials Monday evening.

"We believe that a cease-fire is urgent," Rice said. "It is important, however, to have conditions that will make it sustainable."

Rice's visit follows trips by European and U.N. diplomats to the region last week, joining Lebanon's calls for a cease-fire.

The United States has not called for an end to the fighting, arguing that leaving Hezbollah in place on Israel's northern border would only make further conflict inevitable. (posted 12:20 a.m.)

St. Louis struggles without power outages after intense storms

(CNN) -- Nearly 300,000 electric customers in the St. Louis area remained in the dark Sunday night, four days after the first of two severe thunderstorms battered the region amid a lingering heat wave, a utility spokesman said.

Missouri National Guard troops helped clear storm debris from neighborhoods, while Red Cross and United Way volunteers ran cooling stations for people without air conditioning in the summer heat. Mike Cleary, a spokesman for the electric utility Ameren UE, said repair crews don't expect to have all service restored until Wednesday.

"The storm that hit Wednesday night was the worst storm in our company's history," Cleary said. "And when you consider that the company was formed in 1902, that's a long time."

The number of customers affected by the power outages topped 1.1 million on Friday, when a second wave of storms hit. That number had dropped to about 298,000 by Sunday afternoon, Cleary said. (Posted 9:05 p.m.)

Con Ed chief in the dark on restoring N.Y. power outage

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Consolidated Edison's CEO said Sunday he has no timetable for when power will be restored to thousands of customers still without electricity in northwest Queens.

"At this point we can't say when power will be restored," Kevin Burke told reporters. "But I think we've done a very good job in getting out there and handling this situation."

Electricity has been restored to only about half the 100,000 residents who lost power Monday. Until Thursday night, the power company had reported 2,000 customers were without power, conceding Friday that the actual number of customers affected was nearly 10 times higher. (Posted 8:05 p.m.)

Saudi FM urges Bush for Mideast cease-fire

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia's foreign minister said Sunday he urged President Bush to call for a cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas during a meeting at the White House.

Prince Saud al-Faisal met with Bush as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice prepared to visit the Middle East and Europe for talks on the 12-day-old conflict. Saud said he brought a message from King Abdullah "about putting a stop to the bleeding in Lebanon."

"We requested a cease-fire to allow for the cessation of hostility, which would allow for the building of the forces of Lebanon in order to establish its sovereignty over the whole of its territory," he told reporters.

The United States has not called for an end to the fighting, arguing that leaving Hezbollah in place on Israel's northern border would only make further conflict inevitable. However, Saud said, "We agree on the importance of stopping the fighting so the Lebanese government can extend its influence all over its territory." (Posted 7 p.m.)

Ex-CIA officer: Israel may shrink Hezbollah's military, but won't destroy group

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The former CIA officer who spearheaded U.S. efforts to crack down on Hezbollah told CNN Sunday he believes Israel may slice Hezbollah's militant infrastructure through its current operations, but won't destroy the group entirely.

"I think that they can significantly degrade Hezbollah's military wing, which is in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah's terrorist wing's a different animal... based out of Beirut, and it's got bodies out around the world. And it has infrastructure around the world which it can call on when it wants to do terrorist attacks," said Gary Berntsen.

The United States has tried to diminish Hezbollah's terrorist operations over the years, following attacks on Americans, Berntsen said. "But the Israelis are not going to destroy Hezbollah with this. Hezbollah is part of the fabric of Lebanon. And it's going to be difficult."

Hezbollah "has had many years to organize" and is "very, very professional," said Berntsen. "So, even though there's been a lot of work done against them, it doesn't mean that they can't have success in conducting terrorist acts. They're dangerous." (Posted, 3:18 p.m.)

Bolton defends Israel's use of force in Lebanon

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Against growing international criticism that Israel's response to Hezbollah's July 12 attack has been disproportionate, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on Sunday defended Israel's use of force.

"I think it's important that we not fall into the trap of moral equivalency here," Bolton told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

"What Hezbollah has done is kidnap Israeli soldiers and rain rockets and mortar shells on innocent Israeli civilians. What Israel has done in response is act in self-defense. And I don't quite know what the argument about proportionate force means here. Is Israel entitled only to kidnap two Hezbollah operatives and fire a couple of rockets aimlessly into Lebanon?

"The situation is that Israel has lived under the terrorist threat of Hezbollah for years, and these most recent attacks have given it the legitimate right, the same right America would have if we were attacked, to deal with the problem. And that's what they're doing." (Posted 3:18 p.m.)

Survey: Gas prices up 2 cents to record high

(CNN) -- Gas prices rose nearly two cents over the past two weeks, to a record high of $3.02 per gallon of self-serve regular, a national survey reported Sunday.

The survey, carried out July 7 and July 21, tallied prices at about 5,000 gas stations and found that self-serve regular rose 1.98 cents per gallon, to a national average of $3.0150, said Trilby Lundberg, publisher of the "Lundberg Survey."

Sunday's uptick bests by a third of a penny the prior record, which was set last Sept. 9 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Lundberg said.

But, adjusted for inflation, Sunday's price remains 15 cents lower than what it was in March 1981, she added.

And, given that demand in recent days has been flat or shrinking, prices are unlikely to continue upward -- "the overall gasoline supply is not tight," she said. (Posted 2:48 p.m.)

U.S. soldier killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier died Saturday as a result of "enemy action" in Iraq's volatile Anbar province, the U.S. military announced Sunday.

The soldier was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division.

This brings the number of U.S. military deaths in Iraq to 2,563. (Posted 2:15 p.m.)

U.S. delegation backs Israeli action against Hezbollah

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Members of a bipartisan U.S. congressional delegation that traveled to the Mideast amid the mounting crisis stood firmly behind Israel Sunday, describing its military operations against Hezbollah as necessary.

The militant group's weapons "have to be destroyed, if possible," Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., told CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

Calling Hezbollah "a proxy for Iran and Syria, which is like a cancer in the south of Lebanon," Harman said if Israeli leaders "don't degrade this threat and if they don't degrade the Hamas threat in Gaza... (the threats) will just get stronger. And Israel and the entire neighborhood will continue to be at risk."

The delegation's trip was scheduled before the current crisis. House Speaker Dennis Hastert told the group to go ahead with the trip, calling it "more important than ever."

Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., chairman of the House intelligence committee and leader of the four-member delegation, told CNN, "Israel recognized that they had to come back and deter the activities of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, because the threat was getting to be too great." (Posted 1:56 p.m.)

Israeli military says it will distribute relief aid to Lebanese civilians

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- As it continued its aerial and ground assault on Hezbollah targets inside Lebanon, the Israeli military announced Sunday it will distribute relief supplies to Lebanese citizens under the supervision of the Red Cross.

The statement from the Israel Defense Forces said the mission was "in accordance with IDF policy to maintain the daily life of Lebanese civilian population not involved in terror activity."

The humanitarian aid, to arrive on ships into Beirut's port, will be transferred to aid centers across Lebanon, the IDF said.

Israel has barred the United Nations from sending relief supplies into southern Lebanon, where most of the country's estimated 500,000 internally displaced people are located, according to U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland. (Posted 12:48 p.m.)

Lebanese FM: Kidnapped Israeli soldiers 'in good health and safe'

BEIRUT (CNN) -- The two Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hezbollah militants nearly two weeks ago are "in good health and safe," Lebanon's Minister of Foreign Affairs Fawzi Salloukh said Sunday.

It was unclear whether Salloukh has seen Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whose abduction, combined with Hezbollah rocket attacks into Israel, sparked Israel's military action.

"When the aggression stops and the cease-fire begins, everything is ready for negotiations," said Salloukh. "The first thing on the agenda is the prisoners' exchange.

"We said Lebanon has had prisoners in Israeli jails for 30 years, they have two prisoners here who are in good health and safe, so let them stop the aggression and let them stop their fire first and then we begin the negotiations for the prisoners exchange." (Posted 12:10 p.m.)

Hezbollah confirms Israeli control of Lebanese village

BEIRUT (CNN) -- In a statement released Sunday, Hezbollah conceded that Israeli forces have taken control of the southern Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras after a fight that killed three Hezbollah fighters.

The Israel Defense Forces said it captured the village on Saturday, establishing the military's "first foothold" in southern Lebanon in an effort to create a security buffer between Israel's border and Hezbollah militants.

Such a zone would spare Israel's civilian population from cross-border Katyusha rocket attacks, the military said.

Troops ousted Hezbollah guerrillas from Maroun al-Ras after days of ground fighting between militants and Israeli troops in a pinpoint Israeli operation.

The IDF says troops cleansed the village of Hezbollah fighters and plan to hold it until it can be turned over to a multinational force or the Lebanese army. Diplomats are starting to envision the deployment of a stabilization force or the Lebanese army in southern Lebanon in the aftermath of the fight. (Posted 11:14 a.m.)

In latest salvo, Hezbollah rocket hits Haifa home

HAIFA, Israel (CNN) -- A Hezbollah rocket struck a house in Haifa in the early evening, the latest of more than 60 rockets to hit northern Israel on Sunday, according to Israeli police.

Six people were wounded, and four of them were taken to the hospital with leg injuries, a police spokesman told CNN.

The rocket triggered a fire at the home when it damaged the gas system, but the fire was put out. (Posted 11:08 a.m.)

SANA: Syria will join the conflict if Israeli troops come near Damascus

DAMASCUS (CNN) -- If Israeli troops invade Lebanon and come near the Syrian border, Syria will join the conflict, Syria's information minister said Sunday.

The official Syrian news agency SANA said Mohsen Bilal made the comments Sunday to Spanish newspaper ABC after a visit with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos in Madrid.

Bilal said it is possible that Israeli troops could come within 12 miles (20 km) of Damascus and at that point, "Syria will not sit tight," according to SANA.

Damascus is about 20 km from the Lebanese border.

Israel has denied it has any plans to invade Lebanon, stressing that its ground forces entered southern Lebanon as part of a pinpoint operation to disarm the Hezbollah militia. (Updated 12:49 p.m.)

U.S. military: Saddam Hussein put on feeding tube

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Saddam Hussein was hospitalized Sunday after suffering from the effects of a hunger strike, launched in protest of his trial, the chief prosecutor said.

U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry said the 69-year-old former president of Iraq voluntarily received nutrition through a feeding tube, and continues to be monitored. He is continuing his hunger strike and his life is not in danger, Curry said.

After hearing the report, Hussein's defense attorney Mohamed Moneib questioned whether the hunger strike was the cause of the hospitalization, saying his client had appeared Saturday to be in "very, very good health" during a three-hour meeting in Baghdad.

Hussein and three co-defendants have been refusing meals since the beginning of the month to protest the proceedings and to demand better security for defense lawyers, three of whom have been killed since the trial began in October. (Updated 12:50 p.m.)

Israeli airstrikes target Tyre Sunday morning, 1 dead, 20 hurt

TYRE, Lebanon (CNN) -- At least six Israeli bombs fell on the coastal city of Tyre in a 20-minute span Sunday morning, killing one civilian and wounding at least 20 others.

Huge columns of smoke rose on the horizon about two miles east and south of the center of the city, video showed.

CNN's Karl Penhaul visited a hospital where the wounded were being treated and found several with severe burns.

Among the critically wounded were two children -- ages 9 years and 8 months -- who were wounded when a rocket hit their family's car, Penhaul reported. Their father was killed, he said. (Posted 7:07 a.m.)

Israel defense minister: Multi-national force needed in southern Lebanon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel would accept a multi-national peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon as a solution to the current Mideast crisis, a spokesman in the office of Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz said.

Peretz suggested this during a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier Sunday, the spokesman said.

The force would have to be strong, unlike the current United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) contingent now in southern Lebanon, the spokesman said.

NATO was not specifically mentioned in the proposal, the spokesman said. (Posted 7 a.m.)

UN Relief chief: "We are plaster on the wound"

BEIRUT (CNN) -- The lack of safe routes for humanitarian relief supplies to be brought into southern Lebanon was one of U.N. emergency relief coordinator Jan Egeland's gripes as he toured the rubble-littered streets of southern Beirut Sunday.

"We do not have free access at the moment," he said. "We do not have security for our trucks. We do not have security for our relief people."

The United Nations has purchased 50 trucks and a ship that can travel from Cyprus to Beirut, then to the port city of Tyre, he said. The problem, however, is the lack of security. (Posted 6:14 a.m.)

Two car bombs kill 50, wound 165 Sunday

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A carnage of at least 50 dead and 165 wounded were left after two car bombers targeted a Kirkuk city courthouse and a busy Baghdad market Sunday.

The first suicide car bomb exploded at 9 a.m., ripping open a packed open-air market in the Sadr City section of eastern Baghdad, Baghdad police said; 32 were killed and 65 were wounded.

The suicide bomber was driving a minibus and detonated the bomb after picking up commuters at the entrance of the market, said an Iraqi who saw the bomb. The explosion was so powerful the witness said he was blown backwards from 150 yards away.

Video from the scene show survivors rushing the wounded out of the blast site while some lingered, crying over pools of blood in the street. The footage also showed several cars, trucks and vans destroyed in the blast, many of them sprayed with shrapnel.

Sadr City is a Shia district of the Iraqi capital.

The second car bomb exploded near the courthouse in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, killing 18 people and wounding 100, Kirkuk police said.

The blast ignited an intense fire that hampered rescue efforts.

--CNN's Jomana Karadsheh contributed to this report. (Posted 6:11 a.m.)

Israeli airstrikes target Tyre Sunday morning

TYRE, Lebanon (CNN) -- At least six Israeli bombs fell on the coastal city of Tyre in a 20-minute span Sunday morning, but it was not immediately clear what damage or casualties resulted.

Huge columns of smoke to rose on the horizon about two miles east and south of the center of the city, video showed.

Tyre has been one of the hardest hit areas since the Israeli airstrikes began 11 days ago. Hospitals in the city have reported at least 130 people killed there.

--From CNN's Karl Penhaul in Tyre. (Posted 3:38 a.m.)

Bombs strike Beirut, Sidon in early hours Sunday

BEIRUT (CNN) -- Israeli bombs rained on southern Lebanon and southern Beirut early Sunday, as Israel Defense Forces said it struck a building that "serves Hezbollah" in the town of Sidon.

Operations were also ongoing, according to the Israel Defense Force, in the southern portion of the Lebanese capital -- a Hezbollah stronghold -- on Sunday, the 12th day of conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. CNN crews in Beirut counted 11 explosions in the city between midnight and 3:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m. ET).

There were no immediate reports of casualties in Beirut. Lebanese media reported three people were injured in Sidon.

The Associated Press reported it was the first time the interior of Sidon had been targeted during the Israeli campaign. But CNN's Nic Robertson reported damage last week in Sidon from Israeli airstrikes -- a bridge destroyed, two gas stations targeted and Sidon's harbor bombed. (Updated 11:05 p.m.)

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