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President Morsi Says Constitutional Referendum With Go On; Ranulph Fiennes Prepares for Record Breaking Trek Across Antarctica In Winter

Aired December 6, 2012 - 16:00   ET


BECKY ANDERSON, HOST: Tonight, on Connect the World.


MOHAMMED Morsi, PRESIDENT OF EGYPT (through translator): ...achieve the will of the people. This is not expressed by the -- by anger, but by wisdom.


ANDERSON: As tanks and barricades surround the presidential palace, Egypt's president says talks, not violence, are the only solutions to the country's crisis.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is Connect the World with Becky Anderson.

ANDERSON: Well, with their president refusing to back down why some women believe Egypt's draft constitution dashes their hopes of a bright future.

Also this hour, an ancient weapon deployed in a very modern war. How Syria's rebels are resorting to makeshift slingshots to keep their fight alive.



RANULPH FIENNES, EXPLORER: It's like a drug, it's like an addiction. Once you are bitten by polar records, you keep going for it.


ANDERSON: Well, a right, royal sendoff for the world's greatest explorer as Sir Ranulph Fiennes attempts his coldest challenge yet.

Well, the referendum most go on. A defiant President Mohammed Morsi addressing Egypt just moment ago. He called for dialogue with opposition parties on Saturday and expressed sorrow over recent bloodshed. But he stressed that violence will not be tolerated.


Morsi (through translator): Although we respect the right of expression, peaceful expression, but I will never allow that anyone should refer to -- revert to murder and sabotage. I will not allow anyone to do that.


ANDERSON: Well, his speech comes a day after rival clashes left six people dead and over 600 injured. Well, earlier today tanks moved in to clear the area around the presidential palace of protesters. And tonight, the protesters are back with passions running high on the streets of Cairo once again.

Let's get you straight to CNN's Reza Sayah who is in Cairo for you tonight. Reza, you are overlooking the front of the presidential palace. Many of those who are there will have heard President Morsi's speech in just, what, he finished up about a half hour ago.

What's the mood like there?

REZA SAYAH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what's clear, Becky, is that the president's speech did not win over this crowd behind us. These are the opposition factions, the president's critics. Based on what we heard in the president's speech and based on the reaction of this crowd, I think this conflict is going to continue. I think a lot of people are anxious to see if the president would back down from his position, and clearly he did not.

What this speech appeared to be was part call for calm, part call for all these factions to get together and talk. And it was also part stern warning to the protesters who have turned to violence. The president saying I respect the freedom of expression, but I will not allow anyone to murder and sabotage and scare the citizens of Egypt. The president condemned the violence and said the perpetrators will not go unpunished.

He also called for the leaders of all these different political factions, even those of the opposition, to meet him at the presidential palace on Saturday to discuss this conflict and the current turmoil. And he tried to give reassurances about those controversial decrees that he announced last week . These are the declarations that really sparked this conflict. Once again, he tried to reassure the opposition that this was not a power grab, that these decrees will be eliminated and canceled once the national referendum on the constitution takes place on December 15.

However, that message, that effort to reassure the opposition not working with this particular crowd. We're still hearing chants of leave, leave, leave, Becky.

ANDERSON: That particular crowd of course looking for an annulment of this referendum December 15, not just a sense from Morsi that his emergency powers would end after that.

All right. Reza Sayah there for you in Cairo live. Reza, thank you for that.

Yesterday we brought press freedom under Egypt's draft constitution into sharp focus. Today we're going to take a look at another important issue, the rights of women. The promise of equality is made front and center right in the preamble. It says, and I quote, equality and equal opportunities are established for all citizens, men and women, without discrimination or nepotism or preferential treatment in both rights and duties.

Now article 10 addresses the rights, and some would argue the role, for women more specifically. It reads, "the state shall ensure maternal and child health service free of charge and enable the reconciliation between the duties of a woman towards her family and her work." It also ensures special care and protection to female breadwinners, divorced women and widows.

Well, that's not something, to be quite frank, that most governments promise to explicitly as part of their constitutions. But it's certainly not enough as far as many women in Egypt are concerned, that includes the award winning Egyptian rights activist Dalia Ziada. CNN has named Dalia as one of the Arab world's top agents of change.

She joins me now from Cairo.

And before we talk about the problems that you have with the way that the constitution is written, let's just go back to what's happened in the past half hour or so in that speech from President Morsi. What did you make of it?

DALIA ZIADA, EGYPTIAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST BLOGGER: Actually I think it was -- this speech has -- will actually initiate more violence and will make the situation much worse. What Morsi simply did in this speech is that he told the opposition that he's threatening them and he's considering them responsible for what happened yesterday. And at the same time, he is saying very clearly that he has spies in the offices of some political opposition. He said it very clear like there were people there and they told us so and so. So it's very scary.

And number three, and most importantly, he told the people there is no cancellation of the constitutional declaration that is actually the main reason for all the chaos that we are seeing now, until we make the referendum. How come you call for a dialogue with putting conditions in advance?

ANDERSON: OK. Well, let's talk about that. Let me stop you there for a moment. He did extend a call to all interested parties, Dalia, to go to the presidential palace on Saturday and talk to him. Will you go? I know that you are very much involved in Egyptian politics. You want to run for president in 2022.

Are you going to go? Does it give you any confidence at this stage?

ZIADA: No. Actually at this moment, after the death of the people yesterday, after the large number of marchers and the clashes that were actually launched by Muslim Brotherhood against the civilian non-violent protesters who were outside the presidential palace for two days and they did not attack the palace or take any violent action. And yesterday the Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood attacked them and beaten them.

I think it's very hard to bring -- to have a dialogue with such a president. For me, he's simply another copy of Mubarak, but an Islamic copy.

ANDERSON: Let's talk about this constitution for which there will still be, he says, a referendum on December the 15. Let's be clear, other constitutions, and I'm thinking about the U.S. if nowhere else around the world, don't explicitly guarantee the rights of women either. Battles over equality tend to play out in the courts. Is there not somewhat of an overreaction to what you see written in this constitution?

Some people will say it's fairer than other loosely termed democratic countries.

ZIADA: Yes, that's true. There are certain articles in the constitution that seems to be very supportive of certain human and women rights in particular. But in other places you will find that these articles are followed by other articles that actually kills the purpose of the first article. Like, for example, we had this famous article 36 in -- I think it was in the fourth and the third drafts of the constitution that says women and men are equal if it does not contradict Sharia.

When we complain that we want men and women are equal according to the international conventions and documents that Egypt signs, they said, OK, fine, let's cancel the whole article, not just cancel their line.

Now we have certain articles in the constitution that says everyone is equal, but when you go beneath, or within the constitution you will see other articles saying that the women have between house duties and her work duties. Is this equality? No.

ANDERSON: All right. Which brings me back to the question of why you're not prepared to go and talk at the presidential palace about what is written into this constitution, then, on Saturday. My next question to you is simply this, on that referendum, on December the 15, do you at this stage see authorities getting that organized? Can you actually see it happening at this point?

ZIADA: Yeah, actually, first of all at my centers, Ibam Hadoum Center (ph) we are making an alternative constitution to fix the mistakes that are in -- that is in the official draft of the constitution. And we will submit this to the presidential house and to the president as a first step for a fruitful dialogue.

On the other level, of course dialogue is needed, but give us a space, give us some time to recover from what happened in the past few days. And we are ready to make the referendum, but not in 15 days. We need some time to educate the public, a civil society organizations and activists about what's in this constitution to help the grass roots people vote, give the right vote, not just go and vote.

Because we have voted in a liberal democratic atmosphere recently. And we brought the wrong people in power. So we need to make sure that this time will be free voting that will make -- help people make the right, informed decision.

ANDERSON: Dalia, it's a pleasure to speak to you. Let's talk again. The referendum at present, at least, still scheduled for December the 15. Dalia Ziada who when she wrote to me slightly earlier on about this ahead of time said that she really felt pretty unsafe in Cairo at present.

You're watching Connect the World live from London. Our top story this evening, the army may have restored order on the streets, but Egypt remains a country bitterly divided ahead of a referendum on the country's controversial constitution. We just heard from Egypt's president Mohammed Morsi who says the only way forward is dialogue.

You're watching Connect the World live from London just after 10 past 9:00 tonight.

Still to come, once a bustling market street, now a front line in a bloody battle. An insight into how the rebels in Syria are waging war.

Homes destroyed and thousands displaced: a closer look at the devastation left behind by the typhoon in the Philippines.

And the ultimate test in survival. We talk to Sir Ranulph Fiennes about his new expedition, the coldest journey ever undertaken on Earth.

All that and much more when Connect the World continues. Please stay with us.


ANDERSON: You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World. I'm Becky Anderson. Welcome back.

Now rescue workers in the Philippines are struggling to reach survivors of Typhoon Bopha. The storm made landfall on Tuesday killing at least 331 people, most of them on the island of Mindanao. Officials say some 250,000 Filipinos are now homeless.

CNN's Liz Neisloss went to one of the hardest hit areas and sent us this report.


LIZ NEISLOSS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The aftermath of a super typhoon. Raging winds barreled through here leaving destruction and chaos. The grim tally of death continues to rise. Survivors must identify bodies covered in mud after flash floods. Many roads are impassible, hampering the search and any rescue.

Outside of Davao City, the flooding has swamped this neighborhood. 45 families made their way through waist high water to get to the highway and wait for help.

"The water was slowly rising to the roof," this man says.

Marie Sadita (ph) and her husband Reggie (ph) have cobbled together shelter from bits of wood and plastic. They have six children to feed, the oldest 13, the youngest just six. A tree fell on their flooded house, they say.

In the devastated province of Compastella Valley (ph), bags of rice and basic foods are readied for distribution. Officials call this immediate assistance. There's need for much more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of right now missing persons. We also have a lot of injured persons. What we lack -- what the government lacks here right now is medical and basically maybe people who would be able to help out in (inaudible) of the people who have been victimized.

NEISLOSS: This area is usually spared the annual typhoons that hit the country, so even with warnings many people here didn't believe that such a powerful and destructive force would land here.

This is what's left of Rosal Bocani's (ph) home and kitchen. She and her four children were terrified. They've never experienced a typhoon before.

"The wind destroyed my house. We ran away. the rooftop was flying," she says.

He 17 year old daughter Jane has salvaged her school yearbook and separates the waterlogged pages.

Tens of thousands fill evacuation centers in this area, many of the centers are community gyms like this one where there was no organized aid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There was so much damage. My house is already like that. No what -- we don't have a house anymore.

NEISLOSS: The need here is enormous for help and hope.

Liz Neisloss, CNN, Compestello Valley (ph), Philippines.


ANDERSON: The latest twist in what is an increasingly bizarre sage of the tech pioneer John McAfee may see him sent back to Belize. He surfaced in Guatemala after slipping across the border where authorities want to question him about his neighbor's killing. He says he didn't do it.

Well, after suffering what his attorney described as convulsion, McAfee has now been taken to a hospital in Guatemala City. CNN's Martin Savage is there in the city.

This is John McAfee, of course, apologies for the mispronunciation of his name.

Martin, what can you tell us at this point?

MARTIN SAVAGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know is that he's been taken to the National Police Hospital. and he's being evaluated at the moment inside the emergency room. That hospital is located right in the heart of Guatemala City. And of course it would indicate by its very name that he's still under the watchful eye of authorities here.

Originally it was described that he was suffering some kind of convulsion, that was from his attorney. But now his attorney says, no, it appears to be something more pertaining to his heart. He described it that McAfee was suffering from cardiac issues. We just don't know how serious this is.

What was interesting, though, is just a couple of hours before McAfee was blogging on his website. He apparently has access to a computer even though he is being detained by authorities for illegally entering the country. And he was describing how very good the conditions were in jail and how he was enjoying the company of the warden and having cups of coffee which he described as excellent.

So this health problem seems to have come on quick suddenly. And skeptics would look at it and say it also came on not long after the president denied him asylum, although his attorney says he was actually suffering from these health problems last night.

ANDERSON: So where do things stand at present this hour? He's there. They say they won't give him asylum. Are we expecting to see him sent back if indeed his health warrants it?

SAVAGE: I think what's going to happen, Becky, is that there will probably be an attempt by his attorney to get a stay. He is reporting on his website that's already been granted. If it's not, or if it's quickly dealt with, he could be on his way back to Belize and authorities there have told me that when he arrives they will take him for questioning and they'll take him in police custody.

ANDERSON: The plot thickens. Martin, always a pleasure. Thank you for that. Martin Savage in Guatemala City for you this evening.

Well, Prince Charles says he is thrilled at the thought of becoming a grandfather. He was speaking after his daughter-in-law, the Duchess of Cambridge, left a hospital where she spent the last three days being treated for acute morning sickness.

Matthew Chance with more.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the duchess left his hospital in central London where she's been treated for acute morning sickness. Escorted by her husband, Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, clutching a bouquet of roses and with a big smile on her face. It's been a very difficult few days for her.

A royal statement says she's now resting at home in Kensington Palace. And that the duke and duchess thank the staff of the hospital for all the attention and care that they gave.

Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, has also commented for the first time saying how excited he is at the prospect of becoming a grandad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your royal highness, what's your reaction to the news about the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge?

PRINCE CHARLES: How do you know I'm not a radio station?


PRINCE CHARLES, PRINCE OF WALES: No, in truth, it's marvelous. Very nice thought of grandfatherhood in my old age, if I may say so. So that's splendid. And I'm very glad my daughter-in-law is getting better, thank goodness.

CHANCE: Well, as Prince Charles was referring to there, there has been controversy over the privacy of the duchess at the hospital when it emerged that an Australian radio show made a prank call impersonating Prince Charles and the Queen and managed to get personal information about the duchess's condition from a nurse on the ward.

The station has since apologized saying it was all meant as a lighthearted thing. But the hospital, of course, has been forced now to seriously review its telephone security procedures in order to protect other high profile patients like the royals in the future.

Matthew Chance, CNN, London.


ANDERSON: Well, the Prince of Wales spoke to us there as the (inaudible) considered royalty in adventure. Of course, none other than Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

We're going to take very quick break. And when we come back the British explorer tells me why he's setting off on his biggest challenge yet, the world's coldest journey.


ANDERSON: The Guinness Book of Records considers him the world's greatest living explorer, but Sir Ranulph Fiennes isn't done yet. Today, the 68 year old British pioneer began his latest expedition and it is the most challenging of his career so far. I caught up with Sir Ranulph as he marked the start of what's being billed the coldest journey on Earth.


ANDERSON: He has conquered Everest and Switzerland's notorious Eiger. He was the first person to reach both the North and South Poles by land and the first to cross Antarctica on foot. Now, Sir Ranulph Fiennes is setting off on another historic mission. He's attempting to be the first person to traverse Antarctica in winter.

FIENNES: Why this particular Polar expedition, because it is genuinely the only huge, physical geographical challenge left to a human being.

ANDERSON: We're talking 3,200 kilometers, mostly in the dark, six grueling months at temperatures as low as minus 90 degrees. Not just to enter the record books, but to raise $10 million for Seeing is Believing, a global charity to prevent blindness.

With respect, sir, you're nearly 70. What drives you on?

FIENNES: Well, I suppose the fact that it hasn't been done. The people that have wanted these records as much as we do are mainly the Norwegians and we realize this, they realize that. For the last 40 years it's been, you know, back and forth. And they call it Polar hoola, meaning it's like a drug, it's like an addiction. Once you're bitten by Polar records you keep going for it.

ANDERSON: Sir Ranulph has already lost five fingers to frost bite on a past expedition. And while the 68 year old will be accompanied by high tech support vehicles, he and his team of five others will be on their own.

If things go wrong, what happens? You're thousands of miles away from any help.

FIENNES: Well, that is -- that is the problem. All the expeditions we've done in 40 years if something had gone wrong in a nasty place, you can't press a beacon. A ski plane can come in. This is the first time that if we run into problems like that, there is no help, because in Antarctica in winter all the rescue facilities shut off.

ANDERSON: And now the expedition ship is on its way, waved off by Prince Charles in London. (inaudible) will stop in South Africa and then head to Antarctica.

The team will start from (inaudible) in the north on March 21 and trek south to reach Captain Scott's base at McMurdo Sound by September 21.

This is a life threatening trip, Ran. Do you think about that? Do you think about not coming back?

FIENNES: I don't think about not coming back, because I mean, more people get killed on the roads here than they do in Antarctica.

ANDERSON: That's because there are more people on the roads here than there are people in Antarctica.

FIENNES: Yeah, but I mean, I had a massive heart attack reading a magazine on an airplane. You don't need to go to Antarctica to pop it.

ANDERSON: What does the family think? Do they encourage this?

FIENNES: Well, for 36 years my late wife was the radio operator and base commander. She was on the expeditions. When she died, when I got married again, had a baby daughter, I hadn't been on a big expedition since that happened. Therefore, this -- I will know whether it has a bad effect mentally or not when I go on it.

ANDERSON: When you look forward at this point, what is it you're thinking about most?

FIENNES: Well, you think about your family, your wife, children. If you want to be a bit more sort of physical, my personal thing is have a hot bath. I love hot baths, foam baths. And, you know, to me that's better than any sort of amphetamine.


ANDERSON: So you're not going to have one for about six months. Have one before you leave.

FIENNES: People do smell, but then they always smell, so it doesn't matter.


ANDERSON: Amazing.

You can follow Sir Ranulph's Journey on over the next, what is it, March through September. So when he gets going he'll be posting regular diary notes and photographs from his expedition.

If you want to read more about his epic journey, head to CNN's blog, the Connect the World blog. You can find that at

All right, I want to get you back to our top story this hour and the political standoff in Egypt. We're getting word that the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Cairo -- in a Cairo neighborhood is on fire.

This is what we know at this point. The Brotherhood's official English language Twitter site says hundreds surrounding the building.

We brought you the speech in the past hour or so from President Mohammed Morsi. Mr. Morsi condemned violent protests saying those guilty, and I quote, "will not escape punishment."

We're going to bring you more developments on that story, of course, as you would expect here on CNN as they become available.

We've got headlines just after this short break coming up. And as the violence continues in Damascus, a Russian official makes an intriguing remark about the Syrian government. What he said and what it could mean for the conflict.

That follows your headlines coming up, as I say, after this short break. You're watching Connect the World. Please stay with us.


ANDERSON: A very warm welcome to our viewers across Europe and around the world. I'm Becky Anderson, these are the latest world news headlines from CNN.

Breaking news out of Egypt this hour, where the Muslim Brotherhood's official Twitter account reports that the party's headquarters in the Cairo neighborhood of Moqattam is on fire, with hundreds of people surrounding the building.

Now, this shortly after Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi addressed the nation as he deals with a continuing political crisis. He said the only way to resolve the recent unrest is through dialogue and has called for weekend talks. Mr. Morsi also condemned the violent protests and expressed sorrow for the bloodshed.

A Syrian opposition group says at least 47 people have been killed today across the country. Video posted online appears to show flames and smoke from a car bombing in Damascus. State media blamed the attack on what the government called terrorists.

New aerial video shows the devastation from a typhoon left behind the Philippines. Twenty homes were swept away in this valley when flash floods raged through. Now, that typhoon killed at least 331 people and left a quarter of a million others homeless.

Pregnant Duchess of Cambridge is said to be resting at Kensington Palace hours after completing a three-day stay at a London hospital. Catherine was being treated for a severe kind of morning sickness. Her father-in-law, Prince Charles, told CNN he is thrilled he'll soon be a grandfather.

Russia and the United States say they will work together to find a, quote, "creative solution" to the crisis in Syria. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton is in Dublin in Ireland for a conference on the sidelines of which she met with Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov and UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. Now, Brahimi said no, quote, "sensational decisions" have been made.

Well, as Clinton leads a new diplomatic push on Syria, the Syrian foreign ministry is slamming intelligence reports that say that the regime may be getting ready to use chemical weapons against rebels. Barbara Starr following that important angle of the story and joins me now from Washington. What exactly do we know at this point, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Becky, very little. And in fact, here in Washington, all hands on deck trying to figure out exactly what the Syrian regime is up to with that deadly arsenal.


STARR (voice-over): The horror remains unspeakable. Twenty-five years ago. Saddam Hussein unleashed one of the worst poison gas attacks in history. In the town of Halabja, thousands were killed.

Now, in Syria, US concerns are growing by the hour that Bashar al- Assad may be planning the same thing against his citizens.

LEON PANETTA, US DEFENSE SECRETARY: The intelligence that we have raises serious concerns that this is being considered.

STARR: US intelligence shows Syria has mixed chemical compounds needed to make sarin gas, a deadly agent that can quickly kill thousands.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The United States and our allies are facing the prospect of an imminent use of weapons of mass destruction in Syria, and this may be the last warning we get.

STARR: The US is not precisely saying what the Syrians are doing, but there are two ways of mixing elements to make a sarin-filled weapon.

LEONARD SPECTOR, MONTEREY INSTITUT OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: You have to handle it very, very carefully, because a drop will kill you. So, often this will be done at the last minute, or -- that's one style --

STARR: There's another way to do it. Two chemicals are placed in an artillery shell, separated by a disc. When the shell is fired, the disc explodes, the chemicals mix, becoming deadly sarin. But at some point, the chemicals are on the move.

SPECTOR: Then they have to decide to move it to the place where the delivery system sits. So, it may be artillery pieces and an artillery battery of some kind. It could be an airport or military air base, where the bombers are sitting.

STARR: That may be the final opportunity to strike before chemical weapons are used.

MCCAIN: The time for talking about what to do may now be coming to a close and we may instead be left with an awful and very difficult decision.


STARR: Now, sarin gas, when stored properly, can last for some weeks to come, so we could see these heightened tensions go on for some time, Becky.

ANDERSON: Barbara, thank you for that. Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson with me in the studio here. So, we're hearing form stateside what intelligence, at least from their side, is telling us about what we believe might be happening on the ground in Syria. What reaction from the rebels on all of this chemicals weapons rhetoric?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting, because there's a degree of skepticism, perhaps not surprising. Look, the rebels are very disappointed with the international community, have said all along they want weapons from the international community, want support. Hasn't been coming. They've been kind of asking themselves why particularly about the United States.

Now, one rebel commander speaking to journalists actually said that he thought in a way that there was a pretext being created here for intervention of outside forces, US forces, others, to come into Syria.

And he said, look. We don't want your troops here. We want the weapons. What we want are these specific weapons that are going to help us advance our fight. So, there's this skepticism there on the rebel side.

The political side is a more nuanced message. George Sabra, who's the president of the Syrian National Council, talked about it today, and he was really sort of seeing this as an opportunity to get more support. This is what he said.


GEORGE SABRA, PRESIDENT, SYRIAN NATIONAL COUNCIL: If international community supports the coalition and make him able to help people inside Syria, to provide humanitarian aid, to provide weapons to defend themselves, that means the coalition will win the game.


ANDERSON: As you point out, that's the voice of the sort of political side of what we know to be the opposition in Syria. You raise, though, a very interesting point, Nic, about what the rebels themselves on the ground want and need. Do stay with me for a moment.

We know that recently the opposition have got their hands on some pretty decent firepower, namely surface-to-air missiles. But some rebel groups are still having to make due with, quite frankly, some very basic kits. Senior international correspondent Arwa Damon is inside Syria right now and got a fascinating insight into just that. Here's her latest report from Syria's largest city, Aleppo.



ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Aleppo's old city has not seen such devastation since occupied by the Mongol invaders eight centuries ago.

DAMON (on camera): This mosque, for example, dates back to 1315. This is Syria's rich cultural heritage, and now everywhere we look, it's been scarred by war.

DAMON (voice-over): Once bustling, winding streets, now a maze of ever-shifting front lines. Overhead, the thundering of fighter jet. A small home, lodging for caravans down the ages, lies in ruins.

For more than three millennia, Aleppo has been a crossroads for traders. We hurry through the courtyard of a traditional home.

Sheets are strung across streets to block snipers' line of sight.


DAMON: Those who dare, venture quickly across. A unit of fighters records people's names and license plates. Only those who have shops here are allowed through.

Abu Bashir says they are trying to clamp down on robberies. He shows us the list. The highlighted names have cleared out all their possessions.

In one market, a shop recently hit by army fire still smolders. A man who doesn't want to appear on camera rushes to clear his wares. The stench of filth and cordite has replaced the once intoxicating spells of spices that wafted through these streets.

Down one narrow street, we run into Khalid, carrying an infrared camera he's about to install. "There are government snipers, so we started putting up cameras to observe and target them," he tells us. A former electrician, Khalid as so far managed to put up four and string together a jumble of power cables.

As we move toward the front line, he picks up a mortar, and points out the rebel's former firing position. Now, they've moved it up a block.

"Step this way. There is a sniper," he warns.

This is the rebels' so-called field operations center. A flat-screen TV in a medieval setting.

DAMON (on camera): The camera that Khalid wants to set up is going to be in front of the building that we can just see from here --


DAMON: And right in front of it is a makeshift slingshot, and that is how they're firing the mortars.

DAMON (voice-over): An ancient weapon deployed in a very modern war.


In a narrow alleyway, the muezzin makes the call to prayer. There is no power to amplify his appeal, and his voice echoes off the walls, punctuated by the ricochet of bullets.

The heart of old Aleppo, now the historic battleground for the very uncertain future of Syria.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Aleppo.


ANDERSON: A slice of life as we know it in December 2012 in Syria. Nic's still with me. What sort of changes in attitude are we seeing outside of Syria? I think that's really important. I know we heard from the Russian state deputy Duma spokesman today, who said this:

"The current government in Syria must fulfill its functions, but time has shown that it is not up to the task." Russian, Syria not up to the task.

ROBERTSON: It's huge. I mean, this is huge. The deputy speaker at the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, is not going to say something that isn't sanctioned by the Kremlin. He just wouldn't do it. This is the first time we're seeing and hearing the Kremlin backing away from Assad.

That's been his sort of backstop. As long as he's had Russia behind him, he's known he's going to have weapons coming, he's got support, political support behind him, they've been behind him, very strongly behind him, and now they're saying they're not.

The writing is on the wall for Assad, and it's -- really, the question is, how hollow is his regime at the moment and how long are they going to stay around him when they know the Russians aren't there? That's been the ace in his pocket.

ANDERSON: Let's get you a map up, then, and get you to pick up the pen and just talk us through where we stand at present. Firstly, Well, it seems that Assad is in Damascus, right? Pretty much surrounded at this point? Tell me.

ROBERTSON: Well, we do assume that. We don't know. But if he was to leave, it would send a huge signal, because the rebels are trying to take the fight to Damascus. If he was to run from there, it would tell his troops on the streets, his cohorts around him, that he was scared. So, he's not going to do that.

What you have in the region, if you sort of look at what could happen if the chemical weapons scenario begins to play out, i.e. they get closer to being weaponized, down here, right down here in the Red Sea, you have some amphibious -- US amphibious assault craft. They have helicopters, they have fighter jets onboard, marines onboard. They could be moved, theoretically, in about three days here to the Mediterranean.

You have in the Mediterranean as well at this time, you have some other US ballistic missile-carrying vessels. They're mostly involved in sort of Europe, NATO shield ballistic missiles. Also, they carry Tomahawks and such like long-range cruise missiles. So, those could be deployed. Fighter aircraft, perhaps, coming from Italy, a US base there.

But what else could happen in the region if that were to happen? Well, we see NATO strengthening its position along the border here with Turkey, patriots could be brought into play. But troops to go in? Again, we -- going back to what that rebel commander said, that's not something the rebels want, so potentially standoff armaments. It's a question, though.

ANDERSON: Certainly things are heating up, there's no doubt about that, and that's been clear over the past week or so. Nic Robertson, always on the case for you out of London. This time, will be in Syria, no doubt, soon. Nic Robertson, joining you tonight.

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD live from London with me, Becky Anderson. Coming up, ever heard of roller hockey? Well, we're going to meet the world champion after this short break. Do stay with us, this is CONNECT THE WORLD out of London at 45 minutes past 9:00.


ANDERSON: Well, it's got sticks, skates, and lots of attitude, and while roller hockey may not have a high profile in the sporting world, the game requires, I am told at least, loads of skill. In this week's Human to Hero, we meet Spanish team captain Pedro Gil, who has more medals and trophies than you could, well, quite frankly, shake a hockey stick at.


PEDRO GIL, SPANISH ROLLER HOCKEY TEAM CAPTAIN (through translator): I play roller hockey, and I'm a forward. I've scored lots of goals, and I've never kept count, but I hope to score more.

I'm the captain of the Spanish team. I've won five World Cups and three Cup of Nations with Spain.

Roller hockey is a sport which you play with skates and a stick, so it's a sport which is difficult, because you have to master two skills, the stick in your hand and roller skating. Last year, there was a study, which said that a shot with a stick in roller hockey is around 120 kilometers per hour. People hit the ball hard in this sport.

I've been the captain of the Spanish national side for the last four years. I've played for Spain since 2000, for 13 consecutive years. To wear your national team shirt is an indescribable, special moment. I feel a huge responsibility.

When you're captain, you have to show why you're captain. You have to set an example to your teammates. We all have weak points, and training on those each day improves you as an all-around player. In this respect, I think that my dedication from day to day, trying to improve my technique, training, means that from year to year I am among the best players in the world.

It appealed to me to win things in other countries. I have to win. Win titles. I will never get tired of winning. I've played in Spain, Portugal, and now Italy.

My team is Valdagno. I train two hours a day skating, and on hour of stretching and fitness. My favorite way to relax is to spend time at home with my family.

There are few vices you can afford to have as a sportsman. So, the only one left is tattoos, which I indulge in. It's an art for me. I have 40-odd tattoos. I've lost count of how many exactly.

I have this, the number 9, which is related to my roller hockey career. I've always worn the number 9 shirt, and it means a lot to me. In my life and my sport, it's my lucky number.

There was no on in my family who played roller hockey. I was the first, and then my brother, and now my son also plays. But I was the first in the family, with my school friends at four years of age. We used to live opposite the roller hockey rink in my village.

I live for this sport. It's a low-profile sport, it's small, but for m, it's the greatest thing of all. For me, there's nothing better than being where I am now.


ANDERSON: What a tough guy. For more on Pedro or any of the experts profiled in our Human to Hero series, check out the website,

You're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. When we come back this evening, Lionel Messi is used to making fans gasp, but not like this. When will the Barcelona star return to the pitch? And your sports headlines after this.


ANDERSON: All right. Barcelona fans and perhaps many other football fans around the world held their breath when Lionel Messi fell to the ground in pain this time last night and was stretchered off during a Champions League match.

Well, all of us can exhale just a little bit. Mark McKay here with what is the latest on Messi's injury. What do we know, Mark?

MARK MCKAY, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: We know it's a bruise. We know shortly after the fact on -- last night, Becky, that it was a bruise to his knee. Further tests early Thursday confirmed it.

Boy, he went down at the Camp Nou, and as you said, Barcelona supporters, football fans around the world, especially those in Argentina, who've watched this guy do his work through the years, all held their collective breath, but it turned out to be a bruise on his knee.

Although Messi went before cameras and lights on Thursday saying when he went down, he thought maybe that was the last time that he would hit the ball for a while. He may not play in his club's match this coming weekend in La Liga, so he might miss one.

Of course, he's going for that record that Gerd Mueller holds of 85 goals scored in a calendar year. He's within reach of that, but when we saw pictures like this last night, my Twitter page and my Facebook page lit up with Barcelona supporters worried. But even Messi himself says don't worry, it's not a big deal. He will bounce back from this, Becky.

ANDERSON: Good stuff. All right. Staying with football tonight. UEFA, I know, has made some big changes to their European championships. We've been sort of talking about this most of the week. What's the state of play at this point?

MCKAY: Well, the green light is on, Becky, for the European championships in 2020 not to be held in one country, not to be held in two countries, but in multiple major cities across major countries in Europe. It's being called a Euro for Europe.

And you know, Becky, the fans make up these events so much. I'm going to take you back. You and I had the pleasure of working together in Berlin in 2006 at the World Cup. Remember how the fans made that event?

It's become the same thing with the European championship, where the fans become such a part of this. We saw it, as we saw the co-host earlier this year put on a fantastic tournament. UEFA, they have it in the preliminary stages, but they've given the green light now for the European championship in 2020 to be held all across the continent in various major cities.

They still have to work on the fine details. And it's only for that particular tournament. France will hold it in 2016. But I don't know about you, Becky, I think this is a great idea considering the way you can get around Europe pretty easily via train and plane. I just --


MCKAY: I think it's a great idea for UEFA.

ANDERSON: So do I, actually. Good for you. Now, I'm all up for that, and it gives everybody a chance to get to see a match as well. Mark, thank you for that. Back with "World Sport" in just about a half hour's time --

MCKAY: You got it.

ANDERSON: -- of course. Mark McKay in the house for you this evening here on CNN.

Finally, before we go this evening, I want to just remember the life of Oscar Niemeyer, who died on Wednesday at the age of 104. One of South America's most famed architects, he's created -- he's credited, sorry, with designing much of Brazil's capital.

A committed Communist, he was extremely good friends with Cuba's Fidel Castro. He spoke to CNN in 2008, and his words described one of his most memorable designs. Just have a listen to this.


OSCAR NIEMEYER, ARCHITECT (through translator): What really gives me joy is when I look at a building that I designed and know that it's not the same as the other ones. It's a bit different. It surprises. It amazes.

For me, the major concern in Brazil shouldn't be about architecture. Our most fundamental concern should be making young people understand what life is really about, for them to recognize how small we are.


ANDERSON: Oscar Niemeyer, died at the age of 104.

I'm Becky Anderson, that was CONNECT THE WORLD. Thank you for watching.