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Crisis in Syria; Egypt Unrest; Bid to Free Imprisoned American; Eurozone Unemployment; Spain's "Brain Drain"; Syria's Refugees; NFL Settlement

Aired August 30, 2013 - 08:00:00   ET

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


PAULINE CHIOU, CNN HOST: Syria says it ready to face any military action against it. According to Syria's state news agency, the country's defense minister issued the warning to Western powers in a phone call with his Iranian counterpart. It comes as the U.S. and perhaps others weigh a possible military response to the suspected chemical weapons attack in Damascus last week.

United Nations weapons inspectors are wrapping up their investigation in Damascus. They are expected to brief U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shortly after they leave the Syrian capital on Saturday.

Ban will then address the U.N. Security Council, which is currently deadlocked over how to resolve the crisis in Syria.

A Western diplomat told CNN's Nick Paton Walsh there was, quote, "no meeting of minds" at a meeting there on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Britain's prime minister has ruled out any U.K. involvement in military action in Syria after he lost a crucial vote in Parliament on Thursday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CAMERON, PRIME MINISTER, GREAT BRITAIN: It is very clear tonight that, while the House has not passed a motion, it is clear to me that the British Parliament, reflecting the views of the British people, does not want to see British military action. I get that and the government will act accordingly.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: And that leaves the U.S. without the backing of one of its staunchest allies. Going it alone against the Syrian government is an option for America according to one senior U.S. official. But speaking in Manila in the Philippines, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel made it clear the U.S. would prefer to work with its international partners.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I don't know of many responsible governments around the world, if any, that have not spoken out in violent opposition to the use of chemical weapons on innocent people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU: A White House spokesman says U.S. President Barack Obama is still weighing what course of action to take. But he asked the administration is working on what he called "a compressed timeline" to respond to the suspected chemical weapons attack.

Jim Acosta has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the face of more questions from Congress and key U.S. allies, the Obama administration said it's determined to send what it calls "an unambiguous signal," not just as Syria's leader Bashar al-Assad put the world.

JOSH EARNEST, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's also important for other totalitarian dictators around the globe who are watching the circumstances unfold in Syria and are watching the international community's reaction to understand that the international community will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House said Mr. Obama is still looking at "a compressed timeframe" for action, along with a possible presidential statement on a Syria mission, and did not deny there are doubts about forming a broad international coalition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because the American president foolishly drew a red line and because of his position now, he's going to attack or face humiliation.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Others accused Prime Minister David Cameron of following the U.S. into another war based on faulty intelligence, namely another Iraq.

CAMERON: But this is not like Iraq, and the evidence that the Syrian regime has used these weapons in the early hours of the 21st of August is right in front of our eyes.

ACOSTA (voice-over): White House officials say there's no comparison.

EARNEST: What we saw in that circumstance was an administration that was searching high and low to produce evidence to justify a military invasion, an open-ended military invasion of another country.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the administration still had to defend President Obama's comments to PBS that somehow Syria could attack the U.S.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is a prospect, a possibility in which chemical weapons -- they can have devastating effects -- could be directed at us.

ACOSTA: Does he really think that Syria is capable of launching chemical weapons at the United States?

What did he mean by that?

EARNEST: I think what we're very concerned about is the willingness that the Assad regime has demonstrated to use chemical weapons.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest pointed to allies near Syria, like Israel and Turkey.

EARNEST: That doesn't even get into military bases and other interests that we have in the region.

ACOSTA (voice-over): To make his case, the president called top leaders in Congress from both parties, after complaints from one key intelligence committee chairman that conversations so far "do not constitute formal notification and consultation with Congress."

Even some Democrats aren't satisfied.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I definitely believe that there needs to be a vote.

ACOSTA: The White House still plans to release an unclassified intelligence assessment to the public before a strike, but officials warn it won't be the same version shown to key members of Congress. That, a spokesman said, is because they have to protect what they call sources and methods -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: While British lawmakers have rejected a proposal for military intervention in Syria, Prime Minister David Cameron said the U.K. still strongly condemns the Assad regime.

CNN's Atika Shubert joins us now live from Downing Street in London.

Atika, this was very much a surprise and also a political defeat for the prime minister. So what happens next?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Very much a defeat. But Prime Minister Cameron said he still plans to take the case to the U.N., that he still condemns the Assad regime and that he will have a conversation with President Obama in the next few days about what steps to take next.

Take a listen to what he said earlier this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAMERON: British Parliament has spoken very, very clearly about its views about military involvement. That doesn't stop us condemning chemical weapons. It doesn't stop us condemning the Assad regime.

It doesn't stop us working with allies to bring the maximum pressure on this regime and the appalling things that it's doing, but on the specific issue, on British military action, I think that was the message of the debate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUBERT: And a very clear message Britain will not be helping in any military strike. It may be able to help politically, diplomatically, but there will be no military contribution from here. And that means the United States will have to look to other allies, such as France.

French President Francois Hollande has said that France is ready to help in any military strike, and that a strike could come even before Wednesday. And that's critical because Wednesday is when French parliament will be holding their own emergency debate on whether or not they should authorize the strike in Syria.

CHIOU: Now, Atika, before this vote, the U.S. and Great Britain had talked about being very close partners in this. Now the U.S. is suddenly looking to other allies.

What could this do to the influence and the relationship that David Cameron has with President Obama?

SHUBERT: Well, clearly, it's a big blow to that special relationship between Britain and the United States; Prime Minister Cameron was simply not able to deliver the military help that he says was requested of him by the U.S.

He failed to deliver those votes in Parliament. And this was not just a stunning defeat; it was a complete turnaround in the days following -- in the days leading up to this vote.

Prime Minister Cameron spoke about quick, decisive action in Syria; it seemed very confident about pushing ahead with it. And then all of a sudden, in last night's vote, this resounding defeat -- 285 to 272 -- and you could hear the emotion in his voice as he responded to that vote. And it was a very tense time in Parliament.

So emotions running very high; but the fact is Britain will not be contributing in any way militarily.

CHIOU: And one strategy that was discussed, Atika, was going in on humanitarian grounds.

Is that argument totally off the table now?

CHIOU: Well, not completely. But the fact is that Prime Minister Cameron has said he will respect the vote, that Britain will not take military action. And I think that (inaudible) you can't -- you can't -- that you must remember here is that this is not just about Syria. A lot of the opposition lawmakers have said there was simply not enough evidence to justify military strike.

But for much of the British public, this just really brings back memories of the run-up to the war in Iraq, a deeply unpopular war here, one in which many -- much of the public feel they were misled by dodgy evidence.

And so there was -- a lot of that has really been hanging over the vote here and the public feeling about what's -- about the possibility of a strike in Syria. And that ultimately is what may have led lawmakers to vote they way they did last night.

CHIOU: Yes, not enough evidence and at the same time we're still waiting for the U.N. investigators to complete their work in Syria.

Atika, thank you very much. Atika Shubert there live from Downing Street.

Now as Jim Acosta had mentioned a little bit earlier, the U.S. is publishing a declassified version of the intelligence it has gathered on the suspected chemical weapons attack. That's expected to happen later on today.

CNN has learned new details about that assessment. Senior U.S. officials say they have evidence of top Syrian regime officials preparing for the attack, and a U.S. official says there are intercepts of conversations between Syrian military leaders discussing the chemical attack afterwards.

A source says these are key to the conclusion that the Syrian government was behind the August 21st assault. As to whether the chemical attack was ordered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad himself, a senior U.S. officials says the administration has a, quote, "very clear answer," but that official won't say what that answer is.

And the information may not appear in the published version of the assessment.

On Thursday, the U.K. published some details of its intelligence. The joint intelligence committee assessment says the Syrian regime has used lethal chemical weapons 14 times since 2012. It also says there is no credible intelligence or other evidence to show that the Syrian opposition has chemical weapons.

That led the committee to conclude that it is highly likely the Syrian government was responsible for the chemical attack. But one question remains for British intelligence agencies, and that is why the regime would have carried out an attack of this scale at this time.

Well, U.N. inspectors are wrapping up their investigation in Damascus. They've visited sites on outskirts of the city where activists say many were killed in chemical attacks.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is following the story for us from CNN Beirut in neighboring Lebanon.

Fred, the investigators plan to leave tomorrow morning. How soon will details of their investigation be released?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it will be pretty soon because they're due to brief the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shortly after they get out of Syria which, as you say, is early tomorrow morning.

The question is how much detail will actually find out about it and also I'm not sure that they're actually going to get all of their stuff published, that they also probably have to send some of the things that they've found out to labs to be further analyzed.

But today's actually a really important day for them as well, because they are out in Damascus again today, from what we know. But they're not visiting rebel controlled areas. They're not visiting the outskirts of Damascus.

Instead, they're inside a hospital, a government-run hospital, a military hospital known as the 601. And there, they're talking to Syrian soldiers who say they were wounded by rebel chemical attacks.

The Syrian government came out earlier today in the form of the defense minister saying they have proof that the rebels themselves used chemicals on the battlefield; the defense minister saying this in a phone call with his Iranian counterpart.

It's something that the Syrians have been saying for a while. And one of the things that they talk about is an attack that allegedly happened on August 22nd in the Jobar district, which is fairly central in Damascus, but is a rebel-controlled area. They say their soldiers were making a push forward there and got hit by chemicals.

So the weapons inspectors not only checking out those sites of the alleged attacks last Wednesday in the rebel controlled areas but also taking to account the things that a government is saying and checking out those claims as well, Pauline.

CHIOU: OK. So they're in the government hospital today, but they did have access to those sites earlier.

They didn't have access for several days after that Wednesday attack. So will they be able to get good quality samples and good quality evidence?

PLEITGEN: Yes, that's a very good question. And the inspectors themselves have said that they have gotten some very good samples, that they've gotten some very good evidence. And a part, of course, that comes from then questioning people on the ground.

So when they go out there to those regions, especially the outskirts of Damascus, you're talking about the Qutta (ph) region, which is in the northeast, but also Mondamiya (ph), which is in the southwest of Damascus.

They talk to people who were allegedly affected by these chemicals. They asked them when this happened, how this happened and, of course, especially what the effects of all this were on their bodies. They also talk to doctors in the field hospitals. Those doctors themselves took samples from the earlier stages, from before the inspectors were able to get down on the ground.

But nevertheless, of course, the U.S. is saying, the U.K. is saying and the U.N. itself is saying the longer the mission was delayed, the more difficult it would have been to find evidence on the ground. And so certainly that is something that has hampered this mission from the beginning and has hampered its international credibility as well, Pauline.

CHIOU: Yes, absolutely.

All right, Fred, thank you very much, Fred Pleitgen there live from CNN Beirut.

You're watching NEWS STREAM. And after the break, with all this talk about a possible attack on Syria, who's actually ready to do what? And we'll take a closer look at military assets in the region.

And a little later, Spain's "brain drain," a prominent astrophysicist that tells us why she believes there's no hope for her and her colleagues there.

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(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHIOU: you are watching NEWS STREAM and you're looking at a visual version of all the stories we've got in the show today. A little later, we'll look at the plight of Syria's refugees. But as the debate over military action in Syria continues, let's take a look at some logistics.

And this map shows key military bases in the region. The U.K. recently deployed six jets to its base in Cyprus. But Britain said the jets were not sent to take part in military action against Syria. Ministers later voted against participating in a military strike.

The U.S. also has a strategic presence in this region. CNN's military analyst says the bases in Italy and Turkey would be increasing their munitions stockpiles at the moment. They are within striking distance of Syria.

Four U.S. Navy destroyers are in the eastern Mediterranean. A Defense Department official said they could execute a mission within hours of getting an hour. But for now, they are in a holding pattern.

The U.S. is not the only country with ships in the area. Russia has deployed vessels as part of a planned rotation. The Russian state news agency says it is not connected to heightening tensions over Syria.

And let's get more on this from the Pentagon's perspective. Barbara Starr joins us now live from Washington.

Now, Barbara, will the U.S. realistically try to go at Syria alone?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, we don't know the answer just yet, Pauline, because the president hasn't made any announcement.

But all the indications in Washington are that that is a real possibility on the table, that the president, the White House feel strongly enough about the need to do something to respond to Syria's chemical attacks, that they might just decide to execute a unilateral strike that they would like to have support from an international coalition, but it may not be mandatory.

CHIOU: I'm curious about what the timeline would be, because U.N. inspectors will leave Syria by Saturday morning. Some of the samples that they have will take to some time to test. And we've talked to Fred Pleitgen about that. They have to send them to labs.

So will the U.S. wait until that U.N. investigation is completed before making a decision?

STARR: Well, again, that's something that the president will have to decide. There are already some tissue samples from the attack; they've not been fully analyzed. But the intelligence assessment, our sources say, is solid, that the regime was behind the attacks. Whether it was Assad himself or not, they say, isn't really the relevant point, that the regime itself was behind ordering the attacks.

So if the U.S. feels that intelligence is solid enough, they may decide, go unilaterally and not to wait for the tissue samples; we just don't know yet.

CHIOU: Now the U.S. has already indicated that if a strike does happen, it would be very short and targeted. It might target places like command centers or transportation routes.

But in a sense, this is telegraphing what the U.S. might do. So what's to stop al-Assad from using civilians as human shields? The regime really now has time to get a plan in place, don't they?

STARR: Yes, you know, this is really the interesting thing that so many days of discussion and public discussion about an attack have gone by, because officials say they are already seeing Assad move things around, move weapons, disperse aircraft, move people around.

This is causing the U.S. intelligence community to have to do some retargeting, making sure everything's up to date, making sure that if they are going to strike a facility, that there aren't chemical weapons inside because, of course, they don't want to do that. That could be a catastrophe to strike a building with chemical weapons and have some unintended dispersal of that material.

So this is becoming a real challenge. And it may be one of the reasons the administration is going to have to make a decision fairly soon. It's kind of a question of how long do you let this go on.

CHIOU: Yes, yes, absolutely. It's such a delicate situation.

All right, Barbara, thank you very much for the perspective from the Pentagon.

STARR: Sure.

CHIOU: Now let's take a look at some other news after a break. Next, tough times in Spain with unemployment at 26 percent. Some of the most talented Spaniards are leaving their country. One prominent astrophysicist gives us insight into what's being called the country's "brain drain."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

CHIOU: We are keeping an eye on Egypt this hour. The Muslim Brotherhood has called for mass protests following Friday prayers. On Thursday, state media reported the arrest of a senior Brotherhood leader.

Mohamed al-Beltagy is accused of inciting violence after last month's ousting of then president Mohammed Morsy. A number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been arrested since the military deposed Morsy.

A special U.S. envoy is asking North Korea to release the American Kenneth Bae. Bae is serving a 15-year sentence of hard labor. North Korean authorities accused him of trying to overthrow the government. Bae's sister says his health has severely deteriorated. U.S. Ambassador Robert King is expected to appeal to Pyongyang for a pardon on humanitarian grounds.

Let's move on to what's happening in the Eurozone.

Unemployment figures came out today and the unemployment rate was unchanged in July. Still at a record 12.1 percent, but the total number of people out of work fell slightly by 15,000 to 19.23 million people.

The E.U. employment commissioner said the fall in numbers was encouraging but still unacceptable. Greece is still the worst affected, with an unemployment rate of a whopping 27.6 percent. And Spain doing just slightly better with an unemployment rate of 26.3 percent.

While Spain's economic woes continue, some say government budget cuts are crippling scientific research programs. One prominent astrophysicist has packed her bags already. She says she's being forced to look for work overseas. Al Goodman has her story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

AL GOODMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amaya Moro-Martin is a Spanish astronomer exploring a vast new universe: motherhood. This is her first child.

But her joy is tempered by concerns about providing for her little girl. Her job at a government research center is being eliminated. So she's leaving for the United Nations to work, she says, at NASA on a space telescope.

AMAYA MORO-MARTIN, ASTRONOMER: Many of my colleagues are either live in the country or they are living in siles (ph).

GOODMAN (voice-over): It's become known as Spain's "brain drain."

MORO-MARTIN: The country like Spain that is (inaudible) economic crisis just cannot cutting in research and development so much because it's basically about cutting the future, the future of the country.

GOODMAN (voice-over): She's no stranger to America. She got her Ph.D. in astronomy at the University of Arizona and later worked at Princeton as a researcher. But six years ago, she says she and some other Spanish scientists abroad returned home after a government promise of tenured track research jobs for scientists.

But budget cuts have all but killed that.

GOODMAN: So do you feel you were tricked?

MORO-MARTIN: Yes. Absolutely. But more than me, it goes beyond that. I feel that society's been tricked because we have a government that is not investing in a sector than can help Spain get out of these economic crises.

GOODMAN (voice-over): She's written to the prime minister demanding more research funds and help lead scientists on a protest to the economy ministry, where they tried to deliver a petition with thousands of signatures. They weren't allowed in.

MORO-MARTIN: I think in one of these pictures we are taping it to the fence. That's the letter taped to the fence.

GOODMAN: That was here. The ministry of economy declined an interview, but in a statement insists that funding for scientific research will be a priority in next year's budget.

MORO-MARTIN: Yes, a priority in the budget cuts. This is what's happening for all these years. They keep saying that it's a priority but then.

GOODMAN (voice-over): So she's focused her priority on her daughter's future in America.

MORO-MARTIN: Well, I will tell her that her mom did all she could to improve the situation in Spain, not only for her, but for everyone. But she also chose the option that allow her to have a bright career.

GOODMAN: Because there's no future for you or your daughter here?

MORO-MARTIN: No. No.

GOODMAN (voice-over): Al Goodman, CNN, Guadalajara, Spain.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: You are watching NEWS STREAM. And still to come, Syria's neighbors have taken in hundreds of thousands of people who fled the nation's civil war. Some now fear an even bigger flood of refugees.

And hit hard: the NFL settles with former football players over head injuries. But does the deal do enough?

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CHIOU: I'm Pauline Chiou in Hong Kong. You're watching NEWS STREAM and these are your world headlines.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIOU (voice-over): The French president has told a national newspaper that if the U.N. is prevented from acting on Syria, a coalition will be formed. The U.S. Secretary of Defense says the U.S. is still looking for coalition partners to take action. Chuck Hagel's comments came after the British Parliament voted on Thursday against any military involvement.

Meanwhile, U.N. weapons inspectors are wrapping up their probe of alleged chemical attacks in Syria. They have visited different sites, including a government hospital as well as the Damascus suburb of Zamalka. The inspectors are expected to leave by Saturday morning.

Supporters of Egypt's ousted president, Mohammed Morsy, are calling for protests in Cairo today. That follows the arrest of another senior leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's interior ministry puts it troops on high alert in advance of the planned demonstration.

Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney has died at the age of 74. His publisher says he passed away in Dublin in Ireland after a short illness. He won the Nobel Prize for literature back in 1995 for, quote, "works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth."

Let's get back to Syria now.

The escalation of violence in recent months has led to a dramatic increase in the number of refugees fleeing the country. Now this line chart here shows the number of Syrian refugees registered with the UNHCR since December of 2011. And at the start of this year, there were more than 350,000 refugees. And as you can see, it has sharply increased since then.

Today, nearly 1.8 million refugees are registered. But if you take into account the number of refugees that are not yet registered, there's actually close to 2 million refugees being hosted in the region. Women and children make up 3/4 of this population.

And neighboring Lebanon hosts the most Syrian refugees, more than 700,000 there. Nearby Jordan is shouldering around 515,000 refugees. Turkey has more than 450,000; in Iraq, around 160,000 and finally Egypt with more than 110,000.

Now if things continue this way, the UNHCR says there may be more than 3 million people displaced by the end of this year. Arwa Damon shows us the situation in Lebanon and we want to warn you that you may find some of the footage very disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "I am a doctor. I am a doctor." Dr. Karam tries to soothe her.

"What's your name?"

"It's Yomna (ph). Am I alive? Am I alive?" she cries out.

"So many of the victims were in the same state," Dr. Karam painfully remembers. Now he fears there is worse to come, especially if the U.S. and its allies strike.

"This regime, as we have seen in the last two years, he says, "the more they are backed into a corner, the more vicious they become."

Their stocks of atropine, other medicines and equipment to combat chemical agents have yet to be replenished.

Out on the empty streets, one man says, "We are stuck in the middle between the Russians and the Americans, the Iranians and the Saudis, and we are the victims."

For those who know the wrath of the regime too well, there is fear that the potential strike is going to hurt the people more than the regime itself.

"And," this man adds, "the regime is going to evacuate its people and leave the detainees in bases and airports and say, look, America carried out a massacre."

Under the scorching sun in neighboring Lebanon, a team of volunteers is hard at work.

WISSAM TARIF, E.D., INSAN: We will be able to host is up to 1,200 families. That's around 10,000 people. But that's nothing compared with the influx expected. Lots of people will stay in the streets.

DAMON (voice-over): It's not entirely legal as the Lebanese government has yet to allow official camps to be established. Tarif describes this effort as refugee crisis triage.

TARIF: With the new influx, there is no contingency plan to contain the new influx; and therefore, we're moving it from a very bad situation to a situation where we will not be able to deal with.

DAMON (voice-over): At a reception center next to Lebanon's main border crossing with Syria, Ramal El-Hoyayas (ph) just finished putting in an emergency order with Quta (ph) for more humanitarian supplies.

"We've also told the mosques during Friday prayers to call on people to open their homes when the strike happens," he tells us.

Many, especially those from the capital and its outskirts don't want to talk. That van is the second vehicle packed with people that we've stopped, trying to talk to, asking them if they're fleeing. They all seem to be very agitated, very nervous, saying, "No, no, no, we're just here for a visit," but clearly they are very, very concerned.

DAMON (voice-over): Panic and fear is everywhere, as the region waits for expected strikes from the U.S. and its allies.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHIOU: And if an attack happens against Syria, it's likely there will be an even bigger exodus. Arwa Damon joins us live now from Beirut with more on this angle.

Arwa, the agency you talked to calls this a triage situation. Do they even have a Plan B if there's a strike and even more refugees come over?

DAMON: Well, what you saw right there, that is effectively the Plan B, those meager tents that they are setting up. That is going to be their last ditch resort to find housing for the refugees that they are expecting to pour across the border.

Even an organization like UNHCR is already buckling under the strain of dealing with the refugees, who are already here in Lebanon. On average we're hearing that it takes at least six months for refugees once they apply to actually have their application be accepted to be able to access the humanitarian supplies that UNHCR is distributing. The big problem that is very specific to Lebanon is the issue of camps.

As you were hearing in that report, the government is not allowing camps to be established here, at least not official camps. That means that the refugees who come across have to somehow be absorbed into local communities and because of the phenomenally high numbers, there are a lot of problems that are arising within the communities themselves as well, Pauline.

CHIOU: Now we saw you speaking with a lot of the refugees there on the street. And as they were driving away, when you talk to them, about the possibility of U.S. intervention, are they in favor of it? Or do they worry that it could just make the situation even worse?

DAMON: Most people that we've been speaking to, whether it's inside or outside of Syria, when it comes, of course, to those who oppose the regime, they actually feel as if the current plan that the U.S. is temporarily proposing, of carrying out pinpoint targeted strikes without the aim of regime change is actually going to cause more harm than good. They would rather see that not take place.

They say that when they were calling for military action, they wanted it to be decisive and they wanted it to be with the mandate that would be a game-changer on the ground. Any plan that we're hearing about right now most certainly is not going to be.

And there are concerns on many levels, not just because of the fear that the regime will retaliate against the population, but also among some of the mainstream activists, there are great concerns that these strikes will actually serve to strengthen the most extremist Al Qaeda affiliated elements that are currently fighting with the rebels.

So the vast majority of people who oppose the regime are actually saying no, that this is all America and its allies have to offer, we do not want to see this take place.

Naturally, of course, Pauline, those who do support the regime most certainly do not want to see these strikes happening.

CHIOU: It's interesting to get their perspective, and important to make that distinction.

Now you also had mentioned that Lebanon officially does not allow these camps, these refugee camps. But more than 700,000 refugees are there in the country. Supplies are limited; shelter is limited. Is there even space to accommodate more refugees?

DAMON: Not really. It's so difficult. You have people that are cramming themselves into buildings, families of 10 living inside a single room, or in these makeshift camps that have been set up. And it's causing a lot of problems in the communities, a lot of complaints amongst the Lebanese, that the Syrians are coming in; they're agreeing to work for less. It's causing a lot of strains on a local level.

And that is why you hear voices like we saw in Tarif's (ph) like that organization in Son (ph) saying that at this point in time, and this is not just specific to Lebanon, but really for all of the countries that are hosting these massive refugee populations, there really needs to be a long- term strategy.

So far all of the efforts, even by the big players like the U.N. and such, they've really just been Band-Aid solutions. There hasn't been that concrete long-term strategy, the realization that unfortunately the conflict in Syria is going to take quite some time.

And there needs to be a plan in place for these people. They need to somehow be able to have a semblance of a life of dignity. At the very least when it comes to here in Lebanon, the establishment of camps with at least consolidate individuals and be able to guarantee to a better degree than it's being guaranteed right now proper access to health care and humanitarian goods.

So there's a lot of work that really needs to be done and actually can be done when it comes to the international community, especially when it comes to donating much, much more money that has already been donated to the various institutions and countries that are hosting these refugee populations, Pauline.

CHIOU: And the message is loud and clear from your story.

Arwa, thank you very much for bringing that story to us.

Arwa Damon there live from Beirut.

Well, the U.S. is closely watching Lebanese group Hezbollah. Washington is looking for signs they could be preparing to launch attacks against Syria's neighbors, including Israel and Iraq. There are concerns so-called "proxy attacks" could come in retaliation for any potential U.S. strikes on Syria.

Next on NEWS STREAM, the NFL agrees to settle a lawsuit filed by thousands of former players over brain injuries on the field. The landmark agreement, straight ahead.

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CHIOU: You're watching NEWS STREAM. Let's go back to our visual rundown now.

In a few minutes, we'll -- I'm laughing because this is so funny. We will show you some award-winning videos of cats -- yes, you heard me right. I got a quick peek of that. You'll see.

But now let's turn to something more serious, to the NFL.

Thousands of former professional American football players and their families have reached a landmark deal with the National Football League. They had sued the NFL over what they say were concussion related brain injuries, alleging they were not properly warned about the risks from onfield head trauma.

Now the NFL has agreed to a $765 million settlement. Andy Scholes joins me now live from CNN Center with the breakdown.

Andy?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Pauline.

Well, the debate about concussions in professional football has been going on for quite a long time here in the U.S. Former players have argued for years that they were not warned about the dangers of the constant hard hits they were receiving week after week on the field.

And you have to remember: the majority of the NFL players are huge. They are the biggest, most powerful athletes in the U.S. After years of going back and forth, the retired players in the NFL finally reached an agreement on how to handle brain related conditions that former players are dealing with.

By settling this case now instead of dragging it out in a lengthy court battle, the dark cloud that's been hanging over the NFL will finally go away. And the players who have concussion related injuries will get the help they need.

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SCHOLES (voice-over): For years, the NFL and its retired players have been at odds over how to address head injuries that may have occurred on the field.

Thursday the sides reached a landmark agreement that will end the fighting and put money towards medical exams, injury compensation, legal fees and medical research.

Here's how the money will be allocated: $75 million for medical exams, $675 in compensation for cognitive injuries, $10 million for research plus legal fees and other expenses related to the lawsuit.

JAMAL ANDERSON, FORMER NFL RUNNING BACK: I think it's a good day for thousands of football players who are dealing with different afflictions from playing the game of football.

SCHOLES (voice-over): Numerous prominent players like Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett, Super Bowl winning quarterback Jim McMahon and the family of Junior Sayah, who committed suicide last year, are all involved in this case. A major part of this settlement centered around clearing the NFL from having to admit any liability or that brain related injuries were caused by football.

Many consider that a huge win for the NFL and its owners.

PETER KING, "SPORTS ILLUSTRATED" NFL WRITER: There are almost certainly going to be able to eliminate any future lawsuit from former players about head injuries.

SCHOLES (voice-over): While $765 million seems like a big number, some think the players could have done better considering last year alone the NFL had a revenue of $9.2 billion.

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You also consider the potential risk the NFL had of going to trial on each of these individually complex claims. The potential exposure here was in the billions, I think, and that's a conservative estimate.

SCHOLES (voice-over): The agreement is now in the hands of U.S. district judge Anita Brody, who must approve this deal; former players can still voice their opposition.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHOLES: Only players who have retired by the time the concussion settlement is approved will be eligible for compensation. But all retired players, whether they were involved in the lawsuit or not, can take a baseline test and those test results will be used to determine the amount of money that former players with brain related injuries can get from this settlement now and in the future.

Pauline?

CHIOU: Now, Andy, how much can a former football players actually receive from this lawsuit?

SCHOLES: Now one individual player, the max they can get is $5 million. That's the cap that was set in the agreement. And to get that $5 million, you have to have a severe brain injury related condition, such as ALS or Alzheimer's. Then based on the test, that baseline test and your results, you would get certain money under that $5 million. But $5 million is the max you can get.

There are other conditions, like CTE get $4 million and the another condition is $3 and so forth and so on down.

CHIOU: Well, it's good to hear that they finally came to some sort of agreement because this was really such a delicate topic for so many of the families of retired NFL players.

Andy, thank you very much.

Andy Scholes live from CNN Center.

Well, just ahead, ahead of the next Olympic Winter Games, Russia's controversial new anti-gay propaganda law is back in the news. Protesters are no longer targeting the host country or the IOC. Instead, they've been making their feelings known towards one of the game's key sponsors.

Dozens gathered in New York City's Times Square to pour Coca-Cola into storm drains, calling for the soft drink manufacturer to drop its Olympic sponsorship and stop supporting hate. Coca-Cola's response to CNN has made it clear that that won't be happening.

Their statement read, "We have long been a strong supporter of the LGBT community and have advocated for inclusion and diversity through both our policies and our practices. We do not condone human rights abuses, intolerance or discrimination of any kind, anywhere in the world."

Coca-Cola says, "We support the core values of the Olympic movement, excellence, friendship and respect and are proud to continue our role in helping to make the Olympics a memorable experience for athletes, fans and communities around the world."

Coming up next on NEWS STREAM, why did 10,000 people come together to watch cat videos like this? Find out after the break.

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CHIOU: Welcome back to NEWS STREAM. And let's take a look at the forecast right now.

Serious flooding has hit the eastern part of Russia.

For more, we go to Mari Ramos live at the World Weather Center.

Mari?

MARI RAMOS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Pauline, they're calling this historic flooding across parts of Russia. In recent memory, we haven't seen flooding like this in such an expansive area along this region. The result is from a combination of melting snowfall and also a lot of heavy rain that they've had across that area.

So you see Vladimir Putin surveying the damage there. And look at the window. You can see all that water down to the ground. He's actually ordered an inquiry just to see if people have -- if officials there have handles on the flooding properly, this emergency that is ongoing.

It's been happening for a couple of weeks already. I'm going to show you some of the pictures first before we get into more of the details here. But there are thousands of people that had to be evacuated, thousands more that are affected and living in conditions such as this.

We are expecting the crest to happen along this river, probably this weekend. And you can see how widespread the flooding is just from these pictures alone. But I want to show you something a little bit different right after this image right here. You can see people just kind of staying there on the sides.

Agriculture has been damaged; homes and businesses. I want to show you this one right over here. Keep in mind this time right there, along this very large river here in Russia's northeastern, southeastern corner.

Now the current water level is at 756 centimeters. The previous record was 642. The expected level is up to 780. So you can see how high the water's supposed to go. They haven't seen anything like this since they've been keeping track, since they've been keeping records of this part of the world. And that could happen, that crest could happen in the next couple of days as we head into this weekend or probably into early next week.

Here's another perspective. In that same city is way over here on this side back here. This is a very large (inaudible) more river, and this is before the rains came and then this is what it looks like after, the very heavy rain that has happened along the summer.

And these areas right here, if you were to measure this, measures about 10 kilometers wide. That's a widespread and how much water has been following into an area. Again, this is the before and then this is the after. And then even if it stops raining, right now, which it has in many cases, that water still draining down into these areas, still causing serious flooding.

Back to you.

CHIOU: That's quite a comparison, when we see the before and after, Mari.

Also this week marks 130 years since one of the most powerful eruptions in history. What can you tell us about that?

RAMOS: Yes, history bugs, science bugs, volcano bugs, anyone who's interested in this kind of stuff, remembers or this anniversary, the Krakatau anniversary, 130 years, August 26th and 27th of 1883. That was the second largest volcanic eruption ever recorded. So since humans have been around and been keeping track of this stuff, this is estimated to be the largest.

Tambora in 1850 was actually bigger than Krakatau. And it released more than 20 times more material, more tephra, more (inaudible) volcanic material than Mt. St. Helens, which is the one most of us would remember, because that one happened back in the 1980s. And there's video footage of what happened back then.

Now the ash and the gases that were emitted from Mt. Krakatau actually lowered the global body -- global temperature, I should say, causing unseasonably cool temperatures that winter and then moving into the spring.

That was not, though, the year without a summer. That was also Tambora in 1850, by the way.

So let's go ahead and look at this. This is the area right here, right into the Sunda Strait. This is what the islands look like now. But this is what it looked like before August 26th. There was a very large island called Krakatau Island, with the volcano right here in the middle. When that eruption happened, 25 square kilometers off the island were blown into the atmosphere.

All of that landing back down into the ocean. It was a huge, huge eruption, so large, in fact, that most of the island is gone now. There's a new volcano, and that Krakatau that has been forming there, that means the child of Krakatau.

But 130 years ago, when they heard those eruptions, all the way back over here in the southwest Indian Ocean, 5,000 kilometers away, they thought it was cannon firings from nearby ships or something. It is still considered, Pauline, the longest or the loudest sound ever in the world since, of course, we can keep track of that kind of stuff, 5,000 kilometers away they were able to hear that sound.

And then of course as the mountain collapsed into the water, it generated huge tsunami waves that were measured as far away -- this is pretty incredible also -- as far away as the Arabian Peninsula.

More than 36,000 people were killed, most of them along the Indonesia and Australia area. Of course, those were where the larger tsunami waves actually affected. But it is an incredible thing, Krakatau, most of these large eruptions, by the way, have happened, these top five have happened in this Indonesia-Southeast Asia area. So a very active area volcanically indeed.

CHIOU: That's incredible information you gave us, a time in history way back then.

Mari, thank you very much.

Well, if you've ever spent far too much time watching online cat videos, like this one, you're actually not alone. This week cat video connoisseurs came together for the Internet Cat Video Festival. That actually exists. Contestants there vie for the coveted Golden Kitty award. Jeanne Moos takes a look at the winning entries.

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JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Welcome to the cat Oscars. Actually, this is Oscar, the blind kitten, battling a blow dryer.

And this is a cat licking a vacuum cleaner, cleaning up at the International Internet Cat Video Festival, where 28 seconds of a fat cat in a pot can qualify as a blockbuster. Some 10,000 people showed up at the Minnesota State Fair grandstand to check out the cat video fest, organized by a prestigious museum, the Walker Art Center. The festival got off the ground last year.

MOOS: Like any self-respecting festival, this one had cat-egories.

There was comedy.

. drama -- little cat challenges big dog.

Foreign.

. animated.

. musical.

. and what's a video festival without stars?

Celebrecats like Grumpy Cat, renowned for her perpetual frown, and Lil BUB, renowned for her ever-present tongue.

The two actually met at the fest. A photo op memorialized with a couple of memorable 6-second vines (ph).

Internet favorites like the cat that loves diving in boxes and dearly departed Keyboard Cat were inducted into the Hall of Fame. Fans voted online for the People's Choice awards, cat in a shark costume chasing a duck while riding a Roomba was one of several that rode to victory.

Some of the videos were shockers.

Fan favorite Lil BUB has gene mutations that resulted in a shortened jaw, which causes her tongue to stick out --

MOOS: Remind you of anyone at a recent awards ceremony?

MOOS (voice-over): May the best tongue win.

The winner of the Golden Kitty, the most popular People's Choice, was of course Grumpy Cat.

If she had given an acceptance speech, we suspect it would have begun, "I want to thank no one." Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

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CHIOU: And that is NEWS STREAM. "WORLD BUSINESS TODAY" is coming up next.

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