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U.S. Congress Remain Skeptical Of Syrian Strike; Russia, China Preventing UN Resolution; Syrian Christians Targeted; Tokyo Named Host For 2020 Olympic Games; Serena Williams Wins U.S. Open

Aired September 9, 2013 - 08:00   ET


KRISTIE LU STOUT, HOST: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. And welcome to News Stream where news and technology meet.

Bashar al-Assad says there is no evidence that the Syrian army used chemical weapons.

Eccentric former basketball star Dennis Rodman is back from North Korea without Kenneth Bae.

And another dominate win at the U.S. Open for Serena Williams.

Now as the U.S. president prepares to intensify his push for a military strike on Syria, the Syrian government is making its case against such action.

Now President Bashar al Assad has given what is said to be his first TV interview to an American journalist since 2011 when the unrest in his country began. And the rare access comes as U.S. lawmakers return to Washington to weigh authorizing military action.

But President al-Assad, he insists there is no evidence that his government used chemical weapons.

Now he sat down with Charlie Rose in Damascus on Sunday who asked what happened on August 21st. Now this excerpt aired on the U.S. broadcaster CBS just a short time ago.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: Our soldiers in another area were attacked chemically. Our soldiers, they went to the hospital as casualties because of chemical weapons as in the area where the said the government used chemical weapons, we only had video and we only have pictures and allegations. We're not there -- our forces, or police, are in situations don't exist. How can you talk about what happened if you don't have evidences.

We're not like the American administration. We're not social media administration or government. We are the government that deals with reality.

When we have evidences, we will announce...


LU STOUT: Bashar al-Assad there.

Now remember, President al-Assad, he gave an interview to the French newspaper Le Figaro before the French parliament's debate.

Now Phil Black joins us now live from Moscow where Syria's foreign minister and his Russian counterpart are pushing for peace talks. And Phil, the foreign ministers of Syria and Russia, we saw them earlier. They were sitting side by side at a press event there. Can you tell us more about what they are calling for?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kristie, I think the fundamental message from the Russian foreign ministry today was that it is not stopping, it's not giving up on its effort, its diplomatic effort to try and block a military strike on Syria. That has been its fundamental goal throughout the Syrian crisis. And even with the imminent threat of a military strike by the United States, it's clearly not giving up on that.

So today while a lot of the comments from the foreign minister Sergei Lavrov were very similar to things we've heard before. The Russian position is very consistent, as we know.

The overall theme was reminding the world that Russia believes there are other options for dealing with this. In particular, Russia is still continuing to push its idea of a big international peace conference involving all parties with no preconditions to sit down and thrash out some sort of political settlement, because it believes that ultimately that is the only way to solve the Syrian crisis in the long-term.

And Russia believes that nay sort of military strike, even a limited one, will do a great deal of damage to the chances of trying to resolve this peacefully, diplomatically.

Sitting next to Foreign Minister Lavrov was his Syrian counterpart who said that he's on board. Syria is very much on board with a peace conference of this nature. Both of them said the Syrian opposition should make the same commitment.

But the other point that the Syrian foreign minister kept coming back to was that any sort of strike by the United States would ultimately only assist another enemy of the United States. He kept talking about al Qaeda.

Let's take a little bit of a listen to what more of the Syrian foreign minister said today during this press conference.


WALID MOALLEM, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER (through translator): Yet how Obama claims a democracy and does not listen to the voices of those opposing this aggression.


BLACK: So Wali al-Moallem, the Syrian foreign minister, there and the other message that he brought to this press conference today was the gratitude of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to President -- to President Putin of Russia for all the support Russia has shown Syria through this crisis, Kristie.

LU STOUT: So both foreign ministers calling for diplomatic action while also delivering that warning to the U.S.

Now, in that interview with Charlie Rose, the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, he suggested that his allies would retaliate if the west attacked. Now would Russia retaliate?

BLACK: Russia has pretty much ruled out the idea of retaliating militarily, or getting involved in any sort of military skirmish here. But other than that, the Russian government, the Russian president had been pretty coy on precisely what they would do.

Last week, President Putin was talking about Russians plans, ideas without going into too much detail.

The one thing he did hint at was the possibility that sales of sensitive or very capable Russian weapons, which currently are not proceeding could be reviewed, perhaps pointing to the possibility that Russia could enhance the weapons assistance, the military assistance that it already giving Syria in this -- at this point. It would be interesting to see what other practical assistance Russia would be prepared to offer.

But I think the other likelihood certainly is a continued deep freeze in Russian-U.S. relations. Relations are already pretty rocky. And the expectation is that should the United States proceed with a military strike against repeated calls from the Russian government that that would only do further harm to relations between these two countries, Kristie.

LU STOUT: All right. Phil Black reporting live from Moscow for us. Thank you.

Now the top American diplomat calls the risk of not acting greater than the risk of acting. Now the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says a military strike is the first step toward a political solution in Syria. Now he's been trying to build international consensus for action and spoke alongside his British counterpart in London earlier on Monday.


JOHN KERRY, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: If one party believes that he can rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with impunity using chemicals that have been banned for nearly 100 years because of what Europe learned in World War I, if he can do that with impunity he will never come to a negotiating table.

A resolution will not be found on the battlefield, but at that negotiating table. But we have to get to that table.


LU STOUT: But the Obama administration must also convince congress that military action is necessary. Now Brianna Keilar tells us how the president and his team plan to make the case.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Obama getting some high powered help from none other than Hillary Clinton. A source telling CNN, she'll speak out on Syria when she comes here today for an unrelated event. The president needs the support. A new CNN/ORC poll shows 59 percent of Americans say Congress should not authorize U.S. military action in Syria. Trying to avoid a damaging defeat, he's pulling out all the stops, including interviews today with CNN's Wolf Blitzer and other major news networks, before a speech to the nation Tuesday night.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we've seen out of Syria.

KEILAR: Images of children dying from nerve gas, videos the president's team has been showing senators in secret to get their votes, first obtained by CNN, now made available for all Americans to see. Obama's chief of staff also on a media blitz appearing on all five Sunday talk shows.

DENIS MCDONOUGH, CHIEF OF STAFF: I hope that before any member of Congress makes his decision on how to vote, they take a look at that video that you all made available to the world yesterday. Take a look at that and try to turn away from that.

KEILAR: Those videos expected to be shown at closed door briefings starting today for all members of Congress, returning for the dramatic debate and vote. To turn the tide, the president unexpectedly showed up Sunday night at a dinner hosted by Vice President Joe Biden to sell Republican senators on Syria. Today he's sending National Security Adviser Susan Rice to the Congressional Black Caucus, but opposition is growing even among Democrats.

SEN. MARK UDALL, (D) COLORADO: My heart is broken when I see that video and you see women and children dying as a result of chemical weapons, but the big question for the Congress right now is what is the most effective way to move forward?

REP. JIM MCGOVERN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: If I was the president, I would withdraw my request for the authorization at this particular point. I don't believe the support is there in Congress.


LU STOUT: And that was Brianna Keilar reporting.

Now according to the latest CNN tally, a number of lawmakers are now leaning toward a no vote on Syria. As you can see right here, that's 143 members of the House of the Representatives compared to just 25 saying yes. Now it's primarily Republicans who are against authorizing military action.

Now that holds true in the Senate as well. But the camp is much closer there.

Of course, opinions could change in the days ahead. And we are updating this tally three times a day. You can find it

Now despite Washington's campaign to get support for military strike against the Assad government, China will not be swayed. David McKenzie explains Beijing's steadfast refusal to intervene.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A warm greeting between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Russia. But a frosty response to President Obama's call for military strikes against Assad.

After more than two years of brutal chaos and death in Syria's civil war, the U.S. president says suspected chemical attacks cross a red line.

From the beginning of the crisis, China has followed a bottom line of non-interference.

VICTOR GAO, DIR. CHINA NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: If you have too much outside interference in the internal affair of any particular country, it will backfire. It most likely result in disaster for the people involved.

MCKENZIE: The policy of noninterference is decades old. But Chinese experts feel Beijing was burned in particular by their experience in Libya.

Beijing allowed a resolution on a NATO-led no-fly zone at the security council by not using their veto power then watched how NATO became the de facto air force of the rebellion, crucial in ousting Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, something they never wanted.

GAO: I think the Chinese position ever since then as far as Syria is concerned is sticking to the gun about no interference in each other's internal affairs.

MCKENZIE: China and Russia have consistently vetoed any sanctions resolutions against the Syrian government. Unlike Russia, China has few military ties to Syria, but it does have monetary ones.

GAO: Beijing does have economic interests at stake in Syria. And it's afraid that large-scale intervention by the U.S. might be detrimental to Beijing's strong standing, economic interests in Syria.

MCKENZIE: Chief among those interests, oil of course. China will soon be the world's largest importer of crude, mostly coming from the Middle East. So any wider conflict sparked by Syria would be devastating to China's economy.

But to the world's second largest economy, China's trade with Syria itself is relatively inconsequential. So much of their support for Assad could be symbolic.

If Xi Jinping backed a strike against Assad by the U.S. or anyone else, it would send the wrong message inside China for a party obsessed with maintaining power.

GAO: Beijing has been supporting autocratic military juntas or otherwise one party dictatorships in Africa and in the Middle East, so it's likely that it has some sympathy with similar autocratic authoritarian regimes around the world.

MCKENZIE: For China's leaders, like many around the world, it's not the suffering of the Syrian people that moves them, but cold, calculating self-interest.

David McKenzie, CNN, Beijing.


LU STOUT: Now you're watching News Stream. And still to come, Dennis Rodman billed his latest trip to North Korea as basketball diplomacy, but now he's back and he's not talking about the jailed U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae.

After the joy of winning, comes the hard work. Getting Tokyo ready for the 2020 Olympics.

And tennis star Serena Williams speaks to CNN about winning the U.S. Open and surviving a serious health scare.


LU STOUT: You're watching News Stream. And you're looking at a visual version of all the stories we've got in the show today.

Now a little bit later in the show, we will hear from members of Syria's Christian community who say that they are being targeted during the country's civil war.

But first to the return of Dennis Rodman. Now he is back from his much touted trip to North Korea. There was hope that the former basketball star might try to negotiate with his buddy, leader Kim Jong un, about imprisoned American Kenneth Bae. No such luck for a trip that Rodman called basketball diplomacy.

David McKenzie spoke with a fiery Rodman fresh off the plane.


MCKENZIE: Former NBA star Dennis Rodman back from North Korea. Showing off snapshots with his friend, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Rodman fueled speculation that he would push Kim about imprisoned American Kenneth Bae. Now, a very different tune.

Did you ask about Kenneth Bae? CNN.

DENNIS RODMAN, FORMER NBA PLAYER: No, no. Guess what? That's not my job to ask about Kenneth Bae.

MCKENZIE: Rodman showing off that famous temper.

RODMAN: Ask Obama about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As if you are going to talk about it.

RODMAN: Ask Hillary Clinton.



MCKENZIE: Bae is serving 15 years of hard labor and desperately ill, his family says.

TERRI CHUNG, KENNETH BAE'S SISTER: Rodman is the only person, the only American to have contact with the North Korean leader. You cannot help but hope their friendship would benefit Kenneth. So we were disappointed.

MCKENZIE: The worm billed his trip as basketball diplomacy, but some aren't buying it.

ABRAHAM COOPER, VICE CHAIR OF N. KOREA FREEDOM COALITION: Rodman's behavior, now, on both these trips are just absolutely outrageous. It just aids and abets one of the most dangerous regimes in real time.

MCKENZIE: Kim's regime is running vast labor camps and developing nukes. Rodman calls the young leader a, quote, "awesome kid."

COOPER: I have no idea from his point of view what game he's playing. Although, you can just take a look at the obvious. He's getting phenomenal coverage. For someone who hasn't put the ball into the basket in years is now being talked about in capitals around the world.

MCKENZIE: Well, the publicity will continue. Rodman will give a press conference in New York in just hours. How close has he gotten Kim Jong Un? Well, he told "The Guardian" newspaper, he met with Kim and his family and revealed the name of the young baby girl, which is Ju- Ae. So, that's closer than any American diplomat has managed for more than a decade.

David McKenzie, CNN, Beijing.


LU STOUT: Now Alexei Navalny says he has earned the right to force a runoff vote for the mayor of Moscow. Now Russian electoral chiefs say Sunday's ballot count, it was closer than expected. But they insist that the incumbent Sergei Sobyanin passed the 50 percent mark to win.

Navalny, a bitter critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin warns Moscovites to be on guard for vote fraud.


ALEXEI NAVALNY, MOSCOW MAYORAL CANDIDATE (through translator): We perfectly understand that they will be tempted to add 8 to 10 percent to their tally and to show their win in the first round. We would like to declare we will do everything to prevent it from happening. And with your help, we are calling on the observers to do a good job in these last few hours to not let a single vote be stolen.


LU STOUT: Now at the last count, with more than 98 percent of the votes tallied, Sobyanin's total hovered just above the 51 percent mark.

Now, to Pakistan where Asif Ali Zardari's presidential term is over. His retirement from office makes him Pakistan's first democratically elected head of state to complete a five year term.

Zardari was elected president months after his wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. His successor, Mamnoon Hussain, was sworn in on Sunday.

After the break, we'll get you updated on some big sports news as Serena Williams picks up her fifth U.S. Open title and her 17th grand slam singles crown. And CNN sits down with Williams for a one-on-one interview.


LU STOUT: Coming to you live from Hong Kong, you are back watching News Stream.

Now residents of Tokyo had plenty to celebrate this weekend. As you might have heard, the Japanese capital won the right to host the 2020 Olympics. And Paula Hancocks joined in on the celebrations.


PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Tokyo residents rushed to read the news. The greatest sporting event on Earth will be back here in 2020.

"We will show the world what Japan is," this young man shouts. "Stay tuned."

"I'm so happy our children will experience the Olympics," says this resident. "I'm so excited."

This was the moment Tokyo saw the results of years of planning and hard work.


HANCOCKS: There were cheers, tears and gold ticker tape in Tokyo. Not bad for 5:20 on a Sunday morning.

Tokyo had billed itself as a safe pair of hands in uncertain times. Clearly, what the Olympic committee wanted this time around.

And it doesn't hurt when your prime minister is willing to leave a G20 meeting early to help wave the flag.

SHINZO ABE, PRIME MINISTER OF JAPAN (through translator): The Olympic movement in Japan will be expanded to the rest of the world. They expected that role to be played by Japan, that's why they supported us. Safe and secure games to be staged by us.

HANCOCKS: Even concerns over radiation spikes and fresh toxic water leaks at the Fukushima nuclear power plant could not derail this bid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was (inaudible) people. I think Tokyo and Japan is very dangerous, but I'm Japanese, so I just believe.

HANCOCKS: Celebrations played on across the city Sunday, including a human message to the Olympic committee.

Not everyone is delighted, though. Some question the wisdom of injecting billions of dollars into Tokyo when the northeastern part of the country is ravaged by that tsunami in 2011 still needs rebuilding. Add to that the ongoing nuclear crisis, and critics say that this money earmarked for the Summer Games could be far better spent elsewhere.

Paula Hancocks, CNN, Tokyo.


LU STOUT: And wrestling is an Olympic sport once again. It was originally kicked out of the Olympics after London 2012 because of poor performance by the international federation. In a key vote on Sunday, the Olympic committee decided to give the wrestlers a second chance. And for the leaders of the wrestling federation, this was a vindication of their efforts at reform.


NENAD LALOVIC, PRESIDENT, INTERNAITONAL WRESTLING FEDERATION: What we tried to do is to update our sport to make it more spectacular, more watchable, underand -- rules understandable, and that is the only way to fulfill the wrestling hopes. And this is the goal of every sport for the governance and also to be, as I said in my speech, accessory of the sport and athletes.


LU STOUT: Now three sports were up for one spot available in this election. And the wrestlers beat out baseball and squash.

Now on to tennis and the U.S. Open where Serena Williams battled wind and also a tough opponent on Sunday to carry out a repeat.

Now the world number one beat Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 6-7, 6-1 in a gripping final defending her U.S. Open title and winning her 17th grand slam.

Now Rachel Nichols sat down with Williams after her victory.


SERENA WILLIAMS, 2013 U.S. OPEN CHAMPION: I don't know. I just feel really good. I feel really relaxed. I feel -- I don't know -- I just feel like I just go for broke now. And I really am focused again on what I want to do and just goals and, you know, I'm just having a lot of fun out there. And I go out there to compete and turns out I love to compete. And so that's why I'm still in it and I'm still having a blast.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: A lot of people out there might not realize that you might not have been at this tournament at all. You might not have been here at all. You had blood clots in your lungs. You had to be rushed into emergency surgery. How much has that affected you now as you go through...

WILLIAMS: I think going through that whole situation of being in the emergency room and being in that hospital for all that time and just not knowing if I would ever pick up a racket again and just not even carrying, just wanting to be healthy. I think that was a tough time for me.

It was just thing after thing after thing. And I just remembered thinking I can't take any more, like, you know, I just have to figure something out. And I just remember praying and just like, you know, I have to be able to overcome this.

And then you go through the stage of why is all this happening to you.

It was really 11 months of hell.

But, you know, I got through that and now I feel like, you know, now when I'm on that court and I'm facing opponents, I feel like I faced so many tougher opponents, that this is just fun now.

NICHOLS: You are facing down Stephie Graf's record of 22 grand slam single's titles. How badly are you interested in beating that?

WILLIAMS: Well, the players are getting so tough now. And 22 is a lot, especially from 17. So I don't know, I just really want to just take it one at a time. And I don't know what happens next, I'm just going to just keep playing tennis. And hopefully keep winning.


LU STOUT: Serena Williams who won her first grand slam at the U.S. Open in 1999 at aged 17 has won five Wimbledon titles, five Australian Opens as well as taking her second French Open crown earlier this year.

Now later on Monday, the men's U.S. Open final will see top seed Novak Djokovic facing off with world number two Rafael Nadal in another heavyweight encounter.

Now you're watching News Stream. And still ahead, while Washington is trying to drum up international support for military action in Syria. Russia is holding out, but it's not alone. Now China is also skeptical. And we'll look at what's influencing that position. The latest on Syria.

You're watching News Stream.


LU STOUT: I'm Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong. You're watching News Stream. And these are your world headlines.

Now Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari stepped down on Sunday after completing his five years in office. He is succeeded by Manmoon Hussain, a close ally of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Zardari and Sharif are long time political rivals.

In Russia, a Kremlin backed candidate has won the Moscow mayoral elections. Sergei Sobyanin, who was already the interim mayor, has been elected with 51 percent of the vote. Now his challenger, Alexei Navalny, a well known critic of the government, says the tallies are false. And he is demanding a runoff.

Now Syrian President Bashar al-Assad tells the U.S. broadcaster CBS that there was no evidence his forces used chemical weapons. He says no one wants war with Syria. And any military action would just support al Qaeda. And he adds, if the United States attacks, he should expect, quote, "everything in retaliation."


CHARLE ROSE, HOST, CHARLIE ROSE SHOW: Will it be attacks against American bases in the Middle East if there's an air strike?

AL-ASSAD: You should expect everything. You should expect everything. Now not necessarily through the government. It's not only -- the governments are not only -- are not the only player in this region. We have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideologies, you have everything in this region now. So you have to expect that.

ROSE: Expect -- tell me what you mean by expect everything.

AL-ASSAD: Expect every action.

ROSE: Including chemical warfare?

AL-ASSAD: That depends if the rebels or the terrorists in this region, or any other group, have it. It could happen. I don't know.

We don't -- I'm not a fortune teller, to tell you what's going to happen.


LU STOUT: Bashar al-Assad there.

Now meanwhile the U.S. President Barack Obama is pushing congress to authorize a military strike on Syria, but a new CNN ORC poll shows most Americans oppose it.

Now our CNN's political editor Paul Steinhauser joins us now live from Washington. Paul can you tell us how many Americans support Obama's plan for military action?

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Only a minority support it in our brand new poll, Kristie. These number from CNN and ORC nationwide here in the U.S., came out just about two hours ago. And they really indicate that the president is facing a rising tide of public opinion against any action in Syria.

Check this out, we asked specifically should congress authorize -- should they pass that resolution which would authorize forth? Look at that, only 39 percent of Americans we question say yes. The fast majority there, almost 60 percent, almost 6 in 10, say no.

And go to the next question. This is interesting as well. Even if Congress does pass this resolution to give the president authority to launch a strike against the Syrian government forces, look at that, 55 percent say they still oppose any military action against the Syrian government -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: This is a critical poll. It comes out during a very critical week. Why do so many Americans oppose action?

STEINHAUSER: Well, our poll really gives some clear answers to that. And one of the question was do you think that if the U.S. goes ahead and launches air strikes that they would achieve significant goals for the United States where they actually work. Look at that, more than 7 in 10, 72 percent say no. They will not be effective.

Americans just don't think they will be effective.

By a similar amount, as well, we asked whether the U.S. -- whether its in our strategic interests to get involved in Syria. Again, about 7 in 10 said no.

Part of this, Kristie, is maybe war weariness here in the United States. After Iraq, after Afghanistan and other missions in the Middle East Americans are more gun shy, I guess you can say, for getting involved in such contests nowadays.

And as you mentioned, this is coming in a very, very big week. The president has interviews with major broadcast and cable networks, including CNN later today, including our own Wolf Blitzer. And tomorrow night, Tuesday night, in prime time here in the United States he gives his address to the American people. This is his big week to lobby them. And as you can see from our numbers, he has a lot of lobbying, a lot of convincing to with Americans -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah. All eyes on the U.S. president, but also all eyes on America's lawmakers. Will congress vote in line with public sentiment?

STEINHAUSER: I think a lot of them may do that, especially the U.S. House of Representatives. The Senate will vote first, probably later this week. And right now, according to our informal count, it seems the Senate is divided on which they will go. But Democratic leaders -- remember the Democrats, the president's party, control the U.S. Senate, they feel confident they will get a yes vote on this resolution.

The House of Representatives, a very different story. They will vote either later this week or into next week. Republicans control that -- the House of Representatives. And right now the odds do not look so great for the president to get his resolution passed through the U.S. House of Representatives.

A lot of these representatives, as you mentioned, up for reelection next year. Public sentiment matters very much to them, Kristie.

LU STOUT: Yeah, a lot at stake here for the U.S. president and his perceived authority. Paul Steinhauser joining us live. Thank you.

Now a Syrian monitoring group says rebels linked to al Qaeda have taken control of a Christian town just outside the Syrian capital Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the al Nusra Front seized Malula (ph) on Saturday night.

Now CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson joins us now from Beirut. And Nic, as the war in Syria rages on, the country's Christians are being targeted. Tell us what happened?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATINOAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Christians make up a little less than 10 percent of the population in Syria. And for the greater part, they're generally perceived as supporting Bashar al- Assad, one of the larger of the minority groups that have seen him as a leader who can -- who can sort of protect minority interests, if you will, in the country. That at least was the perception until a few years ago.

But the Christians in Malula (ph), the town that the al Nusra Front entered over the weekend, the Christians and their (inaudible) represent one of the most holy places in the country for Christians.


ROBERTSON: Guns blazing: YouTube video that claims to show al Qaeda allied rebels storming into Syria's oldest Christian community, Malula (ph).

"We cleanse Malula (ph) from all the Assad dogs and all his thugs," this commander shouts to the camera two days ago.

It's more YouTube video CNN cannot independently confirm. But I was here at this tourist cafe a year ago with its owner Antionnette Nasrallah, a Syrian Christian from Miami. She'd come back to sell tea and cakes to the thousands of American and European visitors who used to flock here.

War was killing her business, but her real fear, al Qaeda linked rebels.

ANTOINETTE NASRALLAH, CAFE OWNER: For now in our area here it's fine, but what I heard in Aleppo they're killing and they're destroying many of our church, and very, very old church.

ROBERTSON: I don't know what's happened to her since our interview last year. But her worst fears of violence coming to Malula (ph) have been realized.

The Malula (ph) I saw that day was a tiny sleep town, an hour's drive from the capital, where ancient Aramaic was recited in its churches, its significance spiritual, not military.

In Lebanon now, Syria's Christian refugees shelter in monasteries. On the run from sectarian violence at home, they join Saturday in prayers for peace, promoted by Pope Francis in Rome.

But even here as threats of U.S. strikes on Syria loom, they don't feel safe. Aida (ph) told us to hide her identity.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We can't go out. We can stay only in the monastery. We just go to the supermarket, or if we have an embassy appointment. But we stay here, especially when we hear about the tense situation in Lebanon we don't go anywhere.

ROBERTSON: She is not alone. Aid agencies say Syria's 2 million Christians are often targeted in Syria for suspected sympathies with Assad's regime. Two top bishops have been kidnapped, and a well known priest has disappeared. Increasingly, many are turning to Europe's Christian countries to take them in.

Malula (ph) may only be small, but its capture at the hands of Islamists is symbolically huge and will send shockwaves that will be felt all the way to Rome.


ROBERTSON: Now diplomats, international diplomats have been working with the rebels say they've been at pains to try to get at least some rebel leaders to say that they won't chase down minorities like Christians, like Assad's Alawites, if they get a hand in the leadership of the country. So far those diplomats say they've been frustrated in those efforts. It's not something they can get the rebel leadership to say so far. They find that troubling -- Kristie.

LU STOUT: Now Nic, the fear among Christians in Syria is also a fear that many lawmakers have in the U.S. right now is that radical islamists are in the rebel movement and they're growing in number. Is that something that is, indeed, happening?

ROBERTSON: It's very difficult to get a firm assessment of exactly how many fighters are radically islamist, how many are sort of perhaps moderately islamist and how many sort of (inaudible) the values of the original peaceful protesters who wanted democratic change in Syria when these protests first began over two years ago. But the assessments very from anything between about 25 percent and 75 percent of tens of thousands of rebels are either hardcore al Qaeda -- allied to al Qaeda, or very heavily leaning towards al Qaeda's views, particularly in the north of Syria at the moment.

And that is a real concern that when the more powerful groups on the ground like al Nusra, like ISI, rather in Syria that these groups have experience in fighting in Iraq and that they are dominating the battlefield -- better funded, better equipped, better trained, better ready for the fight that they're leading the way on the battlefield and getting the gains on the ground controlling communities, et cetera, after that.

So they do -- and I believe to be a very powerful part of the rebel opposition, Kristie.

LU STOUT: All right, Nic Robertson reporting for us live. Thank you, Nic.

And if you want to help the victims of Syria's civil war, you can find detailed information on our website. It has been recently updated with a list of reputable charities and how they are helping Syrians affected by this conflict.

Don't forget many Syrians are also suffering inside the country. And some of these groups are operating there.

To find out more,

Now still to come here on News Stream, police stopped and interrogated a man walking in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, but it turns out the man was the queen's son, Prince Andrew. We'll have reaction to the blunder coming up.


LU STOUT: Welcome back.

Now on today's Art of Movement, we meet the limber ladies of Cirque du Soleil's contortionist crew. Now they are currently on stage in Las Vegas as part of the legendary stage show called O. and Nick Glass finds out how they can push their bodies to such extremes and why the art form is just so popular in Mongolia.


NICK GLASS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The gamblers won't know it, but here come the girls. The contortionist girls, sweeping through the casino. These are the stars of an aquatic Cirque du Soleil show called "O," which has been running in Vegas for almost 15 years. Twice a night, five nights a week, they do their contortion act, and they take our breath away.

SANDI CROFT, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: I remember having a hard time always watching them, but being fascinated, and I couldn't stop watching them.

RIA MARTENS, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, CIRQUE DU SOLEIL: It's so fluid and so -- almost magical, the way they can move their bodies. I think it's breathtaking. I still watch it, and I go, wow.

GLASS: There are about 20 contortionists working in Las Vegas, almost all of them women, and almost all of them from Mongolia. All the girls tell almost exactly the same story. They were entranced by the art at a very young age.


GLASS (on camera): Do you remember the first time you knew about contortionism?

BAYARTSOGT: Yes. I think it was beautiful. I was seven years old. One day, I was watching TV and there's a girl was doing contortion. I was in love first time I saw that. And I was like, "Mom, I can do this too!"

Since then, I was trying to be a contortionist. I thought everybody can do this, so I showed it to my mom, and my mom was shocked that I can do that.

NARANGUA DULAMSUREN, CONTORTIONIST: It was hard, but I really liked it. When I saw the girls doing it, I really wanted to do it like them. So, we trained two hours a day the first couple of years, then six days a week --

GLASS: How old were you then?

DULAMSUREN: I was five.

GLASS: How could you be so dedicated so young?

ENKHJARGAL DASHBALJIR, CONTORTIONIST: I really liked it. Who cannot love contortionism? It's beautiful.


GLASS (voice-over): The art form dates back to the 16th century and is rooted in the old nomadic lifestyle and in religious ritual. Buddhist monks believe being physically flexible opened up the mind. Poses mimicked nature.

The art form has grown hugely in popularity since the 1940s, when the state circus was established. Today, there are multiple contortion schools throughout Mongolia, with pupils as young as five. The simple truth is, Mongolian girls want to be contortionists, just as boys want to be wrestlers.

CROFT: I guess when you maybe want a top athlete baseball player, sometimes you look in America. We need a contortionist? We go look in Mongolia. When they dance, they have a natural flexibility, even with their folk dance of Mongolia. It's just part of their culture to have this extra bend and delivery with their movement.

GLASS: The girls train every day for three hours or more. It seems somehow irresistible. In the circumstances, you just have to say it: come on, girls, show us some moves.

TURCHIMEG TURBAT, CONTORTIONIST: This is three legs, then begin push up. This is more -- more hard.

CROFT: They surprise me very much with their strength, when they can bend themselves into a pretzel. But after they've done that, then they push themselves up and they have their whole body weight on one arm. And I just think, how do they do this?

GLASS: Nick Glass, CNN, Las Vegas.


LU STOUT: Now they are flexible and they are strong. Incredible.

Now you're watching News Stream. And after the break, it was quite a feat, Diana Nyad swimming from Cuba to Florida. But we'll tell you why some other marathon swimmers are raising questions about her accomplishment.


LU STOUT: You're watching News Stream. And let's return to our visual rundown.

Now in a few minutes, we'll tell you why Prince Andrew was stopped by police at Buckingham Palace. But now to a feel good story that had many people cheering one week ago today.

Now after many failed attempts, 64-year-old Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida without using a shark cage. But now, some are questioning whether it happened the way she and her team says it did.

Miguel Marquez has more.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Diana Nyad's stunning achievement.

DIANA NYAD, ENDURANCE SWIMMER: We should never, ever give up.


MARQUEZ: The record breaking swim from Cuba to Key West, 110 miles, 53 hours in shark infested water, this morning questioned by some long distance swimmers. Among other things, they want to know, did she really swim all 110 miles unassisted? Did she rest on a boat, hold on to a canoe? Was she ever pulled along?

Skeptics speaking to National Geographic and blogging on the marathon swimmer's form point to one 9-hour stretch when Nyad sped up to more than twice her average speed. They want her GPS, surface current, weather, eating and drinking data released to verify her claim of conquering a swim once considered impossible. CNN reached out to Nyad's team who promised a point-by-point response.

An historic swim and life-long quest for Nyad, the fifth time the charm. Now 64, she's tried to conquer this stretch of ocean since she was 29-years-old. Barely able to move, she spoke to CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta just hours after her record breaking feat.

NYAD: You know what is so great about it, Sanjay, is that it's all authentic. It's a great story.

MARQUEZ: A great story, its authenticity not called directly into question, but in the uber competitive world of long distance swimming and achievement of this magnitude is raising questions and demanding answers.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


LU STOUT: And this map on Nyad's website, it tracks her progress. As Miguel mentioned, 110 miles, or 177 kilometers, from beginning to end. And all these little dots here, they represent time logs and progress details written by her team. But skeptics suggest that some information may be missing, specifically they questioned a seven hour stretch where it appears Nyad did not stop to eat or drink.

Now there's a new tropical storm in the Atlantic. It could become the first hurricane of the season. Let's get the details with Mari Ramos. She joins us from the World Weather Center -- Mari.

MARI RAMOS, CNN WEATHER CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Kristie, that's one thing the swimmer didn't have to worry about there was tropical cyclones. We've had actually a very slow season when it comes to tropical cyclones here in the Atlantic Ocean. Certainly we haven't had any hurricanes, but we could be looking at the first one right now.

It's way out here in the Atlantic, actually off the coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands, just south of there.

Winds 65 kilometers per hour.

It is a tropical storm right now, which you know, think about it you have a tropical depression, then you have a tropical storms and then as it intensifies then it becomes a hurricane.

Well, this may become, like I said, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season. But, you know, we never really think about the kind of impact that it has on the islands. Here in Cape Verde, for example, they had nearly a half month's worth of rainfall just in the last 24 hours because of this storm that is moving so close to there. And they've also had some very strong winds and of course very rough seas as the storm continues to move away.

So there are already some impacts related to this storm.

Longer term, though, I don't think we're going to have to worry about it too much anymore. It is expected to track generally to the north away from the islands and then move out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. And it could become a hurricane.

And it could become a hurricane kind of tying a record, so-to-speak, of when it comes to tropical cyclone activity.

Now, think about the Atlantic. So far we've had eight tropical storms and zero hurricanes. Now the last time that we had hurricanes not formed prior to September 1 -- actually this is the sixth time that this has happened since 1944, since they've been keeping records.

And the latest date without a hurricane is September 11. So this storm could actually be tying the record in the next couple of days as it becomes, we think, a hurricane.

Africa does -- this is something we don't really think about -- but because of the way the winds blow there, it picks up a lot of dust from the Saharan Desert. And what happens is that is an inhibitor for tropical cyclone activity in the Atlantic Ocean. So they say that this is one of the major reasons why we have had a relatively slow season with tropical cyclones not really developing there as intensely as they have -- or as they usually do -- during this time of year.

So let's go ahead and move to the U.S. now. Relatively quiet weather across much of the country, but here across the west they continue to see some pretty nasty conditions. And I do want to show you some really dramatic images that we have from the U.S. state of Utah. Look at this, Kristie. Homeowners describe this as a lava monster approaching them. It's really spectacular when you see how high and how fast the moving, and people were sitting there filming it -- I can't believe it.

Now, this is happening, because of the heavy rain brought on -- they call it the monsoon there in the southwestern U.S. It's moisture that comes in from the Pacific Ocean and continues to move northward.

This particular rainfall caused a mudslide that was about 30 meters, 30 meters wide. Really amazing.

Now, the other thing to talk about this year is the reason they think they're having these intense mudslides, Kristie, is because this particular community is in the path of a burn scar from a prior wildfire that has left the mountain without any trees. So now when it rains, that's what they end up with.

And this picture behind me from the Mojave Desert that you saw there with all of that heavy rain.

And more heavy rain, unfortunately, expected across this area.

But those pictures so scary.

LU STOUT: Yeah. Incredible video of the torrent there. As you said, 30 meters wide. Incredible stuff.

Mari Ramos, thank you.

Now an embarrassing incident for Scotland Yard. Now uniform police officers, they confront Prince Andrew in the gardens of Buckingham Palace and demanded identification apparently without realizing who he was.

Erin McLaughlin has more on the royal slip up.


ERIN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A security snafu at Buckingham Palace. London's metropolitan police confront a would-be intruder wandering around the palace gardens. They shouted and demanded he identify himself. The problem, the intruder was actually the queen's son, Prince Andrew, simply enjoying a walk. Scotland yard later apologized to the prince who took it in stride.

"The police have a difficult job to do, balancing security for the royal family and deterring intruders, and sometimes, they get it wrong," he said in a statement. Police clearly on high alert because the run-in came just two days after one of the worst ever security breaches at Buckingham Palace. Two men were arrested for allegedly targeting the queen's main residence just packed with priceless works of art and jewelry.

KEN WHARF, FORMER ROYAL PROTECTION OFFICER: This is serious. The breach this week was a breach of security. Of that, there is no question.

MCLAUGHLIN: A man scaled a 12-foot fence and broke through a door while his accomplice waited outside the palace. It's likely that he had to walk through a substantial portion of the complex before arriving at the state rooms where he was arrested.

On display, there a temporary exhibition which is open to the public to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the queen's coronation which includes the spectacular diamond diem (ph), the same crown the queen wears on British stamps and coins. Luckily, nothing was stolen and no one was hurt in the incident. And the queen wasn't even home. She's still on summer holiday at her castle in Scotland.


LU STOUT: Erin McLaughlin reporting.

And finally, I want to end with a bit of life imitating art. Now Akira is one of Japan's most famous Anime's, telling the story of a biker gang in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. So what does that have to do with reality? Well, some of the film's key scenes take place in the Olympic Stadium. Before it hosts the 2020 Olympics. Yep, Akira called it naming Tokyo as the 2020 Olympic host city over 30 years ago.

And that is News Stream, but the news continues at CNN. World Business Today is next.