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Threat of Force is Major Sticking Point; Christian Village at Center of Battle; Refugee Camps; Syrian Refugee Crisis; Flash Flooding in Colorado; United Airlines Ticket Glitch

Aired September 13, 2013 - 12:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome. You're watching AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


We're seeing first real signs that Syria does want to appear genuine in its claim it intends to give up those chemical weapons. What's happened in the last hour of so is we heard that the Assad regime has formally requested technical assistance from that national body that overseas the chemical weapons convention.

MALVEAUX: So this new development actually comes on what could be a critical day in the diplomatic effort to rid Syria of its chemical arsenal. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are, right now, holding a second day of talks in Switzerland. They are face to face, but might still be far apart on how to actually execute that plan for Syria. Now, the aim right now is to nail down a blueprint on how to put the deadly chemical stockpiles under international control.

HOLMES: Kerry, today, described the talks, and language is always important at these meetings, as constructive.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: I think we would both agree that we had constructive conversations regarding that, but those conversations are continuing and both of us want to get back to them now.

I will say on behalf of the United States that President Obama is deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria.


HOLMES: There is, of course, a big divide on whether or not the U.S. and its allies should continue to threaten or even use force against Syria.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in Matthew Chance. He's in Geneva.

And, Matthew, tell us, first of all, the president has said the threat of military strikes is still on the table. That is something, of course, that Syria and Russia reject. Can these twos, Kerry and Lavrov, bridge that gap at all? MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're going to have to, Suzanne, if they want this process to go through the United Nations Security Council because Russia has a veto on that council and it's made it quite clear it won't allow any resolution about Syria's chemical weapons to go through the Security Council if the failure for them to do so triggers any kind of automatic military response by the United States and its allies. And so if this process is going to go through the U.N. Security Council, both the Americans and the Russians say that that's what they want, then that issue will have to be essentially kind of worked out by the - by both parties.

HOLMES: And, Matthew, too, they are already planning to meet again, of course, but this process could literally take years and a lot of people think that just gives Bashar al Assad time to prosecute his war without the fear of being stopped. How important is the time line for the talks and these two sides could have very different versions of what it should be.

CHANCE: Well, I think the timeline is very important. We talked about that one roadblock, the issue of the use of - the threat of U.S. force. The other issues that are dividing the Russians and the Americans at this point are the issues of timing. It's a complex, you know, situation, trying to get all these weapons sort of properly cataloged, properly inspected by the various international inspectors and to then to be sort of decommissioned and put out of use. That's going to take a long time. It's not an overnight process. You're right, it could take years.

MALVEAUX: Matthew Chance, thank you very much. We appreciate it. Of course, reporting from Geneva.

And the head of Syria's main rebel group is now telling CNN that the Assad regime is moving the chemical weapons out of the country. Now, CNN is not able to actually confirm the allegations, but it is all happening, of course, as this civil war continues to rage on.

HOLMES: That is an ancient Christian village there, which is now at the center of fierce fighting between government forces and rebels linked to al Qaeda. Both sides are claiming victory.

MALVEAUX: Arwa Damon, she is monitoring the Syrian crisis from neighboring Lebanon.

And, Arwa, first of all, you don't hear a lot about what is taking place on the ground anymore. We hear about these chemical weapons. But tell us about the war - the civil war that continues.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, you have these pockets of very intense fighting. You were just showing video there from Malula (ph). Both the government and the rebels want to try to regain control of it because it does lie along not necessarily a major route, but a route that both sides want to control, leading to the capital Damascus.

This is a war that has been relentless from the very beginning. You have big pockets across the country where civilians have effectively been living under siege. Simply put, they do not have enough food, they do not have enough medicine. So the big cry we're hearing from inside Syria right now is that part of this whole negotiation, given that this is possibly an opportunity, has to be the opening of humanitarian corridors. If the U.S. wants to take the moral high ground with the Syrians and the Russians at the table, this could be something to test the Syrian government's intent. Open these much needed humanitarian corridors, at the very least, ever so slightly, try to ease the suffering of the population.

HOLMES: Right. And, Arwa, certainly plenty of Muslims have been killed and injured in this war, but talk about this village and the Christian population in Syria. Similar to what we saw in Iraq, the Christian minority was always a bit protected, if you like, by the dictator. They must be feeling pretty vulnerable right now.

DAMON: They are. And they're very concerned about the growing extremism, the growing fundamentalism amongst some elements of the Free Syrian Army and amongst some elements of the opposition itself. You keep hearing from a lot of Christians who support the Assad regime saying, look, we just don't want to become Iraq. We don't want to be driven out of our own land.

That being said though, what's also (INAUDIBLE) quite interesting is that in some places in the country, and I saw this myself, where Sunni villagers, because they oppose the government, were not able to get things like bread. It was, in fact, the Christians that were (ph) bread runs for them. But they're most certainly a minority in Syria right now that is very nervous, anxious about what the future is going to hold for them.

HOLMES: Yes. Arwa, thanks so much. Arwa Damon covering things for us from our Beirut bureau in Lebanon.

MALVEAUX: And more in this hour, we're going to actually get reaction from some Syrians living in America. They're going to join us on the set later in the hour. Other news we are following. There is a huge firefight that broke out today in Afghanistan. This is right outside the American consulate.

HOLMES: That's the U.S. consulate. It's in the city of Heart, which is in far western Afghanistan. The fight's over now, but a State Department official says a wave of attackers assaulted the front gate of the consulate, started firing at the Afghan troops there. All of the attackers reportedly dead. There were seven or eight of them apparently. No American staffers hurt, but two local policemen and a security guard were killed. The Taliban did send an e-mail to CNN saying they were behind that attack.

MALVEAUX: And New Jersey, this is devastation. I mean, it is hard to even see this again. This is the iconic boardwalk. This was just less than a year after Superstorm Sandy. Fire now destroyed parts of the Seaside Heights. This morning, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said his state, of course, New Jersey, it's going to rebound, but it is tough going in this latest disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: I will not permit all the work that we've done over the last 10 months to be diminished or destroyed by what happened last night. We're going to get back on our feet and we're going to do what we need to do.


HOLMES: This fire started out pretty small, but then as you see there, it raged out of control. One problem was the wind. Big wind. And that drove the flames. The fire consuming four blocks. This, of course, the same boardwalk slammed by Sandy last October.

MALVEAUX: And businesses, they had just rebuilt, reopened their doors earlier in the year.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's horrifying what's going on here. The whole town, the people that grew up here, the people that work here are suffering a lot of damage.

SARAH GOMEZ, SEASIDE HEIGHTS RESIDENT: After everything that we just went through for rebuilding everything, especially to the shore, and to know that it's all burning down now. I'm sorry.


MALVEAUX: That is so hard.

HOLMES: It's horrible.

MALVEAUX: I mean they're - you know, they are tough folks, but to have that happen again.

HOLMES: Yes. Yes.

MALVEAUX: A second hit.

HOLMES: Yes, I was up there covering Sandy and saw the destruction done to the boardwalk. It was so good to see it getting rebuilt. And then now this.

And, by the way, there were like 400 firefighters from 30 New Jersey towns that battled that fire. They got it under control. It took about five hours.

MALVEAUX: And to Colorado. This is where it is being pounded by historic amounts of rainfall. The situation especially desperate in the town of Lyons here. The National Guard is now evacuating all 2,000 residents there. In other parts of Colorado, flash flooding, it's washed out the roads, it's pushed dams to their limits. At least three people have been killed so far.

HOLMES: Unbelievable.

President Obama has actually signed an emergency declaration now. And we're going to have more on then in about 10 minutes. So stick around for that.

MALVEAUX: Also coming up, Prince William and Duchess Catherine making their first public appearance together since taking time to focus on the new baby boy there. The prince opening up about fatherhood to CNN.

HOLMES: And then on a serious note, new threats from the al Qaeda of leader, al Zawahiri. In an audio speech, he calls for attacks inside the U.S. And not for the first time.

MALVEAUX: And our coverage of the crisis in Syria continues. Coming up, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is back from a refugee camp in Lebanon. That is near the Syrian border. He's going to be joining us live. You're watching AROUND THE WORLD.


HOLMES: Welcome back.

We've got a new alert today from the United Nations refugee agency. They say they are seeing what they call a sharp increase in Syrian refugees arriving actually in southern Italy.

MALVEAUX: These are people who fled their homes in Syria. They are essentially afraid for their lives. Already millions of people, they have left Syria, most of them only able to get across the border into Turkey, Jordan or Lebanon. Well, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta visited these refugee camps in Lebanon to show the conditions there for himself to see that and to talk to fellow doctors.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What types of injuries, gunshot wounds -


GUPTA: Amputations, spinal cord injuries?


GUPTA: You see all of those here?


GUPTA (voice-over): We are just walking distance to Syria. Look over there, just to those mountain passes. Dr. Noor (ph) is Syrian, as are all the medical staff here. They left their country to take care of wounded rebels. To keep them safe, the hospital is secret. No signs outside. They only allowed us to take pictures on the patient floors. And we agreed to limit what we would show that would identify people here.

GUPTA (on camera): You don't want us to show your face.


MALVEAUX: And Dr. Sanjay Gupta, of course, I mean it's excellent reporting -

GUPTA: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Getting back there from the refugee camps. And one of the things we noticed there is that that was actually a mosque, right, that they were performing surgeries inside?


MALVEAUX: I mean everything is kind of a makeshift situation there. They do with what they can.

GUPTA: Absolutely. And they were allowed, essentially, to do that because - and it's in a particular area of Lebanon that is quite sympathetic to what is known as the Free Syrian Army, the FSA. So that's why that could happen. They do -- still do use a certain floor of that as a mosque, but the upstairs floors were all patient floors. And that particular floor that were just seeing these, those were all rebel fighters. They acknowledged as such, they identified them as such and they were being treated there.

HOLMES: You know, the articles - and I urge people to check out, some of the stuff you've actually written, the printed word, which is so incredibly moving. I - you know, one of the - I think one of the headlines was nothing makes sense in the camps.


HOLMES: And it seems extraordinary in a place like Lebanon that these people are going through such tribulations once they've escaped a war. What -- explain.

GUPTA: Nothing makes sense in the very, very obvious way and then in a more nuanced way. Nothing makes sense as a dad. You know, you get an idea of what a six-year-old kid should look like, but they look like they're three years old, you know? Or a newborn or an eight-month-old who looks like a newborn. And that part of it, you know, just didn't make sense because some of the most basic resources still aren't being given to these kids. And, you know, as complicated as many things are in the world, the other thing that didn't make sense was that we couldn't get food to these camps. It's not -- there are a lot of complicated problems there, as you guys know and have been reporting on. But feeding the children shouldn't seemingly be one of them. And that part of it didn't make sense either.

I think there's a lot of good intentioned people both inside of Lebanon and other aid organizations, but because the situation is so complicated there, it makes it very hard to just achieve very basic things.

MALVEAUX: And, Sanjay, you wrote in a very personal way as a father yourself. This struck me here.

You said, "I often think of my own children and how disappointed they would be that their daddy couldn't do more to help kids like them."

Why disappointed?

GUPTA: You know, I mean, I think kids get it I think a little bit more inherently than adults do, and I think that they see a kid staving and they -- it just doesn't make sense.

You know, the sayings go, there but for the grace of God. That would have been their lot in life, as well, and so they want to do everything.

I think human beings -- I think our default position is to be altruistic and to want to help people and kids, who haven't been burdened by all the other things that they see in their lives, that's all they want to do.

And they say daddy, you're there; help these kids. And so I try and do my best, and a lot of people do as much as they can, but it is a very large and difficult situation.

So if people feel more compelled by watching this reporting, if they feel more compassionate, if they feel more connected by watching this reporting, great. Maybe help will arrive.

HOLMES: That's the thing, isn't it? To personalize it, to strip away the numbers and show some faces?

GUPTA: These people are a lot more like all of us sitting at this table than people realize. We tend to typecast these refugees.

But if I say they drove their kids to school, they wanted the best for their families, they play cards at night, they met their spouses at a shopping hall, whatever it may be, all of a sudden, you realize there's a lot more that ties us together than tears us apart.

HOLMES: Well put. Well put.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Sanjay. I notice you're tearing. We all tear during your reports and even just reading your article was very, very moving.

GUPTA: Thank you. Thank you for having me.


Rushing water sweeps away stranded cars. It's threatening homes, as well, forces evacuations in parts of Colorado.

Now this heavy rain and flooding is being called "biblical" because it is just that is big. And it isn't even over. The latest, up next.


MALVEAUX: All right, we're watching live pictures here, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking to an audience of educators. This is at the University of St. Andrews.

She possibly could make some comments on Syria, so we are going to dip in and listen in from time to time. We'll bring that to you.

But she just received an honorary degree from the university for her efforts to advance education.

HOLMES: Yeah, if she does speak about Syria, we will bring it to you, so do stick around.

All right, more now on the devastating flash flooding in Boulder County, Colorado.

MALVEAUX: The storm which began on Tuesday dumped more than a half a foot of rain on the region in just a really short period of time.

The National Weather Service called it "biblical." At least three people now have died.

HOLMES: We're talking walls of water that washed away roads, took away cars, brought down homes and marooned entire communities, thousands of people evacuated now. As Suzanne was saying earlier, that includes the town of Lyons some 30 miles north of Boulder.

MALVEAUX: And the president has signed an emergency declaration.

We want to go to Chad in the CNN Weather Center who's been monitoring all of this here.

And, Chad, this is just extraordinary, the pictures and how quickly this all happened.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLGOIST: You know, I lived out there. I'm a Big 12 guy. I lived in Nebraska. We went to boulder. We went to C.U. to go to games. We went skiing.

We went all these places and then to see this water rushing down these canyons was just tremendous. It reminds me of 1976 when Big Thompson Canyon flooded, and in some spots, the north fork of the Big Thompson Canyon, it's higher than that flood in '76.

You go from a foot and a half of almost rain here, 14.6, Boulder at 11 inches. Aurora had bout 11 to 12 inches yesterday, and it's not in the flatland. It's in the mountains. It's in the front range.

All this water has to run downhill, and when it runs downhill, it goes into valleys it goes into canyons, and that water goes straight up. The levels go straight up very, very quickly.

The water runs up the hill. Think of it almost like a cold front, a cold front that doesn't move. It rains in the same places for hours and hours and hours. That's what we had yesterday.

And still not done raining yet. This could rain for another 72 hours. There's a slight break today and tomorrow, but there will be more rainfall with this.

HOLMES: Three days?

MALVEAUX: 72 hours?


HOLMES: Oh, my god. Amazing.

All right, Chad, thanks so much.

MYERS: You're welcome.

HOLMES: Chad Myers there.

MALVEAUX: Now, imagine this, Michael. If you could buy a plane ticket, one-way plane ticket, two-fifty, right, round trip by bus.

HOLMES: Not two-fifty. Two dollars, fifty.

MALVEAUX: $2.50.

HOLMES: Yeah. What about five bucks for a round trip?

Yeah, well, guess what, United Airlines just offered that, but they didn't mean it.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, they didn't really mean it. We're going to explain next.

HOLMES: Some people bought them though.



HOLMES: It was that deal that sounded too good to be true, but a lot of airline passengers apparently jumped onto it very quickly.

MALVEAUX: I think I would have.

HOLMES: I would have.

MALVEAUX: We're talking about really cheap fares posted on United Airlines. This was just for a short while. There were tickets that going for $5, $10, until United shut down the bookings on its website.


MALVEAUX: What the heck's going on?


Alison Kosik following the story from the New York Stock Exchange. Yeah, let's face it. They're an airline. They didn't mean it.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, we'll see about that. You can certainly say this is a big "oops" for United with United saying, you know what? This was human error. We're not really getting details on exactly what they mean by that or who made the error. United is really not saying much about it. They're only confirming, yes, this happened and they're saying it was fixed.

So just a tip for you, don't bother going online now trying to get a deal. The mistake appears to have lasted only about two hours.

And, yes, the ticket price was free. People only paid the airport and security fees, so all told about $5 to $10 for those tickets, those lucky devils.


HOLMES: They're going to -- that's the question, are they going to honor it or be an airline and say we messed up, so you're not having it?

KOSIK: That's really the million dollar question or, in this case, maybe the $300 question depending how much the airfare is.

No word yet from United on whether it will or will not honor these fares. There are some issues, though, to consider when you think about this.

You know, we're hearing that some people went out there and bought multiple tickets.

We talked to Rick Seaney. He's the CEO of FareCompare. He says that some people bought more than a dozen tickets going from D.C. to Honolulu.

So if someone clearly exploited the error, should they get all of these for free or just one, or because this is United's mistake shouldn't they just honor these?

There are a lot of questions floating around.

MALVEAUX: Smart guy, that guy.

JetBlue also had some problems, as well, Alison. Is that true?

KOSIK: Yeah, it's interesting. It's been one headache of a day for the airlines.

JetBlue say earlier today it had a software problem affecting the system it uses to dispatch flights, so about 40 flights this morning were delayed.

The problems actually lasted several hours. They were fixed by around 10:30 this morning, Eastern time, but you know how this goes. It's a domino effect.

So JetBlue expects even more delays to happen as the day goes on, mostly on the East Coast. JetBlue says check those flight times online before you head out to the airport.


HOLMES: Alison, always a pleasure.

Gee, wouldn't you have loved to get a couple of those tickets? Honolulu!

Alison, thanks, Alison.

MALVEAUX: In Russia, a more serious note, as many as 37 people died. This is in a fire at a psychiatric hospital between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

You know, this started before dawn and firefighters were slowed by the fog as they traveled some 28 miles just to reach the hospital.

HOLMES: And this, just this past April, a fire at a psychiatric hospital near Moscow left 38 people dead.

This one, they're speculating, might have been started by a patient smoking.

MALVEAUX: That's a shame.

"Time" magazine has obtained exclusive images. This was taken by a photojournalist. They say it shows Islamic militants publicly executing a young Syrian by decapitation.

HOLMES: Yeah, "Time" says it is an example of how the conflict in Syria has plumbed new depths in brutality.

It is important for the world to know about this, and see the images. It is "Time's" international editor who tells us about them.


BOBBY GHOSH, INTERNATIONAL EDITOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: For the past two years, the Internet is full of cell phone videos of fighters on both sides, whether they're Assad's side or the rebel side doing the most horrific things to each other and then posting those atrocities as propaganda, executing captives, eating their flesh.