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Tide of Anguished Humanity on the Move in Aleppo; White Helmets Unable to Carry Out Rescue Efforts; America-Somali Lawmaker Elected in Minnesota; Stitching Syria Back Together

Aired December 8, 2016 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:10] CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN HOST: Tonight, a human avalanche. Civilians flee the bombardment of Eastern Aleppo. A special report from

the ground on the exodus.

Plus, two more voices from behind the front lines including a doctor whose house has been hit.

Also ahead, from a refugee to the first Somali-American lawmaker. Ilhan Omar's message to young children without a home.


ILHAN OMAR, SOMALI-AMERICAN LAWMAKER: I was in their shoes. You know 20 years ago, sitting in a refugee camp in Kenya. And today, I'm able to

represent my community here in the U.S. So it's a story of hope.


AMANPOUR: Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the program. I'm Christiane Amanpour in London.

After coming under heavy international pressure to save civilian lives in Aleppo, late this evening, Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, told

reporters that the Syrian military has ceased all operations in Aleppo to focus on evacuating up to 5,000 civilians.

But our Fred Pleitgen on the ground tells us there continues to be gun and mortar fire. Military jets overhead. And just now, an air strike.

Meanwhile, the trickle of people out of the east part of the city has become a flood, under the regime's advance. Bashar al-Assad calls this a

significant landmark. And earlier today, he told a newspaper, quote, "There are no truces. They still insist on calling for a truce,

particularly the Americans, because their proxies, the terrorists, are in a difficult position. That's why crying, wailing and begging for a truce

constitute their only political discourse now. In addition of course, to talking about humanitarian aspects."

Now while the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's talks with his Russian counterpart have until now clearly been futile.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We're working on something. And we have to wait for certain feedback and input. But we are working on something.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you comfortable with the breakthrough?

KERRY: Not confident, I'm hopeful. We'll see where we are.


AMANPOUR: Perhaps that was what was Sergey Lavrov was reflecting in his talk to journalist just a short time ago saying that the Syrian regime

would pause action in Aleppo in order to focus on saving civilians.

Now in an extremely rare public speech, the head of Britain's secret intelligence service, MI-6 painted a very grim picture.


ALEX YOUNGER, HEAD OF UK'S SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE, MI6: In Aleppo, Russian and the Syria -- Russia and the Syria regime seek to make a desert

and call it peace. The human tragedy is heartbreaking.


AMANPOUR: And that is where our Fred Pleitgen has been covering the regime's advance. All week he's been sending us reports saying that the

fighting continues tonight and he's just sent us this latest.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the rebels increasingly lose their grip on Aleppo, Syrian armed forces continue to

pound the besieged areas, many killed and wounded in the cross-fire. We came to this front line crossing just as a man was being evacuated.

Claiming he was shot by rebels as he tried to flee.

"They shot me as I was running out," he says. They're not allowing anyone to get out. They said, "Are you going to the regime areas?"

The opposition strongly denies its fighters would harm civilians. But rebels do acknowledge they won't be able to hold out in Aleppo much longer.

And that realization is leading to an avalanche of people trying to flee the rebel districts.

Syrian troops throwing some bread, but not nearly enough to quell the hunger of the many who have been starving for months.

(on-camera): The Syrian military has made major advances, once again in the past 24 hours. And we can see that as the army moves forward, more and

more people are coming out of those former besieged areas.

(voice-over): Many of those fleeing, families with small children. Struggling to carry the few belongings they were able to take. Many

overpowered by emotions, some with barely enough strength to walk. Others too frail to walk at all.

The Syrian army has amassed a massive force at this front line. A local commander with a clear message to the rebels.

"Look at the sea," he says. "These are your families, surrender yourselves and drop your arms. Come back to the country and hopefully our


[14:05:10] But for now, the fight goes on. This family one of the many to cross into government-controlled territory, now in safety, but still in


"Things used to be good," this elderly woman says. "May God act out revenge on those who brought us these difficult circumstances and may God

protect us."

And so they walk on. Weak and traumatized, moving into an uncertain future. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Aleppo.


AMANPOUR: And all this week, we've also been reaching out to voices behind the front line in Eastern Aleppo as the conditions for civilians continue

to deteriorate.

When I last spoke to Dr. Farida, who is one of the last OB-GYNs in the east, she told me it was like a horror movie there. She's wearing a

surgical mask in part to protect her identity.


AMANPOUR: Farida, thanks for joining us again. I see you have no light there, what's the situation?

DR. FARIDA: We have no electricity. No water. Nothing in Aleppo. We -- today, I came home and I find my home partially destroyed. But I can -- I

physically go there, there is no water. And now there is no electricity.

I just go to hospital and charge my phone and do some operations and some emergencies. And then I came home to find everything is destroyed. And

the government army is -- there is about 2 kilometers between the regime and my house.

AMANPOUR: Farida, are they getting closer and closer to you?

DR. FARIDA: Yes, they are getting closer, every few hours or days. But from yesterday until now, they stopped because the FSA are defending us.

They have stopped from yesterday. Today, there is no encroachment from them to my house, so I came back to my house just to see what's happened

because they told me they're bombing barrels next to my house. So I came and find it destroyed partially but I can live in this room.

The other rooms, the other rooms have -- broke their windows and their doors and the kitchen is destroyed. So I am now staying in this room.

AMANPOUR: So you know the last time we talked, before this offensive had really made so much progress, you told me that it was like living in a

horror movie.

What is changing? How is it changing?

DR. FARIDA: It's worse. It's worse. Now when I have been in the hospital in the morning, I saw one little child about three years in the operating

room. I find his shoe on the ground. I give it to him. I told him my little boy, take your shoe. He told me, no, I don't need it any more. I

lost my legs.

It's always -- in Aleppo, you can't see this child, children every day. I see one girl in the age of my girl, about seven or eight years, she lost

one hand. And you can imagine a little baby in this age, can't live their childhood.

They have broken legs. They have cut off their legs or their hands. They have colostomy. They had some injuries. They have burns. You can't

imagine a child still alive in this, they're like disabled.

AMANPOUR: At what point is it going to get too dangerous for you? Can you escape from where you are to a place of safety?

DR. FARIDA: If I want to escape, I have to go to regime areas. But I don't think I can go there, because I'm afraid for my name or the name of

my husband, or my family there. So I'm afraid for everyone there and on myself.

AMANPOUR: Well, Dr. Farida, we wish you all the best. We wish you a lot of good luck in these difficult days. Thank you for talking to us from an

area of Eastern Aleppo still controlled by the rebels. Thank you.


AMANPOUR: The U.N. special adviser on Syria, Jan Egeland says they haven't been able to evacuate the wounded or deliver food and medical supplies,

calling this the most frustrating humanitarian stalemate he has ever faced. Talks which have quote produced nothing in spite of thousands of contacts

with all the parties.

The famous Syrian defense -- civil defense forces also known as the White Helmets, short-listed for this year's Nobel Peace Prize for their

outstanding rescue efforts, also can no longer reach the wounded as their director told me when I reached him by Skype just outside Aleppo.


AMANPOUR: Ammar al-Salmo, thank you for joining us.

Ammar, are you still able to rescue people in Eastern Aleppo?

AMMAR AL-SALMO, MANAGER, SYRIAN WHITE HELMETS: In Eastern Aleppo, everything has stopped, but the shelling. Except the shelling. The cold

of the winter and the starving and the fear and the terror. Just except this, but everything stopped. Bakery, civil defence workers and even the

medical points.

Right now, those victims, those wounded who are lucky -- those lucky wounded who have -- has the treatment. In some point they, they did have

surgery without anesthesia, without anesthesia. So the situation is deteriorated every moment. Every day is worse than before.

AMANPOUR: We have just heard from Dr. Farida, still inside Eastern Aleppo, saying that the FSA, the Free Syrian Army, are still trying to fight to

control where they are now. Can you discuss what may be going on?

AL-SALMO: Actually just after 105 days of the siege, all the rebels right now are tired, exhausted. They want some solution. They want a safe

passage to go through. Actually, you know, the regime drop on the citizens two weeks leaflets that say you are left alone to face your doom. You will

be annihilated.

This clear message from the regime and from the Russia and also from the war, the civilians start to say that this message, not written in Moscow or

in Damascus, but are written in the U.N. because we are actually left alone.

More than 60, 60 dead bodies in the street. We cannot reach them. We cannot pull them. No one can pull them. We are faced today like doomsday.

AMANPOUR: Ammar al-Salmo, from the civil defense White Helmets, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

AL-SALMO: Thank you, thank you.

AMANPOUR: Really dire eye witness reports. And when we come back, the woman who was born a refugee, and rose to become American's first Somali-

American lawmaker.

I talk to Ilhan Omar about being elected the same night as Donald Trump. That's next.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back to the program.

On November 8th, Donald Trump declared victory in the U.S. presidential race after a campaign full of divisive language, much of it aimed at

Muslims. But that same night in Minnesota, a Muslim-American lawmaker declared victory, too, and made history.

34-year-old Ilhan Omar was elected as a state representative making her the country's first Somali-American refugee turned lawmaker.

She joined from Minneapolis to tell me that despite Trump's disparaging anti-Muslim rhetoric, she still has hope.


AMANPOUR: Ilhan Omar, welcome to the program.

OMAR: Thank you so much for having me.

[14:15:00] AMANPOUR: This is an enormous incredible journey for you. And everybody watching around the world will see this young girl who grew up in

Somalia now elected as a state representative in the United States.

What do you think this means, not just for you, but for what Somalis may be watching for right now? People around the world?

OMAR: I think it's an honor and privilege to have been able to been elected to serve my community. It was a long journey. And on election

night, I talked about how this particular victory wasn't really only mine, but it was a victory for young women who, you know, are in refugee camps,

who are being you know, forced into child marriage, who are struggling for them to see that, that there is a better opportunity for young women and

that their dreams can one day become true, because I was in their shoes.

You know 20 years ago, sitting in a refugee camp in Kenya. And today I'm able to represent my community here in the U.S. So it's a story of hope

and aspiration for something better.

AMANPOUR: So tell me, cast your mind back those 20 years, when you first landed as a 12-year-old in the United States. What was the immediate

reaction to you?

OMAR: My first actually to be honest -- my first reaction was very different than America that we arrived. It was very different than the

America I imagined, I would arrive in. It was presented to me as a land of abundance, where everyone has access to education, housing and

opportunities. And when we arrived, I started out in New York and I remember seeing homeless people in the streets and I remember looking at my

father and telling, asking him why he had lied to me and he said, you know, be patient, we are going to get to our America soon. This wasn't our

America yet.

And so, for me, it was noticing a disconnect between the ideals of America and the actual reality.

AMANPOUR: But how did it unfold as you went first to Virginia and then to Minnesota? Where you are now and where you've been elected.

OMAR: Yes, I took that to heart. And for me that meant that I needed to work on creating a cohesive community. That I needed to get involved. And

I got involved in politics around 14. Taking my grandfather to the caucuses so that he could participate in the democratic process.

And I got involved in my school to make sure that we had unity and diversity. You know to work towards being a community organizer and making

sure that people understood that those, that we're making -- the policies needed to hear their voices and the way that we create changes by getting

involved. And so my life has become a life dedicated to public service.

AMANPOUR: You have just entered, you know, public office at a same time as those dreams that you talk about have been severely challenged and severely

under pressure by the president-elect.

How do you make that connection at the same time as you sort of leap over all these barriers, you can see the highest office-holder in the land,

still holding up those barriers, at least rhetorically.

OMAR: I think it's still sinking in. You know the overwhelming despair of what the national election really means for us. And how we overcome the

consequences of having someone who is disparaging and divisive and is preaching hate and bigotry. But I have hope, because I know that barriers

are something that we work towards surpassing.

The national rhetoric that was around scapegoating politics and exploiting the economic anxiety that some people have, and creating a rift by singling

certain people out and the other wing, that is something that isn't American, that isn't in the America that I came to and in the American that

I came to believe in.

And so like my grandfather said, it is the work of people like me. It is the work of our current generation and the generations to come, to overcome

these barriers and to work towards creating that ideal America, where liberty and justice for all can actually exist.

AMANPOUR: Ilhan, let me play you a sound byte from Donald Trump when he came to campaign the last weekend before the election in Minnesota, which

is obviously home to the largest Somali community in the United States.


[14:20:10] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here in Minnesota, you've seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee

vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state, without your knowledge, without your support or approval. And with some of

them then joing ISIS and spreading their extremist views all over our country and all over the world.


AMANPOUR: What did you think, or what do you think when you hear those words?

OMAR: They are words that are filled with hate. And he spoke of great ignorance, because, you know, the Somali community here that I'm part of,

is a community that is thriving, that is making some substantial contribution to their society that has worked in bettering the communities

that they arrived in. And that is grateful for the opportunity that we get to start over.

And it is sad that the president-elect hasn't taken the time to really get to know who the new neighbors are in Minnesota. And as I like to point

out, you know, the new immigrants who are your neighbors are not that much different than the immigrants that your grandparents were and your great

grandparents were here in the U.S.

And people seem to forget that unless you are indigenous, this is a nation of immigrants. And so we all, you know, go through our growing pains, but

ultimately what makes America great is its history of immigrants coming here and infusing it with a vision of a betterment.

AMANPOUR: Ilhan Omar, thank you so much for joining us.

OMAR: Thank you for having me. It's been an honor.


AMANPOUR: And since that interview, Ilhan Omar posted on her Facebook that she was involved in a scary incident in Washington, D.C. this week. She

said that her cab driver went on an islamphobic sexist rant, calling her ISIS and threatening to remove her hijab. She said the incident has shaken

her up and she prays for humanity.

Now Ilhan Omar fled war in Africa as a child. But tomorrow's refugees on the continent could be running from a very different crisis, climate


Today experts told CNN that Sudan will become uninhabitable in the not too distant future if there is not quick intervention. It's being decimated,

say the experts, by global warming. And years of desertification, extreme weather already displacing 600,000 people in the country to date.

Meantime, the U.S. President-elect Donald Trump's pick to lead the environmental protection agency is a long-time climate change denier.

After a break, we imagine the British doctor preparing Syrians for battlefield surgery, that's next.


[14:25:30] AMANPOUR: And finally tonight, imagine stitching a person back together. That's standard operating procedure for a surgeon, of course.

But imagine doing that in the middle of a raging war?

The British Doctor David Nott regularly strikes out from his well-equipped, well-staffed London hospital to train and help Syrian surgeons prepare for

battlefield injuries.


DAVID NOTT, SURGEON: My name is David Nott. I'm a consultant surgeon in London, and I'm here running the course called Hostile Environment Surgical

Training Course in Gaziantep.

I've used 23 years now of experience of going to war zones and distil this all together and made this course, which gives them the best training in

the shortest possible time.

If you read every trauma manual that's been written, the patient should always be in this position. But I will explain that you need to think

about that position, but maybe not use it always.

More surgeries are out of its own to be really honest. If I go to a war zone, I'm there for six weeks or two months. And I can withdraw myself and

go home. But they're constantly there for five years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember one patient after air strike. I find that vena cava is damaged. And that one first time I see this case. Then I

manage it with many suturing like I learn from the course and the from Internet and now he has saved a life. I'm so happy I did that one, that


NOTT: These people are dealing with mass casualties on a daily basis, and not only that, they are dealing with injuries which they would never have

seen anywhere else before. I sometimes feel that if you've got a surgeon coming from New York or London or whatever and put them into the position

that these young surgeons are in, they probably will make the wrong decisions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How much longer do you think you can save it?

NOTT: Well, I mean, it depends on how long I live. I mean, I think the thing is I love the job I'm doing. I really love this job. And I think if

you're passionate about it and the fire is still burning, you'll do it until you can't do it anymore, and I don't know when that time will come.


AMANPOUR: And that's it for our program tonight. Thanks for watching and good-bye from London.