Return to Transcripts main page


Dangerous Weather Overshadows Holiday Preparations in Parts of U.S.; New Security Measures for Holiday Travelers. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired December 24, 2015 - 15:00:00   ET



AMARA WALKER, HOST: Tonight festivity around the world.


From Bethlehem to the Vatican, Christians are celebrating Christmas eve, but dangerous weather has overshadowed the holiday season in parts of the

U.S., we will show you the path cut by a strain of tornadoes.

And then find out how last minute Christmas travelers are dealing with new security measures.

And later, at least one world traveler won't face long lines or airport delays where Norad's Santa tracker has spotted the jolly old elf.>

Hello, everyone, I'm Amara Walker, standing in for Hala Gorani live from CNN Center and this is "The World Right Now".


WALKER: Welcome, everyone. Christians, the world over, are preparing for Christmas day celebrations with the faithful gathered in Vatican City this

hour. We want to show you the scene from St. Peters Basilica right now. Pope Francis will lead Christmas eve mass shortly, we will be live at the

Vatican in just a moment.


WALKER: But in the meantime France, security has been beefed up at churches there. Authorities are taking no chances with the continued threat of

potential terror attacks.

And in China where it is 4:00 Christmas morning right now, this is what mass looked like for some of the countries millions of Christians. We are

covering Christmas eve celebrations in Europe and the Middle East. Oren Lieberman is live for us in Bethlehem where Christians are gathered at the

church of nativity.


WALKER: But first let's get out to John Allen, CNN's senior Vatican analyst and associate editor for the Boston Globe Newspaper, he is live for us in

Rome. Great to see you, John. So what kind of message is the Pope expected to bring on this Christmas eve?

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Hi, Amara, that's right, in about a half hour Pope Francis will begin the traditional Christmas vigil mass, the

mass that precedes the great feast of Christmas tomorrow.


ALLEN: Catholics traditionally call this the midnight mass Amara, even though it's actually going to begin about 9:30 p.m. local time.

Look, in terms of the message the basic message is that Christians traditionally believe that this marks the birth of the savior of the world

and therefore it's a great festival of hope. However, given the Pope's particular concerns this Pope's special love for the poor I think it's

reasonable to expect Amara, that he also will touch upon the fact that according to the story in the gospels, the nativity stories of the birth of

Jesus Christ, he was born into a very poor and humble family and, therefore, in the Pope's mind that calls Christians to a special solidarity

with the poor. I would expect that's something he will touch upon in his homily tonight.


WALKER: All right, John Allen, appreciate that. I want to turn things over now to Oren Lieberman who is standing by live in Bethlehem. And Oren,

what's the scene from there and what's the atmosphere like?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, two hours away from midnight mass here, the faithful have been gathered since this morning, it's certainly a

bit of an emptier crowd, a smaller crowd than we've seen in previous years.


LIEBERMANN: And that's because of the political situation here, the tension, the violence and the clashes we've seen over the last three

months. But there certainly is still a crowd here that has built steadily over the evening. The Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem who will lead midnight

mass arrived a few hours ago and that's what we're waiting for now at this point.

The crowd behind me in Manger Square milling about at this point, waiting for those last couple of hours until midnight mass begins. Everybody here

making a concerted effort to make sure especially on this night, especially on this place where biblically Jesus Christ was born that this is a very

merry Christmas here, Amara.


WALKER: And you know given that there has been more violence in the West Bank, is it more of a tense atmosphere as well? Are you expecting to see

more stepped up security?

LIEBERMANN: Well, we very much have seen additional security here, not only in and around Manger Square but coming into the city of Bethlehem,

certainly in Jerusalem.


LIEBERMANN: And that's a part of this, the state department issued a warning last week essentially a travel warning to the area, to Israel and

the Palestinian territories, that has scared away a lot of Americans, even a lot of Europeans so that element is missing from this crowd and that

makes it a smaller crowd.

But in terms of how it feels here, there is, as I said, that concerted effort to make sure even with that travel warning, even with threats of

security or security concerns that it is a festive evening here. We've heard Christmas caroling, we've heard songs throughout the evening so there

is that effort to make sure that especially on this night it is a celebratory occasion here regardless of the political situation surrounding

it here that on this night especially it is a celebration in Bethlehem.


WALKER: Absolutely, I appreciate that Oren. I want to bring John Allen back in. And John, you know considering that this has really been a really

interesting year of news, you've had the refugee crisis that the Pope has touched on, he has talked about climate change, also, you know, we've seen

several terror attacks really around the world. Do you expect that the Pope will touch on these topics as well?

ALLEN: Well Amara, probably not tonight. I mean, let's remember this is a mass. And so the pope's talk, which is technically known as a homily that

he will give tonight will be mostly a reflection on the scripture readings about the birth of Jesus Christ. However, tomorrow, let's remember this is

just the beginning of a very busy holiday season for Pope Francis. The holidays for a Pope are sort of prime time.

Tomorrow Christmas Day, he will deliver what's known as his Erby at Orby message to the city, meaning Rome and to the world. And that's the occasion

really on Christmas when Popes talk about the issues of the world. I would expect then to hear Pope Francis talk about the challenge of peace.


ALLEN: To talk about the challenge of poverty, the challenge of welcoming migrants and refugees. He is well aware that his own backyard, Europe, is

in the grip of the worst refugee crisis it's faced since the Second World War. In Italy in some ways it is the tip of the spear for trying to respond

to that.

That's the occasion Amara when I would expect him to talk about all of that. And let's remember that this is a Pope who despite seeing himself

fundamentally as a pastor, very definitely also wants to engage the political and social concerns of the day, Amara.

WALKER: Yes, he's absolutely not shy about touching on the political concerns.


WALKER: John Allen, great having you live for us at the Vatican, our thanks to Oren Liebermann as well in Bethlehem.

Well, throughout the year we have reported on the desperate plight of refugees and migrants traveling to Europe and one story in particular

really touched a nerve and that of Aylan Kurdi, the toddler whose body washed up on a Turkish beach.

Aylan's father has released a Christmas message to be broadcast on channel 4 in the U.K. urging its world to open its doors to Syrians.


[speaking foreign language ]


WALKER: And turning now to the U.S. where severe weather has made the Christmas period a nightmare for many in Southern states.

More than a dozen tornadoes blew through wreaking havoc. At least ten people were killed and the Governor of Mississippi has declared a state of

emergency. Victor Blackwell has a look at the devastation left behind.


VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This Christmas eve parts of the South and Midwest are destroyed after an overnight outbreak of violent tornadoes.

Officials fear the death toll could rise, dozens are hurt. Mississippi suffered the worst of the assault. The storm prediction center says at

least 14 tornadoes touched down across the state Wednesday.

LANCE MEEKS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: It rolled right over me. Trees, cut trees in half and I don't know why I'm still standing here talking to you.

BLACKWELL One of those killed in Mississippi, a seven-year-old boy who was in a car with his family in Holly Springs. This video was shot by a driver

a few miles away near Como. Watch as the twister shoves a tractor-trailer off the road.

Two people in Mississippi are still unaccounted for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were in the house, we heard the wind picking up, we just dashed out to the storm shelter and we had 45 seconds and it just hit,

we walked out of the storm shelter, everything was gone.

BLACKWELL: In Perry County, Tennessee, the violent storms destroyed at least three homes and snatched power lines as it charged through. State

officials say a 70-year-old man and 69-year-old woman were killed in the county. A 22-year-old man was killed in Ray county. Strong straight-line

winds raced across parts of Arkansas.

NANCY ROBINS, TORNADO SURVIVOR: Everything was just moves a sideways and just the sound of the wind. I just -- I jumped and I ran.

BLACKWELL: An 18-year-old woman near Atkins was killed when a large tree fell through her roof. Near Louisville, Kentucky, pounding rains flooded

streets. And in southern Illinois this mobile home was shoved off its foundation, as officials search for the missing and families sift through

what's left, some are fighting to stay hopeful.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God is going to show us a good in this somehow, some way. Only I can't see it right now, but I will. I promise.

BLACKWELL: Victor Blackwell, CNN, Atlanta.



WALKER: And we want to remind you that you can help those affected by the storms and tornadoes in the United States, just go to to get

the information you need. And we will also have a live weather update from our Allison Chinchar when we come back. We're going to take a short break.


WALKER: When we return be on your guard; that is the message for westerners spending Christmas in Beijing. We will have the latest from the Chinese

capital when The World Right Now continues.





WALKER: Welcome back, everyone. Westerners are being warned that they face possible threats in Beijing around Christmas day. The British, American,

French and Australian embassies urged their citizens to be extra vigilant in a popular shopping district in the capital. Matt Rivers has the latest

from Beijing.

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A heightened state of alert here in Beijing after several foreign embassies issued alerts to their citizens urging them

to be on guard when traveling in a neighborhood here in the city very popular with westerners.


RIVERS: The American, British, French and Australian embassies all sent out notifications on Thursday online and via e-mail to their citizens urging

them to be aware of specific threats to westerners in the neighborhood of Sanlitum.

Now none of those embassies would elaborate further on the exact nature of those threats.

Now Sanlitum is a very popular neighborhood here with westerners, as I mentioned, it is a shopping district, an entertainment district and it is

usually very safe. Now, the Chinese government also issued what's called a yellow alert, that would be the second lowest level on the Chinese

government's security alert system.

Now, the specific alerts were referring to large and medium-sized shopping malls here in the city, the government said that there would be added

security patrols ahead of the Christmas shopping days here in Beijing.


Now, we did see armed guards outside of the mall in Sanlitum, that would be the mall right in the neighborhood referred to by those foreign embassies

in their notifications and we have also seen an added security presence outside of diplomatic compounds here in the city. Our bureau is actually in

a diplomatic compound and we saw some of those added security measures firsthand.


RIVERS: Now, all this is relatively unusual for Beijing, although it does see its fair share of security incidents. It was back in 2013 that a car

rammed a security barricade in Beijing's named Tiananmen Square killing five people. That attack according to the government was perpetrated by

separatists from the country's western province. Now, it is unclear if the yellow alert issued by the Chinese government had anything to do with the

alerts issued by the several foreign embassies on Thursday, but what is clear is that there is a heightened sense of awareness here in the city.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Beijing.

WALKER: And turning now to Iraq where the army there says it is making big gains in the battle to retake Ramadi, just 100 kilometers west of Baghdad

from ISIS.


WALKER: This video fresh into CNN is from Iraqi security forces and they say it shows troops crossing the Euphrates River over a pontoon bridge into

the city. That's part of their massive push to wrestle back control.

And in Ramadi's Southeast apparent successes already in an area reportedly taken back on Tuesday, the militant group captured the city back in May and

a humiliating defeat for the central government.


WALKER: Up next, dangerous weather has overshadowed the holiday season in parts of the U.S.


WALKER: The forecast for that region straight ahead.

Also --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you are awake, he will come back, but he will only leave presents if you're sleeping.

WALKER: We will check in with the Santa trackers, helping Father Christmas with the biggest journey of the year, letting children know where that all

important sleigh is heading. The birth of a Christmas miracle from a typo 60 years ago.







WALKER: At least 11 people are dead after severe storms swept across the southern united states. More than a dozen tornadoes ripped through the

state of Mississippi Wednesday. The governor there has declared a state of emergency.

Let's bring in meteorologist Allison Chinchar who has been following these weather patterns.


WALKER: Quite unusual, would you say?

ALLISSON CHINCHAR, CNN METEROLOGIST: It's unusual, but it's not completely uncommon. Yes, December by far one of the months we really just don't see a

lot of them, but we do see them.


CHINCHAR: And here's a great example of that, again, this is the radar from yesterday and you can see some of the reports starting around Clarksdale

and working its way up, a lot of those storms you could see all of these red dots that indicates a tornado report.

The interesting thing is a lot of these that form almost a straight line may have actually come from one single tornado that just stayed on the

ground the entire time. Still waiting for confirmation of that, but if it is the case that means it was on the ground for around 145 miles wide and

at one point crossing over the city of Sardis right along a major interstate that runs through the state of Mississippi.

Again where they did have reports of some tractor-trailers and a lot of vehicles being tossed around on the interstate. In total 28 reports of

hail, 170 strong wind reports and a total of 24 tornado reports. Again, some of those reports may actually be from the same tornado.

Here is a look, December we average only 24 tornadoes in the month. That makes it the lowest number of any month throughout the year, but the fact

of the matter is its still 24. So we still average getting a few of them at least in December. It's just not very common in terms of months in which we

would see them.

For Thursday, for the rest of the day on Thursday, parts of the southeastern United States could still expect some severe weather but we

are not expecting nearly as bad as what we had yesterday and that's very good for a lot of the folks out there Amara who are trying to begin the

cleanup process in some of those states.


WALKER: All right, Allison Chinchar, appreciate that.

Well about one in every three Americans will be traveling this holiday season and that is more than 100 million people. And a new record according

to the American Automobile Association.


WALKER: They say around 6 million will take to the skies, while most Americans will be hitting the road, but weather and security concerns are

expected to slow people down.


WALKER: Let's talk to CNN's Sara Sidner who is live for us at Laguardia Airport in New York. Sara, let's talk about the weather first and how is

that impacting people's travel plans?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here there are delays, but this is nothing compared to what has happened even last year when there were huge storms,

but those delays not here in New York where some of the biggest amounts of traffic are because it is absolutely perfect weather, more like spring than

winter. It's going to be almost 70 degrees for Christmas here. So very odd for a lot of travelers here that aren't having to wear jackets, but it's

where they're going that could be a problem. And so we've seen about 3,000 or so delays that have happened and about 400 or so flights that have been


Those numbers have gone up and down throughout the day. Noted that in Europe and in Asia those two places where travelers are using, you know, a

lot of their time traveling, they actually have more delays than what's going on here in the United States. So all in all the travel picture is

pretty good, but you did mention that huge number, AAA expecting this to be a banner year, a record year with 100 million Americans going more than 50

miles or so from their homes, but most of those will be in their cars, about 91.3 million people going in their cars, the other 5.8 million taking


WALKER: And, Sara, for those people who are flying, what do they tell you about what's on their mind? Are they concerned about security? You had the

TSA just yesterday announcing that they were changing their screening procedures and also I would imagine, you know, the terror attacks in Paris

and also in San Bernardino are on some travelers' minds.

SIDNER: They are. They are. And they are on the minds of a lot of people but they are also being -- changing policy really if you think about it.


SIDNER: The TSA is you know working hard with all the people who are coming through these airports during the holidays and one thing they've done is

decided to change policy. That policy now talking about the scanners where people could normally just opt out of those scanners and get someone to pat

them down instead because they were afraid of potential radiation problems to their body, that has been proven to be very safe to be able to go

through those scanners, but some people just do not want to go through them so think opt out and get patted down instead.


SIDNER: The TSA is now saying with some people where security is an issue, where they want to do extra checks, they will no longer let you completely

opt out of going through those scanners, so that's a change people will have to get used to.


WALKER: All right, Sara Sidner with the view from Laguardia Airport in New York. Appreciate that Sara.

Well Father Christmas is in the air and on his way across the world and, guess what, you can follow him live right now Santa over South Sudan.


WALKER: Earlier Rudolph was guiding Santa and his sleigh over the Taj Mahal and before that the whole of China. Well, as Santa jingles his way west

he's got plenty of help and not just from his reindeer.

Every Christmas eve volunteers from the U.S. Air Defense center known as NORAD take calls from youngsters talking about St. Nick. It all started six

decades ago when an ad offering kids the chance to dial Santa mistakenly printed the number for a U.S. Military division and, voila, a Christmas

tradition was born, the Santa Tracker. And since then volunteers from around the world have joined in to help watch over that famous festive


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you're awake he will come back, but he will only leave presents if you're sleeping. Ok? Do you have any more questions about

Santa? No. Ok. Merry Christmas. You're welcome. Bye-bye.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just fantastic all those calls all over the world and especially from Germany because the whole NORAD thing is so new

over there so I'm happy that they call here.


WALKER: I'd love to hear what those questions are from the children.

All right, well we wish you a very Happy Christmas eve to everyone. This has been "The World Right Now" thanks for watching. I will be back with the

headlines next.






WALKER: Hello everyone I am Amara Walker, this is CNN News Now.


WALKER: Christians the world over are preparing for Christmas day celebrations with the faithful gathered in Vatican city right now. Pope

Francis is leading Christmas eve mass in St. Peters Basilica. On Friday the pope will deliver his traditional Christmas day message and blessing.

At least 11 people are dead after severe storms swept across the southern United States. More than a dozen tornadoes ripped through the state of

Mississippi on Wednesday. The governor there has declared a state of emergency.

Police are on the scene of a shooting at a shopping mall in the U.S. State of North Carolina. You are taking a look at live aerial pictures, we are

hearing that a man was shot during an argument at a store in Charlotte. No word on his condition. We will have more details as we get them in.


WALKER: And that is your CNN News now. Up next a special edition of the World Right Now, Hala Gorani takes a look back at 2015. You're with CNN,

the world's news leader.


HALA GORANI, HOST: Hello and welcome to our special year in review edition of The World Right Now. Coming up I will be taking you through some of the

top stories we covered in 2015. The best reporting from CNN correspondents who have been to every corner of the earth to bring you the latest news and

perspectives of those affected. I'm Hala Gorani. This is 2015 in review.


GORANI: 2015 was the year a flood of humanity poured across Europe's borders.


GORANI: They came by boat, they came by train, on foot and even by bicycle. Migrants and refugees from war torn countries and poverty stricken

dictatorships right on Europe's doorstep. People sometimes came with small children, occasionally injured, and nearly always desperate for a better

life. As many as 1 million have entered this last 12 months.

CNN reporters have been there at every stage of the oven perilous journey bringing you the stories of human survival.

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He was on crutches the entire way but then again someone stopped and actually give them a child's

stroller. The injuries from a barrel bomb.


GORANI: For many of those arriving from Syria this year the first glimpse of Europe was a Greek island.


GORANI: Small boats crammed full of refugees became a common site washing up on beaches among the tourists. Ivan Watson went to the small Greek

island of Lesbos where at the peak of the crisis up to 2000 refugees were coming ashore every day.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The migrant trail into Europe begins aboard small, dangerously overloaded boats, a virtual

flotilla of inflatable rafts and dinghies that depart day and night from the coast of Turkey. Smugglers charged passengers around $1200 per person

for the trip to nearby islands in Greece.

People cheering as they landed on the beach, spilling, exhausted out of this raft. I imagine that there were more than 30 people in this small boat

and they spill up on to the beaches with their belongings in backpacks with the orange life jackets that have become a kind of unofficial uniform for

the migrants. They include young Syrians like 19-year-old (Kanan Albeni).

Why did you decide to leave Syria?

KONAN ALBENI, SYRIAN REFUGEE: Because it's dangerous now. I can't continue study. I want to start my life. Like if I go to Germany I will start my

life from zero. I want to study, I want to like get married maybe.


GORANI: Well over 3.5,000 migrants drowned in the Mediterranean this past year but it was one toddler whose tragic death became the symbol of the



GORANI: When his lifeless body washed up on the Turkish coast Aylan Kurdi's picture woke up to the world to the human cost of its inaction. I met Aylan

Kurdi's aunt and asked why she thought her nephew's image had made such an impact.


TIMA KURDI, AYLAN KURDI'S AUNT: It's a message from God to wake up the world. I don't know why I have that feeling, I have very strong feeling

that boy is -- God sent him to the world and this planet because there has to be a solution to stop it. There was too many thousands of them are dying

every day and nobody doing anything about it.


GORANI: As refugees massed on Europe's borders numbers mounting, some security forces began refusing them entry.


GORANI: Desperate families tried anything they could to slip through. Arwa Damon was with one group of refugees on the Hungarian border when the

crackdown began.

DAMON: A frantic dash after breaking through a police line. Stay together this man shouts. Carrying his daughter as they charge into the cornfield.

No one knows where they are going, just that they need to get far away. They had spent hours, for some days, waiting at a holding area that was

supposed to be temporary and just couldn't take it anymore. Stumbling over uneven ground, shouting out the names of the war zones they fled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Syria, Iraqi [crosstalk]

DAMON: Jubilant, breathless, defiant, desperate to move. They are in quite a bit of a panic, they are worried that the police will come and

potentially use violence to try to get them back into the camp and you can hear the sirens right now, it's causing people to run even faster and

especially those with the kids, they are the ones that are really struggling to get away.


GORANI: For many migrants the determination to find a better life means they will spend months traveling on foot and sleeping rough.


GORANI: Those who wind up in the so-called jungle camp in Calais, France have often reached the final leg of a long and arduous journey, their dream

destination, they say, is Britain. But as I found out earlier this year when I went to Calais the last step to the promised land is a very

precarious one, take a look.

Running after trucks on a busy highway, migrant's storm a road in Calais, making a desperate dash for open vehicles to hide in. A police siren

sounds, dispersing the small crowd and with batons officers force them off the trucks. Chaos and desperation just a few hundred meters from the

entrance to the channel tunnel. Most of the migrants here are from Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea and all say they have nothing left to lose.

You're willing to take the risk to jump on one of these trucks?


GORANI: Yes? But it's dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, it's dangerous because there it is war, we will die and here we are going to die even.

GORANI: The attempts to hitch a ride almost seem pointless at times, trying to open the doors of cars loaded on to a truck, these two men apparently

wondering if they could fit under this vehicle.


GORANI: With every story of desperation this past year there was a story of hope and humanity. While European leaders were slow to act, individuals

have been quick to step forward to help the refugees.


GORANI: From the Hungarians who despite the hostility of their own government turned out to offer blankets and strollers for the refugees

struggling with their kids.


GORANI: To the wealthy donors who pledged to help like an Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, who said he'd buy an entire island in the

Mediterranean to house refugees.

NAGUIB SAWIRIS, EGYPTIAN BILLIONAIRE: It's very simple. I would build a small temporary marina, I would build temporary housing and a temporary

school and temporary hospital, you know. And then we will use these people and provide them jobs to build a new city on the island.

GORANI: And then there were the many people across Europe from Iceland to Germany and the U.K. who signed up to offer their spare rooms to Syrians.


GORANI: Coming up, a reminder of why all these refugees are fleeing from Syria and Iraq, and we go back to the front lines to meet the female

fighters who say they are not afraid of ISIS.







GORANI: Welcome back to our year in review. It's almost five years now since Syria's bloody civil war began. Five years in which the conflict has

only grown more complex.


GORANI: With new players still entering the battlefield, Russia and the United States now firmly involved. And for civilians in Syria and Iraq a

life under the brutal rule of ISIS or under Assad's barrel bombs. Although reporting from inside the war zone carries huge risks, CNN reporters have

been there bringing you the story from every side.


GORANI: Fred Pleitgen went to Damascus, the stronghold of the Assad regime.


GORANI: And the Palestinian neighborhood of Yarmouk, he found opposing forces locked in a bitter stalemate. He found years of fighting street to

street has left this part of the city in total ruin.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Few places epitomize the tragedy of Syria's ongoing civil war more than Yarmouk. This Damascus

district was home mostly to Palestinians but as we walk through the debris to the front line all we see is a waste land.

This Palestinian pro-government fighter who didn't want to be identified tells me the battles are intense.

It's always difficult because our enemies are not only from ISIS but from Palestinian groups as well, he says. So we're fighting each other even

though we know each other and they know this area. That's why it's difficult.

With pro regime forces laying siege to Yarmouk from the outside and various rebel and extremist factions holed up inside civilians are caught in the

middle, subject to the ongoing violence and starving with humanitarian aid often unable to reach them.

It's impossible not to see the utter destruction to the years of fighting have caused here in Yarmouk Camp, and at the same time the fighters here

acknowledge that the gains that they're making aren't very big, they say there might be a day when they take a building and they might lose a little

bit of a ground, but by and large the front line is pretty static.

The pro-government fighters keep geese on the front line to warn them of rebels possibly trying to infiltrate their lines in this urban combat zone.

We believe and we're very sure that we will get all of Yarmouk back and very soon the Palestinian fighter says. But even if they do prevail and

take Yarmouk back it seems clear their prize will consist mostly of rubble and ruins.


GORANI: And from Syria we go to Iraq where government forces with the help of air strikes from the coalition made some progress this year in pushing

ISIS back.


GORANI: Arwa Damon and her team were the first into the newly liberated city of Tikrit. She accompanied Iraqi authorities who had the grim task at

the time of locating mass graves of soldiers massacred by ISIS.

DAMON: The work is delicate, the kind of excavation usually reserved for historic artifacts, now put to grim use to exhume the first bodies from

Tikrit's mass graves. A pause for a brief ceremony to honor the dead.


The Iraqi national anthem plays, the lyrics of unity float across the freshly opened ground. No one yet knows who the victims are, but it doesn't

matter. I have been working on exhuming mass graves for eight years, but something like this, it's different because of the way they were killed.

(Mohammed Abdujabar) says.

As many as 1,700 here army recruits were marched to their death by ISIS when swept through here in June in what is now known as the "spiker

massacre." At least eight mass graves have been identified within saddam's old presidential palace compound alone.

The captives were brought through here he's saying.

We retraced some of their last steps. Brought down these stairs before they were shot in the head on the banks of the Tigress River. Their blood still

streaking the concrete. (Alakadem) survived.

I swear, we were innocent. We didn't have weapons. You lied. You said you would not kill us. His voice shatters. Overcome with waves of emotion. He

screams out for his comrade Abbas who saved him whom he had to leave behind.


GORANI: Now, as the fight against ISIS gets more critical and the coalition of forces expands, the efforts of one group, the Kurds, is proving to be

crucial on the ground. Now, no group of fighters is more fierce or determined than the women of the Peshmerga as Ben Wedeman found out when he

visited them in Syria.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 20-year-old (Eflan) loads rounds into her heavy machine gun. She is part of an all female

Kurdish unit on the front lines on the war on ISIS here in northeastern Syria.

We met her and her comrades at a forward position south of Hasicki. When I asked (Eflan) if ISIS ever gets near their position she ponds with a laugh.

If they do, she says, we won't leave one of them alive. At the hands of what in the past was called the gentler sex, ISIS may have met its match.

They think they're fighting in the name of Islam, says 21-year-old Telheldin and they believe if someone from Daesh is killed by a girl, a

Kurdish girl, they won't go to heaven so they are afraid of girls. She uses the word girl but these are tough women, her name, by the way, means



GORANI: Up next, one of our standout stories this year, a hidden war in the mountains of Myanmar. We got rare access to the militia fighting the

government for self-rule. Stay with us.






GORANI: Welcome back. Veteran democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi won a landslide election in Myanmar in November bringing an end to decades of

military rule there.


GORANI: While change sweeps the country much of it is still in conflict though. There was a simmering and hidden civil war being fought between

militia groups and the arm.

CNN's Ivan Watson got rare access to one of these groups deep in the mountains of Myanmar.

WATSON: Travelling to a militia strong hold is not easy. After a long, bruising journey we finally reach a militia in a village on top of a

mountain. These are fighters with the Thon National Liberation Army, they are one of at least 15 armed groups in Myanmar that refuse to accept the

authority of the central government. And, as you can see, they are operating in uniform, armed, apparently not worried about the presence of

the Myanmar army in distant hills.

They are members of the thong ethnic group. His commander says he has been an armed rebel for the last 11 years.

What is it you're fighting for?

SAO YOON RAING: (As translated) We want our own state. We want to build a genuine federal system in this country. We want to have dignity and self-


WATSON: The rebel claims the government percent could you tell us and neglects his people.

In this village is there electricity?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no electricity.

WATSON: In the recent months the Myanmar government tried to negotiate a ceasefire but only 8 of 15 armed groups signed on and this faction wasn't

even invited to the talks. With no end to Myanmar's long war in sight, these ethnic rebels continue to declare themselves the law in this

mountainous land.


GORANI: On the other side of the world an election in May brought a result that surprised everybody. Here in London I was anchoring CNN's live

coverage of the U.K. General Election with Max Foster when we were given the first prediction of a result.


GORANI: It is 10:00 o'clock, big ben is tolling. Ten times, 10:00 p.m. across the United Kingdom which means officially that the polls in this

country have closed. The votes will now be counted and we are just moments away from an exit poll which could predict the outcome of this 2015 General


All right. We are receiving exit poll numbers that indicate we have a hung parliament. The Conservative party with the largest number of seats.


GORANI: And so it was through the night that we all expected a hung parliament. CNN reporters kept across the results as they came in,

including Richard Quest who was riding, you may remember this, his big red bus.


RICHARD QUEST, HOST QUEST MEANS BUSINESS: So we are with the election band on the #big red bus. Yes, it is literally a London double decker bus. There

is the Houses of Parliament behind us. We're traveling our way around the British capital and we have another passenger. Yes, with that first exit

poll David Cameron now takes a seat at the front of the big red bus.


GORANI: But by breakfast time the next day a new and stunning prediction.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A brand new forecast from two British media outlets suggest the conservative party here will win a majority of parliament, a

major headline considering all the polls leading up to this had the races much more close than what we're seeing unfold.


GORANI: And that was the surprising news that David Cameron had secured a majority government.


DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I have just been to see Her Majesty the Queen and I will now form a majority Conservative government.


GORANI: With less than a year to go until the next U.S. Presidential election campaigning is in full swing.


GORANI: Hillary Clinton has the Democratic nomination all but tied up, but there is more to play for in the Republican race. CNN hosted two Republican

debates, Brooke Baldwin took us behind the scenes as the stage was set for the candidates.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Welcome to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library here in beautiful Simi Valley, California, of course,

home this week to let's just call it the super bowl of politics, our big CNN debate. And here we are inside the pavilion CNN has built, actually,

scratch that, still building the debate stage, 15 semi-trucks full of gear, 10 miles of cable, 24 gallons of caffeine to keep this crew going.


We are in the middle of debate prep, you can still hear construction going on, they are still hanging lights but I just had to show you these are the

11 podiums for all 11 candidates for the prime time debate. As you can see Donald Trump polling ahead of the rest so he is front and center.


GORANI: Well, Britain's Prince Charles visited America earlier this year, he did manage to steer clear of politics.


GORANI: The royals are known for being very private and only rarely grant interviews to the media, but ahead of the trip the prince invited Max

Foster to his Scotland home and they sat down for an exclusive interview. Max asked him about his previous experience in the U.S.

PRINCE CHARLES: I think I've been 20 times or something now in the last 45 years, it just shows how old I'm getting. But I remember the first time was

we were invited to stay my sister and I in 1970 at the white house by President Nixon for the Weekend. That was quite amusing, I must say. That

was a time when they were trying to marry me off to Trisha Nixon.


GORANI: Not long after Max's interview with Charles, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, William and Kate, as you may know them welcomed a new

addition to the royal household.


REPORTER: A baby princess is welcomed into the world. Just over ten hours after giving birth the Duchess of Cambridge looked radiant, the duke

beaming beside her as they emerged from St. Mary's hospital with their little girl, 8 pounds, 3 ounces. In front of hundreds of cameras and well-

wishers Kate settled her new baby into a waiting car. William got behind the wheel and drove his family home to Kensington Palace. The news of the

birth was announced on twitter and then moments later by a traditional town crier.

TOWN CRIER: It's a girl. It's a girl.


GORANI: And that is it for today's selection of the best stories we covered in 2015. I will be back with more soon. Until then, thanks for watching.

I'm Hala Gorani. Stay with CNN.