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Venezuelan Prosecutor Investigates Guaido Over Power Outage; Heaviest Bombardment Yet on ISIS Holdout; Ronaldo Looks to Rescue Juventus' European Dreams; Thunder's Russell Westbrook Confronts Jazz Fans; Tiger Woods Feels Healthy Ahead of PLAYERS Championship. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired March 13, 2019 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers all around from all over the world. We begin with breaking news, what appears to be the end, at least near, for ISIS in Syria.

After 24 hours of intense shelling, ISIS is on the verge of losing Baghouz. The last town under its control; 3,000 jihadi fighters have surrendered. The SDF has not said how much longer it will be before ISIS is out of the enclave.

But the fighting and the shelling and what we've seen in the last couple of hours, it appears the final military push may be on. CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joins us now with the latest from the battle.

What's going on?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, well, we've been here for three nights in this location, as this operation recommenced and definitely overnight was the most intense and prolonged bombardment of this encampment.

It's no longer the town of Baghouz. We're in Baghouz. This is an encampment, perhaps maybe a half-square mile and basically, we were up all night with constant -- sorry.

It was shelling all night long, gun battles, airstrikes and they continue into the morning. So you know, we've said this time and time again, that's why I'm laughing, that perhaps this is the final, final, final battle.

But this certainly does represent what looks like the final push to try to retake -- it's a very small piece of land. We know that, in the last 36 hours, more than 3,000 people, including ISIS fighters, surrendered and left the town, which probably leaves the most hardcore jihadis, those who are determined to die rather than surrender. VAUSE: So Ben, we see where you are, we can hear the shelling and the artillery fire, I think, in the distance. We know that these are the U.S.-backed forces, which are moving forward on this last, what, half- square mile of territory.

What we have seen, though, up until this point, it seems as if those U.S.-backed coalition forces have sort of been holding back, waiting for civilians to leave that small area.

I guess what the calculations are now, those civilians are out and this is now the time to finish the job?

WEDEMAN: One would assume that. But this is, of course, the third time this operation, this kind of operation, has been launched to finally rid ISIS of its territory. It's the civilians more than anything else, because they wildly underestimated the number of civilians inside.

And therefore, what we saw, for instance, a month and a half ago, they were telling us there were 1,500 civilians inside; it turned out there were more than 30,000. But it does appear that this is it. This -- whoever is inside is determined to die inside.

Now just to explain to you why I'm sitting on cinder blocks, just below the wall, is because, despite the constant bombardment, there have been some incoming rounds, as well, zinging over our heads. So yes, I mean, it does appear that whoever wants to leave has left and whoever wants to die is about to die.

VAUSE: So Ben, when we're talking about the exchange of firepower here, what is actually going -- what is outgoing into this territory and what are they firing back in return?

WEDEMAN: OK, the outgoing from the jihadis is, as far as we can tell at this point, occasional heavy machine gun rounds. For the most part, it's small arms fire. They have been using vehicle-born explosive devices. They have been using suicide bombers.

But compared to what is going out and coming into the encampment, that's peanuts. What we've been seeing all night long is heavy, heavy mortaring of this area behind me as well as artillery.

The heavy mortars and the heavy artillery are manned by either French, British or American special forces that are a bit further back from the front line. That, in addition to we've seen the use of white phosphorous.

We have seen AC-130 Spectre gunships being used in addition to French and American aircraft that are being used to bomb the area behind me. So there's -- no real comparison --


WEDEMAN: -- in terms of firepower. The only thing that's really stopping the U.S.-led coalition and their Syrian allies is just -- from completely flattening the entire area. It's concern, A, about civilians and B, perhaps there are hostages inside and perhaps there are ISIS leaders they would like to capture alive, rather than in pieces.

VAUSE: So what we know so far about the civilians who have left the area, some have left voluntarily, some from, I think from your earlier reporting, have not been too pleased to leave. They wanted to stay with the ISIS fighters.

What do we know about the jihadis, where have they ended up and what about the refugee camps, which are not far from the location there, for all of those civilians, who seem to be struggling to cope with the huge numbers of people that need somewhere to live?

WEDEMAN: Yes, the women and children, most of them, are going to a camp called El Hul, which about a two and a half-hour drive from here to the north. There, the latest numbers are, there's 62,000 people in that camp.

The camp was not designed for anywhere near that number. It's overcrowded; the resources are stretched to the limit and, of course, what has happened is that some of the women who remained loyal to the ideals, if you can even call them that, of the so-called Islamic State, are essentially re-establishing a social caliphate, so to speak, within the camp itself, which indicates that, just because ISIS has been defeated as a territorial entity, they will remain a threat in the long term.

The men are taken separately to a prison, where they are interrogated further and those foreign nationals, whose countries will take them back, they will eventually go back.

But the problem is that we're talking about at least 5,000 ISIS fighters now in the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces, 1,000 of them foreign jihadis. And this is really more than this -- the so- called -- the government in this area that's run by the Kurds and the Arabs, really they don't have the resources to deal with them in the long term.

So that's a long-term problem not associated, necessarily, with the battle behind me. The battle behind me is just a battle. But the war against ISIS is nowhere near over.

VAUSE: Yes. Ben Wedeman, our photojournalist Scott McWhinnie and producer Kareem Khadder, we want you all to be safe. We want you to keep us up to date as best you can. Ben, thank you.

OK, well, it is now easier to list the countries that are still flying the Boeing 737 MAX 8 than those that are not. Only the United States and Canada still have those planes in the air. The same model involved in Sunday's deadly crash in Ethiopia and the Lion Air crash in October.

Many other countries have grounded the MAX 8 or the entire 737 fleet until investigators can figure out why two of Boeing's best-selling planes have dropped out of the sky in less than five months. Boeing now on the defensive, saying safety is Boeing's number one

priority, we have full confidence in the safety of the MAX. We understand that regulatory agencies and customers have made decisions that they believe are most appropriate for their home markets.

Meantime the investigation continues into the crash in Ethiopia. David McKenzie reports.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's happening now is extraordinarily difficult, painstaking and sensitive work. This international and local team of investigators are moving shoulder to shoulder, stepping gingerly over the debris field of this Boeing crash, picking up anything that could provide evidence or closure for the families.

And every time someone finds something significant, they raise their hand, they stop, they bring someone over, potentially get an international expert in there to try to secure this evidence. This is the critical work that's needed to be done to find out just what happened in this crash.

They've taken away the audios, the flight recorders. Investigators I've spoken to say they believe the plane came at a very vertical trajectory, slamming into this hillside and creating a very deep but quite narrow crater.

Now they want to, with work like this, collaborating with many nationalities, including British, American, Israeli and, of course, the Ethiopians here, trying to find out just what happened to this brand new plane -- David McKenzie, CNN, outside Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.


VAUSE: CNN safety analyst and former aviation safety inspector David Soucie joins us from Denver, Colorado.

David, good to have you back with us.


VAUSE: Here's part of a piece, talking about the redesign of the 737 MAX. The engine larger and had more thrust had to be mounted farther forward on the wing and slightly higher, basically so they wouldn't hit the ground on takeoff and landing.

To compensation for the engine's mounting position and greater thrust, Boeing designed an automated system called MCAS (maneuvering characteristics augmentations system) to prevent the nose from pitching too high.

What's problematic is that MCAS system is invisible to pilots. As a matter of fact, Boeing failed to inform many airlines by the airplane operating handbook that it even existed. Let's start with the redesign. The first 737 was flown in 1967. The

criticism here is that the MAX, new version, just tots up old technology, which Boeing has essentially done a redesign of.

Is that what led to these accidents in the air?

SOUCIE: No, I think the fact is, for example, Southwest Airlines is now flying to Hawaii, which the previous model of the aircraft was not ideal for that flight. So now they're able to make flights that they couldn't before. The fuel efficiency's greatly improved.

The advancement of technology is going to happen. It's going to continue to happen. The challenge is when the human capability of handling that thought or that operation of the aircraft doesn't keep up with that technology and, furthermore, the fact that it wasn't communicated to the pilots is almost a sign that they didn't have confidence in the fact that the pilots could handle this.

So they put in safety factors that the pilots weren't aware of nor trained for. So therein lies the problem. When you start flying this aircraft and it starts nosing down inappropriately, because it is getting bad indications, the pilot doesn't say, oh, I'll use this switch and get this fixed, they pull back on it hard.

They think something is physically hard on the airplane. There's no chance to get the control back in the aircraft. They have to use the trim to do that and override a system that they may not be cognizant of.

By now, they're aware of it but they're not -- it's not part of their training. That has to be instinctively put into them to where the red matter, the gray matter up in your head is reacting in the way that's appropriate and you're not just thinking it through and pulling it and reacting.

VAUSE: Because there is also an issue that when they had the relaunch of the 737 for the MAX version, there was no pilot training that went with it. That also seems to validate some of the confusion, the problems here.

Was that a cost-saving move by Boeing at the time?

SOUCIE: Well, there's really a shift in safety going on. It started about 10 or 12 years ago, maybe more than that, maybe 15 years ago, when I worked on this program, as well, it's the safety management systems that they have in place now.

The idea of the FAA was that the FAA had, before that, had become part of the safety system. The FAA is not for that. What the FAA does is set the minimum standards -- and this is true of any regulatory body across the United States, across the -- around the world.

But the FAA, particularly, is relying on the safety management system and that is within the airlines. And you can see that reflected in the note that Boeing put out,; they said, we believe in our customers' ability to manage these aircraft and to provide it safely. They're confident in their aircraft.

They're relying on the safety management system, the system within the airline. So it's really the airlines' burden at this point to say we will fly them or we won't.

VAUSE: Oversight, I guess, by the FAA, waiting to be told and be led. Here's the statement from the Pilots Association at Southwest Airlines which continues to think, I think 34 MAX 8s.

Southwest has compiled and analyzed a tremendous amount of data from more than 41,000 flights operated by the 34 MAX aircraft on property. And the data supports Southwest's continued confidence in the airworthiness and safety of the MAX.

But if you read between the lines, it almost seems like they're saying, it's kind of an issue here but we've learned how to deal with it.

SOUCIE: I think that's true. And Southwest has always been -- I used to be responsible for the surveillance of Southwest Airlines and they have a culture within Southwest -- and America shares that culture, as well, in what they're trying to do is to be -- manage the risks. In other words, they don't wait for something to happen.

They say, they have meetings weekly and they discuss it, they say, what issues do we have?

What can we do, how could happen and how do we mitigate that risk?

They're very proactive about how they do that. And I can see their confidence. I can see why they would be confident in this. The question is -- I hope --


SOUCIE: -- they're right. I really, really hope they're right. I would hate to see any more loss of life but they have a very, very robust system for their safety management systems and I believe in it. It's just that there's so much question right now about it. I hope they're right. I really do.

VAUSE: Very quickly, is it possible that, you know, the United States is right and the rest of the world is wrong?

SOUCIE: Well, there's one thing that all the other countries have in common and that is that they did not certify this aircraft. The FAA did. The FAA was part of this and Boeing is under the surveillance of the FAA. So, that, therein lies the difference between everybody else in the world and the FAA.

VAUSE: OK, David. Appreciate you being with us. Thank you so much.

SOUCIE: Thank you, John.

VAUSE: The British prime minister has suffered another crushing defeat but hardly a shocking one, as lawmakers rejected her new and improved Brexit deal.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The ayes to the right, 242. The nos to the left, 391.


VAUSE: And because she didn't have enough votes in Parliament, they'll vote again in the coming hours to go ahead with a no-deal Brexit. If that fails, as it is expected to fail, another vote is set on whether to delay the March 29th Brexit deadline.

The prime minister, battling a sore throat, struggled to speak but she got little sympathy from the opposition.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I'm passionate about delivering the result of the referendum but I equally passionately believe the best way to do that is to leave in an orderly deal with a deal. And I still believe there's a majority in the house for that course of action.

JEREMY CORBYN, LEADER, U.K. LABOUR PARTY: The government has been defeated again by an enormous majority and they must now accept their deal, their proposal, the one the prime minister has put, is clearly dead and does not have the support of this house.

And quite clearly, no deal must be taken off the table. We've said that before and we'll say that again. But it does mean the house has got to come together with a proposal that could be negotiated.


VAUSE: CNN European affairs commentator Dominic Thomas, live in Los Angeles.

Here we go again. There's one issue that's dominated British politics for three years, the terms for Britain to leave the E.U. Now after this vote, Parliament, the ruling Tories, the prime minister, like a herd of deer staring in the headlights of an oncoming lorry which is set to run them down in 16 days.

DOMINIC THOMAS, CNN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS COMMENTATOR: And everyone knew this was going to be the outcome of the vote today. Just as we knew two months ago in January that this was going to be the outcome.

It's absolutely extraordinary. And in any other circumstance, there would be an opposition leader just basically waiting to come in to Parliament to take over at 10 Downing Street.

And it's on both sides of the political spectrum that there are problems and incompetence that we see here. And on this particular occasion, there was absolutely no way that this deal was going to go through. And here we are again, just days away from crashing out of Brexit, this incredibly important moment in British politics. The chamber was virtually empty all the way up until the vote; the ERG, the far right wing Brexiteers didn't bother showing up. And we all knew what the outcome was going to be.

And we're no better off now than we were about three years ago, in terms of these discussions.

VAUSE: If there's a bright side for Theresa May, she lost this by a landslide, not a history-making landslide like the previous vote. Here's a little more from the prime minister.


MAY: I profoundly regret the decision the House has taken tonight. I continue to believe that by far the best outcome is the United Kingdom leaves the European Union in an orderly fashion with a deal and that the deal we've negotiated is the best and indeed the only deal available.


VAUSE: You may well say that but that may be the best outcome but that's not where it's heading. The E.U. chief negotiator said this, our no deal preparations are now more important than ever before. A spokesperson for Donald Tusk told CNN we will continue our no-deal preparations and ensure that we will be ready if such a scenario rises.

From Denmark's prime minister, we now face a chaotic no-deal Brexit scenario. Time is almost up. We will intensify our no-deal preparations.

The European People's Pin the European Parliament tweeted, "The E.U. 27 is preparing for a worst-case scenario."

The leader of Sinn Fein is saying in part, there is now a need to intensify planning for a no-deal crash with an imperative to return to a hard border, protections of our agreements and safeguarding the rights of citizens.

This is the part of the airline disaster movie, when you hear the captain on the PA system telling everyone to assume the crash position and brace.

THOMAS: And this is what we started out when Theresa May took over.


THOMAS: Her job was to deliver Brexit by the 29th of March and she has repeatedly said that that was going to happen.

It is not going to happen. The vote tomorrow on the no deal, we know where that's going to go. She has no majority in Parliament as it is and some members of her party have already said they would not tolerate a no deal.

We had the Spellman nonbinding vote on the 29th of January, which passed by eight. And the opposition are going to oppose this. So we know where we end up tomorrow. The vote on Thursday is completely redundant because if we vote tomorrow on a no deal, there's no point then going to a vote on Thursday saying we have to go back to the European Union.

They have to go back to the European Union. And what's so interesting about that is the European Union has come under so much criticism for being unwilling to compromise its own values to help Theresa May here. And now she's going to have to go back across the Channel, over to Brussels and start begging.

And not just with one person but 27 different countries are going to have to weigh in on this in order to grant them something that will prevent the E.U. -- prevent the U.K. from crashing out on the 29th. And that's going to be a very tough negotiation now, probably tougher than it's been at any stage along the way here.

VAUSE: With that in mind, the leader of the European People's Party warned, we will not accept an extension if the British government cannot deliver a positive majority on what it wants with Brexit. The U.K. now has two weeks to provide clarity.

They haven't provided clarity in three years. They're not going to do it in two weeks.

THOMAS: They can't do it. The only way Theresa May's deal has any way of getting support would be either through a referendum or through another vote in Parliament, in which there is a choice between her deal or no Brexit at all. That's about the only thing that would motivate the Brexiteers.

They are not going to support this deal. Nothing can happen in the next two weeks that will change that. The European Union is going to ask for something substantial that is going to move the goalposts in a dramatic way. Either a referendum or a general election.

There's no point continuing this discussions for one month, two months, three months. The Brexiteers will not support her. Unless Theresa May is willing to move towards the center -- and that's the irony, that the official position of the Labour Party is to support a Brexit -- unless she goes towards them, there's no way this deal is going to make it through the Houses of Parliament/

The E.U. knows this and its got its own bigger problems to deal with and put Brexit behind it once and for all. The ball is now in the E.U.'s court.

VAUSE: It has been a total failure of political leadership, total failure to compromise on anything and now we're finding out the consequences. Dominic, thank you.

Still to come here, convicted of sexually abusing two young boys a Vatican official has learned his fate. The sentence for George Pell. That's next on CNN NEWSROOM.





VAUSE: Australia's once most senior Catholic official has been sentenced to six years in prison for child sexual abuse; 77-year-old cardinal George Pell could be out on parole in less than four years. But he will have to register as a sex offender.

Pell was convicted in December of abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in the late 1990s. CNN's Anna Coren has been covering the story; she joins us from Hong Kong.

There were cheers outside the courtroom when this sentence was handed down.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That's right, John. Certainly, there were people there, survivors of clerical sexual abuse, who were elated that cardinal George Pell is going to jail.

He is going to be serving a lengthy sentence. It's the more lenient side of the sentence that many were hoping. For but six years is still the longest sentence that any cardinal convicted of child sexual abuse has ever received.

He obviously will be serving a nonparole period, as you said, three years, eight months; that means he's eligible for parole at the end of 2022. He will be 81 years of age at that stage. And interestingly, John, the chief judge, Peter Kidd, who allowed for his full hour-long remarks to be televised live across the nation, he admitted that Pell could very well die in prison.

He is an old man, he has deteriorating health, he has a heart condition. And so this is a reality. He obviously took that into consideration when he decided on that sentence. But certainly, for many of the survivors of the clerical sexual abuse, this is a monumental day, finally, finally a closure to an ugly chapter.

VAUSE: Anna, yes, indeed it is. Thank you for the update, Anna Coren live for us in Hong Kong.

And tune in this Saturday for a CNN special report. "Sins of the Cardinal and His Church," 5:30 am in London. You'll see that only here on CNN.

A short break but when we come back, an update on our breaking news. The end appears to be coming for ISIS in Syria. We're live on the front lines just ahead.




VAUSE: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. Thank you for staying with us. I'm John Vause.



Well, Venezuela's power outage is apparently taking its toll on the people's will to protest. Small crowds joined the opposition leader Juan Guaido on the streets of Caracas on Tuesday. Turnout was low for a pro-government demonstration, as well. The blackout has also cut water supplies throughout the country.

Eric Farnsworth is the vice president of the Counsel of the Americas, and he's with us from Washington.

So Eric, on Tuesday, we saw this five-day long power blackout, seemed to converge with the political crisis in Venezuela with this announcement that we heard from the chief prosecutor. Listen to this.


TAREK SAAB, VENEZUELAN CHIEF PROSECUTOR (through translator): A new investigation has been opened that adds to another one carried out during the month of January against the citizen Juan Geraldo Guaido Marquez for his alleged implication in the sabotage carried out to the national electrical system that happened since Thursday, March 7.


VAUSE: Yes, the reality is reenergizing a dead power grid, a process known as a black start, it's notoriously difficult, even more difficult when there are serious maintenance issues involved. But it seems -- are they setting the stage now to place the blame for the power outage on Guaido, Juan Guaido? IS Maduro actually following the old Churchillian rule: never let a good crisis go to waste?

ERIC FARNSWORTH, VP, AMERICAS SOCIETY & COUNSEL OF THE AMERICAS: Well, hi, John. It's good to be back with you.

You know, look, this is clearly an effort to try to scapegoat the situation, find somebody to blame. The reality is that the regime simply can't keep the lights on, literally. It's breaking down. The electrical grid has really been fried because of a lack of maintenance and investment in it.

And, you know, first, they blame iguanas. Then they blame Marco Rubio, of all things. And now they're trying to find blame with Guaido. And this is a real amplification and making the situation that much more volatile, because as we know, Guaido is the interim president. And the interim -- international community has said quite explicitly that, if the government tries to take action against Guaido, that there will be some sort of response. They haven't defined what that response will be, but I think this amplifies the crisis quite a bit.

VAUSE: Venezuela, this is a country which has dealt with one crisis after another, and this has been going on for years. But this extended power outage seems to have brought out a whole new level of suffering.

And if you look at sort of the small turnout for these pro- and anti- government rallies on Tuesday, specifically to address the power issue, it just seems everyone is exhausted.

In the short-term, though, does that help the regime? Does it make it harder for Guaido to get this momentum back, the momentum he had just a couple of weeks ago?

FARNSWORTH: Well, I like the word that you used. Suffering is absolutely right. And this really encapsulates a lot of what's going on in day-to-day Venezuela.

It is difficult to be a citizen today in Venezuela, and that's why more than 10 percent of the population has actually left Venezuela. Millions of people, more than 3 million people outside the country.

I mean, just trying to find food, trying to find medicine, you know, goodness help you if you have a relative who needs insulin or chemotherapy or something. In some cases, that's a death sentence.

So now, you lay on top of that a multiple-day blackout, which is also affecting things like water supplies and what have you, and really increasing insecurity on the streets. It becomes a situation where you just have complete social breakdown.

Is that good for the regime? I don't think it probably is, but you know, the fact that people are exhausted, that they probably don't want to go out and protest that much, either. They're trying, literally, to survive, in some cases, and that's what's occupying most of their time and attention.

VAUSE: And some people are not surviving. I think the opposition put the death toll is at more than 20 because of this blackout?

FARNSWORTH: Yes, it's a real tragedy. And a lot of people, for example, in hospitals, you know, can't get basic, you know, medical attention, whether it's because of the medical supplies don't exist, or in some cases, the doctors physically can't get into the facilities because of transportation bottlenecks.

I saw a video on Twitter, of all things, of a cesarean section being conducted by flashlight of -- of cell phones, because there was no electricity.

You know, medical problems won't wait. Women in labor won't wait. Life has to go on. And yet, you know, people will do what they can with what they have. But it's a really desperate situation.

VAUSE: And, you know, it's hard to overstate the misery there, I guess. And it does just seem to be getting worse. I will say (ph) the situation now with the U.S. embassy. Initially,

the Trump administration made the decision to keep the embassy open in Caracas with a skeleton staff, but now by week's end, it will be -- they'll all be gone; it will be closed, essentially.

In an interview with "The Texas Standard," the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, explained the about-face. He said, "We want to make sure that, as we continue to work in the region alongside our partners, we don't have any constraints on action that we might need to take in order to achieve that."

Neither Pompeo nor anyone within the administration could explain what "constraints on actions" actually meant. The context here was Pompeo was talking about delivering humanitarian instance. Another read could be that the embassy personnel were seen as potential hostages, should the U.S. take any kind of military action. Now that complication will soon no longer exist.

FARNSWORTH: I think there are a couple of things going on here. The first is that the United States, first and foremost, has to protect its diplomats overseas. And what we've seen, what's happened, for example, in the Iranian revolution of '79 or other times, when embassies have been sacked and people are injured or what have you.

So, in the first instance, I believe as a former State Department person myself, that the secretary of state is looking out for the wellbeing of his employees.

Secondly, though, this does take off the table the ability for -- of the regime to do something against them, against the embassy employees, that would force the hand of the United States, that would be a trip wire in some way. It kind of takes that off the table, in a good way. Then it's not something that will accidentally or purposefully, for that matter, cause some sort of violent reaction.

In terms of, you know, not being a hindrance to action that the United States might take, that is a curious formulation, a way to put that. But I think it's also, frankly, consistent with what the administration has been saying for a long time. All options are on the table. It doesn't mean, necessarily, that anything is imminent.

VAUSE: OK. We also have a statement from the U.S. national security advisor, John Bolton, on why the U.S. diplomats have been ordered home. He told CNN, "Last night, Maduro made a desperate plea to groups of armed gangs, known as 'colectivos,' to unleash violence against innocent civilians. The Venezuelan military should uphold their obligation to protect the Constitution from Maduro's usurpation and protect civilians from these thugs."

What it seems now to indicate is that, clearly, the security situation inside Venezuela is about to get a whole lot worse.

FARNSWORTH: Yes. If you can't protect diplomats from foreign countries, the situation is pretty bad.

And I would also note, look, when the United States invaded Panama in 1989, the immediate reason for doing that was because Manuel Noriega and his forces actually killed a U.S. service member, and they don't want a repeat of that in Venezuela.

FARNSWORTH: Eric, thank you. Eric Farnsworth, vice president of Counsel of the Americas. Thanks for coming in, Eric. Thank you very much.

FARNSWORTH: Thanks for having me.

VAUSE: Let's get right now to Ben Wedeman in eastern Syria. He's there along with producer Kareem Khadder and photojournalist Scott McWhinnie, as well as team member Adam Dobby.

So, Ben, the last time we spoke, we were talking about, you know, sort of this final push, if you like, to free this last enclave of ISIS- held territory.

We hear these statements coming from the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, who have said that this battle is almost as good as over, and this is just essentially cleaning up the last, what, couple of hundred ISIS fighters? Is that the assessment of how many fighters are holding out right now, and is that the threat that remains?

WEDEMAN: That's the assessment, but as we've seen before, assessments have been wildly off the mark.

So, several of the spokesmen with the SDF have basically told us, "We're out of the business of guessing and estimating and guesstimating," that they don't know.

But it does appear that those who are left inside, there are no -- if they're civilians, they're civilians who intend to die with their jihadi husbands and fathers and whatnot. So, it doesn't appear that there's much left to this battle, except to finish it off.

Now, what's significant about what we're hearing at the moment, there's a lot of small arms fire, which would indicate that, after basically, all night long, artillery, mortar rounds slamming into this encampment behind me, air strikes just a little while ago behind me, that the troops are going in to perhaps finally clear up this camp that is small. It's been -- we've been told it's around half a square mile, but it's sort of a long stretch of land that goes along the Euphrates River. Along the other side of the river, of course, are -- is the Syrian regime itself, which occasionally lobs artillery rounds into the encampment, as well -- John.

VAUSE: We have a situation that, you know, you talk about assessments being wildly off-base. There seemed to be this huge surprise in the last couple days, last week or so, about this never-ending stream of civilians which poured out of this sort of ISIS enclave. There were thousands of them.

So, I guess this gets to your point. How can they be certain of this assessment they have now?

WEDEMAN: They can't. They're not certain. Basically, what has happened is that this is the third attempt to retake this land, and I think that they have gotten to the point where, whatever is inside, whoever's left inside, they've got to finish the job. They have to complete it.

[00:40:04] We've heard complaints from some of the soldiers with these Syrian Democratic Forces that, you know, they haven't been on leave, their leaves have been postponed. There's unhappiness with that among the ranks.

There have been preparations made for celebrations with the final victory, and they keep on being postponed. So I think the feeling is they've just got to get this job done.

Civilians inside, they are civilians. They're women and children -- excuse me -- most of them families of the jihadi fighters with ISIS, who clearly have no intention of giving up, surrendering. What we've seen is hundreds of ISIS fighters surrendering over the past few weeks, but these appear to be the ones who intend to die rather than surrender -- John.

VAUSE: So, Ben, it is 6:40 a.m. on a Wednesday morning there in eastern Syria. We know that you are just outside the small sliver of land along the Euphrates River. This is the last piece of territory under ISIS control.

And what you've been seeing and hearing over the last day or so is this uptick in the military offensive, which we've been told, repeatedly, that, you know, this last push was on, that ISIS's days were numbered, at least when it comes to holding territory.

This will be, I guess, an achievement, but it will not be the end of ISIS once, you know, this piece of land is no longer controlled by the terrorist group.

WEDEMAN: There's no question, it is an achievement, an historic achievement. Excuse me.

I was in Baghdad in September of 2014, and at the time, there were fears that ISIS would attack the city, would attack the airport. You really -- there was a real feeling that the Iraqi army had collapsed, that there was -- it was very hard to stop this jihadi terrorist organization.

And now I find myself on the outskirts of this junkyard. It's a junkyard, what's behind me. It's wrecked cars and tattered tents behind me. And when I think about what ISIS was and what ISIS is now, it is significant.

And it's the result of the effort of the United States and its western allies. It's the result of the efforts of the Iraqi army, the Peshmerga in Iraq, the Syrian Democratic Forces here in Syria, who are composed of Kurds, Arabs, Christians and Yazidis. And so, it is a significant, historical achievement.

However, but it's not the end of this threat from ISIS. What we've seen, we've been here in Syria now 40 days and 40 nights. And in that time, there have been a series of attacks by ISIS behind the lines, with suicide car bombs, with suicide bombers, with ambushes. And it's not just in this part of Syria. It's also in Iraq.

So, yes, I mean, I think when ISIS no longer controls any territory, there will be sincere celebrations, not, you know, government- organized and whatnot. This will be the real thing.

But security, the threat from ISIS will remain. And let us not forget that many of the fighters, the jihadis who came to Syria, came to Iraq to join this war, to join this caliphate, came because they have been radicalized, radicalized as a result of the dysfunction of what is the modern Middle East; in terms of regimes that are wretched, miserable regimes that survive through totalitarian methods, through torture and corruption and mismanagement. So, the fertile land upon which ISIS thrived, was born and thrived, it's still there.

So, yes, ISIS, as a territorial entity, the caliphate, is about to end, but the fertile soil upon which it was born, it's still there -- John.

VAUSE: Ben, thank you. Ben Wedeman there live on the front lines, where it believes that this last final offensive against this piece of territory held by ISIS is now under way. Three thousand jihadis have given themselves up to U.S.-backed forces. We know thousands of civilians have also left that enclave.

And according to the SDF, the Syrian Democratic Forces, who are backed by the United States, all those who want to surrender have surrendered, and that is why this final push is now under way.

We'll continue to monitor the situation in Syria. We'll go back to Ben Wedeman as soon as news breaks. In the meantime, I'm John Vause. Please stay with us. WORLD SPORT is up next. You're watching CNN.


[00:47:41] KATE RILEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello and welcome along to WORLD SPORT. I'm Kate Riley at CNN Center.

We're going to start with the Champions League, and a man who just loves this competition, arguably, more than any other player. That's right. Cristiano Ronaldo. He's the Portuguese star who won it with Manchester United and then four times with Real Madrid, but he left Spain last summer to try and win it again with Juventus, a club who haven't been top dogs in Europe since 1996.

Ronaldo and Juve have their work cut out for them, though. Two-nil down on the first leg against Atletico Madrid. But he loves scoring against them, and once again, he just couldn't help it, heading them back into contention in the first half.

He was on target again early in the second, making it 2-0 on the night, 2-2 on aggregate. Well, the match was poised to go into extra time until the host earned a penalty with just four minutes remaining. Yes, who else, CR7 made no mistake to complete his hat trick, singlehandedly sending Juventus through to the next round. Incredible stuff there.

Meanwhile, Manchester City are having another big season, and that's also applicable in one competition that has eluded them so far. They have had another really big night.

Pep Guardiola's men are still in the hunt for the quadruple of titles this season, and they have romped into the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

City had the edge in their tie against Schalke, winning the first leg in Germany, 3-2. But they blew the doors off this one at the Etihad, scoring three goals in the first half blitz. Sergio Aguero scored the penalty, and he nutmegged the keeper for a second. Within the space of some eight minutes, City scored had three times, Leroy Sane scoring against his former team here, making the aggregate score 6-2 before halftime. And the hosts added to Schalke's misery in the second to easily advance to the quarterfinals.

All right to the NBA now, where a fan has been banned by his team, the Utah Jazz, over an unsavory incident this week. It's after an exchange of words between the star Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the fan, which then turned nasty.

And at some point in the game, Westbrook took exception to something that was said to him as he sat on the bench. He then confronted a man and his partner. The fan sitting courtside captured the heated exchange.


[00:50:00] RUSSELL WESTBROOK, OKLAHOMA CITY PLAYER: I promise you, I'm not playing. I swear to God. I swear to God. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you. You and your wife. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) you all. You (EXPLETIVE DELETED).


RILEY: Multiple fans were issued a warning by Jazz security, but no one was ejected on the night.

CNN's affiliate station KSL spoke with the fan, who denied that he was being abusive. He said he told Westbrook to ice his knees.


SHANE KEISEL, UTAH JAZZ FAN: Russ is just "F"-bombing and carrying on, acting a fool down here; and everybody's getting on him. Anyway, he had, I guess, heat. I thought it was ice. I just told him, I'm just like, "Just sit down and ice your knees, bro."

And he turned to me, and he's like, "That's heat. That's heat."

And I'm like, "Well, you're going to need it." And then it turned into not safe for work.

(END VIDEO CLIP) RILEY: Well, Westbrook said he heard something very different indeed, and took a great deal of exception to it.


WESTBROOK: How it started was, a young man and his wife in the stands told me to get down on my knees like you used to, and for me, that's just completely disrespectful to me. I think it's racial. I think it's just inappropriate in the sense of, there's no protection for the players.

There's got to be something done. There's got to be consequences for those type of people that come to the game just to say and do whatever they want to say. And I don't think it's fair to the players, not just to me, but I don't think it's fair to the players.


RILEY: Well, as a result of what happened, Westbrook was fined $25,000 by the NBA. And the Utah Jazz have taken swift action, banning the fan permanently from their arena.

Their statement said, "The organization conducted an investigation through video review and eyewitness accounts. The ban is based on excessive and derogatory verbal abuse directed at a player during the game that violated the NBA Code of Conduct. There is no place in our game for personal attacks or disrespect. Everyone deserves the opportunity to enjoy and play the game in a safe, positive and inclusive environment."

Elsewhere, and Tiger Woods has been a thorn in the side of many a top golfer, but recently, he got to experience first-hand a pain in the neck. The Masters is just around the corner, and everybody wants him to play. He'll tell us how he's been feeling. That's just coming up shortly.


RILEY: After an amazing 2018, it's Tiger Woods who could turn out to be one of the greatest stories of this year, as well. Golf fans are certainly hoping so.

The former world No. 1 came back from years of injury in 2018 to contend in the Majors and win the tour championship in Atlanta, making him an instant favorite for the Masters this year.

Last month, though, he was hurt again. Pain in his neck prompted him to withdraw from last week's Arnold Palmer Invitational. But he says he is ready to go for this week's PLAYERS Championship at Sawgrass in Florida.


TIGER WOODS, PROFESSIONAL GOLFER: I'm 43 with, you know, four back surgeries, so, let's just manage what I have and understand that I'm going to have good weeks and bad weeks. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But which is your bigger concern this week: the

neck or the putting?

WOODS: Neither. Neither. I feel good on both.


RILEY: Well, the young Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka has had an extraordinary 12 months. But for the first time this week, she's defending one of her titles, and so far so good at Indian Wells in California. Osaka is into the fourth round of the BNP Open. On Monday night, she beat the American Danielle Collins in straight sets.

Since winning here in 2018, Osaka has won two majors, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, propelling her to the world's No. 1 ranking.

And she admitted that she struggled to get motivated for this one. Fortunately, her opponent made a lot of mistakes. Osaka winning 6-4, 6-2, and she says that she's starting to enjoy the journey and becoming more comfortable in the spotlight.

She will play Belinda Bencic next.

Meanwhile, the story of the women's draw (ph) remains of Venus Williams, who, in the age of 38, is showing all the young kids how it's done. Shell never won this event, but IF she can do it this week, it would be a milestone, her 50th title in the WTA tour. She's knocked out the third seed, Petra Kvitova, in the previous round. Here, the American beat the qualifier, Christina McHale, in straight sets. Venus will play Germany's Mona Barthel next in the fourth round.

All right. Well, bad statues of sports icons has become a bit of a thing of late, but there was a point this year when David Beckham thought he may well be the victim of ridicule with one of himself.

The former Manchester United, England and Real Madrid star was honored with a statue at the L.A. Galaxy recently, where he ended his playing career in Major League Soccer. And it's a pretty good likeness, really, which is just as well, because Beckham is one of the most image-conscious athletes on the planet.

But before the unveiling, he got a sneak preview; and what he didn't know was this whole thing was a prank orchestrated by his friend, the chat show host James Corden. His reaction was absolutely priceless. Have a look himself.



DAVID BECKHAM, SOCCER STAR: The only thing that's good is the hair, and that's about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do have great hair.

BECKHAM: I mean, it -- I don't -- I really don't see how this can go out.

JAMES CORDEN, HOST, CBS'S "THE LATE LATE SHOW WITH JAMES CORDEN": He's being so polite, even though it's terrible.

BECKHAM: My parents are coming over from London. My wife's coming -- but look how long my arms are. It's lucky my kids are not coming over, because if my kids were to see this, I think they'd just cry, to be honest.

CORDEN: Oh, my God. What's happened?


CORDEN: Oh, my God.


RILEY: Yes, just glad he saw the funny side in the end.

That's it from us. Many thanks for watching. I'm Kate Riley. Stay with CNN. The news is next.