Israeli tanks reach central Rafah as strikes continue

Rushdi Abu Alouf,David GrittenShare

Reuters A man and a young boy walk among ruins in Rafah

Israeli forces have reportedly reached the centre of the southern Gaza city of Rafah and seized a strategically important hill overlooking the nearby border with Egypt.

Witnesses and local journalists said tanks were stationed at al-Awda roundabout, which is considered a key landmark.

They also said tanks were on Zoroub Hill, effectively giving Israel control of the Philadelphi Corridor – a narrow strip of land running along the border to the sea.

The Israeli military said its troops were continuing activities against “terror targets” in Rafah, three weeks after it launched the ground operation there.

Western areas of the city also came under intense bombardment overnight, residents said, despite international condemnation of an Israeli air strike and a resulting fire on Sunday that killed dozens of Palestinians at a tented camp for displaced people.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons stored by Hamas in the vicinity.

It also denied reports from local health and emergency services officials on Tuesday afternoon that tank shells had hit another camp in al-Mawasi, on the coast west of Rafah, killing at least 21 people.

Reuters news agency cited local health officials as saying the blast occurred after Israeli tank shells hit a cluster of tents in al-Mawasi on Tuesday. An official in the Hamas-run civil defence force also told AFP there had been a deadly Israeli strike on tents.

Videos posted to social media and analysed by BBC Verify showed multiple people with serious injuries, some lying motionless on the ground, near tents and other temporary structures.

There was no clear sign of a blast zone or crater, making it impossible to ascertain the cause of the incident. The location – verified through reference to surrounding buildings – is between Rafah and al-Mawasi, and lies south of the IDF’s designated humanitarian zone.

The IDF said in a statement: “Contrary to the reports from the last few hours, the IDF did not strike in the humanitarian area in al-Mawasi.”

Israel has insisted that victory in its seven-month war with Hamas in Gaza is impossible without taking Rafah and rejected warnings that it could have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The UN says around a million people have now fled the fighting in Rafah, but several hundred thousand more could still be sheltering there.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began what they called “targeted” ground operations against Hamas fighters and infrastructure in the east of Rafah on 6 May.

Since then, tanks and troops have gradually pushed into built-up eastern and central areas while also moving northwards along the 13km (8-mile) border with Egypt.

On Tuesday, they reportedly reached the city centre for the first time.

The al-Awda roundabout, which is only 800m (2,600 ft) from the border, is the location of major banks, government institutions, businesses, and shops.

One witness said they saw soldiers position themselves at the top of a building overlooking the roundabout and then begin to shoot at anyone who was moving.

Video posted online meanwhile showed tank track marks on a road about 3km west of al-Awda roundabout and 300m from the Indonesian field hospital, which was damaged overnight.

Reuters A Palestinian girl sits on top of possessions being transported by a cart in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
The UN says around a million people have fled Rafah since the start of the Israeli ground operation in the city

Earlier, residents told the BBC that tanks seized Zoroub Hill, about 2.5km north-west of al-Awda roundabout, after gun battles with Hamas-led fighters.

The hill is highest point along the Egyptian border and its seizure means the entire Gazan side of the border is now effectively under Israeli control.

Zoroub Hill also overlooks western Rafah, where residents said there had been the heaviest air and artillery strikes overnight since the start of the Israeli operation.

A local journalist said the bombardment forced hundreds of families to seek temporary shelter in the courtyard of a hospital, while ambulances struggled to reach casualties in the affected areas.

At dawn, thousands of people were seen heading north, crammed into cars and lorries and onto carts pulled by donkeys and horses.

“The explosions are rattling our tent, my children are frightened, and my sick father makes it impossible for us to escape the darkness,” resident Khaled Mahmoud told the BBC.

“We are supposed to be in a safe zone according to the Israeli army, yet we have not received evacuation orders like those in the eastern [Rafah] region,” he added. “We fear for our lives if no-one steps in to protect us.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not comment on the various reports but put out a statement saying that “overnight troops operated on the Philadelphi Corridor while conducting precise operational activity based on intelligence indicating the presence of terror targets in the area”.

“The activity is being conducted as efforts are continuing to be made in order to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians in the area,” it added.

“The troops are engaging with terrorists in close-quarters combat and locating terror tunnel shafts, weapons, and additional terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

The IDF has told civilians in eastern Rafah to evacuate for their own safety to an “expanded humanitarian area” stretching from al-Mawasi, a coastal area just north of Rafah, to the central town of Deir al-Balah.

EPA A Palestinian woman reacts next to tents destroyed by a fire triggered by an Israeli air strike in western Rafah on Sunday, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
Israel’s prime minister said the killing of civilians in an air strike and resulting fire in Rafah on Sunday was a “tragedy”

On Sunday night, at least 45 people – more than half of them children, women and the elderly – were killed when an Israeli air strike triggered a huge fire in a camp for displaced people near a UN logistics base in the Tal al-Sultan area, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hundreds more were treated for severe burns, fractures and shrapnel wounds.

The IDF said it was targeting two senior Hamas officials in the attack, which happened hours after Hamas fighters in south-eastern Rafah launched rockets towards the Israeli city of Tel Aviv for the first time in months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a “tragic incident” had occurred “despite our immense efforts to avoid harming non-combatants” and promised a thorough investigation.

IDF chief spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that the strike had targeted a structure used by the Hamas commanders which was away from any tents, using “two munitions with small warheads”.

“Following this strike, a large fire ignited for reasons that are still being investigated. Our munitions alone could not have ignited a fire of this size,” he said.

Rear Adm Hagari added that investigators were looking into the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons or ammunition stored in a nearby structure, and played what he said was an intercepted telephone conversation between two Gazans suggesting that. The audio recording could not immediately be verified.

Sam Rose of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, told the BBC from western Rafah that the killing of so many civilians could not be dismissed as an accident.

“Gaza was already one of the most overcrowded places on the planet. It is absolutely impossible to prosecute a military campaign involving large-scale munitions, strikes from the sky, the sea, the tanks, without exacting large-scale civilian casualties,” he said.

“It seems like we are plumbing new depths of horror, bloodshed and brutality with every single day. And if this isn’t a wake-up call, then it’s hard to see what will be.”

Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Israel launched a military campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to the group’s cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 252 others were taken hostage.

At least 36,090 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Russian plot to kill Zelensky foiled, Kyiv says

Telegram/SBU Footage shows a man being arrested
Ukraine said it arrested two Ukrainian officials who worked with the Russian security services

The Ukrainian security service (SBU) says it has foiled a Russian plot to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky and other high-ranking Ukrainian officials.

Two Ukrainian government protection unit colonels have been arrested.

The SBU said they were part of a network of agents belonging to the Russian state security service (FSB).

They had reportedly been searching for willing “executors” among Mr Zelensky’s bodyguards to kidnap and kill him.

Ever since Russian paratroopers attempted to land in Kyiv and assassinate President Zelensky in the early hours and days of the full-scale invasion, plots to assassinate him have been commonplace.

The Ukrainian leader said at the start of the invasion he was Russia’s “number one target”.

But this alleged plot stands out from the rest. It involves serving colonels, whose job it was to keep officials and institutions safe, allegedly hired as moles.

Other targets included military intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov and SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk, the agency added.

The group had reportedly planned to kill Mr Budanov before Orthodox Easter, which this year fell on 5 May.

According to the SBU, the plotters had aimed to use a mole to get information about his location, which they would then have attacked with rockets, drones and anti-tank grenades.

One of the officers who was later arrested had already bought drones and anti-personnel mines, the SBU said.

Telegram/SBU An anti-tank grenade
The SBU said it found various ordnance, including an anti-tank grenade, on the plotters

SBU head Vasyl Malyuk said the attack was supposed to be “a gift to Putin before the inauguration” – referring to Russia’s Vladimir Putin who was sworn in for a fifth term as president at the Kremlin on Tuesday.

The operation turned into a failure of the Russian special services, Mr Malyuk said.

“But we must not forget – the enemy is strong and experienced, he cannot be underestimated,” he added.

The two Ukrainian officials are being held on suspicion of treason and of preparing a terrorist act.

The SBU said three FSB employees oversaw the organisation and the attack.

One of them, named as Dmytro Perlin, had been recruiting “moles” since before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Another FSB employee, Oleksiy Kornev, reportedly held “conspiratorial” meetings “in neighbouring European states” before the invasion with one of the Ukrainian colonels arrested.

In a released interrogation with one of the suspects, they can be heard describing how they were paid thousands of dollars directly by parcels or indirectly through their relatives. It is not clear whether he was speaking under duress or not.

Investigators insist they monitored the men throughout. We are unlikely to know how close they came to carrying out their alleged plan.

The plot may read like a thriller but it is also a reminder of the risks Ukraine’s wartime leader faces.

Last month, a Polish man was arrested and charged with planning to co-operate with Russian intelligence services to aid a possible assassination of Mr Zelensky.

At the weekend Ukraine’s president appeared on the Russian interior ministry’s wanted list on unspecified charges.

The foreign ministry in Kyiv condemned the move as showing “the desperation of the Russian state machine and propaganda”, and pointed out that the International Criminal Court had issued a warrant for Vladimir Putin’s arrest.

Australian PM calls Elon Musk an ‘arrogant billionaire’ in row over attack footage

Reuters Elon MuskReutersElon Musk (pictured) has accused Anthony Albanese of censorship

Australia’s leader has called Elon Musk an “arrogant billionaire” in an escalating feud over X’s reluctance to remove footage of a church stabbing.

On Monday, an Australian court ordered Mr Musk’s social media firm – formerly called Twitter – to hide videos of last week’s attack in Sydney.

X previously said it would comply “pending a legal challenge”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s criticism followed Mr Musk using a meme to accuse his government of censorship.

On Tuesday, Mr Albanese told ABC News that Mr Musk “thinks he’s above the law but also above common decency”.

Last week Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, an independent regulator, threatened X and other social media companies with hefty fines if they did not remove videos of the stabbing at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church, which police have called a terror attack.

X has argued the order is “not within the scope of Australian law”.

The commissioner sought a court injunction after saying it was clear that X was allowing users outside Australia to continue accessing footage.

“I find it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case,” Mr Albanese told a press briefing.

In a subsequent series of online posts, Mr Musk wrote: “I’d like to take a moment to thank the PM for informing the public that this platform is the only truthful one.” Another depicted a Wizard of Oz-style path to “freedom” leading to an X logo.

Earlier, he also criticised eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant personally, describing her as the “Australian censorship commissar”.

Mr Albanese defended Ms Inman Grant, saying she was protecting Australians.

“Social media needs to have social responsibility with it. Mr Musk is not showing any,” he said.

The platform will have 24 hours to comply with Monday evening’s injunction, with a further hearing into the matter expected in the coming days.

Update Longsor Luwu, BNPB Sebut 10 Pengendara Motor Alami Luka-luka


Tim gabungan melakukan pencarian korban tanah longsor di jalan poros Desa Bonglo, Kecamatan Bastem Utara, Kabupaten Luwu, Sulawesi Selatan, Senin (26/2/2024). (Sumber: ANTARA/HO-BNPB)

Penulis : Kiki Luqman | Editor : Deni Muliya

JAKARTA, KOMPAS.TV – Kepala Pusat Data, Informasi, dan Komunikasi Kebencanaan BNPB, Abdul Muhari menyampaikan, 10 pengendara motor alami luka-luka dari peristiwa tanah longsor di Desa Bonglo, Kabupaten Luwu, Sulawesi Selatan, yang terjadi pada Senin pagi sekitar pukul 09.00 WIT.

Menurut Abdul Muhari, tanah longsor tersebut terjadi setelah hujan deras yang mengenai segmen tebing dengan tanah yang labil.

Akibatnya, material longsoran dari tebing tersebut menimpa 15 unit motor dan 2 mobil yang sedang melintas.

“Ada 10 orang pengendara mengalami luka-luka dilarikan ke Puskesmas terdekat,” kata dia dalam video siaran langsung program “Teropong Bencana” di Jakarta, Senin.

Muhari juga memastikan bahwa saat kejadian, banyak warga yang berkerumun di lokasi tersebut, yang pada akhirnya berdampak pada jalan poros di Desa Bonglo.

Sayangnya, beberapa warga tidak menyadari bahaya eskalasi longsoran yang semakin meluas, dan akhirnya empat orang terkena dampak langsung dan meninggal dunia.

Baca Juga: Sungai Meluap hingga Tanggul Jebol, 6 Kecamatan di Brebes Jateng Terendam Banjir!

Nah ini yang terus kami ingatkan, segeralah menjauh, yang benar melaporkan peristiwa itu ke BPBD, Kepolisian – TNI sesegera mungkin bukan justru mendekatinya,” kata dia.

Saat ini, pihak kepolisian setempat sedang menangani peristiwa tersebut. Sementara petugas BPBD, Basarnas, dan Dinas PU setempat masih terus melakukan pencarian korban dan membersihkan material yang menutup akses jalan.

Sebelumnya diberitakan, Badan Nasional Pencarian dan Pertolongan (BNPP) atau dikenal dengan Basarnas Makassar telah menerjunkan tim untuk membantu evakuasi korban tanah longsor di Jalan Poros Desa Bonglo, Kecamatan Bastem Utara, Kabupaten Luwu, Sulawesi Selatan.

“Tim dari Basarnas Makassar sudah menuju ke lokasi membawa peralatan evakuasi, kita juga turunkan tim dari Palopo,” kata Kepala Kantor Basarnas Makassar, Mexianus Bekabel saat dikonfirmasi, Senin. 

“Mohon doanya, sekiranya evakuasi hari ini lancar dan korban segera ditemukan, dan akses jalan yang tertutup segera terbuka dari timbunan longsor,” harapnya dikutip dari Antara.

Hingga saat ini, belum ada kepastian mengenai jumlah korban yang terdampak oleh tanah longsor tersebut dan masih dalam proses pencarian. 

Namun, data sementara dari Badan Penanggulangan Bencana Daerah (BPBD) Sulawesi Selatan mencatat bahwa empat orang telah dinyatakan meninggal dunia setelah tertimbun tanah longsor di lokasi kejadian dan berhasil dievakuasi.

Informasi sementara juga menyebutkan bahwa sebanyak 10 orang berhasil diselamatkan dan telah dievakuasi ke Puskesmas Bastem Utara di Desa Pantilang, Kabupaten Luwu.

Selain itu, diduga masih ada sekitar 15 unit kendaraan roda dua dan dua unit kendaraan roda empat yang tertimbun material tanah longsor di lokasi kejadian.

Diketahui, peristiwa tersebut terjadi pada Senin, 26 Februari 2024, sekitar pukul 09.10 Wita di Jalan Poros Desa Bonglo, Kecamatan Bastem Utara, Luwu.

Trump’s silver lining in the New York hush money case going to trial first

Former President Donald Trump attends a pre-trial hearing at Manhattan Criminal Court on February 15 in New York.

Former President Donald Trump attends a pre-trial hearing in New York City on February 15, 2024. Brendan McDermid/Pool/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Sometimes, when Donald Trump loses, he somehow seems to win as well. That may have been the case Thursday when two of the four criminal indictments against the former president appeared, at least momentarily, to turn in opposite directions.

The trial date in his New York hush money case was confirmed to be March 25. Meanwhile, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is bringing the election subversion case in Georgia, took the stand in a misconduct hearing surrounding her personal relationship with a prosecutor on her team. Trump’s lawyers are hoping to get the Georgia case thrown out or at least delayed over Willis’ conduct.

Polling indicates that if Trump had to choose which case to go forward with at the fastest speed, he would most definitely, at this time, choose the New York case over the other ones.

Most Americans just don’t think that the New York charges are all that serious. In fact, only 32% of voters said they were very serious in a Quinnipiac University poll taken toward the end of last year.

This shouldn’t be all that surprising when you consider that everyone has long known about Trump’s supposed relationship with Stormy Daniels, which is a big part of New York prosecutor Alvin Bragg’s case. The idea that Trump would be involved in paying off an adult film star, even if illegally, probably doesn’t shock that many people.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis speaks at a press conference next to prosecutor Nathan Wade after a Grand Jury brought back indictments against former president Donald Trump and his allies in their attempt to overturn the state's 2020 election results, in Atlanta, Georgia, on August 14, 2023.

RELATED ARTICLEGeorgia Trump prosecutor Fani Willis misconduct hearing: What to watch

On the other hand, the same Quinnipiac polling revealed that 54% of voters said the charges in the Georgia case over Trump’s efforts to reverse his 2020 defeat in the state were very serious. This lines up with what we know about how the American public feels more broadly. We have a lot of data from after the 2020 election when Trump refused to concede and tried to overturn his loss to Joe Biden. Voter opinion of him slid during that period.

Opinions of the two federal cases against him look a lot like that of Georgia. When it comes to Trump’s actions after the 2020 election and in the lead-up to the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, 56% said the charges were very serious. A similar 51% said the charges regarding his alleged mishandling of classified documents after leaving the White House were very serious.

Other surveys confirm Quinnipiac’s general findings. Polling from AP-NORC shows that a similar majority of Americans think Trump did something illegal when it comes to pressuring Georgia public officials over the vote count in the state.

Meanwhile, only about a third of them say Trump did something illegal when it comes to his actions around the New York hush money case. A plurality (38%) say he did something unethical, but not illegal.

Of course, even if voters think Trump did something wrong in New York doesn’t mean they wouldn’t be willing to vote for him again.

Just 30% of voters in a CNN/SSRS poll last year said that the New York charges, if true, would disqualify him from the presidency. Among voters who were at least initially undecided in a matchup between Trump and Biden, a similar 33% said the New York charges, if true, would disqualify him.

Opinions could change

Now, these numbers in the New York case could change if Trump were actually convicted and as voters pay more attention. After all, a hypothetical conviction is very different from an actual one.

But if they hold steady, it’s not hard to see how Trump could get off relatively unscathed, even if he is found guilty in New York. He might also try to use the case to his political advantage. Not only could he try to rally his base (which he has done successfully in past legal fights), but he could also try to convince those in the middle that he’s been unfairly prosecuted in a case in which many don’t think he did something illegal.

That well could be the case if the New York case finishes first, which looks most likely given that it will probably start first. Trump might try to influence public perceptions about the other cases based on how people feel about the New York one.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis takes the stand on Thursday in Atlanta.

RELATED ARTICLETakeaways from Fani Willis’ stunning testimony in Georgia

Because at this moment, the public sees those other cases far differently in the context of the 2024 election.

Using the Georgia election subversion case as an example, a near majority (49%) of voters in the CNN/SSRS poll said the charges in Georgia, if true, would be disqualifying for Trump and the presidency. It’s much harder to win an election when about half the voters think you should be disqualified.

Among the at least initially undecided voters in the same survey, 58% said the Georgia charges would be disqualifying, if true. In an election as tight as 2024 will be, you really don’t want to have 58% of undecided voters saying that.

Of course, the Georgia case is currently on an uncertain timeline with a lead prosecutor who may not end up being the prosecutor who brings the case to trial.

Additionally, we have to contend with the fact that we don’t know how the court proceedings in Georgia could affect opinions of the case, even if Willis remains the prosecutor leading it.

The bottom line is that no one wants to be on trial, but if Trump had to pick, he’d much rather go first with the New York case.

Trump’s team facing a new conundrum: How to stay on the trail during a weekslong criminal trial

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives on stage for a Get Out The Vote rally at the North Charleston Convention Center on February 14, 2024 in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. President Donald Trump arrives on stage for a Get Out The Vote rally at the North Charleston Convention Center on February 14, 2024 in North Charleston, South Carolina. Win McNamee/Getty ImagesNew York CityCNN — 

One of Donald Trump’s longstanding complaints will become a reality on March 25: His legal peril will force him off the campaign trail – at least during the day.

The trial date, set Thursday by a judge in New York, is just a week after Trump’s campaign expects him to reach the delegate threshold to become the presumptive Republican nominee – and roughly seven months before voters will head to ballot box to cast their votes in the 2024 presidential election.

While Trump has spent the last year bouncing in and out of court houses in his various legal cases, almost all of these appearances have been voluntary other than his arraignments. The former president often opts to treat the courtroom as a campaign stop, speaking to cameras and ranting against what he has called “political persecution.”

Come March, Trump will no longer have a choice – he will be required to sit in the New York courtroom four days a week as he faces 34 criminal charges brought by District Attorney Alvin Bragg in an alleged hush-money scheme. The trial is expected to last for roughly six weeks, with court in session every weekday but Wednesdays, severely limiting Trump’s ability to campaign for president during that time.

And the New York trial may not be the last that keeps Trump off the campaign trail before the election, with two federal trials still possible this year, along with a case in Georgia that is still pending despite the trouble now facing Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis.

While Trump may effectively bring an end to the GOP nominating fight before the criminal trial begins, the proceedings could disrupt the former president’s pivot to a general election matchup with President Joe Biden – dividing his attention between his legal battles and his political campaign.

During this primary season, the former president was far outpaced on the trail by his GOP rivals, often choosing to spend time at his Mar-a-Lago home or in a courtroom instead of visiting early voting states. Part of this, his advisers insist, was the enormous lead Trump held over his Republican opponents, a large lead that disappears in a potential rematch against Biden.

Trump has painted the cases brought against him as “election interference,” linking the unrelated impending trials as one unfounded conspiracy brought by Democrats and Biden to keep Trump from another term in the White House. Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche even echoed Trump’s rhetoric about election interference Thursday as he objected to the start date, but the judge made clear he was not going to delay – not just because of the election but because Trump has another three potential trials still looming in other jurisdictions.

‘Campaigning during the night’

While this rhetoric has served as a rallying cry for Republicans in the primary season, Trump’s team is grappling with how his criminal trials will play in a general election in which the former president will have to court independent voters to claim the White House, multiple people close to the former president told CNN.

“The big question mark that remains is, will seeing Trump in court – and the witnesses who will be paraded in – hurt him in the general (election),” a person close to Trump told CNN. “I think it’ll be less of a problem in the Bragg trial, but it’s still an issue they’ve yet to figure out.”

Some of Trump’s advisers, meanwhile, insist they remain confident that his legal troubles will continue to help his campaign – not just with primary voters, but with general election voters as well. Despite having some concerns immediately following his four indictments that the boost his campaign saw in fundraising in polling would only be short-lived, Trump has continued to enjoy some positive effects from his legal battles.

They also point to how many legal experts argue that the criminal hush money case is the weakest and believe having this trial go first will help solidify Trump’s support with voters who think he is facing what they are argue are too many criminal charges.

In private, however, Trump’s team recognizes that the necessities of court will likely affect the campaign, and provide further ammunition for Biden’s reelection efforts, people close to Trump said.

Trump claimed Thursday that he would still be able to campaign while attending the trial by doing so “in the evening.”

“I’ll be here during the day, and I’ll be campaigning during the night,” Trump said, suggesting Biden should do the same.

One senior adviser, however, hesitated at that proposal, calling such a schedule “unsustainable” and “exhausting” for the former president.

The New York criminal trial also presents another problem for Trump’s ability to create a media circus – cameras are not allowed in the courtroom. Thursday’s hearing likely previewed how the spring months in the courthouse will play out, with Trump finding his way to the camera in the hallway outside before and after the hearing to argue his case in the court of public opinion.

‘He has to be there’

Unlike Trump’s past visits to courtrooms – most of which were voluntary – the former president’s team anticipates that his attendance will be mandatory at most, if not all, of his trial in Manhattan, his advisers said.

“I think he has to be there. It’s a criminal trial, we expect it will be mandatory,” a senior Trump adviser told CNN.

At a pretrial hearing Thursday, Judge Juan Merchan said that he expected the trial to go on for six weeks.

With Trump sitting at his side looking on, Blanche tried to object to Merchan’s decision to begin the trial on March 25, arguing both that Trump had other three other criminal trials his lawyers had to prepare for and that keeping Trump in the courtroom would impede his presidential campaign.

Blanche said that the trial date was “unconstitutional,” pointing to the upcoming GOP primaries.

“President Trump says it all the time, and the media makes fun of him, but it’s election interference” to make Trump sit here in this courtroom, Blanche argued.

But the judge shut down the arguments, saying he’d already heard them and had made his ruling. The judge responded saying Trump would not be required to sit for two criminal trials at the same time.

“Certainly, I don’t want to violate his constitutional rights nor does anybody else,” Merchan said.

Blanche tried one more time at the very end of the hearing to make his case to the judge – and perhaps to Trump.

“We strenuously object to what is happening in this courtroom,” he said. “The fact that President Trump is going to now spend the next two months working on this trial instead of out on the campaign trail running for president, is something that should not happen in this country,” he said.

“What’s your legal argument?” Merchan asked.

“That’s my legal argument,” he responded.

“That’s not a legal argument,” Merchan said, ending the hearing and telling the lawyers – and the former president – he’d see them all on March 25.

Trump team sees NY case as weakest

While neither Trump nor his campaign want to face trial, many allies would rather see the New York hush money case go to trial than the other three criminal cases, with a belief that the case from Bragg, a Democrat, is the weakest and easiest to paint as politically motivated.

The campaign plans to use the trial to set the stage for its core political argument that these trials are purely political and designed to hurt Trump’s chances in a general election – an argument it has and will continue to use in all of the former president’s criminal and civil cases.

As Trump has demonstrated over the course of his campaign, he sees those fights as part of one larger conflict and has used his court challenges to rally support in the GOP primary.

“I think we’ve done a good job of managing the political schedule with the legal schedule,” a senior Trump adviser told CNN. “He’s been able to turn the legal stuff into a political positive.”

Trump’s advisers expect the former president to have enough delegates by March 19, following primary contests in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kansas and Ohio, to be considered the presumptive Republican nominee.

The general election could pose a different test for Trump, particularly if he is found guilty of a crime. Despite his dominant wins in Iowa and New Hampshire, 31% of Republican caucus-goers and 42% of GOP primary voters in the Granite State said Trump would not be fit for the presidency if convicted of a crime. Those findings underscore the importance of Trump’s strategy of delaying the criminal cases he is facing for as long as possible.

Before Trump entered the courtroom Thursday morning, he stopped at the camera in the hallway outside to speak. The former president complained that he was there – and not in South Carolina campaigning.

“How can you run for election and be sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long? I’m supposed to be in South Carolina right now, where other people are, and where, again – this is where I should be. I shouldn’t be in a courthouse,” Trump said.

Of course, Trump did not have to be in the courtroom on Thursday. Merchan waived his appearance at his lawyer’s request for the pretrial hearing – though that was because Trump was considering attending a hearing in Georgia instead, where Willis is facing scrutiny.

In six weeks, however, Trump won’t have the same luxury of choosing where he wants to be four days a week.

McConnell defends push for Ukraine aid amid attacks from Trump wing of GOP: ‘Every argument against this is wrong’

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after senate luncheons at the US Capitol on February 6.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell after senate luncheons at the US Capitol on February 6. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell strongly defended his handling of a foreign aid package and bipartisan border security deal that have come under heavy criticism from his right flank, saying bluntly that “every argument” against Ukraine aid is “wrong” and that the opposition amounts to a “political reaction” driven by former President Donald Trump.

McConnell, having just presided over one of the most tumultuous periods in his nearly two-decade tenure atop the Senate GOP, said he has occasionally in the past been “on the short side” of GOP senators – like on government funding bills and debt ceiling hikes.

But in an interview with CNN in his Senate office on Wednesday, McConnell called this battle over Ukraine aid a “rare issue” where he had to get well out front of his party, which has grown increasingly resistant to helping fund the foreign war amid the ascendant isolationist wing being driven by Trump.

“It’s not a question of whether I’m frustrated or not,” McConnell said when asked about the criticism he’s endured from within his own party. “I feel strongly this is in our best interest, America’s best interest and the world’s best interests to do this. … And being beat up is something I’m kind of used to after 18 years.”

Over the last few weeks, McConnell blessed a bipartisan border security deal that he tried to sell to GOP senators – only to see it derailed by House Republican leaders, fellow senators and Trump himself. Then, he helped push through the Senate a $95.3 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan – only to find himself in the minority of his conference when 22 of the 49 GOP senators voted to approve the plan earlier this week. Now, House Speaker Mike Johnson is threatening to shelve the bill altogether – all with Trump’s backing.

The US Capitol in Washington, DC, on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024.

RELATED ARTICLEHow each member of the Senate voted on foreign aid package

In the interview, McConnell harkened back to his childhood when his father – a foot soldier in World War II – had warned about the Russian threat, something he says has only grown more pervasive decades later.

“Every argument against this is wrong. Every single one of them,” McConnell said of providing billions more to Ukraine. “Most of the money’s being spent here. Europeans have done as much, and, after the $55 billion from the EU, more than we have. Not a single American soldier has lost their lives in this fight – we’ve got a bunch of people willing to kill Russians. I can’t find any argument against this that makes any sense.”

McConnell added: “So I think it’s a political reaction led, obviously, by the likely nominee for president having a view and expressing a view on this. So I think that’s why we are where we are.”

Senate GOP leader’s suggestion: A House vote on aid bill

McConnell’s comments come as Johnson said on Wednesday that the House would not take up the aid package, with many in his party arguing it’s time to stop pouring money into Ukraine and calling for more aggressive border security measures than the package proposed by the bipartisan group of senators and blessed by the Senate GOP leader.

“The Republican-led House will not be jammed or forced into passing a foreign aid bill that was opposed by most Republican senators and does nothing to secure own border,” Johnson said Wednesday.

McConnell said he wouldn’t comment on Johnson’s assertion. But he suggested that the Senate bill should get a vote on the House floor.

“Whatever advice I have for the speaker I give him privately, not publicly,” McConnell said. “The only thing I’ve said publicly is we’ve heard all kinds of rumors about what the vote would be on Ukraine. Why not have it?”

In the interview, McConnell downplayed the influence of the isolationist wing of his party, arguing that Republican views about the US posture in the world have long been driven by their party’s presidential candidate – something not unusual now given Trump’s positions.

“Having lived as long as I have, I’ve kind of observed the party go up-and-down on foreign involvements, depending usually on who the president is, or the nominee for president, having the biggest impact on public opinion,” McConnell said.

McConnell, who turns 82 next week, has not said if he would run for the GOP leadership spot after his current term concludes at the end of the year. That position could grow more complicated for the Kentucky Republican if Trump wins the presidency, given the two haven’t spoken in more than three years and they had a major falling out after the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack.

McConnell non-committal on Mayorkas trial and touts Senate border deal

Adding to the challenges of governing under Trump: The former president has tried to scuttle the remaining big-ticket items that McConnell has tried to approve, including on border security. Meantime, the House GOP has aligned itself closely with Trump and taken steps that have made some Republican senators uneasy – including impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas over the problems at the border.

McConnell said he hadn’t taken a position yet on the Mayorkas trial and whether he would vote to dismiss the charges.

“I haven’t really thought about it,” McConnell said, noting that Democrats would move to quickly kill the proceedings. “So I don’t think we’ll have two endless trials like we’ve had recently.”

In the interview, McConnell defended his handling of the push to get a border deal, noting that Republicans had demanded one before green-lighting more Ukraine aid. And he continued to tout the border deal even though it has been heavily criticized by many in his party and ultimately collapsed.

“So I picked (Oklahoma GOP Sen.) James Lankford, who’s really smart, and, as you know, they worked on it for months, came up with a product supported by the border council, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Washington Post editorial page,” McConnell said, calling the plan “clearly an improvement over existing law.”

After Republicans said they wouldn’t support the border deal, McConnell said he “felt strongly” to move on the rest of the aid package without the immigration measures given the situation in Ukraine.

Democrats have seized on the GOP decision to scuttle the border deal – something Democrat Tom Suozzi used in his successful run in the New York special election for a US House seat on Tuesday night.

But McConnell didn’t think the flap would have much of an impact on Senate races.

I think that every one of these races will hash that out one way or another,” McConnell said. “Obviously up in New York, the Democrat did a better job of dealing with it than the Republican, and I think that’ll play out depending upon the quality of the candidates.” And he pivoted to the Senate GOP push to take back the majority: “I think we’re not going to have a candidate quality problem this cycle on our side.”

On the border, McConnell added: “I think President Biden has a real problem on this issue with or without a new law.”

But unlike his House GOP counterparts, McConnell did not take aim at Biden’s memory or mental acuity after concerns were raised by Special Counsel Robert Hur’s damning report last week about his handling of classified records.

“The age issue is obviously front and center for both candidates,” McConnell said when asked about the matter. “And I think they’re going to argue about it.”

Biden growing more frustrated with Netanyahu as Gaza campaign rages on

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden. Getty ImagesCNN — 

President Joe Biden has grown increasingly frustrated behind the scenes with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, telling advisers and others that the prime minister is ignoring his advice and obstructing efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, according to people familiar with the matter.

So far, Biden has stopped short of directly criticizing Netanyahu in public. But he has become increasingly critical of Israel’s tactics, saying last week he believes the campaign in Gaza is “over the top,” one of his sharpest condemnations to date of the military effort against Hamas.

In private, Biden has been more willing to offer unvarnished thoughts on Netanyahu, including his deep irritation that the Israeli prime minister has not followed through on American recommendations to de-escalate military tactics in Gaza. Some officials now wonder how much longer Biden will withhold public criticism of Netanyahu as the war rages on.

The president’s comments last week on Israel’s tactics reflected sentiments he has been voicing behind the scenes for a while, one person familiar with the matter said. US officials had hoped that by January, Israel would have transitioned to a lower-intensity, hyper-localized targeting campaign.

The tension between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s government has only intensified in recent days over Israel’s preparations for a ground incursion into Rafah, where thousands of displaced Palestinians have fled over the course of the war.

US officials have been direct in their conversations with Israeli counterparts that the estimated 1.3 million people currently in Rafah simply “have nowhere to go,” according to a senior administration official. The Biden administration is highly skeptical about whether Netanyahu’s direction to Israel’s military for an “evacuation of the population” out of Rafah before Israel forces go in is even remotely feasible.

“We have made very clear that an operation under current conditions is not something that we could envision,” the US official said.

In the call, Biden told Netanyahu an operation in Rafah “should not proceed” without ensuring the safety of the more than 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said.

Biden has long had his differences with Netanyahu and officials acknowledge their relationship is complex. But in recent days, a series of actions and comments have angered some American officials, who like Biden are losing patience with Netanyahu’s resistance to US advice and recommendations.

That includes publicly rejecting as “crazy” a Hamas counter proposal on a deal to release hostages and pause the fighting, even as Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the region to try to advance the agreement. The majority of a 45-minute phone call between Biden and Netanyahu on Sunday was about the hostages deal, according to an official.

Biden and his team have also been irritated by Netanyahu’s public rejections of a two-state solution, long a lynchpin of American policy in the region.

Biden and Netanyahu, who have known each other for more than four decades, have found themselves frequently at odds, both before the October 7 Hamas attacks and after. Biden has bemoaned Netanyahu’s far-right governing coalition and told donors last year that his counterpart’s political predicament was making it difficult for the prime minister to alter his approach to Gaza.

The president is also under pressure from progressive Democrats to do and say more about the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza, including through now-frequent protests at his public events.

Still, White House officials have long said the president believes any differences with his counterpart are best aired behind the scenes rather than in public.

Biden has made light of his disagreements with Netanyahu, recounting an inscription he wrote on an old photograph of the two men: “Bibi, I love you, but I don’t agree with a damn thing you have to say.”

“It’s about the same today,” Biden said in December.

Since then, however, frustrations have only mounted over Israel’s military campaign and tactics when it comes to negotiating a deal to secure the release of hostages.

Biden offered his Israeli counterpart and the people of Israel his unwavering support in the immediate aftermath of the October 7 attack, even flying to the war zone to show what he said was his and the United States’ unequivocal support for their ally.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, offered Biden praise over the weekend as the president was combatting questions about his age and mental acuity. In an interview, the Israeli prime minister said he found Biden “very clear, very focused” when asked about special counsel Robert Hur’s description on Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

In an interview with ABC News, Netanyahu said he’s had over a dozen “extended phone conversations” with Biden. “He also came on a visit to Israel during wartime, which was a historic first, and I found him very clear and very focused,” Netanyahu said.

“We managed to agree on the war aims and on many things. Sometimes disagreements, but they weren’t born of a lack of understanding on his part or on my part,” Netanyahu said.

Robert De Niro opens up about being a father at 80

Robert De Niro, a two-time Oscar winner, has been nominated for best actor in a supporting role at the upcoming 2024 Academy Awards.

Robert De Niro, a two-time Oscar winner, has been nominated for best actor in a supporting role at the upcoming 2024 Academy Awards. Loic Venance/AFP/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Actor Robert De Niro has opened up about the “joy” of new fatherhood after welcoming his seventh child last year.

The Oscar-winning actor and his girlfriend Tiffany Chen welcomed daughter Gia in April.

“She’s such an adorable baby. So sweet,” the 80-year-old said in an interview with People published on Wednesday.

He added: “(When I) look at her, everything else goes away. So it’s a great joy and relief to just be with her in the moment.”

“The Godfather Part II” and “Taxi Driver” actor said it means “everything” to him when his family can “all be together.”

Robert De Niro and Al Pacino attend the 92nd Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on February 09, 2020 in Hollywood, California.

RELATED ARTICLERobert De Niro reacts to Al Pacino becoming a father again at 83

From 1976 to 1988, the actor was married to Diahnne Abbott and they are the parents of two children, Drena, 56, and Raphael, 47.

In 1995, he welcomed twin sons, Aaron and Julian, with his then-girlfriend, Toukie Smith.

De Niro was also previously married to Grace Hightower before they split in 2018, and the pair are parents to son Elliot and daughter Helen Grace.

Talking about Gia, De Niro said, “The kids all get a big kick out of her.”

“The grandkids even,” he continued. “She’s their aunt — (and) they’re about to be teenagers.”

The two-time Oscar winner has been nominated for best actor in a supporting role at the upcoming Academy Awards for his role as murder mastermind William Hale in Martin Scorsese’s 2023 historical crime drama “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

In response to the Oscar nomination, De Niro said “you can’t think about” winning, but simply being nominated is “great.”

He said “it’d be nice” if his costar Lily Gladstone won best actress in a leading role. “I feel that Lily has a very good chance of winning it,” he said, adding: “I’m hoping that that’ll happen.”

In his interview, De Niro said he enjoys working, adding: “I’m ready to take whatever life gives me.”

Scientists discover an alarming change in Antarctica’s past that could spell devastating future sea level rise

A scientist holds a piece of ice core drilled from West Antarctica, showing the air bubbles trapped within.

A scientist holds a piece of ice core drilled from West Antarctica, showing the air bubbles trapped within. University of Cambridge/British Antarctic SurveyCNN — 

Evidence from a 2,000-foot-long ice core reveals that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet shrank suddenly and dramatically around 8,000 years ago, according to new research — providing an alarming insight into how quickly Antarctic ice could melt and send sea levels soaring.

Part of the ice sheet thinned by 450 meters (1,476 feet) — a height greater than the Empire State Building — over a period of just 200 years at the end of the last Ice Age, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal Nature Geoscience.

It’s the first direct evidence that shows such a rapid loss of ice anywhere in Antarctica, according to the study’s authors.

While scientists knew the ice sheet was bigger at the end of the last Ice Age than today, much less was known about when exactly that shrinking happened, said Eric Wolff, a glaciologist at the University of Cambridge in the UK and a study author.

This study changes that, he told CNN. “We’ve been able to say exactly when it retreated, but we’ve also been able to say how fast it retreated.”

Now it’s clear the ice sheet retreated and thinned very rapidly in the past, Wolff said, the danger is that it could begin again. “If it does start to retreat, it really will do it very fast,” he added.

That could have catastrophic consequences for global sea level rise. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet holds enough water to raise sea levels by about 5 meters – more than 16 feet — which would cause devastating flooding in coastal towns and cities around the world.

The study is “an excellent piece of detective work” about a major part of the Antarctic ice sheet, said Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado Boulder.

The key message is “the amount of ice stored in Antarctica can change very quickly — at a pace that would be hard to deal with for many coastal cities,” he told CNN.

Map showing the location of the Skytrain Ice Rise, part of the Ronne Ice Shelf, from where the ice core was taken.

Map showing the location of the Skytrain Ice Rise, part of the Ronne Ice Shelf, from where the ice core was taken. University of Cambridge/British Antarctic Survey

Ice cores are historical archives of the Earth’s atmosphere. Made up of layers of ice that formed as snow fell and compacted over thousands of years, they contain bubbles of ancient air as well as contaminants that provide a record of environmental changes over millennia.

The ice core analyzed in the study was drilled from Skytrain Ice Rise located at the edge of the ice sheet, near the point where the ice starts to float and become part of the Ronne Ice Shelf.

Scientists extracted it in 2019, in a painstaking process that involved drilling constantly for 40 days, pulling up a thin cylinder of ice a few feet at a time. They then cut the core into sections, packed them in insulated boxes kept at minus 20 degrees Celsius, and sent them to the UK via plane then ship.

Once in the UK, the scientists measured the ice core’s water isotopes, which provide information on temperature in the past. Warmer temperatures indicate lower-lying ice — think of it like a mountain, Wolff said, the higher up you go the colder it gets.

They also measured the pressure of trapped air bubbles in the ice. Lower-lying and thinner ice contains higher pressure air bubbles.

Inside the drilling tent at Skytrain Ice Rise, scientists preparing the drill for its next drop into the borehole.

Inside the drilling tent at Skytrain Ice Rise, scientists preparing the drill for its next drop into the borehole. University of Cambridge/British Antarctic Survey

Insulated boxes full of ice cores being loaded into the Twin Otter aircraft, Skytrain Ice Rise, Antarctica.

Insulated boxes full of ice cores being loaded into the Twin Otter aircraft, Skytrain Ice Rise, Antarctica. Eric Wolff

It was a surprise when the data revealed just how quickly the ice had thinned at the end of the last Ice Age, Wolff said. “We actually spent a lot of time checking that we hadn’t made a mistake with the analysis.”

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is particularly vulnerable to climate change, because the land under it is below sea level and slopes downward. When warm water gets underneath, it can melt very fast. “It can have a runaway process, and that’s evidently what happened 8,000 years ago,” Wolff said.

What makes the findings so alarming, said Isobel Rowell, an ice core scientist at the British Antarctic Survey and a study co-author, is that once that runaway happens “there’s really very little, if anything, that we can do to stop it,” she told CNN.

The crucial thing “is not to test it too far,” Wolff said, and that means tackling climate change. “We can avoid these tipping points still,” he said.

The new data will help improve the accuracy of the models scientists use to predict how the ice sheet will respond to future global heating, the report says.

David Thornalley, an ocean and climate scientist at University College London, said the study’s data was “striking.” He cautioned that as the study looked at a period 8,000 years ago, when climate conditions were different, the results aren’t a direct example of what could happen today. But, he added, they are still able to offer an “insight into the way that ice sheets can collapse.”

The study comes as scientists continue to sound the alarm about what is happening to the Earth’s most isolated continent.

For example, the Thwaites Glacier , also in West Antarctica, is melting rapidly. A 2022 study said the Thwaites — dubbed the Doomsday Glacier for the catastrophic impact its collapse would have on sea level rise — was hanging on “by its fingernails” as the planet warms.

This new study adds to these concerns, Scambos said. “(It) shows that the very same processes we are seeing just beginning now, in areas like Thwaites Glacier, have played out before in similar areas of Antarctica and indeed, the pace of ice loss was equal to our worst fears about a runaway ice loss.”