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.”

Hong Kong officials demand answers for Lionel Messi no-show

Lionel Messi warms the bench during a friendly between a Hong Kong XI and Inter Miami on February 4, 2024.

Lionel Messi warms the bench during a friendly between a Hong Kong XI and Inter Miami on February 4, 2024. Peter Parks/AFP/Getty ImagesHong KongCNN — 

The Hong Kong government’s repeated requests for Lionel Messi to play in a sell-out soccer match went unanswered Sunday, a city official said, as cheers turned to jeers for the Argentine soccer legend.

Some 40,000 fans – some who paid up to $624 for tickets – had packed the Hong Kong Stadium in the hope of seeing the World Cup winner but went home deflated after Messi stayed on the bench, missing his club team Inter Miami’s 4-1 victory over a Hong Kong XI.

The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner featured heavily in pre-match advertising and many fans demanded a refund due to his lack of game time. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government, which provided more than $2 million in grants to the match organizer, also said it was “extremely disappointed” the star did not play.

In a news conference Monday, Hong Kong Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung said the contract signed between the government and match organizer Tatler XFEST required Messi to play for at least 45 minutes, subject to safety and fitness concerns.

Fans make their feelings clear after Lionel Messi's Hong Kong no-show.

Fans make their feelings clear after Lionel Messi’s Hong Kong no-show. Justin Chin/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The government first contacted the organizer at the start of the second half on Sunday when officials noticed the star was still on the bench, he said.

According to Yeung, the organizer had told the government Messi, 36, might not be able to play due to injury – but only confirmed he would not play 10 minutes before full time.

When it became clear Messi would not play, authorities insisted to the organizer that he should at least spend some time with fans, Yeung said.

“We therefore immediately request them to explore other remedies, such as Messi appearing on the field to interact with fans or receiving the trophy. Unfortunately, this did not work out,” Yeung said.

Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino earlier said the decision not to field Messi was made on very late notice due to an injury.

‘We do feel a bit scammed’

“Messi mania” had captured Hong Kong with Inter Miami’s arrival on Friday as fans swarmed the Major League Soccer team’s hotel. Meanwhile, the stadium reached capacity during Inter Miami’s open training session the evening before the match.

On Monday, a small group of fans gathered outside Inter Miami’s hotel in Hong Kong, hoping to catch a final glimpse of Messi before the team departed for the next stop of its pre-season tour in Tokyo.

“We do feel a bit scammed by the club because we paid, and I think most people pay, to see Messi and it was advertised almost exclusively that Messi was going to play,” fan Ada Kam told CNN, holding a placard that read “refund scam”.

In a statement, organizer Tatler XFEST expressed “extreme disappointment” that Messi and teammate Luis Suárez did not play in Hong Kong and said it “did not have any information about the non-participation” of the players prior to kick-off.

Messi could return to China in March with Argentina for friendly matches against Nigeria in Hangzhou and Ivory Coast in Beijing.

Federal judge postpones trial in Trump’s DC election interference case

Former President Donald Trump takes the stage after defeating Nikki Haley in the New Hampshire primary election during his watch party in Nashua, New Hampshire, on January 23.

Former President Donald Trump takes the stage after defeating Nikki Haley in the New Hampshire primary election during his watch party in Nashua, New Hampshire, on January 23. Doug Mills/The New York Times/ReduxWashingtonCNN — 

The Washington, DC, trial date in the federal election subversion case against former President Donald Trump has been postponed because of ongoing appeals about the power of the presidency, according to a new court order in the case.

The trial date was originally set for March 4, but the case was paused as a federal appeals court considers arguments from Trump that he should be immune from prosecution because of his role as president leading up to the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. The appeals court has yet to issue a ruling on the matter of immunity.

Though not official until US District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s order Friday, it became increasingly less likely that the March trial date would hold. In January, Trump’s team complained that prosecutors were continuing to submit court filings despite the case’s pause, and Chutkan warned Smith’s team that they should not continue without her permission.

The delay is a win for the former president, who has repeatedly worked to delay the trial until after the 2024 presidential election, but it isn’t yet clear if he’ll be successful in holding off the trial until after November’s vote.

Two Trump advisers told CNN that the former president’s team will continue to push for further delays and that its key focus in the latest court order is that Chutkan has not set a new trial date.

A delay was also anticipated by the parties and even court officials – especially as each day has gone by without a ruling from the DC Circuit on presidential immunity. The court heard the case almost a month ago and can take weeks if not months to rule. It’s likely that the ruling from the DC Circuit will be appealed to the Supreme Court.

As part of her order Friday, Chutkan also said that the prospective jurors, who had been asked to appear in court next week to fill out a written questionnaire, would no longer have to do so.

“The court will set a new schedule if and when the mandate is returned,” Chutkan wrote in the order.

Trump faces four counts from special counsel Jack Smith’s election subversion charges, including conspiring to defraud the United States and to obstruct an official proceeding. The former president has pleaded not guilty.

The federal case against Trump had been set to begin first among the criminal indictments he faces.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is set to take Trump to trial in late March for allegedly falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to Stormy Daniels.

Trump’s team, as well as legal experts, view the hush money case as much weaker than the others, the former president’s advisers told CNN. The campaign feels that having the Bragg trial go first will help them set the stage for their core argument that these trials are purely political and designed to hurt his chances in a general election, the advisers added.

Court proceedings in his case around the handling of documents after the presidency at Mar-a-Lago currently are focused around the use of classified evidence in the case. A trial is on the schedule for late May but may need to be moved back because of those proceedings.

The Mar-a-Lago documents case judge, Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee in south Florida, has left open the possibility of revisiting the trial schedule at a hearing March 1.

The state-level judge presiding over Trump’s 2020 election conspiracy in Georgia has yet to set a trial date.

Banks are being rocked again as real estate losses mount

The Aozora Bank headquarters in Tokyo Japan, on February 1, 2024.

The Aozora Bank headquarters in Tokyo Japan, on February 1, 2024. Akio Kon/Bloomberg/Getty ImagesLondonCNN — 

Nearly a year on from a banking crisis that led to the collapse of three US regional lenders and the emergency takeover of Credit Suisse in Europe, a fresh chill is running through banks as far apart as New York, Tokyo and Zurich.

Common to all of them — mounting losses on lending to the troubled commercial property sector.

On Wednesday, shares in New York Community Bancorp (NYCB) plunged 38% after it reported a loss of $252 million for the last quarter. The regional lender set aside $552 million in the fourth quarter to absorb loan losses, up from $62 million in the previous quarter. The increase was driven partly by expected losses on a loan used to finance an office building, it said.

The lender helped drag the KBW Regional Banking Index down 6% on Wednesday, its biggest daily fall since last May — the same month California-based First Republic became the third US banking casualty last year.

The index slid further Thursday and was down 4.8% by 11.19 a.m. ET as shares in NYCB, as well as other regional banks, suffered sharp losses. NYCB’s stock fell almost 13%, Banc of California 8%, and BankUnited 8%.

A big chunk of NYCB’s losses were tied to office buildings, it said in its earnings statement. CEO Thomas Cangemi referred to “general office weaknesses throughout the country” in a call with investors.

Since the turmoil last spring, investors and regulators have been on high alert for renewed stress among banks, homing in on their exposure to the ailing commercial real estate market.

A screen displays the trading information for New York Community Bancorp at the New York Stock Exchange on January 31, 2024.

A screen displays the trading information for New York Community Bancorp at the New York Stock Exchange on January 31, 2024. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

The value of many buildings has plummeted as millions of workers have stuck with pandemic-era remote working, leaving vast tranches of office space vacant or underused. At the same time, historically high interest rates have made it harder for real estate developers — who often take out huge loans to finance projects — to make good on their repayments.

On Thursday, Japan’s Aozora Bank said bad loans tied to US offices were partly to blame for its projected annual loss of 28 billion yen ($190 million) last year. The lender had previously expected to make a net profit of 24 billion yen ($160 million). The news sent its shares plunging over 21%.

The bank said it would take another year or two for the US office market to “stabilize” as more people returned to work in-person, and as the Federal Reserve moves from hiking interest rates to cutting them.

Losses are mounting in Europe, too. Swiss private bank and wealth manager Julius Baer announced Thursday that its adjusted profit had tanked 55% last year because it lost 586 million Swiss francs ($680 million) on loans made to a single “European conglomerate.” Its CEO Philipp Rickenbacher announced his departure in the wake of the losses.

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Julius Baer declined to confirm the identity of the company to CNN.

But, according to a Reuters report, that company is Signa Group, an Austrian property developer that, in 2019, bought part of New York’s iconic Chrysler building. Several Signa subsidiaries filed for insolvency in December, Reuters reported.

Much bigger players are girding themselves for losses linked to commercial real estate.

Germany’s biggest lender Deutsche Bank said Thursday that it had allocated €123 million ($133 million) during the last quarter to absorb potential defaults on its US commercial real estate loans. That’s more than quadruple the amount it set aside during the same three-month period in 2022.

‘Small ripples’

Cangemi, of NYCB, said his company’s poor fourth quarter was partly the result of acquiring $13 billion worth of loans from now-failed Signature Bank, one of the three regional US lenders that collapsed during last year’s banking crisis.

Those lenders failed to anticipate and properly manage the consequences of soaring interest rates, and worried depositors frantically rushed to withdraw their cash. The old-fashioned bank runs sent financial markets into a panic that eventually pushed Credit Suisse — then one of the world’s biggest lenders — over the edge and prompted a hurried takeover by rival UBS.

The headquarters of Swiss private bank Julius Baer in Zurich, Switzerland in February 2022.

The headquarters of Swiss private bank Julius Baer in Zurich, Switzerland in February 2022. Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

Philip Lawlor, managing director of markets research at Wilshire Indexes, said the recent turbulence is unlikely to rock big, well-capitalized banks this time around.

“One should not be complacent,” he told CNN, noting that last year’s bank runs all “started with small ripples that just built and built.”

The KBW Bank Index, which tracks 24 leading US banks, is up 29% since hitting a low last May. Europe’s benchmark Stoxx Europe 600 Banks index, which tracks 42 big EU and UK banks, is up 23% since a low in late March.

Both indexes were trading lower on Thursday.

“This could be sort of a replay of what we saw last year — there could be contagion — but it could be limited to a number of smaller banks and not ripple through to the systemically important ones,” Lawlor said.

Group of Palestinian-Americans skip Blinken meeting over Biden admin’s support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on March 22, 2023 in Washington, DC. Blinken testified during a hearing titled, "American Diplomacy and Global Leadership: Review of FY2024 State Department Budget Request."

A number of Palestinian-Americans refused to attend a roundtable meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday Kevin Dietsch/Getty ImagesCNN — 

A number of Palestinian-Americans refused to attend a roundtable meeting with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday to discuss the situation in Gaza in protest against the Biden administration’s ongoing support for Israel’s offensive in the war-torn strip – a military campaign that has exacted a massive humanitarian toll.

“We do not know what more Secretary Blinken or President (Joe) Biden need to hear or see to compel them to end their complicity in this genocide,” several of those who rejected the invitation said in a press statement distributed by the non-profit Institute for Middle East Understanding (IMEU).

“They show us every day whose lives they value and whose lives they consider disposable. We will not be attending this discussion which can only amount to a box-ticking exercise. Our families, our community and all Palestinians deserve better,” the signatories wrote.

“There is one thing that we, our community and countless others around the US and the world, including American unions representing nearly 8 million workers and at least 47 US cities, have been asking of this administration: to demand a permanent ceasefire to save Palestinians lives and stop the destruction of Gaza,” they wrote. “A meeting of this nature at this moment in time is insulting and performative.”

Blinken and other members of the Biden administration have called on Israel to do more to protect civilians and allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza. The officials, however, have continually rejected the idea of a ceasefire, instead advocating for “humanitarian pauses.”

Thursday’s meeting with Blinken comes amid continued outrage from many progressive Democrats, Muslim and younger voters about the administration’s handling of Gaza – opposition that poses a growing political problem for Biden. The refusal of several invitees to attend underscores the immense anger felt by many in the United States – including some within the federal government – over the toll from the conflict, which was launched following Hamas’ brutal attack on Israel on October 7. More than 26,000 have been killed, hundreds of thousands have been displaced, and Gaza is on the brink of famine. More than 200 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the offensive.

Six people did attend the meeting, a source familiar told CNN, and those who attended felt conflicted about doing so, but felt they should take advantage of the opportunity to speak to the need for urgent change in US policy toward Gaza.


One of the invitees to the roundtable, Dr. Tariq Haddad, said in an intensely personal, 12-page letter to Blinken that he initially intended to go to the meeting.

However, “after a lot of soul-searching I have decided that I cannot in good conscience meet with you today knowing this administration’s policies have been responsible for the death of over 80 of my family members including dozens of children, the suffering of hundreds of my remaining family, the famine my family is currently subjected to and the destruction of all my family’s homes,” Haddad wrote in the letter.

“The more I thought about this meeting, the more I could not emotionally bring myself to look you in the eyes, Secretary Blinken, knowing you and President Biden have knowingly contributed to the suffering and murder of so many of my family, the homelessness and dispossession of 2 million Gazans, and the famine that has befallen my remaining family members,” Haddad said.

“How does one meet for what I was told would be 3 minutes, with a person you hold responsible for not just the killing of your child, but rather the murder of over 80 of your family members?” he asked in his letter.

“How do I look you in the eyes knowing you couldn’t even do the basic minimum like calling for a ceasefire to end the suffering and carnage, and even worse, are cutting off humanitarian assistance to 2 million people going through a famine of historic proportions,” he wrote, appearing to reference the suspension of US aid to the UN’s main relief agency in Gaza, UNRWA.

“My family are subsisting on animal feed, Secretary Blinken, because of your policies,” he said.

“You could have called for a cease-fire at any point in the past four months and ended all this suffering and death, and you have not. You could have used your diplomatic pressure to end the suffering, and you chose not to. You could have recognized that shutting off aid to an area that is experiencing the worst famine and human rights disaster in modern history is unethical, yet you chose not to. This is why it is very difficult emotionally for me to meet you today, to somehow normalize a meeting with an administration that continues day after day to cause so much suffering and death with their policies,” he wrote.

Haddad urged Blinken to call for an immediate ceasefire, “end the continued transfer of US military reserve equipment to the Israeli military to stop further murder,” “call for an immediate withdrawal out of Gaza and equality for the Palestinian people,” and a “call for an end to the Israeli occupation, for equal rights, freedoms, and laws in this land regardless of one’s religion, ethnicity, or background.”

Haddad told CNN that the letter – in which he also included photos of some of his relatives who have been killed – was going to be handed directly to Blinken at Thursday’s meeting.

The source familiar with the meeting said some parts of it were read out loud to the top US diplomat during the hour-and-a-half long session at the State Department. That source said Blinken seemed engaged, but largely stuck to talking points in his remarks.

At a briefing Thursday, State Department spokesperson Matt Miller confirmed that Blinken met with “a number of leaders in the Palestinian-American community.”

“It was the latest in a series of meetings that the Secretary has had with individuals and organizations both within the department and from outside the department that hold a wide range of views across the ideological and political spectrum,” Miller said. “He has held these meetings because he thinks it’s important to hear directly from individuals as I said, both inside the State Department and outside the State Department.”

“He finds that process to be constructive. It informs his thinking. It helps him, he believes, shape policy in the best way possible,” he said.

Public opposition

And while Blinken was quietly confronted behind closed doors about the administration’s policy toward Gaza on Thursday, members of the administration, including Blinken, have also faced public displays of opposition. A number of protesters have camped in front of Blinken’s house since last Friday to try to pressure a change in policy.

At a public speech on Tuesday, Samantha Power, head of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) was twice confronted about the administration’s position toward Gaza.

One questioner, who identified herself as a USAID contractor, asked Power about the loss of the US’ ability “to be moral leaders” due to the “US funded genocide in Gaza.” Another person interrupted her speech to raise the massive humanitarian toll.

“It is a devastating situation where not enough resources are getting in, via the Rafah crossing or the Kerem Shalom crossing,” Power said. “And we are working 24/7 to try to dramatically expand the flow of food, medicine, shelter – I mean, so much is needed. But, you know, you have families right now that are living in unimaginable conditions.”

“In addition, of course, the greatest loss of life has come from the war itself and from the bombing, and more than 25,000 civilians have been killed. There is not a single call that President Biden makes, or engagement that anybody in the Biden administration does, that doesn’t put the importance of civilian protection and international humanitarian law, at the top of the conversation,” she said.

A USAID spokesperson said that “since the start of this conflict, Administrator Power and other Agency leadership have held numerous engagements with staff in the US and at USAID Missions around the world to discuss the US and USAID response to the conflict, offer appreciation for their work, and hear a range of perspectives and concerns.”

Israel claims a tunnel ran through this Gaza cemetery it destroyed. A visit to the site raised more questions than answers

Israel claims a tunnel ran through this Gaza cemetery it destroyed. A visit to the site raised more questions than answers

Israel claims a tunnel ran through this Gaza cemetery it destroyed. A visit to the site raised more questions than answersCNNCNN — 

A large void fills the space where rows of graves once stood.

The gaping hole is all that is left after the Israeli military excavated the western side of the Bani Suheila cemetery, near Khan Younis in southern Gaza, claiming a Hamas tunnel ran directly through the site and that Hamas militants attacked Israeli troops from here.

A week after a CNN investigation found that the Israeli military damaged or destroyed at least 16 cemeteries in Gaza since the beginning of the war, the Israeli military invited CNN into Gaza to explain why it partially destroyed one of those cemeteries.

But Israeli commanders failed to prove their claim during a three-hour visit to the Bani Suheila cemetery and the surrounding area.

KHAN YUNIS, GAZA - JANUARY 17: A view of a damaged cemetery following the Israeli attacks near the Nasser Hospital in Khan Yunis, Gaza on January 17, 2024. (Photo by Jehad Alshrafi/Anadolu via Getty Images)

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On Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) took CNN into a tunnel near the Bani Suheila cemetery and into an underground command center that the military said was below the cemetery.

However, IDF commanders declined to show reporters the tunnel shaft they said emerged inside the cemetery, claiming there was sensitive machinery underground and that the structure was unstable.

“The whole thing can collapse,” said Brig. Gen. Dan Goldfuss, the commander of the IDF’s 98th Division. “You have to walk to the edge. The edge is not secure, it can collapse.”

A spokesman for the Israeli military said they would provide video of the tunnel shaft in the enormous hole, but never did.

Instead, the IDF provided drone footage that showed two other tunnel entrances – one of which CNN entered – near the cemetery. CNN geolocated the tunnel entrances using footage filmed on the ground, as well as satellite imagery, and found that neither was in the cemetery grounds.

The Israeli military stood by its claims, insisting in a press release that a tunnel ran directly through the religious site.

But that press release also undermined Goldfuss’ claim that the underground command center was directly below the cemetery. A map released by the military placed the command center outside the graveyard.

Goldfuss also told CNN that his troops repeatedly came under fire from the area of the cemetery.

“My forces – at the beginning we tried to flank this area – were fired from this area, again, and again,” Goldfuss said. “They couldn’t understand why. Once we… found the military compound underneath the graveyard, we took all the measures to attack that compound.”

The Israeli military subsequently bulldozed and excavated the western section of the cemetery, where dozens of graves once stood.

Pressed on how his forces dealt with dead who were buried there, Goldfuss said, “We try and move them aside as much as we can, as much as possible.”

“But remember, this place, when you’re fighting here and your enemy is flanking you again and again and again using these compounds to hide in, there’s not much you can do,” he added.

Israel claims a tunnel ran through this Gaza cemetery it destroyed. A visit to the site raised more questions than answers

Israel claims a tunnel ran through this Gaza cemetery it destroyed. A visit to the site raised more questions than answersCNN

Goldfuss maintained that the heavy damage to the cemetery was necessary to uncover what he claimed was a tunnel beneath its surface.

The IDF has also damaged at least one cemetery and disturbed bodies in its search for hostages, with a previous CNN investigation earlier this month finding bodies removed from gravesites.

Medical staff at Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza have also alleged that Israeli soldiers used bulldozers to dig up bodies buried in the hospital’s courtyard, after concluding a raid in the hospital.

According to international law, an intentional attack on a cemetery could amount to a war crime, except under very limited circumstances relating to that site becoming a military objective.

Inside the tunnel

The entrance to the tunnel CNN entered lay in the rubble of what the Israeli military said was a residential building. After uncovering the site, the military blew a hole through a section of the tunnel – exposing it on two sides in order to outflank Hamas fighters who were inside.

A dark, humid and seemingly endless labyrinth awaited us once inside. Without a light on, the tunnel was pitch-black and it was impossible to hear the outside world.

According to the IDF, the tunnel had been outfitted with wiring – electricity and telecommunications – installed by Hamas. But there were no lights on when CNN visited.

At the end of one section, CNN found what the Israeli military described as a Hamas battalion commander’s office: two large rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen linked by a hallway held up with steel beams.

There were tiled floors, painted walls, plus electricity and plumbing. Large frames also hung on the walls, which the Israeli military said once displayed maps. A large map that would fit one of the frames was sprawled on a table.

Goldfuss, standing inside the command center, said he was surprised at the scale of the tunnels he said the IDF had found.

Detained Palestinians

On the way to embed with Israeli forces in Gaza, CNN saw more than two dozen detained Palestinian men blindfolded and barefoot, their hands tied behind their backs.

The men, kneeling or sitting on the wet, cold ground, had been detained by the Israeli military in Gaza. Israeli soldiers, their faces obscured by balaclavas, stood guard around them.

Some of the men appeared to be physically exhausted, with their heads falling and swaying as they attempted to remain kneeling. One detainee lay on the ground before an Israeli soldier arrived to rouse him, propping him back up. The men appeared to be wearing nothing more than disposable white coveralls, despite the 10 degree Celsius temperature (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

The Israeli military said the men were “suspected of terrorist activity and were arrested in Gaza and transferred to Israel for further interrogation.”

01 hala khreis white flag death gaza

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“As part of the IDF activity in the combat area in Gaza, individuals suspected of involvement in terrorist activity are being detained and questioned. It is often necessary for terror suspects to hand over their clothes such that their clothes can be searched and to ensure that they are not concealing explosive vests or other weaponry. The suspects are given jumpsuits, and are provided with clothes upon arrival to the detention facility,” the IDF said in a statement.

“Relevant suspects are taken for further questioning within Israel. Individuals who are found not to be taking part in terrorist activities are released back into Gaza, as soon as possible,” the statement added.

The IDF said the men filmed on Saturday had been brought into Israel from Gaza and were about to be transferred to a “heated bus” when CNN filmed the scene. They maintained that detainees are treated in accordance with international law. It is not clear how long the men were detained outside in this way.

A bus was waiting nearby, but CNN could not confirm when the men were put onto the bus, as an Israeli soldier at the scene ordered CNN to leave the premises within minutes.

Astronomers make unprecedented discovery in search for water in space

An artist’s illustration depicts exoplanet GJ 9827d (foreground, right) — the smallest exoplanet where atmospheric water vapor has been detected — as it orbits a host star. Two inner planets (bottom left) in the system are also shown.NASA/ESA/Leah Hustak (STScI)/Ralf Crawford (STScI)

Sign up for CNN’s Wonder Theory science newsletter. Explore the universe with news on fascinating discoveries, scientific advancements and more.CNN — 

Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have detected water molecules in the atmosphere of a small, blazing-hot exoplanet 97 light-years from Earth.

The planet, named GJ 9827d, is about twice Earth’s diameter, and it’s the smallest exoplanet found to have water vapor in its atmosphere, according to a new study.

Water is essential for life as we know it, but the planet is unlikely to host any type of life due to searing temperatures that would turn a water-rich atmosphere into scorching steam.

The astronomers have yet to uncover the true nature of this unusual world’s atmosphere, but the revelation paves the way for further investigation as they seek to understand the origins of planets beyond our solar system.

The findings appeared in a report published Thursday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“Water on a planet this small is a landmark discovery,” said study coauthor Laura Kreidberg, managing director of the atmospheric physics of exoplanets department at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany, in a statement. “It pushes closer than ever to characterizing truly Earth-like worlds.”

Yet the planet reaches temperatures of 800 degrees Fahrenheit (427 degrees Celsius), making it a steamy, inhospitable world that’s as hot as Venus.

“This would be the first time that we can directly show through an atmospheric detection, that these planets with water-rich atmospheres can actually exist around other stars,” said study coauthor Björn Benneke, professor at the University of Montreal’s Trottier Institute for Research on Exoplanets, in a statement. “This is an important step toward determining the prevalence and diversity of atmospheres on rocky planets.”

Data from SARAO's MeerKAT radio telescope data (green) showing the odd radio circles, is overlaid on optical and near infra-red data from the Dark Energy Survey.

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Currently, the research team can’t tell whether Hubble picked up on water vapor traces within a puffy, hydrogen-rich atmosphere or the planet has a water-rich atmosphere because the host star evaporated GJ 9827d’s original hydrogen and helium atmosphere.

“Our observing program, led by principal investigator Ian Crossfield of (the University of Kansas) in Lawrence, Kansas, was designed specifically with the goal to not only detect the molecules in the planet’s atmosphere, but to actually look specifically for water vapor,” said lead study author Pierre-Alexis Roy, a doctoral student at the University of Montreal’s Trottier Institute, in a statement. “Either result would be exciting, whether water vapor is dominant or just a tiny species in a hydrogen-dominant atmosphere.”

A planetary conundrum

NASA’s Kepler mission initially discovered the planet orbiting a red dwarf star in the Pisces constellation in 2017. The exoplanet completes a single orbit around its host star every 6.2 days.

Astronomers observed GJ 9827d during 11 transits, or times when the planet crossed in front of its star during orbit, over three years. Starlight filtering through the planet’s atmosphere helped astronomers measure the signature of water molecules.

“Until now, we had not been able to directly detect the atmosphere of such a small planet. And we’re slowly getting in this regime now,” Benneke said. “At some point, as we study smaller planets, there must be a transition where there’s no more hydrogen on these small worlds, and they have atmospheres more like Venus (which is dominated by carbon dioxide).”

Understanding more about the planet’s atmosphere could help astronomers classify exactly what type of world GJ 9827d is. Currently, the team has two possible theories.

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It’s possible that the planet is a mini-Neptune with a hydrogen-rich atmosphere that contains water vapor. If so, GJ 9827d likely formed at a greater distance from the host star than its current location, meaning the planet was colder and water was present in the form of ice (similar to Neptune and Uranus, the most distant planets in our solar system).

As the planet migrated closer to its star and was blasted with more stellar radiation, the hydrogen heated up and escaped, or it’s still escaping, according to the researchers.

Or astronomers suspect that GJ 9827d could be a warmer version of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which contains an ocean beneath a thick, icy crust. The planet might be half water and half rock, Benneke said.

The search for water in space

Water is one of the most common molecules found across the universe, and for years, astronomers have included water detection as a larger part of the search for life beyond Earth.

“Observing water is a gateway to finding other things,” said study coauthor Thomas Greene, astrophysicist at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, in a statement. “This Hubble discovery opens the door to future study of these types of planets by the James Webb Space Telescope. JWST can see much more with additional infrared observations, including carbon-bearing molecules like carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and methane. Once we get a total inventory of a planet’s elements, we can compare those to the star it orbits and understand how it was formed.”

Astronaut Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., lunar module pilot, walks on the surface of the moon near a leg of the Lunar Module during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA). Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Apollo 11 commander, took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. The astronauts' bootprints are clearly visible in the foreground. While astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin descended in the Lunar Module (LM) "Eagle" to explore the Sea of Tranquility region of the moon, astronaut Michael Collins, command module pilot, remained with the Command and Service Modules (CSM) "Columbia" in lunar orbit.

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Astronomers have already observed GJ 9827d with the Webb telescope to search for water and other types of molecules, and that data will be shared in the future.

“We can hardly wait to see what those data reveal,” Kreidberg said. “Hopefully, we can now settle the question of water worlds once and for all.”

Rohan Bopanna becomes oldest ever male player to win grand slam title with Australian Open triumph

Tennis - Australian Open - Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia - January 27, 2024
India's Rohan Bopanna and Australia's Matthew Ebden celebrate winning the men's doubles final against Italy's Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori

Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden celebrate winning the men’s doubles final at the Australian Open.Ciro De Luca/ReutersCNN — 

Aged 43, Rohan Bopanna became the oldest male player in the Open era to ever win a grand slam title on Saturday when he and his partner, Matthew Ebden, won the Australian Open men’s doubles tournament.

India’s Bopanna and Australia’s Ebden completed a 7-6(0) 7-5 victory over Italians Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori, producing a dominant serving performance in which they did not face a single break point.

“Without a doubt the best moment in my career,” Bopanna said afterwards, according to the Australian Open’s official website. “I had thoughts of quitting and stopping, but to just persevere and enjoy what I was doing, I think, was the best thing I told myself.

“For years and years I’ve been trying to, you know, get there. I mean, the hurdle was tough.”

The pair have each won grand slam titles separately – Bopanna won the 2017 French Open mixed doubles while Ebden won the 2013 Australian Open mixed doubles and 2022 Wimbledon men’s doubles – but this marked their first trophy together after they lost last year’s US Open final.

Bopanna’s 61 attempts at winning a men’s doubles grand slam title prior to his triumph on Saturday also set a new Open era record, while he is set to become the world’s oldest No. 1 tennis player in history after this tournament.

India's Rohan Bopanna (R) and Australia's Matthew Ebden play a point against Italy's Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori during their men's doubles final match on day 14 of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne on January 27, 2024.

Rohan Bopanna won his first ever men’s doubles grand slam title.David Gray/AFP/Getty Images

“Age truly really is not even a number for this guy,” Ebden said, according to Reuters. “He’s young at heart, he’s a champion, he’s a warrior. He’s fought hard by my side this whole past year.”

Bopanna has attributed much of his success later in his career to Iyengar yoga, crediting it with strengthening his legs and bodies as well as improving his focus on the court.

And he has no intention of retiring from tennis just yet, especially when he says he is “playing my best tennis of my life.”

“I think the recovery is a huge aspect of where I’m really focusing on,” he added. “I have stopped going to the gym. I really do specific kind of work for my body. I do a lot of yoga. In the morning I do some meditation to just start off the day … which has really helped me be calmer and feel refreshed.

“As long as I’m enjoying and playing my best tennis, I don’t see there is any reason to really stop at the moment.”


At the age of 43, Indian tennis star Rohan Bopanna is making history – with a little help from Iyengar yoga