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U.S. Drone Strike Targets Militant Leader; Israeli Prime Minister Claims Victory Over Hamas; U.S. Senate Considers Funding Bill for Ukraine and Israel; Ukraine Mobilization Bill Advances Amid Continued Violence; General Election Held in Pakistan Amid Surge of Violence; Polls Open in Pakistan after Turbulent Campaign Season; Earth Just Experienced Hottest 12-Month Period on Record. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired February 08, 2024 - 00:00   ET




JOHN VAUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Ahead here on CNN, what comes next now that the U.S. has killed the leader of the militant group believed responsible for last month's deadly attack on American forces in Jordan?


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): We are on the way to complete victory.

VAUSE (off-camera): And the Israeli Prime Minister says victory over Hamas is just months away, which means any deal for a ceasefire in Gaza and release of hostages looks increasingly unlikely.

UNKNOWN: Donald Trump wants chaos.

VAUSE (off-camera): And there's chaos palooza in the U.S. Congress, with Republicans now opposing the strict new immigration laws they had demanded.

VAUSE: The strike was remarkably precise, according to U.S. Central Command. The commander of the militant group behind a deadly attack on U.S. forces last month was in a moving vehicle on a busy street. But at 9:30 p.m. Baghdad time on Wednesday, a U.S. drone strike destroyed the car, and the leader of Kata'ib Hezbollah believed responsible for directly planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces was dead. Iraq was not told in advance about the strike.

Sources tell CNN the militia leader was in charge of the group's logistical support, including drone and rocket operations. Kata'ib Hezbollah issued a statement Thursday mourning the commander's death. The group is part of a broader movement backed by Iran that has carried out attacks on U.S. forces in the Middle East, more than 160 since October 7. A drone strike in Jordan last month killed three U.S. soldiers and wounded dozens more. More details now from CNN's Oren Liebermann


OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: The U.S. carried out a drone strike in Baghdad on Wednesday evening, targeting a senior commander of Kata'ib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that the U.S. holds responsible for many of the attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. The target, according to three U.S. officials, Wissam Muhammad Sabir Al-Saadi. According to a source familiar with Khatib Hezbollah's operations, he was in charge of logistics as well as in charge of drone and rocket operations for Kata'ib Hezbollah.

Now, this strike against the U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria targeted a single individual car, very different than what we saw the U.S. carry out on Friday in Iraq and Syria. Those were sweeping strikes going after 85 targets across a number of locations-weapons facilities, command and control nodes, as well as a number of other facilities. This wasn't about hitting facilities or weapons; this was going after leadership.

The U.S. says this is part of the response to a deadly drone attack in late January in Jordan that killed three U.S. service members and wounded scores more. And this is not the end of that response, that perhaps suggesting that the U.S. will continue to go after not only facilities but also leaders of the militant groups that the U.S. holds responsible for many of those attacks on U.S. forces. Kata'ib Hezbollah put out a statement mourning the death of al-Sadi and saying that the response will include essentially targeting U.S. forces. That's a significant statement because just last week, KH said they wouldn't continue to target U.S. forces so as not to embarrass the Iraqi government. So, we'll have to see if this is a change in position.

Meanwhile, this drone strike angering the Iraqi government, calling it new U.S. aggression and saying it undercuts understandings between Washington and Baghdad. So, we'll have to see how this plays out diplomatically with growing anger of U.S. operations and strikes in Iraq that the Iraqi government considers a violation of their sovereignty. But the U.S. has said this is not the end of that response to the deadly drone strike in at the end of January there. So, we'll see what else the U.S. has in store and how this plays out across the region. The U.S.'s goal still is not to escalate the situation or to instigate an open war with Iran. That remains something the U.S. is very much trying to avoid. Meanwhile, U.S. Central Command says in this strike, there were no civilian casualties or collateral damage, but Iraqi police say there was at least one more person in that car that we saw burning. Oren Liebermann, CNN in the Pentagon.



VAUSE: Joining me now from Canberra, Australia, is Malcolm Davis, Senior Analyst of Defense Strategy and Capability at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. Good to see you, Malcolm. Thanks for coming back.


VAUSE: Okay, so I want you to listen to U.S. President Joe Biden answering questions very briefly on Sunday before this latest drone strike, which killed Muhammed (ph) al-Saadi in Baghdad. Listen to this.


JOE BIDEN, PRESDIENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are the airstrikes working? Yes.


VAUSE: I said it was brief, but yes, they are, he says. Okay, Al-Saadi is believed responsible for the attacks on U.S. forces in the region. That includes the deadly strike in Jordan last month. So, are the U.S. strikes working, as Biden said, on Sunday? Or is there now a strong chance that al-Saadi's group will want retaliation and that will bring more escalation and more violence to the region, precisely what the U.S. is hoping to avoid?

DAVIS: Look, I think they're working at the tactical level in the sense of the fact that the U.S. military is clearly causing damage to the Iranian-sponsored militias and also the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. So, their degrading capabilities in this latest attack against leadership would disrupt the militias' ability to respond quickly and coherently. But at the strategic level, I don't think they're working, because what they're not doing is creating deterrence to prevent Iran from coordinating these groups to launch further attacks. And we've already seen an indication from Kata'ib Hezbollah that they plan on doing that.

And I think the risk is the U.S. will essentially follow the same model in Iraq and Syria that they're doing in the Red Sea against the Houthis, which are these tactical strikes that achieve effective military results, but don't necessarily lead to strategic success. And that is a real problem, because it will invite the Iranians in both the Red Sea and also in Iraq and Syria to essentially test where the red lines are for the U.S. and escalate where they so desire.

VAUSE: Just looking at this strike by itself, one carried out by the United States killing al-Saadi. He was in a moving vehicle, driving on a busy street in a crowded Baghdad neighborhood. You know, it was -- you know, the intelligence here and the actual targeting was pretty impressive. The Iraqi government, though, not so impressed, warning, this targeting is a clear aggression and violation of Iraqi sovereignty, dragging the region into dangerous repercussions. They're not saying they'll carry out those repercussions, but what would these repercussions look like? What sort of involvement would Iran have? Would it be directly involved here? What are the likely outcomes here?

DAVIS: I think Iran is content to sort of keep the actual prospect of direct conflict at arm's length and instead operate through their proxies. So, the very fact that the U.S. is being so precise, so limited, a number of days passed between the first set of strikes and this strike. It's giving the Iranians time to organize their forces, regroup, redeploy. I think what you will see is the Iranians, through their proxies and through the IRGC, retaliating at a time and place of their choosing. And the challenge is that, firstly, that doesn't, as I said, achieve any strategic success for the U.S. It just maintains a series of tactical actions back and forth.

But secondly, if the Iranians sponsored retaliation through these groups then leads to further U.S. casualties or even worse, people being killed, then there will be immense pressure on the Biden administration to escalate and go after Iran directly. And of course, as you said in your introduction, the Biden administration is desperate to avoid a wider war. They would be forced on the horns of a dilemma. They have to retaliate to the loss of further U.S. service people, but to do it effectively, they have to go into that wider war.

VAUSE: So, with that in mind, there was a statement issued by Central Command which read in part, we will not hesitate to hold responsible all those who threaten our forces' safety. It seems the U.S. strikes on Iran-backed militants will continue for a while. We've also heard that from administration officials. Is there a market here for a mission accomplished like X number of days or weeks without an attack on American personnel in the region? And I guess the wider concern seems to be that the U.S., to your point, is slow walking into some kind of regional war.

DAVIS: Yeah, look, I think, go back to the Bush administration after Operation Enduring Freedom in --Operation Iraqi Freedom, sorry, in 2003, where you had President Bush on the aircraft carrier with the banner behind him saying, mission accomplished. And then the war continued behind him, not just with the remnants of the Iraqis, but also with Islamic State. I think the risk is here that the same thing happens, that the Biden administration arbitrarily declares mission accomplished after a pause in any attacks by Iranian-sponsored proxies, and then attacks start happening again.


And so, the Biden administration walks into this trap, into this morass, and can't get out. And this is happening against a strategic context of increasing risk in Ukraine, growing tensions between Russia, China, and the United States, and of course, a very contentious domestic election situation where Biden is looking increasingly shaky. So, I think this slow, steady, very limited strategy of pinpricks isn't necessarily going to achieve the strategic outcome they want, but it could actually achieve the very thing they don't want which is a wider war.

VAUSE: Malcolm, as always, great to have you with us. Really appreciate your insights and your analysis. Thank you, sir.

DAVIS: Thank you very much.

VAUSE: To Israel now, where a deal with Hamas for the release of around 100 hostages being held in Gaza seems increasingly unlikely, which means a temporary ceasefire will also not happen anytime soon. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has spent the past few days in the region to push that deal. On Wednesday, he met with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who did not outright reject a counteroffer from Hamas. Instead, describing it as delusional and crazy.

The Hamas offer is for a three-stage ceasefire over a total of 135 days. Hostages would be released over the first two stages in exchange for thousands of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel. Hamas also is demanding a total withdrawal from Gaza of Israeli troops, as well as an agreement on a permanent ceasefire by the end of the 135 days. Netanyahu says Israeli forces will not withdraw from Gaza until there is a complete victory over Hamas, which he says is just months away. Secretary Blinken, though, believes the Hamas offer has some room for negotiations.

To Washington now, where CNN political and global affairs analyst and Axios politics and foreign policy reporter, Barak Ravid, is standing by. Barak, good to see you. Thanks for coming in.


VAUSE: So, there are two really big non-starters for Israel in this Hamas counteroffer. There's a whole lot of medium-sized ones as well. But the big one, you know, during Phases 1 and 2 of the ceasefire, Hamas wants a complete withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, in other words, all ground forces out within 90 days. And here's the Israeli prime minister on that.


NETANYAHU (through translator): We are on the way to complete victory. The victory is achievable. It is not a matter of years or decades. It's a matter of months.


VAUSE: There is also the other non-starter, which is a demand that by the end of the 135-day pause in fighting, a permanent ceasefire will be in place. Again, not going to happen according to Netanyahu. Here he is.


NETANYAHU (through translator): If Hamas survives in Gaza, it is only a matter of time until the next massacre and the axis of evil of Iran and its proxies will continue its campaign of killing and aggression without interruption.


VAUSE: So just on these two points alone, the chasm between Israel and Hamas is about the size of the Grand Canyon. It doesn't seem possible to find common ground, but we'll wait and see. But just precisely, what did the prime of Qatar refer to on Wednesday when he described this counteroffer as a positive development? RAVID: Well, I think the Qataris were pointing at one of the two documents that Hamas gave them back, because Hamas gave first the framework that Qatar gave Hamas. Hamas gave it back with some relatively small comments, but then it added a second document, which was an annex with a sort of a, I don't know, Yahya Sinwar's gift list for Ramadan. You know, Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader in Gaza, with dozens of requests for Israeli concessions from the Al-Aqsa Mosque to thousands of prisoners that he once released, including those who were sentenced to life. And, as you said, you know, permanent cease-fire, full withdrawal from Gaza and all of those issues. So, I think that when it comes to the process, the Qataris felt that, you know, there are positive things in the Hamas response.

When it comes to the substance, the gaps are huge. So now the question is, do you want to focus on the process or the substance? And today, when Netanyahu was asked twice if he rejects Hamas's response, he called it delusional, he called it insane, he called it crazy, he said he will not capitulate to it. He said he will not capitulate, but he did not say, he did not say at all that he rejects it and that he's not willing to negotiate. And this is the interesting thing here. And I think that the question now will be whether this Hamas wish list is just an aspirational list for negotiations, or it's a maximalist position that they're not ready to move from.


VAUSE: Well, with that in mind, the U.S. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has the eternal optimism of a schoolboy and believes there is room for negotiation. Here he is.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We also see space in what came back to pursue negotiations to see if we can get to an agreement. And that's what we intend to do.


VAUSE: So, let's assume there are negotiations. They continue on. What's the realistic timeline here of actually trying to reach some kind of compromise deal? Because they don't have an open-ended time period here.

RAVID: Exactly. Because every day that passes, more hostages are found to be dead. And those people are held in very, very grave conditions in Gaza. And the war is still going on. And if there's one thing the Biden administration wants, it's some sort of a pause in the fighting. Because every day that passes with the war going on, it's damage to Biden's election campaign, especially among young voters. This is why the Biden administration has no other option but to project optimism on this issue and to press hard both Israel and the mediators Qatar and Egypt. And that's what Tony Blinken did today and that's what they're continuing on doing.

VAUSE: And, of course, all this is taking place as the Israeli military turns its focus on the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. So, the reality now is that even if there is some kind of deal for a pause in fighting and for hostages to be released, it's going to come way too late, if at all, for, what, a minute and a half-displaced Palestinians who are living in Rafah.

RAVID: I think that the whole Rafah issue, at least at the moment, is a lot of posturing and a lot of psychological warfare from the Israeli side. I do not see the Israeli government going on an operation in Rafah as long as it thinks that there might be a chance for a hostage deal. Why? Because Egypt is vehemently against any operation in Rafah because it's concerned that this would lead tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to go into Egypt, into the Sinai. Therefore, I do not believe that Israel will do it because it needs Egypt for the mediation in the hostage deal.

And that's exactly one of the things that Blinken spoke to Netanyahu and to Minister of Defense, Israeli Minister of Defense Galant. And he told them that the U.S. is not only concerned about a Rafah operation because of the grave humanitarian situation on the ground with more than a million people, many of them displaced, but also because this could create a rupture between Israel and Egypt that could hamper any future hostage deal.

VAUSE: Barak thanks so much for the explanations and connecting the dots, because it's all connected in one way or the other. You put it together for us. Thank you very much.

RAVID: Thank you.

VAUSE: And later Thursday, the U.S. Secretary of State is expected to meet with the families of the hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza. So far for 123 days now and counting. An agonizing wait which gets harder with each passing day. More now from CNN's Nic Robertson.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Bittersweet grandfather and granddaughter born while her father Sagin (ph) an American held hostage.

JONATHAN DEKEL-CHEN, FATHER OF HOSTAGE: For me the birth of his third daughter just multiplies my desire and my absolute commitment to getting Sagin reunited with them. Some of them entire families actually that were murdered.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): We first met Jonathan a month after the Hamas attack. His kibbutz Nir Oz taking refuge in a seaside hotel. Reeling dozens dead, more than 70 including his son Sagin taken hostage from their kibbutz. A few weeks later more than 30 of them released and the first confirmation Sagin was alive.

DEKEL-CHEN: It was a wonderful moment for sure. Since then of course our worries have only grown. If things were urgent when we last spoke, I think they've only become more urgent.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Others from Nir Oz who we met last year like farmer Nir Adar who helped his two daughters survive the attack by telling them fairy stories in their rocket shelter, the past month also an emotional roller coaster.

NIR ADAR, BROTHER OF HOSTAGE: Because the way I told them at the beginning so they don't have inside them the experience of trauma.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): His grandmother at 85 the oldest hostage released along with more than a hundred hostages during a week-long truce last November.


ADAR: He said I got more mature. So, this is a very, very happy thing and moment for us.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): But a few weeks after that, the news Nir feared most. His beloved brother Tamir (ph), dead. His body still held by Hamas.

ADAR: He died while he was fighting. He had the chance to fight and to save some people. So it's a small relief, maybe.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Amidst all the torment, though, a ray of hope. The Nir-Oz community welcomed to a new town and new homes.

YONATHON BAR, FORMER RESIDENT OF KIBBUTZ NIR OZ: We got a big house with all this furniture that we didn't pick out.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): When we last met banker Yonatan Bar, and his son Uri from Nir-Oz, life was on hold. Now Uri has a new school. And his best friend Eitan, who was the hostage he worried about most, was released. He visited him in hospital the next day. We hugged in hospital. I was very happy, Uri says. He has been here playing with us many times since. Even despite these important pleasures, life for the whole kibbutz, locked in the trauma of loved hostages, dead and alive, still held.

BAR: It's like life is moving forward, but we're still stuck on the 7th of October because we're not finished with all our friends there. They're still there.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): What has changed? Anger with the government is growing.

DEKEL-CHEN: They're prioritizing a certain way of finishing this conflict that will, for them, serve as a kind of poster for what they have done. But we are aware that we were abandoned on October 7th by this very same government and this prime minister.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Nic Robertson, CNN, Kiryat Gat, Israel.


VAUSE: New conscription rules in Ukraine are one step closer. And when we come back, details on why and how key plans to replenish depleted military ranks as the war with Russia grinds to a standstill. Also, as voters head to the polls, in Pakistan, the country has been left reeling by a series of violent attacks in recent days. The very latest on two bombings near the offices of political candidates running for prime minister.


VAUSE: In about 12 hours, U.S. senators will hold a procedural vote on a funding bill for Ukraine and Israel, but without any border security measures or immigration reforms. Republicans blocked the larger combined package on Wednesday, rejecting the bipartisan deal, which would have enacted strict border measures, which they have been demanding for the better part of two decades.


They bailed on the package under pressure from right-wing members in the House as well as Donald Trump who is making immigrational chaos within the immigration system a central campaign issue in his race for the presidency. The new foreign aid bill includes $60 billion for Ukraine, more than $14 billion in security aid for Israel among other provisions. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer chided Republicans for demanding border policy changes be part of the bill only to later walk away from the deal.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The majority of Republicans in the House said they want to do Ukraine, they want to do Israel and we hope that if we pass it in the Senate that the House would then rise to the occasion. The House is in chaos. It doesn't behove the Speaker well to block everything because 30 hard right-wing people just want chaos like Donald Trump.


VAUSE: Five people were killed in Russian drone and missile attacks across Ukraine Wednesday. The capital Kyiv was hit causing power outages and a fire at a high-rise residential building. Some survivors from that building say there is next to nothing left of where they once lived.


UNKNOWN (through translator): The windows were broken. There is no kitchen, no balcony, total devastation.

UNKNOWN (through translator): Our child was sleeping. My wife was on the balcony. Boom. And that's all.


VAUSE (off-camera): The attacks left close to 40 people wounded across Ukraine. Officials say air defences shot down about two-thirds of the Russian drones and missiles, which is lower than more than 80% intercept rate during many previous strikes. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Ukraine is desperate for more air defences and is pleading with allies to send them.

VAUSE: Ukraine's controversial mobilisation bill, which would allow more people to be called up, has cleared the first hurdle in Parliament. It passed its first reading on Wednesday. It could become law if it passes a second reading scheduled for about two weeks. Mobilisation is a major burden of contention in Ukraine. But as CNN's Fred Pleitgen reports, its military remains desperate for more manpower.


FRED PLEITGEN, SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The explosions are dangerously close as the drone team from the 92nd Assault Brigade set up their bird, attached the bombs and head off into battle. While drone technology is often seen as the realm of tech savy youngsters, one of the pilots here is over 50.

UNKNOWN: One way or another, everyone should serve, he says. It is our duty to defend our land, our families, our motherland. If you do not want to fight, what kind of citizen are you?

PLEITGEN (voice-over): Ukraine is badly outgunned by the Russians, but the reality is they're also outmanned, unable to recruit enough soldiers willing to join the military, especially younger ones. Decimated and exhausted, Ukraine's top general Valerii Zaluzhnyi has called for a new mobilization drive, maybe including up to half a million people. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is unconvinced, and sources tell CNN he has informed Zaluzhnyi he'll be fired, with differences over troop numbers a key reason why.

Mobilization is unpopular, and in front of Ukraine's parliament, some are protesting for their spouses to be demobilized. Antonina says her husband is too old to be serving this long. My husband is 43 years old, she says. It is difficult for him to endure all this time on the ground, jumping from shells and performing all those tasks at the front line. And there are many people like him. I'm here for my dad to come back, her son says. But on the front lines, like in this rocket launching unit, some say they need more people to give those who have been in combat nearly nonstop a breather.

The commander of this launching unit is 59. In Ukraine, people can only be drafted until they are 60. All of Ukraine is at war, and each and every man who thinks he lives in Ukraine must go through it, he says it's irreversible. People here are tired. Ukraine's parliament is working on a law to make mobilization more appealing and possibly allow soldiers to exit the military after three years. But back at the drone unit, they don't believe the talk. They say there will be no illusions, he says, also among soldiers whom politicians have given hope that there will be demobilization. There will not be any. Fred Pleitgen, CNN, Kyiv.


VAUSE: Still to come here on CNN, polls have been open for more than two hours in Pakistan. A general election being held amid a surge of violence. We'll have all the very latest in the life report in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) VAUSE: Welcome back, everyone. I'm John Vause. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.


It's just gone 10:31 in Islamabad, and polls are open across Pakistan, as voters cast their ballot in a general election. The country has been struggling with political scandals and controversies, economic uncertainty, and frequent attacks by militants.

The key players in the election are veteran leader Nawaf Sharif, who's trying to make a comeback following years of self-exile amid corruption charges; and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, son of slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. While popular former prime minister Imran Khan, whose party won the last national election, remains languishing in prison on multiple convictions and is banned from running for office.

Violence surged ahead of the vote with at least 30 people killed in twin blasts near campaign offices in Baluchistan province on Tuesday and a candidate shot dead while campaigning last week.

The government has suspended mobile services across the country during the elections because of incidents of terrorism.

Live now to Islamabad. CNN's Sophia Saifi is standing by for us.

So clearly, this is what -- I think this is the first election since the collapse of Imran Khan's government. He remains incredibly popular, which has huge implications on who actually wins this election and how they plan to govern.


And I think because of exactly what you've said, there's been a lot of trepidation leading up to these polls. And one thing that people were really fearing, especially digital rights activists, was the outage of the Internet. We've been having incredible difficulties reporting out in the field. There is a complete outage of cell phone signals, cellphone data across the country.

Now, this has been cited as a security concern, but there have been cell phone outages in the country previously, as well, whenever Imran Khan's party, the PTI, has tried to contest.

Now it is -- there is, aside from PTI, a lot of excitement today with regards to the polls. There is, like you said, Nawaz Sharif, a former -- he's been a prime minister three times already. We're waiting to see if this will be the fourth time lucky.

There are also multiple other parties and players in the mix at the moment. There are, of course, security concerns. There have been already Internet outages announced, not just cell phone outages, but Internet outages announced in the South in the province of Baluchistan, as well as in the north in K.P. So the border with both Iran and Afghanistan at the West has been

closed. It's going to be a long day ahead. We're going to have to wait and see how this plays out and who's the lucky winner at the end of it all -- John.

VAUSE: Sophia, thank you so much for the update. We know you'll be there throughout the day, Internet or no Internet.

Thank you.


Now, to the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding across Sudan. The U.N. appealing for more than $4 billion to try and ease what it calls epic suffering, with nearly 18 million people facing acute hunger.

The majority of the funding will go to those inside Sudan. Millions are displaced. But $1.4 billion would be allocated to the five countries neighboring Sudan, who have taken in millions of Sudanese refugees.

The civil war, which erupted last April between the Sudanese military and the paramilitary, Rapid Support Forces has created the world's largest displacement crisis.

Rio De Janeiro has declared a public health emergency due to dengue fever, according to CNN Brazil. This comes as the city's famous carnival begins on Friday.

Health officials say there have been more than 11,000 cases of the mosquito-borne virus reported so far this year, almost half the total number of cases for all of last year.

Carnival, of course, attracts millions every year for parades and other festivities before Lent later this month when many atone for those sins.

Rio official say they're setting up ten care centers to try and fight the spread of the virus. A little virus.

Coming up, we're living in a hotter world than ever, and scientists say we've now passed a very dangerous threshold. We'll tell you what that was. Please stay with us.


VAUSE: Britain's Prince William has spoken about his gratitude for the kind messages of support he's received since his father, King Charles, was diagnosed with cancer.

On Wednesday, the Prince of Wales met with actor Tom Cruise and Air Ambulance staff at a fundraising dinner for London's Air Ambulance charity. He's their patron.

It's the first time the prince has spoken publicly since his father's diagnosis and his wife, Princess Catherine's abdominal surgery. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRINCE WILLIAM, PRINCE OF WALES, UNITED KINGDOM: I'd like to take this opportunity to say thank you also for the kind of messages of support for catherine and for my father, especially in recent days. it means a great deal to us all.


VAUSE: King Charles held his first weekly audience by phone with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak since his condition was revealed on Monday.

So now it's official. Global warming has to pass the critical limit that climate scientists have warned of for years. The E.U.'s climate and weather monitoring service, Copernicus, says the world just experienced the warmest 12-month period in recorded history.

Temperatures surpassing the dreaded threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial averages.

CNN's Elisa Raffa explains what that actually means.


ELISA RAFFA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest numbers are in, and they tell us that January was the warmest January on record for the globe, 1.6 degrees c above that preindustrial average makes it the warmest January on record, and it's the eighth month in a row to break its own previous record.

Now this is coming on the heels of the warmest year on record. 2023 was the warmest year the globe has ever seen, 1.4 degrees C above that preindustrial average.


But if you look at the next 12-month period, right? So we want to include January 2024. So that takes us back to February. This 12-month period is now the warmest 12-month period on record. It surpasses that 1.5 degree C threshold.

Now that number is important, because when they all met in Paris, that Paris climate agreement, our climate scientists, world leaders, all made that 1.5 degrees C threshold the goal. Let's try not to warm the planet past that.

Well, we've done that in the last 12-month period, and it's a sign of where things are headed.

The sea surface temperatures were also record warm in January. You could see a lot of red there on the map. The numbers show us that January had a sea surface temperature on average of 20 degrees Celsius, which broke a record for the month.

But then you go a couple of days into February, and we've already been warmer than that and broke the previous standing record that was set back in all August.

Remember when we had that exceptional marine heatwave, and we were talking about all of the coral bleaching events that were happening. That was in the heart of the extreme heat season of summer.

Well, our February sea surface temperatures have already been warmer than that and broken that record in February.

We know that warm ocean temperatures play a role in adding more moisture into the atmosphere and adding more moisture into atmospheric river events like the one that we saw unfold in California this past week. That event dropped a half a year's worth of rain over parts of L.A., triggering landslides in the Hollywood hills. Upwards of 400 landslides destroying homes. Cars were stuck. Just an incredible historic event for Southern California.

And then you go into Chile, where they've got extreme heat and drought that has fueled the worst wildfire that they've ever seen. Thousands of homes burned, over 100 people killed. And we also know that climate change makes drought conditions like this worse, too.


VAUSE: Elisa Raffa, CNN meteorologist. Thank you.

I'm John Vause, back at the top of the hour with more CNN NEWSROOM. But first, WORLD SPORT starts after the break.