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2024 General Election in Pakistan is Underway; Donald Trump's Ballot Fate in the United States Supreme Court to Decide by its Judges; Iceland's volcano Erupted for the Second Time; Conservatives Criticize Pope Francis' Blessing of Same Sex Couples; Prince William Speaks for the First Time on His Gratitude for His Father and His Wife's Recovery. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired February 08, 2024 - 03:00   ET




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us from all around the world and to everyone streaming us on CNN Max. I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead on "CNN Newsroom," the U.S. responds again, striking an Iran-backed militia commander in Iraq for the killing of three American soldiers.

Plus, we're live in Pakistan, where voting is underway in the country's general election that has old political dynasties back on the ballot.

And we're also monitoring a volcano in Iceland that's spewing pools of lava for the second time this year.

UNKNOWN (voice-over): Live from Atlanta, this is "CNN Newsroom" with Rosemary Church.

CHURCH: Good to have you with us. The Biden administration says its retaliation against pro-Iran militia groups that killed three U.S. soldiers last month is not over yet.

A U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed a commander of the group Kataib Hezbollah, his vehicle exploding in flames in the streets of the Iraqi capital. One official says Iraq did not receive advance warning. A source tells CNN the target was in charge of logistical support for the militia group, including drone and rocket operations.

The U.S. blames Iran-backed militias for the deadly attack on American forces in Jordan last month. Iraq says the U.S. strike in Baghdad violates its sovereignty and undermines all understandings between the two countries. Kataib Hezbollah warns it will remain steadfast in its hardest approach.

The U.S. strike in Iraq coming as Secretary of State Antony Blinken spent the day meeting with top officials in Israel and the West Bank on a trip aimed at tamping down tensions in the Middle East. But his efforts to help secure a hostage and ceasefire deal were dealt a blow after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed a counter proposal from Hamas as delusional.

Netanyahu rejected an end to the fighting saying Hamas must be completely destroyed for Israel to be safe and that a complete victory will take months. He also made clear Israel has not committed to any demands from Hamas. Blinken though is suggesting negotiations will continue.


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. And I'm not going to speak for Israel or anyone else involved. But again, we believe the space is there, and we believe that we should pursue it.


CHURCH: Journalist, Elliott Gotkine, is following developments, he joins us now live from London. Good morning to Elliott. So I want to start with what we're learning about this U.S. military strike that killed the man behind that deadly attack on U.S. forces in Jordan.

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: Rosemary, we heard from the Kataib Hezbollah in the wake of those strikes on that U.S. outpost in Jordan that killed three U.S. soldiers, that it was going to stop its operations against U.S. forces, in its words, to avoid embarrassing the Iraqi authorities.

But clearly it was also an attempt to avoid blowback, to avoid retaliation, reprisals, a response from the United States. And clearly that hasn't worked because in this precision strike on an SUV that was moving, that was driving at the time through a neighborhood, a Shia neighborhood of Baghdad it was struck.

A CNN team on the ground actually heard two loud explosions in quick succession and the car as we've seen in those striking images completely burned out now.

Now the commander that Israel killed was one of the victims. There was also apparently another person traveling in the car. But beyond that, there was no collateral damage for want of a better phrase, no other casualties.

And the U.S. says that this isn't the end either, that it will continue carrying out what it originally had said was going to be a multi-layered response to that attack on the U.S. outpost. And of course, the question now is what will be the Kataib Hezbollah response to that? Get into a situation of tit-for-tat responses, what will the impact be on Iraq-US relations? Because Iraq is not happy at all about what it is calling a violation of its sovereignty and the US and Iraq are about to start talks about the U.S. presence in Iraq going forward.


So this could be factored into those negotiations as far as the Iraqis are concerned and we also don't know when the U.S. will be satisfied that it has responded sufficiently in response to the killing of those three U.S. soldiers. At some point presumably it will take the view that it has done enough but clearly if there are additional strikes on US personnel or US facilities then it will feel that it has the right and the obligation to respond. Rosemary?

CHURCH: And Elliott, what is the latest on efforts to negotiate a ceasefire deal in exchange for the release of hostages after Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu called Hamas' counter-proposal delusional?

GOTKINE: So Hamas' counter-proposal, Rosemary, it's unclear whether this is a negotiating tactic or if it simply has this maximalist position from which it won't budge. Now, as you say, Netanyahu has described the proposals as delusional, but he didn't completely slam the door shut on eventually doing some kind of deal.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): We haven't committed to anything. We haven't committed to any of the crazy demands of Hamas, the numbers of terrorists with blood on their hands. There is not a commitment. There has to be a negotiation. It's a process, and at the moment, from what I see from Hamas, it's not happening.


GOTKINE: And Hamas' proposal involves three phases, each lasting 44 days. Overall, the end result would be the release of all of the 100 or so hostages still alive and being held by Hamas, as well as the bodies of people either took back into the Gaza Strip four months ago or hostages that it killed.

And in exchange, Israel would be required to release a large number of Palestinian prisoners. We can't put a precise number of it, but we're talking about all women, minors, older adults, and also people who are unwell, Palestinians who are unwell in Israeli jails. In addition to 1,500 Palestinian prisoners, 500 of those, Hamas said, it wants to pick out and they would be prisoners who have been convicted of either killing or being involved in the killing of Israelis.

Now we know that Netanyahu has already said that Israel won't be doing a deal at any cost. It won't be releasing, in his words, thousands of terrorists.

But there is growing pressure on Netanyahu, not just from Secretary Blinken and the United States, but also from people who have loved ones who are still being held hostage in the Gaza Strip and even from former hostages.

One woman, Adina Moshe, a 72-year-old former hostage, saying, I'm terribly afraid that if you continue with this line of dismantling Hamas, no hostages will be left to release. So there is pressure on Netanyahu, who seems to be withstanding that

pressure for now, but there is still hope that at some point some kind of deal can be done. He hasn't slammed the door shut on negotiations, but clearly the two sides, Hamas and the Israeli government remain very far apart in their attempt to try to do a deal that would see those hostages released in exchange for the freeing of Palestinian prisoners and of course a pause or an end to the fighting in the Gaza Strip. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Elliott Gotkine, joining us live from London. Many thanks.

Voting is underway in Pakistan's general election. After being delayed, the election comes as the country struggles with political controversies, economic uncertainty and frequent militant attacks. The key players are veteran leader Nawaz 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 leader Imran Khan, whose party won the last national election, remains imprisoned on multiple convictions and banned from contesting the vote.

CNN's Sophia Safi joins us now live from Islamabad. Good to see you, Sophia. So with security concerns, of course, among the many challengers ahead today, how is this vote going so far?

SOPHIA SAFI, CNN PRODUCER: Well, Rosemary, it's been steadily peaceful at the moment. Polls relatively opened on time. There is, however, a pretty widespread, actually, a nationwide data outage at the moment. Nobody can use their mobiles, their cell phones to make any calls. There's no data. There's no social media. There's no actual communication until you're at home or at a place where there is broadband internet. So that is something that was of concern by digital rights activists. They've told us previously that this could have the potential to cause panic amongst voters. It could cause voter turnout to be lower than expected.


This is a very young population that is coming out to vote, 128 million voters in what is being called the fifth largest democracy in the world. There are very huge concerns regarding security. There have been attacks by the Islamic State in Pakistan in the lead-up to this election, as well as by separatists in the southern province of Balochistan.

The borders with both Iran and Afghanistan on the west have been sealed for the election period. We're being told by the interior ministry that this outage off the internet is for a short period of time. Polls are going to close at about 5 p.m. local time. That's about four hours from now.

This has been condemned by Bilal Bhutto Zardari, another leading politician candidate for prime minister in this election cycle, as well as by the party of former Prime Minister Imran Khan, who is currently behind bars and banned from contesting. His party remains popular. They've come out and said that this is an intention to rig the election according to them and they're calling it a sham.

So in a couple of hours, the results will start coming in. Is it fourth time? Is it going to be a fourth time a premiership for the former Prime Minister Navas Sharif? We'll have to wait and see, but peaceful for now. A couple of hours left. Rosemary?

CHURCH: Yes. We shall see what the outcome is. Sophia Safi, joining us live from Islamabad. Many thanks.

Russia's top electoral body is meeting right now to decide if an anti- war candidate will be allowed to run for president. Boris Nadezhdin says he has submitted the necessary number of signatures for his candidacy. But election officials still recommend denying his registration, claiming too many of those signatures are invalid. He disagrees and says he's ready to take his fight to Russia's Supreme Court.

President Vladimir Putin's re-election is considered a slam dunk, of course, but support for the challenger is seen as a barometer of anti- war sentiment in Russia.

Israeli officials say U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is raising concerns with Israeli leaders about its planned military offensive in Rafah.


BLINKEN: Israelis were dehumanized in the most horrific way on October 7th. The hostages have been dehumanized every day since. But that cannot be a license to dehumanize others. We cannot. We must not lose sight of our common humanity.


CHURCH: Israel has ordered hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to evacuate to the south and most have ended up in Rafah near the border with Egypt. Israel calls it one of the last remaining Hamas strongholds.

Now the Hamas-run civil defense directorate says its crews recovered a number of bodies after Israeli airstrikes targeted properties crowded with displaced people. CNN could not independently verify these reports.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reports nearly 28,000 people have been killed by Israeli military operations since October 7th. And the Palestinian Health Ministry in the West Bank says 13 of the 36 hospitals in Gaza are only partially functional, with some running at three times capacity.

Joining me now from Cairo, Kate Forbes is the president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Appreciate you being with us.


CHURCH: So as efforts continue to try to negotiate a ceasefire, to enable the release of hostages and the delivery of more aid to Gaza, the humanitarian crisis becomes more dire by the moment. And you have just returned from Gaza. What is the situation there right now? What did you see?

FORBES: Thank you. Yesterday I was in Rafah, and it is a humanitarian catastrophe like I have not seen in my 43 years volunteering with the Red Cross-Red Crescent. And what I saw were people living in makeshift shelters, no water, using packing pallets to cut up for wood to be able to stay warm, to, to cook food, hospitals that we've built with not enough adequate equipment that can get across the border.

Trucks lined up for miles. We tried desperately to get aid in. What I saw is what we need is to have more access. We need to have more ability to get key humanitarian aid in. We need to be able to protect our workers, our volunteers, our staff, and the civilians.


Yesterday afternoon, I met with the ambulances drivers of the Palestinian Red Cross-Red Crescent society and saw the work they were doing, and four hours later, one of their ambulances was targeted, and one of the drivers died, and three are severely injured. I saw people needing clean water. I saw people needing adequate food. I saw people living in conditions that are just unacceptable.

What I saw was the need for massive humanitarian aid that we are prepared to give, if in fact we can be given access that we work 24/7 and that key humanitarian equipment can get across the border and into Palestine.

CHURCH: And let's look at that because of course the only way that is going to happen at this juncture is if there's success with this and these negotiations on this deal and it I mean it's possible that they can get past this I mean certainly U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken seemed to think that there was a path forward, it was going to be difficult, but he saw a path forward, talk to us about just how critical it is that ceasefire occurs and as a result more humanitarian aid gets in.

FORBES: And whether we call it a ceasefire or a pause, she said we need a window of opportunity to get in. As your earlier story talked about, the hospitals aren't functioning, the number of injured and ill is increasing, and people will die. We know that. So how critical, it couldn't be more critical. And that's the political diplomats' issue.

But what I'm advocating for is the ability to have safe delivery of aid and protection of civilians in hospitals now.

CHURCH: And talk to us about the greatest need at this point for people, because the problem is nothing is getting in. And of course, the circumstances are so dire. But if -- if there is an opportunity for goods to come across the border into Rafah, what would be the needed supplies at this point? FORBES: Well, I wish I could just say one thing was needed. Right now

we're getting about 100 trucks a day across the border and if you do the math with about a million displaced people that means every truck is supposed to serve as 10,000. That's just impossible.

And what's needed is -- needed is everything, clean water, food, medical supplies, a hospital that is completely functioning and equipped, our ambulances to be able to run safely without fear of attack, a protection of civilian and civilian officers. It's all needed.

CHURCH: Kate Forbes, thank you so much for joining us and explaining the dire circumstances there in Gaza. We appreciate you.

The U.S. Supreme Court is getting ready to hear unprecedented arguments against a campaign to keep Donald Trump out of office and it has major implications for the presidential election.

Plus, CNN goes inside the dark narrow tunnels underneath Gaza where Israel says Hamas held hostages. Back with that and more in just a moment.





ERIC OLSON, LAWYER FOR COLORADO VOTERS CHALLENGING TRUMP: Trump incited a violent mob to attack our Capitol, to stop the peaceful transfer of power under our Constitution. And we are here because Trump claims, after all that, he has the right to be president again.

SCOTT GESSLER, LAWYER FOR TRUMP: Frankly, President Trump didn't engage. He didn't carry a pitchfork to the Capitol grounds. He didn't lead a charge. He gave a speech in which he asked people to peacefully and patriotically go to the Capitol to protest.


CHURCH: A preview there of the arguments the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to hear today when it takes up the historic case of whether states can disqualify Donald Trump from the presidential race and keep him off the ballots. We're hearing Trump is planning to stay away from the proceedings, but justices will hear Trump's lawyers appeal a Colorado Supreme Court decision that says he is ineligible to run for president because of the U.S. Constitution's ban on insurrectionists holding office.

One of the attorneys involved in the Colorado lawsuit says there's a strong chance they will win.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARIO NICOLAS, ATTORNEY: I think that our team has been prepared for this for a long time. And I think that Jason Murray, who's gonna be presenting our argument, is extraordinary. And I would not miss this oral arguments because I think you will find out how extraordinary he is as an advocate.

And I also think that you'll find out how well-prepared we are with this case. This case from the very beginning has been created and worked through to get to this point and to answer those tough questions because we have to be perfect and we know that. We have to win every argument and we think we will.


CHURCH: CNN Legal Analyst, Joey Jackson joins me now from New York. Good to have you with us.


CHURCH: So in just a few hours from now, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to weigh in on the groundbreaking challenge to Donald Trump's ballot eligibility. His lawyers preparing to appear before the court to fight a decision by the Colorado Supreme Court to throw Trump off the state's ballot under the 14th Amendment's ban on insurrectionists holding public office. So how do you expect this historic case to play out?

JACKSON: Yes, so this is huge and the reason it's huge is we're talking about a front runner for the Republican Party potentially being removed from the ballot. That would be unprecedented and so here we go.

So to the extent that you have now arguments before the court, what happens is we have the United States Supreme Court. There are nine justices, six of which are what we call conservative. They more are inclined to support and, you know, vote with Republicans. That's a conventional wisdom.

You might think law is law, right? But there's a lot of gray area in law that would allow for interpretation. And so of interest to me is going to be whether or not the court does get political, but whether they preserve their reputation and they act in a way that is purely based upon the law.

So then you have to ask, Rosemary, well, what is that law? The law relates to the 14th Amendment, section three, which indicates that if you've engaged in an insurrection, you cannot hold office. And so there'll be many questions around whether or not it applies to the president, whether or not holding office is the same as running for office. There'll be questions as to the interpretation and whether states can interpret or Congress.

And so it proves, I think it'll prove to be a very dynamic conversation between the attorneys and between the justices who are sitting hearing the arguments. CHURCH: And Joey after this historic case the Trump legal team then

has until Monday to formally appeal another case potentially before the Supreme Court the one on immunity after an appeals court ruled against Trump's immunity arguments in the January 6th case how likely is it that the Supreme Court will take up this case and if it does what do you expect the decision will be?


JACKSON: Yeah, you know, the immunity question is a very big one, as we know. Why? Because we have a presidential frontrunner again who actually is facing four cases, two federal cases and two state cases. And so the question of immunity would really immunize him. It would mean that he'd be immune from prosecution. That is, you would not be able to prosecute Donald Trump. And that's a pretty big deal.

And so I think what will happen is, is we've already had a judge determine that there's no way to interpret our constitution in the United States, which would suggest that the president is above the law. You have the appellate court, which would interpret and has interpreted any constitutional provision to say the precedent is not above the law.

So the question of whether the Supreme Court now really has to get involved is an open question. It just seems so clear with regard to the decision that was released by the appellate court, which is the one just under the Supreme Court, that I don't know that there's much to interpret.

Having said that, the Supreme Court could decide to weigh in, but I just don't see, based upon all the precedent and all the history and all the legal analysis and reasoning, that there would be anything to suggest that the president can do whatever, whenever, however, and cannot be prosecuted at all. I just don't see that as viable.

And so I think. Ultimately, whether the Supreme Court weighs in or not, he, like any other citizen of the United States, can be prosecuted under the criminal laws.

CHURCH: And Trump appears to be flexing his political muscle more than usual with his recent command to Republicans to kill the border bill, which they did, to allow Trump to use immigration as a massive campaign issue. How much of this, and of course his sense of urgency to attack opponents is about Trump's concern he might be tried on felony charges before November's election. How vulnerable is he?

JACKSON: Yeah, you know, on the issue of there's a big debate, right, there's a lot going on in terms of the borders of the United States, whether the borders are secure. And so what has happened is it's become a political football. It's not become, it's been a political football.

But of course, he has weighed in, that is the presidential front runner on the issue, and said, hey, don't do anything about the border let me fix it when I'm president and so all viable bill that is a bill that could have enhanced security doesn't look like it's going to go anywhere and so there's a lot of people saying that it's very it's grossly unfortunate because you can't play politics with that.

But at the end of the day I think in terms of his court proceedings, Rosemary, it's about the law it's about the facts and it's about whether or not if it gets to the point where he actually gets tried because there are provisions in the Department of Justice that say, listen, if it's too close to the election, then really you shouldn't be getting or interfering with politics.

The open question is based on the timing of all this, will he even be tried for one of the four cases that he actually is facing? That is very much an open question.

CHURCH: Joey Jackson, thanks for joining us. I Appreciate it.

JACKSON: Always. Thank you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: And still to come, a new report is calling for Vladimir Putin to be prosecuted for war crimes over Russia's siege of Mariupol during the early months of its war on Ukraine, the damning new details from survivors.

And that volcano in Iceland just started erupting again. We will have the latest. Do stay with us.




ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Remarkable images coming in from southwest Iceland right now as a volcano has erupted for the second time this year. Plumes of toxic smoke are rising into the early morning sky as bright orange lava shoots out of the earth. The previous eruption began on January 14th and lasted about two days. Nearly 4,000 residents had to evacuate their town of Grindavik as lava reached its outskirts and burned some homes.

With more on the eruption, we're joined now by Rikke Peterson in Reykjavik. She is the head of the Nordic Volcanological Center at the University of Iceland, and she joins us via Skype. Good to have you with us. So here we are again. This is the third eruption from this volcano in the last two months. What can you tell us about today's eruption and how it compares to the other ones?

RIKKE PETERSON, HEAD OF THE NORDIC VOLCANOLOGICAL CENTER, UNIVERSITY OF ICELAND: Well, it's very comparable to the eruption on the 18th of December. It's basically the same fissure that opened up back then, but it is a slightly calmer eruption. The output is not as high as during that eruption so far.

It had only a 30 minute warning. So the small earthquake activity that really signals we have new magma coming to the surface started only 30 minutes before the eruption commenced.

CHURCH: And residents in Grindavik, they haven't been allowed back since the first eruption in December. Do we know where the lava flow from today's eruption is heading and if this could perhaps lead to evacuations in other areas?

PETERSON: Well, that's correct. The residents have not been there except to collect their belongings. There was about 1,200 people there yesterday to collect their belongings. The lava currently is headed towards the west, so it's not in a direction towards the small town. The town is to the south of where the fissure is, but the lava is headed towards the general area of the Blue Lagoon, actually. But it's still at a distance.

CHURCH: Right, and there is a geothermal power plant in the area. Is that in any danger right now?

PETERSON: Yeah, so the geothermal power plant and the Blue Lagoon is co-located, but there has already been a huge effort with putting in defensive dikes, so they have built these massive dikes to prevent the lava of entering that area.

CHURCH: And the long dormant fault line running beneath this volcano has clearly awoken, hasn't it? Can we predict how much longer this current eruption pattern could last?

PETERSON: Well, from history, we know that eruptive periods come with about 800, 900 years apart and they last for 400 to 500 years. So we're in for quite a while. That is not with continuous eruptions like this with every month. We had 13 eruptions that we know of. in the duration of the last eruptive period, which was 400 years. So we expect them to get less frequent, but more volume.

CHURCH: Gracious. Very much a matter of learning to live with it, it appears. Rikke Peterson, thank you so much for joining us. I Appreciate it.

PETERSON: You're welcome.

CHURCH: In Israel, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is suggesting negotiations could still move forward on a ceasefire and hostage deal in Gaza that optimism even though Israel's Prime Minister has dismissed a counter proposal from Hamas as delusional.


Benjamin Netanyahu rejected an end to the fighting saying Hamas must be completely destroyed for Israel to be safe. He also made clear Israel has not committed to any of their demands. The Israeli offensive was launched after the Hamas attack four months ago. And Mr. Netanyahu says a complete victory will take more months. The continued fighting is a concern for the families of hostages still being held in Gaza.

Among those taken on October 7th, Hirsch Goldberg-Polen, his parents spoke with me last hour and weighed in about the latest efforts to free those still held captive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RACHEL GOLDBERG-POLIN, MOTHER OF HOSTAGE: As parents of a hostage who has now been held for 125 days in captivity. We are devastated if people are not being open to the mediation process. I don't think that either side should be shutting down the other side. I don't think that helps anyone and we have hundreds of thousands of people suffering in this -- in this crisis and I don't think that our leaders should be shutting down anything on either side.


CHURCH: CNN was granted access to some of the dark, cramped tunnels underneath Gaza where Israel says hostages were held. CNN's Ivana Kottasova reports from Tel Aviv.


IVANA KOTTASOVA, CNN SR. PRODUCER: It's important to say that I went into the Gaza Strip with the Israeli military, which means that I was only able to see what they allowed me to see. And I can tell you even then, the level of destruction and devastation that I witnessed was just unbelievable. As we drove from the border fence between Gaza Strip and Israel towards Khan Younis, I did not see a single building that was not damaged in some way. And most were destroyed to beyond any recognition. There is just piles and piles of rubble everywhere.

And the Israeli military says that this level of destruction is down to the fact that they are trying to destroy this tunnel system that they say Hamas has built underneath much of the Gaza Strip. And that's what they wanted us to see. So, we visited these two underground compounds just under a residential neighborhood in Khan Younis, where Israel says some of the hostages that were taken during the October 7 terror attacks were taken and held.

And they also say that this is a compound where some of the top leaders of Hamas were hiding during this war. So we walked into the tunnels and I can tell you that the experience of being outside, being underground is just horrific.

The spaces are very narrow. The whole place is very warm and very humid. You feel like you can't breathe because there is no fresh air. And it kind of feels very claustrophobic as if the walls were closing in on you and then you walk in and there are all these little rooms, little caves that have tiled walls and you can see that there was some level of design going into these rooms because, for example, in the kitchen you can see patterns on the tiles and you can see floral motifs in this underground military compound.

And then we went to see the room where some of the hostages were being held. And that was truly a horrific experience. It's a very narrow room. There is a cage-like gate in the middle of the room. The walls are very moist and sticky. It's very humid. It's very warm. And if you switch off the lights, it just plunges into complete darkness, which means that you immediately lose any sense of time, space. You have no idea what's going on above the ground and it just feels really, really hopeless.

Ivana Kottasova, CNN, Tel Aviv, Israel.


CHURCH: U.S. aid for Ukraine and Israel faces a key test in the coming hours when senators are expected to hold a vote to advance the bill without its provisions on immigration reform and border security. Republicans blocked the larger combined package on Wednesday, rejecting the bipartisan deal, which would have enacted strict border measures. They bailed on the package under pressure from right-wing members in the House and Donald Trump who is making immigration a central campaign issue in his race for the presidency.

The new foreign aid bill includes $60 billion for Ukraine and more than $14 billion in security aid for Israel, among other provisions. NATO Secretary General on Wednesday said it is vital that U.S. lawmakers agree on continuing support for Ukraine.


A new report from Human Rights Watch says Russian President Vladimir Putin should be prosecuted for war crimes over Russia's brutal assault on Mariupol in the early months of the war. The group says it's clear that senior levels up to President Putin were aware of and appear to have been directly involved in the planning of the assault on the city.

The group says Moscow's siege on the city in 2022 was the worst chapter of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. They interviewed Ukrainians who were displaced or managed to escape. They also analyzed local records, satellite images and photographs of the destruction.

We're live now to London and CNN's Nada Bashir. What more can you tell us about this Nada?

NADA BASHIR, CNN REPORTER: Look, Rosemary, this is an extremely detailed and extensive report by Human Rights Watch. 215 pages which includes evidence and information which has been investigated and gathered alongside Ukrainian human rights organizations for almost two years now focusing on the situation facing Mariupol as we know of course and as many will remember Russian forces encircled the city in the early days of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. It is somewhere where we have seen some of the fiercest fighting during the war in Ukraine and this report goes on to detail several key bits of evidence which it says points to war crimes that have been carried out by the Russian Armed Forces under the leadership of President Putin, another senior high-ranking Russian official.

A number of those details which have been highlighted by Human Rights Watch include what is being characterized as the cruel and devastating assault which left an estimated 8,000 people dead as a direct result of the fighting in Mariupol, the destruction by Russian forces of thousands of buildings, including residential apartment blocks as well as civilian infrastructure from hospitals to schools and universities, efforts by Russian authorities to erase Ukrainian culture from the city to impose what is being described as a pro-Kremlin narrative not only in schools but also in public spaces, and also amongst the details of the evidence listed, limiting the movement of the Ukrainian people in Mariupol and the possible arbitrary blocking of both evacuations and humanitarian aid to get into the city.

Now of course these are damning allegations. There is a series of evidence that has been provided by both Human Rights Watch and other Ukrainian human rights organizations.

As we know, President Putin is already facing an arrest warrant for war crimes from the International Criminal Court. That case in particular placing responsibility solely on President Putin for the abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. This case places responsibility squarely on both President Putin and other high- ranking officials. But the key message from Human Rights Watch is that it believes that not only should there be a full investigation into the details and the evidence that they have detailed and outlined in this report, but also there should be a full and proper prosecution process as well. Rosemary?

CHURCH: All right. Our thanks to Nada Bashir with that live report from London.

Conservatives inside the Catholic Church have criticized Pope Francis for allowing blessings for same-sex couples. Now the Pontiff is pushing back a live report when we return.




CHURCH: It's official. Global warming has surpassed the critical limit that climate scientists have warned us about 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, with temperatures surpassing the dreaded threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial average.

However, there is still hope. Climate scientists say nations and companies can still make deep emissions cuts and try to slow global warming. The window to do so is rapidly closing.

Pope Francis is pushing back against those who have criticized his decision to allow blessings for same-sex couples. He says the critics are guilty of hypocrisy. The Vatican has said the blessings are not for the union but for the people who request them. The Pontiff's comments are published in an Italian magazine interview, which will be out in the coming hours.

CNN's Vatican correspondent Christopher Lamb joins us now live from London. Good to see you Christopher. So what's the latest on this story and of course this pushback from the Pope?

CHRISTOPHER LAMB, CNN VATICAN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi Cynthia. Yes, this is a very strong response by Pope Francis to those who have criticized his decision to allow for the blessings of same-sex couples. Now what the Pope has been saying in this magazine interview is that there is a double standard and hypocrisy from the critics who on the one hand don't seem to have any problem if the Pope was to bless a businessman or entrepreneur who exploited his workers but on the other hand are scandalized if he blesses a same sex couple or a person who is gay.

So he is calling out what he sees as a double standard and hypocrisy. And I think it's important to note though that the Pope is responding to what has been significant pushback inside the Catholic Church to his move. We've seen really shockwaves in some parts of the Church, particularly in Africa where bishops have said they will not carry out blessings.

Now Pope Francis has said that when it comes to Africa he understands that this is a special case because of cultural taboos around homosexuality. What the Pope's remarks in Credere , the Italian magazine, focused on are those, what he described as small groups of ideological critics who have been very shrill and outspoken in their attacks on this move for same-sex blessings.

And what the Pope is really trying to do, as he has done throughout his pontificate, is say that the church can welcome everyone, can offer blessings to anyone. And the Pope said in his interview that he's not blessing same-sex marriage. He's not overturning doctrine or tradition, as his critics have said, but he is offering a blessing to two people who love each other and that the Church can bless anyone. Cynthia.

CHURCH: Thank you Christopher Lamb, I appreciate it, joining us from London.

Rio de Janeiro has declared a public health emergency due to a dengue fever epidemic, according to CNN Brazil. It 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. That's almost half the total number of cases for all of last year.

Carnival, of course, attracts millions of people every year for parades and other festivities before Lent later this month, when many atone for their sins. Rio officials say they are setting up 10 care centers to fight the spread of the virus.

Well, Prince William is speaking publicly for the first time since the shocking disclosure of King Charles' cancer diagnosis, what the Prince of Wales is saying about his father after the break.





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


CHURCH: Britain's Prince William expressing gratitude when he spoke publicly for the first time since his father King Charles was diagnosed with cancer and his wife Princess Catherine had abdominal surgery. The Prince of Wales was back at work on Wednesday performing royal duties after a few weeks off while the Princess continues to recover from her surgery.

And he will likely have more work than usual now that the King is taking time off from public engagements while he undergoes cancer treatment. Meantime, King Charles held his first weekly audience by telephone with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak since his condition was revealed on Monday.

Football legend Lionel Messi. has set off a firestorm among his East Asia fan bases after he and his club, Inter Miami, competed in a Tokyo friendly against Japanese club, Vissel Kobe. That appearance did not go over well with disappointed fans in Hong Kong, many of whom paid hefty sums to watch Messi play there only to see him remain on the bench.

Hong Kong's government says the public has many questions as CNN's Kristie Lu Stout reports.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Football superstar Lionel Messi took to the pitch in Japan just days after his no show in Hong Kong and fans across China are seething. During the match, Messi released a statement on his official Weibo account saying that it was a shame he couldn't play in Hong Kong because of his injury. That post was the number one topic on Weibo and it was not received well. Chinese netizens could see its IP address was not in Japan but in Sichuan, China with some responding this way, quote, Yes, we are so easy to be fooled. This is not sincere at all. And I know which part of Messi is broken, his heart. Unquote.

Now before the match in Japan, netizens mocked his apparent preference for Japan. One influential user with more than 60 million followers wrote this, quote, from now on, if you're unhappy, don't come to China. You're only a star because people give you face. Without it, you're nothing.

Now videos have gone viral, including this clip, which was shared widely. after the sold out Hong Kong match of a furious fan kicking Messi's cardboard head in the stadium. Now some 40,000 people paid up to $624 to see Messi play, a pre-season friendly with Inter Miami against Hong Kong. And what started with cheers, and it in jeers and chants for refunds and Messi did not hit the pitch.

Now the city's top leader, chief executive John Lee, who attended the match, voiced his support for the fans demanding refunds. Now officials had hoped that the match would promote Hong Kong as a hub for major events, especially after Taylor Swift and Coldplay both skipped Hong Kong on their Asian tours. But the Messi no-show in Hong Kong, plus his presence on the pitch in Japan, have all turned into a messy fiasco with fans across China.

Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.


CHURCH: An ancient scroll burned and buried almost 2,000 years ago is finally revealing some of its secrets thanks to A.I. The unopened scroll, which looks more like a block of charcoal, is one of hundreds that survived the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. But it's so charred that it would crumble to pieces if anyone tried to open it.


So instead, researchers used artificial intelligence to virtually unroll the scroll and then decode some of the first full passages, which appear to be the writings of a philosopher, musing about the sources of pleasure in life and urging people to enjoy them.

Astronomers have uncovered evidence that one of Saturn's moons has a global ocean underneath its icy surface. Mimas is covered with craters, including one about 130 kilometers across. which makes it look like the Death Star from the Star Wars movies. Initially, scientists thought that Mimas was just a big chunk of ice, but new research in the Journal Nature suggests it has an internal ocean, and scientists say that makes it a prime candidate for study on the origin of life. There you go.

All right, many pop music fans in the US will be eager to see this. Mariah Carey's new Las Vegas residency.


That's a bit of Shake it Off from her number one album, The Emancipation of Mimi. Her new concerts will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the album, which helped reinvigorate her career. Carey will play at the Park MGM Casino Hotel for two weeks in April. Both her previous Las Vegas residences were at Caesar's Palace Hotel. Tickets go on sale on Saturday. There you go.

Thanks for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. Have yourselves a wonderful day. CNN Newsroom continues next with Bianca Nobilo.