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CNN International: U.S. Vetoes Resolution for Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza; Gaza Residents Desperate Amid Hunger, Rising Malnutrition; Navalny's Mother: Let Me Finally See My Son; Putin Calls Ukraine's Withdrawal from Avdiivka Unconditional Success; Ecuador's Chaotic Prison System. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2024 - 04:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For a third time the U.S. has vetoed a draft resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Proceeding with the vote today was wishful and irresponsible.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Alexei Navalny's family is demanding answers about his death.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I'm addressing you Vladimir Putin. The solution to the issue depends only on you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's as though they're stepping into a war zone. Ecuador's military and national police trail an armored vehicle in a raid of one of the country's 35 prisons.


ANNOUNCER: Live from London. This is CNN NEWSROOM with Max Foster and Bianca Nobilo.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a warm welcome to our viewers joining us around the world. I'm Max Foster. Bianca has the day off.

It is Wednesday February the 21st 9 a.m. here in London, 4 a.m. in New York where for the third time the U.S. has vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.




FOSTER: The final vote on the proposal which was introduced by Algeria was 13 to 1 with the U.K. abstaining. Washington has instead proposed its own draft resolution that for the first time calls for a temporary ceasefire.


LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.: Proceeding with the vote today was wishful and irresponsible. And so while we cannot support a resolution that would put sensitive negotiations in jeopardy, we look forward to engaging on a text that we believe will address so many of the concerns we all share. A text that can and should be adopted by the council so that we can have a temporary ceasefire as soon as practicable based on the formula of all hostages being released.


FOSTER: Well, France has expressed frustration at the council for failing to adopt the resolution whilst the U.K. urged an immediate halt in the fighting to deliver humanitarian aid after abstaining from the vote.

Hamas also criticized the U.S. veto and held the Biden administration directly responsible for blocking that resolution.

Elliott is here. Away from the right and wrongs of the Algerian proposal, it is dead. So, now we look at the U.S. proposal. What's behind, you know, the work that will go into that vote?

ELLIOTT GOTKINE, JOURNALIST: So look, we knew that the Algerian resolution was going to be dead on arrival because the U.S. said it was going to veto it. Of course, its one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and it has the power to veto resolutions.

As far as the U.S. draft version goes, there is a difference. It is more than just the semantics. The Algerian resolution called for an immediate ceasefire. There were no preconditions for that. Yes, the Algerian resolution did say that the hostages, the more than 100 Israeli hostages that were kidnapped as part of the Hamas terrorist attacks of October 7th should be released, but it wasn't a precondition.

And the U.S. says that it is concerned that were the Algerian resolution to have passed, that would have torpedoed those hostage negotiations to get the Israeli hostages freed in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jail.

So that was the U.S.'s concern and its draft text calls for the hostages to be released as a precondition of this temporary ceasefire that it says should be introduced as soon as is practicable. The U.S., of course, also as part of its draft text expressing its concern about the possibility of a draft -- of, excuse me, of a ground operation by Israel into Rafah. It is kind of warning against that.

Its main concern, as we were just discussing yesterday, is that Palestinians could be displaced from Rafah, where there's about a million and a half of them crowded into that city. Some of those could be displaced over the border into Egypt and that that could imperil the decades-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. FOSTER: OK, Elliott, thank you.

Meanwhile, Gaza's health ministry saying the death toll in the enclave has surpassed 29,000. The Hamas-controlled ministry says more than 69,000 people have been injured since October the 7th as well. CNN can't independently verify those numbers, but malnutrition is now a major concern as the region's humanitarian crisis worsens, with the UNICEF representative saying the situation has risen to emergency levels.


CNN's Nic Robertson has more details on that and his report does contain some graphic video which you may find disturbing.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Gaza's food problem writ large. Hunger trumping fear of Israeli bullets. News of a coming aid convoy carrying flour into the north of Gaza converging crowds to plunder it.

We came here and the Israelis started opening fire on us and we hid between the buildings, Hamza Nasser says. When the fire stops, we come out again and wait for the flour.

The IDF say they will look into this incident, but say they can't rule out Hamas shooting.

Desperation leading to looting, a growing problem in northern Gaza.

HAMISH YOUNG, SENIOR COORDINATOR, UNICEF: We're talking tens and tens of thousands for, you know, five, ten trucks. It's the food that is getting through is just a drop in the ocean. It's not nearly enough.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): Theft so bad, the principal U.N. food supplier, the WFP, declaring Tuesday it will stop deliveries to the north, compounding the already dire conditions. 15 percent of children under two have malnutrition.

YOUNG: It's now at an emergency level. According to international standards, once you're over 15 percent for acute malnutrition, that's a nutritional crisis and an emergency, and we are there.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The most common thing that comes into hospital is malnutrition, Dr Abu Safia says. It creates complications, sometimes even death.

Even before the World Food Program cancelled food deliveries, children venting fears shared by adults. Abandonment by the world.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CHILD: No food, no water, no medicine. Our message to the world, shame on -- shame on you. Take on your children while we eat animal food. Are you waiting for our death?

ROBERTSON (voice-over): The whole family is dead, El-Ibrahim (ph) wails. Is he the last one alive, gesturing towards her grandson?

As bad as hunger is, Israel's armaments remain more deadly. At El- Ibrahim's home in Nuseirat, central Gaza, one granddaughter dug out of the rubble, killed in the massive airstrike. Another clings to life, as rescuers give her CPR.

In southern Gaza, where food supplies are slightly better, this plastic surgeon, just out of the besieged Al Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, close to tears.

DR. AHMAD MOGHRABI, HEAD OF PLASTIC AND RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY, NASSER HOSPITAL: I couldn't offer anything to my children. We used to eat only -- you know, only bread.

My children, they want some sweets. I couldn't provide some sweets for my children. My little girl, three years old, she used to ask me many things, but I couldn't provide my little girl.

ROBERTSON: And just to give an idea of how precarious the food deliveries to Gaza are, and what gives U.N. agencies real concern about malnutrition, the main border crossing from Israel into Gaza, Karim Shalom was blocked by protesters, saying that the food was going to Hamas, not to the innocent people inside Gaza. Just the day before, 131 trucks had passed through the crossing. Quite a difference.

Nic Robertson, CNN Tel Aviv, Israel.


FOSTER: Some breaking news out of Syria. State media reporting an Israeli strike hit a residential area in the capital Damascus.

Video from the scene shows those damaged cars, piles of debris, this charred building. The district was targeted in an Israeli attack a year ago that killed Iranian military experts. CNN has reached out to Israel, the IDF for comment, and is awaiting a response there.

With the two-year anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine approaching and questions swirling around the death of Alexei Navalny, the U.S. is preparing a new round of sanctions against Moscow. A senior U.S. official says the sanctions were in the works and are now being supplemented in the wake of the Kremlin critic's death. The White House says the sanctions will be announced on Friday and come in the direction of President Joe Biden.

Russian authorities are cracking down on the family of Alexei Navalny after he died on Friday in a Siberian penal colony. Russian state media reporting Navalny's younger brother Oleg has been added to the Interior Ministry's wanted list for unspecified charges.


Meanwhile, his mother travelled to Siberia but hasn't been allowed to see her son's body. She is appealing directly to the Russian President Vladimir Putin.


LYUDMILA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEI NAVALNY'S MOTHER (through translator): I haven't been able to see him for five days. They won't give me his body. They don't even tell me where he is. I'm addressing you, Vladimir Putin. The solution to the issue depends only on you.

Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexei's body be immediately handed over so that I can bury him humanely.


FOSTER: Russia's President is calling the withdrawal of Ukrainian troops from Avdiivka an unconditional success.

But Vladimir Putin says his forces can't stop there. He says they need to push further into Ukraine and come well stocked with weapons and ammunition as well. According to Russia's defense minister, Ukraine's retreat from the eastern town was chaotic. Sergei Shoigu says Russian forces wounded and captured a lot of Ukrainian soldiers in the process.

Ukraine's foreign minister tells CNN that Avdiivka would not have fallen if Ukrainian forces had received the ammunition that they needed. CNN's Clare Sebastian looking at the fallout from this.

I mean, clearly Russia really on the offensive here and Ukraine can't hold it back.

CLARE SEBASTIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is where we are at the moment. I mean, all along the front lines, Russia is the one with the initiative.

They are attacking in multiple locations and Ukraine is not only on the defensive but has been actively now for several months digging in, essentially taking a page out of Russia's playbook last year and digging lines of defenses.

I think what's interesting, if you look at the behavior of Putin, the commentary that he made around Avdiivka, is he is taking a very central role. When he met with the defense minister Shoigu yesterday, it was Putin that sat there with the map and the pen asking for granular detail on, you know, a small village on the left bank of the Dnipro, talking about weapons and supplies and logistics and things like that.

He comes across as someone who wants to be seen as the commander-in- chief of the Russian army. He's trying to bank these successes ahead of the second anniversary of the invasion, ahead of the elections that are coming up next month. He even came close to a smile, I would say, when talking about Avdiivka. So, this is a moment where Russia is emboldened and is taking the initiative on the battlefield.

And I think, you know, that is essentially the situation that we are at. President Putin coming across very confident. And this morning, again, another military setting awarding awards essentially to members of Russia's aerospace forces for excellence in the special military operation. You can see him there again. The optics of this -- this will be all across state media. This really matters in Russia.

FOSTER: He is owning it. Also, the suggestion that he needs to carry on. Any sense of how far?

SEBASTIAN: So look, I think it is very clear from the comments that he made on Tuesday that he has absolutely no intention of trying to freeze the conflict, of trying to draw the borders where the front lines currently are and stop now.

He literally said, you know, Avdiivka was his own success and needs to be developed. Russia needs to push further. And so, you know, that reveals his intentions.

Obviously, we know that the four regions, within the four regions that Russia has illegally annexed in Ukraine or claims to have illegally annexed, they don't actually occupy all the territory within those regions. So, that shows Putin's intention there. And obviously, not good news for Ukraine at this point.

FOSTER: OK, Clare, Thank you.

G20 foreign ministers gathering in Brazil for their first meeting of the year. And Russia is not happy that the war in Ukraine is on the agenda at all, calling it destructive.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Brasilia on Tuesday. He and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov will both attend today's gathering in Rio de Janeiro. But no meeting between the two has been scheduled.

A former FBI informant charged with lying about the Bidens reveals the source of his information. Coming up, why prosecutors say he remains a threat?

And we're just over an hour away from the latest attempt by Julian Assange to avoid extradition. The U.S. government getting ready to present its arguments.

Also, Ecuador's military raiding a prison, attempting to reinstate order as part of a nationwide crackdown on gangs.



FOSTER: New allegations in a U.S. court filing suggest Russia once again tampering with the upcoming presidential election. The ex-FBI informant charged with falsely accusing President Joe Biden and his son Hunter of taking massive bribes from a Ukrainian energy company says his made-up intelligence came from Russian intelligence officials. Evan Perez has that story.


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR U.S. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: A former FBI informant allegedly told investigators that people associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing on false claims about Hunter Biden, the son of President Joe Biden. Federal prosecutors made that new allegation in a court filing seeking to keep Alexander Smirnov detained after he was arrested and charged with lying to the FBI and falsifying documents. Smirnov is behind allegations that Joe Biden and Hunter Biden were being offered bribes of $5 million each in order to help Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Republicans have touted those claims as part of their effort to impeach President Biden. Now, according to special counsel David Weiss, the bribery claims against the Bidens are false. Weiss is prosecuting Hunter Biden on tax evasion and gun charges.

Prosecutors say that Smirnov has extensive contacts with foreign intelligence agencies, and they also raise the potential impact of Smirnov's claims on the 2024 U.S. election. They say Smirnov's efforts to spread misinformation about a candidate of one of two major political parties in the United States continues.

What this shows is that the misinformation he's spreading is not confined to 2020. He is actively peddling new lies that could impact U.S. elections.


At a hearing in Las Vegas, a judge allowed Smirnov to be released with restrictions, including requiring that he surrender his U.S. and Israeli passports. The judge said that the political ramifications of Smirnov's alleged crimes don't meet the standard to require continued detention.

Evan Perez, CNN, Washington.


FOSTER: One of the most notorious gang leaders in Ecuador is said to have lived like a king whilst he was behind bars. With a queen-size bed and mini-fridge, his prison cell looks more like a hotel. And his recent jailbreak is shining a spotlight on the country's prison system that experts say has turned into the headquarters for criminal groups. CNN's David Culver reports.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's as though they're stepping into a war zone. Ecuador's military and national police trail an armored vehicle in a raid of one of the country's 35 prisons. Inside, prisoners stripped down, hands tied.

Scenes like this have played out across Ecuador over the past few weeks, the armed forces making a very public show of force, attempting to reinstate order within their own prisons.

It's part of Ecuador's effort to neutralize terror groups and weed out gangs, which have unleashed chaos nationwide, from a live TV studio armed takeover, to random shootings in the streets. This most recent surge in violence sparked by the suspected escape of this man, Jose Adolfo Macias, known as Fito.

On January 7, officials reported that while serving a 34-year sentence for murder and drug trafficking, the notorious gang leader vanished from this prison in Guayaquil. A drone's view allows us to grasp the scale of this complex. It is sprawling.

CULVER: Not really much of a prison uniform. They're all kind of in their own clothes.

CULVER (voice-over): Officials tell us it's made up of five different prisons.

Through military and prison sources, we get a sense of the layout. We learn the women are kept here. These buildings house the men, and they range from minimum to medium security. And over here, maximum security, known as La Roca, or The Rock.

With a military escort, we go past the first of three perimeters. Any farther, we're told, too dangerous, even with armed soldiers.

We're told inmates are separated based on gang affiliation and are essentially self-ruled.

CULVER: And you can see, behind one of these gates, folks kind of moving comfortably and casually from cell to cell. It's kind of an indoor-outdoor complex.

CULVER (voice-over): CNN obtaining these videos from inside. By prison standards, they reveal a life of luxury for Fito, the drug kingpin. The images captured last year by members of Ecuador's military.

They appear to show Fito's cell, messy, but complete with home comforts, a mini-fridge, a queen bed, upscale shower fittings, artwork featuring an image of Fito himself with guns and cash.

He lives like a king -- you can hear one of the soldiers say in this video, obtained by CNN and verified by Ecuador's military.

Outside, his own courtyard, and a half-dozen fighting roosters believed to be his. A military source tells us Fito had fresh fish imported for his meals, and somehow even managed to shoot a music video from within the prison walls. Equavisa showing these images of Fito's 42nd birthday in 2022. The prisoners reportedly enjoyed cake, music, and drinks. The night capped off with fireworks.

He had more power outlets than a Marriott hotel room, Ecuador's president, Daniel Novoa, said late last year.

So why escape? Ecuadorian security experts believe that Fito was tipped off that he was going to be transferred in the same complex back to "The Rock," maximum security.

Fito spent a few weeks in The Rock last year. Moving him there involved an estimated 4,000 police and soldiers. His sudden disappearance, suggesting he wasn't ready to leave the comforts of his cell. The government's focus now is to reassert control within, but it won't be easy. Prison raids have turned up everything from laptops to guns.

Novoa also announcing the construction of new prisons, designed by the same company behind El Salvador's notorious Mega Prisons, where thousands of suspected gang members are locked up.

CULVER: Back outside of the prison in Guayaquil. You can hear there's church services going on, some sort of religious ceremony, loudspeakers.

CULVER (voice-over): Soldiers and police stand guard on the perimeter, knowing that it's often the gangs who still dictate what happens on the inside.


David Culver, CNN, Guayaquil, Ecuador.


FOSTER: Still ahead, a Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine. He's been found dead in Spain. We'll have the details.

Plus, a look at Israel's war with Hamas through the lens of social media. How some soldiers are choosing to present themselves online amid that conflict.


FOSTER: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Max Foster. If you're just joining us, here are some of today's top stories.

The U.S. has vetoed a U.S. -- U.N. Security Council resolution, calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. says the resolution would negatively impact ongoing hostage negotiations.

Alexei Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, has filed a lawsuit over the inaction to release her son's body. She says she's been denied access to multiple occasions where she could have gone into the morgue when Navalny's body is being held.

Meanwhile, Putin is calling Ukraine's withdrawal from Avdiivka an unconditional success, but he says his forces can't stop there, and he says they need to push further into Ukraine.

According to Ukrainian defense intelligence, the Russian helicopter pilot who made headlines last year by defecting to Ukraine.