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Israel-Gaza live updates: Netanyahu 'surprised' by Biden's remarks, source says

Luis Diaz Devesa/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- More than four months since Hamas terrorists invaded Israel on Oct. 7, the Israeli military continues its bombardment of the neighboring Gaza Strip.

The conflict, now the deadliest between the warring sides since Israel's founding in 1948, shows no signs of letting up soon and the brief cease-fire that allowed for over 100 hostages to be freed from Gaza remains a distant memory.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Feb 27, 3:55 PM
Biden’s optimism for deal stems from ongoing negotiations: State Department

After President Joe Biden said Monday he "hopes" to see a cease-fire reached by March 4, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said Tuesday that Biden’s optimism stemmed from "the broad outlines of a deal" agreed to by Israel, the U.S. and other partners last week, as well as “negotiations that are continuing through this week.”

But Miller said Hamas wields significant control over when and whether a deal is reached.

"Certainly, we'd welcome getting one by this weekend," Miller said. "What I can say about the overall progress is that we made significant progress towards an agreement last week when we had officials from United States government engaging in the region. We continue to pursue further progress this week."

"We are trying to push this deal over the finish line -- we do think it's possible," Miller said.

-ABC News’ Shannon Crawford
 

Feb 27, 1:29 PM
Netanyahu 'surprised' by Biden's remarks on potential cease-fire deal, source says

A senior Israeli political source told ABC News on Tuesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "surprised" by President Joe Biden's remarks that he was hopeful a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas could be in place "by next Monday."

Netanyahu said in a statement later on Tuesday, "Since the beginning of the war, I have been leading a political campaign whose purpose is to curb the pressures intended to end the war before its time, and on the other hand also to gain support for Israel."

"We have significant successes in this area, because today the Howard-Harris survey is published in the United States, which shows that 82% of the American public supports Israel," he continued. "This gives us two more strength to continue the campaign until the complete victory."

-ABC News' Zoe Magee, Jordana Miller and Morgan Winsor

Feb 27, 9:52 AM
What we know about the conflict

The latest outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs the Gaza Strip, has passed the four-month mark.

In the Gaza Strip, at least 29,878 people have been killed and 70,215 others have been wounded by Israeli forces since Oct. 7, according to Gaza's Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health.

In Israel, at least 1,200 people have been killed and 6,900 others have been injured by Hamas and other Palestinian militants since Oct. 7, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

There has also been a surge in violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli forces have killed at least 395 people in the territory since Oct. 7, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

The ongoing war began after Hamas-led militants launched an unprecedented incursion into southern Israel from neighboring Gaza via land, sea and air. Scores of people were killed while more than 200 others were taken hostage, according to Israeli authorities. The Israeli military subsequently launched retaliatory airstrikes followed by a ground invasion of Gaza, a 140-square-mile territory where more than 2 million Palestinians have lived under a blockade imposed by Israel and supported by Egypt since Hamas came to power in 2007. Gaza, unlike Israel, has no air raid sirens or bomb shelters.

Feb 27, 7:13 AM
UNRWA 'needs to be dissolved,' Israeli official says

An Israeli official told ABC News on Tuesday that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is "intertwined with terror and needs to be dissolved."

"Their sole goal was to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem," the official said. "Their compliance with Hamas terrorism and incitement was exposed. Any prospect for peace depends on dissolving UNRWA."

The Israeli official said humanitarian aid in the war-torn Gaza Strip should be provided by people "who are not associated with Hamas or UNRWA."

ABC News has reached out to UNRWA for comment.

In a dossier released in late January, the Israeli military alleged that 13 UNRWA employees participated in the Hamas-led Oct. 7 terror attack on Israel.

UNRWA has said it is investigating the allegations and took swift action against those accused of being involved in the attack. However, the United States and other top donors have suspended their funding to the agency, which is the biggest humanitarian aid provider in Gaza.

Feb 27, 5:54 AM
Netanyahu 'surprised' by Biden's remarks on potential cease-fire deal, source says

A senior Israeli political source told ABC News on Tuesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was "surprised" by U.S. President Joe Biden's remarks that he was hopeful a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas could be in place "by next Monday."

Feb 27, 5:42 AM
Qatar says no breakthrough in talks between Israel, Hamas

A spokesperson for the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday that there is no breakthrough to announce concerning a potential deal between Israel and Hamas on a cease-fire and hostage release.

"Many developments have occurred. Nothing to announce today, but we feel optimistic," the spokesperson told reporters.

The spokesperson said the talks remain "ongoing" and they cannot comment on U.S. President Joe Biden's remarks that a deal is expected by next Monday.

Qatar, along with Egypt and the United States, has been mediating talks between the warring sides.

Feb 27, 5:30 AM
Hamas' demands in negotiations 'are still delusional,' Israeli official says

An Israeli official told ABC News on Tuesday that Hamas' demands in ongoing negotiations "are still delusional."

"Military pressure and determined negotiation have helped free 112 hostages to date. Israel will get the remaining hostages home," the official said. "A deal was done in November and another deal can be made once Hamas comes to reality. Hamas demands are still delusional."

Feb 26, 6:28 PM
Biden 'hopes' for cease-fire in Gaza by next Monday

President Biden said he "hopes" to have a cease-fire in Gaza by March 4.

"I hope by the end of the weekend," the president told reporters Monday. "My national security advisor tells me that we’re close, it's not done yet. My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire."

The comments came during a stop at Van Leeuwen’s ice cream shop in New York City as the president visited NBC Late Night host Seth Meyers.

Feb 26, 4:03 PM
State Department says there's been 'progress' in hostage talks

State Department spokesperson Matt Miller said Monday that there’s been "progress" in hostage talks over the last few days, but he said it’s unclear whether Hamas would accept the latest proposal.

"We’ve had progress with the conversations we've had between Egypt, Israel, the United States and Qatar," Miller said.

He was then asked if they might reach a deal before Ramadan, which begins on March 10.

"I can't make that assessment because it depends on Hamas. We believe a deal is possible and we hope Hamas will agree to one," he said.

-ABC News’ Shannon Crawford

Feb 26, 12:16 PM
Aid to Gaza has dropped by half since January, UNRWA says

Humanitarian aid to Gaza dropped by 50% from January to February, according to Philippe Lazzarini, commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

"Aid was supposed to increase not decrease to address the huge needs of 2 million Palestinians in desperate living conditions," Lazzarini said on social media Monday. "Among the obstacles: lack of political will, regular closing of the crossing points & lack of security due to military operations + collapse of civil order."

Lazzarini stressed the need for a cease-fire.

Feb 25, 7:06 PM
Netanyahu's office presents war cabinet with plan to evacuate Gazans from 'areas of fighting'

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office has presented Israel's war cabinet with a "plan for evacuating the population from the areas of fighting in the Gaza Strip," a release from the office said early Monday local time.

"In addition, the plan for providing humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip in a manner that will prevent the looting that has occurred in the northern Strip and other areas was approved," the statement added.

-ABC News' Dana Savir

Feb 24, 4:34 PM
Israel agrees to updated framework in cease-fire, hostage deal

Israel has agreed to an updated framework that would establish a six-week cease-fire in Gaza in exchange for the release of 40 hostages, an Israeli source told ABC News. The development follows talks in Paris, which includes officials from the U.S., Israel, Qatar and Egypt.

While Israel says it's waiting to hear back from Hamas on whether it will accept the updated language from this weekend's talks, Israel is pushing forward with plans to enter Rafah. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted on X that operational plans and evacuation plans in Rafah are ready to be approved by his cabinet.

As part of the proposed deal, Israel has agreed to release jailed Palestinians at a higher ratio than the previous deal, which was 3 to 1. Up to 400 Palestinian prisoners could be released in this new deal.

The Israel Defense Forces will redeploy but not withdraw from Gaza.

-ABC News' Marcus Moore

Feb 23, 1:23 PM
Blinken calls Israeli settlement expansion 'inconsistent with international law'

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is signaling a possible shift back to a long-standing U.S. policy rejecting Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, calling it "inconsistent with international law."

Asked at a press availability in Argentina for his response to Israel’s purported plans to build thousands of new settlement homes in the area, Blinken responded, "We’ve seen the reports, and I have to say we’re disappointed in the announcement."

"It's been long-standing U.S. policy under Republican and Democratic administration alike that new settlements are counterproductive to reaching an enduring peace. They're also inconsistent with international law," Blinken said. "Our administration maintains firm opposition to settlement expansion, and in our judgment, this only weakens -- doesn't strengthen -- Israel security."

The Biden administration has condemned Israeli expansion in the West Bank for years, but the State Department had not yet gone so far as to say they ran afoul of international law after Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, said in 2019 that the U.S. would no longer view Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem as violations.

But before delivering his rebuke, Blinken made note of what he called a "horrific terrorist attack" on a Jewish settlement in the West Bank this week and said the U.S. would continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself and its people.

-ABC News’ Shannon Crawford

Feb 22, 2:57 PM
Over 85,000 people in Gaza could die in next 6 months if war escalates, report finds

More than 85,000 people in Gaza could die over the next six months if the war between Israel and Hamas escalates, epidemiologists from Johns Hopkins University and the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine found.

The epidemiologists presented findings about death tolls in three potential scenarios: if a cease-fire is reached, if the war remains as it is, and if the war escalates.

If a cease-fire is reached, more than 11,000 people will die over the next six months, the findings estimate, based on current conditions inside Gaza.

If the status quo of the war is maintained, more than 66,000 people will die during the same period, the findings show.

And in the worst-case scenario, if the war escalates, more than 85,000 people could die, the report found.

These numbers are in addition to the more than 29,000 people who have already died in Gaza since Oct. 7, according to Gaza's Hamas-controlled Ministry of Health.

-ABC News’ Ellie Kaufman

Feb 22, 2:18 PM
Israeli war cabinet approves sending negotiators to Paris talks

The Israeli war cabinet on Friday approved sending Israeli negotiators to hostage and cease-fire talks in Paris. The war cabinet's decision will be brought to the Israeli security cabinet for approval later on Friday night.

Qatari, Egyptian and U.S. officials are also expected to be at Friday's talks in Paris, according to reports.

Feb 22, 12:18 PM
Israel concludes 1-week operation inside Nasser Hospital in Gaza

The Israeli Defense Forces said Thursday that its soldiers have concluded their one-week operation inside Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where the IDF said it arrested at least 200 suspected Hamas members.

The World Health Organization said earlier this week that it helped evacuate some of the critically ill patients from the hospital.

On Wednesday, the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health said eight patients who died because of a lack of electricity at Nasser Hospital were still in their beds inside of the hospital among living patients. The IDF denied these claims.

Feb 22, 3:35 AM
One dead, several injured in shooting near Jerusalem, Israeli authorities say

At least one person was killed and several others were injured Thursday in a shooting on a main road just outside Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to Israeli authorities.

Highway 1 was packed with cars when gunfire erupted Thursday morning near a checkpoint between Jerusalem and the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim. Three "terrorists" armed with automatic weapons pulled up in a vehicle, got out and opened fire at cars that were standing still in the traffic jam, according to the Israel Police.

Israeli security forces who were already on scene "neutralized" two of the suspects, police said. A third suspect who had tried to escape was later found and also "neutralized," according to police.

Medics arrived and "ran from vehicle to vehicle" searching for victims, according to Israel's rescue service MDA. A man in his 20s was pronounced dead at the scene while several others were transported to area hospitals, including four people who were moderately injured with gunshot wounds, MDA said.

Feb 21, 2:59 PM
Israeli Minister Gantz expresses cautious optimism about new hostage deal

Israeli Minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday expressed cautious optimism that a new outline for a possible hostage deal could move forward.

Gantz, a member of the Israeli war cabinet, said at Israel's Defense Headquarters Wednesday that there are "attempts" to "promote a new outline" for a hostage deal, and there are "initial signs that indicate the possibility of moving forward."

"We will not stop looking for the way, and we will not miss any opportunity to bring the girls and boys home," Gantz said.

-ABC News’ Ellie Kaufman and Dana Savir

Feb 21, 1:02 PM
8 bodies remain in Nasser Medical Complex among living patients, Gaza Ministry of Health says

Eight patients who died because of a lack of electricity at Nasser Medical Complex in Gaza are still in their beds inside of the hospital among living patients, the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health said Wednesday.

The Ministry of Health said the bodies are still in the hospital because Israeli forces refuse to remove them.

The bodies "have begun to swell and show signs of decomposition, posing a danger to other patients," the Ministry of Health said in a statement.

Israeli authorities denied these claims and said no bodies are still inside Nasser Hospital.

The Israel Defense Forces has been operating inside of Nasser Hospital for the last week. On Monday, the IDF announced its soldiers had arrested 200 suspected Hamas members at Nasser Hospital.

ABC News’ Ellie Kaufman and Camilla Alcini

Feb 21, 8:28 AM
Israel considering sending delegation to Egypt for new round of talks, source says

Israel is weighing the possibility of sending a delegation back to Egypt for continued negotiations over a potential cease-fire or hostage deal with Hamas, an Israeli political source told ABC News on Wednesday.

There is some cautious optimism over the latest round of talks in Cairo, the source said.

Egypt, along with Qatar and the United States, has been mediating talks between the warring sides.

Feb 21, 8:14 AM
Israel preparing to reopen Karni border crossing to facilitate aid to northern Gaza, source says

Israel is preparing to reopen the Karni border crossing to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid into the northern Gaza Strip, an Israeli political source told ABC News on Wednesday.

Israel shuttered the Karni crossing, located on the border between southwestern Israel and northeastern Gaza, when Palestinian militant group Hamas came to power in the enclave in 2007 before permanently closing the crossing in 2011.

Northern Gaza has been isolated by the Israeli military and almost completely cut off from aid for weeks, according to the United Nations.

Feb 21, 7:56 AM
UN food agency pauses deliveries to northern Gaza

The World Food Program, the food assistance arm of the United Nations, announced Tuesday that it is pausing deliveries of food aid to the northern Gaza Strip “until conditions are in place that allow for safe distribution.”

The decision came after a WFP convoy heading north from Gaza City was “surrounded by crowds of hungry people close to the Wadi Gaza checkpoint” on Sunday, the agency said. The same convoy faced “complete chaos and violence due to the collapse of civil order” when it tried to resume its journey north on Monday, according to the WFP.

“Several trucks were looted between Khan Yunis and Deir al-Balah and a truck driver was beaten. The remaining flour was spontaneously distributed off the trucks in Gaza City, amidst high tension and explosive anger,” the WFP said in a statement Tuesday. “The decision to pause deliveries to the north of the Gaza Strip has not been taken lightly, as we know it means the situation there will deteriorate further and more people risk dying of hunger.”

An analysis released Monday by the Global Nutrition Cluster, a humanitarian aid partnership led by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), found that 15.6% of children under the age of 2 are acutely malnourished in northern Gaza, which has been isolated by the Israeli military and almost completely cut off from aid for weeks, compared to 5% in southern Gaza, where most aid enters the war-torn enclave. The acute malnutrition rate across Gaza was less than 1% before the war began last October, according to the report.

Feb 20, 2:21 PM
Hostages held in Gaza have received medicine, Qatar says

Qatari officials said hostages held by Hamas in Gaza have received the medication that was part of a deal brokered last month.

The Israeli Prime Minister's Office said it has asked Qatar for evidence that the medicine was delivered.

"Israel will examine the credibility of the report and will continue to work for the peace of our abductees," the office said in a statement.

Feb 20, 12:21 PM
US draft resolution calls for temporary cease-fire

The U.S. voted against a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire at Wednesday’s United Nations Security Council meeting, The Associated Press reported.

The U.S. was the only nation of the 15 permanent Security Council members to vote against the measure, according to the AP.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield said "an unconditional cease-fire without any obligation for Hamas to release hostages" was irresponsible.

"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 cease-fire as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released," she said.

The U.S. has been circulating its own draft resolution on Gaza that calls for a temporary cease-fire conditioned on the release of all hostages, while also condemning Hamas for the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war, according to senior administration officials familiar with the matter.

If the proposal were to be adopted by the U.N. Security Council, it would mark the first time the body has formally condemned Hamas’ actions.

The officials say the draft also makes clear "that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah should not proceed" and that there can be no reduction in territory in the Gaza Strip or any forced displacement of Palestinians, while also calling on Israel "to lift all barriers to the provision of humanitarian assistance, open additional humanitarian routes, and to keep current crossings open."

The senior officials signaled that American diplomats wouldn’t rush the text to a vote and that they intended on "allowing time for negotiations."

While hostage talks have sputtered over the past couple of weeks, senior administration officials said they were making some progress.

"The differences between the parties, they have been narrowed. They haven’t been sufficiently narrowed to get us to a deal, but we are still hopeful and we are confident that there is the basis for an agreement between the parties," one official said.

ABC News' Shannon Crawford

Feb 20, 11:34 AM
US votes against immediate cease-fire

The U.S. voted against a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire at Wednesday’s United Nations Security Council meeting, The Associated Press reported.

The U.S. was the only nation of the 15 permanent Security Council members to vote against the measure, according to the AP.

The U.S. has said an immediate cease-fire could impede the negotiations looking to free hostages and agree to a pause in fighting, the AP said.

Feb 20, 11:07 AM
IDF operating inside Al-Amal Hospital

Israeli forces, which already entered Gaza’s Nasser Hospital, are also now operating inside the nearby Al-Amal Hospital, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed to ABC News.

"Al-Amal Hospital is currently under multiple attacks, as Israeli forces have directly targeted the third floor of the hospital, resulting in the burning of two rooms," and "the hospital’s water lines were targeted," the Palestine Red Crescent Society said.

Over 8,000 patients were evacuated from the hospital earlier this month, but almost 100 patients still remain inside, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said.

Feb 20, 7:13 AM
WHO helps transfer 32 critical patients out of Gaza's besieged Nasser Hospital

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that it has helped to successfully transfer 32 critically ill patients, including two children, from besieged Nasser Hospital in the southern Gaza Strip.

The WHO said its staff led two "life-saving," "high-risk" missions at the medical complex in Khan Younis on Sunday and Monday, in close partnership with the Palestine Red Crescent Society and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "amid ongoing hostilities and access restrictions." Staff at Nasser Hospital had requested the transfer of patients after the facility became "non-functional" following an Israeli military raid on Feb. 14 after a weeklong siege, according to the WHO.

"Weak and frail patients were transferred amidst active conflict near the aid convoy," the WHO said in a statement. "Road conditions hindered the swift movement of ambulances, placing the health of patients at further risk."

"Nasser Hospital has no electricity or running water, and medical waste and garbage are creating a breeding ground for disease," the organization added. "WHO staff said the destruction around the hospital was 'indescribable.' The area was surrounded by burnt and destroyed buildings, heavy layers of debris, with no stretch of intact road."

The WHO estimates that 130 sick and injured patients and at least 15 doctors and nurses remain inside Nasser Hospital. As the facility's intensive care unit was no longer functioning, the only remaining ICU patient was transferred to a different part of the complex where other patients are receiving basic care, according to the WHO.

"WHO fears for the safety and well-being of the patients and health workers remaining in the hospital and warns that further disruption to lifesaving care for the sick and injured would lead to more deaths," the organization said. "Efforts to facilitate further patient referrals amidst the ongoing hostilities are in process."

Prior to the missions on Sunday and Monday, the WHO said it "received two consecutive denials to access the hospital for medical assessment, causing delays in urgently needed patient referral." At least five patients reportedly died in Nasser Hospital's ICU before any missions or transfers were possible, according to the WHO.

Nasser Hospital is the main medical center serving southern Gaza. Ground troops from the Israel Defense Forces stormed the facility last week, looking for members of Hamas who the IDF alleges have been conducting military operations out of the hospital. Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs Gaza and is at war with neighboring Israel, denies the claims.

"The dismantling and degradation of the Nasser Medical Complex is a massive blow to Gaza's health system," the WHO said. "Facilities in the south are already operating well beyond maximum capacity and are barely able to receive more patients."

Feb 20, 5:26 AM
Aid groups warn of potential 'explosion in preventable child deaths' in Gaza

A new analysis by the Global Nutrition Cluster, a humanitarian aid partnership led by the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund, found that 90% of children under the age of 2 in the war-torn Gaza Strip face severe food poverty, meaning they eat two or fewer food groups a day.

The same was true for 95% of pregnant and breastfeeding women in Gaza, according to the report released Monday. And at least 90% of children under 5 are affected by one or more infectious disease, with 70% experiencing diarrhea in the past two weeks, the report said.

In Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah, where most humanitarian aid enters, 5% of children under 2 are acutely malnourished, compared to more than 15% in northern Gaza, which has been isolated by the Israeli military and almost completely cut off from aid for weeks, the report said. Before war broke out last October between Israel and Gaza's militant rulers, Hamas, the acute malnutrition rate across the coastal enclave was less than 1%, according to the report.

The report also found that more than 80% of homes in Gaza lack clean and safe water, with the average household having one liter per person per day.

"The Gaza Strip is poised to witness an explosion in preventable child deaths which would compound the already unbearable level of child deaths in Gaza," Ted Chaiban, deputy executive director for humanitarian action and supply operations at UNICEF, said in a statement. "We've been warning for weeks that the Gaza Strip is on the brink of a nutrition crisis. If the conflict doesn't end now, children’s nutrition will continue to plummet, leading to preventable deaths or health issues which will affect the children of Gaza for the rest of their lives and have potential intergenerational consequences."

Feb 19, 12:31 PM
Gaza's health ministry accuses IDF of turning Nasser Hospital into 'military barracks'

Israeli troops have turned Nasser Hospital, the main medical center serving the southern Gaza Strip, into a "military barracks" and are "endangering the lives of patients and medical staff," according to Gaza's Hamas-run Ministry of Health.

The health ministry said Monday that patients and medical staff inside Nasser Hospital are now without electricity, water, food, oxygen and treatment capabilities for difficult cases since Israeli ground troops raided the facility in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis last week.

The World Health Organization, which warned on Sunday that Nasser Hospital "is not functional anymore," said more than 180 patients and 15 doctors and nurses remain inside the hospital.

The WHO said it has evacuated 14 critical patients from the hospital to receive treatment elsewhere.

The Israel Defense Forces alleges that Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that governs Gaza, has been conducting military operations out of Nasser Hospital and other medical centers in the war-torn enclave -- claims which Hamas denies.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Americans missing from boat in the Caribbean: A timeline

Suellen Desmarais

(NEW YORK) -- It's been over one week since an American couple went missing from their yacht in the Caribbean after three escaped prisoners boarded their boat.

Police said Monday that Ralph Hendry and his wife, Kathy Brandel, are likely dead, however, their bodies have not been found.

Here's how the case has unfolded:

Feb. 18
Hendry and Brandel, from Falls Church, Virginia, were last seen alive by their boating neighbor at the dock in Grenada on Feb. 18, according to Hendry's sister, Suellen Desmarais.

The couple, married for 27 years, had been living on their yacht, Simplicity, since they sold their home in 2013.

Feb. 19
On the morning of Feb. 19, the neighbor said the couple and their boat were gone, according to Desmarais.

Three escaped prisoners allegedly stole the couple's boat before heading to the nearby island of St. Vincent, where they arrived on the yacht on Feb. 19, police said.

Feb. 21
The three suspects were arrested on Feb. 21 and are cooperating with investigators, police said.

Feb. 26
On Feb. 26, Junior Simmons, head of the public relations and complaints department at Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, said investigators determined "the suspects committed several criminal acts, including bodily harm, to the couple."

Police processed the scene on the yacht and found signs of violence, Simmons said.

"Several items were strewn on the deck," Simmons said, and in the cabin was "a red substance that resembled blood."

"Based on the investigation thus far it is presumed that Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel are deceased," Simmons said.

Their bodies have not been found.

The three suspects have appeared in a St. Vincent court on immigration-related charges and pleaded guilty, police said. Sentencing was scheduled for March 4, police said.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Armed bandits rob migrants crossing border illegally, border patrol chief says

Jason Owens/U.S. Border Patrol

(WASHINGTON) -- A group of “armed bandits” near the U.S. southern border attempted to rob migrants crossing illegally, according to U.S. Border Patrol Chief Jason Owens.

Owens posted images of a group of migrants in Chula Vista, California, attempting to cross the border on Sunday, only to encounter armed robbers.

"USBP surveillance technology near Chula Vista, CA captured these images of armed bandits robbing several groups as they attempted to enter the country illegally," Owens said in the post. "Yet another example of the dangers these criminals & smugglers pose to the public, the migrants, and our agents."

ABC News has reached out to Border Patrol about the incident.

Migrant encounters in the San Diego area, which encompasses Chula Vista, were down in January from November and December of 2023, according to Customs and Border Protection data.

Last week, the San Diego sector made over 7,500 apprehensions of migrants from 75 countries, according to Chief Patrol Agent Patrol Agent Patricia McGurk-Daniel.

President Joe Biden is headed to the border on Thursday, according to a White House official. He is going to Brownsville, Texas.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Alexei Navalny was raised in preliminary prisoner swap talks before his death: Official

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a rally in support of political prisoners in Prospekt Sakharova Street in Moscow, Sept. 29, 2019. (Sefa Karacan/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) -- After an ally of Alexei Navalny made a bombshell claim that the opposition leader was set to be freed through a prisoner exchange when he died in a Russian penal colony earlier this month, a Western official said his name had, in fact, been raised in discussions about a possible swap -- but that those talks were only in early stages.

The official said Navalny came up in conversations between American and German officials about a potential three-country trade including Vadim Krasikov, a convicted Russian assassin serving a life sentence in Germany, and two wrongfully detained U.S. citizens, but that an offer was never presented to Russia.

The Western official also said it was unclear if Germany would have signed off on the arrangement or whether the proposal would have been appealing to Moscow.

A U.S. official also told ABC News that a prisoner exchange involving Navalny was never extended to the Kremlin.

Maria Pevchikh, a close associate of Navalny, claimed in social media posts on Monday that efforts to secure his freedom in a prisoner swap had been underway for years before he died and that negotiations for a deal involving Krasikov and two Americans were "in the final stages" on the eve of Navalny's death, which the U.S. has blamed on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who denies involvement.

"The negotiations finally reached the final stage -- and then Putin decided that since Krasikov was ready to be given, then he would be given without Navalny. Therefore, he decided to kill him," Pevchikh alleged in a post on Telegram.

There are two Americans considered by the U.S. to be wrongfully detained in Russia: Paul Whelan, a Marine veteran, and Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter. Both are being held on accusations of espionage that U.S. officials say are fabricated.

While the State Department announced that the U.S. had made Russia an offer for Gershkovich's and Whelan's freedom in late 2023, an official said on Monday that Moscow had not seriously engaged on the proposal -- casting further doubt on claims made by Pevchikh.

"Our work to try to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan continues," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday.

Miller did not detail ongoing efforts to free Whelan and Gershkovich out of concern that any public statement on the matter could disrupt "the very sensitive work" that was underway. He also declined to comment on Pevchikh's assertions.

"All I will say about this matter is that we have long called for the release of Alexei Navalny, and that was our position on the matter," Miller said.

A vocal critic of the Kremlin, Navalny died on Feb. 16 in an Arctic prison, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence for extremism charges that he and his allies said were politically motivated.

The exact cause of his death is still unknown, but the U.S. and other Western nations have said they hold Moscow responsible for his demise and sanctioned Russian prison officials and other entities in response.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Life on Mars: How volunteers in NASA's Mars simulator will live for a year

Bill Stafford/NASA

(NEW YORK) -- NASA is offering volunteers an otherworldly experience here on Earth where participants eat, live and communicate as if they were over 200 miles away in space.

Paving the way for future human exploration of Mars, NASA's Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA) program is currently recruiting qualified individuals for its second of three yearlong simulated missions.

For 378 days, the four-member team will live and work inside Mars Dune Alpha, a 1,700-square-foot, 3D-printed habitat located at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

So, what is life like in a simulated version of the Red Planet? Suzanne Bell, lead for NASA's Behavioral Health and Performance Laboratory at Johnson Space Center, told ABC News what volunteers can expect.

Space diet

To accurately simulate life on Mars, Bell said volunteers in NASA's CHAPEA program are limited to food that could be pre-positioned or harvested on a real space mission.

"The idea is, if we were actually going to go to Mars someday, you would have to send that food ahead of time, and you'd have to choose from that selection," Bell said.

There are no fresh food deliveries, so the team members are limited to prepackaged, shelf-stable foods and the ability to grow some crops during the mission.

The crop growth system inside the CHAPEA habitat is similar to systems used for indoor home gardening and can support the growth of leafy crops, herbs and small fruits, according to NASA.

Habitat living

Mars Dune Alpha offers four separate sleeping quarters for crew members, with a 1,700-square-foot total interior, according to NASA. In a video posted to the agency's official X (formally known as Twitter) account in April 2023, you can see the habitat includes a bathroom and shower area, a kitchen and living room with a table and furniture as well as designated areas for fitness and laundry.

Communication delays

The CHAPEA crew simulates the Mars-realistic communication delay of up to 22 minutes one way, according to Bell, who says that includes messages to mission control and communication with the crew's friends and family outside of the mission.

"When you have that communication delay, everything looks different," Bell said. "You're not getting the news in real-time and you're not talking to your family and friends on the phone."

Social media is also not available for participants in the mission. 

"Similar to what we would expect for a future Mars mission, it's very restricted on what they have access to in the outside world," Bell said.

Day-to-day activities

The daily activities for CHAPEA crew members include simulated spacewalks, robotic operations, habitat maintenance, exercise and crop growth.

"There's a small area, which is still within a confinement bubble, where they can actually go out and do simulated spacewalks as if they're on the Mars surface," Bell said.

Bell explained that the mission also uses virtual reality technology so members can traverse and explore the surface of Mars for longer periods and over a greater surface area.

On top of their Mars research, crew members do roommate activities such as cleaning and cooking, Bell said.

Salary

Compensation for participating in the mission is available, according to NASA, but an exact salary will be provided during the candidate screening process.

"Crew members are compensated for their time as research participants," Bell explained, noting most volunteers aren't signing up for the program for monetary incentives, but rather to further scientific research.

"For the explorers, the adventurers, the people who love science, this is a really unique and incredible opportunity to be able to contribute to science," Bell said.

Who can apply?

To qualify for the mission, you must be a healthy, nonsmoking U.S. citizen or a permanent resident between the ages of 30 and 55 and proficient in English.

The agency says applicants must have a master's degree with STEM qualifications and experience in the field, or a minimum of 1,000 hours piloting an aircraft or the requisite military experience. A bachelor of science degree in a STEM field also may be considered, NASA said.

"What we are looking for in this call is everyday civilians who are very astronaut-like to be research participants for us," Bell said.

The deadline to apply is April 2 on NASA's CHAPEA website.

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American husband and wife missing in Caribbean are likely dead, authorities say

Courtesy Suellen Desmarais

(NEW YORK) -- An American husband and wife who went missing after three escaped prisoners boarded their boat in the Caribbean are likely dead, authorities said on Monday.

Ralph Hendry and his wife, Kathy Brandel, from Falls Church, Virginia, disappeared last week from their yacht, which was docked in the waters off the southern Caribbean nation of Grenada, according to Hendry's sister, Suellen Desmarais.

"It's a phone call you hope you never get -- shock, fear, anger," Ralph Hendry's son, Bryan Hendry, told ABC News.

Hendry and Brandel were last seen alive by their boating neighbor at the dock on Feb. 18, according to Desmarais.

The next morning, the neighbor said the couple and their yacht, Simplicity, were gone.

The three escaped prisoners allegedly stole the boat before heading to the nearby island of St. Vincent, where they arrived on the yacht on Feb. 19, police said.

"While sailing from Grenada, the suspects committed several criminal acts, including bodily harm, to the couple," Junior Simmons, head of the public relations and complaints department at Royal St. Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force, said in a video statement Monday.

"Based on the investigation thus far it is presumed that Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel are deceased," Simmons said.

St. Vincent police processed the scene on the yacht and found signs of violence, Simmons said.

"Several items were strewn on the deck," Simmons said, and in the cabin was "a red substance that resembled blood."

The three suspects were arrested on Feb. 21 and are cooperating with investigators, police said. They appeared in a St. Vincent court on immigration-related charges and pleaded guilty, police said. Sentencing was scheduled for March 4, police said.

Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel have been married for 27 years. They've been living on their boat since they sold their home in 2013.

"They were very risk-averse people, so they were extremely meticulous in their preparations and not willing to take this trip until they were 100% confident in themselves," Bryan Hendry said.

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Royal Canadian Mounted Police targeted in 'alarming' cyberattack

Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Canada's national police force was hit with a cyberattack Friday that was of "alarming" magnitude, according to the agency.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is now launching a criminal investigation into what happened and how their systems were able to be breached, the agency said in a statement to ABC News.

There is no known impact to safety and security operations, RCMP says.

"While a breach of this magnitude is alarming, the quick work and mitigation strategies put in place demonstrates the significant steps the RCMP has taken to detect and prevent these types of threats," according to the statement.

The RCMP says it is working with other Canadian government partners to continue "assessing the breadth and scope of the security breach and hold those responsible accountable."

The news comes as experts warn of the dangers of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure and government operations. The Canadian government's global affairs office was targeted in a prolonged security breach last month due to "malicious" cyber activity that impacted internal data from the agency's staff, according to the CBC.

The U.S. Justice Department also said last month it had successfully disrupted an effort by Chinese government-sponsored hackers to target critical U.S. infrastructure networks using malware.

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Russian authorities hand over Alexei Navalny's body to his mother, spokeswoman says

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(MOSCOW) -- Russian authorities have given Alexei Navalny's body back to his mother more than a week after the opposition leader's death in an Arctic penal colony, according to Navalny's spokesperson.

Spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that a funeral is to come and that they don't know yet if authorities will allow the family to carry out the funeral "the way the family wants and as Alexey deserves." She did not mention if the family will hold a public funeral.

Navalny's body was taken to the city of Salekhard, located on the Arctic Circle, after he died in a nearby penal colony on Feb. 16, according to Russian officials. His supporters have accused Russian officials of murdering the vocal critical of President Vladimir Putin, who was previously poisoned and nearly died in an apparent assassination attempt.

Russian officials denied the claim that Navalny was murdered in retaliation for his political activity. Navalny's cause of death has been listed as "natural" on his medical report, according to Navalny's spokesperson, who relayed the information from his mother.

Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, had asked local police Friday to open a criminal case against the investigators who she said were withholding her son's body, on charges of "abuse of a corpse."

The appeal claimed that the lead investigator into the death of Navalny made threats towards his mother and promised to commit illegal actions with Navalny's body in order to prevent his burial.

Navalnaya said in a video message posted to YouTube Thursday that the Russian government is blackmailing her and trying to force her to have a secret funeral for her son.

"So, as one of the arguments, the investigator said, 'time is working against you, because the corpse is decomposing,'" the complaint alleges. "Such words cause irreparable moral harm [to Navalny's mom], grief from the loss of her son is complemented by an absolutely insulting attitude on the part of the investigative authorities and blackmail," the document says.

Meanwhile, the White House on Friday announced a tranche of sanctions against Russia and its supporters, including additional measures intended to punish the Kremlin for its alleged role in the death of Navalny.

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Russia strikes hit Ukraine overnight as it marks 2nd anniversary of invasion

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(KYIV, Ukraine) -- Russia, as it does many nights, has launched airstrikes on Ukraine overnight into Saturday morning, the second anniversary of the full-scale invasion in 2022.

A barrage of Russian drones and missiles targeted Odesa in the south, and at least one person and two others were seriously injured when a damaged drone crashed into a residential building.

Meanwhile in Kyiv, Western leaders have been arriving for events to mark the second anniversary and to show solidarity with Ukraine amid fears around faltering Western support, most of all from the United States.

The European Union’s president Ursula von der Leyen is attending events in Kyiv, as well as Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the prime ministers of Belgium and Italy and the former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Elsewhere, Ukraine’s newly appointed Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, Oleksandr Syrskiy, has posted a statement marking the second anniversary of the war, hailing Ukrainians’ extraordinary defense of their country and calling for unity “now more than ever."

"No one in the world” had believed Ukraine would stand but Ukrainians had thrown themselves into saving their country, said Syrskiy.

He also listed the achievements Ukraine has made during the two years of the war, including saving Kyiv, liberating Kherson, the Kharkiv counteroffensive and driving of Russia’s navy from the Black Sea.

He added that the counteroffensive last summer did not “bring the desired results” because of “objective circumstances."

Syrskiy also thanked Ukraine’s international allies, saying “every projectile, every tank, every armored vehicle, is ... saving the life of a Ukrainian soldier."

He also, notably, made a veiled reference to the unusually large number of Russian aircraft brought down in the past two weeks -- including the valuable A-50 reconnaissance plane brought down overnight -- implying specifically that Ukraine was looking at an “asymmetric response in the air."

“I believe that soon we will give an asymmetric response to the Russian occupier in the air as well. There will be even more burning Russian planes. The state leadership is doing everything possible for this,” Syrskiy said.

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US imposes 'crushing' sanctions on Russia 2 years after Ukraine invasion

President Joe Biden meets with Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya on Feb. 22, 2022. -- @POTUS/X

(WASHINGTON) -- The Biden administration on Friday announced more than 500 sanctions on Russia, its "enablers," and its "war machine" as the world marks two years since Russia attacked Ukraine.

This is the largest single tranche since the start of Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion, administration officials said.

"Today, I am announcing more than 500 new sanctions against Russia for its ongoing war of conquest on Ukraine and for the death of Aleksey Navalny, who was a courageous anti-corruption activist and Putin's fiercest opposition leader," President Joe Biden said in the statement released by the White House. "These sanctions will target individuals connected to Navalny's imprisonment as well as Russia's financial sector, defense industrial base, procurement networks and sanctions evaders across multiple continents. They will ensure Putin pays an even steeper price for his aggression abroad and repression at home."

"We are also imposing new export restrictions on nearly 100 entities for providing backdoor support for Russia's war machine," Biden continued. "We are taking action to further reduce Russia's energy revenues. And I've directed my team to strengthen support for civil society, independent media, and those who fight for democracy around the world."

Later Friday, Biden gave brief remarks on the two-year anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine war as he welcomed governors to the White House.

"Putin believed he could easily bend the will and break the resolve of free people of Ukraine," Biden said. "That he could roll into Ukraine, and he would roll over them. Two years later, he remains wrong."

"The people of Ukraine remain unbowed and unbroken in the face of Putin's vigorous onslaught. This is due to their sheer bravery and sacrifice, but it's also due to us," Biden continued as he highlighted the U.S. role in building an international coalition to support Ukraine.

But Biden said Congress must do its part by passing additional aid and criticized Speaker Mike Johnson for not taking up a Senate-passed foreign aid bill before the House left for a two-week recess.

"The clock is ticking," Biden said. "Brave Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are dying. Russia has taken Ukraine territory for the first time in many months. But here in America, the speaker gave the House a two-week week vacation. They have to come back. They have to come back get this done."

The sanctions, to be rolled out by the Treasury Department and State Department, include additional measures intended to punish the Kremlin for its role in the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, officials said.

Following a meeting on Thursday with Navalny's widow and daughter in San Francisco, Biden previewed the action, saying his administration would be "announcing sanctions against Putin, who is responsible for his death, tomorrow."

Regarding Navalny, the State Department said it is sanctioning three individuals tied to Russian Penal Colony IK-3: the prison warden, regional prison head and deputy director of the Federal Penitentiary Service of Russia.

On Thursday, a high-level State Department official described the pending sanctions as "crushing."

"Some of them will be targeted at folks directly involved in Navalany's death. The vast majority of them though are designed to further attrite Putin's war machine -- to close the gaps in the sanctions regime that he has been able to evade," Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland said speaking at an event in Washington.

Many of the measures will take aim at Russia's defense sector, including a number of entities already sanctioned by the U.S.

Those imposed as punishment for Navalny's death in a remote Russian prisoner target individuals thought to have played a part in his detention and demise, officials added.

Throughout Russia's war on Ukraine, the U.S. has sought to weaken Moscow's military by targeting its economy -- limiting its ability to import key technology to fuel its defense-industrial complex, reduce the value of its exports, and cut Russia off from the international banking system.

Despite the historic effort, Russia's economy has grown over the last two years due in part to the country's steady trade with partners like China and India. The Kremlin has also managed to keep its arsenals stocked, resorting to sourcing some weapons from Iran and North Korea -- two countries that are also heavily sanctioned by the West.

"[Vladimir Putin] and his tricksters have found a lot of ways to evade sanctions," Nuland conceded. "That is why when you see this package that we're going to launch in a couple days, it is very heavily focused on evasion, on nodes and networks and countries that help evade -- willingly or otherwise -- and on the banks that support and allow that kind of evasion."

Nuland also predicted the administration would also impose additional penalties tied to Navalny's death in the future.

"I anticipate as time goes on we will be able to put forward more and more sanctions on folks directly responsible for Navalny's death," she said.

The U.K. announced its own sanctions against six Russian officials on Wednesday.

"History is watching. The failure to support Ukraine at this critical moment will not be forgotten," said Biden on Friday. "Now is the time for us to stand strong with Ukraine and stand united with our Allies and partners. Now is the time to prove that the United States stands up for freedom and bows down to no one."

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Two years into war, Russian forces make offensive gains as Ukrainian weapons dwindle

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(LONDON) -- Instead of sending a deluge of troops into Avdiivka to overpower the Ukrainians holding the frontline city, Russian forces earlier this month instead began sending in just a few soldiers at a time.

Two or three Russians would storm Ukrainian positions within city, followed about a half-hour later by two or three others. In those increments, they began to overpower the Ukrainian positions "step by step," according to Andrii Teren, a Ukrainian commander.

"We had the impression that these groups have no end, every 20 or 30 minutes we faced assaults," Teren told Reuters earlier this week. "That's why it became so difficult for our infantry."

The difficulties Teren described echoed those described by other Ukrainian frontline commanders. He said he didn't have enough personnel. Nor did he have enough shells if the Russians kept up their slow-rolling attack. He said they simply "exhausted" his troops.

As Russia's war in Ukraine hits the two-year mark on Saturday, Russia is again on the attack, striking cities along the frontline. Those attacks are coming as international aid for Kyiv has slowed, meaning Ukrainian weapons stockpiles are growing ever smaller.

"Russian forces have intensified attacks across several points of the front line within the last week, likely intended to stretch Ukrainian forces," The United Kingdom's Ministry of Defense said Wednesday.

Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russian forces had taken complete control of Avdiivka, touting it as a strategic breakthrough. While Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy acknowledged his forces had withdrawn, he said the move had been a tactical one.

"Saving our lives is also, in my opinion, the right decision," he said of the withdrawal on Feb. 17 in Munich. "Then there will be recovery, they will wait for the proper weapons, which were simply insufficient."

The loss of Avdiivka came after months of Ukrainian officials raising alarms about the military's dwindling stockpile. The U.S. has supplied at least $44.9 billion to Kyiv, but if Congress doesn't pass a new aid package by late spring or early summer, the situation in Ukraine could become dire, U.S. officials told ABC News.

As of Dec. 2023, the United Kingdom had pledged some £7.1 billion, or about $9 billion, for military assistance, according to a government report. The European Union had also pledged about €5.6 billion, or about $6.1 billion, which included funding for weapons.

But funding pledges for ammunition and weapons have become scarcer as the war has worn on. The European Council earlier this month approved €50 million in aid for the besieged nation, although that money was earmarked not for munitions but for funding the Ukrainian government, allowing it to pay for salaries and services.

The critical situation now described by Zelenskyy and other Kyiv leaders is a far cry from the way the country's military began the second year of the war. Ukrainian forces last spring launched a long-anticipated counteroffensive, in which they attempted to push back into Crimea, the southern peninsula annexed by Russia in 2014.

The counteroffensive initially had a slowly building momentum. It led to some gains near Donetsk, although it brought heavy Ukrainian casualties and it wasn't successful in cutting off Russia's land bridge to southern Ukraine.

What followed was a fall and winter of intense frontline fighting that further cut into Ukrainian stockpiles.

Russia also continued its long-range missile and drone strikes on residential areas. It launched early-morning assaults on Kyiv and Kharkiv, striking malls, apartment buildings and infrastructure.

But another year of hard fighting hasn't seemed to soften the resolve of either Zelenskyy or Russian President Vladimir Putin.

As with last year, Zelenskyy is still vowing to fight until "every inch of Ukrainian land" is returned from Russian control.

Putin and other Kremlin officials also continued to appear unwavering, although there was at least one high-profile instance of a challenge from Putin's inner circle in the war's second year.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, chief of the paramilitary Wagner Group and a longtime Putin ally, led a chaotic one-day armed rebellion. He sent his forces toward Moscow in June, but later ordered them to turn back. Two months later, Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash.

Earlier this month, longtime opposition politician Alexei Navalny became the latest Kremlin critic to die suddenly. He had been transferred to an Arctic prison, where he died of unknown causes, according to prison officials. The Kremlin rejected international calls for an independent postmortem exam.

The U.S. will impose "crushing" new sanctions on Russia, including measures to punish the Kremlin for Navalny's death, officials said.

"Make no mistake," U.S. President Joe Biden said last week. "Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death."

"This tragedy reminds us of the stakes of this moment," he added. "We have to provide the funding so Ukraine can keep defending itself against Putin’s vicious onslaughts and war crimes."

ABC News' Will Gretsky, Patrick Reevell, Tom Soufi-Burridge, Joe Simonetti, Edward Szekeres, Anne Flaherty, Luis Martinez, Shannon K. Crawford, Justin Gomez and Yulia Drozd contributed to this story.

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Ukrainian chat helps Russian families find soldiers who were captured or killed

omersukrugoksu/Getty Images

(KYIV, Ukraine) -- Almost two years into Russia's invasion, with Moscow's losses estimated by Kyiv at more than 300,000 soldiers, the Ukrainian authorities launched a project called "Want To Find" to help Russian citizens find information about their relatives who went to fight in Ukraine.

The launch came as a followup to the "Want to Live" project, a hotline offering the Russian soldiers a way to surrender.

Since that launch in September 2022, operators of the project received more than 32,000 and 260 Russian soldiers were admitted as prisoners of war, according to the organization. Some even joined the so-called Russian Volunteer corps, which is fighting against Russian forces alongside the Ukrainian army.

The number of requests soared in autumn 2022, during the announcement of a mobilization in Russia and successful Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region and Kherson, and in spring last year when the Ukrainian authorities were announcing the much-anticipated counteroffensive.

That's when many Russians started to reach out to the Want To Live project in search of their relatives who went to war and never returned, according to Vitaliy Matvienko, the spokesperson of the I Want To Live project.

"People, mostly women, called and asked whether we knew something about their husbands or sons, whether they were captured or killed. Because the Russian authorities didn't provide them any information," Matvienko told ABC News.

Since last summer, they've got more than 3,000 such requests and decided to launch a separate Telegram bot for processing them.

Through it, the customers provide all the data they have -- names, photos, any distinguishing features the person has like tattoos or scars. The operators on the Ukrainian side run this data through several databases and tell them whether the person is killed, captured or there's no information at all.

Irina Krynina, 37, is one of those who managed to not only find her husband via the bot, but also help others to do the same.

Her husband Yevgeniy, 34, had been running a successful funeral business in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. In September 2022, during the massive mobilization announced by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Yevgeniy was summoned to the military recruitment center.

"I was against it. I was against the war. I told him not to go," Irina told ABC. "I had a suspicion he will be sent to Ukraine. But he didn't believe me because of the propaganda he watched on TV and decided to join the army."

After a month spent in a training camp in Omsk, Yevgeniy and other Russian troops were sent to the occupied Crimea and then to Kherson as it was liberated by the Ukrainian forces.

"He called me and told me to stop watching Russian TV," Irina recalled. "He said, 'Everything they show is completely untrue.'"

The last time Irina heard from her husband was June 9, 2023.

"I knew he was sent to Bakhmut, Donetsk region, and I freaked out. I knew it was hell there," Irina recalled.

When after a while communication didn't resume she started looking for information about Yevgeniy's whereabouts. "I came to the recruitment center, but they told me -- who are you? we're not going to tell you anything."

Then Irina decided to do online research and discovered a video on social media showing her husband being captured by Ukrainian troops. But even that wasn't enough evidence for the Russian authorities to confirm him as a prisoner of war.

"The Russian ministry of defense told me that doesn't mean anything and they are still consider him missing," she said.

So Irina contacted the Want To Live project. In three days the Ukrainian side confirmed Yevgeniy was in captivity, so Irina took on a challenge and went to Ukraine to meet her husband.

"To hide from the Russian authorities I designed a whole legend," she told ABC News. With her two little kids, Irina went to Antalya, Turkey, a popular holiday destination for many Russians. Then they flew to Istanbul and Chisinau, Moldova, where Ukrainian representatives met her and escorted to Kyiv.

"When I finally met Yevgeniy he was shocked," Irina said. "He didn't expect me to look for him and moreover come this far to meet him."

While Yevgeniy remains in captivity and is weighing whether he wants to go back to Russia, Irina settled down in Kyiv with her kids and set up her own nongovernmental organization, called Step In, to help other Russians search and bring back home their relatives who invaded Ukraine. The NGO is basically helping the Ukrainian Want To Find project to process the requests, organize calls between the POWs and their relatives or even receive parcels for them, according to the Geneva Conventions.

"It's a very useful humanitarian project. Firstly, people in Russia find out at least something about their relatives," Matvienko explained. "Once we received a request about a soldier and found out that his body was actually repatriated to Russia half a year before that. That is, he was killed, Russia got his body, but never notified the family."

Secondly, Matvienko said, the project prompts the Russian citizens to pressure their own authorities and demand social protection. Wives of Russian soldiers often stage protests demanding exchange of prisoners.

Finally, both projects, I Want To Live and I Want To Find, are aimed at preventing more Russians from joining the army and also facilitating the exchange of prisoners of war, Matvienko added.

"According to the Geneva Conventions, the swaps should take place after the fighting ends. So the very fact they take place now is a huge achievement," he said.

More than 3,000 Ukrainian soldiers have already been returned in exchange for nearly the same amount of Russians.

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Scientists announce discovery of 'very strange' 240 million-year-old 'Chinese dragon' fossil

Dinocephalosaurus orientalis. -- National Museums Scotland

(LONDON) -- Scientists in Scotland have revealed a remarkable discovery of a "very strange" 240 million-year-old "Chinese dragon" fossil.

The international team from National Museums Scotland revealed their discovery -- found in Guizhou Province in southern China -- of the Dinocephalosaurus orientalis, a 5-meter-long aquatic reptile from the Triassic period dating back an estimated 240 million years.

"With 32 separate neck vertebrae Dinocephalosaurus orientalis had an extraordinarily long neck that draws comparison with that of Tanystropheus hydroides, another strange marine reptile from the Middle Triassic of both Europe and China," scientists said announcing the discovery.

"Both reptiles were of similar size and have several features of the skull in common, including a fish-trap type of dentition," officials continued. "However, Dinocephalosaurus is unique in possessing many more vertebrae both in the neck and in the torso, giving the animal a much more snake-like appearance."

Scientists say the reptile was "clearly very well adapted to an oceanic lifestyle," as indicated by the flippered limbs and "exquisitely preserved" fishes in its stomach region.

"Despite superficial similarities, Dinocephalosaurus was not closely related to the famous long-necked plesiosaurs that only evolved around 40 million years later and which inspired the myth of the Loch Ness Monster."

The reptile was originally identified in 2003, but this most recent discovery of additional, more complete specimens has allowed scientists to depict the bizarre long-necked creature in full for the very first time.

"It is yet one more example of the weird and wonderful world of the Triassic that continues to baffle palaeontologists, said Dr. Nick Fraser, Keeper of Natural Sciences at National Museums Scotland in the statement announcing the discovery. "We are certain that it will capture imaginations across the globe due to its striking appearance, reminiscent of the long and snake-like, mythical Chinese Dragon."

Researchers from Scotland, Germany, the United States and China studied the fossil over the course of ten years at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology in Beijing but made their announcement public on Friday.

"This has been an international effort. Working together with colleagues from the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Europe, we used newly discovered specimens housed at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to build on our existing knowledge of this animal," Professor Li Chun from the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology said. "Among all of the extraordinary finds we have made in the Triassic of Guizhou Province, Dinocephalosaurus probably stands out as the most remarkable."

The paper describing the animal has been published in full in the academic journal Earth and Environmental Science: Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

"As an early-career researcher, it has been an incredible experience to contribute to these significant findings," said Dr. Stephan Spiekman, a postdoctoral researcher based at the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History. "We hope that our future research will help us understand more about the evolution of this group of animals, and particularly how the elongate neck functioned."

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Alexei Navalny's death listed as 'natural,' mother says, accusing Russia of blackmail

Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- Alexei Navalny's cause of death has been listed as "natural" on his medical report, according to Navalny's spokesperson Kira Yarmysh, who was relayed the information on the death certificate by the Russian opposition leader's mother.

"The medical report on death shown to the mother of Alexei Navalny stated that the causes of death were natural," Yarmysh wrote in Russian on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Navalny's team has accused Russia of killing the Vladimir Putin critic, who was previously poisoned and nearly died in an assassination attempt blamed on the Russian president.

Alexei Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, said she was "secretly" taken to the morgue to see her son's body in a video message posted to YouTube on Thursday. She also said the Russian government is blackmailing her and trying to force her to have a secret funeral for her son.

"I just left the building of the Investigative Committee of the city of Salekhard. I spent almost a day there alone, alone with investigators and criminologists. They only let the lawyer in this afternoon. Yesterday evening they secretly took me to the morgue, where they showed Alexei," Navalnaya said in the video.

Navalny's body was taken to the Russian city of Salekhard, located on the Arctic Circle, after he died in a nearby penal colony on Feb. 16.

Investigators "claim they know the cause of death," Navalnaya said. She also said she signed Navalny's death certificate.

"They have all the medical and legal documents ready, which I saw, and I signed the medical death certificate," Navalnaya said.

Navalnaya said the Russian government is "blackmailing" her, trying to convince her to have a secret funeral for her son.

"I'm recording this video because they started threatening me. Looking into my eyes they say that if I don't agree to a secret funeral, they will do something with my son's body," Navalnaya said. "I don't want any special conditions. I just want everything to be done according to the law. I demand that his son be given to me immediately."

White House spokesperson John Kirby hammered Russia on the reporting that they were making demands of Navalny's mother in order for her to receive his body.

Kirby said he could not confirm that she was being "blackmailed," but, "nevertheless, this is the man's mother."

"It's not enough that she gets to see the body of her son," Kirby said. "She should be able to collect the body of her son so that she can properly memorialize her son and her son's bravery and courage and service and do all the things that any mother would want to do for a son lost in such a tragic way. The Russians need to give her back her son and they need to answer for what specifically befell Mr. Navalny and acknowledge that they, in fact, are responsible for his demise."

President Joe Biden addressed the U.S. following news of Navalny's death last week, saying he was both "not surprised and outraged" while placing the blame directly on Putin.

"We don't know exactly what happened but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was the result of something that Putin and his friends did," Biden said.

Biden met with Navalny's wife and daughter in San Francisco Thursday, according to a readout from the White House and photos the president posted to X.

"Today, I met with Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya – Aleksey Navalny's loved ones – to express my condolences for their devastating loss," Biden wrote on X. "Aleksey's legacy of courage will live on in Yulia and Dasha, and the countless people across Russia fighting for democracy and human rights."

ABC News' Rashid Haddou, Molly Nagle and Justin Gomez contributed to this report.

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Sudan faces 'perfect storm' as civil war sparks humanitarian crisis, aid groups warn

Belongings at Malakal transit site in South Sudan's Upper Nile State. CREDIT: Jadwiga Figula/Getty Images

(LONDON AND NEW YORK) -- After a missile struck her home in Khartoum, Sudan, last April, Dallia Mohamed Abdelmoniem said she was forced to flee and has not been back since.

"I literally packed for a week thinking I'll come back, you know, we'll be coming back home," Abdelmoniem, a journalist-turned-activist who is currently based in Egypt, told ABC News.

She added, "I have no idea if my house is still standing or not." Her century-deep roots in Sudan were ripped from the ground last year during the outbreak of the civil war, she said, scattering her family across the globe. "We have no family in Sudan anymore," Abdelmoniem said.

A humanitarian "perfect storm" is brewing in Sudan as hunger looms, health systems collapse and millions are displaced, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned last week in a briefing.

Just over 10 months since the start of the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces Paramilitary group (RSF), aid organizations say Sudan is being plunged into a "humanitarian crisis of epic proportions."

"Sudan is now one of the largest displacement crises globally, with nearly 8 million people displaced due to the ongoing conflict," Peter Graaf, the WHO's representative to Sudan, said in last week's briefing. "About 25 million people in Sudan need humanitarian assistance, 18 million of whom are facing acute hunger – 5 million at emergency levels of hunger."

The conflict, which erupted on April 15, 2023, between the Rapid Support Forces Paramilitary group (RSF) and the Sudanese Army (SAF) after weeks of tensions linked to a plan for returning the country to civilian rule after the dissolution of Sudan's government, has killed at least 12,000 people according to the U.N.

Local groups, however, say the true toll is likely much higher.

Speaking to ABC News over the phone, Dr. Arif Noor, Save the Children's country director for Sudan, says the impact of the war on Sudan has been "devastating." Noor said, "Almost 50 percent if not more of the nation is witnessing active conflict. There have been indiscriminate attacks on hospitals, schools, and public services, irregular water and electricity access, and large-scale internet blackouts."

Niemat Amhadi, a Sudanese activist based in Washington, D.C., told ABC News during she did not speak to her family in Sudan for six months during the country's first communicate blockade.

Since the conflict broke out, the two warring factions have utilized internet shutdowns to block communication in areas controlled by the opposing side, activists say. A major communication blockade has currently been in place for the past two weeks, sources told ABC News.

Ahmadi, who survived the early-2000s Darfuri genocide, said the current conflict in comparison "is the worst in our lifetime," citing not only these communication blockades, but also aid blockades.

Ahmadi told ABC News that "both sides are using humanitarian aid as a tool also to control people's survival," by preventing necessary aid from reaching those it is intended for.

"The health system is on the brink of collapse if not already collapsed in some areas," added Noor. "And women and children especially are facing the brunt."

The outbreak of the conflict has led to the displacement of nearly 3 million children, in addition to 2 million displaced in previous crises in Sudan, leading to the 'world's largest internal displacement crisis for children,' UNICEF said.

While the needs of the ravaged nation continue to mount and organizations persist in sounding alarms calling to address them, funding for the crisis is not adequately flowing, UNICEF spokesperson James Elder said in a February press briefing.

"Despite the magnitude of needs, last year, the funding UNICEF sought for nearly three-quarters of children was not forthcoming," Elder stated.

UNICEF has been appealing for $840 million to provide multi-intervention humanitarian assistance to Sudanese families since last year.

Abdelmoniem also lamented the lack of funding. "It's not even a trickle, I wouldn't even call it a trickle. It's bread crumbs. I don't know what it is, but no, there's no money coming in whatsoever," she told ABC News.

Elder, in his briefing, also urged the public to consider the generational repercussions of the crisis.

"The true cost of war isn't just measured in casualties but also in the loss of intellectual capital, and this war risks condemning Sudan to a future bereft of learning, innovation, progress, and hope," he advised.

Abdelmoniem agreed, telling ABC News, "A lot of the youth, those who are under the age of 30, in their life they've seen nothing but war and destruction. How can you guarantee for them that, you know what, there's a future here?"

The Sudanese Armed Forces last week announced it had regained control of the city of Omdurman from the Rapid Support Forces following intense fighting in its first major advance since the onset of the war.

But fighting between the RSF and SAF continues, with clashes between the two sides in Sudan's capital Khartoum, West, North and Central Darfur, Kordofan as well as Sudan's breadbasket state, Al Jazirah.

As the war approaches its one-year anniversary, Noor tells ABC the nation is in "dire need for peace" as the State Department calls on parties to abide by their responsibility to protect civilians and humanitarian staff.

In a statement, a State Department spokesperson told ABC News: "We urge SAF General Burhan and RSF General Hemedti to hold those responsible for attacks on civilians to account, and to abide by their IGAD summit commitments of an unconditional ceasefire and a face-to-face meeting between them."

The spokesperson added, "All parties to the conflict have a responsibility to protect civilians and humanitarian staff, who are risking their lives to help people in need. Any interference or theft of humanitarian goods is unacceptable and keeps lifesaving aid from reaching those that need it most."

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