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Additional attacks on American bases in Syria Friday after US retaliatory airstrikes on Iranian-backed groups

omersukrugoksu/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- A U.S. official told ABC News that there were two new attacks late Friday on two U.S. facilities in Deir ez-Zor Province in eastern Syria after another earlier in the day and a drone attack on Thursday that prompted retaliatory U.S. airstrikes that targeted Iranian-backed militias believed responsible.

Both attacks late Friday happened about the same time, the official said. One involved three drones targeting one facility and the other involved five rockets fired at a separate facility, according to the official, who said one American service member was wounded and was in stable condition.

The official said that two of the three drones that targeted one U.S. facility were shot down, but one drone made it through. There were no injuries in that attack.

The official said that five rockets were fired at another U.S. facility where the American service member was wounded. That individual is in stable condition, the official said, and that a damage assessment of the facility was still underway.

Earlier Friday, a Pentagon spokesman said the first of the three attacks on U.S. bases did not cause any damage and there were no injuries.

"On the morning of March 24th, at approximately 8:05 am local time, 10 rockets targeted coalition forces at the Green Village in northeast Syria," said Lt. Col. Phil Ventura, a Pentagon spokesman.

"The attack resulted in no injuries to US or coalition personnel and no damage to equipment or facilities," he added.

The new attacks, of which there have been about 80 since the start of 2021, come a day after the U.S. military conducted retaliatory airstrikes in eastern Syria on Thursday against the Iranian-backed groups after a one-way explosive drone attack targeting a U.S. base in the region killed a U.S. contractor and injured six others, including five U.S. service members, the Pentagon said.

"Earlier today, a U.S. contractor was killed and five U.S. service members and one additional U.S. contractor were wounded after a one-way unmanned aerial vehicle struck a maintenance facility on a Coalition base near Hasakah in northeast Syria at approximately 1:38 p.m. local time," the Pentagon said in a statement.

Two of the wounded service members were treated on site, while the other four Americans were medically evacuated to coalition medical facilities in Iraq, officials said. A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that both contractors were American.

U.S. intelligence assessed that the one-way attack drone that struck the base on Thursday was Iranian in origin, according to the statement. Iran has used such drones in the past in attacks on Saudi Arabia and in Yemen, but this drone technology has become more noticeable after it provided hundreds of Shahed drones to Russia that have been used in attacks against Ukrainian civilians and infrastructure targets.

Earlier on Thursday, Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla, who as the commander of U.S. Central Command is the top U.S. military commander in the Middle East, told Congress that there have been 78 such attacks since the beginning of 2021.

"At the direction of President [Joe] Biden, I authorized U.S. Central Command forces to conduct precision airstrikes tonight in eastern Syria against facilities used by groups affiliated with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC)," Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said in the statement, issued late Thursday.

"The airstrikes were conducted in response today's attack, as well as a series of recent attacks against Coalition forces in Syria by groups affiliated with the IRGC," he added.

A U.S. official told ABC News that the airstrikes were carried out by U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter aircraft as part of a response approved by President Joe Biden earlier on Thursday.

Biden was enroute to Ottawa, Canada, when he approved the airstrikes presented by the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community as response options to the drone attack, White House spokesman John Kirby said during an appearance on CNN.

"He made the decision very, very shortly in that discussion to authorize the strikes against these particular targets," Kirby said. "We're going to work to protect our people and our facilities as best we can. It's a dangerous environment."

"We are not seeking a conflict with Iran," said Kirby. "We've been very clear with the Iranians and with our partners about how serious the mission that we're doing in Syria is and how we're going to protect that mission."

"Iran should not be involved in supporting these attacks on our facilities or on our people, we've made that very very clear," said Kirby.

At a news conference with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Friday afternoon, before the reports of even more attacks, Biden said, "make no mistake, the United States does not -- does not, emphasize -- seek conflict with Iran but be prepared for us to act forcefully protect our people. That's exactly what happened last night."

The U.S. has about 900 troops in eastern Syria providing assistance to Syrian Kurdish forces in preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State.

In recent months, some of the bases have been the target of drone attacks that had, in most instances, not led to injuries or physical damage. Iranian-backed groups in Syria are believed to have been responsible for these attacks.

"These precision strikes are intended to protect and defend U.S. personnel. The United States took proportionate and deliberate action intended to limit the risk of escalation and minimize casualties," the Pentagon statement read.

"As President Biden has made clear, we will take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing," Austin said. "No group will strike our troops with impunity."

"Our thoughts are with the family and colleagues of the contractor who was killed and with those who were wounded in the attack earlier today," the defense secretary added.

In a statement, U.S. Central Command leader Gen. Michael "Erik" Kurilla said, in part, that the U.S. "will always take all necessary measures to defend our people and will always respond at a time and place of our choosing. We are postured for scalable options in the face of any additional Iranian attacks."

"Our troops remain in Syria to ensure the enduring defeat of ISIS, which benefits the security and stability of not only Syria, but the entire region," he added.

During Thursday's House Armed Services Committee hearing focused on the Middle East and Africa, Kurilla was asked by Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon about the frequency of Iranian proxy attacks on U.S. forces.

There have been 78 such attacks since the beginning of 2021, according to Kurilla.

"It is periodic. We see periods where they will do more," he said

"So what Iran does to hide its hand is they use Iranian proxies -- that's under UAVs or rockets -- to be able to attack our forces in Iraq or Syria," Kurilla added.

ABC News analyst Mick Mulroy, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East and retired CIA officer, said the U.S. "must strike back at the Iranian forces in Syria responsible for these attacks to such an extent that they know the consequences of killing and injuring Americans will not be worth the costs."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

American couple being held at ransom in Haiti, family says: 'We told them not to go'

Toussaint and Imbert Family

(TAMARAC, Fla.) -- An American couple visiting Haiti is being held at ransom after being kidnapped from a bus nearly a week ago, according to their family.

Jean-Dickens Toussaint and his wife, Abigail Toussaint, of Tamarac, Florida, were in Haiti to see ailing relatives and attend a community festival when they were kidnapped Saturday while traveling on a bus from Port-au-Prince, their family said.

A family friend who met the couple at the airport to escort them was also kidnapped, their niece, Christie, who declined to give her last name, told ABC Miami affiliate WPLG.

"They stopped the bus at a stop and they asked for the Americans on the bus and their escorts to come off the bus and then they took them," Christie told the station.

In response to an inquiry about the incident, the U.S. Department of State did not confirm a kidnapping but said it is "aware of reports of two U.S. citizens missing in Haiti."

The family learned about the ransom demands after the friend escorting the Toussaints contacted his relatives, Christie said.

The kidnappers initially demanded $6,000 for the couple's release, Nikese Toussaint, the sister of Jean Dickens Toussaint, told ABC News. Though once they sent the money, the price went up to $200,000 per person and "we don't have that type of money," Christie told WPLG.

Nikese Toussaint said they did not know how to reach Haiti police so have not contacted them, but said they did reach out to the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

"The U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas," the U.S. Department of State said. "When a U.S. citizen is missing, we work closely with local authorities as they carry out their search efforts, and we share information with families however we can."

"We have nothing further to share at this time," the statement added.

The two have a 1-year-old son who "is thankfully not with them" but staying with a relative, Nikese Toussaint said.

The family members said they were worried about the couple making the trip, given the political unrest and gang violence in Haiti.

"We were very worried when they said they were going, we told them not to go but they wanted to go," Nikese Toussaint said.

The State Department advises Americans not to travel to Haiti "due to kidnapping, crime, and civil unrest."

"I do have the worst-case scenario playing in my head, but I keep trying to reject it because I don't want that to happen," Christie told WPLG.

"We just want to hear their voice as proof that they are still alive," she said.

ABC News' Aicha El Hammar Castano contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

"Hotel Rwanda" hero Paul Rusesabagina to be released from prison, Rwandan government says

Darrin Klimek/Getty Images

(LONDON) -- The Rwandan government announced Friday that Paul Rusesabagina, who inspired the acclaimed 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, will be released from prison nearly three years after he was captured and detained.

The 68-year-old Rwandan hotelier-turned-dissident, who is a lawful permanent resident of the United States, was tried and convicted on a slew of terrorism-related charges in Rwanda's High Court in Kigali in 2021. He was sentenced to 25 years behind bars.

Rusesabagina's prison sentence was commuted by presidential order on Friday after consideration of requests for his clemency and approval by the Cabinet, according to Rwandan Minister for Justice and Attorney General Emmanuel Ugirashebuja.

"Under Rwandan law, commutation of sentence does not extinguish the underlying conviction," Ugirashebuja said in a statement. "If any individual benefitting from early release repeats offences of a similar nature, the commutation can be revoked and the remainder of the prison sentence will be served, in accordance with the conditions specified in the Presidential Order. Other penalties imposed by the Court, such as compensation owed to victims, are not affected by this commutation and thus remain in force."

Rwandan government spokesperson Stephanie Nyombayire confirmed to ABC News that Rusesabagina would be freed within 24 hours.

When asked for comment, Rusesabagina's family told ABC News in a statement on Friday: "We are pleased to hear the news about Paul's release. The family is hopeful to reunite with him soon."

Last year, the U.S. Department of State determined that Rusesabagina, who has maintained his innocence, had been "wrongfully detained." The U.S. House of Representatives subsequently passed a bipartisan resolution calling on the Biden administration to demand Rusesabagina's release on humanitarian grounds. As U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken traveled to Rwanda in August 2022, members of Congress sent a letter urging him to push for Rusesabagina's "immediate release" and "safe return to the United States."

Rusesabagina was the manager of the Hotel des Mille Collines in Kigali during the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when divisions between Rwanda's two main ethnic groups came to a head. The Rwandan government, controlled by extremist members of the Hutu ethnic majority, launched a systemic campaign with its allied Hutu militias to wipe out the Tutsi ethnic minority, slaughtering more than 800,000 people over the course of 100 days, mostly Tutsis and the moderate Hutus who tried to protect them, according to estimates from the United Nations.

More than 1,200 people took shelter in the Hotel des Mille Collines during what is often described as the darkest chapter of Rwanda's history. Rusesabagina, who is of both Hutu and Tutsi descent, said he used his job and connections with the Hutu elite to protect the hotel's guests from massacre. The events were later immortalized in Hotel Rwanda, with American actor Don Cheadle's portrayal of Rusesabagina earning an Academy Award nomination for best actor in 2005.

Rusesabagina, who fled Rwanda with his family in 1996 and later settled in San Antonio, Texas, rose to fame and was lauded as a hero after the movie's release. In 2005, he was awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor given by the American president. He also wrote a book, gave paid speeches and became an outspoken critic of Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has been in office for the last two decades.

In August 2020, Rusesabagina traveled to Dubai to meet up with a Burundi-born pastor who Rusesabagina alleges had invited him to speak at churches in Burundi about his experience during the Rwandan genocide. The pair hopped on a private jet that Rusesabagina believed would take them to Burundi's capital, according to Rusesabagina's international legal team.

Rusesabagina did not know that the pastor was working as an informant for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau and had tricked him into boarding a chartered flight to Kigali. He was subsequently arrested and charged with several terrorism-related offenses, with Rwandan prosecutors alleging that Rusesabagina wanted to go to Burundi to coordinate with rebel groups based there and in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rusesabagina's family and lawyers have repeatedly expressed concern over his condition and treatment while under detention in Rwanda's capital. The married father of six is a cancer survivor and is prescribed medication for a heart disorder. He was held in solitary confinement for more than eight months after his capture and has been denied proper medical care, according to his international legal team. The U.N.'s Nelson Mandela Rules state that keeping someone in solitary confinement for more than 15 consecutive days is torture.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Harris to discuss 'brutality of slavery' at Cape Coast Castle during weeklong Africa visit

Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

(WASHINGTON) -- Kamala Harris, the first Black U.S. vice president, on Saturday begins a historic first trip while in office to Africa, with stops scheduled in Ghana, Tanzania and Zambia during her weeklong tour.

She continues the Biden administration's outreach to African countries amid competition from China and their growing influence on the continent, where countries have forged trade and other ties with Beijing.

Previewing the vice president's agenda on a call with reporters on Thursday evening, senior administration officials said Harris will be asking the leaders not to "choose" between the U.S. and China but to "expand" their options.

"We can't ignore the current geopolitical moment. It's no secret that we are engaged in competition with China. And we've said very clearly we intend to out-compete China in the long term," the officials said.

In a show of how much Tanzania values their relationship with China, President Samia Suluhu Hassan's first state visit outside of Africa last November was to meet President Xi Jinping in Beijing where their meeting focused on areas of cooperation such as agriculture trade and infrastructure.

Harris, in her own visit to Africa, will hold bilateral meetings in each country that will involve "wide-ranging discussions" on regional security, democracy, strengthening business ties, debt relief and restructuring and the impact on Africa from Russia's invasion of Ukraine, officials said.

"Russia's war is not only hurting the people of Ukraine and Europe, but it's hurting Africans and others around the world by generating rising food and commodity prices that are actually having a disproportional impact on African countries," the administration officials told reporters Thursday.

Two notable moments to watch for during Harris' trip will be in Ghana and Zambia. The administration officials said that on Monday Harris will tour Cape Coast Castle, a former slave-trade outpost and location of the so-called "Door of No Return," and deliver remarks on the "brutality of slavery and the African diaspora."

And Harris' time in Zambia will be notable as it marks her return to the country for the first time since she was a young girl. In the 1960s, she traveled there to visit her maternal grandfather, who was a civil servant in India and worked for several years in the Zambian government on refugee resettlement issues.

"The vice president is very much looking forward to returning to Lusaka [the Zambian capital], which is a part of her family's story and a source of pride," the senior administration officials said Thursday, suggesting there would be "more to say" about this portion of the trip as that day nears and that Harris would "have much more to say about this herself throughout the trip."

Harris departs Washington on Saturday evening and arrives in Ghana on Sunday afternoon, though her first engagements will take place on Monday, beginning with a bilateral meeting with President Nana Akufo-Addo, followed by a visit to a local recording studio in Accra.

On Tuesday she is set to deliver a "major speech to an audience of young people," tour Cape Coast Castle and "speak about the brutality of slavery and the African Diaspora" from that location as well.

Also in Accra on Wednesday, Harris will meet with women entrepreneurs and discuss the economic empowerment of women. During that meeting, senior administration officials said, Harris is expected to announce a "series of continent-wide, public and private sector investments to help close the digital gender divide and to empower women economically more broadly."

Harris travels to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on Wednesday afternoon and on Thursday she begins the day meeting with President Samia Suluhu Hassan. The vice president will also participate in a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the 1998 bombing of the U.S. embassy there, and she will meet with entrepreneurs at a tech incubator and coworking space.

Next Friday, March 31, Harris departs Tanzania for Lusaka where she will meet with President Hakainde Hichilema.

And on April 1, she will focus on climate adaptation and resilience and food security, along with a convening of "business and philanthropic leaders from both the continent and for the United States to discuss digital and financial inclusion on the continent," administration officials said.

She arrives back in Washington on April 2.

It's the latest high-profile international tour for Harris, who has been an administration lead on issues including immigration -- on which she has sometimes drawn backlash -- and, more recently, highlighting what the White House said is the importance of ensuring abortion access after Roe v. Wade was overruled.

The vice president's trip is also the latest show of support from the administration amid President Joe Biden's push to engage closer with the African continent.

At the U.S.-Africa summit in Washington last year, Biden said the United States was "all in on Africa and all in with Africa," adding that the continent "belongs at the table in every room" where global challenges are being discussed. Biden announced then that he was "eager" to visit the continent himself, though the White House has not announced any official travel.

Harris' visit also comes on the heels of a series of other notable trips by high-ranking figures in the administration.

Just over a week ago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken became the first person in his post to visit Niger and announced $150 million in new humanitarian assistance for Africa's Sahel region. During the first stop of his tour, he also committed $331 million in new humanitarian aid for Ethiopia.

First lady Jill Biden was in Namibia and Kenya last month for a five-day visit focused on food insecurities in the Horn of Africa as well as challenges facing youth and women. In Kenya, she met with drought-affected communities and heard first-hand accounts of its devastating impacts in the region.

Following her visit, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced it was providing over $126 million in additional food assistance for Kenya.

And in January, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen began the administration's engagement with a 10-day tour to Senegal, South Africa and Zambia; and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield made stops in Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Russia-Ukraine live updates: Zelenskyy visits troops after night of Russian strikes

Anton Petrus/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- More than a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a full-scale invasion of neighboring Ukraine, the countries are fighting for control of areas in eastern and southern Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have liberated nearly 30,000 square miles of their territory from Russian forces since the invasion began on Feb. 24, 2022, but Putin appeared to be preparing for a long and bloody war.

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

Mar 24, 2:03 PM EDT
Russia says Slovakia handing over fighter jets unfriendly step, violation of international obligations

Russia called Slovakia's transfer of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine an unfriendly step and a step aimed at destroying bilateral relations.

"We are talking about another gross violation by the Slovak side of its international obligations to re-export Russian-made weapons and military equipment," Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation said in a statement.

"We regard these actions of Slovakia as an unfriendly act against the Russian Federation, aimed at destroying bilateral relations," the FSMTC said.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Mar 23, 12:03 PM EDT
Ukraine says Russia's Bakhmut assault loses steam, counterstrike coming soon

Ukrainian troops, on the defensive for four months, will launch a long-awaited counterassault "very soon" now that Russia's huge winter offensive is losing steam without taking Bakhmut, Ukraine's top ground forces commander Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi said Thursday.

"The aggressor does not give up hope of taking Bakhmut at any cost, despite the losses in manpower and equipment," Syrskyi said.

Adding, "Without sparing anything, they lose considerable strength and exhale. Very soon we will take advantage of this opportunity, as we once did near Kyiv, Kharkiv, Balaklia and Kupyansk."

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Mar 23, 11:51 AM EDT
Slovakia hands over 4 fighter jets to Ukraine

Slovakia has handed over four MiG-29 fighter jets to the Ukrainian Armed Forces, according to Slovakian Defense Minister Jaro Nad.

The remaining aircrafts promised to Ukraine will be handed over in the following weeks, Nad said.

In response to the news, Russia accused NATO and the EU of continuing to escalate the conflict in Ukraine and seeking to prolong it.

"The Russian Federation considers the transfer of four fighter jets by Slovakia to Ukraine a destructive step that runs counter to the EU's rhetoric about seeking peaceful solutions," Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko said in a statement.

Adding, "The Russian Federation will measure its reaction with the specific military activities of NATO on the territory of Finland."

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Mar 22, 9:34 AM EDT
Zelenskyy visits troops after night of Russian strikes

Chinese President Xi Jinping hadn't even left Moscow when the drones started exploding. It came a matter of hours after Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin proclaimed they were the ones who wanted to make "peace" in Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials say 21 lethal attack drones were launched overnight and into this morning by Russia, with 16 shot down by the Ukrainians.

An apartment block was hit in a town southeast of Kyiv, killing at least four people and injuring others, officials said. Russian officials claim Ukrainian soldiers were based there. The Ukrainians are calling it a "civilian" building.

Russian missiles later hit an apartment block in the heart of the southern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.

And in an apparent repost to the geopolitical theatrics in Moscow, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited his troops on Wednesday in the eastern Donbas, not far from the embattled city of Bakhmut, according to his officials.

Bakhmut has become a potent symbol of Ukrainian resistance and sacrifice and, despite being surrounded on three sides, Ukrainian forces inside the city are, after months of fighting there, still holding on.

Zelenskyy's office released video of him addressing troops and also visiting injured soldiers in a military medical facility in the region. He told troops their "destiny was difficult but important" because they were fighting to save the motherland.

Mar 22, 8:32 AM EDT
Missile strikes residential building in Ukraine

A Russian missile struck an apartment building in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on Wednesday, injuring at least 18 people, officials said.

"This must not become 'just another day' in" Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Twitter.

"The world needs greater unity and determination to defeat Russian terror faster and protect lives," he said.

The victims included two children, secretary of the City Council Anatoly Kurtev said. Eleven adults were hospitalized, with four in serious condition, he said.

Mar 21, 6:09 PM EDT
Explosions reported in several Ukrainian cities

Explosions were heard and felt in the cities of Odesa and Kherson and the regions of Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk on Tuesday evening, officials and people on the ground in Ukraine reported on social media channels.

During the attack on Odesa, Ukraine's air defense shot down two X-59 guided missiles launched by Russian fighter jets, the Ukrainian Air Force said on its Telegram channel.

Russia fired four missiles at Odesa, Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential office, said on his Telegram channel. Two rockets were shot down by Ukrainian air defense, and two rockets hit the city, he said.

Three people were wounded, and a three-story building on the complex of a monastery was damaged, Yermak said.

Three people were killed, and four were wounded as a result of Russian shelling in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian Office of the Prosecutor General reported on Facebook.

-ABC News' Ellie Kaufman

Mar 21, 4:29 PM EDT
Ukrainian Patriot missile training at Fort Sill nearly complete

The Patriot missile training for Ukrainian troops at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, is wrapping up soon, an Army spokesman said Tuesday.

Sixty-five Ukrainian soldiers have been training at Fort Sill since mid-January in an expedited training cycle on using the Patriots -- training that typically can last up to a year.

The Ukrainians will depart the Army post in the coming days for Europe, where they will receive additional training, before heading back to Ukraine "in the coming weeks," Col. Marty O’Donnell of U.S. Army Europe/Africa told ABC News.

"In Europe, the Ukrainians training here will meet up with Ukrainians training in Europe, and with U.S., German, and Dutch equipment donations to validate the systems and ensure interoperability," O'Donnell said.

-ABC News' Luis Martinez

Mar 21, 12:48 PM EDT
US to speed up delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine

The United States is going to speed up the manufacture and delivery of the 31 Abrams tanks President Joe Biden approved sending to Ukraine, a U.S. official confirmed Tuesday.

Instead of making new tanks from scratch, the Department of Defense will now refurbish the hulls of several older models that will be equipped with more modern equipment, according to the official.

The new delivery target date is fall 2023, the official said; previously the anticipated delivery time was believed to be mid-2024.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby hinted at the accelerated timeline on Tuesday.

"We're working on that," Kirby said on MSNBC. "There's some changes that you can make to the process to sort of speed that up."

-ABC News' Luis Martinez and Teresa Mettela

Mar 21, 11:49 AM EDT
Japanese PM visits Ukraine for 1st time during war

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida visited Ukraine on Tuesday for the first time since the start of Russia's invasion.

In Kyiv, Kishida laid a wreath at the memorial for fallen Ukrainian soldiers. In Bucha, where Ukrainian officials said more than 400 civilians were killed last year by Russian forces, he laid a wreath outside a church before observing a moment of silence and bowing.

"The world was astonished to see innocent civilians in Bucha killed one year ago," Kishida said. "I really feel great anger for all the atrocious acts."

-ABC News' Ellie Kaufman

Mar 20, 6:33 PM EDT
Ukraine claims it destroyed Russian cruise missiles in Crimea drone attack

Ukrainian forces destroyed Russian Kalibr-NK cruise missiles in a drone strike in Crimea as the weapons were being transported by rail, the Ukrainian Main Intelligence Directorate said on their official Telegram channel Monday.

Sergey Aksyonov, an adviser to the head of the Republic of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014, confirmed a drone attack on his official Telegram channel.

Debris from the aerial object damaged a household and a shop and one person was injured from the explosions, Aksyonov said.

-ABC News' Ellie Kaufman

Mar 19, 6:44 PM EDT
Indications China could be supplying electrical components to Russia military use, senior Ukrainian official says

Ukraine has been monitoring multiple flights between Russian and Chinese cities during which the aircrafts' transponders are temporarily switched off, according to a senior Ukrainian official, who called it a cause for concern.

The official said the belief is that China could be supplying Russia with electrical components that Moscow needs for military equipment, thus diminishing the impact of Western sanctions.

The senior official, who spoke exclusively to ABC News on the condition of anonymity, added that Ukraine currently has "no proof" that China is supplying weaponry or ammunition to Ukraine.

The official also dismissed the notion of a Chinese-brokered peace plan in the near future and said Ukraine is focused on retaking more land from Russia and is preparing for a fresh offensive "in the spring or early summer."

-ABC News' Tom Burridge

Mar 19, 1:13 AM EDT
Putin arrives in Mariupol, marking first visit to newly annexed territories

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Mariupol to inspect a number of locations in the city and talk to local residents, the Kremlin press service said on Sunday.

Putin travelled by helicopter to the Ukrainian city, which has been occupied since last year by Russians. He drove a vehicle along the city's streets, making stops at several locations.

The visit was Putin's first to newly annexed territories.

Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin reported to Putin about construction and restoration work. In the Nevsky area, a newly built residential area, Putin talked with residents. He went inside a home at the invitation of one of the families.

Putin also inspected the coastline of the city in the area of a yacht club, a theater building that was heavily bombed with civilians sheltering inside and other memorable places of the city.

-ABC News' Tanya Stukalova

Mar 18, 11:04 AM EDT
Putin visits Crimea on anniversary of annexation

Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled to Crimea to mark the ninth anniversary of the Black Sea peninsula's annexation from Ukraine on Saturday, one day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader accusing him of war crimes.

Putin visited an art school and a children's center.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, a move that most of the world denounced as illegal. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has demanded that Russia withdraw from the peninsula as well as the areas it has occupied since last year.

Putin has shown no intention of relinquishing the Kremlin's gains. Instead, he stressed Friday the importance of holding Crimea. "Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now," he said, referring to Crimea's largest city. "We will do everything needed to fend off any threats."

-ABC News' Edward Szekeres

Mar 17, 8:03 PM EDT
Biden calls Putin arrest warrant 'justified'

President Joe Biden called the arrest warrant issued for Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday by the International Criminal Court "justified," though acknowledged it might not have strong teeth.

"Well, I think it's justified," Biden told reporters Friday evening. "But the question -- it's not recognized internationally, by us either. But I think it makes a very strong point."

In a earlier statement on the warrant, the White House said it supports "accountability for perpetrators of war crimes."

"There is no doubt that Russia is committing war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine, and we have been clear that those responsible must be held accountable," National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in the statement.

-ABC News' Cheyenne Haslett and Davone Morales

Mar 17, 2:35 PM EDT
Turkey agrees to start ratifying Finland's NATO bid

Turkey is beginning the process of ratifying Finland's application to join NATO, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday, 10 months after both Finland and Sweden applied to become NATO members in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

"At a critical time for our security, this will make our alliance stronger and safer," NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

The breakthrough came as Finnish President Sauli Niinisto was in Ankara, Turkey, to meet with Erdogan.

Erdogan said Finland fulfilled its part of the agreements and therefore he saw no reason to further delay the ratification process. Erdogan did not provide an update on Sweden's bid.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement, "We encourage Türkiye to quickly ratify Sweden’s accession protocols as well. In addition, we urge Hungary to conclude its ratification process for both Finland and Sweden without delay. … The United States believes that both countries should become members of NATO as soon as possible."

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Mar 17, 11:54 AM EDT
ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying in a statement Friday that Putin is "allegedly responsible for the war crime of" unlawfully deporting children from occupied areas of Ukraine and bringing them to Russia.

The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's presidential commissioner for children's rights, alleging she carried out the same war crime.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement that the arrest warrants "have no meaning for the Russian Federation" and "are legally null and void."

Andriy Yermak, head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, tweeted that the arrest warrants are "just the beginning."

Mar 16, 12:15 PM EDT
Russia has committed 'wide range of war crimes' in Ukraine: UN-backed report

Russia has committed a "wide range of war crimes" and possible crimes against humanity in Ukraine, according to a new United Nations-backed investigation.

"The body of evidence collected shows that Russian authorities have committed a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in many regions of Ukraine and in the Russian Federation," the human rights report by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine stated. "Many of these amount to war crimes and include willful killings, attacks on civilians, unlawful confinement, torture, rape, and forced transfers and deportations of children."

Additionally, Russian attacks on Ukraine's energy-related infrastructure and use of torture "may amount to crimes against humanity," the report concluded.

The commission said it conducted interviews with nearly 600 people, inspected graves, destruction and detention sites and consulted satellite imagery and photographs as part of its investigation.

Mar 16, 11:51 AM EDT
Poland to deliver MiG-29 jets to Ukraine 'in the coming days'

Poland plans to deliver four MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine "in the coming days," Polish President Andrzej Duda said at a press conference on Thursday.

The latest news shortens the timeline announced earlier this week by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who had said they might send the Soviet-designed fighter jets to Ukraine in the next four to six weeks.

Mar 16, 11:08 AM EDT
225 Russians killed in last 24 hours in Bakhmut

Ukrainian forces have killed 225 Russian fighters and injured another 306 in the past 24 hours in the Bakhmut area, according to Serhiy Cherevaty, the spokesman for the Eastern Group of Forces of the Ukraine army.

Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a brutal battle for the city in eastern Ukraine for months, with both sides seeing high rates of casualties.

Cherevaty said that in the last day, the occupiers in the area of Bakhmut and nearby villages -- including Orikhovo-Vasylivka, Bohdanivka and Ivanivskoho -- tried to attack Ukrainian positions 42 times. There were 24 combat clashes in the Bakhmut area alone.

In total, in the Bakhmut direction, the occupiers shelled Ukrainian positions 256 times with various types of artillery and multiple launch rocket systems, Cherevaty said. Of them, 53 shellings were in the area of Bakhmut itself.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Mar 15, 12:08 PM EDT
Putin says effort underway to increase weapons production

Russia is working to increase its weapons production amid an "urgent" need, President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday.

"Prosecutors should supervise the modernization of defense industry enterprises, including building up capacities for the production of an additional volume of weapons. A lot of effort is underway here," Putin said at a meeting of the Collegium of the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation.

Putin added that the weapons, equipment and ammunition are "urgently" needed.

-ABC News' Will Gretsky

Mar 13, 4:04 PM EDT
White House welcomes Xi Jinping speaking to President Zelenskyy

The White House is welcoming reports that Chinese President Xi Jinping plans to soon speak with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for the first time since Russia’s invasion began, while cautioning that after speaking with Ukrainian counterparts, "they have not yet actually gotten any confirmation that there will be a telephone call or a video conference."

"We hope there will be," national security adviser Jake Sullivan said during a briefing on Air Force One. "That would be a good thing because it would potentially bring more balance and perspective to the way that the new PRC is approaching this, and we hope it will continue to dissuade them from choosing to provide lethal assistance to Russia."

"We have been encouraging President Xi to reach out to President Zelenskyy because we believe that PRC and President Xi himself should hear directly the Ukrainian perspective and not just the Russian perspective on this," Sullivan continued. "So, we have in fact, advocated to Beijing that that connection take place. We've done so publicly and we've done so privately to the PRC."

Sullivan said the U.S. has “not yet seen the transfer of lethal assistance of weapons from China to Russia," after previously warning it was being considered.

"It's something that we're vigilant about and continuing to watch carefully," he added.

-ABC News' Justin Gomez

Mar 13, 12:27 PM EDT
Russia agrees to 60-day extension of Black Sea Grain Initiative

Russia said Monday it will extend the Black Sea Grain Initiative after it expires on March 18, but only for 60 days. The announcement came after consultations between U.N. representatives in Geneva and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Vershinin.

"The Russian side, noting the package nature of the Istanbul agreements proposed by UN Secretary General António Guterres, does not object to another extension of the Black Sea initiative after the expiration of the second term on March 18, but only for 60 days," Vershinin said, according to Russian media reports.

Russia's consultations in Geneva on the grain deal were not easy, Vershinin said. Russia will rely on the effectiveness of the implementation of the agreement on the export of its agricultural products when deciding on a new extension of the grain deal, according to reports.

Ukraine, which is a key world exporter of wheat, barley, sunflower oil and fertilizer, had its shipments blocked in the months following the invasion by Russia, causing a worldwide spike in food prices. The first deal was brokered last July.

Mar 12, 4:13 PM EDT
More than 1,100 Russians dead in less than a week, Zelenskyy says

Russian forces suffered more than 1,100 dead in less than a week during battles near the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, the focal point of fighting in eastern Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday.

During his nightly address, Zelenskyy described the battles as "Russia's irreversible loss."

Russian forces also sustained about 1,500 "sanitary losses," meaning soldiers were wounded badly enough to keep them out of further action, Zelenskyy said.

Dozens of pieces of enemy equipment were destroyed, as were more than 10 Russian ammunition depots, Zelenskyy said.

-ABC News' Edward Seekers

Mar 10, 3:17 PM EST
Russia says Nord Stream explosion investigation should be impartial

The investigation into who was behind the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline explosion should be "objective, impartial and transparent," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian news agency Interfax.

"I do not want to threaten anyone. I do not want to hint at anything either. I just know that this flagrant terror attack will not go uninvestigated," Lavrov added.

Russia also said it will distribute its correspondence with Germany, Denmark and Sweden on the investigation of the Nord Stream explosion among the members of the United Nations Security Council soon.

Russia claimed the three countries are denying Russia access to information and participation in the investigation, first deputy permanent representative to the U.N. Dmitry Polyansky said in an interview, according to Russian news agency TASS.

-ABC News' Anastasia Bagaeva and Tanya Stukalova

Mar 10, 3:03 PM EST
Russia says Nord Stream explosion investigation should be impartial

The investigation into who was behind the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline explosion should be "objective, impartial and transparent," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Russian news agency Interfax.

"I do not want to threaten anyone. I do not want to hint at anything either. I just know that this flagrant terror attack will not go uninvestigated," Lavrov added.

Russia also said it will distribute its correspondence with Germany, Denmark and Sweden on the investigation of Nord Stream explosion among the members of the United Nations Security Council soon.

Russia claimed the three countries are denying Russia access to information and participation in the investigation, first deputy permanent representative to the U.N. Dmitry Polyansky said in an interview, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Mar 10, 9:46 AM EST
Zelenskyy says Ukraine had nothing to do with Nord Stream explosions

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied that Ukraine had anything to do with the Nord Stream gas pipeline explosions last year.

"As for the Nord Stream, we have nothing to do with it," Zelenskyy said Friday.

The New York Times published a report that U.S. intelligence suggests that a pro-Ukrainian group sabotaged the pipeline.

Zelenskyy also suggested that the information being spread about the involvement of pro-Ukrainian groups in the attack could be done to slow down aid to his country.

-ABC News' Natalia Shumskaia

Mar 09, 2:45 PM EST
Power returns to Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant after attacks

Electricity supply has been fully restored in Kyiv after Russia's overnight barrage of missile attacks on Ukraine, Kyiv Mayor Vitaliy Klitschko said in a Telegram post Thursday.

Also, the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is now "receiving electricity for its own needs from the Ukrainian grid after power supply was cut," Russian news agency Interfax reported.

-ABC News' Tatiana Rymarenko and Natalia Shumskaia

Mar 09, 7:25 AM EST
Russia 'brutalizing' Ukrainian people, White House says

Russia's overnight barrage of missiles aimed at civilian infrastructure may have knocked heat out to as much as 40% of Ukrainians, the White House said on Thursday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is attempting to "brutalize" the people of Ukraine, John Kirby, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America on Thursday.

"It also appears, George, that they were definitely targeting civilian infrastructure," Kirby said. "I would agree with the Ukrainians. He's just trying to brutalize the Ukrainian people"

Russian forces early on Thursday launched 81 missiles from land and sea, Ukrainian officials said. Eight uncrewed drones were also launched in what officials described as a "massive" attack.

Eleven regions and cities were targeted in an attack that lasted at least seven hours, officials said.

Kirby said on Thursday that the White House expects to see more fighting on the ground in Ukraine for at least the "next four to six months."

"We know that the Russians are attempting to conduct more offensive operations here when the weather gets better," he said.

Mar 09, 3:59 AM EST
Zelenskyy decries Russia's 'miserable tactics'

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday said Russian officials had returned "to their miserable tactics" as they launched at least 81 missiles at Ukrainian sites overnight.

"The occupiers can only terrorize civilians. That's all they can do. But it won't help them," he said on Telegram. "They won't avoid responsibility for everything they have done."

He added, "We thank the guardians of our skies and everyone who helps to overcome the consequences of the occupiers' sneaking attacks!"

Mar 09, 3:34 AM EST
81 missiles launched in 'massive' Russian attack, Ukraine says

Waves of missiles and a handful of drones were launched overnight by Russia, targeting energy infrastructure and cities across Ukraine, officials said.

The attack on "critical infrastructure" and civilian targets lasted throughout the night, Verkovna Rada, Ukraine's parliament, said on Twitter. Energy was being gradually restored on Thursday morning, the body said.

Ukraine's parliament and military said at least 81 missiles were fired from several bases. Eight Iranian-made drones were also launched, the military said.

Ukraine destroyed 34 cruise missiles and four drones, military officials said on Facebook.

"Russia's threats only encourage partners to provide long-term assistance to Ukraine," said Yehor Chernev, deputy chairman of the Committee on National Security, Defense and Intelligence.

Russia "will be sentenced as a terrorist state" for its attacks, Ruslan Stefanchuk, Rada's chairperson, said on Twitter.

Mar 09, 12:35 AM EST
Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant now running on diesel generators, energy minister says

The last line that fed the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant has been damaged following missile strikes, and the plant is now working on diesel generators, according to the Ukrainian energy minister, Herman Galushchenko.

Mar 09, 12:16 AM EST
Emergency power outages nationwide due to missile attacks, provider says

DTEK, the largest private grid operator in Ukraine, said emergency power outages are in effect due to the missile attacks in the Kyiv, Odesa, Mykolaiv and Dnipro regions.

Mar 09, 12:27 AM EST
Multiple missile strikes reported across Ukraine

Multiple explosions have been reported in city centers all over the country, including Dnipro, Odesa, Kyiv, Zaporizhzhia, Vinnytsia, Khmelnytskyi and Kharkiv.

Residents in multiple areas are being asked to shelter in place, and communication and electricity has been impacted.

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko said multiple explosions were reported in the Holosiiv district.

The governor of Kharkiv, Oleh Syniehubov, said Russia struck the city at least 15 times overnight.

The head of the Odesa Regional Military Administration said there had been no casualties and that the power supply is being restricted.

Mar 08, 2:05 PM EST
Ukraine says it was not involved in Nord Stream Pipeline bombings

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov denied Ukraine was involved in the bombing of the Nord Stream pipeline, which carries natural gas from Russia to Germany. While the pipeline was not active at the time of the bombing last September, it was filled with fuel.

The denial comes after The New York Times reported that intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the Nord Stream bombings last year.

After the story broke, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius warned against “jumping to conclusions” about who carried out the explosion, suggesting it could have been a “false flag” operation to blame Ukraine.

German authorities were reportedly able to identify the boat used for the sabotage operation, saying a group of five men and one woman using forged passports rented a yacht from a Poland-based company owned by Ukrainian citizens. The nationalities of the perpetrators are unclear, according to a separate report by Germany’s ARD broadcaster and Zeit newspaper.

“We have to make a clear distinction whether it was a Ukrainian group, whether it may have happened at Ukrainian orders, or a pro-Ukrainian group [acting] without knowledge of the government. But I am warning against jumping to conclusions,” Pistorius said on the sidelines of a summit in Stockholm.

A Russian diplomat said Russia has no faith in the U.S.‘s “impartiality” in the conclusions made from intelligence.

-ABC News’ Ellie Kaufman

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

How to watch the five-planet alignment: Jupiter, Mercury, Venus, Uranus and Mars

ABC News Photo Illustration

(NEW YORK) -- Don't miss your lucky chance to see the stars -- or planets -- align next week.

A five-planet alignment of Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Uranus and Mars will be visible in the night sky on Tuesday, March 28.

Bill Cooke, who has a Ph.D. in astronomy and heads NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office at the Marshall Space Flight Center, spoke to ABC News' Good Morning America about the best ways to catch this upcoming alignment.

He said to grab a pair of binoculars and head outside right after sunset in order to see Mercury and Jupiter, which will be the closest to the western horizon.

"Perhaps the hardest to see with your eye will be the planet Mercury, [which] will be the one closest to the horizon, and right beside it will be a brighter object, planet Jupiter," said Cooke, who added that the next planet, Venus, will probably be the brightest planet to spot, whereas Uranus, a green star, can be hard to see with an unaided eye.

"Of course, the capper will be the moon, which will be halfway lit up just above Mars. So you'll get five planets and the moon," he said.

Each planet in our solar system, excluding the now-relegated Pluto, shares the same orbital plane. During a planetary alignment, the planets will appear to "bunch" on the same side of the sun -- forming a line but appearing as an arc since the sky "is like a dome," according to Cooke.

Cooke said planetary alignments happen every few years, but the configurations vary. The last planetary alignment was a four-planet alignment on Dec. 28, 2022.

"You're worrying that planetary alignments are rare, but honestly we get one every couple of years. It may involve four planets, or it may involve five planets, but planetary alignments -- they can put on a show," Cooke said.

However, if you miss your chance on March 28, Cooke said to just wait until Sept. 8, 2040, for the rare alignment of Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and Mars.

"All of them will be visible within 10 degrees and that'll be pretty darn impressive," he said. "I'm always partial to Saturn because of the rings, right? I mean, who can resist?"

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

US speeds up delivery of Abrams tanks, could be in Ukraine by fall

FILE photo -- Stocktrek Images/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Ukraine will get American Abrams tanks this fall, much sooner than expected, after the Pentagon decided to refurbish existing hulls in its inventory instead of building new ones from scratch.

Meanwhile. the Patriot air defense missile training for Ukrainian troops that has been taking place in Oklahoma will wrap up "in coming days" and the missile systems will be in Ukraine "in coming weeks" on an expedited basis, according to a U.S. Army spokesman.

In January, the Pentagon would be sending Ukraine 31 M1A2 Abrams tanks that would be built from scratch, a process that could take at least a year, if not longer.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon's top spokesman told reporters that the switch to sending refurbished hulls equipped with modern weapons systems would get to the battlefield quicker.

Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters that, since the initial announcement in January, the U.S. has been committed "to exploring options to deliver the armored capability as quickly as possible."

He added that after further analysis the Pentagon, in consultation with Ukraine, decided that choosing the M1A1 version will "enable us to significantly expedite delivery timelines and deliver this important capability to Ukraine by the fall of this year."

"This is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later," said Ryder.

The Pentagon had never given a timeline for when the 31 Abrams tanks would arrive in Ukraine, but Ryder acknowledged that "we were projecting it would be probably over a year or so before we would have been able to deliver" the more modern M1A2 variant.

Ryder said the M1A1 Abrams will have "a very similar capability" to the M1A2 that includes advanced armor, a 120 mm cannon, and a 50-caliber heavy machine gun.

The U.S. commitment to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine was the linchpin of a plan to get Germany to go along with the transfer of Leopard tanks in its own inventory or that of other nations.

The understanding was that the slower manufacturing pace of newly Abrams would meet Ukraine's longer range military needs while the Leopards would have a more immediate impact on the battlefield as Ukraine prepares for an anticipated counteroffensive.

Some of those German-made Leopard tanks have already begun arriving in Ukraine where they will be paired up with Ukrainian tank crews that have been receiving training outside of Ukraine.

Ryder did not have any details on when Ukrainian troops might begin to train on the Abrams tank and where such training could take place.

"We will ensure that the Ukrainians receive the necessary training on these tanks in time for them to be delivered," said Ryder.

On Tuesday, senior Russian officials expressed environmental concerns about the armor piercing shells used by British Challenger 2 tanks being given to Ukraine that contain depleted uranium. The Abrams tank also fires depleted uranium rounds, but when asked by reporters if the U.S. was going to provide similar rounds to Ukraine Ryder said "not to my knowledge."

At Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Army officials confirmed that the training of 65 Ukrainian troops on how to operate the Patriot air defense system is nearing its conclusion and that the system could soon be in Ukraine.

The Patriot missile training of Ukrainian troops at Fort Sill, Oklahoma is going to wrap up in coming days according to an Army spokesman who adds that the American Patriot battery being sent to Ukraine will arrive "in coming weeks".

The Ukrainians will depart here in the coming days, go to Europe, and depart for Ukraine in the coming weeks," Col. Marty O'Donnell, the spokesman for U.S. Army Europe and Africa told ABC News.

The Ukrainian troops have trained at Fort Sill since mid-January in an expedited training cycle for how to use the Patriots, a training cycle that can normally last a year.

"In Europe, the Ukrainians training here will meet up with Ukrainians training in Europe, and with U.S., German, and Dutch equipment donations to validate the systems and ensure interoperability," said O'Donnell.

The United States and Germany have each committed to providing a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine to assist with that country's pressing air defense needs to counter Russian barrages aimed at its cities and infrastructure. The Netherlands has also committed to providing additional missiles and launch systems that will be incorporated into the German Patriot system.

The training for Ukrainian troops to use the Germany Patriot battery has been taking place in Poland.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

North Korea fires multiple cruise missiles amid US-South Korea joint drills

omersukrugoksu/Getty Images

(SEOUL, South Korea) -- North Korea fired multiple cruise missiles toward the East Sea Wednesday, the latest show of its military capabilities during the 11-days-long joint drills between the U.S. and South Korea.

The U.S.-South Korea joint military exercise is expected to wrap up Thursday morning local time.

“South Korea’s military detected several cruise missiles fired at 10:15 a.m. from South Hamgyong province towards the East Sea,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff told ABC News.

North Korea’s military provocation took place just as the Amphibious Assault Ship USS Makin Island arrived in South Korea to join the large-scale landing exercises for the joint drills.

Pyongyang relentlessly fired various types of missiles the last 10 days, consistent with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister’s vow on March 7 to "take appropriate, quick and overwhelming actions" to the joint military exercise North Korea has always complained about.

Starting with two submarine-launched cruise missiles on March 12, North Korea gradually raised the level of provocation by launching two short range ballistic missiles last Tuesday, a suspected Intercontinental ballistic missile last Thursday, and a short-range ballistic missile on Sunday.

North Korea’s state media KCNA explicitly referred to Sunday’s launch as a "drill to send a stronger warning to the enemy who expanded their war drills for aggression." Their reporting included a picture of Kim Jong Un overseeing the test with his daughter.

“We should look at how North Korean media keeps using the term ‘combat arrangement’ in recent reports about their missiles,” Park Wongon, professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University, told ABC News. “The regime wants to show off that their weapons are far past the experimental stage and ready for the actual battlefield.”

North Korea’s cruise missiles don’t violate the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and are considered not as threatening as the ballistic missiles, but cannot be overlooked in the region for they are not easy to detect and intercept when flying at a low altitude.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Large asteroid to safely pass by Earth in once-per-decade moment

Tayeb Benzian / 500px/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- An asteroid between 140 and 310 feet in size will safely pass by Earth on Saturday, according to NASA Asteroid Watch.

An asteroid of this size only goes by Earth about once every decade, the agency said.

The asteroid, named 2023 DZ2, will be at least 100,000 miles away when it moves by Earth, according to NASA.

Astronomers "are using this close approach to learn as much as possible about 2023 DZ2 in a short time period - good practice for #PlanetaryDefense in the future if a potential asteroid threat were ever discovered," NASA said.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Survivors reel in aftermath of one of Africa’s deadliest cyclones

AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP via Getty Images

(LONDON) -- “Let me tell you, it is a serious situation. It is a tragedy,” says Paul Turnbull, Malawi Country Director of the World Food Programme.

He is talking about the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy, one of the deadliest and long-lived tropical cyclones to have ever been recorded in Southern Africa.

In the trail of its double landfall, Cyclone Freddy has left a death toll of at least 522 people across Malawi, Mozambique and Madagascar and displaced tens of thousands. Hundreds still remain missing.

“The United States expresses our deep sadness at the tragic loss of life and destruction across the Southern African region in the aftermath of Cyclone Freddy,” a USAID spokesperson told ABC News.

In Malawi -- which was worst hit by Cyclone Freddy as it experienced the equivalent of six months of rainfall in just six days -- President Lazarus Chakwera said almost half the nation had been damaged by Cyclone Freddy.

“The damage is across 13 districts, almost half of the country, and it is not just the numbers of our people who have lost their lives, but the damage and devastation,” Chakwera said.

Malawi’s Department of Disaster Management Affairs (DoDMA) said in a statement that 553,614 people have been displaced in the Southern African nation with 543 camps set up nationwide to accommodate the displaced.

“We had been trying to build back from Cyclone Idai in 2019, and then the pandemic, now Freddy,” said Chakwera. “It’s not just here and there, we are at the receiving end of the worst of the climate change.”

The death toll in Malawi is expected to rise as search, rescue and recovery operations continue in Malawi’s Nsanje and Phalombe districts.

Cyclone Freddy has also left a trail of devastation in Mozambique where at least 165 people have died according to Malawi’s government, and 886,467 people have been affected.

Mozambique has experienced disruption to essential services and flooding, with damage to water and sanitation infrastructure leading experts to raise concerns over the threat of cholera. According to UNICEF, nearly 10,000 cholera cases have been reported in Mozambique, more than tripling since February.

“We are now facing a very real risk of a rapidly accelerating cholera outbreak in Mozambique, a disease which is particularly dangerous for young children, especially those who are malnourished,” said Maria Luisa Fornara, UNICEF representative to Mozambique.

The neighboring island of Madagascar, where Cyclone Freddy first made landfall on Feb. 21, was spared from the worst of the storm but the island is still rebuilding from the impacts of a previous cyclone -- Cyclone Cheneso -- which hit the island in January, killing 30.

At least 17 have been killed by Cyclone Freddy in Madagascar and nearly 300,000 have been affected.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) anticipates that climate change will increase the “frequency and intensity” of extreme weather and of heavy precipitation events almost everywhere in Africa and, as surface sea temperature warms, Africa has experienced four times as many storms and over double the number of cyclones since 1970.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Xi departs Putin meeting, after signaling strength in Russia-China alliance

Grigory Sysoyev/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images

(HONG KONG) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping departed Moscow on Wednesday after two days of highly symbolic meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which the two presented a united front and an alternative vision for global leadership.

Much of the summit seemed to be directed at countering narratives from the United States, NATO and other nations that have stood against Putin's invasion of neighboring Ukraine more than a year ago.

Despite statements saying that "China-Russia relations are not the kind of military-political alliance during the Cold War," China and Russia made clear they wanted to "advance the trend toward a multi-polar world."

"This highly publicized summit may reflect a shift towards a new and more active role for China, as it seizes the opportunity to convey diplomatic -- and possibly tangible -- support for Russia and any other state that wishes to defy the West," Michael Butler, associate professor of political science at Clark University, told ABC News.

Joint animosity towards the U.S.-led world order has kept Russia and China close despite Putin's war in Ukraine and western sanctions against Russia has made China their biggest customer and economic lifeline.

Russia became energy-hungry China's top oil supplier in January and February, supplanting Saudi Arabia. China's nationalist tabloid Global Times hailed energy a "ballast stone" in the two nations' trade relationship.

During their meetings, Putin committed to deliver at least 98 billion cubic meters of liquified gas annually to China by 2030 which is six times higher than what they sold China last year but still below what Russia used to deliver to Europe.

Ahead of the summit, White House Spokesperson John Kirby dismissed the warming China-Russia ties as "marriage of convenience," but said it stands in stark contrast to Beijing's increasingly frosty relationship with Washington.

Beijing increasingly sees Russia as a necessary ally as China and United States continue to fallout over numerous fronts not limited to Taiwan and access to semiconductors. It was further exasperated by the spy balloon episode earlier this year.

While Xi and China may not have voiced strong support for the war in Ukraine, having the West's resources focused on the conflict may represent a net positive for Beijing, said Zev Faintuch, a senior intelligence analyst at Global Guardian, an international security firm.

"China also wants to keep Putin in power, as its current lopsided relationship is very beneficial, and weaken Russia's military to reduce the threat it poses to China," Faintuch told ABC News. "After all, they are nuclear-armed neighbors who have fought before."

Beijing had initially hoped that the spiraling tensions with the U.S. would abate in the wake of Xi's meeting with President Joe Biden in Bali last November, but as they continued to crater, Xi seems to have re-prioritized his Russian relationship. He even made a rare direct slight at the United States earlier this month, blaming the Americans for "containment and suppression" as the reasons for China's economic challenges.

Xi highlighted on numerous occasions over the two days of meetings that Russia and China are each other's largest neighbors and that their partnership is "consistent with historical logic and a strategic choice of China."

Through the Chinese State Media readouts of the meetings, Xi outlined an all-weather friendship that "will not be changed by any turn of events," "no matter how the international landscape may change," but stopped short of mentioning the "no limits friendship, with no forbidden areas" the two leaders touted last year just weeks before Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

In return for Xi's support since Putin invaded Ukraine, Xi was able to get Putin to reaffirm "Taiwan as an inalienable part of Chinese territory" and support for policies in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Putin also fawned over China's Saudi-Iran deal calling it "historic," fully demonstrating "China's important status and positive influence as a major country in the world."

Xi arrived armed with his "12-point peace proposal" but questions remain how sincere China is about a resolution in Ukraine.

Ahead of the Moscow meetings, China had sought to position itself as a potential peacemaker, toeing the line in its support for Russia, said Arik Burakovsky, assistant director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

"Xi has not imposed any conditions on Putin and largely shares his outlook on the conflict," Burakovsky said on Wednesday.

Chinese State Media were already working overtime to paint China, while not "a party in the crisis," as the responsible actor for proposing a peace plan. The United States, meanwhile, has been portrayed as an irresponsible instigator of conflict.

Just ahead of Xi's arrival in Moscow Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said in his near daily refrain, "It is the United States, not China, that is providing weapons to the Ukrainian battlefield."

"China has always upheld an objective and fair position on the Ukraine issue. All that China has done is to promote talks for peace," he said.

Much of what was discussed in Moscow didn't appear to "suggest a major change in China's actual position relative to Russia or the war," said Butler, the professor at Clark University.

He added, "What it does reflect is China's penchant for challenging the U.S. and flouting the international norms the U.S. ostensibly supports."

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Gun used in kidnapping, killing of Americans in Mexico came from US

Steve Prezant/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- A gun used earlier this month by cartel members to kidnap a group of Americans and kill two of them was illegally trafficked from the U.S., according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court.

It's a stark reminder of how the violence that often makes the news in Mexico is in large part fueled by the U.S.—by the steady flow of guns and the strong demand for illicit drugs.

Roberto Lugardo Moreno appeared in court Monday to face charges for conspiring to illegally export a firearm—days after admitting to federal agents that he purchased guns in the U.S. and knowingly provided them to members of the Gulf Cartel in Mexico.

In particular, one AR-style pistol that was bought in October 2019 and allegedly provided to a Gulf Cartel member was "recovered by Mexican authorities and linked to an incident involving the murders and kidnappings of U.S. citizens which occurred on March 3, 2023 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico," according to the complaint.

Moreno told federal agents he got paid just $100 "during the period that he purchased firearms for individuals that he knew were going to provide them to a Gulf Cartel figure in Mexico," per the complaint.

His case is just a drop in the bucket. The Mexican government estimated that every year, between 500,000 and 873,000 guns are trafficked from the U.S. across the southern border into Mexico, it said in a $10 billion lawsuit against top U.S. gun manufacturers first filed in August 2021.

That may seem like an astronomical figure, but the U.S. government has shockingly high figures, too. A February 2021 federal watchdog report said approximately 200,000 guns are trafficked from the U.S. each year, calling it the government's "best estimate available."

In that lawsuit, the Mexican government argued that gun companies' "carelessness and negligence" and their marketing and distribution practices "actively" facilitate gun trafficking into Mexico, but they ultimately lost the case last October.

"NSSF is pleased the court dismissed Mexico's misguided and baseless lawsuit against members of the firearm industry that sought to blame them for Mexico's unwillingness and inability to bring Mexican drug cartels to justice in Mexican courtrooms," NSSF, the firearms industry trade association, said in a statement after the court dismissed the lawsuit. "Like the court, we sympathize with the plight of the Mexican people and the criminal violence involving illegal firearms they have endured. However, the crime that is devastating the people of Mexico is not the fault of members of the firearm industry."

But last week, Mexico's Foreign Ministry announced it would appeal that decision—arguing that immunity law "has no effect on damages caused in Mexican territory."

"With all these actions the Mexican Government is seeking to involve the actors that until now have not been involved in the fight against arms trafficking: The gun companies," the Foreign Ministry added—accusing them of "negligent practices" that help fuel "violence in Mexico, as well as other crimes such as human trafficking and drug trafficking, particularly of fentanyl."

A second lawsuit filed in October against five Arizona gun stores argues that they "routinely and systematically engage in the illicit trafficking of weapons, including of military-style weapons, for criminal organizations in Mexico through sales to straw purchasers and sales meant for arms smugglers," the Mexican government alleged. That case is still working its way through the judicial system.

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Japan's Prime Minister Kishida bound for Ukraine, Zelenskyy meeting


(TOKYO) -- Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is en-route to the Ukrainian capital for face-to-face talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

Kishida, who just wrapped a two-day state visit to India's leader Narendra Modi, arrived by car at Poland's Przemysl station just after 1 a.m. local time on Tuesday.

Broadcaster NHK showed images of the leader exiting a black car then boarding a Ukraine-bound train which departed minutes later. The leader was accompanied by two other high-ranking government officials.

Japan's prime minister had been the only G7 leader who had not visited the war-torn country since the Russian invasion began. Zelenskyy extended an invitation to Kishida in January when the two leaders spoke by telephone.

Since World War II, no Japanese prime minister has visited a country or region with an active combat zone.

In Kyiv, Japan's leader is expected to convey support for the embattled nation.

"Prime Minister Kishida will resolutely reject Russia's aggression against Ukraine and unilateral changing of the status quo by force, and reconfirm his determination to uphold the international order based on the rule of law," said a statement issued by Japan's government soon after news of the trip broke.

The two leaders are expected to discuss humanitarian assistance and support for post-war reconstruction, including landmine removal. Japan has offered $1.5 billion to Ukraine and neighboring countries that have accepted evacuees displaced by the war.

Kishida recently warned that "Ukraine may be the East Asia of Tomorrow," as fears mount over China possibly forcibly reunifying with democratic Taiwan. The Japanese leader has urged like-minded countries which share the same values to unite in order to prevent the invasion of Ukraine from being repeated.

Despite the nation's pacificist past, Japanese officials have said they're seeking to grow their military spending, aiming for a defense budget equal to 2% of GDP by 2027, putting the nation on par with NATO's defense spending standard.

Following the face-to-face talk with Zelenskyy, Kishida will head to Poland for talks with President Andrej Duda.

"The leaders will confirm their commitment to strengthen the bilateral cooperation as well as that of the international fora, including response to Russia's aggression against Ukraine, based on the strategic partnership with Poland, which is the frontline of military and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine," said Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Kishida is expected to arrive back in Japan's capital, Tokyo, on Thursday.

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Notre Dame's iconic spire being rebuilt 'as it was' ahead of 2024 reopening

Institution to Rebuild Notre-Dame de Paris

(PARIS) -- A team in northeastern France is busy rebuilding Notre Dame's famous spire, with construction ramping up ahead of next year's reopening.

With the cathedral's grand reopening to the public set for Dec. 8, 2024 at 11:15​ a.m.​, the first step in the restoration of the cathedral's spire is underway in Briey, a city in northeastern France.

The collapse of this iconic part of the Paris landmark in a 2019 fire left an indelible mark on the minds of millions around the world.

The stakes are high as the reconstruction of the spire relies on the success of a very rare operation which has not been repeated since 1842.

The crux of this project is to build the stool, located on the lower bottom of the structure, on top of which the spire will stand at almost 100 meters high.

"This is a critical operation," General Georgelin said, telling ABC News the reconstruction team is "now on track to have the spire finished in December 2024."

Underway since last autumn, the rebuilding process has been years in the making, according to Rémi Fromont, chief architect of Historical Monuments, who coordinates the work and rescue of Notre Dame.

The first challenge was to understand how this technical achievement of its time was made possible in order "to rebuild as well as it was."

Since last autumn, a team of 40 carpenters has been at work selecting and shaping the blocks of oak that made the final 110 pieces composing the stool.

Carpenter Paul Poulet, 27, who started his career at age 15, is one of them.

"For me, working on this project is really interesting," he said, adding he is "really proud" to be part of the efforts to rebuild Notre Dame.

Finding the best oak and artisans with the know-how needed was another complex task.

"We are very lucky in France because we have excellent carpenters" who "are still able to work as the carpenters worked in the 19th century," Fromont told ABC News.

Now, these artisans have the tough mission to fine tune the last details of this operation by making sure all the wood pieces fit perfectly, and then disassembling them without damage.

In mid-April, the stool will travel to Paris, where it will be reassembled again, with the help of an additional 20 carpenters.

"All these operations are very, very delicate," and will take "more or less 3 or 4 weeks," the architect said.

The wood and the structure will be the most vulnerable so "we have to be just perfect," he said.

By the summer, onlookers will get a first glimpse of the scaffolding at the crossing of the cathedral's transept, which will progressively grow to reach a height of 100 meters, as the progress on the restoration of the spire moves forward.

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Putin hosts China's president Xi in Moscow amid Ukraine war

Soltan Frédéric/Getty Images

(HONG KONG and LONDON) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping has held the first day of talks with Vladimir Putin during a closely watched state visit to Moscow, with the two leaders presenting a united front against the West just days after the Russian president was issued" target="_blank">indicted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.

Xi's three-day state visit is the strongest show of support from China to Russia since the latter's invasion of Ukraine, representing a significant boost for Putin, and comes as Xi has sought to frame Beijing as a possible peace-maker in the conflict, even as Western countries have warned he is considering providing weapons to Moscow.

Xi landed at Moscow's Vnukovo airport on Monday afternoon, greeted by a Russian military band, telling camera crews on the tarmac that China and Russia were ready "to stand guard over the world order based on international law." A motorcade then whisked Xi to the Kremlin, where he was welcomed by Putin.

Speaking ahead of initial informal talks, both men described each other as "dear friends." Putin spoke admiringly of China's "colossal leap forward," adding: "All over the world, this is of genuine interest, and we even envy you a little."

Xi also praised Putin's leadership, noting he had chosen to make Russia his visit after being proclaimed president for an unprecedented third term.

Putin said the two would discuss a peace initiative that China put forward last month. Putin said he had "acquainted himself in detail" with the proposal, praising it for following the "principles of fairness." The two met for 4.5 hours afterward, sharing a dinner together, according to Putin's spokesman, ahead of formal talks on Tuesday.

China has sought to present itself as neutral, but in reality has provided Russia with an economic lifeline amid Western sanctions and helped it source sanctioned components, such as semiconductors, for its war machine. The 12-point peace proposal China published follows the Kremlin's narrative of the war and calls for an immediate cease-fire, without demanding Russia withdraw its troops.

The Biden administration on Monday said such a cease-fire would "would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest," by freezing the conflict and allowing the Kremlin to keep the territory it has seized from Ukraine, while giving Russia time to regroup for a fresh attack.

"It would recognize Russia's attempts to seize a sovereign neighbor's territory by force. A ceasefire now, without a durable solution, would allow President Putin to rest and refit his troops and then restart the war at a time more advantageous to Russia," Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters.

Any plan that does not prioritize Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity "is a stalling tactic at best, or is merely seeking to facilitate an unjust outcome," Blinken said. "The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has been careful not to criticize the Chinese proposal, but his senior advisers have repeatedly warned that they believe a cease-fire that doesn't call for Russia to withdraw its forces is a trap designed to favor the Kremlin. Xi is expected to have a call with Zelensky following his meeting with Putin, the first since the war started.

Xi did not mention Ukraine in his remarks with Putin Monday, but in an article published under his name in Russian state media, Xi touted the plan, claiming it reflected the consensus views of the international community.

China's peace proposal is a "fig leaf," Alexander Gabuev, an expert on Russia-China relations at the Carnegie Institute for International Peace, told ABC News. The plan is intended to give Xi diplomatic cover for his visit to Moscow, allowing him to present China as a responsible power to countries in the Global South and counter criticism that it's abetting Putin in the war, Gabuev said.

Xi's visit underscored how strongly China views Russia as a partner for its long-term goal of challenging the United States' dominance in the international order, a point driven home by Xi's warm words for Putin just days after the ICC war crimes indictment.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Monday said ICC officials should "respect the jurisdictional immunity enjoyed by the head of state in accordance with international law," and that the court should attempt to avoid "politicization and double standards."

Xi is staying at the Soluxe Hotel in northern Moscow. Formal talks between the presidents' delegations are scheduled to be held Tuesday, as well as a state dinner, according to the Kremlin.

Western countries have warned that China may be considering supplying Russia with lethal aid, such as weapons and ammunition, going beyond the assistance it has already provided. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Monday said the U.S. did not believe China has decided yet to send weapons, saying U.S. officials had reiterated warnings to Chinese officials that it would "not be in their best interest" to do so.

China has denied it is planning to send weapons. Experts say that while aid such as artillery ammunition and attack drones would be highly valued by the Kremlin, the economic support and components already being supplied by China are significant in allowing Russia to continue its war.

ABC News' Joe Simonetti and Ellie Kaufman contributed to this story.

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