Israeli tanks reach central Rafah as strikes continue

Rushdi Abu Alouf,David GrittenShare

Reuters A man and a young boy walk among ruins in Rafah

Israeli forces have reportedly reached the centre of the southern Gaza city of Rafah and seized a strategically important hill overlooking the nearby border with Egypt.

Witnesses and local journalists said tanks were stationed at al-Awda roundabout, which is considered a key landmark.

They also said tanks were on Zoroub Hill, effectively giving Israel control of the Philadelphi Corridor – a narrow strip of land running along the border to the sea.

The Israeli military said its troops were continuing activities against “terror targets” in Rafah, three weeks after it launched the ground operation there.

Western areas of the city also came under intense bombardment overnight, residents said, despite international condemnation of an Israeli air strike and a resulting fire on Sunday that killed dozens of Palestinians at a tented camp for displaced people.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons stored by Hamas in the vicinity.

It also denied reports from local health and emergency services officials on Tuesday afternoon that tank shells had hit another camp in al-Mawasi, on the coast west of Rafah, killing at least 21 people.

Reuters news agency cited local health officials as saying the blast occurred after Israeli tank shells hit a cluster of tents in al-Mawasi on Tuesday. An official in the Hamas-run civil defence force also told AFP there had been a deadly Israeli strike on tents.

Videos posted to social media and analysed by BBC Verify showed multiple people with serious injuries, some lying motionless on the ground, near tents and other temporary structures.

There was no clear sign of a blast zone or crater, making it impossible to ascertain the cause of the incident. The location – verified through reference to surrounding buildings – is between Rafah and al-Mawasi, and lies south of the IDF’s designated humanitarian zone.

The IDF said in a statement: “Contrary to the reports from the last few hours, the IDF did not strike in the humanitarian area in al-Mawasi.”

Israel has insisted that victory in its seven-month war with Hamas in Gaza is impossible without taking Rafah and rejected warnings that it could have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The UN says around a million people have now fled the fighting in Rafah, but several hundred thousand more could still be sheltering there.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began what they called “targeted” ground operations against Hamas fighters and infrastructure in the east of Rafah on 6 May.

Since then, tanks and troops have gradually pushed into built-up eastern and central areas while also moving northwards along the 13km (8-mile) border with Egypt.

On Tuesday, they reportedly reached the city centre for the first time.

The al-Awda roundabout, which is only 800m (2,600 ft) from the border, is the location of major banks, government institutions, businesses, and shops.

One witness said they saw soldiers position themselves at the top of a building overlooking the roundabout and then begin to shoot at anyone who was moving.

Video posted online meanwhile showed tank track marks on a road about 3km west of al-Awda roundabout and 300m from the Indonesian field hospital, which was damaged overnight.

Reuters A Palestinian girl sits on top of possessions being transported by a cart in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
The UN says around a million people have fled Rafah since the start of the Israeli ground operation in the city

Earlier, residents told the BBC that tanks seized Zoroub Hill, about 2.5km north-west of al-Awda roundabout, after gun battles with Hamas-led fighters.

The hill is highest point along the Egyptian border and its seizure means the entire Gazan side of the border is now effectively under Israeli control.

Zoroub Hill also overlooks western Rafah, where residents said there had been the heaviest air and artillery strikes overnight since the start of the Israeli operation.

A local journalist said the bombardment forced hundreds of families to seek temporary shelter in the courtyard of a hospital, while ambulances struggled to reach casualties in the affected areas.

At dawn, thousands of people were seen heading north, crammed into cars and lorries and onto carts pulled by donkeys and horses.

“The explosions are rattling our tent, my children are frightened, and my sick father makes it impossible for us to escape the darkness,” resident Khaled Mahmoud told the BBC.

“We are supposed to be in a safe zone according to the Israeli army, yet we have not received evacuation orders like those in the eastern [Rafah] region,” he added. “We fear for our lives if no-one steps in to protect us.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not comment on the various reports but put out a statement saying that “overnight troops operated on the Philadelphi Corridor while conducting precise operational activity based on intelligence indicating the presence of terror targets in the area”.

“The activity is being conducted as efforts are continuing to be made in order to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians in the area,” it added.

“The troops are engaging with terrorists in close-quarters combat and locating terror tunnel shafts, weapons, and additional terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

The IDF has told civilians in eastern Rafah to evacuate for their own safety to an “expanded humanitarian area” stretching from al-Mawasi, a coastal area just north of Rafah, to the central town of Deir al-Balah.

EPA A Palestinian woman reacts next to tents destroyed by a fire triggered by an Israeli air strike in western Rafah on Sunday, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
Israel’s prime minister said the killing of civilians in an air strike and resulting fire in Rafah on Sunday was a “tragedy”

On Sunday night, at least 45 people – more than half of them children, women and the elderly – were killed when an Israeli air strike triggered a huge fire in a camp for displaced people near a UN logistics base in the Tal al-Sultan area, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hundreds more were treated for severe burns, fractures and shrapnel wounds.

The IDF said it was targeting two senior Hamas officials in the attack, which happened hours after Hamas fighters in south-eastern Rafah launched rockets towards the Israeli city of Tel Aviv for the first time in months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a “tragic incident” had occurred “despite our immense efforts to avoid harming non-combatants” and promised a thorough investigation.

IDF chief spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that the strike had targeted a structure used by the Hamas commanders which was away from any tents, using “two munitions with small warheads”.

“Following this strike, a large fire ignited for reasons that are still being investigated. Our munitions alone could not have ignited a fire of this size,” he said.

Rear Adm Hagari added that investigators were looking into the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons or ammunition stored in a nearby structure, and played what he said was an intercepted telephone conversation between two Gazans suggesting that. The audio recording could not immediately be verified.

Sam Rose of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, told the BBC from western Rafah that the killing of so many civilians could not be dismissed as an accident.

“Gaza was already one of the most overcrowded places on the planet. It is absolutely impossible to prosecute a military campaign involving large-scale munitions, strikes from the sky, the sea, the tanks, without exacting large-scale civilian casualties,” he said.

“It seems like we are plumbing new depths of horror, bloodshed and brutality with every single day. And if this isn’t a wake-up call, then it’s hard to see what will be.”

Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Israel launched a military campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to the group’s cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 252 others were taken hostage.

At least 36,090 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Russian plot to kill Zelensky foiled, Kyiv says

Telegram/SBU Footage shows a man being arrested
Ukraine said it arrested two Ukrainian officials who worked with the Russian security services

The Ukrainian security service (SBU) says it has foiled a Russian plot to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky and other high-ranking Ukrainian officials.

Two Ukrainian government protection unit colonels have been arrested.

The SBU said they were part of a network of agents belonging to the Russian state security service (FSB).

They had reportedly been searching for willing “executors” among Mr Zelensky’s bodyguards to kidnap and kill him.

Ever since Russian paratroopers attempted to land in Kyiv and assassinate President Zelensky in the early hours and days of the full-scale invasion, plots to assassinate him have been commonplace.

The Ukrainian leader said at the start of the invasion he was Russia’s “number one target”.

But this alleged plot stands out from the rest. It involves serving colonels, whose job it was to keep officials and institutions safe, allegedly hired as moles.

Other targets included military intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov and SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk, the agency added.

The group had reportedly planned to kill Mr Budanov before Orthodox Easter, which this year fell on 5 May.

According to the SBU, the plotters had aimed to use a mole to get information about his location, which they would then have attacked with rockets, drones and anti-tank grenades.

One of the officers who was later arrested had already bought drones and anti-personnel mines, the SBU said.

Telegram/SBU An anti-tank grenade
The SBU said it found various ordnance, including an anti-tank grenade, on the plotters

SBU head Vasyl Malyuk said the attack was supposed to be “a gift to Putin before the inauguration” – referring to Russia’s Vladimir Putin who was sworn in for a fifth term as president at the Kremlin on Tuesday.

The operation turned into a failure of the Russian special services, Mr Malyuk said.

“But we must not forget – the enemy is strong and experienced, he cannot be underestimated,” he added.

The two Ukrainian officials are being held on suspicion of treason and of preparing a terrorist act.

The SBU said three FSB employees oversaw the organisation and the attack.

One of them, named as Dmytro Perlin, had been recruiting “moles” since before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Another FSB employee, Oleksiy Kornev, reportedly held “conspiratorial” meetings “in neighbouring European states” before the invasion with one of the Ukrainian colonels arrested.

In a released interrogation with one of the suspects, they can be heard describing how they were paid thousands of dollars directly by parcels or indirectly through their relatives. It is not clear whether he was speaking under duress or not.

Investigators insist they monitored the men throughout. We are unlikely to know how close they came to carrying out their alleged plan.

The plot may read like a thriller but it is also a reminder of the risks Ukraine’s wartime leader faces.

Last month, a Polish man was arrested and charged with planning to co-operate with Russian intelligence services to aid a possible assassination of Mr Zelensky.

At the weekend Ukraine’s president appeared on the Russian interior ministry’s wanted list on unspecified charges.

The foreign ministry in Kyiv condemned the move as showing “the desperation of the Russian state machine and propaganda”, and pointed out that the International Criminal Court had issued a warrant for Vladimir Putin’s arrest.

China bubble tea chain plunges in Hong Kong debut

Getty Images Woman drinking bubble tea.Getty ImagesChabaidao means 100 varieties of tea

Shares in Chinese bubble tea chain Sichuan Baicha Baidao, which is also known as Chabaidao, have fallen by more than 26% in their first day of trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Chabaidao’s market debut was the Asian financial hub’s largest initial public offering (IPO) so far this year.

The poor performance underscores the difficulties the city is facing in attracting investment.

Chabaidao, which means 100 varieties of tea, is China’s third-biggest fresh tea drinks chain by retail sales.

The Chengdu-based company raised about $330m (£267m) in the IPO even as the offering was met with tepid interest from investors.

The firm said it plans to use about half the money to upgrade its operations and strengthen its supply chain.

Rival bubble tea firms Mixue, Guming and Auntea Jenny have also said they are planning to sell shares in Hong Kong.

However, Chabaidao’s weak debut highlights the challenges faced by authorities as they attempt to revive confidence in the city’s stock market.

Investors are concerned about Hong Kong’s recovery from the pandemic and its national security legislation as well as slowing economic growth in China.

Last year, the amount of money raised by IPOs in Hong Kong slumped to the lowest level in two decades.

The city’s benchmark Hang Seng share index has lost over 16% of its value in the last year.

Last week, China’s securities regulator said it will support share offerings in Hong Kong.

The watchdog also plans to relax regulations rules on stock trading links between the city and the mainland as it tries to boost Hong Kong’s position as an international financial hub.

Judge to consider arguments that Trump could keep any document he wanted

This photo from the US Department of Justice shows classified intelligence material found during search of Mar-a-Lago.

This photo from the US Department of Justice shows classified intelligence material found during search of Mar-a-Lago. US Department of JusticeCNN — 

On Thursday, Donald Trump and special counsel Jack Smith will have the chance to debate in court Trump’s most-cited legal argument in the classified documents case against him: whether as president, he was allowed to keep any documents he wanted.

Trump’s legal team have argued in several court filings that charges against the former president should be dismissed because, they claim, Trump had unfettered authority as president to decide what documents from his time in the White House he could keep as his personal records.

Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee presides in court during a hearing in Atlanta on Friday.

RELATED ARTICLEJudge dismisses some Trump Georgia election subversion charges but leaves most of the case intact

Judge Aileen Cannon, who is overseeing the case, has set apart an entire day to hear arguments on whether the prosecution should be thrown out on the basis of Trump’s claims about his presidential classification powers.

The hearing comes at a major inflection in the case. In the coming days and weeks, Cannon could rule on several big issues, including setting a new trial date – and whether it comes before the November election – as well as if Trump will get an evidentiary hearing over additional discovery he wants in the case from President Joe Biden’s White House, the FBI and beyond.

Trump is facing dozens of charges related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents, and for obstructing the Justice Department’s investigation. He has pleaded not guilty.

The question of presidential authority on classified documents is one of several that Trump’s team has raised in their motions to dismiss the case against him.

As president, defense attorneys argue, Trump was the chief classification officer and could mark any documents as “personal” and legally take those documents with him when he left office.

Their arguments cite the Presidential Records Act, the federal law that governs how documents from an outgoing presidential administration are handled. The PRA says the moment a president leaves office, the National Archives and Records Administration gets custody and control of all presidential records from their administration.

Personal records are described in the PRA as things like personal notes, materials relating to private political associations or materials relating exclusively to the president’s own election to the White House.

On the campaign trail, Trump frequently makes the argument that he was allowed to take documents with him after leaving the Oval Office – claiming repeatedly that he did not break the law because he could handle his records from his presidency however he deemed fit.

Trump has claimed that he was “covered and protected by the Presidential Records Act,” and that he was “supposed to negotiate, I’m supposed to deal” with the National Archives over which documents needed to be returned.

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Several legal experts, however, say that Trump was misconstruing the law.

The special counsel’s office has argued the PRA does not provide a president the ability to change classification designations merely by moving the documents.

“His claim that obviously presidential records — highly sensitive government documents bearing classification markings that were presented to Trump during his term in office — can be transformed into ‘personal’ records by the alchemy of removing them from the White House is false,” the special counsel’s office wrote in a court filing.

Russia blamed after Navalny’s former chief of staff attacked with hammer in Lithuania

Leonid Volkov, Alexey Navalny's former chief of staff, speaks during an interview in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2022.

Leonid Volkov, Alexey Navalny’s former chief of staff, speaks during an interview in Vilnius, Lithuania, in 2022. Janis Laizans/Reuters/FileCNN — 

Alexey Navalny’s chief of staff was attacked in Lithuania Tuesday, the Kremlin critic’s team said, as Lithuania’s intelligence agency pinned the blame on Russia as the “likely” force behind the assault.

“Leonid Volkov has just been attacked outside his house. Someone broke a car window and sprayed tear gas in his eyes, after which the attacker started hitting Leonid with a hammer,” Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said in a social media post.

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), said that Volkov was attacked “near the house” in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius and “they hit his legs with a hammer and hit his arms.”

Images shared by Zhdanov showed Volkov with a swollen face and a bloodied leg. Shattered glass and blood are seen next to a car in another picture. Volkov has since been taken to hospital, Zhdanov said in a social media post.

He added that “it is obvious that after the murder of Navalny, they will now fully go after those who left the Russian Federation.” CNN is unable to independently verify Zhdanov’s claims.

Lithuania’s intelligence agency announced Wednesday that it believes the attack on Volkov was likely “Russian organized.”

Leonid Volkov's injuries are seen after he was attacked with a hammer outside his home.

Leonid Volkov’s injuries are seen after he was attacked with a hammer outside his home. N/A/Ivan Zhdanov/Telegram

“The attack against a FBK member Leonid VOLKOV, carried out on 12 March 2024 in Vilnius, is likely an operation organized and implemented by Russia. The aim of the operation was likely to curb Russian opposition activities related to the upcoming undemocratic Russian presidential elections,” the intelligence agency said in a statement.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said there is “no doubt” the attack was “planned.”

“There is no doubt that such things are planned. Look at the recent increase in desecration of the Lithuanian flag, incidents with monuments,” he said, referring to a string of desecrations of Lithuanian national flags carried out last week.

Authorities in the Baltic country will “assess, investigate and hopefully find the guilty persons,” Gitanas said before going on to make a direct address to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

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“And I can only say one thing to Putin – nobody is afraid of you here.”

The attack comes days before Russia’s presidential election, seen as a constitutional box-ticking exercise where President Vladimir Putin is all but certain to win a fifth term.

Volkov, who had served as chairman of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation until 2023, dismissed the elections in February as a “circus,” saying on social media they were meant to signal Putin’s overwhelming mass support.

“You need to understand what the March ‘elections’ mean for Putin. They are a propaganda effort to spread hopelessness” among the electorate, Volkov said.

Leonid Volkov's injuries after he was attacked with a hammer outside his home.

Leonid Volkov’s injuries after he was attacked with a hammer outside his home. N/A/Ivan Zhdanov/elegram

The opposition figure has lived outside Russia for several years due to safety reasons. He faces multiple politically motivated charges in Russia.

Navalny, who was the most prominent anti-Putin voice in Russia, died last month in a Russian prison, sparking condemnation from world leaders and accusations from his aides that he had been murdered. The Kremlin has denied any involvement in his death.

Navalny’s team and numerous other Russian activists have fled the country in recent years as Moscow’s increasingly repressive regime cracked down on any opposition. In 2021, a Moscow court said the Anti-Corruption Foundation was an “extremist” group in a ruling that was widely condemned by the international community.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

Alabama ruled frozen embryos are children. Here’s what it could mean for embryos frozen across the state

In this October 2018 photo, a container with frozen embryos and sperm being stored in liquid nitrogen is shown at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Florida. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

In this October 2018 photo, a container with frozen embryos and sperm being stored in liquid nitrogen is shown at a fertility clinic in Fort Myers, Florida. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky/APCNN — 

When Kristia Rumbley, a mother of four living in the Birmingham area, first heard about the Alabama Supreme Court’s controversial ruling on frozen embryos, her first thought was of her own.

Rumbley, 44, says she has three embryos frozen at a local fertility clinic. When she faced secondary infertility after the birth of her first child, she and her husband turned to in vitro fertilization to expand their family. They welcomed twins from the procedure in 2016 and another child in 2021.

The process left three frozen embryos unused. Rumbley and her husband are done expanding their family, so they’ve been storing the embryos until they can decide exactly what to do with them.

The process of artificial insemination of an egg in an IVF clinic. Reproductive medicine, in vitro fertilization

RELATED ARTICLEAlabama lawmakers scramble to protect IVF after ruling, while AG’s office says it has ‘no intention’ of prosecuting families

While it’s unclear exactly how many frozen embryos are in Alabama, it’s estimated there are over a million frozen eggs and embryos across the United States, according to TMRW Life Sciences, a biotech company that provides management of frozen eggs and embryos.

But the state Supreme Court’s ruling has thrown the future of those embryos and IVF into chaos. While some lawmakers work to safeguard IVF, clinics in the state have shut down services and patients, including Rumbley, are scrambling to ship their frozen embryos to other states.

Here’s what we know so far about the possible future of the frozen embryos currently stored in Alabama.

Kristia Rumbley poses in her bedroom, in Birmingham, Alabama, on February 23.

Kristia Rumbley poses in her bedroom, in Birmingham, Alabama, on February 23. Dustin Chambers/Reuters

Why and how IVF produces frozen embryos

Since it was developed in the 1970s, IVF has become a popular solution for parents struggling to conceive and those using surrogacy to have children.

“For a sizeable portion of our infertility population, IVF is a patient’s best and often only option,” Andrew Harper, medical director of Huntsville Reproductive Medicine in Madison, Alabama, told CNN. Around 2% of babies in the United States are born through IVF, CNN previously reported.

During the procedure, an egg is removed from the patient’s body and combined with sperm in a laboratory. The resulting embryos get transferred into a person’s uterus in hopes of leading to pregnancy. But only some of the eggs exposed to sperm will be fertilized, and of those, only a small fraction will develop into a mature embryo.

Because of this inefficiency, doctors often try to fertilize more eggs than needed. “The science behind IVF really shows that one single fertilized egg is not enough,” Eve Feinberg, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, previously told CNN.

If her patients say they want two or three children, Feinberg encourages them to have between two to four embryos frozen for each, she said.

In some instances, patients may choose to freeze embryos instead of implanting them right away. Freezing embryos allows medical staff to perform genetic testing – which is especially crucial for patients who chose to pursue IVF because they have a family history of certain genetic conditions.

Cancer patients who risk losing their fertility during treatment might also preemptively freeze eggs or embryos before undergoing treatment. And parents may choose to freeze embryos after IVF to delay pregnancy for a number of reasons, Feinberg previously told CNN.

Rumbley only underwent one round of IVF in 2015. A total of six healthy embryos were produced that resulted in the birth of three children.

Doctor Katarzyna Koziol injects sperm directly into an egg during in-vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) at Novum clinic in Warsaw October 26, 2010. Bishops of Poland's influential Roman Catholic Church have branded in-vitro fertilization (IVF) "the younger sister of eugenics" in a letter aimed at swaying lawmakers ahead of a parliamentary debate. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel (POLAND - Tags: HEALTH RELIGION)

RELATED ARTICLEAbout 2% of babies born in the US are from IVF. Here’s what you need to know about it

But keeping embryos frozen indefinitely can quickly become expensive: Patients must pay a yearly storage cost, which can range from $500 to $1,000, according to Connecticut-based Illume Fertility. The embryos can be donated to other families who are unable to conceive naturally or donated for scientific research, according to Harvard Medical School. They can also be destroyed.

Ruling leaves frozen embryos in ‘cryogenic limbo’

When Alabama’s top court ruled frozen embryos are legally children and people can be held liable for their destruction, it complicated the options available to families.

At least three Alabama clinics have paused certain IVF operations for the time being due to legal concerns. Democrats in the Alabama state House, meanwhile, introduced a bill Thursday that would declare “any fertilized human egg or human embryo that exists outside of a human uterus is not considered an unborn child or human being for any purposes under state law.”

Rumbley says the choice is highly personal -– and it’s one she and her husband aren’t ready to make yet. “I would be devastated if they were taken away from me and given to another family,” she said. “I know I won’t have them, but I think I need to be completely ready before I decide what to do.”

File photo dated 11/08/08 of embryos being placed onto a CryoLeaf ready for instant freezing using a vitrification process for IVF.

In this 2008 photo, embryos are placed into a CryoLeaf ready for instant freezing using a vitrification process for IVF. Ben Birchall/PA Wire/AP

“If they have the same rights as a child who’s born, then that would mean that the government has the same right to take a child away from me if they feel like they’re neglecting or abusing them,” she went on. “And I don’t know what their definition of neglect or abuse when it comes to an embryo would be – maybe being frozen for seven years is neglect in their eyes.”

Seema Mohapatra, a law professor at SMU Dedman School of Law who specializes in health law and reproductive rights, told CNN “typically, embryos are regarded as property,” she said. “The owner of that personal property can do what they want with it.” But now, in Alabama, those embryos are “akin to children.”

The unprecedented ruling also leaves open the question of who will pay for the long-term storage of frozen embryos, Mohapatra said.

Rumbley is hoping to move her embryos to Massachusetts, but says she hasn’t been able to contact the hospital where her embryos are currently stored to find out if she can ship them using a third-party company or transport them herself.

“We don’t know, if we move them, if something happens, are we criminally negligent?” she said. “But I do know that I don’t want them left in a state where they could potentially not be in my control.”

Lauren Bowerman, a Birmingham-based writer and editor who has had one daughter born through IVF and has five embryos frozen at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s clinic, told CNN while she is “hopeful” IVF will continue to be possible in the state, “if it comes down to it, we would move our embryos out of state in order to move forward.”

“We fully intend to use every one of our frozen embryos, so we will do whatever it takes so that we can have them,” she said. “For us (and I know for many IVF couples) it is not just the emotional impact of a delay like this; there are also many timeline considerations to growing our family, so a delay and legal battle like this can feel particularly scary and frustrating.”

At least two cryostorage companies – Seattle Sperm Bank and CryoFuture – told CNN via email they have offered to transfer frozen embryos from Alabama at a reduced cost in the wake of the ruling.

An embryologist is seen at work at the Virginia Center for Reproductive Medicine, in Reston, Virginia on June 12, 2019 - Freezing your eggs, getting pregnant after the age of 50, choosing the baby's sex: when it comes to in-vitro fertilization and other assisted reproduction procedures in the United States, would-be parents are spoilt for choice. This isn't the case in many other countries, including France, which is hoping to pass legislation that would let single women and lesbian couples benefit from these technologies for the first time. (Photo by Ivan Couronne / AFP) / TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Ivan COURONNE, "In US, relaxed IVF laws help would-be parents realize dreams" (Photo by IVAN COURONNE/AFP via Getty Images)

RELATED ARTICLEHow the reversal of Roe v. Wade led to the Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos are children

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama, which weighed in before the court’s decision, has warned the ruling will create an “enormous potential for civil liability” for fertility specialists because embryos can be damaged or become unsuitable for pregnancy at any time during IVF. The association also noted it could mean people are unable to discard embryos, even if one or both parents die.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office has said it has no intention of using the ruling to prosecute IVF providers or patients.

Still, Harper, the medical director in Madison, told CNN his facility is currently continuing IVF procedures but has paused the destruction of embryos.

His facility will also transition to storing embryos at a Minnesota cryostorage company instead of onsite. The facility still has “50 to 70 cohorts of embryos” that have been “abandoned” for as long as 15 years, he added.

“The consent says clearly if the embryos have been abandoned for five years, that the practice reserves the right to discard them,” he explained. But the court ruling has left those frozen embryos in “cryogenic limbo.”

“It’s gonna be someone’s problem long after I’m gone,” he said.

For Bowerman, the decision and resulting delay in her own embryo transfer has left her “deeply frustrated and grieved.”

“It’s scary to think that this process might not have been possible for us and that our daughter would likely not be here if legislation like this was enacted at the time,” she added.

House Republicans seek to downplay FBI informant charges that undermine Biden impeachment inquiry

Reps. Jason Smith, James Comer and Jim Jordan speak to reporters after the House voted to formally authorize the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on December 13, 2023.

Reps. Jason Smith, James Comer and Jim Jordan speak to reporters after the House voted to formally authorize the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden on December 13, 2023. Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesCNN — 

House Republicans leading the impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden tried to downplay the importance of an FBI informant whose claims they once championed after he was charged with fabricating foreign bribery allegations involving the president and his son.

Special counsel David Weiss charged the FBI informant, Alexander Smirnov, with lying to the FBI and creating false records. According to the indictment, Smirnov “fabricated” a story about a Ukrainian oligarch paying millions of dollars in bribes to the Bidens – allegations that Republicans have made central to their impeachment inquiry into Biden.

The informant’s uncorroborated – and now fully discredited – claims were memorialized in an internal FBI memo that Republicans fought for months to obtain from the FBI and eventually made public in July over the bureau’s objections.

The downplaying of the bombshell charges undermine how Republicans have previously championed the discredited allegations as part of their investigation struggling to uncover wrongdoing by the president.

While a spokesman for House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan told CNN “nothing has changed” in the wake of the charges, Jordan said on Fox last month “the most corroborating evidence we have is that 1023 form from this highly credible confidential human source.”

House Oversight Chair James Comer said his work is “not reliant” on the now-debunked allegations and pointed to a “large record of evidence,” but when Republicans were fighting to publicize the document that memorialized these claims, Comer said on Fox in May 2023 “this is a very crucial piece of our investigation.”

And House Ways and Means Chair Jason Smith, who is leading the inquiry with Jordan and Comer, said the allegations were a “smoking gun.”

The “fabrications” and “false derogatory information” the informant is charged with further chip away at the broader Republican narrative that as vice president, Joe Biden corruptly abused his powers to pressure Ukraine to fire a top prosecutor who was investigating Ukrainian energy company Burisma as a way to protect his son Hunter, who served on the firm’s board at the time.

Even though those charges are largely based on already debunked claims about Biden’s dealings in Ukraine that emerged during Donald Trump’s first impeachment, Jordan has said this is “the key thing” to their impeachment inquiry.

The indictment is just the latest setback to House Republicans who are struggling to build momentum to impeach the president. A growing number of Republicans have said it is unlikely their monthslong investigation will ultimately lead to impeachment, given not enough are convinced there is sufficient evidence to do so.

In their razor-thin majority, Republicans narrowly squeaked by their effort to impeach Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas by one vote after failing to do so the first time, and sources say there are approximately 20 House Republicans who at this point would not vote to impeach the president.

In the wake of the charges, President Joe Biden called out the informant for lying and said Republicans should end their impeachment inquiry.

“He is lying, and it should be dropped. And it’s just been an outrageous effort from the beginning,” the president said.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said this in the wake of the charges: “I formally call on Speaker Johnson, Chairman Comer, and House Republicans to stop promoting this nonsense and end their doomed impeachment inquiry.”

Republicans leading the inquiry, however, say they have a mountain of evidence, including witness testimony and bank records, to withstand the recent indictment and criticisms about their investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee released the transcript of their interview with former US Attorney Scott Brady on Friday, which had occurred in October. CNN previously reported Brady vetted the unverified claims from Smirnov and testified that he found some of the material credible enough to pass the tip along to the prosecutor leading the Hunter Biden criminal probe.

“This was a CHS (confidential human source) that was known to the FBI, was credible, had been used – had provided information that was used in other investigations,” Brady said of Smirnov in the interview.

Comer’s committee separately released the transcript of the interview with Hunter Biden’s business associate Tony Bobulinski the day after the announcement of the charges against the FBI informant.

In the wake of the charges, Republicans have seized on the idea that Smirnov was initially presented as a credible witness.

“When asked by the committee about their confidence in the confidential human source, the FBI told the committee the confidential human source was credible and trusted, had worked with the FBI for over a decade, and had been paid six figures. The FBI’s actions in this matter are very concerning,” Comer said Thursday.

In the indictment, the FBI said they had used Smirnov “in various criminal investigations” dating back as early as 2010. When fighting to keep the FBI document memorializing Smirnov’s claims private last year, the FBI wrote to Congress that confidential human sources like Smirnov were “valuable.”

The FBI told lawmakers during closed-door briefings that Smirnov, then an anonymous confidential human source, was credible. Raskin said after a briefing with the FBI last year, “There is a confidential human source that the FBI works with who is proven to be very credible who reported a conversation with someone else.” 

And looking forward, top Republicans point to a pair of high-stakes depositions later this month with Hunter Biden and the president’s brother, James, as a key next step of their probe and say they are not expected to make an official decision on whether to pursue impeachment articles until those are complete.

But even before the charges were announced, lawmakers have been raising questions about the rest of the evidence produced by the investigation. 

In a recent meeting Republican committee staff leading the impeachment inquiry had with a group of GOP lawmakers, two GOP lawmakers told CNN they did not think investigators presented evidence that amounted to a smoking gun or a specific law that had been broken by the president. Instead, the lawmakers said, the investigators presented various scenarios they believed could lead to criminal wrongdoing.

An Oversight Committee spokesperson pushed back: “The purpose of these updates is not to advise members on criminal laws.”

And another GOP source countered the lawmakers’ characterization and said staff presented evidence of bribery, money laundering, conspiracy and obstruction.

The committee is expected to issue a final report that will address criminal violations at the end of their investigation, the Oversight Committee spokesperson added.

Israeli special forces raid largest functioning hospital in Gaza

A view of destruction with destroyed buildings and roads after Israeli Forces withdrawn from the areas in Khan Yunis, Gaza on February 2, 2024.

A view of destruction with destroyed buildings and roads after Israeli Forces withdrawn from the areas in Khan Yunis, Gaza on February 2, 2024. Abdulqader Sabbah/Anadolu/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Israeli special forces raided Nasser Hospital in Gaza, the largest functioning hospital in the enclave, after laying siege to the facility for days.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it had detained a number of suspects in Thursday’s raid, which it said was led by intelligence gathered in part from released hostages.

Israel said it believed the bodies of dead hostages were being held inside the hospital. Hamas denied the claims, saying the group had “no business” at the hospital.

Israeli forces shelled the hospital early Thursday, killing and injuring an “undetermined number of people,” according to Doctors Without Borders, also known as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). Since the attack, one of their colleagues remains unaccounted for.

MSF staff were forced to flee the hospital through a checkpoint set up by the Israeli military, the agency said, adding that one employee “was detained” there.

The news came after doctors and medical officials in southern Gaza said Israeli snipers had shot dead a number of people as they tried to flee the Nasser hospital. An eyewitness to the shootings, who is a trauma surgeon at the hospital, said at least two people were killed by snipers on Tuesday, with more shot and injured.

Commenting on Thursday’s raid, Israeli Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said, “Hamas terrorists are likely hiding behind injured civilians inside Nasser hospital right now.” One former hostage told CNN last month that she was held at Nasser Hospital – a claim CNN could not independently verify, and which Hamas denied.

Israeli military bulldozers dug up the mass graves inside the complex walls, Dr. Al-Qidra, spokesperson for the Ministry of Health, said earlier. On Thursday, the forces “stormed the maternity building and conducted a search operation inside,” he added.

CNN has asked the IDF for its response to those allegations on Thursday. The IDF has not so far responded to any allegations levied by the Ministry.

Later, Israeli forces forced hospital management staff to house nearly 200 patients, 95 medical workers, 11 of their families, and 165 companions and displaced people “under harsh and terrifying conditions without food, without infant formula, and with severe water shortages,” according to Dr. Al-Qidra.

Palestinian patients arrive in Rafah after they were evacuated from Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, on Thursday, as Israeli forces entered the last remaining functioning medical facility in Gaza.

Palestinian patients arrive in Rafah after they were evacuated from Nasser hospital in Khan Younis, on Thursday, as Israeli forces entered the last remaining functioning medical facility in Gaza. Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Displaced patients and medical staff ‘are afraid’

The raid comes after hundreds of civilians were forced by Israeli forces to leave the hospital, which they had been using as a shelter. Video filmed on Tuesday showed columns of smoke at its perimeter, an Israeli bulldozer destroying a hospital perimeter wall, and an armored vehicle entering the hospital grounds. The sound of gunfire can be heard throughout.

At least eight people trying to escape along the route came under gunfire on Tuesday, the trauma surgeon at the hospital, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told CNN. Among those injured, according to the surgeon, was a 16-year-old boy shot with four bullets at the hospital gate.

In a series of voice notes, the surgeon said medical teams at the hospital have been under intense bombardment for at least three days. His testimony was shared with CNN by his colleague.

KARAMEH, GAZA - FEBRUARY 02: A view of destruction with destroyed buildings and roads after Israeli Forces withdrawn from the areas in Khan Yunis, Gaza on February 02, 2024. Extensive devastation unfolded as a result of weeks of continuous Israeli bombardment after Karameh withdrawn. The combination of bulldozer activity and air strikes resulted in the transformation of the region into a landscape of rubble and ash. The aftermath of the Israeli withdrawal from the city revealed the destruction that had befallen the area. (Photo by Abdulqader Sabbah/Anadolu via Getty Images)

RELATED ARTICLEUnimaginable devastation seen inside Khan Younis, the southern Gaza city once a safe haven for the displaced

Israel has repeatedly said that its military forces do not target civilians.

In a video seen by CNN, men, women and young children carrying rucksacks frantically gather their belongings before evacuating the hospital. The sound of Israeli drones overhead can also be heard. Israeli forces “bombed” a warehouse containing medical supplies, the surgeon said Wednesday.

Early Thursday, after the shelling, the surgeon said he cannot leave Nasser because there are patients “who need care.” But he said those trapped are “afraid.”

“We could not imagine that at any time the Israeli army would bomb the hospital directly, and they would kill patients and medical personnel,” said the surgeon. Alongside his colleagues, he tried “to clarify (with the Israeli army) that we are doctors and this is a hospital facility that provides … health to patients.”

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza also said Israeli sniper fire had killed civilians on Tuesday and said a further seven people were shot dead by Israeli snipers on Monday.

Early in the war, the Israeli military designated Khan Younis as a safer zone and told residents from northern Gaza to seek shelter there. But as the IDF pushed its ground offensive south, the city became its next focus.

The IDF says Khan Younis is a Hamas stronghold, and that a tunnel network underneath civilian buildings in the city was likely where Hamas planned the October 7 attacks, in which more than 1,200 people were killed – the deadliest such attacks in Israel’s history.

The destruction of the city of Khan Younis due to Israel’s military campaign is widespread, with many buildings completely destroyed and the rubble bulldozed away, CNN witnessed.

In the west of the city, where the hospital is located, the Israeli military said it was targeting Hamas outposts, infrastructure, and command and control centers.

Hamas has denied hiding in hospitals and other civilian structures and CNN cannot independently verify either claim.

‘Apocalyptic landscape’

Vital medical services at the hospital had collapsed in late January, according to MSF, and staff were left with “very low supplies that are insufficient to handle mass casualty events.”

In late January, doctors at the hospital described a “completely catastrophic” with the hospital “entirely besieged” by Israeli forces.

Video filmed on Tuesday at the hospital shows columns of smoke at its perimeter, an Israeli bulldozer destroying a hospital perimeter wall, and an armored vehicle entering the hospital grounds. The sound of gunfire can be heard throughout.

Sewage water is flooding the emergency ward and electrical generators will stop within 72 hours if the Israeli bombardment persists, Dr. Al-Qidra, the spokesman for the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza said on Wednesday.

With so much destruction in northern Gaza and the current offensive unfolding in the southern part of the besieged enclave, MSF said that many people have no safe place to flee.

“People ask us ‘Where is it safe? Where should we go?’, but there is no answer to that, and it really leads to a feeling of despair,” said Lisa Macheiner, a MSF project coordinator in Gaza.

MSF condemned the Israeli military’s order to evacuate patients, staff and displaced people from Nasser Hospital, saying “people have been forced into an impossible situation.”

“Stay at Nasser hospital against the Israeli military’s orders and become a potential target, or exit the compound into an apocalyptic landscape where bombings and evacuation orders are a part of daily life,” Macheiner said.

“Hospitals should be considered as safe places and shouldn’t even be evacuated in the first place.”

White House facing heat for how it handled Hur investigation

US President Joe Biden speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 8, 2024.

US President Joe Biden speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 8, 2024. Samuel Corum/Sipa/Bloomberg/Getty Images/FileCNN — 

Allies of President Joe Biden are pointing fingers at his legal and communications teams for missteps they say aggravated the political damage of special counsel Robert Hur’s findings in his classified documents investigation.

Some leading Democratic politicians expressed their frustration directly to high-level administration officials in the wake of the report, insisting that the overall response to the probe had been too muted and that the release of the response was completely bungled politically.

Hur declined to bring criminal charges against Biden and said the facts stopped short of finding he willfully retained classified material. But in doing so, Hur offered a deeply damaging portrait of an aging president beset by memory issues, who had trouble recalling dates and details during his five-hour interview with the special counsel.

White House and Biden allies have taken aim at Hur for what they view as a gratuitous characterization of the president. But some Democrats and supporters of the president have questioned the decision to sit for a five-hour interview over two days last October amid a spiraling Middle East crisis. They’re also putting scrutiny on the decision to allow the interview to be recorded and for the communications strategy that they believe has added to the president’s reelection woes.

A source close to the Biden legal team pushed back at the criticism of their strategy, saying, “After a hostile prosecutor investigated the president for 15 months trying to find something to charge, the Biden legal team strategy ended with zero indictments and total exoneration. That is an unequivocal win.”

From the beginning of the documents matter, in November 2022 when classified documents turned up at a former office space Biden used between his vice-presidential tenure and his White House term, the president’s strategy focused on cooperating with the National Archives and FBI.

The strategy was as much legal as it was political: Biden’s aides hoped to draw a contrast with Donald Trump, whose alleged obstruction in his own classified documents investigation led to criminal charges. Indeed, Hur compared Biden’s cooperation favorably to Trump’s in his report.

The president and the White House faced an additional incentive to cooperate. If they didn’t, the Justice Department was prepared to seek subpoenas to compel searches to retrieve documents, CNN has previously reported.

Hur’s report, which concluded with no charges, would suggest that the strategy worked — except for the multiple instances in the report questioning Biden’s memory, including the line that listed among the reasons to not bring charges: “Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview with him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

Some close to Biden have questioned whether he received sound legal advice during the high-stakes investigation, a source told CNN, raising specific concerns about why lawyers allowed Biden to be interviewed in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel on October 7.

White House Counsel Ed Siskel and Robert Bauer, the president’s personal attorney, were in the White House Map Room for the president’s interview with Hur, people briefed on the matter said. The interview took place after weeks of negotiations, a standard part of such investigations.

Unlike Trump, whose lawyers refused to allow an in-person interview and instead submitted written answers to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the Russian election interference investigation, Biden’s lawyers never contemplated such a move. The strategy of drawing a contrast with Trump, officials say, made sitting for an in-person interview a no-brainer.

Surprise over the handling of Biden’s interview with Hur

Several former Justice Department and White House lawyers who are experienced in dealing with situations where a president or vice president is being interviewed stressed the importance that lawyers negotiating with the special counsel have extensive criminal and trial experience.

While the sources gave credit to Biden’s team for early cooperation with the National Archives and the FBI when classified documents were first found in Biden’s office and home, they stressed that special counsels often dig for an extensive level of detail, including through an interview process, to produce a final public report.

Recognizing those factors would be critical when negotiating interview parameters, including whether it was recorded.

“Sometimes you want a recording, and it helps you…for nuance and clarity,” one of the sources said. “But with a president or vice president, you would negotiate that because you know it is going to become part of the public record sooner or later.”

“This could have easily been negotiated,” the source continued, voicing surprise at both the timing of the interview and the length of the sessions, which were spread out over two days on October 8 and 9.

A White House official previously told CNN that Biden had been “understandably distracted” the weekend of the Hur interview, given that a war was breaking out in Israel.

The interview with Hur had been scheduled well before the attacks in Israel, which consumed much of Biden’s time in the lead-up to the event. He spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an hour or so before the interview occurred.

While there was some initial discussion of postponing the interview, Biden and his lawyers ultimately decided against it because they hoped it would help expedite Hur’s investigation. It also wasn’t clear when the next opportunity would be to block off large chucks of time on Biden’s schedule, particularly with a budding war in the Middle East.

Officials also said Biden determined an interview would demonstrate he was being transparent with the special counsel and provide a contrast with Trump’s attempts to impede the investigation into his own handling of classified documents.

One Democratic ally close to the White House said they couldn’t fault the president’s legal team for consenting to a recorded interview with the special counsel given the politically charged nature of the probe. They also wouldn’t second guess the decision to go ahead with the interview the weekend of October 8.

“You can second guess it now, but at the time it clearly felt like the right thing to do to get it over with,” they said. “That’s a tougher call looking in hindsight.”

Questions over decision to have Biden face the press

The public-facing response in the immediate aftermath of the report’s release has also invited criticism.

The choice for Biden to make remarks and take questions from reporters afterward – just hours after the Hur report came out – has been polarizing.

While the president seized the opportunity to forcefully reject some of the claims in the report, including the fact that he allegedly couldn’t remember when his late son, Beau, had died, the impromptu news conference after the speech invited numerous questions about his mental acuity and age.

Biden flashed deep irritation as he fielded those questions, and the president was undoubtedly on defense.

It was a mistake for the White House to “put him out on weakness and not strength,” one administration official said.

Others disagree.

“I do think showing some fire in the belly was not a bad thing and for people to see,” said a former senior White House official. “I do think they had to show some urgency on Thursday night.”

Some Biden allies also believed the optics of Biden’s statement – standing in front of a wall of shouting reporters, at moments appearing uncertain – could have been better managed, particularly at such a highly sensitive moment.

The White House said Tuesday it was Biden’s own choice to appear Thursday evening from the Diplomatic Reception Room.

“It was the president’s idea. It was his idea,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

“You saw the president do this, make a statement and take questions from all of you, because he wanted to do it,” she said.

As Biden was speaking from the podium, some of his senior-most aides – including communications adviser Anita Dunn, message guru Mike Donilon and chief of staff Jeff Zients – listened from the back of the room.

Frustration with lack of coordinated response

Some White House officials and Democrats close to the White House, including some former administration officials, were left wondering why there didn’t appear to be a clearer and more forceful pushback against Hur’s report the moment it was made public.

When news of the report first broke, some White House officials felt frustrated about not having been armed with clear talking points, multiple sources said. The grave sensitivities surrounding the special counsel investigation naturally meant that only a very small group of Biden advisers were in the know about the details of the lengthy report – but that left some of those who were in the dark feeling discouraged.

“It was clear from the outset that they were scrambling to land on a message,” said one former official, who wondered out loud whether it would have helped for more White House officials to have been in the loop to help prepare a more fulsome response.

One person briefed on the matter pushed back against the suggestion that more staffers should have been briefed ahead of time. “The special counsel forced the attorneys who reviewed the report in advance not to share information about the contents with anyone else,” they said.

White House officials stood by the forcefulness of the White House’s pushback to Hur’s report, saying not only did Biden take questions from reporters Thursday night, but the next day, White House counsel spokesman Ian Sams joined the press briefing.

The White House has also sent a letter to the White House Correspondents’ Association taking issue with news coverage of the Hur report, the officials pointed out, while the Biden campaign has pointed to allies and legal experts questioning aspects of the report that the White House sees as problematic.

Still, some Biden allies have questioned why the White House declined to have the president sit down with CBS News for a pre-Super Bowl interview – a unique opportunity to send a clear message to more than 100 million Americans tuning in over the weekend on the heels of the special counsel report.

The White House said it didn’t want to interrupt a non-political event with a presidential interview and that the president would find “many other ways” to communicate with Americans. In fact on Sunday, the Biden campaign joined TikTok for the first time and posted a video.

Biden and Jordanian king look to move Israel-Hamas war to a new phase

President Joe Biden watches as Jordan's King Abdullah delivers following their meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 12.

President Joe Biden watches as Jordan’s King Abdullah delivers following their meeting at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 12. Kevin Lamarque/ReutersWashingtonCNN — 

President Joe Biden and King Abdullah II of Jordan met Monday aiming to figure out how to move the Israel-Hamas war into a new phase in which Israeli hostages are released and fighting stops for a prolonged period of time.

“The key elements of the deal are on the table,” Biden said while addressing reporters alongside the king at the White House. “There are gaps that remain, but I’ve encouraged Israeli leaders to keep working to achieve the deal. The United States will do everything possible to make it happen.”

Biden did not elaborate on what the “gaps” in the deal are. He added that a planned Israeli operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah should not go forward without a “credible plan” to protect civilians.

“Many people there have been displaced, displaced multiple times,” Biden said from the White House on Monday, “fleeing the violence to the north, and now they’re packed into Rafah, exposed and vulnerable.”

“They need to be protected,” Biden added.

Biden added that he and Abdullah discussed “a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas, which would bring immediate and sustained period of calm into Gaza, for at least six weeks, which we could then take the time to build into something more enduring,” during the meeting.

But Abdullah, the first Arab leader to visit the White House since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7, went further – reiterating his call for a complete ceasefire, which Biden has so far resisted.

“We cannot stand by and let this continue,” the Jordanian king told reporters. “We need a lasting ceasefire now. This war must end.”

He said it was essential the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the main United Nations agency responsible for Gaza, continues to receive funding. The agency warned earlier this month it may have to halt its work in Gaza after the US and other nations withdrew support last month over allegations some of its staff were involved with Hamas’ October 7 attack.

Abdullah also said in his remarks that a ground operation in Rafah would amount to devastation, adding it would “produce another humanitarian catastrophe.”

“The situation is already unbearable for over a million people who have been pushed into Rafah since the war started,” Abdullah said.

While the Jordanian king called Biden a “dear friend” and said the president’s leadership is “key to addressing this conflict,” the open rifts between Biden and Abdullah underscored the delicate diplomatic balance the president is facing as the war in Gaza enters its fifth month – and as he faces a possible inflection point in his presidency.

In the wake of special counsel Robert Hur’s report, which contained politically embarrassing passages about the president’s memory, Biden is facing perhaps the most scrutiny of his presidency over his mental acuity. The 81-year-old president’s age is his biggest political problem, and the special counsel’s report has struck a nerve, as evidenced by Biden’s amped-up news conference just hours after it published.

But that domestic political pressure has not obscured the foreign crises that have occupied much of the president’s term in office, and it was during that news conference that Biden leveled his latest ramped-up criticism at Israel, calling its response to the October 7 terror attack “over the top.” The president was aiming to show off his command of the issues at hand when King Abdullah, a key regional ally who has been critical of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, comes to the West Wing.

The president’s supporters have frequently pointed to the Israel-Hamas war as evidence of Biden’s mental faculties being in good shape. Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday pushed back against concerns about the president’s age as she recounted in detail the experience serving alongside Biden in the aftermath of Hamas’ October 7 attack, noting that she was in “almost every meeting” with him and his national security team in the days that followed. Biden sat for interviews with Hur on October 8 and 9.

“The president was in front of and on top of it all, asking questions and requiring that America’s military and intelligence community and diplomatic community would figure out and know – how many people are dead, how many Americans, how many hostages, is the situation stable?” Harris said.

And Democratic Rep. Daniel Goldman of New York, who spoke by phone with Biden a day ahead of his October 8 interview with Hur, said the president was “sharper than anyone I’ve spoken to” about the situation in the Middle East.

In his meeting with King Abdullah, Biden had some high-pressure issues to work through as the Jordanians have called on the White House to put more pressure on Israel over its campaign against Hamas in Gaza, which has taken an immense humanitarian toll.

Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority canceled a planned meeting with Biden less than 24 hours before a planned four-way summit in the Jordanian capital, Amman, in October when he traveled to Israel. The cancellation followed a massive blast in Gaza’s Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital that reportedly killed hundreds of Palestinians.

The Jordanian and Egyptian governments have called for a ceasefire in Gaza, while Biden has resisted making a similar call.

And the meeting came just weeks after three American soldiers were killed during an attack at a base in Jordan last month, prompting the US to launch dozens of retaliatory strikes that targeted Iran-backed militias.

But the top order of business was how to achieve a cessation to fighting that also involves the release of hostages still held by Hamas since the October 7 terror attack on Israel. There are 136 hostages being held in Gaza, including 132 who were captured during Hamas’ October 7 attack. Twenty-nine of the hostages are dead, according to the Israeli prime minister’s office.

Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed a deal to secure the release of hostages in Gaza at length on Sunday, according to a senior administration official, who cautioned that while a framework is in place, gaps remain.

Over the last several months, the US has attempted to put more pressure on the Israeli government to support a “humanitarian pause” in its war against Hamas. But those efforts have yielded little success.

Last week, Netanyahu called Hamas’ recent proposals for a ceasefire and hostage deal in Gaza “delusional.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously said negotiations toward an agreement would continue despite the Israeli prime minister’s comments, which Blinken said were referencing the “absolute non-starters” in the proposal.

The full Hamas response proposes three phases, each lasting 45 days, including the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza, a massive humanitarian effort, and freedom of movement for people throughout Gaza, according to a copy obtained by CNN.