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Biden calls Putin a war criminal for first time as civilian deaths in Ukraine mount

Kremlin says accusation ‘unforgivable’; Bennett described as main international mediator involved in brokering Ukraine-Russia talks; Slovakia may send advanced air defense system

  • US President Joe Biden talks with guests during an event celebrating the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2022. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)
    US President Joe Biden talks with guests during an event celebrating the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on March 16, 2022. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP)
  • The bombed Mariupol theater in Ukraine on March 16, 2022. (Screen capture: @Mariupolnow)
    The bombed Mariupol theater in Ukraine on March 16, 2022. (Screen capture: @Mariupolnow)
  • A view shows a destroyed Russian army multiple rocket launcher on the outskirts of Kharkiv on March 16, 2022, amid the ongoing Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Sergey BOBOK / AFP)
    A view shows a destroyed Russian army multiple rocket launcher on the outskirts of Kharkiv on March 16, 2022, amid the ongoing Russia's invasion of Ukraine. (Sergey BOBOK / AFP)
  • A committee of Ukrainian leaders, rabbis and other religious figures participate in a morning protest in front of the US Mission to the United Nations to call on the US government to do more to halt Russia's advance on Ukrainian towns and cities on March 16, 2022 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
    A committee of Ukrainian leaders, rabbis and other religious figures participate in a morning protest in front of the US Mission to the United Nations to call on the US government to do more to halt Russia's advance on Ukrainian towns and cities on March 16, 2022 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the US Congress on March 16, 2022, at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC. ( Drew Angerer / POOL / AFP)
    Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the US Congress on March 16, 2022, at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC. ( Drew Angerer / POOL / AFP)
  • This photograph taken on March 16, 2022 shows smoke rising after an explosion in Kyiv (Aris Messinis / AFP)
    This photograph taken on March 16, 2022 shows smoke rising after an explosion in Kyiv (Aris Messinis / AFP)
  • Screen capture from video showing people who were killed by Russian forces in the norther Ukrainian city of Chernihiv,  on March 16, 2022. (Twitter)
    Screen capture from video showing people who were killed by Russian forces in the norther Ukrainian city of Chernihiv, on March 16, 2022. (Twitter)
  • Footage of the war in Ukraine is displayed as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the US Congress by video to plead for support as his country is besieged by Russian forces, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)
    Footage of the war in Ukraine is displayed as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks to the US Congress by video to plead for support as his country is besieged by Russian forces, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 16, 2022. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)
  • Volunteers with Jewish organization LeMa'anam dressed as clowns play with children as Ukrainian Jewish refugees who fled the war in their country wait to be flown to Israel in the coming days, on March 16, 2022 in the Moldova's capital Chisinau (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
    Volunteers with Jewish organization LeMa'anam dressed as clowns play with children as Ukrainian Jewish refugees who fled the war in their country wait to be flown to Israel in the coming days, on March 16, 2022 in the Moldova's capital Chisinau (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
  • Ukrainian Jewish refugee Olga Chudnaya from Hostomel sits inside the Agudath Israel synagogue in Moldova's capital Chisinau on March 15, 2022, before heading to the airport to board a plane to Israel (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
    Ukrainian Jewish refugee Olga Chudnaya from Hostomel sits inside the Agudath Israel synagogue in Moldova's capital Chisinau on March 15, 2022, before heading to the airport to board a plane to Israel (GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)
  • Former Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky guards Independence Square in Kyiv, on March 15, 2022. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
    Former Ukrainian tennis player Sergiy Stakhovsky guards Independence Square in Kyiv, on March 15, 2022. (Photo by Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP)
  • A woman walks past posters bearing the letter 'Z' in the colors of the ribbon of Saint George, which has become a symbol of support for Russian military action in Ukraine, and reading 'We are proud of Russia! We are not ashamed!' at a bus stop on Nevsky Prospekt in central Saint Petersburg on March 15, 2022. (AFP)
    A woman walks past posters bearing the letter 'Z' in the colors of the ribbon of Saint George, which has become a symbol of support for Russian military action in Ukraine, and reading 'We are proud of Russia! We are not ashamed!' at a bus stop on Nevsky Prospekt in central Saint Petersburg on March 15, 2022. (AFP)
  • Ukraine's biggest national flag flies in Kyiv before dawn on March 16, 2022 (GENYA SAVILOV / AFP)
    Ukraine's biggest national flag flies in Kyiv before dawn on March 16, 2022 (GENYA SAVILOV / AFP)

The Times of Israel live blogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.

Ukraine’s military says it hit Russians at Kherson airport

A volunteer with the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)
A volunteer with the Ukrainian Territorial Defense Forces in Kharkiv, Ukraine, March 16, 2022. (AP Photo/Andrew Marienko)

Ukrainian military forces have dealt a punishing blow to the airport in Kherson, which Russian troops had seized early in the war, the General Staff says.

It says the Russians are trying to remove any surviving military equipment.

Ukraine’s military says it hit the airport on Tuesday. Satellite photos taken afterward by Planet Labs PBC and analyzed by The Associated Press show helicopters and vehicles on fire at the air base.

Russia seized the southern port city without a fight in the first days of the war.

Control over Kherson allows Russia to restore fresh water supplies to Crimea; Ukraine cut off the water after Russia annexed the peninsula in 2014.

The General Staff says Russia’s ground offensive on major Ukrainian cities has largely stalled.

Russians released Ukrainian mayor in exchange for 9 captured soldiers, report says

Russian forces released the mayor the Ukrainian city of Melitopol as part of a prisoner exchange deal, according to Ukrainian media.

Russian troops abducted Mayor Ivan Fedorov five days ago and let him go today.

He was released in exchange for nine Russian conscript soldiers, all 18 or 19 years old, a Ukrainian government spokesperson says, according to the Kyiv Independent.

Facebook says it took down deepfake video of Zelensky making a speech

Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, says its security teams identified and took down a deepfake video showing Ukrainian President Zelensky delivering a statement that he did not actually deliver.

Deepfake videos use technology to manipulate or generate fake media, for example, by using machine learning to put someone’s face on another person’s body in a video. Some technology can reproduce speech using existing samples of a person’s voice.

Meta’s head of security policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, says the fake video of Zelensky appeared on a “reportedly compromised website and then started showing across the internet.”

Meta reviewed and removed the video for violating its policy against misleading manipulated media, and notified other platforms, Gleicher says.

The announcement does not say what the fake Zelensky said in the video.

Meta also owns Instagram and WhatsApp.

Zelensky released a video online later dismissing the fake clip.

Sky News reported that in the fake video, Zelensky told people to surrender to Russia, and said he was giving Russia the Donbas region of Ukraine.

Examples said to be from the fake video that are still circulating online do not appear convincing.

Few facts, much speculation as explosions heard in Belarus

Reports indicate that booms are being heard in several areas of southern Belarus.

There is no confirmed reliable information about the source of the blasts, but speculation over the mystery ranges from sonic booms to a false flag attack by Russia to an internal coup.

An opposition politician opposed to Minsk’s alliance with Moscow claims 30 aircraft recently took off and 6 missiles were shot near Kalinkovich, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) from the border with Ukraine.

An Australian threat analysis group reports on other explosions that appear to be separate from those reported above.

Bennett played key role in mediating Russia-Ukraine talks – Financial Times

The Financial Times reports that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett played a central role in advancing talks between Ukraine and Russia.

The British newspaper, which is reporting details on a 15-point proposal that it says the sides are nearing agreement on, says Bennett was “the primary international mediator on the talks.”

It attributed the information to three people familiar with the matter.

Bennett has held several phone calls with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and flew to Moscow to meet with Putin earlier this month.

Israel is one of the few countries that maintains good working ties with both Ukraine and Russia. Bennett has defended his decision to not send arms or other military aid to Ukraine as necessary to maintain his status as a neutral broker.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (left) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia, on October 22, 2021. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A senior aide to Zelensky earlier dismissed the Financial Times reporting, saying the draft agreement only represented Russia’s stance.

Israeli officials have been careful in the past not to exaggerate Bennett’s role and say he is not actively making proposals or pressuring the sides. Instead, they describe him as a channel of communication, passing messages from the sides in what they describe as a frank and realistic manner.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were discussing diplomatic efforts, say there has been a “positive shift” in the rhetoric from both sides.

AP contributed.

Ukraine defense minister says soldiers moving from defense to offense

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov says that after three weeks of fighting, his soldiers are beginning to mount counter-offensives against Russian forces in several locations.

“The situation remains difficult, especially in the south and east. But more and more often our defenders are moving into counterattacks in various parts of the front: from Kyiv and Mykolaiv regions to the Luhansk region,” he says on Facebook.

His ministry posts a video, set to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” of Ukrainian artillery bombing what is described as a Russian command and supply post near Kyiv.

Reznikov also hints at good news for the army following talks with counterparts from NATO and the EU.

“We agreed not to report on specific results. I just want to say that there is positive news. The enemy will get to hear them first from our soldiers on the front line,” he says.

It’s unclear if he is speaking of newly announced donations of arms and air defense systems.

Reznikov urges Russians opposed to the war to publicly protest and take action rather than making do with statements.

“If you want to mitigate your guilt, active repentance is needed. That is what the law says. So act,” he writes. “Active resistance to this military gamble, and not by posts from a Turkish or Israeli hotel, but on the streets of Russian cities — this is the way to change your place in the list of war criminals.”

Kremlin says calling Putin a war criminal ‘unacceptable and unforgivable’

US President Joe Biden’s reference to Russian leader Vladimir Putin as a “war criminal” over his military operation in Ukraine is “unacceptable and unforgivable,” the Kremlin says.

“We believe such rhetoric to be unacceptable and unforgivable on the part of the head of a state, whose bombs have killed hundreds of thousands of people around the world,” says Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, according to the state news agencies TASS and Ria Novosti.

Slovakia may send Soviet S-300 missile defense systems to Ukraine

Slovakian defense officials expect to discuss a possible transfer of their Soviet-era S-300 air defense systems to Ukraine when US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visits there Thursday, a Slovak military spokesperson said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky mentioned the S-300s by name when he spoke to US lawmakers by video Wednesday, appealing for anti-air systems that would allow Ukraine to “close the skies” to Russian warplanes and missiles.

Slovak Defense Ministry spokesperson Martina Koval Kakascikova said Slovaks expect the issue to be on the agenda when Austin comes to Bratislava for talks.

Slovakia has no objections to providing its S-300s to Ukraine, she said. “But we can’t get rid of a system that protects our air space if we don’t have any replacement.”

In this illustrative photo taken on August 27, 2013, a Russian S-300 air defense system is on display at the opening of the MAKS Air Show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow, Russia (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)

The S-300s use long-range missiles that are capable of flying hundreds of miles and knocking down cruise missiles as well as warplanes. The Soviet-era anti-air defense systems could be valuable in thwarting Russian air attacks on cities and other targets.

US President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the US would help provide long-range air defense systems to Ukraine, but gave no details. US officials had no comment on any S-300 swap. Three NATO members — Slovakia, Greece, and Bulgaria — are reported to have S-300s.

WH indicates Putin war criminal comment was off the cuff, not a policy shift

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki says US President Joe Biden was “speaking from his heart” in reaction to images of Russian attacks on civilians in Ukraine when he called Russian President Vladimir Putin a war criminal, indicating that his comment may not have larger policy implications.

“He was answering a direct question that was asked and responding to what he has seen on television,” Psaki tells reporters. “We have all seen barbaric acts, horrific acts by a foreign dictator in a country that is threatening and taking the lives of civilians — impacting hospitals, women who are pregnant, journalists, others.”

“His remarks speak for themselves.”

She says a review by the State Department regarding the war criminal designation, which has legal ramifications, is still ongoing.

“There is a legal process that… continues to be underway at the State Department,” she says.

 

Biden calls Putin a war criminal, in harshest US condemnation yet

US President Joe Biden says Russian President Vladimir Putin is a war criminal, in the sharpest condemnation yet of Putin and Russian actions by a US official since the invasion of Ukraine.

While leaving an unrelated event, a reporter asks Biden if he is ready to call Putin a war criminal. “No,” Biden responds and walks off.

Sometime later he returns to the reporter to clarify what she had asked, and responds that “I think he is a war criminal.”

He leaves before answering any other questions.

While other world leaders have used the term, the White House had been hesitant to declare Putin’s actions those of a war criminal, saying it was a legal term that required research.

AP contributed.

 

Video shows Mariupol theater packed with women and children before it was destroyed

A video shared online apparently shows the Mariupol Drama Theater filled with displaced people hunkering for safety sometime before it was bombed earlier in the day.

The video shows most of the people in the theater were women and children. It is not known when it was filmed.

Officials have yet to announce any casualty numbers. The city council of Mariupol says in a message that the theater was destroyed, along with the entrance to a bomb shelter in the building.

City official Petro Andruishchenko is quoted by CNN saying that the theater was the city’s largest shelter, but he holds out little hope for victims being rescued due to Russia’s continuing onslaught.

“According to preliminary data, more than a thousand people were hiding there,” he is quoted saying. “The probability of getting there to dismantle the rubble is low due to constant shelling and bombing of the city.”

US says remaining issues with Iran on nuke deal can be resolved

The United States and Iran are still nearing an agreement over reviving the 2015 deal on limiting Tehran’s nuclear weapons program, the State Department said Wednesday.

“We are close to a possible deal, but we’re not there yet,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price. “We do think the remaining issues can be bridged.”

Zelensky’s deputy bureau chief: Israel’s government not ‘doing the right things’

Ihor Zhovkva, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's deputy chief of staff. (Channel 12 screenshot)
Ihor Zhovkva, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's deputy chief of staff. (Channel 12 screenshot)

Ihor Zhovkva, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff, is asked in an interview, in his office with a Channel 12 reporter, about Ukraine’s criticism of Israeli government policy on the war:

“We would not criticize your government if your government would do [the] right things,” he answers. “Look at what is happening with these quotas: You are refusing Ukrainians to enter your country… This is unbelievable in this state of war.”

He also protests that Israel failed to “react strongly” when Russian missiles hit the Babyn Yar area early in the war.

As for Prime Minister Bennett’s mediation efforts, Zhovka says: “It’s good that he’s trying. We really see that he’s trying, and my president keeps talking to him regularly. But unfortunately, there is still no result.”

In another interview, this one conducted from Channel 12’s studio, Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv, is warmer, dodging a question about Israel’s official stance and stressing: “We always have good communication, a good relationship with Israel.”

Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko. (Channel 12 screenshot)

He quickly moves onto the threat posed to Ukraine in general and specifically Kyiv: “Russian wants to rebuild the Soviet empire… We were already part of the Soviet Union and we don’t want a Soviet Union 2. We see our future as part of the European family, as a modern democratic country, with the name Ukraine.”

Asked whether Bennett can succeed as a mediator, Klitschko says: We have to use every political, diplomatic level to stop this war… But please support Ukraine.”

“The Russians will never be in the capital of Ukraine,” he pledges. “We are ready to die, but we will never give our city to another people, to aggressors.”

Klitschko ends the interview by sending “big regards to Israel,” adding, “Support Ukraine, please. We need support. And we see who are real friends of Ukraine, especially in this time.”

Kyiv mayor reports homes shelled just north of city center

Kyiv mayor Vitali Klitschko says Russian shelling damaged several residences in the city’s Podil neighborhood, just north of the city center and about 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) from the so-called “government quarter” that holds the presidential palace, president’s office, and other significant offices.

The State Emergency Service says there were no casualties from the attack, which caused three homes to catch fire.

Kyiv residents have been huddled in homes and shelters amid a citywide curfew that runs until Thursday morning, as Russia shelled areas in and around the city.

Earlier, a 12-story apartment building in central Kyiv erupted in flames after being hit by shrapnel.

Abducted Melitopol mayor freed, speaks to Zelensky

The mayor of the southeastern Ukrainian city of Melitopol has been freed after he was seized by Russian forces five days ago, a Ukrainian official said Wednesday.

Andriy Yermak, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, announces the news, but does not share details about how Ivan Fedorov became free.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry posts a video of Zelensky speaking to Fedorov.

Surveillance video last week showed Fedorov being marched out of city hall apparently surrounded by Russian soldiers.

Prior to the start of the invasion, US President Joe Biden’s administration had warned of Russian plans to detain and kill targeted people in Ukraine, with Zelensky himself likely the top target.

Video claims to show hack of Mossad chief’s personal data

Details about Mossad head David Barnea’s personal life were purportedly published on Telegram by an account belonging to an anonymous individual, Hebrew-language media report.

The channel publishes videos in Hebrew, English, and Arabic showing Barnea’s home from the air, plane tickets his family purchased in 2014, tax documents, and a video of him making silly faces, apparently during a private video chat.

A clip of David Barnea from a video showing a reported hack of his personal device. (Screenshot/Channel 13)

Media reports assert the info was stolen and posted by Iranian hackers, but offer no evidence for the claim.

According to Walla news, the Telegram channel that posted the videos was set up this week and only has 30 followers. Kan reports that the video was also posted by Iran’s Nour News.

In a statement carried by several news outlets, the Mossad says the info presented is “old and not from the Mossad head’s phone.”

Report: US mulling removing IRGC from terror list, Blinken to visit Israel

The US is weighing removing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its terror list, Axios reports, as sides appear to move closer to reviving a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

The site, quoting Israeli and US sources, says any such move would not be directly connected to the nuclear deal.

According to Axios, former US vice president Mike Pence told Israeli officials about the possible move during a visit earlier this month. But the White House told Israel that the idea was briefly considered and ruled out.

The IRGC, a hardline militia with close ties to Iran’s supreme leader and seen as Tehran’s expeditionary force, was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization by Donald Trump’s administration.

The site also reports that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken may visit Israel and the Palestinian Authority next week, along with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Axios reports.

The trip could come either before or after Blinken visits Brussels on March 24, though the schedule may still change as things shift with regards to Ukraine.

Mariupol official says 1,000-1,200 were in bombed theater

The deputy mayor of Mariupol tells the BBC that between 1,000 and 1,200 people were inside the city’s Drama Theater when it was hit by a Russian bomb.

Serhiy Orlov says he does not know the scope of casualties from the attack.

Elsewhere, the State Emergency Service reports the bodies of five people were found in residential areas of Chernihiv that were bombed. Among the dead are three children.

There are also reports of fresh shelling near Kyiv.

Zelensky aide says report on ceasefire draft agreement only covers Russian stance

Mikhail Podolyak, a top adviser of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, says a Financial Times report detailing a possible ceasefire agreement contains only the Russian position, and not Ukraine’s counter.

He indicates that the only matters he can say are under discussion are a ceasefire, Russian troops leaving Ukraine, and security guarantees.

The Financial Times story had said the sides were nearing a deal that would see Ukraine adopt a policy of neutrality, shrink its military, and agree not to enter security pacts with Western allies.

Biden says drones, anti-aircraft weapons being sent to Ukraine

US President Joe Biden says the US is sending more anti-aircraft, anti-armor weapons, and drones to Ukraine to assist in its defense against Russia, assuring it of America’s “unprecedented” support in its war with Russia.

The president’s comments come as he formally announces his administration is sending an additional $800 million in military assistance to Ukraine, making a total of $2 billion in such aid sent to Kyiv since Biden took office more than a year ago. About $1 billion in aid has been sent in just the last week.

“We’re going to give Ukraine the arms to fight and defend themselves through all the difficult days ahead,” Biden says.

“These are direct transfers of equipment from our Department of Defense to the Ukrainian military to help them as they fight against this invasion,” says Biden, who also announces US help for Ukraine to acquire “additional longer-range anti-aircraft systems.”

Biden spoke hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivered a video address to members of US Congress in which he made an impassioned plea for the US and West to provide more help to save his young democracy than world leaders have so far pledged to provide.

NATO chief says allies united against no-fly zone for Ukraine

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has categorically ruled out any role for the military organization in setting up and policing a no-fly zone over Ukraine to protect against Russian airstrikes.

“NATO should not deploy forces on the ground or in the air space over Ukraine because we have a responsibility to ensure that this conflict, this war, doesn’t escalate beyond Ukraine,” Stoltenberg says.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly appealed for NATO to set up a no-fly zone given Russia’s air superiority, as civilian casualties mount three weeks into the war.

Speaking Wednesday after chairing a meeting of NATO defense ministers, Stoltenberg concedes that “we see human suffering in Ukraine, but this can become even worse if NATO [takes] actions that actually turned this into a full-fledged war between NATO and Russia.”

He says the decision not to send air or ground forces into Ukraine is “the united position from NATO allies.” Earlier Wednesday, Estonia urged its 29 NATO partners to consider setting up a no-fly zone.

Ukrainian lawmaker says ‘thousands’ were in bombed Mariupol theater

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba confirms that Russian forces dropped a large bomb on Mariupol’s theater, where people in the besieged city were sheltering from Russian attacks.

“Russians could not have not known this was a civilian shelter,” he says.

Inna Sovsun, a member of Ukraine’s parliament, tells CNN “thousands” were sheltering in the palatial building, and it’s not known how many survived.

Russia shelling reported near Odesa

Ukrainian officials say Russia is shelling towns near Odesa on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, representing a significant new development expected for several days.

Loud blasts are heard during a live CNN segment filmed in Odesa.

Russian shelling kills 3 at Kharkiv market, Mariupol theater reportedly destroyed

Ukraine officials say at least three people were killed in a Russian attack on a market in Kharkiv.

The State Emergency Service says another five people were injured in the shelling. It publishes pictures showing the outdoor market being engulfed in flames.

There are also reports that a theater in Mariupol was destroyed when Russian forces dropped a large bomb on it.

According to reports, dozens of people were sheltering inside the theater.

Masks to stay on as Israel warily watches COVID resurgence elsewhere

Israel’s government has decided to take a wait-and-see approach to alarming surges in COVID case numbers in Asia and Europe, but says a dangerous new strain is a “possibility.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz announce that facemask requirements will continue until Passover at least in response to fears of a new strain.

Officials will also check inventories of vaccines and drugs “ahead of the possibility of a severe coronavirus strain, should one be found,” according to a government statement.

No other major changes are announced.

Coronavirus case numbers in Israel remain relatively high, with some 5,800 new daily cases according to a seven-day rolling average. Over 300 people remain hospitalized in serious condition.

The death toll stands at 10,405, according to Health Ministry stats released Wednesday evening.

NATO to bolster eastern flank, but won’t send troops into Ukraine, chief says

NATO defense ministers on Wednesday tasked military commanders to come up with plans to bolster the alliance’s eastern flank after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says.

“On land, our new posture should include substantially more forces in the eastern part of the alliance, at higher readiness, with more prepositioned equipment and supplies,” Stoltenberg tells reporters.

But he adds that the alliance is not planning to send forces to Ukraine, rejecting Poland’s call for it to deploy a peacekeeping mission.

“We call on Russia, on President [Vladimir] Putin to withdraw its forces, but we have no plans of deploying NATO troops on the ground in Ukraine,” Stoltenberg says.

Two issues remain before nuke talks can wrap, Iran says

Iran’s foreign minister says two issues remain with the United States in paused negotiations to restore the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.

“We had four issues as our red lines,” but “two issues have been almost resolved,” Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA, adding that “two issues remain, including (an) economic guarantee.”

Top UN court orders Russia to halt invasion

The UN’s top court has ordered Russia to suspend its invasion of Ukraine, saying it was “profoundly concerned” by Moscow’s use of force.

“The Russian Federation shall immediately suspend military operations that it commenced on 24 February on the territory of Ukraine,” pending the final decision in the case, judge Joan Donoghue tells the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praises the decision as “a complete victory in its case against Russia,” though analysts note the move is mostly symbolic.

AFP contributed.

Ukraine sees ceasefire on horizon as talks reportedly progress

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak says he thinks Russia will agree to a ceasefire in a number of days, amid reports of progress on an agreement after nearly three weeks of war.

Podolyak tells US network PBS that Russian negotiators are softening their positions as troops struggle to make progress.

“We are confident because the Russians have used all of the resources they were planning to use in this war,” he says. “They don’t have the reserves, they don’t have the supply chain… Therefore we have much confidence that we will have a ceasefire in the coming days.”

According to the Financial Times, Russia and Ukraine are making progress on a 15-point plan that would see Russian troops withdraw and Ukraine agree to slash its military and accept neutrality. Ukraine would have to renounce plans to join NATO and refrain from agreeing to host foreign militaries or arms in exchange for protection from the West, the newspaper reported, based on three unnamed sources.

It also said Ukrainians remain skeptical of trusting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov earlier said the sides were nearing an agreement.

“A neutral status is being seriously discussed in connection with security guarantees,” Lavrov said on Russian channel RBK TV. “There are concrete formulations that in my view are close to being agreed.”

A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a military check point in the center of Kyiv on March 15, 2022, on the 20th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Russia’s chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinsky, says the sides have been discussing a possible compromise idea for a future Ukraine with a smaller, non-aligned military.

Prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough were highly uncertain, however, given the gulf between Ukraine’s demand that the invading forces withdraw completely and Russia’s suspected aim of replacing Kyiv’s Westward-looking government with a pro-Moscow regime.

Podolyak earlier denied Russian claims Ukraine was open to adopting a model of neutrality comparable to Sweden or Austria. Podolyak said Ukraine needs powerful allies and “clearly defined security guarantees” to keep it safe.

AP contributed.

Tsunami advisory issued after quake off Japan’s Fukushima region

Japan has issued a tsunami advisory after a powerful 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit off the coast of Fukushima on Wednesday evening.

The Japan Meteorological Agency said the quake struck 60 kilometers (36 miles) below the sea.

The agency issues a tsunami advisory for up to a meter (3-foot) sea surge in parts of Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures. NHK national television says the tsunami might have reached some areas already.

The region is part of northern Japan that was devastated by a deadly 9.0 quake and tsunami 11 years ago that also caused nuclear plant meltdowns. Wednesday’s quake came only days after the area marked the 11th anniversary of the disaster in March 2011.

Russian forces accused of killing 10 people waiting in Chernihiv bread line

Russian forces opened fire on a line of people waiting for bread in Chernihiv, killing 10, the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office says.

Video from the scene shows what appear to be at least 10 bodies on the ground as people rush to provide aid.

“Such horrific attacks must stop. We are considering all available options to ensure accountability for any atrocity crimes in Ukraine,” the US embassy in Ukraine says in a tweet.

The city in northern Ukraine has been subjected to one of Russia’s heaviest assaults, but has held out. Two Russian fighter jets were shot down over the city on Tuesday, according to Ukraine.

In Ukraine, ICC prosecutor speaks with Zelensky amid war crimes probe

International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan has visited Ukraine where he held a video call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, the court says.

The pair met virtually, the Hague-based court tweets. “We agreed all efforts are needed to ensure international humanitarian law is respected and to protect the civilian population,” Khan says.

Zelensky posts a video clip from the meeting on Telegram.

Khan also holds face-to-face talks in the capital with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova.

The prosecutor opened a war crimes investigation into the situation in Ukraine on March 3, after getting the green light from more than 40 ICC states.

London sends £400 million to Iran as dual nationals freed; denies link

Britain has settled a £400-million ($523-million) debt with Iran as two dual nationals held in the country for years headed home, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss says.

“The IMS (International Military Services) debt has been settled in full compliance with UK and international sanctions and all legal obligations,” Truss says in a statement.

The announcement comes as British-Iranian nationals Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori fly out of Tehran after years in prison there; a third detainee, Morad Tahbaz, was released from prison on furlough to his house in Tehran.

The UK has consciously avoided saying the detention of dual nationals in Iran was linked to the debt, related to an order of tanks that was canceled after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Truss has said the issues were separate and blamed sanctions on Iran for delaying the repayment.

Standing next to Russia’s Lavrov, Turkish FM calls for end to Ukraine ‘bloodshed’

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is calling for an end to the “bloodshed and tears” from the conflict in Ukraine during a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart.

Speaking after a meeting with Sergey Lavrov in Moscow, Cavusoglu also calls for an immediate ceasefire for the besieged city of Mariupol to allow the evacuation of stranded civilians, including Turkish citizens.

“This state of events must come to an end, the bloodshed and tears must be stopped now,” Cavusoglu says. “There can be no winners in war and no losers in peace.”

Cavusoglu is visiting Moscow as Turkey — a NATO member — has maintained close ties to both Ukraine and Russia, positioning itself as a mediator between the two sides. He is scheduled to travel to Ukraine on Thursday.

Dozens of Turkish nationals and others have been sheltering inside a mosque in Mariupol, seeking refuge from the Russian attack on the encircled port.

Cavusoglu says Turkey has so far evacuated more than 15,000 of its citizens from Ukraine.

Russia asks to brief Knesset members ahead of Zelensky speech

Russian Ambassador to Israel Anatoly Viktorov has reportedly asked the Knesset speaker to allow Russian lawmakers to brief Israeli counterparts before Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the Knesset early next week.

Viktorov tells Mickey Levy that Knesset members should first get a dose of “the Russian perspective, and [the Russian] take on current events,” Kan reports.

It does not say how Levy responded to the offer.

Israel’s government has broadly supported the end of hostilities in Ukraine, but has generally avoided condemning Moscow by name in order to leave ties with the Kremlin intact.

 

 

Putin: Ukraine invasion going well, tactics justified

Russian President Vladimir Putin says his so-called special operation in Ukraine is going according to plan, and so far “successful,” despite what appears to be evidence to the contrary.

Putin also claims that troops bombarding Kyiv and other cities have no plans to take over the country, in comments carried by Russian state media.

“The appearance of Russian troops near Kiev and other cities of Ukraine is not connected with the intention to occupy the country. We do not have such a goal,” he says.

According to analysts in Ukraine and the West, Russia’s invasion has been dogged by logistical problems and a Ukrainian resistance fiercer than expected.

Struggling to advance, Russian forces have bombed apartment buildings and appear to be targeting civilians, killing hundreds of non-combatants. Troops have been accused of taking people hostage as human shields and of conducting other war crimes.

However, Putin says that the military’s tactics “fully justifies itself.”

Putin also claims that the West has failed to wage “an economic blitzkrieg” against Russia.

“In effect these steps are aimed at worsening the lives of millions of people,” Putin says of the sanctions that have delivered a crippling blow to Russia’s economy.

“One should clearly understand that the new set of sanctions and restrictions against us would have followed in any case, I want to emphasize this. Our military operation in Ukraine is just a pretext for the next sanctions,” he tells a government meeting.

AP contributed.

Czech leader calls for more arms shipments to Ukraine

The Czech Republic’s prime minister, Petr Fiala, who visited the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv together with his Polish and Slovenian counterparts, says the Ukrainians urgently need weapons to have a chance to face the invading Russian troops.

“Ukraine these days and weeks needs above all arms supply” Fiala says at a Prague airport after returning from Tuesday’s visit.

He says such supplies have to be delivered quickly by as many countries as possible and have to be massive.

“It must be done in days,” Fiala says.

“We have to realize that (the Ukrainians) do also fight for our independence, for our freedom and we have to support them. That’s the reason why we traveled there, to show them they’re not alone.”

IDF resumes training flights for AS565 Panther helicopters grounded after crash

An Israeli army flare illuminates the sky during searches after a military helicopter crashed off the coast of Haifa on the night of January 3, 2022. Inset: The two soldiers killed, Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani (right) and Major Chen Fogel (Alon Nadav/Flash90; Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli army flare illuminates the sky during searches after a military helicopter crashed off the coast of Haifa on the night of January 3, 2022. Inset: The two soldiers killed, Lt.-Col. Erez Sachyani (right) and Major Chen Fogel (Alon Nadav/Flash90; Israel Defense Forces)

More than two months after two Israeli pilots were killed in a helicopter crash off the coast of Haifa, the Israel Defense Forces says its grounded fleet of AS565 Panther helicopters is resuming training flights.

The IDF says the move comes following recommendations from a team of experts who are probing the crash.

The AS565 Panther helicopter, known by the IAF as the “Atalef,” or bat, is a 25-year-old aircraft primarily used for missions at sea.

It will resume operational use in a “gradual and safe manner,” the IDF says.

Lt. Col. Erez Sachyani and Maj. Chen Fogel were killed when a broken blade within the left motor sparked a fire and led to the aircraft striking the water forcefully on January 3 this year, according to the probe.

A third officer on board, Cpt. Ron Birman, managed to jump out and was rescued with relatively minor injuries.

Zelensky says Ukraine defending values of Europe, asks for Biden to be ‘world leader of peace’

US Congress members arrive at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC, to hear a virtual address by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, on March 16, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite / POOL / AFP)
US Congress members arrive at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC, to hear a virtual address by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, on March 16, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite / POOL / AFP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows a video of the horrors of the war since the Russian invasion, and switches to English for the conclusion of his speech in which he pleads for peace.

“Peace for your country no longer depends just on your country, it also depends on those next to you,” Zelensky says.

“Today the Ukrainian people are not only defending Ukraine, we are fighting for the values of Europe,” he says.

“Biden, you are the leader of your great nation. I wish for you to be the leader of the world, which means to be the leader of peace,” he says.

Zelensky receives a standing ovation from the US lawmakers.

Zelensky invokes Pearl Harbor, 9/11 in plea to US Congress for no-fly zone

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the US Congress on March 16, 2022, at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC. ( Drew Angerer / POOL / AFP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the US Congress on March 16, 2022, at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC. ( Drew Angerer / POOL / AFP)

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses US Congress, where he repeats his request for a no-fly zone but says that if that cannot be granted then his country needs systems to prevent attacks.

“I am proud to greet you from Kyiv, a city that is under missiles and airstrikes from Russian troops, but does not give up,” he says.

Zelensky refers to the Founding Fathers of the United States and the values that they gave to the American people.

“We in Ukraine want the same for our people,” Zelensky says.

The Ukrainian president also refers to the Pearl Harbor and 9/11 attacks, “when innocent people were assaulted from the air and you could not stop it.”

“Our country is experiencing the same,” he says.

“Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for many people,” he says, asking for a no-fly zone.

“If that is too much, we need systems [to prevent attacks],” he says.

He is introduced by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who says she has the “high privilege and distinct honor of presenting” the Ukrainian president.

“Slava Ukraini,” says Pelosi, using the Ukrainian national slogan.

WATCH: Ukraine’s Zelensky delivering historic speech to US Congress

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the US Congress on March 16, 2022, at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC. ( Drew Angerer / POOL / AFP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky virtually addresses the US Congress on March 16, 2022, at the US Capitol Visitor Center Congressional Auditorium, in Washington, DC. ( Drew Angerer / POOL / AFP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is addressing the US Congress.

Zelensky’s livestreamed address into the US Capitol will be among the most important in a very public strategy in which he has invoked Winston Churchill, Hamlet and the power of world opinion in his fight to stop Russia.

The president is also expected to intensify pleas for NATO allies to intervene to stop Russia’s nearly three-week-old invasion.

2 Israeli sites among over a dozen media outlets blocked by Russia

MOSCOW — Russia’s media regulator Roskomnadzor blocks access to at least a dozen more media websites on Wednesday, in a crackdown online that sharply escalated after President Vladimir Putin sent in troops to Ukraine.

Their websites were listed as blocked by Roskomnadzor.

These include award-winning investigation website Bellingcat and several Russian regional websites, like Permdaily.ru.

Two Russian-language media based in Israel, where there is a large Russian-speaking community, are blocked: the 9 TV Channel Israel and Vesti Israel.

An independent media outlet covering the Russian North Caucasus, Kavkazki Uzel, as well as some media websites based in Ukraine and Estonia are also inaccessible.

Russia has restricted access to an increasing number of independent media outlets since it launched its Ukraine military campaign, and has blocked access to global tech giants Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Welfare Ministry announces health, housing, education benefits for Ukraine refugees

Israeli and Ukrainian refugees arriving from Ukraine on a rescue flight are welcomed at Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv, on March 3, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israeli and Ukrainian refugees arriving from Ukraine on a rescue flight are welcomed at Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv, on March 3, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Israel will grant basic services to the thousands of Ukrainian refugees entering the country, the Welfare Ministry says.

Nearly 7,000 Ukrainian refugees who are not eligible for Israeli citizenship have entered the country since Russia invaded their country late last month, according to Israel’s Population Authority, and thousands more are expected to do so in the coming days and weeks.

Until now, these refugees have been in Israel on tourist visas, which afford them no social services, like healthcare, education or housing assistance.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett tasked the Welfare Ministry with addressing the issue and providing basic services to the refugees.

“According to the plan, the Welfare Ministry will provide the refugees with temporary housing, food assistance, material assistance, social services and other rights like health insurance and enrollment in the education system,” the ministry says.

The ministry says it will also operate a special phone line for Ukrainian refugees to provide them with other assistance as needed.

“The plan will put an emphasis on providing comprehensive assistance to elderly refugees, children, at-risk youth and people with disabilities,” the ministry says.

European leaders return safely to Poland after Kyiv visit

In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a meeting with Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Jansa, Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Kyiv, Ukraine, on  March 15, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a meeting with Slovenia Prime Minister Janez Jansa, Czech Republic Prime Minister Petr Fiala, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 15, 2022. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

WARSAW, Poland — The prime ministers of Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovenia safely return to Poland after a visit to Kyiv intended to show support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia’s military onslaught.

The leaders met with President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday to convey a message of solidarity with Ukraine and of support for the nation’s aspirations to one day join the European Union.

They went ahead with the hours-long train journey despite concerns about risks to their security while traveling through a war zone.

All three countries are members of the European Union and NATO. Although pronouncing their trip to be an EU mission, officials in Brussels cast it as something the three leaders had undertaken on their own. NATO’s secretary-general said it was good for allies to engage closely with Zelensky, but also didn’t clearly endorse it.

At home, they won widespread praise, hailed as brave for traveling into a war zone when other Western leaders dared not. There were some, however, who criticized the leaders of NATO states for making a risky trip that was largely symbolic without a clear international mandate.

For his part, Zelensky voiced his appreciation for the show of support from members of the EU, which he hopes Ukraine will one day be able to join.

Prime Ministers Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland, Petr Fiala of the Czech Republic and Janez Jansa of Slovenia were joined by Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski — the chief of the ruling conservative party and the country’s most powerful leader.

MKs, ministers receive invite to Sunday Zoom address by Zelensky

In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office and posted on Facebook, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 16, 2022 (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office and posted on Facebook, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 16, 2022 (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Israeli lawmakers have been formally invited to a Zoom event on Sunday at 6 p.m. where they will be addressed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to Hebrew-language reports.

The invitation sent by Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy states that the call will only be open to MKs and ministers, according to the Kan public broadcaster.

The initial request to give a virtual address to the Knesset was rejected by Levy because the Israeli parliament was heading into recess.

This would not be the first time Zelensky has addressed a country’s lawmakers via Zoom. Earlier this month he held a call with US lawmakers, although he he will deliver a virtual address to Congress later today.

Red Cross head in Kyiv to try to obtain better access for humanitarian group

A Red Cross worker carries an elderly women during evacuation in Irpin, some 25 km (16 miles) northwest of Kyiv, March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
A Red Cross worker carries an elderly women during evacuation in Irpin, some 25 km (16 miles) northwest of Kyiv, March 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

GENEVA — The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross is in Kyiv to try to obtain greater access for humanitarian groups in Ukraine and better protection for civilians.

The ICRC says that the planned five-day visit by its president, Peter Maurer, aims to view firsthand the challenges facing civilians, meet with members of Ukraine’s government and explore ways the ICRC can expand its work in the country.

The trip comes a day after the Geneva-based organization helped shepherd out hundreds of people in an evacuation from the northern city of Sumy in some 80 buses.

The ICRC also announces the delivery of 200 tons of aid to Ukraine, including kits for the war-wounded, blankets, kitchen sets, water and more than 5,200 body bags.

The ICRC has been working in Ukraine since 2014 and has a team of more than 600 staffers there, it says.

IDF won’t close off West Bank during Purim for first time in 5 years

Israeli soldiers stand guard during the annual parade marking the Jewish holiday of Purim in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 1, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers stand guard during the annual parade marking the Jewish holiday of Purim in the West Bank city of Hebron on March 1, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

For the first time in five years, the Israeli military will not close the Palestinian West Bank crossings during Purim.

Such closures are standard practice during Israeli national holidays and Jewish festivals, for what the military says is a preventative measure against attacks at those times, which are seen as periods of increased tension.

According to the military’s liaison to the Palestinians, the crossings between the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip, and Israel will be running as usual in the coming days.

Ordinarily, tens of thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank enter Israel and Israeli settlements for work each day.

A smaller number of Gaza residents also travel to Israel for work and medical cases, but there are far more restrictions for those trying to enter the country from the Hamas-run enclave.

The festival of Purim begins this evening.

Ukraine says 3rd mayor and his deputy abducted by Russian forces

Oleksandr Yakovlyev  (Courtesy)
Oleksandr Yakovlyev (Courtesy)

Ukraine’s foreign minister says a third mayor and his deputy have been abducted by Russian troops.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweets that the mayor of the port city of Skadovsk, Oleksandr Yakovlyev, and his deputy Yurii Palyukh were abducted earlier in the day.

No further details are given.

“States & international organizations must demand Russia to immediately release all abducted Ukrainian officials!” Kuleba tweets.

Ukrainian authorities have previously accused Russian troops of abducting Ivan Fedorov, the mayor of the captured city of Melitopol, accusing Moscow of committing a war crime.

Ukraine said Sunday that a second mayor, Yevhen Matveyev, of the central city of Dniprorudne, was taken away by Russian invasion forces in what they decried as “terror” tactics.

Ukraine rejects Russia proposal that it adopt neutral status like Austria, Sweden

People who fled the war in Ukraine rest inside an indoor sports stadium being used as a refugee center, in the village of Medyka, a border crossing between Poland and Ukraine, on March 15, 2022.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
People who fled the war in Ukraine rest inside an indoor sports stadium being used as a refugee center, in the village of Medyka, a border crossing between Poland and Ukraine, on March 15, 2022.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Ukraine rejects proposals pushed by Russia for it to adopt a neutral status comparable to that of Austria or Sweden, saying talks with Moscow to end fighting should focus on “security guarantees.”

“Ukraine is now in a direct state of war with Russia. Consequently, the model can only be ‘Ukrainian’ and only on legally verified security guarantees,” its top negotiator Mikhailo Podolyak says in comments published by President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office.

The Kremlin said earlier that Ukraine becoming a neutral state is being discussed at talks with Kyiv and would be a “compromise.”

“This is an option that is being discussed now and that can be considered as a compromise,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Clashes during Jenin arrest raid; police say terror suspect lightly wounded by gunfire

In a rare daylight operation, undercover Border Police officers arrest a terror suspect in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Police say clashes erupted during the raid, which included shots being fired.

The detainee is lightly hurt by gunfire, and one officer is hit by shrapnel, police says.

Both have been taken for medical treatment, after which the suspect will be taken for further questioning by the Shin Bet security service.

Police did not elaborate on the suspicions against him.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and accused ‘spy for Israel’ Anoosheh Ashouri allowed to leave Iran

An undated file photo provided by the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national detained in Iran. (Family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe via AP, File)
An undated file photo provided by the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian dual national detained in Iran. (Family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe via AP, File)

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained in Iran for nearly six years, and Anoosheh Ashouri, who was sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of spying for Israel, are at the airport in Tehran and have been allowed to fly back to Britain.

Their lawyer Hojjat Kermani confirms to Reuters that the two UK-Iran dual nationals have been granted permission to leave.

Lawmaker Tulip Siddiq later confirms that Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been allowed to leave.

“Nazanin is at the airport in Tehran and on her way home,” Siddiq writes.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had confirmed earlier that a negotiating team was at work in Tehran.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe has been detained in Iran for almost six years, but was given back her British passport over the weekend.

She served five years in prison after being taken into custody at Tehran’s airport in April 2016. She was released in 2021 and then convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.

Russian strikes target Zaporizhzhia, where thousands of Mariupol residents are now sheltering

Evacuees from Mariupol are seen upon arrival at the car park of a shopping center on the outskirts of the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is now a registration center for displaced people, on March 15, 2022 (Emre CAYLAK / AFP)
Evacuees from Mariupol are seen upon arrival at the car park of a shopping center on the outskirts of the city of Zaporizhzhia, which is now a registration center for displaced people, on March 15, 2022 (Emre CAYLAK / AFP)

Russian strikes target the southern city of Zaporizhzhia, where thousands of people are taking shelter after escaping the besieged port of Mariupol, regional officials say.

The railway station is hit but there are no reports of casualties.

Around 20,000 people have managed to escape Mariupol in private cars, the Ukrainian interior ministry says, with thousands of them now in Zaporizhzhia.

Hundreds of thousands of people still remain trapped in Mariupol which is under heavy bombardment from Russian forces. Many of them are living without heat, power or running water.

Belarus says it is supplying power to Chernobyl nuclear plant

An operator's armchair covered with plastic sits in an empty control room of the 3rd reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, on April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)
An operator's armchair covered with plastic sits in an empty control room of the 3rd reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, in Chernobyl, Ukraine, on April 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)

KYIV — Belarus is supplying electricity to Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power station, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986, local Belarusian authorities say.

Power at the facility was knocked out on Monday according to Ukrainian authorities after Russian forces damaged a power line, but the International Atomic Energy Agency said later that day it had been informed external power had been restored. It said work was underway to reconnect the facility to the power grid.

“The electrical supply to the Chernobyl nuclear power station is completely restored,” the Belarusian energy ministry says in a statement published on the Telegram page of the Gomel region.

“At the current time the electricity supply is being provided from the Belarusian power grid,” it adds.

The website of the Belarusian energy ministry is unavailable.

Radiation around the power plant, which exploded in 1986 killing hundreds and spreading a radioactive cloud across Europe, remain at normal levels, the statement says, citing local monitors.

The station is located close to the Belarusian border.

Israel, Egypt expand direct flights with new Tel Aviv-Sharm al-Sheikh route

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meet on September 13, 2021 in Sharm el-Sheikh. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (L) and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi meet on September 13, 2021 in Sharm el-Sheikh. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Israel and Egypt have agreed to increase direct flights between the two nations with the opening of a new route between Ben Gurion Airport and the Egyptian coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

The new flights are expected to start as early as next month, during the week of the upcoming Passover holiday.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomes the announcement as “another step in the warming of the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.”

“Cooperation between the two countries is expanding in many areas, and it contributes to both peoples and the stability of the region,” Bennett says.

The agreement was hammered out in recent days after talks on security measures required for the route to operate were held between the Shin Bet and National Security Council and unnamed “other parties,” along with Egyptian government, the Prime Minister’s Office says.

The Prime Minister’s Office says the opening of the new route was first discussed in the meeting between Bennett and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in Sharm el-Sheikh last September.

Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula has long been a favored vacation destination for Israelis.

Russia says Ukraine’s level of militarization under discussion in talks

A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a military check point in the center of Kyiv on March 15, 2022, on the 20th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (FADEL SENNA / AFP)
A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard at a military check point in the center of Kyiv on March 15, 2022, on the 20th day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (FADEL SENNA / AFP)

NEW YORK — Russia’s chief negotiator in talks with Ukraine says the sides are discussing a possible compromise whereby Ukraine will in future have a smaller, non-aligned military.

“A whole range of issues tied with the size of Ukraine’s army is being discussed,” Russian negotiator Vladimir Medinsky says, according to Russian news agencies. “Ukraine is proposing an Austrian or Swedish option of a neutral state, but a state that has its own army and navy.”

There is no immediate comment from Ukrainian officials. It’s not clear how such an option would work if the future Ukrainian military remains hostile to Russia.

Medinsky says the issues are being discussed in the Russian and Ukrainian defense ministries.

He notes that a key question is the status of Crimea, annexed by Russia, and the separatist-held Donbas region in eastern Ukraine, which Russia recognizes as independent. Ukraine considers both part of its territory.

A new round of Ukraine-Russia talks about the war is expected later in the day.

UK’s Johnson: Ukraine not joining NATO ‘any time soon’

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talk to British troops stationed in Poland on a NATO mission of enhancement of the alliance's eastern flank in Wesola, near Warsaw Poland, on Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson talk to British troops stationed in Poland on a NATO mission of enhancement of the alliance's eastern flank in Wesola, near Warsaw Poland, on Feb. 10, 2022. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says Ukraine is not going to join NATO “any time soon,” after Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky acknowledged his country would not become part of the Western military alliance.

Johnson — one of the most vocal Western supporters of Ukraine — says “the reality of the position” is that “there is no way Ukraine is going to join NATO any time soon.” But he says the decision had to be for Ukraine to make.

President Vladimir Putin has long depicted Ukraine’s NATO aspirations as a threat to Russia, something the alliance denies.

Zelensky said Tuesday that Ukraine realized it could not join NATO, his most explicit acknowledgment that the goal, enshrined in Ukraine’s constitution, was unlikely to be met.

It came as Russia and Ukraine held a new round of talks, with Zelensky saying Wednesday that Russian demands were becoming “more realistic” and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressing “hope” a compromise could be found.

Russia’s Lavrov: ‘There’s hope for reaching a compromise’ in Ukraine talks

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Moscow on March 15, 2022. (MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP)
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with his Iranian counterpart in Moscow on March 15, 2022. (MAXIM SHEMETOV / POOL / AFP)

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says there is “hope for reaching a compromise” at peace talks, with Ukraine’s neutrality under serious discussion.

He says there are “absolutely specific wordings that are close to being agreed.”

“The negotiations are not easy for obvious reasons,” Lavrov says, according to the Reuters news agency.

“Neutral status is now being seriously discussed along, of course, with security guarantees,” Lavrov says.

The comments come hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia’s demands were becoming “more realistic.”

The two sides are expected to continue discussions later in the day.

UK’s Johnson says talks ‘moving forward’ in Iran for release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of detained charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, holds her photo outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London, on Nov. 9, 2021. (Frank Augstein/AP)
Richard Ratcliffe, the husband of detained charity worker Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, holds her photo outside the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in London, on Nov. 9, 2021. (Frank Augstein/AP)

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says talks are “moving forward’’ for the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been detained in Iran for almost six years.

Johnson confirms a negotiating team was at work in Tehran to free Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who holds dual UK-Iranian citizenship.

Johnson’s comments are made on a visit to the Middle East, coming a day after Iran returned the passport of the charity worker.

“I really don’t think I should say much more, I’m sorry, although things are moving forward,” he tells broadcasters at the Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. “I shouldn’t really say much more right now just because those negotiations continue to be underway.’’

Zaghari-Ratcliffe was taken into custody at Tehran’s airport in April 2016 and jailed for five years. She was released in 2021, and then convicted of plotting the overthrow of Iran’s government, a charge that she, her supporters and rights groups deny.

She has been held under house arrest and unable to leave the country since her release.

Drone footage apparently shows Russian soldier killing a man with his hands up

German public broadcaster ZDF releases drone footage apparently showing the moment a Ukrainian man was shot dead by a Russian soldier, despite raising his hands above his head.

The outlet says the footage was filmed by a Ukrainian surveillance drone on March 7 and captures the E40 expressway, west of Kyiv.

The footage shows apparently civilian cars driving down the road when they spot a Russian tank.

Some of the cars turn around, but one stops and the driver gets out the vehicle and immediately raises his hands.

He is shot, apparently by a Russian soldier. The man falls down. The German broadcaster says he was killed in the incident.

ZDF says that it has confirmed the authenticity of the drone footage.

WARNING: Graphic content

Education Ministry opens situation room for absorption of Ukrainian immigrant kids into school system

The Education Ministry opens a situation room to oversee the absorption of thousands of new immigrant children from Ukraine into the school system.

As well as representatives from the ministry, the situation room will be made up of immigration professionals, counsellors, community representatives and youth movement workers.

The team will work to integrate the students and their parents into the educational system and community.

As growing waves of refugees from Ukraine have streamed into neighboring countries, thousands of them have requested the right to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, which grants citizenship to anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent, or married to an Israeli.

Israel has also permitted the entry of a limited number of refugees who are not eligible for citizenship. However, those visas solely allow them to remain in the country without fear of deportation but do not allow them to work legally, send their children to school or get access to Israel’s health care.

Newly released images show apparent Ukrainian strike on Russia-held airport

In this satellite picture provided by Planet Labs PBC, fire and smoke is seen at Kherson International Airport and Air Base in Kherson, Ukraine, March 15, 2022 (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
In this satellite picture provided by Planet Labs PBC, fire and smoke is seen at Kherson International Airport and Air Base in Kherson, Ukraine, March 15, 2022 (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

LVIV, Ukraine — Satellite photos from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by The Associated Press show that a suspected Ukrainian strike on the Russian-held Kherson International Airport and Air Base set several helicopters and vehicles ablaze.

The images from Tuesday at the dual-use airfield show thick black smoke rising overhead from the blazes.

At least three helicopters appear to be on fire, as well as several vehicles. At a pad further away, other helicopters appear damaged from an earlier strike.

The Ukrainian president’s office said that fighting had continued at Kherson airport on Tuesday, with “powerful blasts” rocking the area during the course of the day. It said it was assessing damage in the area, without elaborating.

Kherson is about 450 kilometers (275 miles) southeast of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.

Virus transmission rate continues to rise as R-number nears 1

A health worker takes a sample at a testing center in Jerusalem, on January 09, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A health worker takes a sample at a testing center in Jerusalem, on January 09, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The rate of COVID transmission continues its slow but steady rise, according to new Health Ministry figures.

The R-number — the reproduction rate of the novel coronavirus — hits 0.9, the Health Ministry says, based on data from 10 days earlier.

That figure represents the number of people each confirmed patient infects, on average. Any number over one signifies that the pandemic is growing.

There were 6,310 new COVID cases detected on Tuesday and as of Wednesday morning, 335 people are hospitalized in serious condition.

Earlier, the Health Ministry said two people have been found to be carrying a coronavirus strain that combined the original Omicron and the so-called “stealth” BA.2 variant.

“This strain has not yet been seen in the world,” the ministry said, noting that the cases were found “in recent days” in testing of international arriving travelers at Ben Gurion Airport. The ministry said the two cases are suffering mild symptoms and have not required special medical care.

Kharkiv hospital workers continue battle against COVID-19 as war rages outside

A doctor in the basement of a hospital in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Jan. 28, 2022 (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)
A doctor in the basement of a hospital in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Jan. 28, 2022 (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)

KHARKIV, Ukraine — Hospital workers in Ukraine’s second-largest city find themselves on two frontlines, battling COVID-19 in intensive care units as war rages outside.

The Kharkiv Regional Clinical Infectious Diseases Hospital, the city’s leading facility for treating virus patients throughout the pandemic, has barricaded its windows and is adapting every day.

Hospital director Dr. Pavel Nartov says air raid sirens go off multiple times daily, forcing fragile patients into the hospital’s makeshift bomb shelter. Handling ICU patients on ventilators is the most difficult and dangerous part of the process, but also the most crucial, given the dangers of exposing oxygen tanks to bombings and shrapnel, he says.

“Bombing takes place from morning into night. Thank God a bomb has not yet hit our hospital. But it could hit at any time,” he tells The Associated Press.

Kharkiv has been under sustained fire from Russian forces since the outbreak of the war, with shelling hitting residential buildings and sending masses of people fleeing.

Ukraine’s official daily COVID-19 cases reached record highs in February but have declined since Russia invaded amid the chaos of war. COVID-19 concerns have fallen by the wayside as people focus on fleeing the fighting.

Ukrainian refugees refused entry to Israel due to translation error on paperwork question – report

Jewish immigrants fleeing from war zones in Ukraine arrive at the Israeli immigration and absorption office at Ben Gurion airport, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Jewish immigrants fleeing from war zones in Ukraine arrive at the Israeli immigration and absorption office at Ben Gurion airport, on March 15, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Refugees from Ukraine have been refused entry to Israel due to an error in the Ukrainian translation of a question on entry forms, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The report says hundreds of people may have been told they cannot come to Israel due to the mistake that occurred when the form was translated from Hebrew into Ukrainian.

The question on the form in Ukrainian asks whether the individual has ever previously stayed in Israel, but in fact the question in the original Hebrew was whether they have ever illegally stayed in Israel.

The Population and Immigration Authority did not respond to a query by Kan regarding the incident.

Officials say 1,223 people with Ukrainian passports arrived at Ben Gurion Airport in the past 24 hours, 11 of whom were denied entry.

UN’s top court set to rule on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

A woman is wrapped in the Ukrainian flag and shouts through a megaphone during a demonstration in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, March 7, 2022. A representative for Kyiv has urged the United Nations' top court to order Russia to halt its devastating invasion of Ukraine, at a hearing snubbed by Russia. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
A woman is wrapped in the Ukrainian flag and shouts through a megaphone during a demonstration in front of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Monday, March 7, 2022. A representative for Kyiv has urged the United Nations' top court to order Russia to halt its devastating invasion of Ukraine, at a hearing snubbed by Russia. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)

THE HAGUE — The UN’s top court is set to rule on Ukraine’s urgent request for Russia to immediately halt its invasion, with Kyiv claiming that Moscow falsely accused its pro-Western neighbor of genocide to justify the war.

The International Court of Justice will hand down its judgement at 1500 GMT in The Hague after Ukraine filed an urgent application shortly after Russia’s attack on February 24.

Ukraine accuses Russia of illegally trying to justify its war by falsely alleging genocide in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Lugansk regions.

Kyiv wants the court to take provisional measures ordering Russia to “immediately suspend the military operations.”

“Russia must be stopped, and the court has a role to play in stopping that,” Ukraine’s representative Anton Korynevych told the ICJ.

The hearing comes as the number of refugees fleeing Ukraine topped three million and Russian forces step up strikes on residential buildings in Kyiv. At the same time, both Ukraine and Russia say progress is being made in talks on ending the fighting.

Kyiv residential building hit with shrapnel in Russian strike

KYIV, Ukraine — A plume of smoke is seen rising up over western Kyiv after shrapnel from an artillery shell slammed into a 12-story apartment building in central Kyiv, obliterating the top floor and igniting a fire, according to a statement and images released by the Kyiv emergencies agency.

The neighboring building is also damaged. The agency reports two victims, without elaborating.

Russian forces have intensified fighting in Kyiv suburbs, notably around the town of Bucha in the northwest and the highway leading west toward Zhytomyr, the head of the Kyiv region Oleksiy Kuleba says.

He says Russian troops are trying to cut off the capital from transport arteries and destroy logistical capabilities even as they plan a wide-ranging attack to seize Kyiv.

Twelve towns around Kyiv are without water and six without heat.

China says would have tried to stop Russia’s Ukraine invasion if it had known about it in advance

China’s ambassador to the United States pens an op-ed in The Washington Post “to explain fully and dispel any misunderstandings and rumors” on the country’s position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“There have been claims that China had prior knowledge of Russia’s military action and demanded Russia delay it until the Winter Olympics concluded. Recent rumors further claimed that Russia was seeking military assistance from China,” writes Qin Gang.

“Let me say this responsibly: Assertions that China knew about, acquiesced to or tacitly supported this war are purely disinformation,” he writes.

“There were more than 6,000 Chinese citizens in Ukraine. China is the biggest trading partner of both Russia and Ukraine, and the largest importer of crude oil and natural gas in the world. Conflict between Russia and Ukraine does no good for China,” he writes.

“Had China known about the imminent crisis, we would have tried our best to prevent it.”

US adviser Jake Sullivan and senior Chinese foreign policy adviser Yang Jiechi met in Rome earlier this week, with the Biden administration increasingly concerned that China is using the Ukraine war to advance Beijing’s long-term interest in its competition with the United States.

The Kremlin has denied reports it had requested Chinese military equipment to use in the war.

Zelensky to address US Congress in coming hours

In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office and posted on Facebook early Tuesday, March 15, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)
In this image from video provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office and posted on Facebook early Tuesday, March 15, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks in Kyiv, Ukraine. (Ukrainian Presidential Press Office via AP)

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will address the US Congress today as he uses the West’s great legislative bodies as a global stage to orchestrate support against Russia’s crushing invasion.

Zelensky’s livestreamed address into the US Capitol will be among the most important in a unique and very public strategy in which he has invoked Winston Churchill, Hamlet and the power of world opinion in his fight to stop Russia.

Nearing the three-week mark in an ever-escalating war, Zelensky has used his campaign to implore allied leaders to “close the sky” to prevent the Russian airstrikes that are devastating his country. It’s a singular request and now a rallying cry in popular culture.

It has also put Zelenskyy at odds with US President Joe Biden, whose administration has stopped short of providing a no-fly zone or the transfer of military jets from neighboring Poland as the US seeks to avoid a direct confrontation with Russia.

Instead, Biden will deliver his own address following Zelensky’s speech, in which he is expected to announce an additional $800 million in security assistance to Ukraine, according to a White House official familiar with the matter.

That would bring the total announced in the last week alone to $1 billion. It includes money for anti-armor and air-defense weapons, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Zelensky is set to address the Knesset next week but will speak to lawmakers via Zoom because the Israeli parliament is in recess.

Israel says found 1st confirmed cases in world of combined Omicron, BA.2 strain in airport testing

Travelers wearing protective face masks arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
Travelers wearing protective face masks arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, Nov. 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Two people have been found to be carrying a coronavirus strain that combined the original Omicron and the so-called “stealth” BA.2 variant, the Health Ministry says.

“This strain has not yet been seen in the world,” the ministry says, noting that the cases were found “in recent days” in testing of international arriving travelers at Ben Gurion Airport.

The ministry says the two cases are suffering mild symptoms and have not required special medical care.

BA.2 has been documented to have re-infected some people after an initial case of Omicron. There’s mixed research on whether it causes more severe disease, but vaccines appear just as effective against it.

While the number of people getting tested in Israel has fallen, all international arrivals at the airport are checked upon landing.

Ukraine says it is keeping Russia bogged down, 2 jets shot down

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry says that its armed forces managed to keep Russia from making any significant advances over the past day.

In a post on Facebook, the ministry says two fighter jets and a helicopter were shot down by Ukrainian forces. It also says Ukraine managed to bomb Russian armored columns from the air.

It says that Russian troops are being forced to try and hold ground they already captured rather than make advances.

The account notes that Russian shelling of Ukrainian cities has nonetheless continued.

Russia shooting missiles at Black Sea coast near Odesa, Ukraine official says

Russian warships have fired missiles and artillery at the Ukrainian sea coast near Tuzla, to the south of Odesa, Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko says.

“They fired a huge amount of ammunition from a great distance,” he says on Facebook.

Gerashchenko says Russia wanted to test Ukraine’s coastal defense system with the midnight strikes.

He said there was no attempt to land troops. He didn’t say whether any of the shelling hit anything.

Russia accused of looking to Syria for troop reinforcements

Russia has drawn up lists of 40,000 fighters from the Syrian army and allied militias to be put on standby for deployment in Ukraine, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor says.

Ge, Keith McKenzie, head of the US Armed Forced Central Command tells Congressional lawmakers that Syrian volunteers are trying to join the Russian assault on Ukraine. “we believe that a small, very small group of people may probably be trying to enter Ukraine from Syria,” he says.

He notes that Russia is actually building up its forces in Syria and could disrupt NATO operations in the Middle East.

“Russia has been building up its forces and means to conduct foreign military operations,” he says.

The UK’s Defense Department also says Syrian fighters are among those being recruited to fight for Russia in Ukraine.

Images appear to show Russian warships readying to attack Ukraine’s coast

Satellite images appear to show Russian warships closing in on Ukraine’s Black Sea coast, two experts say.

Naval analysts H I Sutton and Damien Symon say there appear to be three groups of ships closing in on Odesa, including a lead phalanx with what appears to be a ship tugging a minesweeper.

The two other formations appear to include missile boats and landing craft, leading to speculation that Russia could be planning an imminent amphibious assault on the coastal city.

Ukraine says fourth Russian general killed during battle for Mariupol

Ukraine says a fourth Russian general has been killed in the fighting.

Maj. Gen. Oleg Mityaev died Tuesday during the storming of Mariupol, says Ukrainian Interior Ministry adviser Anton Gerashchenko, who publishes a photo on Telegram of what he said was the dead officer.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reported the death of a Russian general in his nighttime address but didn’t name him.

Mityaev, 46, commanded the 150th motorized rifle division and had fought in Syria, Gerashchenko says.

There is no confirmation of the death from Russia.

Russian stance in ceasefire talks ‘more realistic,’ Zelensky says

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says Russia’s demands during negotiations are becoming “more realistic” after nearly three weeks of war. He said more time was needed for the talks, which are being held by video conference.

“Efforts are still needed, patience is needed,” he says in his nighttime video address to the nation. “Any war ends with an agreement.”

Zelensky, who is to address the US Congress on Wednesday, thanks President Joe Biden and “all the friends of Ukraine” for $13.6 billion in new support included in a spending measure that Biden signed.

He appeals for more weapons and more sanctions to punish Russia, and repeats his call for a no-fly zone.

Following the visit of three European prime minister, he quips that others are invited to Kyiv as well, while warning that “it can be dangerous here, because our skies are not yet closed from Russian missiles and planes.”

He says Russian forces on Tuesday were unable to move deeper into Ukrainian territory and continued their heavy shelling of cities.

Over the past day, 28,893 civilians were able to flee the fighting along nine humanitarian corridors, although the Russians refused to allow aid into Mariupol, he says.

Biden to announce new military aid 2 hours after Zelensky talks to Congress

US President Joe Biden will deliver remarks on new military aid being sent to Ukraine at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, the White House says.

The speech will come a little over two hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is slated to address Congress, where is expected to repeat earlier pleas for fighter jets and the creation of a no-fly zone over his country, which has been lacerated by 3 weeks of Russian shelling.

Attending Biden’s speech will be Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, among other senior administration officials.

Biden is expected to announce $800 million worth of arms to be shipped to Ukraine, including antitank missiles, according to reports citing US officials.

Seoul says North Korea tried to launch a projectile, but failed

South Korea says North Korea fired an unidentified projectile, but the launch apparently ended in a failure.

The reported launch comes after days of speculation that Pyeongyang was preparing to test an ICBM.

Blasts heard in Kyiv as capital hunkers down ahead of expected onslaught

Explosions are being reported on the outskirts of Kyiv as the city braces for an expected Russian assault on Ukraine’s capital.

Air raid sirens have been going off in the city regularly. The blasts come as the city begins a planned 35-hour curfew.

Earlier, a senior US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the Pentagon’s assessment, said that the Russians were using long-range fire to hit civilian targets inside Kyiv with increasing frequency but that their ground forces were making little to no progress around the country. The official said Russian troops were still about 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the center of the capital.

Air raid sirens are also heard in other cities, including Lviv in far western Ukraine.

Biden to announce more military aid to Ukraine, but no jets

President Joe Biden will announce on Wednesday that the US is delivering a new round of military assistance to Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the decision.

Biden is expected to detail the assistance during a speech on the situation in Ukraine. Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is also scheduled to deliver video remarks to Congress Wednesday morning.

While officials are anticipating that Zelensky could once again call on the US and West to send Ukraine fighter jets or help establish a “no-fly” zone, the Biden administration is looking to send Ukraine “more of what’s been working well,” including anti-armor and air defense weapons, according to the person familiar with the decision.

The individual was not authorized to comment and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Since taking office, Biden has committed $1.2 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, including $550 million in just the last two weeks, according to the White House.

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