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.

Australian PM calls Elon Musk an ‘arrogant billionaire’ in row over attack footage

Reuters Elon MuskReutersElon Musk (pictured) has accused Anthony Albanese of censorship

Australia’s leader has called Elon Musk an “arrogant billionaire” in an escalating feud over X’s reluctance to remove footage of a church stabbing.

On Monday, an Australian court ordered Mr Musk’s social media firm – formerly called Twitter – to hide videos of last week’s attack in Sydney.

X previously said it would comply “pending a legal challenge”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s criticism followed Mr Musk using a meme to accuse his government of censorship.

On Tuesday, Mr Albanese told ABC News that Mr Musk “thinks he’s above the law but also above common decency”.

Last week Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, an independent regulator, threatened X and other social media companies with hefty fines if they did not remove videos of the stabbing at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church, which police have called a terror attack.

X has argued the order is “not within the scope of Australian law”.

The commissioner sought a court injunction after saying it was clear that X was allowing users outside Australia to continue accessing footage.

“I find it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case,” Mr Albanese told a press briefing.

In a subsequent series of online posts, Mr Musk wrote: “I’d like to take a moment to thank the PM for informing the public that this platform is the only truthful one.” Another depicted a Wizard of Oz-style path to “freedom” leading to an X logo.

Earlier, he also criticised eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant personally, describing her as the “Australian censorship commissar”.

Mr Albanese defended Ms Inman Grant, saying she was protecting Australians.

“Social media needs to have social responsibility with it. Mr Musk is not showing any,” he said.

The platform will have 24 hours to comply with Monday evening’s injunction, with a further hearing into the matter expected in the coming days.

A wrinkle in lawmakers’ plans for TikTok: Finding a willing buyer

There are few companies that could afford to buy TikTok outright.

There are few companies that could afford to buy TikTok outright. Will Lanzoni/CNN

Editor’s Note: A version of this story appeared in CNN Business’ Nightcap newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free, here.New YorkCNN — 

The United States is now one step closer to banning TikTok or forcing a sale. There’s just one pesky little $100 billion problem: Who’s gonna buy this thing?

Technically, the legislation that passed overwhelmingly in the House on Wednesday is a cudgel that seeks to force TikTok’s Chinese parent company, ByteDance, to sell the app to a non-Chinese entity. If it fails to do so within six months of the law going into effect, US app stores would be prohibited from offering TikTok here in the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave.

To be clear, a sale is not imminent. The bill faces an uncertain path in the Senate, where many lawmakers have said they’re uncomfortable with meddling in business affairs and putting limits on free speech. And even if it were to make it to President Joe Biden’s desk, the government in Beijing has said unequivocally that it would oppose a forced sale.

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The ban is a long-shot effort by lawmakers who harbor some (arguably overwrought) concerns about Americans’ data security winding up in the hands of Chinese spy agencies. But the prospect of even a potential For Sale sign on TikTok’s lawn has fueled speculation about who’d be in line to buy it.


RELATED ARTICLEMore than a third of teens say they spend too much time on their phones, new study finds

It’s not hard to see why Silicon Valley bigwigs would be salivating: TikTok might be the most valuable app on the planet that they don’t already control. Its US segment alone, with its 170 million users, would be valued at roughly $100 billion, according to Wedbush analyst Dan Ives.

If a sale were to happen, “TikTok’s strategic value and consumer platform will have a number of financial and tech strategic players interested,” Ives said in a note Wednesday.

At $100 billion, there are few companies that could afford to buy TikTok outright. And those that could in theory — Meta, Alphabet, Microsoft — would almost certainly run into regulatory roadblocks.

“Who’s going to buy it? That’s the real question,” said Gene Kimmelman, a former Justice Department antitrust official. “If it’s Amazon, Microsoft, Google or Meta, I just think you’re going to see substantial antitrust concern.”

Meta already owns the social media tentpoles of Facebook and Instagram. Alphabet owns YouTube, a direct TikTok competitor. Microsoft doesn’t have a social platform of its own, but its relationship with OpenAi is already under scrutiny by regulators on both sides of the Atlantic.

Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Bobby Kotick, the former CEO of video game publisher Activision Blizzard (which was purchased by Microsoft last year), has expressed interest in finding partners to buy TikTok. Citing people familiar with the matter, the Journal wrote that Kotick “floated the idea of partnering to buy TikTok to a table of people that included OpenAI CEO Sam Altman.”

CNN couldn’t independently confirm the report. Representatives for Kotick and Altman didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Apple, one of the world’s most valuable companies, is sitting on a mountain of cash and lacks a social network of its own. But Apple has a litany of other regulatory headaches to deal with, including new limitations in Europe and a potentially devastating Justice Department action challenging the beating heart of Apple’s business model: its tightly controlled ecosystem.

Plus, Apple culture doesn’t seem like a natural fit for TikTok. Social media is a messy, unwieldy business that requires constant monitoring to weed out hate speech and offensive images. Apple doesn’t have the infrastructure for that kind of operation. Its one go at the social media scene, the buggy and short-lived Ping, was one of Apple’s biggest flops.

And any tech executive or private equity investor thinking of buying TikTok would need to be prepared to enter the social media quagmire. They’d want to call up the footage from the congressional hearing earlier this year in which Mark Zuckerberg was pressured to apologize to the families who blame his Meta platforms for contributing to their children’s suffering. And then fast-forward to TikTok’s current CEO, Shou Chew, who is Singaporean, keep his cool while lawmakers hurl thinly veiled accusations that he’s a Chinese puppet. It’s not exactly a cushy tech gig.

The last time the US tried to force a TikTok sale, during the Trump administration, officials lined up an Odd Couple pairing of Oracle and Walmart to lead the acquisition — a plan that was ultimately shelved after Beijing mounted legal challenges to the sale.

There’s no word on whether either of those companies would be game to re-up their bids, though the app’s price tag has almost certainly gone up by several billion dollars since their 2020 effort fell apart.

China, meanwhile, is unlikely green-light any moves that would result in it losing control over its homegrown technology, including TikTok’s powerful algorithm. Earlier this month, the Communist Party underscored at its annual meeting that high-tech innovation would be central focus of Beijing’s economic growth strategy.

A key question in assessing the value of a TikTok deal is whether China would allow ByteDance to export its algorithm — the secret sauce that keeps TikTok users glued to their phones. Beijing considers some advanced technology, including content recommendation algorithms, to be critical to its national interest, and may ultimately prefer having TikTok leave the US market rather than surrendering its algorithm.

“Detaching the algorithm from ByteDance would be a very complex process with much scrutiny from US regulators,” Ives wrote. “We would also expect aggressive legal challenges from ByteDance in the US which would delay any near-term 202 area code edicts from being implemented.”

—CNN’s Brian Fung contributed reporting.

Influential Koch network stops spending for Nikki Haley to focus on Senate and House races

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks to reporters after voting in the South Carolina Republican primary on February 24, 2024, in Kiawah Island.

Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley speaks to reporters after voting in the South Carolina Republican primary on February 24, 2024, in Kiawah Island. Justin Sullivan/Getty ImagesCNN — 

The influential network associated with billionaire Charles Koch will no longer throw its money behind former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the Republican presidential primary and will instead focus on key Senate and House races, the group announced in an email to staff obtained by CNN.

“With the South Carolina presidential primary this weekend and the Senate engagement really heating up, it’s time to take stock of where we are and – as we always do – make sure we’re optimizing our resources for maximum impact towards our goals,” Americans for Prosperity President and CEO Emily Seidel wrote.

Americans for Prosperity Action’s endorsement in November was a significant boost for Haley as she sought to become the leading alternative to former President Donald Trump in the GOP primary. The conservative group, which pledged to back a single contender in the GOP presidential primary for the first time in its history, deployed its vast resources and standing army of activists on behalf of the former United Nations ambassador. But while the race has come down to Haley and Trump, the former president remains the dominant front-runner after a strong victory in Haley’s home state on Saturday.

Seidel emphasized that AFP Action is still standing with Haley, even if it’s no longer spending to boost her campaign, writing that she “has shown us again and again that we made the right decision in supporting her candidacy and she continues to have our strong endorsement.”

“She has made it clear that she will continue to fight and we wholeheartedly support her in this effort. But given the challenges in the primary states ahead, we don’t believe any outside group can make a material difference to widen her path to victory,” she added.

Haley’s campaign spokesperson, Olivia Perez-Cubas, thanked AFP for its support, and emphasized the campaign has “plenty of fuel to keep going,” as Haley vows to stay in the race for the White House.

“AFP is a great organization and ally in the fight for freedom and conservative government. We thank them for their tremendous help in this race. Our fight continues, and with more than $1 million coming in from grassroots conservatives in just the last 24 hours, we have plenty of fuel to keep going. We have a country to save,” Perez-Cubas said in a statement to CNN.

The network’s decision was first reported by Politico.

Network officials had previously stressed that the Senate, in particular, would be a top priority for its investments, arguing that flipping the chamber represented the best chance of guarding against full Democratic control in Washington.

In backing Haley last year, the group made it clear it would bypass Trump in its quest to find what Seidel called a president “who represents a new chapter.”

“The last 3 election cycles have painted a very clear picture of what we can expect from voters who consistently rejected Donald Trump and his impact on the Republican party brand,” Seidel warned in her Sunday email, adding, “We should expect this to increase further as the criminal trials progress.”

The American who bought a home in Italy and found ‘big surprises’ inside

Joshua Shapiro has bought an apartment in Latronico, in the Basilicata region of southern Italy.

Joshua Shapiro has bought an apartment in Latronico, in the Basilicata region of southern Italy. Courtesy Joshua Shapiro

Editor’s Note: Sign up to CNN Travel’s Unlocking Italy newsletter for insider intel on Italy’s best loved destinations and lesser-known regions to plan your ultimate trip. Plus, we’ll get you in the mood before you go with movie suggestions, reading lists and recipes from Stanley Tucci.CNN — 

Buyers from all over the world are snapping up charming old houses in isolated villages in Italy. They’re all motivated by different goals, but they have one thing in common: They all seek a retreat, somewhere they can escape to and live the rural idyll.

Chicago-based saxophonist Joshua Shapiro, 48, embarked on the quest for la dolce vita as the first step toward a change of life. His long-term goal is to move away from the United States, which he believes is taking a broad political shift that troubles him.

In 2022, he bought a small, abandoned apartment in the village of Latronico, deep in the southern region of Basilicata, for 22,000 euros (roughly $23,600), after reading CNN Travel’s article about the clever housing program launched to attract migrants and stop depopulation.

For now, he drops in and out as he finalizes his home’s makeover. In the future, he can see himself making the big leap to relocate permanently.

“I’m ready for the next chapter in my life. Being a freelance saxophonist, mainly playing jazz and commercial, is not without challenges, and as taste and demand for what I do is notably decreasing [in the US], it might be in much higher demand in Europe,” Shapiro tells CNN Travel.

This classic Italian destination will get its own airport

For him, buying a dilapidated property in an unusual Italian spot is political, too.

“I don’t like the political situation in the US – the shift to the right. A huge swath of the electorate believes in another version of democracy, and how all this could pan out is a huge problem,” he says.

Shapiro played his saxophone on his first trip to Latronico.

Shapiro played his saxophone on his first trip to Latronico. MC Newman

Shapiro visited Latronico on a trip to Italy after the pandemic – the third time he’d traveled to the country, and the first time in 20 years. He took along his saxophone, which he played from a house that he rented while his newly purchased home was being worked on. Villagers have fond memories of hearing jazz melodies in the winding alleys at night.

What drew him to Italy was a “tenuous link” he wanted to revive – his grandfather had been stationed in Florence during World War II.

Latronico is hardly Florence, though – it’s a five-hour drive from Rome, and three from the nearest international airport, Bari. Shapiro admits the remote location “weighed heavily” on him as he journeyed to this pristine corner of Basilicata. He never expected it to be in such an out-of-the-way place, without any direct train connection.

“My goal was to look around, see what was affordable, and what was being offered in terms of properties. With the assistance of deputy mayor Vincenzo Castellano, who handles the housing program, I picked the easiest option for me,” he says.

Twists and turns

His apartment is on the second floor with an independent entrance.

His apartment is on the second floor with an independent entrance. Courtesy Joshua Shapiro

His second-floor apartment, which has its own external staircase and independent entrance, is 800 square feet, with two bedrooms and a panoramic balcony. It needed a thorough makeover, on which Shapiro has so far spent around 10,000 euros (roughly $10,730).

Despite the excitement of buying a cheap home, the adventure he embarked on had a series of unexpected twists.

He had to put in new windows, re-tile it, and patch cracks in the walls. It also had to be furnished – Shapiro says that there was initially “hassle” figuring out which furnishings were going to be included with the house sale.

This train route is being revived after over 100 years

Shapiro recalls initial “cultural clashes over the odd furniture” he found inside.

He expected the house to come with the furniture that was in the listing photos, to have one less thing to worry about at the start. But he says “there was either a miscommunication or misunderstanding about this issue” with the owners.

In the United States, he says, the purchase contract would have stipulated what furniture was included with the apartment, but in Latronico, it was never quite clear.

It was never clear what furniture would be left for him.

It was never clear what furniture would be left for him. Courtesy Joshua Shapiro

As it was, some furniture was left for him, but it was “worn out or not really usable,” so he ultimately had to get rid of most of it.

“I was not expecting some things I found, like the bed was so old and decrepit. This became a contentious issue at the time, but we have very amicably resolved this situation while learning valuable lessons along the way,” he says.

Many empty homes featured on the local website where owners meet buyers are sold or rented with furniture, but what eventually ends up being left inside is usually negotiated between parties.

Having viewed it briefly before buying, Shapiro expected the home to be in better shape.

“It needed a new roof, that was a big surprise. The kitchen was totally exposed to the sky, I had to add a downspout, and there was some junk inside the house which had to be thrown away.”

Latronico is in a remote, unspoiled part of Italy.

Latronico is in a remote, unspoiled part of Italy. Gianniblues/Alamy Stock Photo

Shapiro also repainted and patched up some walls – and there was more work to do to make it fully habitable.

“There were a number of surprises and things I did not expect, like having to redo the bathroom, add a new hot water heater, and fix a moisture problem inside one bedroom.

“I was somewhat surprised at the work that needed to be done mostly due to the assumptions that I made about the condition simply due to the fact that it was being lived in prior to my purchase. I discovered later that the former occupants tolerated quite a bit of the deficiencies of the place.”

A difficult habit

Shapiro was taken round by the deputy mayor.

Shapiro was taken round by the deputy mayor. Courtesy Joshua Shapiro

There was also a bizarre encounter when he first went to take a peek inside the house he had just bought.

Accompanied by Castellano, the deputy mayor, Shapiro says he was surprised to find it had tenants inside – a group of elderly nuns.

“There were these three nuns who had been living there for some time; they were tenants of the former owners. When I came, they wouldn’t let me in, shocked by the idea that an American guy could walk around their house.”

Luckily everything was solved. The nuns, reassured by Castellano that they wouldn’t end up homeless, eventually left. They were given alternative housing by the town council.

Despite these initial hurdles, Shapiro says he immediately fell in love with Latronico’s laid-back, slower-paced lifestyle – the opposite of what he was used to in the United States.

“The village is tiny, set in a remote mountainous area. I live in a big city of millions of people. Latronico is a place I can envision being very creative in, playing, writing music,” he says.

He says everyone has “bent over backwards to be nice” and been welcoming, bar “a few sideline stares at the stranger in our midst” – although he thinks that was mainly because of the language barrier. Not knowing Italian has not been easy for him, he says.

Italy divided over new pineapple pizza

Shapiro, like all other foreign buyers in Latronico, is exempted from paying property and waste disposal taxes for five years, a measure recently introduced by the town hall to lure new buyers from abroad.

And despite the unexpected building costs he’s incurred, he is ecstatic to have had the opportunity to grab a home for what he considers a bargain price. In Chicago, he says, a condo costs $200,000 – plus property taxes.

Donald Trump just got the green light to return to Wall Street

If the merger goes through, former President Donald Trump would own a stake that could be worth $4 billion at current prices.

If the merger goes through, former President Donald Trump would own a stake that could be worth $4 billion at current prices. Win McNamee/Getty ImagesNew YorkCNN — 

Months after leaving the White House, former President Donald Trump began plotting his return to Wall Street. That return, delayed by years of regulatory and legal hurdles, is now on the verge of becoming a reality — and it could make Trump a fortune.

US regulators have finally given the green light to a controversial merger between Truth Social owner Trump Media & Technology Group and a blank-check company. The blessing from the Securities and Exchange Commission removes the last major obstacle holding back the deal.

The merger, if approved by shareholders, would pave the way for Trump Media to become a publicly-traded company — one where Trump will own a dominant stake that could be worth billions.

Digital World Acquisition Corp., the blank-check firm, announced that on Wednesday the SEC signed off on the merger proxy for the deal. A date for a shareholder vote will be set by Friday.

“It does look like this deal is going to reach the finish line now — after more than two years of delays,” said Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida.

Trump stake could be worth $4 billion

Shares of Digital World, a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, spiked 15% on the major milestone. The stock has nearly tripled this year, fueled by Trump’s political success in the Republican presidential primary, and now the merger progress.

Ritter estimates the merger could pave the way for about $270 million of cash coming into Trump Media, funds the company could fuel Truth Social’s growth.

Trump is set to hold a dominant position in the newly-combined company, owning roughly 79 million shares, according to new SEC filings.

The former president’s stake would be valued at $4 billion based on Digital World’s current trading price of about $50.

Of course, as Ritter notes, it would be very difficult for Trump to translate that paper wealth into actual cash.

Not only would Trump be subject to a lock-up period that would prevent he and other insiders from selling until six months after the merger, but the new company’s fortunes would be closely associated with the former president. That could make it difficult for Trump to sell even after the lock-up period expires.

‘This is a meme stock’

Moreover, there are major questions about the sky-high valuation being placed on this media company.

“This is a meme stock. The valuation is totally divorced from the fundamental value of the company,” said Ritter.

Digital World’s share price values the company at up to about $8 billion on a fully diluted basis, which includes all shares and options that could be converted to common stock, according to Ritter.

He described that valuation as “crazy” because Trump Media is generating little revenue and burning through cash.

New SEC filings indicate Trump Media’s revenue amounted to just $1.1 million during the third quarter. The company posted a loss of $26 million.

Since the merger was first proposed in October 2021, legalregulatory and financial questions have swirled about the transaction.

In November, accountants warned that Trump Media was burning cash so rapidly that it might not survive unless the long-delayed merger with Digital World is completed soon.

Shareholder vote looms

Now, Trump execs are cheering the green light from the SEC.

“Truth Social was created to serve as a safe harbor for free expression and to give people their voices back,” Trump Media CEO Devin Nunes, a former Republican congressman, said in a statement. “Moving forward, we aim to accelerate our work to build a free speech highway outside the stifling stranglehold of Big Tech.”

Eric Swider, Digital World’s CEO, described the SEC approval as a “significant milestone” and said executives are “immensely proud of the strides we’ve taken towards advancing” the merger.

One of the final remaining hurdles is for Digital World shareholders to approve the merger in an upcoming vote.

The shareholders have enormous incentive to approve the deal because if the merger fails, the blank-check firm would be forced to liquidate. That would leave shareholders with just $10 a share, compared with $50 in the market today.

“Anyone who holds shares and votes against the merger is crazy,” said Ritter, the professor.

“Then again, I might argue that everyone holding DWAC shares is crazy,” he added, referring to the company’s thin revenue and hefty valuation.

Matthew Tuttle, CEO of Tuttle Capital Management, said he’s not surprised by the ups and downs surrounding this merger.

“The thing about Trump and anything related to Trump is, love him or hate him, there is going to be drama,” said Tuttle, who purchased options to buy Digital World shares in his personal account. “Really, I would not have expected anything less.”

Going forward, Tuttle said Trump Media’s share price will live and die by how everything plays out for Trump personally — from his legal troubles to his potential return to the White House.

“Anything bullish for Trump is going to be bullish for the stock,” said Tuttle.

Trump is no stranger to Wall Street, where he has a history, one marked by bankruptcies.

Although Trump has never filed for personal bankruptcy, he has filed four business bankruptcies — all of them linked to casinos he used to own in Atlantic City.

Russia can sustain war effort ‘for another two or three years,’ say analysts

A report estimates Russia has lost more tanks fighting in Ukraine than it had before February 2022.

A report estimates Russia has lost more tanks fighting in Ukraine than it had before February 2022. Vladyslav Musiienko/ReutersCNN — 

Russia can sustain its war effort in Ukraine “for another two or three years” but will have to sacrifice “quality for quantity” as it replaces destroyed or damaged weapons with older systems held in storage, according to a report published this week.

The report by the UK-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimated Russia has lost more tanks on the battlefields in Ukraine than it had when it launched its full-scale invasion nearly two years ago, but these losses were not likely to “cause an end to the fighting anytime soon.”

“Despite losing hundreds of armored vehicles and artillery pieces per month on average, Russia has been able to keep its active inventory numbers stable” by reactivating old systems, boosting its industrial capacity and buying from abroad, the think tank said.

The IISS estimated that Russia can “sustain its assault on Ukraine for another two or three years, and maybe even longer.”

The report comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears its second anniversary, with Moscow’s forces conducting a flurry of offensives along the nearly 1,000-kilometer frontlines in an attempt to break what Ukraine’s former top general described last year as a “stalemate.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine is shifting to a more defensive footing after its much-vaunted counteroffensive last summer failed to reap the desired gains, and as it struggles with its own manpower constraints and the supply of ammunition from the West begins to run dry.

The United States Senate on Tuesday passed a $95.3 billion foreign aid bill, including $60 billion in support for Ukraine, setting up a showdown with the House as Speaker Mike Johnson said he did not plan to bring the bill to the floor.

In its separate annual Military Balance report, the IISS said global defense spending increased by 9% to a record $2.2 trillion in 2023, the IISS said, as the world adjusts to what it called an “era of instability.” It said Russia’s invasion had spurred European countries to boost defense spending and strengthened NATO, but said much of the additional funding was “scrambling to rectify shortcomings from years of underinvestment.”

It noted that the European Union is on track to miss “by a wide margin” its target of delivering Ukraine 1 million 155-millimeter shells by March.

“Western governments find themselves once again in a position where they must decide whether to furnish Kyiv with enough weapons to deliver a decisive blow, rather than just enough arms not to lose,” Bastian Giegerich, director general of the IISS, said Tuesday.

‘Intense’ losses

While Russia has suffered “intense” armored vehicle losses since February 2022, the IISS said “there are few signs they will cause an end to the fighting anytime soon.”

The report tracked the active fleets of both Russia and Ukraine’s main battle tanks (MBTs), armored personnel carriers (APCs), infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) and other equipment. It cross-referenced indicated losses from battlefield images with other information sources, including data leaked from the Pentagon and open-source trackers, but said estimating the losses is an “imprecise science.”

It said Ukraine’s number of active MBTs “remains near pre-war levels,” while its number of APCs and IFVs “increased thanks to Western support.” Despite this, it warned Ukraine’s attempts to field these additional vehicles “outpaced equipment supply,” meaning some units did not have enough equipment to be close to full strength.

Russia, meanwhile, has lost more than 3,000 armored fighting vehicles in the past year alone, the report said, but this was offset by its reactivating around 1,200 MBTs and nearly 2,500 IFVs and APCs from storage. While this has meant trading “quality for quantity,” Russia has also been able to manufacture new vehicles. The authors concluded Russia could sustain its current rate of attrition for up to three years and maybe longer.

The report also detailed how, despite international sanctions, Russia’s economy had proved resilient and it had ramped up defense spending for 2024.

“Russia has raised its official defense budget for 2024 more than 60% year-on-year. Total military spending now represents one third of its national budget and will reach about 7.5% of GDP, signaling the focus on its war effort,” Giegerich said.

Russian tanks drive near the settlement of Olenivka in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 2022.

Russian tanks drive near the settlement of Olenivka in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 2022. Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters

The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), another think tank, published its own report this week on Russia’s shifting military objectives and capacity.

“Russia still maintains the strategic objective of bringing about the subjugation of Ukraine. It now believes that it is winning,” it said.

The report said Russia will seek to achieve its objective in three stages.

First, it will aim to continue pressure along the Ukrainian frontlines, draining its munitions and manpower.

“Parallel to this effort, the Russian Special Services are tasked with breaking the resolve of Ukraine’s international partners to continue to provide military aid,” it said.

Then, once Ukrainian munition stocks are depleted, Russia will mount fresh offensive operations to make significant advantages on the battlefield, in an attempt to gain leverage over Kyiv “to force capitulation on Russian terms.”

Russia was planning to achieve this victory by 2026, the report said.

The authors stressed, however, that this outcome could be averted “if Ukraine’s partners continue to provide sufficient ammunition and training support” to the Ukrainian armed forces in order to blunt Russia’s attacks in 2024.

“If Russia lacks the prospect of gains in 2025, given its inability to improve force quality for offensive operations, then it follows that it will struggle to force Kyiv to capitulate by 2026,” the report said.

First on CNN: House GOP in discussions with Biden special counsel Robert Hur for testimony

US Attorney Robert Hur speaks outside of the US District Court, in Baltimore, Maryland on November 21, 2019.

US Attorney Robert Hur speaks outside of the US District Court, in Baltimore, Maryland on November 21, 2019. Michael A. McCoy/Reuters/File

House Republicans have reached out to special counsel Robert Hur to discuss having him testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee about his report on President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents, according to three sources with direct knowledge of the matter.

Hur’s report released last week did not charge the president with a crime, but it painted a picture of a forgetful commander in chief who failed to properly protect highly sensitive classified information – a depiction that could hurt Biden politically and that Republicans have seized on.

Hur has retained Bill Burck as his personal attorney. While there is no date on the calendar, they are looking toward the end of February, one of the sources told CNN. The Justice Department declined to comment.

In the wake of the report, House Oversight Chairman James Comer has separately said the Justice Department should provide his committee with all of the classified materials that could relate to the Republican-led impeachment inquiry into the president.

“The Justice Department must provide Congress with unfettered access to these documents to determine if President Biden’s retention of sensitive materials were used to help the Bidens’ influence peddling schemes,” Comer said in a statement provided to CNN.

House Oversight Republicans have also called on the Justice Department to release the full transcript of the president’s interview with the special counsel that is quoted in the final report.

The two special counsels appointed during the Trump presidency, Robert Mueller and John Durham, both testified to Congress once they submitted their reports to the Justice Department.

After expressing some reluctance, Mueller agreed to testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees in July 2019 about his investigation, delivering halting and stilted responses that mostly stuck to his report.

The negotiations for Mueller’s appearance stretched out for weeks, ultimately leading to an agreement where Mueller appeared after he was subpoenaed.

Last June, Durham testified to the House Judiciary Committee about his investigation and report into the FBI’s probe into Trump and Russia, and he spoke behind closed doors to the House Intelligence Committee.

Hur’s special counsel report found that Biden willfully retained classified information, including top secret documents, and knew he was in possession of some documents as far back as 2017. He also shared some of that information with the ghostwriter of his 2017 memoir.

The special counsel decided not to charge the president in the case – primarily because he found that nothing proved a willful intent by Biden to illegally hold onto classified information and the president cooperated with the investigation.

Yet, in a politically damaging line of reasoning, Hur wrote that one reason Biden wasn’t going to be prosecuted was because he would present to a jury as an elderly man “with a poor memory.” Biden’s lawyers objected to the description – calling it “investigative excess” and accusing Hur of flouting Justice Department rules and norms.

The report is sure to become an issue in the 2024 campaign – where Biden’s likely opponent, Donald Trump, is facing criminal charges for his handling of classified material, even though Hur made clear how different the two cases were.

What King Charles’ diagnosis means for Prince William

Prince William resumed his royal work on Wednesday, hosting an investiture ceremony at Windsor and later attending a gala dinner in London.

Prince William resumed his royal work on Wednesday, hosting an investiture ceremony at Windsor and later attending a gala dinner in London. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Editor’s Note: This is a version of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.LondonCNN — 

There is never a good time to find out a parent has cancer. It’s a particularly difficult moment for Prince William.

His father’s cancer diagnosis comes as the heir to the British throne was already navigating a health scare at home. It was only last month that his wife Catherine had abdominal surgery that will sideline her for several months.

Little is known about the Princess of Wales’ procedure, but her lengthy recovery signals a serious operation. With three young children to care for, William’s diary was also cleared. His priority abundantly clear: Family comes first.

With Charles’ candid disclosure, those plans are evolving. William is now unexpectedly needed to pick up some of his father’s public-facing responsibilities, given he’s the next-in-line. He’s been thrust into a role that not too long ago Charles was doing for the late Queen Elizabeth II – stepping in as needed while the monarch was temporarily unavailable.

The demands of being the immediate heir saw William make a partial return to royal duties on Wednesday after a three-week absence. He kicked things off by hosting an investiture ceremony at Windsor Castle. Dressed in his RAF uniform, he smiled warmly, charming guests while doling out honors on his father’s behalf.

The prince has “an unwavering commitment to duty and service,” a royal source told CNN, adding that “investitures are an important part of his royal role, celebrating people up and down the country doing incredible things for their communities.”

Later, he attended a gala dinner in central London as the patron of the London Air Ambulance, where he publicly addressed the royal double health scare for the first time.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you, also, for the kind messages of support for Catherine and for my father, especially in recent days. It means a great deal to us all,” William said.

He then quipped: “It’s fair to say the past few weeks have had a rather ‘medical’ focus. So, I thought I’d come to an air ambulance function to get away from it all.”

William chats with with Air Ambulance pilots, doctors and paramedics on Wednesday evening.

William chats with with Air Ambulance pilots, doctors and paramedics on Wednesday evening. Daniel Leal/Getty Images

Beyond those two engagements, there is nothing else scheduled for him in the days ahead. That could partly be down to a school break next week but also because the 41-year-old royal is continuing to make his family his focus.

Charles, who flew to his Sandringham home after a blink-and-you-miss-it reunion with Prince Harry on Tuesday, is still handling state matters while going through his unspecified treatments. That will give William some flexibility as it means the prince appears not to be needed to pick up any constitutional business. But that will be something his staff are carefully coordinating with Buckingham Palace.

While it could be some time before we next see him, the Prince of Wales will likely be called on to lead the family for the annual Commonwealth Day service – a staple celebration in the royal calendar that will be held at Westminster Abbey on March 11.

The developments this week will have been an eye-opener for William, with the future surely occupying some of his thoughts. The Prince of Wales has never been in a rush to be King. He knows a greater share of the royal burden falls on him with every passing year and has taken it on willingly. He’s not shy about taking on the top job one day, but he has other things he wants to do first.

Queen Camilla has been undertaking a full program of engagements and a larger public-facing role as she supports her husband through his treatment.

Queen Camilla has been undertaking a full program of engagements and a larger public-facing role as she supports her husband through his treatment. Arthur Edwards/Getty Images

As William himself put it during a sit-down with the BBC in 2016, he thinks it’s “important to grow into a particular role with the right characteristics and right qualities.”

He has repeatedly said and shown that he wants to be a more present parent. With his public service, he has spent the last 17 months reinventing his version of the Prince of Wales role in a way that is noticeably different to his father’s tenure.

William has narrowed in on key themes – his ambitious eco-prize and pioneering five-year plan to tackle homelessness – where he wants to bring measurable change. He’s also seen his father’s strong international relationships, and ramped up his diplomatic efforts by taking trips designed to build his own ties with Britain’s allies and partners.

Britain's King Charles and Queen Camilla leave Clarence House, the day after it was announced King Charles has been diagnosed with cancer, in London, Britain, February 6, 2024.REUTERS/Toby Melville

RELATED ARTICLEHow much does the public have a right to know about King Charles’ cancer diagnosis?

The King’s diagnosis means William is now one of the most prominent faces of the clan – alongside Queen Camilla. As such, the demands on his time increase and he doesn’t have as many working royals backing him up as he had once hoped to.

The other eight working family members are continuing their public engagements and CNN understands they could also pick up some additional duties on Charles’ behalf if needed.

Queen Camilla, for example, has been undertaking a full program of public duties in recent weeks, with no sign of taking her foot off the gas. Meanwhile, Princess Anne – known for her no-fuss attitude and quietly steadfast service – already stepped in this week with an investitures ceremony on Tuesday.

William’s challenge in the days and weeks ahead is how he uniquely balances his personal and professional commitments.