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bestdesigns/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- As new fighting in Syria's last opposition-held province intensifies, the U.S. is increasingly warning the regime of Bashar al Assad and his backer Russia against escalating the conflict, especially by deploying chemical weapons.

Despite the warnings, the top U.S. envoy expressed some optimism for finding a path forward, in particular with Russian support after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Russian leader Vladimir Putin last week. As the U.S. keeps diplomatic and economic pressure on Assad, Moscow is beginning to come around to an understanding that Assad cannot win the war militarily and will never regain international support, according to U.S. Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey.

The U.S. is gathering evidence of a possible chlorine gas attack on Sunday and has seen "signs that the Assad regime may be renewing its use of chemical weapons," the State Department said Tuesday.

"The United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately" if chemical weapons were confirmed to have been used, spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a statement.

President Donald Trump has twice ordered airstrikes on Syrian military targets after the U.S. confirmed the regime had deployed sarin gas on civilians, although previous uses of chlorine did not precipitate an armed response. Ortagus told ABC News chlorine when deployed in warfare is a banned chemical weapon, but she declined to preview any military action.

The State Department also warned against any escalation in Idlib province, the rebel stronghold backed by Turkey that is supposed to be under a ceasefire brokered by it and Russia. In recent weeks, however, Syrian airplanes and artillery, backed by Russian air power, have bombarded sections that the two countries say are infiltrated by terror groups.

The fighting has displaced some 180,000 new Syrians, according to the United Nations, with at least dozens of people killed amid the most intense period of violence in months.

But while the State Department has increased its warnings about an escalation by Assad, President Trump has been quiet. Ahead of what analysts said was a pending offensive by Assad and Russia in September, he issued a tweet warning against the offensive. The White House later promised the U.S. would respond "swiftly and appropriately" if they moved ahead, and days later, Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan signed a ceasefire.

Trump took credit for that deal, but so far has not weighed in, although Ortagus said the White House was "fully supportive" of the State Department's warnings.

"Everybody wants this war to end, everybody wants refugees and [internally displaced persons] to return, and everybody wants the fighting and this danger of an escalation to stop," Jeffrey told the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday, with one exception: Assad himself, who has "shown little willingness to be flexible on any issue and at the moment may be concluding that it's better to sit on a pile of rubble with half his population and 60 percent of his country than compromise."

To that end, Russia has been helpful, according to Jeffrey, who said Moscow knows they need a political solution to rid themselves of the costly conflict and an ally that most of the rest of the world opposes. Pompeo made that clear with a "very strong démarche," per Jeffrey, when they met Putin in Sochi last Tuesday.

"We received assurances from the Russians, some of which they seemed to have been trying to carry out in the days since we were in Sochi. Trying to slow down or stop any military conflict with dozens of groups on the ground is not easy... But we did believe that we made some progress with President Putin," he added.

U.S. sanctions and a promise by America and its allies to withhold any reconstruction funds until Assad allows for a political transition has been instrumental in influencing Russia and key to that future path, Jeffrey said. To that end, he urged Congress to continue to apply economic pressure, including passing the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act.

The bill, which was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Wednesday, would require the president to sanction anyone who does business with the Syrian government or central bank, including those involved in construction, engineering, or energy projects or those providing aircraft or spare aviation parts. It also authorizes the State Department to support the collection and preservation of evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity to aid in any future investigations and trials.

The bill, which takes its name from the code name of a military defector who smuggled 53,275 photographs out of Syria showing Assad's war crimes, passed the House in January.

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ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- North Korea issued a list of criticisms against former Vice President Joe Biden, calling the presidential candidate "a low IQ idiot" and saying his "candidacy should not carry high expectations."

Additionally, the North Koreans referred to Biden as someone "who likes to stick his nose into other people's business and is a poor excuse for a politician." The published commentary also said he "is misbehaving."

On Wednesday, Biden's campaign responded saying "it's no surprise North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House."

"As Vice President Biden said in Philadelphia, Donald Trump 'embraces dictators and tyrants like Putin and Kim Jung Un' while alienating our closest allies. That is antithetical to who we are and it has to change," Biden campaign spokesperson Andrew Bates told ABC News. "Trump has also been repeatedly tricked into making major concessions to the murderous regime in Pyongyang while getting nothing in return. Given Vice President Biden's record of standing up for American values and interests, it’s no surprise that North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House."

The back-and-forth comes after Biden, while out on the campaign trail, recently criticized North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

In an opinion piece dated Tuesday, posted on the website of KCNA – the North Korean news agency – and translated by ABC News, said Biden "dared to blaspheme our Supreme Dignity at a recent campaign event."

The piece also declared that Biden's "blasphemy" doesn't "even meet the standards of basic human dignity, let alone a politician."

It's unclear if the KCNA piece was in direct response to Biden's remarks on the campaign trail, but at a rally in Philadelphia on Saturday, Biden attacked President Donald Trump for his relationship with "dictators and tyrants like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Kim Jong Un."

While campaigning last week in New Hampshire, Biden spoke further about the North Korean leader: "This is a guy with his uncle's brains blown out, sitting across a table. This is the guy who's a thug."

Under Kim's leadership, several top officials and some of his family members have been executed. Kim's uncle was executed in 2013, according to KCNA, after he was arrested for corruption, acts of treachery and womanizing. And at least one high-ranking defense chief may have been executed with anti-aircraft machine guns.

The North Koreans calling Biden a person with a "low IQ" might sound familiar. In fact, it's a phrase Trump regularly uses against his critics. On March 18, 2019, the president attacked Biden on Twitter, calling him "another low I.Q. individual!"

The opinion piece was published online a day after Trump attacked Biden during a Pennsylvania campaign rally. Trump said that Biden "deserted" the people of Pennsylvania.

Biden responded Tuesday to the president's attack in a fundraising email.

"I've never forgotten where I came from. My family did have to leave Pennsylvania when I was 10 -- we moved to Delaware where my Dad found a job that could provide for our family," the fundraising email said.

In the opinion piece, North Korea also criticized Biden for being accused by several women of making them uncomfortable with what they considered inappropriate touching. Biden told ABC's The View that he's "more cognizant" of private space since the allegations were made.

Additionally, KCNA mocked him for falling asleep during a budget speech former President Barack Obama made in April 2011.

KCNA also hit Biden for withdrawing from the 1988 presidential campaign after reports of plagiarism arose. Biden used elements of a speech by a British politician as his own, without attribution. In an interview with ABC News in 2007, Biden described the scandal as "Stupid. My mistake. Born out of ignorance, thinking I didn't have to prepare."

North Korea cautioned the former vice president that language on the campaign trail matters.

"Biden should remember, as someone who failed in a presidential run twice, that he should be careful with his words, and that should be a basic quality of a presidential candidate," according to KCNA, which also warned it "will not forgive anyone who offends the dignity of our Supreme Leader and we will keep score to the very end."

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Dan Kitwood/Getty Images(LONDON) -- A growing number of lawmakers are calling for U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May to resign after she unveiled her latest Brexit plan in a speech Tuesday.

May said she would bring a package to lawmakers that would include a Parliamentary vote “on whether the deal should be subject to a referendum."

This is the first time government policy gives lawmakers the chance to vote on a second referendum, after the first referendum in 2016 saw the British public vote in favor of leaving the European Union.

To be clear, this does not guarantee a second referendum -- it merely gives lawmakers the chance to vote on whether the U.K. should have another referendum.

If lawmakers reject her deal, May said they risked “no Brexit at all.”

“Look at what this debate is doing to our politics,” May said in her speech. “Extending it for months more – perhaps indefinitely – risks opening the door to a nightmare future of permanently polarized politics.”

The new plan was roundly criticized on all sides.

Margaret Beckett, a prominent supporter of a second referendum on the Brexit deal and a Member of Parliament (MP), described the new plan as a “hotchpotch offer.”

“The prime minister’s last-ditch effort to force through her deal is no more likely to succeed than her previous attempts,” she said in a statement. “Today she tried to spice up the same old deal with a series of supposedly new concessions, but then admitted she had no way of guaranteeing that she could deliver any of them.”

The opposition Labour Party have also said it will vote against the new plan.

Several lawmakers who previously voted in favor of May’s deal, which has been defeated in Parliament three times in 2019, said they would not be voting for it.

Boris Johnson, an MP from May’s own Conservative Party who has announced his intention to run for prime minister should May step down, said that he “will not vote for it.”

MP Dominic Raab, who is also expected to run for the Conservative leadership, said that he “cannot support legislation that would be the vehicle for a second referendum.”

The Scottish MP Ian Blackford said May was “fooling no one but herself” and “her time is up” in Wednesday’s session of Prime Minister’s Questions, the weekly opportunity lawmakers have to scrutinize the government.

The BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg said that she had been hearing from more and more lawmakers, including those previously loyal to the prime minister, that “May has to go now.”

May has already said she will resign if the deal is accepted and last week bowed to pressure from her own party to agree to a “timetable for departure” if the deal is defeated.

On Thursday, the U.K. will vote in the European elections -- an embarrassing moment for lawmakers who had promised to leave the European Union on March 29, nearly three years after Britain voted to leave the EU.

After the European elections, the week beginning June 3 will be the next major milestone in British politics, as President Donald Trump will come to visit the U.K. in the same week that the next Brexit vote will be held.

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sharrocks/iStock(LONDON) -- At least six people have died and 200 were injured as riots in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta turned violent on Tuesday night.

Thousands of protesters supporting candidate Prabowo Subianto gathered in the city center following the announcement that incumbent President Joko Widodo won a decisive victory in the general election.

Crowds supporting Subianto echoed the losing candidate’s allegations of election fraud, gathering outside the Elections Supervisory Agency’s headquarters in the center of Jakarta.

On Tuesday evening, police moved in to disperse the crowd after the first clashes ensued, and protesters tried to force entry into the building.

Rioting continued throughout the night and into the early hours of the morning when police began firing tear gas into crowds. The movement turned violent, with protesters attempting to set fire to vehicles and dormitories in a police compound.

Officials have suggested the violence was instigated by a small group of provocateurs and that the majority of demonstrators were peaceful.

Muhammad Iqbal, a police spokesman, said that the “majority of protesters have come from outside Jakarta” and that the protests had been planned, and were not spontaneous.

Indonesia is suppressing access to social media in order to quell the violence, the country's security chief, Wiranto, said on Wednesday.

“To avoid provocations, the spread of fake news through the community, we will limit access to certain features on social media,” said Wiranto, who was once charged with crimes against humanity by the U.N. Transitional Administration in East Timor, but never tried.

Indonesia has a huge social media presence. Around 92 percent of the population actively uses Facebook, and 2 percent of all global public tweets are sent from Jakarta, making it Twitter’s No. 1 posting city in June 2012, according to research by Semiocast.

Indonesians are also heavy users of Blackberry devices and Whatsapp, with many citizens owning more than one mobile device.

Subianto is planning on taking his challenge to the Supreme Court. He previously lost the last general election in 2014 to Widodo -- an outcome that he also claimed was the result of election fraud and cheating.

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Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, are now three weeks into parenthood with their first child, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor.

Meghan, 37, has already celebrated her first Mother's Day and Harry, 34, has already returned to work, picking up a onesie and a rattle for Archie at an engagement in the Netherlands just a few days after his birth.

The new parents, who celebrated their first wedding anniversary on May 19, are also living in a new home, Frogmore Cottage, where they moved shortly before Archie's birth.

With all that going on, here is a look at how Harry and Meghan are settling into parenthood:

No nanny, no problem

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are not relying on a nanny or a night nurse to care for Archie and they have no plans to hire one -- for now, according to ABC News royal contributor Omid Scobie.

"Both Harry and Meghan are keen to do as much of the work as they can," he said. "These moments are so precious to them and they want to be present for as many as possible."

The couple is also keeping staff members at their Frogmore Cottage home to a minimum, so far relying on only one housekeeper for the 18th-century home that they began renovations on last October.

"It's important for Harry and Meghan to have as normal a home environment as possible, especially now that they are a family," Scobie said. "Meghan was even cooking for the family days before she gave birth."

Relying on grandmother Doria

What they may lack in staff, Harry and Meghan have made up for with family support. Meghan's mother, Doria Ragland, who lives in Los Angeles, has been staying with the couple at Frogmore Cottage since mid-April.

Meghan is Ragland's only child and Archie is, of course, her first grandchild. Buckingham Palace described the new grandmother as "overjoyed" at Archie's birth.

Introducing Archie to friends and family

Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Archie's great-grandparents, were the first members of the royal family to meet Harry and Meghan's son, just two days after his birth.

Since then, Archie has also met his Aunt Kate and Uncle William, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and his grandfather, Prince Charles, when they paid visits to Frogmore Cottage.

Prince Harry's aunt, Lady Jane Fellowes, Princess Diana's sister, was also among the first visitors to meet Archie.

Harry and Meghan have also been supported by a number of Meghan's close friends who have stopped by to visit, with many more coming in the weeks ahead, according to Scobie. One of the friends who has already visited is Markus Anderson, who was by Meghan's side in 2017 when she attended her first public royal engagement with Harry, at the Invictus Games in Toronto.

"Harry and Meghan's first week at home with Archie was all about bonding as a family but since then Frogmore Cottage has been a revolving door of excited friends and family meeting their baby for the first time," said Scobie.

Up next for Archie will be meeting his three cousins, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, for the first time.

Enjoying the quiet life

Harry and Meghan's move from London to Frogmore Cottage in Windsor was a lifestyle change as much as a location change, and the couple have been enjoying the serenity with Archie, according to Scobie.

Windsor is a town about 25 miles from London where the main attraction is Windsor Castle.

"They love Frogmore Cottage for its idyllic location and are said to love taking walks around the acres of beautifully landscaped grounds," he said. "It's also the perfect place for their two dogs to run around."

The new home also provides more of a distinction between work and home for the couple. Meghan and Harry's staff remain based in London, at Buckingham Palace, and the couple commutes into the city for official events and meetings.

Taking maternity, paternity leave

Meghan will remain on official maternity leave for the remainder of the summer. Harry, while not officially on traditional paternity leave, is currently working a reduced schedule, according to Scobie.

Harry has attended several official engagements since Archie's birth, but they have been for causes close to his heart, such as the Invictus Games, or to support his family, such as joining Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip at the Royal Windsor Horse Show.

Royal engagements also are typically just a few hours of the day, compared with a typical 9-to-5 job.

Meghan stepped away from her public royal duties in March and only returned to the spotlight on May 8 when she and Harry debuted Archie at Windsor Castle.

She is expected to make an official appearance next month, when she joins Prince Harry and other members of the royal family for the queen's birthday parade, Trooping the Colour, on June 8, according to Scobie.

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ABC News(NEW YORK) -- Antarctica’s otherworldly, mythical white landscapes were once thought beyond man's reach.

But today, scientists from across the world have descended on the white continent, braving brutal conditions to study how the pristine region is now struggling to cope with pollutants and man-made climate change. Scientists like Chris Johnson, the World Wildlife Fund's oceans science manager, are in a race against time to protect the seas.

"We have 12 years to really fight the impact of climate change," he told ABC News. "We have to act now."

But first, just getting to Antarctica takes time and patience.

The journey begins in Ushuaia, Argentina, a sleepy port town nestled at the foot of the southern Andes. From there, the journey requires sailing south for two days to reach Antarctica.

ABC News was invited aboard the RCGS Resolute by One Ocean Expeditions and the World Wildlife Fund to travel to Antarctica, ground zero for climate change. This expedition allows tourists to come face-to-face with the realities of climate change.

After two days crossing the Drake Passage, the ship finally entered the waters of the Antarctic Peninsula.

Across the peninsula, the ice season has shortened by more than three months over the last 40 years and 87 percent of the glaciers here are receding.

ABC News joined Ari Friedlander and a team of researchers in Portal Point to search for humpback or possibly minke whales to collect samples.

"We want to be able to biopsy, and fly our drone over them to look at body condition and size," Friedlander told ABC News.

The biopsies can indicate the population of the animal’s group, the sex of the animal, if female, whether the animal is pregnant, as well as baseline data on contaminant levels the animal is carrying, Friedlander said.

These marine biologists have come from all over the United States to Antarctica to study the pressures facing the humpback and minke whale population.

The biopsy samples are taken using a crossbow, sterilized after each use. When the biopsy makes contact, the researchers say it doesn't hurt the whales.

"This is the tip that will collect the skin and the blubber sample from the whale, you can see it will penetrate in about an inch or inch and a half into the animal," Friedlander explained. "We’ve been sampling since last November, getting the body condition and sex ratio of animals that are around here now is really important."

After spending several hours in the biting cold, the researchers headed back to the ship's lab to process the biopsy samples they collected.

Samples like these have already revealed that plastics, heavy metals and even flame retardant have made their way into the whales’ bodies. The tendrils of man stretching even here, to the seemingly pristine and remote waters of Antarctica.

Smaller "sub samples" are taken into a freezer to travel back to California.

Their research is already yielding results. A recent report by the WWF highlights that whales in the Antarctic are facing increased pressures due to commercial krill fisheries and climate change.

"We’re really racing against the clock in a lot of ways to generate a baseline for how these animals behave and how healthy they are… we're really trying to play catch up here," Friedlander said. "These animals are already compromised in a big way."

"We need to be down here doing this right now, because we can't get back data," he added.

These creatures are important to humans, Friedlander explained, because "they represent the health of an ocean ecosystem to be able to have enough food to support a whale, let alone a population of whales."

"All of these things for motion -- physics and chemistry and sunlight -- have to combine together and to promote life to promote food being there," he said. "As citizens of the planet, regardless of where you live, we have an obligation to let things be and to let things be in a way that is unencumbered by our activities."

A landmark report released by the United Nations revealed that humans are already altering the world at an unprecedented pace -- over one million plant and animal species are now at risk of extinction.

In the peninsula, many penguin populations are already on the decline. The loss of sea ice is affecting their primary food source -- krill.

Through funding from the WWF, researchers are now using the latest technologies available, from satellite tags to drones, in determining how the decline in krill is affecting the whale population.

A team from Duke University’s Marine Robotics Lab is putting that technology into action.

Hoping to study humpback whales from the air, the team traveled to Paradise Bay with drones containing one-of-a-kind technology, designed to withstand brutal Antarctic conditions. It provides the team with invaluable insight into the lives of these mysterious creatures.

"From the pictures we can actually measure them, and that can tell us how long they are, how fat they are, how they are growing," KC Bierlich, a PhD student at Duke University, told ABC News.

So far, the numbers are encouraging: unlike most whale species, humpback populations are on the rise.

They were once nearly hunted to extinction, but have since rebounded thanks to a 1980 moratorium on commercial whaling.

"One of the primary things that I’m really interested in is looking at the recovery of these animals from the industrial whaling era," Logan Pallin, a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz, told ABC News.

The team set up one of their most crucial research technologies -- tagging the giants with a tracking device.

"Essentially what will happen is… there’s a big long carbon fiber pole, with a cradle on the end of it, so the tag will sit in the cradle and they will quietly approach the animal and get close enough," said Julian Dale, lead engineer at Duke Marine Lab. "Essentially we’re just slapping them on the backs, so it’s a gentle slap and the tag will stick on the animal."

The tagging team inched closer to the whales, but approaching them before they wake up and dive away proved to be a great challenge.

The whales dove beneath the surface each time the tagging team got within range.

The next day, the researchers tried again. It was their last chance as winter draws near and the water will soon turn to ice.

The drone team placed their camera in the sky, but as the team inched closer to a group of sleeping humpbacks, the animals were startled by the boat.

In a rare display, one began breaching. Unable to tag this group of whales, the biologists moved on.

"We’ll that was exciting, not very useful for science but awesome… to see," Friedlander said.

Soon the team spotted another pod of whales, but was met with sore disappointment when they were unable to tag them.

Tagging is critical to the team’s research. And this bay is one Friedlander has returned to many times throughout the years.

He fondly calls Whilhelmena Bay "magical," recalling when he and his team traveled there 10 years ago and discovered a "prey patch or a krill patch" that measured over 2 million tons, as well as about 500 humpback whales.

"Since then… we’ve tried to understand where krill distribute themselves at different times of the year. It’s great for us to study the ecology of the system, but it’s also really good because it tells us the critical places for these animals," Friedlander said. "And if we need to set up Marine Protected areas and keep things like commercial fishing out of them, we know exactly where those places are every year."

The tag is readied and they move forward once more. The team is finally able to tag a whale in what appeared to be a mother and calf pair.

The tag will stay on, capturing data for the researchers. The device, equipped with a camera, also provides them with a whale’s eye view of the world.

Video from the tracker shows the whale waking from sleep and starting to feed, krill moving past the camera.

"What we’re doing is combining the tag information that’s on the back of the whale with the imagery from the drones… combined, we can get a really good picture of the ecology of whales in this area," Johnson explained.

Johnson has been instrumental in taking the research data and turning it into policy. Their goal is to protect 30 percent of the oceans surrounding Antarctica by 2030.

"Time is of the essence because a recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said we have about 12 years to really reduce our emissions," Johnson said. "We have 12 years to, to really fight the impact of climate change."

The Antarctic treaty was signed nearly 60 years ago, designating the continent as a natural reserve for peace and science. Since then, it’s been a place where we come to determine the health of the world.

The Ukrainian Research Station on the west coast of Antarctica is one of the places where earth science is recorded. It started as a British base that was sold to the Ukrainians for a pound so they could continue the climate research.

In 1985, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone layer here. ABC News' Nightline shed light on it in 1992, becoming the first to broadcast live from Antarctica.

Since then, the hole in the ozone has recovered significantly and is on its way to healing completely, Johnson said.

"It is one of the biggest, success stories that we have for nature," Johnson said. "I’m hopeful that we can fight climate change both here and at home."

That ambition is one that unites scientists and expedition leaders alike.

Eva Molin Westerholm, program coordinator for One Ocean Expeditions, says she hopes that travelers to Antarctica like herself will "realize the only change we can do is at home."

Making a difference to this place from thousands of miles away might seem impossible. But the recovery of the humpback whale is a testament to what can be done to save our planet, wherever we are.

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NORAD(WASHINGTON) -- For a second day in a row, U.S. Air Force F-22 fighters intercepted Russian aircraft that entered the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ).

The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace and never entered U.S. airspace Tuesday, but this time, the Russian planes flew in and out of the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone that stretches 200 miles from the Alaska coastline.

"Two pairs of F-22 fighter jets, each with an E-3 intercepted Tu-95 bombers Su-35 fighter jets entering the Alaskan ADIZ May 21. The bombers entered the ADIZ and were intercepted by two F-22s, exited and then re-entered the Alaskan ADIZ accompanied by two Su-35 fighter jets," according to a NORAD statement. E-3 AWAC aircraft provide airborne radar coordination and surveillance.

"NORAD committed an additional two F-22s and E-3 to relieve the initial intercept aircraft," the statement continued. "A KC-135 refueling aircraft supported both of NORAD’s intercept teams. The Russian aircraft remained in international airspace and at no time entered U.S. or Canadian sovereign airspace."

NORAD said this week's intercepts mark the fourth and fifth intercepts of Russian aircraft this year.

It was unclear how many Russian aircraft were involved in Tuesday's incident; on Monday, a mix of four Tu-95 bombers and 2 Su-35 fighters were intercepted by four American F-22s.

The Alaskan ADIZ is airspace that stretches 200 miles from the coastline and is monitored in the interest of national security. U.S. territorial airspace begins 12 miles from the coastline.

NORAD, a joint U.S.-Canadian military command, sends military aircraft to identify any unidentified aircraft transiting through the American or Canadian ADIZ's.

The Russian flights this week are the first to occur close to Alaska since January, when Russian bombers entered Canada's ADIZ and were intercepted by both Canadian and U.S. aircraft.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in its own statement on Tuesday that "Four Tu-95ms strategic missile carriers of the Russian Aerospace Forces made scheduled sorties over the neutral waters of the Chukotka, Bering and Okhotsk seas, as well as along the western coast of Alaska and the northern coast of the Aleutian Islands."

"At certain stages of the route, Russian aircraft were escorted by F-22 fighter jets of the USAF," according to the statement. "The total flight time exceeded 12 hours."

"All flights of the Russian Air and Space Force are carried out in strict accordance with the International Airspace Management System without violating the borders of other states," it added.

It takes a bit of effort for the Russian military to undertake long-range bomber missions to far eastern Russia and the waters off of Alaska. Russia's long-range bomber fleet is positioned in central and western Russia, meaning the bombers and their maintenance teams are flown to eastern Russian airbases so they can undertake these types of missions.

Over the last two years, Russian missions close to Alaska have occurred two to three times a year.

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KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. intelligence now believes that Iran is behind the attacks against commercial vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. official told ABC News.

The new assessment, directly blaming Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps comes as senior Trump administration officials will brief members of Congress about -- what they call -- a heightened threat from Iran and several U.S. actions in response, including military deployments to the region and the ordered departure of non-emergency U.S. diplomats from Iraq.

The movement of a U.S. aircraft carrier and B-52 bombers to the Middle East have been an effective deterrent against Iran, acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Tuesday, forcing the government to "recalculate" and "put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans" in the Middle East.

"That doesn't mean the threats that we previously identified have gone away," Shanahan added.

The acting defense chief will join Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford on Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon to brief members of Congress on the heightened tensions with Iran, although Democrats are already crying foul over the administration's intelligence assessment and some of their actions.

The latest assessment is that Iran's elite IRGC placed explosive charges at the waterline on four oil tankers that were damaged last week, said a U.S. official. The vessels -- two of which belonged to Saudi Arabia, one to the United Arab Emirates and one to Norway -- had holes 5 to 10 feet wide in their hulls, the official said, after reportedly being attacked at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

"It's quite possible that Iran was behind these," Pompeo said in an interview Tuesday, but added that the U.S. hasn't "formed a definitive conclusion that we can speak about publicly."

Another piece of intelligence that led the U.S. to perceive a new Iranian threat to U.S. Naval forces was overhead imagery that showed cruise missiles placed atop small Iranian boats known as "dhows," it was believed they could be used against ships or land targets. But according to the U.S. official, last week those missiles were removed from two dhows that had been monitored by U.S. intelligence.

Shanahan said while "there were attacks" -- an apparent reference to the vessel incidents -- the recent U.S. military moves had prevented any strike on Americans, at least so far.

"I think our steps were very prudent," he told reporters outside the Pentagon. "We've put on hold the potential for attacks on Americans. That's what's extremely important."

"We're in a period where the threat remains high and our job is to make sure that there is no miscalculation by the Iranians. That's the most important thing we can do as the department, is avoid miscalculation and then control escalation. Our posture is for deterrence," he added.

The new developments will likely be part of Shanahan, Pompeo, and Dunford's briefing to Congress Tuesday as they try to tackle skepticism among some members of Congress about the credibility of U.S. intelligence that led to the military movements and ordered departure of non-emergency personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and consulate in Erbil.

"Part of today will be to give credible information that will address that," said Shanahan.

But Pompeo struck a stronger tone, calling on lawmakers of both parties "to be united" in responding to Iran and "very supportive of this administration when we take acts that are consistent with protecting Americans."

Some members of Congress have said that the Trump administration is spinning U.S. intelligence to paint a picture of a more dire threat from Iran.

"I'm listening to Republicans twist the Iran intel to make it sound like Iran is taking unprovoked, offensive measures against the U.S. and our allies. Like it just came out of nowhere. I've read the intel too. And let me be clear -- that's not what the intel says," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., on Monday.

House Democrats will receive an additional briefing from two prominent foreign policy voices from the Obama administration before they meet with Pompeo: Former CIA Director John Brennan and Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who was Obama's lead negotiator for the Iran nuclear deal.

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Phanuwat Yoksiri/iStock(CAIRO) — In Egypt, the sight of stray dogs being chased, stoned, beaten up by sticks or even poisoned is not entirely uncommon.

There has always been a way out for at least some of those dogs -- commonly referred to as "baladi dogs" in colloquial Arabic, which means a native Egyptian breed -- in the form of sending them abroad, to be adopted by families in the United States.

But a U.S. decision earlier this month to temporarily ban importing them from Egypt threw a wrench in the work of rescuers.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) cited multiple instances of dogs that contracted rabies in Egypt being brought to the U.S. in recent years as a reason for the decision.

CDC estimates 100,000 dogs are imported from countries at high-risk for rabies every year.

A spokesman for Egypt's agriculture ministry told ABC News the country had launched an investigation into the matter to find out what went wrong. But until the probe yields any tangible results, there is little room for rescuers to operate and save more dogs from abuse.

"This decision has completely paralyzed us," Ahmed Al Shurbaji, founder of HOPE-Egyptian Baladi Rescue & Rehabilitation, told ABC News.

"Given that it's difficult to export baladi dogs to European countries because most of the landlords do not allow dogs at their places, the U.S. has been the only door opened for us for many years," he said.

"Through my shelter, 103 dogs were exported for adoption in the U.S. in 2016, 2017 and 2018, but now I'm struggling to help more dogs because the shelter is overcrowded," he said. "Dogs must leave the shelter at some point and have a new home."

Dog rescuers interviewed by ABC News gave a grim outlook of the future of their rescue operations should the U.S. ban last for long. Egyptians are not fond of adopting baladi dogs, so there should be options, they believe.

The abundance of stray dogs has stirred some hot debates in Egypt over the past few years, with one Parliament member causing an outcry last year after floating the idea of exporting dogs to South Korea for meat consumption. There are more than 15 million stray dogs in the country, according to the agriculture minister's estimates.

Laila Fayek is an individual rescuer who earned wide acclaim in 2015 for saving Cleopatra, a baladi dog whose six puppies were murdered after being hit by a wooden stick in Alexandria. The dog was eventually sent to a family in the U.S.

She is now afraid other abused dogs could not be saved.

"Before the U.S. ban, seeing the relatively very few dogs who traveled and were happy was what pushed us to continue, because you really feel you made a difference in their quality of life and gave them a chance they would have never gotten in their home country," Fayek said.

"Egyptian baladi dogs are sadly, and by far, the most looked down upon dog breed, especially by Egyptians. Finding them homes in Egypt is almost impossible," she said.

U.S. regulations

The CDC said in May it will maintain the dog suspension "until appropriate veterinary safeguards to prevent the importation of rabid dogs from Egypt have been established," with dog rescuers admitting some Egyptians do not completely adhere to U.S. requirements.

Dr. Salah Hassan, a veterinarian who founded the American Veterinary Center, which has branches in the U.S. and Egypt, said part of the solution could be mandating a Rabies Titer Test for dogs before they are exported. It tests the effectiveness of the vaccine given to them.

"The U.S. should have required this test long time ago, as many countries do in Europe. They had defects in their regulations which they now want to address," he said.

Egyptian rescuers are hoping the CDC will speed up the process and set new regulations that can be followed. Otherwise, the fate of abused dogs would be up in the air.

"I am praying the CDC lifts the ban soon and applies reasonable and affordable policies for both rescue and personal dogs," Fayek said.

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Junaidi Hanafiah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images (FILE photo)(NEW YORK) -- A sperm whale found dead on an Italian beach might have died from consuming too much plastic, according to environmental advocates.

The whale, estimated to be able 6 years old, washed up on the Cefalu beaches in Sicily on Friday, Greenpeace Italy wrote on Facebook. Sperm whales typically live to be about 70 years old.

A large amount of plastic was found in the whale's stomach, although it is unclear if the waste caused the whale's death, according to the organization.

Plastic has been documented at all levels in the marine food web, from the deepest trenches to the most far-flung beaches, according to a study published Thursday by Scientific Reports.

Six sperm whales have washed up on Italian beaches in the last five months, according to Greenpeace. The most recent whale was found in Palermo on Tuesday, Felice Moramarco, press officer for Greenpeace Italy, told ABC News. An necropsy will be performed on Wednesday, Moramarco said.

Last month, a pregnant sperm whale was found dead outside Porto Cervo in Sardinia with about 50 pounds of plastic in its stomach, National Geographic reported.

In March, after a dead whale washed onto a beach in the Philippines, 88 pounds of plastic were found in its belly, according to Greenpeace.

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pop_jop/iStock(DUBAI, United Arab Emirates) — Air defense crews raced to action in the southern Saudi Arabian city of Najran Tuesday night to intercept an attack from Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels as tensions remain high between Tehran and the United States.

The attack on Najran, about 10 miles north of the Saudi border with Yemen, was carried out by one Qasef K-2 drone armed with an explosive warhead and targeted a Saudi airport and military facility, the Houthi news outlet Al Masirah said. The broadcaster added that the drone struck an "arms depot," causing a fire.

Najran has repeatedly been targeted by the Houthis since the Saudi-led war in Yemen began four years ago. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are leading a Western-backed coalition of Sunni Muslim states seeking to restore the internationally recognized government ousted from power in Yemen by the Houthis in late 2014.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

On Tuesday morning, in a statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) and reported in the pro-regime newspaper Arab News, Colonel Turki Al-Maliki, the spokesman of the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the war in Yemen, said Houthi militants had tried to hit a civilian facility in Najran with a drone carrying explosives.

"The Houthi-backed terrorist militia of Iran continues to carry out acts of terrorism that pose a real threat to regional and international security by targeting civilian objects and civilian facilities, as well as civilian citizens and residents of all nationalities," Al-Maliki said in the statement.

Saudi Arabia initially declared on Twitter that it had intercepted two "Iranian-made" missiles fired against the province of Mecca, many miles to the north, but Houthi rebels denied targeting Mecca, Islam's holiest site.

Houthi commanders called the claim a tactic by Saudi Arabia to rally support for its war in Yemen. "The Saudi regime is trying, through these allegations, to rally support for its brutal aggression against our great Yemeni people," Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said on Facebook, according to a Reuters report.

The attack came after Iran announced it quadrupled its uranium-enrichment production capacity a year after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement with world powers, designed to limit Iran's nuclear production capabilities. Iran's recent boost in nuclear material is still at a level far lower than required for production of nuclear weapons.

Riyadh has accused Iran of ordering last week's drone strikes on two oil pumping stations in the kingdom, for which the Houthis claimed responsibility. Tehran denied responsibility for the strikes.

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GEOFF PUGH/AFP/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, welcomed a VIP guest Monday to her "Back to Nature" garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in London.

Kate gave a personal tour of the interactive garden she helped design to her grandmother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II.

The queen and Kate both wore floral dresses to tour the garden, which Kate reportedly consulted on with Queen Elizabeth, an avid gardener herself.

The garden -- described by Kensington Palace as a "woodland setting for families and communities to come together" -- is part of Kate's focus on the importance of children's early years of development. It includes a swing seat and a high platform tree house, inspired by a bird or animal nest and made from chestnut, with hazel, stag horn oak and larch nest cladding.

"I believe that spending time outdoors when we are young can play a role in laying the foundations for children to become happy, healthy adults," Kate said, speaking ahead of the garden unveiling.

Queen Elizabeth and Kate were joined at the garden Monday by Kate's husband, Prince William, the second in line to the throne.

"It's an opportunity for [Kate and William] to firm their bond with [the queen] and also for them to learn from her on the job," said ABC News royal contributor Victoria Murphy. "She's been the queen for 67 years. She's been doing this for a long time. She knows what she's doing."

William and Kate each greeted Queen Elizabeth with a kiss on both cheeks, and a curtsy from Kate for Her Majesty.

The day before the queen's visit, Kate and William brought their three children to visit the garden.

Prince George, 5, Princess Charlotte, 4, and Prince Louis, 1, played a role in helping their mom decorate the garden by gathering moss, leaves and twigs, according to the palace. During their visit, George and Charlotte dangled their feet in the water of a stream below, and Louis stole the show by showing off his walking skills for the first time.

All five members of the family also took turns on the garden's swing.

George gave his mom the ultimate compliment by declaring the garden a 20 out of 10.

“I really feel that nature and being interactive outdoors has huge benefits on our physical and mental well-being, particularly for young children," Kate said in an interview with the BBC for the garden's unveiling. "I really hope that this woodland that we have created really inspires families, kids and communities to get outside, enjoy nature and the outdoors, and spend quality time together.”

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Zzvet/iStock(ROME) -- A Nepalese mountain guide reached the peak of Mount Everest for the 24th time, breaking his own world record for most summits -- that he set less than one week earlier.

Kami Rita Sherpa, 49, reached the 29,035-foot summit by the traditional southeast ridge route on the early morning of May 21.

A week earlier, on May 15, he summited for the 23rd time. That 23rd time broke the last record of 22 summits, which he set in 2018, according to Outside magazine.

Kami Rita made his first ascent 25 years ago at the age of 24.

Sherpa guides are essential to Nepal's climbing industry and would-be Everest climbers as they haul equipment on the steep Himalayan peaks, set lines and physically help the climbers themselves.

Sherpa is an ethnic group native to the mountainous area, and as such, they have a unique capacity to work in the low-oxygen, high altitude atmosphere that requires days or weeks of acclimatization for foreigners.

Kami Rita puts his accomplishments down to just doing his job as a guide.

"I did not climb for world records, I was just working. I did not even know you could set records earlier," he told the Hindustan Times last month before setting off for Everest base camp.

He also has no plans to stop climbing after this season, meaning he will probably break his own record again in the future.

"I can climb for a few more years," he told the BBC before the 23rd attempt one week ago. "I am healthy -- I can keep going until I am 60 years old. With oxygen it's no big deal."

The short climbing window, which depends on favorable weather, generally falls in mid-May, so Kami Rita may not have an opportunity to make another attempt this year.

As many as 5,000 climbers have scaled the world's highest peak since 1953, according to the official records of the Tourism Department of Nepal.

This season, over 750 people, including 378 foreigners, will be on Mount Everest, according to Alan Arnette, an Everest expert.

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Ian Forsyth/Getty Images(LONDON) -- You might have had a bad Monday, but it probably wasn't as bad as Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage's.

The former UK Independence Party leader was hit with a milkshake thrown by a protester ahead of a pro-Brexit event in Newcastle, England.

In video that captured the moment, security can be seen rushing around Farage. "Complete failure," Farage is heard to say.

Farage emerged as an international lightning rod following his prominent role in the Brexit movement, in which he helped shepherd an ultimately-successful vote to divorce England from the European Union. He later became an outspoken ally of candidate and then-President Donald Trump.

The Brexit Party Twitter page used the incident to promote the party's resiliency.

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Britain's Home Secretary Sajid Javid. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)(LONDON) — The U.K. government has announced plans to ban British nationals from entering or remaining in parts of war-torn Syria, utilizing powers granted by a controversial new counterterrorism law.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who oversees domestic security policy, cited the recent terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka and New Zealand, as well as the murder of a journalist in Northern Ireland, in a speech on Monday outlining his use of the 2019 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act to ban British nationals from Syria.

“Today I can announce that I’ve asked my officials to work closely with CT [Counter-Terrorism] policing and intelligence agencies to urgently review the case for exercising this power in relation to Syria, with a particular focus on Idlib and the Northeast,” said Javid. “So, anyone who is in these areas without a legitimate reason should be on notice.”

“I can also see that there may be a case in the future for considering designating parts of West Africa,” he added.

The home secretary said that while ISIS, also known by the Arabic acronym Daesh, had been defeated on the ground in Syria and elsewhere, the “poisonous ideology remains” across borders.

“Of all the terrorist plots thwarted by the U.K. and our Western allies last year, 80% were planned by people inspired by the ideology of Daesh, but who had never actually been in contact with the so-called 'Caliphate,'” he said.

Over 900 people in the U.K. of “national security concern” have traveled to Syria to fight since the civil war began in 2011, according to the Home Office. Of those, around 20 percent were killed during the fighting, while 40 percent have returned to the country.

Syrian Kurdish forces declared victory over the ISIS in March after a years-long fight to reclaim territory that once belonged to the terror group.

However, fighting has recently intensified in Idlib, a city in northeastern Syria, as government forces backed by Russia seek to retake the last opposition-held stronghold, according to the New York Times.

The new move by the U.K. forbidding British nationals from from entering areas of conflict has been criticized by Liberty, a human rights charity, as “crude and draconian.” The organization has called on Javid to reconsider the law.

“Criminalizing the mere act of being in a particular place reflects an attempt to sidestep the basic principles of the criminal law, in circumstances where there is insufficient evidence to prosecute people for genuine terrorist activity,” Rosalind Comyn, Liberty's policy and campaigns officer, told ABC News.

“It risks criminalizing people visiting their families, as well as those conducting research or documenting human rights abuses. Worryingly, it may also sweep up vulnerable people -- including children -- who have been coerced into travelling, are unable to leave an area, or are simply unaware an area has been designated.”

Javid has been criticized before for his decisions as Home Secretary surrounding ISIS, particularly after he revoked the U.K. citizenship of 19-year-old ISIS bride Shamima Begum. Begum joined ISIS at the age of 15 in 2015, and was heavily pregnant when she was stripped of her British citizenship after she asked to return to the U.K. Her baby was born in March, and died shortly afterwards.

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