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Alex Wong/Getty Images(NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.) --  After laying low for a year following her aunt’s humiliating election defeat, French hard-right firebrand Marion Marechal-Le Pen came roaring back at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday, with a nationalist speech that cast France as a society overwhelmed by the European Union, Islam and secularism.

France, she told CPAC, has been transformed “from the eldest daughter of the Catholic Church to the little niece of Islam” and into “an atomized world of individuals without gender, without mother, without father, without nation.”

“We are once again standing side-by-side in another battle for freedom,” Marechal-Le Pen told the cheering crowd. “I am not offended when I hear President Donald Trump say America first - I want America first for the American people, I want Britain first for the British people and I want France first for the French people.”

In 2012, at age 22, Maréchal-Le Pen became the youngest person ever elected to France’s national assembly. In July 2016, just before he joined the Trump campaign, then-Breitbart editor Steve Bannon described her as “the new rising star” of the political dynasty founded by her great grandfather, Jean-Marie Le Pen, a virulent anti-Semite.

While she denies being a racist or anti-Semitic herself, Maréchal-Le Pen’s views on France’s large Muslim population echo the alt-right message.

“We are not a land of Islam,” Le Pen told supporters in 2015. “And if French citizens can be Muslims, it's on the condition to submit to habits and ways of life that the Greek, Roman influence and 16 centuries of Christianity have shaped.”

In 2017, after her aunt, Marine Le Pen, was crushed in the presidential election by Emmanuel Macron, Maréchal-Le Pen gave up her seat and stepped out of the spotlight.

"At 27, it is time for me to leave it for a while," she explained at the time, adding “I am not giving up the political fight forever. I have the love of my country embedded in my heart and I cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of my compatriots.”

Thursday at CPAC she announced a new transatlantic initiative to connect political activists who share her hard right views.

“Just like you, we want our country back,” she said in a short, high-energy speech delivered in heavily accented but fluent English. “I come here to tell you there is a youth ready to fight for their country in Europe today.”

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Diaa Al-Din Samout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  After filming an airstrike on a hospital in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, Syria, cameraman Diaa al-Din Samout checked on his uncle’s home next door. He found the building completely destroyed –- and worried that his 73-year-old grandmother, his 6-month pregnant aunt and her four children who were home, would not make it out alive.

“But there is fate because they were all only lightly wounded,” Samout told ABC News. Samout’s uncle Ahmad wasn’t home at the time of the attack in the town of Arbin on Tuesday, but he was nearby. Together, Samout and Ahmad pulled out the family while the camera captured the rescue. In the footage, two of the children emerged from under the rubble. Blood seeped down one of the children’s face as she screamed.

Samout's grandmother’s leg was broken before the attack, he said. “She couldn’t move and we pulled her out from under the rubble.”

This week in Eastern Ghouta is one of the deadliest the area has seen in years. Syrian forces and their Russian allies have pounded the besieged enclave, killing at least 416 civilians, including 96 children, since Sunday night, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group. The death toll is likely to rise because dozens remain under the rubble after the continuous bombardment, which has also left more than 2,000 injured.

In the town of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, Samira spent her morning trying to repair her apartment, which was damaged after a rocket was dropped on her street Wednesday night.

The impact of the attack blew away her windows and doors, she said. The main entrance to her building was damaged as well. She now uses a couch to keep it closed because it no longer locks.

“They are still shelling us,” Samira, who asked that her real name be withheld out of security concerns, told ABC News. “When the attacks intensify I hide in the living room, which is the safest place in my apartment because there are no windows.”

There is just one shelter in her neighborhood, she said, and it only has room for a small number of people – so she hides from the bombardment at home.

An estimated 400,000 people are trapped in Eastern Ghouta with little access to food, water, fuel, electricity and health care. More than 20 hospitals there have been attacked since Sunday night, according to the Syrian American Medical Society, which supports hospitals in Eastern Ghouta. Doctors in the enclave say they don’t have trauma drugs and surgical equipment, making it difficult, sometimes impossible, to save lives.

“We are currently only treating people with injuries from the shelling and most of them are children,” Amani Ballour, a pediatrician and hospital manager in Eastern Ghouta, told ABC News. “Sick people can’t make it to the hospital because of the intensity of the strikes.” She said her hospital received some 200 wounded and killed on Wednesday.

“I don’t know how to describe what I feel when I see children in pieces and dead bodies,” she said “We don’t know what to do.”

The United Nations Security Council met Thursday to discuss the situation in Eastern Ghouta at the request of Russia, president Bashar al-Assad’s main ally.

At the emergency meeting, Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. Special Envoy for Syria, called for a ceasefire.

“There is a need for avoiding a massacre, because we will be judged by history,” he said.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, called the resolution unrealistic and proposed amendments.

The Syrian government and Russia say their military offensive against eastern Ghouta is necessary to overthrow rebels who have been firing mortars on Damascus. The recent surge in violence in Eastern Ghouta, which has been besieged by the Syrian government since 2013, is part of president Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to seize Syria’s last remaining opposition-held territories.

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ABCNews.com(NEW YORK) --  A Syrian media activist living in a besieged Damascus suburb said residents there feel like they are living in a nightmare -- describing nonstop bombardment that was clearly audible as he spoke with ABC News.

"Every day people die," Nour, 22, said shortly after a loud explosion was clearly audible in the background in the rebel-held suburb, Eastern Ghouta. He had barely reacted. "Every day people lost their sons or their family. Every day there are kids lost his mother and father."

Pro-Syrian government forces have pounded Eastern Ghouta for days, killing at least 335 civilians, including 79 children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group. Nour spoke to ABC News' Ian Pannell via Skype on Tuesday and requested that his last name not be used out of concern for his and his family's safety.

"We're used to it," he said. "Every day people die -- we're used to it. But people think we are a number, but actually we are human and people, and no one feel what we are suffering."

Nour has been living under siege for five years and said he had never seen anything like the current barrage -- saying residents felt it was like a "nightmare."

"They want to wake up but they can't because that's our reality and that's what we and suffering from the warplanes every single minute of the day."

He described an entire family killed the day before. He said people had become "used to" the daily death and carnage.

To U.S. President Donald Trump and the rest of the world, he said his message was: "We are not just [a] number -- we are human, we are people who want just to live."

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Ian Gavan/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  Two rare Salvador Dali paintings are being put up for auction for the first time since the 1930s, when Dali himself gave them to an Argentine countess.

The pieces have been in the same "prominent" family ever since, according to Sotheby's, the auction house presiding over the sale.

Dali painted both "Gradiva" and "Maison pour erotomane" around 1931 and 1932, respectively, during the height of the surrealism movement. The first depicts a semi-nude woman representing the mythical figure of the same name, while the second features a Catalan landscape in a dream-like scene, according to Sotheby's.

The noblewoman who acquired them, Maria de las Mercedes Adela Atucha y Llavallol -- or Countess "Tota" Cuevas de Vera by marriage -- met several artists like Dali and Pablo Picasso through family friends.

The oil paintings will lead the Surrealist Art Evening Sale at Sotheby's London on Wednesday. They are both expected to sell for up to $2.5 million.

The auction will feature additional works from Dali and from several of the surrealist movement's key figures, including René Magritte, Max Ernst, Man Ray and Yves Tanguy.

The next day, Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern Art day sale will feature several of Picasso's works, including an early drawing "Jeune fille nue de profil," which has been auctioned before.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  Three days after suspected Boko Haram fighters attacked a school in northeast Nigeria and kidnapped dozens of schoolgirls, local officials have apologized to parents for mistakenly announcing that some of the students had been rescued.

Suspected militants of the Nigeria-based jihadist group allegedly stormed the town of Dapchi in Yobe State Monday night and abducted students from an all-girls boarding school. Other students and teachers were able to escape the attack and flee into the surrounding brush, according to a statement from Yobe State government spokesman Abdullahi Bego.

Officials at the time had "no credible information yet" as to whether any of the schoolgirls were taken hostage, Bego said.

In another statement issued late Wednesday, Bego announced that "some of the girls" had been "rescued by gallant officers and men of the Nigerian army from the terrorists who abducted them."

But the Yobe State government issued an apology and clarification Thursday, in which Bego revealed that the girls missing from the Government Girls Science Technical College still remain unaccounted for in the wake of Monday's attack. He explained that the information the state government received about some girls being rescued was provided by a security agency involved in the fight against Boko Haram, "which we had no reason to doubt."

"We have now established that the information we relied on to make the statement was not credible. The Yobe State government apologizes for that," he said in the statement. "The Yobe state government will continue to do everything necessary in partnership with security agencies and the federal government to address the situation."

Bego had said, as of late Wednesday night, that about 50 students out of a total of 926 students at the school were still unaccounted for.

Yobe State Gov. Ibrahim Gaidam visited the town of Dapchi on Thursday, where he met with community leaders, school officials and parents of the missing students.

It would hardly be the first time Boko Haram has preyed upon schools. In April 2014, the group snatched 276 schoolgirls from their boarding school in the town of Chibok in Borno State, about 170 miles northeast of Dapchi. Some of the girls managed to escape on their own, while others were later rescued or freed following negotiations. But the fate of many of the girls still remains unknown.

Boko Haram's uprising was fueled largely through the group's systematic campaign of abducting children and forcing thousands of girls and boys into their ranks, according to a report issued in April 2017 by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Boko Haram militants have waged a brutal insurgency in northeast Nigeria since 2009. The group, which seeks to establish an Islamic state, has spread its terror across Nigeria's mountainous borders over the years into Niger, Chad and Cameroon, all of which surround the Lake Chad Basin.

Boko Haram, whose name roughly translates into "Western education is forbidden," has killed more than 20,000 people and displaced some 2.3 million, according to the latest figures from the United Nations.

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Chris Jackson/Getty Images(LONDON)  -- British authorities today said they are investigating a package containing a “substance” that was delivered last week to St. James's Palace in London, reportedly addressed to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

“The substance was tested and confirmed as non-suspicious,” the British Metropolitan Police Service said in a statement today.

“Officers are also investigating an allegation of malicious communications which relates to the same package.” Police did not reveal details such as the intended recipient of the package, delivered March 12, but several British media organizations have reported it contained white powder and was addressed to Harry and his fiancee.

Reportedly fearing at first that the substance could contain anthrax spores, chemical experts eventually deemed it to be harmless. The package reportedly never reached Harry and his fiancee, who were informed of the incident.

No arrests have been made, the police said in their statement today.

Authorities also are reportedly working to determine whether the incident is linked to a letter, also containing a harmless white powder, sent to the Home Secretary the next day.

Anthrax is an infection that is spread by exposure to a bacterium that is dangerous to humans. It has been used in attacks via letters with deadly consequences, most famously in the 2001 U.S. anthrax attacks that started a week after 9/11, killing five people and infected more than a dozen others.

Markle has already been assigned a security team from the Metropolitan Police Service’s Royalty and Specialist Protection Command.

Beefed up security will be in place during and in the lead up to the couple’s wedding May 19, which will include a carriage ride through the town of Windsor.

There have been sporadic threats against the wider royal family recently. In October 2017, there were online threats made against Prince George, the son of Harry’s brother, William.

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iStock/Thinkstock(ASYUT, Egypt) -- Dramatic footage has emerged of three police officers in Egypt who helped catch a boy who fell from the third floor of a building last week.

In the town of Asyut, south of Cairo, on Feb. 17, a 5-year-old child was dangling from the balcony of an apartment, trying to cling to a wall, before slipping and tumbling, according to the Ministry of Interior.

Three police officers, Camille Fathi Good, 45, Hassan Sayed Ali, 38, and Sabri Mahrous Azis, 39, spotted the child as he was dangling, struggling to hold on, and grabbed a carpet to hopefully catch him.

But the boy quickly fell, and one of the officers had to catch him in his arms.

That officer sustained injuries and was treated a local hospital.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s supreme leader, is pregnant with a second child, according to South Korean media reports.

During her visit to South Korea as part of a high-level delegation at the beginning of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Kim told the South’s officials about her pregnancy, South Korean local press Chosun Ilbo reported Wednesday.

Meanwhile, South Korean government is saving breath on this hearsay.

“We cannot confirm anything,” South Korea’s Unification Ministry told ABC News Thursday.

There has been careful speculation on Kim’s pregnancy during her three-day visit from Feb. 9 to 11. Kim had a relatively protruding belly, despite her slender shape, and her careful movements led local media to guess she was pregnant.

"Even if she is pregnant, it does not have to do with the political successor of the communist state. And I am positive that Kim Jong Un already knows about her pregnancy," Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at Seoul-based Dongguk University, told ABC News.

Meanwhile, nothing is official. The North Korean regime never publicly announced whether Kim Yo Jong gave birth to her first child or even got married. South Korea's National Intelligence Service has said her first child was born around May 2015.

But under the premise that Kim Yo Jong is pregnant, there has been growing curiosity about the rogue regime leader's son-in-law. There have been many South Korean stories speculating on Kim Yo Jong's marriage and the spouse behind the veil.

South Korea's local press outlet Dailian reported the most likely possibility leans toward an elite who graduated from Kim Il Sung University with Kim Yo Jong, and is now a college professor teaching science in North Korea.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- There was a "small explosion" near the U.S. embassy compound in Podgorica, the capital of the Balkan nation of Montenegro, at approximately midnight local time Thursday, the State Department has confirmed to ABC News.

"At 00:30, in front of the @USEmbassyMNE building in #Podgorica, #Montenegro an unknown person committed suicide with an explosive device," the government of Montenegro tweeted. "Immediately before, that person threw an explosive device from the intersection near the Sport Center into the US Embassy compound."

A subsequent tweet read, "Most probably, the device was a hand grenade. Police investigation and identification is under way directed by the prosecutor."

"At this time, embassy officials are working closely with police to identify the assailant(s)," a State Department spokesman said.

The spokesman said the investigation is "evolving."

"The embassy is currently conducting an internal review to confirm the safety of all staff," the spokesman added.

Initial reports indicate there was no impact on U.S. personnel, according to the State Department.

On its Facebook page, the embassy said visa services were cancelled on Thursday, and that "American Citizen Services will be available today on an emergency basis."

The embassy had initially announced on its website that it was experiencing "an active security situation."

The warning on the website said the embassy "advises U.S. citizens there is an active security situation at the U.S. embassy in Podgorica. Avoid the Embassy until further notice."

It listed a series of "actions to take," which included avoiding the area around the embassy, monitor local media, avoid large gatherings and demonstrations, follow the instructions of local authorities, and "employ sound security practices."

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Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The Kremlin ally indicted last week as a key figure in Russia's online election influence operation is also tied to a shadowy military contractor whose Russian mercenaries recently launched an attack on American forces in Syria, U.S. officials tell ABC News.

Yevgeny Prigozhin — a Russian businessman and restaurateur dubbed “Putin's chef" by the Russian media — is deeply involved in the Wagner Group, officials said, a paramilitary firm based in southern Russia. According to those officials, the firm deployed mercenaries in Syria who tried to strike U.S. special operations forces earlier this month. The attack failed, two intelligence officials told ABC News, as the mercenaries were decimated by U.S. airstrikes during their advance.

According to a senior U.S. official, Prigozhin finances the Wagner Group’s current operations in both Syria and Africa. Prigozhin has denied reports of his connections to the group.

"Every private military contractor needs a financial backer who has good relations with their government, and for this firm in Russia it is Prigozhin," the senior official told ABC News.

The Russian Foreign Ministry denies that any Russian servicemen participated in the clash but acknowledged that Russian citizens were killed.

“There are Russian citizens in Syria who went there on their own and with different goals,” said the ministry in a statement. “It is not for the Foreign Ministry to assess its legality and legality of such decisions.”

Prigozhin’s connection to the group is important, the senior official told ABC News, as his private military work offers more evidence that he is pursuing Vladimir Putin’s global ambitions while providing the Russian leader some deniability that the actions are officially sanctioned.

In interviews with several media outlets, including ABC News, associates and relatives of some of the dead mercenaries have suggested there were substantial casualties. Russia's foreign ministry this week confirmed there had been dozens of wounded. Reuters reported that the failed attack resulted in massive casualties — approximately 300 dead or wounded — though both U.S. and Russian officials have publicly downplayed the incident.

"We're not going to speculate on the composition of the hostile force we engaged Feb. 7-8," said Col. Thomas F. Veale, the anti-ISIS coalition’s spokesman.

Other officials familiar with the incident told ABC News that the mercenaries were mostly -- if not exclusively -- Russians from the Wagner Group. Those wounded in the conflict were evacuated to Russian hospitals, giving many intelligence officials further confidence that they had acted on Kremlin orders.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, speaking to reporters while returning from Europe last week, said he did not know if the contractors were directed by the Russian government but questioned the impetus behind the obviously coordinated campaign.

“I doubt that 250-300 people all just decided on their individual own selves to suddenly cross the river into enemy territory and start shelling the location and maneuvering tanks against them, so whatever happened we'll try to figure it out, we'll work with obviously anyone who can answer that question, but I cannot at this time,” he said.

One official monitoring the clash told ABC News that the group was extraordinarily well-armed for a unit allegedly lacking state sponsorship.

"They had tanks and towed artillery pieces,” the official said. “Kind of unusual for 'contractors.’”

According to the senior official, Syria isn’t the only battleground where Prigozhin-backed Wagner Group contractors are seemingly operating on behalf of Russian interests.

"They were in Ukraine too," one senior official told ABC News.

Former Russian military service members were first seen in eastern Ukraine in 2015 to bolster the separatist movement. The U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned Prigozhin in 2016 for allegedly supporting "senior officials of the Russian Federation" in the conflict.

On Friday, the special counsel charged Prigozhin with using several businesses to fund the Internet Research Agency, the St. Petersburg “troll farm” that waged the interference campaign during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

He denied playing a role in the virtual campaign in comments to Russian state-owned news outlet RIA Novosti on Friday.

“Americans are very impressionable people, they see what they want to see, I treat them with great respect, I’m not at all upset that I'm on this list. If they want to see the devil, let them see,” Prigozhin said.

As for the attempted attack by the Russian mercenaries on U.S. military forces in Syria on Feb. 7, the American officials said the Russians made a severe miscalculation.

"They tried to hit our guys and they paid a price -- they got crushed," one official said.

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iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  An explosion on a ferry in Mexico has left a number of people injured, according to local officials in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.

The explosion took place when passengers were disembarking from the ferry, according to the municipality of Solidaridad, which includes Playa del Carmen.

There were 25 people injured in the explosion, the director of Civil Protection for Playa del Carmen told ABC News. Among the injured were five foreigners: two Americans and three Canadians, the director also said. There were no fatalities.

"The priority is people. The report they are giving us is that there are people injured by shrapnel with small cuts, fortunately nothing serious, no life is in danger, they have to make the necessary protocols of medical care for what they have been transferred," the municipality said in a press release.

A preliminary indication for the cause of the explosion was "mechanical failure," according to Quintana Roo officials.

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ABCNews.com(CAPE TOWN, South Africa) --  Living sustainably borders almost on an obsession for the James family.

They grow much of their own food, only use organic products, keep chickens and have long used the many natural springs around Cape Town that provide alternative sources of water. They’ve always been careful.

But the prospect of "Day Zero" -- the day when the South African city runs out of water -- is a whole new reality.

Liesel James is busy collecting what the family calls "gray water" from around her house. That’s soapy or contaminated water that’s been used for cleaning or cooking, but can still be used elsewhere.

“I’ll collect this and put it down the toilet, or take it out to the garden for the plants," she said. "But we have to make sure we only use organic cleaning products so we don’t pour chemicals on the food we are trying to grow.”

This story is part of an upcoming “Nightline” report. “Nightline” airs at 12:35 a.m. ET weekdays on ABC.

Containers are taken from the kitchen to the garden daily, and large buckets sit under the shower to stop water being wasted.

“I can’t remember the last time I had a bath,” says Liesel, looking at the tub. “I think I’ll sell it.”

Watch the full story on ABC News' "Nightline" TONIGHT at 12:35 a.m. ET

Her three children, Tala 15, Safiya, 12 and Zenon, 9, are making adjustments too. “Our kids get very excited -- it’s become almost a challenge to see how little water they can use. I’m very proud of them,” says Liesel.

But Tala is aware of the gravity of the situation. “Lots of our parents are children of war or post-war. And now in Cape Town, we’ll be drought babies, as opposed to war babies.”

“Children of climate change,” adds Tala's father, Kevin James.

Showers are no more than two minutes long, and when using the toilet, the family subscribes to the familiar refrain, "If it's yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down."

“I don’t think enough people are doing this,” says Liesel. “Maybe people really need the pressure to make them think outside of the box.”

With nearly 4 million residents, Cape Town is South Africa's second-most populous city. The average Capetonian may be trying to adhere to the strict water usage guidelines, but changing fundamental lifestyle habits is a taller order. Each person is allowed to use only 50 liters (13.2 gallons) per person per day from their taps. The average American uses about 200 to 500 liters (roughly 53 to 132 gallons) per day, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

The date the city estimates it will run out of water has changed over the past few weeks. The city announced in a Feb. 19 statement that the date would be July 9.

The Jameses are managing -- and have planned for the worst. But Liesel has other concerns. “I’m not too worried for us," she says. "I’m more worried about what might happen around us. For war.”

Over the leafy hills from the Jameses' suburban neighborhood is one of Cape Town’s largest townships -- effectively slums where millions live without regular access to water or electricity. Hundreds must share communal taps. If the water turns off, the potential for unrest is frightening.

“South Africa is probably one of the most unequal countries in the world,” Kevin says. “I believe what’s going on now is a great leveler. Because no matter how affluent you are or how poor you are -- I think the poor are possibly better prepared for the situation than the very affluent families who have taken this stuff for granted. So it feels like we are in a bit of a social experiment.

"It’s daunting," Kevin continues. “It’s the first thing we wake up with. I liken it a lot of the time to how people must feel when there’s imminent war. Where there’s uncertainty about being invaded. It is potentially apocalyptic. We have no idea -- it’s unprecedented. No major city in the world has experienced this. And I think most people have got absolutely no clue how reliant we are on water for every part of our daily lives.

"We’re about to find out."

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Diaa Al-Din Samout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Pro-government forces pounded rebel-held Eastern Ghouta for the fourth day in a row Wednesday, killing at least 38 civilians, including four children, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a U.K.-based monitoring group said.

Since Sunday night, Syrian and Russian airstrikes and shelling killed at least 310 civilians, including 72 children, in Eastern Ghouta, Rami Abdurrahman, the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told ABC News.

“The warplanes are still in the sky,” Nour Adam, a media activist in Eastern Ghouta, who asked that his real family name be withheld out of safety concerns for family members in government-held territory, told ABC News on Wednesday. “People are in the shelters and shops are closed.”

An estimated 400,000 people are trapped in Eastern Ghouta with little access to food, water, fuel, electricity and health care, according to the UN. Many of them have left their homes and moved into underground shelters, where they spend their days and nights in hiding due to the intensity of the strikes.

The recent surge in violence in Eastern Ghouta, which has been besieged by the Syrian government since 2013, is part of President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to seize Syria’s last remaining opposition-held territories.

On Monday and Tuesday, a total of 13 medical facilities were attacked in Eastern Ghouta, according to the Syrian American Medical Society. Three of SAMS’ medical staff in Eastern Ghouta were killed during those two days. One of them, a nurse, lost her life as she tried to escape the bombing on the hospital where she worked in the town of Arbin on Tuesday, SAMS said. Airstrikes continued to "relentlessly target the vicinity of the hospital for five hours, also directly hitting ambulances," SAMS said in a statement. At least 300 patients and medical staff were trapped in the hospital as staff moved patients to safer areas within the hospital, according to SAMS.

The United Nations secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, appealed on Wednesday for an immediate ceasefire in Eastern Ghouta, allowing humanitarian aid to reach people there. A truce should also allow the evacuation of an estimated 700 people who need urgent treatment outside of the besieged enclave, he said.

“I am deeply saddened by the terrible suffering of the civilian population in eastern Ghouta – 400,000 people that live in hell on earth,” he told the U.N. Security Council. “I know that very important consultations are taking place in this Council, aiming at a cessation of hostilities during one month in Syria, with a number of conditions, and of course I fully support that effort, but I believe eastern Ghouta cannot wait.”

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Carl Court/Getty Images(PYEONGCHANG, South Korea) -- A secret meeting planned between Vice President Mike Pence and North Korean officials at the Olympics was scrapped at the last minute, an official in Pence's office has confirmed to ABC News.

An account of the planned meeting was first reported in the Washington Post. The meeting was set for Feb. 10 between Pence and Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and Kim Yong Nam, North Korea's nominal head of state. But the North Koreans pulled out, citing new sanctions the U.S. announced before Pence's arrival in South Korea, according to the official.

In a statement, Nick Ayers, Pence's chief of staff, said North Korea "dangled a meeting in hopes of the vice president softening his message, which would have ceded the world stage for their propaganda during the Olympics." Ayers added that Pence would have confronted the North Koreans about human rights abuses and their nuclear weapons ambitions.

Citing White House officials, the Post reported that President Donald Trump and Pence had agreed beforehand that the goal of any meeting would not be to open any negotiations with Kim’s regime, but to deliver the administration’s tough stance against North Korea face to face.

"This administration will stand in the way of Kim’s desire to whitewash their murderous regime with nice photo ops at the Olympics," Ayers said. "Perhaps that’s why they walked away from a meeting, or perhaps they were never sincere about sitting down. The president made a decision that if they wanted to talk, we would deliver our uncompromising message. If they asked for a meeting, we would meet. He also made clear that until they agreed to complete denuclearization, we weren’t going to change any of our positions or negotiate.”

At the Olympics opening ceremony, Pence sat just a few feet away from Kim Yo Jong, but did not acknowledge her.

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iStock/Thinkstock(PYONGYANG, North Korea) -- North Korea has changed its tune -- at least along the DMZ, or Korean Demilitarized Zone, a two-and-a-half-mile-wide buffer of landmines and booby traps that separates it from South Korea.

For years, giant speakers at North Korea's propaganda village, Kijong-dong, would blast a looping playlist of martial speeches. But since the Winter Olympics began earlier this month in Pyeongchang, South Korea, the speeches, which some American officers said they can recite nearly word for word, have given way to pleasant choral and folk music, according to United Nations Command officials.

"Instead of a lot of the hard-line speeches, it has gotten softer," Lt. Cmdr. Daniel McShane, a United Nations Command duty officer who has been posted at the DMZ for five years, told ABC News during a visit to the site Wednesday. "We've been hearing a lot more music, and a lot of it has been more classical, especially at night."

The new playlist may point to a wider thaw in the 65-year-old cold war that has dominated the Korean Peninsula since the communist North invaded the South in June 1950. Relations also appeared to warm when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un dispatched his sister and the president of the country's puppet parliament to represent him at the Olympics.

North Korea also sent a cheerleading team and a marching band, and the nation's athletes marched under a unified flag with the South Koreans.

McShane said North Korea's different musical offerings near the border "could be just because there's a good number of North Korean citizens here."

"Or," McShane added, "it could just be a coincidence. Maybe they've run out of speeches."

Not much else has changed near the DMZ. Although diplomats from both the North and South recently met at the so-called Peace House, tensions remain, according to McShane. Communicating with North Korea remains challenging. In 2013, representatives of North Korea stopped answering a hotline phone that had connected them to the U.S.-led United Nations command.

When messages must be sent -- especially complaints about armistice violations -- an American officer will descend from a command post, walk between the iconic blue huts, around the sunglasses-wearing South Korean guards, and signal for a translator who must literally yell into North Korea from the very edge of South Korea.

It often takes multiple attempts. Eventually, a North Korean officer will descend, carrying a video camera to record the U.S. officer's request. That video, according to officers on the South Korean side, is then relayed to central command in Pyongyang. Often, the North Korean officer will not even respond directly to the American who's making the request.

Nearby, to the north, an estimated 15,000 artillery pieces are pointed directly at Seoul, about 25 miles to the south.

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