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Escalating Mideast violence bears hallmarks of 2014 Gaza war

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Rockets streamed out of Gaza and Israel pounded the territory with airstrikes early Wednesday as the most severe outbreak of violence since the 2014 war took on many hallmarks of that devastating 50-day conflict, with no endgame in sight.

Gaza's Hamas rulers and other militant groups have fired barrages of hundreds of rockets that at times have overwhelmed Israel's missile defenses, causing air raid sirens and explosions to echo across Tel Aviv, Israel's biggest metropolitan area, and other cities.

Israeli airstrikes have leveled two apartment towers in the Gaza Strip, where 2 million Palestinians have lived under a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since Hamas took power in 2007. Warning shots have allowed civilians to evacuate the buildings, but the material losses will be immense. Israel faced heavy criticism over the tactic during the 2014 war.

Just after daybreak Wednesday, Israel unleashed dozens of airstrikes in the course of a few minutes, targeting police and security installations, witnesses said. A wall of dark gray smoke rose over Gaza City. The Hamas-run Interior Ministry said airstrikes destroyed the central police headquarters in Gaza City, a compound with several buildings.

The death toll in Gaza rose to 43 Palestinians, including 13 children and three women, according to the Health Ministry. Nearly 300 people have been wounded, including 86 children and 39 women. Six Israelis, including three women and a child, were killed by rocket fire Tuesday and early Wednesday, and dozens of people were wounded.

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The Latest: Pakistan calls for joint Muslim country response

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Latest on confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians as Israel signals a widening military campaign:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan condemned Israel's actions and called for Muslim nations to stand by the Palestinians.

Prime Minister Imran Khan took to Twitter, saying: "We stand with Gaza and Palestine."

Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi meanwhile urged Muslim nations to unite over Israel's strikes on Palestinian civilian areas.

Protesters are expected to hold a small anti-Israel rally later today in the southern city of Karachi.

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Analysis: Violence upends Biden's Israel-Palestinian outlook

WASHINGTON (AP) — The surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence has flummoxed the Biden administration in its first four months as it attempts to craft a Middle East policy it believes will be more durable and fairer than that of its predecessor.

Its early hesitation to wade more deeply into efforts to resolve the decades-long conflict has created a leadership vacuum that is exacerbated by political uncertainty in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, each of which is clamoring for outside support and unhappy with America's new determination to toe a middle line.

Israelis and Palestinians alike have denounced the Biden administration's call for all sides to step back following clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in east Jerusalem that escalated into rocket attacks on Israel from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and retaliatory strikes from Israel's military.

"The US State Department message is not acceptable to me," Israel's ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan, said on Twitter. "It is impossible to put in the same message statements by Israeli leaders who call for calm alongside instigators and terrorist organizations that launch missiles and rockets."

On the Palestinian side, there is frustration that the U.S. has slow-walked a U.N. Security Council statement that it sees as too unfavorable to Israel. 

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Scientists race to study variants in India as cases explode

NEW DELHI (AP) — A potentially worrisome variant of the coronavirus detected in India may spread more easily. But the country is behind in doing the kind of testing needed to track it and understand it better.

On Monday, the World Health Organization designated the new version of the virus a "variant of concern" based on preliminary research, alongside those that were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil but have spread to other countries.

"We need much more information about this virus variant," said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead for COVID-19. "We need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done and to be shared in India and elsewhere so that we know how much of this virus is circulating." 

Viruses mutate constantly, and the surge in infections here has resulted in more opportunities for new versions to emerge. 

But India was slow to start the genetic monitoring needed to see if those changes were happening and if they were making the coronavirus more infectious or deadly. 

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Internal emails reveal WHO knew of sex abuse claims in Congo

BENI, Congo (AP) — When Shekinah was working as a nurse's aide in northeastern Congo in January 2019, she said, a World Health Organization doctor offered her a job investigating Ebola cases at double her previous salary — with a catch.

"When he asked me to sleep with him, given the financial difficulties of my family …. I accepted," said Shekinah, 25, who asked that only her first name be used for fear of repercussions. She added that the doctor, Boubacar Diallo, who often bragged about his connections to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, also offered several of her friends jobs in return for sex. 

A WHO staffer and three Ebola experts working in Congo during the outbreak separately told management about general sex abuse concerns around Diallo, The Associated Press has learned. They said they were told not to take the matter further.

WHO has been facing widespread public allegations of systemic abuse of women by unnamed staffers, to which Tedros declared outrage and emergencies director Dr. Michael Ryan said, "We have no more information than you have." But an AP investigation has now found that despite its public denial of knowledge, senior WHO management was not only informed of alleged sexual misconduct in 2019 but was asked how to handle it. 

The AP has also for the first time tracked down the names of two doctors accused of sexual misconduct, Diallo and Dr. Jean-Paul Ngandu, both of whom were reported to WHO. 

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House GOP set to oust Trump critic Liz Cheney from top post

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans seem ready to toss Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership post after she repeatedly rebuked former President Donald Trump for his false claims of election fraud and his role in fomenting the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.

Voting behind closed doors Wednesday, lawmakers were expected to remove Cheney, R-Wyo., from the party's No. 3 House position, a jarring blow to what's been a fast-rising career. She is Congress' highest-ranking Republican woman and a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, and her demotion would provide the latest evidence that challenging Trump can be career-threatening. 

In an audacious signal that she was not backing down, Cheney took to a nearly empty House chamber Tuesday evening to deliver an unapologetic four-minute assault on her GOP adversaries and defense of her own position. 

"Remaining silent and ignoring the lie emboldens the liar," she said, adding, "I will not sit back and watch in silence while others lead our party down a path that abandons the rule of law and joins the former president's crusade to undermine our democracy." 

Cheney's replacement was widely expected to be Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., who entered the House in 2015 at age 30, then the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Stefanik owns a more moderate voting record than Cheney but has evolved into a vigorous Trump defender who's echoed some of his unfounded claims about widespread election cheating.

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Trump administration officials to testify on Jan. 6 riots

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two senior Trump administration officials plan to defend their actions during the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol when they appear before Congress, with former acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller standing behind every decision he made that day.

Miller will tell the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday that he was concerned before the insurrection that sending troops to the building could fan fears of a military coup and cause a repeat of the deadly Kent State shootings, according to a copy of prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press. 

His testimony, in the latest in a series of congressional hearings centered on the riot, is aimed at rebutting broad criticism that military forces were too slow to arrive even as pro-Trump rioters violently breached the building and stormed inside. 

Miller will be joined by former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who is also testifying for the first time about the Justice Department's role in the run-up to the riot.

Miller will say he was determined that the military have only limited involvement, a perspective he says was shaped by criticism of the aggressive response to the civil unrest that roiled American cities months earlier, as well as decades-old episodes that ended in violence.

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Judge asked to OK evidence of Ahmaud Arbery's past troubles

BRUNSWICK, Ga. (AP) — Attorneys for a white father and son charged with chasing and killing Ahmaud Arbery are asking a judge to allow evidence of the slain Black man's past problems to be presented when their clients stand trial for murder.

Prosecutors are fighting to keep Arbery's criminal record and other prior problems out of the trial, while seeking the judge's permission to introduce unflattering evidence about the defendants — namely text messages that contain racist slurs and social media posts with racist themes.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Walmsley has scheduled hearings on legal motions Wednesday and Thursday at a courthouse in Brunswick, 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Savannah. 

The judge's rulings could have a big impact on how the trial plays out. Last week he scheduled jury selection to begin Oct. 18 in the murder trial of Travis McMichael and his father Greg McMichael, as well as a neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan. 

All three are charged with malice murder and other counts in Arbery's Feb. 23, 2020, slaying. The McMichaels armed themselves and pursed the 25-year-old Black man in a pickup truck after they spotted him running in their neighborhood. Bryan joined the chase and took cellphone video of Travis McMichael shooting Arbery three times at close range with a shotgun.

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Public service in the US: Increasingly thankless, exhausting

STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — He scurries through his apartment, downing a quick mug of coffee, brushing his teeth, feeding his pet rabbit, Auggie, before leaving. Not so long ago, Bill Mathis would have headed to his high school classroom to discuss great literature like "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Odyssey" with his freshman.

It was his dream job, the one he referenced in a childhood journal he still keeps: "I would love to be a teacher," he scrawled in pencil as a third grader.

Now Mathis has taken a new job, in Michigan's newly legalized cannabis industry. The pay is better, the hours more regular, the stress less, he says. No longer does he worry that he'll catch COVID-19. "What about us and our families?" he asked his school board in Romeo, Michigan, last August after it unveiled a plan to offer in-person classes.

Ultimately, the 29-year-old teacher felt few in the rural suburb north of Detroit understood. "Good riddance," one resident said. 

His is but one story of the plight of the American public servant. Historically, jobs like teaching, firefighting, policing, government and social work have offered opportunities to give back to communities while earning solid benefits, maybe even a pension. Surveys still show public admiration for nurses and teachers and, after the terror attacks of 9/11, firefighters.

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COVID-19 pet boom has veterinarians backlogged, burned out

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — During the gloomiest stretches of the pandemic, Dr. Diona Krahn's veterinary clinic has been a puppy fest, overrun with new four-legged patients. 

Typically, she'd get three or four new puppies a week, but between shelter adoptions and private purchases, the 2020 COVID-19 pet boom brought five to seven new clients a day to her practice in Raleigh, North Carolina. Many are first-time pet owners. 

Like many veterinarians across the country, she's also been seeing more sick animals. To meet the demand, vets interviewed by The Associated Press have extended hours, hired additional staff and refused to take new patients, and they still can't keep up. Burnout and fatigue are such a concern that some practices are hiring counselors to support their weary staffs.

"Everyone is working beyond capacity at this point," said Krahn, who added evening hours last year.

Approximately 12.6 million U.S. households got a new pet last year after the pandemic was declared in March 2020, according to a COVID-19 Pulse Study by the American Pet Products Association.

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