Palestinians claim victory as Gaza truce faces early test

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinians rallied by the thousands early Friday after a cease-fire took effect in the latest Gaza war, with many viewing it as costly but clear victory for the Islamic militant group Hamas over a far more powerful Israel. 

The 11-day war left more than 200 dead — the vast majority Palestinians — and brought widespread devastation to the already impoverished Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. But the rocket barrages that brought life to a standstill in much of Israel were seen by many Palestinians as a bold response to perceived Israeli abuses in Jerusalem, the emotional heart of the conflict.

The truce faces an early test on Friday, when tens of thousands of Palestinians attend weekly prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, a flashpoint holy site revered by Jews and Muslims. Celebratory protests could spark confrontations with Israeli police, setting in motion another cycle of escalation like the one that led to the war.

Thousands took to the streets of Gaza as the cease-fire took hold at 2 a.m. Young men waved Palestinian and Hamas flags, passed out sweets, honked horns and set off fireworks. Spontaneous celebrations also broke out in east Jerusalem and across the occupied West Bank.

An open-air market in Gaza City that was closed throughout the war reopened and shoppers could be seen stocking up on fresh tomatoes, cabbage and watermelons. Workers in orange traffic vests swept up rubble from the surrounding roads.


Hour-by-hour: Biden's behind-the-scenes push for cease-fire

The diplomatic flurry was over and Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu was on the phone telling President Joe Biden that it appeared the furious fighting between Israel and Hamas was about to end.

But Biden remained wary even after the afternoon phone call. Things still could go crosswise with hours to go before the cease-fire took effect, his team reasoned.

Nervous White House aides dialed contacts in Tel Aviv and Cairo to suss out whether the truce would hold. Officials in both the U.S. and Israel worried that another barrage of Hamas rockets still could sink the Egyptian-brokered agreement, according to an official familiar with the conversations.

Then came another call from Netanyahu — his second to Biden in a matter of hours — with reassurances for the American president that the 11-day war really was halting.

Biden's first extended foreign policy crisis — one he handled largely by avoiding the cameras and maneuvering instead behind the scenes — had abated.


'Like hell:' As Olympics loom, Japan health care in turmoil

TOKYO (AP) — As she struggled to breathe, Shizue Akita had to wait more than six hours while paramedics searched for a hospital in Osaka that would treat her worsening COVID-19.

When she finally got to one that wasn't overwhelmed with other patients, doctors diagnosed severe pneumonia and organ failure and sedated her. Akita, 87, was dead two weeks later. 

"Osaka's medical systems have collapsed," said her son, Kazuyuki Akita. He has watched from his home north of Tokyo as three other family members in Osaka have dealt with the virus, and with inadequate health care. "It's like hell."

Hospitals in Osaka, Japan's third-biggest city and only 2 1/2 hours by bullet train from Summer Olympics host Tokyo, are overflowing with coronavirus patients. About 35,000 people nationwide — twice the number of those in hospitals — must stay at home with the disease, often becoming seriously ill and sometimes dying before they can get medical care. 

As cases surge in Osaka, medical workers say that every corner of the system has been slowed, stretched and burdened. And it's happening in other parts of the country, too.


As pandemic spread pain and panic, congressman chased profit

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the early days of the pandemic, New Jersey Rep. Tom Malinowski scolded those looking to capitalize on the once-in-a-century health crisis. 

"This is not the time for anybody to be profiting off of selling ventilators, vaccines, drugs, treatments, PPE, anywhere in the world," the two-term Democrat and former assistant secretary of state told MSNBC in April 2020.

He did not heed his own admonition.

Since early 2020, Malinowski has bought or sold as much as $1 million of stock in medical and tech companies that had a stake in the virus response, according to an analysis of records by The Associated Press. The trades were just one slice of a stock buying and selling spree by the congressman in 2020, worth as much as $3.2 million, that he did not properly disclose.

The issue of congressional stock trading took on a new urgency last year when at least three senators were the subject of inquiries about whether they made financial decisions based on insider information. Though no one was charged, their dealings stirred outrage and highlighted the limitations of the Stock Act, a 2012 law intended to curtail stock market speculation by lawmakers. 


On the sidelines, Hezbollah looms large over Gaza battle

BEIRUT (AP) — Ever since their last war in 2006, Israel and Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah militia have constantly warned that a new round between them is inevitable. Yet once again, a potential trigger has gone unpulled.

Hezbollah's shadow loomed large during Israel and Hamas' two-week battle, with the possibility it could unleash its arsenal of missiles - far more powerful than Hamas' - in support of the Palestinians. 

Instead, Hezbollah stayed on the sidelines. And if a ceasefire that took effect early Friday holds, another Israel-Hamas war will have ended without Hezbollah intervention.

For now, both sides had compelling reasons not to clash, including - for Hezbollah - the bitter memory of Israel's punishing 2006 bombing campaign that turned its strongholds in Lebanon to rubble. Lebanon is also in the grips of an economic and financial collapse unparalleled in its modern history and can ill afford another massive confrontation with Israel.

For Israel, the Iranian-backed group in Lebanon remains its toughest and most immediate security challenge.


Migrant surge on Spain-Morocco border brings more suffering

FNIDEQ, Morocco (AP) — They are desperate teenagers and jobless men. They come from Morocco's coastal towns, its mountainous east or even farther away — from sub-Saharan Africa. And they all converged on the border town of Fnideq this week, part of an extraordinary mass effort to swim or scale barbed-wire fences to get into Spain for a chance at a new life.

More than 8,000 migrants actually made it into the city of Ceuta, an enclave in North Africa that is separated from the rest of Spain by the Mediterranean — but for most of them, it was a short-lived success.

The extraordinary surge of migrants crossing from Morocco into Spain came amid the chaos of a diplomatic spat between the two countries.

Spanish troops forced over half of them back to Fnideq, putting additional strain on the Moroccan town whose limited resources are overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic.

"We will keep trying. We will find one way or another, even if the ocean turns into ice!" said 27-year-old Badreddine.


South Korea's Moon to nudge Biden on North Korea diplomacy

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is hoping Friday's White House meeting with President Joe Biden will lead to renewed diplomatic urgency by the U.S. on curbing North Korea's nuclear program. The White House, however, is signaling that it is taking a longer view on one of the most difficult foreign policy challenges Biden faces.

Ahead of Friday's meeting — just the second in-person foreign leader session for Biden because of the coronavirus pandemic — White House officials said North Korea will be a central focus of talks. Coordination on vaccine distribution, climate change and regional security concerns spurred by China are also high on the president's list.

The White House announced last month that it had completed a review of North Korea policy and that Biden would veer from the strategies of his two most recent predecessors, rejecting both Donald Trump's deeply personal effort to win over North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Barack Obama's more hands-off approach. 

But the administration has yet to detail what its third-way effort to try to prod the North to abandon its nuclear program will look like.

Moon, who will leave office next May, is eager to resume stalled talks between Washington and Pyongyang and between Seoul and Pyongyang. But the Biden administration — which confirmed in March that it had made outreach efforts to the North without success — has been less enthusiastic about the idea of direct negotiations in the near term. 


Old records shed new light on smallpox outbreaks in 1700s

BOSTON (AP) — A highly contagious disease originating far from America's shores triggers deadly outbreaks that spread rapidly, infecting the masses. Shots are available, but a divided public agonizes over getting jabbed.

Sound familiar?

Newly digitized records — including a minister's diary scanned and posted online by Boston's Congregational Library and Archives — are shedding fresh light on devastating outbreaks of smallpox that hit the city in the 1700s.

And three centuries later, the parallels with the coronavirus pandemic are uncanny.

"How little we've changed," said CLA archivist Zachary Bodnar, who led the digitization effort, working closely with the New England Historic Genealogical Society.


'I was afraid': Prince Harry, Oprah discuss mental health

NEW YORK (AP) — For Harry, returning to London to attend Prince Philip's funeral last month meant once more facing a place where he felt trapped and hunted by cameras. It would be a test of his ability to cope with the anxiety that was bubbling up again.

"I was worried about it, I was afraid," Harry told The Associated Press during a recent joint interview with Oprah Winfrey to promote a mental-health series they co-created and co-executive produced for Apple TV+.

He was able to work through any trepidation using coping skills learned in therapy.

"It definitely made it a lot easier, but the heart still pounds," said Harry, the Duke of Sussex and grandson of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and her late husband Philip.

In "The Me You Can't See," which debuted Thursday night on Apple's streaming service, Harry reveals that he first saw a therapist approximately four years ago at the encouragement of then-girlfriend Meghan. They'd had an argument and she recognized his anger seemed misplaced.


From Gaza to Chile, Biennale asks: How can we live together?

VENICE, Italy (AP) — In the time it has taken to prepare for the Venice Biennale, violence in the Middle East has overtaken a Palestinian family farm in Gaza featured in one of the exhibits. It gives real-time urgency to the question posed by the Biennale curator: "How can we live together?"

The 17th International Architecture Exhibition opens Saturday after a one-year pandemic delay, during which time architecture has emerged as one of the key disciplines in the global coronavirus response. 

One exhibit "Border Ecologies and the Gaza Strip," looks at how Israeli control of the border impacts the Qudaih family farm in the Gaza village of Khuza'a. It recounts, for example, that 20 of the Qudaih family's olive trees were bulldozed to create a buffer zone, and a greenhouse necessary to grow tomatoes has been repeatedly destroyed.

Since 2014, the village had been "more or less" quiet, said curator Malkit Shoshan. 

But as she prepared for the Biennale opening, violence erupted anew. The farm, near the border fence, has been destroyed by bombs and the family is sheltering in their home, which has been damaged by shells, about a mile away, said one of the sons, Amir Qudaih, who lives in the United States and who helped put the exhibit together.

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