Israel unleashes strikes after vowing to press on in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel unleashed another wave of airstrikes across the Gaza Strip early Thursday, killing at least one Palestinian and wounding several, as it pushed ahead despite U.S. calls to wind down the offensive against Gaza's militant Hamas rulers, who have fired thousands of rockets at Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing mounting pressure from his country's closest ally but appears determined to inflict maximum damage on Hamas in a war that could help save his political career. Still, diplomatic efforts to negotiate a cease-fire gathered pace, and a senior Hamas official said he expected a truce soon. 

Explosions shook Gaza City and orange flares lit up the pre-dawn sky, with bombing raids also reported in the central town of Deir al-Balah and the southern town of Khan Younis. As the sun rose, residents surveyed the rubble from at least five family homes destroyed in Khan Younis. There were also heavy airstrikes on a commercial thoroughfare in Gaza City.

The Israeli military said it struck at least three homes of Hamas commanders in Khan Younis and another in Rafah, targeting "military infrastructure," as well as a weapons storage unit at a home in Gaza City.

An Israeli airstrike smashed into the Khawaldi family's two-story house in Khan Younis, destroying it. The 11 residents, who were sleeping outside of the home out of fear, were all wounded and hospitalized, said Shaker al-Khozondar, a neighbor.

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Netanyahu's prospects bolstered amid Israel-Hamas fighting

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel is at war with Hamas, Jewish-Arab mob violence has erupted inside Israel, and the West Bank is experiencing its deadliest unrest in years. Yet this may all bolster Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Just over a week ago, the longtime Israeli leader's political career seemed all but over. He had failed to form a coalition government following an indecisive parliamentary election, and his political rivals were on the cusp of pushing him out of office.

Now, as Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers wage their fourth war in just over a decade, Netanyahu's fortunes have changed dramatically. His rivals' prospects have crumbled, Netanyahu is back in his comfortable role as Mr. Security, and the country could soon be headed for yet another election campaign that would guarantee him at least several more months in office.

The stunning turn of events has raised questions about whether Netanyahu's desperation to survive may have pushed the country into its current predicament. While opponents have stopped short of accusing him of hatching just such a conspiracy, they say the fact that these questions are being asked is disturbing enough.

"If we had a government, security considerations would not be mixed with political considerations," opposition leader Yair Lapid wrote on Facebook. "No one would ask themselves why the fire always breaks out just when it's most convenient for the prime minister."

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Biden's pattern with Israel: public support, private scolds

It's a story Joe Biden has loved recounting over the decades: A chain-smoking Golda Meir welcoming the 30-year-old senator to Israel on his first visit in 1973 and giving him a grandmotherly hug before schooling him on the Six-Day War and the dangers still faced by Israel.

A classified Israeli government memo, though, paints a less anodyne version of Biden's meeting with the Israeli prime minister that day, reporting that the young senator privately "displayed an enthusiasm" that "signaled his lack of diplomatic experience" as he laid out his concerns over land seized in the West Bank and Gaza Strip by Israel years earlier. The document was published last year by Israel's Channel 13.

For Biden it was the start of a familiar dynamic. Over his nearly 50 years in national politics, he has often reserved his toughest messages for Israeli leaders for private talks while publicly burnishing his image as an unwavering supporter of Israel.

The pattern holds true to the present, as Biden has delivered his most pointed messages for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the conflict with Hamas in Gaza during private conversations while having little to say in public. 

For days, as Hamas rockets have flown toward Israel and Israeli airstrikes pounded Gaza, Biden resisted mounting calls from some Democrats and U.N. Security Council members to more forcefully pressure Israel for a cease-fire. On Wednesday, in their fourth conversation in eight days, Biden told Netanyahu that he expected a "significant de-escalation" by day's end on the path to a cease-fire, according to a White House summary of the phone call.

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House backs commission on Jan. 6 riot over GOP objections

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House voted to create an independent commission on the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, sending the legislation to an uncertain future in the Senate as Republican leaders work to stop a bipartisan investigation that is opposed by former President Donald Trump.

Democrats say an independent investigation is crucial to reckoning what happened that day, when a violent mob of Trump's supporters smashed into the Capitol to try and overturn President Joe Biden's victory. Modeled after the investigation into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the legislation would establish an independent, 10-member commission that would make recommendations by the end of the year for securing the Capitol and preventing another insurrection. 

The bill passed the House on Wednesday 252-175, with 35 Republicans voting with Democrats in support of the commission, defying Trump and House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. Trump issued a statement urging Republicans to vote against it, calling the legislation a "Democrat trap." 

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell is trying to prevent defections among his own ranks, echoing McCarthy's opposition in a Senate floor speech Wednesday morning. Both men claimed the bill was partisan, even though membership of the proposed commission would be evenly split between the parties.

The January insurrection has become an increasingly fraught topic for Republicans, with a growing number in the party downplaying the severity of the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years. While most Republicans voted against forming the commission, only a few spoke on the floor against it. And the handful of Republicans who backed the commission spoke forcefully.

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Chinese authorities order video denials by Uyghurs of abuses

URUMQI, China (AP) — China has highlighted an unlikely series of videos this year in which Uyghur men and women deny U.S. charges that Beijing is committing human rights violations against their ethnic group. In fact, a text obtained by the AP shows that the videos are part of a government campaign that raises questions about the willingness of those filmed.

Chinese state media have published dozens of the videos praising the Communist Party and showing Uyghurs angrily denouncing former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for declaring a genocide in the far west Xinjiang region. The videos, which officials have insisted are spontaneous outpourings of emotion, have also featured prominently in a series of government news conferences held for foreign media.

But the text obtained by AP is the first concrete confirmation that the videos are anything but grassroots. Sent in January to government offices in the northern city of Karamay, the text told each office to find one Uyghur fluent in Mandarin to film a one-minute video in response to Pompeo's "anti-China remarks."

"Express a clear position on Pompeo's remarks, for example: I firmly oppose Pompeo's anti-Chinese remarks, and I am very angry about them," the text said. "Express your feelings of loving the party, the country and Xinjiang (I am Chinese, I love my motherland, I am happy at work and in life, and so on)."

While it's not impossible officials were able to find Uyghurs willing to be in such a public relations campaign, China's track record in Xinjiang and its documented abuses of Uyghurs have led many experts to conclude it's more likely those in the videos were forced to take part. 

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Gaza's health system buckling under repeated wars, blockade

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Gaza Strip's already feeble health system is being brought to its knees by the fourth war in just over a decade. 

Hospitals have been overwhelmed with waves of dead and wounded from Israel's bombardment. Many vital medicines are rapidly running out in the tiny, blockaded coastal territory, as is fuel to keep electricity going. 

Two of Gaza's most prominent doctors, including the No. 2 in Gaza's coronavirus task force, were killed when their homes were destroyed during barrages since fighting between Hamas and Israel erupted 10 days ago. 

Just as Gaza was climbing out of a second wave of coronavirus infections, its only virus testing lab was damaged by an airstrike and has been shut. Health officials fear further outbreaks among tens of thousands of displaced residents crowded into makeshift shelters after fleeing massive barrages.

At one U.N.-run school where 1,400 people were taking shelter, Nawal al-Danaf and her five children were crammed into a single classroom with five other families. Blankets draped over cords crisscrossed the room to carve out sleeping spaces.

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Appeals court hears case of 3 ex-cops charged in Floyd death

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments Thursday on whether three former Minneapolis police officers charged in George Floyd 's death should face an additional count of aiding and abetting third-degree murder.

Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao are scheduled to face trial next March on charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter. Prosecutors want to add the third charge following an appeals court ruling in February.

The three-judge panel has 90 days to make a ruling. Based on the February opinion and a related ruling in the case of former officer Derek Chauvin, it's possible the judges could rule in favor of the state and send the case back to the lower court to add the charge. 

Floyd, 46, died on May 25, 2020, after Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck as the Black man repeatedly said he couldn't breathe. Kueng and Lane helped to restrain Floyd — Kueng knelt on Floyd's back and Lane held down Floyd's legs. Thao held back bystanders and kept them from intervening during the roughly 9 1/2-minute restraint.

Chauvin was convicted last month of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter and is awaiting sentencing. All four former officers also face federal charges accusing them of violating Floyd's civil rights. 

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'I'm scared': AP obtains video of deadly arrest of Black man

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana state troopers were captured on body camera video stunning, punching and dragging a Black man as he apologized for leading them on a high-speed chase -- footage of the man's last moments alive that The Associated Press obtained after authorities refused to release it for two years.

"I'm your brother! I'm scared! I'm scared!" Ronald Greene can be heard telling the white troopers as the unarmed man is jolted repeatedly with a stun gun before he even gets out of his car along a dark, rural road.

The 2019 arrest outside Monroe, Louisiana, is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. But unlike other in-custody deaths across the nation where body camera video was released almost immediately, Greene's case has been shrouded in secrecy and accusations of a cover-up.

Louisiana officials have rebuffed repeated calls to release footage and details about what caused the 49-year-old's death. Troopers initially told Greene's family he died on impact after crashing into a tree during the chase. Later, State Police released a one-page statement acknowledging only that Greene struggled with troopers and died on his way to the hospital. 

Only now in the footage obtained by the AP from one trooper's body camera can the public see for the first time some of what happened during the arrest.

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When do I still need to wear a mask?

NEW YORK (AP) — When do I still need to wear a mask?

It depends, mostly on whether or not you're vaccinated.

If you're fully vaccinated, the latest guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says you no longer need to wear a mask or physically distance in most situations. That includes when you're outside and in many indoor spaces like restaurants, though you still need to follow any local or business rules. 

Americans also still need a mask when traveling, including on buses, subways and planes and at airports. The guidance on masks will differ by country.

Some experts say the CDC is relaxing its recommendations too soon.

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AP PHOTOS: Eurovision delivers decades of songs, spectacle

Once a year, Europeans come together in a flurry of flags, spangles and disco beats to compete for the continent's pop crown at the Eurovision Song Contest.

The coronavirus pandemic canceled the contest in 2020 for the first time in six decades. But now it's back. On Saturday, performers from 26 countries will vie for Eurovision victory during a live televised final in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

The prize is glory for the winning nation, though rarely mega-stardom for the winning act. A few international stars have emerged from Eurovision's sequined ranks, including Swedish pop titans ABBA — victors in 1974 with "Waterloo" — and Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion, who won the 1988 contest for Switzerland.

Others have sunk without a trace — hello, Britain's 2007 budget airline-themed novelty act Scooch — or saw their musical fame peak with Eurovision success, such as Irish singer Dana, who won as a teenager in 1970, or British pop quartet Buck's Fizz, who took the prize in 1981.

Launched in 1956 to foster unity after World War II, Eurovision evolved over the years from a bland ballad-fest to a campy, feelgood extravaganza. It has grown from seven countries to include more than 40, including non-European nations such as Israel and far-away Australia.

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