Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Palestinian families grabbed their children and belongings and fled neighborhoods on the outskirts of Gaza City on Friday as Israel unleashed heavy artillery fire at what it said was a large network of militant tunnels ahead of a possible ground invasion.

Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants have fired some 1,800 rockets, and the Israeli military has launched more than 600 airstrikes, toppling at least three high-rise apartment buildings, and has shelled some areas with tanks stationed near the frontier.

As Israel and Hamas plunged closer to all-out war despite international efforts at a cease-fire, communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night. Jewish and Arab mobs clashed in the flashpoint town of Lod, even after Israel dispatched additional security forces.

The Gaza Health Ministry says the toll from the fighting has risen to 119 killed, including 31 children and 19 women, with 830 wounded. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher. Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.

Palestinians living outside Gaza City, near the northern and eastern frontiers with Israel, fled the intense artillery bombardment Friday. Families arrived at the U.N.-run schools in the city in pick-up trucks, on donkeys and by foot, hauling pillows and pans, blankets and bread. 

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The Latest: Gaza's families flee intense Israeli bombardment

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Latest on the stepped-up fighting between Israel and militant Hamas rulers (all times local):

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinians living along Gaza's northern and eastern borders are fleeing intense Israeli bombardment. 

Families toting supplies sought refuge on Friday in temporary shelters in central Gaza City as Israeli artillery pounded northern Gaza in an attempt to destroy a vast network of militant tunnels. The assault brought the front lines closer to dense civilian areas and paved the way for a potential ground invasion.

Fleeing families arrived in pickup trucks, on donkeys and by foot at schools run by the United Nations, hauling pillows and pans, blankets and bread. Men lugged large plastic bags and women carried infants on their shoulders, cramming into classrooms. 

One mother who fled to a downtown school with her children said "nothing remains for us" back home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya. Her son, Othman, said he had felt the family's house "shake up and down," adding that "everyone was running."

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'Great day for America': Vaccinated can largely ditch masks

WASHINGTON (AP) — In a major step toward returning to pre-pandemic life, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention eased mask-wearing guidance for fully vaccinated people on Thursday, allowing them to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and in most indoor settings.

"Today is a great day for America," President Joe Biden said during a Rose Garden address heralding the new guidance, an event where he and his staff went without masks. Hours earlier in the Oval Office, where Biden was meeting with vaccinated Republican lawmakers, he led the group in removing their masks when the guidance was announced.

"If you are fully vaccinated, you no longer need to wear a mask," he said, summarizing the new guidance and encouraging more Americans to roll up their sleeves. "Get vaccinated — or wear a mask until you do."

The guidance still calls for wearing masks in crowded indoor settings like buses, planes, hospitals, prisons and homeless shelters, but it will help clear the way for reopening workplaces, schools and other venues — even removing the need for social distancing for those who are fully vaccinated.

"We have all longed for this moment — when we can get back to some sense of normalcy," Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said at an earlier White House briefing.

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UK jubilant as lockdown restrictions to be lifted next week

LONDON (AP) — When London's Science Museum reopens next week, it will have some new artifacts: empty vaccine vials, testing kits and other items collected during the pandemic, to be featured in a new COVID-19 display.

Britain isn't quite ready to consign the coronavirus to a museum — the outbreak is far from over here. But there is a definite feeling that the U.K. has turned a corner, and the mood in the country is jubilant. "The end is in sight," one newspaper front page claimed recently. "Free at last!" read another.

Thanks to an efficient vaccine rollout program, Britain is finally saying goodbye to months of tough lockdown restrictions. 

Starting Monday, all restaurants and bars in England can reopen with some precautions in place, as can hotels, theaters and museums. And Britons will be able to hug friends and family again, with the easing of social distancing rules that have been in place since the pandemic began.

It's the biggest step yet to reopen the country following an easing of the crisis blamed for nearly 128,000 deaths, the highest reported COVID-19 toll in Europe.

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Misinformation surges amid India's COVID-19 calamity

NEW DELHI (AP) — The man in the WhatsApp video says he has seen it work himself: A few drops of lemon juice in the nose will cure COVID-19.

"If you practice what I am about to say with faith, you will be free of corona in five seconds," says the man, dressed in traditional religious clothing. "This one lemon will protect you from the virus like a vaccine."

False cures. Terrifying stories of vaccine side effects. Baseless claims that Muslims spread the virus. Fueled by anguish, desperation and distrust of the government, rumors and hoaxes are spreading by word of mouth and on social media in India, compounding the country's humanitarian crisis.

"Widespread panic has led to a plethora of misinformation," said Rahul Namboori, co-founder of Fact Crescendo, an independent fact-checking organization in India.

While treatments such as lemon juice may sound innocuous, such claims can have deadly consequences if they lead people to skip vaccinations or ignore other guidelines.

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Beset by virus, Gaza's hospitals now struggle with wounded

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Just weeks ago, the Gaza Strip's feeble health system was struggling with a runaway surge of coronavirus cases. Authorities cleared out hospital operating rooms, suspended nonessential care and redeployed doctors to patients having difficulty breathing.

Then, the bombs began to fall.

This week's violence between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers has killed 119 Palestinians, including 31 children, and wounded 830 people in the impoverished territory. Israeli airstrikes have pounded apartments, blown up cars and toppled buildings.

Doctors across the crowded coastal enclave are now reallocating intensive care unit beds and scrambling to keep up with a very different health crisis: treating blast and shrapnel wounds, bandaging cuts and performing amputations.

Distraught relatives didn't wait for ambulances, rushing the wounded by car or on foot to Shifa Hospital, the territory's largest. Exhausted doctors hurried from patient to patient, frantically bandaging shrapnel wounds to stop the bleeding. Others gathered at the hospital morgue, waiting with stretchers to remove the bodies for burial.

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Radical rabbi's followers rise in Israel amid new violence

JERUSALEM (AP) — In the 1980s, Rabbi Meir Kahane's violent anti-Arab ideology was considered so repugnant that Israel banned him from parliament and the U.S. listed his party as a terrorist group.

Today, his disciples march through the streets by the hundreds, chanting "Death to Arabs" and assaulting any they come across. This week, they took part in a wave of communal violence in Jerusalem and mixed cities across Israel in which Arabs and Jews viciously attacked people and torched cars.

On Thursday evening, there was more ethnic strife. In Tel Aviv, two Jewish men attacked a journalist covering a gathering of ultranationalists. In the central Israeli city of Lod, a Jewish man was shot and seriously wounded by an Arab man. In Jaffa, an Israeli soldier was attacked by a group of Arabs and was hospitalized in serious condition.

Israelis shocked by the violence have cast the right-wing extremism as a nasty aberration or a reaction to Palestinian violence. But to Arab citizens, who make up 20 percent of Israel's population, the heirs of Kahane are a natural outgrowth of a discriminatory system — normalized by some mainstream leaders who largely share their views.

Admirers of Kahane were elected to parliament in March as allies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, and one of the most prominent has become a fixture on Israeli TV.

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Hoping for unity, GOP set to put Stefanik in top House post

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans are ready to vault Rep. Elise Stefanik into the ranks of House leadership, with the party hoping to turn the page from its searing civil war over the deposed Rep. Liz Cheney and refocus on winning control of the chamber in next year's elections.

Stefanik, R-N.Y., a moderate turned avid defender of former President Donald Trump and his unfounded claims of 2020 election fraud, was widely expected to be elected Friday as the No. 3 House GOP leader. 

She'd replace Cheney, R-Wyo., who was ousted this week for repeatedly rebuking Trump for encouraging supporters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 and for his lie that his 2020 reelection was stolen from him by fraudulent voting. 

Stefanik, 36, gives Republicans a chance to try changing the subject from the acrimonious fight over the defiant Cheney by installing a Trump loyalist — and one of the party's relative handful of women in Congress — in a visible role.

But GOP schisms are unlikely to vanish quickly. Many hard-right conservatives have misgivings about Stefanik's centrist voting record, and tensions remain raw over Trump's taut hold on the party and Cheney's rancorous ouster.

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What insurrection? Growing number in GOP downplay Jan. 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — What insurrection? 

Flouting all evidence and their own first-hand experience, a small but growing number of Republican lawmakers are propagating a false portrayal of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, brazenly arguing that the rioters who used flagpoles as weapons, brutally beat police officers and chanted that they wanted to hang Vice President Mike Pence were somehow acting peacefully in their violent bid to overturn Joe Biden's election.

One Republican at a hearing Wednesday called the rioters a "mob of misfits." Another compared them to tourists. And a third suggested the sweeping federal investigation into the riot — which has yielded more than 400 arrests and counting — amounts to a national campaign of harassment.

It's a turn of events that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another target of the rioters, called "appalling" and "sick," and it raises the possibility that the public's understanding of the worst domestic attack on Congress in 200 years — an attack that was captured extensively on video — could become distorted by the same kinds of disinformation that fueled former President Donald Trump's false claims of a stolen election. It was the lie about the election that motivated the rioters in the first place.

"I don't know of a normal day around here when people are threatening to hang the vice president of the United States or shoot the speaker, or injure so many police officers," said Pelosi, who has pushed for a bipartisan commission to investigate the riots. 

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Greece joins Mediterranean race to win back tourists

NAXOS, Greece (AP) — In her kitchen, Kyriaki Kapri has enough food to feed an army. Piles of squid for frying, lemons to be quartered, thumb-thick potato wedges to make oregano-sprinkled French fries, and seafood for the dishes famous on the Greek island of Naxos. 

She's done everything she can think of to prepare for tourists at her Naxos beachside restaurant Gorgona — Greek for Mermaid — but customers are still a rare sight. 

Greece launched its tourism season Friday amid a competitive scramble across the Mediterranean to lure vacationers emerging from lockdowns.

"We're all vaccinated, the tables are outside and spread out, with hand sanitizers on each one. We're ready. Now we wait," Kapri said, standing beside large display cabinets with fresh fish on beds of crushed ice. During a six-month lockdown, Gorgona closed for the first time in its 50-year history. 

The European Union has yet to roll out its cellphone-friendly travel pass system. But southern member-states, driven deeper into debt by the pandemic and highly dependent on tourism revenues, are not waiting. 

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