Through four wars, toll mounts on a Gaza neighborhood

BEIT HANOUN, Gaza Strip (AP) — The electricity is out again tonight in what's left of Zaki and Jawaher Nassir's neighborhood. But from the shell of their sitting room, its wall blown open by Israeli missiles, twilight and a neighbor's fire are enough to see by.

Here, down a narrow lane called Al-Baali, just over a mile from the heavily fortified border separating northern Gaza and Israel, cinderblock homes press against each other before opening to a modest courtyard below the Nassirs' perch.

Until this neighborhood was hammered by the fourth war in 13 years between Israel and Hamas militants, the Nassirs often sipped coffee by a window, watching children play volleyball using a rope in place of a net. Other days, the couple looked out as relatives pulled fruit off the yard's fig and olive trees.

Now they spend day after day surveying the wreckage of the May 14 airstrike from broken plastic chairs while awaiting building inspectors, the gaping holes in surrounding homes serving as windows into their neighborhood's upheaval.

In the skeleton of one building, children play video games atop a slab of fallen concrete. In another, a man stares out from beside a bed covered in debris, ignoring the ceiling fan drooping overhead like a dead flower. The smell of pulverized cement and plaster dust hangs in the air.

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Biden holds to Kabul Aug. 31 deadline despite criticism

U.S. President Joe Biden declared Tuesday he is sticking to his Aug. 31 deadline for completing a risky airlift of Americans, endangered Afghans and others seeking to escape Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. The decision defies allied leaders who want to give the evacuation more time and opens Biden to criticism that he caved to Taliban deadline demands.

"Every day we're on the ground is another day that we know ISIS-K is seeking to target the airport and attack both us and allied forces and innocent civilians," Biden said at the White House, referring to the Islamic State group's Afghanistan affiliate, which is known for staging suicide attacks on civilians.

He said the Taliban are cooperating and security is holding despite a number of violent incidents. "But it's a tenuous situation," he said, adding, "We run a serious risk of it breaking down as time goes on."

The United States in recent days has ramped up its airlift amid new reports of rights abuses that fuel concern about the fate of thousands of people who fear retribution from the Taliban and are trying to flee the country. The Pentagon said 21,600 people had been evacuated in the 24 hours that ended Tuesday morning, and Biden said an additional 12,000 had been flown out in the 12 hours that followed. Those include flights operated by the U.S. military as well as other charter flights.

Biden said he had asked the Pentagon and State Department for evacuation contingency plans that would adjust the timeline for full withdrawal should that become necessary.

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Supreme Court orders 'Remain in Mexico' policy reinstated

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says the Biden administration likely violated federal law in trying to end a Trump-era program that forces people to wait in Mexico while seeking asylum in the U.S.

With three liberal justices in dissent, the high court on Tuesday refused to block a lower court ruling ordering the administration to reinstate the program informally known as Remain in Mexico.

It's not clear how many people will be affected and how quickly. Under the lower court ruling, the administration must make a "good faith effort" to restart the program. 

There also is nothing preventing the administration from trying again to end the program, formally called Migrant Protection Protocols.

A federal judge in Texas had previously ordered that the program be reinstated last week. Both he and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refused the administration's request to put the ruling on hold.

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House passes $3.5T Biden blueprint after deal with moderates

WASHINGTON (AP) — Striking a deal with moderates, House Democratic leaders have muscled President Joe Biden's multitrillion-dollar budget blueprint over a key hurdle, ending a risky standoff and putting the party's domestic infrastructure agenda back on track.

The 220-212 vote Tuesday was a first move toward drafting Biden's $3.5 trillion rebuilding plan this fall, and the narrow outcome, in the face of unanimous Republican opposition, signaled the power a few voices have to alter the debate and the challenges ahead still threatening to upend the president's agenda.

From the White House, Biden praised the outcome as "a step closer to truly investing in the American people." He said at a news conference that he had called to congratulate House leaders for the work.

Tensions had flared during a turbulent 24 hours that brought the House to a standstill as a band of moderate lawmakers threatened to withhold their votes for the $3.5 trillion plan. They were demanding the House first approve a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan package of other public works projects that's already passed the Senate. 

Backed by the White House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi huddled privately with lawmakers and leaders to engineer an offramp. In brokering the compromise, Pelosi committed to voting on the bipartisan package no later than Sept. 27, an attempt to assure lawmakers it won't be left on the sidelines. It's also in keeping with with Pelosi's insistence that the two bills move together as a more complete collection of Biden's priorities. Pelosi has set a goal of passing both by Oct. 1. 

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Japan further expands virus emergency areas as cases surge

TOKYO (AP) — Japan expanded its coronavirus state of emergency on Wednesday for a second week in a row, adding eight more prefectures as a surge in infections fueled by the delta variant strains the country's health care system.

The government last week extended the state of emergency until Sept. 12 and expanded the areas covered to 13 prefectures from six including Tokyo. With four new prefectures added to a separate "quasi-emergency" status, 33 of Japan's 47 prefectures are now under some type of emergency measures.

Eight prefectures were upgraded from quasi-emergency status to a full emergency. They include Hokkaido and Miyagi in the north, Aichi and Gifu in central Japan, and Hiroshima and Okayama in the west.

Japan's state of emergency relies on requirements for eateries to close at 8 p.m. and not serve alcohol, but the measures are increasingly defied. Unenforceable social distancing and tele-working requests for the public and their employers are also largely ignored due to growing complacency. 

The Japanese capital has been under the emergency since July 12, but new daily cases have increased more than tenfold since then to about 5,000 in Tokyo and 25,000 nationwide. Hospital beds are quickly filling and many people must now recover at home, including some who require supplemental oxygen.

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Duterte confirms he'll run for Philippines VP next year

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Tough-talking Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has confirmed rumblings that he will run next year for vice president, in what critics say is an attempt at an end-run around constitutional term limits.

Duterte, who is notorious for his vulgar rhetoric and crackdown on illegal drugs, which has killed thousands of mostly petty suspects, said in comments broadcast Wednesday that he will run for vice president to "continue the crusade." 

"I will run for vice president," he said. "I'm worried about the drugs, insurgency. Well, number one is insurgency, then criminality, drugs." 

The Philippines has been struggling through the COVID-19 pandemic, with rising infections and death rates and a slow vaccination rollout, but Duterte's popularity ratings have remained high.

Polls suggest that running Duterte in tandem with his daughter, Sara Duterte, currently the mayor of Davao City, as the presidential candidate would be a strong pairing, said Manila-based political analyst Richard Heydarian.

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Harris: US to provide Vietnam 1 million more vaccine doses

HANOI (AP) — The United States will provide an additional 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses to Vietnam, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Wednesday, offering additional aid to a country currently grappling with a fresh coronavirus surge and stubbornly low vaccination rates.

Harris, speaking at the top of a bilateral meeting with Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, said that the doses would begin to arrive within the next 24 hours. That brings the total vaccine donation to Vietnam to 6 million doses from the U.S.

In addition to the new vaccine doses, the U.S. will provide $23 million in American Rescue Plan and emergency funding through the Centers for Disease Control and the United States Agency for International Development to help Vietnam expand distribution and access to vaccines, combat the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future disease threats. The Defense Department is also delivering 77 freezers to store the vaccines throughout the country.

After her bilateral meetings, Harris took a moment of silence in the pouring rain and laid flowers at the monument where John McCain's plane was shot down by the North Vietnamese in 1967. She noted it was the three-year anniversary of Sen. McCain's death.

The new coronavirus aid is part of a wide-ranging set of announcements on new partnerships and support for Vietnam delivered to coincide with Harris' visit to the nation, during her week-long swing through Southeast Asia. The trip, which included a visit to Singapore earlier in the week, is aimed at strengthening U.S. relationships in the Indo-Pacific region to counter Chinese influence there.

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Cleanup begins of Haiti town's earthquake-crumbled homes

MANICHE, Haiti (AP) — At the edge of a pile of rubble, Michael Jules plunged an iron bar over and over into the crumbling concrete of his grandmother's home. A younger cousin squatted at his feet, pulling away debris with a trowel. 

It was Jules' third day working the spot like an archaeologist, removing layer upon layer of rock. He had established more or less the perimeter of his room. On Tuesday morning he uncovered a corner of his mattress. 

While Jules, 21, toiled with hand tools, and at times his bare hands, just down the street heavy-duty earthmovers cleared lots, depositing entire homes into dump trucks or scraping collapsed dwellings into neat piles. For some victims of Haiti's Aug. 14 earthquake, the necessary prelude to rebuilding has begun. 

Joseph Gervain, another of Jules' cousins, watched from the street. He lived in a house behind that was also damaged. He wondered how the earthmovers decide which lots to clear and which to pass.

"I see people removing debris, but I don't know what the conditions are," Gervain said. "Maybe they pay to have the debris removed. I see they skip houses. Someone is giving orders about which house to remove debris from."

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1st sentence to be handed down in Michigan gov's kidnap plot

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — Prosecutors preparing for the first prison sentence in an alleged plot to kidnap Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are loudly signaling to five other defendants that a key insider has shared extraordinary details about the operation.

Ty Garbin cooperated within weeks of being arrested, willingly putting a "target on his back to begin his own redemption," the government said in a court filing.

Prosecutors want U.S. District Judge Robert Jonker to take it into consideration Wednesday when he sentences Garbin for conspiracy. The government is recommending a nine-year prison term, a long stretch but one that would be even longer if he had not assisted investigators after being charged.

The FBI last October said it broke up a scheme to kidnap the Democratic governor by anti-government extremists who were upset over Whitmer's coronavirus restrictions. Six men were charged in federal court, while others were charged in state court with aiding them.

Garbin, a 25-year-old airplane mechanic, is the only federal defendant to plead guilty; others are awaiting trial.

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Jewish prayers held discreetly at contested Jerusalem shrine

JERUSALEM (AP) — As police protected them, three Jewish men stepped forward, placed their hands out at chest level and began reciting prayers in low tones in the shadow of Jerusalem's golden Dome of the Rock.

Jewish prayers at Jerusalem's most sensitive holy site, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, were once unthinkable. But they have quietly become the new norm in recent years, flying in the face of longstanding convention, straining a delicate status quo and raising fears that they could trigger a new wave of violence in the Middle East.

"What is happening is a blatant and dangerous violation of the status quo," said Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, a top official with the Waqf, the Jordanian-backed Islamic trust that administers the site. "The Israeli police must stop providing protection to extremists."

The hilltop compound is the holiest site for Jews, revered as the location of two ancient temples destroyed in antiquity. Three times a day for 2,000 years, Jews have turned to face it during prayers. It also is home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

Israel captured the hilltop, along with the rest of east Jerusalem and the walled Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed it, a move that was not recognized by most of the international community. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as capital of a future independent state.

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