Gaza militants, children among 24 dead as Israel hits Hamas

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel unleashed new airstrikes on Gaza early Tuesday, hitting the high-rise home of a Hamas field commander and two border tunnels dug by militants, as Hamas and other armed groups fired dozens of rockets toward Israel. The escalation in the conflict was sparked by weeks of tensions in contested Jerusalem.

Since sundown Monday when the cross-border attacks began, 24 Palestinians — including nine children — were killed in Gaza, most by airstrikes, Gaza health officials said. The Israeli military said 15 of the dead were militants. During the same period, Gaza militants fired more than 250 rockets toward Israel, injuring six Israeli civilians in a direct hit on an apartment building.

In a further sign of rising tensions, the Israeli army said in a statement that the chief of staff has called in troop reinforcements in the country's south. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has ordered the mobilization of 5,000 reserve troops to expand the current campaign "and deepen home front defense."

The exchange of fire Monday night was preceded by hours of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, including dramatic confrontations at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, a sacred site to both Jews and Muslims. In fighting in the contested city and across the West Bank, more than 700 Palestinians were hurt, including nearly 500 who were treated at hospitals. 

In a sign of widening unrest, hundreds of residents of Arab communities across Israel staged overnight demonstrations — denouncing the recent actions of Israeli security forces against Palestinians — in one of the largest protests by Palestinian citizens in Israel in recent years. 


Russian school shooting in Kazan kills 7 students, 1 teacher

MOSCOW (AP) — A gunman attacked a school Tuesday morning in the Russian city of Kazan, killing eight people — seven eighth-grade students and a teacher — and leaving 21 others hospitalized with wounds, Russian officials said.

Russian media said some students were able to escape the building during the attack, while others were trapped inside. Dozens of ambulances lined up at the entrance to the school after the attack, with access to the building fenced off by police. 

Rustam Minnikhanov, governor of the Tatarstan republic where Kazan is the capital, said four boys and three girls, all eighth-grade students, died in the shooting. Minnikhanov's press service later said a teacher was also killed. 

"The terrorist has been arrested, (he is) 19 years old. A firearm is registered in his name. Other accomplices haven't been established, an investigation is underway," Minnikhanov said after visiting the school, adding that security had been restored.

Authorities said additional security measures were immediately put into place in all schools in Kazan, a city 700 kilometers (430 miles) east of Moscow. They also announced a day of mourning on Wednesday to honor the victims of the shooting.


AP PHOTOS: Jumbo Mumbai COVID-19 hospital treats thousands

MUMBAI, India (AP) — Inside Mumbai's BKC jumbo field hospital, a health worker adjusts the oxygen mask of a COVID-19 patient as doctors, nurses and specialists keep a close eye and monitor hundreds of sick people. 

The pop-up mega hospital in India's financial capital is mounted with tents and metal partitions and looks like a war room. It has a capacity of more than 2,000 beds with state-of-the-art medical facilities, including intensive care units and beds with oxygen and ventilators. It is mostly full.

Its doctors and nurses constantly monitor patients, holding the hands of some to calm them as they have problems breathing, or touching them to see how responsive they are. In some cases they help patients use a mobile phone to speak to family members, who are not allowed visit.

India's western Maharashtra state, home to Mumbai, is one of the country's worst-hit states, grappling with a surge of coronavirus infections that has overwhelmed hospitals and made field facilities like BKC vital.

Maharashtra hit a peak at more than 68,000 daily cases last month, a number believed to be a massive undercount. It has since seen a decline in its declared new cases, reporting just over 37,000 infections over the latest week and 549 deaths. 


Army of fake fans boosts China's messaging on Twitter

BRUSSELS (AP) — China's ruling Communist Party has opened a new front in its long, ambitious war to shape global public opinion: Western social media. 

Liu Xiaoming, who recently stepped down as China's ambassador to the United Kingdom, is one of the party's most successful foot soldiers on this evolving online battlefield. He joined Twitter in October 2019, as scores of Chinese diplomats surged onto Twitter and Facebook, which are both banned in China. 

Since then, Liu has deftly elevated his public profile, gaining a following of more than 119,000 as he transformed himself into an exemplar of China's new sharp-edged "wolf warrior" diplomacy, a term borrowed from the title of a top-grossing Chinese action movie. 

"As I see it, there are so-called 'wolf warriors' because there are 'wolfs' in the world and you need warriors to fight them," Liu, who is now China's Special Representative on Korean Peninsula Affairs, tweeted in February.

His stream of posts — principled and gutsy ripostes to Western anti-Chinese bias to his fans, aggressive bombast to his detractors — were retweeted more than 43,000 times from June through February alone.


Pfizer COVID-19 shot expanded to US children as young as 12

U.S. regulators on Monday expanded the use of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to children as young as 12, offering a way to protect the nation's adolescents before they head back to school in the fall and paving the way for them to return to more normal activities.

Shots could begin as soon as Thursday, after a federal vaccine advisory committee issues recommendations for using the two-dose vaccine in 12- to 15-year-olds. An announcement is expected Wednesday.

Most COVID-19 vaccines worldwide have been authorized for adults. Pfizer's vaccine is being used in multiple countries for teens as young as 16, and Canada recently became the first to expand use to 12 and up. Parents, school administrators and public health officials elsewhere have eagerly awaited approval for the shot to be made available to more kids.

"This is a watershed moment in our ability to fight back the COVID-19 pandemic," Dr. Bill Gruber, a Pfizer senior vice president who's also a pediatrician, told The Associated Press.

The Food and Drug Administration declared that the Pfizer vaccine is safe and offers strong protection for younger teens based on testing of more than 2,000 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15. The agency noted there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared with 16 among kids given dummy shots. More intriguing, researchers found the kids developed higher levels of virus-fighting antibodies than earlier studies measured in young adults.


100 days in power, Myanmar junta holds pretense of control

BANGKOK (AP) — After Myanmar's military seized power by ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, it couldn't even make the trains run on time. State railway workers were among the earliest organized opponents of the February takeover, and they went on strike.

Health workers who founded the civil disobedience movement against military rule stopped staffing government medical facilities. Many civil servants were no-shows at work, along with employees of government and private banks. Universities became hotbeds of resistance, and in recent weeks, primary and secondary education has begun to collapse as teachers, students and parents boycott state schools.

One hundred days after their takeover, Myanmar's ruling generals maintain just the pretense of control. The illusion is sustained mainly by its partially successful efforts to shut down independent media and to keep the streets clear of large demonstrations by employing lethal force. More than 750 protesters and bystanders have been killed by security forces, according to detailed independent tallies.

"The junta might like people to think that things are going back to normal because they are not killing as many people as they were before and there weren't as many people on the streets as before, but ... the feeling we are getting from talking to people on the ground is that definitely the resistance has not yet subsided," said Thin Lei Win, a journalist now based in Rome who helped found the Myanmar Now online news service in 2015.

She says the main change is that dissent is no longer as visible as in the early days of the protests — before security forces began using live ammunition — when marches and rallies in major cities and towns could easily draw tens of thousands of people.


GOP readies blitz against Democrats' voting rights bill

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans are preparing to launch an all-out assault on sweeping voting rights legislation, forcing Democrats to take dozens of politically difficult votes during a committee hearing that will spotlight the increasingly charged national debate over access to the ballot.

The bill, as written, would bring about the largest overhaul of U.S. elections in a generation, touching on almost every aspect of the electoral process. Democrats say the changes are even more important now as Republican-controlled states impose new voting restrictions after the divisive 2020 election. 

Yet it's a motivating issue for Republicans, too, with GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell so determined to stop Democrats that he will personally argue against the measure, a rare role for a party leader that shows the extent to which Republicans are prepared to fight as a hearing for the bill begins Tuesday.

That's on top of scores of amendments Republicans will propose to highlight aspects of the bill they believe are unpopular, including public financing for congressional campaigns and an overhaul of the federal agency that polices elections.

What's typically an hourslong legislative slog could drag into a dayslong showdown in the Senate Rules Committee, as Democrats look to advance one of their key priorities to a vote in the full Senate. 


Across faiths, US volunteers mobilize for India crisis

Volunteers at Hindu temples, Muslim groups and Sikh relief organizations across the United States are mobilizing to support India as the world's second most populous country struggles to handle a devastating surge of the coronavirus. 

From coast to coast, faith groups tied to the Indian diaspora have collected hundreds of oxygen concentrators and electrical transformers to ship to overwhelmed hospitals, raised millions for everything from food to firewood for funeral pyres and gathered in prayer for spiritual support for the Asian nation. 

"This is a human tragedy, said Manzoor Ghori, executive director of the California-based Indian Muslim Relief and Charities, which has donated more than $1 million for purposes including supporting teachers and providing families with thousands of medical kits and more than 300,000 meals. 

Ghori said he has had five loved ones, including two nephews, die in India from COVID-19 — "so, it is a personal tragedy" as well. 

He's one of many in the U.S. diaspora to have lost relatives to the virus in India, where total confirmed infections and deaths have surpassed 22.6 million and 246,000, respectively, though the true numbers are believed to be much higher.


In Argentina, doctors adapt as COVID-19 strains hospitals

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Verónica Verdino, an Argentine doctor, helped a therapist insert a tube into the trachea of a COVID-19 patient during another hectic day in a hospital emergency room.

Verdino, 31, has become adept at the delicate procedure during the current outbreak of coronavirus cases that has filled clinics in Buenos Aires and nearby towns with patients.

A little over a year ago, before the pandemic hit Argentina, Verdino did not imagine that she would be performing so many intubations, and helping others with the same procedure, at the Llavallol Dr. Norberto Raúl Piacentini Hospital in the town of Lomas de Zamora, outside Buenos Aires. 

Now doctors who used to be on duty in general wards have become experts in this and other complex techniques typical of intensive care specialists as they help patients who are seriously ill with COVID-19. Some wards have been converted into intensive care units because the outbreak is straining the health system.

The situation at the hospital where Verdino works is similar in many public and private health facilities in Buenos Aires and nearby towns, with an average of more than 20,000 infections and 400 deaths per day in recent weeks and 100 percent occupation of ICUs in some centers.


China adds few babies, loses workers as its 1.4B people age

BEIJING (AP) — The number of working-age people in China fell over the past decade as its aging population barely grew, a census showed Tuesday, complicating Chinese leaders' efforts to create a more prosperous and influential nation.

The total population rose to 1.411 billion people last year, up 72 million from 2010, according to the once-a-decade census. Slow growth fell closer to zero as fewer couples had children.

That adds to challenges for Chinese leaders who want to create a richer society and increase its global influence by developing technology industries and self-sustaining economic growth based on consumer spending.

The ruling Communist Party has enforced birth limits since 1980 to restrain population growth but worries the workforce is shrinking. It has eased birth limits, but couples are put off by high costs, cramped housing and job discrimination against mothers.

The population of potential workers aged 15 to 59 fell to 894 million last year, the National Bureau of Statistics reported. That would be down 5 percent from a 2011 peak of 925 million. The percentage of children in the population edged up compared with 2010, but the group aged 60 and older grew faster.

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