Weary Gaza marks Muslim feast as violence spreads in Israel

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Weary Palestinians somberly marked the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Thursday, as Hamas and Israel traded more rockets and airstrikes and Jewish-Arab violence raged across Israel.

The violence has reached deeper into Israel than at any time since the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Arab and Jewish mobs are rampaging through the streets, savagely beating people and torching cars, and flights have been canceled or diverted away from the country's main airport.

The escalating fighting between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers has echoed — and perhaps even exceeded — their devastating 2014 war. That conflict and two others were largely confined to the impoverished and blockaded Palestinian territory and Israeli communities on the frontier. But this round — which like the intifada, began in Jerusalem — seems to be rippling far and wide, tearing apart the country at its seams.

Meanwhile, in Gaza residents are bracing for more devastation as militants fire one barrage of rockets after another and Israel carries out waves of bone-rattling airstrikes, sending plumes of smoke rising into the air. Since the rockets began Monday, Israel has toppled three high-rise buildings that it said housed Hamas facilities after warning civilians to evacuate.

Gaza's Health Ministry said the death toll has climbed to 83 Palestinians, including 17 children and seven women, with more than 480 people wounded. Islamic Jihad confirmed the deaths of seven militants, while Hamas, the Islamic militant group that seized power in Gaza from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, acknowledged that a top commander and several other members were killed. Israel says the number of militants killed is much higher than Hamas has acknowledged.

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Wealthy nations once lauded as successes lag in vaccinations

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Some wealthy nations that were most praised last year for controlling the coronavirus are now lagging far behind in getting their people vaccinated — and some, especially in Asia, are seeing COVID-19 cases grow.

In Japan, South Korea and New Zealand, the vaccination rates are languishing in the single figures. That is in sharp contrast to the U.S., where nearly half of all people have gotten at least one shot, and Britain and Israel, where rates are even higher.

Not only do those three Pacific countries rank worst among all developed nations in vaccinating against COVID-19, they also rank below many developing countries such as Brazil and India, according to national figures and the online scientific publication Our World in Data. 

Australia, which isn't providing a full breakdown of its vaccination numbers, is also performing comparatively poorly, as are several other places initially considered standout successes in battling the virus, including Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan.

That could change as vaccination campaigns gather pace and supplies loosen. But meanwhile, previously successful countries are being left exposed to the virus and face longer delays in reopening to the world.

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US agents encounter more single adults are crossing border

LA JOYA, Texas (AP) — Parents emerge from the brush into a baseball field, carrying exhausted children. Border Patrol agents dictate orders: Families with young children in one line and unaccompanied children in another. The smallest of three lines is for single adults.

The scene Tuesday night in La Joya, a town of about 4,000 people, plays out nightly in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, presenting Joe Biden with one of the most serious challenges of his young presidency — high numbers of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border to seek asylum. April was the second-busiest month on record for unaccompanied children encountered at the border, following March's all-time high.

But while asylum-seeking families and children dominate public attention, single adults represent a growing number of border encounters, nearly two of every three in April. They are less likely to surrender to authorities than families and children, making them less visible.

The Border Patrol's 173,460 total encounters in April were up 3 percent from March, marking the highest level since April 2000. The numbers, released Tuesday, are not directly comparable because most of those stopped were quickly expelled from the country under federal pandemic-related powers that deny rights to seek asylum. Being expelled carries no legal consequences, so many people try to cross multiple times.

Single adults — more than half of them from Mexico — drove the increased activity. The Border Patrol had 108,301 such encounters in April, up 12 perce from March. Nearly nine of 10 adult encounters ended in expulsions under pandemic-related authority that began under former President Donald Trump and continued under Biden.

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Nowhere to run: Fear in Gaza grows amid conflict with Israel

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Screams and flying debris enveloped Umm Majed al-Rayyes as explosions hurled her from her bed in Gaza City. Groping in the dark, the 50-year-old grabbed her four children and ran as Israeli bombs struck their apartment building Wednesday, shattering windows, ripping doors to splinters and blasting away concrete.

While casualties mounted this week in the most severe outbreak of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip since a 2014 war, al-Rayyes and other Palestinians in the line of fire faced an all-too-familiar question: Where should we go?

"This whole territory is a tiny place. It's a prison. Everywhere you go, you're a target," al-Rayyes said by phone from a neighbor's house, where she sought refuge with her teenage sons and daughters and a few bags of clothes after the Israeli airstrike that she says came without warning.

In Gaza, a crowded coastal enclave of 2 million people, there are no air raid sirens or safe houses. Temporary United Nations shelters have come under attack in previous years of conflict. In the past two days, Israeli airstrikes brought down three huge towers housing important Hamas offices and some businesses after the Israeli military fired warning shots, allowing occupants to flee. 

Fighter jets also targeted without warning multiple residential buildings, located in teeming neighborhoods where Israel alleged militants lived. In all, more than 83 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Monday, including 17 children. Among the dead were both militants and civilians, including at least two women and children who died during the apartment building strikes. 

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Scrum of challengers awaits Cheney after House GOP ouster

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — For pro-Trump Republicans, removing Rep. Liz Cheney from House GOP leadership was relatively easy. Booting her from office will be another matter.

The rush to punish Cheney for her criticism of former President Donald Trump and his loyalists is drawing a cast of Wyoming primary challengers so big it could ultimately help her win again next year. Another boost for Cheney is a pile of campaign money and a family legacy that has helped her before.

Still, there's no doubt that her campaign to call out Trump's lies about fraud in the 2020 election is firing up opposition — in the process revitalizing old complaints about a politician some see as more in touch with Washington insiders than Wyomingites.

Over a year remains before Wyoming's deadline to file for the August 2022 Republican primary, but already at least six Republicans plan to run against her. 

The growing scrum, ranging from a retired Army colonel to a rural kombucha brewer, is on the minds of Cheney allies and opponents alike.

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Ex-cops in Floyd death claim witness coercion, harm of leak

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Attorneys for three former Minneapolis officers awaiting trial in George Floyd's death will be in court Thursday to argue pretrial motions, including a request that prosecutors be sanctioned after media reports that Derek Chauvin had planned to plead guilty a year ago, and allegations that they haven't disclosed information about the alleged coercion of a witness.

Attorneys for Thomas Lane, J. Kueng and Tou Thao have said they want the court to require prosecuting attorneys to submit affidavits under oath that they aren't responsible for the leak to the media. In a filing late Wednesday, Thao's attorney also alleged that the Hennepin County medical examiner was coerced to include "neck compression" in his findings — and that prosecutors knew of it.

The former officers waived their right to appear at Thursday's hearing. Their trial is set for Aug. 23.

Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the officers, has said allegations that his office was involved in a leak are false. His office had no immediate comment on the allegations of coercion. A spokeswoman for Dr. Andrew Baker, the medical examiner, said they could not comment due to the pending case.

Chauvin, who was seen in widely viewed bystander video pressing his knee into Floyd's neck as the Black man said he couldn't breathe, was convicted in April of second-degree unintentional murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter. He's to be sentenced June 25. 

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Colleges pushed anew for reparations for slavery, racism

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — For Brown University students, the Ivy League college's next step in its yearslong quest to atone for its legacy of slavery is clear: Pay up.

Nearly two decades after the Providence, Rhode Island, institution launched its much-lauded reckoning, undergraduate students this spring voted overwhelmingly for the university to identify the descendants of slaves that worked on campus and begin paying them reparations.

At the University of Georgia, community activists want the school to contribute to Athens' efforts to atone for an urban renewal project that destroyed a Black community in the 1960s to make way for college dorms. 

And at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., there's growing dissatisfaction among some slave descendants about the Catholic institution's pioneering reparations efforts.

Nearly a year after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked the latest national reckoning on racism, student and community activists from New England to the Deep South are demanding institutions take more ambitious steps to atone for past sins — from colonial-era slavery to more recent campus expansion projects that have pushed out entire communities of color.

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Virus, Mideast turmoil stifle Eid al-Fitr celebrations

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Muslims celebrated Eid al-Fitr in a subdued mood for a second year Thursday as the COVID-19 pandemic again forced mosque closings and family separations on the holiday marking the end of Ramadan.

In the embattled Gaza Strip, the call to prayer echoed over pulverized buildings and heaps of rubble as Israeli warplanes continued to pound the territory in the worst outbreak of violence since the 2014 war. 

Hamas, the Islamic militant group ruling Gaza, urged the faithful to mark communal prayers inside their homes or the nearest mosques and avoid being out in the open. 

"It is all airstrikes, destruction and devastation," said Hassan Abu Shaaban, who tried to lighten the mood by passing out chocolates to passersby. 

Worshippers wearing masks joined communal prayers in the streets of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta. The world's most populous Muslim-majority nation allowed mosque prayers in low-risk areas, but mosques in areas where there was more risk of the virus spreading closed their doors, including Jakarta's Istiqlal Grand Mosque, the largest in Southeast Asia.

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Driven by despair, Lebanese pharmacist looks to life abroad

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — The shelves are bare at the Panacea pharmacy north of Beirut. Its owner, Rita El Khoury, has spent the past few weeks packing up her career, apartment and belongings before leaving Lebanon for a new life abroad.

For the 35-year-old pharmacist and her husband, and countless others feeling trapped in a country hammered by multiple crises, Lebanon has become unlivable.

Driven by financial ruin, collapsing institutions, hyperinflation and rapidly rising poverty, thousands have left since Lebanon's economic and financial crisis began in late 2019 — an exodus that accelerated after the massive explosion at Beirut's port last August, when a stockpile of improperly stored ammonium nitrates detonated, killing 211 people and destroying residential areas nearby.

Lebanon has been without a functioning government since, with political leaders deadlocked or complacent as the country hurtles toward total collapse. Fuel supplies are running out, leaving the country at risk of plunging into total darkness as power stations and generators run dry.

Now young to middle-aged professionals are leaving — doctors, engineers, pharmacists and bankers, part of the latest wave of emigration in the small country's modern history.

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US cities see surge in deadly street racing amid pandemic

Jaye Sanford, a 52-year-old mother of two, was driving home in suburban Atlanta on Nov. 21 when a man in a Dodge Challenger muscle car who was allegedly street racing crashed into her head-on, killing her.

Sanford was remembered by friends as kind and thoughtful, but now she will also be remembered for something else: a new state law that requires jail time for all convictions for drag racing and stunt driving.

Across America, illegal drag racing has exploded in popularity since the coronavirus pandemic began, with dangerous upticks reported from Georgia and New York to New Mexico and Oregon.

Street racers block roads and even interstates to keep police away while they tear around and perform stunts, often captured on videos that go viral. Packs of vehicles, from souped-up jalopies to high-end sports cars, roar down city streets, through industrial neighborhoods and down rural roads.

Experts say TV shows and movies glorifying street racing had already fueled interest in recent years. 

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