Saturday November 17, 2012

Gaza’s Hamas aims homemade rocket at Jerusalem for 1st time, as Israel calls up reserves

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Hamas rocket squads aimed at Jerusalem for the first time Friday, along with commercial hub Tel Aviv, showing off their expanded reach as Israeli airstrikes pounded the Palestinian territory for a third day. Israel called up 16,000 reservists, moving a step closer to a possible ground offensive in the Palestinian territory.

Air raid sirens sounded in the two cities which -- unlike population centers in Israel’s south -- had not been exposed to rocket fire from Hamas-ruled Gaza before the current round of cross-border fighting. No injuries were reported, but Hamas’ latest attempts to hit Israel’s heartland could push Israel closer to sending ground troops into Gaza.

Over the past three days, Israel has relentlessly pounded suspected rocket launching sites and other Hamas targets in Gaza with scores of airstrikes, while Hamas has fired more than 450 rockets toward Israel. The overall death toll rose to 30 -- 27 Palestinians and three Israelis.

The Islamic militant group was badly bruised during its last full-fledged confrontation with Israel four years ago that ended with an informal truce, although rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes on militant operations continued sporadically. The Islamic militant group appeared better prepared this time with a more powerful arsenal.


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Just a few years ago, Palestinian rockets were limited to crude, homemade devices manufactured in Gaza. But in recent years, Hamas and other armed groups have smuggled in sophisticated, longer-range rockets from Iran and Libya, which has been flush with weapons since Moammar Gadhafi was ousted last year.

Renewed Israel-Hamas conflict fed by Arab Spring, deep hatred -- and Israeli election

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Since Israel completed a devastating military offensive in the Gaza Strip four years ago, military officials have warned it was only a matter of time before the next round of fighting. Violence erupted this week with little warning, driven by Hamas’ ambitions to make its mark on a changing Middle East and an Israeli government reacting to public outcry over rocket attacks just weeks ahead of national elections.

It is a clash of wills driven by wildly contradictory narratives nurtured over the years by two deeply antagonistic societies with little in common save a deep-seated sense of historical grievance and victimization.

From Israel’s perspective, the fact that it withdrew from Gaza in 2005, pulling out all soldiers and settlements after a 38-year occupation, should have been the end of its troubles with the 1.6 million Palestinians there. The continued rocket attacks -- especially since Hamas militants seized the coastal strip from the more moderate Fatah faction in 2006 -- are seen as an outrage that justifies extreme measures. No country, Israelis argue, could possibly be asked to tolerate a decade of rocket attacks.

That view aligns with a deeper historical grievance: Israelis feel their Zionist movement was fundamentally a return home from two millennia of exile but that it was met from the beginning by Arab rejection and violence. The Holocaust, the World War II slaughter of 6 million Jews by the Nazis even as Jews were building their state-in-waiting, further fed the sense of victimization accompanied by a distrust of the world and an obsession with self-reliance.

Hamas, on the other hand, rejects any Jewish connection to the Holy Land and views Israel as a colonial outpost in the heart of the Islamic world that must be destroyed. And among Palestinians, the Gazans’ specific sense of victimization stems most directly from the miserable living conditions in a crowded, besieged and impoverished coastal strip a few miles wide. Israel’s soldiers and settlers may be gone, but Israel continues to seal off its border with Gaza, blockades its seacoast for fear of weapons imports, and controls the airspace -- and that, they reason, means that Gaza remains "occupied" and therefore "resistance" retains legitimacy.

Petraeus: CIA believed early on that terrorists were behind Libya consulate attack

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Testifying out of sight, ex-CIA Director David Petraeus told Congress Friday that classified intelligence showed the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was a terrorist attack but the administration withheld the suspected role of al-Qaida affiliates to avoid tipping them off.

The recently resigned spy chief explained that references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence were removed from the public explanation of what caused the attack so as not to alert them that U.S. intelligence was on their trail, according to lawmakers who attended Petraeus’ private briefings.

He also said it initially was unclear whether the militants had infiltrated a demonstration to cover their attack.

The retired four-star general addressed the House and Senate intelligence committees in back-to-back, closed-door hearings as questions persist over what the Obama administration knew in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and why its public description did not match intelligence agencies’ assessments.

After the hearings, lawmakers who questioned Petraeus said he testified that the CIA’s draft talking points in response to the assault on the diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. Petraeus said that reference was removed from the final version, although he wasn’t sure which federal agency deleted it.

Train slams into parade float, killing 4 veterans and injuring 16 in West Texas

MIDLAND, Texas (AP) -- Cheered by a flag-waving crowd, the parade float carrying wounded military veterans was inching across the railroad tracks when the crossing gates started coming down. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, a freight train came bearing down, its horn blaring.

Four veterans died in the Thursday collision, and sixteen other people were hurt. For some of the war heroes who managed to jump off the flatbed truck just in time, training and instinct kicked in: They rushed to aid their injured comrades.

"They are trained for tragedy," said Pam Shoemaker of Monroe, La., who was with her husband, a special operations veteran, on the float ahead of the one that was struck.

Shoemaker said there was no warning; she hadn’t seen or heard the train until it was upon them. The couple jumped from their truck and ran toward the other one, knowing it would be hit in a matter of seconds because it was unable to move due to other floats in the parade.

The crossing barriers had just started to come down, she said.

Teacher had
fourth-grade students draw on faces of peers who failed reading

DECLO, Idaho (AP) -- A fourth-grade teacher in southern Idaho is being criticized after having her students use permanent markers to draw on the faces of classmates who failed to meet reading goals.

Some parents and administrators say the punishments given to nine students in Summer Larsen’s class were inappropriate and left the children feeling shamed.

Cindy Hurst said recently her 10-year-old son came home from school Nov. 5 with his entire face -- including his eyelids -- scribbled on with green, red and purple markers.

"He was humiliated, he hung his head and wanted to go wash his face," Hurst said. "He knows he’s a slow reader. Now he thinks he should be punished for it."

Larsen, who has taught at the school for six years, didn’t respond to requests for comment. But Cassia County School District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer confirmed what took place in her classroom, though he didn’t name Larsen.

Close to half the states say they’ll help carry out key component of Obama’s health overhaul

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Threatened with repeal just weeks ago, President Barack Obama’s health care law now appears on track in close to half the states, with others playing catch-up and the administration readying a fallback for states not wishing to participate.

Friday was the original deadline for states to notify Washington if they would play a role in building new health insurance markets through which the uninsured can get coverage starting in 2014. Though the administration granted a month’s extension, most states have already made their intentions known.

As of Friday, 23 states plus Washington, D.C., were proceeding; 15 said they’d defer to the federal government to run their markets and 12 were still mulling over their options. The mostly blue group proceeding included five Republican-led states. The undecided included several states that seemed to be moving toward an active role.

"Postelection it’s really been ‘game on,"’ said Kelly Barnes, leader of the health care group at the PricewaterhouseCoopers consulting firm.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had vowed to begin dismantling "Obamacare" his first day in office. But Romney lost, and instead GOP governors are scrambling to see if they can find an accommodation with the administration after two years of fighting the president’s signature law.

Gaza’s children face grave risks in crowded urban battle zone

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- The image of a dead preschooler cradled by the prime ministers of Egypt and Gaza in a hospital hallway has drawn attention to the dangers Gaza’s children face in this crowded urban battle zone.

Children make up half of Gaza’s population of 1.6 million and seem to be everywhere in the current round of cross-border fighting between Israel and Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers.

Children loitered Friday outside a Gaza City morgue for a glance at the latest "martyrs." Others followed adults to funerals or even rushed to the site where Israeli missiles had just struck a government building and fire was still smoldering. Despite outward bravado, young boys of elementary school age said quietly that fear of airstrikes kept them awake at night.

So far, six of 28 Palestinians killed in Israel’s offensive this week have been children, ranging in age from just under 1 to 14 years, according to Gaza health officials. Most were killed by shrapnel while in or near their homes. In Israel, 12 children were hurt in rocket attacks this week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Hamas of using Gaza’s civilians, particularly children, as human shields by launching rockets from crowded residential areas.