Tuesday November 20, 2012

Israel kills Gaza militant
as it widens bombings, Palestinian death toll
rises to 100

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli aircraft struck crowded areas in the Gaza Strip and killed a senior militant with a missile strike on a media center Monday, driving up the Palestinian death toll to 100, as Israel broadened its targets in the 6-day-old offensive meant to quell Hamas rocket fire on Israel.

Escalating its bombing campaign over the weekend, Israel began attacking homes of activists in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that rules Gaza. These attacks have led to a sharp spike in civilian casualties, killing 24 civilians in just under two days and doubling the number of civilians killed in the conflict, a Gaza health official said.

The rising toll came as Egyptian-led efforts to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas got into gear.

While Israel and Hamas were far apart in their demands, both sides said they were open to a diplomatic solution -- and prepared for further escalation if that failed.

The leader of Hamas took a tough stance, rejecting Israel’s demands that the militant group stop its rocket fire. Instead, Khaled Mashaal said, Israel must meet Hamas’ demands for a lifting of the blockade of Gaza.

Sleep away from windows, stock up on food -- lessons Gazans learned in Hamas-Israel battles

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Sleep away from windows, stock up on food, get the family car off the street -- these are the lessons Gazans have learned in previous rounds of fighting between Israel and the territory’s Hamas rulers.


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This time, some are adding "change houses" to the list as Israel increasingly targets homes of Hamas activists, making it difficult to guess where missiles might hit. Over the weekend, Israeli airstrikes struck the homes of some two dozen Hamas activists, killing 24 civilians.

For ordinary Gazans, moving sometimes doesn’t help.

Pediatrician Sami Dawood moved twice. On Sunday, he evacuated his wife and three children from their high-rise apartment in Gaza City’s Tel al-Hawa neighborhood after a missile hit the roof. Fearing Israel would strike the building again, the family moved to the home of his father-in-law near the Palestine Stadium in the center of the city. Early Monday, while the family was asleep, missiles hit the stadium as a suspected rocket-launching site.

"Now we are back home again," said the 40-year-old doctor.

Historic Asia trip: Obama praises Myanmar, chides Cambodia leader; meets China premier next

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- On a history-making trip, President Barack Obama on Monday paid the first visit by an American leader to Myanmar and Cambodia, two Asian countries with troubled histories, one on the mend and the other still a cause of concern.

Obama’s fast-paced, pre-Thanksgiving trip vividly illustrated the different paths the regional neighbors are taking to overcome legacies of violence, poverty and repression.

Cheered by massive flag-waving crowds, Obama offered long-isolated Myanmar a "hand of friendship" as it rapidly embraces democratic reforms. Hours later, he arrived in Cambodia to little fanfare, then pointedly criticized the country’s strongman leader on the issue of human rights during a tense meeting.

Obama was an early champion of Myanmar’s sudden transformation to civilian rule following a half-century of military dictatorship. He’s rewarded the country, also known as Burma, with eased economic penalties, increased U.S. investment and now a presidential visit, in part to show other nations the benefits of pursuing similar reforms.

"You’re taking a journey that has the potential to inspire so many people," Obama said during a speech at Myanmar’s University of Yangon.

Syrian Islamist groups reject Western-backed opposition, declare Islamic state in key city

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria’s increasingly powerful Islamist rebel factions rejected the country’s new Western-backed opposition coalition and unilaterally declared an Islamic state in the key battleground of Aleppo, a sign of the seemingly intractable splits among those fighting to topple President Bashar Assad.

The move highlights the struggle over the direction of the rebellion at a time when the opposition is trying to gain the West’s trust and secure a flow of weapons to fight the regime. The rising profile of the extremist faction among the rebels could doom those efforts.

Such divisions have hobbled the opposition over the course of the uprising, which has descended into a bloody civil war. According to activists, nearly 40,000 people have been killed since the revolt began 20 months ago. The fighting has been particularly extreme in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a major front in the civil war since the summer.

Salman Shaikh, director of The Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, said Monday the Islamists’ declaration will unsettle both Western backers of the Syrian opposition and groups inside Syria, ranging from secularists to the Christian minority.

"They have to feel that the future of their country could be slipping away," Shaikh said. "This is a sign of things to come the longer this goes on. The Islamist groups and extremists will increasingly be forging alliances and taking matters into their own hands." The West is particularly concerned about sending weapons to rebels for fear they could end up in extremists’ hands.

In many state capitols, supermajorities will be
able to act with no need
for compromise

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- There’s a new superpower growing in the Great Plains and the South, where bulging Republican majorities in state capitols could dramatically cut taxes and change public education with barely a whimper of resistance from Democrats.

Contrast that with California, where voters have given Democrats a new dominance that could allow them to raise taxes and embrace same-sex marriage without regard to Republican objections.

If you thought the presidential election revealed the nation’s political rifts, consider the outcomes in state legislatures. The vote also created a broader tier of powerful one-party governments that can act with no need for compromise. Half of state legislatures now have veto-proof majorities, up from 13 only four years ago, according to figures compiled for The Associated Press by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

All but three states -- Iowa, Kentucky and New Hampshire -- have one-party control of their legislatures, the highest mark since 1928.

The result could lead to stark differences in how people live and work.

Steady U.S. housing recovery providing a lift to modest economic recovery

WASHINGTON (AP) -- From purchases and prices to builder sentiment and construction, the U.S. housing market is making consistent gains.

The latest evidence came in reports Monday that sales of previously occupied homes rose solidly in October and that builders are more confident than at any other time in 6 1/2 years.

New-home sales and home-price indexes have reached multi-year highs. And Lowe’s Cos. on Monday reported a surge in net income, a sign that home-improvement retailers are benefiting.

The housing market’s recovery still has a long way to go. But for now, it’s helping prop up an economy that’s being squeezed by a global slowdown and looming spending cuts and tax increases.

Joseph LaVorgna, an economist at Deutsche Bank, estimates that the housing recovery could boost U.S. economic growth by a full percentage point next year. That’s because a stronger housing market would mean more jobs, especially in industries like construction, and more consumer spending.

Colombian rebels announce unilateral holiday cease-fire as peace talks open in Cuban capital

HAVANA (AP) -- The top negotiator for Colombia’s main rebel group announced a unilateral cease-fire on Monday, before heading into much-anticipated peace talks with government counterparts in the Cuban capital of Havana.

Ivan Marquez said the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia would stop all military operations and acts of sabotage against government and private property starting at midnight Monday and running through Jan. 20.

Marquez said the move was "aimed at strengthening the climate of understanding necessary for the parties to start a dialogue."

There was no immediate response to the rebel overture from the government of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, and government negotiators in Havana also refused to comment before heading into the talks.

But analysts said the move puts pressure on Colombia to reciprocate in some way. Santos has so far refused to consider a cease-fire during the talks.

Congo M23 rebels resume fighting at Goma’s edge, vow to take key city

GOMA, Congo (AP) -- Rebels believed to be backed by Rwanda fired mortars and machine guns Monday on the outskirts of the provincial capital of Goma, threatening to capture one of the largest cities in eastern Congo in a development that could drag this giant Central African nation back into war.

The gunfire and explosions erupted in the early afternoon, with shells landing as far away as the international airport and near a United Nations position, causing flights to be rerouted and prompting the United Nations to evacuate most of its employees, according to U.N. officials.

The violence erupted just hours after the M23 rebels said they were halting fighting to negotiate with the government of Congo. But government spokesman Lambert Mende told The Associated Press by phone that negotiations are out of the question, saying Congo will not give in to the "blackmail" of a Rwandan-backed group.

"We refuse to enter into negotiations with M23. Because it’s Rwanda, not the M23, that is responsible," said Mende. "If Goma falls, it’s going to create a whole other set of problems. We refuse systematically to speak to them (M23). Because if we do, it would be a way to wash away Rwanda’s responsibility."

Congo and Rwanda have already fought two wars, the most recent of which ended in 2003 after lasting nearly six years. On Monday, both nations accused the other of firing mortars across the narrow border which runs on one side of Goma, a city of 1 million which is the economic heart of Congo’s mineral rich region.

Study finds ‘midlife crisis’ in chimps and orangutans; may shed light on our emotional lives

NEW YORK (AP) -- Chimpanzees going through a midlife crisis? It sounds like a setup for a joke.

But there it is, in the title of a report published Monday in a scientific journal: "Evidence for a midlife crisis in great apes."

So what do these apes do? Buy red Ferraris? Leave their mates for some cute young bonobos?

Uh, no.

"I believe no ape has ever purchased a sports car," said Andrew Oswald, an author of the study. But researchers report that captive chimps and orangutans do show the same low ebb in emotional well-being at midlife that some studies find in people.

AC/DC decides to release entire catalog on Apple’s iTunes, including 16 studio albums

NEW YORK (AP) -- AC/DC is finally releasing its music digitally on iTunes.

Columbia Records and Apple announced Monday that the classic rock band’s music will be available at the iTunes Store worldwide.

Sixteen studio albums will be released, including "High Voltage" and "Back in Black," which is already in the Top 30 on iTunes’ top albums chart. Two of the group’s albums are also in the Top 100 and several of the Australian band’s songs are in the Top 200.

AC/DC was one of the few acts that would not release music through the digital outlet. Two years ago Apple struck a deal with The Beatles’ record label, EMI Group, and management company, and began selling the group’s music. Kid Rock, who had also been against selling his music through the digital retailer, is releasing a new album, "Rebel Soul," on Monday and it’s available on iTunes.

Silvio Pietroluongo, Billboard’s director of charts, said AC/DC’s decision isn’t shocking.