Israel shows no signs of ending Gaza offensive, even as Palestianian civilian death toll grows
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Asserting it has broad international support for a fierce military offensive in the Gaza Strip, Israel is showing no signs of ending the operation, vowing to press on until there is a halt to rocket attacks from the seaside territory.
But a mounting Palestinian civilian death toll is beginning to draw international criticism and could quickly put the brakes on the campaign.
Israeli officials say they are pleased with the results of the four-day operation so far. Military officials say the round-the-clock airstrikes have hit Hamas hard, taking out the militant group’s command centers, rocket-launchers and storage sites, and knocking out much of its long-range rocket arsenal.
A greater threat -- and gamble for the Israelis -- would be sending ground troops into Gaza.
Addressing a nationally televised news conference Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the offensive was progressing well and brushed off a question about a possible cease-fire, suggesting the campaign will continue for some time. He also refused to rule out a ground offensive.
House spending chairman shoots down Obama’s $3.7B border crisis request as Democrats object
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A key Republican said Friday that President Barack Obama’s multibillion-dollar emergency request for the border is too big to get through the House, as a growing number of Democrats rejected policy changes Republicans are demanding as their price for approving any money.
The developments indicated that Obama faces an uphill climb as he pushes Congress to approve $3.7 billion to deal with tens of thousands of unaccompanied kids who’ve been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from poor and increasingly violent Central American nations. And they suggested that even as the children keep coming, any final resolution is likely weeks away on Capitol Hill.
As House members gathered Friday morning to finish up legislative business for the week, Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which controls spending, told reporters: "It’s too much money. We don’t need it."
Rogers previously had sounded open to the spending request for more immigration judges, detention facilities, State Department programs and other items. He said his committee would look at the parts of Obama’s request that would go for immediate needs, but that others could be handled through Congress’ regular spending bills -- though no final action is likely on those until after the November midterm elections.
And asked whether the House would approve the spending package as-is, Rogers said "no."
U.S. border enforcement effort sputters as many migrants cross again, funding diminishes
MEXICALI, Mexico (AP) -- A U.S. effort to discourage immigrants’ repeated attempts to enter the country illegally by dropping them back in Mexico hundreds of miles away from where they were caught has been sharply scaled back after producing relatively modest gains.
U.S. authorities insist the Alien Transfer Exit Program has contributed to overall achievements in border security and say the cutbacks reflected a need to shift resources to deal with Central Americans pouring into Texas.
The government has flown or bused hundreds of thousands of Mexican men to faraway border cities since February 2008, believing they would give up after being separated from their smugglers.
But government statistics and interviews with migrants in Mexican shelters suggest the dislocation is a relatively ineffective deterrent, especially for immigrants with spouses, children and roots in the U.S.
After being dropped off, many get on another bus and head right back to where they started. Once there, they reunite with their smugglers for another attempt, taking advantage of a standard practice that they pay only when they cross successfully.
Iraqi authorities: Kurdish forces have taken over
2 oil fields near Kirkuk
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Kurdish security forces took over two major oil fields outside the disputed northern city of Kirkuk before dawn Friday and said they would use some of the production for domestic purposes, further widening a split with the central government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The takeover of the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oil fields were the latest land grabs by Kurds, who have responded to the Sunni militant insurgency that has overrun large parts of Iraq by seizing territory of their own, effectively expanding the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north. Those moves have infuriated al-Maliki’s government while stoking independence sentiment among the Kurds.
Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga pushed into the city of Kirkuk, a major hub for the oil industry in the north, and the surrounding area weeks ago in the early days of the Sunni militant blitz. But until now they had not moved into the oil fields in the area. On Friday, however, the fighters took over the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk fields and expelled local workers, the Oil Ministry in Baghdad said.
Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad denounced the move as "a violation to the constitution" and warned that it poses "a threat to national unity."
The Kurdish Regional Government said its forces moved to secure the fields after learning of what it said were orders by officials in the Oil Ministry to sabotage a pipeline linking oil facilities in the area. It said production would continue, and that staff can return but will operate under Kurdish management.
Israeli airstrikes on Gaza kill over 100 as militant rockets continue to fall on Israel
JERUSALEM (AP) -- With the official Palestinian count of the dead passing 100, and rockets fired by militants striking Israel from the Gaza Strip and from Lebanon, Israel’s prime minister on Friday brushed off a question about cease-fire efforts.
There is no end in sight to Israel’s effort to halt militant rocket fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
"I will end it when our goals are realized," he said. "And the overriding goal is to restore the peace and quiet."
Israel says it launched the offensive Tuesday in response to weeks of rocket fire from Gaza. At least 21 Palestinians were killed Friday, pushing the overall death toll to 106, including dozens of civilians, according to the Health Ministry in Gaza.
Palestinian militants have fired more than 600 rockets at Israel.
Commanders: Two Benghazi deaths might have been prevented if military had better information
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two of the four U.S. deaths in Benghazi might have been prevented, military leaders say, if commanders had known more about the intensity of the sporadic gunfire directed at the CIA facility where Americans had taken refuge and had pressed to get a rescue team there faster.
Senior military leaders have told Congress in closed-door testimony that after the first attack on the main U.S. diplomatic compound on Sept. 11, 2012, they thought the fighting had subsided and the Americans who had fled to the CIA base about a mile away were safe. In fact, they were facing intermittent small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades around midnight and had returned fire. Then the attackers dispersed.
Hours later, at first light, an 11-minute mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attack slammed into the CIA annex, killing security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
In hindsight, retired Gen. Carter Ham, then head of the U.S. military command in Africa, said he would have pressed Libyan contacts in the defense ministry and other officials to help speed up the evacuation of Americans from Benghazi.
Also, a special operations team that had been dispatched from Croatia to Sicily after the first attack might have made it to Benghazi, if a host of variables were ideal -- a quick departure, wind direction and speed, and an unobstructed runway to land a U.S. aircraft.
Residents of stricken eastern Ukraine town flee as government forces suffer new losses
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine’s president vowed vengeance in blood after 19 troops were killed in an insurgent rocket attack Friday, and residents of the rebel-held city of Donetsk began fleeing in large numbers for fear of a government siege.
The barrage of rocket fire just before sunrise at a base near the Russian border was a devastating setback for government forces, who had seemingly gained the upper hand last weekend when they pushed the pro-Russian fighters out of their stronghold city of Slovyansk. In addition to those killed, 93 soldiers were wounded, the Defense Ministry said.
"For every life of our soldiers, the militants will pay with tens and hundreds of their own," Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko warned. "Not one terrorist will evade responsibility. Everybody will get what is coming to them."
Ukrainian government troops have been fighting for more than three months against separatists in eastern Ukraine, and in the last two weeks, they have cut the territory held by the rebels in half. Driven from Slovyansk, the rebels have regrouped in Donetsk, an industrial city of 1 million, and Ukraine has said it will cordon off the area.
In anticipation of a siege, leaders of the self-styled Donetsk People’s Republic announced they will evacuate entire neighborhoods. Many residents have rushed to pack up and leave for fear of getting caught in the cross-fire, given the insurgents’ strategy of using residential areas for cover.
Suspect in fatal shooting of Houston-area family collapses twice in court
HOUSTON (AP) -- A man accused of killing six members of his ex-wife’s family, including four children, after forcing his way into their suburban Houston home collapsed in court twice Friday as a prosecutor read out details of the crime.
A shackled Ronald Lee Haskell was standing before a state district judge during a probable cause hearing when he fell to the ground. Deputies lifted him to his feet and the 33-year-old Haskell stood for about another minute before collapsing again.
He was then lifted into a chair and wheeled from the courtroom.
"His face, he obviously lost blood in his face, and his knees buckled," said Haskell’s attorney, Doug Durham. "He’s scared. I think he has a limited mental capacity of what’s going on."
Before the collapses, Haskell had acknowledged with a quiet "Yes" a couple of questions put to him by State District Judge Mark Kent Ellis about his legal rights. Ellis ordered Haskell held without bond.