Israel, Hamas agree to open-ended cease-fire, but put off contentious issues for a month

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israel and Gaza’s ruling Hamas agreed Tuesday to an open-ended cease-fire after seven weeks of fighting -- an uneasy deal that halts the deadliest war the sides have fought in years, with more than 2,200 killed, but puts off the most difficult issues.

In the end, both sides settled for an ambiguous interim agreement in exchange for a period of calm. Hamas, though badly battered, remains in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal intact. Israel and Egypt will continue to control access to blockaded Gaza, despite Hamas’ long-running demand that the border closures imposed in 2007 be lifted.

Hamas declared victory, even though it had little to show for a war that killed 2,143 Palestinians, wounded more than 11,000 and left some 100,000 homeless. On the Israeli side, 64 soldiers and six civilians were killed, including two killed by Palestinian mortar fire shortly before the cease-fire was announced.

Large crowds gathered in Gaza City after the truce took effect at dusk, some waving the green flags of Hamas, while celebratory gunfire and fireworks erupted across the territory.

Mahmoud Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, promised to rebuild homes destroyed in the war and said Hamas would rearm. "We will build and upgrade our arsenal to be ready for the coming battle, the battle of full liberation," he declared, surrounded by Hamas gunmen.


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U.S. says Egypt, UAE behind Libya strikes; intervention shows impatience with U.S.-led efforts

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Egypt and the United Arab Emirates secretly carried out airstrikes against Islamist militias inside Libya, the United States publicly acknowledged Tuesday, another sharp jolt to American-led attempts over the past three years to stabilize Libya after dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s overthrow.

One official said Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia for months have been supporting a renegade general’s campaign against Libyan militant groups, but that the Saudis don’t appear to have played a role in recent strikes. The Libyan government is too weak and disorganized to fight the militants itself. Another official said the U.S. was aware that Egypt and UAE were planning strikes and warned them against it. Neither U.S. ally notified Washington before launching the strikes, officials said.

"Outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. She said Libya was in a "very fragile place."

But U.S.-led international efforts to secure the country clearly are fraying as impatience in the region grows. Libya is undergoing its worst violence since rebels ousted Gadhafi in 2011. Tripoli’s international airport is largely destroyed and diplomats, foreign nationals and thousands of Libyans have fled. The U.S. embassy there is closed, nearly two years after the U.S. ambassador was killed while visiting Benghazi.

Since then, powerful militias have seized power and the central government has proved unable to create a strong police force or unified military. In recent months, Islamist fighters have confronted a backlash, losing their power in parliament and facing a counteroffensive by former Gadhafi and rebel Gen. Khalifa Hifter. Washington doesn’t support the general. But some of Libya’s neighbors, fearful of the growing power of the Islamist extremists, are helping him.

Obama tells VFW progress made on VA health care, calls problems ‘outrageous and inexcusable’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- His standing with veterans damaged by scandal, President Barack Obama on Tuesday defended his administration’s response to Veterans Affairs lapses that delayed health care for thousands of former service members, but conceded more needed to be done to regain their trust.

His appearance also had deep political overtones in a state where the Democratic senator, Kay Hagan, is facing a difficult re-election and has sought to distance herself from Obama’s policies, declaring as recently as Friday that his administration had not "done enough to earn the lasting trust of our veterans."

But Hagan and the state’s Republican Senator, Richard Burr, were at the North Carolina Air National Guard Base to greet Obama. She welcomed him warmly and he gave her a peck on the cheek.

Obama and Hagan were both addressing the American Legion’s National convention, with the president’s address to the legionnaires the latest administration response to the health care uproar that led to the resignation of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki in May.

Obama declared that the nation owes veterans for their service and that the lengthy wait times and attempts to hide scheduling flaws were "outrageous and inexcusable."

Report finds 1,400 children victims of sex exploitation in UK town over 16-year period

LONDON (AP) -- About 1,400 children were sexually exploited in a northern England town, a report concluded Tuesday in a damning account of "collective failures" by authorities to prevent victims as young as 11 from being beaten, raped and trafficked over a 16-year period.

Report author Alexis Jay cited appalling acts of violence between 1997 and 2013 in Rotherham, a town of some 250,000. The independent report came after a series of convictions of sexual predators in the region and ground-breaking reports in the Times of London.

Reading descriptions of the abuse make it hard to imagine that nothing was done for so long. The report described rapes by multiple perpetrators, mainly from Britain’s Pakistani community, and how children were trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated.

"There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone," Jay said. "Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators."

Attention first fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men received lengthy jail terms after convictions of grooming teens for sex. A series of other high-profile cases featuring Pakistani rings also emerged in Rochdale, Derby and Oxford-- and communities began to look more closely at their child sex exploitation cases.

History suggests Justice Department prosecution won’t be easy in Ferguson police shooting

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As the Justice Department probes the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Missouri, history suggests there’s no guarantee of a criminal prosecution, let alone a conviction.

Federal authorities investigating possible civil rights violations in the Aug. 9 death of Michael Brown in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson must meet a difficult standard of proof, a challenge that has complicated the path to prosecution in past police shootings.

To build a case, they would need to establish that the police officer, Darren Wilson, not only acted with excessive force but also willfully violated Brown’s constitutional rights. Though the Justice Department has a long history of targeting police misconduct, including after the 1991 beating of Rodney King, the high bar means that many high-profile police shootings that have raised public alarm never wound up in federal court.

"It’s a very difficult standard to meet, and it really is satisfied only in the most egregious cases," said University of Michigan law professor Samuel Bagenstos, the former No. 2 official in the department’s civil rights division. "Criminal enforcement of constitutional rights is not something that is easily pursued. It really requires building a case very carefully, very painstakingly."

Federal prosecutors, for instance, declined to charge New York police officers who killed the unarmed Sean Bell in 2006 in a 50-shot barrage following his bachelor party in Queens. The four New York officers who in 1999 fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, an unarmed African immigrant, after they said they mistook his wallet for a gun were acquitted during a state trial and never faced federal prosecution for his killing.

Federal appeals judges chide lawyers for Indiana, Wisconsin over statewide gay marriage bans

CHICAGO (AP) -- Federal appeals judges bristled on Tuesday at arguments defending gay marriage bans in Indiana and Wisconsin, with one Republican appointee comparing them to now-defunct laws that once outlawed weddings between blacks and whites.

As the legal skirmish in the United States over same-sex marriage shifted to the three-judge panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, more than 200 people lined up hours before to ensure they got a seat at the much-anticipated hearing.

While judges often play devil’s advocate during oral arguments, the panel’s often-blistering questions for the defenders of the same-sex marriage bans could be a signal the laws may be in trouble -- at least at this step in the legal process.

Richard Posner, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, hit the backers of the ban the hardest. He balked when Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Timothy Samuelson repeatedly pointed to "tradition" as the underlying justification for barring gay marriage.

"It was tradition to not allow blacks and whites to marry -- a tradition that got swept away," the 75-year-old judge said. Prohibition of same sex marriage, Posner said, derives from "a tradition of hate ... and savage discrimination" of homosexuals.

Burger King buying Tim Hortons for about $11 billion; new company to be based in Canada

MIAMI (AP) -- The fight for the coffee and breakfast crowd is heating up, both at home and abroad.

Burger King said Tuesday it will buy Tim Hortons in an $11 billion deal that would create the world’s third largest fast-food chain. The company is hoping to turn the coffee-and-doughnut chain into a household name outside Canada, and give itself a stronger foothold in the booming morning business.

Alex Behring, Burger King’s executive chairman, said the new company would be one of the fastest-growing fast-food chains in the world.

The international ambitions for Tim Hortons echo the strategy Burger King’s owner, 3G Capital, has applied to Burger King since buying the hamburger chain in 2010. Given Burger King’s struggles in the U.S., the investment firm has focused on opening more locations in countries including China and Russia by striking deals with local franchisees.

Last year, for example, 3G accelerated expansion and opened 670 Burger King locations. Burger King now has nearly 14,000 locations globally, but the company has noted that’s still far less than the more than 35,000 McDonald’s restaurants around the world.

U.S. hostage held by IS in Syria is female aid worker

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Family members and U.S. officials say the Islamic State militant group has been holding a young American woman hostage in Syria since last year.

The woman had been working for several humanitarian aid groups when she was kidnapped.

The U.S.government and the woman’s family requested Tuesday that she not be named for fears of her safety.

The administration officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue publicly.

The woman is one of at least three known hostages of Islamic State militants in Syria. Another, James Foley, was beheaded by the militant group more than a week ago. Other American hostages were being held by other groups. These include Peter Curtis, who was released by al-Nusra Front earlier this week .

GOP leader says U.S. Labor Department is wasting tax money

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The chairman of a House panel is asking Labor Secretary Thomas Perez to turn over to Congress documents and information the lawmaker alleges will show "a pattern of wasteful spending and mismanagement" at the Labor Department.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, R-Calif., who leads the House Oversight Committee, asserted that the Labor Department’s Office of Public Affairs "frivolously spends taxpayer money on unnecessary items." As an example, the lawmaker cited elevator posters changed weekly in the 23 passenger elevators at the department’s headquarters, at a cost of $2,637 a week.

Since 2009, the posters have cost a total of more than $600,000, Issa wrote to Perez in a letter dated Monday. He also criticized what he depicted as excessive travel by Labor Department officials, and charged that the department used taxpayer dollars to hire a Washington Nationals baseball team mascot for an agency event "and spent over $100,000 to promote a book club."

The department issued a statement defending the spending as a valid morale booster for employees. "Our internal communications efforts make a difference in employee satisfaction, retention and most importantly, performance. Better performance from our employees translates into better value for the public," the department said.

Issa suggested such spending flies in the face of a November 2011 executive order by President Barack Obama directing executive-branch agencies to cut spending on "extraneous promotional items" and to "devise strategic alternatives to government travel."

"Spending taxpayer dollars on elevator posters, award contests, and unnecessary travel seems to be precisely the type of conduct President Obama intended to curtail," said Issa, a frequent critic of the Democratic administration.

Survey: U.S. consumer
confidence near a 7-year high

WASHINGTON (AP) -- U.S. consumer confidence this month reached its highest point in nearly seven years, boosted by strong job gains.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its confidence index rose for a fourth straight month to 92.4 from 90.3 in July. The August reading is the highest since October 2007, two months before the Great Recession officially began.

The optimism suggests that Americans will be more likely to spend in the months ahead, an important boost to the economy. Consumer spending drives about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

"The rise in confidence adds to other evidence that the U.S. economy is going from strength to strength," said Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics.

The survey found that Americans’ outlook on the job market brightened considerably. The percentage of respondents who said jobs were "plentiful" rose to 18.2 percent from 15.6 percent in July. That’s the highest level since 2008. Consumers’ perceptions generally track the unemployment rate over time.

Steady and solid hiring this year has provided more Americans with paychecks to spend. Employers have added an average of 230,000 jobs a month this year, up from about 195,000 a month in 2013. Average monthly job gains since February have produced the best six-month stretch since 2006.

The unemployment rate ticked up to 6.2 percent in July from 6.1 percent in June. But that was because more Americans began looking for work. Most didn’t immediately find jobs, but the increase in people looking for work suggests that they are more confident about their prospects.

Lower gasoline prices have also likely helped. The average price of a gallon of gas nationwide Monday was $3.44, the lowest in nearly six months, according to AAA. That leaves Americans with more money to spend on other goods and services. This month, the percentage of Americans who said they plan to buy a car reached its highest level in five months.

Confidence bottomed during the Great Recession in February 2009 at 25.3 before beginning an upward swing. While the index still hasn’t returned to full health, it is well above last year’s average of 72.3. In the 20 years before the downturn, the index averaged nearly 102.