Ukraine accuses Russia of sending tanks, armored vehicles into its territory

NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine accused Russia on Thursday of entering its territory with tanks, artillery and troops, and Western powers said Moscow had "outright lied" about its role and dangerously escalated the conflict.

Russia dismissed the allegations, describing the fighters there as "Russian volunteers." The Kremlin has repeatedly denied arming and supporting the separatists who have been fighting Ukrainian troops for four months in the gravest crisis between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

NATO said at least 1,000 Russian troops are in Ukraine and later released what it said were satellite photos of Russian self-propelled artillery units moving last week.

Two columns of tanks and other equipment entered southeastern Ukraine at midday, following heavy shelling of the area from Russia that forced overmatched Ukrainian border guards to flee, said Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s national security council.

"Russian forces have entered Ukraine," President Petro Poroshenko said in Kiev, canceling a foreign trip and calling an emergency meeting of his security council.

Islamic State group kills dozens of captured Syrian soldiers, posts photos online

BEIRUT (AP) -- The Islamic State group killed more than 160 Syrian government troops seized in recent fighting, posting pictures Thursday of terrified young conscripts stripped down to their underwear before meeting their deaths in the arid Syrian countryside.


Advertisement

The slayings were the latest massacre attributed to the extremist group, which has terrorized rivals and civilians alike with widely publicized brutality in Syria and Iraq as it seeks to expand a proto-state it has carved out on both sides of the border.

In southern Syria, meanwhile, gunmen detained 43 U.N. peacekeepers during fighting on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the United Nations said. It added that another 81 peacekeepers were trapped in the area by heavy clashes between rebels and Syrian troops.

The mass killing of Syrian soldiers is part of a stepped up campaign by Islamic State militants targeting President Bashar Assad’s forces. Until recently, the group had been focused on eliminating rivals among the rebels fighting to topple him, systematically routing Western-backed opposition fighters and other Islamic factions from towns and villages in northern and eastern Syria as it expands.

More recently, the jihadists have turned their attention to Assad’s forces, seizing a series of military bases in northeastern Raqqa province. In the process, they have killed hundreds of pro-government forces, beheading some and later displaying their severed heads on poles and fences and posting the pictures online.

Officials: Joan Rivers taken to NYC hospital from doctor’s office; condition unknown

NEW YORK (AP) -- Joan Rivers is in a New York City hospital Thursday after she was rushed from a doctor’s office when she went into cardiac arrest, police and hospital officials said.

The 81-year-old comedian’s condition wasn’t immediately known.

"This morning, Joan Rivers was taken to The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where she is being attended to. Her family wants to thank everybody for their outpouring of love and support," said Sid Dinsay, a spokesman for Mount Sinai Hospital. "We will provide an update on her condition as it becomes available."

New York City police officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly name Rivers, said she was taken to the hospital just after 9:30 a.m. Thursday. It was unclear why she was visiting the doctor’s office.

Rivers’ representatives didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

UN health agency: Ebola is accelerating in West Africa and could sicken as many as 20,000

GENEVA (AP) -- The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is accelerating and could grow six times larger to infect as many as 20,000 people, the World Health Organization said Thursday. The U.N. health agency unveiled a new road map for containing the virus, and scientists are fast-tracking efforts to find a treatment or vaccine.

Ebola has menaced Africa for 40 years, but previously struck in remote villages and was contained fairly quickly. This time, it has spread to major cities in four countries, provoking unrest as whole neighborhoods and towns have been sealed to the outside.

An experimental vaccine developed by the U.S.government and GlaxoSmithKline will be tested on humans starting next week, the U.S. National Institutes of Health announced Thursday. The NIH trial will use healthy adult volunteers in Maryland, and British experts will simultaneously test the same vaccine in healthy people in the U.K., Gambia and Mali.

Preliminary results on the vaccine’s safety -- not its effectiveness -- could be available in months.

Scientists also announced that they have mapped the genetic code of this strain of Ebola to better understand how it kills. In a study published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers traced an explosion of cases in this outbreak to a single funeral in Guinea in May.

High school buddies followed similar path into militant Islam -- and met the same end

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Two high school buddies who loved to shoot hoops and crack jokes with their friends both converted to Islam in early adulthood and were somehow recruited by terror groups to leave the United States and die for jihadist causes on separate continents.

It wasn’t immediately clear how Douglas McAuthur McCain and Troy Kastigar were drawn into radicalism after their initial conversion to the Muslim faith or whether they might have influenced one another along the way. But the two best friends went down similar paths and met the same end.

Both young men attended Robbinsdale Cooper High School in Minneapolis. Kastigar was in the class of 1999, though he left school in February of that year without a diploma, according to school records. McCain went to Robbinsdale from 1997 to 1999, before transferring to nearby Armstrong High School. He did not graduate either.

Address records show McCain lived at Kastigar’s house for a period from 2000 to 2001, although that could not be independently verified.

"They were really funny guys. They were goofy. They were just always laughing, hanging out together, joking around. They were just nice," said Alicia Adams, a former classmate who was friends with both McCain and Kastigar in high school.

Europe seeks role in postwar Gaza, paving way for Abbas return

JERUSALEM (AP) -- European nations are offering to help enforce the cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, a scenario that could provide key international backing for maintaining the peace and step up the pressure on Hamas militants to relinquish power.

The European plan remains vague, and it is unclear whether Israel or the Palestinians will agree.

But a European presence in Gaza could go a long way toward meeting two key demands: the Palestinians’ insistence on freer movement in and out of the territory, and the Israeli requirement that Hamas be kept in check.

French President Francois Hollande laid out the case for European involvement on Thursday, telling international diplomats that Europe could help oversee the destruction of tunnels used by Hamas militants and monitor the territory’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt.

"It is necessary to move toward an end to the blockade and a demilitarization of the territory," he said, indicating that international supervision could help pave the way for a return of Hamas’ rival, the Palestinian Authority, to Gaza.

Obama reiterates pledge to act on immigration if Congress doesn’t, but sets no timeline

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama says he still intends to act on his own to change immigration policies but stopped short of reiterating his past vows to act by end of summer.

Obama also says that the flow of unaccompanied minors attempting to cross the border has fallen, with the number of apprehensions in August dropping below July’s levels.

He says if Congress does not act on a broader immigration overhaul, he will do what he can to improve the system.

But he adds, quote, "Some of these things affect timelines and we’re just going to be working through as systematically as possible in order to get this done."

Obama has ordered a review of executive actions he could take on immigration and had said he intended to act by summer’s end.

Inmate in troubled execution died from lethal drugs, not heart attack

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An Oklahoma death row inmate who writhed, moaned and clenched his teeth before he was pronounced dead about 43 minutes after his execution began succumbed to the lethal drugs he was administered, not a heart attack, after the state’s prisons chief halted efforts to kill him, an autopsy report released Thursday says.

Department of Corrections Director Robert Patton had said inmate Clayton Lockett died from a heart attack several minutes after he ordered the execution stopped. But an independent autopsy performed for the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety says all three execution drugs Lockett was administered were found throughout his system.

The report, performed by the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences at Dallas, concluded that the cause of death was "judicial execution by lethal injection." But it does not answer why the execution took so long and why Lockett writhed on the gurney.

Lockett’s attorney, David Autry of Oklahoma City, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. But Dale Baich of the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Phoenix, who represents a group of Oklahoma death row prisoners who commissioned an independent autopsy of Lockett, said more information is needed.

"What this initial autopsy report does not appear to answer is what went wrong during Mr. Lockett’s execution, which took over 45 minutes, with witnesses reporting he writhed and gasped in pain," Baich said in a statement.