World in Brief
Ebola outbreak tops 700 deaths; 2 aid workers might be brought back to U.S.
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) -- The death toll from the worst recorded Ebola outbreak in history surpassed 700 in West Africa as security forces went house-to-house in Sierra Leone’s capital Thursday looking for patients and others exposed to the disease.
Fears grew as the United States warned against travel to the three infected countries -- Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia -- and Sierra Leone’s soccer team was blocked from boarding a plane in Nairobi, Kenya, that was to take them to the Seychelles for a game on Saturday. Airport authorities in Kenya said Seychelles immigration told them to prevent the team from traveling.
Almost half of the 57 new deaths reported by the World Health Organization occurred in Liberia, where two Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly of Texas and Nancy Writebol, a North Carolina-based missionary, are also sick with Ebola.
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the U.S. is looking into options to bring them back to the U.S. Officials at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital said they expected one of the Americans to be transferred there "within the next several days." The hospital declined to identify which aid worker, citing privacy laws.
Writebol is in stable but serious condition and is receiving an experimental treatment that doctors hope will better address her condition, according to a statement released by SIM, a Christian missions organization.
Israel vows to destroy Hamas tunnels as death toll surpasses last Gaza conflict
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Thursday to destroy Hamas’ tunnel network designed for deadly attacks inside Israel "with or without a cease-fire," as the Palestinian death toll soared past 1,400 -- surpassing the number killed in Israel’s last major invasion of Gaza five years ago.
Netanyahu’s warning came as international efforts to end the 24-day-old war seemed to sputter despite concern over the mounting deaths. The Israeli military said it was calling up an additional 16,000 reserve soldiers to pursue its campaign against the Islamic militants.
At least 1,441 Palestinians have been killed, three-quarters of them civilians, since hostilities began on July 8, according to Gaza health officials -- surpassing the at least 1,410 Palestinians killed in 2009, according to Palestinian rights groups.
Israel says 56 soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have died -- also far more than the 13 Israeli deaths in the previous campaign.
As the toll grew, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accused both Israel and Hamas militants of violating the rules of war.
Abbas seeks political support for attempt to seek war crimes charges against Israel
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Nearly a month into Israel’s fierce assault on Hamas in Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing mounting domestic pressure to seek war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
He has hesitated in the past because such a move would instantly put the Palestinians on a risky collision course with Israel. But with about 1,400 Palestinians killed in Gaza, according to health officials, Abbas has signaled he might move ahead -- cautiously.
Palestinian officials said Thursday that Abbas asked all Palestinian political factions, including Hamas and the smaller group Islamic Jihad, to give their written consent to such a move. Different PLO factions signed up in a meeting in the West Bank earlier this week, while Abbas is still waiting for a response from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they said.
In trying to make a case against Israel, Abbas could also expose Hamas, a bitter rival turned potential political partner, to war crimes prosecution because it has fired thousands of rockets from Gaza at Israeli communities over the years.
Argentina says it’s open to further debt talks with holdout investors amid default
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentina’s economy minister says he is willing to hold further talks with holdout investors whose claim for bond payments forced the South American country into its second default in 13 years.
Economy Minister Axel Kicillof spoke after returning from failed talks in New York.
A U.S. court has blocked Argentina from making interest payments to creditors until it settles with U.S. hedge funds who claim they are owed about $1.5 billion.
Congress races to finish VA, highway
bills -- but fails on immigration
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Congress ran full-tilt into election-year gridlock over immigration Thursday and staggered toward a five-week summer break with no agreement in sight on legislation to cope with the influx of young immigrants flocking illegally to the United States.
Prospects were considerably brighter for bipartisan measures to improve veterans’ health care and prevent a cutoff in highway construction aid. Officials said both bills appeared likely to clear Congress by day’s end, and that legislation to send Israel funds for its missile defense system might also pass.
But three months before midterm elections, the unbreakable dispute over immigration exposed longstanding differences inside Republican ranks, postponing the start of the House’s vacation one day until Friday. And a new outburst of harsh partisan rhetoric between leading officials in both parties served as yet another reminder that after 18 months in office, the current Congress has little to show for its efforts apart from abysmally low public approval ratings.
House Speaker John Boehner accused Democrats of pursuing a "nutso scheme" of trying to seize on the border crisis to try and grant a path to citizenship to millions of immigrants living in the country illegally.
1st inspection of Ukraine war zone site where jet went down
ROZSYPNE, Ukraine (AP) -- As mortar fire landed nearby, an international team of investigators finally reached the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 wreckage site Thursday and got their first look at a scene experts fear has been badly compromised in the two weeks since the plane was blown out of the sky.
For the families of the 298 victims, it was an important start in locating and recovering bodies still out in the open and building a case against those who perpetrated the tragedy.
Harun Calehr, the uncle of two young victims of the disaster, said by telephone from his home in the U.S. that he was happy investigators had reached the site. But Calehr said he remains concerned that dozens of bodies haven’t been retrieved.
"It’s been two weeks. I just hope they can get there now and do their job," Calehr said from Houston.
As the investigators made an initial survey of the area shortly after lunchtime, fighting raged between government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels, and mortar shells rained down on fields in a nearby village.
Pushed against the wall over Ukraine, Putin may opt for even tougher course
MOSCOW (AP) -- For Russian President Vladimir Putin, there are few options left in the Ukraine crisis and they all look bad.
He is caught between a determined West demanding that he disavow the pro-Russian insurgents in Ukraine and increasingly assertive nationalists at home urging him to champion the mutiny and send in the Russian army.
The Malaysian plane disaster this week triggered another round of U.S. and EU sanctions, which for the first time targeted entire sectors of the Russian economy, severely limiting Putin’s room for maneuver. He may be eager to sever ties with the rebels, but he would need to find a way to do so that would allow him to save face -- an exceedingly hard task amid growing Western pressure.
Bowing to Western demands would potentially spell political suicide for the Russian leader. Under pressure, he may choose instead to escalate the crisis and risk an all-out confrontation.
Libya: Islamic militias declare control of eastern city of Benghazi
BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) -- Islamic hard-line militias, including the group accused by the United States in a 2012 attack that killed the ambassador and three other Americans, claimed control of Libya’s second largest city, Benghazi, after overrunning army barracks and seizing heavy weapons.
The sweep in the eastern city is part of a new backlash by hard-liners against their rivals ahead of the sitting of a new parliament. In the capital Tripoli, escalating battles Thursday between militias prompted multiple foreign governments to scramble to get out their citizens as thousands of Libyans fled across the border into Tunisia.
The weeks-long surge of violence renewed fears that Libya, which has been in chaos since the 2011 civil war that ousted longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi, is plunging deeper into civil strife.
With a crippled central government and weak army and police, the country’s numerous rival militias have held sway in Libya for the past three years. Though they battled each other frequently, a balance of fear among them prevented any from going too far and forced them to divide areas of power. But now, militias led by Islamist and extremist commanders appear to be trying to gain a more decisive upper hand.
The Health Ministry said in a statement Thursday that the death toll in Tripoli since the violence intensified in the past month reached 214, with more than 981 people wounded.
In San Francisco’s souped-up real estate market, $1 million for house or condo is now the norm
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- San Francisco Association of Realtors President Betty Taisch has two words of advice for those who want to live here and think $1 million will buy them their dream house: Think again.
In the souped-up world of San Francisco real estate, where the median selling price for houses and condominiums last month hit seven figures for the first time, the cool million that would fetch a mansion on a few acres elsewhere will now barely cover the cost of an 800-square-foot starter home that needs work and may or may not include private parking.
Taisch, a veteran broker who is used to managing her clients’ expectations, has experienced first-hand the heartbreak and hair-pulling inherent to house-hunting in what she considers one of the world’s "most desirable, fabulous cities." It’s also in the most expensive market in the country by several measures, according to recent surveys.
Taisch put her professional skills to work this summer on behalf of her adult son and his family, who had outgrown their one-bedroom apartment. After three unsuccessful offers, they ended up paying $913,000 for a two-bedroom, one-bath house with an outdated kitchen, a yard that can charitably be called overgrown, and a big basement that Taisch counts as its most attractive feature.
"It certainly is a milestone. It’s like, ‘Wow!"’," she said of the city’s new million-dollar median. "Everybody thinks San Francisco is all Pacific Heights Victorians, and it’s not. There are many areas of the city that are just normal, single-family homes that are small and not posh at all."