World in Brief
Israel hits symbols of Hamas power, Gaza power plant, scores killed
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israel unleashed its heaviest bombardment in a 3-week-old war against Hamas on Tuesday, striking symbols of the militant group’s control in Gaza and firing tank shells that Palestinian officials said shut down the strip’s only power plant.
The fighting came as diplomatic efforts to forge a truce remained stalled despite a death toll that Palestinian officials said rose above 1,200 on Tuesday. The shadowy leader of the Hamas military wing said his group will not cease fire until its demands are met.
On Tuesday evening, residents of the sprawling Jebaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza reported intense tank shelling. Ten members of an extended family were killed and 50 other people wounded in the area, Palestinian health officials said. Two brothers driving in a car with markings of a U.N. aid agency were killed by shrapnel, an area resident said.
"It was like an earthquake," Moussa al-Mabhouh, a volunteer for Gaza’s Civil Defense, said of the scene. "Roofs collapsed, walls cracked and wounded people everywhere."
The heavy strikes -- which came a day after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday warned of a "prolonged" campaign against Hamas -- were a new blow to international efforts to reach a sustainable truce in the fighting.
U.S., European Union order tough new economic, energy, defense sanctions on Russia over Ukraine
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Spurred to action by the downing of the Malaysian airliner, the European Union approved dramatically tougher economic sanctions Tuesday against Russia, including an arms embargo and restrictions on state-owned banks. President Barack Obama swiftly followed with an expansion of U.S. penalties targeting key sectors of the Russian economy.
The coordinated sanctions were aimed at increasing pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his country’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine whom the West blames for taking down the passenger jet nearly two weeks ago. Obama and U.S. allies also warned that Russia was building up troops and weaponry along its border with Ukraine.
"Today Russia is once again isolating itself from the international community, setting back decades of genuine progress," Obama said. "It does not have to be this way. This a choice Russia and President Putin has made."
Tuesday’s announcements followed an intense lobbying effort from Obama aimed at getting European leaders to toughen their penalties on Russia and match earlier U.S. actions. Europe has a far stronger economic relationship with Russian than the U.S., but EU leaders have been reluctant to impose harsh penalties in part out of concern about a negative impact on their own economies.
However, Europe’s calculus shifted sharply after a surface-to-air missile brought down the passenger jet, killing nearly 300 people including more than 200 Europeans. Obama and his counterparts from Britain, France, Germany and Italy finalized plans to announce the broader sanctions Monday in an unusual joint video conference.
Death toll climbs higher in Ukraine as government tries to retake rebel strongholds
DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- Shells smashed into a residential neighborhood of Donetsk on Tuesday as Ukrainian forces intensified their campaign to encircle the rebel stronghold. The shelling killed at least two people, blew gaping holes in an apartment block and raised fears that the city is on the verge of severe bloodshed.
Fighting also raged elsewhere in Ukraine’s troubled east, bringing the death toll to at least 24 civilians and 10 soldiers over the past day. And it prevented international investigators once again from visiting the site of the Malaysia Airlines jet shot down earlier this month.
The increased danger to civilians has brought sharp criticism from the United Nations and human rights groups. But each side blames the other for shelling residential areas.
The rebels insist the attacks are evidence of what they describe as the government’s indiscriminate oppression of its own people. But Ukraine insists that it has banned the use of artillery in residential areas and in turn accuses separatists of targeting civilians in an effort to discredit the army.
Donetsk until recently had seen little fighting other than a rebel attempt in May to seize the city’s airport. But Tuesday’s barrage, along with last week’s shelling of the city’s main railroad station, has brought the war painfully close to the city of nearly 1 million. Ukrainian forces have made advances against rebels in nearby towns.
White House, privacy groups like Leahy’s version better than a House bill
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sen. Patrick Leahy on Tuesday introduced a bill to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, a proposal that goes further than a similar House measure and has drawn support from civil liberties groups, the White House and Republicans.
The bill represents the latest step in fulfilling a January promise by President Barack Obama to end the NSA’s collection of domestic calling records. If enacted, it would represent the most significant change to come in the wake of the leaks of once-secret surveillance programs by former NSA systems administrator Edward Snowden.
The measure was co-sponsored by Republicans, including Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.
It would not affect most NSA surveillance, which operates under different authorities than the Patriot Act provision under which the agency was collecting telephone calling records.
"This is an historic opportunity, and I am grateful that the bill has the support of the administration, a wide range of privacy and civil liberties groups, and the technology industry," said Leahy, D-Vermont, judiciary committee chairman.
Americans’ illegal immigration concerns rising amid surge of unaccompanied kids
McALLEN, Texas (AP) -- For nearly two months, images of immigrant children who have crossed the border without a parent, only to wind up in concrete holding cells once in United States, have tugged at heartstrings. Yet most Americans now say U.S. law should be changed so they can be sent home quickly, without a deportation hearing.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds two-thirds of Americans now say illegal immigration is a serious problem for the country, up 14 points since May and on par with concern about the issue in May 2010, when Arizona’s passage of a strict anti-immigration measure brought the issue to national prominence.
Nearly two-thirds, 62 percent, say immigration is an important issue for them personally, a figure that’s up 10 points since March. President Barack Obama’s approval rating for his handling of immigration dropped in the poll, with just 31 percent approving of his performance on the issue, down from 38 percent in May.
More than 57,000 unaccompanied immigrant children have illegally entered the country since October. Most of the children hail from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where gang violence is pervasive. Many are seeking to reunite with a parent already living in the United States.
Since initially calling the surge an "urgent humanitarian situation" in early June, Obama has pressed Central American leaders to stem the flow and has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in new money to hire more immigration judges, build more detention space and process children faster.
House Republicans set Thursday vote on $659 million bill for border crisis
WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Republicans unveiled a slimmed-down bill Tuesday to address the immigration crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border by sending in National Guard troops and speeding migrant youths back home. The election-year measure would allow Republicans to say they tried to solve the humanitarian problem in South Texas, even though it stands no chance of becoming law.
The bill would cost $659 million through the final two months of this fiscal year, far less than the $3.7 billion requested by President Barack Obama for this year and next, and a sharp reduction from the $1.5 billion initially proposed by the House spending committee. The cuts were designed to win over skeptical conservatives and give lawmakers something they could pass before leaving Washington at week’s end for their annual August recess.
The measure also includes policy changes rejected by most Democrats that would allow unaccompanied youths who’ve been arriving by the tens of thousands from Central America to be turned around quickly at the border and sent back home.
"I think there’s sufficient support in the House to move this bill," House Speaker John Boehner told reporters after meeting with rank-and-file lawmakers on the issue, though he said there was more work to do.
A vote was set for Thursday.
U.S. appeals court keeps Mississippi’s last abortion clinic open, saying rights need protection
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi’s effort to close its last abortion clinic was overturned in federal appellate court on Tuesday. Advocates for the law said women with unwanted pregnancies could always travel to other states, but the judges said every state must guarantee constitutional rights, including abortion.
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to block Mississippi’s 2012 law requiring abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Ten states have adopted similar laws, forcing a growing number of clinics to close. Many hospitals ignore or reject abortion doctors’ applications, and won’t grant privileges to out-of-state physicians. Both obstacles were encountered by the traveling doctors who staff Mississippi’s last clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
"Today’s ruling ensures women who have decided to end a pregnancy will continue, for now, to have access to safe, legal care in their home state," said Center for Reproductive Rights president Nancy Northup.
The ruling from the conservative 5th Circuit was narrowly crafted to address the situation in Mississippi, but it could have implications for other states with similar laws and dwindling access to abortion, like Wisconsin and Alabama, whose officials have said women could cross state lines if clinics close, said the center’s litigation director, Julie Rikelman.
Will money keep flowing for America’s highways and bridges?
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Racing to adjourn for the summer, the Senate scheduled major votes Tuesday to keep federal highway funds flowing across the nation -- billions of dollars to avert layoffs for construction workers and shutdowns of road and bridge projects just before the November elections.
A smooth trip through Congress was anything but guaranteed. Senators in the afternoon started tinkering with a $10.8 billion bill the House passed last week that would pay for highway and transit aid to states through next May at current spending levels. Any changes would send the bill back to the House rather than to President Barack Obama for his signature enacting it into law.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, declared his chamber would not accept Senate changes to the bill’s financing. "I just want to make clear, if the Senate sends a highway bill over here with those provisions, we’re going to strip it out and put the House-passed provisions back in and send it back to the Senate," he said.
By Aug. 1 -- this Friday -- the federal Highway Trust Fund will no longer have enough money to cover promised aid to states, the Transportation Department says, and the government will begin to stretch out payments. Congress has kept the trust fund teetering on the edge of bankruptcy since 2008 through a series of temporary fixes because lawmakers have been unable to find a politically acceptable, long-term funding plan. States have been warned to expect an average reduction of 28 percent in aid payments.
Without action from Congress, the balance in the fund is expected to drop to zero by late August or early September. And, separately, the government’s authority to spend money on transportation programs expires on Oct. 1. Some states already have cut back on construction projects because of uncertainty over federal funding, and Obama and state and local officials have complained that the uncertainty over funding is costing jobs.
Oil fuels building boom in once desolate N.D. oil patch
WILLISTON, N.D. (AP) -- President Theodore Roosevelt once came to North Dakota’s Badlands to find solitude and solace amid the area’s "desolate, grim beauty." But Roosevelt’s Dakota is barely visible today.
The area’s oil boom has resulted in an infrastructure-building frenzy as the rush for jobs and oil demands more roads, homes, food trucks and stores.
The epicenter is a 45-mile stretch of U.S. Route 85 between the towns of Williston and Watford City. Once a sleepy two-lane road across the lonely prairie, it’s being transformed into a four-lane highway with bypasses cutting around towns. In the spring and summer, oil patch roadwork slows traffic to a trickle akin to a major metropolis’ rush hour.
Oil patch towns -- outposts of oil production now struggling to become livable cities -- are trying to keep up. And housing, from apartment blocks in front of oil wells and flares to sprawling trailer parks on bluffs, are popping up like weeds across the countryside.
Facebook co-founder trying to transform business email from chronic headache to afterthought
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Dustin Moskovitz is plotting an escape from email.
The 30-year-old entrepreneur has learned a lot about communication since he teamed up with his college roommate Mark Zuckerberg to create Facebook a decade ago, and that knowledge is fueling an audacious attempt to change the way people connect at work, where the incessant drumbeat of email has become an excruciating annoyance.
Moskovitz is trying to turn that chronic headache into an afterthought with Asana, a San Francisco startup he runs with former Facebook and Google product manager, Justin Rosenstein.
Asana peddles software that combines the elements of a communal notebook, social network, instant messaging application and online calendar to enable teams of employees to share information and do most of their jobs without relying on email.
"We are trying to make all the soul-sucking work that comes with email go away," Rosenstein says as Moskovitz nods sitting across from him in a former brewery that serves as Asana’s headquarters. "This came out of a deep, heartfelt pain that Dustin and I were experiencing, along with just about everyone around us."