Following Palestinian UN bid, Israel okays construction of 3,000 new West Bank units
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel on Friday approved the construction of 3,000 homes in Jewish settlements on Israeli-occupied lands, a government official said, drawing swift condemnation from the Palestinians a day after their successful U.N. recognition bid.
The Palestinians reiterated their refusal to resume negotiations with Israel while building continues. With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently poised for re-election to another four-year term and insisting that any negotiations begin without preconditions, prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian partition deal appear to be going into deep freeze.
The United Nations voted overwhelmingly to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem as a non-member observer state on Thursday, setting off jubilant celebrations among Palestinians.
Israel fiercely objected to the U.N. upgrade, saying Palestinian statehood could only come from direct negotiations and unilateral moves would harm that prospect. The Palestinians said the U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war was an attempt to salvage a possible peace deal.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to negotiate with Israel while settlement construction continues, saying Israel’s settlement expansion on war-won land was making a partition deal increasingly difficult.
Up to 20 Lebanese fighting alongside rebels in Syria killed near border, raising tensions
MASNAA, Lebanon (AP) -- Syrian security forces killed as many as 20 Lebanese gunmen who were fighting alongside rebels in Syria on Friday, raising tensions amid mounting fears that the Syrian civil war is enflaming the region.
The Lebanese security officials said the gunmen were killed as they tried to enter the Syrian town of Tal Kalakh, near the Lebanese border. The officials asked that their names not be used because they were not authorized to speak publicly.
Syrian state-run media also reported that Lebanese gunmen were killed. But the SANA report said there 17 -- not 20 -- fighters. The discrepancy could not immediately be reconciled.
The Lebanese gunmen were Sunni Muslims, as are the vast majority of Syria’s rebels. Syrian President Bashar Assad -- along with his most elite troops -- belong to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
Lebanon is particularly vulnerable to getting sucked into the conflict in Syria. The countries share a complex web of political and sectarian ties and rivalries that are easily enflamed. Lebanon, a country plagued by decades of strife, has been on edge since the uprising in Syria against Assad began in March 2011, with deadly clashes between pro- and anti-Assad Lebanese groups erupting on several occasions.
War rips apart families, neighbors in Syria as political, sectarian loyalties take over
BEIRUT (AP) -- BEIRUT -- It’s at night that worries over her children hit the matriarch of the Khayyat family hardest, tormenting her as she tries to sleep.
Four of her sons have joined the tens of thousands of rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad. The fifth is a sergeant in Assad’s army, a draftee. Worsening her troubles, her own brother no longer speaks to her because of her sons in the rebellion.
"This is what it has come to in Syria," said the 60-year-old Sunni Muslim woman as she sat in the family home on the outskirts of Damascus. "This is my son, and the other is my son, but each is fighting on a different side in this war. It burns my heart." Because of fears of reprisals against any of her children, she spoke on condition she not be identified except by the name of her large, extended family.
More than any of the other uprisings that toppled longtime dictators in the Arab world, the civil war in Syria has sharply polarized the country -- ripping apart families and neighbors and bringing a bloody end to decades of coexistence.
The war has riven Syria along sectarian lines. The Sunni majority forms the backbone of the revolt. The minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism, backs the regime of Assad, who is himself an Alawite and has stacked his leadership with members of the community. Other minorities like Christians largely support Assad or stand on the sidelines, worried that Assad’s fall would bring a more Islamist rule over them.
In mass rally, Egypt protesters vow to stop draft constitution passed by Islamists
CAIRO (AP) -- Giant crowds of protesters packed Cairo’s Tahrir Square and marched in other cities Friday vowing to stop a draft constitution that Islamist allies of President Mohammed Morsi approved hours earlier in a rushed, all-night session without the participation of liberals and Christians.
Anger at Morsi even spilled over into a mosque where the Islamist president joined weekly Friday prayers. In his sermon, the mosque’s preacher compared Morsi to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, saying the prophet had enjoyed vast powers as leader, giving a precedent for the same to happen now.
"No to tyranny!" congregants chanted, interrupting the cleric. Morsi took to the podium and told the worshippers that he too objected to the language of the sheik and that one-man rule contradicts Islam.
Crowds of protesters marched from several locations in Cairo, converging in central Tahrir Square for the opposition’s second mass rally in a week against Morsi. They chanted, "Constitution: Void!" and "The people want to bring down the regime" as fireworks went off.
The crowd appeared comparable in size to the more than 200,000 anti-Morsi protesters who thronged Tahrir on Tuesday. Tens of thousands more marched Friday in Alexandria and other cities.
Lottery officials: Mechanic and wife are Missouri winners of $588M Powerball jackpot
DEARBORN, Mo. (AP) -- Cindy Hill, a laid-off office manager who lives in a small town in Missouri, called her husband Thursday with urgent news that would change everything: "We won the lottery."
"What?" he asked.
"We won the lottery," she repeated. But Mark Hill, a 52-year-old mechanic who works at a meat processing plant, is the kind of person who carefully checks the prices for everything he buys, and he needed proof. This is the "Show-Me State" after all.
He drove to his mother’s house, where his wife was waiting with their quick-pick ticket, and confirmed for himself that the numbers matched those drawn for a record $588 million Powerball jackpot that they’ll share with an unknown winner who bought a ticket in Arizona.
Missouri lottery officials officially introduced the Hills as winners Friday in front of reporters and townspeople gathered at the high school in Dearborn, which is about 40 miles north of Kansas City. The announcement was not a surprise. The Hills’ name began circulating Thursday, soon after lottery officials said a winning ticket had been sold at a Trex Mart gas station and convenience store on the edge of town.
Police: 3 dead in Wyo. murder-suicide, including 2 killed at community college
CASPER, Wyo. (AP) -- A man killed one person in a Casper neighborhood before going to a nearby community college campus Friday morning and killing a faculty member and then himself, police said.
Police found the suspect and one of the victims at a science building on the Casper College campus, which was locked down as authorities assessed the situation, Casper Police Chief Chris Walsh said. The other victim was found about 2 miles away.
Authorities say the suspect used a sharp-edged weapon in at least one of the deaths.
The suspect wasn’t believed to be a Casper College student, but it did appear there was a relationship between him and the victims, Walsh said. The police chief didn’t identify the suspect or victims but said the victims were a male and a female.
"We’re locating next of kin and working on notification absolutely as fast as we can," Walsh said.
Derailment on bridge sends train cars carrying chemicals into N.J. creek; dozens sickened
PAULSBORO, N.J. (AP) -- A freight train derailed Friday on a railroad bridge that has had problems before, toppling tanker cars partially into a creek and causing a leak of hazardous gas that was blamed for sickening dozens of people, authorities said.
Members of the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in New Jersey on Friday afternoon to investigate. They will try to determine whether the derailment was caused by a problem with the bridge or if the derailment was to blame for the bridge’s partial collapse.
A delicate operation lies ahead, as a huge crane was being brought from New York Harbor to pick up the dangling tanker cars.
The accident happened just after 7 a.m. when a train with two locomotives, 83 freight cars and a caboose made its way from Camden to the industrial town of Paulsboro, just across the river from Philadelphia International Airport.
Cars from a train operated by CSX went off the rails on a swing-style bridge, owned by Conrail, over Mantua Creek.
Judge tosses child porn case against coach accused of indecent videos of own children
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- A judge threw out child pornography charges against a Minnesota college football coach Friday, agreeing with his assertion that cellphone video of his kids dancing naked after a bath was nothing more than innocent child’s play.
Todd Hoffner, the head coach at Minnesota State University-Mankato, has been on administrative leave since the videos were discovered on his university-issued cellphone in August.
Hoffner testified earlier that his three young children asked them to videotape a skit they had concocted. His wife, Melodee, defended him and supporters even held candlelight vigils on his behalf as the case played out. Social workers found no evidence the couple’s children had been abused, and a search of his home computer found no evidence of child porn.
Blue Earth County District Judge Krista Jass said she didn’t find any evidence that the videos amounted to pornography.
"The videos under consideration here contain nude images of Defendant’s minor children dancing and acting playful after a bath. That is all they contain," Jass wrote in her 24-page ruling.