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Israel's military releases footage of a strike on the Lebanon border

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 23:26

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As Israel continues to battle Hamas, questions remain about whether Lebanon’s militant group, Hezbollah, will join the Israel-Hamas war.

Israel’s military released footage on Sunday of a strike on the Lebanese border.

The Israel Defense Forces said they exchanged fire with Hezbollah after the Lebanese militant group fired a missile toward an Israeli army post, killing one Israeli.

“The IDF will operate anywhere it has to in the Middle East to achieve the security interests of the state of Israel. We have high readiness and vigilance in all sectors,” said IDF spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

The Lebanese militant group said the attack was in retaliation for Israel’s strikes inside Lebanon the day before, which killed three people, including a journalist, according to reports.

SEE MORE: U.S. organizes ship to get more Americans out of Israel

Israel warned civilians to stay out of the Lebanese border area and ordered residents living nearby to seek shelter.

If the situation in Gaza worsens, there’s concern about another front in the war—if Hezbollah were to join to help Hamas.

As Israel prepares a ground invasion against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s Defense Minister said on Sunday that Israel is not interested in a war with Hezbollah and that it will stand down on its northern side as long as Hezbollah restrains itself.

Israel fought Hezbollah in 2006.

"Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas is one axis—an axis of evil. Everything is directed generally from Iran. The permission is given by Iran. The money is supplied by Iran, and the ideas are shaped in Iran,” said Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.

Hezbollah, similar to Hamas, is supported by Iran; however, it is more powerful and heavily armed.

Chicago man kills Muslim boy, injures woman over Israeli-Hamas war

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 22:20

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A 71-year-old Illinois man accused of fatally stabbing a 6-year-old boy and seriously wounding a 32-year-old woman was charged with a hate crime Sunday. Police allege he singled out the victims because of their Islamic faith and as a response to the war between Israel and Hamas.

In recent days, police in U.S. cities and federal authorities have been on high alert for violence driven by antisemitic or Islamophobic sentiments. Jewish and Muslim groups have reported an increase of hateful and threatening rhetoric on social media. In the Chicago case, officers found the woman and boy late Saturday morning at a home in an unincorporated area of Plainfield Township, southwest of the city, the Will County Sheriff's Office said in a statement on social media.

The boy was pronounced dead at a hospital. The woman had multiple stab wounds and was expected to survive, according to the statement. An autopsy on the child showed he had been stabbed dozens of times.

"Detectives were able to determine that both victims in this brutal attack were targeted by the suspect due to them being Muslim and the on-going Middle Eastern conflict involving Hamas and the Israelis," the sheriff's statement said.

According to the Will County sheriff's office, the woman had called 911 to report that her landlord had attacked her with a knife, adding she then ran into a bathroom and continued to fight him off.

The man suspected in the attack was found Saturday outside the home and "sitting upright outside on the ground near the driveway of the residence" with a cut on his forehead, authorities said.

SEE MORE: America's reaction to escalating violence amid the Israel-Hamas war

Joseph M. Czuba of Plainfield was charged with first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, two counts of hate crimes and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, according to the sheriff's office. He was in custody Sunday and awaiting a court appearance.

Attempts to reach Czuba or a family member were unsuccessful Sunday. His home phone number was unlisted. Messages left for possible relatives in online records and on social media were not immediately returned. The sheriff's office and county public defender's office did not immediately return messages about Czuba's legal representation.

Authorities did not release the names of the two victims.

But a man identifying himself as the boy's paternal uncle, Yousef Hannon, spoke at a news conference Sunday hosted by the Chicago chapter Council on American-Islamic Relations. There the boy was identified as Wadea Al-Fayoume, a Palestinian-American boy who had recently turned 6. The organization identified the other victim as the boy's mother.

"We are not animals, we are humans. We want people to see us as humans, to feel us as humans, to deal with us as humans, because this is what we are," said Hannon, a Palestinian-American who emigrated to the U.S. in 1999 to work, including as a public school teacher.

The Muslim civil liberties organization called the crime "our worst nightmare," and part of a disturbing spike in hate calls and emails since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. The group cited text messages exchanged among family members that showed the attacker had made disparaging remarks about Muslims.

"Palestinians basically, again, with their hearts broken over what's happening to their people," said Ahmed Rehab, the group's executive director, "have to also worry about the immediate safety of life and limb living here in this most free of democracies in the world."

President Joe Biden issued the following statement late Sunday in response to the incident:

Jill and I were shocked and sickened to learn of the brutal murder of a six-year-old child and the attempted murder of the child’s mother in their home yesterday in Illinois.

"The child’s Palestinian Muslim family came to America seeking what we all seek—a refuge to live, learn, and pray in peace. 

"This horrific act of hate has no place in America, and stands against our fundamental values: freedom from fear for how we pray, what we believe, and who we are.  

"As Americans, we must come together and reject Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry and hatred.  I have said repeatedly that I will not be silent in the face of hate.  We must be unequivocal. There is no place in America for hate against anyone.

"We join everyone here at the White House in sending our condolences and prayers to the family, including for the mother’s recovery, and to the broader Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim American communities."

Swift's 'Eras Tour' becomes top-grossing domestic concert film ever

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 21:47

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AMC is jamming out to "You Belong With Me" this Sunday while celebrating the success of the "Taylor Swift: The Eras Tour" concert film, which is now the top-grossing concert film released in the U.S.

The theater chain AMC revealed that the concert film achieved an impressive opening weekend, bringing in between $95 million and $97 million at the U.S. and Canadian box office, with an official final number being released Monday, the Associated Press reported. 

The film broke records this weekend by surpassing Justin Bieber's "Never Say Never," which made $73 million during its entire theater run in 2011. It also surpassed Miley Cyrus' "Best of Both Worlds" record opening of $31.1 million in 2008. 

According to CNN, the film also earned about $32 million in international sales, dominating the box office in the UK, Mexico, Australia, Germany, and the Philippines.

This news follows AMC's earlier announcement this month, stating that the movie had surpassed $100 million in advance ticket sales.

"It took less than 24 hours for the Taylor Swift | The Eras Tour concert film to shatter AMC’s U.S. record for the highest ticket-sales revenue during a single day in AMC’s 103-year history," the theater chain said in a press release. 

About 60% of weekend tickets were pre-sold, a high rate according to EntTelligence. The film drew around 4.8 million viewers, mainly female, with an average ticket price of $20.75.

SEE MORE: Can you dance, take selfies at Taylor Swift's concert film?

Suzanne Somers, 'Three's Company' actress, dies at 76

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 20:09

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Suzanne Somers, renowned for her iconic roles in "Three's Company" and "Step by Step," has passed away at the age of 76.

According to multiple reports, she succumbed to cancer after a resilient battle of over 20 years, just one day before turning 77.

“Suzanne Somers passed away peacefully at home in the early morning hours of October 15th. She survived an aggressive form of breast cancer for over 23 years,” Somers’ publicist R. Couri Hay wrote in a statement obtained by both People Magazine and Fox News.

Somers passed away surrounded by her husband, her son, and her immediate family. They had been planning to celebrate her birthday on Oct. 16, reports stated. A private burial will take place this week, with a memorial to follow next month.

Somers was born on Oct. 16, 1946, in California. She rose to fame as Chrissy Snow in the 1970s sitcom "Three’s Company" and later portrayed Carol Foster Lambert in the '90s family comedy "Step by Step."

6 killed in Russian-Ukraine attacks; Kyiv counterstrikes with drones

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 19:26

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Russian attacks on Ukraine over a 24-hour period killed six people, local officials reported Sunday.

Two people were killed and three more injured in the Kherson area after more than 100 shells bombarded the region over the weekend, local governor Oleksandr Prokudin wrote on social media.

Two guided bombs later hit key infrastructure in Kherson city, sparking a partial blackout and disruption to the area's water supply, reported the head of the city's military administration, Roman Mrochko.

Local officials said two more people died in the Donetsk area and that a 57-year-old man and a 54-year-old woman were killed by an airstrike that destroyed their home in the Kharkiv region.

In a separate incident, a 14-year-old boy was killed by a mine in a field in Ukraine's Mykolaiv region, Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said. The explosion also injured another 12-year-old boy.

Fighting remained fierce across eastern Ukraine over the weekend, with Russian forces repeatedly attempting to encircle the city of Kupiansk in the Kharkiv region, military officials said.

Illia Yevlash, spokesperson for the Ukrainian military's eastern forces, told journalists that forces defending the area had faced 10 separate attacks in the space of 24 hours.

"The enemy is trying to attack us in the direction of Kupiansk to encircle it and reach the banks of the Oskol River," Yevlash told Ukrainian television. He said that Ukrainian forces in the town of Lyman in the Donetsk region had also faced heavy attack.

SEE MORE: US says North Korea delivered equipment and munitions to Russia

Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, told a U.N. Security Council meeting on Friday that the intensified attacks in the east amounted to a new stage in Moscow's campaign in Ukraine.

"Russian troops have, for several days now, switched over to active combat action practically throughout the entire front line. … The so-called Ukrainian counteroffensive can therefore be considered finished," he said.

Meanwhile, the Russian defense ministry announced Sunday that Ukraine had launched 27 drones in an overnight attack on western Russia.

Officials said that 18 drones were shot down over the Kursk region, leading to speculation in the Russian press that the attack could have been targeting the nearby Khalino military airfield.

Images on social media showed burning debris just 1 mile from the air base, which was previously attacked by Ukrainian forces at the end of September.

Writing on social media, Kursk Gov. Roman Starovoit said that debris had fallen in the region's namesake capital and the nearby village of Zorino. No casualties were reported.

Officials also said that two more drones had been shot down over Russia's Belgorod region, but did not confirm the fate of the remaining seven drones. Ukrainian media outlets later said that Kyiv's forces had carried out a successful strike on Russia's Krasnaya Yaruga electrical substation, close to the Ukrainian border.

The reports cited an unnamed source from within Ukraine's security services and included a video that appeared to show an aerial strike against an unidentified target.

The Associated Press could not independently verify the reports.

Moscow also said Sunday that it had intercepted a Global Hawk drone close to Russia's Black Sea border.

A Su-27 fighter was scrambled to intercept the drone, which turned away and ultimately did not cross into Russian airspace, the Russian defense ministry said in a statement on social media.

Lahaina schools reopening 2 months after tragic wildfires

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 19:24

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Schools in the West Maui town of Lahaina are set to reopen this week, two months after devastating wildfires ripped through the Hawaii community.

Hawaii Public Schools said conditions are proven safe for students to get back to the classroom.

"Extensive testing of air, drinking water, and soil quality have shown the campuses are safe for students to return," Complex Area Superintendent Rebecca Winkie wrote in a letter to parents.

As part of the reopening plans, HEPA filters will be available in every classroom. Air quality sensors installed at each school will be monitored throughout the day.

The measures help ensure safety against particle pollution, which can cause eye irritation, lung and throat irritation, trouble breathing, or even lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This happens when particulate matter (PM), made up of tiny pieces of things like dust or smoke, travels through the air and can embed themselves deep in the lungs or even one's blood.

West Maui Schools said the Hawaii Department of Education, school administrators, and local agencies will continue working together to ensure safety.

Despite assurances, some parents said they wouldn't be sending their children back for fear of toxins left behind, according to the Associated Press.

Additional reopening efforts include the establishment of an evacuation route for schools in the area to use in emergencies.

Mental health support will also be available to students and staff.

SEE MORE: Lahaina schools complete evacuation routes to use in emergencies

Students of Lahainaluna will return on Oct. 16, Lahaina Intermediate students will return on Oct. 17, and students of King Kamehameha III and Princess Nāhi'ena'ena Elementary will return on Oct. 18. 

Students and staff from King Kamehameha III will share facilities with Nāhi'ena'ena until a temporary school site at Pulelehua opens, Winkie said.

"High-quality tent structures are being installed at Nāhi'ena'ena to add classroom spaces that are equipped with air conditioning and wooden floors," said the superintendent.

Schools across the state had been offering space to displaced students, AP said. Some students went to private schools offering a year's free tuition. Others bused over 45 minutes to public schools on the other side of Maui, while some students opted to go remote.

The wildfires that tore through Lahaina in August killed nearly 100 people and completely destroyed homes and businesses.

U.S. organizes ship to get more Americans out of Israel

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 16:40

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The U.S. has organized a ship to get more Americans out of Israel.

The U.S. Embassy in Israel said the ship will take Americans and their immediate family members with valid travel documents to Cyprus. From there they will arrange their own travel or utilize chartered flights set up to help evacuate them.

The ship will depart Monday morning from the Israeli city of Haifa. Boarding begins at 8:00 a.m. local time.

Travel to Cyprus' Limassol Port is expected to take 10 to 12 hours. Food and Wi-Fi will be provided. 

At least 29 Americans have been killed since Hamas launched an unprecedented terror attack on Israel last Saturday, the U.S. State Department said. At least 15 are reported missing. National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby had previously told reporters the number of Americans held hostage by Hamas is believed to be “less than a handful.”

Efforts to help evacuate more Americans comes as Israel is expected to launch an all-out invasion into Gaza — by air, land and sea — as it prepares to take on Hamas targets. An Israeli military spokesperson said the strike will happen "very soon" but did not specify timing.

On Saturday, the U.S. coordinated with Egypt, Israel and Qatar on a plan to allow Palestinian Americans and other dual citizens in Gaza to cross the border into Egypt during a five-hour window, according to a U.S. official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

This came as Israel urged a mass evacuation from Gaza's northern territory Friday. While the U.S. did not ask Israel to delay evacuation plans, it asked that Israel take civilian lives into account.

Also over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the deployment of second aircraft carrier strike group to the Eastern Mediterranean, an effort he said was “to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war.” 

U.S. officials said the strike group will not join the fighting in Gaza or take part in Israeli operations.

The first carrier strike group, the USS Gerald R. Ford, arrived off the coast of Israel earlier this week.

SEE MORE: US State Department: 29 Americans dead, 15 missing in Israel-Hamas war

Blinken back to Israel this week after meeting with Arab nations

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 14:08

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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will return to Israel this week after completing a frantic six-country rush through Arab nations aimed at preventing the Israel-Hamas war from igniting a broader regional conflict.

The U.S. State Department announced Blinken's plan to travel Monday to Israel — his second visit in five days — as America's top diplomat arrived in Cairo for talks Sunday with Egypt's president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. It was the last of Blinken's meetings with Arab leaders amid increasing fears that an impending Israeli ground offensive into Gaza could spark a wider war with devastating humanitarian consequences.

Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters traveling with Blinken that the secretary was returning to Tel Aviv "for further consultations with Israeli officials." Miller did not elaborate.

Before landing in Egypt, Blinken met on Sunday morning with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh. That meeting followed talks over the previous three days with the leaders of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Blinken began the whirlwind trip on Thursday in Israel, pledging support and solidarity for the country as it responds to last week's Hamas surprise attacks. Blinken also spoke by phone with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to seek Beijing's support in discouraging others from getting involved.

Yet as plans for Israel's military action to eradicate Hamas have taken shape with heavy airstrikes and warnings for more than a million Palestinians to evacuate the northern Gaza Strip, concerns for a broader conflict have intensified. In his talks with Arab leaders Blinken has stressed the importance of not allowing that to happen.

SEE MORE: US State Department: 29 Americans dead, 15 missing in Israel-Hamas war

In Washington, Biden's national security adviser said the U.S. was not "making requests or demands of Israel with respect to its military operations." Jake Sullivan, making the rounds of the Sunday TV news shows, said the Biden administration was "simply stating our basic principles – the principles upon which this country is based and all democracies, including Israel, are based. It's what makes us different from the terrorists, that in fact we respect civilian life."

He said the U.S. was not "not interfering in their military planning or trying to give them instructions or requests specific." Sullivan said the U.S. is conveying the message in public and in private that "all military operations should be conducted consistent with law of war, that civilians should be protected, that civilians should have a real opportunity to get to safety" and have access to food, water, medicine and shelter.

Sullivan also said the U.S. has been unable so far to get American citizens out of Gaza through Egypt's Rafah crossing with Gaza.

"It has been difficult to execute that operation to facilitate their passage out. … It's a high priority," acknowledging that "I'm not aware of anyone else being able to get out at this time." The crossing was closed because of airstrikes early in the war. There are an estimated 500 Americans living in Gaza, but that number is imprecise, officials have said.

Underscoring fears of a wider conflict, the U.S. military has positioned an aircraft carrier battle group in the Eastern Mediterranean and on Saturday announced the deployment of a second one. The naval presence is intended to serve as a deterrent to other countries and groups, like Iran and Syria and Lebanon's Hezbollah, not to enter the conflict.

Also Saturday, as the Israeli military said its assault against Hamas targets in Gaza would begin very soon, President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

U.S. officials have said the Arab reaction to Blinken's message has been generally positive — acknowledging Israel has a right to respond to the Hamas attacks but expressing deep concern about the humanitarian situation in Gaza and unable to stay silent about the Palestinian civilian casualties that result. The Arab leaders have also said the current situation cannot be resolved without an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that gives the Palestinians an independent state.

In his roughly hourlong meeting with Prince Mohammed at the de facto Saudi leader's private farm outside Riyadh, Blinken "highlighted the United States' unwavering focus on halting terrorist attacks by Hamas, securing the release of all hostages, and preventing the conflict from spreading," the State Department said.

"The two affirmed their shared commitment to protecting civilians and to advancing stability across the Middle East and beyond," according to a department statement.

SEE MORE: US calls for civilian safety, but didn't ask Israel to delay invasion

The Saudi description of the meeting focused primarily on Palestinian civilians, echoing the sentiments that the other Arab leaders with whom Blinken has met. It said Saudi Arabia would object to the targeting of "civilians in any way or disrupt(ing) infrastructure and vital interests that affect their daily lives."

The prince "stressed the need to work to discuss ways to stop the military operations that claimed the lives of innocent people," the Saudi Press Agency said in a report about the meeting.

Prince Mohammed also made clear the Saudi emphasis on the need to "stop the current escalation, respect international humanitarian law, including lifting the siege on Gaza, and work to create conditions for the return of stability," it said.

Before the Hamas attacks in Israel last Saturday, Blinken had planned to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia this coming week to discuss what had been ongoing negotiations for an agreement to normalize relations between the two countries. After the attacks, Blinken changed his plans so he could get to Israel quickly to show solidarity. The normalization talks are now on hold, a result that U.S. and other officials believe was a main goal of Hamas and its prime sponsor, Iran.

Neither the U.S. nor Saudi statements mentioned the matter.

Florida teen gives back to firefighters who saved her life

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 12:24

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A Palm Beach Central High School cheerleader serves as a beacon of hope on the sideline.

Layla Rogan was nearly killed in an ATV crash in Florida in May 2022. After an incredible recovery, she's now giving back to those who helped save her.

For her 17th birthday Friday, Rogan was on a mission to feed the firefighters at every Palm Beach County Fire Rescue station. And knowing her spirit, "Layla Strong," they knew she could do it.

You'd never know that a little more than a year ago, Rogan, a sassy and spunky Palm Beach Central High School cheerleader, wasn't expected to survive a horrific ATV crash, let alone cheer again.

"When we got to the hospital, it felt like a race of what was going to take her life first," said Ali Rogan, Layla's mom. "If she beats one of these, there are three other serious injuries on deck behind it ready to get her."

But they didn't. And on her 17th birthday Friday, Rogan and her family paid it forward. They organized a meal train to deliver food to every Palm Beach County Fire Rescue location, all 52 of them.

"I just thought, go big or go home," Rogan said. "So I was like, let's do all the stations. Because even though they weren't there on my call, they still, every day, they save other people. And I wanted to give back to them."

"We needed a miracle, and it started with these guys," Ali Rogan said.

The Rogan family has formed a close bond with Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, especially emergency medical services Capt. Troy Dichard, who responded to Rogan's call.

"That's my best friend. He saved me," Rogan said.

"It's one of the top five of my career," Dichard said. "Validates everything that we do. And it's a good memory of a call that we have. The progress that she's shown, I've not seen anything like it."

Across all corners of Palm Beach County on Friday, firefighters were treated to lunch in Rogan's honor, coming from her favorite teacher and even complete strangers.

"I thought it was a great way to say, we see you, we appreciate you, we love you. Because they don't get that side," Ali Rogan said.

People teaming up to celebrate the heroes that walk among us.

"I'm just very grateful," Layla Rogan said. "They didn't give up on me and worked on me. I was pretty critical. They could have just let me go, but they didn't."

Rogan is here, a bright light cheering for all to see.

"It's just such a good reminder of the good. And there is good. And we were all a part of that," Ali Rogan said.

"The next patient I have like Layla, I'm going to be thinking in the back of my head, this girl's got a shot," Dichard said.

Rogan's crash happened in May 2022. She was driving an ATV and hit a parked car. Her injuries included at least nine brain bleeds, according to her mom.

"She had what's called brain sheering where you hit something so hard it tears the axons in your brain. Ahe had the most severe case of that," Ali Rogan said, along with liver lacerations, a broken jaw, and internal bleeding.

Layla spent three weeks in the ICU at St. Mary's Medical Center before being flown to the Shepard Center in Atlanta, which specializes in traumatic brain injuries.

She was able to return home in time to start her sophomore year of high school just two weeks late in 2022.

After her accident, Rogan said she has a new plan for her future. She wants to go to school for physical therapy so she can help others the way she was helped in her miraculous recovery.

This story was originally published by Stephanie Susskind at Scripps News West Palm Beach.

Packed Gaza hospitals say thousands could die as ground invasion looms

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 12:01

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Medics in Gaza warned Sunday that thousands could die as hospitals packed with wounded people run desperately low on fuel and basic supplies. Palestinians in the besieged coastal enclave struggled to find food, water and safety ahead of an expected Israeli ground offensive in the war sparked by Hamas' deadly attack.

Israeli forces, supported by a growing deployment of U.S. warships in the region, positioned themselves along Gaza's border and drilled for what Israel said would be a broad campaign to dismantle the militant group. A week of blistering airstrikes have demolished entire neighborhoods but failed to stem militant rocket fire into Israel.

The Gaza Health Ministry said 2,329 Palestinians have been killed since the fighting erupted, more than in the 2014 Gaza war, which lasted over six weeks. That makes this the deadliest of the five Gaza wars for both sides. More than 1,300 Israelis have been killed, the vast majority of them civilians killed in Hamas' Oct. 7 assault. This is the deadliest war for Israel since the 1973 conflict with Egypt and Syria.

Hospitals are expected to run out of generator fuel within two days, according to the U.N., which said that that would endanger the lives of thousands of patients. Gaza's sole power plant shut down for lack of fuel after Israel completely sealed off the 40-kilometer-long (25-mile-long) territory following the Hamas attack.

In Nasser Hospital, in the southern town of Khan Younis, intensive care rooms are packed with wounded patients, most of them children under the age of 3. Hundreds of people with severe blast injuries have come to the hospital, where fuel is expected to run out by Monday, said Dr. Mohammed Qandeel, a consultant at the critical care complex.

There are 35 patients in the ICU who require ventilators and another 60 on dialysis. If fuel runs out, "it means the whole health system will be shut down," he said, as children moaned in pain in the background. "All these patients are in danger of death if the electricity is cut off."

Dr. Hussam Abu Safiya, the head of pediatrics at the Kamal Adwan Hospital in northern Gaza, said it did not evacuate despite Israeli orders. There are seven newborns in the ICU hooked up to ventilators, he said. "We cannot evacuate, that would mean death for them and other patients under our care."

Patients keep arriving with severed limbs, severe burns and other life-threatening injuries. "It's frightening," he said.

SEE MORE: US State Department: 29 Americans dead, 15 missing in Israel-Hamas war

The Shifa hospital in Gaza City, the territory's largest, said it would bury 100 bodies in a mass grave as an emergency measure after its morgue overflowed, with relatives unable to bury their loved ones. Tens of thousands of people seeking safety have gathered in the hospital compound.

Gaza was already in a humanitarian crisis due to a growing shortage of water and medical supplies caused by the Israeli siege. With some bakeries closing, residents said they were unable to buy bread. Israel has also cut off water, forcing many to rely on brackish wells.

Israel has ordered more than 1 million Palestinians — almost half the territory's population — to move south. The military says it is trying to clear away civilians ahead of a major campaign against Hamas in the north, where it says the militants have extensive networks of tunnels, bunkers and rocket launchers. Hamas urged people to stay in their homes.

The U.N. and aid groups say the mass exodus within Gaza, along with Israel's complete siege, will cause untold human suffering. The World Health Organization said the evacuation "could be tantamount to a death sentence" for the more than 2,000 patients in northern hospitals.

The military said Sunday that it would not target a single route south between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., again urging Palestinians to leave the north en masse. The military offered two corridors and a longer window the day before. It says hundreds of thousands have already fled south.

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees says an estimated 1 million people have been displaced in Gaza in a single week.

The U.S. has been trying to broker a deal to reopen Egypt's Rafah crossing with Gaza to allow Americans and other foreigners to leave and humanitarian aid amassed on the Egyptian side to be brought in. The crossing, which was closed because of airstrikes early in the war, has yet to reopen.

Israel has said the siege will only be lifted when the captives are returned.

Hundreds of relatives of the estimated 150 people captured by Hamas in Israel and taken to Gaza gathered outside the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv late Saturday, demanding their release.

"This is my cry out to the world: Please help bring my family, my wife and three kids," said Avihai Brodtz of Kfar Azza. Many expressed anger toward the government, saying they still have no information about their loved ones.

In southern Israel, residents of the town of Sderot, one of several communities targeted in the Hamas rampage, were boarding buses for other parts of the country to escape continuing rocket fire. Thousands have already left under a state-sponsored program that puts them in hotels elsewhere in the country.

"The kids are traumatized, they can't sleep at night," Yossi Edri told Channel 13 before boarding a bus.

SEE MORE: US calls for civilian safety, but didn't ask Israel to delay invasion

The military said Sunday an airstrike in southern Gaza had killed a Hamas commander blamed for the killings at Nirim, one of several communities Hamas had attacked in southern Israel. Israel said it struck over 100 military targets overnight, including command centers and rocket launchers.

In the north, meanwhile, Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon fired an anti-tank missile toward an Israeli army post and Israel responded with artillery fire. Israel's Magen David Adom rescue service said a 40-year-old man was killed, without giving his nationality. Israel later closed off areas up to 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from the border and ordered civilians within 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) to shelter in safe rooms.

Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war in 2006, have traded fire along the border several times since the start of the latest Gaza war.

Israel has called up some 360,000 military reserves and massed troops and tanks along the border with Gaza. Israelis living near the Gaza border, including residents of the town of Sderot, continued to be evacuated. Militants in Gaza have fired over 5,500 rockets since the hostilities erupted, many reaching reaching deep into Israel, as Israeli warplanes pound Gaza.

In a televised address Saturday night, Israel's chief military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said "we are going to attack Gaza City very broadly soon," without giving a timetable for the attack.

When asked at a press briefing whether Israel would treat civilians who stay in the north as combatants, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, another army spokesman, said: "That's why we've encouraged people not involved with Hamas to move south."

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said late Saturday that the U.S. was moving a second carrier strike group, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, to the eastern Mediterranean, in a show of force meant to deter Hamas allies like Iran and Hezbollah from seeking to widen the war.

Hamas remained defiant. In a televised speech Saturday, Ismail Haniyeh, a top official based abroad, said that "all the massacres" will not break the Palestinian people.

Hamas spokesperson Jihad Taha told The Associated Press in Beirut that Israel "does not dare to fight a ground battle," because of the captives. He alluded to the possible entry of Hezbollah and other regional players in the battle should Israel launch a ground invasion but declined to say whether they had made any concrete commitments.

Hot air balloons grace the sky during the 'ring of fire' eclipse

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 01:36

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Dan Stukas has plenty of stories from his 30-plus years as a hot air balloon pilot. And boy, is he a storyteller.

But how did he get into balloon flying?

"I said, 'Lonnie, there's no stinkin' steering wheel. Why would I like this?” said Stukas.

His love for ballooning started, really, as a way to get the girl at his first lunch with his now-wife.

"She said, 'Well, you can probably fly anything, can't you?' and I said, 'Oh, yes, ma'am, I can fly anything.' And she looked at me, and she said, 'Well, I wanna go for a hot air balloon ride,’” said Stukas.

A long-time pilot of planes, he was initially resistant to the idea, but, as his ear-to-ear grin will make it clear, he's glad he came around.

"My son is a balloon pilot. My granddaughter, 16 years old, that's all she talks about is getting her license,” said Stukas.

At the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, he's in good company.

"I have been to every balloon fiesta since I was born," said Jonathan Wright, a balloon pilot. "People from all over the world coming together as a community.”

This year, more than 500 registered pilots representing 12 countries attended.

And Scripps News’ James Packard couldn’t resist getting on a balloon himself.

“Maybe, what, 2,000 feet above the earth? I'm here with Eileen Jones; she's our pilot today. And you've been doing this for 32 years?” asked Packard.

"32 years this week,” Jones responded.

"You just said this is maybe one of the more spectacular mornings you've seen?" Packard asked.

"Absolutely, in my entire 32 years, absolutely," said Jones.

SEE MORE: What to expect from this weekend's 'ring of fire' eclipse

But this year, there is something different.

solar eclipse will be passing right over the famous affair.

"That's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and you don't let something like that pass you by,” said Wright.

As the sky darkened Saturday morning, the balloons kept the lights on. A convergence of magic, the man-made, and the natural.

"I think that's what really draws so many people to this sport—it's the challenge of man and nature,” said Wright.

"If you want to share your hobby, share your love, this is the place to do it,” said Stukas.

For Dan, the eclipse adds a thrilling chapter to what will always be, for him, a love story.

"We decided we're gonna get married. And what better way than with balloons?" said Stukas. "Susan walks in—down the grass—with the most beautiful wedding dress. I get in, we help Susan in, and we fly away. That's how we got into ballooning."

The solar eclipse passed through eight U.S. states before moving across the Gulf of Mexico and over Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Brazil, making the famous "ring of fire" visible to millions of people on Saturday. 

Israel-Hamas war sparks demonstrations across the US

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 01:36

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As the war between Israel and Hamas enters its second week, tens of thousands of protesters across the U.S. are standing up and holding rallies in support of either Israel or Palestinians. Taking over places like Times Square

Hamas’ surprise attack on Israel has left more than a thousand people dead, including women and children.

In retaliation, Israel launched a bombing campaign that the Palestinian health ministry says has so far killed more than 2,000 people in Gaza.

“It hurts me to know that innocent civilians on both sides are dying,” said a student from Arizona State who was protesting in support of Palestinians.

“I know of many people that have died. I know of many friends of friends that have died,” said a student from Arizona State who was protesting in support of Israel.

Meanwhile, as protests continue on the streets, people inside places of worship are on high alert.

Cities across the U.S. are bolstering security over fears of violence after a former Hamas leader called for "a day of rage” on Friday.

Earlier this week, President Joe Biden said law enforcement agencies across the U.S. have stepped up security around “centers of Jewish life."

The FBI is also monitoring the situation.

During a police conference in San Diego on Saturday, FBI director Christopher Wray said reported domestic threats have surged as the conflict in the Middle East has intensified.

Regardless of what side people are on, many are hoping for peace.

“The solution. Somebody has to find a solution. However, this cannot continue,” said Dr. Rola Abushaban, who has relatives who live in Gaza.

SEE MORE: US State Department: 29 Americans dead, 15 missing in Israel-Hamas war

US State Department: 29 Americans dead, 15 missing in Israel-Hamas war

Sun, 10/15/2023 - 00:15

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The U.S. State Department has confirmed that the casualties among Americans due to the Israeli-Hamas war have climbed to 29, with 15 individuals still unaccounted for. This includes one lawful U.S. permanent resident.

Addressing the 2023 Human Rights Campaign National Dinner on Saturday, President Joe Biden said he spoke to some of their families on Friday.

“I spoke for over an hour with a family member of those Americans who are still unaccounted for on a Zoom call. They've endured the agony of not knowing what's happened,” President Biden said.

On Saturday, President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian authorities, including President Mahmoud Abbas, advocating for stability in the Middle East and “to prevent the conflict from widening,” according to the White House.

President Biden also denounced Hamas militants' deadly actions in Israel during the human rights event.

"The humanitarian crisis in Gaza, innocent Palestinian families, and a vast majority of them nothing to do with Hamas; they're being used as human shields," Biden said. "Hate never goes away."

Earlier on Saturday, the U.S. called for the protection of civilians in the Gaza Strip.

"As Israel pursues its legitimate right, to defending its people and to trying to ensure that this never happens again, it is vitally important that all of us look out for civilians, and we're working together to do exactly that," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. "None of us want to see suffering by civilians on any side, whether it's in Israel, whether it's in Gaza, whether it's anywhere else.”

Furthermore, the Biden administration announced Saturday that it’s deploying the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower carrier strike group to aid Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean, per anonymous defense officials. Eisenhower will lead the USS Gerald R. Ford group near Israel, boosting the U.S. presence with destroyers, fighters, and cruisers.

Israel has been bombing Gaza for the past week, killing more than 2,200 so far in response to the cross-border Hamas attack that killed over 1,300 Israelis, according to the Associated Press.

The Israeli military has declared its readiness for an expected land offensive, stating its intention to strike Gaza City "very soon." Prime Minister Netanyahu took to social media to show a meeting with Israeli soldiers stationed in the Gaza Strip, emphasizing, "We are all ready.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.

SEE MORE: America's reaction to escalating violence amid the Israel-Hamas war

Lahaina schools complete evacuation routes to use in emergencies

Sat, 10/14/2023 - 22:00

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Two months after devastating wildfires ripped through the Hawaii town of Lahaina, schools in the West Maui community have completed an evacuation route to use in emergencies. 

The Office of the Governor stated in a press release that the Hawaiian Department of Transportation constructed the emergency access route at a cost of approximately $550,000. The route spans about 2.5 miles, connecting Lahainaluna Fire Lane to Lahaina Bypass.   

“The community stressed the importance of reopening for our Lahaina keiki,” said Governor Green. “Having a mass evacuation route available hopefully will provide reassurance to students, parents, caregivers, and West Maui faculty and staff.”

School officials, Maui Police Department, Maui Fire Department, and HDOT staff will have access keys for the emergency access route, enabling them to open it during evacuations in case of emergencies.

“We greatly appreciate the support from the Department of Transportation, private landowners and Governor Green in prioritizing the safety of our Lahaina school communities as we prepare to reopen to students next week," said Hawaiʻi State Department of Education Superintendent Keith Hayashi.

Additionally, officials say that high-quality tents have been set up at Nahienaena to expand classroom capacity and are equipped with both air conditioning and wooden flooring.

Students are set to return to class starting next week.

SEE MORE: Hawaii Wildfire 911 Calls: 'Get to the Ocean'

America's reaction to escalating violence amid the Israel-Hamas war

Sat, 10/14/2023 - 21:03

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For communities across the United States, the violence in the Middle East this week was horrific. News of kidnappings, killings, destruction, and bloodshed in both Israel and the Gaza Strip inspired rallies, memorials, and protests.

A war more than five thousand miles away is felt acutely at home.

In a show of solidarity, the White House lit up in the blue and white colors of the Israeli flag, and across the country, rallies and memorials were held after the most recent attack by the terrorist group Hamas killed more than 1,300 people in Israel.

The United States is often considered one of Israel's strongest allies.

On top of the $260 billion in U.S. government aid sent to the country since World War II, some groups estimate that private U.S. philanthropic organizations donate around two billion dollars annually to Israeli nonprofits.

Many of those organizations are now calling on their communities to help those affected by the invasion from Hamas.

"This morning, we opened up an emergency campaign to raise dollars, and one hundred percent of those dollars raised will go directly to our partners on the ground in Israel,” said Megan Weintraub, Chief Philanthropy Officer at Jewish Nevada.

Organizations like Jewish Nevada are supporting immediate relief efforts to aid survivors of the attack and rebuild damaged infrastructure.

"I can't say that I have the solution to peace in the Middle East. What I do know is that our community believes in a two-state solution, our community believes in democracy, and our community believes in human dignity,” said Miryam Rosenzweig, President and CEO, Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

SEE MORE: US calls for civilian safety, but didn't ask Israel to delay invasion

But apart from solidarity rallies in support of Israel, others in the U.S. are rallying behind Palestinians and protesting Israel's influence over Gaza.

Groups like the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, a nonprofit founded in the U.S., are mobilizing to provide medical aid and essential supplies to the children injured and left homeless by the bombings in Gaza.

"We are not here to celebrate. We are here because something tragic has happened,” said Imam Suleiman Hani, Director of Academic Affairs at Almaghrib Institute.

"We just want freedom for the Palestinians back home. What they're going through is not easy,” said protester Laila Abu Taha.

"It's a scary situation for both sides. Retaliation is something that people are worried about,” said Jamilah Arabiyat, President of Students for Justice in Palestine.

Many activists worry the continued retaliatory strike will come at the cost of more lives.

"We do not condone the loss of lives, but we do not accept that Israeli lives triumph over Palestinian lives,” said Mohamad Abdelsalam, Representative at Palestine Aid Society.

As the rallies and protests continue across the country, several people are concerned that the rhetoric in support of Palestinians justifies the violence of Hamas against Israelis.

Since last Saturday, more than 2,800 people have died amid the Hamas-Israel war. Over 1,300 Israelis and over 1,500 Gazans.

Louvre Museum and Versailles Palace evacuated after bomb threats

Sat, 10/14/2023 - 17:30

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The Louvre Museum in Paris and Versailles Palace evacuated visitors and staff Saturday after receiving bomb threats, police said. The French government started deploying 7,000 troops to increase security around the country after a fatal school stabbing by a suspected Islamic extremist.

The evacuations of two of the world's most-visited tourist sites come amid heightened vigilance around France following Friday's school attack, and global tensions linked to the war between Israel and Hamas. President Emmanuel Macron's government is worried about fallout from the war in France.

Alarms rang out through the Louvre when the evacuation was announced, and in the underground shopping center beneath its signature pyramid. Paris police said officers searched the museum after it received written bomb threats. The Louvre communication service said no one was hurt and no bomb was found, so the museum will reopen as usual on Sunday.

The Louvre, home to masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, welcomes between 30,000 and 40,000 visitors per day and several million annually.

The former royal palace at Versailles also received bomb threats, and the palace and its sprawling gardens were being evacuated while police examine the area, according to national police. A major Paris train station, Gare de Lyon, was being evacuated after the discovery of a possible bottle explosive, police said.

Earlier Saturday, Macron's office announced the mobilization of 7,000 soldiers by Monday night, after the government heightened the national threat alert in the wake of the school attack in the northern city of Arras. The "attack emergency" threat posture allows the government to temporarily deploy extra troops to protect public places, among other measures.

Counterterrorism authorities are investigating the Arras stabbing, and the suspected assailant and several others are in custody, prosecutors said. The attacker's exact motive remains unclear, and he is reportedly refusing to speak to investigators.

The suspect had been under recent surveillance by intelligence services for Islamic radicalization. He was detained Thursday for questioning based on his phone conversations in recent days, but investigators found no sign that he was preparing an attack, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said. He said French intelligence suggested a link between the war in the Middle East and the suspect's decision to act.

Court documents viewed by The Associated Press show the suspect, identified by prosecutors as Mohammed M., is from the Ingushetia region in Russia's Caucasus Mountains, which neighbors Chechnya.

Some schoolchildren, parents and personnel returned to the Gambetta-Carnot school Saturday, as police stood guard outside. Classes were canceled, but the school reopened for those who wanted to come together or seek support.

Trauma specialists described the importance of addressing the emotions and revisiting the scene soon after horrific events. One mother said she came with her 17-year-old daughter in a show of defiance against extremism, and to overcome the fear of returning to a site where children were locked down for hours after the stabbing.

Another mother came to seek guidance from counselors about how to support her two sons, who witnessed the attack in their schoolyard.

"As adults, we are managing with difficulty to take a step back, but for them, they're children," said Emily Noge, arriving at the school with her sons and partner.

''It's always the same moments that come back: The schoolyard, the chairs to protect themselves, the stabbings, the whys. 'Why us? Why Arras? Why the teachers? They were good teachers. They were there to protect us,‴ she said.

For many, the attack echoed the killing of another teacher, Samuel Paty, almost exactly three years ago near his Paris area school. He was beheaded by a radicalized Chechen later killed by police.

All French middle schools and high schools will open later Monday so that staff can talk about the attack, and prepare to reassure students and address what happened, the Education Ministry announced. Each establishment will hold a minute of silence to reflect and honor victims of all attacks targeting schools.

Macron urged the people of France to "stay united."

SEE MORE: Teacher killed, others wounded in France school stabbing

What to expect from this weekend's 'ring of fire' eclipse

Sat, 10/14/2023 - 16:12

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On Oct.14, 2023, skies above North, Central and South America will darken in an annular solar eclipse. Here's what you need to know.

An annular eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun at the furthest point in its orbit from Earth. The distance between Earth and the moon means the moon will not appear to cover the entire disc of the Sun.

The eclipse creates what appears to be a ring of sunlight, which is why an annular eclipse is also known as a "ring of fire" eclipse.

Because the sun is not completely obscured by the moon, it is not safe to observe the event without eye protection like eclipse glasses or a solar filter on a telescope.

SEE MORE: Texas power regulators prepare for October solar eclipse

In the U.S., the path of maximum coverage during the eclipse will extend from Oregon's west coast to the southern tip of Texas, in a band roughly 152 miles wide. Cities in this band include Eugene, Oregon; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and San Antonio and Corpus Christi, Texas.

In this area, the darkest moments of the eclipse will last between one and five minutes.

Those in areas further away from the main path will see less of the sun obscured overall.

Outside of the U.S., the path of maximum coverage will also cross Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama; and Colombia and northern Brazil in South America.

@scrippsnews Are you ready? This weekend an annular eclipse will occur over portions of the United States. Those in the direct path will see a 'ring of fire'. Here are some tips on viewing the event safely. #eclipse #space ♬ original sound - Scripps News

US calls for civilian safety, but didn't ask Israel to delay invasion

Sat, 10/14/2023 - 15:13

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The United States is calling for the protection of civilians in the Gaza strip and Israel as fighting between the Jewish nation and Hamas continues.

This comes amid speculation that Israel will invade Gaza as it issues warnings for citizens to evacuate the northern part of the territory. The move follows an initial surprise attack on Israel from Hamas a week ago, that renewed fighting in the region. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has since declared war on the terrorist group.

On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan in Riyadh before stopping in the United Arab Emirates as he sought ways to help civilians trapped in between the fighting and to address the worsening humanitarian crisis. Israel's military has ordered half of the Palestinian territory's population to evacuate in advance of an expected ground assault, but there were few good options for those fleeing as border crossings remained closed.

Blinken noted it was "vitally important that this conflict not spread."

Blinken also called Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to seek his country's help in preventing the war from spreading, asking Beijing to use whatever influence it has in the Mideast. Blinken's spokesman declined to characterize Wang's response but said the U.S. believes it and China have a shared interest in the region's stability. 

"As Israel pursues its legitimate right, to defending its people and to trying to ensure that this never happens again, it is vitally important that all of us look out for civilians, and we're working together to do exactly that," Blinken said. 

"None of us want to see suffering by civilians on any side, whether it's in Israel, whether it's in Gaza, whether it's anywhere else," Blinken said.

SEE MORE: Palestinians stream south in Gaza as Israel urges mass evacuation

The Saudi minister said the kingdom was committed to the protection of civilians.

"It's a disturbing situation," he said. "It's a very difficult situation. And, as you know, the primary sufferer of this situation are civilians, and civilian populations on both sides are being affected and it's important, I think, that we all condemn the targeting of civilians in any form at any time by anyone." 

While the U.S. wants safety for civilians, it did not ask Israel to slow down or hold off its evacuation plan. Israel said it is taking into account guidance from the U.S. to consider safety measures for civilians, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the private discussions and spoke on condition of anonymity.

In a sign of some small potential progress, a senior U.S. official traveling with Blinken said an agreement in principle had been worked out between Egypt, Israel and Qatar to allow Palestinian Americans and other dual citizens in Gaza to cross the border into Egypt during a five-hour window on Saturday. There are an estimated 500 Americans living in Gaza, but that number is imprecise, officials have said. 

But Egyptian officials said the Rafah crossing remained closed due to a dispute over aid for Gaza and that U.S. citizens in the territory were not yet permitted to leave. The state-owned Al-Qahera TV station, which has close ties with Egyptian security agencies and cited unnamed security officials, reported that authorities in Cairo have conditioned the crossing of American citizens on the delivery of aid to Gaza. 

Also, it was not immediately clear whether Hamas would allow convoys of foreigners to reach the crossing unimpeded. 

The U.S. State Department on Saturday authorized the departure of nonemergency U.S. government personnel and their family members from the American Embassy in Jerusalem and an office in Tel Aviv. 

Faisal said it was imperative for the violence between Israel and Hamas to end. 

"We need to work together to find a way out of this cycle of violence," he said. "Without a concerted effort to end this constant return to violence, it will always be the civilians that suffer first, it will always be civilians on both sides that end up paying the price." 

Saudi Arabia called an urgent meeting of foreign ministers from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a 57-member bloc of Muslim countries. The group said in a statement that the session, set for Wednesday in Jeddah, will "address the escalating military situation in Gaza and its environs as well as the deteriorating conditions that endanger the lives of civilians and the overall security and stability of the region." 

After his meeting in Abu Dhabi, Blinken plans to return to Saudi Arabia and then to travel on Sunday to Egypt. He has already visited Israel, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain on his mission to show U.S. support for Israel as it prepares for the expected incursion into Gaza, but has also affirmed the importance of maintaining humanitarian aid in Gaza and preventing civilian casualties, in part by creating safe zones inside Gaza.

High school teacher arrested on child abuse and gun possession charges

Sat, 10/14/2023 - 12:22

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A teacher in Florida was arrested on felony child abuse and gun charges Friday afternoon.

The educator, from Chamberlain High School in Tampa, is also a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) Captain.

The Tampa Police Department (TPD) said the 16-year-old victim reported that their teacher, 55-year-old Michael Bradford, got upset with him because he refused to participate in personal training.

The victim and witnesses told authorities that Bradford was standing over the victim, who was in a plank position, smacked the teen on the buttocks, and said, "Here comes the T-Bag."

According to the victim, Bradford grabbed them by the neck when they attempted to stand up, and when they tried to use their cell phone to call their parent, Bradford reportedly grabbed the phone and threw it toward a truck in the parking lot.

Police said the student was not injured, and school employees immediately notified the School Resource Officer.

Authorities said Bradford was escorted to his office to get his personal items when they found a Colt .45 caliber handgun and a loaded magazine inside an office cabinet.

TPD said Bradford was arrested and transported to Orient Road Jail, where he was charged with child abuse and possession of a firearm on school property.

This story was originally published by Stephanie Cardenas at Scripps News Tampa.

Palestinians stream south in Gaza as Israel urges mass evacuation

Sat, 10/14/2023 - 11:41

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Palestinians scrambled to flee northern Gaza on Saturday after the Israeli military ordered nearly half the population to evacuate south and carried out limited ground forays ahead of an expected land offensive a week after Hamas' bloody, wide-ranging attack into Israel.

Israel renewed calls on social media and in leaflets dropped from the air for some 1 million Gaza residents to move south, while Hamas urged people to stay in their homes. The U.N. and aid groups have said such a rapid exodus would cause untold human suffering, with hospital patients and others unable to relocate.

Families in cars, trucks and donkey carts packed with possessions crowded a main road heading away from Gaza City as Israeli airstrikes continued to hammer the small, besieged territory, where supplies of food, fuel and drinking water were running low because of a complete Israeli siege. Egyptian officials said the southern Rafah crossing would open later Saturday for the first time in days to allow foreigners out.

Israel said Palestinians could travel along two main routes without being harmed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time. It that "hundreds of thousands" of Palestinians had already headed south. But some live up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) away, and many roads were demolished by airstrikes and fuel was running short.

Thousands of people crammed into a U.N.-run school-turned-shelter in Deir al-Balah, a farming town south of the evacuation zone. Many slept outside on the ground without mattresses, or in chairs pulled from classrooms.

"I came here with my children. We slept on the ground. We don't have a mattress, or clothes," Howeida al-Zaaneen, 63, who is from the northern town of Beit Hanoun, said. "I want to go back to my home, even if it is destroyed."

The military said its troops conducted temporary raids into Gaza to battle militants and hunted for traces of some 150 people — including men, women and children — who were abducted during Hamas' shocking Oct. 7 assault on southern Israel.

The Gaza Health Ministry said Saturday that over 2,200 people have been killed in the territory, including 724 children and 458 women. The Hamas assault killed more than 1,300 Israelis, most of them civilians, and roughly 1,500 Hamas militants were killed during the fighting, the Israeli government said.

Fearing a mass exodus of Palestinians, Egyptian authorities erected "temporary" blast walls on Egypt's side of the heavily-guarded Rafah crossing, which has been closed for days because of Israeli airstrikes, two Egyptian officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

Israel raids into Gaza

Raids into Gaza on Friday were the first indication that Israeli troops had entered the territory since the military began its round-the-clock bombardment in retaliation for the Hamas massacre. Palestinian militants have fired thousands of rockets into Israel since the fighting erupted.

The military said the ground troops left after conducting the raids.

Israel has called up some 360,000 reserves and massed troops and tanks along the border with Gaza, but no decision has been announced on whether to launch a ground offensive. An assault into densely populated Gaza would likely bring even higher casualties on both sides in brutal house-to-house fighting.

"We will destroy Hamas," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed Friday night.

Hamas said Israel's airstrikes killed 13 hostages, including foreigners. It did not provide their nationalities. The military denied the claim. Hamas and other Palestinian militants hope to trade the hostages for thousands of Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

In Israel, residents stunned by the Hamas rampage faced the fright of continual rocket fire out of Gaza. The Israeli public is overwhelmingly in favor of a military offensive, and TV news broadcasts focus heavily on the aftermath of the Hamas attack and make scarce mention of the unfolding crisis in Gaza.

In the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Health Ministry says 53 Palestinians have been killed since the start of the war, including 16 on Friday. The U.N. says attacks by Israeli settlers have surged there since the Hamas assault.

A mass evacuation

The U.N. said the Israeli military's call for civilians to move south affects 1.1 million people. If carried out, the territory's entire population would have to cram into the southern half of the 40-kilometer (25-mile) Gaza Strip. And Israel is still carrying out strikes across the territory, including in the south.

Egyptian officials said an agreement was reached to allow foreigners in Gaza to exit the territory by way of Rafah later Saturday. One official said both Israel and Palestinian militant groups had agreed to facilitate the departures and that talks were still underway about getting aid into Gaza through the same crossing. The officials were not authorized to brief journalists and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Palestinian families in Gaza faced agonizing dilemmas in deciding whether to leave or stay. Israeli strikes have leveled entire city blocks. A siege declared earlier in the week sealed off food, water and medical supplies, and the territory was under a near-total power blackout.

An Israeli military spokesperson, Jonathan Conricus, said the evacuation was aimed at keeping civilians safe and preventing Hamas from using them as human shields. He urged people in the targeted areas to leave immediately and to return "only when we tell them that it is safe to do so."

"The Palestinian civilians in Gaza are not our enemies. We don't assess them as such, and we don't target them as such," Conricus said. "We are trying to do the right thing."

The U.S. and Israel's other allies have pledged ironclad support for the war on Hamas. The European Union's foreign policy chief, however, said Saturday that the Israeli military needed to give people more time to get out of northern Gaza.

Josep Borrell welcomed the evacuation order but said, "You cannot move such a volume of people in (a) short period of time," noting a lack of shelters and transportation.

Gaza's Health Ministry said it was impossible to safely transport the wounded from hospitals that were already dealing with high numbers of dead and injured.

Patients and personnel from the Al Awda Hospital in Gaza's far north spent part of their night in the street "with bombs landing in close proximity," the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders said.

Scott Hamiliton, a spokesperson for the aid group also known as MSF, told The Associated Press that some of the medical staff and all patients were moved to another location, "but the situation remains extremely complicated and chaotic."

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said many people were relying on dirty water from wells as desalination plants shut down for lack of fuel.

"Fuel is the only way for people to have safe drinking water," Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA's commissioner general said. "If not, people will start dying of severe dehydration, among them young children."

Where to go?

Hamas' media office said airstrikes hit cars in three locations as they headed south from Gaza City, killing 70 people. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Two witnesses reported a strike on fleeing cars near Deir el-Balah. Fayza Hamoudi said she and her family were driving from their home in the north when the strike on the road hit some distance ahead and two vehicles burst into flames. A witness from another car on the road gave a similar account.

"Why should we trust that they're trying to keep us safe?" Hamoudi said, her voice choking. "They are sick."

Many feared they would be unable to return or would be gradually displaced to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

More than half of the Palestinians in Gaza are descendants of refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel's creation, when hundreds of thousands fled or were expelled from what is now Israel. For many, the evacuation order dredged up fears of a second expulsion.

Israeli airstrikes since the Hamas attack already forced at least 423,000 people — nearly 1 in 5 Gaza residents — from their homes as of Thursday, according to the United Nations.

"Where is the sense of security in Gaza? Is this what Hamas is offering us?" said one resident, Tarek Mraish, standing by an avenue as vehicles flowed by.

SEE MORE: Siege of Gaza is creating a humanitarian crisis

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