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AP News in Brief at 6:04 a.m. EST

Heavy fighting in Gaza halts most aid delivery and leaves civilians with few places to seek safety DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli forces battled Hamas militants across Gaza on Wednesday after expanding their ground offensive to its second-l

Heavy fighting in Gaza halts most aid delivery and leaves civilians with few places to seek safety

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli forces battled Hamas militants across Gaza on Wednesday after expanding their ground offensive to its second-largest city, further shrinking the area where Palestinians can seek safety and halting the distribution of vital aid across most of the territory.

The assault on the south threatens further mass displacement within the besieged coastal enclave, where the U.N. says some 1.87 million people — over 80% of the population — have already fled their homes.

Much of the north, including large parts of Gaza City, has been completely destroyed, and Palestinians fear the rest of Gaza could suffer a similar fate as Israel tries to dismantle Hamas, which has deep roots in the territory it has ruled for 16 years.

Israel says it can no longer accept a Hamas military presence in Gaza after the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel will maintain open-ended security control over the territory, something opposed by the United States and much of the international community.

The Israeli military said Tuesday that its troops were “in the heart” of the southern city of Khan Younis after what it described as “the most intense day” of fighting since the start of the ground operation five weeks ago, with heavy battles in the north as well.


Generation after generation, Israeli prison marks a rite of passage for Palestinian boys

NABI SALEH, West Bank (AP) — For all Palestinian parents, Marwan Tamimi said, there comes a moment they realize they're powerless to protect their children.

For the 48-year-old father of three, it came in June, when Israeli forces fired a large rubber bullet that struck the head of his eldest son, Wisam, as he watched a raid unfold from his grandmother's rooftop with his family. A week later, Marwan said, soldiers came for the 17-year-old, dragging him out of bed with a fractured skull as his mother cried.

Wisam was later charged with a range of offenses he denied — throwing stones, possessing weapons, placing an explosive device and causing bodily harm. He was sent to Israel's Ofer Prison. Last Saturday, after six months behind bars, he returned home with 38 other Palestinians in exchange for Israeli hostages released from Hamas captivity in Gaza — part of a temporary cease-fire in the war that started after Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel.

His parents said they hadn't seen or heard from him in two months, since the war started. Wisam said he spent that time in an overcrowded cell and was denied adequate food and medication, was interrogated about his friends, and was beaten repeatedly.

“I yelled, ‘No, he’s my boy, you can’t take him, he’s injured,’” Marwan Tamimi said. “That’s when I realized they will take him. And if I stop them, they will put his life in danger.”


Washington's center of gravity on immigration has shifted to the right

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was a decade ago that Capitol Hill was consumed by an urgency to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, fueled in no small part by Republicans who felt a political imperative to make inroads with minority voters by embracing more generous policies.

But nothing ever became law and in the time since, Washington's center of gravity on immigration has shifted demonstrably to the right, with the debate now focused on measures meant to keep migrants out as Republicans sense they have the political upper hand.

Long gone are the chatter and horse-trading between parties over how to secure a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, or a modernized work permit system to encourage more legal migration. Instead, the fights of late have centered on how much to tighten asylum laws and restrain a president's traditional powers to protect certain groups of migrants.

Now, Democrats and Republicans are again struggling to strike an immigration deal — and the consequences of failure stretch far beyond the southern border. Congressional Republicans are insisting on tougher border measures as their price for greenlighting billions in additional aid to Ukraine, and the stalemate is putting the future of U.S. military assistance to Kyiv at risk as Russia's invasion of Ukraine nears the two-year mark.

Democrats have "ceded the ground to Republicans on immigration and the border,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy director at the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit that advocates for immigrant rights. “The administration seems to see no advantage in leading on this issue, but I think that they’re shooting themselves in the foot.”


Trump declines to rule out abusing power to seek retribution if he returns to the White House

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump declined to rule out abusing power if he returns to the White House after Fox News Channel host Sean Hannity asked him Tuesday to respond to growing Democratic criticism of his rhetoric.

The GOP presidential front-runner has talked about targeting his rivals — referring to them as “vermin” — and vowed to seek retribution if he wins a second term for what he argues are politically motivated prosecutions against him. As Trump has dominated the Republican presidential primary, President Joe Biden has stepped up his own warnings, contending Trump is “ determined to destroy American democracy.”

“Under no circumstances, you are promising America tonight, you would never abuse power as retribution against anybody?" Hannity asked Trump in the interview taped in Davenport, Iowa.

“Except for day one," Trump responded. “I want to close the border and I want to drill, drill, drill.”

Trump then repeated his assertion. “I love this guy,” he said of the Fox News host. "He says, ‘You’re not going to be a dictator, are you?' I said: 'No, no, no, other than day one. We’re closing the border and we’re drilling, drilling, drilling. After that, I'm not a dictator.'”


After a fast start, COP28 climate talks now in murky middle of hope, roadblocks

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — After a first-day blur of rare quick action and agreement, negotiators at a critical United Nations climate summit Wednesday finished up their first week in a more familiar place for them: the murky middle where momentum and roadblocks intertwine.

“Negotiations, as are often the case, are a mixed picture right now. We see big differences between individual states in some areas,” German climate envoy Jennifer Morgan said, “but there is a will to make progress.”

Proponents who are calling for a ground-shifting phase-out of fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal have hope for the first time in years, but also see where it could be torpedoed. Key issues of financial help for poor nations to decarbonize and how to adapt to warming need much more work, officials said.

That is in contrast to the first day when the conference — called COP28 — put into effect a climate compensation fund — called loss-and-damage — and started seeing its coffers grow to more than $720 million.

U.N. Climate Secretary Simon Stiell on Wednesday warned against putting “a tick on the box" for that victory and think it solves the multi-trillion dollar problem of financial aid that's needed to help cut emissions worldwide.


Russian President Vladimir Putin to visit Saudi Arabia and UAE, host of COP28 climate talks

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday began his trip to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as Dubai hosts the United Nations' COP28 climate talks — despite facing an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court over the war in Ukraine.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor the UAE has signed the ICC founding treaty, meaning they don't face any obligation to detain Putin over the warrant accusing him of being personally responsible for the abductions of children from Ukraine during his war on the country.

Russian media reported Putin’s plane arrived early Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital. He was met at the airport by Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE’s foreign minister.

The visit comes as armed U.N. police patrol a portion of Dubai's Expo City now considered international territory for the talks, again highlighting the Emirates' expansive business ties to Russia that have exploded in the time since grinding Western sanctions have targeted Moscow.

Ukrainians on hand for the event expressed outrage over Putin being in the country at the same time they described him as committing environmental crimes in their country.


Under Putin, the uber-wealthy Russians known as 'oligarchs' are still rich but far less powerful

TALLINN, Estonia (AP) — When Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, the outside world viewed those Russians known as “oligarchs” as men who whose vast wealth, ruthlessly amassed, made them almost shadow rulers. A “government of the few,” in the word's etymology.

The term has persisted well into Putin’s rule, broadening in popular usage to refer to almost any Russian with a substantial fortune.

How much political power any of Russia’s uber-rich now wield, however, is doubtful.

A few hours after Putin sent troops into Ukraine in February 2022, a televised meeting he held in the Kremlin with top industrialists and entrepreneurs showed how the dynamics had changed: Putin simply told them he had no choice but to invade.

Despite the harsh consequences to their wealth that the tycoons could expect from the war, they had to accept it; the power was his, not theirs.


Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson admits to making mistakes but defends COVID record at inquiry

LONDON (AP) — Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended his handling of COVID-19 on Wednesday at a public inquiry into the pandemic, saying the government “got some things wrong” but did its best.

Johnson began two days of being grilled under oath by lawyers for the judge-led inquiry about his initial reluctance to impose a national lockdown in early 2020 and other fateful decisions.

Johnson opened his testimony with an apology “for the pain and the loss and the suffering of the COVID victims,” though not for any of his own actions. Four people stood up in court as he spoke, holding signs saying: “The Dead can’t hear your apologies," before being escorted out by security staff.

“Inevitably, in the course of trying to handle a very, very difficult pandemic in which we had to balance appalling harms on either side of the decision, we may have made mistakes,” Johnson said. “Inevitably, we got some things wrong. I think we were doing our best at the time.”

Johnson had arrived at the inquiry venue at daybreak, several hours before he was due to take the stand, avoiding a protest by relatives of some of those victims.


Peruvian constitutional court orders release of former President Alberto Fujimori

LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru’s constitutional court ordered an immediate humanitarian release Tuesday for imprisoned former President Alberto Fujimori, 85, who was serving a 25-year sentence in connection with the death squad slayings of 25 Peruvians in the 1990s.

The court ruled in favor of a 2017 pardon that had granted the former leader a release on humanitarian grounds but that later was annulled.

In a resolution seen by The Associated Press, the court told the state prisons agency to immediately release Fujimori “on the same day.”

Fujimori was sentenced in 2009 to 25 years in prison on charges of human rights abuses. He had been accused of being the mastermind behind the slayings of 25 Peruvians by a military death squad during his administration from 1990 to 2000, while the government fought the Shining Path communist rebels.

Fujimori's 2017 pardon granted by then-President Pablo Kuczynski was annulled under pressure from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and its status was the subject of legal wrangling since then.


AP PHOTOS: An earthquake, a shipwreck and a king's coronation are among Europe's views in 2023

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Two men play with a ball in the placid sea; a woman practices yoga where the water meets the hot sand. No one looks back — at the hellscape that starts a few beach-towel lengths away.

The black bones of pine trees and scrub stretch inland as far as the eye reaches, marking the course of a major wildfire on the Greek resort island of Rhodes. At this point near Gennadi village, its climate change-fueled fury was only quenched by the sea. Up to a tenth of the island was affected, and authorities had to evacuate 19,000 tourists from their hotels.

Even for a country used to seeing forests burn every summer, Greece’s deadly blazes during a July heatwave were unusually bad; despite a huge mobilization, the Rhodes fire raged for 11 days.

Climate change left a painful imprint on much of Europe in 2023, as the northern hemisphere sweltered through its hottest summer on record. The United Nations weather agency expects 2023 to also set a global heat record, and warns of a potential future of increasing floods, wildfires, glacier melt and heat waves.

Just weeks after massive wildfires hit southern Europe, rainstorms of rare intensity triggered deadly floods. Nevertheless, increasingly hot and dry weather caused northeastern Spain’s worst-recorded drought, which drove officials in November to tighten water restrictions. The year had started inauspiciously, with high temperatures leaving much of the Alps bereft of snow.

The Associated Press