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

Israel battles militants in Gaza's main cities, with civilians still trapped in the crossfire RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants in Gaza's two largest cities on Monday, with civilians still trapped in the fighting e

Israel battles militants in Gaza's main cities, with civilians still trapped in the crossfire

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli forces battled Palestinian militants in Gaza's two largest cities on Monday, with civilians still trapped in the fighting even after hundreds of thousands have fled to other parts of the besieged territory.

Israel has pledged to keep fighting until it removes Hamas from power, dismantles its military capabilities and returns all of the hostages taken by militants during Hamas' Oct. 7 surprise attack into Israel that ignited the war.

The U.S. has provided unwavering diplomatic and military support for the campaign, even as it has urged Israel to minimize civilian casualties and further mass displacement. The war has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians and driven nearly 85% of the territory's 2.3 million people from their homes.

Residents said there was heavy fighting in and around the southern city of Khan Younis, where Israeli ground forces opened a new line of attack last week, and battles were still underway in parts of Gaza City and the built-up Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza, where large areas have been reduced to rubble.

Radwa Abu Frayeh saw heavy Israeli strikes around the European Hospital in Khan Younis, where the U.N. humanitarian office says tens of thousands of people have sought shelter. She said a strike hit a home close to hers late Sunday.


Life in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine is grim. People are fleeing through a dangerous corridor

SUMY, Ukraine (AP) — Whenever 52-year-old Anna is agitated, she senses the chilling touch of a gun barrel between her brows — a haunting reminder of an encounter with a group of Russian soldiers on her street about a year ago.

On that day, amid tears and screams, the soldiers threatened to kill her and her husband, fired bullets on the ground between their feet and then dragged her brother-in-law to an unknown location, apparently furious that he couldn’t guide them to where they could find alcohol.

Two weeks later, Anna’s husband, who himself had been hospitalized previously because of heart problems, found his brother’s body in the forest, not far from the village where they lived, in a Russian-occupied area of Ukraine's southeastern Zaporizhzhia region. Two weeks after that, he died.

“His heart couldn't bear it,” Anna said.

Alone and afraid, Anna sank into a depression.


Tennessee residents clean up after severe weekend storms killed 6 people and damaged neighborhoods

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Residents of central Tennessee communities slammed by deadly tornadoes this weekend described tragic and terrifying scenes in which one mobile home landed on top of another, roofs were ripped from houses and an entire church collapsed during a string of powerful storms that killed six people.

Emergency workers and community members cleaned up Sunday from the severe weekend storms and tornadoes that also sent dozens more to the hospital while damaging buildings, turning over vehicles and knocking out power to tens of thousands.

Marco Tulio Gabriel Pérez came to Nashville from Atlanta after hearing that his sister and 2-year-old nephew were killed in the tornado. He said two other children in the family survived with minor injuries.

Family members were crying as they looked through the rubble of the trailers on Sunday morning.

“Regrettably, a tragedy happened here. Since it’s a tornado, it came through like you can see here. She lived in this trailer. The other trailer overturned on top of my deceased sister. She remained underneath, the other trailer went on top,” Pérez told The Associated Press in Spanish.


Trump says he won't testify again at his New York fraud trial. He says he has nothing more to say

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump said Sunday he has decided against testifying for a second time at his New York civil fraud trial, posting on social media a day before his scheduled appearance that he “very successfully & conclusively” testified last month and saw no need to do so again.

The former president, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination, had been expected to return to the witness stand Monday as a coda to his defense against New York Attorney General Letitia James ' lawsuit.

James, a Democrat, alleges Trump inflated his wealth on financial statements used in securing loans and making deals. The case threatens Trump’s real estate empire and cuts to the heart of his image as a successful businessman.

“I will not be testifying on Monday," Trump wrote in an all-capital-letters, multipart statement on his Truth Social platform less than 20 hours before he was to take the witness stand.

“I have already testified to everything & have nothing more to say," Trump added, leaving the final word among defense witnesses to an accounting expert hired by his legal team who testified last week that he found “no evidence, whatsoever, for any accounting fraud” in Trump’s financial statements.


Biden goes into 2024 with the economy getting stronger, but voters feel horrible about it

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden goes into next year's election with a vexing challenge: Just as the U.S. economy is getting stronger, people are still feeling horrible about it.

Pollsters and economists say there has never been as wide a gap between the underlying health of the economy and public perception. The divergence could be a decisive factor in whether the Democrat secures a second term next year. Republicans are seizing on the dissatisfaction to skewer Biden, while the White House is finding less success as it tries to highlight economic progress.

“Things are getting better and people think things are going to get worse — and that’s the most dangerous piece of this," said Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who has worked with Biden. Lake said voters no longer want to just see inflation rates fall — rather, they want an outright decline in prices, something that last happened on a large scale during the Great Depression.

“Honestly, I’m kind of mystified by it,” she said.

By many measures, the U.S. economy is rock solid. Friday's employment report showed that employers added 199,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7%. Inflation has plummeted in little over a year from a troubling 9.1% to 3.2% without causing a recession — a phenomenon that some once skeptical economists have dubbed “immaculate.”


Smugglers are bringing migrants to a remote Arizona border crossing, overwhelming US agents

LUKEVILLE, Ariz. (AP) — Gerston Miranda and his wife were among thousands of migrants recently arriving at this remote area on Arizona's southern border with Mexico, squeezing into the United States through a gap in the wall and walking overnight about 14 miles (23 kilometers) with two school-aged daughters to surrender to Border Patrol agents.

“There is no security in my country," said the 28-year-old from Ecuador, who lost work when his employer closed due to extortion by criminals. "Without security you cannot work. You cannot live.”

A shift in smuggling routes has brought an influx of migrants here from countries as diverse as Senegal, Bangladesh and China, prompting the Border Patrol to seek help from other federal agencies and drawing scrutiny to an issue critical in next year’s presidential elections.

With hundreds of migrants crossing daily in the area, the U.S. government on Monday indefinitely shut down the nearby international crossing between Lukeville, Arizona, and Sonoyta, Mexico, to free Customs and Border Protection officers assigned to the port of entry to help with transportation and other support. The agency also has partially closed a few other border ports of entry in recent months, including a pedestrian crossing in San Diego and a bridge in Eagle Pass, Texas.

Customs and Border Protection “continues to surge personnel and resources to the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector to expeditiously take migrants into custody,” the agency said Sunday. “The fact is we are enforcing the law, and there are consequences for those who fail to use lawful pathways."


It's a tough week for Rishi Sunak. He faces grilling on COVID decisions and revolt over Rwanda plan

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces one of the toughest weeks of his 13 months in office as he’s grilled by lawyers about his decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic while fending off a rebellion from lawmakers over his signature immigration policy.

Sunak will be questioned under oath on Monday at a public inquiry into Britain’s handling of the pandemic, which left more than 230,000 people in the country dead. Sunak was Treasury chief to Prime Minister Boris Johnson when the coronavirus hit, and backed a discount initiative that encouraged people to go back to restaurants in August 2020 after months of lockdown.

The government’s scientific advisers have told the inquiry they were not informed in advance about the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme, which scientists have linked to a rise in infections. One senior government science adviser referred to Sunak in a message to colleagues at the time as “Dr. Death.”

Johnson told the inquiry last week that the restaurant plan “was not at the time presented to me as something that would add to the budget of risk.”

While Sunak squirms during a scheduled six hours of testimony, lawmakers from his Conservative Party will be debating whether to support legislation intended to salvage his plan to send some asylum-seekers who arrive in Britain on a one-way trip to Rwanda.


India's Supreme Court upholds government's decision to remove disputed Kashmir’s special status

SRINAGAR, India (AP) — India’s top court on Monday upheld a 2019 decision by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to strip disputed Jammu and Kashmir’s special status as a semi-autonomous region with a separate constitution and inherited protections on land and jobs.

The five-judge constitutional bench of the Supreme Court ruled that the region’s special status had been a “temporary provision” and that removing it in 2019 was constitutionally valid.

The unprecedented move also divided the region into two federal territories, Ladakh and Jammu-Kashmir, both ruled directly by the central government without a legislature of their own. It was the first time in the history of India that a region’s statehood was downgraded to a federally administered territory.

As a result, the Muslim-majority region is now run by unelected government officials and has lost its flag, criminal code and constitution.

But Chief Justice Dhananjaya Yeshwant Chandrachud said the government has promised to restore Jammu-Kashmir’s statehood and should do so as soon as possible. Ladakh, however, will remain a federal territory.


UN officials and activists ramp up the urgency as climate talks enter final days

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Visibly tired and frustrated top United Nations officials urged climate talks to push harder for an end to fossil fuels. Time seems to be running out both in the talks in Dubai and for action that could keep warming at or below the internationally agreed-upon threshold.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres returned to the summit on Monday and said it was “time to go into overdrive, to negotiate in good faith, and rise to the challenge.” He said negotiators at the COP28 summit in particular must focus on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and climate justice.

He said the global stocktake — the part of talks that assesses where the world is at with its climate goals and how it can reach them — should “phase out all fossil fuels” in order to reach the goal of limiting the rise of global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times. That phase-out was, he said, ”a central aspect" for the summit to be considered a success.

"We can’t keep kicking the can down the road,” Guterres said in brief remarks. “We are out of road and almost out of time.”

“What is very clear is that the bar for success is high,” said EU Commissioner Wopke Hoekstra. “And that is not because these Europeans say so, or because small islands say so, or Africa or Latin America say so. But because scientists tell us that we have no alternative if we want to keep future generations safe.”


Teachers have been outed for moonlighting in adult content. Do they have legal recourse?

At a small rural Missouri high school, two English teachers shared a secret: Both were posting adult content on OnlyFans, the subscription-based website known for sexually explicit content.

The site and others like it provide an opportunity for those willing to dabble in pornography to earn extra money — sometimes lots of it. The money is handy, especially in relatively low-paying fields like teaching, and many post the content anonymously while trying to maintain their day jobs.

But some outed teachers, as well as people in other prominent fields such as law, have lost their jobs, raising questions about personal freedoms and how far employers can go to avoid stigma related to their employees’ after-hour activities.

At St. Clair High School southwest of St. Louis, it all came crashing down this fall for 28-year-old Brianna Coppage and 31-year-old Megan Gaither.

“You’re tainted and seen as a liability,” Gaither lamented on Facebook after she was suspended. Coppage resigned.

The Associated Press