Nation & World Briefs 07-23-14 Families scramble to flee area where Israeli troops, Hamas battle


GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israeli troops battled Hamas militants today near a southern Gaza Strip town as dozens of Palestinian families trapped by the fighting scrambled to flee the area. The U.S. secretary of state meanwhile presses ahead with top-gear efforts to end the conflict that has killed at least 650 Palestinians and 31 Israelis.

John Kerry, who is on a Mideast trip to push for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, landed in Tel Aviv despite a Federal Aviation Administration ban following a Hamas rocket near the airport the day before.

Kerry was to meet today with Israel's prime minster, the Palestinian Authority's president and the United Nations chief in a daylong visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Israel reported that two more of its soldiers have died in the conflict, bringing the military's death toll to 29, but did not elaborate on the circumstances of the latest casualties. Two Israeli civilians have also died in the 15-day fighting.

Kerry defied a Federal Aviation Administration ban and flew into Israel's main airport today in a sign of sheer will to achieve a cease-fire agreement in the warring Gaza Strip despite little evidence of progress in ongoing negotiations.

Censured over rape comments: The Montana Supreme Court on Tuesday publicly reprimanded District Judge G. Todd Baugh who gave a lenient sentence to a rapist after suggesting the 14-year-old victim shared some of the responsibility for the crime. Baugh, of Billings, appeared before the court in Helena, where Chief Justice Mike McGrath read the prepared censure statement. A censure is a rarely used public declaration by the high court that a judge is guilty of misconduct. The Supreme Court also suspended him for 31 days, effective in December. Baugh stood at the podium to receive the reprimand, but he did not speak.

Suspect "presumed dead:" A man suspected of shooting two South Texas police officers during an hours-long standoff Tuesday night is "presumed dead" after officers raided the house he had barricaded inside and exchanged gunfire with him, authorities said. The 29-year-old capital murder suspect had been spraying bullets toward officers who were outside the house in the Rio Grande Valley town of La Joya. The man was silenced Tuesday evening after officers rammed the front door, inserted tear gas and exchanged fire, Hidalgo County Sheriff Eddie Guerra said. The man is "presumed dead," but that won't be confirmed until a bomb squad establishes that the house is not booby-trapped with explosives, as the man had suggested, Guerra said.

Military suicides up a bit: Suicides among active-duty military have increased a bit so far this year compared with the same period last year, but Pentagon officials say they are encouraged that more service members are seeking help through hotlines and other aid programs. Pentagon documents show there were 161 confirmed or suspected suicides as of July 14, compared with 154 during the same time frame in 2013. The uptick was among the Air Force and Navy, while soldiers and Marine suicides went down. The documents were obtained by Associated Press.

Emphasizes data, employers: The White House used a signing ceremony for bipartisan job-training legislation to release a six-month review of federal job-training programs. The review concludes that the government needs to better engage U.S. employers, improve the use of data, and boost apprenticeship programs so workers can earn while they train. The report also said the government is working to tailor training and grants to better match jobs that are in demand. And it stresses the need for regional partnerships and for programs that provide stepping stones for a seamless transition from one level of education to the next.

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