Nation & World Briefs 07-29-14 Israel strikes symbols of Hamas control and Gaza's lone power plant

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Israel struck symbols of Hamas' control of Gaza and the strip's only power plant today, escalating its military campaign against the Islamic militant group with the heaviest bombardment in the fighting so far.

Flares turned the sky over Gaza City orange overnight and by daybreak, as the conflict entered its fourth week, heavy clouds of dust hovered over the territory.

The pounding came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday warned of a "prolonged" campaign against Hamas.

Israeli warplanes carried out dozens of attacks, leveling the home of the top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, and damaging the offices of the movement's Al-Aqsa satellite TV station, a central mosque in Gaza City and government offices.

Gaza's power plant was forced to shut down after two tank shells hit one of three fuel tanks, said Jamal Dardasawi, a spokesman for Gaza's electricity distribution company. The shelling sparked a large fire and a huge column of smoke was seen rising from the site. Dardasawi said 15 workers were trapped inside by the fire and that the damage would take months to repair. There was no immediate word on casualties.

Even before the shutdown, Gaza residents only had electricity for about three hours a day because fighting had damaged power lines.

Deal reached on VA health care: A bipartisan deal announced Monday would authorize about $17 billion to help veterans avoid long waits for health care, hire more doctors and nurses to treat veterans and make it easier to fire executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill includes $10 billion in emergency spending to make it easier for veterans who can't get prompt appointments with VA doctors to obtain outside care; $5 billion to hire doctors, nurses and other medical staff; and about $1.5 billion to lease 27 new clinics across the country, lawmakers said.

Experts: Storm impossible to predict: A thunderstorm formed so rapidly over a Southern California beach that experts said Monday it was impossible for anyone to predict a lightning strike would turn a day of carefree fun into one of terror. The phenomenon so rare that lifeguards lack an emergency warning system struck Sunday afternoon at Los Angeles' popular Venice Beach, killing a 21-year-old man and injuring a dozen others. Along the beach, famous internationally for its jugglers, skaters, medical marijuana dealers and boardwalk preachers and hucksters, panic instantly set in.

Set to testify: Kenneth Ireland, who was imprisoned 21 years for a rape and murder he did not commit, is set to testify at a first-ever Connecticut hearing to determine how much he should be compensated. Ireland, who was imprisoned at the age of 18 and released in 2009 at age 39, after DNA tests, is seeking between $5.4 million and $8 million. The hearing scheduled for today in Hartford marks the first time a wrongful imprisonment claim is going to the state claims commissioner, said his lawyer, William Bloss. Ireland said in his claim that he lost the opportunity to learn a trade, earn a living, get married and raise a family. Labeled a sex offender, Ireland said in his claim he witnessed and experienced prison violence, losing part of a finger.

Fighting for own survival: Kent Brantly always wanted to be a medical missionary, and he took the work seriously, spending months treating a steady stream of patients with Ebola in Liberia. Now Brantly is himself a patient, fighting for his own survival in an isolation unit on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, after contracting the deadly disease. The Texas-trained doctor said he is "terrified" of the disease progressing further, according to Dr. David Mcray, the director of maternal-child health at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, where Brantly completed a four-year residency.

Two charged in Philly carjacking: Two men who carjacked a woman and sexually assaulted her in her SUV before plowing into a family selling fruit on a Philadelphia street corner, killing three children, were charged with murder on Monday, police said. Johnathan Rosa and Cornelius Crawford were each charged with three counts of felony murder and other crimes, police announced at a news conference. Police said they believe Rosa, 19, and Crawford, 23, forced a real estate agent into her sport utility vehicle on Friday, then took off at high speed.

Dollar Tree buys Family Dollar: The fight for penny pinchers is intensifying. Dollar Tree said Monday it is buying rival discounter Family Dollar for $8.5 billion, significantly broadening its reach as it looks to fend off Wal-Mart, which has been stepping up its courtship of lower-income customers. The deal makes Dollar Tree the biggest player in the dollar store segment, with its more than 13,000 combined locations eclipsing current leader Dollar General Corp., which has about 11,300.

Court orders Russia to pay: Russian President Vladimir Putin's government must pay $50 billion for using tax claims to destroy Yukos, once the country's largest oil producer, and its Kremlin-critical CEO, an international court has ruled. Monday's verdict by the Permanent Court for Arbitration increases the economic and diplomatic isolation of Russia at a time when it faces new, potentially painful sanctions from Western powers.

Cow herd kills German hiker: Austrian police say a herd of cows attacked and killed a German woman hiking through their fenced-in pasture after apparently being riled by the sight of her leashed dog. They said today the 45-year old victim was rushed by about 20 cows and their calves. Attempts by an emergency crew to revive her were unsuccessful.

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