In Brief: May 14, 2021

Israel threatens Gaza ground invasion despite truce efforts

JERUSALEM — Israel on Thursday said it was massing troops along the Gaza frontier and calling up 9,000 reservists ahead of a possible ground invasion of the Hamas-ruled territory, as the two bitter enemies plunged closer to all-out war. Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for cease-fire efforts but showed no signs of progress.

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The stepped-up fighting came as communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night, with Jewish and Arab mobs clashing in the flashpoint town of Lod. The fighting took place despite a bolstered police presence ordered by the nation’s leaders.

The four-day burst of violence has pushed Israel into uncharted territory — dealing with the most intense fighting it has ever had with Hamas while simultaneously coping with the worst Jewish-Arab violence inside Israel in decades. A late-night barrage of rocket fire from Lebanon that landed in the sea threatened to open a new front along Israel’s northern border.

Saleh Aruri, an exiled senior Hamas leader, told London-based satellite channel Al Araby early Friday that his group has turned down a proposal for a three-hour lull to allow for more negotiations toward a full cease-fire. He said Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were leading the truce efforts.

Also early Friday, the Israeli military said air and ground troops struck Gaza in what appeared to be the heaviest attacks yet. Masses of red flames illuminated the skies as the deafening blasts from the outskirts of Gaza City jolted people awake. The strikes were so strong that screams of fear could be heard from people inside the city, several kilometers away.

What insurrection? Growing number in GOP downplay Jan. 6

WASHINGTON — What insurrection?

Flouting all evidence and their own first-hand experience, a small but growing number of Republican lawmakers are propagating a false portrayal of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, brazenly arguing that the rioters who used flagpoles as weapons, brutally beat police officers and chanted that they wanted to hang Vice President Mike Pence were somehow acting peacefully in their violent bid to overturn Joe Biden’s election.

One Republican at a hearing Wednesday called the rioters a “mob of misfits.” Another compared them to tourists. And a third suggested the sweeping federal investigation into the riot — which has yielded more than 400 arrests and counting — amounts to a national campaign of harassment.

It’s a turn of events that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, another target of the rioters, called “appalling” and “sick,” and it raises the possibility that the public’s understanding of the worst domestic attack on Congress in 200 years — an attack that was captured extensively on video — could become distorted by the same kinds of disinformation that fueled former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen election. It was the lie about the election that motivated the rioters in the first place.

“I don’t know of a normal day around here when people are threatening to hang the vice president of the United States or shoot the speaker, or injure so many police officers,” said Pelosi, who has pushed for a bipartisan commission to investigate the riots.

Desperate for workers, US restaurants and stores raise pay

WASHINGTON — U.S. restaurants and stores are rapidly raising pay in an urgent effort to attract more applicants and keep up with a flood of customers as the pandemic eases.

McDonald’s, Sheetz and Chipotle are just some of the latest companies to follow Amazon, Walmart and Costco in boosting wages, in some cases to $15 an hour or higher.

The pay gains are, of course, a boon to these employees. Restaurants, bars, hotels and stores remain the lowest-paying industries, and many of their workers ran the risk of contracting COVID-19 on the job over the past year while white-collar employees were able to work from home.

From wire sources

Still, the pay increases could contribute to higher inflation if companies raise prices to cover the additional labor costs. Some businesses, however, could absorb the costs or invest over time in automation to offset higher wages.

States and cities are easing business restrictions as COVID-19 deaths and cases plummet, and in places like Florida, Nevada, and Texas, restaurant traffic is above or near pre-pandemic levels, according to OpenTable, a software provider to the industry.

Police: 9 wounded in Providence, Rhode Island, shooting

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Nine people were wounded Thursday evening in Rhode Island’s capital in what police there believe to be the largest shooting in city history.

Of the nine, three had serious injuries and were “maybe critical,” Providence Police Chief Col. Hugh T. Clements told reporters at the scene.

He said multiple guns were used and it involved an “ongoing feud” involving two groups known to authorities. He said the shooting began with gunfire emanating from a vehicle, targeting a home. A person or people inside the home then returned fire. He described the participants as “young men.”

The shooting took place just before 7 p.m. in the southeastern neighborhood of Washington Park, which Clements described as a typically quiet neighborhood.

Clements said an estimated several dozen shots were fired. Evidence markers showing where more than a dozen shell casings littered the ground could be seen in the distance. Police sealed off the area.

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Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Just weeks ago, the Gaza Strip’s feeble health system was struggling with a runaway surge of coronavirus cases. Authorities cleared out hospital operating rooms, suspended nonessential care and redeployed doctors to patients having difficulty breathing.

Then, the bombs began to fall.

This week’s violence between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has killed 103 Palestinians, including 27 children, and wounded 530 people in the impoverished territory. Israeli airstrikes have pounded apartments, blown up cars and toppled buildings.

Doctors across the crowded coastal enclave are now reallocating intensive care unit beds and scrambling to keep up with a very different health crisis: treating blast and shrapnel wounds, bandaging cuts and performing amputations.

Distraught relatives didn’t wait for ambulances, rushing the wounded by car or on foot to Shifa Hospital, the territory’s largest. Exhausted doctors hurried from patient to patient, frantically bandaging shrapnel wounds to stop the bleeding. Others gathered at the hospital morgue, waiting with stretchers to remove the bodies for burial.

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Street racing surges across US amid coronavirus pandemic

Jaye Sanford, a 52-year-old mother of two, was driving home in suburban Atlanta on Nov. 21 when a man in a Dodge Challenger muscle car who was allegedly street racing crashed into her head-on, killing her.

She is one of the many victims of a surge in street racing that has taken root across America during the coronavirus pandemic, prompting police crackdowns and bills aimed at harsher punishments.

Experts say TV shows and movies glorifying street racing had already fueled interest in recent years. Then shutdowns associated with the pandemic cleared normally clogged highways as commuters worked from home.

Those with a passion for fast cars often had time to modify them, and to show them off, said Tami Eggleston, a sports psychologist who participates in legal drag racing.

“With COVID, when we were separated from people, I think people sort of bonded in their interest groups,” said Eggleston, who is also the provost of McKendree University, a small college in suburban St. Louis. “So that need to want to socialize and be around other people brought the racers out.”

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Conservatives seize on gas crunch to blame Biden, stir base

A graphic calling the East Coast fuel supply crunch “Biden’s Gas Crisis.” A tweet speculating that gas stations running dry was an “INSIDE JOB.” A meme depicting the president and vice president cheering about the “Green New Deal” in front of a snaking line at a fuel station.

These and thousands of other social media posts along with conservative websites and commentators this week misleadingly painted President Joe Biden and his administration as catalysts of chaos — who not only mishandled the temporary shutdown of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline on Friday — but engineered it.

In reality, a ransom-seeking cyberattack, not a Biden executive order or energy policy, triggered the shutdown that drove residents of states such as North Carolina to panic-buy so much gas that nearly 70% of service stations in the state remained without fuel on Thursday afternoon.

Biden spoke about the hack Thursday as he sought to assuage fears around the supply crunch, reassuring the public that his administration had helped get the Colonial Pipeline back online Wednesday and that remaining outages at gas stations were a “temporary situation” that panic-buying would only exacerbate.

Still, some of the most widely shared tweets discussing the gas crunch between Friday and Wednesday lobbed criticism toward the president, according to the media intelligence firm Zignal Labs. Posts surfaced by Zignal blamed the president for the outages, criticized his response and condemned him for canceling plans for the Keystone XL oil pipeline — though that project, which would have built a crude oil pipeline, would have had no impact on the current situation.

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When will COVID-19 vaccines be widely available globally?

WASHINGTON — When will COVID-19 vaccines be widely available globally?

Experts say it could be 2023 or later before the shots are widely available in some countries.

The United States, Israel and the United Kingdom are among the nations where about half or more of the population has gotten at least one shot. In some countries, including South Africa, Pakistan and Venezuela, less than 1% of people have been vaccinated. In nearly a dozen countries — mostly in Africa — there have been no jabs at all.

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The differences reflect a mix of factors including purchasing power, domestic production capacity, access to raw materials and global intellectual property laws.

The U.S. has supported waiving intellectual property protection for the vaccines. But it’s not clear whether there will be global agreement on the issue and, if so, whether that would help speed up production.

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