In Brief: May 19, 2021

Gaza children bearing the brunt in Israel-Hamas conflict

GAZA CITY, Gaza — Suzy Ishkontana hardly speaks or eats. It’s been two days since the 7-year-old girl was pulled from the rubble of what was once her family’s home, destroyed amid a barrage of Israeli airstrikes. She spent hours buried in the wreckage as her siblings and mother died around her.


Children are being subjected to extensive trauma in Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip. For some, it’s trauma they’ve seen repeatedly throughout their short lives.

This is the fourth time in 12 years Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers have gone to war. Each time, Israel has unleashed heavy airstrikes at the densely populated Gaza Strip as it vows to stop Hamas rocket barrages launched toward Israel.

According to Gaza health officials, at least 63 children are among the 217 Palestinians who have been killed in Gaza since the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas began on May 10. On the Israeli side, 12 people have been killed by Hamas rockets, all but one of them civilians, including a 5-year-old boy.

Israel says it does everything it can to prevent civilian casualties, including issuing warnings for people to evacuate buildings about to be struck. As Hamas has fired hundreds of rockets into Israel, most of them intercepted by anti-missile defenses, Israel’s military has pounded hundreds of sites in Gaza, where some 2 million people live squeezed into a tight urban fabric.

AP source: US encouraging Israel to wind down Gaza offensive

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and administration officials have encouraged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other top Israeli officials to wind down the bombardment of Gaza, a person with knowledge of the discussions said Tuesday, as the Israeli and Palestinian death tolls mounted and pressure grew on Biden to move more forcefully to stop the fighting.

Top Biden administration officials underscored to the Israelis on Monday and Tuesday that time is not on their side in terms of international objections to nine days of Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rockets, and that it is in their interest to wind down the operations soon, according to the official, who was not authorized to comment publicly on the private talks and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The account shows Biden administration officials going further privately in messaging to Netanyahu than they have previously revealed. A White House readout of a Biden call to Netanyahu on Monday said Biden had expressed support for a cease-fire, but said nothing about the U.S. urging Israel to bring fighting to a close.

The fighting has killed at least 213 Palestinians and 12 people in Israel, and tested both Biden’s reluctance to publicly criticize Israel and his administration’s determination not to bog down its foreign policy focus in Middle East hot spots.

The Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday challenged the Biden administration to show any results from what it is calling its quiet diplomacy to stop the new Israeli-Hamas battles. Ambassador Riyad Mansour pointed to the U.S. repeatedly blocking a U.N. Security Council action on the conflict, and he urged the Biden administration to do more.

Changed by pandemic, many workers won’t return to old jobs

There’s a wild card in the push to return to pre-pandemic life: Many workers don’t want to go back to the jobs they once had.

Layoffs and lockdowns, combined with enhanced unemployment benefits and stimulus checks, gave many Americans the time and the financial cushion to rethink their careers. Their former employers are hiring again — and some, like Uber and McDonald’s, are offering higher pay — but workers remain hesitant.

In March, U.S. job openings rose 8% to a record 8.1 million, but overall hiring rose less than 4%, according to government data.

Nate Mullins quit his job as a bartender last November after clashing with managers over mask rules and worrying that he would spread the coronavirus to his immune-compromised sister.

Mullins’ unemployment checks don’t match what he was making at his Oak Harbor, Washington bar, but they’re enough to get by while he looks for jobs that would provide health care and retirement benefits.

Prosecutor finds deputies justified in shooting of Black man

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. — A North Carolina prosecutor said Tuesday that sheriff’s deputies were justified in fatally shooting Andrew Brown Jr. because the Black man struck a deputy with his car and nearly ran him over while ignoring commands to show his hands and get out of the vehicle.

District Attorney Andrew Womble said at a news conference that Brown used his car as a “deadly weapon,” causing Pasquotank County deputies to believe it was necessary to use deadly force.

Womble, who acknowledged Brown wasn’t armed with guns or other weapons, said the deputies will face no criminal charges after he reviewed a state investigation of the shooting, which sparked weeks of protests. Pasquotank County Sheriff Tommy Wooten II said in a video statement Tuesday afternoon that the deputies will keep their jobs but will be “disciplined and retrained.”

Brown’s family released a statement calling Womble’s decision “both an insult and a slap in the face.” Attorneys for the family who watched body camera footage have said repeatedly that he was trying to drive away from deputies serving drug-related warrants and posed no threat.

From wire sources

The prosecutor declined to directly release copies of bodycam video of the April 21 shooting, but he played portions of the video during the news conference that media outlets broadcast live.


Palestinians go on strike as Israel-Hamas fighting rages

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinians across Israel and the occupied territories went on strike in a rare collective protest Tuesday as Israeli missiles toppled a building in Gaza and militants in the Hamas-ruled territory fired dozens of rockets that killed two people.

The demonstrations and ongoing violence came as moves toward a cease-fire appeared to be gaining more traction.

U.S. officials said the Biden administration was privately encouraging Israel to wind down its bombardment of Gaza. Egyptian negotiators also were working to halt the fighting, and while they have not made progress with Israel, they were optimistic international pressure would force it to the table, according to an Egyptian diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing diplomatic efforts.

The general strike was a sign that the war could widen again after a spasm of communal violence in Israel and protests across the occupied West Bank last week.

Although the strike was peaceful in many places, with shops in Jerusalem’s usually bustling Old City markets shuttered, violence erupted in cities in the West Bank.


Israel, Gaza violence overshadows Biden’s domestic plans

DEARBORN, Mich. — President Joe Biden’s efforts to spotlight his big infrastructure plans are suddenly being overshadowed by the escalating violence between Israel and the Palestinians, the conflict sparking protests during his visit to a Ford electric vehicle center in Michigan on Tuesday as the White House faced growing pressure to intervene.

Biden, who planned to use the two week-stretch before Memorial Day to build Republican support for his $2.3 trillion package, visited a Ford plant in Dearborn to make his case that his plans could help steer the country toward a bright electric-car future.

But any presidential script is subject to real-world rewrites, and Biden faces rising pressure to weigh in more forcefully to stop the Middle East violence — as, by a scheduling quirk, he visited a city that is almost half Arab American.

In a speech at the plant, Biden made only passing mention of the conflict, warmly addressing Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan as she sat in the audience, saying he would pray that her grandmother and other relatives were well in the West Bank.

“I promise you I’m going to do everything to see that they are,” Biden said.


Prosecutor says Durst’s own words show his guilt in killings

LOS ANGELES — Multimillionaire Robert Durst lived a life of such privilege and ease that he didn’t bother keeping track of the many lies he told over the years and it could be his downfall, a prosecutor said Tuesday during a new round of opening statements at his murder trial.

Deputy District Attorney John Lewin wove a combination of Durst’s statements — what he said were truth and lies — to outline evidence that will show the New York real estate heir killed his best friend and a neighbor to cover up the mystery of his wife’s disappearance.

“One of the hallmarks of Bob Durst is that despite all the lies he tells, he doesn’t take or use the mental energy to even remember them because his life has been spent privileged in getting away with whatever he wants,” Lewin said. “The evidence is going to show that’s going to be his undoing in a lot of ways in all three of these cases.”

Durst, 78, is only charged with one count of murder — in the killing of his best friend, Susan Berman, in 2000 in her Los Angeles home.

Durst has pleaded not guilty and his lawyer said he doesn’t know who killed Berman, who was his longtime confidante and once an unofficial spokeswoman when Kathie Durst vanished in New York in 1982.


Biden back behind the wheel, zooming away in electric truck

DEARBORN, Mich. — Joe Biden is back behind the wheel. And now he’s gone, bolting down the track.

The self-described “car guy” took a spin in the new Ford F-150 Lightning truck during a visit to a Ford safety testing center Tuesday as part of a trip to Michigan to sell his $2 trillion infrastructure plan. The automaker showed off its new electric truck to coincide with Biden’s tour of Ford’s Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, where the truck will be produced.

“This sucker’s quick,” the president said, as he rolled up to the traveling press corps. Then he warned them, “I’m just gonna step on it. I’ll come off at 80 miles an hour.”

Not quite, but off he sped, fast as a one-man drag race, quiet as a … well, an electric vehicle.

Ford says the Lightning will hit 60 mph from a standing start in about 4.5 seconds.


Charles Grodin, ‘Midnight Run,’ ‘Heartbreak Kid,’ star, dies

Charles Grodin, the droll, offbeat actor and writer who scored as a caddish newlywed in “The Heartbreak Kid” and later had roles ranging from Robert De Niro’s counterpart in the comic thriller “Midnight Run” to the bedeviled father in the “Beethoven” comedies, has died. He was 86.

Grodin died Tuesday in Wilton, Connecticut, from bone marrow cancer, his son, Nicholas Grodin, said.

Known for his dead-pan style and everyday looks, Grodin also appeared in “Dave,” “The Woman in Red,” “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Heaven Can Wait.” On Broadway, he starred with Ellen Burstyn in the long-running 1970s comedy “Same Time, Next Year,” and he found many other outlets for his talents.


With bone-dry understatement, Grodin could steal entire scenes with just a look. His commitment, whether acting across De Niro or Miss Piggy, was unsurpassed. In his many late-night appearances, he once brought a lawyer with him to threaten David Letterman for defamation. (The lawyer instead took a shine to Letterman.) Hosting “Saturday Night Live,” he pretended to not understand live television, ruining all the sketches. Steve Martin, who co-starred with Grodin in 1984’s “The Lonely Guy,” remembered him as “one of the funniest people I ever met.”

In the 1990s, Grodin made his mark as a liberal commentator on radio and TV. He also wrote plays and television scripts, winning an Emmy for his work on a 1997 Paul Simon special, and wrote several books humorously ruminating on his ups and downs in show business.

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