TIME

North Korea Fires Short-Range Missile into Sea

(SEOUL, South Korea) — South Korea’s Defense Ministry says North Korea has fired a short-range ballistic missile into waters off its east coast.

The launch is the latest in a slew of missile and rocket tests the North has been conducting in recent weeks.

A ministry official says the missile fired from North Korea’s southwest Hwanghae province on Saturday evening flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles) across the country before landing in the ocean.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity, citing department rules, and gave no further details.

The launch comes on the eve of the 61st anniversary of the signing of an armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. The armistice has yet to be replaced by a peace treaty, thus leaving the Korean Peninsula in a technical state of war.

TIME

Kevin Love Withdraws From Team USA

Kevin Love has withdrawn from this summer’s USA Basketball roster because of his uncertain NBA status, leaving the Americans without one of their most experienced international players.

Team USA announced the decision on Saturday. Love, who won gold medals at the 2012 Olympics and 2010 world championship and was one of the first players to commit to play this summer, told USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo that he would be unavailable for training camp that starts Monday.

The Minnesota Timberwolves are considering trading Love and the Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to acquire the three-time All-Star to pair with LeBron James. A trade could fall apart if Love were to play and be injured.

Colangelo says that the U.S. “can only look to the players we have available.”

TIME

US Evacuates Embassy in Libya Amid Clashes

(WASHINGTON) — The United States shut down its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort amid a significant deterioration in security in Tripoli as fighting intensified between rival militias, the State Department said.

“Due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias in the immediate vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli, we have temporarily relocated all of our personnel out of Libya,” spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

The withdrawal underscored the Obama administration’s concern about the heightened risk to American diplomats abroad, particularly in Libya where memories of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. mission in the eastern city of Benghazi are still vivid and the political uproar over it remain fresh ahead of a new congressional investigation into the incident.

“Securing our facilities and ensuring the safety of our personnel are top department priorities, and we did not make this decision lightly,” Harf said. “Security has to come first. Regrettably, we had to take this step because the location of our embassy is in very close proximity to intense fighting and ongoing violence between armed Libyan factions.”

The evacuation was accompanied by the release of a new State Department travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to go to the country and recommending that those already there leave immediately. “The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security,” it said. “Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.”

American personnel at the Tripoli embassy, which had already been operating with limited staffing, left the capital around dawn and traveled by road to neighboring Tunisia, according to Harf. As the evacuation was underway, residents of the city reported in real time on social media that American military aircraft flew overhead while U.S. soldiers escorted a convoy of vehicles out of town. The State Department would not confirm the evacuation until all staffers were safely in Tunisia.

The department said embassy operations will be suspended until a determination is made that the security situation has improved, it said. Tripoli has been embroiled for weeks in inter-militia violence that has killed and wounded dozens on all sides. The fighting has been particularly intense at the city’s airport.

“We are committed to supporting the Libyan people during this challenging time, and are currently exploring options for a permanent return to Tripoli as soon as the security situation on the ground improves. In the interim, staff will operate from Washington and other posts in the region,” Harf said. The evacuated staffers will continue to work on Libya issues in Tunis, elsewhere in North Africa and Washington.

The move marks the second time in a little more than three years that Washington has closed its embassy in Libya. In Feb. 2011, the embassy suspended operations amid the uprising that eventually toppled longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. After the formation of a transitional government in July, 2011, the embassy reopened in September. Gadhafi was killed in October of 2011.

The Obama administration has been particularly sensitive about security of U.S. government employees in Libya since the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. mission in the country’s second largest city of Benghazi that killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The administration is still fending off criticism from Republicans and others that it did not either enhance security in Benghazi or evacuate the mission due to rising violence in that city in the months prior to the attack.

The Benghazi mission was abandoned after that attack and never reopened. The embassy In Tripoli has been operating with reduced staff since but has remained open even as the violence intensified.

On Friday, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones appealed for fighting near the embassy to stop. “We have not been attacked but our neighborhood a bit 2 close to the action,” she tweeted. “Diplomatic missions 2 B avoided pls.” On Sunday, Jones tweeted about “heavy shelling and other exchanges” of fire in the vicinity of the embassy and speculation about the potential evacuation had been rife at the State Department for more than a week.

Libya is now witnessing one of its worst spasms of violence since Gadhafi’s ouster. In Tripoli, the militias are fighting mostly for control of the airport. They are on the government’s payroll since authorities have depended on them to restore order.

The U.S. is just latest in a number of countries to have closed down their diplomatic operations in Libya. Turkey on Friday announced that it had closed down its embassy and militia clashes in Benghazi have prompted the United Nations, aid groups and foreign envoys to leave.

In Tripoli, clashes near the international airport have forced residents to evacuate their homes nearby after they were hit by shells. On Friday, the official Libyan news agency LANA reported that explosions were heard early in the day near the airport area and continued into the afternoon.

The battle in Tripoli began earlier this month when Islamist-led militias — mostly from the western city of Misrata — launched a surprise assault on the airport, under control of rival militias from the western mountain town of Zintan. On Monday, a $113 million Airbus A330 passenger jet for Libya’s state-owned Afriqiyah Airways was destroyed in the fighting.

The rival militias, made up largely of former anti-Gadhafi rebels, have forced a weeklong closure of gas stations and government offices. In recent days, armed men have attacked vehicles carrying money from the Central Bank to local banks, forcing their closure.

Libyan government officials and activists have increasingly been targeted in the violence. Gunmen kidnapped two lawmakers in the western suburbs of Tripoli a week ago and on Friday armed men abducted Abdel-Moaz Banoun, a well-known Libyan political activist in Tripoli, according to his father.

An umbrella group for Islamist militias, called the Operation Room of Libya’s Revolutionaries, said in a brief statement on its Facebook page on Friday that “troops arrested Abdel-Moaz over allegations that he served under Gadhafi” and “instigated rallies against” the Islamists.

TIME

Gaza Sides Agree to Lull but Truce Efforts Stall

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(JERUSALEM) — Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed Friday to broker a weeklong truce as a first step toward a broader deal and Israel’s defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation “significantly.”

Hours after the U.S.-led efforts stalled, the two sides agreed to a 12-hour humanitarian cease-fire to begin Saturday. However, the temporary lull was unlikely to change the trajectory of the current hostilities amid ominous signs that the Gaza war is spilling over into the West Bank.

In a “Day of Rage,” Palestinians across the territory, which had been relatively calm for years, staged protests against Israel’s Gaza operation and the rising casualty toll there. In the West Bank, at least six Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, hospital officials said.

The latest diplomatic setbacks, after several days of high-level diplomacy in the region, signaled that both sides are digging in and that the fighting in Gaza is likely to drag on.

Israel wants more time to destroy Hamas military tunnels and rocket launching sites in Gaza, while the territory’s Hamas rulers want international guarantees that a Gaza border blockade will be lifted before they cease fire.

The Israeli military said in a statement that Saturday’s 12-hour pause in fighting would start at 8 a.m. But it warned that the military “shall respond if terrorists choose to exploit” the lull to attack Israeli troops “or fire at Israeli civilians.” The military also said that “operational activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip will continue.”

A Hamas spokesman, Sami Abu Zuhri, said earlier Friday that the group had agreed to the 12-hour lull, intended to allow civilians to receive aid and evacuate to safer areas.

Civilians on both sides have been hardest hit over the past 18 days.

In Gaza, Israeli airstrikes and tank shelling have killed more than 860 Palestinians, wounded more than 5,700, displaced tens of thousands and destroyed hundreds of homes, Palestinian officials said. In dozens of cases, Israeli attacks killed three or more members of the same family, according to U.N. figures, and civilians make up three-quarters of the dead.

Gaza militants have fired close to 2,500 rockets at Israel since July 8, exposing most of Israel’s population to an indiscriminate threat that has killed three civilians. Thirty-six soldiers have also been killed in battle in Gaza.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Friday that Israel’s military would continue to strike Hamas hard, in order to deter it from firing rockets at Israel in the future.

“At the end of the operation, Hamas will have to think very hard if it is worth it to taunt us in the future,” Yaalon was quoted as telling soldiers manning an Iron Dome anti-missile battery. “You need to be ready for the possibility that very soon we will order the military to significantly broaden ground activity in Gaza.”

“Hamas is paying a very heavy price and will pay an even heavier price,” he said, according to a statement by his office.

The warning came shortly after Kerry announced in Cairo that he had been unable to broker a weeklong truce during which both sides were to talk about security arrangements and a possible easing of Gaza’s border blockade.

For days, Kerry had been moving between the Egyptian capital, the West Bank and Jerusalem, and talking to officials from Qatar, who are in contact with Hamas. More meetings with his counterparts from European Union nations, Turkey and Qatar were scheduled for Saturday in France.

Speaking alongside U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and the Egyptian foreign minister, Kerry insisted there was a general agreement on the “concept” of a truce but that both sides had concerns over details of carrying it out.

“Gaps have been significantly narrowed,” he said. “It can be achieved, if we work through some of the issues that are important for the parties.”

However, the Israeli Security Cabinet rejected Kerry’s proposal, according to Israeli media reports. Israel wants to be able to continue destroying tunnels used by Hamas militants to try to infiltrate into Israel and to smuggle weapons. It has so far uncovered 31 tunnels and destroyed half of them.

Meanwhile, heavy Israeli shelling was reported in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, an area where ground troops are operating.

One shell hit near the emergency department of Beit Hanoun hospital, wounding six people, including a foreign national who was not identified further, the Red Crescent said. Two of the wounded were in critical condition.

Shells also hit an ambulance in Beit Hanoun, killing a paramedic and wounding two people, the Red Crescent said. Another ambulance driver was killed as he tried to evacuate wounded from the southern town of Bani Suheila, the organization said.

As the Gaza fighting dragged on, the West Bank was becoming increasingly restive, with protests erupting Friday across the territory.

In the northern village of Hawara, hundreds took part in a protest after emerging from a mosque after Friday prayers, said Mayor Mouin Idmeidi. Hawara is located along a main north-south thoroughfare that is also used by Israeli motorists, and one Israeli driver slowed down as he passed the march and fired at the group, the mayor said.

He said four people were wounded and that one of them, a 19-year-old, died at Rafidiyeh Hospital in Nablus of his injuries.

After the shooting, clashes erupted between Palestinians and Israeli troops who opened fire, killing a 22-year-old, Idmeidi said. Health workers at the hospital confirmed the deaths.

An Israeli police spokesman, Mickey Rosenfeld, said paramilitary border police opened fire to disperse violent protests at Hawara, and that masked Palestinians threw firebombs. He said he was unaware of a shooting involving an Israeli civilian.

In Beit Omar, clashes erupted between Israeli forces and Palestinian stone-throwers. Hebron hospital officials said three Palestinians were killed.

Later Friday, the Israeli military said a soldier opened fire and killed a Palestinian protester who attempted to snatch his weapon during clashes in a refugee camp near the city of Hebron. Palestinian police said the man was killed after scuffling with a soldier who had barred him from entering his home before the break of the Ramadan fast.

On Thursday, thousands of Palestinians clashes with Israeli forces at a West Bank checkpoint and in east Jerusalem, the largest protests in those areas in several years.

TIME

Same-Sex Marriage Ban Struck Down for Miami Area

(MIAMI) — A Florida judge on Friday overturned the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in a ruling that applies to Miami-Dade County, agreeing with a judge in another county who made a similar ruling last week.

The ruling issued by Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel mirrors the decision made earlier by Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia. Both judges found the constitutional amendment approved by Florida voters in 2008 discriminates against gay people and violates their right to equal protection under the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

“Preventing couples from marrying solely on the basis of their sexual orientation serves no governmental interest,” Zabel wrote. “It serves only to hurt, to discriminate, to deprive same-sex couples and their families of equal dignity, to label and treat them as second-class citizens, and to deem them unworthy of participation in one of the fundamental institutions of our society.”

The effect of Garcia’s ruling was put on hold when Republican Attorney General Pam Bondi filed notice of appeal. Zabel also stayed the effect of her ruling indefinitely to allow time for appeals, which could take months. The upshot is that no marriage licenses will be issued for gay couples in either county any time soon.

Both judges were appointed by former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush and re-elected subsequently.

The legal battleground will next shift to the Miami-based 3rd District Court of Appeal for both cases, and most likely after that to the state Supreme Court.

Same-sex ban supporters argue that the referendum vote should be respected and that Florida has sole authority to define marriage in the state. The Florida amendment defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

Gay marriage proponents have won more than 20 legal decisions around the country since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act last year, although those rulings remain in various stages of appeal. Many legal experts say the U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately have to decide the question for all states.

Bondi said in a statement about the Monroe County case that “with many similar cases pending throughout the entire country, finality on this constitutional issue must come from the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow gays to marry.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott has said he supports the amendment but opposes discrimination. His top Democratic challenger, former Gov. Charlie Crist, supports efforts to overturn it.

Florida has long been a gay rights battleground. In the 1970s, singer and orange juice spokeswoman Anita Bryant successfully campaigned to overturn a Dade County ordinance banning discrimination against gays. The county commission reinstated those protections two decades later.

In 1977, Florida became the only state prohibiting all gay people from adopting children. A state court judge threw out that law in 2008, finding “no rational basis” for that ban, and two years later, the state decided not to appeal, making gay adoption legal.

Gay marriage opponents said the rulings overturning the same-sex marriage ban disenfranchise nearly five million voters — the 62 percent who approved it nearly six years ago. Repealing the amendment would require at least 60 percent support.

“With one stoke of a pen, a mere trial judge has attempted to overthrow an act of direct democracy by five million Floridians who defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman,” said John Stemberger, president Florida Family Policy Council, which pushed for passage of the amendment.

The cities of Orlando, Miami Beach and Key Biscayne filed legal papers supporting the gay couples’ quest to have the marriage ban ruled unconstitutional. A separate lawsuit is pending in Tallahassee federal court seeking to both overturn Florida’s gay marriage ban and force the state to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.

TIME

Sheriff: 300 Homes Burned in Washington Wildfire

(TWISP, Wash.) — A sheriff in Washington state says a massive wildfire has burned 300 homes, double the number previously estimated.

Frank Rogers, the sheriff of Okanogan County in north-central Washington, said Friday that the Carlton Complex of fires has consumed about 300 homes this month. His office previously placed the number at 150, but he said then he knew it would rise because officials hadn’t been able to reach some burned areas.

Rogers said he and his deputies have driven 750 miles of roadway through the devastated area, and “every road lost something.” He said the blackened area looks like a moonscape, and he’s seen hundreds of dead livestock.

The fire was started by lightning and has burned about 400 square miles northeast of Seattle.

TIME Israel

Israeli Media: Israel Rejects Gaza Truce Plan

Israeli APCs drive near the Israeli border with Gaza as the come out of the Gaza Strip July 25, 2014.
Israeli APCs drive near the Israeli border with Gaza as the come out of the Gaza Strip July 25, 2014. Nir Elias—Reuters

(JERUSALEM) — Israeli media say the country’s Security Cabinet has unanimously rejected a U.S. proposal for a temporary pause in Israel-Hamas fighting.

The proposal by Secretary of State John Kerry calls for a temporary truce during which Israel and Hamas would hold indirect talks about easing the border closure of the blockaded Gaza Strip. Hamas has demanded that Gaza’s crossings be opened.

Israel TV reports that on Friday evening, Israel’s Security Cabinet — which groups top ministers on security issues — rejected the proposal in its current form Friday, mainly because it would mean Israel has to cut short an ongoing effort to destroy Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border.

There was no immediate Israeli government comment.

TIME

Carjacked Vehicle Hits Crowd, Killing 2 Kids

(PHILADELPHIA) — Police say a vehicle that had been carjacked plowed into a group of people on a corner in Philadelphia, killing two children and critically injuring three other people.

Homicide Capt. James Clark says a woman was carjacked at gunpoint in the Tioga section of north Philadelphia on Friday morning by two men who drove off with her in the back seat.

Clark said “something obviously went horribly wrong” and the vehicle went out of control and struck a group of five adults and children on the corner around 11:15 a.m.

Two of the children were killed. Clark said an adult and two other children were taken to hospitals in critical condition. The two men fled the scene and are being sought.

TIME Israel

Israel Says Soldier Missing in Gaza Confirmed Dead

(JERUSALEM) — The Israeli military says an Israel soldier Hamas claimed to have captured in the Gaza Strip earlier this week was in fact killed in battle on that day.

The Islamic militant Hamas announced late Sunday that it was holding Oron Shaul and gave his purported military ID. An Israeli soldier in the hands of Hamas could have been a game changer in the current round of Israel-Hamas fighting and efforts to end it.

The military said in an announcement Friday that Shaul was killed in battle in Gaza on Sunday.

TIME World Cup

FIFA Rejects Calls to Strip Russia of World Cup

(ZURICH) — FIFA rejected calls to move the 2018 World Cup from Russia, saying the tournament “can achieve positive change.”

Russia’s alleged involvement in shooting down a Malaysia Airlines plane over Ukraine last week prompted calls from some lawmakers in Germany to review the country’s hosting rights.

On Friday, FIFA issued a statement saying it “deplores any form of violence” and questioning the purpose of relocating the sport’s showcase tournament.

“History has shown so far that boycotting sport events or a policy of isolation or confrontation are not the most effective ways to solve problems,” FIFA said, adding that global attention on the World Cup “can be a powerful catalyst for constructive dialogue between people and governments.”

The conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russia separatist rebels escalated days after the World Cup ended in Brazil.

On July 13 in Rio de Janeiro, Russian President Vladimir Putin attended a World Cup hosting handover ceremony with Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff. Both then sat next to FIFA President Sepp Blatter to watch the final at the Maracana Stadium, won by Germany.

FIFA, which has Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko on its executive committee, said a World Cup in the country “can be a force for good.”

“FIFA believes this will be the case for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia,” the governing body said.

Blatter already rejected calls to strip Russia of the tournament after it annexed the Crimea this year.

“The World Cup has been given and voted to Russia and we are going forward with our work,” Blatter said in March.

In a separate statement Friday, Mutko said a U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics had been a mistake.

“So there’s no sense in reacting to politicians trying to make names for themselves,” Mutko was quoted saying by Russian news agency R-Sport. “We’re preparing in a calm way, building facilities, getting ready for the World Cup.”

Russia has announced a $20 billion budget for building and renovating 12 stadiums, and other construction projects, for the first World Cup in Eastern Europe.

“FIFA has stated many times that sport should be outside politics,” Mutko said. “Hosting an event like this, we’re doing it for athletes from all over the world, for footballers, for the fans.”

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