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Israel re-opens Gaza crossings as truce with Palestinians holds

GAZA/JERUSALEM, Aug 8 (Reuters) - Israel reopened border crossings into Gaza on Monday following an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire with the militant Islamic Jihad group that ended the most serious outbreak of fighting around the volatile Palestinian enclave in more than a year.
At least 44 people, including 15 children, were killed in 56 hours of violence that began when Israeli airstrikes hit a senior Islamic Jihad commander. Israel said its action was a pre-emptive strike against an attack planned by the Iranian-backed group.
Hundreds more people were wounded and several houses destroyed in the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants fired more than 1,000 rockets at Israel, sending residents of southern areas and major cities including Tel Aviv fleeing to shelters.
In a news conference broadcast on the pro-Iranian station Al Mayadeen following the ceasefire late on Sunday, Islamic Jihad leader Ziad al-Nakhala declared: “This is a victory.”
But Israel saw a significant degradation of Islamic Jihad capabilities.
“There’s no doubt Islamic Jihad was dealt a serious blow from which it will take time to recover,” an Israeli military official said, pointing to the loss of two senior commanders, which he said would severely disrupt its ability to plan and carry out operations.
“We did not annihilate Islamic Jihad nor was that our goal.”
As well as the two commanders, Israeli officials said around 20 fighters were killed by the strikes and large quantities of anti-tank weapons and rocket production and storage facilities were destroyed.
“I think they were surprised by our capabilities and by the level of our intelligence and operational abilities,” a senior Israeli diplomatic official told reporters.
A spokesman for Islamic Jihad in Gaza said the group may have suffered losses to its leadership and fighting strength but it had been able to impose conditions on Israel and maintain unity and cohesion.
“The enemy made ending the Islamic Jihad group its battle aim but such a dreaming, delusional goal failed,” he said. “We own the human element, the human miracle that can repair capabilities regardless of how humble they are.”
Aware of the danger of escalating the conflict, Israel was careful to focus on Islamic Jihad targets to avoid drawing Hamas, the much larger and more powerful militant group that rules Gaza, into the fighting.
Little more than a year after an 11-day war in May 2021 that killed 250 Gazans and wrecked the fragile economy of the zone, Hamas offered some verbal support to its smaller ally but took ...

China announces fresh military drills around Taiwan

TAIPEI, Aug 8 (Reuters) - China's military announced fresh military drills on Monday in the seas and airspace around Taiwan - a day after the scheduled end of its largest ever exercises to protest against last week's visit to Taipei by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
China’s Eastern Theatre Command said it would conduct joint drills focusing on anti-submarine and sea assault operations – confirming the fears of some security analysts and diplomats that Beijing would continue to maintain pressure on Taiwan’s defences.
Taiwan’s foreign ministry condemned the move, saying China was deliberately creating crises. It demanded Beijing stop its military actions and “pull back from the edge”.
“In the face of military intimidation created by China, Taiwan will not be afraid nor back down, and will more firmly defend its sovereignty, national security, and free and democratic way of life,” the ministry said in a statement.
Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week infuriated China, which regards the self-ruled island as its own and responded with test launches of ballistic missiles over Taipei for the first time, as well as ditching some lines of dialogue with Washington.
The duration and precise location of the latest drills is not yet known, but Taiwan has already eased flight restrictions near the six earlier Chinese exercise areas surrounding the island.
Shortly before the latest drills were announced, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen met visiting St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, telling him she was moved by his determination to visit despite China’s military pressure.
“Prime Minister Gonsalves has expressed in recent days that the Chinese military drills would not prevent him from visiting friends in Taiwan. These statements have deeply touched us,” Tsai said at a welcome ceremony for Gonsalves in Taipei.
It was unclear if Tsai had invited Gonsalves before or after Pelosi’s visit. “We don’t disclose internal planning or communications between governments,” the Taiwanese foreign ministry said when asked by Reuters.
Beyond the firing of 11 short-range ballistic missiles during the four earlier days of exercises, Chinese warships, fighter jets and drones manoeuvred extensively around the island.
Shortly before those drills ended on Sunday, about 10 warships each from China and Taiwan manoeuvred at close quarters around the unofficial median line of the Taiwan Strait, according to a person familiar with the situation who is involved with security planning.
A Chinese state television commentator said late on Sunday that the Chinese military would now conduct “regular” drills on the Taiwan ...

Ukraine calls for demilitarised zone around nuclear plant hit by shelling

KYIV, Aug 8 (Reuters) - International alarm over weekend artillery attacks on Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear complex grew on Monday with Kyiv warning of the risk of a Chornobyl-style catastrophe and appealing for the area to be made a demilitarised zone.
The United Nations chief called for access to the plant as Kyiv and Moscow traded blame for the shelling in a southern region captured by Russian invaders in March and now targeted by Kyiv for a counter-offensive.
“Any attack (on) a nuclear plant is a suicidal thing,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told a news conference on Monday in Japan, where he attended the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony on Saturday to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing.
Petro Kotin, head of Ukraine’s state nuclear power company Energoatom, called for a team of peacekeepers to be deployed at the Zaporizhzhia site, which is still run by Ukrainian technicians.
“The decision that we demand from the world community and all our partners . is to withdraw the invaders from the territory of the station and create a demilitarised zone on the territory of the station,” Kotin said on television.
“The presence of peacekeepers in this zone and the transfer of control of it to them, and then also control of the station to the Ukrainian side would resolve this problem.”
Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday that Ukrainian shelling had damaged high-voltage power lines servicing the Soviet-era plant and forced it to reduce output by two of its six reactors to “prevent disruption”.
A Russian-installed official in the Zaporizhzhia region said earlier that the facility was operating normally.
Ukraine blamed Russia for renewed shelling in the area of the plant that it said damaged three radiation sensors, with two workers hospitalised for shrapnel injuries.
The Zaporizhzhia region’s Russian-installed authority said Ukrainian forces hit the site with a multiple rocket launcher, damaging administrative buildings and a storage area.
Reuters could not verify either side’s version of what happened.
In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the shelling was “extremely dangerous” and added: “We expect the countries that have absolute influence on the Ukrainian leadership to use this influence in order to rule out the continuation of such shelling.”
Ukraine’s Kotin flagged the danger of shells hitting spent containers of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel as especially dire. If two or more containers were broken, “it is impossible to assess the scale of this catastrophe”.
The world’s worst civil nuclear ...

Ukraine’s Zelenskiy rules out talks if Russia holds referendums

Aug 7 (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Sunday that if Russia proceeded with referendums in occupied areas of his country on joining Russia, there could be no talks with Ukraine or its international allies.
Russian forces and their separatist allies now hold large swathes of territory in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region and in southern areas after launching what the Kremlin calls a “special military operation” into its neighbour’s territory. Officials in both areas have raised the possibility of holding referendums.
In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy said Kyiv was holding fast to its position of yielding no territory to Russia.
“Our country’s position remains what it always has been. We will give up nothing of what is ours,” Zelenskiy said.
“If the occupiers proceed along the path of pseudo-referendums they will close for themselves any chance of talks with Ukraine and the free world, which the Russian side will clearly need at some point.”
Russian and Ukrainian officials held several sessions of talks soon after Russian forces launched their invasion of Ukraine in February.
But little progress was made and no meetings have been held since late March, with each side blaming the other for the halt to contacts.
Russian forces hold most of Kherson region in southern Ukraine and officials in charge have suggested a referendum on joining Russia could be held within the coming weeks or months.
In Donbas, Russian proxies seized chunks of territory in 2014, held independence referendums and proclaimed “people’s republics” in Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The Kremlin recognised the republics on the eve of the February invasion.
The governor of Luhansk region — almost entirely under Russian control for several weeks — suggested over the weekend that Russia was preparing for a new referendum in newly captured areas and was offering residents benefits for taking part.
(Reporting by Ronald Popeski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Lisa Shumaker)
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Biden Cleared to Resume Public Events After Negative Covid Test

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden tested negative for Covid-19 for a second consecutive day, ending more than two weeks spent mostly self-isolating at the White House.
The latest antigen test for Biden, 79, came back negative on Sunday morning, presidential physician Kevin O’Connor said in a letter released by the White House.
“He will safely return to public engagement and presidential travel,” the doctor said. “I’m feeling great,” Biden told reporters outside the White House.
Biden’s diagnosis, including a so-called rebound case after he received Pfizer Inc.’s antiviral drug Paxlovid, has hampered his political schedule ahead of midterm elections in November, though he has done a series of virtual events.
Even before the doctor’s letter was released, Biden headed from the White House to his beach home in Delaware on Sunday. On Monday, he and first lady Jill Biden plan to travel to Kentucky to visit communities hit by deadly floods.
Biden first tested positive on July 21 and ended isolation six days later after twice testing negative on rapid antigen tests. He suffered mild symptoms, including a sore throat, runny nose, fatigue and elevated temperature. He tested positive for the second time on July 30.
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Firefighters battle wildfire on Croatian island after man dies

SARAJEVO, Aug 7 (Reuters) - Croatian water-bomber planes joined dozens of firefighters on Sunday to help contain a wildfire that killed one man on the Adriatic island of Hvar, Croatian media reported.
The fire, which broke out early in the afternoon, threatened residential areas close to the town of Stari Grad. The man died when he tried to keep the flames away from his property, state news agency Hina reported.
Fire brigade chief Ivan Kovacevic said the fire no longer threatened houses but continued to burn in a pine forest. “The situation at the site is currently good,” he told Hina.
Over the past month, a series of wildfires have raged along the Croatia’s Adriatic coast as a heatwave intensifies there and across much of Europe.
(Reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic; editing by John Stonestreet)

Ukraine seeks to extend shipping safe passage deal beyond grain

ISTANBUL/KYIV, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Three grain ships left Ukrainian ports on Friday while the first inbound cargo vessel since Russia's invasion was due in Ukraine later in the day to load, as Kyiv called for the safe passage deal to be extended to other cargoes such as metals.
The July 22 deal marked a rare diplomatic breakthrough as war rages in eastern Ukraine, with Kyiv trying to rebuild its shattered economy after more than five months of conflict.
“We expect that the security guarantees of our partners from the U.N. and Turkey will continue to work, and food exports from our ports will become stable and predictable for all market participants,” Ukrainian Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov said on Facebook after the ships set off.
The first grain ship left Odesa on Monday.
“This agreement is about logistics, about the movement of vessels through the Black Sea,” Ukrainian Deputy Economy Minister Taras Kachka told Financial Times. “What’s the difference between grain and iron ore?”
The Kremlin said a solution can only be found if linked to lifting restrictions on Russian metal producers.
The United Nations and Turkey brokered the safe passage deal between Moscow and Kyiv after U.N. warnings of outbreaks of famine due to grain shipments from Ukraine being halted.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, sparking the biggest conflict in Europe since World War Two and fuelling a global energy and food crisis.
On Friday, two grain ships set off from Chornomorsk and one from Odesa, carrying a total of about 58,000 tonnes of corn, the Turkish defence ministry said.
The Turkish bulk carrier Osprey S, flying the flag of Liberia, was expected to arrive in Chornomorsk on Friday to load up with grain, the regional administration of Odesa said.
Ukraine would like to include ports in the southern Mykolaiv region, to the east of Odesa, in the safe passage deal, though it has been frequently shelled throughout the invasion.
The city of Mykolaiv itself will impose an unusually long curfew from late Friday to early Monday as authorities try to catch people collaborating with Russia, the region’s governor said.
Mykolaiv lies close to Russian-occupied parts of the strategically important region of Kherson where Ukraine plans to conduct a counter-offensive.
Russia and Ukraine traditionally produce about one third of global wheat and Russia is Europe’s main energy supplier. But Russia said on Friday it might not reach its expected harvest of 130 million tonnes of grain ...

InfoWars’ Alex Jones Ordered to Pay More Than $4 Million to Sandy Hook Parents

(Bloomberg Law) -- Conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay $4.11 million in defamation damages for falsely claiming the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting was a hoax, a Texas jury said on Thursday after deliberating for a full day in Travis County.
Jones, the radio and web host of InfoWars, asserted the massacre was fabricated, endearing him to conspiracy theorists and hardline gun owner rights advocates.
Ten jurors agreed on the damages amount, which was spread out over several juror questions.
While on the stand this week, Jones admitted that the school shooting was “100% real” during his second day providing testimony. He also conceded that it was irresponsible of him to declare that the school shooting was a hoax.
The trial was heated at times, with Judge Maya Guerra Gamble of the 459th District Court in Travis County telling Jones that he couldn’t lie to the jury during his first day of testimony.
“You may not say to the jury that you’ve complied with discovery, that isn’t true,” Gamble told Jones. “You may not tell the jury that you’re bankrupt.”
During cross-examination, plaintiffs’ attorney Mark Bankston said Jones hadn’t complied with discovery. He also noted that Jones’ defense team had accidentally sent him a record of previously requested text messages from the past two years only recently.
“That’s how I know you lied to me,” said Bankston, who said Jones had claimed he had no Sandy Hook texts on his phone.
In a emergency motion hearing Thursday morning, Jones’ attorney Andino Reynal asked the judge to for a protective order on all of those documents, including 2.3 gigabytes worth of materials that his legal assistant accidentally sent to opposing counsel.
Bankston contended that the motion was frivolous and revealed that the Jan. 6 Committee asked him to turn over the text messages. Unless the judge seals the records, Bankston said he would turn them over.
Gamble denied the motion—and an accompanying motion for a mistrial—to immediately seal the information “without knowing what’s in it” and offered to give Reynal time to identify specific materials he wanted sealed.
Sandy Hook Parents
The defamation case was brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of six-year-old Jesse Lewis, who died in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting.
They testified earlier Tuesday about the emotional pain and distress they have had to deal with due to Jones’ falsehoods over their death of their son.
“The way that you have impacted so many lives, there has to be ...

South Korea Launches Its First Lunar Orbiter Atop SpaceX Rocket

(Bloomberg) -- South Korea launched its first home-developed lunar orbiter Friday, becoming the seventh country to join the already competitive race to send spacecrafts to the moon.
The Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, developed by Korea Aerospace Research Institute, lifted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 7:07 p.m. local time and successfully separated from SpaceX’s 549-ton Falcon 9 rocket around 45 minutes later, live broadcast of the launch showed.
Dubbed Danuri, which means moon and enjoy in Korean, the lunar orbiter is set to establish communication with the ground station before entering its planned trajectory 5-6 hours after the launch.
It will travel for four and a half months before entering lunar orbit to begin its mission in December, according to a statement from the science ministry.
Danuri’s missions include searching for possible landing sites as well as conducting a test space wireless Internet connect by playing BTS’s hit song “Dynamite” from the moon.
“It is a very significant milestone in the history of Korean space exploration,” Sang-Ryool Lee, president of KARI said in a pre-recorded video. “If we are more determined and committed to technology development for space travel, we will be able to reach mars, asteroids, and so on in the near future.”
The launch comes after South Korea launched its own fully developed rocket Nuri in June that placed a test satellite into the earth’s orbit. The country aims to eventually send an unmanned spaceship to the moon by 2030.
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‘Free BG’: Brittney Griner’s Plight Spurs Outcry Across Sports, Politics

(Bloomberg) -- Sports stars and politicians are decrying basketball star Brittney Griner’s nine-year drug sentence by a Russian court.
The Phoenix Mercury player has been detained in Russia since mid-February, when authorities said they found cartridges containing hashish oil in her bag. She was convicted of drug possession and smuggling, and sentenced to nine years in prison on Thursday. The verdict comes after the US offered to swap imprisoned Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for Griner and former US Marine Paul Whelan.
Read More: Biden Says Brittney Griner’s 9-Year Prison Sentence in Russia ‘Unacceptable’
US President Joe Biden called the ruling “unacceptable,” as did Representative Cori Bush, a Democrat representing parts of St. Louis, Missouri.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican, joined Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat from Maryland blasted Russia for holding her.
Professional Sports
WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called verdict “unjustified and unfortunate, but not unexpected” in a joint statement. “Brittney Griner remains wrongly detained. The WNBA and NBA’s commitment to her safe return has not wavered and it is our hope that we are near the end of this process of finally bringing BG home to the United States.”
Others who reacted to the news included the WNBA Players Association, which released a thread praising Griner as both a person and athlete. “Given her record of service on and off the court, BG without question deserves compassion and mercy,” the union said. “She deserves to come home.”
Fellow WNBA players also spoke out about the sentencing.
Arike Ogunbowale, a guard with the Dallas Wings, had previously reflected on playing overseas in Russia, which many WNBA players do to supplement their salaries.
“Can’t just play with people’s lives like that,” Ogunbowale tweeted on Thursday. “Sickening.”
In a Twitter thread, Griner’s agent Lindsay Kagawa Colas said the star “is being used as a political pawn.” She urged Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to bring both Griner and Whelan back to the US.
“This is a time for compassion and a shared understanding that getting a deal done to bring Americans home will be hard, but it is urgent and it is the right thing to do,” Colas said.
Actor Mia Farrow and Bravo producer Andy Cohen also asserted their support of Griner, as did singer Justin Bieber, who reposted an ESPN Instagram post to his Stories. CNN host Cari Champion called the sentence “expected by still HORRIFYING.”
ESPN host Mina Kimes pushed back against some people ...

Three ships plan to set out from Ukrainian ports on Friday -Turkish minister

ISTANBUL, Aug 4 (Reuters) - Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said there are plans for three ships to set out from Ukrainian ports on Friday under the deal to unblock the country's grain exports, his ministry said on Thursday.
A first vessel carrying Ukrainian grain set sail from the port of Odesa on Monday, arriving at the Bosphorus Strait some 36 hours later under a deal between Russia and Ukraine, brokered by Turkey and the United Nations, that aims to ease a global food crisis stemming from the war.
The Turkish statement said Akar had held talks with Ukraine’s defence and infrastructure ministers to discuss the situation around grain deliveries, being organised by the Joint Coordination Centre in Istanbul.
“As a result of the intense work and coordination at the centre, three ships are planned to start sailing from Ukrainian ports as part of the grain shipments tomorrow,” Akar was quoted as saying in the statement. It did not specify which ports were involved.
He said an empty ship was expected to head to Ukraine after being inspected in Istanbul, without identifying the vessel.
A spokesperson for the regional administration of Odesa said late on Wednesday a Turkish bulk carrier was expected to arrive in Ukraine’s Chornomorsk port on Friday, making it the first ships to arrive at a Ukrainian port during Russia’s invasion.
He identified the bulk carrier as Osprey S, flying the flag of Liberia. Read full story
As of Thursday afternoon, Osprey S was anchored in the Sea of Marmara, around 1 kilometre (0.62 mile) off Istanbul’s Asian coast, along with other ships waiting to cross the Bosphorus in to the Black Sea, according to a Reuters journalist.
(Reporting by Yesim Dikmen;Writing by Daren Butler;Editing by Frances Kerry)
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Lady Gaga appears to confirm casting in ‘Joker’ sequel

Aug 4 (Reuters) - Pop star and actress Lady Gaga appeared to confirm her casting in the upcoming motion picture sequel to the Oscar-winning psychological thriller "Joker" on Thursday by posting a musical teaser on Twitter.
The musical clip depicts silhouettes dancing together to the tune of the song “Cheek to Cheek”, originally written by Irving Berlin in 1935 for the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movie Top Hat, with the names Phoenix and Gaga flashing on the screen. ()
“Joker: Folie a Deux”, which will see Joaquin Phoenix reprise his role as the titular character, is set for release in theatres on Oct. 4, 2024. Read full story
Phoenix had first played the role in the 2019 film “Joker”, which earned him the Academy Award for best actor, depicted an origin story for the arch enemy of DC Comics’ superhero Batman.
No further details about the sequel have been immediately made available by Warner Bros. But Hollywood trade publication Variety has reported the new production will be a musical with Lady Gaga expected to play Joker’s co-conspirator, Harley Quinn.
If confirmed, Lady Gaga will be the newest in a long line of actresses who have played or voiced the iconic character of Harley Quinn. Most recently, Margot Robbie played the role of the ‘Crime Queen of Gotham City’ in the 2020 film “Birds of Prey” and in “The Suicide Squad” the following year.
It is unclear if Robbie will continue as Harley Quinn. However, the Joker movies featuring Phoenix are set in a separate cinematic universe, which would likely mean Robbie can still reprise her role as the iconic villain in any future movies.
Folie à deux is a rare psychiatric syndrome also known as shared psychosis, likely hinting at the traditionally co-dependent relationship between Joker and Harley Quinn.
(Reporting by Mrinalika Roy in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

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