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Saturday, July 12, 2014,AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EDT

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Posted: Jul 12, 2014 4:00 AM

Updated: Jul 12, 2014 4:00 AM

Israeli airstrike hits mosque in operation targeting Hamas as Gaza death toll tops 120

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque its military says concealed the militant group's weapons, as the Palestinian death toll topped 120 Saturday in an offensive that showed no signs of slowing down.

Israel launched its campaign five days ago to stop relentless rocket fire on its citizens. While there have been no fatalities in Israel, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said overnight attacks raised the death toll there to over 120, with more than 920 wounded.

Dozens of the dead are civilians, though the exact breakdown remains unclear.

Hamas said Israel for the first time also hit a pair of mosques in its offensive. It hopes the incident will galvanize support in the Muslim world.

"The bombing of two mosques in Gaza overnight shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much is it hostile to Islam," said Husam Badran, a Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar. "This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier."

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Split-screen presidency: Obama relishes campaign-style trips, but gains little momentum

WASHINGTON (AP) Welcome to Barack Obama's split-screen presidency.

On one side: a confident Obama making campaign-style stops around the country and ridiculing his political opponents to the delight of cheering supporters. On the other side: an increasingly unpopular president hobbled by gridlock on Capitol Hill and a steady stream of vexing foreign policy crises.

Obama has long sought refuge outside of Washington when his frustrations with the nation's capital reach a boiling point. But his ability to rally public support in a way that results in progress for his legislative agenda has perhaps never been weaker than it is as he nears the midpoint of his second term.

To the White House, the take-away is that Washington and the Republican Party in particular is out of touch with the American people and failing to address their priorities. But to GOP leaders, Obama's activities in a midterm election year reinforce their view of a president more focused on soaring speeches and partisan politics than on working toward compromise solutions to the nation's problems.

Each side has at least some evidence to support their case.

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House spending chairman shoots down Obama's $3.7B border crisis request as Democrats object

WASHINGTON (AP) A key Republican said Friday that President Barack Obama's multibillion-dollar emergency request for the border is too big to get through the House, as a growing number of Democrats rejected policy changes Republicans are demanding as their price for approving any money.

The developments indicated that Obama faces an uphill climb as he pushes Congress to approve $3.7 billion to deal with tens of thousands of unaccompanied kids who've been arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border from poor and increasingly violent Central American nations. And they suggested that even as the children keep coming, any final resolution is likely weeks away on Capitol Hill.

As House members gathered Friday morning to finish up legislative business for the week, Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, which controls spending, told reporters: "It's too much money. We don't need it."

Rogers previously had sounded open to the spending request for more immigration judges, detention facilities, State Department programs and other items. He said his committee would look at the parts of Obama's request that would go for immediate needs, but that others could be handled through Congress' regular spending bills though no final action is likely on those until after the November midterm elections.

And asked whether the House would approve the spending package as-is, Rogers said "no."

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Lack of information and distance of forces thwarted military response to Benghazi attacks

WASHINGTON (AP) The military might have been able to prevent two of the four U.S. deaths in Benghazi if commanders had known more about the intensity of the sporadic gunfire directed at the CIA installation where Americans had taken refuge and had pressed to get a rescue team there faster, according to senior military leaders.

In closed-door testimony to Congress earlier this year, top military officers said that after the first attack on the main U.S. diplomatic outpost on Sept. 11, 2012, they thought the fighting had subsided and the Americans who had fled to the CIA base about a mile away were safe. In fact, they were facing intermittent small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades around midnight and had returned fire. Then the attackers dispersed.

Hours later, at first light, an 11-minute mortar and rocket-propelled grenade attack slammed into the CIA annex, killing security contractors Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.

In hindsight, retired Gen. Carter Ham, then head of the U.S. military command in Africa, said he would have pressed Libyan contacts in the defense ministry and other officials to help speed up the evacuation of Americans from Benghazi.

Also, a special operations team that had been dispatched from Croatia to Sicily after the first attack might have made it to Benghazi, if a host of variables were ideal a quick departure, wind direction and speed, and an unobstructed runway to land a U.S. aircraft.

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Iraqi authorities say Kurdish forces have taken over 2 oil fields near northern city of Kirkuk

BAGHDAD (AP) Kurdish security forces took over two major oil fields outside the disputed northern city of Kirkuk before dawn Friday and said they would use some of the production for domestic purposes, further widening a split with the central government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The takeover of the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk oil fields were the latest land grabs by Kurds, who have responded to the Sunni militant insurgency that has overrun large parts of Iraq by seizing territory of their own, effectively expanding the Kurdish autonomous zone in the north. Those moves have infuriated al-Maliki's government while stoking independence sentiment among the Kurds.

Kurdish fighters known as peshmerga pushed into the city of Kirkuk, a major hub for the oil industry in the north, and the surrounding area weeks ago in the early days of the Sunni militant blitz. But until now they had not moved into the oil fields in the area. On Friday, however, the fighters took over the Bai Hassan and Kirkuk fields and expelled local workers, the Oil Ministry in Baghdad said.

Oil Ministry spokesman Assem Jihad denounced the move as "a violation to the constitution" and warned that it poses "a threat to national unity."

The Kurdish Regional Government said its forces moved to secure the fields after learning of what it said were orders by officials in the Oil Ministry to sabotage a pipeline linking oil facilities in the area. It said production would continue, and that staff can return but will operate under Kurdish management.

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Amid effort to resolve runoff dispute, Kerry meeting again with Afghan presidential candidates

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting with rival Afghan presidential candidates for a second day as the United States struggles to find a path out of the crisis enveloping the nation's elections.

The prolonged uncertainty about the outcome of a runoff has jeopardized a central plank of President Barack Obama's strategy to leave behind a stable state after the withdrawal of most U.S. troops at year's end.

Kerry met Saturday with the candidates, former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, after discussions Friday proved inconclusive. The top American diplomat is grappling for a plan acceptable to all that would allow the United Nations to audit extensive fraud allegations in last month's vote.

The bitter dispute over who is President Hamid Karzai's rightful successor has alarmed Afghanistan's U.S. and Western benefactors, creating a political crisis that risks undermining more than a decade of efforts to build an Afghan government capable of fighting the Taliban on its own and snuffing out terrorist groups like al-Qaida.

Extended instability would have more immediate consequences for Afghanistan. If no process is established and both Ghani and Abdullah attempt to seize power, the government and security forces could split along ethnic and regional lines.

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Tracy Morgan sues Wal-Mart over tractor-trailer, limousine crash that killed 1, hurt comedian

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) Tracy Morgan has sued Wal-Mart over last month's highway crash that seriously injured him and killed a fellow comedian.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, claims Wal-Mart was negligent when a driver of one of its tractor-trailers rammed into Morgan's limousine van. The complaint claims the retail giant should have known the driver had been awake for over 24 hours, and that his commute of 700 miles from his home in Georgia to work in Delaware was "unreasonable." It also alleges the driver fell asleep at the wheel.

"As a result of Wal-Mart's gross, reckless, willful, wanton, and intentional conduct, it should be appropriately punished with the imposition of punitive damages," according to the complaint.

The June 7 wreck on the New Jersey Turnpike killed 62-year-old comedian James McNair, who went by the name Jimmy Mack. Comedian Ardley Fuqua and Jeffrey and Krista Millea, who were injured as passengers in the limo, are also named as plaintiffs.

Morgan, the former "Saturday Night Live" and "30 Rock" star, suffered a broken leg and broken ribs in the crash and is currently in a rehabilitation center. Fuqua is recovering from crash-related injuries.

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Meteorologists to the Midwest: Relax, next week's cool weather not caused by polar vortex

CHICAGO (AP) Unseasonably cool weather will arrive next week in the Midwest and as far south as Arkansas and Oklahoma.

It is not, however, the second coming of a polar vortex, a phrase the National Weather Service's Chicago office tweeted earlier this week to describe the upcoming sweater weather. The office quickly learned that wasn't such a good idea, said Amy Seeley, a weather service meteorologist who spent a good chunk of Friday morning fielding a flood of telephone calls from the media.

"I think people are pretty sensitive to those words," she said.

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WHAT'S TO BLAME?

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Companies capitalize on the World Cup Effect with new products

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Wondering how to drive it like Dempsey, move it like Messi or rip it like Ronaldo?

There's an app for that.

As Argentina and Germany prepare for Sunday's World Cup final, companies that produce soccer-related merchandise are already winning.

The once-every-four-years consumer frenzy, dubbed by some as the "World Cup Effect," drives the sale of everything from the traditional jerseys and cleats to unusual items such as team-endorsed windshield wiper fluid to Versace T-shirts and, yes, mobile phone apps.

The stakes are highest for sports shoe and apparel giants Nike and adidas, who are wrestling for dominance of the soccer market.

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Encore: LeBron James returns to Cavs to bring championship-starved city first title since '64

CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James returns older, more mature. He's got a little less hair, and a ton more experience.

Like anyone, he changed in four years.

The NBA's biggest star left four summers ago on poor terms, despised by fans who burned his jersey and scorned by an owner who felt betrayed. Cast as a villain, James was on a mission to win an NBA title "not just one, not two, not three ... " in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and he got two rings.

James has come back home to do something bigger, to do something no one has done for nearly 50 years. He wants to do something that would stamp his legacy and just maybe separate him from basketball's immortals.

He wants to deliver a championship to Cleveland, the city where sports heartbreak is as predictable as cold winters.

Topics: World Briefly

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