Americans prepare to mark Thanksgiving with family, celebrations; Sandy overshadows for some
NEW YORK (AP) — Airports, train stations and highways were expected to remain busy as people made their way home to reconnect with family and friends for Thanksgiving — although some reunions might be bittersweet because of the damage and displacement caused by Superstorm Sandy.
For some, the once-sacrosanct harvest feast now starts the holiday shopping season — and store openings keep getting earlier. Black Friday now starts on Thanksgiving day itself at many national stores and some shoppers eagerly race from their dinner tables to line up for bargains, delaying their second helpings until they've purchased the latest toys or electronic devices.
The popular Macy's thanksgiving Day Parade, attended by more than 3 million people and watched by 50 million on television, was scheduled to kick off in New York City.
This year, the giant balloons were to welcome Elf on a Shelf and Papa Smurf. A new version of Hello Kitty was to be included while Buzz Lightyear, Sailor Mickey Mouse and the Pillsbury Doughboy remained in the lineup. Real life stars were to include Carly Rae Jepsen and Rachel Crow of "The X Factor."
Other cities planned to have showy marching bands, cartoon character balloons, and musical extravaganzas, as well. Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit were among the big cities hosting parades.
As truce holds after 8 days of Hamas-Israel fighting, Gazans emerge from homes to clear rubble
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza residents cleared rubble and claimed victory on Thursday, just hours after an Egyptian-brokered truce between Israel and Gaza's Hamas rulers ended the worst cross-border fighting in four years.
The cease-fire announcement had set off frenzied late night street celebrations in the coastal strip, and raised hopes of a new era in relations between Israel and Hamas. The two sides are now to negotiate a deal that would open the borders of the blockaded Palestinian territory.
"Today is different, the morning coffee tastes different and I feel we are off to a new start," said Ashraf Diaa, a 38-year-old engineer from Gaza City.
However, the vague language in the agreement and deep hostility between the combatants made it far from certain that the bloodshed would end.
Israel launched the offensive on Nov. 14 to halt renewed rocket fire from Gaza, unleashing some 1,500 airstrikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Hamas and other Gaza militant groups showered Israel with hundreds of rockets.
Analysis: With Mideast cease-fire, US pins hopes on Egypt's new Islamist government
WASHINGTON (AP) — In frantic diplomacy, the Obama administration helped seal a cease-fire that puts heavy responsibility on Egypt's young Islamist government to ensure the end of Hamas rockets from the Gaza Strip. If Egypt delivers, the United States will have rediscovered the stalwart regional partner it has lacked since the autocratic Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in a popular revolt last year. If it fails, stability across the region will suffer.
Much depends on whether the agreement brokered by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi proves durable and halts not only a week of open warfare that killed more than 140 Palestinians and five Israelis, but definitively ends rocket attacks on southern Israel from Gaza that grew increasingly frequent in recent months.
Standing beside Morsi's foreign minister in Cairo, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham said the deal would improve conditions for Gaza's 1.5 million people while offering greater security for the Jewish state — but the fierceness of the recent encounter meant no one was declaring it a success yet.
And U.S. officials familiar with Clinton's last-minute diplomatic shuttling warned against making any judgments until the cease-fire proves to hold.
The U.S. is counting on Morsi to shepherd the peace. The former Muslim Brotherhood leader emerged from his first major international crisis with enhanced prestige and now has a track record as someone who can mediate between the two sworn enemies, something the United States cannot do because it considers Hamas a terrorist organization and doesn't allow contacts between its members and American officials.
Activists: Syrian warplanes flatten building near Aleppo hospital, killing at least 15 people
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian warplanes flattened a building next to a hospital in Aleppo, killing at least 15 people and damaging one of the last remaining sources of medical help for civilians in the northern city, activists said Thursday.
Once a private clinic owned by a businessman loyal to President Bashar Assad, the Dar al-Shifa hospital became a field hospital run by volunteer doctors, nurses and aides united by their opposition to the regime and the need to give medical care to both civilians and rebels.
The facility has taken at least six direct hits in recent months, mostly affecting the upper stories.
On Wednesday night, warplanes bombed a building adjacent to the hospital, turning it into a pile of rubble and spraying shrapnel and debris into Dar al-Shifa itself, activists said.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, chief of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said at least 11 fighters were killed in the airstrike, in addition to a doctor, a young girl and two children who were on the street.
States, cities look for ways to prepare transportation systems for new rounds of wild weather
WASHINGTON (AP) — Wild weather is taking a toll on roads, airports, railways and transit systems across the country.
That's leaving states and cities searching for ways to brace for more catastrophes like Superstorm Sandy that are straining the nation's transportation lifelines beyond what their builders imagined.
Despite their concerns about intense rain, historic floods and record heat waves, some transportation planners find it too politically sensitive to say aloud a source of their weather worries: climate change.
Political differences are on the minds of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose advice on the design and maintenance of roads and bridges is closely followed by states. The association recently changed the name of its Climate Change Steering Committee to the less controversial Sustainable Transportation, Energy Infrastructure and Climate Solutions Steering Committee.
Still, there is a recognition that the association's guidance will need to be updated to reflect the new realities of global warming.
British Prime Minister Cameron focal point in divisive summit over 7-year EU budget
BRUSSELS (AP) — Leaders from around Europe are arriving in Brussels Thursday for what promises to be a turbulent summit on the budget for the 27-country European Union. And for once, Britain will be at the heart of the debate.
In a battle pitting several wealthy member states against those seeking a bigger aid budget, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron will seek to reduce the financial clout — and political sway — of the EU's institutions.
As he arrived Thursday morning for a preliminary meeting with Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, Cameron said he was not happy with the latest budget proposals. The Council is the assembly of the 27 European heads of state and government. Also attending was Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive branch.
"These are very important negotiations," Cameron said. "And clearly, at a time when we're making difficult decisions at home over public spending, it would be quite wrong — it is quite wrong — for there to be proposals for this increased extra spending in the EU. So we're going to be negotiating very hard for a good deal for Britain's taxpayers and for Europe's taxpayers, and to keep the British rebate."
Facing an ever more vocal Euroskeptic electorate at home, Cameron is under huge pressure to veto any seven-year deal which would exceed the old 2007-2013 €1 trillion ($1.28 trillion) budget by as much as a euro.
Iowa GOP officials call presidential straw poll part of losing past, look to inclusiveness
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — In the days since Republicans lost an election many in the party thought was theirs, chatter has been bubbling about what the GOP should do to recover.
For Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, it starts with the smallest of actions: abandoning the state's now-infamous straw poll.
Once a festive checkpoint on the road to the leadoff Iowa caucuses, the poll has devolved into a full-blown sideshow, Branstad and other critics contend. They say it's an unfair and false test that has felled good candidates and kept others from competing in the state.
"It's just something that's gotten totally out of control," said veteran GOP presidential campaign consultant Charlie Black. "It's been bad for years, but no one has had the guts to say it until now."
The poll, which morphed over the decades into a closely watched early test of caucus campaign strength, had "outlived its usefulness," Branstad told The Wall Street Journal this week. Some activists contend it amplifies the voices of candidates lacking broad appeal.
Taliban suicide bomber hits Shiite Muslim procession near Pakistani capital, kills 23 people
ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Taliban suicide bomber struck a Shiite Muslim procession near Pakistan's capital, killing 23 people in the latest of a series of bombings targeting Shiites during the holiest month of the year for the sect, officials said Thursday.
The bomber attacked the procession around midnight Wednesday in the city of Rawalpindi, located next to the capital, Islamabad, said Deeba Shahnaz, a state rescue official. At least 62 people were wounded by the blast, including six policemen. Eight of the dead and wounded were children, said Shahnaz.
Police tried to stop and search the bomber as he attempted to join the procession, but he ran past them and detonated his explosives, said senior police official Haseeb Shah. The attacker was also carrying grenades, some of which exploded, said Shah.
"I think the explosives combined with grenades caused the big loss," said Shah.
Local TV footage showed the scene of the bombing littered with body parts and smeared with blood. Shiites beat their heads and chests in anguish.
Trouble not over for Jesse Jackson Jr. after resignation with looming investigation and health
CHICAGO (AP) — Jesse Jackson Jr.'s resignation from Congress might end his once-promising political career but it doesn't mark the end of troubles for the civil rights icon's son.
The nine-term Chicago congressman submitted his letter of resignation Wednesday. The letter confirms publicly for the first time that he's under a federal probe and cooperating with investigators. Jackson also admits that his health issues have kept him from returning to work as he wants.
Jackson's attorneys say it could be months before there's a resolution to the investigation.
Meanwhile members of the House Ethics Committee could decide to release a final report on what they found in their probe of Jackson's ties to ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Thunder snap Clippers' 6-game winning streak, 117-111 in overtime clash of division leaders
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kendrick Perkins challenged his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates before a showdown of division leaders with the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night.
The Thunder had lost their first two games this season against other top teams in the Western Conference, and Perkins wanted that trend to stop immediately.
It wasn't easy, but Oklahoma City got the job done.
Kevin Durant scored 35 points, Russell Westbrook added 23 and Oklahoma City's All-Star tandem scored all of the Thunder's points in overtime in a 117-111 victory over the Clippers.
"It felt good to finally get one of those wins, and we can move on now," Durant said.