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Updated: Sun, 20 Jul 2014 01:16:08 EST


International monitors try to secure sprawling Ukraine plane crash site for investigation

HRABOVE, Ukraine (AP) — Armed separatists have been hampering access to the Malaysia Airlines crash site in eastern Ukraine.

They've limited the movements of international monitors, raising concerns that evidence showing who brought the plane down and killed the 298 people onboard will be lost, tampered with or destroyed.

The Dutch foreign minister says news of "the bodies being dragged around" and the site not being treated properly has shocked the Netherlands. Most of the passengers on the flight were Dutch. Prime Minister Mark Rutte (RUH'-tuh) says he's had an "extremely intense" telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging him to "show the world he intends to help" in the investigation.

Separatist leader Alexander Borodai is denying that the rebels have interfered with the work of observers in any way. He says he wants the help of the international community in assisting with the cleanup before the bodies deteriorate further.


US questions rebel actions at Malaysia airliner's crash site in Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department says the U.S. is deeply concerned that the separatists in eastern Ukraine have refused to allow monitors safe and unfettered access to the site where a Malaysian airliner was shot down with nearly 300 people aboard.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki (SAH'-kee) says the site was not secured and notes multiple reports of bodies being removed, debris taken away, and potential evidence tampered with. She calls the situation "unacceptable and an affront to all those who lost loved ones and to the dignity the victims deserve."

Meanwhile, the latest U.S. intelligence assessment suggests that more than one missile system was provided to the separatists by the Russians in the last week or so. A U.S. official tells The Associated Press that while there is not 100 percent certainty, there's a growing belief that the systems were provided by the Russians.


UPDATE: Israel saying it widened its ground offensive, son of senior Hamas leader killed

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel says it has widened its ground offensive, sending more troops into Gaza after demolishing more than a dozen Hamas tunnels and intensifying tank fire on border areas.

Loud explosions have been shaking Gaza as Israeli flares light up the night sky and fighter jets buzz the densely populated territory.

Since the start of fighting almost two weeks ago, Gaza health officials say 348 Palestinians have been killed and 2,700 wounded in Israeli air and artillery strikes.

Five Israelis — three soldiers and two civilians — have also been killed and dozens wounded as rockets continue to rain down on Israel.

As the fighting rages, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon is on his way to Qatar as part of renewed cease-fire efforts.

Hamas last week rejected an Egyptian call to both sides to halt hostilities, saying it first wants guarantees that Israel and Egypt will significantly ease their border divade of Gaza.


After threat from Islamic extremists, Christians flee northern Iraqi city of Mosul

BAGHDAD (AP) — Christians have been pouring out of Iraq's second-largest city by the carload, abandoning communities that date back to the first centuries of Christianity.

Islamic extremists gave Christians in Mosul until midday today to convert to Islam, pay a tax or face death. By the time the deadline imposed by the Islamic State expired, the vast majority of Christians were gone.

Most headed for areas in northern Iraq protected by the Kurdish security forces.

Iraq was home to an estimated 1 million Christians before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. Since then, militants have frequently targeted Christians across the country, bombing their churches and killing clergymen. Under such pressures, many Christians have left the country. Church officials now put the community at around 450,000.


Gunmen kill at least 20 Egyptian troops

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military says 21 troops are dead after gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades attacked a border guard post in the western desert near Libya today.

A military spokesman says one of the rockets struck a cache of weapons at the checkpoint, sparking an explosion. Egyptian forces later seized two car bombs before they exploded.

Another military official says about 20 gunmen in vehicles mounted with weapons took the checkpoint by surprise. The official says three of the attackers were killed in the battle.

The state news agency MENA says it's the second time this border patrol company has come under attack in the last few months. The earlier attack killed six troops.

Egypt has vowed to tighten security along its long, porous borders with Sudan and Libya, which are often crossed by arms smugglers. Egypt has been flooded with weapons, mostly from Libya, following the 2011 civil war that toppled longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.


Extremists kill more than 100 in northeast Nigeria

MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (AP) — A civil defense spokesman and a human rights advocate say Boko Haram (BOH'-koh hah-RAHM') extremists have killed more than 100 people and hoisted their black and white flag over a town left undefended by Nigeria's military, a little more than 50 miles from the northeastern state capital of Maiduguri.

Survivors say the insurgents lobbed homemade bombs into homes and gunned down people trying to escape the attack on Damboa yesterday.

A human rights activist says the death toll is probably much higher. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to reporters.

Hundreds of villagers are fleeing another area in the northeast after receiving letters from the Islamic extremists threatening an attack. A spokesman for the Nigerian Vigilante Group says: "Nine major villages are on the run."


Strongest typhoon in decades kills 16 in southern China; Philippine death up to 94

BEIJING (AP) — The strongest typhoon to hit southern China in four decades has killed 16 people after claiming at least 94 lives in the Philippines.

The Xinhua News Agency reports Typhoon Rammasun is blamed for seven deaths and dozens of injuries after hitting Hainan island off China's southern coast on Friday. Nine people died later in the Guangxi region as the storm plowed into the mainland on its way north to Vietnam.

The China Meteorological Administration says the typhoon is hit China with wind speeds reaching 130 miles per hour, knocking down power lines and damaging buildings.

Authorities in southern China have ordered the highest level of alert and suspended hundreds of buses, trains and flights across the region.

The typhoon had wreaked havoc earlier in the week in the northern Philippines, leaving 94 people dead.


High winds push growing Washington wildfire

WINTHROP, Wash. (AP) — Firefighters in Washington state are battling to gain control over dozens of wildfires.

Gov. Jay Inslee says about 50 fires are burning, many of them touched off by lightning and fanned by gusty winds.

A massive blaze has scorched nearly 340 square miles in the scenic Methow (MET'-how) Valley. Just yesterday, the fire was measured at 260 square miles. Erratic winds have been pushing the fire in new directions today. However, the Okanogan County sheriff says it's "starting to run out of places to burn." After destroying about 100 homes Thursday and Friday, it's moved into a sparsely populated area, with homes scattered throughout the woods and along the highway.

The National Interagency Fire Center says two military air tankers are being sent from Wyoming to help fight wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.


Appeals court postpones Arizona man's execution

PHOENIX (AP) — An appeals court has granted an Arizona death row inmate's request to postpone his execution until prison officials reveal details on the two-drug combination that will be used to put him to death.

The preliminary injunction granted Saturday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals comes four days before the scheduled execution of Joseph Wood.

The 9th Circuit judges did not weigh in on the "ultimate merits" of Wood's case, but said he presented "serious questions" that justified the postponement.

Wood's lawyers argued prison officials violated his First Amendment rights by refusing to reveal the makers of the drugs and other details.

Attorneys for the state argued there was no First Amendment right to the information.

Wood is scheduled to be executed for the 1989 shooting deaths of his estranged girlfriend and her father.


NYPD: Modified duty for officers in fatal arrest

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City police say two officers involved in the arrest of a man who died in custody are being placed on modified duty.

Police identified one of the officers Saturday as Daniel Pantaleo. They say he's an eight-year veteran of the force.

Commissioner William Bratton says an officer with four years on the job is also being assigned to desk duty while 43-year-old Eric Garner's death is investigated.

Police haven't identified that officer.

The police union called Pantaleo's reassignment a "completely unwarranted, knee-jerk reaction."

Authorities say Garner went into cardiac arrest while being arrested on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes in Staten Island.

Video shows the 350-pound Garner becoming irate and refusing to be handcuffed. An officer then places him in what Bratton says appeared to be a chokehold.


Rock slide damages NY train tracks, halts service

GARRISON, N.Y. (AP) — Tumbling rocks north of New York City have damaged a stretch of train tracks in the nation's second-largest commuter rail system, suspending service and leaving hundreds of passengers without rides.

The Metro-North Railroad says repairs to the tracks between the Garrison and Peekskill stations on the Hudson Line could take hours. It says it's bringing in shuttle buses.

Some stranded passengers say they've been waiting for hours.

Rocks rained down on the tracks Saturday afternoon as crews were fixing a retaining wall. No trains were damaged. No people were hurt. But both tracks were left impassible.

Amtrak service also is affected.

Metro-North says crews are fixing the less-damaged track to restore service before shifting to the second track, which could require more extensive repairs.

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