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Sunday, August 3, 2014

UN Chief Condemns Gaza School Attack as Israel Says ‘Battle Is Ongoing’

UN Chief Condemns Gaza School Attack as Israel Says ‘Battle Is Ongoing’


UN Chief Condemns Gaza School Attack as Israel Says ‘Battle Is Ongoing’

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 10:13 AM PDT

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the killing of 10 Palestinians outside of a UN Relief and Works Agency school in Gaza, as the country’s military issued a warning to residents of the Palestinian territory that “the battle is ongoing.”

In a statement on Sunday, the UN chief said that the IDF had been informed of the safe zones multiple times and that the attack was “a moral outrage and a criminal act.” Ban called for an investigation into what he called “yet another gross violation of international humanitarian law,” and for an immediate end to fighting. “This madness must stop,” he said.

The school had been sheltering Gaza residents displaced by the nearly four weeks of fighting that have taken place. Approximately six UN facilities have been hit by Israeli fire since the conflict began, the Associated Press reports. The Israel military had no immediate comment on the most recent attack, but said it would look into the reports.

As the UN called for an immediate end to the violence, the IDF began withdrawing some troops from the Gaza strip as it entered a “next stage” of combat. A statement from the IDF says it was “redeploying to enable combat against Hamas & continued defense from tunnels.”

“We have indeed scaled down some of the presence and indeed urged Palestinians in certain neighborhoods to come back to their homes,” military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner also told the AP, though Israeli air strikes continue in the region.

The IDF shared its plans to scale back troop numbers as it dropped notices all over the Gaza Strip warning that “the battle is ongoing” and that “all the leaders of Hamas and other terrorist groups are unsafe,” NBC News reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Saturday evening press conference that Israeli’s Operation Protective Edge would go on in Gaza "no matter how much time it takes and how much strength it requires," the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.

"Every option is on the table to ensure long-term quiet to the residents of Israel," Netanyahu said. "I won't say when we'll finish and where we'll go. We have no obligation outside of our security concerns."

Plans for a 72-hour cease-fire brokered by the UN and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry fell apart Friday morning just before the truce was supposed to begin, reportedly after a Palestinian militant made a suicide-bomb attack near the town of Rafah.

More than 1,750 Palestinians, largely civilians, and 70 Israelis, mostly soldiers, have been killed in the conflict so far.

Marvel President Tries to Explain Lack of Female Superhero Movies

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 09:30 AM PDT

In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige struggled to explain why he hasn’t greenlit a female-led superhero movie yet, despite the success of female characters in the current Marvel franchises, like Gamora in the new Guardians of the Galaxy film or Black Widow in The Avengers.

When the reporter asked, “How close are we to a Marvel film with a female lead? Because I’m feeling a groundswell of demand in that direction,” Feige avoided giving away any details about what female character might get a movie and when, but he said he supported the idea:

I think it comes down to timing, which is what I’ve sort of always said, and it comes down to us being able to tell the right story. I very much believe in doing it. I very much believe that it’s unfair to say, “People don’t want to see movies with female heroes,” then list five movies that were not very good, therefore, people didn’t go to the movies because they weren’t good movies, versus [because] they were female leads. And they don’t mention Hunger Games, Frozen, Divergent. You can go back to Kill Bill or Aliens. These are all female-led movies. It can certainly be done.

Despite his firm belief that Marvel Studios, which he runs, should make a female-led action movie, it has no public plans to do so in the future. (And Marvel has release dates planned through 2017.)

I hope we do it sooner rather than later. But we find ourselves in the very strange position of managing more franchises than most people have…But it does mean you have to put one franchise on hold for three or four years in order to introduce a new one? I don’t know. Those are the kinds of chess matches we’re playing right now.

It’s true that Marvel is juggling a number of franchises: Avengers, Guardians, the new Ant-Man movie to name a few. But it seems that if Captain America or the Hulk can get his own film, maybe Black Widow ought to as well.

Indeed, the comments come just as Marvel Studios is drawing criticism for continuing to marginalize women in its films. Both male and female fans alike expressed their dismay when San Diego Comic-Con came and went last weekend without any mention of Black Widow—the most famous female character currently in the Avengers franchise—getting her own spinoff. And fans took to Twitter to complain about how Marvel erased Wasp, a female founding member of the Avengers team, from both the Avengers films and the upcoming Ant-Man movie. Feige calls it a chess game, but fans take the issue more seriously: it’s a matter of 50% of the population being able to see themselves represented in blockbuster films.

As the Marvel Studios chief himself points out, studios still fear that men will not see movies that star women. That’s why women made up only 15% of protagonists, 29% of major characters and 30% of all speaking characters in movies last year.

But a female superhero movie would likely be a good business decision. Feige cites a number of blockbusters with women leads, including The Hunger Games franchise, which has grossed a total of $1.56 billion worldwide over two entries, and with two movies left to go. And an analysis of films from 2013 found that movies with strong female characters did better at the box office than those that didn’t.

Box office numbers from the summer also indicate that audiences are ready for a lady-led Marvel film. Guardians of the Galaxy just had the biggest August opening weekend of all time. Much of that success is surely thanks to Guardian‘s screenwriter Nicole Perlman, the first woman ever to pen a Marvel movie — and likely also due to Zoe Saldana, the only woman in the ensemble cast and the most famous face on the movie poster.

Meanwhile, Lucy—a sci-fi action movie starring Scarlett Johansson—has quickly outpaced box office analysts’ expectations, grossing $66,787,000 domestically in just two weeks. Johansson, who also happens to play Black Widow, just proved she can carry an action movie.

But even if Johansson hasn’t officially gotten her own movie yet, Marvel is taking small steps in the right direction: this fall the studio will premiere the Agent Carter TV series on ABC. The show will follow Peggy Carter, Captain America’s love interest/side-kick from the first Captain America film. And though the editors over at Marvel Comics reportedly have no say over which of its characters make it into Marvel Studios films, the comic-book writers recently retired the man who used to be Thor and replaced him with a woman. Could Chris Hemsworth, who currently plays Thor, one day pass his hammer to someone like Charlize Theron for a movie or two? Anything is possible.

Guardians of the Galaxy Sets August Box Office Record

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 08:58 AM PDT

Having a sense of humor pays off for superhero movies, too.

The Marvel sci-fi comedy Guardians of the Galaxy had the biggest August opening of all time with a $94 million domestic weekend gross, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The previous August record-holder, The Bourne Ultimatum, earned only $69.3 million in 2007.

The widest August release ever with more than 4,000 theaters showing the film, Guardians is also the second-biggest blockbuster of the relatively weak 2014 summer season, behind Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Guardians also performed well overseas, pulling in $66.4 million internationally. The film earned more than expected, which bodes well for the previously-announced sequel Marvel and Disney already have planned for July 2017.

Lucy, the Luc Besson film starring Scarlett Johansson, fell to the number-two spot after winning box offices last weekend, while the James Brown biopic Get On Up came in third with a $14 million domestic gross.

[THR]

Report: Ghostbusters Reboot May Star Female Leads

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 08:32 AM PDT

Ectoplasm, meet estrogen. Though there have not been any official negotiations, Bridesmaids director Paul Feig is reportedly in talks with Sony about rebooting the Ghostbusters series with female leads.

The movie will not be Ghostbusters 3 or a direct sequel to the 1980s films, Variety reports. The status of Ghostbusters 3 is currently unknown after Ivan Reitman, who directed the original films, dropped out of the project earlier this year. Dan Aykroyd has long wanted to make the third film, though former co-star Bill Murray hasn’t been so keen on participating in the past. A third member of the original Ghostbusters, Harold Ramis, died earlier this year.

It’s unclear when this hypothetical Feig-helmed Ghostbusters reboot would be expected to hit theaters, as the director has a number of upcoming projects, including the Melissa McCarthy comedy Spy in 2015 and various scripts in the works at Fox. Sony would not comment to Variety on the alleged talks.

But if a #GhostbustersReboot meme takes off a la #TrueDetectiveSeason2, there will be enough hypothetical dream casting to keep fans busy until whenever it arrives.

[Variety]

American Doctor With Ebola ‘Improving,’ Says CDC Chief

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 07:53 AM PDT

An American doctor infected with the Ebola virus “seems to be improving,” the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Sunday.

“We’re hoping he’ll continue to improve,” Dr. Tom Frieden said during an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation. “But Ebola is such a scary disease because it’s so deadly. I can’t predict the future for individual patients.”

Dr. Kent Brantly arrived at the Emory University Hospital for treatment on Saturday after catching the deadly infection in Liberia, where he was working with a charity and overseeing Ebola patients. Brantly is the first person with Ebola to enter the U.S.

Nancy Writebol, another American battling the Ebola virus, is expected to return to the U.S. from Liberia, where she was doing medical missionary work, in the next few days as well.

“I hope that our understandable fear of the unfamiliar does not trump our compassion when ill Americans return to the U.S. for care,” Frieden said, noting that he has received angry calls and emails from other Americans concerned about Brantly’s return to the U.S. for treatment.

Though the Emory hospital is one of four in the country that are equipped to handle the most dangerous infectious diseases, the Ebola virus can usually be contained with standard infection-control measures, as it spreads through direct contact with bodily fluids.

More than 700 people have died from the recent Ebola outbreak in parts of West Africa.

Ukraine’s Army on Outskirts of Rebel Stronghold

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 07:33 AM PDT

DONETSK, Ukraine — Fighting raged Sunday on the western outskirts of Donetsk as the advancing Ukrainian army tried to seize control of the rebel stronghold. In danger of being encircled, the separatists renewed their calls for Russia to send troops to their aid.

To support their operations, the pro-Russian fighters have been confiscating vehicles and food from residents and businesses in Donetsk. The center of the major industrial city is all but deserted, with few people or cars on the streets and most stores and restaurants closed.

A spokesman for the Ukrainian military operation, Alexei Dmitrashkovsky, told The Associated Press that government soldiers were fighting Sunday to hold positions they had taken on the edge of Donetsk, but were meeting resistance.

In the part of the city closest to the fighting, an artillery shell hit a school overnight, but no one was reported hurt.

“The shell went through the roof and exploded inside the building, setting off a fire, but we still don’t know who fired it,” said Dmitry Levonchik, a 45-year-old coal miner. “Who needs this war? What are they fighting for?”

The sound of gunfire and explosions was heard just to the west.

Pavel Gubarev, the self-proclaimed governor of the separatist Donetsk region, said the rebels would win quickly if Russia sent troops.

“Of course it would be great to see Russian peacekeepers here: strong artillery units, tank brigades,” Gubarev said. “This war would be over in a day, maybe two.”

Ukraine and the West say they have evidence that Russia is arming the separatists. Russia denies this and describes the Russian citizens fighting in eastern Ukraine as volunteers.

The ongoing battles had delayed the start of an international search for body parts still lying in the fields where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down on July 17 with 298 people on board.

Dutch and Australian experts were able to begin their search Friday. Early Sunday, the remains and personal belongings they have found so far were delivered in refrigerated trucks to the city of Kharkiv. The recovered remains will be checked there before being flown to the Netherlands.

Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, the head of the recovery mission, said in a statement late Saturday that the entire area around a chicken farm near the village of Hrabove has now been searched and the experts will move to other sites where aircraft wreckage was found. He previously estimated that the entire search would take at least three weeks.

Earthquake Kills at Least 150 in China, State Media Says

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 06:30 AM PDT

A magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck southwestern China on Sunday, killing at least 150 people in a remote mountainous area of Yunnan province, according to officials and state media.

The temblor caused buildings, including a school, to collapse. The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake registered at a shallow depth of less than 1 mile (1.6 km). Chinese state media said was felt most strongly in Yunnan, as well as in the neighboring provinces of Guizhou and Sichuan.

The official Xinhua news agency reported the death toll and said that the epicenter was in Longtoushan town in Yunnan’s Ludian county.

Read more from our partners at NBC News

Beyoncé Addresses Elevator Fight on “Flawless” Remix With Nicki Minaj

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 06:23 AM PDT

Beyoncé’s utter disregard for your evening plans continued late Saturday night as the singer teamed up with rap star Nicki Minaj for a remix of “Flawless” that arrived — once again — with little warning.

While Nicki delivers another monster guest verse on this feistier, more aggressive take on the Beyoncé track, Bey takes a moment to get the final word in about the infamous spat between her husband and her sister: “Of course sometimes sh– go down when there’s a billion dollars on the elevator.”

Is that really the net worth of Jay Z, Beyoncé and Solange? Does it even matter? While the original version of the song was a more inclusive anthem about self-acceptance, the two divas list luxuries and flip its “I woke up like this” hook to send an ever bolder message here: talk all you want, you’ll never wake up like them.

California Governor Declares Emergency Amid Fires

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 05:53 AM PDT

ALTURAS, Calif. — A fast-growing wildfire along the Oregon-California border spurred evacuation notices even as California’s governor declared a state of emergency to help fight blazes raging in the state.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s order Saturday night came as fires in other West Coast states burned through parched forests, brush and terrain, destroying some homes, threatening many others and forcing evacuations.

In California, dry lightning, high temperatures and severe drought conditions exacerbated the fire danger as more than a dozen significant wildfires flared, some of which also damaged or destroyed dwellings and prompted residents to flee.

Brown’s proclamation said that the circumstances and magnitude of the wildfires are beyond the control of any single local government and will require the combined forces of regions to combat.

To that end, he secured a federal grant on Saturday to cover 75 percent of the cost to fight a wildfire that started in Oregon and crossed into California. The lightning-sparked Oregon Gulch fire destroyed at least 3 homes and was threatening about 270 structures on both sides of the border, authorities said.

By midnight Saturday, officials said the blaze had burned across 50 square miles of land, compared with 33 square miles earlier in the day.

Authorities on both sides of the border responded as the Oregon Gulch fire expanded. Oregon’s Klamath County Sheriff’s office and the sheriff in Siskiyou County both issued evacuation notices for some homes in rural regions, though it wasn’t immediately clear how many residences were affected.

“Fire behavior for the Oregon Gulch Fire was extreme with rapid rates of spread,” said a statement posted on the official wildfire incident website. “The fire has moved east, deeper into Klamath County.”

Elsewhere, two more fires were reported in Central Oregon, bringing the total to 30 fires reported in the past 24 hours, the Central Oregon Interagency Dispatch Center said Saturday.

Further north, a freshly sparked wildfire in Washington state burned down six to eight homes. Dramatic scenes played out overnight as residents tried to keep the flames at bay, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said.

“Some great saves were made. Unfortunately, not all the homes were saved,” he said.

Downed trees blocked Highway 20, which was reopened Saturday morning after the Rising Eagle Fire calmed down overnight, Rogers said.

The Methow Valley wildfire near the much larger Carlton Complex of fires has grown to between 400 and 600 acres, fire spokesman Andy Lyon said.

The Carlton Complex has burned an area of about 395 square miles and destroyed about 300 homes. As of Saturday morning, it was 81 percent contained.

About 200 homes are under an evacuation order from the Rising Eagle Road Fire burning in a wooded area with homes scattered throughout.

In California, the scope and intensity of the blazes was comparable to the fire activity the state normally sees in September, California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokesman Dennis Mathisen said.

“This is unusual in terms of where we are in the fire season,” he said. “The fire conditions are extreme and when you add dry lightning, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

The fires were burning as far south as the Sierra National Forest, about 70 miles from where another blaze sparked evacuations in and around Yosemite National Park earlier in the week.

One of the most dangerous California blazes was burning in Modoc County near the community of Day, where about 150 homes were under a mandatory evacuation order. It has burned nearly 20 square miles, and was only 20 percent contained.

MORE: CNN – Drought Crisis

Strike Near UN School in Gaza Leaves 10 Dead

Posted: 03 Aug 2014 05:51 AM PDT

RAFAH, Gaza Strip — A United Nations school sheltering displaced people in the southern Gaza Strip was hit Sunday by what a U.N. official said appeared to be an Israeli airstrike, as the military struck the Hamas-ruled territory despite signaling a possible scaling back of its 27-day offensive.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said at least 10 people were killed and 35 wounded after the strike near a boys’ school in the town of Rafah. Robert Turner, the director of operations for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said preliminary findings indicated the blast was the result of an Israeli airstrike near the school, which had been providing shelter for some 3,000 people. He said at least one U.N. staffer appeared to be dead.

“We don’t have confirmed details yet but the initial report says that there was some kind of airstrike in a street outside one of our shelters,” Turner said.

Witnesses said the attack happened while people were waiting in line for food supplies. The Israeli military had no immediate comment.

In a chaotic scene inside the compound of the U.N. school, several bodies, among them children, were strewn across the ground in puddles of blood. Bloody footprints stained the ground where people had rushed the wounded into ambulances.

“Our trust and our fate is only in the hands of God!” one woman cried.

Some of the wounded, among them children with bloody head bandages, were transported to the Kuwaiti hospital in Rafah and others were treated in what seemed to be a makeshift clinic underneath a tent.

Several dead bodies, wrapped in white cloth, were lined up on the floor.

At least six U.N. facilities, including schools sheltering the displaced, have been struck by Israeli fire since the conflict began, drawing international condemnation. In each case Israel has said it was responding to militants launching rockets or other attacks from nearby.

In nearly four weeks of fighting, more than 1,700 Palestinians, mainly civilians, have been killed as well as nearly 70 Israelis, almost all soldiers.

Israel launched an aerial campaign in Gaza on July 8 to try to halt Palestinian rocket fire that has reached major cities, and later sent in troops to dismantle a sophisticated system of cross-border tunnels built by the militants in order to carry out attacks.

Israel struck several targets in Gaza on Sunday. Artillery shells slammed into two high-rise office buildings in downtown Gaza City and large explosions could be heard seconds apart, police and witnesses said. Al-Kidra said 30 Palestinians were killed Sunday, including nine in a single strike in the southern Gaza Strip. Israel said it carried out 180 strikes Sunday.

While fighting continued, several Israeli tanks and other vehicles were seen leaving Gaza. In a televised address late Saturday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested troops would reassess operations after completing the demolition of Hamas military tunnels under the border. Security officials said the tunnel mission was winding down.

At the same time, Netanyahu warned the territory’s Hamas rulers that they would pay an “intolerable price” if militants continued to fire rockets at Israel and that all options remain on the table.

The Israeli military death toll rose to 64 after Israel announced that Hadar Goldin, a 23-year-old infantry lieutenant feared captured in Gaza, was actually killed in battle. His funeral is later Sunday. Three civilians have been killed on the Israeli side since hostilities began.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon revealed on his Facebook page Sunday that he is a distant relative of Goldin.

Israel had earlier said it feared Goldin had been captured by Hamas militants alongside two other soldiers who were killed Friday near Rafah in an ambush that shattered a cease-fire and was followed by heavy shelling that left dozens of Palestinians dead.

Hamas has said it will not stop fighting until Israel and Egypt lift their blockade of Gaza, imposed after the Islamic militant group overran the territory in 2007.

Large swaths of Gaza have been destroyed and some 250,000 people have been forced to flee their homes since the war began on July 8.

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