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10 things you need to know today: July 8, 2014

Harold Maass
Smoke rises after an Israeli missile hits Gaza City.  AP Photo/Khalil Hamra
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Israel steps up air strikes after volley of rocket fire from Gaza

Israel intensified an air offensive against Hamas with about 50 strikes in the Gaza Strip early Tuesday. The targets included four houses and some of the sites where suspected Hamas militants allegedly fired about 80 rockets into Israel on Monday and early Tuesday. Israel's army called up 1,500 reservists on Monday and expected to summon more Tuesday in preparation for a possible ground assault. President Obama urged Israel and the Palestinians to "act with reasonableness and restraint." [The New York Times]


Pope Francis apologizes directly to victims of clergy sex abuse

Pope Francis asked survivors of clergy sexual abuse for forgiveness on Monday in his first meeting with victims. During a Mass with six people who suffered abuse as children, Francis apologized for the "sins and grave crimes" committed by Catholic priests over the years, and he pledged "not to tolerate harm done to a minor by any individual, whether a cleric or not." German survivor advocate Nortert Denef called the meeting a "PR event." [Fox News]


Obama administration says it will turn back child immigrants

The White House said Monday that the U.S. would deport most of the unaccompanied minors who have tried to enter the country illegally en masse in recent months. The Obama administration is preparing to ask Congress for $2 billion to address the border crisis, including the wave of undocumented children from Central America who have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. The White House plans Tuesday to spell out what it wants to do with the emergency funding. [Reuters]


Afghan candidate cries coup as rival leads presidential runoff count

Afghanistan unveiled its preliminary presidential runoff results on Monday, with Ashraf Ghani ahead of rival Abdullah Abdullah by about one million of the 8.1 million votes cast. Abdullah, a former foreign minister, declared himself the winner as his supporters accused election officials of trying to stage a "coup." Both sides have agreed to an audit of about a third of the polling stations over concerns of fraud. Election officials emphasized that no winner had been declared yet. [The New York Times, Bloomberg]


Ex-Georgia president Shevardnadze dies

Former Soviet Union foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze, who helped broker the deal that brought down the Berlin Wall, has died, Georgia's GHN news agency reported Monday. He was 86. Shevardnadze served as the face of then Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika policy. After the Soviet empire dissolved, he became president of Georgia, only to wind up accused of acting like a dictator and forced out in the bloodless 2003 Rose Revolution. [CNN]


Super typhoon hits Japanese islands

The strongest Pacific storm this year — Super Typhoon Neoguri — lashed Japan's Okinawa island chain with winds of up to 150 miles per hour early Tuesday. Four people were injured and a fisherman was missing. The storm was downgraded from super typhoon status as its winds dropped to 120 mph, but it remained dangerous, stirring up waves up to 40 feet high. Neoguri — Korean for raccoon — could intensify again as it reaches the main island in the chain late Tuesday. [USA Today, Slate]


Sen. Menendez requests an investigation into an alleged Cuban smear plot

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has sent a letter asking the Justice Department to investigate evidence that the Cuban government tried to smear him during his 2012 reelection campaign by concocting allegations that he had sex with underage prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. The CIA reportedly found evidence, including an internet communications trail, linking Cuban agents to efforts to plant the allegations in the U.S. media. Three women who told reporters they were paid to have sex with Menendez later recanted. [The Washington Post]


Riders stranded for hours after California roller coaster derails

Rescuers plucked 22 people from the Ninja roller coaster at Southern California's Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park Tuesday night after the first car hit a tree branch and derailed. Four people sustained minor injuries. Some of the riders were trapped for nearly three hours 20 to 30 feet above ground as rescue crews removed people one by one. The park's website boasts that the Ninja cars, which reach speeds of 55 mph, "blast through the trees" to give riders a thrill. [Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press]


Researchers unearth fossils of the largest bird that ever flew

Scientists have identified the remains of the largest flying bird ever — the long-extinct Pelagornis sandersi, which had a wing-span of about 21 feet, according to a report in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The fossils were dug up at the site of what is now the Charleston, South Carolina, airport. The bird, which lived more than 25 million years ago, was twice as big as the largest living flying bird, the royal albatross. [Discovery News]


Judge tentatively approves landmark NFL concussion settlement

A federal judge on Monday preliminarily approved a deal requiring the National Football League to compensate thousands of former players for health claims related to concussions suffered on the field. The NFL agreed just over two weeks ago to remove a $675 million cap on damages after the judge questioned whether that would be enough to pay all potential claims. With money for testing and lawyers' fees, the landmark deal will cost the league more than $870 million. [The Associated Press]

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