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10 things you need to know today: July 17, 2014
Obama hits Russia with more sanctions, Israel and Hamas start a brief cease-fire, and more
 
A man walks among the ruins of a police station in Gaza. 
A man walks among the ruins of a police station in Gaza.  (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

1. Obama tightens sanctions on Russia over the Ukraine crisis
The White House announced expanded economic sanctions against Russia on Wednesday, targeting several large banking, energy, and defense companies over Moscow's "attempts to destabilize eastern Ukraine and its ongoing occupation of Crimea." The punished companies include Rosneft, a state-run oil company, and Gazprombank, Russia's third-largest bank. The Treasury Department also targeted Russian arms makers. [The New York Times, Treasury.gov]

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2. Israel and Hamas agree to hold fire for five hours to let aid into Gaza
Israel and Hamas on Wednesday agreed to a five-hour cease-fire to let humanitarian aid into Gaza. The deal came at the urging of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency after a week of Israeli airstrikes aiming to stop rocket attacks launched into southern Israel by Gaza militants. Israel's military said it would retaliate "firmly and decisively" if Hamas didn't honor the deal, which started at 10 a.m. local time Thursday. [Fox News]

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3. GOP blocks Democrats' attempt to undo the Hobby Lobby ruling
Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a bill seeking to make companies provide birth control coverage in employee health-care plans. Democrats introduced the bill in an attempt to restore the coverage after the Supreme Court decided last month that the government couldn't force employers like Hobby Lobby to provide contraception coverage if it violates their religious beliefs. [The Hill]

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4. Insurgents spray Kabul's airport with grenades and gunfire
Four militants attacked Kabul International Airport with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic rifles on Thursday. All of the attackers were killed by security forces, Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said. Insurgents fire rockets at the heavily guarded airport almost weekly, but direct assaults are rare. Thursday's attack was similar to one staged by seven Taliban fighters last year. [Reuters]

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5. Judge calls California's death penalty unconstitutional
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that California's "dysfunctional" death penalty system was unconstitutional. The judge, Cormac J. Carney, vacated the 1995 death sentence of Ernest D. Jones, who was sentenced to death for raping and killing his girlfriend's mother. California has carried out no executions since a moratorium began in 2006. Judge Carney said making inmates live for decades under such an arbitrary threat of death was cruel and unusual punishment. [CNN]

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6. Cholesterol drug niacin might do more harm than good
Niacin, a drug commonly prescribed to prevent heart attacks and strokes, might do little good while subjecting patients to several potentially serious health risks, according to a new study and editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine. Niacin is prescribed more than 700,000 times a month in the U.S. It does lower "bad" cholesterol, but is also linked to a 32 percent increase in diabetes over four years. [USA Today]

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7. Typhoon kills 38 in the Philippines before aiming for China
Typhoon Rammasun killed at least 38 people in the Philippines before heading toward China, emergency management authorities in Manila said Thursday. Ten people remained missing. The storm left millions without power and forced more than 500,000 people to flee their homes and go to emergency shelters. When the eye of the typhoon passed over Manila on Wednesday, the top sustained winds were 93 mph. [The Associated Press]

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8. Two suspects and a hostage killed in California bank robbery getaway
Two suspected bank robbers and a woman they reportedly took hostage were killed on Wednesday in a shootout with California police. Three alleged robbers took three women hostage as they fled a Bank of the West branch in Stockton. They threw two of the women, both with gunshot wounds, out of their SUV as they fired AK-47 style assault rifles at pursuing officers. The chaotic chase ended after police shot out the vehicle's tires. [The Associated Press]

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9. Apple reportedly reaches settlement in e-book pricing case
Apple has reportedly agreed to pay $450 million to settle lawsuits with 33 states that accuse it of fixing the prices of e-books. Apple still says it did nothing wrong, and is still waiting on the result of an appeal. If the settlement goes through, lawyers will get $50 million, and consumers will get $400 million, in addition to $166 million publishers agreed to pay out under an earlier settlement. [The Verge]

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10. Big round of layoffs expected at Microsoft
Microsoft is expected to announce the largest layoffs in the software giant's history on Thursday. The cuts are expected to far exceed the 5,800 it shed in 2009, although with 125,000 employees, the vast majority would remain unaffected. Microsoft's chief executive, Satya Nadella, told workers in a memo last week that big organizational changes were coming to help the company compete better against more flexible rivals. [The New York Times]

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Harold Maass is a contributing editor at TheWeek.com. He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami HeraldFox News, and ABC News.

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