November 16, 2012

Israeli warplanes attacked militant targets in the Gaza Strip Thursday. The raids came a day after an Israeli missile strike in Gaza killed the top military commander of Hamas, the group that controls Gaza. Rockets were fired back at Israel from Gaza. One strike killed at least three Israelis in a group of apartments. A VOA reporter said the apartments were heavily damaged. Israeli security officials are telling people in southern Israel to seek protection in bomb shelters or in public buildings when they are warned. Palestinians living in Gaza are also seeking shelter. Israel has warned Gazans to stay away from buildings and areas controlled by the military section of Hamas. Israeli tanks and ground troops are gathering along the border.

The newly created coalition of Syrian opposition groups has received recognition from Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recognized the Syrian National Coalition Thursday as what he called "the sole legitimate representative" of the Syrian people. Earlier, France became the first Western power to recognize the coalition.

American intelligence and counter-terrorism officials appeared before Congress Thursday to tell about the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in September. The American ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in the attack. Committees of both the House and Senate heard from officials and foreign policy experts. Many lawmakers say security at the consulate should have been stronger and some of them believe the Obama administration tried to keep some information secret to avoid embarrassment before the presidential election.

American and Afghan officials have begun talking about how many American troops will stay in Afghanistan after international combat forces leave. Those forces are expected to leave at the end of 2014. Representatives from the two countries met Thursday in the Afghan capital, Kabul. The talks are expected to continue for months.

Jailed Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is ending her 17-day-long hunger strike. The Ukrainian deputy health minister said Ms Tymoshenko agreed to end her hunger strike after meeting with German doctors Thursday at the hospital. Ms Tymoshenko is Ukraine's former prime minister and the leader of the political opposition. She is serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office. She said she is in prison because President Viktor Yanukovich wants to eliminate her as a political rival. She began her hunger strike October 29 to protest what she said was vote counting fraud in the parliamentary elections the day before. International election observers and the American government have also criticized the vote.

Xi Jinping has been officially named the new leader of China. He is now general-secretary of the country's Communist Party and chairman of its powerful Military Commission. Vice President Xi will become Chinese president in March. In a speech, he said China's new leadership faces what he called an "enormous responsibility." But he said they would fight for a better life for China's one billion three hundred million people. Mr Xi said the new leadership would continue reforms and open up and develop productive forces.

Burmese activists are dismissing the government's latest move to release hundreds of prisoners. They say the proposed release is an effort to win political support before President Obama visits Burma. Burmese state media reported that President Thein Sein will pardon 452 prisoners in an effort to improve relations with the United States. Officials said political prisoners will be among those released. But activists and rights groups said they have not yet seen any dissidents freed. Since taking office in March, 2011, President Thein Sein has enacted several political reforms and pardoned hundreds of prisoners.

Ugandan health officials say the Ebola virus has killed two members of the same family. Health Minister Christine Ondoa said Thursday that the Uganda Virus Research Institute had confirmed the findings. She said five other people suspected of coming into contact with the victims are being studied. The Ebola virus is spread by bodily fluids. It causes high body temperatures, expulsion of food and body fluids and sometimes bleeding.

British oil company BP says it has reached an agreement with the American government to plead guilty to criminal charges. The company will pay $4.5-billion for the oil platform explosion and spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. BP will plead guilty to 11 charges of misconduct in the deaths of 11 platform workers killed in the explosion. The company will also plead guilty to one charge of obstruction of Congress and will pay $525-million to an American financial regulator.

Wal-Mart says it is continuing its investigation into whether company officials made illegal payments to foreign officials to help the company grow. About a year ago, Wal-Mart said it was investigating its operations in Mexico. Thursday, the company gave documents to an American government agency that said it was investigating its operations in Brazil, China, India and other countries. It is against the law for American companies to make illegal payments in other countries. Wal-Mart is the biggest seller of products in the world.