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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hamas pair killed in Gaza Strip

Hamas pair killed in Gaza Strip


Two fighters from Palestinian militant organisation Hamas have been killed in the Gaza Strip, the group says.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, initially said an Israeli airstrike killed the men near Jabalya, then blamed Israeli army shelling across the border.

However, an Israeli spokeswoman said: "There was no attack by the Israel Defence Forces in the Gaza Strip."

Israel and Hamas have been observing a ceasefire since January, when three weeks of fighting ended.

Attacks against Israel by Gaza-based Palestinian militants have dropped in recent months.

The Israeli military says about 700 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel since the start of the year - which includes most of Israel's 22-day military offensive in December and January.

Israel says the operation and its intensive blockade of Gaza are aimed at ending rocket fire and weakening the Hamas movement, which controls the enclave.

Discussion of Changes to Gaza Curriculum Sparks Concern Within HamasDiscussion of Changes to Gaza Curriculum Sparks Concern Within Hamas

JERUSALEM, Sept. 1 -- The prospect of United Nations-run schools in the Gaza Strip teaching children about the Holocaust has sparked fierce resistance this week from leaders of the militant group Hamas and forced international officials to confront a situation fraught with political risk.

U.N. officials say they are only discussing changes to a school program on human rights and have not commented directly on whether any new curricula will reference the Holocaust. But Hamas leaders, saying any such reference would "contradict" their culture, are moving quickly to head off the possibility.

"Talk about the holocaust and the execution of the Jews contradicts and is against our culture, our principles, our traditions, values, heritage and religion," Jameelah al-Shanti, a Hamas legislative official, said in a statement distributed Tuesday after a meeting among elected leaders of the group and the head of the Hamas-run Education Ministry in Gaza.

Hamas Education Minister Mohammed Askol used similar language in criticizing the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, saying it was not respecting Hamas's "sovereignty" over Gaza. He said he planned to ask for a meeting with agency officials to "assure the necessary coordination."

His remarks came a day after Hamas spiritual leader Younis al-Astal said teaching children about the murder of 6 million Jews during World War II would be "marketing a lie," and characterized the possible introduction of the subject into Gaza schools as a "war crime."

UNRWA provides food, education and other services for about half of Gaza's population, including about 200,000 children. It has clashed previously with Hamas on a variety of issues, including whether to support mixed-gender summer camps.

In the latest dispute, the agency risks being caught between its usual practice of deferring to local officials on school curricula and overlooking central facts about world history.

There is currently no mention of the Holocaust in schools run by UNRWA in Gaza, according to Karen Abu Zayd, the agency's commissioner general.

UNRWA follows the curriculum set by local officials but has been supplementing it with lessons on human rights it developed on its own, according to an agency official. Abu Zayd said a program on the details of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being developed for Gaza middle schools. Though still in draft form, the lesson "will go into some history," she said.

The Universal Declaration was issued by the United Nations in December 1948, in the aftermath of World War II and in recognition of Nazi atrocities.

"It is very much a draft," Abu Zayd said, adding that before its introduction into classrooms, it would be circulated among community groups for reaction.

The content of school curricula is a volatile part of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and has taken on a heightened pitch in recent months. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu considers Israel's historical claims central to reaching a peace agreement, and has said he would support creation of a Palestinian state only if Palestinian leaders acknowledge Israel as a legitimate Jewish homeland.

Israeli Arabs have complained of recent moves by the Education Ministry to remove the word "nakba" -- or catastrophe -- from lessons taught in Arab schools about the events surrounding Israel's creation, while Jews feel that the texts prepared by the more moderate Palestinian Authority still diminish the Jewish experience.

Palestinian Authority textbooks, used in the occupied West Bank, refer to Nazi massacres and anti-Semitism as part of high school lessons about World War II but don't go into detail about the scope of the genocide, according to Israelis and Palestinians familiar with the texts.

On both sides, "there is really no mention of the other story -- of how the other side sees it," said Gershon Baskin, chief executive of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, a think tank that has studied textbooks on both sides. Baskin is on an advisory panel for a U.S.-funded study, announced on Tuesday, in which Israelis and Palestinians will review each other's textbooks, while U.S. experts perform a computer analysis of the language used in them.

Although both Palestinian and Israeli schools could do a better job, Baskin said, Hamas's outright denial of the Holocaust, as well as opposition to its mention in Gaza schools, was "a step beyond."

Israeli air strike kills 2 Hamas gunmen in Gaza - medics

GAZA, Sept 1 (Reuters) - An Israeli air strike killed two Hamas gunmen who were on guard duty in the Gaza Strip's northern frontier on Tuesday, the Palestinian Islamist group and medical officials said.

Israel had no immediate comment on the incident, which would constitute a breach of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that ended its December-January war with Hamas. Palestinian rocket salvoes since have drawn mostly limited Israeli reprisals.

Crews hopeful over LA wildfire

Emergency crews in California say they are optimistic they can control an intense wildfire that has been burning since Wednesday north of Los Angeles.

The fire is still spreading but forest official Mike Dietrich said crews had done "fabulous work" to slow it down.

The blaze has spread over 190 sq miles (492 sq km), destroying 53 buildings and threatening 12,000 more - causing damage already estimated at $13m (£8m).

Two firefighters died on Sunday after their vehicle was overrun by flames.

Some 3,600 personnel have been battling the blaze, which broke out in the Angeles National Forest and has spread to Los Angeles's northern suburbs, 15 miles (25km) from the centre.

A resident in Tujunga, 01/09

The fire is just 5% contained, but Mr Dietrich said he expected that figure to rise very quickly.

Crews have been spraying fire retardant on at-risk houses in the Tujunga suburb, and they have dug a 12-mile line in the scrub to stop the fire's progress.

A squadron of aircraft, including eight air tankers and 13 helicopters, have been deployed to bombard the blaze.

"I'm feeling a lot more optimistic today than I did yesterday," Mr Dietrich told journalists on Tuesday.

"The crews are doing fabulous work out there on the ground, but the bottom line is that they're fighting for every foot."

More than 10,000 residents have fled the flames, and some 6,600 homes are under mandatory evacuation orders.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency and urged people to comply with evacuation orders.

He paid tribute to the efforts of the emergency services, saying they were the "most well-trained, courageous firefighters in the world".

As well as co-ordinating the fight against the blaze, he said officials must now also help residents rebuild their lives.

Uncertain future

Many people left everything behind as they fled, unsure whether there would be anything to return to.

Bert Voorhees and his son salvaged several cases of wine they had left in their swimming pool for safekeeping - all they could manage before fleeing their home.

"You're going to be living in a lunar landscape for at least a couple of years, and these trees might not come back," the 53-year-old told the Associated Press.

"Are enough of our neighbours going to [come back and] rebuild?"

Wildfires are a feature of the Californian summer, but it is unusual for them to break out so close to major population centres.

The latest fire is not being fanned by the Santa Ana winds that typically kick up in October. Instead, it is being fuelled by extremely dry brush that has not burned in more than 40 years.

A number of other fires are also burning in southern and central California.

A blaze in Placer County, north-east of the state capital, Sacramento, has destroyed 60 structures, many of them homes in the town of Auburn.

Swine Flu Spreads Easily in Ferrets, Doesn't Become Super Bug

Swine Flu Spreads Easily in Ferrets, Doesn’t Become Super Bug

By Rob Waters

Sept. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Swine flu spread faster than seasonal influenza strains after researchers infected ferrets with the viruses. The different strains didn’t combine to create a more-resistant super bug.

The study findings suggest that swine flu may be better suited than other strains to thrive inside humans and is likely to dominate the 2009 flu season, said Daniel Perez, a University of Maryland researcher who led the research. Preliminary results were published today in the journal PlOS Currents: Influenza.

“The good news” is that swine flu “is unlikely to recombine with seasonal flu to create a super bug, a more virulent strain,” Perez said in a telephone interview today. “The bad news is that it will be highly transmissible and we should be aware that we do need to vaccinate against this virus to prevent its spread.”

Ferrets respond to flu much as humans do and are considered predictors of how influenza strains will reproduce in humans and affect health, Perez said.

Swine flu, also known as H1N1, outperformed two strains of seasonal influenza by replicating more extensively within the animals, the researchers from University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland, found. Other ferrets exposed to the infected animals developed flu symptoms and elevated levels of swine flu.

Perez and his team conducted their experiment in four groups of animals. In each group, one ferret was given a nasal spray containing the H1N1 virus and another seasonal flu strain. Another ferret was placed in the same cage and a third was put next door, on the other side of a wire mesh, so it breathed the same air.

Developed Symptoms

All 12 ferrets developed symptoms. Some of the animals that were infected with both the swine flu and a seasonal flu variant known as H3N2 developed diarrhea and weight loss as well as respiratory symptoms, the researchers found.

In the past, some influenza viruses have genetically recombined with other viruses to form newer, more dangerous strains. According to the team’s initial analysis, this didn’t happen in the ferrets, Perez said.

“Our study suggests that the H1N1 virus has everything it needs to transmit and doesn’t seem to require any additional recombination or modification to transmit efficiently,” Perez said.

Auto Industry Posts Best US Sales Of Year

4th UPDATE: Auto Industry Posts Best US Sales Of Year

The auto industry temporarily awoke from its slumber last month thanks to the U.S. government's "Cash for Clunkers" program, led by a 17% sales jump at Ford Motor Co. (F) and higher sales from Japan auto makers Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) and Honda Motor Co. (HMC).

Sales were jolted in the U.S. and foreign markets from government incentive programs promoting fuel-efficient cars, but a number of auto makers, including General Motors Co., Chrysler Group LLC and Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY) still reported lower sales.

The two largest Japanese auto makers - Toyota and Honda - reported single- digit increases as the clunkers program helped boost market share for some foreign auto companies. The Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Toyota Camry were the three most popular vehicles purchased under the program.

Toyota said Tuesday its vehicles accounted for 19% of sales within the program, saying "Cash for Clunkers" provided "tangible benefits" to the industry, as well as state and local economies.

Ford's gain was also helped by its trucks posting the first year-over-year sales increase in nearly three years. Meanwhile, Chrysler's 15% decline was in part due to a lack of inventory - most of the company's plants sat idle for almost three months as the auto maker dealt with its bankruptcy process.

"Cash for Clunkers," ended late last month, weeks earlier than expected, amid higher-than-expected consumer interest. The program, launched in late July, proved to be one of the fastest-acting stimulus programs to come out of Washington since the recession began, but higher sales in July and August are expected to be followed by weak demand in September.

Mike DiGiovanni, GM's sales analyst, said he expects the annualized selling rate to fall back to 10.5 million for the year from the mid-14 million vehicle range. He added that the auto maker expects the selling rate to jump to between 11.5 million and 12 million in 2010.

Ford's light-vehicle sales were 181,826. There were 26 selling days in August, one less than last year. Retail sales climbed 21% and Ford has gained retail market in 10 of the last 11 months. Despite a 13% rise in truck sales - the first since October 2006 - sport-utility vehicles continued to suffer with a 34% drop. Car sales jumped 25%.

GM reported 245,550 units sold, down 20%, as truck sales continued to slump, dropping 31%. Car sales declined 4.6%.

"We're very pleased with the sales performance in our Western region, where sales were up more than 41% compared with July," said Mark LaNeve, vice president of U.S. sales. He noted customers were responding to a pilot program it launched last month with online auction site eBay Inc. (EBAY). That effort will be extended through September.

For Toyota, sales were up 6.4%, to 225,088, topping Ford's total for a second straight month after three months of falling behind its U.S. competitor. Total passenger car sales were up 20%, while light-truck sales dropped 15%.

Honda posted a 9.9% jump, to 161,439 - the company's second-best month in the U.S. - as car sales grew 23% but truck sales dropped 9.3%. Nissan reported sales dropped 2.9% to 105,312, far better than projections, as car sales jumped 38% and truck sales slumped 48%.

Chrysler sales dropped 15% to 93,222 but rose 5% from July despite rapidly shrinking inventories.

And Hyundai Motor Co.'s (005380.SE) August sales surged 47% to 60,467 units, marking an all-time monthly sales record and the eighth-straight month of year- over-year retail increases. The company said its Alabama facility returned to a five-day work week and that inventories were being replenished.

Ford's shares were down 5.1%, to $7.21 in recent trading, amid a broad market decline, which was led by a drop in financials. American depositary shares for Toyota were down 0.8%, to $84.49, while Honda dropped 0.5%, to $31.19, and Nissan fell 9 cents to $13.86

New York City to offer students free H1N1 vaccines

NEW YORK, Sept 1 (Reuters) - All primary school-age children in New York City will be offered free vaccines for seasonal and H1N1 flu this fall and winter under a plan announced on Tuesday by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The vaccines are part of the city's strategy to combat the new H1N1 swine flu strain that hit the city hard during the spring, infecting as many as 800,000 people or nearly 10 percent of the population.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has urged state and local health departments to prepare vaccination plans ahead of an expected second wave of H1N1 as the northern hemisphere enters the fall and winter months.

Safety tests are being done on a vaccine for H1N1 and it is expected to be made available in the second half of October, according to the CDC. Those trials will determine whether one or two doses will be needed to provide immunity.

Five companies are making swine flu vaccine for the U.S. market -- AstraZeneca's (AZN.L) MedImmune unit, CSL Ltd (CSL.AX), GlaxoSmithKline Plc (GSK.L), Novartis AG (NOVN.VX) and Sanofi-Aventis SA (SASY.PA).

New York's plan calls for distributing both conventional shots and MedImmune's FluMist, which is sprayed in the nose.

H1N1 has killed at least 2,185 people globally, since it began quickly spreading among humans earlier this year, according to the World Health Organization.

Because this virus is new, more people are susceptible to it and the WHO has been predicting for months now that 2 billion people will likely become infected.

White House advisers warned on Aug. 24 that it could infect up to half the U.S. population, leading to as many as 1.8 million hospitalizations and 90,000 deaths -- more than double the number of fatalities seen in a typical flu season.

Swine flu disproportionately affects younger people, unlike seasonal flu which mainly burdens the elderly.

U.S. researchers said on Tuesday that the new virus also appears to outcompete seasonal flu, making it less likely to mix with other circulating flu viruses into a "superbug" as some had feared. [ID:nN01489207]

New York City's vaccination plan calls for each school or center in the city to hold two vaccination sessions, about four weeks apart, according to the city's education department. Timing and logistics will depend on the supply of H1N1 vaccine and the availability of staff to administer it.

The city will also turn some health clinics into specialized flu treatment centers and launch a web portal to track flu data such as listing schools that report five or more cases of influenza-like illness, officials said.

The city will also dispatch hundreds of volunteer "flu fighters" to senior centers, schools, houses of worship and other places as part of its public information campaign, which was developed by experts from 15 city agencies that met throughout the summer.