• Nation and World Briefs
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     | August 14,2014
     

    CAIRO

    Israel, Hamas to extend truce

    Israel and Hamas agreed to extend a temporary cease-fire for five days, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said Wednesday, potentially averting renewed violence and permitting the sides to continue to negotiate a substantive deal to end the war in Gaza.

    Egyptian mediators had been racing to pin down a long-term cease-fire as a temporary truce was set to expire at midnight. The Israeli military said five rockets were launched at Israel in the hours leading up to the end of the cease-fire.

    Egypt’s foreign ministry and the head of the Palestinian negotiating team announced the extension. A spokesman for Israel’s prime minister had no immediate comment.

    The cease-fire extension is meant to grant both sides additional time to negotiate a longer-term truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory.

    The lull in violence has also been a welcome reprieve for Israelis and Palestinians living in Gaza. During the temporary cease-fire, Israel halted military operations in the war-battered coastal territory and Gaza militants stopped firing rockets, aside from the ones late Wednesday.



    DONETSK, Ukraine

    Govt shells rebels, deaths on rise

    A rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine came under intensified shelling Wednesday as the U.N. revealed that the death toll from the fighting between government troops and separatists has nearly doubled in the last two weeks.

    A spokeswoman for the U.N.’s human rights office, Cecile Pouilly, said the organization’s “very conservative estimates” show the overall death toll has risen to at least 2,086 people as of Aug. 10, up from 1,129 on July 26.

    Pouilly said at least 4,953 others have been wounded in the fighting since mid-April.

    While the humanitarian crisis reaches critical stage in at least one major Ukrainian city, trucks apparently carrying some 2,000 tons of aid have lain idle at a military depot in Russia. Moscow insists it coordinated the dispatch of the goods, which range from baby food and canned meat to portable generators and sleeping bags, with the international Red Cross, but Ukraine says it’s worried the mission may be a cover for an invasion.

    A spokesman for local authorities in the main rebel-controlled city of Donetsk told The Associated Press on Wednesday that rocket attacks over the previous night had increased in intensity.



    WASHINGTON

    New focus on white-collar crime

    The federal panel that sets sentencing policy eased penalties this year for potentially tens of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders. Now, defense lawyers and prisoner advocates are pushing for similar treatment for a different category of defendants: swindlers, embezzlers, insider traders and other white-collar criminals.

    Lawyers who have long sought the changes say a window to act opened once the U.S. Sentencing Commission cleared a major priority from its agenda by cutting sentencing guideline ranges for drug crimes. The commission, which meets Thursday to vote on priorities for the coming year, already has expressed interest in examining punishments for white-collar crime. And the Justice Department, though not advocating wholesale changes, has said it welcomes a review.


    It’s unclear what action the commission will take, especially given the public outrage at fraudsters who stole their clients’ life savings and lingering anger over the damage inflicted by the 2008 financial crisis. But the discussion about tweaking sentences for economic crimes comes as some federal judges have chosen to ignore the existing guidelines as too stiff for some cases and as the Justice Department looks for ways to cut costs in an overpopulated federal prison system.

    Sentencing guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory, but judges still rely heavily on them for consistency’s sake. Advocates arguing that white-collar sentencing guidelines are “mixed up and crazy” could weaken support for keeping them in place, said Ohio State University law professor Douglas Berman, a sentencing law expert.

    The commission’s action to soften drug-crime guidelines is a signal that the time is ripe, defense lawyers say.



    RICHMOND, Va.

    No delay on gay marriage ruling

    Same-sex couples could begin marrying as early as next week in Virginia after a federal appeals court refused Wednesday to delay its ruling that struck down the state’s gay marriage ban.

    The state would also need to start recognizing gay marriages from out of state next Wednesday, though the U.S. Supreme Court could effectively put same-sex marriages on hold again if opponents of same-sex marriage are able to win an emergency delay.

    A county clerk in northern Virginia had asked the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond to stay its decision striking down the ban, issued in late July, while it is appealed to the high court. The appeals court’s order did not explain why it denied that request.

    The 4th Circuit decision “shows that there’s no longer a justification to keep same-sex couples from marrying,” said Nancy Leong, a law professor at the University of Denver. “Given how many different judges in so many different parts of the country ... have reached the same result, it seems highly likely that the plaintiffs will ultimately prevail on the merits, and I think that, in turn, explains why the 4th Circuit was not willing to grant a stay.”

    While clerks in other states within the 4th Circuit — West Virginia and the Carolinas — wouldn’t technically have to begin issuing licenses as well, federal courts in the state would likely make them if they don’t, Leong said.

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