AP News in Brief at 11:04 p.m. EST

Gaza has lost telecom contact again, while Israel's military says it has surrounded Gaza City

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Gaza lost communications Sunday in its third total outage of the Israel-Hamas war, while Israel's military said it encircled Gaza City and divided the besieged coastal strip into two.

“Today there is north Gaza and south Gaza,” Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari told reporters, calling it a “significant stage” in Israel’s war against the Hamas militant group ruling the enclave. Israeli media reported troops were expected to enter Gaza City within 48 hours. Strong explosions were seen in northern Gaza after nightfall.

The “collapse in connectivity” across Gaza, reported by internet access advocacy group and confirmed by Palestinian telecom company Paltel, made it even more complicated to convey details of the new stage of the military offensive.

“We have lost communication with the vast majority of the UNRWA team members," U.N. Palestinian refugee agency spokesperson Juliette Touma told The Associated Press. The first Gaza outage lasted 36 hours and the second one for a few hours.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli warplanes struck two refugee camps, killing at least 53 people and wounding dozens in central Gaza, the zone where Israel’s military had urged Palestinian civilians to seek refuge, health officials said. Israel said it would press on with its offensive to crush Hamas, despite U.S. appeals for even brief pauses to get aid to desperate civilians.


Blinken shuttles from the West Bank to Iraq trying to contain the fallout from the Israel-Hamas war

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took his diplomatic push on the Israel-Hamas war to the occupied West Bank on Sunday, trying to assure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the Biden administration was intensifying efforts to ease the plight of Gaza's civilians and insisting that Palestinians must have a main say in whatever comes next for the territory after the conflict.

Blinken later flew to Baghdad for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani as American forces in the region face a surge of attacks by Iranian-allied militias in Iraq and elsewhere. U.S. forces shot down another one-way attack drone Sunday that was targeting American and coalition troops near their base in neighboring Syria, a U.S. official said. From Baghdad Blinken traveled to Turkey.

President Joe Biden's top diplomat traveled through the West Bank city of Ramallah in an armored motorcade and under tight security. It was his third day of shuttle diplomacy aimed at trying to limit the destabilizing regional fallout from the war and overcome what has been Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to consider a U.S. proposal for intermittent pauses in its attack on Hamas long enough to rush vital aid to Gaza's civilians.

Netanyahu had pushed back Friday against the U.S. pressure to start implementing pauses in the fighting, saying there would be no temporary cease-fire until Hamas releases some 240 foreign hostages it is holding.

“This is a process,” Blinken told reporters on the matter Sunday. “Israel has raised important questions about how humanitarian pauses would work. We’ve got to answer those questions,” including how pauses would affect Hamas hostages. "We’re working on exactly that.’’


Trump's decades of testimony provide some clues about how he'll fight for his real estate empire

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump has testified in court as a football owner, casino builder and airline buyer. He bragged in a deposition that he saved “millions of lives” by deterring nuclear war as president. Another time, he fretted about the dangers of flung fruit.

Conditioned by decades of trials and legal disputes, Trump is now poised to reprise his role as witness under extraordinary circumstances: as a former Republican president fighting to save the real estate empire that vaulted him to stardom and the White House.

Trump is set to testify Monday at his New York civil fraud trial, taking the stand in a deeply personal matter that is central his image as a successful businessman and threatens to cost him control of marquee properties such as Trump Tower. His highly anticipated testimony in the trial of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit follows that of his eldest sons, Trump Organization executives Eric and Donald Trump Jr., who testified last week. His eldest daughter, Ivanka, is set to testify on Wednesday.

As court ended Friday, a state lawyer teased the former president’s appearance. Asked who would be testifying Monday, Andrew Amer told the judge: “The only witness will be Donald J. Trump."

Trump has testified in court in at least eight trials since 1986, according to an Associated Press review of court records and news coverage. He also has been questioned under oath in more than a dozen depositions and regulatory hearings.


Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds will endorse Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for president, AP sources say

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds plans to endorse Ron DeSantis for president, giving the Florida governor's 2024 campaign a boost as he struggles to show progress against Donald Trump in the Republican primary, two people familiar with the matter said Sunday.

DeSantis has pinned his chances of emerging as an alternative to Trump alternative squarely on Iowa. Reynolds is well-liked within the GOP and will break with long-standing Iowa tradition to endorse DeSantis. Iowa's governor typically stays neutral before the caucuses that kick off the Republicans' nomination calendar in January.

The people familiar with the matter spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity before a Monday rally in Des Moines where Reynolds is expected to announce her endorsement. The Des Moines Register and NBC News first reported the anticipated endorsement.

Reynolds had introduced DeSantis at political events in Iowa and appeared with Florida first lady Casey DeSantis — without publicly declaring her support. But the governor often noted her shared policy priorities and accomplishments, including a bill banning abortion at six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

Reynolds, who is in her second term, had left open the possibility of lending her support to a candidate in the Jan. 15 caucuses.


Humanoid robots are here, but they're a little awkward. Do we really need them?

Building a robot that’s both human-like and useful is a decades-old engineering dream inspired by popular science fiction.

While the latest artificial intelligence craze has sparked another wave of investments in the quest to build a humanoid, most of the current prototypes are clumsy and impractical, looking better in staged performances than in real life. That hasn’t stopped a handful of startups from keeping at it.

"The intention is not to start from the beginning and say, ‘Hey, we’re trying to make a robot look like a person,’" said Jonathan Hurst, co-founder and chief robot officer at Agility Robotics. “We’re trying to make robots that can operate in human spaces.”

Do we even need humanoids? Hurst makes a point of describing Agility's warehouse robot Digit as human-centric, not humanoid, a distinction meant to emphasize what it does over what it's trying to be.

What it does, for now, is pick up tote bins and move them. Amazon announced in October it will begin testing Digits for use in its warehouses, and Agility opened an Oregon factory in September to mass produce them.


Virginia school board elections face a pivotal moment as a cozy corner of democracy turns toxic

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (AP) — The “crossroads of the Civil War,” as Virginia’s Spotsylvania County calls itself, is once again a cauldron of hostilities, this time minus the muskets.

Within range of four devastating battles that laid waste to tens of thousands of lives, 21st century culture wars rage. The stakes hardly compare to such tragic losses, but feelings run fever high.

Dirty tricks spill out; political struggles are taken to the extreme.

The principal flashpoint: school board meetings. And not just here. A long tradition of doing prosaic but vital work has sunk into chaos and poisonous confrontation across the United States. The lower rungs of democracy are cracking.

In Tuesday’s elections in Virginia, the far right is fighting to gain control of more local offices — often school boards — while the left claws back with cries of “fascism.”


Mississippi has a history of voter suppression. Many see signs of change as Black voters reengage

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A few years ago, Tiffany Wilburn just didn’t see the point in voting any longer.

Her children didn’t have proper school books, health insurance was expensive and hard to get, police abuse continued against Black residents, and her city’s struggle to get clean drinking water seemed emblematic of her community always coming out on the short end of state decision-making.

Combine that with Mississippi’s long history of voter suppression and she felt casting a ballot was simply a hopeless exercise.

“It’s like you’re not being heard,” Wilburn said in her hometown of Jackson, the state capital. “You run to the polls, hoping and praying for change, and then you look around and nothing’s really happening. So you shut down.”

Recent interviews with Black voters, voting rights groups, candidates and researchers show that the voter fatigue felt by Wilburn has been widely shared in a state where nearly 40% of the overall population is Black. This year, political dynamics have combined to begin changing that, leading many voters such as Wilburn to reengage.


Some houses are being built to stand up to hurricanes and sharply cut emissions, too

When Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle five years ago, it left boats, cars and trucks piled up to the windows of Bonny Paulson's home in the tiny coastal community of Mexico Beach, Florida, even though the house rests on pillars 14 feet above the ground. But Paulson's home, with a rounded shape that looks something like a ship, shrugged off Category 5 winds that might otherwise have collapsed it.

“I wasn't nervous at all,” Paulson said, recalling the warning to evacuate. Her house lost only a few shingles, with photos taken after the storm showing it standing whole amid the wreckage of almost all the surrounding homes.

Some developers are building homes like Paulson's with an eye toward making them more resilient to the extreme weather that's increasing with climate change, and friendlier to the environment at the same time. Solar panels, for example, installed so snugly that high winds can't get underneath them, mean clean power that can survive a storm. Preserved wetlands and native vegetation that trap carbon in the ground and reduce flooding vulnerability, too. Recycled or advanced construction materials that reduce energy use as well as the need to make new material.

A person's home is one of the biggest ways they can reduce their individual carbon footprint. Buildings release about 38% of all energy-related greenhouse gas emissions each year. Some of the carbon pollution comes from powering things like lights and air conditioners and some of it from making the construction materials, like concrete and steel.

Deltec, the company that built Paulson's home, says that only one of the nearly 1,400 homes it's built over the last three decades has suffered structural damage from hurricane-force winds. But the company puts as much emphasis on building green, with higher-quality insulation that reduces the need for air conditioning, heat pumps for more efficient heating and cooling, energy-efficient appliances, and of course solar.


Nepal villagers cremate loved ones who perished in an earthquake that killed 157 people

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Villagers in the mountains of northwest Nepal on Sunday cremated the bodies of some of those who perished in an earthquake two days earlier. The strong temblor killed 157 people and left thousands of others homeless.

The 13 bodies were carried to the banks of the Bheri River and placed on pyres made of stacked wood. Priests chanted Hindu prayers while family members cried as they covered the bodies of loved ones with flowers before setting them on fire in a cremation ceremony.

They were from Chiuri village in Jajarkot district, which authorities said was the epicenter of the quake, and where at least 105 people were confirmed dead. Another 52 were killed in the neighboring Rukum district, officials said. There were 184 people injured.

Most of the houses in Jajarkot — usually made by stacking rocks and logs — either collapsed or were severely damaged by the sudden earthquake, while the few concrete houses in towns were also damaged. The majority of those killed were crushed by debris.

Thousands spent Saturday night in the bitter cold.


Ryan Blaney earns 1st career NASCAR championship and gives Roger Penske back-to-back Cup titles

AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Ryan Blaney only had to beat Kyle Larson and William Byron to win his first NASCAR championship.

He needlessly added Ross Chastain to his list, too, racing him pointlessly hard in an attempt to win the race Sunday at Phoenix Raceway. When he couldn't pass Chastain, Blaney angrily ran into the back of his car.

It was a side of Blaney his team and competitors know very well.

The public? Not so much.

The soft-spoken third generation racer from Ohio used a pugnacious second-place run at Phoenix to win the Cup title in a drive that showcased a fire that apparently blazes inside the typically mild-mannered Blaney.

The Associated Press