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

Pressure rises on Israel to pause fighting and ease siege as battles intensify near Gaza City

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israeli troops battling Hamas militants encircled Gaza City on Thursday, the military said, as the Palestinian death toll rose above 9,000. U.S. and Arab leaders raised pressure on Israel to ease its siege of Gaza and at least briefly halt its attacks in order to aid civilians.

Nearly four weeks after Hamas' deadly rampage in Israel sparked the war, U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken was heading to the region for talks Friday in Israel and Jordan following President Joe Biden's suggestion for a humanitarian “pause” in the fighting. The aim would be to let in aid for Palestinians and let out more foreign nationals and wounded. Around 800 people left over the past two days.

Israel did not immediately respond to Biden’s suggestion. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has previously ruled out a cease-fire, said Thursday: “We are advancing … Nothing will stop us.” He vowed to destroy Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip.

An airstrike Thursday smashed a residential building to rubble in the Bureij refugee camp several miles south of Gaza City.

One boy, his face covered in blood, cried as workers dug him out of the dirt and wreckage. Others rushed wounded men and women, covered in dust, away on stretchers or wrapped in blankets. At a nearby hospital, doctors tried to stanch the flow of blood from the head of a child laid out on the floor.


‘A curse to be a parent in Gaza’: More than 3,600 Palestinian children killed in just 3 weeks of war

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — More than 3,600 Palestinian children were killed in the first 25 days of the war between Israel and Hamas, according to Gaza's Hamas-run Health Ministry. They were hit by airstrikes, smashed by misfired rockets, burned by blasts and crushed by buildings, and among them were newborns and toddlers, avid readers, aspiring journalists and boys who thought they'd be safe in a church.

Nearly half of the crowded strip's 2.3 million inhabitants are under 18, and children account for 40% of those killed so far in the war. An Associated Press analysis of Gaza Health Ministry data released last week showed that as of Oct. 26, 2,001 children ages 12 and under had been killed, including 615 who were 3 or younger.

“When houses are destroyed, they collapse on the heads of children,” writer Adam al-Madhoun said Wednesday as he comforted his 4-year-old daughter Kenzi at the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in the central Gaza city of Deir al-Balah. She survived an airstrike that ripped off her right arm, crushed her left leg and fractured her skull.

Israel says its airstrikes target Hamas militant sites and infrastructure, and it accuses the group of using civilians as human shields. It also says more than 500 militant rockets have misfired and landed in Gaza, killing an unknown number of Palestinians.

More children have been killed in just over three weeks in Gaza than in all of the world's conflicts combined in each of the past three years, according to the global charity Save the Children. For example, it said, 2,985 children were killed across two dozen war zones throughout all of last year.


House approves nearly $14.5 billion in military aid for Israel. Biden vows to veto the GOP approach

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House approved a nearly $14.5 billion military aid package Thursday for Israel, a muscular U.S. response to the war with Hamas but also a partisan approach by new Speaker Mike Johnson that poses a direct challenge to Democrats and President Joe Biden.

In a departure from norms, Johnson's package required that the emergency aid be offset with cuts in government spending elsewhere. That tack established the new House GOP's conservative leadership, but it also turned what would typically be a bipartisan vote into one dividing Democrats and Republicans. Biden has said he would veto the bill, which was approved 226-196, with 12 Democrats joining most Republicans on a largely party-line vote.

Johnson, R-La., said the Republican package would provide Israel with the assistance needed to defend itself, free hostages held by Hamas and eradicate the militant Palestinian group, accomplishing "all of this while we also work to ensure responsible spending and reduce the size of the federal government.”

Democrats said that approach would only delay help for Israel. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has warned that the “stunningly unserious” bill has no chances in the Senate.

The first substantial legislative effort in Congress to support Israel in the war falls far short of Biden's request for nearly $106 billion that would also back Ukraine as it fights Russia, along with U.S. efforts to counter China and address security at the border with Mexico.


FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried convicted of defrauding cryptocurrency customers

NEW YORK (AP) — FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried’s spectacular rise and fall in the cryptocurrency industry — a journey that included his testimony before Congress, a Super Bowl advertisement and dreams of a future run for president — hit rock bottom Thursday when a New York jury convicted him of fraud for stealing at least $10 billion from customer and investors.

After the monthlong trial, jurors rejected Bankman-Fried’s claim during testimony in Manhattan federal court that he never committed fraud or meant to cheat customers before FTX, once the world’s second-largest crypto exchange, collapsed into bankruptcy a year ago.

“Mr. Bankman-Fried. Please rise and face the jury,” Judge Lewis A. Kaplan commanded just before a jury forewoman responded “guilty” seven times to two counts of wire fraud, two counts of wire fraud conspiracy and three other conspiracy charges, which carry potential penalties adding up to 110 years in prison. Bankman-Fried is likely to face far less than the maximum at a sentencing set for March 28.

As the verdict was read, Bankman-Fried seemed stunned, appearing stone-faced, his hands clasped before him, as his lawyers remained sitting beside him. When he sat down, he looked down for several minutes.

His lawyer, Mark Cohen, later read a statement outside court to say they “respect the jury’s decision. But we are very disappointed with the result.”


Eric Trump testifies he wasn’t aware of dad’s financial statements, but emails show some involvement

NEW YORK (AP) — Eric Trump, one of two sons entrusted to run Donald Trump’s real estate empire, swore Thursday that he was never involved with financial statements that New York state lawyers say fraudulently puffed up the ex-president’s wealth and the worth of the family business.

But when shown a decade-old email asking him for information for one of his dad’s financial statements, the irritated son strove to clarify.

“We’re a major organization, a massive real estate organization — yes, I’m fairly sure I understand that we have financial statements. Absolutely,” Eric Trump testified at the family's and company's civil fraud trial. But the Trump Organization executive vice president insisted: “I had no involvement and never worked on my father’s statement of financial condition.”

Though another Trump Organization executive has testified that Eric Trump was on a video call about his father's financial statement as recently as 2021, the son said he couldn't remember it.

“I’m on a thousand calls a day," he said.


Minnesota justices appear skeptical that states should decide Trump's eligibility for the ballot

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota Supreme Court justices appeared skeptical Thursday that states have the authority to block former President Donald Trump from the ballot, with some suggesting that Congress is best positioned to decide whether his role in the 2021 U.S. Capitol attack should prevent him from running.

Justices sharply questioned an attorney representing Minnesota voters who had sued to keep Trump, the early front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, off the state ballot under the rarely used “insurrection” clause of the U.S. Constitution. Citing Congress’ role in certifying presidential electors and its ability to impeach, several justices said it seemed that questions of eligibility should be settled there.

“And those all seem to suggest there is a fundamental role for Congress to play and not the states because of that,” Chief Justice Natalie E. Hudson said. "It’s that interrelation that I think is troubling, that suggests that this is a national matter for Congress to decide.”

The oral arguments before the state Supreme Court were unfolding during an unprecedented week, as courts in two states were debating questions that even the nation's highest court has never settled — the meaning of the insurrection clause in the Civil War-era 14th Amendment and whether states are even allowed to decide the matter. At stake is whether Trump will be allowed on the ballot in states where lawsuits are challenging his eligibility.

The Minnesota lawsuit and another in Colorado, where a similar hearing is playing out, are among several filed around the country to bar Trump from state ballots in 2024 over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, which was intended to halt Congress' certification of Democrat Joe Biden's 2020 win. The Colorado and Minnesota cases are furthest along, putting one or both on an expected path to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Maine mass shooting puts spotlight on a complex array of laws, and a series of missed chances

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Across the nation, much of the debate around gun rights and restrictions centers on mental health. Many advocates on both sides agree that getting people with serious mental health struggles into treatment, and preventing people who are dangerous from accessing guns, is key to preventing mass shootings.

Yet in the weeks and months before the mass shooting in Lewiston, there were so many warning signs from the killer that people all around him were raising concerns to authorities. He was still able to massacre 18 people, wound another 13 and shatter a community's sense of security.

Lawmakers want answers as to why laws in two states — Maine and New York — didn’t prevent the tragedy.

“It’s a massive failure,” said Republican state Sen. Lisa Keim, sponsor of Maine’s so-called “yellow flag” law. “This one, it seems that there were too many touchpoints for neither law to come into play.”

The law in Maine, a state that is staunchly protective of gun rights, requires more hurdles than “ red flag ” laws in more than 20 states, including New York. Also known as extreme risk protection orders, they generally allow family members or police to ask a judge to temporarily keep guns away from someone who presents a danger to themselves or other people, said Allison Anderman of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.


Former Memphis police officer pleads guilty to federal charges in Tyre Nichols’ death

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — A former Memphis police officer pleaded guilty Thursday in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in exchange for prosecutors recommending a 15-year sentence, becoming the first of five officers charged in the case to admit guilt.

Desmond Mills Jr. entered his plea during a hearing at the Memphis federal courthouse as part of a larger agreement under which he will also plead guilty to related charges in state court. It wasn’t immediately clear if any of the other officers would follow suit. Attorneys for three of the officers declined to comment and William Massey, the lawyer for Emmitt Martin, said in a text message that they “will stay the course” with the former officer’s criminal defense.

Mills pleaded guilty to federal charges of excessive force and obstruction of justice and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. The final sentencing decision rests with the judge. Mills remains free on bail ahead of his May 22 sentencing hearing.

Nichols’ mother, RowVaughn Wells, shook as she described hearing how five large men beat her skinny son.

“This one today was very difficult for me because this was really the first time I actually heard somebody tell and say what they actually did to my son,” she told reporters outside the courthouse. “So, this was very difficult. But I’m hoping that Mr. Mills, it was his conscience that allowed him to make this plea agreement, and not because of his lawyers telling him it was the right thing to do.”


Vaping by high school students dropped this year, says US report

NEW YORK (AP) — Fewer high school students are vaping this year, the government reported Thursday.

In a survey, 10% of high school students said they had used electronic cigarettes in the previous month, down from 14% last year.

Use of any tobacco product — including cigarettes and cigars — also fell among high schoolers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

“A lot of good news, I’d say,” said Kenneth Michael Cummings, a University of South Carolina researcher who was not involved in the CDC study.

Among middle school student, about 5% said they used e-cigarettes. That did not significantly change from last year’s survey.


Listen to the last new Beatles song with John, Paul, George, Ringo and AI tech: 'Now and Then'

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The final Beatles recording is here.

Titled “Now and Then,” the almost impossible-to-believe track is four minutes and eight seconds of the first and only original Beatles recording of the 21st century. There's a countdown, then acoustic guitar strumming and piano bleed into the unmistakable vocal tone of John Lennon in the song's introduction: “I know it’s true / It’s all because of you / And if I make it through / It’s all because of you.”

More than four decades since Lennon's murder and two since George Harrison's death, the very last Beatles song has been released as a double A-side single with “Love Me Do,” the band's 1962 debut single.

“Now and Then” comes from the same batch of unreleased demos written by Lennon in the 1970s, which were given to his former bandmates by Yoko Ono. They used the tape to construct the songs “Free As a Bird” and “Real Love,” released in the mid-1990s. But there were technical limitations to finishing “Now and Then.”

On Wednesday, a short film titled “The Beatles — Now And Then — The Last Beatles Song” was released, detailing the creation of the track. On the original tape, Lennon's voice was hidden; the piano was “hard to hear,” as Paul McCartney describes it. “And in those days, of course, we didn't have the technology to do the separation.”

The Associated Press