AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EST

 Gaza mediators and others warn Israel of disaster if it launches a ground invasion on crowded Rafah RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s neighbors and key mediators warned Saturday of disaster and repercussions if its military launches a ground invasion in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where Israel says remaining Hamas strongholds are located — [[{“value”:”

Gaza mediators and others warn Israel of disaster if it launches a ground invasion on crowded Rafah

RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel’s neighbors and key mediators warned Saturday of disaster and repercussions if its military launches a ground invasion in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, where Israel says remaining Hamas strongholds are located — along with over half the besieged territory’s population.

Israeli airstrikes killed at least 44 Palestinians — including more than a dozen children — in Rafah, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he asked the military to plan for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people ahead of an invasion. He gave no details or timeline.

The announcement set off panic. More than half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people are packed into Rafah, which borders Egypt. Many fled there after following Israeli evacuation orders that now cover two-thirds of the territory following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that sparked the war. It’s not clear where they could go next.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said any Israeli ground offensive on Rafah would have “disastrous consequences,” and asserted that Israel aims to eventually force the Palestinians out of their land. Egypt has warned that any movement of Palestinians into Egypt would threaten the four-decade-old peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

Another mediator, Qatar, also warned of disaster, and Saudi Arabia warned of “very serious repercussions.” There’s even increasing friction between Netanyahu and the United States, whose officials have said a Rafah invasion with no plan for civilians there would lead to disaster.

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‘They are shooting at us.’ A fleeing Gaza family is killed along with the medics sent to find them

JERUSALEM (AP) — The sound of gunfire crackled over the phone as the teenage girl hid in the car and spoke. An Israeli tank was near the vehicle as she and her family were trying to heed Israel’s call to evacuate their home in Gaza.

Something had gone horribly wrong. Everyone in the vehicle was dead, the teen said. Everyone but her and her 5-year-old female cousin, Hind.

“They are shooting at us,” 15-year-old Layan told the Palestinian Red Crescent. “The tank is next to me.”

And then there was a burst of gunfire. She screamed and fell silent.

That began a desperate rescue attempt by medics with the Palestinian Red Crescent, one of many during the war in Gaza and one that ended Saturday with the discovery of their ambulance, blackened and destroyed.

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Trump says he warned NATO ally: Spend more on defense or Russia can ‘do whatever the hell they want’

NEW YORK (AP) — Republican front-runner Donald Trump said Saturday that, as president, he warned NATO allies that he “would encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to countries that are “delinquent” as he ramped up his attacks on foreign aid and longstanding international alliances.

Speaking at a rally in Conway, South Carolina, Trump recounted a story he has told before about an unidentified NATO member who confronted him over his threat not to defend members who fail to meet the trans-Atlantic alliance’s defense spending targets.

But this time, Trump went further, saying had told the member that he would, in fact, “encourage” Russia to do as it wishes in that case.

“‘You didn’t pay? You’re delinquent?’” Trump recounted saying. “‘No I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want. You gotta pay. You gotta pay your bills.’”

NATO allies agreed in 2014, after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, to halt the spending cuts they had made after the Cold War and move toward spending 2% of their GDPs on defense by 2024.

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First lady questions whether special counsel referenced son’s death to score political points

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — First lady Jill Biden said in an email to campaign donors on Saturday she didn’t know what the special counsel was trying to achieve when he suggested President Joe Biden could not remember his son’s death.

”We should give everyone grace, and I can’t imagine someone would try to use our son’s death to score political points,” she wrote. “If you’ve experienced a loss like that, you know that you don’t measure it in years — you measure it in grief.”

It was an emphatic defense of her husband in a note to supporters as Biden’s team worked to alleviate Democratic concerns over the alarms raised by a special counsel about Biden’s age and memory, in a report determining that Biden would not be charged with any criminal activity for possessing classified documents after he left office.

Special Counsel Robert Hur, a Republican former U.S. Attorney appointed by Donald Trump, found the president should not face charges for retaining the documents, and described as a hypothetical defense that the 81-year-old president could show his memory was “hazy,” “fuzzy,” “faulty,” “poor” and having “significant limitations,” and added that during an interview with investigators that Biden couldn’t recall ”even within years” when his oldest son Beau had died.

“Believe me, like anyone who has lost a child, Beau and his death never leave him,” Jill Biden said.

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Taylor Swift reaches LAX in journey from Tokyo to Super Bowl, online sleuths say. Will she make it?

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Will she make it in time? Intrepid flight trackers online seem to think so.

On social media, fans of Taylor Swift and aviation journalists believe they’ve identified Swift’s private jet, labeled “The Football Era.” It arrived from Tokyo’s Haneda Airport to Los Angeles’ LAX airport just after 3:30 p.m. local time.

Her transportation plans onward to Las Vegas, where her boyfriend, NFL star tight end Travis Kelce, will play in Sunday’s Super Bowl, have yet to be revealed.

Representatives for Swift and VistaJet, the world’s only global private aviation company, did not immediately respond to AP’s request for comment.

Swift’s last song was still ringing in the ears of thousands of fans at the Tokyo Dome on Saturday night when the singer rushed to a private jet at Haneda airport, presumably embarking on an intensely scrutinized journey to see Kelce.

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An Israeli drone strike in Lebanon kills 2 in one of the deepest hits inside the country in weeks

BEIRUT (AP) — An Israeli drone struck a car near Lebanon’s southern port city of Sidon on Saturday, killing at least two people and wounding two others, security officials said.

The strike came as tensions across the Middle East grow with the Israel-Hamas war, a drone attack last month that killed three U.S. troops in northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border, and attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels on vessels passing through the Red Sea.

The drone strike near the coastal town of Jadra took place about 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Israeli border, making it one of the farthest inside Lebanon since violence erupted along the Lebanon-Israel border on Oct. 8, a day after Hamas’ attack in southern Israel.

An Israeli security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said the target of the strike in Sidon was Hamas official Basel Saleh, who was “injured to an unknown extent.” The official said Saleh was responsible for enlistment of new Hamas recruits in Gaza and the West Bank.

Two Lebanese security officials said the strike damaged a car and killed two people, including one on a motorcycle. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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Russian drone strike on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s 2nd largest city, kills 7

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A Russian drone strike on Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, killed seven people overnight, including three children, Kharkiv region governor Oleh Syniehubov reported Saturday. Three others sustained injuries, according to the officials.

He said at least 10 drones were launched at Kharkiv, eight of which were shot down. Civilian infrastructure in the Nemyshlyan district of the city was hit, causing a massive fire that burned down 15 private houses, he said.

Syniehubov said that an oil depot was hit, causing the fuel to leak out, which prompted the fire. In a Facebook post, Serhii Bolvinov, head of the investigative department of the National Police, cited a local resident as seeing “a true hell: first the fuel flowed, then everything caught fire.”

Bolvinov said a family of five — including children aged 7, 4 and nine months — burned alive, trapped in their house as the fire raged. Two other adults were killed by the blaze in another house that burned down, he said.

Interior Minister Ihor Klymenko said more than 50 people had been evacuated and that emergency workers had contained the blaze by Saturday morning.

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Haley challenges Trump on her home turf in South Carolina as the Republican primary looms

CONWAY, S.C. (AP) — With two weeks to go before the South Carolina Republican primary, Nikki Haley is challenging Donald Trump on her home turf while the former president is turning to his familiar playbook of personal attacks as he tries to quash his last major rival for the nomination.

Trump, turning his campaign focus to the southern state days after an easy victory in Nevada, revved up a huge crowd of supporters at a Saturday afternoon rally in Conway, near Myrtle Beach, by touting his time in office, repeating his false claims that the 2020 election he lost was rigged, maligning a news media he sees as biased against him and lobbing attacks on Haley, her husband and President Joe Biden.

In his rally speech, Trump insulted Haley by using his derisive nickname for her, “Birdbrain,” and lavished praise on South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, who endorsed him early. Trump claimed that he selected Haley to serve as his ambassador to the United Nations in 2017 and represent America on the world stage only because he was motivated to make McMaster — her second-in-command — the governor of South Carolina.

“She did a job. She was fine. She was OK. But I didn’t put her there because I wanted her there at the United Nations,” he said. “I wanted to take your lieutenant governor, who is right here, and make him governor.”

“I wanted him because I felt he deserved it,” Trump added

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Southwest winter storm moves into New Mexico; up to foot of snow possible in northeast mountains

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A series of slow-moving winter storms that wreaked havoc in Southern California and left 3 feet (91 centimeters) of snow in northern Arizona made its way Saturday into New Mexico, where a stretch of U.S. highway south of the Colorado line was closed and as much as a foot (30 cm) of snow was possible in some mountain areas.

A winter storm warning remained in effect for parts of north-central and northeast New Mexico until 5 a.m. Sunday. That included the Sante Fe area, where up to 14 inches (36 cm) of snow was possible in the mountains to the east and up to a half-foot (15 cm) in the upper elevations to the west, forecasters said.

National Park officials closed the Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos, New Mexico Saturday afternoon “due to worsening weather.” The city of Albuquerque closed most city parks, golf courses and recreation areas.

Most interstates and highways remained open, but a 40-mile (64-kilometer) stretch of U.S. Highway 64 south of the Colorado line was closed because of blowing snow in near-blizzard conditions, the New Mexico Department of Transporation said.

“Winter weather travel impacts will become widespread today and tonight, then linger over east-central and southeast areas on Sunday,” the National Weather Service in Albuquerque said Saturday afternoon. It said travel would be difficult to impossible Saturday night into Sunday along some stretches of I-25 and likely affected along the I-40 corridor from Albuquerque east to the Texas line.

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The economy of this Palestinian village depended on Israel. Then the checkpoint closed

NILIN, West Bank (AP) — Count the rings of the gnarled olive trees dotting Mohammed Mousa’s land in the West Bank village of Nilin: They’ve been here centuries, far before the Palestinian family’s livelihood came to depend on the whims of Israeli occupation.

When Israel established a checkpoint near the Mousas’ land a decade ago, the family converted their ancestral farm into a parking lot for Palestinian workers entering Israel.

But the lot has been empty since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants attacked Israel from the Gaza Strip, and Israel, fearing more attacks, barred Palestinian workers from the West Bank from entering Israel.

In the fifth month of the war, the family is out of savings, running up debt at supermarkets and selling heirlooms to put food on the table.

“I’ve sold my mother’s gold, my phone, my bicycle,” Mousa said. “There’s nothing more to sell.”

The Associated Press

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