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As young Gazans die at sea, anger rises over leaders’ travel

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As young Gazans die at sea, anger rises over leaders’ travel

JERUSALEM (AP) — Khaled Shurrab had been waiting more than half his life to get out of Gaza.

The 27-year-old had never left the coastal enclave, which has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt since 2007. He couldn’t find a job — the territory’s youth unemployment rate is over 60%. Like a growing number of Gazans, he packed his life into a suitcase and eventually made it to Turkey, where he set out on a treacherous sea voyage to Greece last October. When his rickety boat went down, his body disappeared into the sea.

A rising number of Gazans, seeking better lives abroad, are drowning at sea. The devastating procession has prompted a rare outpouring of anger against the territory’s militant Hamas rulers, a number of whom are making their own — very different — exodus.

In recent months, high-profile Hamas officials have quietly decamped to upscale hotels in Beirut, Doha and Istanbul, stirring resentment among residents who see them as leading luxurious lives abroad while the economy collapses at home and 2.3 million Gazans remain effectively trapped in the tiny, conflict-scarred territory. Four wars against Israel and dozens of smaller skirmishes over the years have taken their toll in casualties, damage and isolation.

Israel and Egypt say the tight movement restrictions are needed to keep Hamas from stockpiling more weapons. Critics say the blockade amounts to collective punishment, as residents grapple with daily blackouts and routine shortages of basic goods.

“I blame the rulers here, the government of Gaza,” said Shurrab’s mother, Um Mohammed, from her home in the southern town of Khan Younis. Her son’s body was never recovered from the Aegean Sea. “They live in luxury while our children eat dirt, migrate and die abroad.”

Hamas says the leaders who have left plan on returning. Yet the string of exits keeps growing.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh relocated to Qatar, an energy-rich Gulf state, with his wife and several children in 2019. Political leader Fathi Hamad moved to Istanbul a year ago and frequently flies to Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, where media reports have shown him in meetings at a five-star hotel.

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Deputy leader Khalil al-Hayya also relocated to Turkey last year, according to news reports, including Hamas outlets that highlighted some of his travels. Since then, he has paid only two short visits to Gaza.

Former government spokesman Taher Nounou and leader Ibrahim Salah moved to Doha, the Qatari capital. Senior member Salah al-Bardawil, spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri and dozens of aides also have resettled in Doha, Istanbul, or Beirut, according to Hamas media reports and official statements.

Turkey in particular has long been a favorite destination for Hamas leaders and supporters because of the country’s lenient visa policies toward members of what the United States and Europe consider a terrorist organization.

Several children of Hamas leaders are running lucrative real estate businesses for their parents in Istanbul, according to a Palestinian businessman familiar with their enterprises. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Azmi Keshawi, Gaza analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that the movement of officials abroad has in some cases helped the group coordinate its operations with key patrons outside the territory. But he said Hamas nonetheless has a growing image problem at home.

“Ordinary Palestinians see that Hamas has gone from this humble Palestinian leadership who lived and struggled among the people to living in these comfortable zones where they are no longer suffering and seem far from the Palestinian cause and issues,” he said. “Definitely people talk about this and draw comparisons in anger.”

Wary of public backlash, Hamas does not comment on reports about its leaders leaving Gaza. As social media fills with revelations, it casts leaders’ stays abroad as temporary foreign tours aimed at drumming up support. Some of these tours last for years.

Public outrage erupted last month at a mass funeral for young Gazans who drowned en route to Europe. Distraught families blamed Hamas for contributing to the collapse and chaos of Gazan life and accused the Islamic militant group of nepotism and corruption.

Mourners shouted the names of leaders including Haniyeh and Yehiyeh Sinwar, Hamas’ current leader in Gaza, and chanted, “People are the victims!”

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Such defiance is rare as Hamas moves to quash nearly all hints of dissent — though it remains the most popular group in its Gaza stronghold.

A recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 43% of residents of Gaza would support the group if parliamentary elections were held, compared to 30% for the rival Fatah movement. The figures were nearly identical to support levels three months earlier.

The poll, conducted in December, questioned a total of 1,200 people in both Gaza and the occupied West Bank on a range of issues, and had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

Still, more Gazans appear to be risking everything to get out.

A report issued in November by the Council on International Relations-Palestine, a Hamas-affiliated think tank, said 60,000 young people have left Gaza in recent years.

It blamed Israel, saying “the policies of occupation and siege” have “turned the life of Gazans into unbearable hell.” The report was the first semi-official data on emigration. It did not say how the data was compiled.

Some who leave seek job opportunities in wealthy Gulf Arab states. Many, like Shurrab, fly to Turkey and attempt the perilous sea voyage to Europe in hopes of getting asylum.

Two shipwrecks in October alone made 2022 the deadliest at sea for Gazan migrants in eight years, according to rights groups. Shurrab is among 360 Gazans who have drowned or disappeared at sea since 2014, according to the Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

Despite the risks, Khaled Moharreb is still contemplating the dangerous sea route. After earning a nursing diploma two years ago, the 22-year-old said he has been unable to find a job.

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“I want to travel and build my life,” he said. “Anything outside is better than this place where you can not do anything and where the government is indifferent.”

Without directly mentioning Hamas, he said he blames “those who control and run the country” for the lack of job opportunities.

Hamas has offered no apologies. Atef Adwan, a Hamas lawmaker, recently denounced those who attempt to flee to Europe as making a perverse pilgrimage to a land of “deterioration and regression.”

Migration has long carried stigma among Palestinians, who have fought for decades to stay on their land. Haniyeh’s roots in a crowded Gaza City refugee camp are a core part of his political identity.

Amid growing scrutiny, Hamas issued an unusual statement last year announcing the return of three top officials — al-Hayyah, al-Zahar and Salah — to Gaza, reassuring the public that they “did not flee.”

Yet just two months later, news trickled out in Hamas media that al-Hayyah and Salah were on new “foreign tours” in Qatar and Iran.

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Akram reported from Hamilton, Ontario.

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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