Gaza toll tops 800 as West Bank simmers

Israeli fire has pushed the Palestinian death toll in Gaza to above 800, as Washington pressed Israel and Hamas to agree to a week-long humanitarian ceasefire and thrash out a durable truce.

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In the West Bank, Palestinian factions declared a “Day of Rage” after a night of clashes over Israel’s Gaza offensive, with one Palestinian killed.

Among the dead in an air strike on Friday were two women, one of them pregnant, adding to a spiralling toll of Palestinian civilian casualties from Israel’s military operation, now in its 18th day, aimed at halting militant rocket fire.

On Thursday, Israeli shelling of a UN facility sheltering displaced Gazans killed at least 15 civilians, drawing widespread international condemnation.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said he was “appalled” at the incident which “underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now”.

With intense international pressure on both sides to cease fire, Israel’s security cabinet was to meet on Friday to discuss a truce proposal passed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by US Secretary of State John Kerry, media reported.

It proposes an initial week-long humanitarian ceasefire that would allow Hamas, the de facto power in Gaza, to save face after having rejected an Egyptian initiative last week that proposed a lasting truce first and negotiations later.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu flew to Qatar on Friday to help efforts for a ceasefire after Kerry on Thursday reached out to Hamas allies Ankara and Doha to push for a ceasefire.

According to Western and Palestinian officials, once a humanitarian lull takes hold, delegations from Israel and Hamas would arrive in Cairo – which has mediated past conflicts between the two – for indirect talks that could lead to a lasting truce.

However, Israel’s security cabinet looked unlikely to want a ceasefire, commentators said.

“Some fear that the security cabinet will go into a state of euphoria and attempt to accomplish a new goal, which was not presented before, such as toppling Hamas,” Yediot Aharonot wrote in an editorial.

Hamas’s exiled Doha-based leader Khaled Meshaal, however, told the BBC that any truce must include a guaranteed end to Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza.

“We want a ceasefire as soon as possible, that’s parallel with the lifting of the siege of Gaza,” he said.

The latest truce efforts came on the last Friday of Ramadan, as Israeli braced for West Bank and east Jerusalem unrest after Palestinian factions declared a “Day of Rage” and Israeli police restricted entry to the Al Aqsa compound to men aged 50 and above.

An attack on a house in central Gaza killed two women, one of whom was pregnant, emergency services spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said.

Friday’s Gaza violence brought the death toll to 815 Palestinians, he said.

Rights groups say around 80 per cent of the casualties so far have been civilians, a quarter of them children, triggering growing international alarm.

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos warned it was “almost impossible” for Palestinians to shelter from Israeli air strikes in the densely populated territory.

Thirty-two Israeli soldiers have been killed, and Hamas rocket attacks have killed two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker.

Pregnant women face widespread workplace discrimination, report finds

The report, issued by the Australian Human Right Commission this morning, also found more than one in four fathers felt discriminated against during their partner’s pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work.

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The Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review spoke to parents during more than 50 group consultations and almost 500 private phone calls, finding that “workplaces still overwhelmingly view working while pregnant as a privilege, not a right”.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said addressing the findings was a “human rights imperative”.

“It provides indisputable evidence that pregnancy/return to work discrimination continues to be widespread and has a cost – not just to women, working parents and their families – but also to workplaces and the national economy,” she said.

“… It’s a human issue first. Workplace discrimination has a damaging impact on the lives of parents. But by working together, we can achieve positive results for all.”

. #PregnancyReview boss told employee on return to work -‘sorry your maternity leave replacement now has your job

— AusHumanRights (@AusHumanRights) July 25, 2014

The report’s release coincides with $150,000 in funding to the Commission to help develop resources for employers on how to best manage and support working parents through pregnancy, parental leave, and on return to work.

Senator Larissa Waters welcomed the report, saying she would be seeking support from her colleagues in all parties to implement recommendations.

As Greens spokeswoman for women, Senator Waters said the report revealed “heartbreaking experiences of workplace discrimination”.

“Having a baby should be an exciting, joyous experience and sadly for half of Australian women who have fallen pregnant while working it has been marred by unlawful discrimination,” she said.

“Men are affected by this discrimination too, with a quarter of men who took parental leave reporting workplace discrimination.

“It’s shameful that Australian workplace cultures are denigrating the important roles both women and men play in having and raising children and it needs to stop.”

 

Captain America now black, Thor becomes a woman: Comic Con fans grapple with change

Captain America is now black, Thor becomes a woman, and comic character Archie Andrews is shot and killed while saving his gay friend.

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The annual pop-culture carnival that is the Comic-Con Festival got under way in San Diego on Thursday with fans welcoming the world of change facing so many beloved characters.

An estimated 150,000 devotees of comics, video games, fantasy and action movies are expected to throng the four-day extravaganza in southern California, many opting to don costumes of their favourite characters.

The streets surrounding the festival resemble a surreal bazaar: a miniature Darth Vader asleep on the shoulders of his father, dressed as Bart Simpson, or Princess Elsa from Frozen posing with Avengers heroine Black Widow.

Blonde-haired blue-eyed Eric Jensen came dressed as Captain America, accompanied by his seven-year-old son, a hammer-wielding mini Thor.

“I relate a lot with Captain America,” Jensen explained. “He was in the Navy and so was I, he is patriotic, me too. He keeps strong values in the face of adversity,” the insurance agent added.

But Jensen was surprised to learn of the seismic shift in direction that Captain America’s creators at Marvel announced last week, namely that the iconic superhero would become black.

In another tilt away from white, male archetypes, Thor is being re-imagined as a female Norse goddess.

“I wonder what context this is, why are they doing that,” Jensen said.

Marvel has explained that the change will come when Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, becomes weakened and passes his shield and duties to trusty black sidekick Sam Wilson, previously known as The Falcon.

“It’s fantastic, I like that,” Jensen told AFP.

A short distance away, 21-year-old graphic designer Daniela Applegate caused a sensation with her pyramid-shaped warrior costume inspired by a video game.

She also welcomed the changes facing so many iconic characters from the world of pop culture.

“It is about time this world gets rid of its sexist archetypes,” she said.

While Thor’s metamorphosis into a Norse goddess may have raised eyebrows, strong female characters are legion at Comic-Con, such as Lux, from the game League of Legends.

Shannon Sorensen, a student dressed as purple-haired cartoon character Pyrrha Nikos, echoed Applegate’s views.

“It is time the superheroes stop reflecting archetypes and an ethnicity of the past,” she said.

Sorensen was sceptical, however, about the “honesty” of Marvel, owned by Disney.

“Disney sells princesses to little girls and they bought Marvel and its characters for boys,” she said, even allowing for the fact that the heroine of Disney’s Frozen has captivated both boys and girls on its way to becoming the most successful animated movie of all time.

Brian Jordan, who organises an alternative comic and film festival specialising in homosexual and transgender characters, is also tired of stories about “a boy that falls in love with a girl who gets in trouble and he rescues her”.

But the 47-year-old welcomed Marvel’s decision to turn Thor into a woman.

He was also impressed by the decision of the creators of Archie Andrews to kill off the character, heroically taking a bullet to save the life of his gay friend.

“It’s a start,” said Jordan, citing other gay characters in shows such as The Venture Bros and Superjail!

Sorensen cited a recent gay marriage in Green Lantern, and a kiss between Superman and Batman.

Dina Mills, dressed as a character from Mysterious Ways, came to Comic-Con with her son. She revelled in the escapism of the event.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom. It gives me an escape and let me become somebody else,” she said.

But she was less certain about the gender shift for Thor.

“I’m a big fan of Thor as it is, but you know how it goes, people complain and then they get used to it,” she said.

Wales hurdler Williams ‘devastated’ by doping charge

Williams, 30, who won gold at the 2012 European Championships and bronze at the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010, and was co-captain of the Wales squad In Glasgow, said he was “utterly devastated” at the news.

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“UK Anti-Doping can confirm the provisional suspension of athlete Rhys Williams after being charged with committing an anti-doping rule violation under the IAAF Anti-Doping Rules,” UKAD chief executive Andy Parkinson said in a statement in response to an announcement by Team Wales.

“The athlete has the opportunity to respond to the charges against him, and to have those charges determined at a full hearing before the National Anti-Doping Panel.

“UK Anti-Doping will not be making any further comment.”

Williams, the son of former Wales and British and Irish Lions rugby winger JJ Williams, failed an in-competition test at the Glasgow Grand Prix event on July 11 and has been given a mandatory provisional suspension from all competition.

He said he had not knowingly taken a banned substance.

“I am utterly devastated about the news of this anti-doping rule violation, which has come as a great shock to me,” Williams said in a statement.

“From the outset, I would strongly like to state that I have not knowingly taken any banned substance.

“As a professional athlete, I have always supported and have been an advocate of clean sport.”

Williams said he would fully co-operate with UKAD.

“To be named Co-Team Captain for the Welsh Athletics Team was a great honour and I am distraught that I won’t be able to fulfil this role and join them as part of Team Wales.

Welsh 800m runner Gareth Warburton was provisionally suspended this month for an anti-doping violation, ruling him out of the Games.

Welsh Olympic silver medal-winning boxer Fred Evans had his accreditation refused after an investigation by the Home Office and Games officials.

(Reporting by Josh Reich, editing by Ed Osmond)

‘No survivors in Air Algerie crash’

French President Francois Hollande says there were no survivors in the Air Algerie plane crash in remote eastern Mali, as France deployed troops to guard the wreckage.

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A black box from the plane that had been carrying 116 people, including 51 French citizens, was recovered by soldiers, Hollande said on Friday after a crisis meeting at Elysee Palace in Paris.

“All my thoughts are turned towards the victims and their families. We are on their side,” broadcaster BFMTV quoted Hollande as saying.

A French army spokesman in Mali said about 100 troops in 30 vehicles were involved in securing the desert crash site in Gossi, near the Burkina Faso border.

The McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft carrying 110 passengers and six crew members departed from Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, early on Thursday en route to Algiers.

About 50 minutes after take-off, air traffic controllers lost contact with flight AH5017 after pilots requested their route be diverted due to storms.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said “the hypothesis of difficult weather is the likeliest” reason for the crash of the plane, owned by Spanish company Swiftair and leased to Air Algerie.

“The pieces of the plane are concentrated in a limited space, but it is too early to draw conclusions. There are hypotheses, especially climate-related, but we do not dismiss any of them,” Hollande said.

It has been suggested the plane could have been shot down by rebels seeking the independence of northern Mali, but French experts said a plane would normally be out of reach of rockets 50 minutes after take-off.

The French government said the wreck of the plane had been found with the help of a French drone. The Malian government said shepherds first spotted charred bodies and debris and informed the authorities.

France deployed two Mirage 2000 fighter jets and a drone to search for the wreckage on Thursday, Lieutenant Colonel Michel Sabatier told DPA. Those aircraft were later joined by helicopter crews.

In addition to the French victims, a list published on the website of Ouagadougou airport gave the following tally for the nationality of the passengers: Burkina Faso, 26; Lebanon, 20; Canada, 5; Germany, 4; and one each from Luxembourg and Switzerland.

The six-person crew were Spanish.

France launched a military operation to defeat al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels in northern Mali in a UN-backed military intervention in January 2013.

There are 1700 French troops stationed in the landlocked West African country.

While most of the region has been restored to Malian government control, French and Malian forces continue to come under attack from residual insurgent elements.