AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on November 17, 2012 at 6:02 AM

Israel broadens air assault on rocket operations, Hamas targets in Gaza

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Israel bombarded the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip with nearly 200 airstrikes early Saturday, the military said, widening a blistering assault on militant rocket operations to include the prime minister's headquarters, a police compound and a vast network of smuggling tunnels.

The new attacks followed an unprecedented rocket strike aimed at the contested holy city of Jerusalem that raised the stakes in Israel's violent confrontation with Palestinian militants and dramatically extended the battlefield.

Israeli aircraft also kept pounding their original targets, the militants' weapons storage facilities and underground rocket launching sites. They also went after rocket squads more aggressively. The military has called up thousands of reservists and massed troops, tanks and other armored vehicles along the border with Gaza, signaling a ground invasion could be imminent.

Militants, undaunted by the heavy damage the Israeli attacks have inflicted, have unleashed some 500 rockets against the Jewish state, including new, longer-range weapons turned for the first time this week against Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv heartland. Following those attacks, the military deployed an Iron Dome rocket defense battery in central Israel on Saturday. The system, devised precisely to deflect the Gaza rocket threat, was deployed two months earlier than planned, the Defense Ministry said.

Nine people, including eight militants, were killed and dozens were wounded in the various attacks early Saturday, Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said. In all, 39 Palestinians including 13 civilians and three Israeli civilians have been killed since the Israeli operation began.

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In addition to close ties with top generals, women in Petraeus scandal had visited White House

WASHINGTON (AP) — Their close ties to the military community giving them unusual access to top generals, Paula Broadwell and Jill Kelley even visited the White House on separate and apparently unrelated occasions before a sex scandal brought down former CIA Director David Petraeus.

Neither woman met with President Barack Obama during their visits, a White House official said.

Petraeus resigned as CIA director last week after acknowledging an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. In briefings Friday with lawmakers on Capitol Hill, the retired four-star general was apologetic and regretful and insisted that his resignation was related only to his personal behavior.

Jill Kelley, the Tampa, Fla., socialite who initiated the investigation that revealed the affair, and her twin sister had two "courtesy" meals at the White House mess as guests of a midlevel White House aide in September and October, the White House official said. Kelley and her family also received a White House tour on the weekend before the Nov. 6 election.

Broadwell, who was writing a book about Petraeus and eventually became his paramour, attended meetings in June 2009 and June 2011 on Afghanistan-Pakistan policy in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is located in the White House complex, the official said.

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Trip to Asia allows Obama to refocus attention on effort to secure US influence in region

WASHINGTON (AP) — In his first trip abroad since the summer heat of the re-election campaign, President Barack Obama will seek to reinforce American influence in Southeast Asia in spite of the large shadow cast by China. He will become the first U.S. president to visit Myanmar, an appreciation for its steps toward democratization, as well as Cambodia.

The four-day trip beginning Saturday will be the president's fourth to Asia. It comes amid unusual challenges at home, including opening discussions with lawmakers about dealing with the nation's fiscal health and a sex scandal that's roiling his national security team.

Still, Obama is eager to return to foreign policy matters that were put on the back burner by the campaign. The unprecedented visit to Myanmar, also known as Burma, gives the trip a historic edge while shoring up a strategic regional goal sought with stops in Thailand and in Cambodia, where he will attend the East Asia Summit in Phnom Penh.

The Asia trip underscores Obama's efforts to establish the United States as an Asia-Pacific power, a worldview defined by 21st century geopolitics but also by Obama's personal identity as America's first Pacific president. Obama was born in Hawaii.

"Continuing to fill in our pivot to Asia will be a critical part of this president's second term and ultimately his foreign policy legacy," deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said ahead of the trip.

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Myanmar welcomes Obama with graffiti and a shopping list

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — When Arker Kyaw heard President Barack Obama was coming to Myanmar, he gathered 15 cans of spray paint and headed for a blank brick wall under cover of darkness. Kyaw, whose passion is graffiti, labored from 3 a.m. until the sun came up. Passing taxi drivers and the occasional pedestrian gave him signs of encouragement as Obama's grinning, uplifted face took shape against a background of the American and Myanmar flags.

"I wanted to welcome him," said Kyaw, a 19-year-old with a sweep of styled hair and a penchant for skinny jeans.

The next day, someone — a rival graffiti artist, suspects Kyaw — scribbled over his handiwork with a can of black spray paint.

Before dawn Saturday, as he watched for cops between tea breaks, he painted another wall with an image of Obama scrawled with the words "hello again." He sees it as a shout out from the youth of Myanmar, and hopes Obama will glimpse it during his six-hour visit to the country, the first by a U.S. president.

Word of Obama's historic visit has spread quickly around Yangon, which is readying itself with legions of hunched workers painting fences and curbs, pulling weeds and scraping grime off old buildings in anticipation of the president's Monday arrival.

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Coast Guard searches for 2 missing workers in Gulf after oil rig fire; 4 others badly burned

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The eruption of a fire on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico — which left two workers missing and four others badly burned — is a vivid reminder of the dangers involved in offshore drilling and the risk it poses to the gulf's ecosystem and shoreline.

The Coast Guard was searching early Saturday for two workers missing after the fire broke out Friday, sending an ominous black plume of smoke into the air reminiscent of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that transformed the oil industry and life along the Gulf Coast.

The blaze, which started while workers were using a torch to cut an oil line, also critically injured at least four workers who had burns over much of their bodies. The four were being treated late Friday at the burn center at Baton Rouge General Medical Center.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash said late Friday that a Coast Guard cutter was continuing its search into the night, and that a broader rescue effort would resume after daybreak Saturday.

The images Friday were eerily similar to the massive oil spill that killed 11 workers and took months to bring under control. The fire came a day after BP agreed to plead guilty to a raft of charges in the 2010 spill and pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties.

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'Instincts kicked in' for veterans rushing to help their own as train slams into parade float

MIDLAND, Texas (AP) — With the thunderous crack of a freight train slamming into a parade float carrying his fellow war veterans, Sudip Bose went to work.

A front-line physician in Iraq, Bose and other veterans instantly tended to the injured. They applied tourniquets and put pressure on wounds as their training and battlefield experience took over in the chaotic moments after the wreck at a railroad crossing in this West Texas city.

"Instincts kicked in," Bose said Friday, a day after the train traveling at more than 60 mph barreled into a flatbed truck adorned with American flags and filled with wounded veterans and their spouses.

Four veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan were killed — including an Army sergeant who apparently sacrificed his life to save his wife, and 16 people were injured. Bose, who served in Fallujah and Baghdad, said the aftermath reminded him of a combat triage situation.

Some of the veterans who managed to jump clear of the wreck rushed to help the injured. Tommy Shoemaker, a special operations soldier, resuscitated one person and applied a tourniquet to a bleeding woman.

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Michigan congressman, elected to fill an expiring term, has 6 weeks to make his mark

WASHINGTON (AP) — Driving from Michigan in his Ford F150 pickup truck, David Curson arrived in Washington a week ago. He set up an office last Sunday, was sworn in as a congressman on Tuesday and by Friday had logged his first votes and given his first floor speech — one that stretched a bit past the one minute he'd been allotted.

The 64-year-old Democrat has no time to waste. In six weeks, he'll be gone.

In Congress' packed lame-duck session, Curson is a curiosity: He is one of four members of the House sworn in this week to fill a partial term, but he's the only one who didn't win a full, two-year term to go with the temporary gig. In January, he'll drive his truck home, replaced by Republican Rep.-elect Kerry Bentivolio, whom Curson beat out for the partial term. Curson did not run for a full term, only opting to run in the special election after other Democrats took a pass.

The seat was left vacant when Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, a Republican, quit Congress during the summer after he failed to qualify for the ballot because of questions about petition signatures.

Curson, a burly, bearded ex-Marine and United Autoworkers union representative says he didn't even realize for sure that he'd won until midafternoon the day after the election.

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After meeting with Obama, congressional leaders voice confidence in deal to avoid fiscal cliff

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congressional leaders from both parties voiced fresh optimism Friday after meeting with newly re-elected President Barack Obama about avoiding year-end "fiscal cliff" tax increases and spending cuts that would hammer the middle class and risk plunging the economy into recession.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio said Republicans are willing to consider increased revenue "as long as it is accompanied by spending cuts" as leaders in a divided government get to work on a possible deal after a fierce election campaign.

He presented a framework that one official said called for a deficit down-payment of unspecified size by year's end, to be followed by comprehensive tax reform and an overhaul of Medicare and other benefit programs in 2013.

Democrats indicated some spending cuts would be fine with them. "I feel confident that a solution may be in sight," said House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

The goal of the high-pressure talks to come is to produce a multitrillion-dollar deficit-reduction plan that can take the place of the across-the-board tax increases and spending cuts that are slated to take effect on Jan. 1.

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Memphis ends Knicks' undefeated streak with 105-95 victory

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies ended the New York Knicks' unbeaten start and put themselves on top of the NBA standings.

Zach Randolph had 20 points and 15 rebounds, Marc Gasol added 24 points and Memphis handed the Knicks their first loss of the season with a 105-95 victory on Friday night. At 7-1, the Grizzlies own the league's best record for the first time in franchise history.

"Sounds good," Memphis guard Mike Conley said. "I think we are playing well right now, obviously. We have played some very good teams in the past week. (We) are just going to try and keep it going."

With the 10-point win, the Grizzlies defeated the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder — last season's NBA finalists — and the previously undefeated Knicks by double digits this week.

Rudy Gay scored 17 points and blocked four shots, and Conley added 16 points and eight assists as Memphis won its seventh straight.

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Petraeus to Congress: CIA believed early on that terrorists were behind Libya consulate attack

WASHINGTON (AP) — Testifying out of sight, ex-CIA Director David Petraeus told Congress Friday that classified intelligence showed the deadly raid on the U.S. Consulate in Libya was a terrorist attack but the administration withheld the suspected role of al-Qaida affiliates to avoid tipping them off.

The recently resigned spy chief explained that references to terrorist groups suspected of carrying out the violence were removed from the public explanation of what caused the attack so as not to alert them that U.S. intelligence was on their trail, according to lawmakers who attended Petraeus' private briefings.

He also said it initially was unclear whether the militants had infiltrated a demonstration to cover their attack.

The retired four-star general addressed the House and Senate intelligence committees in back-to-back, closed-door hearings as questions persist over what the Obama administration knew in the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks and why its public description did not match intelligence agencies' assessments.

After the hearings, lawmakers who questioned Petraeus said he testified that the CIA's draft talking points in response to the assault on the diplomatic post in Benghazi that killed four Americans referred to it as a terrorist attack. Petraeus said that reference was removed from the final version, although he wasn't sure which federal agency deleted it.

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