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14 Afghan Civilians, Including 8 Children, Killed in U.S. Bombing

At least 14 civilians have been killed in a U.S.-led NATO bombing in Afghanistan. The dead included eight children. The attack in the eastern province of Khost is believed to be the deadliest by the U.S.-led occupation force against Afghan civilians this year.

Afghans Protest Deadly Raid

The new killings come just one day after hundreds of people rallied in the Afghan province of Ghazni to protest a NATO bombing that killed two civilians earlier this week. Protesters carried their bodies to the provincial capital, shouting slogans denouncing foreign troops.

Report: Obama to Propose Social Security, Medicaid Cuts in Debt Talks

President Obama hosts congressional leaders at the White House today for talks on raising the national debt ceiling. According to the Washington Post, Obama is now backing a plan that would impose significant cuts to Medicare spending and retirement benefits under Social Security. A Democratic official said the White House recognizes a consensus to now tackle "entitlement reform" in part by slashing social safety-net programs because "these moments come along at most once a decade." Obama’s proposal of new public spending cuts would come in return for Republican backing of new tax hikes on corporations and wealthy households. At a Town Hall-style event with the social network site Twitter, Obama criticized Republicans for opposing tax increases in talks so far.

President Obama: "Never in our history has the United States defaulted on its debt. The debt ceiling should not be something that is used as a gun against the heads of the American people to extract tax breaks for corporate jet owners or oil and gas companies that are making billions of dollars because the price of gasoline has gone up so high."

Libyan Rebels Seize Western Town; NATO Strikes Intensify

In Libya, rebels have seized a key town in the country’s northwestern mountains, moving them one step closer to securing a strategic road that would allow access to the capital city of Tripoli. The town of al-Qawalish was seized after a six-hour battle. Tens of thousands of opposition supporters filled the streets in the rebel-held city of Benghazi to celebrate the victory. Meanwhile, NATO warplanes continue to pound Libya with air strikes. Of 140 air sorties carried out on Wednesday, NATO says nearly half were strike missions.

U.N.: Drought, Violence Causing "Unimaginable Human Tragedy" in Somalia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is warning violence and severe drought in Somalia is leading to a "human tragedy of unimaginable proportions." Some 54,000 people fled Somalia into the neighboring nations of Kenya and Ethiopia in June alone, three times the number of Somalis who sought refuge in May. Over 50 percent of the children arriving in Ethiopia, and up to 40 percent of those arriving in Kenya, are reportedly malnourished. The U.N. is receiving increasing reports of children under five dying en route to their destination. UNICEF spokesperson Michael Klaus said the crisis is amplified by rising food prices.

Michael Klaus: "The drought situation in the Horn of Africa is definitely one of the worst we have seen in the past decades. It’s worsened by the skyrocketing food prices which we currently see. In Somalia, we have seen increases of more than 200 percent. Parts of northern Kenya, a more than 80 percent increase compared to last year, which is really very severe. We now see more or less 10 million people, as I said, in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, and some 2.8 million of those in Somalia, so that’s one of three Somalis actually in need of assistance. Malnutrition rates, particularly in the south, are really, really high. We see now that one in three children in the south are severely malnourished."

Militant Somali Group Lifts Ban on Aid Groups

In response to the crisis, Somalia’s militant Islamist group al-Shabab has lifted a self-imposed ban on foreign aid organizations. The group imposed the ban in 2009, arguing international aid agencies were anti-Muslim.

Amnesty: Probe Syria for War Crimes

The human rights group Amnesty International claims the government of Syria may have committed crimes against humanity when it cracked down on protesters in a border town in May. The group has urged the International Criminal Court to look into the deaths of nine protesters detained by Syrian forces in the town of Tel Kelakh. Amnesty spokersperson Peter Clarke said the deaths were part of a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population.

Peter Clarke: "We’re calling on the Security Council of the United Nations to bring this situation before the International Criminal Court, because there are clear indications that there may have been crimes against humanity on a large scale. We’ve seen all sorts of atrocities committed. On the first day, a young man was shot apparently by snipers. We’ve seen people fleeing the town who were shot on by military forces."

Over 1,300 civilians are believed to have been killed in the 14 weeks of protests against Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Greece Intercepts Flotilla Ship as Another Departs

The Greek government continues to enforce a ban on all ships taking part in the Freedom Flotilla to the Gaza Strip. Earlier today, Greek authorities stopped a small French boat that had left waters near Greece earlier this week. The halting of the ship follows the earlier blocking of the U.S. and Canadian boats as they sought to reach Gaza. On Wednesday, another ship, the Juliano, left a Greek port where it had been forcibly moored. The ship’s captain said he would take it to a different port before ultimately heading to Gaza.

Theodore Boukas: "Everything is ready. After the sabotage, after these very strong inspections, we are ready to departure from the place here. And our final destination is Gaza. I don’t know if it’s the next days or after those days, but our final destination is Gaza."

Vermont Won’t Charge Nuclear Plant Owner over Radioactive Leak

Vermont prosecutors have decided not to file charges against the owners of the state’s lone nuclear plant, the Vermont Yankee. Entergy Corporation had been under investigation for misleading officials during a probe into a radioactive tritium leak at the plant in 2010. Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell said he believes Entergy held back information, but said the case lacks sufficient evidence to ensure a conviction.

William Sorrell: "As of now, no criminal charges will be filed against the corporation or any Entergy employee. Entergy and certain of its personnel have acted in, at best, an untrustworthy manner. However, we lack the smoking-gun evidence to prove to our satisfaction, let alone that of 12 Vermont jurors, that this untrustworthy behavior was criminal."

Federal Government Ordered to Stop Enforcing "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell"

A federal appeals court has ordered the federal government to stop enforcing the law barring openly gay men, lesbians and bisexuals from serving in the U.S. military. Pentagon officials have said they will comply with the order and are taking steps to inform commanders in the field.

Ft. Hood Suspect to Face Death Penalty

A United States Army psychiatrist charged with killing over a dozen people and injuring scores of others on a Texas Army base will face a military trial and could receive the death penalty if convicted, a U.S. general said Wednesday. Some 56 witnesses have described Major Nidal Hasan as a calculated killer who lethally gunned down 12 soldiers and one civilian and wounded 32 on November 5, 2009.

Thousands of California Prisoners Join Hunger Strike

As many as 6,600 prisoners in California have joined a hunger strike in solidarity with inmates the Pelican Bay State Prison protesting what they say are cruel and unusual prison conditions. Located in Crescent City, Pelican Bay was California’s first super-maximum security prison. Prison officials say thousands of prisoners at 13 state prisons refused meals over the three-day July 4th weekend. The strike continues this week, with at least 2,100 still taking part as of Wednesday.

NYC Offices to Open Early to Officiate Gay Marriages

And New York City has announced it will open city offices on Sunday, July 24, to allow gay couples to take advantage of a new law allowing same-sex marriage the day it takes effect. Judges will be on hand at city clerks’ offices in all five boroughs to officiate the proceedings.

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