Presbyterians back protest against Israel
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday became the most prominent religious group in the United States to endorse divestment as a protest against Israeli policies toward Palestinians, voting to sell church stock in three companies whose products Israel uses in the occupied territories. The General Assembly voted 310-303 to sell stock in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. Two years ago, the General Assembly rejected a similar divestment proposal by two votes. The American Jewish Committee, a policy and advocacy group based in New York, said the vote was "driven by hatred of Israel." But Heath Rada, moderator for the church meeting, said after the vote that "in no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters." The decision comes as the broader movement known as BDS — or boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel — has gained some momentum in the United States, Israel's closest ally.
Marriage benefits extended to gays
The federal government on Friday announced regulatory changes to extend a wide range of marriage benefits to same-sex couples, making good on a promise by President Barack Obama after the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act last year. The Labor Department said it would clarify that federal employees will be able to take leave from their jobs to care for a same-sex spouse, something that has long been limited to heterosexual married couples. The Social Security administration and the Veterans Affairs Department said they would also expand benefits for same-sex couples, subject to some legal restrictions. The actions extend the changes that have been made at other agencies in the year since the marriage act was declared unconstitutional.
Refugee levels are highest since WWII
The number of people displaced by violent conflict hit the highest level since World War II at the end of 2013, the head of the U.N. refugee agency said in a report released Friday. Pushed up by the war in Syria, the number of people displaced by violence reached more than 51 million, the report said. This included 33.3 million who fled violence but remained in their own country and 16.7 million who fled to neighboring countries.
Lebanon: Lebanese security forces arrested 17 men in two Beirut hotels on Friday on suspicion that they were plotting to assassinate a prominent Lebanese Shiite leader, a government official said, describing an attack that could inflame sectarian conflict across the Mideast.
Washington: The National Park Service announced Friday that it is taking steps to ban drones from 84 million acres of public lands and waterways, saying the unmanned aircraft annoy visitors, harass wildlife and threaten safety.
Israel: Israeli troops killed a Palestinian youth before dawn Friday and seriously injured several adults in their sweeping arrest campaign in the West Bank following last week's disappearance of three Israeli teenagers.
Washington: The Army announced Friday that it is reducing the rank of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair by two grades after he pleaded guilty at a court-martial to adultery and conducting inappropriate relationships. The move slashes his benefits and forces him to retire as a lieutenant colonel.