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AP Top News at 3:35 p.m. EDT

Italy earthquake kills at least 120, reduces towns to rubble
AMATRICE, Italy (AP) - Rescue crews using bulldozers and their bare hands raced to dig out survivors from a strong earthquake that reduced three central Italian towns to rubble Wednesday. The death toll stood at 120, but the number of dead and missing was uncertain given the huge number of vacationers in the area for summer's final days. Residents wakened before dawn by the temblor emerged from their crumbled homes to find what they described as apocalyptic scenes "like Dante's Inferno," with entire blocks of buildings turned into piles of sand and rock, thick dust choking the air and a putrid smell of gas.


Turkey makes first major foray into Syria with assault on IS
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) - Turkey on Wednesday launched its first major ground assault into Syria since the country's civil war began, sending in tanks and special forces backed by U.S. airstrikes to help Syrian rebels retake a border town from Islamic State militants. The surprise incursion to capture the town of Jarablus was a dramatic escalation of Turkey's role in Syria's war. But its objective went beyond fighting extremists. Turkey is also aiming to contain expansion by Syria's Kurds, who are also backed by the United States and have used the fight against IS and the chaos of the civil war to seize nearly the entire stretch of the border with Turkey in northern Syria.


As Trump tries minority outreach, many blacks unconvinced
AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Black Republicans cheer Donald Trump for a newfound outreach to African-Americans, but say the GOP presidential nominee must take his message beyond arenas filled with white supporters and venture into the inner cities. Many rank-and-file black voters, meanwhile, dismiss the overtures as another racially charged pitch from a campaign aimed exclusively at whites, from Trump's emphasis on "law and order" to his withering critiques of President Barack Obama, the nation's first black chief executive. It was Trump in 2011 who fiercely challenged Obama's U.S. birth. "Any minority who would vote for him is crazy, ought to have their head examined," said Ike Jenkins, an 81-year-old retired business owner in the predominantly black suburb of East Cleveland.


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Jackpot: Scientists find Earth-like planet at star next door
WASHINGTON (AP) - After scanning the vast reaches of the cosmos for Earth-like planets where life might exist, astronomers have found one right next door. A planet that's rocky like Earth and only slightly bigger has been discovered orbiting Proxima Centauri , the nearest star to our solar system, scientists reported Wednesday. It is probably in the not-too-hot, not-too-cold Goldilocks Zone where liquid water - a key to life - is possible, if the planet has an atmosphere. And it is a mere 4.22 light-years from Earth, or nearly 25 trillion miles. It is easily the closest potentially habitable planet ever detected outside our solar system - and one that could be reachable by tiny, unmanned space probes before the end of the century, in time for some people alive today to witness it.


Before debates, Clinton aims to keep Trump expectations high
WASHINGTON (AP) - By virtue of her long political resume, Hillary Clinton will enter her highly anticipated fall debates with Donald Trump facing the same kind of heightened expectations that often saddle an incumbent president. Trump, as the political newcomer, will be more of a wild card with a lower bar to clear. A month before the first faceoff, Clinton allies are working to prevent that dynamic from turning into an advantage for the Republican nominee. Boosting debate expectations for her opponent requires a tricky balancing act for Clinton. At the same time she is encouraging Americans to take seriously Trump's controversial policy proposals, including a temporary ban on Muslim immigration and building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, she's painting him as unprepared and temperamentally unfit for the presidency.


Militants attack American University in Afghanistan, 1 dead
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Militants attacked the American University of Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing at least one person and wounding another 18, officials said. AP photographer Massoud Hossaini was in a classroom with 15 students when he heard an explosion on the southern flank of the campus. "I went to the window to see what was going on, and I saw a person in normal clothes outside. He shot at me and shattered the glass," Hossaini said, adding that he fell on the glass and cut his hands. The students then barricaded themselves inside the classroom, pushing chairs and desks against the door, and staying on the floor.


Volatile mix in Syria war puts new strain on US strategy
WASHINGTON (AP) - The U.S. military picture in Syria is getting more chaotic and complicated by the day, putting new strains on the Obama administration's strategy of partnering with a hodgepodge of local fighters against the Islamic State group without getting pulled deeper into Syria's civil war or rupturing relations with Turkey. Developments in recent weeks illustrate the fine balance the U.S. is trying to strike. For example, the Pentagon may get drawn into cooperating with Russian forces in Syria even though it believes Moscow's military intervention has only undermined the U.S. goal of defeating IS. And just last week the U.S.


Burned firefighter feels normal again after face transplant
NEW YORK (AP) - A Mississippi firefighter who received the world's most extensive face transplant after a burning building collapsed on him said Wednesday that he feels like "a normal guy" for the first time in 15 years. Patrick Hardison, 42, said he can now eat, see, hear and breathe normally, thanks to last year's surgery. He has a full head of hair and hits the gym twice a week. "Before the transplant, every day I had to wake up and get myself motivated to face the world," Hardison told reporters at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Now I don't worry about people pointing and staring or kids running away crying.


In some US schools, resistance to ending corporal punishment
Two licks with a wooden paddle in the principal's office was the price 11-year-old Kaley Zacher, of Dexter, Georgia, paid for ignoring warnings about falling behind in her school work. Rules are rules, said her mother, Kimberly Zacher, so why shouldn't the punishment be the same as at home when her daughter falls out of line? "What we instill in our children is if you break the rules, there's a punishment that you have to suffer the consequences for," she said. "You don't want to give two sets of rules." Although corporal punishment in American schools has declined in recent decades, paddling is still on the books in 19 states despite calls from the U.S.


Meet Octobot, a robot that's a real softie, and cheap
WASHINGTON (AP) - The latest revolutionary robot isn't the metallic, costly machine you'd expect: It's squishy like Silly Putty, wireless, battery-less and made for pennies by a 3-D printer. Meet Octobot. It looks like a tiny octopus and is designed to mimic that slithery creature to get through cracks and tight places, making it ideal as a rescue robot. A team at Harvard University has created a robot - actually about 300 of them, since they are so cheap to make - that is opposite of the common view of a robot. Soft, not hard. Flexibl,e not rigid. It's not mechanical, nor electrical.

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