Chatter: Israel halts ground offensive in Gaza as Clinton, Ban join truce talks




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Need to know:
"Today, they took two of our family," one man in Deir Al Balah, central Gaza, told GlobalPost. "Tomorrow, maybe they'll take me. There is nowhere safe. Are we safe here?"

That was yesterday. Today, the question is just as hard to answer. The conflict in Gaza and Israel has now been going on for seven days. Another grim milestone: more than 100 Palestinians are dead.

So no, it is not safe in Gaza. But – cold comfort – it's slightly safer than it could have been, since Israel has reportedly halted its plans for a ground invasion in order to give peace talks a chance. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have joined the mediation efforts led by Egypt, flying in for meetings in Cairo, Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has gone so far as to say that he expects Israeli "aggression" in Gaza to stop today. We don't yet know what that means – but GlobalPost's correspondents will have the latest from Gaza, from Israel and beyond.

Want to know:
Goma, the regional capital of eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, is now under rebel control.

Heavily armed rebels entered the city this morning, witnesses said, after days of intensified fighting. They belong to the group known as M23, and they are battling the Congolese army and its UN peacekeeper allies for control of one of Africa's most mineral-rich regions.

The rebellion threatens to become a full-scale regional war, as Congo accuses neighboring Rwanda and Uganda of backing the rebels, and Rwanda accuses Congo of shelling its territory. Both Kigali and Kampala vigorously deny the charges are true, despite evidence to the contrary in a recently leaked UN report; Uganda even blames that report for the current escalation.

What's indisputable, though, is the toll of all this on civilians. More than 50,000 people have fled camps and homes in Goma since Sunday and are said to be in dire need of shelter, water and food.

Dull but important:
Rimsha Masih
, the 14-year-old Pakistani Christian attacked by a mob for allegedly burning pages from the Koran, no longer faces prosecution for blasphemy.

A court has thrown out all charges against Masih, who is said to have Down's Syndrome and is unable to read or write. She faced life in prison if convicted under Pakistan's notorious blasphemy law.

Even without the threat of jail, Rimsha's lawyer says she and her family still "live in fear." They have had to be moved to a secret location since she was accused in early September, for fear of vigilante reprisals.

It appears they may have been the victims of a plot to incite religious hatred, with the Muslim cleric who first accused Rimsha now charged with planting the evidence himself. Yet even so, the prosecution says it plans to pursue the case against her, even if it means going to the Supreme Court.

Just because:
So Twinkies aren't quite dead after all. Yay?

Hostess, the company that makes the spongey snacks, has agreed to mediation with its labor union in a last-ditch attempt to avoid bankruptcy. If the two sides can reach a compromise, it could stop the cake-maker closing its plants, liquidating its assets and turning Twinkies, Ho Hos and Ding Dongs into a distant, calorific dream.

That's good news if you love Twinkies; slightly less good news if you love 'em so much you forked out hundreds of dollars on eBay for an emergency stockpile.

Strange but true:
Those narrow hips... that slender waist... and those thighs, good gracious, those thighs. China's next top model has a figure many teenage girls would kill for. Aaaand he's a 72-year-old man.

Meet everyone's new favorite cross-dressing grandpa, Liu Xianping. He's the proud clotheshorse for his granddaughter's womenswear designs at her online store, and very stylish he is too.

"Why unacceptable [for someone like me to wear women's clothes]?" Liu wonders, reasonably enough. "I'm very old and all that I care about is to be happy."

His posing (seriously, Pops can smize) is making a lot of other people happy, too: his granddaughter's sales have reportedly increased sixfold.