Possibly More Sanctions for Russia, U.S. Wants Coalition to Fight Islamic State, Gaza Struggles to Rebuild and U.N. Condemns U.S. Over Police Brutality

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On Friday, Russian backed separatists held control of the coastal city of Novoazovsk on the new front in the Ukraine conflict announcing their intention to keep moving west toward the major port city of Mariupol, according to Peter Leonard and Juergen Baetz, Russian-backed rebels aim to push west along coast. The day before, the Ukrainian government accused Russia of sending tanks, artillery and troops across the border, and NATO estimated at least 1,000 Russian troops were in Ukraine. As tension rose, the European Union foreign ministers called for heavier sanctions against Moscow ahead of Saturday’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. One rebel commanders identified himself as nom de guerre Frantsuz or the Frenchman said: “We are fighting with the machinery the (Ukrainian forces) abandon. They just dump it and flee.” However, top rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Russia was supplying equipment and fighters. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen Friday said: “Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border. This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.” Speaking at a Kremlin organized youth camp Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the Ukrainian government’s fight with separatists to the Nazi siege of Leningrad in 1941-44 which many Russians see the 872 day siege and 670,000 civilians dead as one of the most heroic chapters in the country’s history. Putin added to stop the bloodshed the Kiev government should open talks with the rebels. Ivan Simonovic, U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights, said the death toll has reached 2,600 as of Wednesday. The U.N. human rights office Friday accused both sides of deliberately targeting civilians. The Associated Press reports: “The separatists have carried out murders, torture and abductions along with other serious human rights abuses, while Ukraine’s military is guilty of such acts as arbitrary detentions, disappearances and torture, the organization said in a report.” The head of the EU’s executive commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, warned Putin further destabilization of Ukraine “will carry high costs.” Putin has called on separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine for a week, but the rebel leader said the Ukrainian troops must lay down arms before they can go “so that this weaponry and ammunition will not be used against us in future.” Col. Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s national security council spokesman, rejected the demand: “Ukraine is not ready to surrender arms and kneel in front of the aggressor.” Meanwhile, Ukraine will receive $1.39 billion aid installment as part of a financial support package from the International Monetary Fund bringing the total paid out to $4.51 billion of $16.67 billion due over two years. On Sunday, the European Union leaders decided no to impose new sanctions against Moscow; however, the 28 nation bloc’s head of state and government tasked their executive body to prepare tougher economic sanctions that could be adopted in a week, according to EU summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy, Juergen Baetz and Jim Heintz reports, EU threatens Russia with more sanctions. According to Rompuy, the new sanctions will depend on the evolution of the situation on the ground but “everybody is fully aware that we have to act quickly and EU leaders call on Russia to “immediately withdraw all its military assets and forces from Ukraine.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told reporters in English: “Thousands of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine. There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine, but for the whole … of Europe.” Meanwhile, Moscow is preparing to send a second convoy of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine, according to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, who said Moscow already received Kiev’s approval and aid would be sent in coordination with the Red Cross. Ukraine’s Lysenko told reporters: “We are surrendering this city. Our task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in order to regroup.” In addition, Lysenko said regular units of military are ordered to retreat from Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, two towns on the main road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. Ukraine had claimed control of Novosvitlivka earlier in August.

While the Ukrainian government tries to minimize losses, Islamic State and other al-Qaida offshoots continue to move through Syria posing a threat to neighboring countries as well as displacing millions of Syrians. According to John Heilprin’s reports, Syria Refugees Top 3 Million Mark, UN Says, three million Syrian refugees have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday with many trapped by the advance of Islamic militants or the inability to reach an open border crossing, according to the United Nations. The U.N. refugee agency said Syrians desperate to leave their homeland pay hefty bribes at armed checkpoints along Syria’s borders or to smugglers. In addition, the agency said “almost half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives” as 6.5. million have been displaced within Syria and the record figure is one million more than a year ago. Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner fro Refugees, said in a statement: “The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them.” The UNHCR reports the vast majority of Syrian refugees remain in neighboring countries, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (1.17 million), Turkey (830,000) and Jordan (613,000). Some 215,000 refugees are in Iraq with the rest in Egypt and other countries, while the host governments estimate hundreds of thousands more have sought sanctuary in their countries without formally registering. The Obama administration announced Thursday that the United States wants to build an international campaign against the Islamic State jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria including partners for potential military action. According to Reuters, John Kerry: U.S. To Push For Coalition To Fight ‘Cancer’ Of Islamic State, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will push for a coalition of countries to beat back the incursion in Syria and Iraq by Islamic State militants via the NATO summit next week. On Saturday, Kerry wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times saying “With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries.” Kerry said along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with their European counterparts to enlist support for their coalitions with the goal to “enlist the broadest possible assistance.” Addressing the current action taken in the Middle East, he wrote: “Already our efforts have brought dozens of nations to this cause. Certainly there are different interests at play. But no decent country can support the horrors perpetrated by ISIS, and no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to help stamp out this disease.” Republican and Democrats in Congress have called for lawmakers to vote on whether the United States should broaden its actions against Islamic State.

On Sunday, Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen broke a six week siege by the Islamic State extremist group on northern Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli as a suicide bombing killed 14 people in Anbar western province, Sameer N. Yacoub reports, Iraqi forces break militant siege of Shiite town. Breaking the siege was a big achievement for all involved including the Iraqi army, elite troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias. Turkish lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said they entered the town from two direction distributing aid to the residents. About 15,000 Shiite Turkmens were stranded in the farming community, 105 miles north of Baghdad, deciding to stay and fortify their town with trenches and armed positions instead of fleeing. On Saturday, the U.S. conducted airstrikes against the Sunni militants and air dropped humanitarian aid to residents. Aircraft from Australia, France and Britain joined the aid drop which came after the Iraq government requested it. The U.S. launched airstrikes near Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq, that allowed Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the facility from Islamic State fighters. The U.S. Central Command said another airstrike on Sunday near Mosul Dam destroyed an Islamic State armed vehicle bring the total number of airstrikes across Iraq since Aug. 8 to 120. German officials said Sunday they would soon be sending enough high end rifles, anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles to equip 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters battling Islamic extremists in Iraq. On Sunday night, Iraqi police officials said a suicide driver rammed an explosives laden car into a police checkpoint in Ramadi in the Anbar province killing 14 people including nine police and about 27 people were injured.

While it seems one war is far from over, the Associate Press reports, Rebuilding Gaza Will Take 20 Years, Housing Group Says, the assessment by Shelter Cluster, co-chaired by the U.N. refugee agency and the Red Cross, says post conflict reconstruction will take 20 years for Gaza’s battered and neglected housing stock to be rebuilt and some Palestinian officials estimate the cost at $6 billion. The effort to rebuild will be stifled by Egypt and Israel as Israel since 2007 has severely restricted import of concrete and other building material due to fears that militants will use them to build rockets and reinforce cross border tunnels. In its report issued late Friday, Shelter Cluster said 17,000 Gaza housing units were destroyed or severely damaged and 5,000 units still need work after previous military campaigns. Additionally, Gaza has a housing deficit of 75,000 units. Shelter Cluster said its 20 years assessment is based on the capacity of the main Israel Gaza crossing to handle 100 trucks of construction material a day. The death toll of the conflict included 2,100 Palestinians, most civilians, died in the war and Israel lost 71 people with all but six soldiers. To add to the difficulty, Israel announced it was appropriating almost 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank for Israeli settlers, according to AOL News, Israel Seizes 1,000 Acres Of Land In West Bank. Israeli officials declared a 990 acre region as state land confiscating it from Palestinians who live nearby and claim ownership with several established settlements there west of Bethlehem. Peace Now, an Israeli group opposed to further settlements, said the move was the biggest land grab in over 30 years. Sunday’s announcement may be punishment for the Palestinians, according to the New York Times, and was prompted by the murder of three Israeli teenagers back in June. A spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization told reporters it would “‘wipe out any Palestinian presence on the land’ and impose a ‘de-facto one-state solution’.” However, a U.S. State Department spokesperson called the move “counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution.” The U.S., U.N. and E.U. have repeatedly condemned the settlement expansions, but Israeli officials believe the land will be theirs in any final peace deal. The Wall Street Journal quotes one housing minister calling land appropriations “an appropriate Zionist response to the Palestinian terrorist government.” And a commerce minister told the BBC: “I think that stopping anyone from living in our land is a profound mistake. … Why should I stop building on my land? It’s my own.” Israeli officials say the appropriation is still open to legal review. Any Palestinian landowners in the region now have 45 days to submit their objections to an Israeli court before their lands will be seized.

While the U.N. has weighed in on many of the conflicts brewing internationally, it was only a matter of time before they weighed in on the Ferguson, Missouri issue. Stephanie Nebehay reports, UN Condemns U.S. Police Brutality, Calls For ‘Stand Your Ground’ Review, the U.N. racism watchdog urged the U.S. Friday to halt excessive use of force by police after the murder of unarmed teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri. After examining the U.S. record, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination determined minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities. Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman and expert from Algeria, told a news briefing: “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing. The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown. This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.” The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what they consider a persistent racial discrimination against African Americans and other minorities including within the criminal justice system. U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination” but conceded that “we have much left to do”. In its conclusions issued Friday, the U.N. panel said “Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense.” Nebehay reports: “Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.” In addition, it urged an investigation saying, “The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police.” The committee also urged the U.S. to address obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous people to exercise their right to vote due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies. Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the U.N. recommendations highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth.”

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