Palestinian Israeli Ceasefire , Russia and Ukraine Push Their Boundaries and the Islamic State Militia Continues to Expand Its Middle Eastern Territory

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Israel withdrew most of its troops from Gaza on Sunday which could be a sign that Israel is winding down its month long offensive against Hamas leaving 1,800 Palestinians and 60 Israelis dead. AOL reports, Israel withdraws most troops from Gaza, even though Israel is close to completing its mission, heavy fighting continued with 10 Palestinians being killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike near a U.N. school, according to U.N. and Palestinians officials. The U.S. and United Nations condemned the attack. It is uncertain whether Israel would unilaterally end the war since Hamas officials vowed to continue their fight. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, confirmed most of the ground troops have pulled out of Gaza after destroying a majority of the Hamas tunnel network. He said Israel detected 30 tunnels dug along the border for what he called a “synchronized attack” on Israel. However, Lerner said the operation was not over and Israel will continue to target Hamas’ rocket firing capabilities as well as its ability to infiltrate Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voes to continue his assault against Hamas, but has come under international pressure to halt the fighting due to a high civilian death toll. U.N. officials say more than three quarters of the dead are civilians including the 10 killed on Sunday at a U.N. school in Rafah. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the attack a “moral outrage and a criminal act” and demanded a quick investigation, while the U.S. State Department said Washington was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” attack. Israel Cabinet minister Amir Peretz told channel 10: “It’s not a withdrawal. It’s setting up a new line that is a more controlled line with the air force doing its work.” One senior officials, under conditions of anonymity because he was discussing internal Hamas deliberations, said: “If Israel stops unilaterally, Hamas will declare victory and will not grant any security or truce to Israel. In this case, we are going to live under a war of attrition until a political solution is found.”

Unfortunately, a seven hour truce went into effect Monday after Israel agreed it would unilaterally hold fire in Gaza, but Palestinians immediately accused Israel of breaking the ceasefire agreement by bombing a house in Gaza, Reuters reports, Palestinians accuse Israel of immediately breaking 7-hour ceasefire that began Monday at 3am EST. An Israel military spokeswoman said she was checking into it, while Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said 15 people were wounded in the strike on a house in Shati camp of mostly women and children. An Israeli defense officials said the ceasefire would apply to all areas except Rafah where ground forces have intensified assaults after three soldiers died in a Hamas ambush Friday. While a Hamas envoy in Egypt negotiates a truce that Israel has shunned in anger, Sami Abu Zuhri, the group’s spokesman said: “The calm Israel declared is unilateral and aims to divert attention away from the Israeli massacres. We do not trust such a calm and we urge our people to exercise caution.” Meanwhile, Israeli Brigadier General Motti Almoz told Army Radio: “Redeployment lets us work on the tunnels, provides defense (of Israeli communities nearby) and lets the forces set up for further activity. There is no ending here, perhaps an interim phase.” According to Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav, Cease-fire slows Gaza war as Israeli bus attacked, while Israel declared the temporary ceasefire and troops withdrawals slowed violence on Monday in Gaza, an Israeli bus was attacked killing one person in Jerusalem which symbolizes the tensions simmering in the region. For the moment though, violence seems to be waning as Hamas rocket fire tapers off and Israel’s ground operation in Gaza winds down. According to the article: “Israel’s Channel 10 TV showed cellphone video of what it said was the attack, with the yellow excavator slamming its large shovel into the bus. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a police officer in the area opened fire and killed the attacker. A pedestrian also was killed, said Jerusalem district police chief Yossi Piranti.” Before the attacks, the seven hour Israeli ceasefire in Gaza was in effect , even though Israel continued to hit selected Palestinians target, the level of fighting was lower than previous days.

Fortunately, on Monday, as Josef Federman reports, Israel accepts Egyptian cease-fire plan, the Israeli government has finally accepted an Egyptian ceasefire deal to halt the month long war against Hamas militants in Gaza signaling the end of one of the bloodiest rounds of fighting, according to a senior Israeli official said. In addition, the official said a preliminary truce would begin at 8am Tuesday as the Israeli delegation would head to Egypt to work out a long term truce over the next three days. A delegation of Palestinian officials has negotiated with Egypt in recent days and representative have accept the proposal, while Hamas had no comment but has delegate presents at the time. Bassam Salhi, a member of the Palestinian delegation, said, “It’s clear now that the interest of all parties is to have a cease-fire. It’s going to be tough negotiations because Israel has demands too.” Under conditions of anonymity, the Israeli official said Israel will be watching the negotiation “with a certain amount of skepticism” given the previous failures.

Meanwhile, the Russian military is exercising their power as a show of their strength near the border with Ukraine, while Ukrainian troops cross over into Russia. Reuters reports, Russia Conducts Military Exercises With More Than 100 Aircraft Near Ukraine, Igor Kilmov quoted by Interfax news agency said it was the first session in a series to increase the unity of the air force this year as well as conduct missile practice with some of Russia’s newest frontline bombers and did not mention Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are fighting the Ukrainian government. While, Laura Mills reports, Ukrainian soldiers cross border into Russia, a Russian border security official said 400 Ukrainian soldiers crossed into Russia, an Interfax news agency report said. There were conflicting reports on both sides of why the soldiers were there. The Russian official said the soldiers deserted the Kiev governments and the Russian side opened the corridor, however, a Ukrainian military official said the soldiers were forced into Russian territory by rebel fire after running out of ammunition. Vasily Malayev, head of the Federal Security Service’s border patrol in the Rostov region, told Interfax 438 soldiers on Monday were allowed to safely enter the country. A spokesman for the Ukrainian military operation in the east, Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky, said the 72nd brigade army was pinned into their position due to a sustained barrage of fire from separatists forcing the brigade to split up into two sections. The battle in eastern Ukraine has been raging since April and claimed at least 1,129 civilians, according to a U.N. estimate. Though Russia denies any involvement, Ukraine and Western countries have accused Russia of providing the rebels with equipment and expertise.

On Sunday, Islamic State fighters claimed control of Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns on Sunday inflicting their first major defeat on Kurdish forces since moving across norther Iraq in June, Ahmed Rasheed and Raheem Salman report, Islamic State Seizes Small Towns In Iraq’s North. Capturing the electricity generating Mosul Dam could allow Sunni militants to flood major Iraqi cities or withhold water in a bid to topple Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government. In addition, the Islamic state has seized the Ain Zalah pil field, adding to the four others it controls providing funding for their operation, and three towns. The group poses the biggest threat to OPEC member Iraq since Saddam Hussein fell in 2003 as it has already declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria to rule over Muslims. On Sunday, the group also fought in a border town far away in Lebanon symbolizing its ambition to spread across the Middle East. So far, it controls cities in Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates valley s north and west of Baghdad and a large portion of Syria stretching from the Iraqi border in the east to Aleppo in the northwest. In a statement, the Islamic State said, “Hundreds fled leaving vehicles and a huge number of weapons and munitions and the brothers control many areas. The fighters arrived in the border triangle between Iraq, Syria and Turkey.” The Islamic State has tried to consolidate its gains by setting its sights on strategic towns near oil fields as well as border crossing with Syria so it can move supplies back and forth. Maliki’s opponents say the prime minister, a Shi’ite Islamist who is trying to stat in power for a third term after an inconclusive parliamentary election in April, is to blame for the insurgency due to excluding Sunnis from power. Additionally, Kurdish leaders call for Maliki to step down to create a more inclusive government in Baghdad. After Sunday’s withdrawal of Kurdish troops, the Kurdish region is pressing Washington for sophisticated weapons to help their fighters to push back the Islamist militants, according to U.S. and Kurdish officials. The Islamic State’s ambitions have caused other Arab states to take notice and fear their success will embolden militants region wide. Meanwhile, in Lebanon on Monday, thousands of civilians and Syrian refugees fled in packed cars and pickup trucks from an eastern border town where militants from Syria have overrun, Bassem Mroue reports, Thousands flee as Lebanese battle Syrian militants. The fleeing comes as Lebanese troops struggle to rid Arsal of the Syrian extremists marking the most serious spillover of violence from Syria’s cavil war into Lebanon and increasing fears that Lebanon is becoming a new front for Syria;s conflict, now in its third year. In all, at least 11 Lebanese troops have been killed and 13 missing in the Arsal clashes that erupted Saturday after Syrian militants crossed the border and overran army positions in the area.

Silence Speaks Louders Than Words During Holocaust Memorial Day


On Monday, many turned out for the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Yad Vashem memorial with some survivors participating in the “Every Person Has a Name” ceremony that tries to preserve the memories of the many who died during the holocaust by sharing the personalized stories of individuals, families and communities destroyed during World War II. As pictured above six survivors lit six torches representing the six million victims of the Nazi genocide during the opening ceremonies in Jerusalem on Sunday April 7 2013. The annual memorial begun with a ceremony to mark the 70 years since the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Among the crows was a retired American Air Force colonel from San Fransisco who cam to honor his family he never new as Bertrand Huchberger was too young to remember his parents reports the Associated Press. Along with him, his older sister was also sent to the french countryside to escape the Nazis during World War II and for three years was hidden before being sent to an orphanage eventually being adopted by American Jews at 11 and taken to New York.  Now, 75, Huchberger took part in the ceremony by reading the names of his relatives who were all killed. As he explains, “It is still settling in. It was just overwhelming. This place is `terra sancta’ (holy ground) for people who have been associated with the Holocaust. Now I feel that I find myself and my heritage, and it’s just uplifting … it helps build a spiritual bridge to my parents.” At the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other officials read names of their relatives killed in the Holocaust.

The country came to a standstill at 10 a.m. Monday to honor the victims with a siren that wails for two minutes across the country as part of the annual tradition with many more poignant moment to follow. The momentary pause allowed everyone to reflect on the past as pedestrians stood still, buses stopped on streets and cars pulled over as the drivers stood on the roads with their heads bowed. Homes and businesses took time to pause and pay homage to the victims of the brutal Nazi genocide that claimed a third of the worlds Jews.  A wreath laying ceremony followed at Yad Vashem with Israeli leaders, Holocaust survivors and visiting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in attendance while at schools, community centers, and army bases ceremonies took place to commemorate the day with prayers and musical performances. The day marks one of the most solemn days on the calendar in Israel as restaurants, cafes and entertainment shuts down and radio as well as TV programs focus on Holocaust documentaries, interviews with survivors and somber music.

The Israeli flag flew at half-staff to commemorate the day as Peres, 89, in parliament recite the names of his family members and 2060 members of their community who were killed in August 1942 in Vishneva, Poland now Belarus. The Nazis and their local collaborators rounded up the Jews and herded them into wooden synagogue where his grandfather lead the community into the building where the Nazis shot at the structure and set it on fire burning the people to death. This year marks the 70 year anniversary since the Warsaw ghetto uprising symbolizes the Jewish resistance against the Nazis that helped to inspire other acts of uprising and underground resistance. At the opening ceremonies Sunday night at Yad Vashem, Israeli leaders linked the Jewish revolt of 1943 to the warrior mentality that enabled the establishment of Israel five years later reports the Associated Press.  They also tied the Nazi genocide to Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear arms urging the world to stop them as Iranian leaders have denied the scope of the Holocaust while making references to the destruction of Israel. Netanyahu explained, “The murderous hatred against the Jews that has accompanied the history of our people has not disappeared, it has just been replaced with a murderous hatred of the Jewish state. What has changed since the Holocaust is our determination and our ability to defend ourselves.” Just three years after the war Israel was created as hundreds of thousands of survivors came to the country, while today fewer than 200,000 elderly survivors remain and the Jewish genocide of World War II still plays a major role in the Israeli psyche.

Remembering the Past to Preserve the Future

Rivaled only by Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Center and the Washington Holocaust Memorial Museum in historical value, Bad Arolsen contains 30 million documents on survivors of Nazi camps, Gestapo prisons, forced laborers and displace persons. One example of the power of preserving the past is George Jaunzemis who received a letter in 2010 from the International Tracing Service in Bad Arsolen which changed his life finding out his real name was Peter Thomas and had a nephew as well as a cousin in Germany. He never knew that the Latvian women he emigrated with to New Zealand was not his mother and had no memory of his early years as he was only three and half at the end of WWII when he separated from his mother as she fled with him from Germany to Belgium. Jaunzemis, 71, told Reuters, “I was astonished, thrilled. After all this time, I was an uncle. You don’t know what it’s like to have no family or childhood knowledge. Suddenly all the pieces fitted, now I can find my peace as a person.” Even though the story has a seemingly happy ending, it took Jaunzemis three decades of searching to find the vast archive in a remote corner of Germany.

Many people don’t even know the archive exists as it was only opened to researchers in 2007 after being widely criticized for overprotecting the original material locked in its facility, but Bad Arolsen still struggles to receive the recognition it deserves says many academics. Only 2,097 people visited Bad Arolsen compared to 900,000 who visited Yad Vashem reports Reuters. Rebecca Boehling, a historian from the Dresher Center for Humanities at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County, wants to change this, “We have a new agenda. We’re sitting on a treasure trove of documents. We want people to know what we have. Our material can change our perspective on big topics related to the war and the Holocaust.” Boehling is the first archive director not affiliated with the International Committee of the Red Cross who managed Bad Arolsen since 1955 who handed the reins over to an international commission of 11 countries in January hoping to open the archives for academic study.  Boehling hopes to open the archive for international conferences, get foreign students to use the ITS, publish research and host teachers’ workshops even though the budget of 14 million euros from the German government may not cover it all. The archive, as Boehling believes should be used as an educational tool for the younger generations as the ITS can provide an abundance of personal stories from victims and hope the events they host will draw more than just the townspeople and groups of pupils from nearby.

The location of the archive site in Bad Arolsen was chosen because of its central location between Germany’s four occupation zones and located next to a site where Hitler’s SS officers once had barracks according to Reuters. The problem now is there are no big cities nearby and connections to Berlin and Frankfurt are slow as the town itself is location on the norther edge of the state of Hesse population of just 16,000. The archive itself hold clues to the fate of 17.5 million people housed in a white building that included 25 kilometers of yellowing paper showing typed lists of Jews, homosexuals and other persecuted groups, files on children born to the Nazi Lebensborn program to breed the master race and registers of arrivals as well departures from concentration camps. A carbon copy of Schindler’s List is even housed here with the 1,000 Jewish workers saved by German industrialist Oskar Schindler. As spokeswoman, Kathrin Flor explains, “At death camps like Sobibor or Auschwitz, only natural causes of death are recorded – heart failure or pneumonia. There’s no mention of gassing. The last evidence of many lives is the transport to the camp.”

The ITS receives 12,000 inquiries a month to and reunites 50 families  a year as the number of Holocaust survivors decrease the work continues as the new phenomenon of grandchildren and great grandchildren want to find out about the fate of their loved ones during the war. The task of digitalizing the records is an ongoing project in order to make the archive user friendly and easier to search the large database. Even though the location is remote, Boehling says the archive will not be moved as it has become a memorial to the Holocaust survivors like Auschwitz inmate Thomas Buergenthal who came in 2012 after getting new information on where his father perished Reuters reports. He himself escaped Nazi shooting squads, Auschwitz gas chambers and a death march before the age of 12 later he was found by his mother found him in a Polish orphanage in 1947 through the Red Cross. As he explains from his home in the U.S. at 78, “This is my hallowed ground. These documents are more important for the future than for the past. They will be the common heritage of mankind of what really happened during that period. (They are) what we need to prevent it happening elsewhere in the world.”