Israel Continues its Strike, More MH17 Remains Found, Rebels Cross into Lebanon and Grim Finacial News for 11 Countries


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Editorial Cartoonist Ann Telnaes


On Sunday, U.N. official said 10 people were killed at a Unite Nations school sheltering displaced people in the southern Gaza Strip apparently hit by an Israeli airstrike even after Israel announced a possible scaling back in its operation, the Associated Press reported, Gaza: 10 dead after strike near UN school. The Israeli military had no comment on the Rafah school strike but did day it was redeploying along the Gaza border for a new phase of the operation to stop rockets fired toward Israel and destroy Hamas’ tunnel network. Lt. Col Peter Lerner, a military spokesman, explained, “We have indeed scaled down some of the presence and indeed urged Palestinians in certain neighborhoods to come back to their homes.” While security officials confirm the tunnel operation is winding down and Israel will be taking its troops out of the strip, Israeli airstrikes and tank shellings continued, according to Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra, that killed 10 people and wounded 35 after the strike near the boys’ sch00l in Rafah. Robert Turner, the director of operations for the U.N. Palestinian refugee agency in Gaza, said preliminary finding indicate the blast was an Israeli airstrike near the school that shelter 3,000 people and confirmed one U.N. staffer was killed. He added, “The locations of all these installations have been passed to the Israeli military multiple times. They know where these shelters are. How this continues to happen, I have no idea. I have no words for it. I don’t understand it.” The Israeli military said it is looking into it. Inside the compound, several bodies including children were laying in puddles of blood strewn across the ground, while some of the wounded were taken to the Kuwaiti hospital in Rafah and others were treated in makeshift clinics. At least six U.N. facilities have been struck by Israeli fire since the beginning drawing international condemnation and in each case Israel claims it was responding to militants launching rockets nearby. The death toll in these four weeks of fighting comes to 1,750 Palestinians mostly civilians killed and 70 Israelis mostly soldiers killed. Al-Kidra said 50 Palestinians were killed on Sunday including 10 members of one family in a single strike in southern Gaza with Israel carrying out a total of 180 strikes that day. Hamas official Izzat al-Rishq said: “Hamas will not accept any ceasefire deal as long as Israelis are still in Gaza Strip.” Much of Gaza has been destroyed and some 250,000 people forced to flee their homes since the war began. Rocket fired continued toward Israel Sunday with more than 3,000 rockets fired since the beginning as three civilians were killed Sunday and damaged several homes. Several soldiers have been killed by Palestinians gunman using the tunnels near Israel communities along the Gaza border. The Israeli military death toll rose to 64 after Israel confirmed Hadar Goldin, a 23 year old infantry lieutenant fear captured in Gaza, was killed in battle with his funeral later Sunday, according to Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon who is a distant relative of Goldin and has known him his whole life.

Meanwhile, in eastern Ukraine, investigators at Malaysia Airlines wreckage site on Saturday recovered more human remain and belongings, the bead of an international recovery mission stated. Toby Sterling reports, More Human Remains Recovered At MH17 Crash Site In Ukraine, Pieter-Jaap Aalbersberg, speaking from Kiev said 70 Dutch and Australian investigators reached the site for the second consecutive day despite fighting in the area between pro-Russia separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces. Flight 17 went down in Hrabove July 17 with what the West alleges was a Russian made missile fired by rebels killing 298 passengers and crew with most being Dutch. Aalbersberg did not give details on the remains recovered as his team continued the search for the remaining 80 victims spread over the 8 square mile area which is expected to take weeks. He thanks both sides for allowing the mission to proceed after weeks of delays due to fighting. The remains will be transferred to a facility in Kharkiv by refrigerated truck where the Dutch, Malaysian and Australian forensic experts will examine them. Then the remains will join the 200 bodies in the Netherlands to be identified. Friday and Saturday’s search focused on the area around a chicken farm near the village of Grabovo, however, this phase is complete, Aalbersberg said hoping to expand his team to full strength of 100 by Monday. “Tomorrow our goal is to move the search to an area northeast of the village of Rozsypne, where pieces of wreckage from the aircraft have been found,” he said.

On Saturday, Syrian rebels fighting in its civil war raided a border town in neighboring Lebanon killing and capturing security force member marking the most serous incursion into the tiny country during Syria’s 3 year old conflict, Bassem Mroue reports, Syria rebels raid Lebanese town, capture troops. In a statement, the Lebanese army said the rebels, who included foreign fighter, demanded to trade soldiers and police officers captured in Arsal for some of the most dangerous detainees. Lebanese army general and another officials told the Associated Press that the gunmen attacked army positions firing on troops and took control of the main police station in the town of Arsal. Lebanon’s state run National News Agency said that Arsal residents freed police officers at the station with rebels capturing some guns and releasing several detainees. In addition, the gunmen killed two residents near the police station and two soldiers with several wounded. The army statement said, “What is happening today is among the most dangerous of what Lebanon and the Lebanese are being subjected to. The gunmen kidnapped several soldiers and policemen who were spending the weekend with their families … and demanded the release of some of the most dangerous detainees held by the army. The Lebanese army will not accept that its members be hostages and will not stay silent about targeting the army and Arsal residents.” The statement said the Lebanese army “will not allow any side to move the battle from Syria” into Lebanon and “will not allow any foreign gunman to endanger the security of Lebanon or to harm its soldiers or policemen.” According to Mroue, Prime Minister Tammam Salam described the attack as a “flagrant aggression against the state of Lebanon” and vowed that his government “will deal with the developments with extreme firmness and strength.” Arsal is home of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees and rebels such as the Lebanese Sunnis in Arsal, who backed the Sunni rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the Shiites, who belong to Lebanon’s Hezbollah militant group backing Assad. The violence in Arsal followed the ambushing of opposition fighters by Syrian troops and Hezbollah in the Qalamoun region near the Lebanon border that killed 50 people with seven troops and Hezbollah fighters among the dead. The Syrian uprsing started as a peaceful protest against President Bashar Assad in March 2011, but escalated when the government forced violently cracked down on dissent. So far, 170,000 people have in killed in Syria in more than three years of fighting, according to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights.

While the world watches in horror as fighting around the world intensifies, several countries are dealing with debilitating financial issues that could end up in bankruptcy. Alexander E.M. Hess and Alexander Kent reports, 11 Countries Near Bankruptcy: 24/7 Wall St., that after years of bitter court battles with creditors, Argentina has defaulted on its debts by failing to come to an agreement with creditors from its 2001 default and missing necessary bond payments on July 31 triggering the current default, according to Standard and Poor’s rating agency. However, other organizations like Moody’s Investors Service and the International Swap and Derivatives Association have not release statement confirming the default. Unfortunately, Argentina is not the only one struggling or failing to pay their debts in recent years and as a result has severely impaired credit ratings. Moddy’s currently lists 10 countries with rating of Caa1 or worse which means the country has substantial credit risk and is several notches below Ba1. The countries with the lowest ratings include Greece and Ukraine in Europe, Pakistan in Asia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Belize in South America. Even though they all have low ratings, the nations suffer from vastly different problems such as Ukraine and Egypt who recently were downgraded for political conditions, while Belize and Ecuador have upgraded in recent years based on improved financial positions. Some countries have a great deal of debt relative to the size of their economy lowering their credit rating and could potentially default. Three nations fall in this category with the world’s highest debt levels at 120% of GDP or more based on 2014 estimates such as Greece with 175% of the GDP this year which is more than any other nation except Japan, according to the International Monetary Fund. Ecuador;s government debt, according to IMF, would total 24.8% their GDP in 2014 which is exceptionally low, however, these countries do not access international bond markets regularly due to small financial sectors or debt restructuring agreements. Borrowing funds in the international bond market can be expensive with a poor credit rating due to high interest rates on the debt that investors see as riskier investments so they require greater return. A 10 year U.S. treasury note pays 2.5% annually, while Jamaica pays 7.65% annually and Greece yielded 29% on a 10 year government bond in early 2012 before the country defaulted. Inflation also causes issues e.g. Argentina, Jamaica, Belize and Ukraine issue their bonds in other common currencies such as dollar, yen and euro causing the inflation rate to be higher since the bond is issued in another countries currency and not their own which is lower. It becomes major problem in several countries with the worst rating such as Venezuela where the Inflation rate is expected to exceed 50% in 2014, according to IMF. Based on the credit ratings provided by Moody’s Investors Service, 24/7 Wall St. examined the 11 countries with credit ratings of Caa1 or worse which indicates considerable credit risk. IN addition due to many of these nations having significant debt in other currencies or weak currencies, 24/7 Wall St. used foreign currency ratings and outlooks for these nations. Figures on GDP growth, inflation, unemployment, population and debt levels are estimates for 2014 from the IMF’s World Economic Outlook.

Cuba’s Raul Castro Mentions Possible Retirement

Cuba’s Raul Castro Mentions Possible Retirement.

This will be an end of an era for Cuba and a new beginning hopefully between the U.S. and Cuba if Raul Castro does actually retire. In Havana on Friday, Cuban president shocked everyone by announcing he may leave his post saying he is old and has the right to retire, but did not announce when the move would be made. On Sunday, he will be named by parliament to a new five year term and Castro urges reporters to listen to his speech. He announced the news while at a joint appearance with visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev with a huge smile on his face making it hard for people to tell if he was joking. Castro explained,”I am going to be 82 years old. I have the right to retire, don’t you think?” When reporters tried to ask him further what he meant, Castro told them to stop questioning his decision and listen to his speech on Sunday. The tone of his comments were light and informal at the mausoleum dedication to soldiers from the former Soviet Union who died around the world. The Cuban leader has alluded to the desire to implement a two term limit for all Cuban government positions including the presidency as well as his limited time to overhaul the weak Marxist economy. Many have made the conclusion that this upcoming term will be his last even though no term limits exist in Cuban law. No remarks or comments have come from Washington yet.

 

Most Havana residents who did not know of Castro’s comments were skeptical none the less about his retirement. Castro will be 86 when his term is up in 2018 and most people right now are more focused on who will be his first and second vice president during Sundays proceedings. The positions as of now are taken by two loyal octogenarians who fought in the 1959 revolution. If Castro puts someone younger into one of these positions then for most it would be sign that he was positioning that person to be his next generation successor something he and his brother Fidel never have done. In his December 2010 year end speech to lawmakers, Castro explained that,”The time we have left is short, the task is enormous…I think we have an obligation … to set (the country) on the right course.” When an if Raul Castro leaves the political arena, it would end the more than half a century rule of two brothers who came to power in 1959 against U.S. backed strongman Fulgencio Batista. Armando Gutierrez, a 78 year old Cuban American in Florida and 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion vet, said he hopes Castro was serious about retiring but doubts his successor will bring true political change.

Relations with the United States have been sour since the revolution as one of the key provisions of the 51 year U.S. economic embargo on Cuba states that the embargo cannot be lifted until the Castros are no longer in power. Since taking over for Fidel who is 86 and retired, Raul Castro has made a series of economic and social reform policy, however the island is still ruled by one party. The elder brother also met with the Russian prime minister according to Cuban state run media and the Communist party paper Granma reports the two countries signed an agreement to restructure $20 billion in Soviet era debt Cuba owes. The debt has been a sore point for both countries over the years as it originally was built up in rubles to pay for Soviet services in the 1980s leaving Cuba to question how much it is worth today.

 

Meteor Explosion: Russian Region Begins Recovery In Frigid Weather

 Meteor Explosion: Russian Region Begins Recovery In Frigid Weather.

On Saturday as many begin to repair and replace acres of windows caused by a meteor explosion, many residents joked about what happened saying the residents of the meteor were terrified to see Chelyabinsk approaching. The situation has brought together people in the area to fix damage done by the meteor explosion and many residents together on the Internet to find out more about the meteor and to have a laugh. The temperature during winter drops to minus 30 Celsius or minus 22 Fahrenheit making it very important for the repair to be completed.

The concern from Friday’s meteor hit surrounds the dangerous facilities located near Chelyabinsk. The fireball itself reportedly injured 1,200 people by the shock wave from the explosion which is the equivalent to 20 Hiroshima atomic bombs. In 1957, the Mayak nuclear weapons plant had one of its waste tanks explode contaminating 9,200 square miles and causing the evacuation of 10,000 residents. It is now Russia’s main disposal facility and only 50 mile east of the city.

This one traumatic event has brought more than  24,000 people from all over the region to help with the relief efforts. The goal for them is to cover windows, gather warm clothes and food, and other efforts as well according to the governor’s office. Glass companies adjacent to the region were also flown in. Gov. Mikhail Yurevich on Saturday said that the damages are at 1 billion rubles or $33 million, but he promises that all broken windows will be fixed within the week as temperatures in the region are dropping. The immediate task by midday in Chelyabinsk where temperatures dropped to minus 12 Celsius or 10 Fahrenheit  was to cover the windows with plastic sheeting and boards until they can be repaired.

 

 

As the search for the meteor fragments in Chebarkul continue, other places in the world are experiencing something similar to Chelyabinsk. In the town of Chebarkul, divers explore the 20 foot wide hole left by a meteor fragment that hit the lake and haven’t found anything yet according to the Emergency Ministry spokeswoman Irina Rossius. Residents of San Francisco on the other side of the planet experienced lights in the sky on Friday night as reports to the science institute in Northern California. In Cuba, residents described a bright light and loud explosion similar to that in Russia that shook windows and walls. There were no reported injuries or damages like the Russian meteorite.