Ebola Gains Momentum, Airstrikes Being Considered in Syria and the Ukraine Crisis Escalates Once Again

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The World Health organization estimates that the West African Ebola outbreak could exceed 20,000 cases, more than 6 times as many as doctors know about, while a new plan outlined by the U.N. health agency takes into account that the in hardest hit areas the actual number of cases is two to four times higher than reported, John Heilprin and Krista Larson report, UN: Ebola cases could eventually reach 20,000. The agency on Thursday published new figures reporting 1,552 people have died from among 3,069 cases reported so far in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria. The U.N. health agency said at least 40 percent of the cases are from the last three weeks alone adding that “the outbreak continues to accelerate.” Nigerian authorities said a man who contracted the virus following contact with a traveler from Liberia evaded surveillance and infected a doctor in southern Nigeria who died, making it the first of 6 deaths reported in Nigeria to occur outside the commercial capital of Lagos where American man Patrick Sawyer arrived in late July and later died of Ebola. On Wednesday, Nigeria authorities said they have not eliminated but contained the virus. Health Minister Onyebuchi Chukwu told reporters: “After four days, following a manhunt for him, he returned to Lagos by which time he was found to be without symptoms. This case would have been of no further interest since he had completed the 21 days of surveillance without any other issue but for the fact that the doctor who treated him died.” The doctor’s wife along with the morticians who embalmed the doctor are part of a group of 70 people under surveillance in Port Harcourt. Carolyn Thompson reports, Ebola in mind, US colleges screen some students, college students from West Africa may be subjected to extra health checks when they arrive to study in the United States as administrators try to insulate campuses from the worst Ebola outbreak in history. Several thousands students are arriving from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria putting U.S. authorities on alert but cautioning against alarm. While the Center of Disease Control and Prevention has no specific recommendations fro colleges, some state health departments are spelling out what to look for and how to react. In addition universities are drafting their own precautionary plans against the disease. The American College Health Association recommends their members update emergency plans, find out where patients have traveled and use isolation rooms when available. The federal government says U.S. universities count 9,728 active students from Nigeria, 204 from Liberia, 169 from Sierra Leone and 95 students from Guinea. The roughly 30 Nigerian students at University of Illinois will be pulled aside for temperature checks and private Ebola discussions when they arrive at the health center for mandatory immunization paperwork and tuberculosis screenings, according to the center’s director, Dr. Robert Palinkas. Similar screening will also take place at the University at Buffalo, Mercer University in Georgia, Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, and the University of Akron in Ohio. Universities in the United Kingdom will also be on alert as thousands of Nigerian students arrive there and Universities UK has circulated guidance from Public Health England advising administrators on how to recognize and react to possible cases.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the Islamic group killed more than 150 troops captured in recent fighting for military bases in northeastern Syria in the past 24 hours by shooting some and slashing others with knives in the latest mass killing, while in southern Syria, gunmen detained 43 U.N. peacekeepers fighting on the Syrian side of Golan Heights early Thursday, Ryan Lucas and Zeina Karam reports, Islamic state group kills captured Syrian soldiers. In addition, the Britain based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 81 peacekeepers were trapped in the area due to heavy fighting between rebels and Syrian troops. Many of the soldiers that were killed were rounded up Wednesday in the arid countryside near Tabqa airfield three days after fighters seized the base. In Iraq, the group killed nearly 200 men in late June near the northern city of Tikrit and like the recent slaughter posted videos and photos online of the men before and after the killings. Earlier in the month, Islamic State fighters shot and beheaded hundreds of tribesmen in eastern Syria who had risen up against the group. A U.N. commission has accused the Islamic State group Wednesday of committing crimes against humanity in Syria same as in Iraq. So far, the bloody conflict in Syria has cost more than 190,000 loves and destabilized the region. In a statement by the Syrian Foreign Ministry, the government holds “the terrorist groups and those who support them fully responsible for the safety of the U.N. peacekeepers, and calls for their immediate release.” A statement from Ban’s office said the U.N. “is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers.” As of July, UNODF had 1,223 troops from six countries including Fiji, India, Ireland, Nepal, Netherlands and the Philippines. A rebel spokesman said the opposition is fighting President Bashar Assad and poses no threat to Israel. The Associate Press reports, 44 Fijian soldiers held captive by rebels in Syria, that 44 soldiers working as U.N. peacekeepers remain captive in Syria Friday while 75 Philippine soldiers were in tense standoffs with militants, the two nations reported. Fijian Commander Brig. Gen. Mosese Tikoitoga said he’s been informed his soldiers are alive and unharmed, while Philippines President Benigno Aquino III said that his troops are not in immediate danger. The events began Thursday morning o the Syrian side of Golan Heights, an area divided between Israel and Syria. Tikoitoga said three vehicles filled with 150 armed rebels converged on the Fijian camp at 7:30 a.m. demanding the soldiers leave within 10 minutes and insisted they board the rebel vehicles. The Fijians were taken to an unknown location then returned to their original post. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday condemned the detention of the Fijians: “I call for their immediate and unconditional release as well as action for the scores of peacekeepers from the Philippines who are also affected.” Tikoitoga said: “We will not shy away from that responsibility under these circumstances. We will continue to work very hard for the release of our men and at the same time we will put all our men on alert to ensure that no further incidents of this sort happen to them.”

In the United States, President Barack Obama on Thursday said “we don’t have a strategy yet” for dealing with the violent militant group seeking to establish a caliphate in the Middle East, Julie Pace reported, Obama tamps down prospect of strikes in Syria. The president spoke shortly before a meeting with his national security advisers on a range of Pentagon options for confronting the group and said his strategy will require not only military action but regional strategy that include political support from other countries in the region. Obama said, hinting to the group’s announcement last week it had killed American journalist James Foley and threatened to kill other U.S. hostages: “They have no ideology beyond violence and chaos and the slaughter of innocent people.” The U.S. already is striking Islamic State targets in Iraq and the president is considering similar action in Syria in the wake of Foley’s death as militants move between the two countries with ease. The main focus, however for now, the president said Thursday was to roll back militant gains in Iraq where they pose a threat to U.S. personnel in Ebril and Baghdad. Obama said any military action will be discussed with members of Congress when they return to Washington in early September. “The suggestion has been that we’ll start moving forward imminently and somehow Congress, still out of town, will be left in the dark. That’s not what’s going to happen,” Obama said. Ryan Gorman reports, Britain raises terror threat level, will begin revoking passports of those who travel to Syria, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced Friday at a press conference that U.K. authorities will soon revoke passports of citizens traveling to Syria. Cameron declared: “We are in the middle of a generational struggle against a poisonous extremist ideology.” British authorities raised the terror threat level Friday to one below critical, the highest alert, as it felt an attack is likely. Cameron explained: “What we’re facing in Iraq and Syria now with ISIL is a deeper and greater threat to our security than we have ever known before. Islam is a religion observed peacefully by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a poisonous ideology observed by a minority. [ISIL is] a terror threat seeking to establish and then violently expand its own terror state. We could face a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO state.” Cameron emphasized that Britain will not send in ground troops, but will provide intelligence to the U.S. while they conduct airstrikes in the region and provide humanitarian air drops as well as help arm Kurdish forces in their fight against the terror state. He said: “We support the U.S. airstrikes aginst ISIL in Iraq. Even if you solve the problems, of ISIL, Iraq and Syria – you still have the problem of poisonous Islamist extremism.”

Meanwhile in eastern Europe, Ukraine’s president called an emergency meeting of the nation’s security council Thursday to declare that “Russian forces have entered Ukraine” as concerns grow of a new front in the conflict, the Associated Press reports, Strategic Ukraine town under rebel control. President Petro Poroshenko convened the meeting as the southeastern Ukraine town of Novoazovsk appeared firmly under the control of Russia backed separatists. Russian markets took a dive as fears grew that the country has escalated its role in the conflict which could provoke U.S. and European Union to impose more sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals. Poroshenko said: “I have decided to cancel my visit to Turkey because of the sharp escalation of the situation in the Donetsk region… as Russian forces have entered Ukraine.” The Associated Press explains what such a move could mean and why Novoazovsk is a strategic move: “The new southeastern front raised fears that the separatists are seeking to create a land link between Russia and Crimea. If successful, it could give them or Russia control over the entire Sea of Azov and the gas and mineral riches that energy experts believe it contains. Ukraine already has lost roughly half its coastline, several major ports and significant Black Sea mineral rights in March when Russia annexed Crimea.” In a statement, Donetsk city administration said 11 people were killed by shelling during the night. The U.S. government accused Russia of the new military campaign in Ukraine that is helping rebel forces expand their fighting and sending in tanks, rocket launchers and armored vehicles. “These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway in Donetsk and Luhansk,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Wednesday. She cited reports of burials in Russia for those who died in Ukraine and wounded Russian soldiers being treated in St. Petersburg hospital. The same day, the U.N. Security Council met in an emergency meeting to discuss the Ukraine crisis, according to the Associated Press, U.N. Security Council meets on Ukraine crisis. U.N. undersecretary-General of Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman told the members that the latest developments mark a “dangerous escalation in the conflict,” but the international body had no way of verifying the latest “deeply alarming reports.” Statements from NATO, Poroshenko ,the separatists, the United States and the president of the Security Council left no doubt that Russia had invaded Ukraine. A NATO officials said 1,000 Russian troops have entered Ukraine with sophisticated equipment and have been in direct contact with Ukrainian soldiers resulting in casualties. U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power tld the council: “Every single one has sent a straightforward, unified message: `Russia, stop this conflict. Russia is not listening.’ Russia has come before the council to say everything but the truth. We will continue working with G-7 partners to rachet up consequences on Russia.” UK Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters: “Russia will be asked to explain why Russia has its troops inside Ukraine. It’s very clear that Russian regular troops are now in Ukraine.”

President Barack Obama on Thursday said the U.S. night impose new economic sanctions on Russia blaming the warfare in eastern Ukraine solely on them and ruled out military options or proposed no shift in American led strategy to convince Moscow to halt its operation, Bradley Klapper, Obama puts Ukraine violence squarely on Russia. Obama spoke via phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has led diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Ukraine and Russian backed rebels: “We agree, if there was ever any doubt, that Russia is responsible for the violence in eastern Ukraine. The violence is encouraged by Russia. The separatists are trained by Russia, they are armed by Russia, they are funded by Russia. Russia has deliberately and repeatedly violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, and the new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain for the world to see.” Russia continued to deny allegation saying there is no proof its troops are operating in Ukraine. Obama said regarding his strategy: “What we’re doing is to mobilize the international community to apply pressure on Russia. But I think it is very important to recognize that a military solution to this problem is not going to be forthcoming.” On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called on pro-Russian separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers in eastern Ukraine, according to Nataliya Vasilyeva, Russia’s Putin urges release of Ukrainian soldiers. Putin’s statement came hours after Ukraine accused Russia of entering the territory with tanks, artillery and troops, and Western powers accused Moscow of lying about its role and dangerously escalating the conflict. In his state released early Friday published on the Kremlin’s website, Putin said: “I’m calling on insurgents to open a humanitarian corridor for Ukrainian troops who were surrounded in order to avoid senseless deaths.” Putin did praise the efforts by what he called “insurgents” against the Kiev government, but did not address the accusations. A top rebel leader, Alexander Zakharchenko said on Russia’s state Rossiya 24 televisions: “With all our respect to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the president of a country which gives us moral support, we are ready to open humanitarian corridors to the Ukrainian troops who were surrounded with the condition that they surrender heavy weaponry and ammunition so that this weaponry and ammunition will not be used against us in future.” The U.N. human rights office said Friday the death toll stands at 2,220 in eastern Ukraine with a rate of three dozen a day and accused both sides of deliberately targeting civilians. Vasilyeva reports: “Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine have carried out murders, torture and abductions along with other serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, according to the mission’s field work between July 16 and Aug. 17. The report also said Ukraine’s military is guilty of human rights violations such as arbitrary detentions, disappearances and torture.” U.N. Assistant Secretary for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic who visited Kiev Friday said the death toll reached 2,600 by Aug. 27 and described the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine as alarming. European Union foreign ministers met in Milan Friday to weigh the 8 nation bloc’s stance on beefing up economic sanction against Russia in order to prepare for further steps to be announced at the summit of the bloc’s leaders Saturday in Brussels.

Ebola Crisis Faces New Problems, Gaza Talks Continue as Deadline Looms, While Iraqi and Ukrainian Forces Continue to Make Progress

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Scientists and health officials see an even bigger threat than the current Ebola outbreak: The fact that no one knows where the virus came from or how ti stop it from starting new outbreaks. Mike Stobbe and Marilyn Marchione report, Another Ebola problem: Finding its natural source, since 1976, two dozen outbreaks of the deadly virus has occurred in Africa with its possible origin beginning in bats, but experts don’t know exactly its origins in nature. The current outbreak has claimed 1,100 people in four countries making it the highest death toll in history of Ebola. Jonathon Towner, a scientist who helped to find the bat source of another Ebola like disease called Marburg, said: “First and foremost get the outbreak under control. Once that piece is resolved, then go back and find what the source is.” Towner works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist formerly a lead for the International Society for Infectious Diseases, says, “confirming the source would definitely be important.” Throughout history, halting a deadly infections not only involved limiting person to person contact but finding and controlling the source of the infection in nature. Stobbe and Marchione explain: “Plague was halted after the germ was tied to rat-riding fleas. With the respiratory disease SARS, civet cats played a role. With typhus it was lice, and with bird flu, live poultry markets. Efforts to control MERS, a virus causing sporadic outbreaks in the Middle East, include exploring the role of camels.” Health experts think the initial cases in each outbreak began with eating or handling infected animals such as certain bats that in parts of Africa are considered a delicacy. The World Health Organization lists chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines as possibly playing a role and pig farms where fruit bats may reside. Part of the puzzle is how long the virus has been in West Africa as previous outbreaks have been in the east and central regions of Africa. However, some scientist believe the virus had been in the are for years pointing to a case of a lone scientist who got sick in 1994 after doing an autopsy on a wild chimp in the Ivory Coast and to a recent study exploring the possibility that past Ebola cases in the region were undiagnosed. On Saturday, armed protestors raided an Ebola clinic in Liberia’s capital stealing blood stained bedding and forcing 20 infected patients to flee into the densely populated city, according to the article, Ebola isolation clinic looted in Liberia, patients flee. According to the United Nation’s Integrated Regional Information Networks, the West Point shantytown of 70,000 residents suffer from debilitating sanitary conditions with access to only four public toilets meaning defecation in the street is common. A senior Liberia police official told BBC: “This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life” and that the looting of blood-stained mattresses and bedding could spread the virus to all of West Point. Front Page Africa reports the assistant health minister on Thursday said there are plans to quarantine the area, but food and water must be brought into the township. The looting came the same day the Kenyan government banned travel to West African countries afflicted with the deadly Ebola virus. According to WHO, more than 400 people have died in Liberia from Ebola with more than 1,100 in total between Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Adam Schrek reports Monday, Nigerian woman suspected of Ebola dies in UAE, that a Nigerian woman who arrived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus, later died in the city, according to health officials. In a statement carried by the Emirati state news agency WAM Sunday, the health authority said the 35 year old woman was traveling to India from Nigeria fro treatment of advanced metastatic cancer. Her health deteriorated in transit at the Abu Dhabi International Airport as medics tried to resuscitate her and found signs of possible infection. The medical staff who treated the woman followed the measures outlined by the World Health Organization, however, the woman’s husband, who sat newt to her on the place, and the five medics who treated her were isolated pending test results on the deceased woman. All are in good health and show no signs of illness, health officials reported.

Meanwhile, as the clock winds down in the Gaza truce, the Palestinians remain divided Sunday on the latest Gaza ceasefire with Hamas opposed to a compromise Egyptian proposal to ease closure of the territory and other factions including delegates for President Mahmoud Abbas were inclined to accept, Mohammed Daraghmeh reports, Palestinian Divisions Emerge In Gaza Truce Talks. Hamas officials said they wanted more concessions in the Egypt mediated talks as the temporary truce expires late Monday. The outcome if a deal is not reached would be a return to fighting bringing more devastation to Gaza, an unofficial understanding falling short of a formal negotiated deal or another extension to negotiations. Nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 10,000 people wounded since July 8, according to United Nations figures. In Israel, 67 people have been killed with all but three soldiers. A Palestinian and Israeli negotiators returned to Cairo on Sunday following a weekend of consultations across the Middle East as the gap remained wide. The current five day ceasefire will end at midnight Monday. According to negotiators, the Egyptian proposal calls for compromise on both sides as it seeks to ease the blockade by allowing more imports and exports for Gaza and increase movement of people in and out of the territory’s Israeli controlled crossing. However, Hamas’ demands for Gaza’s air and seaports to be reopened are to be left until later. Gaza will not be forced to disarm rather Gaza’s border crossing will be controlled by forces loyal to Abbas and international reconstruction efforts in Gaza will also be controlled by Western backed Abbas to make sure money and materials don’t fall into the hands of Hamas. One member of the delegation said even if Hamas refuses the deal, Abbas’ forces are prepared to oversee the crossings and reconstruction. Other members said both Israel and Hamas appeared to agree on one thing which is neither wants to return to heavy fighting like in the past month. One official said, under conditions of anonymity: “The proposed agreement is not bad and can be amended a little bit. That prevents bloodshed and opens the way for rebuilding Gaza.” On Monday, Israeli troops destroyed the home of two Palestinians suspected of the abduction and killing of three teenagers in the occupied West Bank in June, the army said, according to Reuters, Israel destroys homes of Palestinians suspected of killing Israeli teens. Troops set charges to destroy the homes of Hussam Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha in the southern West Bank before dawn and sealed off the home of a third suspect, Marwan Kawasme. Israeli accused Hamas militants, however, Hamas will not confirm or deny the accusations. Hussam Kawasme, a 40 year old resident Hebron, was arrested July 11 and the other two suspects remained at large. The killings sparked the current cycle of violence that led to a month long offensive between Israel and militants in Hamas dominated Gaza. The military statement said Israel’s supreme court affirmed the military’s wish to demolish the homes and rejected three appeals by the suspects’ families against their destruction.

In a turn of events, on Sunday, Ukraine’s government said separatists shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane after troops entered into the rebel controlled city in the east marking a possible turning point in the four month long conflict, Peter Leonard reports, Ukraine says troops entered rebel-held city. Ukraine’s national security council said government forces captured a district police station in Luhansk after intense clashes in the Velika Vergunka neighborhood. Weeks of fighting in Luhansk has left the city on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe as the siege mounted by government forces has prevented delivery of basic provisions and cut off power and running water. Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky on Sunday said the separatists shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane over the Luhansk region after launching an attack on rebels. Fortunately, the pilot ejected and was taken to a secure place. Meanwhile Sunday, part of the Russian convoy carrying food and supplies for Luhansk and other afflicted zones headed to the section of border closest to the city, but stopped short of the frontier crossing in early afternoon. The Red Cross, responsible for distributing the aid, on Saturday said the main holdup was the lack of security guarantees from both sides of the conflict. In a video posted online this weekend, the leader of the self-proclaimed rebel government in Donetsk region, Alexander Zakharchenko, said new military equipment was on its way from Russia including tanks and some 1,200 fighters who undergone training in Russia. Lysenko said the government had information that separatists have received reinforcements from Russia, but not all the equipment allegedly promised. Russia has denied the accusations of supporting the rebels with equipment and training, however, Ukraine’s President on Friday said that Ukraine had destroyed a large number of military vehicles crossing from Russia recently.

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East on Monday, following two days of U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces took back control of the country’s largest dam from Islamic militants, according to a military spokesman in Baghdad as fighting was underway for the rest of the strategic complex, Sinan Salaheddin reports, Iraq forces retake Mosul Dam; militants deny claim. Soon after the announcement, the Islamic State group, controlling the Mosul Dam for two weeks from the Tigris River just north of the city of Mosul, denied the claims insisting it was still in control. The retaking would be the first victory for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling the group since the airstrikes started earlier this month. The dam and its broader complex hold a strategic advantage as they supply electricity and water to a large part of the country. Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the dam itself was secured by Kurdish peshmerga troops and Iraqi security forces on Monday, but the southern side of the complex remains contested and fierce fighting is underway. Al-Moussawi said the Iraqi and Kurdish forces “hoisted the Iraqi flag over” the dam adding that the troops were backed by joint aerial support. Iraq’s Ministry of Defense said security forces “liberated a large part of the Mosul Dam” with the help of U.S. airstrikes, while U.S. Central Command would not confirm their involvement. In an internet statement, the Islamic State denied losing the dam and dismissing the government claim as propaganda. The U.S. military said U.S. forces conducted nine strikes Saturday and another 16 on Sunday. The decision to launch the airstrikes was the first direct U.S. military intervention in Iraq since the last American troops left in 2011 and reflect growing international concern about the extremist group. In a letter to Congress Sunday, the White House said that its air campaign in Iraq “is consistent with the president’s directive that the U.S. military protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, since the failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians and threaten U.S. personnel and facilities – including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” It also stated that the failure of the dam could “prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services” to the Iraqi people.

Update On Malaysian Flight 17, Russia and Ukraine Tensions Rise at Border, Iraq Declared an Emergency, and The Ebola War Zone

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Dutch authorities have identified 127 victims from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster in Ukraine. The flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine last month killing all 298 aboard. The investigation suffered many delays due to fighting between pro-Russia separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces near the crash site leaving the bodies to decompose in the sun for a week or so. Eventually, the victims’ remains were gathered and sent to the Netherlands for identification. According to AOL, 127 victims identified from Ukraine plane disaster, the Justice Ministry Thursday said the identified victims’ families were notified. One of the Netherlands’ top prosecutors hops those responsible for downing the plane will eventually face trial in the Netherlands, according to confirmed remarks by his office, Chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, and the case will take years to build. The Netherlands and other countries have launched criminal investigations, while jurisdiction is unclear.

Meanwhile, at the Russian-Ukrainian border, Alexander Roslyakov reports, Ukraine: Inspectors checking Russian convoy, Ukraine said its customs and border service officials on Friday began inspecting Russian aid convoys parked just beyond its border addressing the mounting tensions over the shipments. Sergei Astakhov, an assistant to the deputy head of Ukraine’s border guard service, said the cargo will be inspected in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross representatives. Friday morning, a group of 41 Ukrainian border service representatives and 18 customs officials began inspecting the Russian aid at the Donetsk crossing, defense officials in Kiev said in a statement. Russian news agencies said Russia will present all necessary documentation and had over the cargo to the Red Cross. The 200 Russian white tarped trucks had been parked since Thursday near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky some 17 miles from the border where much of the border in this part of eastern Ukraine has been under the control of pro-Russian rebels. Russia sent the aid despite tentative agreements to deliver the aid through government controlled border crossing in the Kharkiv region. Ukraine fears that Russia is using the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion to help the rebels and threatened ti use all means necessary to block the convoy if Ukrainian officials and the Red Cross were unable to inspect them. A statement on President Petro Poroshenkp’s website said he and British Prime Minister David Cameron via phone spoke about reports from some Western journalists that Russian APCs crossed into Ukraine near the point where a Russian aid convoy was parked, according to the article, Ukraine: Some Russian military vehicles destroyed. No proof was provided, but the statement said: “The president informed that the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of the machines had been eliminated by Ukrainian artillery at night.” Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s Security Council spokesman, said some Russian military vehicles crossed into Ukraine, a charge Russia denies, but Lysenko provided no specific source for his information. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday the alliance had observed a Russian “incursion” into Ukraine. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and was set to travel to Ukraine on Saturday. After the talks, Putin stated, “we will do all we can to end the military conflict as soon as possible, establish a dialogue between the interested parties and provide humanitarian assistance.” Some Russian Military vehicles seen near the aid convoy Friday carried a Russian acronym that stands for “peacekeeping forces” which means Moscow could consider a possible military escort. Ukraine has warned Russia that an attempt to have a military escort will be seen as an invasion. Ukraine proceeded with its own aid operation in the Luhansk area as trucks from Kharkiv unloaded Friday at warehouses in the town of Starobilsk, which is 60 miles north of Luhansk, where the goods were to be sorted and transported by the Red Cross. Other Ukrainian aid was taken to Lysychansk, which was retaken by Ukrainian forced last month despite sporadic clashes until earlier this week. So far, fighting has claimed 2,100 lives with half of those in the last few weeks and began after Putin annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in April.

Late Thursday, back in he Middle East, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced he will step down and relinquish his post to his nominated replacement, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra report, UN Declares Highest Level Emergency In Iraq As Militants Battle On. Standing alongside senior members of his party, including rival Hider al-Abadi, al-Maliki said he would step aside in favor of his “brother,” in order to “facilitate the political process and government formation.” The United States, the u.N. and political faction in Iraq have backed al-Abadi, saying only a new leader can unite a country under siege by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group. In a televised address, al-Maliki said his decision to support his rival reflect his desire to “safeguard the high interests of the country” adding, “My position is your trust in me, and no position is higher than your trust,” he declared in a televised address. In a statement, national security adviser Susan Rice said the White House commended his efforts for backing al-Abadi and expressed hope that the power shift “can set Iraq on a new path and unite its people” against the threat from Islamic militants. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the move “sets the stage for a historic and peaceful transition of power in Iraq. We urge Mr. Abadi and all Iraqi leaders to move expeditiously to complete this process, which is essential to pulling the country together and consolidating the efforts of Iraq’s many diverse communities against the common threat posed by the Islamic State …” The United Nations also welcomed the change, according to special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, it “demonstrates statesmanship and a commitment to the democratic process and the constitution.” The U.N. Security Council urged al-Abadi to work toward “an inclusive government that represents all segments of the Iraqi population and that contributes to finding a viable and sustainable solution to the country’s current challenges.” Iraqis everywhere welcomed the announcement on Thursday. The extremist Islamic State group has moved across norther and western Iraq displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes since June and last week prompted the U.S. to launch aid operations and airstrikes as the militants threatened religious minorities and the largely automous Kurdish region. The U.N. declared Wednesday the situation in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency” allowing for additional assets to respond to the need o the Displaced, U.N. special representative Nicoklay Mladenov said pointing to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.” The decision followed the news that 45,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority escaped from the remote desert mountaintop where they were encircled by Islamic State fighters. The U.N. said it would provide increased support to the Yazidis and to 400,000 Iraqis who fled since June to the Kurdish province of Dahuk. In total, 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting. French President Francois Hollande Thursday confirmed the “imminent delivery of military equipment” to Kurdish forces via phone call to the new Iraqi president, Fouad Massoum, according to Hollande’s office. On Thursday, according to Robert Burns and Julie Pace, Obama: No Iraq rescue; further airdrops unlikely, President Barack Obama said the humanitarian crisis atop the barren hill in northern Iraq is over thus no U.S. rescue mission is necessary, however, Iraqis elsewhere face dire threats from advancing Islamic army. A U.S. military and civilian team of 16 people spent Wednesday atop Sinjar Mountain to assess the conditions for a possible evacuation, but reported the number trapped to be 4,000 and that U.S. supplied food and water to those in need in recent days totaling 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of water. The U.S.Central Command said late Wednesday four cargo planes dropped 108 bundles of food and water to the remaining people making it the seventh delivery of food and water since the relief operation began last week.

In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak has killed 1,000 and could last another six months, according to Doctors Without Borders said Friday, with the true death toll unknown, Sarah Dilorenzo and John Heilprin report, Aid group: W. Africa Ebola outbreak like ‘wartime’. Tarnue Karbbar, working for the aid group Plan International in northern Liberia, said response teams are unable to document all the cases erupting as many of the sick are still being hidden at home by relatives fearful of going to treatment centers. Others are buried before the team gets to the areas. In the last several days, some 75 cases have emerged in the Voinjama district with Karbbar saying the challenge now is “to quarantine the area to successfully break the transmission.” Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for World Health Organization in Geneva, said the beds are filling up faster than expected demonstrating that the outbreak is more severe than the number shows. Joanne Liu, the medical charity’s international president, likened the situation to war as the outbreak has continued to move unpredictably telling reporters in Geneva Friday: “We’re running behind a train that is going forward. And it literally is faster than what we’re bringing in terms of a response.” The U.N. health agency Thursday warned that the official count at 1,069 dead and 1,975 infected may still “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.” It said extraordinary measures are needed “on a massive scale to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear.” Liberian officials faced a difficult choice Thursday deciding who receives an experimental drug that could be live saving, ineffective or harmful. Jonathan Paye-Layleh and Sarah DiLorenzo report, Nigeria Confirms 1 More Ebola Case, ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the country late Wednesday, however a day later no one has received the treatment yet which official said would go to three people. The Liberian government said two doctors would receive the treatment, while Information Minister Lewis Brown said Thursday the remaining dose would probably go to another health care worker. These are the last known doses of the drug and San Diego based company who developed it said it would take months to build a modest supply. The outbreak has sparked an international debate over the ethics of giving untested drugs to the sick and deciding who gets the treatments, since two Americans and one Spaniard have received ZMapp with the Spaniard dying within days. According to the U.N. health agency, 50 percent of those infected with Ebola have died. Dr. Moses Massaquoi, who helped Libria obtain the drug, said: “The criteria of selection is difficult, but it is going to be done. We are going to look at how critical people are. We are definitely going to be focusing on medical staff.” Arthur Caplan, director of medial ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the choice of who to treat would have to balance helping the largest number of people with learning the most from the treatments. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department ordered families of embassy personnel to leave Sierra Leone on Thursday as concerns arise that the crisis would make it difficult to receive treatment for routine health problems. Nigeria announced Thursday that another person died from Ebola, bringing the total to four. The Health Ministry said the person was a nurse who helped treat the country’s first Ebola case, Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer who flew in last month and died. The ministry corrected the number of cases from 11 to 10.