Israeli Citizens Flee the Border, Ukraine Faces New Challenges, and New Threats to U.S. Security

https://i2.wp.com/media.cagle.com/38/2013/06/18/133350_600.jpghttps://i1.wp.com/mapleleafweb.com/files/cartoon/mar1302.gifhttps://i0.wp.com/i80.photobucket.com/albums/j186/DonaldDouglas/American/Obama-syria-cartoon-650x462_zps2cf894cb.png

Tens of thousands of Israelis are fleeing their homes near the border of Gaza as fear and frustration grow in a war between Israel and Hamas that appears to have no end in site. The government on Monday has offered assistance in the first large scale voluntary evacuation in the eight week war with the school year fast approaching, Ian Deitch reports, Gaza attacks triggers Israeli exodus from border. Officials estimate 70 percent of the 40,000 inhabitants of the farming communities along the Gaza border have left including hundreds on Monday. According to Gaza officials, the fighting has killed 2,100 Palestinians, leveled thousands of buildings and left tens of thousands displaced. The death toll on the Israeli side has remained low due to air raid sirens, bomb shelters and the Iron Dome missile defense system. In a TV interview Sunday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said, “It is their right to leave, and we will assist them with temporary solutions. The state of Israel will not run away from terror organizations. It fights terror organizations.” Israeli education officials said the children will be absorbed into areas schools, but Tamir Idan, a regional council head in southern Israel, said schools will not open next week if rocket fire persists. The fighting in Gaza has caused more disruption to students as officials have delayed the start of classes which should of started on Sunday.The Israeli military said it carried out 65 airstrikes Monday, while the Palestinian militants fired more than 100 rockets into Israel. Palestinian health officials said seven people were killed, while one Israeli was wounded by Palestinian fire.

On Tuesday, meanwhile in Ukraine, Ukrainian military reportedly captured a group of Russian paratroopers who crossed into Ukrainian territory on a mission, but Moscow claims they ended up there by mistake, Andrei Makhovsky and Alessandra Prentice report, Ukraine Releases Footage Of Captured Russian Soldiers. In addition, the military reports pro-Russian separatist forces were shelling the town of Novoazovsk and buildings were ablaze with 12 Ukrainian soldiers killed and 19 wounded in the past 24 hours, according to military spokesman Andriy Lysenko. Earlier, the security services released video footage claiming that it shows testimonies from Russian paratroopers detained by the Ukrainian government forces while fighting with pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine. The video provides the strongest evidence so far to back up claims by Kiev that Russia is involved in the conflict and the intensified fighting in the east overshadowed the meeting of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in the Belarussian capital Minsk. Russia denies giving military help and a Russian defense source, quoted by RIA Novosti, said the servicemen had strayed into Ukrainian territory by mistake during border patrol. Lysenko in a briefing stated, “It wasn’t a mistake, but a special mission they were carrying out.” In the footage posted to Kiev’s Anti-Terrorist Operation Facebook page, one of the soldiers who identified himself as Ivan Milchakov listed his personal details including the name of the paratroop regiment based in the Russian Town of Kostroma. In the video, he said: “I did not see where we crossed the border. They just told us we were going on a 70-kilometer march over three days. Everything is different here, not like they show it on television. We’ve come as cannon fodder.” Another man named Sergeant Aleksei Generalov said: “Stop sending in our boys. Why? This is not our war. And if we weren’t here, none of this would have happened. They would have sorted things out with the government themselves.” Social network pages appear to corroborate the men’s story that they are active in the Russian military. The Russian soldiers were detained with personal documents and weapons near Amvrosiyivka in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian state security service reports. Lysenko said Russian Mi-24 helicopters has fired on a border post Monday killing four border guards, while rebel forces backed by an armored column allegedly moved across the border from Russia attacked Novoazovsk on Monday aiming to open up a new front. In a Facebook post, Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said: “Officially they are on military exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality they are involved in military aggression against Ukraine.” The same day, Tuesday, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine sat down for talks meeting fact to face for the first time since June to discuss the fighting that has engulfed Ukraine’s east. Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, Putin sits down with Ukrainian president for talks, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko were joined by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan and three senior officials from the European Union in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. As talks began, Poroshenko said: “The fate of my country and Europe is being decided here in Minsk today. The interests of Donbass (eastern Ukraine) have been and will be taken into account.” Opening the meeting, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko urged both sides to “discard political ambitions and not to seek political dividend.” Ukraine wants the rebels to hand back the territory they captured in eastern Ukraine, while Putin wants to retain leverage over the mostly Russian speaking region so Ukraine does not join NATO or the European Union. THe fighting in eastern Ukraine began in April and has killed 2,000 people, 726 Ukrainian servicemen and forced 340,000 to flee, according to the U.N.

While internationally Ukraine has faced many challenges and criticism from rivals and allies, internal conflict has forced Poroshenko to dissolve parliament and call for new elections to take place quickly. Jim Heintz reports, Ukrainian president dissolves parliament, Ukraine’s president on Monday announced in a statement via his website that he has dissolved parliament and called for early elections on October 26. He said the move was in coherence with the Ukrainian constitution commenting that the ruling coalition collapsed several weeks ago. Poroshenko stated: “Many deputies who are in the Rada (parliament) are direct sponsors or accomplices, that is to say allies of the militant separatists….I have decided to prematurely end the authority of parliament.” Under the law, the election must be held within 60 days of the decree being published.

Back in the Middle East, the Associated Press reported, The US has begun surveillance flights over Syria, the White House and U.S. officials have announce surveillance flights over Syria following President Barack Obama approval, but has yet to approve military actions inside Syria due to lack of intelligence on the militants. Pentagon officials have drafted potential options for the president that include airstrikes, while one official said the administration needs reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights important to obtain data. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday the U.S. wants more clarity on the militants in Syria. Dempsey explained: “Clearly the picture we have of ISIS on the Iraqi side is a more refined picture. The existence and activities of ISIS on the Syrian side, we have … some insights into that but we certainly want to have more insights into that as we craft a way forward.” The U.S. began launching strikes against the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this month with Obama citing the threat to American personnel in the country and the humanitarian crisis in the north, while top Pentagon officials said the only way the threat from militants can be eliminated is to attack the group in Syria as well. The president has tried to avoid getting involved in Syria’s long standing bloody civil war, however, due to the execution of American journalist James Foley in Syria and the group threatening to kill other U.S. citizens held in Syria, the president has changed his tune. Dempsey said the U.S. has been meeting with allies in the region to help develop a better understanding of the threat and believes those talks are setting “the conditions for some kind of coalition to form.” Dempsey believes key allies in the region will join the U.S. in quashing the Islamic State group including Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Prior to the airstrikes in Iraq, the U.S. had already stepped up air surveillance of the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this year. In addition the administration run some surveillance missions over Syria when an attempted mission to rescue Foley and other U.S. hostages failed earlier this summer. A top Syrian official said Monday any U.S. airstrikes without consent from Syria would be considered an aggression. Speaking in Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters his government is ready to cooperate and coordinate with any side including the U.S. or join any regional or international alliance against the Islamic group. However, any action taken would be coordinated with the Syrian government adding: “Any strike which is not coordinated with the government will be considered as aggression.” He said Damascus has long warned of the threat of terrorism and the need to cut off resources and funding, but no one listened. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the west will “have to choose what is more important: to change the regime and satisfy personal antipathies with the risk that the situation will crumble, or find pragmatic ways to join efforts against the common threat, which is the same for all of us – terrorism.” Moscow and Damascus have been close allies for decades providing it will weapons and funding to help support Assad through the current conflict. Mustafa Alani, the director of the security and defense department at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva, said: “The Syrian government is trying to say they are on the same side as the international community. The old claim from Day 1 that the Syrians have tried to make is that they are fighting pure terrorism. There’s no revolution, no rebels, no opposition. I don’t see this sort of call being acceptable, especially on the regional level. The Americans might find themselves forced to cooperate under the table with the Syrians. But I don’t think Arab countries will accept Syria as a member of the club fighting the Islamic State.” Referring to the failed attempt at rescuing U.S. citizens held by the militant group, al-Moallem said: “Had there been prior coordination that operation would not have failed.” The minister did condemn the killing of James Foley, but asked: “Has the West ever condemned the massacres by the Islamic State … against our armed forces or citizens?”

Gaza Truce Extended, While Fighting Continues in Iraq

https://craftymcclever.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/ad70f-democracy-middle-east-cartoon.jpg

On Tuesday, an Israeli officials said the talks to ends a month long war between Israel and Islamist militants in Gaza has stalled with no progress so far as the 72 hour ceasefire in the Palestinians enclave held for a second day, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell reports, Israel: Gaza War Talks See Little Progress. The Israeli officials who declined to be named, said, “The gaps between the sides are big and there is no progress in the negotiations.” Under conditions of anonymity, a Palestinian official told Reuters: “So far we can’t say a breakthrough has been achieved … Twenty-four hours and we shall see whether we have an agreement.” Gaza hospital officials said 1,938 Palestinians mostly civilians have died since July 8 launch of Israel’s military campaign to halt rocket and mortar attacks from the enclave into its own towns. Israel has lost 64 soldiers and three civilians with one being a Thai farm workers, while Gaza has seen thousands of homes destroyed where 1.8 million Palestinians are squeezed into the narrow urbanized enclave drawing international condemnation. The United Nations reports at least 425,000 displaced people in Gaza are in emergency shelters or staying with host families and nearly 12,00 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged by Israeli airstrikes and heavy shelling. A senior Israeli army officer said Israeli wants to build a network of sensors to detect new tunnel building by militants and a re-invasion may be possible to destroy tunnels. In Geneva, the United Nations named an international commission to inquire about the possible human rights violations and war crimes by both sides during the conflict. The commission headed by William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law, was hailed by Hamas, according to a spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri: “Hamas welcomes the decision to form an investigation committee into the war crimes committed by the occupation (Israel) against Gaza and it urges that it begin work as soon as possible.” However, Israeli’s foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in a statement the Human Rights Council was biased: “The Human Rights Council long ago turned into the ‘terrorist rights council’ and a kangaroo court, whose ‘investigations’ are pre-determined. If any more proof were needed, the appointment of the chairman of the panel, whose anti-Israel bias and opinions are known to all, proves beyond any doubt that Israel cannot expect justice from this body, whose report has already been written and all that is left is to decide who will sign off on it.”

Fortunately, on Wednesday, Egyptian and Palestinian officials said Israel and Hamas have agreed to extend a temporary ceasefire for five days averting violence and allowing both sides to extend talks and negotiated a substantive deal to end the Gaza War, according to Mohammed Daraghmeh and Tia Goldenberg, Egypt: Israel, Hamas to extend temporary truce. Egyptian mediators had been racing the clock to pin down a long term ceasefire as the temporary truce was set to expire at midnight ans the Israeli military reported five rockets were launched at Israel in the hours leading up to the end of the ceasefire. Azzam al-Ahmad, head of the Palestinian delegation to the Cairo talks, said: “We have agreed on a cease-fire for five days.” He commented that there has been progress made, however, disagreements remain over wording regarding security arrangements, reconstruction efforts for the Gaza Strip and permissible fishing area. The Egyptian proposal tabled Tuesday offered some solutions such as easing the Israeli blockade on Gaza and bringing relieve to the territory, while other areas were left for later negotiation such as Hamas’ demand for a full lifting of the blockaded and Israeli calls for Hamas to disarm. The Palestinian negotiator said he would like to improve the proposal: “We would like to see more cross-border freedom, and also to have the question of a Gaza seaport and airport discussed.” Ismail Haniyeh, top Hamas leader in Gaza, said in a recorded broadcast on Hamas radio Wednesday, “achieving a permanent truce can come only through lifting the blockade on Gaza.” Meanwhile, Israel’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, told reporters: “We will continue to defend, continue to operate. We will be ready for any effort, any way, at any time.”

While some peace has been found in the Middle East, the Islamic State continues to gain territory in Iraq adding to its Islamic caliphate straddling parts of Iraq and Syria and reportedly killed at least 500 Yazidis with some buried alive, Sophia Jones reports, Yazidi Refugees Recount Desperate Struggle To Flee Islamist Militants In Iraq. Fortunately, some have escaped certain death from militant forces and others who fled to Mount Sinjar have been rescued by helicopters, while others have reached turkey, Syria or safer parts of Iraq as the death toll climbs each day. For those trapped on the mountain, its another day without adequate food, water, medical attention or shelter. Sitting in the brutally hot weather, refugees exchange horror stories as children stare into space describing the situation with the Islamic State as genocide of their people. Refugees for now are living in makes shift refugee camps in Sipoli, Turkey, in run down homes built by the country’s Housing Development Administration wondering how long they can live on charitable donations from strangers. Yazidis seeking sanctuary in Turkey are dealing with a cash strapped country already facing a refugee crisis as 800,000 registered Syrian refugees and many without permits have come across the border in the past three years to escape civil war in their own country settling in refugee camps, crowded apartments and even bus stations. Like the Syrian refugees, Yazidis are dealing with smugglers charging hefty fees to sneak people without passports and papers across the border. Some were turned away at the border by Turkish guards, refuges say, while others were detained in a school turned detention center for undocumented Yazidis. Some mothers in Sipoli said they had to leave their children behind with family because they did not have a passport and had to wait to somehow get appropriate paperwork or smuggle the child across. Meanwhile, CNN and CBS report a small group of special forces flew into Mount Sinjar in black hawk helicopters and departed after spending 24 hours there assessing the situation on Wednesday, according to Paige Lavender and Angel Ucar, Ground Troops Arrive In Iraq To Assess Plan To Help Save Refugees (UPDATE). Prior to this, the Guardian and ABC News reported a team of U.S. Marines and special forces had landed on Mt. Sinjar to assess the military situation and potential for a civilian evacuation route. According to the New York Times, President Barack Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters Wednesday from Martha’s Vineyard: “There needs to be a lasting solution that gets that population to a safe space where they can receive more permanent assistance.” Rhodes repeated that he president will not be “reintroducing U.S. forces into combat on the ground in Iraq,” but insisted the deployment of troops to aid in the rescue of refugees would be “different than reintroducing U.S. forces in a combat role.”