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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel Continues to Press Hamas, While The World Looks for Answer In Ukraine

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Saturday’s demonstration in London came on the heels of numerous protests Thursday and Friday worldwide, including Cairo, Istanbul, Cape Town, Berlin, New York and Washington. Courtesy of beforeitsnews.com

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Ukraine Malaysia Flight MH17 Courtesy of USA Today

On Tuesday, Israel continued their offensive with airstrikes pummeling a wide range of targets in Gaza as the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state began efforts to end the fighting that has claimed 570 Palestinians and 29 Israelis, according to Karin Laub, Israeli aircraft hit more than 70 targets in Gaza. A Gaza police official confirmed that Israel bombed five mosques, a sports complex and the home of the late Hams military chief. The latest strikes came as U.N. chief Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Cairo late Monday to try to stop the deadly conflict. Egypt, Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional ceasefire to be followed by talks of a new Gaza border arrangement since as of right now Israel and Egypt have restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007. Hamas with support from Qatar and Turkey want guarantees that the blockade with be lifted before halting fire. The top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said Monday that Gaza’s 1.7 million people share their goals adding: “We cannot go back, we cannot go back to the silent death” of the blockade. Gaza has decided to end the blockade by its blood and by its courage.” After a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, Ban said that “violence must stop by all sides,” and negotiations start adding, “We can’t claim victory simply by returning matters to where they stood before they led to terrible bloodshed.” The border blockade has set Gaza back years as tens of thousands of jobs have been wiped out due to bans on exports and imports of vital construction materials Israel says are used for Hamas, while Egypt has restricted passage last year to medical patients, Muslim pilgrims and Gazans with foreign passports to travel. Kerry announced in Cairo that the U.S. will send $47 million in humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Palestinians who left their homes to escape the violence. At the start of his meeting with Ban, Kerry said: “We will work to see if there is some way to not only arrive at a cease-fire of some kind but to get to a discussion about the underlying issues. Nothing will be resolved by any cease-fire, temporary or long, without really getting to those issues at some point and that’s what we need to do.” Kerry stayed in Cairo Monday for more meeting with top Egypt officials, however, no immediate plans for face to face meeting with officials from Qatar, Turkey, Israel and the West Bank were discussed.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Israel Defense Forces tweeted a photoshopped image of Britain’s House of Parliament under missile fire with the message “What would you do?” which of course backfired. According to AOL, Israel Responds To Critics With Fake London Bombing Tweet, the idea was to put Britain in Israel’s shoes since they have been the most outspoken critic of Israel’s offensive. The tweet came days after a pro-Palestinian demonstration in London that thousands attend over the weekend. Both Israel and Hamas have both turned to social media to stir up support e.g. IDF updates the number of rockets fired by Hams and soldier killed even uploads clips of anti-Hamas propaganda videos. However, the latest tweet has caused angry responses on Twitter directed toward Israel. Even if Israel wins the ground war, it may lose the media war as Twitter has been exploding with pictures of dead Palestinian children killed in Israeli airstrikes. According to CNN, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that’s what Hamas wants: “It’s gruesome – they use ‘telegenically dead Palestinians’ for their cause. They want the more dead the better.” AOL reports, Chanel 4’s Paul Mason explains: “[W]here Israel is losing the hearts and minds of the world is not via “tele” anything: it is in the JPEGs that stream into millions of people’s mobile phones every time they glance at the object in the palm of their hand.” The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor notes, “Last week the IDF Twitter account tweeted the following image of Paris; just a few days later French cities were in flames in anti-Semitic riots.”

While Israel deals with the social media fallout of poor decisions, increased caution about flying over combat zones has caused many U.S. and European airline to stop flights to Israel Tuesday after rockets landed near Tel Aviv’s Bern Gurion Airport, AOL reports, US airlines scrap Israel flights over missile fear. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines suspended service between the U.S. and Israel indefinitely as U.S. Airways has scrapped its one flight to Tel Aviv Tuesday. In addition, Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France have suspended flights as well. The actions come days after a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down in eastern Ukraine killing 298 people. The Federal Aviation Administration also has prohibited U.S. airlines from flying to Tel Aviv for 24 hours. Aviation consultant Robert Mann said airlines are becoming more proactive after the Flight 17 disaster adding: “It’s really forcing every carrier, every business jet operator to do their own due diligence, do their own risk assessment, given the geopolitical situation.” John Reiter, a New York aviation accident attorney, said, “I’m sure it is human concern as well, but I think (the airlines) feel it is wise to err on the side of caution because it is their burden to prove they are doing everything possible to avoid injuries and deaths.” In a statement, Israel’s Transportation Ministry called on airlines to reverse their decisions, stating: “Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize.” Casey Norton, a spokesman for American Airlines, parent company to US Airways, said the airline is “in constant contact with the FAA and are monitoring the situation closely” adding that no decisions have been made about flight to Israel on Wednesday and beyond.

On Tuesday, in Ukraine, the remains of the Malaysia Airlines victims arrived in Ukrainian held territory on their way to the Netherlands following delays and haphazard treatment of the bodies putting pressure on European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels to impose sanctions on Russia. Sergei Chuzhavkov and John Thor Dahlburg report, Crash victims’ remains reach Ukraine-held city, the crash site itself remained unsecured for five days in pro-Russian separatists territory after the disaster causing frustration for officials around the world. After 17 hours, the train arrived in Kharkiv from Torez where Ukrainian authorities have set up a crash investigation center. Government spokesman Oleksander Kharchenko said Ukraine will do its best to send the bodies to the Netherlands on Tuesday as 193 victims were Dutch citizens. The goal of the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is to have the first bodies returned on Wednesday adding: “It is our aim – and at the moment our expectation – that sometime tomorrow the first plane carrying victims will leave for Eindhoven.” Rutte said the identification of some bodies will be quick, while other could take weeks or months. In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers discussed what action to take in response to the disaster. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the priority for now was to deal with the concerns of the Netherlands, who lost the most nationals in the disaster, meaning repatriation of the bodies and a full investigation of the site. Unfortunately, the ministers according to Ashton cannot move to Level 3 sanctions targeting Russia’s economy, but will still discuss what actions to take. In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia will do what it can to help in the investigation including pressuring the rebels even though that will not resolve the situation. During a meeting with Russia’s Security Council, Putin again lashed out at Kiev for its military offensive to dislodge the rebels. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicious blamed “terrorists supplied” by Moscow for shooting down the plan and killing all aboard and hoped the EU would impose tougher sanction on Russia calling for an arms embargo. At the crash site near Hrabove, a few rebel fighter accompanied observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. About 70 villagers gathered across the road form the site to sing Ukrainian Orthodox hymns at a memorial service led by several priests.

Early on Tuesday, Malaysia’s prime minster announced that pro-Russian rebels agreed to hand over both black boxes from Flight 17 to Malaysian investigators, according to Satish Cheney, MH17’s Black Boxes To Be Handed Over To Malaysia: Prime Minister. Prime Minster Najib Razak added that as part of an agreement via phone with rebel leader Alexander Borodai on late Monday, international investigators will have safe access to the site and the black boxes will be handed over. Najib announced at a news conference at his residence on Monday evening, “I must stress that although an agreement has been reached, there remain a number of steps required before it is completed. There is work still to be done, work which relies on continued communication in good faith. Mr. Borodai and his people have so far given their cooperation.” In addition the remains of 43 Malaysian citizens who were aboard will be flown to their home country as necessary forensic work needs to be done. On Sunday, he said the remains must be returned before the Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which is July 28. Anger and resentment toward Russian backed rebels and Moscow has escalated worldwide including in Malaysia where calls for economic sanctions against Russia have been suggested.

While the world continues to pressure Russia into wrangling in Pro-Russia separatists, President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said Russia would try to get Ukrainian separatists to cooperate with the investigation, but said the West must do more to persuade Kiev to end hostilities, according to Darya Korsunskaya, Putin says will use influence on Ukraine rebels, denounces West. Putin came out fighting since the plan disaster on Thursday denouncing Russia’s role in rebel held east Ukraine. In addition, Putin accused the U.S. of pulling strings in Kiev to bully Russia and meddle in Russia’s domestic affairs adding in televised remarks: “Such methods will not work on Russia.” Reading notes at the head of a long table of top government, parliament, security and defense officials, Putin spoke forcefully about the plane’s downing, but did not address accusations by the U.S. and Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders that Moscow supplied the rebels with arms allegedly used to shoot down the plane. Putin at a meeting of his advisory Security Council said: “We are being called on to use our influence with the separatists in southeastern Ukraine. We of course will do everything in our power but that is not nearly enough. Ultimately, there is a need to call on the authorities in Kiev to respect basic norms of decency, and at least for a short time implement a ceasefire.” His new remarks come after President Barack Obama urged him and Russia to “pivot away from the strategy that they’ve been taking and get serious about trying to resolve hostilities within Ukraine”. Putin wants to de-escalate the crisis to avoid further sanctions from the West as evident by him renouncing powers given to him by parliament to send in Russia’s army to east Ukraine to protect Russian speakers. However, he will not make any big concession that would hurt his popularity in Russia which is at a record high since annexation of Crimea in March. In addition, Putin said Russia would take steps to protect the economy from “external threats” and strengthen its defenses to counter moves by NATO in eastern Europe. Putin also stated that protest to topple Ukraine’s former Russian back president were instigated and funded from abroad: “Russia is being presented with what is almost an ultimatum: ‘Let us destroy this part of the population that is ethnically and historically close to Russia and we will not impose sanctions against you’. This is a strange and unacceptable logic.”