What does the Future Hold for Israeli-Palestinian Relations and for Ukrainian-Russian-U.S. Relations?

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The United Nations and United States announced a 72 hour humanitarian ceasefire beginning Friday morning with no guarantees the lull in violence will bring an end to the 24 day Gaza War according to Secretary of State John Kerry, Ian Deitch and Ibrahim Barzak report, US, UN announce deal on Gaza cease-fire. The announcement happened hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to destroy Hamas tunnels with or without a ceasefire and the Palestinian death toll reached 1,400. Kerry said, “This is not a time for congratulations or joy or anything except a serious determination – a focus by everybody to try to figure out the road ahead. This is a respite. It is a moment of opportunity, not an end.” At least four humanitarian ceasefires have been announced during the conflict and all have been broken by renewed fighting. A statement by Kerry and U.N. assures both parties agreed, which Hamas leaders and Israel confirmed, to the unconditional ceasefire and would send delegates to Cairo for negotiations to reach a lasting truce. During the ceasefire Kerry said Israel will continue to destroy Hamas tunnels that are behind its territorial lines and Palestine will receive food, medicine and humanitarian assistance, bury their dead, treat the wounded and travel to their homes. In addition, repairs will be made to water and energy systems. Kerry said, “Israel has to live without terror and tunnels and rockets and sirens going on through the day. Palestinians have to be able to live freely and share in the rest of the world and live a life that is different from the one they have long suffered.” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the ceasefire was a result of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s trip to the region “but also 48 hours of extremely active diplomacy at all levels from the secretary-general to his senior advisers talking to key regional players.”

Unfortunately, the ceasefire did not last long as Israel and Hamas accused each other of violating the truce that resulted in four Palestinians being killed in heavy fire in the southern town of Rafah, Ibrahim Barzak and Daniel Estrin report, 4 Palestinians killed after Gaza truce begins. Two hours after the ceasefire went into effect, Israeli tanks shelled the eastern part of Rafah killing four people and wounding 15, according Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra and Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office explained, “Once again, Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza have blatantly broken the cease-fire to which they committed, this time before the American Secretary of State and the U.N. Secretary General.” Reuters reports, Gaza Death Toll Soars As Israel Presses Offensive, Gaza health officials said 19 Palestinians were killed in Israeli assaults on Thursday, while Israeli military said more than 60 rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave into Israel with one person being wounded by the Gaza projectile striking Kiryat Gat, a southern town. Washington has allowed Israel to use local U.S. arms stockpiles in the past few weeks to replenish grenades and mortar rounds, a U.S. defense official said Thursday. On India’s NDTV, Kerry said during an interview: “No country can sit there and live with tunnels being dug under its border, out of which jump people who are carrying handcuffs and tranquilizer drugs in order to kidnap their citizens and hold them for ransom.” Reuters reports: “Gaza officials say at least 1,410 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the battered territory and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling in Israel.” On Thursday, the United Nation’s senior human rights official, Navi Pillay, said that Israel has attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. premises in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions. The assault on residential areas by Israel has lead to mass evacuations and more than 200,000 displaced Palestinians in a population of just 1.8 million in Gaza leaving the infrastructure ruined with power and water outages. Diplomacy to end the conflict is complicated due to the fact Israel and the United States shun Hamas as a terrorist groups, while the go betweens of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey disagree on Gaza policy.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a top U.N. envoy told the United Nationals Security Council that Israel will be required under international law to take responsibility for helping Palestinian civilians if more large scale displacements take place in Gaza, Michelle Nichols reports, UN Envoy: Israel May Be Required To Take Responsibility For Displaced In Gaza. The United Nations struggles to cope with a flood of 220,000 Palestinian civilians into shelters to due to the fighting and have come under fire during the three weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Pierre Krähenbühl, the Swiss-born chief of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), via phone told the 15 member Security Council: “Should further large-scale displacement indeed occur, the occupying power, according to international humanitarian law, will have to assume direct responsibility to assist these people. With as many as 2,500 displaced people residing in (each U.N.) school and an average of 80 people to a classroom, we have exceeded the tolerable limits we can accommodate.” U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos told the Security Council via video link: “The reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe. We have all watched in horror the desperation of children, of civilians as they have come under attack.” After meeting behind closed doors for four hours after the briefing, Nichols reports, the Security Council once again called for an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.”

In Ukraine, a team of international investigators reached the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 site Friday to begin combing for evidence in the area now designated a crime scene while fighting continued less than 20 kilometers from the site, the Associated Press reports, Ukrainian troops suffer heavy loss in ambush. Despite both sides in the ongoing conflict in east Ukraine agreeing to a ceasefire around the crash zone, a deadly attack by rebels on government troops Friday morning took place less than 20 kilometers south of the crash site in Shakhtarsk, a rebel stronghold where sustained battles over several days has taken place. The town links Donetsk and Luhansk, two large rebel controlled cities, which Ukrainian forces are focusing on in their strategy to drive a wedge into the area. Mstyslav Chernov reports, Ukraine MH17 Wreckage Site Finally Accessed By Investigators, two investigators from the Netherlands and Australia made an initial survey of the crash area after lunch, while fighting raged on between government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels with mortar shells falling in a nearby village. Despite the dangers, the team called the one hour inspection a success. Ukrainian President Petro Proshenko’s office urged rebels to comply with the ceasefire 20 kilometers around the wreckage site in a statement, while the European Union and U.S. formed a united front in accusing Russia of ramping up the unrest in eastern Ukraine by supplying weapons to rebels which Russia denies. In Brussels, the EU formally adopted economic sanctions, which will take effect Friday, designed to pressure Russia to bring a peaceful end to the Ukraine crisis.

Meanwhile, Russia is dealing with another old but familiar problem of what to do with former NSA contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden who received temporary asylum a year ago, which expired Thursday, following disclosure of classified NSA documents, according to an AOL report, As asylum expires, Snowden’s expulsion from Russia unlikely. Snowden has submitted his request for an extension of his asylum. While he waits, Snowden has a job and is learning Russian which are two requirements for an extension to be granted, Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s Russian lawyer, explained. Another member of his legal team has this to say on Australian radio (From ABC Australia): “PM with Mark Colvin”: “For now he is in the safest place that he can be, and Russia has indicated that it intends to plan on having him, allowing him to continue to stay.” This was said in response to the German justice minister’s suggestion to turn him over to the U.S. to face prosecution. Journalist Glenn Greenwald explained to MSNBC why Russia took Snowden in and why they did not turn him over this past year: “There’s no legal basis to turn him over to the U.S. because the U.S. and the Russians don’t have an extradition treaty. … And secondly, that he faces persecution.” Euronews points out Snowden has asked for amnesty from prosecution if he ends up stateside and told Brian Williams in an Exclusive NBC interview that he would like to go home. Right now though, Snowden faces espionage charges in the U.S. that could lead to prison time. Snowden’s Russian attorney said the decision on his asylum could be made this week.

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.”

Conflicts Intensify Around the World

As Huff Post’s Catherine Taibi put it: “Covering the violent scene in Gaza has proven difficult for even the most season reporter.” The above video shows Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh walked off camera on Sunday during a report on the dozens of people killed and thousands of Shijaiyah residents fleeing their home while Israeli aircraft bombed the area. Taibi reports in her article Al Jazeera Reporter Breaks Down On The Air In Gaza that Al-Dahdouh is an award winning journalist who has covered the conflicts in his hometown for years, but could not hide his emotions while reporting on the 87 Palestinians killed on Sunday.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made another trip to the Middle East hoping to jump start a deal for a renewed ceasefire between Israel and Hamas following a weekend where the civilian death toll increased dramatically, Lara Jakes reports Kerry returns to Mideast to push for cease-fire. Kerry left for Cairo on Monday from Washington to join dimplomatic efforts to resume a truce that was agreed upon in November 2012. The goal is to urge Hamas to accept the ceasefire agreement offered by Egypt halting the two weeks of fighting which has resulted in 430 Palestinians and 20 Israelis being killed. The Obama administration and Kerry have criticized Hamas for its rocket attacks on Israel and other provocations such as tunneling under the border. In addition, it has also back peddled on its earlier criticisms of Israel for attacks on Gaza that resulted in civilian and child deaths. On Sunday night, the State Department confirmed that two Americans, Max Steinberg of California and Nissim Carmeli of Texas, who fought for Israel were killed in fighting in Gaza. While on Sunday talk shows, Kerry said Hamas needs to take their own responsibility for the conflict, telling ABC’s “This Week”: “It’s ugly. War is ugly, and bad things are going to happen.” Both Obama and Kerry said Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks by Hamas, while Kerry accused Hamas of attempting to kidnap and sedate Israelis through a network of tunnels. On CNN’s “State of the Union”, Kerry said that Hams must “step up and show a level of reasonableness, and they need to accept the offer of a cease-fire.” The two week conflict has escalated in recent days as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon continues to try and revive ceasefire efforts in the region. Obama via phone Sunday told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Kerry was coming to the Mideast and condemned Hamas’ attacks, according to a White House statement. The U.N. relief agency in Gaza estimates 70,000 Palestinians have fled from the fighting and seeking shelter in schools and other shelters the U.N. has set up. According to Jakes: “The prime minister said his top goal is to restore a sustainable peace, but he then will ask the international community to consider demilitarizing Gaza to rid Hamas of its rockets and shut down the tunnels leading into Israel.”

On Monday, the death toll among Palestinians reached 508 with the bloodiest day of fighting so far in the two week campaign, according to Gaza heath officials, while diplomats continue to try to reach a ceasefire deal. Karin Laub and Peter Enav report, Palestinian death toll in Gaza fighting at 508, that the U.N. Security Council has expressed serious concern about the increase in civilian deaths and demanded an immediate end to fighting following the emergency session in New York. Meanwhile, Israeli military foiled a Hamas infiltration attempt Monday through two tunnels into southern Israel from northern Gaza. The military said 10 infiltrators were killed after being detected and targeted by Israel aircraft, Laub and Enav report. On Sunday, the first major ground battle killed 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and caused thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes in an area where alleged rocket launches took place and now devastated by fighting. The 13 Israeli soldiers died in clashed with militants in Shiyajiah, a Gaza City neighborhood, bring the Israeli death toll to 20. Among all the carnage, the Associated Press reports that Israeli tank shells struck a hospital in Gaza on Monday killing four people and wounding 60 according to Palestinian officials. Despite the new diplomatic efforts to renew a ceasefire, Israel continues to attack targets in the densely populated coastal strip by air and tanks, while Hamas fires more rockets and utilizes its network of tunnels under the border. A dozen shells hit the Al Aqsa hospital in the town of Deir el-Balah on Monday hitting the administrative building, the intensive care unit and the surgery department. A doctor at the hospital, Fayez Zidane, told Al Aqsa TV station that shells hit the third and fourth floor and the reception area. The Israeli military said it was looking into it. On Monday, one family member Sabri Abu Jamea, who witness their home in Khan Younis be destroyed by one airstrike burying 25 people including 24 from the same family, said: “Twenty-five people! Doesn’t this indicate that Israel is ruthless? Are we the liars? The evidence is here in the morgue refrigerators. The evidence is in the refrigerators.” Hamas fired 50 more rockets into Israel with two pointed at Tel Aviv, but caused no injuries or damage. Addressing a parliamentary committee, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said: “If needed we will recruit more reservists in order to continue the operation as long as necessary until the completion of the task and the return of the quiet in the whole of Israel especially from the threat of the Gaza Strip.”

While Israel and Hamas continue to fight it seems an un-winnable battle, Ukraine and the rest of the world try to piece together the tragedy of Malaysian Flight 17. On Monday, a refrigerated train carrying the victims of flight 17 finally left a rebel held town in Eastern Ukraine, according to Dmitry Lovetsky and David McHugh Hrabove, Train with plane crash bodies leaves rebel town. Hours earlier, Dutch experts called for a full forensic sweep of the Flight 17 crash site telling the armed separatists controlling the area that the train needs to leave as soon as possible. It has been four days since the Boeing 777 was shot down killing 298 people. The U.S., Ukraine and others have accused Moscow of supplying rebels with the arms used to shoot down the plan. Russia has denied the allegations. In Washington, President Barack Obama insisted that international investigators be given full access to the crash site and accused the separatists of removing evidence and blocking investigators. Obama asked, “What exactly are they trying to hide?” This came after the U.S. presented evidence that the rebels shot down the plane with a Russian surface to air missile. At the U.N. in New York, the Security Council voted Monday on an Australia proposed resolution demanding access to the site and a ceasefire in the area. According to the article, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a veto vote from Russia would be viewed very badly adding that no reasonable person could object. Fighting continued between separatists and government troops in Donetsk about 30 miles west of the crash site on Monday near the town’s airport, according to city authorities. After the bodies left Torez, two military jets flew overhead and black smoke could be seen rising in the distance. The Netherlands are concerned about the bodies since 192 of the victims were Dutch. Dutch Prime Minster Mark Rutte said Monday that repatriating the bodies was his no.1 priority. Meanwhile, workers recovered 21 bodies from the site bring the total to 272 bodies found, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk confirmed. At the Torez station, the Dutch investigators stood for a moment with their heads bowed and hands clasped before climbing aboard to inspect. In Kharkiv, another team of international experts arrived including three Australians, 23 Dutch, two Germans, two Americans and one person from the U.K. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s prime minister said the rebels will hand over both black boxes from Flight 17 to Malaysian investigators in Ukraine late Monday. Putin criticized the Ukrainian government in Kiev, saying: “If fighting in eastern Ukraine had not been renewed on June 28, this tragedy would not have happened. Nobody should or does have a right to use this tragedy for such mercenary objectives.” To counter the U.S. claims, Russian officials offered evidence that proves Ukrainian surface to air systems were operating in the area before the crash. In addition, they also had evidence that a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet flew between 2 to 3 miles from the Malaysia Airlines jet.

While fighting continues to escalate in the previously mentioned conflicts, some decades long battles seem to be flaring up again. Officials on Monday confirmed that attack overnight in two Iraqi cities killed at least 16 people as authorities struggle to stop a Sunni offensive that has taken large areas of northern and western Iraq. As Sinan Salaheddin reports, Overnight attacks in Iraq kill at least 16 people, one attack on a Shiite neighborhood in Mahmoudiya on Sunday night left 11 civilians dead and 31 wounded according to police. In Bagdad’s western suburb of Abu Ghraib, a roadside bomb struck an army patrol killing two soldiers and three volunteer soldiers while wounding eight people. In January, al-Qaida breakaway, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, seized control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. In June, the Islamic State launched a massive blitz offensive that ended with the group controlling large parts of northern and western Iraq. On Friday, the U.S. mission in Iraq said at least 5,576 civilians have died and another 11,665 were wounded in the first six months of the year with 1.2 million people uprooted due to violence. According to the U.N., the civilian deaths so far this year are a dramatic increase from the previous year with 7,800 civilian deaths. Meanwhile, a suicide bomber targeted a police convoy in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province Monday killing two people, one civilian and one police, according to a local official. The Associate Press reports, Afghan official: Suicide bombing kills 2 in south, the attack happened in Lashkar Gah wounding an additional 15 people including eight policemen and seven civilians according to Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban frequently used roadside bombs and suicide attacks against Afghan and NATO forces and government offices in their country. Last month, hundreds of Taliban insurgents attacked several Afghan security checkpoints in Sangin district of Helmand killing more than 100 people and displacing dozens from their homes in a week long intensive battle. The government in response deployed 2,000 reinforcements there. The attacks and fighting are continually testing the Afghan government’s ability to maintain security in the volatile areas after foreign combat troops leave at the end of this year.

More Controvery Surrounding Malaysian Flight MH17

Ukrainian officials and monitors on Sunday reported that armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines site then loaded them onto refrigerated train cars bound for a rebel held city, according to Yuras Karmanau, Plane crash bodies put on train for rebel city. This development Sunday morning came in response to international outrage over how the bodies of the victims were being handled among fears that the rebels controlling the territory were tampering with evidence. Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface to air missile Thursday that downed the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine killing 283 passengers and 15 crew. In addition, Ukraine accuses Russia of supplying the rebels with sophisticated arms which Moscow denies. The rebels have limited the movement of monitors and journalists at the site near the Russian border and Ukraine’s Emergency Ministry claims its workers were laboring under duress, overseen by the armed rebels. On Saturday, an AP journalist saw bodies baking in the heat and piled into body bags by the road or still laid out where they landed in the field. By Sunday though, no bodies and no armed rebels were at the site with emergency workers searching for body parts. Nataliya Khuruzhaya, a deputy officer at the train station in Torez, 9 miles away, said she saw emergency workers loading bodies into five sealed refrigerated train cars on Sunday morning. She added that the train was scheduled to go to Ilovaysk, 22 miles further east toward Russian border, but no further instructions were given. Russian news agencies said the bodies were going to Donetsk a rebel stronghold, while Ukrainian officials expect the bodies to be taken to the government held city of Kharkiv. The deputy governor of Kharkiv, where the government set up a crisis center, said the Ukrainian state railway company provided the refrigerated train cars. Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for monitors for the Organization fro Security and Cooperation in Europe,  told reporters in Kiev via phone from the site: “We’re looking at the field where the engines have come down. This was the area which was exposed to the most intense heat. We do not see any bodies here. It appears that some have been vaporized.”As far as the 102 other bodies, officials have yet to locate these bodies. The latest U.S. intelligence assessment suggests that more than one missile system was given to separatists by Russia in the last week or so, but both Russia and the rebels deny the allegations. In the Sunday Times, British Prime Minster David Cameron called the attack a “direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them. We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action…For too long, there has been a reluctance on the part of too many European countries to face up to the implications of what is happening in eastern Ukraine.” Despite calls from world leaders for an independent international investigation, armed separatist limited access to the crash site for the first few days. Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told the Ukrainian president in Kiev Saturday: “People are angry, are furious at what they hear. Once we have the proof, we will not stop until the people are brought to justice.” Both Putin and Merkel agreed via phone on Saturday that an independent commission led by the International Civil Action Organization should be given full access to the site.

While the crash site reports seems to be an area of confusion, on Sunday, rebel leaders announced that rebels had recovered black boxes from the downed plan and will hand them over to   the International Civil Aviation Organization. Karmanau reports, Rebels to give MH17 black boxes to aviation group, Alexander Borodai confirmed that the bodies recovered from the site would remain in refrigerated cars at the Torez station until the international aviation delegation arrives. It is unclear if rebels and the Ukrainian government are working together or were at odds with each other on recovering the bodies. Borodai said he expects a team of Malaysian experts and was disappoint about how long they have taken to arrive insisting rebels are not interfering with the crash investigation despite reports. According to Kurmanau’s article: “The U.S. embassy in Kiev issued a strong statement Sunday pointing to Russian complicity in arming the rebels, saying it has concluded ‘that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.’ It said over the weekend of July 12-13, ‘Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles, including tanks armored personnel carriers artillery, and multiple rockets launchers’ to the separatists. The statement also said Russia was training separatist fighters in southwest Russia, including on air defense systems.” Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines will retire the flight number of the plane shot down over Ukraine announcing in a statement Sunday that beginning Friday MH17 will no longer be used for it Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flights “out of respect for our crew and passengers” and replaced with MH19.

Probe Begins into Malaysian Flight MH17 As International Outcry Intensifies

Malaysia flight MH17 Ukraine flight path

Courtesy of Flight Radar 24

On Friday, world leaders demanded that pro-Russia rebels controlling the eastern Ukraine crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 give complete access to independent investigators to determine who shot down the flight, according to Peter Leonard and Dimitry Lovetsky, Malaysia Airlines Plane Crash: Rescue Workers Comb Through Debris Searching For Clues. At a U.N. Security Council emergency meeting, the U.S. blamed separatists saying Washington believes an SA 11 missile shot down the plane carrying 298 people including 80 children, however, “we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel.” In addition, the White House and the Kremlin called for peace talks between Ukrainian government forces and Russian speaking separatists. Heavy fighting 60 miles from the crash site was reported with 20 civilians killed. Emergency workers and local coal miners recover bodies from grasslands and sunflower fields where the Boeing 777 wreckage fell Thursday. According to the article, 30 officials from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe mostly, arrived at the crash site between Rozsypne and Hrabove, 25 miles from the Russian border. The rebels only allowed a superficial inspection of the wreckage before ordering the delegation to leave even firing a warning shot in the air. President Barack Obama called it “a global tragedy” adding: “An Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies filled with citizens from many countries, so there has to be a credible international investigation into what happened. In Kiev, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniv Yatsenyuk called for an international investigation saying: “We ask all respective governments … to support the Ukrainian government to bring to justice all these bastards who committed this international crime.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed allegations that Moscow could be behind the attack. According to U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, at the Security Council meeting, said early Thursday a journalist saw an SA-11 system known as a Buk missile system in Russia in separatist-controlled territory near Snizhne, “and separatists were spotted hours before the incident with an SA-11 SAM system close to the site where the plane came down.” She added, “Separatists initially claimed responsibility for shooting down a military transport plane, and claimed responsibility and posted videos that are now being connected to the Malaysian Airlines crash. Separatist leaders also boasted on social media about shooting down a plane, but later deleted these messages. Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. Thus, we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems.”

Meanwhile, according to Leonard and Lovetsky, the entire Security Council called for “a full, thorough and independent international investigation, in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines, and for appropriate accountability” and the need for “immediate access by investigators to the crash site to determine the cause of the incident.” In agreement that an investigation was critical, Obama added: “The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out.” On Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in agreement, said: “Australia takes a very dim view of countries which facilitate the killing of Australians.” On Thursday, Putin blamed Ukraine for the crash saying Kiev caused the unrest in its Russian speaking eastern regions, but stop short of accusing Ukraine of showing down the plane. Ukraine’s state aviation service closed airspace on Friday over two border regions where separatist fighting was ongoing, Donetsk and Luhansk, while Russian airlines suspended all flights over Ukraine. There was uncertainty over whether Flight17’s data and cockpit voice recorders had been recovered. Meanwhile Ukraine’s government said it has already prepared for the bodies to be taken to Kharkiv, 190 miles north of the crash site, however Andrei Purgin, leader of the separatists, said they would go to government controlled Mariupol.

At the crash site, internationals monitors moved through fields on Saturday trying to secure the site in hopes that a credible investigation of the disaster can be done, Peter Leonard and Evgeniy Maloletka report,  Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site. Doubts about the investigation’s credibility have arisen as claims by the government in Kiev allege militiamen have removed 38 bodies from the site and taken them to rebel held Donetsk. The Ukrainian government said on Saturday that rebels are “seeking large transports to carry away plane fragments to Russia.” However, separatists leader Alexander Borodai in Donetsk denies any bodies have been taken or the rebels had interfered with the work of observers. Treatment of the victims’ remains, which have been left in the open air under the hot summer sun with intermittent rainfall, has provoked outrage and distress. Dutch Foreign Minster Frans Timmermans told the Ukrainian president in Kiev: “The news we got today of the bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly, has really created a shock in the Netherlands. People are angry, are furious at what they hear. Once we have the proof, we will not stop until the people are brought to justice.” According to German government spokesman Georg Streiter and the Kremlin, both Merkel and Putin agreed on Saturday that an independent international commission with the International Civil Action Organization should be given swift access to the crash site. Additionally, the commission should examine the circumstances of the crash and recover the victims. In the Netherlands, forensic teams across the country Saturday fanned out to collect material including DNA to positively identify the remains of the 192 Dutch victims. Police said that 40 pairs of detectives from the National Forensic Investigations Team will visit victims’ relatives over the coming days. John Goglia, a U.S. aviation safety expert and former National Transportation Safety Board member, said the most useful evidence will be missile pieces if found in the debris trail that came down when the plane exploded. Meanwhile on Saturday, Malaysia Airlines said it had no plans to fly victims’ relatives to the crash site due to safety concerns. A spokesman said the next of kin are being cared for in Amsterdam while a team from the carrier including security officials were in Ukraine accessing the situation. In the Netherlands, travelers out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport laid flowers and signed a condolence book before boarding their flights Saturday including the latest Malaysia Flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur.

The Downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 and the Aftermath

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Courtesy of PlaneTalking twitter page showing re-routing of planes to avoid Ukrainian airspace

After the allege attack on a Malaysia Airlines commercial jet flying over Ukraine, international flights are being re-routed from their usual paths to avoid the war torn country. The twitter account PlaneTalking posted the dramatic re-routing in effect, according to Benjamin Hart’s article Flight Radar Shows Planes Avoiding Ukraine In Aftermath Of Malaysia Airlines Crash. The image taken from Flight Radar 24 tracks all planes in the air at a given time with many major airlines announcing their intention to bypass the country. This is the second Boeing 777 in Malaysia Airlines arsenal of planes to meet a disastrous end in less than five months. As Chris Brummitt reports,For Malaysia Airlines, disasters strike twice, the first occurred on March 8 when a Malaysia Airlines jet vanished an hour after take off from Kuala Lumpur causing an international mystery yet to be solved. On Thursday, the airline and the nation faced a new crisis as the same type of plane was reportedly shot down over Ukraine. Ukraine said the plane was brought down by a missile over Eastern Ukraine and further details are just beginning to emerge. Now the struggling airline and nation must grapple with another round of grief, recriminations, international scrutiny and serious legal and diplomatic implications. The Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, commented, “This is a tragic day in what has already been a tragic year for Malaysia.” Flight 370 went off course during a flight to Beijing and is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean far off the Western Australian coast. The search area has changed several times with no signs of the aircraft or the 239 people aboard. On Thursday, the wreckage of a Boeing 777-200ER plane was found in Ukraine after it went down with 283 passengers and 15 crew members. Officials believe that the plane was shot down at 33,000 feet in a region where heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists has increased in recent days. Additionally, the Prime Minister of Malaysia said, “If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice.” No link between the two flights have been found. According to an email, Charles Oman, a lecturer at the department of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: “Given the military conflict in the region, one has to be concerned that identities could have been mistaken.” The investigation of the downed flight will be extremely sensitive as there will be legal and diplomatic implications depending on who was responsible. The accident will definitely inflict more financial damage on Malaysia Airlines. According to Brummitt, before the March disaster, the airline reported a $370 million loss in 2012 when most airlines were posting a 4.7 percent profit. After the Flight 370 disaster, passengers canceled flights, and even though the airline is insured, it faces uncertainty over payouts to the victims’ families.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine at the wreckage sites, emergency workers, police officers and even off duty coal miners on Friday searched the fields and villages of Eastern Ukraine for wreckage. As Peter Leonard and Dmitry Lovetsky report, Putin urges Ukraine cease-fire after plane attack, the attack on Thursday killed 298 people from a dozen countries including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia with 189 of the dead from the Netherlands. According to U.S. intelligence authorities, a surface to air missile brought down the plane, but could not say who fired it. The Ukrainian government in Kiev, the separatist pro-Russia rebels and the Russian government accused of supporting the rebels all deny responsibility. After an emergency session, the U.N. Security Council called for a full and thorough investigation by an independent group. On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and insist the two sides hold peace talks as soon as possible. Access to the crash site was hard and perilous as the road into Donetsk was marked by five rebel checkpoints on Friday with document checks at each. By midday, 181 bodies had been found, according to local emergency workers. A spokeswoman for Ukraine’s emergency service, Nataliya Bystro, said the rebel militiamen were interfering with the recovery but did not elaborate. It is not known if the separatist rebels had found the black box of the plane or not. Ukraine’s state aviation service closed the airspace Friday over two border regions gripped by separatist fighting, Donetsk and Luhansk, and Russian airlines suspended all flights over Ukraine. In Hrabove, large numbers of sticks made from tree branches affixed with red or whit rags mark where body parts were found. Ukraine Foreign Ministry representative Andriy Sybiga said the bodies will be taken to Kharkiv, a government-controlled city 270 kilometers (170 miles) to the north, for identification, according to Leonard and Lovetsky. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott demanded a thorough independent inquire stating, “The initial response of the Russian ambassador was to blame Ukraine for this and I have to say that is deeply, deeply unsatisfactory. It’s very important that we don’t allow Russia to prevent an absolutely comprehensive investigation so that we can find out exactly what happened here. This is not an accident, it’s a crime.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed Kiev’s accusations that Moscow was behind the attack. Among the passengers was a large group of world renowned AIDS researchers and activists traveling to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia. News of their death sparked an outpouring of grief across the global scientific community. In the Netherlands, flag flew at half staff as residents mourned the victims, while riders at the Tour de France took a minute to observe a moment of silence for victims before starting the day.

The Search Continues for Malaysian Flight MH370

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A sand sculpture made by Indian sand artist Sudersan Pattnaik with a message of prayers for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. PHOTO: AFP

While charting the next phase of the search for missing Flight MH370, Australian officials on Thursday June 26 stated that the flight more than likely crashed into the Indian Ocean on autopilot. The new analysis comes more than 100 days after the Boeing 777 disappeared along with 239 passengers and crew on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Bewijing, according to Reuters’ Lincoln Feast (MH370 update: ‘Highly likely’ plane was on autopilot when it flew into ocean, officials said). Investigators have had little evidence to work with, however the evidence does suggest that the plane was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometers from the scheduled route before it plunged into the Indian Ocean. The search for the missing plane was narrowed in April after acoustic pings possibly from the plane’s black box recorder were heard along the final arc where analysis of satellite data put its location last. Unfortunately, a moth later, officials determined the wreckage was not in the area located 1,600 km off the northwest coast of Australia and the search area need to be widened.

According to Feast, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters in Canberra,”The new priority area is still focused on the seventh arc, where the aircraft last communicated with satellite. We are now shifting our attention to an area further south along the arc… It is highly, highly likely that the aircraft was on autopilot otherwise it could not have followed the orderly path that has been identified through the satellite sightings.” Truss explains the area was determined after review of satellite data, early radar information and aircraft performance limits after the plane diverted across the Malaysian peninsula and headed south into one of the remotest areas of the planet. The next phase of the search will begin in August and take one year to complete, covering 60,000 sq km and cost roughly A$60 million or $56 million. The area of priority is around 2,000 km west of Perth, a stretch of isolated ocean with storm force winds and massive swells. In a 55 page report, the Australian Transport Safety Board outlined how investigators narrowed the final resting place from thousands of possible routes, while noting the absence of communications and steady flight path. The ATSB report explains: “Given these observations, the final stages of the unresponsive crew/hypoxia event type appeared to best fit the available evidence for the final period of MH370’s flight when it was heading in a generally southerly direction.” Two vessels, one Chinese and one Dutch engineering company Fugro, are mapping the see floor along the arc where depths exceed 5,000 meters in some parts.