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

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

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

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

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

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.

Flight 17 Possible War Crimes Amid Intensified Fighting in Ukraine, While Israel Strains Its Relationships with Allies

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Officials on Monday in Eastern Ukraine said at least eight civilians have been killed by fighting and shelling in two Ukrainian cities held by pro-Russian militants. Peter Leonard reports, Death toll mounts as clashes intensify in Ukraine, authorities in Luhansk that five people were killed and 15 injured by artillery strikes overnight, while three were killed in Donetsk as a result of clashes, according to the city’s government. The territory between the cities has seen intense fighting as government troops try to regain control of the area where a Malaysia Airlines plane was show down earlier this month. On Monday morning, Dutch and Australian police set off fir the crash site in a convoy of 20 cars to secure the areas so investigations can continue and recover bodies. Both sides have accused each other regarding the rising civilian death toll, while the armed conflict has displaced more than 200,000 people over more than three months. Rebels accuse government troops of deploying artillery against residential areas, meanwhile authorities complain insurgents use apartment blocks as firing positions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expecting OSCE observers to arrive at the Russian Ukrainian border in the coming days and prove that rebels traveling freely into Ukraine from Russia is false. Ukrainian officials said the mission is largely pointless since only two dozen observers monitor the 1,240 mile border between the two countries.

The fighting in Eastern Ukraine, while serious and concerning, has taken a back burner to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site and the possibility, according to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, of war crime charges. John Heilprin reports, UN rights chief: Flight 17 possible war crime, Pillay, the U.N’s top human right official, wants a thorough investigation into the violation of international law when the flight was shot down with a surface to air missile over a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatist on July 17 that killed all 298 on board. At the same time, a new report by her office says that at least 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 wounded in Ukraine’s fighting as of Saturday and more than 100,000 have fled the violence since April. She said, “This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime. It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event.” Fighting over the weekend prevented the Dutch and Australian police officers from visiting the crash site to search for bodies and evidence. The report by the U.N.’steam of 39 field monitors in Ukraine says there has been an alarming buildup of heavy weaponry in civilians areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. The report says an attack could amount to violations of international humanitarian law. Gianni Magazzeni, head of the U.N. office’s branch that oversees Ukraine, told reporters in Geneva: “There is an increase in the use of heavy weaponry in areas that are basically surrounded by public buildings. All international law needs to be applied and fully respected.” Peter Leonard reports, Police team turns back from Ukraine crash site, Ukraine accused rebels of tampering with evidence at the crash site and are trying to cover up their role in bringing the Malaysia Airlines jet down with anti-aircraft missile. On Monday, Ukrainian security spokesman that data recovered from the flight recorders shows the plane crashed due to a massive, explosive loss of pressure after being punctured multiple times by shrapnel. The data recorders were sent to experts in Britain for examination, while Russia and Ukraine trade accusations and the death toll rises.

While tensions rises between Ukraine and Russia, Israel continues to strain its relationships with the rest of the world especially the United States as it tries to mediate an end to the three week old war in Gaza. On Monday, as tensions rise between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and Washington over U.S. mediation of the situation, an Israeli official was quotes as saying Israel sees no need for another Gaza ceasefire, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams report U.S. – Israeli Tensions Rise Over Gaza Conflict. Fighting has quieted over the weekend as Hamas endorsed a U.N. call for a 24 halt ahead of Monday’s Eid al-Fitr festival. However, Israel abandoned an offer to extend a 12 hour truce from Saturday after Palestinian rocket launched persisted. In the early hours of Monday, Netanyahu’s security cabinet met to debate whether to escalate the Gaza offensive that has killed 1,100 people. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited last week to try and halt the violence with assistance from contacts with Hamas facilitated by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. U.S. President Barack Obama via phone on Sunday talked with Netanyahu about Israel holding fire unconditionally and appeared to link its core demand to disarm Hamas and destroy infiltration tunnels to a peace accord with the Palestinians that is nowhere on the diplomatic horizon. The White said: “The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.” Israel radio quoted an unidentified government official saying: “There is no need for any more ceasefires. Let Hamas stop firing first.” On Sunday, Netanyahu told CNN: “I think you can’t get social and economic relief for the people of Gaza without having an assured demilitarization.” A poll published by Israel’s Channel 10 on Sunday said 87 percent of respondents wanted Israel to continue until Hamas was toppled, while another poll, published in the Jerusalem Post found 86.5 percent of Israel’s majority Jews oppose calling a truce while rocket fire continues and Gaza retains any cross border tunnels. On Monday, Karin Laub and Tia Goldenberg report, Strike hits Gaza park, killing at least 10, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people including nine being children as Israeli and Palestinian authorities blamed each other over the attack and fighting in the Gaza war raging on despite a major Muslim holiday. The United Nations called for an immediate ceasefire in fighting that has killed 1,040 Palestinians, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, according to his office, in which Netanyahu voiced his dismay at the announcement saying: “It does not include a response to Israel’s security needs and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.”