Pope Pleads for Peace Amid Fighting in Ukraine and Gaza, While the Ebola Epidemic Worsens in Western Africa

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Pope Francis marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I by making an impassioned plea for people to welcome dialogue rather than violence to overcome conflicts and “not repeat the mistakes of the past.” According to the Associate Press, Pope: World War I should teach us: No more war, Francis cited the current war between Israelis and Palestinians as well as Iraq and Ukraine. On Sunday he told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square that he was thinking of the children who have been killed, maimed or orphaned by war and who “for toys, have the debris of war.” He added, “I beg you, stop. I ask you with all my heart” and cited World War I era Pope Benedict XV’s denunciation of the Great War as a “useless massacre.” Francis said: “Everything is lost with war, nothing is lost with peace. Never more war.”

Meanwhile, Hamas on Sunday agreed to a 24 hour truce in Gaza after rejecting initially a similar Israeli offer as fighting resumed and the two sides fought over the terms of the lull that international diplomats hoped would turn into a more sustainable truce, according to Aron Heller and Ibrahim Barzak, Hamas agrees to 24-hour holiday truce in Gaza war. Late Saturday, after Israel announced the 24 hour truce, Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel causing Israel to resume their offensive aimed at destroying tunnels and rocket launchers. However, hours after fighting resumed, Hamas said it would be willing to abide by a new 24 hour humanitarian truce ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The three day Eid al-Fitr holiday begins on Monday or Tuesday depending on the sighting of the new moon. Shortly after the truce was to begin, warning sirens wailed in southern Israel and the military said three rickets landed in the area with no casualties or damage. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, did not say if Israel would hold its fire during the time Hamas requested, but would continue destroying tunnels as this was the primary goal of the offensive in Gaza. In the outdoor markets of the Jebaliya refugee camp, venders set up stands with clothes and shoes, but said business was slow. According to Palestinian health officials, the 20 day war killed more than 1,060 Palestinians many were civilians and Israel lost 43 soldiers, two civilians, and a Thai workers. In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said: “The military is aiming its fire at terror sites, but if citizens are accidentally harmed Hamas is responsible for this since it once again violated an offer for a humanitarian lull that Israel accepted.” Before the holiday ceasefire announcement, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said any truce must include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and tens of thousands of displaced people be allowed to return to their homes. However, Israel’s acceptance of the ceasefire extension was based on its soldiers being able to continue to destroy the tunnels under the Gaza Israel border used by Hamas. In the West Bank, nine Palestinians have been killed due to protest and clashes in recent days between stone throwers and Israeli security forces. In Gaza, the local Red Cross office said its building in Khan Younis was attacked by people who lost family members in the fighting and the lack of support by emergency services. Each side blames the other for why the fighting resumed on Sunday with Hamas saying Israel’s “lack of commitment” is the problem and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that Hamas could not be trusted after violating ceasefire efforts.

While Israeli and Gaza brace for more causalities, Ukraine continues to try to take back Donetsk and gain control of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site. Ukrainian officials said their forces have advanced to the outskirts of Donetsk on Saturday trying to take back the Pro-Russia rebel stronghold, according to Ayse Weiting and David McHugh, Ukraine launches offensive to retake Donetsk. The move comes as Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have been successful in retaking control of territory from the rebels. However, Russia has become more involved in the fighting it seems with the U.S. and Ukraine accusing Moscow of moving heavy artillery across the border to the rebels. Ukrainian national security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said once they take Horlivka, where Ukrainian forces are outside of now, “the direct route is open for the forces of the anti-terrorist operation to the capital of the Donbass region – the city of Donetsk. The approaches to Donetsk are being blocked so that the terrorists do not get the chance to receive ammunition, reinforcements or equipment.” About 35 miles to the east, the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down was eerily empty and a full investigation still hasn’t started due to security risks posed by fighting. On Saturday, another 38 coffins carrying victims left Kharkiv on two military planes bound for the Netherlands for identification and investigation with the Dutch government later identifying the first victim who was a Dutch national. Officials said the two flight took the last of the 227 coffins containing victims that had been brought to Kharkiv, a government controlled city, by refrigerated train. The intensified fighting on Sunday to gain control of the Malaysia Airlines crash site between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian armed forces caused a team of Dutch and Australian police officers to postpone their trip to start searching for evidence and the remaining bodies, according to Dmitry Lovetsky and Peter Leonard, Fighting intensifies near MH17 crash site. In Washington, the State Department released satellite images which it says show that Russia fired rockets more than seven miles into Eastern Ukraine. In a statement Sunday, the Donetsk regional government said at least 13 people including two children were killed in fighting in Horlivka and another five people were killed in clashes in a northern suburb of Donetsk. In addition evidence that rockets were fired into Ukraine from Russia, the United States said it had seen powerful rocket systems moving closer to the border.

Meanwhile, another kind of battle rages on in Western Africa as the Ebola epidemic worsens. On Saturday, Nigerian health authorities race to stop the spread of Ebola after a man sick with the virus brought it by plan to Lagos, Africa’s second largest city with 21 million people, Heather Murdock reports, Nigeria death shows Ebola can spread by air travel. The traveler from Liberia boarded an international flight with a stop over in the country of Tago to Lagos casing officials’ to be concerned about other passengers who could spread the disease beyond Africa because of poor inspections of passengers and Ebola is similar to other diseases. Officials in Togo wen ton high alert after learning that Ebola could spread to a fifth country. Ebola has already killed 672 people across West Africa before the Nigeria case was announced making it the deadliest outbreak on record of Ebola and now it threatens Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Dr. Unni Krishnan, Plan International’s Disaster Response and Preparedness Head, said, “Lagos is completely different from other cities because we’re talking about millions of people.” International airports in Nigeria are screening passengers arriving from foreign countries for symptoms of Ebola, according to Yakubu Dati, the spokesman for Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria. In addition., health officials are working with ports and land borders to inform people what to look for and what to do. Nigerian airports are setting up holding rooms to ready in case an Ebola victim lands in Nigeria. Health experts also say that airports in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, who all are dealing with current Ebola outbreaks, have taken preventative measure that are not completely foolproof. Patrick Sawyer, a consultant for the Liberian Ministry of Finance arrived in Nigeria Tuesday and was detained by health authorities suspecting he might have Ebola. On Friday, a blood test from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital confirmed Sawyer died of Ebola earlier that day. Nearly 50 passengers on the flight are being monitored for signs of Ebola but not isolated, according to an employee at Nigeria’s Ministry of Heath. Ebola is highly contagious and kills more than 70 percent of the people infected. Sawyer’s sister died of Ebola in Liberia, but he claimed to have no contact with her, Liberian officials report. The Associated Press reported Saturday an American doctor working with Ebola patients in Liberia tested positive. North Carolina based Samaritan’s Purse issued a news release Saturday saying Dr. Kent Brantly tested positive for the disease and was being treated in Monrovia, Liberia. Meliisa Strickland, a spokeswoman, said Brantly began serving in Africa as part of a post residency program before the Ebola outbreak began and at one point his wife and children were living with him in African until they moved back to the U.S. On Sunday, Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported, Official: Ebola kills senior doctor in Liberia, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of Liberia’s most high profile doctors, is the first Liberian doctor to die in the outbreak that has killed 129 people in the West African nation and a Ugandan doctor working in the country died earlier this month. The World Health Organization also confirmed that 319 people in Guinea and 224 in Sierra Leone have died. News of Brisbane’s death first began circulating on Saturday, a national holiday marking Liberia’s independence in 1847. According to Paye-Layleh: “President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf used her Independence Day address to discuss a new task force to combat Ebola. Information Minister Lewis Brown said the task force would go ‘from community to community, from village to village, from town to town’ in order to increase awareness.” Heath workers are at risk of contracting thr disease which spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Experts believe the outbreak could have started as far back as January in southeast Guinea though the first confirmed cases happened in March.

Israeli-Gaza Conflict: “The gates of hell have opened”

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This is a photograph of the father of one of the four young boys who was killed by an Israeli strike in Gaza Wednesday. The boys, all cousins and all under the age of 12, had been playing soccer on the beach when the attack occurred. The man’s picture, by photographer Hosam Salem, was taken during the boys’ funeral. (HuffPost)

On Sunday, Israeli troops backed by tanks and warplanes battled Hamas militants in a crowded neighborhood of Gaza city using heavy Israeli tank fire killing many Palestinians and causing thousands to flee while damaging or destroying many homes, the Associate Press reports (Thousands flee major battle with Israel in Gaza). Palestinian health officials said at least 65 people killed by air and artillery strikes that bombarded the city for hours displacing 35,000. In total, 420 Palestinians and seven Israelis have been killed in the two week conflict which escalated while U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon headed to the region to try and renew the ceasefire efforts. Sunday’s battle in Shijaiyah was the deadliest so far since the ground offensive started three days ago after 10 days of heavy airstrikes on targets linked to Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Israel has said it sent the troops into Gaza to destroy Hamas rocket launchers and tunnels used by Islamic militants to sneak into Israel. Residents of the neighborhood said Israel entered the area after midnight and fired heavily. Shijaiyah resident Jawad Hassanain said,”The gate of hell has opened, and shrapnel came through the windows. From 12:30 a.m. until 4 a.m., all you could hear is heavy bombardment, the smell of fire and the smell of death. By 4:30, and after the call for the prayer, we were able to get in an ambulance.” After daybreak, dozens of wounded from Shijaiyah were taken to Gaza’s central Shifa Hospital where the emergency room overflowed forcing doctors to treat patients on mattresses in the hallway, according to the Associated Press. During a Red Cross brokered lull, paramedics retrieved the dead pulling bodies from the rubble of homes. Palestinian heath officials said 65 people died and 288 wounded in Shijaiyah bringing the total since July 8 to 425 dead and 3,000 wounded. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said 8 percent of rockets fired over the 13 day conflict came from this neighborhood and residents were warned ahead of the offensive to leave the area. Some residents tried to find refuge with relatives or at U.N. schools or shelters that already house 63,000 Palestinians according to UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency for Palestinians. The number of people who have fled their homes has more than tripled since the start of the ground offensive and the agency plans to open more schools. Hamas has sought involvement of other countries in any ceasefire negotiations such as Qatar due to deep distrust of Egypt’s ruler who last year ousted a Hamas-friendly government in Cairo.

While fighting intensifies between Israel and Hamas, on Thursday afternoon hundreds of French Jewish immigrants received their Israeli identity cards at a ceremony in Jerusalem, according to Sophia Jones’ article Hundreds of French Jews Immigrate To Israel During Gaza Offensive. Veronique Rivka Buzgalo, one of the 430 immigrants from France, said,”I came because of anti-Semitism. You see it in the eyes of people. I see it in everything,” referring to the rising anti-Semitism in her home country. Buzgalo added that nothing would stop her from becoming an Israeli citizen this week not even the rocket sirens in the south of the country where she plans to settle, according to Jones. Despite the ongoing turmoil, more than a thousand Jews made aliyah – when Jews immigrate to Israel – in the past then days, the Israeli government reports. As one of many Jews immigrating to Israel, Buzaglo like many others look to Israel as a fresh start and a place to belong. In a statement to the foreign press, Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver said: “You, dear friends, are the answer to the complicated security situation we are experiencing these days. Every immigrant strengthens us as a people and a state. Aliyah is our national Iron Dome.” Izaar Shirit, plans to move with his wife and daughter to Ashdod in the south where he was born, adding: “I was born in Ashdod and I want to return to Ashdod. “I’m an Ashdodi and I’m not afraid. I think that it will be worked out, with the help of God.” The Israeli government expects more than 5,000 Jews from France to immigrate by the end of the year compared to 3,289 last year and 1,917 in 2012.

Meanwhile, a somber mood set over Gaza as the reality of the conflict and the long road ahead sets in for the families who have lost loved ones. Many photographs and stories have been plastered all over the web covering the humanitarian crisis in Gaza especially the killing of innocent children who are caught in a war that seems to have no end in sight. One such family lost four young boys in a Israeli strike in Gaza last Wednesday. The boys who were all cousins under 12 were playing soccer at the beach when the strike occurred. After the four boys’ died, both Israel and Hamas ceased fighting for five hours on Thursday for a humanitarian truce brokered by the United Nations, Reuters reports. Unfortunately, the ceasefire ended as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that a ground offensive in Gaza would happen. Dominique Mosbergen reports, Heartbreaking Photograph Of One Father’s Grief Reveals The Real Cost Of Violence In Gaza, more than 160 civilians including 40 plus children have been killed in Gaza since July 7 when Israel launched its anti-Hamas military operation. The U.N. in a July 16 report wrote: “According to preliminary information, 77 [percent] of Palestinian fatalities so far have been civilians, raising concerns about respect for international humanitarian law.” The Israeli military said it would launch an investigation into the killing and added the strike was intended for Hamas militants and called the children’s deaths a “tragic outcome” according to ABC News. Earlier in the week, Humans Rights Watch called for the Israeli military to “end unlawful attacks that do not target military objectives and may be intended as collective punishment or broadly to destroy civilian property.” On their website, the organization wrote: “Deliberate or reckless attacks violating the laws of war are war crimes. Palestinian armed groups also should end indiscriminate rocket attacks launched toward Israeli population centers.” In the hours following the deaths, Gaza was overcome with grief and fury. According to CNN, hundreds of people attended the funerals Wednesday and “angry chants filled the air.”

As anger fills the air in Gaza over the killing of Palestinians by Israel, pro-Palestinian protesters defied a demonstration ban in Paris over the Israeli offensive in Gaza causing clashes with police on Saturday, the Associated Press reports (Pro-Palestinian Protesters And French Police Clash Amid Gaza Conflict). The clash ended with more than 30 people arrested and injuries unknown. Some protestors threw stones and other objects at riot police responding with tear gas in an hours long confrontation in a working class neighborhood designated as the starting point of the banned march. Hundreds of riot police stopped the protesters from marching, but were unable to keep demonstrators from climbing into a building under construction and burning an Israeli flag while others waved a Palestinian flag from atop a building. French authorities banned the planned pro-Palestinian march after a protest on July 13 turned violent with two synagogues attacked. Even with tear gas dispersing most of the protestors, they still managed to hang banners reading “Palestine Will Live” and “Israel Assassins” in front of Montmartre’s famed basilica. Fighting in the Middle East has intensified relations in France as the country is home to Western Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish population. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was in the Mideast on Saturday to help open up talks between Israel and Hamas to reach a ceasefire agreement.