Gaza Truce Extended, While Fighting Continues in Iraq

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

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

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

Gaza Truce Holds for Second Day, While Fighting Continues in Other Parts of the Middle East and Ukraine

Luckovich cartoon: Mideast fighting

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For the second day now, a ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has ended the month long fighting ahead of negotiations in Cairo for a long term truce and broader deal for the Gaza Strip, the Associate Press reports, Cease-fire in Gaza holds for second day. On Wednesday, delegations from both sides plus Egyptian mediators met in Cairo to work out a deal with some of Hamas’ negotiating points including an internationally funded reconstruction of Gaza, which would be overseen by a Palestinian unity government led by President Mahmoud Abbas. The ceasefire is the longest pause in the war that killed 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis including three civilians. The lull in the violence allowed people to return to their devastated homes and inspect the damage.

In Ukraine, the story changes as Ukrainian government forces backed by warplanes advanced their military offensive to reclaim lost territory from pro-Russian separatists on Tuesday and cautiously watched Russia’s military exercises over the border, according to Richard Blamforth, Ukraine Fighting Intensifies Amid Tensions With Russia. In the 24 hours up to Tuesday morning, Kiev’s military said government forces clashed 26 times with separatists in the east as fighter jets struck at rebel positions and concentrations of military equipment. In addition, Ukraine condemned Russian war games near the joint border as provocation and violating Ukrainian air space by Russian warplanes and drones as well as cross border shelling. Defense officials said separatist on Tuesday opened fire on unarmed Ukrainian Soldiers crossing back into Ukraine from Russia where they took shelter from fighting. Ukraine confirmed Monday that 311 soldiers and border guards were forced by fighting to cross the border saying they destroyed their weapons before crossing back, however, the rebels said they left them behind allowing separatists to seize them. In the past 24 hours, three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 46 wounded in action against separatists. Fighting since April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said more than 1,100 people including government forces, rebels and civilians have died, while 730,000 Ukrainians have left the country into Russia this year due to fighting according to the European head of the United Nations agency for refugees. Defense spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that Ukrainian forces had come under mortar and artillery attack from Russia and Russia has been violating Ukrainian airspace with Russian planes. In addition to a foreign ministry statement calling for Russia to pull back its forces, he said, “Ukraine regards the carrying out of such unprecedented military exercises on the border with Ukraine as a provocation.”

On Wednesday, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters that Kurdish forces attacked Islamic State fighters 25 miles from Arbil in norther Iraq, the Kurdish regional capital, Reuters reports, Kurds, Islamic State clash near Kurdish regional capital. Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of the ministry of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters, said: “We have changed our tactics from being defensive to being offensive. Now we are clashing with the Islamic State in Makhmur.” Yawar also confirmed that the Kurds have re-established military cooperation with Baghdad after a dramatic weekend offensive in the north by the Sunni militants prompted the Kurdish leadership and the Shi’ite led governments of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to bury the hatchet. The two, who previously fought over oil, budgets and land, now are working together against the biggest threat to Iraq’s security since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Yawar said 50,000 members of Iraq’s Yazidi ethnic minority are hiding in the mountains near Sinjar and risk starving to death if they are not rescued in 24 hours.

Meanwhile Wednesday, in Lebanon, state media reported clashes breaking out in a border town held by Islamic extremists from Syria after negotiating a cease fire, mediate by Muslim clerics, collapsed overnight, the Associate Press reports, New clashes break out in Lebanese border town. The ceasefire was meant to help end four days of fighting in Arsal and allow for the negotiations for the release of captive Lebanese solders, however, the National News Agency reported fighting again early Wednesday with militants firing on troops. So far, 17 Lebanese troops have died and 22 soldiers and an unknown number of police are missing.

While fighting continues, migrants flow into Europe in alarming numbers causing tension in France where clashes between asylum seekers in camps and police broke out as tear gas is fired to quell the chaos, Elaine Ganley reports, Migrants clash in France as camp tensions soar. Sudanese and Eritreans battle the heat in Calais, a port city in France, while Africans fight for space and try to sneak into Britain some 20 miles away. British police tried to prevent people from crossing over as their french counterparts fired tear gas Tuesday to break up this third battle which left 51 injured and one critical, according to the Calais prefecture. Migrants fleeing poverty and war in African and the Middle East arrive in Calais with hopes of crossing the channel using the ferry or on cargo laden trucks. Their numbers have increase up to 1,300 in the city at the edge of the English Channel overwhelming the city, aid agencies and police. Deputy Mayor Philippe Mignonet, in charge of security, said, “There are migrants who arrive each day and each day some who succeed in getting to Britain. Calais has been taken hostage.” The Monday night and twice Tuesday clashes were a culmination of a month long tug of war between Calais and migrants after the city bulldozed makeshift camps in May and the migrants then occupied a food distribution center but were expelled. Now, authorities want to expel hundreds in two abandoned factories causing migrants to turn on each other. Noemie Bourdet of aid group Secours Catholique in Calais believes the clashes are over a place at a parking lot where smugglers didn’t ask for payments, even though, migrants are usually forced to pay for a place in line in a parking lot where trucks leave for Britain. In addition, Bourdet addressed the charge that Calasi migrants are simply a security problem: “They expel them without solutions.” However, Mignonet disagrees: “It is a doubly catastrophic situation for us. People only talk of Calais for its migrant problems … This seriously hurts the city’s image.”

New Truce Begins Between Israel and Hamas, the Kurds Fight ISIS, China Earthquake Aftermath and Pollution Problem, and Britain’s Tribute to WWI

On Tuesday, a three day long ceasefire between Israel and Hamas when into effect in Gaza ahead of talks in Cairo to find a deal to prevent future cross border violence, Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav reports, 72-hour cease-fire takes effect in hopes of bringing an end to nearly a month of fighting. The temporary ceasefire agreed to by both sided started at 8am and will last 72 hours while Israel and Hamas hold indirect talks in the Egyptian capital. The situation in Gaza is still unstable as minutes ahead of the truce shelling still occurred across Gaza and Israel said Hamas fired a heavy barrage of rockets at southern and central Israel. The fighting has claimed 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 67 Israelis dead, all but three soldiers. A unilateral withdrawal will allow Israel to end the conflict on its own terms without negotiating new border arrangements in Gaza, while Israel will be asked to make concessions it is unwilling to make such as opening Gaza borders. Early Tuesday, the Israeli military said it would have all its ground troops out of Gaza by the start of the truce. Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the withdrawal was going forward after Israel destroyed Hamas tunnels build for Islamic attacks inside Israel. Meanwhile, in Washington, President Barack Obama signed a bill Monday giving $225 million in U.S. taxpayers dollars for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the Associated Press, Obama Signs Funding Package For Israel’s Iron Dome. Congress approved the money last week before lawmakers took their summer break. The funds are meant to replenish Israel’s capabilities. The defense system has been highly effective in current violence between Hamas and Israel allowing the Israeli military to shoot down incoming rockets or mortars head toward Israel with a success rate as high as 90 percent.

According to CNN’s Alan Duke and Hamdi Alkhshali, Official: Kurdish forces fend off ISIS fighters, hold Mosul Dam, the director of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam dismissed reports Monday that it had been seized by the radical Islamic State saying Kurdish forces were able to fight them off. Abdul Khaliq al-Dabbagh, Mosul Dam director, confirmed that fighters for the Islamic State or ISIS were pushed back after gaining access to employee housing just north of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. On Sunday, however Kurdish commander told CNN that ISIS took control even though employees remained at the dam, while al-Dabbagh said the Kurds held their position until reinforcements arrived early Monday. The United Nations in Iraq warned 200,000 civilians were trapped in dire circumstances following the Islamic State and associated armed groups seizing “control of nearly all of Sinjar and Tal Afar districts” in the northern Ninevah province, including several small oil fields that border Iraq’s Kurdish region. In addition, the United Nations said most of the fleeing civilians in the districts are minority Kurdish Yezidis, an ancient religion with ties to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and took refuge in the Jabal Sinjar mountains. As fighting ranges on in these districts, according to the Kurdish commander, fighting has also been reported in the border town of Rabia with Syria based Kurds joining the fight against ISIS. Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government head, told a group of Yezidi leaders that his government will help to liberate Sinjar since the Kurds have been fighting without help from the Iraqi government or international community, according to a reports on the government’s website. The State Department said Sunday that it was monitoring the situation and supports the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces in their fight against ISIS. In a statement, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said: “The assault over the past 48 hours on territories along the border of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and focusing on towns and villages populated by vulnerable minorities, demonstrates once again that this terrorist organization is a dire threat to all Iraqis, the entire region and the international community.”

Meanwhile China continues to deal with the devastation caused by an earthquake that killed 405 people, while dealing with the deadly pollution in its capital. On Tuesday, 10,000 troops used axes and backhoes to clear roads and rescue residents from collapsed homes after a quake in southwest China, the Associated Press reports, Troops, volunteers dig through China quake debris. Volunteers helped in the effort in Yunnan province’s Ludian county where Sunday’s 6.1 magnitude quake collapsed thousands of homes in the impoverished mountainous farmland. Hundred of volunteers converged on the nearby city of Zhaotong with some bringing their own relief aid to distribute thanks to company sponsored units, while the government provided thousands of tents, quilts, sleeping bags and cotton coats to the region, as well as folding beds, chairs and tables, and mobile toilets. Much of the damage was due to landslides following heavy rain Tuesday making it difficult to reach the affected area. Ambulances, bulldozers, and trucks filled with water, noodles and volunteers congested the main rode to the hardest hit town of Longtou. Helicopters lifted supplies as well to the most remote areas. In all, Yunnan Civil Affairs Bureau said Tuesday that 405 people were killed and 2,297 injured with 12 still missing 36 hours after the quake. In the capital, Beijing, China announced plans to ban coal use by 2020 as the country fights deadly pollution in its capital and major cities, the Associated Press reports, China to ban all coal use in Beijing by 2020. On Monday, Beijing’s Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau on its website said the city would prioritize electric and natural gas for heating. The official Xinhua News Agency said coal makes up a quarter of Beijing’s energy consumption in 2012 and 22 percent of the fine particles in the air with motor vehicles, industrial production and general dust contributing to pollution. Unfortunately, coal use is expected to soar causing coal fired power and heating is a major generator of greenhouse gases and helped China turn into the world’s largest emitter of carbon and other heat trapping gases. The central government listed environmental protection as a top priority which its leaders will be judged by due to pressure among the middle class to clean up the environment including smog, water and soil contamination. In September, the government announced a prohibition on new cold fired power plans around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

In Britain on Monday night, Lights across the country went out for an hour in tribute to the dead of WWI inspired by Britain’s foreign minister on the eve of war 100 years ago, Tess Little reports, Lights go out across Britain, 100 years on from WW1. Edward Grey shortly before Britain declared war on Germany in Aug. 4, 1914, told an acquaintance: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” British landmarks including the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral went dark at 10 p.m. local time and Prime Minister David Cameron asked Britons to do the same and leave a single light on in their homes for an hour. The “war to end all wars” spread across Europe especially in northern France and Belgium killing 17 million soldiers and civilians in 1914-18 with over one million dead British soldiers and its then empire. Gery’s prophecy was commemorated in London’s Westminster Abbey later on Monday where candles went out one by one until only a burning oil lamp remained at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. At 11p.m., the lamp was extinguished marking the exact time the British empire joined the war. Acting as a beacon for the capital, a pillar of light beamed into the clouds from Victoria Tower Gardens. In a statement, Boris Johnson, the London mayor, said, “The light that ‘spectra’ throws up into the night sky is a unifying point; it echoes how the First World War affected all Londoners, but also how they and the rest of the country came together, standing united during those dark days.” Prime Minister Cameron and Prince William attended the 100th anniversary ceremonies in Scotland and Belgium on Monday. Speaking at Liege, William alluded to Germany and its cohorts in the First and Second World War: “We were enemies more than once in the last century and today we are friends and allies.” He told Belgium’s King Phillipe and other state heads attending the Liege ceremony at the Allies’ Memorial near where German troops invaded Belgium on Aug. 4, 1914 and Britain entered the war: “We salute those who died to give us our freedom. We will remember them.” German ceremonies were understated, but Germans were encouraged to place flowers on soldiers’ graves and local small scale efforts marked the anniversary. According to Little: “Politicians and royalty from 83 countries, including presidents Francois Hollande of France and Joachim Gauck of Germany, were among those in Belgium. In Glasgow, Scotland, Cameron was joined by heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles at a centenary service.” Poppies, a symbol of the war, were featured at the Tower of London with an art installation titled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” by Paul Cummins included thousands of ceramic poppies flowing from the medieval monument wall into the dry moat. The artwork will grow through summer until 888,246 poppies have been added to represent British and colonial fatalities during the war which is more than double that of World War Two. Red poppies became a symbol of remembrance since the trench warfare in the poppy field of the Belgian region of Flanders during the war.

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.