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.”

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.