Ebola Vaccine Testing Promising, Post-War Gaza Update, and Islamic Militants Increase Activity As U.S. Puts Together Game Plan

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Sierra Leone has decided for three days to lockdown the country in order to curb the Ebola epidemic sweeping across West Africa as the WHO announced that over 2,000 people have died from the outbreak across the three hardest hit countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. AOL reports, Sierra Leone Plans lockdown to fight Ebola, Sierra Leone hopes it will stop the spread of the virus that killed 491 people in the country, according to WHO estimates. Sierra Leone’s information minister told CNN,” “Locking down the country is like turning the whole country into an open laboratory. … When they develop symptoms within three days, they will be identified and taken to treatment centers.” However, a Doctors Without Borders spokesperson told reporters, lockdowns and quarantines “end up driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers. This leads to the concealment of potential cases and ends up spreading the disease further.” One medical official told the New York Times educating communities about the risk of harboring Ebola patients is much more effective than lockdowns. Liberia responded with lockdowns as well in August when the Liberian government shit down a neighborhood in the capital of Monrovia that led to protests and clashes between residents and security forces. The Ebola epidemic shows no signs of slowing down, and agencies around the world are racing to develop a treatment. Yesterday, the WHO greenlit the use of blood transfusions from Ebola survivors to combat the virus. Josh Funk reports, Nebraska doctors say Ebola patient making progress, the Nebraska doctors treating Dr. Rick Sacra, 51, who arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center on Friday for treatment in the specialized isolation unit after contracting the disease in Liberia, said he remains stable and was more alert Sunday. Dr. Phil Smith, one of the doctors, said on Sunday: “We are encouraged by what we see, but it’s too early to say he has turned a corner.” In the race to treat the disease, Lauran Neergaard reports, Researchers rolling up their sleeves for first human safety study of Ebola vaccine, that new monkey studies show one shot of an experimental Ebola vaccine triggers fast protection and waned if the animal did not get a booster shot in a different way. Some healthy people are rolling up their sleeves at the National Institutes of Health for the first human safety study of this vaccine in hopes it eventually might be used in the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The NIH on Sunday published some of their findings in the Nature Medicine journal that showed a single dose of vaccine protected all four vaccinated monkeys when exposed to high levels of Ebola just five weeks later. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it didn’t take multiple doses to trigger protection which is in line with other vaccines today. The problem is the vaccine wanes over time as researchers exposed monkeys to Ebola 10 months later to find that only half were protected. The vaccine is made with a chimpanzee cold virus, used as a delivery system for pieces of an Ebola gene. Since giving another dose two months later was not enough, researchers used a different approach called “prime boost” where the fist does primes the immune system which was the original virus based Ebola vaccine then for the booster two months later encased the Ebola gene inside a poxvirus used to make a vaccine against smallpox. This time, all four monkeys were still protected 10 months later. Neergaard explains: “The booster-shot findings illustrate an added complexity to speeding an experimental vaccine into the field. The initial first phase study results would shed light only on that “priming” vaccine made from the chimp cold virus, Fauci said. The poxvirus booster step would be tested later only if scientists decided the initial vaccine was promising enough.” Still, manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline has said it plans to begin manufacturing up to 10,000 doses of the initial NIH-developed vaccine. Canadian researchers created a similar Ebola vaccine that works in monkeys. Manufacturer NewLink Genetics of Ames, Iowa, said first-stage safety testing in healthy volunteers is set to begin in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, back in Gaza, President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday threatened to dissolve his alliance with Hamas if the Islamic militant group does not hand over power in Gaza Strip, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Sarah El Deeb reports, Palestinian President Urges Hamas To Give Up Power In Gaza. Hamas has controlled Gaza since overrunning Abbas’ forces in 2007, however due to international isolation and deep financial crisis, the Islamic militant group agreed to form a new unity government with Abbas’ Fatah movement in June which would restore power to Abbas in the territory. Unfortunately, it has yet to yield any power. Late Saturday in Cairo in comments carried by Egypt’s state news agency MENA, Abbas said: “We will not accept having a partnership if their status in Gaza remains this way. Unity has terms. This situation does not represent any kind of unity. If Hamas does not want one authority, one law, one weapon, we will not accept a partnership with it.” Abbas said that as long as Hamas remains in control of Gaza, he added, “the government of national unity can do nothing on the ground.” Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader, denounced Abbas’ comments, saying they “contradict the spirit of the new partnership and play down the victory of the resistance.” Abbas under the new deal will form a Cabinet of apolitical technocrats as Hamas offers its backing from the outside. Israel has boycotted the government saying Hamas’ involvement is clear, while Western countries want to give the government an opportunity to prove itself. Abbas criticized the heavy death toll and damage saying, “With every passing day, more blood was shed. Is this the victory they talk about? Regrettably, I can only say the results are tragic.” Daraghmeh and El Deeb sum up what each side in the negotiation are asking for: “In the coming weeks, Israel and Hamas are expected to start a new round of indirect, Egyptian-mediated talks for an extended cease-fire. Hamas is demanding a full lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, including the reopening of a sea and airport. Israel has said the blockade will remain in effect as long as Hamas controls Gaza. The international community has made clear that all funding and reconstruction efforts be handled through Abbas’ government. Israel, and the West, want guarantees that none of the aid will be diverted for military use by Hamas. A conference of donor nations is expected to take place in October. Hamas has expressed willingness to turn over control of border crossings with Israel and Egypt to Abbas’ forces. But over the weekend, Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas leader in Gaza, rejected Israel’s demand that the group be disarmed as a condition for ending the blockade.” In internal Palestinian negotiations, Abbas’ aides said he president will seek full control of Gaza.

While the fighting has temporarily stop in Gaza with one branch of al-Qaida, other branches, possibly more extreme, continue to ravage the Middle East and Nigeria. Lolita C. Baldor reports, U.S. Launches Airstrikes Around Iraq’s Haditha Dam, the U.S. military on Sunday launched airstrikes around Haditha Dam in western Iraq targeting Islamic State insurgents in order to prevent the group from capturing the vital dam. The strikes are part of a broader U.S. campaign against the group moving the military operation closer to Syria where the group also operates. Speaking in Georgia at his meeting with government and defense officials, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said if the dam falls into militant hands “or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that that would cause would be very significant and it would put a significant additional and big risk into the mix in Iraq” including U.S. interests there. Georgian Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania said Georgia will provide some assistance in the campaign against the Islamic State such as training and carrying out military exercises with the Iraqi forces with plans to discuss it further. U.S. officials said while the Anbar Province dam remains in control of the Iraqis, the U.S. offensive was an effort to beat back the militants who are try to take over key dams across the country. Hagel said the Iraqi government asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes and the Iraqi forces on the ground conceived the operation. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby, in a statement said: “We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam, which remains under control of Iraqi Security Forces, with support from Sunni tribes. We will continue to conduct operations as needed in support of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Sunni tribes, working with those forces securing Haditha Dam.” U.S. officials are concerned that militants could flood Baghdad and other large swaths of the country if they control the dams and could gain control over the residents if they control the electricity. Water is a precious commodity in Iraq, a largely desert country of 32.5 million people. The decline of water levels in the Euphrates over recent years has led to electricity shortages in towns south of Baghdad, where steam-powered generators depend entirely on water levels. Ibrahim Abulaziz and Michelle Faul report, Islamic extremists grab towns in northeast Nigeria, the Nigerian Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, has seized more towns in northeastern Nigeria along the Cameroon border and is adopting a strategy of encouraging civilians to stay as militants carve out an Islamic caliphate, witness said Sunday. Nigerian army soldiers fled when hundreds of insurgents in stolen military armored personnel carriers, trucks and motorcycles attacked Gulak, an administrative headquarters of Adamawa state, said resident Michael Kirshinga. The nearby towns of Duhu, Shuwa, Kirshinga and others also fell in assaults over Friday night and Saturday, witnesses said. Further north, soldiers fought off rebels advancing Saturday on Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, headquarters of the military campaign against the insurgency and the birthplace of Boko Haram. The military attacked the rebels’ camp at a village outside Kondudga, just 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Maiduguri. In Gulak, Kirshinga said, “They assured us that they will not attack us, but people begun to run for their lives, some of us have fled for fear that, after subduing the soldiers, the insurgents will turn their (gun) barrels on us.” The Nigerian Emergency Management Agency reported 26,000 people fled Bama adding to the 1.5 million people forced to flee their homes since Nigeria declared a state of emergency in May 2013, according to U.N. figures. They need shelter and food which officials war of a looming food crisis since most refugees are farmers. Boko Haram’s April kidnapping of more than 300 schoolgirls, of whom more than 200 remain captive, attracted international attention and promises of help from several countries including the United States, China and former colonizer Britain. Nigeria has a large army of 80,000 troops and a $2.3 billion budget but soldiers say they are outgunned with some of their colleagues colluding with and fighting for the insurgents. Boko Haram now holds a string of towns in all three of the northeastern states that have been under a military emergency since May 2014 – Adamawa, Yobe and hardest-hit Borno. The seizures come as the United States announced it would launch a major border security program for Nigeria and its neighbors to fight Boko Haram. Meanwhile three German men suspected of being members of Somalian terrorist organization al-Shabab were arrested at Frankfurt airport attempting to re-enter the country, according to prosecutors Monday, AOL reports, 3 al-Shabab suspects arrested in Frankfurt. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office said they were arrested Saturday after landing in Frankfurt from Kenya on charges of membership in a foreign terrorist organization and preparing acts of violence in connection with their time in Somalia. At the moment, however, “there is no evidence the suspects had made any concrete preparations or plans for attacks” in Europe, the office said. The three – identified only as Steven N., 26; Abdullah W., 28; and Abdulsalam W., 23, in line with German privacy laws – are alleged to have gone to Somalia in 2012 and 2013 to join al-Shabab, and received weapons and combat training.

While Islamic extremist groups seems to be spreading like a cancer throughout the world, President Barack Obama said this week his plan to start his offensive against the Islamic State militants, who he said could pose a threat to the U.S., will be explained to Americans and congressional leaders, according to Roberta Rampton, Obama To Announce Game Plan Against ISIS. Obama will make a speech Wednesday to “describe what our game plan’s going to be,” and meet congressional leaders on Tuesday for support for his strategy to halt the group controlling parts of Syria and Iraq. Aired on Sunday, Obama in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” said: “I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we’re going to deal with it and to have confidence that we’ll be able to deal with it. The next phase is now to start going on some offense. I want everybody to understand that we have not seen any immediate intelligence about threats to the homeland.” However, the group has attracted foreign fighters from Western Nations who could travel to the United States, which over time could be a serious threat to the homeland, according to Obama. He ruled out sending in ground troops into Iraq and Syria as this is not the same as the Iraq war. He did say that this is going to be “similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we’ve been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years.” He added: “We are going to be a part of an international coalition, carrying out air strikes in support of work on the ground by Iraqi troops, Kurdish troops. We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We’re going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we’re going to defeat ’em. The strategy both for Iraq and for Syria is that we will hunt down ISIL members and assets wherever they are. I think, for … perhaps the first time, you have absolute clarity that the problem for Sunni states in the region, many of whom are our allies, is not simply Iran. It’s not simply a Sunni-Shia issue.” Obama wants regional allies to help win over and work with disaffected Sunni tribes in Iraq which could include an “economic element.” Meanwhile, Lawmakers returned to Capital Hill after a summer vacation for a September session where feuding Republicans and Democrats promise action to prevent government shutdown while holding votes aimed at defining the parties for the fall campaign, Andrew Taylor reports, Congress Returns To Work With Government Shutdown Threat Looming. Republicans control the House and intend on a drama free passage of temporary spending bill to prevent a shutdown at the end of the month and fund government agencies into mid-December. The Senate is hopeful it will pass as long as it is free of objectionable add ons. House Republicans plan to votes aimed at drawing attention to legislation they say would boost jobs and energy production. Republicans and Democrats are clamoring for legislation authorizing Obama to use military forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the short session and lack of consensus raises doubts about whether congressional action is possible. Some lawmakers say the president under the 1973 War Powers Resolution has the power to act without permission and several Republicans are willing to give Obama blanket authority without a detailed strategy from the administration. Several lawmakers want new economic penalties against Russia in response to its aggressions toward Ukraine, but it’s doubtful Congress will move quickly on a measure.

Liberia Ebola Crisis Worsens, Ukraine Faces New Challenges, Gaza Talks Collaspe into Chaos and Islamic State Militants Up the Pressure

On Wednesday, acting on their president’s orders, riot police and soldiers used scrap wood and barbed wire to quarantine 50,000 people inside their Liberian slum in order to contain the Ebola outbreak that has killed 1,350 people and counting across West Africa, according to Jonathon Paye-Layleh and Wade Williams, Liberia Seals Off Slum To Control Ebola, Angry Residents Clash With Troops. The World Health Organization said the death toll has risen quickly in Liberia accounting for 576 of the fatalities, while 2,473 people have been sickened across West Africa making this outbreak larger than the caseloads of all the previous two dozen combined. The U.N. health agency warned of food shortages, water shortages, and other essential supplies in West Africa’s population centers. In West Point, a densely populated slum surrounded by floating sewage, suffers from government neglect in the best of times and mistrust of authorities with open defecation being a major problem. Drinking water is carried in wheelbarrows and people need the market for their food. Mohamed Fahnbulleh, a resident, said: “Why are you ill-treating people like this? How can we take this kind of government to be peaceful? It is not fair — We are human.” Days earlier, residents ransacked a screening center where people in contact with Ebola victims were being monitored causing dozens of potential carriers to be taken somewhere else in the city. In a national address late Tuesday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf imposed a nighttime curfew and ordered the quarantine of West Point and Dolo Town adding: “There will be no movements in and out of those areas. We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government. Fellow citizens, these measures are meant to save lives … May God bless us all and save the State.” Via telephone, Deputy Police Chief Abraham Kromah said, “Please remain law-abiding; throwing stones at police officers and security officers is not the best way out.” While counties and districts have been sealed off in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guinea has imposed internal travel restrictions. The agency responded to shortages of food, fuel and basic supplies, by saying: “WHO is working with the U.N. World Food Program to ensure adequate food and supplies, but calls on companies to make business decisions based on scientific evidence.” Nigeria’s heath minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person has died of Ebola, but all reported cases have been people in direct contact with a Liberian American man who arrived already infected. On Monday, Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported, 17 who fled Liberia Ebola clinic still missing, authorities were looking for the dozen or so patients who abandoned the Ebola quarantine center in Liberia’s capital during looting last weekend, even though several were still being tested and under observation. During the raid, 37 patients left possibly to return to their own communities, according to Information Minister Lewis Brown, however, 20 have been brought back to two hospitals. Meanwhile, the experimental drug from California based pharmaceutical company, ZMapp, was given to three Liberian health workers who contracted the virus are showing signs of recovery, officials reported Tuesday, Jonathon Paye-Layleh and John Heilprin report, Liberia: 3 receiving untested Ebola drug improving. In addition, two infected American received the treatment and are improving, while a Spaniard who also received the treatment died.

Turning our attention to a different kind of war, on Thursday, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, 5 Ukrainian troops killed; fierce battles reported, five troops and two civilians were killed in the past 24 hours in rebel held areas of eastern Ukraine as government forces try to regain territory from pro-Russian separatists. So far, the conflict has claimed 2,000 lives and displaced 340,000 people from their homes. Ukraine celebrates Independence Day on Sunday, while government forces aim to achieve a breakthrough by that date. On Monday Ukraine accused rebels of killing dozens of civilians in an attack ear on a convoy fleeing a besieged rebel held city, according to Vasilyeva, Refugee Convoy In Ukraine Hit By Rocket Fire, Dozens Reportedly Killed. The rebels denied any attack, while the U.S. confirmed the shelling of the convoy but did not know who was responsible. Col. Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s National Security Council spokesman, told reports: “Many people were killed, among them women and children” between the towns of Khryashchuvate and Novosvitlivka adding: “We are not able to count the death toll at this point.” Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky, a Ukrainian government’s military operation spokesman, told the Associated Press 15 bodies had been recovered from the smoldering vehicles and servicemen were collecting the body parts of at least 10 more people. Donetsk rebel chief Alexander Zakharchenko said no attack took place and Andrei Purgin, his deputy, said he had no information either: “If someone was killed, it wasn’t us but the Ukrainian military.” The U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told report in Washington: “We strongly condemn the shelling and rocketing of a convoy that was bearing internally displaced persons in Luhansk and express our condolences to the families of the victims. All sides must take every precaution to protect innocent lives. We are unable to confirm reports of who was responsible for the shelling and rocketing.” Residents of Luhansk have had no running water, electricity or phone connections for 16 days as fighting continues around the city and food is short in supply making it harder to secure food. Tensions have increased as Russia over the past week said it plans to send a massive aid convoy to help rebel held eastern Ukraine. A Red Cross spokeswoman in the region told the Associated Press that they are still waiting for security guarantees as 200 Russian aid trucks.

In the Middle East on Tuesday, Egyptian attempts to make a deal to end the month long conflict between Israel and Hamas has collapsed into heavy fighting Tuesday as Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets and Israeli responded with airstrikes across Gaza killing two people, Ibrahim Barzak reports, Egyptian cease-fire efforts collapse. The violence erupted hours before the temporary truce ended as Israel withdrew its delegation from Cairo Tuesday afternoon and quickly resumed its airstrikes following rocket fire. The two fatalities were the first since a temporary truce last Wednesday started. An Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said, “The Cairo talks were based on an agreed premise of a total cessation of hostilities. When Hamas breaks the cease-fire, they also break the premise for the Cairo talks. Accordingly, the Israeli team has been called back as a result of today’s rocket fire.” No one knows if the team will return to Cairo or whether Israel will continue to talk as Egyptian security officials are still pressing the two sided to agree to a ceasefire. So far, more than 2,000 Palestinians mostly civilians have been killed, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials, with tens of thousands displaced compared to 64 Israeli solider, two Israeli citizens and a guest workers dying.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, U.S. officials said military planners were weighing the possibility of sending a small number of additional U.S. troops into Baghdad as insurgents threaten to kill a second American captive in retribution for airstrikes that have pounded Islamic state militants, Lolita C. Baldor and Lara Jakes reports, Military Considering Sending Additional Troops To Iraq, Officials Say. The strike came hours after militants released a gruesome video Tuesday showing U.S. journalist James Foley being beheaded and underscored President Barack Obama’s promise Wednesday to continue attacks against the group. According to senior U.S. officials the number would be fewer than 300 additional troops. The militants threatened to kill Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who is being held captive, if the U.S. continues to conduct airstrikes. According to Baldor and Jakes: “Currently there are about 748 U.S. forces in Iraq, in addition to the approximately 100 troops that have routinely been assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation in Baghdad. Under the current war powers resolutions sent to Congress, Obama authorized up to 775 U.S. troops for security assistance, assessment teams, and advisers at two joint operations centers in Baghdad and Irbil.” Foley, a 40 year old journalist from Rochester, New Hampshire, went missing in northern Syria while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013 and freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine. Larak Jakes reports, Obama: US won’t stop confronting Islamic State, while the execution of journalist James Foley drew international condemnation as western nations stepped up their efforts to counter the militants, in capitals across the Middle East, Foley’s death was met with silence even in Syria and Iraq. On social media, people condemned Foley’s killing, but stressed the Islamic State has been committing atrocities against Iraqis and Syrians for years. On Wednesday, outside their home in Rochester, New Hampshire, Diane and John Foley addressed reporters: “We are just very proud of Jimmy and we are praying for the strength to love like he did and keep courageous and keep fighting for all the people he was fighting for. We pray for all the remaining Americans.” Obama, from Martha’s Vineyard, said: “Today, the American people will all say a prayer for those who loved Jim,” Obama said. “All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss.” Since August 8, 84 airstrikes have been carried out in Iraq on Islamic State targets including security checkpoints, vehicles and weapons caches. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalist said more than 80 journalist have been abducted in Syria and estimates 20 are still missing. On Monday, Pope Francis endorsed the use of force to stop Islamic militants from attacking religious minorities in Iraq but said the international community not one country should decide how to intervene, Nicole Winfield reports, Pope Francis Endorses Use Of Force In Iraq To Stop Persecution Of Religious Minorities. Francis responded as follows to whether or not he approved of U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State militants: “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.” However he said, in history, such excuses to stop an unjust aggressors has been used by world powers to justify a war of conquest in which entire people have been taken over. He added, “One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor. After World War II, the idea of the United Nations came about: It’s there that you must discuss ‘Is there an unjust aggression? It seems so. How should we stop it?’ Just this. Nothing more.” The Associated Press reported Wednesday, US mission to rescue hostages in Syria failed, that the administration disclosed that President Barack Obama sent special operations troops to Syria this summer on a secret mission to rescue American hostages, including journalist James Foley, held by Islamic State extremists, but they did not find them. Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor, said in a statement: “The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens. Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”

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.

Human Tragedies Around the World Today

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On Wednesday, military planes carried the first bodies of victims of the Malaysian Airlines crash left eastern Ukraine giving some relief to the grieving relatives who must still wait for positive IDs and answers to who caused the disaster, according to the Associated Press, Two military aircraft carrying the first bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines left eastern Ukraine Wednesday. In the afternoon, the Dutch government declared a national day of mourning as the first bodies are due to arrive from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash that killed 298 people most who were Dutch citizens. Though U.S. officials are confident that a missile brought down the plan, they have yet to determine Russia’s role if any in the tragedy. On July 23, 2014, at Kharkiv airport in Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers carry coffins during a sombre ceremony followed by the first plane carrying these coffins left for the Netherlands. The other military plane, Australian, left as well midday headed for Eindhoven air base to be met by Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and hundreds of relatives. Dutch government spokesman Lodewijk Hekkin said 60 coffins were expected but not sure, while Jan Tinder the Dutch official in charge of the international team dealing with the dead said 200 bodies were aboard the train and more remains may be found once the body bags are examined. According to Air Accidents Investigation Branch in Britain, on Wednesday Dutch authorities delivered the black boxes to the agency in Farnborugh, south England, where information from the data and voice recorder will be downloaded. On Tuesday, the European Union imposed sanctions against Russian individuals again, but did not target entire sectors of Russian economy until Moscow’s role is known in the disaster.

While loved ones deal with the loss of loved ones who died tragically on Flight 17, Israel and Gaza continue to fight costing not only innocent lives but may also cost both groups their support. On Tuesday, the United Nations said Palestinian civilians in densely populated areas in Gaza have no where to hide from Israel’s military offensive and children are paying the heaviest price, Stephanie Nebehay reported In Gaza, No Safe Place For Civilians: UN. Israel continued to bombard targets across the Gaza Strip as no ceasefire deal was near. Meanwhile, U.S. and U.N. diplomats are urging talks to end the fighting that has killed 600 lives in the three week conflict. Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news briefing in Geneva that the death toll is rising in the coastal enclave with a density of 4,500 people per square kilometer. Nearly 5000 homes have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes and 100,000 people have sough shelter in schools of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), where they need food, water and mattresses, he said. The UNRWA in a statement Tuesday said it was raising its emergency funding appeal to $115 from $60 million. As Juliette Touma of the U.N. Children’s Fund reports, an overwhelming majority of people being killed are Palestinians including 121 Gaza children under 18 and 900 Palestinian children have been injured. Laerke said: “According to an assessment by aid workers on ground at least 107,000 children need psycho-social support for the trauma they are experiencing such as death, injury or loss of their homes.” Meanwhile, more than 1.2 million out of 1.8 million have no water or limited access to water as power networks are damaged or no fuel for generators. In addition, Laerke remarked, “we do have reports of sewage flooding which is a threat to public health.” Spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs of the U.N. World Food Program states emergency food rations and vouchers have been given to 90,000 people adding: “Ready to eat food stocks are running low in Gaza given the conflict has lasted two weeks and the needs are increasing.” The World Health Organization said 18 health facilities have been damages including hospitals. In a statement on Tuesday after WHO visited sites, they found that hospitals in northern Gaza are overwhelmed by high number of trauma cases with little supplies. The International Committee of thr Red Cross, guardian of the rules of war, stated on late Monday that warring parties are obliged under international humanitarian law to protect medical personnel, ambulance and facilities condemning the attack on the Al-Aqsa hospital which have been in direct fire four times. The Associated Press reports that since the U.N. top human rights official warned all sides in the Gaza Strip not to indiscriminately attack civilians and was ignore that violations may amount to warm crimes. On Wednesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said around three quarters of those killed in Gaza Strip were civilians and thousands more injured totaling 657 Palestinians and 31 Israelis killed. Among the Palestinian dead, Pillay said at least 147 were children and 74 were women. At the session, Palestinian Foreign Minster Riad Malki accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity and violating international human rights laws, while Israeli Ambassador Eviatar Manor accused Hamas of committing war crimes.

Meanwhile in Europe, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy on Tuesday said they would combat the rising anti-Semitic protests and violence over the conflict in Gaza in their own countries, according to Kirsten Grieshaber article European Politicians Condemn Anti-Semitic Demonstrations. In a joint statement issued in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, France’s Laurent Fabius and Italy’s Federica Mogherini said: “Anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish belief and synagogues have no place in our societies.” In addition, they said that they will respect demonstrators right to assemble and freedom of speech, however, will fight against “acts and statements that cross the line to anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.” On Tuesday afternoon in Berlin, 500 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched chanting slogans like “Israel is murder” and “Israel bombs, Germany finances.” In France, pro-Palestinian youth clashed with police on Sunday setting fire to cars, pillaging stores and attacking two synagogues in the Paris suburbs. Italy as well has seen non-violent demonstrations. Jewish groups have expressed shock and discuss about the growing anti-Semitism. Stephan Kramer, director of the European office on anti-Semitism of the American Jewish Committee in Brussels said: “We have reached a new level of hatred and violence in all of Europe that cannot even be compared to the anti-Semitism seen during previous conflicts in Israel.”

Europe and the Middle East see their fair share of conflict and clashes with militants, Nigeria is still reeling from a different type of tragedy. It has now been three months since Islamic extremists have kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and according to residents of Chibok, where the girls were kidnapped from, 11 of their parents have died as well. Michelle Faul explains in her article, 11 parents of Nigeria’s abducted girls die, that the town has been cut off my militants who have been attacking villages in the region. This month, seven of the fathers were among the 51 bodies brought to the Chibok hospital after an attack on Kautakari, a village nearby. In addition, four more parents have died from heart failure, high blood pressure and other illness the community believes was induced by the mass abduction 100 days ago, said community leader Pogu Bitrus and provided the names. He explained, “One father of two of the girls kidnapped just went into a kind of coma and kept repeating the names of his daughters, until life left him.” President Goodluck Jonathan met with parents Tuesday pledging to continue working to see the girls are brought back alive, according to his spokesman. Danger is on the horizon though as Boko Haram is closing in on Chibok by attacking the villages that surround it. Community leader Bitrus siad a food crisis looms along with money and fuel shortages as villager swarm into the town from towns close by straining resource. Many girls who escaped are recovering said a health worker, under conditions of anonymity for fear of retaliation from Boko Haram, and many are now talking about their experience even considering how to continue their education. Boko Haram filmed a video threatening to sell the students into slavery and as child brides. Additionally, the video showed two girls describing their conversion from Christianity to Islam. Most of the girls are believed to be held in the Sambisa forest that borders on sand dunes marking the edge of the Sahara, while sightings of the girls and their captors have been reported in Cameroon and Chad. Local leader Bitrus warns of a famine coming soon due to the fact families are putting up four and five other families arriving with nothing since livestock has been looted by Boko Haram. The town and nearby villages are targets due to the fact they follow Christianity in a predominantly Muslim north Nigeria. The number of soldiers guarding Chibok increased from 15 to 200 following the kidnapping but does little to secure the town since soldiers refuse to deploy to villages under attack even with advance warning 90 percent of the time. Residents feel abandoned after a plea was made this month to the United Nations to send troops and the U.N. told the Nigerian government to live up to its international responsibility. The Defense Ministry says it knows where the girls are but fears any campaign could lead to their deaths. This week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a new video demanding that President Goodluck Jonathan release detained extremists in exchange for the girls. After three months. the residents have little hope that the girls will return.

The Human Cost of Conflicts and Wars

On Friday, protestors stood outside the Israeli Embassy in Ankara holding Palestinian flags to protest against the attacks on Gaza by Israel who allege the attacks are in response to rocket fire from Gaza. According to the Associated Press, Israel strikes mosque as death toll tops 120, the UN’s human rights office said that Israel could be violating the laws of war by bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza where the death toll from Israeli strikes have risen to 100. Israel has alleged that the Islamic group Hamas and other Palestinian militants deliberately placed military installations in populated areas of Gaza as part of its defense by using civilians as human shields. Palestinian Officials on Saturday reported that the death toll has now reached 120 after an Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque and a center for the disabled killing two women. In response, the Israeli military alleged the mosque concealed rockets similar to the ones used during the five day offensive and is looking into claims that other sites were hit. The problem no facing Israel is how to orchestrate a ground invasion in the region with such a densely populated Gaza Strip  and immense danger to civilians.

While there are no fatalities reported in Israel from rocket fire, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra confirmed the death toll from Israeli strikes at over 120 and more than 920 wounded. Though the breakdown of casualties is not clear and Hamas militants have been hit hard, dozens of the dead are civilians. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Saturday that the Israeli people should prepare for several more days of fighting making it clear that the offensive shows no signs of ceasing anytime soon. Hamas said Israel struck a pair of mosques in its offensive, however, the claim along with Israel’s claim could not be confirmed. A Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar, had this to say: “The bombing of two mosques in Gaza overnight shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much is it hostile to Islam. This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier.” The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it struck stating Hamas hid rockets next to another religious site and civilian homes. In addition, they said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militant groups regularly use this tactic to endanger its own civilians. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman explains,”Hamas terrorists systematically exploit and choose to put Palestinians in Gaza in harm’s way and continue to locate their positions among civilian areas and mosques, proving once more their disregard for human life and holy sites.”

Israel’s military, the Associate Press reports, has struck more than 1,100 targets including rocket launchers, command centers and weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, while Gaza officials said the strikes, in addition to hitting the home for the disabled and the mosques, have hit affiliated charities and banks. The “Iron Dome,” a U.S. funded, Israeli developed rocket defense system, has intercepted more than a 130 rockets from Gaza preventing any fatalities and only a handful of Israelis have been wounded. As a precaution, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv has relocated personnel to Beersheba. The frequent rocket fire, particularly in southern communities, has disrupted daily life with most people staying indoors, television channels airing non-stop coverage of the violence and radio broadcasts being interrupted by air raid siren warnings. Meanwhile, at the border of Gaza and Israel, Israel has massed thousands of troops along the border in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

However, recently, Israel has come under international pressure to halt its offensive due to the growing casualties in Gaza, the Associate Press reports. With the United States and Europeans leaders defending Israel’s actions, the United Nations has expressed its concern over civilian deaths in Gaza and anti-Israel protests in Europe. In the West Bank, Hamas supporters clashed with Israeli troops over the Gaza offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has requested an emergency meeting with the Arab League and Arab foreign ministers that will happen in Cairo Monday to discuss the continued offensive and measures to urge the international community to pressure Israel. In New York, the United Nations Security Council called unanimously for a ceasefire, even though there are no signs of stopping from Israel nor Gaza.

Even with international pressures for a cease fire, Israel has widened its range of targets to civilian institution with alleged Hamas ties and deployed troops inside Gaza early on Sunday to raid a rocket launching site, according to Khaled Khazziha and Mohammed Daraghmeh, Israel troops briefly raid Gaza as offensive rages. The death toll now stands at more than 156 Palestinians killed. Four Israeli soldiers were hurt during the brief incursion to destroy rocket sites in norther Gaza, but returned to Israeli territory the military confirmed. Even though this was the first time Israeli ground troops entered Gaza in the current offensive, the military did say the operation was carried out by special forces and was not the beginning of a broad ground invasion. In a move to broaden the conflict, Israel fired into Lebanon late Saturday in response to two rockets fired into norther Israel. No injuries or damages reported, however Israel fears Lebanese militant groups may try to open a second front.

Critics say Israel’s heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, “this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well.”But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following Israeli warnings.At the United Nations, a Security Council statement approved by all 15 members called for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm, and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.The statement also called for “the re-institution of the November 2012 cease-fire,” which was brokered by Egypt, but gives no time frame for when it should take effect.

While Israel faces international criticism for his possible human right’s violations, on Saturday, the Human Rights Watch alleges that Iraqi security forces and government affiliated militias have unlawfully executed 255 prisoners over the past month in apparent revenge for killings by Islamic State fighters. According to Reuters’ Stephen Addison, Iraqi Forces Executed 255 Prisoners: Human Rights Watch, the group claims the killings took place in six Iraqi towns and villages since June 9 and at least eight of the dead are under 18. On the groups website, the groups says that the killing took place while the Iraqi forces were fleeing from Islamic State militants and other armed groups. In addition, most of the security forces and militias are Shiite, while the murdered prisoners were Sunni. HRW said,”The mass extrajudicial killings may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by (Islamic State).” The Islamic State was formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The militants have never hid the face that mass executions of their prisoners occurred. Days after they began sweeping through norther cities last month, they released videos showing their masked fighters machine gunning captive government soldiers in shallow graves, Addison reports. In addition, Addison states, “HRW said it has statements from witnesses, security forces and government officials indicating Iraqi soldiers or police, pro-government Shi’ite militias, or combinations of the three had extrajudicially executed prisoners, in nearly all cases by shooting them….(HRW) has documented five of Sunni prisoners between June 9 and 21 in Mosul and Tal Afar in northern Nineveh province, in Baaquba and Jumarkhe in eastern Diyala province, and in Rawa in western Anbar province. It said residents and activists those areas believed Iraqi security forces and militias killed Sunni prisoners released by Islamic State, to stop them joining the rebellion and in revenge for the killings of government troops.” Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director believes the actions of the government are “an outrageous violation of international law” adding that “While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of (Islamic State), it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces.”

On Saturday, the same day that Israel and Iraq had accusations of human right’s violations and international law, Ukrainian war planes attacked separatists along the broad front causing huge losses according to Kiev, after President Petro Poroshenko said that many will pay for a deadly missile attack on Ukrainian forces. According to Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets, Ukrainian Fighter Jets Pound Rebels, a military spokesman confirmed that jets struck at the epicenter of the battle against the rebels near the Russian border. The planes targeted positions where high powered Grad missiles were fired by separatists on an army motorized brigade that killed 23 servicemen Friday. The warplanes also struck near Donetsk, the east’s main town where rebels have dug in, destroying a powerful fighter base near Dzerzhinsk, a spokesman for the anti-terrorist operation, Andriy Lysenko, said. Lysenko told reporters, “According to preliminary assessment, Ukrainian pilots … killed about 500 (rebel) fighters and damaged two armored transporters.” In addition, an earlier attack on a base near Perevalsk, two tanks, 10 armored vehicles and 500 rebel fighters were destroyed. However, Luhansk based separatists, referring to the Peravalsk attack, said,”There were no volunteers (rebels) where the Ukrainian aviation was active yesterday.” So far, Lysenko reports, during Friday evening and throughout Saturday, five Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 16 overflights by Ukrainian fighter jets have taken place.

The increasing violence require now more than ever a need for diplomacy to end the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. Since the ousting of the Moscow backed president in February and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, more than 200 Ukrainian servicemen have died and hundreds of civilians and rebels have died also. The United States and the EU have brought sanctions against Russian businesses as Ukrainian government claims Moscow has aided in the conflict and turned a blind eye to military equipment and Russian fighters crossing its border. On Saturday, the EU targeted 11 Ukrainian separatist leaders with travel bans and asset freezes without new sanctions on Russian business in order to avoid antagonizing its main energy supplier. Lysenko explained, “The situation on the border is very difficult because there is a strip of border there which has been turned into the epicenter of confrontation. This is because this is a part of the border through which the Russian terrorists are trying to bring in military equipment and arms. Ukrainian forces are there to cover that part. If the Ukrainian unit pulls out of there then columns of military equipment will start to flow on to Ukrainian territory again.” Poroshenko, urged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to use a sense of proportion in actions against separatists, had talked on Friday with Donetsk mayor Aleksander Lukyanchenko on the issue. Meanwhile,  western allies and Russia are pushing for a new meeting of the contact group involving separatist leaders to negotiate an end to the crisis. Poroshenko has proposed various venues for these talks to take place, but has said he will not repeat a 10 day unilateral ceasefire by government forces like the one that ended June 30. The rational is due to the fact, the Ukrainian government alleges that rebels repeatedly violated the ceasefire and more than 20 Ukrainian servicemen were killed while it was enforced.

Palestinian Israeli Conflict Deepens as Lebanon Strikes

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Courtesy of Higher Learning

On Friday, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he will not give in to international pressure to stop a military offensive in Gaza and will continue until rocket fire out of Gaza ceases. According to Aron Heller, Israel leader: World pressure won’t stop military offensive, the Prime Minister had a good conversation with many world leaders in recent days including President Barack Obama and has decided to continue with his plans. So far, Netanyahu has attacked more than 1,000 targets in Gaza during the four day operation using twice the force used in a similar 2012 offensive. The death toll after the four day offensive comes to 100 Palestinians with no word how many Israelis have died so far.

However, as the death toll from Israel’s massive air campaign in Gaza topped 100 Friday, militants in neighboring Lebanon fired rockets at Israel as Gaza militants continued rocket fire reaching deeper into Israel. According to Heller, Gaza militants have fired 550 rockets against Israel in the offensive with Israeli military hitting more than 1,100 targets identified as launch sites and bombarding the territory every 5 minutes on average. In Gaza, an Israeli Airstrike on Friday and overnight strikes has killed eight people raising the death toll to at least 98 with a later strike pushing the total over 100 along with 670 wounded, the Associated Press reports. Hamas says it intends to fire rockets at the airport and warned foreign airlines to stop flying to Israel. However, Israel has shot down at least 110 incoming rockets so far with its “Iron Dome” defense system. In northern Israel, rocket fire struck near the Lebanese border causing the military to respond with artillery fire toward southern Lebanon, according to military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. The Lebanese military stated that militants fired three rockets toward Israel around 6 am and the Israelis retaliated by firing 25 artillery shells on the area. Lebanon’s state run National News Agency confirmed one militant firing the rockets was wounded and taken to the hospital, while the Lebanese’s military said troops found the two rocket launchers and dismantled them. The recent rocket fire from Lebanon was blamed on radical Palestinian factions in the area and Hezbollah, a Shiite militant stronghold in Southern Lebanon, was not involved. The  Associated Press reports that a pair of Lebanon based al-Qaida groups, the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, in the past have claimed responsibility for similar rocket attacks on Israel.

The recent conflict between Israel and Gaza came after the death of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank and a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death as retaliation. Lerner states that the military was trying to prevent civilian causalities calling residents ahead of time to warn of imminent attacks and using “non-explosive munitions” to warn people to leave before the attack. Lerner blames Hamas for the deaths of innocent bystanders by firing into heavily populated areas. Israeli leaders are considering a ground assault in Gaza to target Hamas, even though, this would most likely increase Palestinian civilian casualties and put Israeli troops at risk. Israel has mobilized more than 30,000 reservists to aid in the possible ground invasion. In the past, the Associated Press reports, a ground incursions in 2009 left hundreds of civilians dead and both sides drew war crimes accusations in a United Nations report. Middle East envoy Tony Blair said that efforts to reach a truce were being made. According to the Associated Press, Blair state, “We are in a critical point. I think we have got to do everything we can to … create a situation in which the people in Gaza and the West Bank and in Israel feel that this is not then going to recur and there is some genuine plan in place.”