Update On Malaysian Flight 17, Russia and Ukraine Tensions Rise at Border, Iraq Declared an Emergency, and The Ebola War Zone

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Dutch authorities have identified 127 victims from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster in Ukraine. The flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine last month killing all 298 aboard. The investigation suffered many delays due to fighting between pro-Russia separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces near the crash site leaving the bodies to decompose in the sun for a week or so. Eventually, the victims’ remains were gathered and sent to the Netherlands for identification. According to AOL, 127 victims identified from Ukraine plane disaster, the Justice Ministry Thursday said the identified victims’ families were notified. One of the Netherlands’ top prosecutors hops those responsible for downing the plane will eventually face trial in the Netherlands, according to confirmed remarks by his office, Chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, and the case will take years to build. The Netherlands and other countries have launched criminal investigations, while jurisdiction is unclear.

Meanwhile, at the Russian-Ukrainian border, Alexander Roslyakov reports, Ukraine: Inspectors checking Russian convoy, Ukraine said its customs and border service officials on Friday began inspecting Russian aid convoys parked just beyond its border addressing the mounting tensions over the shipments. Sergei Astakhov, an assistant to the deputy head of Ukraine’s border guard service, said the cargo will be inspected in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross representatives. Friday morning, a group of 41 Ukrainian border service representatives and 18 customs officials began inspecting the Russian aid at the Donetsk crossing, defense officials in Kiev said in a statement. Russian news agencies said Russia will present all necessary documentation and had over the cargo to the Red Cross. The 200 Russian white tarped trucks had been parked since Thursday near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky some 17 miles from the border where much of the border in this part of eastern Ukraine has been under the control of pro-Russian rebels. Russia sent the aid despite tentative agreements to deliver the aid through government controlled border crossing in the Kharkiv region. Ukraine fears that Russia is using the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion to help the rebels and threatened ti use all means necessary to block the convoy if Ukrainian officials and the Red Cross were unable to inspect them. A statement on President Petro Poroshenkp’s website said he and British Prime Minister David Cameron via phone spoke about reports from some Western journalists that Russian APCs crossed into Ukraine near the point where a Russian aid convoy was parked, according to the article, Ukraine: Some Russian military vehicles destroyed. No proof was provided, but the statement said: “The president informed that the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of the machines had been eliminated by Ukrainian artillery at night.” Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s Security Council spokesman, said some Russian military vehicles crossed into Ukraine, a charge Russia denies, but Lysenko provided no specific source for his information. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday the alliance had observed a Russian “incursion” into Ukraine. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and was set to travel to Ukraine on Saturday. After the talks, Putin stated, “we will do all we can to end the military conflict as soon as possible, establish a dialogue between the interested parties and provide humanitarian assistance.” Some Russian Military vehicles seen near the aid convoy Friday carried a Russian acronym that stands for “peacekeeping forces” which means Moscow could consider a possible military escort. Ukraine has warned Russia that an attempt to have a military escort will be seen as an invasion. Ukraine proceeded with its own aid operation in the Luhansk area as trucks from Kharkiv unloaded Friday at warehouses in the town of Starobilsk, which is 60 miles north of Luhansk, where the goods were to be sorted and transported by the Red Cross. Other Ukrainian aid was taken to Lysychansk, which was retaken by Ukrainian forced last month despite sporadic clashes until earlier this week. So far, fighting has claimed 2,100 lives with half of those in the last few weeks and began after Putin annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in April.

Late Thursday, back in he Middle East, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced he will step down and relinquish his post to his nominated replacement, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra report, UN Declares Highest Level Emergency In Iraq As Militants Battle On. Standing alongside senior members of his party, including rival Hider al-Abadi, al-Maliki said he would step aside in favor of his “brother,” in order to “facilitate the political process and government formation.” The United States, the u.N. and political faction in Iraq have backed al-Abadi, saying only a new leader can unite a country under siege by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group. In a televised address, al-Maliki said his decision to support his rival reflect his desire to “safeguard the high interests of the country” adding, “My position is your trust in me, and no position is higher than your trust,” he declared in a televised address. In a statement, national security adviser Susan Rice said the White House commended his efforts for backing al-Abadi and expressed hope that the power shift “can set Iraq on a new path and unite its people” against the threat from Islamic militants. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the move “sets the stage for a historic and peaceful transition of power in Iraq. We urge Mr. Abadi and all Iraqi leaders to move expeditiously to complete this process, which is essential to pulling the country together and consolidating the efforts of Iraq’s many diverse communities against the common threat posed by the Islamic State …” The United Nations also welcomed the change, according to special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, it “demonstrates statesmanship and a commitment to the democratic process and the constitution.” The U.N. Security Council urged al-Abadi to work toward “an inclusive government that represents all segments of the Iraqi population and that contributes to finding a viable and sustainable solution to the country’s current challenges.” Iraqis everywhere welcomed the announcement on Thursday. The extremist Islamic State group has moved across norther and western Iraq displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes since June and last week prompted the U.S. to launch aid operations and airstrikes as the militants threatened religious minorities and the largely automous Kurdish region. The U.N. declared Wednesday the situation in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency” allowing for additional assets to respond to the need o the Displaced, U.N. special representative Nicoklay Mladenov said pointing to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.” The decision followed the news that 45,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority escaped from the remote desert mountaintop where they were encircled by Islamic State fighters. The U.N. said it would provide increased support to the Yazidis and to 400,000 Iraqis who fled since June to the Kurdish province of Dahuk. In total, 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting. French President Francois Hollande Thursday confirmed the “imminent delivery of military equipment” to Kurdish forces via phone call to the new Iraqi president, Fouad Massoum, according to Hollande’s office. On Thursday, according to Robert Burns and Julie Pace, Obama: No Iraq rescue; further airdrops unlikely, President Barack Obama said the humanitarian crisis atop the barren hill in northern Iraq is over thus no U.S. rescue mission is necessary, however, Iraqis elsewhere face dire threats from advancing Islamic army. A U.S. military and civilian team of 16 people spent Wednesday atop Sinjar Mountain to assess the conditions for a possible evacuation, but reported the number trapped to be 4,000 and that U.S. supplied food and water to those in need in recent days totaling 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of water. The U.S.Central Command said late Wednesday four cargo planes dropped 108 bundles of food and water to the remaining people making it the seventh delivery of food and water since the relief operation began last week.

In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak has killed 1,000 and could last another six months, according to Doctors Without Borders said Friday, with the true death toll unknown, Sarah Dilorenzo and John Heilprin report, Aid group: W. Africa Ebola outbreak like ‘wartime’. Tarnue Karbbar, working for the aid group Plan International in northern Liberia, said response teams are unable to document all the cases erupting as many of the sick are still being hidden at home by relatives fearful of going to treatment centers. Others are buried before the team gets to the areas. In the last several days, some 75 cases have emerged in the Voinjama district with Karbbar saying the challenge now is “to quarantine the area to successfully break the transmission.” Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for World Health Organization in Geneva, said the beds are filling up faster than expected demonstrating that the outbreak is more severe than the number shows. Joanne Liu, the medical charity’s international president, likened the situation to war as the outbreak has continued to move unpredictably telling reporters in Geneva Friday: “We’re running behind a train that is going forward. And it literally is faster than what we’re bringing in terms of a response.” The U.N. health agency Thursday warned that the official count at 1,069 dead and 1,975 infected may still “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.” It said extraordinary measures are needed “on a massive scale to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear.” Liberian officials faced a difficult choice Thursday deciding who receives an experimental drug that could be live saving, ineffective or harmful. Jonathan Paye-Layleh and Sarah DiLorenzo report, Nigeria Confirms 1 More Ebola Case, ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the country late Wednesday, however a day later no one has received the treatment yet which official said would go to three people. The Liberian government said two doctors would receive the treatment, while Information Minister Lewis Brown said Thursday the remaining dose would probably go to another health care worker. These are the last known doses of the drug and San Diego based company who developed it said it would take months to build a modest supply. The outbreak has sparked an international debate over the ethics of giving untested drugs to the sick and deciding who gets the treatments, since two Americans and one Spaniard have received ZMapp with the Spaniard dying within days. According to the U.N. health agency, 50 percent of those infected with Ebola have died. Dr. Moses Massaquoi, who helped Libria obtain the drug, said: “The criteria of selection is difficult, but it is going to be done. We are going to look at how critical people are. We are definitely going to be focusing on medical staff.” Arthur Caplan, director of medial ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the choice of who to treat would have to balance helping the largest number of people with learning the most from the treatments. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department ordered families of embassy personnel to leave Sierra Leone on Thursday as concerns arise that the crisis would make it difficult to receive treatment for routine health problems. Nigeria announced Thursday that another person died from Ebola, bringing the total to four. The Health Ministry said the person was a nurse who helped treat the country’s first Ebola case, Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer who flew in last month and died. The ministry corrected the number of cases from 11 to 10.

Ebola Patient Zero Found, Ceasefire in Gaza, Islamic State Massacre of Yazidis and Ukraine Demand Rebels to Surrender

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According to the AOL article, Ebola outbreak: ‘patient zero’ could be young boy, the latest and deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history might have started with a 2 year old boy, according to researchers who traced the virus to a village in Guinea located by the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. The boy died December 6th four days after vomiting, black stools and fever followed by his mother, sister, and grandmother in January and then a midwifed passed from the same sickness in February causing the person who took care of her to get sick. The illness was identified in March as Ebola,however, it had spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone all declared states of emergencies and West Africa has received nearly $16 million to help battle the deadly outbreak that has killed 1,000 killed. Sharon Begley and Toni Clarke of Reuters reports that three U.S. facilities are on standby in the event of a major public health threat to quickly make vaccines and therapeutics to treat Ebola if the U.S. government decided to scale up. The facilities, called Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (ADM), were set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with private industry, to respond to pandemics or chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threats. Brett Giroir, chief executive of Texas A&M Health Science Center, site of one of the facilities, said: “They know our number and they can call us 24 hours a day. We are prepared.” Global health agencies are considering whether to make experimental drugs, which have only been tested on monkeys, available to patients in West Africa where the deadly Ebola outbreak has claimed so many. The World Health Organization is bringing together a group of bioethicists to consider the issue as who gets the treatments or vaccine. U.S. officials have emphasized quarantine measures to help prevent the spread. The decision to order any of the three advanced labs to start production of Ebola treatments must come from the highest level of the Obama administration. According to Rodrique Ngowi, Ebola Outbreak Flagged By Online Tool Before Formal WHO Announcement, an online tool run by experts in Boston flagged a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” in the forested area of southeastern Guinea nine days before the World Health Organization announced the epidemic. Ngowi reports, “HealthMap uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious-disease physicians’ social networks and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks. Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts.” The co-founder John Brownstein said: “It shows some of these informal sources are helping paint a picture of what’s happening that’s useful to these public health agencies.” HealthMap is operated by a group of 45 researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital. HealthMap generates information that included location of specific outbreaks and tracks new cases and deaths.

To the east, the Israeli military says no rockets were fired on Monday at Israel and the military hasn’t targeted any locations in densely populated territories since the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel when into effect midnight Sunday as the two sides resume talks in Cairo, the Associated Press reported, Cease-fire holding in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. In total, 1,900 Palestinians were killed and 67 on the Israeli side in the almost two month long war. Palestinians negotiators are asking for an end to the Gaza blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, while Israel wants all Gaza militants to disarm. Egypt brokered a similar truce last week, but after three days, militants resumed rocket fire on Israel and new fighting erupted. Egypt called on Israel and Palestinian factions to observe a 72 hour ceasefire beginning within hours and resume talks on more comprehensive Gaza agreement. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry announcement followed after hours of talks with Palestinian factions in Cairo who accepted the proposal and the deal would not have been made if the ceasefire agreement was not secure indicating Israel had accepted. Sunday’s decision was aimed at bringing Israeli back to the table, according to a Palestinian negotiator: “We are here to look for an agreement. We cannot have an agreement without talks, so we accepted an Egyptian proposal to have a cease-fire for 72 hours in order to resume the talks.” A senior Palestinian negotiator noted that Palestinian would make more modest demand if talks resume and seek an end to the bloodshed in Gaza, internationally backed efforts to rebuild and an easing of the blockade. One negotiator commented: “We might not get everything we want, particularly on freedom of movement. But we believe the Israelis and the world have gotten the point that Gazans should live normally and things should be much better than today.” Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Hams could get the blockade lifted if they meet international demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist: “Basically what they are trying now to do is not to lift the blockade. They want to get legitimacy as a terrorist organization, without accepting the requirements of the international community.”

In Neighboring Iraq, the Obama administration has decided to directly provide weapons to Kurdish forces to fight the Islamic militants in northern Iraq, according to a senior U.S. officials, the Associated Press reports, US sending arms to Kurds in Iraq. Previously, the U.S. would only sell arms to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, but the Kurdish fighters were losing ground in recent weeks to the Islamic State militants. In recent days, the U.S. military has facilitated weapons deliveries from the Iraqis to the Kurds providing logistic assistant and transportation to the north. The assistance allowed the Kurdish forces on Sunday to take back two towns from the Islamic insurgents aided in part by U.S. airstrikes int he region. President Barack Obama authorized the airstrikes to protect U.S. interests and personnel in the region, including at facilities in Ibril as well as Yazidi refugees fleeing militants. Speaking in Australia on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said no force should be used by political factions as Iraq struggles to form a government and the country’s new president is acting appropriately despite the accusations of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki is resisting calls to step down and will file a complaint against the president for not naming him prime minister. Kerry said: “We believe that the government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining the stability and calm in Iraq. And our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters.” While some progress has been made in the north, Reuters reports, Islamic State Killed 500 Yazidis, Buried Some Victims Alive: “Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, burying some alive and taking hundreds of women as slaves, an Iraqi government minister told Reuters on Sunday.” Human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani accused the militant group of celebrating “a vicious atrocity” with cheers and weapons waved in the air. Sudani via phone interview said: “We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic State have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar. Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar.” During a visit by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani said: “We are not fighting a terrorist organization, we are fighting a terrorist state.” Barzani has asked his allied to send weapons to help fight the insurgency. In comments likely to put pressure on Washington to step up its response, Iraqi rights minster Sudani said: “The terrorist Islamic State has also taken at least 300 Yazidi women as slaves and locked some of them inside a police station in Sinjar and transferred others to the town of Tal Afar. We are afraid they will take them outside the country. In some of the images we have obtained there are lines of dead Yazidis who have been shot in the head while the Islamic State fighters cheer and wave their weapons over the corpses. This is a vicious atrocity.” At the Vatican, Pope Francis held a silent prayers during his weekly address on Sunday for the victims of the Iraqi conflict including the Christan minority saying: “Thousands of people, among them many Christians, banished brutally from their houses, children dying of hunger and thirst as they flee, women kidnapped, people massacred, violence of all kinds. All of this deeply offends God and deeply offends humanity.” Both France and the U.S. criticize Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite led government for failing to share power with Iraq’s Sunni minority who dominated before the U.S. led invasion. Foreign Minister Fabius said: “Iraq is in need of a broad unity government, and all Iraqis should feel that they are represented in this government. All Iraqis should feel they are represented to take part in this battle against terrorism.”

Leaving the Middle East for another conflict to the north, on Sunday, fighting raged on in Donetsk as government forces closed in on the rebel stronghold Ukraine and pro-Russian insurgents backed away from an unconditional ceasefire offer announced the day before, Yuras Karmanau reports, Ukraine Demands Rebels In Donetsk Surrender. With western backing and a string of military success, Kiev has taken a hard line stance against rebel forces and won’t relent until the rebels surrender. In a statement Saturday, newly elected rebel leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko called an apparent ceasefire without stating any preconditions, however Sunday, rebel spokeswoman Elena Nikiting told the Associated Press that talks on the conflict could begin if the Ukrainian army withdrew from the region which Kiev won’t do. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the only way the rebels in Donetsk will be saved will be to lay down their arms and give up and has not seen any real willingness to cooperate: “If white flags come up and they lay down their arms, nobody is going to shoot at them. (But) we have not seen any practical steps yet, just a statement.” Lysenko added that the Ukrainian military’s recent success has caused “panic and chaos in the ranks of the rebels” and Kiev has information that the rebels are “deserting their posts en masse.” More than 1,300 people have died in the conflict since April, according to U.N. estimates. On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmer expressed concern over the humanitarian situation for civilians in Donetsk and Luhansk where conditions are getting worse. He said Germany is working with ICRC and U.N. agencies to ensure that existing aid is coordinated and gets delivered where it is needed. He said it was “good that there seems to be basic agreement about the delivery of humanitarian goods between Ukraine and Russia,” but said that Russian aid “must only be delivered with the express agreement of the Ukrainian government” and under the supervision of international organizations.

Ebola Containment Issues, Israel Hamas Talks Deteriorate, U.S. Continues its Strike on Iraq and Ukrainian Rebels Open to Ceasefire

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According to Guinea news, in West Africa, the afflicted nation announced Saturday its closing its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia in order to halt the influx of infected people in and out of the country, AOL reports, International response to Ebola: Travel bans, funding. Al Jazeera quotes the country’ heat minister as saying: “We have provisionally closed the frontier between Guinea and Sierra Leone because of all the news that we have received from there recently.” The health minister most likely is referring to the World Health Organization’s call for international aid as the Ebola outbreak has become an “extraordinary event:” “The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries.” Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone have all declared a state of emergency following the Ebola outbreak putting limits on civil liberties and closing public institutions like schools. On Saturday, riot police had to break up an demonstration blocking Liberia’s busiest highway as angry crowds protested the government’s delays in removing the Ebola victims bodies, Jonathon Paye-Layleh reports, Liberia Protesters Demand Govt Pick Up Ebola Bodies. The growing unease in Liberia raised the specter of social unrest as almost 300 people have died from the disease in Liberia. Residents say that the government has yet to pick up the bodies of the dead by the roadside along the central town of Weala, 50 miles from Monrovia the capital, which have been sitting there for two day. The government has ordered all victims be cremated amid resistance to neighborhood burials for fear of contamination. Information Minister Lewis Brown warned Saturday on state radio: “Security people are on their way to put things under control. We don’t want people taking the law into their own hands.” So far, 961 people have died, according to figures released Friday by the U.N. Heath agency. The situation in Liberia has been describes as “catastrophic” by the Doctors Without Borders Charity. Lindis Hurum. the group’s emergency coordinator, said: “There are reports of dead bodies lying in streets and houses.” In addition, 40 health care workers in Liberia have contracted Ebola in recent weeks, while most city hospitals are closed, Hurum reports. On Saturday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf met with health workers at City Hall in Monrovia. “The president wants to express the collective gratitude of the entire nation to our health care workers who have continued to make tremendous sacrifices for this country and people,” Brown said. Liberia has launched “Operation White Shield” where soldiers are deployed in different locations and at checkpoints outside the capital to discourage residents’ movements, part of Sirleaf’s emergency measures to fight the disease.

On Sunday, back in the Middle East, Palestinian negotiators threatened to quit Egypt brokered truce talks unless Israeli negotiators return to Cairo, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub report, Palestinians to quit Gaza talks if Israel no-show. Israeli officials said their negotiators will return when Gaza rocket fire stops. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday: “Israel will not negotiate under fire.” As talks have stalled, Israel responded to rocket fire from Gaza with 20 airstrikes killing three Palestinians, according to Gaza officials. Since Friday following the truce expiration, smaller Gaza militant groups hot Hamas have fired rockets and mortar shells at Israel and on Sunday fired two more. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said: “If Hamas thinks it has worn us down, it is wrong. We will return to the table only after an end to the fire. … We are not intending to compromise.” On Sunday, Palestinian negotiators vented frustrations about a lack of progress and the Israeli team’s absence. Azzam al-Ahmad, the delegation head f and confidant of Abbas, said: “If it is proven to us that the Israeli delegation is setting conditions for its return to Cairo, we will not accept any condition for the continuation of the talks.” Late Saturday, Palestinian negotiation Bassam Salhi representing a small PLO faction said the team met with Egyptian mediators who are in touch with Israeli officials and hope to make progress. However, he Salhi said: “We told the Egyptians that if the Israelis are not coming and if there is no significant development, we are leaving today.” Israel has targeted 5,00 sites so far, according to the army, while Gaza militants have fired 3,000 into Israel. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Israel launched 30 aerial attacks in Gaza killing five Palestinians and militants fired rockets at Israel as the conflict entered its second month and defied international efforts for a peaceful resolution by extending the ceasefire. Nidal al-Mughrabi and Allyn Fisher-Ilan report, Israel-Gaza Violence Resumes, Defying Ceasefire Efforts, the Israeli military said since midnight it has attacked 30 sites in Gaza without specifying targets and Gaza militants, since the 72 hour ceasefire ended Friday, have fired more than 65 rockets at Israel injuring two Israelis by mortar on Friday. Heavy civilian causalities and destruction during Israel’s offensive in packed residential areas of Gaza has garnered international attention over the past month. The White House urged both sides to do what theyt can to preserve civilians after failure to extend the ceasefire with Spokesman John Earnest saying Friday “the United States is very concerned” about the renewed violence. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the parties “not to resort to further military action that can only exacerbate the already appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza”. At a rally in South Africa, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu accused Israel of behaving like a “barbaric bully” in Gaza.

Meanwhile in Iraq, U.S. officials confirmed on Friday that the Iraqi government provided Peshmerga fighters with a plane load of ammunition, according to Missy Ryan, Iraq Arms Kurds Against ISIS. The officials said Iraqi security forces flew to Abril, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, with small arms ammunition in a move that American officials hope helps the fighters keep militants from the Islamic State at by. Under conditions of anonymity, the officials said: “Developments over the last few days have refocused the issue, and we’ve seen unprecedented cooperation between Baghdad and Arbil in terms of going after (the Islamic State), not only in terms of conversation but in terms of actual support.” As Islamic State fighters advanced earlier this week, Maliki ordered his air force for the first time to back Kurdish forces in their fight against militants marking a significant step in a country where in recent years Peshmerga and Iraqi forces under the command of Baghdad would have fought each other rather than cooperate. The Obama administration working with the Iraqi government, the official said, to ensure additional requests for the Kurdistan Regional Government are met. Vivian Salama and Bram Janssen reports, Iraq Says U.S. Airstrikes Have Been Effective Against Islamic State, President Barack Obama announce on Saturday that the U.S. military return to Iraq is to prevent genocide, protect its diplomats and provide humanitarian aid to refugees trapped by Islamic State militants on a mountain ridge near the Syrian border. In addition, Obama said it was a long term project and cannot succeed unless Iraqis form an inclusive government in Baghdad to keep the country from breaking apart. U.S.plans and drones launched four airstrikes on Islamic State forces Saturday, while they fired n Yazidi civilians taking shelter in the Sinjar mountains, U.S. Central Command reports. It was the third round of strikes against Islamic State forces by the U.S. military since being authorized by Obama Thursday allowing for aid flights to drop food and water to thousands of starving refugees in the Sinjar area. A delayed response from Baghdad left Kurdish forces unable to fight off the Islamic State militants causing many Yazidi refugees to seek shelter in the mountains. UNICEF’s spokesman in Iraq, Karim Elkorany, told the Associated Press Saturday that at least 56 children have died of dehydration in the mountains, while British officials estimate Saturday between 50,000 and 150,000 people are trapped on the mountain. Juan Mohammad, a local government spokesman in the Syrian city of Qamishli, told AP more than 20,000 starving Yazidis are fleeing across the border. Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki waited til Monday to call in aerial reinforcements for Kurdish fighter to help contain the Islamic State militants. Iraqi Foreign Minster Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, said: “Air strikes are intended to degrade the terrorists’ capabilities and achieve strategic gains — and have been very effective.” Many of America’s allies support the intervention since the Yazidis plight received so much international attention. Obama said the U.S. will focus on helping refugees, eliminating terrorists, protecting Americans and keeping “key infrastructure” intact so that the Islamic State group can’t permanently cripple Iraq before an inclusive government can form. During his Sunday address, Pope Francis expressed outrage at the violence aimed at the religious minority in Iraq who include fleeing children dying of thirst and said he is sending Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Vatican’s ambassador in Baghdad during the Iraqi war, to Iraq Monday to show solidarity with Christians, the Associated Press reports, Pope expresses outrage at violence in Iraq.

As the Middle East struggles with containing and resolving their conflicts, Ukrainians rebels are ready to agree to a ceasefire to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe”, according to the insurgents’ new leader on Saturday as conditions worsen in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, Yuras Karmanau reports, Ukraine rebel leader: We are open to a cease-fire. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the so called prime minister of the Donetsk separatists, said in a statement posed on the rebel website: “We are prepared to stop firing to bar the spread of the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in Donbass (eastern Ukraine).” Russia, who the Kiev governments and Western countries allege is supporting the rebels. has called repeatedly for humanitarian missions into eastern Ukraine, but Kiev and thr West believe it will allow Russian forces into the region as supposedly 20,000 troops are waiting across the border. Late Saturday, in a statement from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine is prepared to accept humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine, but aid must come without military accompaniment, pass through border checkpoints controlled by the Ukrainian government and the mission must be international. Poroshenko spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss German participation in such a mission, while in Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama and Merkel agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine was unacceptable and violated international law. Donetsk city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky told the Associate Press: “The situation is getting worse with every hour.” On Saturday, shelling hit 30 apartment blocks killing one person and wounding 18 adding about 2,000 residential building without power. A 47 year old resident of Donetsk, Dmistry Andronov: “We’re afraid of the Ukrainian army, which is firing on the city, and of the rebels of the Donetsk People’s Republic, who are robbing and killing civilians.” Zakharchenko’s statement came after the rebels’ top commander said Ukrainian forces has seized a key town, Krasnyi Luch, cutting Donetsk and nearby territory off from the rest of the rebel held east. Novorossiya, or “New Russia,” is a term widely used by the rebels for the eastern area that seeks independence from the government in Kiev. Concerns about a possible humanitarian catastrophe in the rebel held second largest city of Luhansk where fighting has been heavy and prolonged. Russians news agencies quote Luhansk authorities on Saturday saying that the city has been without power and water for a week and most stores are closed. Obama ans British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke via phone Saturday about Ukraine and in a statement from Cameron’s office said: “Both expressed grave concern about reports that Russian military vehicles have crossed the border into Ukraine and that Russian armed forces are exercising for a ‘humanitarian intervention’. (Both) are absolutely clear that such a so-called humanitarian mission would be unjustified and illegal.” The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was working to alleviate the crisis in eastern Ukraine, but warned it “will be taken in strict adherence to our fundamental working principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden via phone about his communications with the Red Cross and efforts to distribute humanitarian aid. In a statement from the White House, Biden and Poroshenko agreed that if “Russia were serious about improving the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine,” it had to immediately stop shelling Ukrainian troops, release Ukrainian hostages being held inside Russia and cease providing weapons to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

Ebola Myths, New Dispute in Gaza, U.S. Deepens Involvement in Iraq Again, U.S. Warns Russia and Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan

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On Friday, four new Ebola cases in Nigeria are reportedly linked to Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian American, who died last month including cleaners, hospital and health care workers, Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, told the Washington Post, Amanda L. Chan reports, 4 Newly Reported Ebola Cases In Nigeria Are All Linked To Patrick Sawyer. Sawyer collapsed after getting of the plane from Nigeria having traveled to Liberia. A doctor and a nurse who treated him contracted the virus and died. In all, the WHO reports 13 probable or suspected cases of Ebola in Nigeria. A presidential spokesman told Reuters, the outbreak has cause the Nigerian president to declare an national emergency approving emergency fund of $11.7 million to “strengthen steps to contain the virus such as … additional isolation centers, case management, contact tracing, deployment of additional personnel, screening at borders, and the procurement of required items and facilities,” a spokesman for the president told Reuters. The WHO also declared West Africa Ebola to be an international emergency as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have reported cases and deaths of the deadly virus nearing 1,000 dead since it started earlier this year. Anna Almendrala reports, The Most Destructive Myths AboutEbola Virus, Debunked, due to myths and rumors about the deadly virus in West Africa, health workers are hindered from doing their jobs abroad and have caused unnecessary panic and paranoia in the United States. Here are the important facts Almendrala covers:

Myth: Ebola virus is airborne, waterborne or spreads through casual contact.

Truth: Ebola virus spreads when the bodily fluids of an infected person comes into contact with the mucous membranes of a non-infected person. That means Ebola virus in fluids like blood, sweat or urine has to come in contact with your eyes, mouth, nostrils, ears, genital area or an open wound in order to infect you.

In other words, it takes a lot of contact — not just casual contact — to become infected with the virus, which is why many of the victims of the disease in West Africa are health care workers or family members caring for a sick relative. In Western hospitals, transmission is easily prevented with precautionary measures like face masks, gloves, protective gowns and isolation units.

Health workers in West Africa are teaching community members about the importance of washing hands with soap and water, bringing sick family members to clinics and burying the bodies of people who have died from Ebola to minimize infection risk.

Myth: Immigrant kids from Latin America could bring Ebola into the U.S.

Truth: We can thank Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind. for this ridiculous rumor. He made the bogus claim on Monday on a local radio show, arguing that the release of unaccompanied immigrant children into the U.S. pose a public health risk, reports nwi.com.

Rokita recounted a conversation he had with a fellow congressman about the so-called risk, saying, “He said, ‘look, we need to know just from a public-health standpoint, with Ebola circulating and everything else’ — no, that’s my addition to it, not necessarily his — but he said we need to know the condition of these kids.”

The Indiana congressman was swiftly put in place by a rep at the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, who told nwi.com that no one has ever contracted the Ebola virus disease in the Western Hemisphere.

Myth: International medical teams brought the virus to West Africa.

Truth: This devastating myth may actually be prolonging the Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organization notes that a team of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) were accused of bringing the virus into Guinée Forestière, where they were working, and temporarily had to stop working because of it. The Centers for Disease and Control are coordinating efforts to reach out to community leaders like healers and elders to combat the myth with education about Ebola symptoms and proper treatment in a clinic.

Kalala Ngalamulume, Ph.D., an associate professor of history and Africana studies at Bryn Mawr College, argues that the death rate of this current Ebola strain (around 55 percent and expected to rise), combined with misinformation about the disease, gives villagers good reason to be skeptical.

“People are told that there is no treatment for the Ebola virus, that the people who are taken to the medical centers will die, and that nobody survives after contracting an infection,” wrote Ngalamulume in an email to The Huffington Post. “It is thus not surprising that many villagers assume that people are being taken to hospital to die, or even that hospitals are killing them. Rumors fly.”

Myth: Bringing Ebola patients to the U.S. puts Americans at risk.

Truth: Donald Trump decided to weigh in against bringing American Ebola patients back to the U.S. for treatment, tweeting, “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!”

While leaving soldiers on the battlefield may be his style, Trump’s tweet reveals that he doesn’t understand what makes the Ebola outbreak so fatal. The spread of Ebola is possible not because it’s a uniquely potent virus strain, but because of the healthcare disparity in West Africa.

Gloves, gowns, masks, proper hygiene standards and isolation units are enough to protect healthcare workers from contracting Ebola from their patients. But the countries where Ebola has spread don’t have the adequate resources or facilities to properly treat and quarantine patients.

Tulane University virus expert Dr. Daniel Bausch told Voice of America that years of war and poverty have left countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia uniquely vulnerable to an outbreak.

“You go to a hospital in Sierra Leone or Liberia, and it’s not unusual for a healthcare worker to say, ‘We don’t have gloves.’ Or, ‘We don’t have clean needles,'” said Bausch to VOA. “All of the large outbreaks of Ebola or its sister virus, Marburg, happen in places where social and political unrest over the years have decimated the public health system.”

Myth: Even if you beat Ebola, you can still pass on the virus to others.

Truth: Usually, only people who are exhibiting Ebola symptoms can pass the virus on to others. The only American who has died from Ebola during this outbreak is from Minnesota, where there is a large Liberian population. To address fears in the community, Aaron DeVries, the medical director of the infectious disease divison at the Minnesota Department of Health, addressed this issue and others during an interview with local NBC affiliate Kare 11.

DeVries confirmed that only people exhibiting Ebola symptoms, like fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, can pass the virus on to others. However, the World Health Organization notes that a man who has had Ebola can transmit the virus via his semen for up to 7 weeks after they’ve recovered from the disease.

Myth: This is the first major outbreak of Ebola.

Truth: This is the largest outbreak of Ebola in history, but it isn’t the first. The virus was first diagnosed in humans in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It infected 318 people and had an 88 percent fatality rate. Since then, various strains of the disease have popped up around the African continent, infecting as many as 425 people in 2000 and, most recently, 57 people in 2012, according to WHO.

As of Aug. 4, 2014, the most recent count available, Ebola virus has infected 1,711 people and killed 932 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since the virus emerged again this year.

Myth: Ebola can be treated with antibiotics (or onions, or condensed milk, or…)

Truth: Antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections. Currently, there is neither a cure nor a vaccine for the Ebola virus.

Instead, there is an experimental serum called ZMapp, which contains antibodies designed to help block the virus. Before the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it had only ever been tested on monkeys and has not been approved for human use. American Ebola patients Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol decided to risk it and take the experimental drug, and early reports are cautiously optimistic about their improving conditions. However, it’s unclear what role (if any) the drug is playing in their recovery, reports the Washington Post.

Myth: Ebola liquifies your organs, which causes bleeding from the orifices.

Truth: While Ebola symptoms can include bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, those things only happen in about 20 percent of cases, explained Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, M.D., the associate hospital epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center and director of Infection Control at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories in a previous HuffPost story.

The body’s organs are not liquified. However, when people die from Ebola, it’s usually because the virus causes multi-organ failure and shock. This occurs because Ebola virus weakens blood vessels, causing internal and sometimes external bleeding. The virus also prevents the body from clotting blood effectively, which would help to stop the bleeding.

In Gaza, the U.N. and rights groups operating there say about three quarters of the 1,900 Palestinians killed were civilians including 450 children with many perishing in the strikes that killed several family members at the same time, according to Karin Laub, and Yousur Alhlou, In Gaza, dispute over civilian vs. combat deaths. The pair reports that in the math of the Israel Hamas war there are conflicting counts of combatants and civilians killed emerging with the ratio not as important as the final total in shaping world opinions of the month long conflict. However, Israel estimates that 40-50 percent were fighters in Gaza. Both used different methods and different standard to determine civilian casualties as well as combatant casualties. The U.N. and human rights groups used eyewitness accounts and community contacts of field researchers to distinguish civilians from combatants, according to Mahmoud AbuRahma of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and Israel relied on intelligence reports to determined who belonged to Hamas or other militant groups. The numbers could to be used by either side to explain the conflict. Israel has been criticized for the large number of civilian killed in the war with President Barack Obama and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon saying Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties. Israel explains the high civilian casualties as a side effect of Gaza fighters launching their attacks in crowded residential areas. Brig. Gen. Mickey Adelstein, a senior Israeli army commander, said forces under his command “avoided attacking many, many targets” because civilians were present and that “Hamas took advantage of that issue.” Adelstein on Thursday claimed that the military estimates between 1,700 and 2,000 Palestinians were killed, but the number of dead militants was being under reported: “In one set of 300 names classified as civilians ‘at least 50 percent were … members of the Hamas terrorist movement.'” The Health Ministry in Hamas run Gaza has become more efficient in collecting data over the years due to two previous rounds of fighting in 2008-2009 and 2012, according to Ashraf al-Kidra, the keeper of the statistics and by all counts his stats match up with the human rights groups’ stats, who checked theirs’ against their own research. On Friday, his overall total since July 8 was 1,902 dead including 450 children and 243 women. Al-Kidra defines a civilian as anyone not claimed by one of the armed groups as a member. Laub and Alhlou report the U.N. started with figures from the ministry, the media and other sources, but then cross-check them with the help of Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups coming to the conclusion that 1,922 Palestinians were killed including 73 percent or 1,407 civilians killed. The highest total has come from the Gaza based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, who used a broader definition of civilian, at 1,976 Palestinians killed over the past month, almost 83 percent of them civilians. The most conservative estimate comes from the Israeli group B’Tselem putting only women, children and men over 60 in the civilian category totaling 615 of the 1,510 dead counted so far.

Leaving one conflict for another in the Middle East, Ken Dilanian reports, Kurdish pleas for weapons may finally be heard, Kurdish officials have asked the Obama administration to let them buy U.S. weapons and the administration has ignored he request even though they are America’s closest allies in Iraq. However, the administration is dealing with the consequences of this policy as the Islamic State group, which some American officials called “a terrorist army,” overpowered lightly armed Kurdish units threatening the Kurdish region and American personnel stationed there. The U.S. tried to halt the groups advances on Friday with an airstrike, but Kurdish officials say Washington promised to being sending guns.However, Pentagon officials said the policy is the same they will only sell arms to Baghdad. A growing number of voices are calling for the U.S. to begin arming the Kurds such as Re. Adam Schiff, a California democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee: “If Baghdad isn’t supplying the Kurds with the weapons that they need, we should provide them directly to the Kurds.” Retired Gen,. Michael Barbero, who ran the mission training the Iraqi military, said: “The only way to confront this threat is to arm Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces, and yet we’re doing nothing to support either one of those. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s an existential threat, so why we are not in there at least equipping and arming them?” White House spokesman John Earnest said Friday: “We have a strong military-to-military relationship with Iraq’s security forces, and the Iraqi security forces have shared some of those assets with Kurdish security forces. We have also demonstrated a willingness to increase the flow of supplies, including arms, to Kurdish security forces as they confront the threat that’s posed by ISIL.” In an interview published Saturday in The New York Times, Obama said: “We will be your partners, but we are not going to do it for you. We’re not sending a bunch of U.S. troops back on the ground to keep a lid on things.”

While the Kurds struggle to fight off militants, hundreds of women from the Yazidi religious minority have been kidnapped by Sunni militants, an Iraqi official said Friday, according to Sameer N. Yacoub’s report, Iraqi Official: Hundreds Of Yazidi Women Held Captive By Islamic State. Kamil Amin, the spokesman for Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry, said women below the age of 35 were being held in schools in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and learned of the captives from their families. Amin told the Associated Press: “We think that these women are going to be used in demeaning ways by those terrorists to satisfy their animalistic urges in a way that contradicts all the human and Islamic values.” A U.S. official spoke under conditions of anonymity about a classified intelligence reports that confirms the Islamic State group has kidnapped and imprisoned Yazidi women in order to sell or marry them off to extremist fighters. The Islamic state sees Yszidis and Shiite Muslims as apostates and demands Christians convert to Islam or pay a special tax. In a statement Friday, the U.N. Security Council condemned the targeting of Iraq’s minorities adding any attacks against civilian populations based on ethnic, religious or political background could be considered a crime against humanity for which those responsible will be held accountable.

Back in Washington, President Barack Obama’s new military strategy for Iraq is containment not destruction of the Islamic militant group that controls the northern region of the country leaving open the question of how deeply involved the U.S. will be drawn into the sectarian conflict and if the airstrikes alone will work to stop the militant advances, according to Robert Burns and Lara Jakes, Obama’s Iraq aim: contain, not destroy, extremists. U.S. military jets on Friday launched several airstrikes on isolated targets near the Kurdish capital of Ibril including two mortar position and a vehicle convoy in northeastern Iraq, while U.S> officials announced Friday night a second airdrop of food and water in as many days for imperiled refugees in northwestern Iraq. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said of the Islamic State group, “They are well organized and they’re armed and they are a significant threat to the stability of Iraq.” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Islamic State group must halt its advance on Ibril to prevent more strikes.

Meanwhile, Obama dealt with another matter, Russia, warning on Friday that any further intervention in Ukraine including delivering humanitarian aid would be seen as “an invasion of Ukraine,” Edith M. Lederer reports, US Warns Russia: Further Intervention In Ukraine Will Be Seen As ‘Invasion’. U.S> Ambassador Samantha Power delivered the warning at the Security Council meeting focused on human rights in Ukraine’s east where fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists continues. Power said Russia has increased its aid to separatist, amassed more troops and hardware at the border, began military exercises this week and launched shells across the border into Ukraine. While Power welcomes the Ukrainian government’s creation of a humanitarian corridor to get aid into separatist controlled areas and allow civilians out, Power warned: “…any further unilateral intervention by Russia into Ukrainian territory, including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid, would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming, and it would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine.” On Tuesday, at an emergence council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine called by Russia, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the situation in the east disastrous and said Moscow wants to send a humanitarian convoy to the two areas under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in parts of eastern Ukraine and called for both parties to end the conflict, according to a deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Churkin called Friday for an immediate end to fighting in the east and lashed out at the U.N. report on human rights situation in Ukraine as one sided and blaming “the self-defense formations for … everything short of cannibalism.” In recent weeks, Russia floated the idea of a peacekeeper to Ukraine, however, Power thinks: “A Russian peacekeeper in Ukraine is an oxymoron. At every step in this crisis, Russians have sabotaged peace, not built it, and it is particularly worrisome given Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea… Peacekeepers are impartial, yet Russia fully supports Russia’s armed separatists in this conflict.” Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, via video conference from Croatia briefed the council, welcoming Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s proposal for a new round of talks to find a way to restore a cease-fire. He warned that due to the ongoing violence, “the fabric” of Ukrainian society is being torn apart as “hate speech” increases especially in social media and there is “what amounts to a reign of fear and terror in areas under control of the armed groups, with a breakdown of law and order.”

On Wednesday, the U.N. deputy peacekeeping chief announced that the South Sudan humanitarian operation is now the largest in a single countries and the world’s youngest nation is on the brink of catastrophe as famine looms, Mirjam Donath reports, South Sudan ‘On The Brink Of A Humanitarian Catastrophe’: UN. Ahead of a visit by U.N. Security Council ambassadors to Africa next week, Edmond Mulet told the 15 member council the dire situation could spark security concerns “as communities begin to compete for diminishing resources,” adding: “After three years of independence, South Sudan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe and a protracted internal conflict. This is a man-made crisis, and those responsible for it have been slow in resolving it.” Since fighting erupted in December, 10,000 people have been killed as President Salv Kiir’s government forces fight against supporters of Riek Machar, his former deputy and longtime political rival. Kiir and Machar agreed to a ceasefire in May and to work out details for a transitional government, but little progress has been made. Mulet said more than one million people are displaced by violence and more tha n 400,00 fled the country, while the South Sudan U.N. peacekeeping operation houses nearly 100,00 civilians at its base. Additionally, he said: “With the prolonged presence of this considerable number of people at the facilities which were not built for such a purpose, conditions have become extremely challenging. The scale of humanitarian operations in South Sudan has reached the point that it now constitutes the biggest aid operation inside any single country. However, the capacity and funding of the humanitarian operation falls far short in the face of overwhelming needs.” Mulet states some 3.9 million people are facing food insecurity at alarming levels and 50,000 children may die as a consequence of acute malnutrition this year with 5,300 cases of cholera including 115 deaths. The U.N. Security Council, in addition to the United Sates and the European Union sanctions already imposed on both sides, warns South Sudan’s warring parties it may impose sanctions as well.

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.