Gaza Truce Extended, While Fighting Continues in Iraq

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

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

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

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.