Obama Defends Syria Strikes as the Stock Market Drops, While Turkey and France Defend Their Roles in the Fight Against ISIS

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On Tuesday, President Bashar Assad of Syria said he supports any international effort against terrorism as he tries to position his government on the side of the U.S. led coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, Albert Aji and Ryan Lucas report, U.S.-Led Airstrikes Kill At Least 10 Civilians In Syria: Activists. One Syrian activist group reports dozens of Islamic state fighter were killed in the pre-dawn strikes, while several activist also reported at least 10 civilians killed. Some rebels fighting against Assad welcomed the American led airstrikes, but many expressed frustration that the coalition is only targeting the Islamic State group and not the Syrian government. In a statement posted to Twitter, Harakat Hazm, a rebel faction who has received U.S. made advanced weapons, said, “The only party benefiting from the foreign intervention in Syria is the Assad regime, especially in the absence of a real strategy to bring it down.” The air campaign also hit al-Qaida’s branch in Syrian, the Nusra Front, which has fought against the Islamic State group. Washington considers it a terrorist group threatening the U.S., although Western-backed Syrian rebel groups frequently cooperate with Nusra Front fighters on the battlefield. State news agency SANA reports, In an meeting Tuesday with an Iraqi envoy, Assad voiced his support and Syria is “”decisively continuing in the war it has waged for years against extremist terrorism in all its forms.” He also stressed that all nations must commit to stop support for terrorism — an apparent reference to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are strong backers of Syrian rebels, whom the Syrian government calls terrorists. Though Damascus required permission before an international strike on Syrian soil could occur in recent weeks, the United States has ruled out any coordination with Assad’s government. Damascus said Syria “stands with any international effort to fight terrorism, no matter what a group is called — whether Daesh or Nusra Front or something else.” In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States informed Syria through the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. of its intent to take action, but did not request the Assad government’s permission or coordinate with Damascus. The Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah group, which has dispatched fighters to Syria to bolster Assad’s forces, condemned the strikes along with Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia. In a televised speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said, “We are against an international coalition, whether it is against the regime … or whether it is against Daesh. This is an opportunity, pretext, for America to dominate the region again.” According to the report: “The strikes, conducted by the U.S., Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, hit Islamic State training compounds and command centers, storage facilities and vehicles in the group’s de facto capital, Raqqa, in northeastern Syria, and the surrounding province, U.S. officials said. They also struck territory controlled by the group in eastern Syria leading to the Iraqi border. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 70 Islamic State group fighters were killed and more than 300 wounded. Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory head, said about 22 airstrikes hit Raqqa province in addition to 30 in Deir el-Zour province. Farther west, the strikes hit the village of Kfar Derian, a stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.”

Meanwhile, after a second day of U.S. strikes in Syria, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama called for united action to confront violent extremist Wednesday, according to CNN, More airstrikes against ISIS as Obama urges action at U.N. against extremism. Airstrikes were carried out overnight Tuesday into Wednesday against five more targets: four in Iraq and one in Syria, the U.S. Central Command said. Speaking in New York, Obama said, “It is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion. This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment.” According to Obama, the world must focus on four areas to defeat ISIS: First, ISIS must be degraded and ultimately destroyed; Second, it is time for the world to explicitly reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIS; Third, the world must address the cycle of conflict, including sectarian conflict, that creates the conditions that terrorists thrive on; And fourth, Arab and Muslim countries must focus on the potential of their people, especially youths. Obama warned, “Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition. Today, I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy.” Obama’s call for action comes as he faces questions about his decision to bomb terror groups in Syria without approval from the U.N. Security Council or U.S. Congress. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s lawmakers will soon debate whether their country will join the U.S. and France in conducting airstrikes in Iraq. British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled Parliament early to discuss the possibility. Parliament will meet Friday to “debate the UK’s response to the request from the Iraqi government for airstrikes to support operations against (ISIS) in Iraq,” a Downing Street representative said Wednesday. A U.S. law enforcement official with knowledge of the warning told CNN that concerns over possible backlash from terror groups over the U.S. strikes has prompted Homeland Security to warn law enforcement agencies of lone wolf terror attacks on American soil. On Wednesday, CNN reports, U.N. Security Council passes anti-terror resolution, U.N. Security Council members unanimously passed a draft anti-terror resolution to address the growing threat of foreign terrorist fighters. U.S. President Barack Obama said the resolution requires nations to “suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting, equipping” and financing of “foreign terrorist fighters.” Regarding Syria specifically, Obama said, “The only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war is political: an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or creed. Cynics may argue that such an outcome can never come to pass. But there is no other way for this madness to end, whether one year from now or 10. I can promise you America will remain engaged in the region, and we are prepared to engage in that effort. I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done…We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come.”

President Barack Obama took his call for world cooperation against terror, climate change, Ebola and a host of other issues to the United Nations Wednesday, saying the world stands at a crossroads “between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.” Besides the growing threat of ISIS, Obama also addressed a variety of other international crises currently facing the global community. Obama said regarding Ukraine that the country represents “a vision of the world in which might makes right — a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed (referring to Malaysia airline Flight 17 shot down in Ukraine).” Obama stated that if Russia rolls back its involvement, then the U.S. “will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges.” In the fight against Ebola, while the U.S. has promised to send medical workers and the military to build treatment centers in Africa, the President called for a “broader effort to stop a disease that could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific suffering, destabilize economies, and move rapidly across borders.” As far as the Iranian nuclear program, Obama addressed it by saying, “We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.” Regarding global poverty, Obama said, “We will do our part — to help people feed themselves; power their economies; and care for their sick,” he said. “If the world acts together, we can make sure that all of our children can enjoy lives of opportunity and dignity.” As far as climate change, Obama said the United States will work on the isue within its own borders, but “we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every major power. That’s how we can protect this planet for our children and grandchildren.”

While France has definitively joined the fight against the extremist group, Turkey is still mulling over the idea as it considers its options. According to Aomar Quali and Paul Schemm, France Won’t Stop Fight Against Islamic State Militants Despite Kidnapping, IN a video posted Monday, the group calling itself the Jund al-Khilafah said it would kill Frenchman Herve Gourdel in 24 hours unless France ended its participation in airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq. Speaking to reporters at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, French President Francois Hollande said he had “plenty of confidence” in Algerian security forces that “everything will be done so that we can recover our compatriot.” He added, “As grave as the situation is, we will give in to no blackmail, no pressure, no ultimatum. No terrorist group can in any way influence France’s position, will, and freedom. I repeat it here … we will continue to provide our support to the Iraqi authorities.” That would include weapons deliveries to those fighting the Islamic State group and continued air support for Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga forces. French forces on Friday joined the U.S. in carrying out airstrikes against extremists who have overrun large areas of Syria and Iraq. Herve Gourdel, a mountaineering guide from Nice, was taken Sunday night while driving through the Djura Djura mountains in Algeria’s rugged Kabylie region, which remains one of the last active areas of operation for al-Qaida in Algeria. He was taken with four Algerian companions who were later released. The U.S. embassy in Algiers renewed its travel warning for Algeria Tuesday, urging Americans traveling there to “exercise vigilance” in their movements. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports, Turkey Mulls Military Role Against ISIS, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish reports in New York he is considering expanding support for Western and Arab operations against the Islamic State group to include military involvement following only hours after the U.S. and Arab allies launched airstrikes against the Islamic State targets in Syria. Erdogan spoke as a sideline to the annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he expected Turkey to play a bigger role in the fight against ISIS after Ankara secured the release of 49 Turkish hostages being held by the group. Turkey is a main backer of Syrian rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has allowed thousands of foreign fighters cross into Syria along their common border.

The Ever Growing Threat of Ebola, U.S. and Allies Bombard Syria and Iraq As ISIS Steps Up Attacks and Climate Change Takes Center Stage

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A report issued on Tuesday by the U.S. Centers from Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 550,000 and 1.4 million people in West Africa could be infected with the Ebola virus by January 20, 2015 if nothing changes, Reuters reports, Ebola cases could rise to 1.4 million by January, CDC says. According to the report: “The top range of the estimate, 1.4 million, assumes that the number of cases officially cited so far, 5,864 according to the count kept by the World Health Organization, is significantly underreported, and that it is likely that 2.5 times as many cases, or nearly 20,000, have in fact occurred.” CDC says the projection is based on data available in August and an epidemiological model taking into account how many people each Ebola patient could infect and does not factor in the recent U.S. government Ebola relief effort that included 3,000 members of the armed forces to Ebola stricken areas. In a statement, the CDC said: “Extensive, immediate actions – such as those already started – can bring the epidemic to a tipping point to start a rapid decline in cases.”

While the world fights to contain the Ebola virus and eliminate the spread by containment, the U.S. and several of its allies try to fight a social disease that has spread throughout the world…extremism specifically the Islamic State also know as ISIS. Llazar Semini and Nicole Winfield reports, Pope denounces perversion of religion for violence, Pope France, on Sunday in Albania, denounced that extremist around the world are using religion to justify violence. The Vatican insisted no special security measures were taken even with the threat of ISIS , but Francis’ interaction with the crowd were reduced compared to his previous foreign trips. Albania’s Interior Ministry promised “maximum” protection from 2,500 police forces and beefed-up patrols at border crossings. In his opening speech, Francis told President Bujar Nishani, Albanian officials and the diplomatic corps that Albania’s inter-religious harmony was inspiring: “This is especially the case in these times in which authentic religious spirit is being perverted by extremist groups, and where religious differences are being distorted and instrumentalized. Let no one consider themselves to be the ‘armor’ of God while planning and carrying out acts of violence and oppression!” It was Francis’ first visit to a majority Muslim nation since the Islamic State crackdown on Christians in Iraq, with members of religious minorities being killed, persecuted or forced to flee their homes by militants. The Vatican has voiced mounting concern about the exodus of faithful from lands where Christian communities have existed for 2,000 years. Albania’s president, Nishani, thanked Francis: “There is no intolerance, extremism among us but reciprocal respect inherited from generation to generation,” he said. “From an atheist country, we have turned into a country of religious freedom.” In his homily, Francis paid his respect to those who sacrificed their lives for religious freedom: “Recalling the decades of atrocious suffering and harsh persecutions against Catholics, Orthodox and Muslims, we can say that Albania was a land of martyrs. Do not forget your wounds, but don’t avenge them. Go forward, flying on the hopes of a great future.”

While the optimism for a religiously free world spreads , the Islamic State continues to advocate violence in the name of religion. The Associated Press reports, Islamic State group calls for attacking civilians, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani’s 42 minute audio statement sounds like a call to arms in response to Barack Obama’s coalition formation. A spokesman for the group, al-Adnani, said their fighters are ready for battle and encourage Muslims to attack at home and abroad. In addition, he said the group welcomes the possibility of a ground war with the U.S. and called on Muslims to kill civilians of nations that joined the coalition. In a statement released Sunday, al-Adnani said: “Oh, believer, do not let this battle pass you by wherever you may be. You must strike the soldiers, patrons and troops of the tyrants. Strike their police, security and intelligence members. If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that joined a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be.” Militants in Algeria seized a French citizen on Sunday and later issued a statement saying it was in response to al-Adnani’s appeal. In a video that appeared on social media, a masked member of an al-Qaida splinter organization calling itself Jund al-Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate, said he would kill his captive within 24 hours if France did not withdraw from the coalition seeking to destroy the Islamic State group. Perhaps tapping into fears among Americans of the mission broadening, al-Adnani vowed the U.S. would be “drawn and dragged” into a ground war. “It will come down to the ground and it will be led to its death, grave, and destruction. … Know that our knife is sharp and hard. It cuts off the hands and strikes the necks.” Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Bram Janssen report, Clashes Between Iraqi Soldiers And Islamic State Leave Dozens Dead And Missing, Sunday that Islamic State militants in Iraqi army uniforms and driving stolen Humvees killed 40 Iraqi soldiers at Camp Saqlawiyah near the town of Sijir and captured another 68 in western Anbar province where the United States recently broadened their airstrikes, according to Gen. Rasheed Fleih. After the attacks, the Iraqi military withdrew 700 more troops stationed in the area, he said. Iraq’s new Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said in a statement Monday that his government is committed to reinforcing military and police forces in Anbar and will increase airstrikes to target the pockets of militant fighters across the province. On Monday, the U.S. military said the airstrikes on Islamic State targets southwest of oil rich Kirkuk destroyed two military vehicles and a tank and damaged a Humvee. With the U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces have retaken several small towns and strategic Mosul Dam, but the Islamic State fighters operate from cities with large civilian populations such as Fallujah and Mosul. In northern Iraq, Helgurd Hikmet, general director of the ministry overseeing the Kurdish forces, said that France, Italy and Germany were among countries providing training in the use of the new machine guns, mortars, rockets and demining robots the Kurdish fighters have received. Last week, the French joined in the aerial campaign, and a number of European countries have committed to arming the Kurds and providing humanitarian support for more than a million people displaced by the onslaught of the Islamic State group. Meanwhile, Turkey’s Prime deputy Prime Minster Numan Kurtulmus said Turkey is ready for the worst case scenario should more refugees steam in as the number of fleeing Syrians from the Islamic state group to turkey grew in the last four days since Thursday to 130,000, according to Desmond Butler and Suzan Fraser, Syria refugee flood to Turkey hits 100,000. The Islamic State in recent days has advanced into the Kurdish regions of Syria that border Turkey, where fleeing refugees on Sunday reported atrocities that included stonings, beheadings and the torching of homes. UNHCR spokeswoman Selin Unal said most of those coming across the border are Kurdish women, children and the elderly. She urged the international community to step up its aid for Syrian refugees in Turkey. Meanwhile in Monday night raids, the U.S. and five Arab nations attacked the Islamic State group headquarters in eastern Syria by land and sea based U.S. aircraft and Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from two navy ships in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, according to Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns, Joint chiefs chair: ‘No safe haven’ for militants. U.S. officials said five Arab nations either participated in the airstrikes or provided unspecified support. They were Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Several hours after the Pentagon announced the airstrikes against Islamic State targets, U.S. Central Command said American warplanes also launched eight airstrikes “to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests” by a network of “seasoned al-Qaida veterans” – sometimes known as the Khorasan Group – who have established a haven in Syria. Central Command said that separate bombing mission was undertaken solely by U.S. aircraft and took place west of the Syrian city of Aleppo. It said targets included training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities. Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the U.S. informed Syria’s envoy to the U.N. that “strikes will be launched against the terrorist Daesh group in Raqqa.” The statement used an Arabic name to refer to the Islamic State group. Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Associated Press, “There is confirmed information that there are casualties among Islamic State group members.” He added that missiles also targeted the towns of Tabqa, Ein Issa and Tel Abyad, as well as the village of Kfar Derian, which is a base for the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, a rival of the Islamic State group. Another activist, Mohammed al-Dughaim, based in the northern Syrian province of Idlib, confirmed that several airstrikes hit Kfar Derian in the early hours of Tuesday. He said there were civilians among the casualties.

While much of the world seems focused on the growing threat of pandemic Ebola and of equal threat ISIS, world leaders and activists took their concern over climate change to the street pushing for change now before its too late. Verena Dobnik and Michael Sisak report, Thousands march in NYC, around globe over climate, tens of thousands of activists walked through Manhattan Sunday to bring attention to and warn that climate change is destroying the earth with demonstrators around the world urging policy makers to take quick action. According to the report: “Organizers said more than 100,000 marched in New York, including actors Mark Ruffalo and Evangeline Lilly. They were joined in midtown Manhattan by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, former Vice President Al Gore and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. On Tuesday, more than 120 world leaders will convene for the United Nations Climate Summit aimed at galvanizing political will for a new global climate treaty by the end of 2015. De blasio said, “My sense is the energy you see on the streets, the numbers that have amassed here and in other cities around the world, show that something bigger is going on, and this U.N. summit will be one of the ones where we look back and say it was a difference maker.” Ban agreed saying, “Climate change is a defining issue of our time and there is no time to lose. There is no Plan B because we do not have planet B. We have to work and galvanize our action.” The New York march was not the only one as similar event tool place around the world to raise awareness on climate change. In London, organizers said 40,000 marchers participated, while a small gathering in Cairo featured a huge art piece representing wind and solar energy. In Rio de Janeiro, marchers at Ipanema Beach had green hearts painted on their faces. Celebrities in London including actress Emma Thompson and musician Peter Gabriel joined thousands of people crossing the capital’s center, chanting: “What do we want? Clean energy. When do we want it? Now.” In New York, people from tornado ravaged Moore, Oklahoma where 24 people were killed last year and hundreds of people affected by Superstorm Sandy participated in the march. In Australia, the largest rally was in Melbourne, where an estimated 10,000 people took to the streets with banners and placards calling on their government to do more to combat global warming. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott was a particular target of the protesters. Abbott’s center-right coalition has removed a carbon tax and has restricted funding for climate change bodies since coming to power last year. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary John Kerry on Monday opened a week of climate change talks in New York hopeful that the discussions will set the tone for upcoming negotiations on an international agreement, Michael Pearson reports, Kerry: New York climate summit to set agenda. Addressing business and government leaders attending Climate Week NYC that coincides with the U.N. summit Tuesday, Kerry said: “It’s about time that world leaders come to the United Nations to recognize this threat in the way that it requires and demands. And it gives me hope that this global summit may actually produce the leadership that is necessary to try to come together and move the needle, to take advantage of the small window of time — and I mean that — the small window of time that we have left in order to be able to prevent the worst impacts of climate change from already happening.” He urged participants to use their influence to steer world leaders toward committing to greater action on climate change in time for discussions on an international climate change agreement to be held in Lima, Peru, in December and in Paris in 2015. Some 125 countries will attend the session, according to the Climate Group, which is organizing Climate Week NYC. Ryan Gorman reports, Global warming likely to cause colder and snowier winters, scientists say, scientists now believe global warming is to blame for extreme cold snaps in North America during the winter months and will keep happening. The “polar vortex” that plunged Canada and the U.S. into historical cold last winter is said by researchers to have occurred because melting polar ice changes weather patterns, according to a study published earlier this month. A team of Korean and American scientist assert in a new study that the melting ices has caused the northern jet stream or upper level air flow to shift south and bring polar air with it. The article explains: “The polar ice is melting because warmer water is riding the Gulf Stream (ocean currents) from tropical regions of the Atlantic Ocean to an area north of Scandinavia. This causes masses of warm air to destabilize the normally strong polar air mass and send brutally cold air right at Canada and the U.S., according to Slate. As the atmosphere continues to warm, and ocean water temperatures rise, this effect will only become more pronounced, researchers argue. The surprising result of global warming, or climate change, will be colder, snowier winters across both countries. The Eurasian supercontinent also experiences this cooling effect, according to study co-author Seong-Joon Kim.”

Progress in Gaza and Ukraine as Russian Soldiers Return Home, Escalation Between Obama and ISIS Cast a Big Shadow Over 9/11 Rememberance and an Important Global Warming Update

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In an interview with Al Quds TV on Thursday, Hamas No. 2 Musa Abu Marzouk said “Hamas is willing to talk directly to the Israelis” regarding issues including Gaza border crossings and prisoner releases, according to Ibrahim Barzak, Hamas Says It’s Ready For Direct Talks With Israel. Obtained by the Associated Press, in the taped interview, he said: “Just as you negotiate with weapons you can also negotiate by talk. Up till now our policy was no negotiation with (Israel), but others should be aware that this issue is not taboo.” Israel has consistently said it will not talk directly with Hamas until the group recognizes its right to exist and renounces violence. Abu Marzouk insist the reason for considering take such steps reflects growing tensions with Abbas, whom Hams believes is trying to reclaim control of Gaza. He said, “Hamas finds itself compelled to make this move when the natural rights of the people in Gaza come under pressure from the Palestinian Authority and the government.” Hamza Hendawi and Josef Federman report, Evidence growing that Hamas used residential areas, that evidence is mounting against Hamas militants regarding the use of residential areas as cover for launching rockets at Israel several times which Hamas now admits mistakes were made. According to the Associated Press, Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said: “Gaza, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah in the south, is one uninterrupted urban chain that Israel has turned into a war zone. The Israelis kept saying rockets were fired from schools or hospitals when in fact they were fired 200 or 300 meters (yards) away. Still, there were some mistakes made and they were quickly dealt with.” According to Palestinian figures, 2,000 Palestinians died with three quarters of them civilians and more than 500 children included, while 11,0000 were wounded and 100,000 left homeless. On the Israeli side, seventy two people died including six civilians. Ahead of the U.N. investigation, the Israeli military released reams of evidence, including satellite photos and aerial footage, to support its claims that it acted appropriately and tried to minimize casualties, while Hamas made no effort to disguise its aim of maximizing Israeli casualties. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said, “Hamas’ excuses are outrageous, misleading and contrary to the evidence supplied by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and the reality documented by international journalists on the ground in Gaza.” A visit to the area uncovered three separate military sites possibly training grounds larger than a football field near state schools concealed from the street with barriers made of corrugated iron. Hamas restricted access to these areas making it impossible for photographers to enter the site and Israel confirmed that the areas were targeted in airstrikes. Another site identified by Israeli military as a rocket launching site is in northern Gaza near the new Indonesian hospital in close proximity to residential homes. The two Hamas military facilities are across the road to the west of the two story hospital which stands intact. Hamad, the Hamas official, said the buildings shown in Israeli videos were either a safe distance from the rocket launchers or the building were vacant during fighting. Bill Van Esyeld, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch, said: “I don’t think there’s any doubt urban areas were used to launch rockets from in the Gaza Strip. What needs to be determined is how close to a populated building or a civilian area were those rocket launches.” Sami Abdel Shafi, a Palestinian American representing the Carter Center in Gaza, said: “Yes, Hamas and others may have used civilians as human shields, but was that consistent and widespread? The question is whether Israel’s response was proportionate.” The death toll and number of civilian deaths led to harsh condemnation of Israel and raised questions on the proportionality of Israeli’s response causing Israel, in order to prevent an international investigation, on Wednesday to open its own criminal investigation into two high profile cases involving Palestinian civilian casualties. Hamas also has been sharply criticized for launching rockets aimed at Israeli cities and towns. Israel says its own civilian death toll would have been much higher had it not been for its rocket defenses. The U.N. Human Rights Council has appointed a commission to look into the latest fighting. Its report is expected no sooner than March.

While long standing peace could remain elusive for Gaza and progress is slow to say the least, Ukraine is taking steps forward to ensure peace in eastern Ukraine as Russia beefs up its military strategy. Laura Mills reports, Ukraine’s President Pledges To Give The Country’s East More Autonomy, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday said he will introduce a bill next week offering greater autonomy to the pro-Russian east but rejects the idea of federalization that both Russia and the rebels want. During a televised Cabinet meeting, Poroshenko explained: “[the ceasefire deal reached] envisages the restoration and preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty over the entire territory of Donbas, including the part that is temporarily under control of the rebels. Ukraine has made no concessions with regards to its territorial integrity.” Ukraine and the West both accused Russia of fueling the separatists with arms, expertise and its own troops, something Russia denies. In late August, NATO estimated more than 1,000 troops were operating on Ukrainian spoil and helping the rebels to turn the tide of the war in their favor. In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Wednesday for new sanctions against Russia that would deepen earlier penalties targeting Russia’s energy and arms sectors and tighten Russia’s access to International loans. Merkel told German parliament that the ceasefire improved the situation but there was “a lack of clarity on the fulfillment” of many other points of the peace plan. Ambassadors from EU nations were meeting Wednesday to discuss the sanction against Russia in Brussels. Poroshenko says since the agreement, 70 percent of the Russian troops in Ukraine have been withdrawn and 700 Ukrainian prisoners have been freed from rebel captivity with 500 more being freed by the end of the week. Mills reports: “Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security Council, told journalists that only 20 servicemen had returned home so far. In Donetsk, a rebel spokesman said a planned exchange of 36 soldiers from each side had been put off until Thursday, blaming the government for the delay. The cease-fire has been violated numerous times and Poroshenko accused the separatists of “provoking” Ukraine’s troops. Ukraine says five servicemen have been killed and 33 injured since Friday. A volley of rocket fire was heard in the rebel-held city of Donetsk late Tuesday.” In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, the leader of the rebels in Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky, reacted to Poroshenko’s commnets: “Neither we, nor our friends in Donetsk, are going to abandon the course to build our own state. A temporary cease-fire cannot cancel the results of the people’s vote. People voted unanimously for the independence of our republics. There’s no way back to the previous status.” Other rebels have been in favor of a broad autonomy. Plotnitsky said the next round of talks between Moscow, Kiev, the insurgents and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is likely to discuss the status of the rebel-held areas. The Ukrainian public has been largely supportive of the war against the separatists. Peter Leonard reports, Ukraine, rebels exchange prisoners in peace deal, government and revel forces on Friday exchanged dozens of prisoners captured during fighting in Ukraine as part of a ceasefire agreement earlier this month outside the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk under the watch of international observers. Yurly Tandit, a negotiator for the government, said: “There is an ongoing process of talks. We are meeting each other’s demands and fulfilling our promises.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports, Russia Tests Nuclear Missile, Russia successfully tested their new Bulava intercontinental nuclear missile on Wednesday and will perform two more test launches in October and November, according to the head of its naval forces. The 12-meter long Bulava, or mace, has undergone numerous tests, some of which have failed, causing setbacks for the project that aims to be the cornerstone of Russia’s nuclear arsenal over the next decade. Thomas Grove and Maria Tsvetkova report, Moscow stifles dissent as soldiers return in coffins, that 15 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine and hundreds more are in the hospital, according to human rights workers and military workers. A survey by pro-Kremlin pollster Fund of Social Opinions said 57 percent of Russians support the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, but only 5 percent support an invasion of Ukrainian territory. Russian authorities have worked to systematically silence rights workers’ complaints over soldiers’ deaths, intimidating those who question the Kremlin’s denials regarding Ukraine. Vladimir Isachenkov reports, Putin: Russia to focus on new offensive weapons, on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin announced Russia is developing a variety of new nuclear and conventional weapons to counter the U.S. and NATO and weighing the cost to avoid overburdening its economy. Putin said potential threats must be analyzed and an adequate response given to avoid excessive military spending. In addition, he said Russian defense industries must rid themselves of dependence on imports and become capable of producing key components at home, referring to recent Western sanctions imposed on Russian arms sales. Russian West relations are at their lowest point since the Cold War with NATO deciding last week to create a rapid reaction spearhead force to protect Eastern Europe from Russian bullying. Meanwhile, Fred Westerbeke of the Dutch National Prosecutors Office told reporters that most likely the downing of MH17 in eastern Ukraine on July 17 was shot down as a separate Dutch air crash investigation concluded this week that the plane was hit from the outside by numerous high energy objects, according to Mike Corder, Shooting down of MH17 ‘most likely’ scenario. Police chief Patricia Zorko said detectives are poring over 350 million webpages and thousands of photos and films that could contain evidence and are trying to authenticate intercepted phone conversations. Corder reports: “A highly placed rebel officer told the AP in an interview after the disaster that the plane was shot down by a mixed team of rebels and Russian military personnel who believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane. Intercepted phone conversations between the rebels released by the Ukrainian government support that version of events.” Detectives and forensic experts are looking at 25 metal objects recovered from bodies and wreckage to see if any clues surface. Westerbeke warns the complex investigation is complex and time consuming comparing it to the Lockerbie bombing hat took years to identify suspects.

As the rebels and Ukraine government try to reach some sort of long lasting peace and stability internally and externally with Russia, the United Stated joined by other countries in their alliance try to wage war against an entity that has spread quickly throughout the Middle East and internationally through recruitment of foreigners to brutal battles. Julie Pace reports, Obama orders airstrikes in Syria for first time, President Barack Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria for the first time Wednesday night with expanded strikes in Iraq as part of a “steady, relentless effort” to root out Islamic State extremists. In a prime time address to the nation from the White House, Obama declared: “We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” Obama announced he will send 500 more U.S. troops to advise and assist Iraqi security forces as well as conduction intelligence and reconnaissance flights, bringing the total number of American forces this summer to 1,500. He urged Congress to authorize a program to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting both the Islamic State militants and Syrian President Bashar Assad. He added: “But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.” Officials said Obama plans to proceed with both broader airstrikes in Iraq and Syria without seeking new authorization from Congress as he is acting under a use of force authorization Congress passed in the days following 9/11 to give President George W. Bush the ability to go after those who perpetrated the terror attacks. Obama previously called for its repeal, but used it as support for strikes against terror targets in Yemen and Somalia. Pace reports: “Obama said his approach in Syria is modeled after those long-running U.S. counterterrorism campaigns. But it is different in important ways, starting with the fact that it marks the first time since 9/11 that a U.S. president has authorized the bombing of terror targets in another nation without seeking permission or at least notifying it in advance.” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised Obama for acknowledging the grave and growing threat that the Islamic State poses, but said Obama was coming to that conclusion too late. Boehner said: “He has finally begun to make the case the nation has needed him to make for quite some time: that destroying this terrorist threat requires decisive action and must be the highest priority for the United States and other nations of the free world.”The White House wants Congress to include the authorization in a temporary funding measure lawmakers will vote on before they adjourn this month. Republicans have made no commitment to support the request and the House GOP has so far not included the measure in the funding legislation, while a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada Democrat might opt to seek separate legislation. The White House announced Wednesday that it was also providing $25 million in immediate military assistance to the Iraqi government as part of efforts to combat the Islamic State. David Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, wrote in a blog post that the U.S. would be working with other countries, especially Gulf states, to cut off the group’s external funding networks and its access to the global financial system. The U.S. has been pressing allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere to help with efforts to degrade the terror group. Meanwhile, rebels, desperate and disenchanted, don’t believe help will come from the West, blaming the United States and its allies for past failures when support was promised and not delivered allowing the rise of ISIS, according to Sophia Jones, Cash-Strapped Moderate Syrian Rebels Blame West For Rise Of Islamic State. The Islamic State has amassed considerable wealth from foreign donations, oil smuggling, extortion and hostage ransoms. They’ve taken control of crucial weapons warehouses and supplies, such as weaponry the U.S. gave to the Iraqi Army. In addition, the new found power has allowed them to gain support by setting up needed infrastructures and imposing order as well as strictly enforced rules such as bans on smoking, and mandates that women wear full-face veils. Jones reports: “Three and a half years into a devastating civil war that has ripped apart the country, Syrian fighters say that if something doesn’t change they’ll lose more and more moderate fighters to the Islamic State. As secular, moderate rebel groups face infighting, divisions and a lack of necessary equipment and training, some may be enticed by the rich and highly organized Islamic State. The group of fighters gathered in the Turkish border town said they usually make roughly $50 a month. But they’ve heard that Islamic State fighters can make $600 or more.” As the rebels fight both the regime and Islamic State, they fear the threat of the jihadi group will cast a shadow over their efforts to curb the regime’s grip on Syria. While the Islamic State beheads U.S. journalists and persecutes and kills religious minorities, the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately bomb civilian areas and likely is using chemical weapons against its own population.

Meanwhile, international, the U.S. tries to rally allegiance from neighboring countries int he Middle East and allies to fight the Islamic State casting a shadow on the 13 anniversary of 9/11. On Thursday, Key Arab allies promised to help in the fight against the Islamic State, but NATO member Turkey refused, Lara Jakes and Adam Schreck report, Arab allies pledge to fight Islamic state group. As the CIA doubled its assessment of how many fighters the extremist group can muster, the Arab states’ endorsed the broad strategy to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the insurgents and to join possible military action. On Thursday, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress joined the President in his call to combat the militants after laying out his long term campaign to include expanding airstrikes against the fighters in Iraq, launching strikes against them in Syria for the first time and bolstering the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory from the militants. After a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in thr Red Sea city of Jiddah, 10 Mideast allies announced their backing for a strategy to destroy the group wherever it is. Kerry’s visit, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was aimed at pinning down regional allies and so far 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry said would be a worldwide fight to defeat the group. Kerry said of the terror attacks on the U.S. 13 years ago: “The devastating consequences of extremist hate remain fresh in the minds of all Americans, and to so many of our friends and allies around the world. Those consequences are felt every day here in the Middle East.” New intelligence assessments estimate the extremists have between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria, up from a figure of 10,000, the CIA said Thursday. CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said the new total reflects stronger recruitment by extremists since June, following battlefield successes and the group’s declaration of an Islamic State or caliphate on territory under its control. On Friday, Larak Jakes reports, US, Turkey mull strategy against Islamic militants, the United States pressed Turkey to harden its borders against fighters and funding going to the Islamic State and sought clarity on how far Ankara is willing to go to help a world coalition to destroy the group. While Turkey sits on the front line battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria as it assists refugees and cracked down on cross border traffic from both countries, Turkey resist endorsing the new strategy as 49 Turkish citizens have been kidnapped including diplomats. At the start of a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu cited “challenges and threats” in Iraq and Syria. Jakes reports: “It was the third meeting so far this month between Kerry and Cavusoglu, who also together participated in talks during the annual NATO summit in Wales and this week in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, about the Islamic State threat. Kerry said the two men also will chair a counterterrorism forum at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September. But the U.S. is being careful to not push Turkey too hard as it grapples with trying to free its hostages. The Turks were kidnapped from their consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when it was overrun by the Islamic State in June.” In addition, American hostages are being held as payback for the 150 airstrikes that Washington has launched in Iraq since last month. Kerry said: “But I think for the moment, they have a few sensitive issues. We respect those sensitive issues, and we’re going to work with them very carefully.” Rachelle Blinder and Jonathan Lemire report, New terror fight casts shadow over 9/11 ceremonies, due to the growing threat of the Islamic State, a heavy cloud hung over the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Thursday causing many to feel anxiety and determination in coming to ground zero to remember loved ones. The silence to mark the attack and the roll call of the nearly 3,000 lives lost came hours after President Barack Obama told the country he is authorizing expanded strikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State group. Vasile Poptean said as he left the ceremony, where he had gone to remember his brother, Joshua Poptean: “It’s an ongoing war against terrorists. Old ones die out and new ones pop up. If we don’t engage them now, there’s a possibility there will be another 9/11 down the road.” Victims’ relatives and dignitaries gathers in the plaza where the twin towers stood and now where the soon to open 1,776 foot One World Trade Center stands to commemorate the attacks, while in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where former House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave the flag that flew atop the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 to the Flight 93 National Memorial, did the same. At the Pentagon, Obama spoke at the wreath laying ceremony without mentioning the rise of Islamic State extremists specifically, but noted: “We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world. That was the case before 9/11 and that remains true today.”

As many try to heal old wounds and remember those they lost to what it seems is an endless war, the United Nations along with scientist this week had some good news about the health of the planet. Seth Borenstein reports, Scientists say the ozone layer is recovering, earth’s protective ozone layer has begun to heal largely due to the phase out since the 1980s of certain chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans, the U.N. scientific panel reported Wednesday. Scientists said the development demonstrates that when the world works together, it can counteract a brewing ecological crisis. For the first time in 25 years, scientists confirmed a statistically significant and sustained increase in stratospheric ozone shielding the planet from solar radiation that causes skin cancer, crop damage and other problems. Paul A. Newman, a NASA scientist and co-chaired the every four years ozone assessment by 300 scientist published by the United Nations, said from 2000 to 2013 ozone levels climbed 4 percent in key mid-northern latitudes at 30 miles up. The ozone layer has been thinning since the 1970s due to man made chlorofluorocarbons called CFCs which release chlorine and bromine destroying ozone molecules high in the air. After scientists raised the alarm, countries agreed to a treaty in 1987 that phased out CFCs allowing those chemicals to decrease between 30 and 50 miles up. The United Nations calculated in earlier reports that without the pact, by 2030 there would be an extra 2 million skin cancer cases a year around the world. Newman added that heat trapping greenhouse gases are also helping to rebuild the ozone layer as the cooler air caused by carbon dioxide and other gases increase the amount of ozone. MIT atmospheric scientist Susan Solomon said the chemicals that replaced CFCs contribute to global warming and are on the rise expecting that a dramatic increase will occur by 2050 and make a big contribution to global warming. The long lasting ozone eating chemicals still linger in the atmosphere creating a yearly fall ozone hole over the extreme southern Hemisphere and the hole hasn’t closed up. By Newman’s calculations, the ozone layer is still 6 percent thinner than in 1980. Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said there are encouraging signs that the ozone layer “is on track to recovery by the middle of this century.” He added: “More than 98 percent of the ozone-depleting substances agreed over time have actually been phased out. If not for such efforts, Steiner said, “we would be seeing a very substantial global ozone depletion today.” Earlier this week, the United Nations announced that atmospheric levels of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, surged to another record high in 2013. The increase from 2012 was the biggest jump in three decades.

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

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

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

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

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

Losing the War Against Ebola, ISIS Threat Cast A Heavy Shadow Over NATO Summit and Ukraine Ceasefire Deal Met With Skepticism

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On Tuesday, Doctors without Borders said the world is losing the battle against Ebola and is saddened by the fact most people who enter the West African treatment centers go there to die alone. In separate remarks following a United Nations meeting on the matter, the World Health Organization chief said everyone underestimated the crisis that has killed 1,500 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. U.N. officials implored governments worldwide to send medical workers and material contributions. In Liberia, a missionary organization reported that another American doctor has been infected. Doctors without Borders whose treated 1,00 Ebola patients in West Africa since March is overwhelmed, according to the organization’s president, Joanne Liu. She called on other countries to contribute civilian and military personnel familiar with biological disasters, AOL reports. At a U.N. forum, Liu explains, “Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it. Ebola treatment centers are reduced to places where people go to die alone, where little more than palliative care is offered.” In Sierra Leone infectious bodies rot on the street, while Liberia had to build a new crematorium instead of Ebola care center, Liu reported. As for countries already involved in the fight, WHO Director Margaret Chan acknowledged and thanks them at the U.N. meeting: “We need more from you. And we also need those countries that have not come on board.” President Obama urged West Africans on Tuesday to wear gloves and masks when caring for Ebola patients or burying those who died as this has been one of the ways the virus has spread through the populations. In a brief video message, Obama explained, “You can respect your traditions and honor your loved ones without risking the lives of the living.” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the situation is now the world’s first Ebola epidemic, given how widely it is spreading. The latest missionary to contract the disease, a male obstetrician, was not immediately identified by the group Serving in Mission and did not work in the Ebola ward. A Liberian doctor on the treatment team said it was too soon to tell whether he will be evacuated. U.S. offcials on Tuesday announced a $24.9 million 18 month contract with Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. to speed development of ZMapp which will allow a small amount to be used for early stage safety testing while the Department of Health and Human Services works on speeding up production. The outbreak has taken a heavy toll on health care workers and nurses in Liberia and Sierra Leone have gone on strike to demand hazard pay and better protective gear. However, as of Tuesday, the governments report the disputes have been resolved and nurses are back at work. In addition, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warn that food in countries hit by Ebola has become more expensive and will become scarcer due to farmers who can’t reach their fields. AOL reports: “Authorities have cordoned off entire towns in an effort to halt the virus’ spread. Surrounding countries have closed land borders, and airlines have suspended flights to and from the affected countries. Seaports are losing traffic, restricting food imports to the hardest-hit countries. Those countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – all rely on grain from abroad to feed their people, according to the U.N. food agency. For instance, the price of cassava root, a staple in many West African diets, has gone up 150 percent in one market in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.” Vincent Martin, coordinator for the food agency’s response to the crisis, said, “Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the affected areas were spending up to 80 percent of their incomes on food. Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach.”

While Ebola ravages West Africa and continues to spread, another kind of disease has continued to spread its message of hate across the Middle East raising international concern and garnering international condemnation from the political arena. Sinan Salaheddin and Diaa Hadid report, Group accuses extremists of war crimes in Iraq, Amnesty International accused the Islamic State extremists on Tuesday of systematic “ethnic cleansing” in northern Iraq. In a new 26 page report, Amnesty said miltants abducted hundreds maybe thousands of women and girls of the Yazidi faith, killed hundreds of Yazidi men and boys and in one incident rounded them up on trucks, took them to the edge of their village and shot them. On Monday, the United Nations’ top human rights body approved a request by Iraq to open an investigation into crimes committed by the Islamic State group against civilians, aiming to provide evidence of atrocities in Iraq that could be used in international war crimes prosecution of the group. In Amnesty’s report, the advancement of the group has expelled 830,000 people mostly Shiites and tiny religious minorities including Aramaic-speaking Christians, Yazidis, a faith that traces to ancient Mesopotamia, the Shabak, an offshoot of Islam, and Mandeans, a gnostic faith. Thousands of Christians live in schools and churches in northern Iraq, Shiites mostly drifted to southern Iraq and Yazidis crowd into displaced persons camps and half finished building. Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International, said, “Minorities in Iraq have been targeted at different points in the past, but the Islamic State (group) has managed, in the space of a few weeks, to completely wipe off of the map of Iraq, the religious and ethnic minorities from the area under their control.” Yazidi lawmaker, Mahma Khalil, said, “They have been trying hard to force us to abandon our religion. We reject that because we are the oldest faith in Iraq, that has roots in Mesopotamia.” Meanwhile, CNN reports, Leaders hold pivotal NATO summit as threats of ISIS, Russian aggression loom, the spread of ISIS across Syria and Iraq and hundreds of deaths in Ukraine’s struggle to remain independent from Russia mark a pivotal moment for the NATO alliance, leaders on Thursday said. British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “We meet at a crucial time in the history of our alliance. The world faces many dangerous and evolving threats, and it is absolutely clear that NATO is as vital to our future as it has been in our past.” Cameron spoke at the beginning of the two day NATO summit to discuss the alliance’s response to threats int he Middle East and Ukraine as well as Afghanistan’s future. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, “We will take important decisions to keep our nations safe, to keep the vital bond between Europe and North America strong and to help build stability in a dangerous world.” The discussion happened amid a peace plan discussed by Ukraine and Russia expected to be implemented Friday, according to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s Twitter account Thursday. The day before, Poroshenko’s office via phone said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had reached an agreement on the process toward peace between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels. Putin presents a seven point road map to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine even though Russia denies involvement. Rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk said in joint statements Thursday they would order a ceasefire at 3p.m. Friday if “if agreements are achieved and Ukrainian officials sign a plan for a political settlement of the conflict.” Rebel leaders will also take part in talks in Belarus on Friday, the statement said, where they will present proposals on ensuring compliance with the plan. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk along with NATO and United States have greeted Russia’s plan with skepticism seeing it as a disguised rescue plan for pro-Russian rebels. Meanwhile in a statement Thursday, Dutch Safety Board said a preliminary report will be released next Tuesday on the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over rebel controlled eastern Ukraine that killed all 298 people on board on July 17. The report, according to the statement, “will present factual information based on sources available” to its investigators including satellite imagery, radar details and data from the plane’s “black box” recorders. Tuesday’s report will set out what investigators believe happened, but will not apportion blame. Back at the summit, Rasmussen calls on Russia to end the annexation of Crimea and withdraw from Ukraine: “We call on Russia to step back from confrontation and take the path of peace. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has been a wake-up call. It has … reminded all of us that our freedom, security and prosperity cannot be taken for granted, that some are trying to redraw dividing lines in Europe with force and in blood. We will adopt a readiness action plan that will make our forces faster, fitter and more flexible, ready to address any challenges whenever they come and from wherever they come.” NATO members will be urged to prioritize defense as some member states are not pulling their weight. U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Wales for the summit after a visit to Estonia aimed at reassuring nervous Eastern European nations that NATO’s support for its member states is unwavering. In a joint opinion piece in the Times of London Thursday, Obama and Cameron warn against isolationism: “To the east, Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening a sovereign nation state. To the south, there is an arc of instability from north Africa and the Sahel to the Middle East…the problems we face today threaten the security of British and American people, and the wider world.” Cameron told CNN ahead of the summit that NATO leaders would discuss the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism and members should agree on how to help Middle Eastern nations tackle the threat. Also on the agenda, Afghanistan, NATO’s biggest overseas commitment of troops, where votes in the contested presidential election are being audited and Rasmussen said the Afghan government needs to finalize a Status of Forces Agreement to protect NATO forces there as they switch to an advisory and training role. But he did say he was “encouraged” that both candidates in the runoff vote, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have agreed on the need for a new agreement.

Prior to these discussion of the dire situations across the Middle East and Russia on Thursday, President Barack Obama authorized the State Department request for 350 additional troops in Iraq ” “to protect our diplomatic facilities and personnel in Baghdad,” according to a Tuesday statement from the office of the White House Press Secretary, reports Ashley Alman, Obama Authorizes Sending Additional Troops To Iraq. According to the White House statement regarding the request: “This action was taken at the recommendation of the Department of Defense after an extensive interagency review, and is part of the President’s commitment to protect our personnel and facilities in Iraq as we continue to support the Government of Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” In addition, the statement said, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor will soon travel to Iraq “to build a stronger regional partnership.” Earlier Tuesday, the Islamic State group released a video claiming it depicts the beading of captured American Steven Sotloff, which is the second one in two weeks following the video release in August of James Foley’s execution, another American Journalist killed by ISIS.

While the United States tries to take steps to protect its interests in the Middle East after the execution of two of its citizens, India and Israel are both concerned about possibly confronting the group that is now on their doorstep. Daniel Estrin reports, Israelis worry with Syrian al-Qaida on doorstep, fir the first time in the Syrian civil war, al-Qaida fighters are now hunkered down on Israel’s doorstep as Israelis in Golan Height could be their next targets. The push by Nusra Front, a well-known branch of al-Qaida, comes two weeks after Israel ended its 50 day war with Hamas on its southern border with Gaza causing concern in the conflict weary nation. Last weeks seizure of strategic Quneitra border crossing by Nusra fighters who expelled Assad’s forces from eh area plus abducted 45 U.N. peacekeepers in the process has brought the extremists within a few yards of Israeli positions in Golan Heights. For the past three years, Israelis in the Golan have had a relatively safe front seat view of the civil war as Syrian government forces battled rebels attempting to wrest control of the strategic area between Israel and Syria. Some Israelis are convinced it’s a matter of time before the Islamic radicals target them due to their ideology and the fact Israel is a Jewish state. According to Estrin: “Israel captured the Golan, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, in the 1967 Mideast war from Syria. It later annexed the area, a move that has never been recognized internationally. Since the aftermath of the subsequent 1973 war, U.N. monitors have helped to enforce a stable truce and the area has been tense but generally quiet. That started to change when the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011. Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines of the war next door, quietly content to watch Assad’s forces battle to a stalemate against the various rebel groups trying to oust him. However, Israel has occasionally responded to mortar fire that spilled over the border, usually unintentionally, and is believed to have carried out several airstrikes on weapons shipments thought to be bound for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. As the Nusra Front took over the border area last Wednesday, the Israeli army ordered Kuniel’s 200 farmhands out of the fields for three days, forcing them to leave behind freshly picked fruit in vats to rot.” However, Israeli officials believe Syrian rebels are focused on battles in Syria not Israel, but do pose a threat to Israel. Oviv Oreg, former head of the al-Qaida desk on the Israeli National Security Council, said the Nusra Front sees Israel as a “legitimate target” as its fighters now “have direct access.” Israeli defense officials estimate that a few thousand Syrian rebels are now positioned along the border in the Golan, with a few hundred in the Quneitra area, including the Nusra fighters. After taking control of the crossing, Nusra Front captured 45 Fijian U.N. peacekeepers and trapped 8o others from the Philippines who later fled to safety. The Philippines announced it would withdraw its troops front the U.N. peacekeeping force known as UNDOF due to this situation. Stephane Cohen, former Israeli military liaison to UNDOF, said the peacekeeping force is collapsing and can no longer serve its purpose to enforce a truce between Israel and Syria leaving Israel alone in front of al-Qaida. Meanwhile, more countries are pulling out of the force and others will not contribute forces in such an uncertain security environment. In addition, the collapse will undermine regional stability as the force provides an important outlet for Israel and Syria to air their grievances. As Uzi Dayan, former deputy military chief of stat, puts it: “In Syria there are no good guys and bad guys. There are bad guys, very bad guys and extremely bad guys.” Meanwhile, al-Qaida has expanded into India, according to a video released by al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri on Thursday, vowing that its militants would bring Islamic law to the entire subcontinent and wage jihad against its enemies,” AOL reports, Al-Qaida says it has expanded into India. Three Indian states with large Muslim populations are on alert following the video’s release, local TV stations report, though no indications of an increased security are present. Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri said in the video seen online by the SITE monitoring group that the new group “is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity.” Al-Zawahri message seems largely directed at his own rivals in the international jihad movement and with raising the group’s profile in the wake of repeated success by the Islamic State group. Ajai Sahni, a top Indian security analyst with the New Delhi based Institute for Conflict Management, said: “Al-Qaida is struggling for its legitimacy in the eyes of the radicalized Muslim world. Osama bin Laden has been killed and (al-Qaida’s) entire top leadership, apart from Zawahri and a few others, one by one have been decimated by the American drone attacks.” Al-Zawahri said the group, Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent, would fight for an Islamic state and laws across the region, “which was part of the Muslims’ territories before it was occupied by the infidel enemy.” The leader of the new group, Essam Omar, said in an audio recording released with the video, that Jews and Hindus – who he referred to as “apostates of India” – “will watch your destruction by your own eyes.” Fighters will “storm your barricades with cars packed with gunpowder,” Omar said, decrying what he called the region’s “injustice toward Muslims.” In the past few months, the Islamic State has grown in India. Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh met Thursday morning with top security and intelligence officials to discuss the threat. India, however, has suffered from underfunded and ill trained security infrastructure that has allowed Pakistani militants in 2008 to attack Mumbai, a financial hub, that shut down the city for days killing 166 people and New Delhi has fought an insurgency in Kashmir, a majority Muslim state, with militants wanting to bring independence to the Himalayan region or join it to Pakistan leaving thousands dead.

Ebola Death Toll Continues to Rise, No End in Sight for Gaza War, Islamic State Advances and Russia Wants to Send More Aid

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So far, according to figures released Friday by the WHO, 2,615 people have been infected with Ebola and 1,427 deaths have occurred in the outbreak in West Africa with Sierra Leone being the hardest hit at 910 cases and 392 deaths. On Sunday, the health minister, Felix Kabange Numbi, in the Congo confirmed two Ebola deaths from the northwest Equateur province out of eight samples, the Associated Press reports, Health minister: 2 people have died of Ebola in Congo. Numbi stated that Congolese officials believe 13 people have died of Ebola in the region including five health workers, while 11people are sick and in isolation as 80 contacts were being traced. In addition, the Congo has been hit seven times before with Ebola outbreaks, however the two deaths are the first in a long time and admits the infections were of a different strain than those of the outbreak in West Africa that has killed 1,400 people. The samples came from the region where the World Health Organization said an outbreak of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis has killed 70 people in recent weeks. The HuffPost UK reports, Britain’s First Ebola Victim Is Flown Home In Hi-Tech Quarantine For Treatment At Royal Free, a volunteer nurse working in West Africa has landed back in Britain for treatment in a high tech isolation unit after contracting the disease. A man in his 20s identified as William by several news sites landed at RAF Northolt in west London to be transported to UK’s high level isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London. It is the first confirmed case of a Briton contracting the disease in the current outbreak and the identity of the patient, who lived in Sierra Leone, has not been confirmed. The virus was identified first in March in Guinea and spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. The effects of disease take between two and 21 days after infections and is transmitted to people from wild animals spreading in the human population through person to person transmission. The Sierra Leone Parliament has voted to pass a new law which means anyone caught hiding Ebola patients can receive prison terms of up to two years. The numbers in the country have been underestimated as the WHO reports that corpses are being buried in rural villages without notifying health officials and no investigation into the cause of death. In some cases epidemiologists have traveled to villages and counted the number of fresh graves as a rough estimate of suspected cases. Lawmaker Ansumana Jaiah Kaikai said the new law passed Friday and will now go for presidential approval, Clarence Roy-Macaulay reports, Sierra Leone makes hiding Ebola patients illegal. He said the measure was necessary to force residents to cooperate wit government officials noting some residents resisted steps to contain Ebola and build isolation centers in their community for fear of stigma related to the disease. New treatment centers in Liberia are being overwhelmed by patients that were not previously identified suggesting more cases are going undetected, the WHO said Friday. The Ivory Coast announced Friday it was closing its land borders with Guinea and Liberia, while Gabon, Senegal, South Africa and Cameroon all imposed border restrictions on some or all of the four countries with confirmed cases – Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. On Saturday, the Philippine government was recalling 115 peacekeepers from Liberia due to the health risks posed by Ebola. According to Mari Yamaguchi, Japan ready to offer flu drug for Ebola treatment, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan can offer the anti-influenza drug tablet favipiravir, developed by a Fujifilm Holdings Corp. subsidiary, at any time the WHO requests it. The Who said earlier in the month that it is ethical to use untested drugs on Ebola patients given the magnitude of the outbreak. The tablet itself is used to treat novel and re-emerging influenza viruses and was approved by the Japanese health ministry in March. Fujifilm is in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on clinical trials of the drug in treating Ebola, company spokesman Takao Aoki said. The drug is stocked to treat 20,000 and theoretically similar effects can be expected on Ebola as in influenza which are the same type of virus. According to the company: “Favipiravir inhibits viral gene replication within infected cells to prevent propagation, while conventional ones are designed to inhibit the release of new viral particles to prevent the spread of infection.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials said in the southern town of Rafah Israeli airstrikes leveled a seven floor office building and damaged a two story shopping center in Gaza Sunday signalling a new escalation in the seven week long war with Hamas and Israel, Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav report, Israeli airstrike levels 7-story building in Gaza. The strikes came hours after Israel bombed an apartment tower in Gaza City collapsing the 12 story building with 44 apartment wounding 30 and killing one. Over the weekend, the army began warning Gaza residents via phone that it would target building harboring terrorist infrastructures and to stay away. A senior military officials confirmed that strikes require prior approval from military lawyers and the local population must be warned before hand. Before Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gaza residents: “I call on the people of Gaza to immediately evacuate any structure that Hamas is using to commit acts of terror,” he said. “Every one of these structures is a target for us.” On Sunday, Gaza militant continue to fire rockets and mortar shells at Israel, at least 10, the military said, in addition to 100 on Saturday. In addition, five rockets were fired from Syria and fell in northern Israel with no clear picture of who fired them. As violence escalates, Egypt urged Israel and the Palestinian to resume indirect talks in Cairo on a long lasting ceasefire, but stopped short of an invitation. The Israeli military has carried out 20 strikes on Gaza since midnight Saturday with eight fatalities, Gaza police and medical officials report. The U.N. estimates that 17,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair since July 8. More than 2,000 Palestinians including 500 children have been killed with Israel losing 64 soldiers and four civilians, according to Palestinian health officials and U.N. figures. Scott Anderson, deputy director of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in the territory said: “Despite the difficult circumstances, the (U.N.) stands by the refugee committee here in Gaza. Even though we can’t start the school year as we would normally it is very important that the children have structure in their lives and we will continue their education by any means possible.”

In Baghdad and northern city of Kirkuk, 42 people were killed in Iraq on Saturday as the government investigated a deadly attack on Sunni mosque the day before that increase already volatile sectarian tensions in a fragile political transition, Sinan Slaheddin and Vivian Salama report, Bombings Hit Iraq’s Kirkuk, Baghdad, Dozens Dead. Kirkuk deputy police chief Tarhan Abdel Rahman said three bombs went off in a crowded district killing 31 people and wounding dozens. In Baghdad, a suicide bomber drove an explosive laden car into the gate of the intelligence headquarters in Karrada district killing six civilians and five security personnel, the police officer confirmed, while wounding 24 others. Since earlier this year, Iraq has been in a constant state of chaos due to the Islamic State extremist group and allied Sunni militants who have seized large areas in the country’s west and north. Local security officials in Diyala said Friday’s attack began with a suicide bombing near the mosque entrance followed by gunmen storming the building and opening fire on worshipers. At least 64 people died including the four Shiite militants who found the bombs planted by the militants as they rushed to the scene with security forces. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he’s “deeply concerned about the impact such acts of sectarian violence will have on the already grave security situation and on the political process,” While the European Union said the “heinous crime” should not stand in the way of government formation and urged Iraqis to unite against violence. In addition, Saturday, an explosion in the Kurdish capital of Ibril injured three, military officials report, but what caused the explosion is still under investigation.

Activist and state media reported on Sunday that the Islamic State has captured a major military base in northeastern Syria eliminating the last government held outpost in the province dominated by the group, Ryan Lucas reported, Islamic State Fighters Capture Syrian Air Base. The British Observatory on Human Rights said at least 100 Islamic State fighters were killed and 300 wounded not including casualties from the final assault, while 170 government troops were killed on Sunday alone and there were reports 150 were captured. Their slow and stead push in northern and eastern Syria and quick advances across Iraq has brought a large stretch of territory running from Syria’s northern border with Turkey to the outskirts of Baghdad in central Iraq under their control. The mainstream Syrian opposition, which is fighting President Bashar Assad and the Islamic State group, called for similar raids against the extremist in Syria, however, the Obama administration refuses wary of getting dragged into a bloody and complex civil war that has killed 190,000 people, according to U.N. figures. Also Sunday, an American hostage held in Syria by an al-Qaida linked group was released, a relative and the U.S. government confirm. Meanwhile, the foreign ministries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan met in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, the official Saudi news agency said without providing details. However, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the group will discuss the security threat posed by Islamic State group and search fro ways to bring about needed political solutions to the Syrian crisis.

On Saturday, hundreds of Russian aid trucks left from rebel held eastern Ukraine headed for home highlighting the need for long term assistance to the region destroyed by the months of fighting, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks in Kiev ahead of the much anticipated meeting between Russia and Ukraine, Alexander Roslyakov and Peter Leonard reports, Russian Aid Trucks Leave Ukraine. The Russian aid trucks came through the rebel held border point Friday and by mid-afternoon Saturday all the vehicles returned to Russia, Paul Picard of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told reporters in the Russian town of Donetsk. Ukraine and others including the U.S., the European Union and NATO denounced the move as a violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty. One country pledging aid to Ukraine is Germany as Merkel held talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev Saturday promising 500 million euros in loan guarantees to support private investment in infrastructure and schools in war-struck areas. Merkel urged for political solutions to the crisis three days before Poroshenko meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk in their first encounter since June. Asked what message he would like to convey to Putin, Poroshenko said “take away your armed people from our territory and I can promise peace will come to Ukraine very soon.” The United Nations says more than 2,000 people have been killed and 340,000 forced to flee their homes since the fighting began in April following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, Russia wants to send a second humanitarian aid convoy to eastern Ukraine in the near future after Kiev and the West criticized Moscow for sending the first cargo without official permission, Reuters reports. Lavrov told a news conference: “The humanitarian situation is not improving but deteriorating. We want to reach an agreement on all conditions for delivering a second convoy by the same route… in the coming days.” Ukraine marked its independence day on Sunday with a military march past Kiev to send a message of defiance to Russia, however, pro-Moscow rebels countered by parading captured Ukrainian troops through the streets of their main stronghold, Reuters reports, Ukraine defiant on national day, rebels parade captives. Some of the troops marching past Kiev were heading to the front line in eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko said. In an emotional speech, he said his country is fighting “a war against external aggression, for Ukraine, for its freedom, for its people, for independence”. It is clear that in the foreseeable future, unfortunately, a constant military threat will hang over Ukraine. And we need to learn not only to live with this, but also to be always prepared to defend the independence of our country.” In Donetsk, 100 people introduced in a public address as Ukrainian pirsoners-of-war were marched through the city’s central Lenin Square on Sunday. People came to watch the parade shouting “fascists!” and “murderers!” with some throwing bottles at the POWs. Alexander Zakharcheno, self proclaimed prime minister of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” said his forced will launch a counter attack and were fighting to take the town of Olenivka, 20 miles from Donetsk. He told reporters, “I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to kill anyone, but I will fight to the last for my land. We want to live the way we want to live on our own soil.” To date, officials in Kiev report 722 people with Ukrainian government forces have died jumping from 568 announce don Aug. 11.

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.