New Truce Begins Between Israel and Hamas, the Kurds Fight ISIS, China Earthquake Aftermath and Pollution Problem, and Britain’s Tribute to WWI

On Tuesday, a three day long ceasefire between Israel and Hamas when into effect in Gaza ahead of talks in Cairo to find a deal to prevent future cross border violence, Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav reports, 72-hour cease-fire takes effect in hopes of bringing an end to nearly a month of fighting. The temporary ceasefire agreed to by both sided started at 8am and will last 72 hours while Israel and Hamas hold indirect talks in the Egyptian capital. The situation in Gaza is still unstable as minutes ahead of the truce shelling still occurred across Gaza and Israel said Hamas fired a heavy barrage of rockets at southern and central Israel. The fighting has claimed 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 67 Israelis dead, all but three soldiers. A unilateral withdrawal will allow Israel to end the conflict on its own terms without negotiating new border arrangements in Gaza, while Israel will be asked to make concessions it is unwilling to make such as opening Gaza borders. Early Tuesday, the Israeli military said it would have all its ground troops out of Gaza by the start of the truce. Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the withdrawal was going forward after Israel destroyed Hamas tunnels build for Islamic attacks inside Israel. Meanwhile, in Washington, President Barack Obama signed a bill Monday giving $225 million in U.S. taxpayers dollars for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the Associated Press, Obama Signs Funding Package For Israel’s Iron Dome. Congress approved the money last week before lawmakers took their summer break. The funds are meant to replenish Israel’s capabilities. The defense system has been highly effective in current violence between Hamas and Israel allowing the Israeli military to shoot down incoming rockets or mortars head toward Israel with a success rate as high as 90 percent.

According to CNN’s Alan Duke and Hamdi Alkhshali, Official: Kurdish forces fend off ISIS fighters, hold Mosul Dam, the director of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam dismissed reports Monday that it had been seized by the radical Islamic State saying Kurdish forces were able to fight them off. Abdul Khaliq al-Dabbagh, Mosul Dam director, confirmed that fighters for the Islamic State or ISIS were pushed back after gaining access to employee housing just north of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. On Sunday, however Kurdish commander told CNN that ISIS took control even though employees remained at the dam, while al-Dabbagh said the Kurds held their position until reinforcements arrived early Monday. The United Nations in Iraq warned 200,000 civilians were trapped in dire circumstances following the Islamic State and associated armed groups seizing “control of nearly all of Sinjar and Tal Afar districts” in the northern Ninevah province, including several small oil fields that border Iraq’s Kurdish region. In addition, the United Nations said most of the fleeing civilians in the districts are minority Kurdish Yezidis, an ancient religion with ties to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and took refuge in the Jabal Sinjar mountains. As fighting ranges on in these districts, according to the Kurdish commander, fighting has also been reported in the border town of Rabia with Syria based Kurds joining the fight against ISIS. Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government head, told a group of Yezidi leaders that his government will help to liberate Sinjar since the Kurds have been fighting without help from the Iraqi government or international community, according to a reports on the government’s website. The State Department said Sunday that it was monitoring the situation and supports the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces in their fight against ISIS. In a statement, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said: “The assault over the past 48 hours on territories along the border of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and focusing on towns and villages populated by vulnerable minorities, demonstrates once again that this terrorist organization is a dire threat to all Iraqis, the entire region and the international community.”

Meanwhile China continues to deal with the devastation caused by an earthquake that killed 405 people, while dealing with the deadly pollution in its capital. On Tuesday, 10,000 troops used axes and backhoes to clear roads and rescue residents from collapsed homes after a quake in southwest China, the Associated Press reports, Troops, volunteers dig through China quake debris. Volunteers helped in the effort in Yunnan province’s Ludian county where Sunday’s 6.1 magnitude quake collapsed thousands of homes in the impoverished mountainous farmland. Hundred of volunteers converged on the nearby city of Zhaotong with some bringing their own relief aid to distribute thanks to company sponsored units, while the government provided thousands of tents, quilts, sleeping bags and cotton coats to the region, as well as folding beds, chairs and tables, and mobile toilets. Much of the damage was due to landslides following heavy rain Tuesday making it difficult to reach the affected area. Ambulances, bulldozers, and trucks filled with water, noodles and volunteers congested the main rode to the hardest hit town of Longtou. Helicopters lifted supplies as well to the most remote areas. In all, Yunnan Civil Affairs Bureau said Tuesday that 405 people were killed and 2,297 injured with 12 still missing 36 hours after the quake. In the capital, Beijing, China announced plans to ban coal use by 2020 as the country fights deadly pollution in its capital and major cities, the Associated Press reports, China to ban all coal use in Beijing by 2020. On Monday, Beijing’s Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau on its website said the city would prioritize electric and natural gas for heating. The official Xinhua News Agency said coal makes up a quarter of Beijing’s energy consumption in 2012 and 22 percent of the fine particles in the air with motor vehicles, industrial production and general dust contributing to pollution. Unfortunately, coal use is expected to soar causing coal fired power and heating is a major generator of greenhouse gases and helped China turn into the world’s largest emitter of carbon and other heat trapping gases. The central government listed environmental protection as a top priority which its leaders will be judged by due to pressure among the middle class to clean up the environment including smog, water and soil contamination. In September, the government announced a prohibition on new cold fired power plans around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

In Britain on Monday night, Lights across the country went out for an hour in tribute to the dead of WWI inspired by Britain’s foreign minister on the eve of war 100 years ago, Tess Little reports, Lights go out across Britain, 100 years on from WW1. Edward Grey shortly before Britain declared war on Germany in Aug. 4, 1914, told an acquaintance: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” British landmarks including the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral went dark at 10 p.m. local time and Prime Minister David Cameron asked Britons to do the same and leave a single light on in their homes for an hour. The “war to end all wars” spread across Europe especially in northern France and Belgium killing 17 million soldiers and civilians in 1914-18 with over one million dead British soldiers and its then empire. Gery’s prophecy was commemorated in London’s Westminster Abbey later on Monday where candles went out one by one until only a burning oil lamp remained at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. At 11p.m., the lamp was extinguished marking the exact time the British empire joined the war. Acting as a beacon for the capital, a pillar of light beamed into the clouds from Victoria Tower Gardens. In a statement, Boris Johnson, the London mayor, said, “The light that ‘spectra’ throws up into the night sky is a unifying point; it echoes how the First World War affected all Londoners, but also how they and the rest of the country came together, standing united during those dark days.” Prime Minister Cameron and Prince William attended the 100th anniversary ceremonies in Scotland and Belgium on Monday. Speaking at Liege, William alluded to Germany and its cohorts in the First and Second World War: “We were enemies more than once in the last century and today we are friends and allies.” He told Belgium’s King Phillipe and other state heads attending the Liege ceremony at the Allies’ Memorial near where German troops invaded Belgium on Aug. 4, 1914 and Britain entered the war: “We salute those who died to give us our freedom. We will remember them.” German ceremonies were understated, but Germans were encouraged to place flowers on soldiers’ graves and local small scale efforts marked the anniversary. According to Little: “Politicians and royalty from 83 countries, including presidents Francois Hollande of France and Joachim Gauck of Germany, were among those in Belgium. In Glasgow, Scotland, Cameron was joined by heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles at a centenary service.” Poppies, a symbol of the war, were featured at the Tower of London with an art installation titled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” by Paul Cummins included thousands of ceramic poppies flowing from the medieval monument wall into the dry moat. The artwork will grow through summer until 888,246 poppies have been added to represent British and colonial fatalities during the war which is more than double that of World War Two. Red poppies became a symbol of remembrance since the trench warfare in the poppy field of the Belgian region of Flanders during the war.

Growing Global Conflicts: Finding Peace in A Restless World

On Monday of this week, as the death toll in Gaza rises to 175 after a week long Israeli airstrike offensive, the Israeli military said it downed a drone launched by militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel began the campaign against Hamas controlled Gaza last Tuesday in response to rocket fire from the densely populated territory. In total, the military has launched more than 1,300 airstrikes since then, while Palestinian militants have launched close to 1,000 rockets at Israel, Peter Enav reports (Israel Says It’s Downed Drone Along Southern Coast). The unmanned drone, which was shot down by Israel, represent a new level of sophistication for Hamas which has never admitted to having such a weapon. The Israeli military confirmed that the dsrone was shot down mid-flight by a Patriot surface to air missile along the southern Israeli coastline never Ashdod. Speaking under anonymity, a senior military official, said Israel was aware Hamas possessed drones and Israel has targets Hamas drone facilities in Gaza previously. In a media statement, Hamas alleges that three drones were launched into Israel on Monday with only one confirmed by Israel. According to Enav, drones refer to a range of unmanned aircraft from rudimentary to advanced with weapons or surveillance capabilities. Hamas said it has both intelligence and munitions drones. In addition, the group alleges that it lost contact with one drone and targets included the Israeli Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said,”Hamas is trying everything it can to produce some kind of achievement and it is crucial that we maintain our high state of readiness. The shooting down of a drone this morning by our air defense system is an example of their efforts to strike at us in any way possible.”

On Monday fighting continued as two Israeli airstrikes struck the southern city of Khan Younis killing four Palestinians and raising the death toll to at least 175 people killed including dozens of civilians, according to officials at European Hospital and the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza. No Israelis have been killed in Hamas rocket fire, however, several people have been wounded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday, said the current operation could last a long time and the military is prepared for all possibilities including a Gaza ground invasion. The outbreak of violence followed the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an alleged revenge attack, along with Israeli raids against Hamas militants and infrastructure in West Bank. Though the killers of the Palestinian teenagers have been caught, the killer of the three teenagers has yet to be caught. Israeli leaders widely condemned the killing and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed those responsible would be brought to justice. Israel accuses Hamas of the killing and cracked down on the Islamic militants in the West Bank after the abduction of the teens causing Gaza to respond with rocket fire that led to the current round of fighting.

However since the fighting began, Netanyahu has come under international pressure to end the operation. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a ceasefire and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that America was ready to help restore calm. A key mediator between Israel and Hamas, Egypt continued to work to stop the conflict as Hamas has shown signs it would agree to a ceasefire if hundreds of arrested activist were freed as part of a truce. On the other hand, Netanyahu wants to show the Israeli public that he can succeed in degrading Hamas’s ability to strike Israeli targets before moving to a truce.

Unfortunately, Tuesday confirmed that Hamas has rejected Egypt’s proposal for a ceasefire with Israel after the Israeli Cabinet accepted the plan squashing international efforts to end the fighting that’s killed 192 Palestinians and risking the lives of Israelis. The Associated Press reports, Israel accepts cease-fire to end Gaza conflict; Hamas calls proposal unacceptable,  that senior Israeli government officials now warn that Israeli will strike Gaza harder if Hamas does not accept the truce. The Egyptian proposal for a truce presented on late Monday called for a stop to the violence as of Tuesday morning followed by negotiations on easing the closure of Gaza’s borders which has been enforced by Israel and Egypt since Hams seized the territory in 2007. On conditions of anonymity, an Israeli official said, “As you know, the Cabinet has accepted the Egyptian proposal. If Hamas rejects it, Israel will continue and intensify its operations and Hamas will find itself totally isolated, including in the Arab world, which supports the proposal.” In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the proposal was not acceptable as Hamas officials are weary of promises from Egypt and Israel to ease the border blockade since the promise was part of the 2012 truce, which was broken due to a violent flare up. Referring to the 2012 truce, he said,” It’s not logical to ask people who are under aggression to cease fire and then later to negotiate terms that were not respected in the past by the Israelis.” The ease of the blockade is crucial to Hamas’ survival because the outbreak of fighting has left the militant group in serious financial woes  as the closure by Egypt has prevented cash and goods from being smuggled in across the Gaza-Egypt border.

As of Tuesday afternoon, in Gaza, the death toll now stands at 194 people killed with 1,400 wounded so far making it the deadliest conflict between Israel and Hamas in over five years. Israel resumed its heavy bombardment of Gaza on Tuesday and warned that the Islamic militant group will pay the price for not accepting the Egyptian truce plan and unleashing rocket fire at the Jewish state killing one Israeli. According to Karin Laub and Aron Heller,  Israel: Hamas to pay price for its ‘no’ to truce, Hamas does not consider Egypt’s current ruler a fair broker, who ousted the Hamas friendly government in Cairo a year ago. Hamas will continue to fight as it has little to lose, while a truce on unfavorable terms could weaken the grip on the Gaza Strip, a territory it seized in 2007. Reaffirming this stance, Gaza militants fired more than 120 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel on Tuesday with more than 40 rockets hitting in a few minutes and causing the first Israeli death since the beginning of the offensive. In a TV response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated,”Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision. When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire.” After holding fire for six hours, the Israeli air force opened fired launching 33 strikes from midafternoon. In Washington, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Israel had the right to defend itself, but would not want to see a ground invasion. Hamas officials rejected the plan on Tuesday noting they weren’t consulted by Cairo and see the truce as an ultimatum to Hamas from Israel and Egypt. A top Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told the Lebanese TV channel Al-Mayadeen: “The siege on Gaza must be broken, and the people of Gaza should live freely like other people of the world. There should be a new equation so that we will not have a war on Gaza every two years.” In addition, Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas leader in Gaza, had this to say: “Mediation to end this aggression needs to come from different countries, and the guarantees should be given by different countries in order to commit the occupation (Israel) to what any future agreement might say.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ main political rival, was to meet Wednesday in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and then fly to Turkey for high-level talks. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been under a lot of pressure from his Cabinet and the ruling Likud Party to launch a ground offensive to end the rocket fire. He faced intense criticism from the right over agreeing to the Egyptian truce plan.

On Monday, according to Barbara Surk’s article, Heavy Clashes Between Hezbollah And Syrian Rebels Leave Many Dead, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human right said militants from the Islamic State took over territory from a rival al-Qaida linked Nusra Front group near the border of Iraq. The march by militants of the IS on the city of Deir el-Zour brings them closer to a showdown with Bashar Assad’s forces. The group recently captured cities and towns in northern Iraq and merged them with territory under its control in eastern Syria. Assad’s forces still control half of Deir el-Zour city, however no fighting between his troops and the extremist group have been reported. The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 following peaceful protest against Assad’s rule that turned into armed revolts after opposition supporter took up weapons to fight a brutal government crackdown. The situation dissolved in to civil war in which Islamic extremists with hard line al-Qaida ideologies have played a prominent role among fighters leading to the dampening of support from the West. On Monday, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution authorizing cross border delivery of food and aid to Syrians in rebel held areas without government approval. The article explains: ” The resolution expressed ‘grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria’ and deplored the fact that its previous demands for humanitarian access ‘have not been heeded’ by the Syrian government and opposition fighters.” The council adopted a resolution in February for aid, but monthly reports from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on its implementation paint a dire picture. According to Surk: “Just hours before the resolutions was adopted, 13 Syrian Red Crescent trucks loaded with 1,000 parcels crossed into the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh, which has been besieged by government troops for more than two years, causing widespread hunger-related illness and death among its residents. In Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus that has been under government siege for over a year, U.N. aid workers were not allowed to distribute aid on Monday, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement, adding that 18,000 civilians remain trapped there in desperate need of food and medicine. The interruption follows a week of sustained food distribution in Yarmouk during which the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees in the Middle East distributed food parcels to 3,316 families, Gunness said.”

While the Middle East deals with numerous conflicts between governments and militants with different ideologies, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday continues his verbal assault on Russia accusing military staff officers of fighting with separatists in eastern Ukraine and using a newly developed Russian missile system against government forces. According to Reuters’ article,  Ukraine’s President Poroshenko Says Russian Officers Fight Alongside Separatists, Poroshenko made his accusations as he was speaking to security chiefs at an emergency meeting after a weekend of Ukrainian air strikes on rebel position near the Russian border and charges by Moscow that Kiev killed a Russian man with cross border shell. After three months of fighting, several hundred Ukrainian servicemen, civilians and rebels have been killed as the fighting and war of words between Moscow and Kiev intensifies. As Poroshenko on Sunday accused Russia of movement of heavy military equipment into the country, he added: “Information has … been confirmed that Russian staff officers are taking part in military operations against Ukrainian forces.” Accusing Russia of escalating fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions, National and Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists: “In the past 24 hours, deployment of (Russian) units and military equipment across the border from the Sumy and Luhansk border points was noticed. The Russian Federation continues to build up troops on the border. The (rebel) fighters systematically fire mortar and shoot into Russian territory which killed a Russian citizen.”

As Ukraine and the Middle East struggle to find a common ground, top U.S. and Iranian diplomats came together Monday for nuclear talks. The talks of U.S. and Iran were further complicated as both sides are fighting proxy wars in Israel, Gaza and Syria. However, both are talking cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan, while negotiating the decrease in the Islamic republic’s uranium and plutonium programs.  According to Bradely Klapper and Goerge Jahn, Kerry And Top Iranian Diplomat To Hold In-Depth Nuclear Talks Days Before Deadline, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif talked for two hours Monday in a second day of talks in Vienna and again in the afternoon hoping to meet Sunday’s initial deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Kerry told U.S. Embassy staff in Vienna that: “We are in the middle of talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran’s program. It is a really tough negotiation.” In addition, both men talked about Afghanistan which Kerry visited before Vienna to broker a power sharing agreement between rival presidential candidates and a full audit of election ballots. Both men were in agreement that the mediation was extremely important for the Afghan people and echoed thr need for unity. However the two countries remain divided when it comes to the current Israeli Palestine conflict with Iran being the main benefactor for Hamas and alleged source of its new drone capacity, while Washington provides billions in aid each year to Israel. Nonetheless, the talks focused on nuclear matters. Monday’s talk came a day after failed talks between Britain, France and Germany with Iran on uranium enrichment and other issues standing in the way of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the end of nuclear sanction on Tehran. Under a six month interim agreement in effect since January, world powers and Iran have until July 20 to conclude a final deal. The interim agreement does allow for an additional six month period for negotiation which seem likely. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Iran has defied the expectation of some, but has yet to make the necessary decisions to prove the world its intentions are peaceful. Iranian hardliners oppose any concession by President Hassan Rouhani’s government, while U.S. lawmakers threaten to shoot down any agreement that would allow Iran to keep some enrichment capacity.