Strikes on ISIS Continue As New Recruits Arrive, Democracy Protests in Hong Kong Take a Violent Turn and Police Mistrust Corroding America

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Through the weekend, U.S. and British airstrikes continues to bombard ISIS installations in Syria as new recruits arrived to fight with ISIS. On Saturday, Bassem Mroue reports, US-led planes strike fighters attacking Syria town, that for the first time U.S. led coalition warplanes struck the Islamic State fighters in Syria attacking a town near the Turkish border and in the country’s east, according to activists and a Kurdish official. The Islamic State’s attack on the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani that caused 100,000 refugees to flee to Turkey in recent days has caused Kurdish fighters from Iraq and Turkey to join the fight to defend the town. Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, said the strikes targeted Islamic State positions near Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab, destroying two tanks resulting in jihadi fighters later shelling the town and wounding a number of civilians. The united States was joined by five Arab allies to launch an aerial campaign against Islamic State fighters in Syria early Tuesday to try and roll back the extremist group, which has created a proto-state spanning the Syria-Iraq border. During their campaigns for control the militants have massacred captured Syrian and Iraqi troops, terrorized minorities in both countries and beheaded two American journalists and a British aid worker. Syria’s Foreign Minister Waid al-Moallem told the Lebanon based Al-Mayadeen TV that the airstrikes alone “will not be able to wipe out” the Islamic State group and on Saturday said the U.S. should work with Damascus to win the war. HOwever, the U.S. has ruled out any coordination with President Bashar Assad’s government who is at war with the Islamic State group as well as Western-backed rebels. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the coalition’s strikes near Kobani came amid heavy fighting between the Islamic State group and members of the Kurdish force known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPK. The Observatory reported Friday that 13 civilians have been killed by the strikes since they began. The Observatory said other coalition airstrikes targeted Islamic State compounds in the central province of Homs and the northern regions of Raqqa and Aleppo. The group said 31 explosions were heard in the city of Raqqa, the group’s de facto capital, and its suburbs. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said the strikes in the east hit the province of Deir el-Zour as well as Raqqa. The LCC also said the coalition targeted grain silos west of Deir el-Zour city. Max Blumenfeld, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, said the U.S. airstrikes are aimed at specific Islamic State targets such as command and control centers, transportation and logistics, and oil refineries, “but not food that could have an impact upon the civilian population.” In recent days coalition warplanes had struck oil-producing facilities in eastern Syria aiming to cut off the group’s main revenue stream which generate $2 million a day in black market oil sales. The coalition striking Syria includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Jordan, and the strikes are an extension of the U.S. campaign in neighboring Iraq launched in August. Meanwhile in Washington, a week after the U.S. led airstrikes in Syria began, in a televised interview Sunday, Obama echoed James Clapper’s (head of U.S. intelligence) sentiments regarding ISIS by saying the government “underestimated what had been taking place in Syria” during its civil war, allowing Syria to become “ground zero for jihadists around the world,” according to a CNN report, Obama admits ISIS threat was misjudged as U.S. splits emerge. Speaking to CBS’ “60 Minutes,” Obama said, “Over the past couple of years, during the chaos of the Syrian civil war, where essentially you have huge swaths of the country that are completely ungoverned, they were able to reconstitute themselves and take advantage of that chaos.” Additionally, Obama said the U.S. later overrated Iraq’s security forces, which were quickly overrun by ISIS when it took over the northern city of Mosul this summer. Obama told “60 minutes,” “This is America leading the international community to assist a country with whom we have a security partnership with, to make sure that they are able to take care of their business. If we do our job right and the Iraqis fight, then over time our role can slow down and taper off.” On Friday, Danica Kirka reported, Britain joins fight against Islamic State group, Britain, Belgium and Denmark joined the fight by committing warplanes to the struggle against the Islamic State group in Iraq. British Prime Minister David Cameron made a passionate plea for action in drastic terms: “This is about psychopathic terrorists that are trying to kill us and we do have to realize that, whether we like it or not, they have already declared war on us. There isn’t a `walk on by’ option. There isn’t an option of just hoping this will go away.” British lawmakers voted 524-43 for action after being urgently recalled from a recess. Belgian also overwhelmingly approved, voting 114-2 to take part, despite widespread concerns that more terrorism may follow in their homeland as a result. Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said her government would send four operational planes and three reserve jets along with 250 pilots and support staff for 12 months. Lawmakers in Denmark must also approve, but that is considered a formality. The British resolution does not include Syria, but lawmakers feel this is the next logical step. No European nation has yet agreed to join the U.S. and some Arab states in strikes in Syria. Unfortunately, 200 fighters have joined ISIS in Syria’s northern Aleppo province since U.S. President Barack Obama said the United States would strike the group in Syria, according to a monitoring group on Friday. At least 162 have joined the radical al-Qaida offshoot in northeast and eastern Aleppo in the week following Obama’s speech on Sept. 10, according to the British based Syrian Observatory for Human rights. Another 73 men have joined on Sept. 23 and 24 in the northeast Aleppo countryside since the strikes started, bringing the total to 235, the Observatory reports. Additionally, the new men come from al Qaida’s Syrian wing, the Nusra Front, were mostly Syrian and included 15 nationalities. On Monday, activists reported that U.S. led warplanes bombed Islamic State positions overnight across four provinces in northern and eastern Syria, hitting a gran silo and the country’s largest gas plant, the Associated Press reported,
US-led airstrikes hit 4 Syrian provinces.

While last week ISIS became a greater concern to country’s around the world, a long standing debate also took center stage as people marched and rallied for change in Hong Kong. Kevin Chan reports, Pro-Democracy protests expand in Hong Kong, pro-democracy protestors expanded their rally throughout Hong Kong Monday defying calls to disperse in a major push back against Beijing’s decision to limit democratic reforms in the Asian financial hub. Police officers tried to negotiate with protestors camped out on a busy highway near the Hong Kong government headquarters that was the scene of tear gas fueled clashes that erupted the previous night. An officer with a bullhorn tried to clear the way for commuters, but was met with a protestor who responded by saying that they want Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to demand a genuine choice for the territory’s voters. China has called the protest illegal and endorsed the Hong Kong’s government’s crackdown, while Beijing has taken a hard line against threat’s to the Communist Party’s monopoly on power. The mass protests are the strongest challenge yet to Beijing’s decision last month to reject open nominations for candidates under proposed guidelines for the first-ever elections for Hong Kong’s leader, promised for 2017. Instead, candidates must continue to be hand-picked by Beijing – a move that many residents viewed as reneging on promises to allow greater democracy in the semi-autonomous territory. Lueng said, “I hope the public will keep calm. Don’t be misled by the rumors. Police will strive to maintain social order, including ensuring smooth traffic and ensuring the public safety. When they carry out their duties, they will use their maximum discretion.” The protest has been spearheaded largely but student-age activists but has gathered momentum among a broad range of people from high school students to the elderly. Protestors are also occupying streets in other parts of Hong Kong Island such as the upscale shopping area of Causeway Bay and across the harbor in densely populated Mong Kok on the Kowloon peninsula. In addition, the city’s transport department said roads in the area are closed and more than 200 bus routes have been canceled or diverted int he city dependent on public transportation as well as Subway exits that have been closed or blocked near the protest area. Authorities said some schools in areas near the main protest site would be closed. To ward off tear gas, demonstrators improvised with homemade defenses such as plastic wrap, which they used to cover their face and arms, as well as umbrellas, goggles and surgical masks. The protests began with a class boycott last week by students urging Beijing to grant genuine democratic reforms to this former British colony. Beijing’s insistence on using a committee to screen candidates on the basis of their patriotism to China – similar to the one that currently hand-picks Hong Kong’s leaders – has stoked fears among pro-democracy groups that Hong Kong will never get genuine democracy. Students and activists had been camped out since late Friday on streets outside the government complex. Sunday’s clashes arose when police sought to block thousands of people from entering the protest zone. Protesters spilled onto a busy highway, bringing traffic to a standstill. Although students started the rally, leaders of the broader Occupy Central civil disobedience movement joined them early Sunday, saying they wanted to kick-start a long-threatened mass sit-in demanding Hong Kong’s top leader be elected without Beijing’s interference. Occupy Central issued a statement Monday calling on Leung to resign and saying his “non-response to the people’s demands has driven Hong Kong into a crisis of disorder.” The statement added that the protest was now “a spontaneous movement” of all Hong Kong people. Police said they had arrested 78 people. They also took away several pro-democracy legislators who were among the demonstrators, but later released them. According to the Hong Kong Information Services Department on Monday, at least 41 people have been injured or taken to the hospital along with six police officers. The Associate Press reports, Hong Kong leader says Beijing won’t back down, that a brief statement from the Occupy Central civil disobedience movement set a Wednesday deadline for a response from the government to meet their demands for reforms after spending another night blocking the streets of Hong Kong. The requirements for ending the protest is for the city’s unpopular chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, to meet their demands for genuine democracy and for him to step down as Hong Kong’s leader. Even larger crowds are expected to flood the streets Wednesday, China’s National Day holiday. The government said it was canceling a fireworks display to mark the day. By Tuesday morning, the crowd, mostly students, continued to occupy a six-lane highway next to the local government headquarters. The encampment was also edging closer to the heart of the city’s financial district. Police said they used 87 rounds of tear gas Sunday in what they called a necessary but restrained response to protesters pushing through cordons and barricades. Officials announced that schools in some districts of Hong Kong would remain closed Tuesday because of safety concerns. The protests have been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” by some, because the crowds have used umbrellas to not only block the sun, but also to stop the police from hitting them with pepper spray. Political slogans calling for freedom have also been written on the umbrellas.

Meanwhile, in the United States, protests and rallies continue to surround Ferguson where a black unarmed teenager was shot by a white police officer, causing racial tensions to simmer and boil over repeatedly this past month. On Friday, the Department of Justice and officials said they personally observed Ferguson police officers not wearing name plates which is in direct conflict with Ferguson Police Department policy, but on duty officers in Ferguson were wearing wristband in support of the cop who shot and killed an unarmed teen last month, according to what the DOJ told police in St. Louis County and reported by AOL, DOJ Gets Ferguson, St. Louis County Cops To Ban ‘I Am Darren Wilson’ Wristbands. A photo posted on social media during demonstrations in Ferguson on Tuesday night appears to show an officer working crowd control wearing a wristband that reads “I am Darren Wilson.” The slogan and campaigns associated with it are in support of the Ferguson police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown and whom protestors want arrested. A grand jury currently is weighing the evidence against Wilson, and the FBI has launched a separate civil rights investigation into the case. Missouri State Highway Patrol Capt. Ron Johnson said the wristbands were “not a statement of law enforcement” and that he would have conversations with law enforcement agencies about officers wearing the wristbands. Christy Lopez, deputy chief of the special litigation section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, sent a letter to Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson on Friday indicating that Jackson had agreed to prohibit Ferguson officers from wearing “I am Darren Wilson” bracelets while in uniform and on duty. The letter said Jackson had said he would make sure the other municipal agencies working in Ferguson would prohibit their officers from wearing the bracelets as well. Lopez said St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar and Missouri Highway Patrol Ron Replogle had indicated to Justice Department officials they also would ban the bracelets. According to letter Lopez wrote: “These bracelets reinforce the very ‘us versus them’ mentality that many residents of Ferguson believe exists.” In a separate letter that DOJ sent to Jackson this week that was released on Friday, Civil Rights Division officials asked him to make sure his officers were wearing name tags while on duty. The letter to Jackson states: “Officers wearing name plates while in uniform is a basic component of transparency and accountability. It is a near-universal requirement of sound policing practices and required under some state laws. Allowing officers to remain anonymous when they interact with the public contributes to mistrust and undermines accountability. The failure to wear name plates conveys a message to community members that, through anonymity, officers may seek to act with impunity.” Protests have heated up in Ferguson this week, six weeks after Brown was killed after Wilson stopped him and a friend because they were walking in the middle of the street. Jackson apologized to the Brown family and protestors this week in a video released by a public relations firm working for the city. Another component of the Justice Department, the Community Relations Service, also held meetings with Ferguson residents this week in an attempt to sooth tensions in the area. The Associated Press reports, AP Interview: Browns unmoved by chief’s apology, the parents of Michael Brown want the Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who shot their unarmed 18 year old son arrested and charged with murder and the police chief fired. In a wide-ranging interview, Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden said yes when asked if Chief Tom Jackson should be fired, and his father, Michael Brown Sr., said he wanted the officer who shot his son to be in handcuffs for the Aug. 9 death. Brown said, “An apology would be when Darren Wilson has handcuffs, processed and charged with murder.” McSpadden added, “There’s going to continue to be unrest until they do what should be done.” Brown’s parents are in the nation’s capital to meet with lawmakers and lobby Congress to pass a law requiring police officers to wear cameras during their interactions with the public. They also called on the Justice Department to take over the investigation into whether there should be criminal charges against the officer. The parents were invited to the annual awards dinner of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, where President Barack Obama spoke of the mistrust between local residents and law enforcement in many communities following these episodes like Brown’s death. He said, “Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement – guilty of walking while black, driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness.” The parents were also angry over Ferguson police wearing bracelets in support of Wilson. Obama at the Saturday dinner said: “It makes folks who are victimized by crime and need strong policing reluctant to go to the police because they may not trust them. And the worst part of it is it scars the hearts of our children. That is not the society we want. It’s not the society that our children deserve. Too many young men of color feel targeted by law enforcement – guilty of walking while black or driving while black, judged by stereotypes that fuel fear and resentment and hopelessness. Back in Ferguson, Jack Gillum reports, Ferguson demands high fees to turn over city files, Bureaucrats responding to requests under the state’s Sunshine Act to turn over government files about the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown, are charging nearly 10 times the cost of some of their own employees’ salaries before they will agree to release any records. The move discourages journalists and civil rights groups from investigating the shooting and its aftermath. While the city under Missouri law can give away copies of records for free if determined that the material was in the public’s interest to see, the city has decided to charge high fees with little explanation of the cost breakdown. Price-gouging for government files is one way that local, state and federal agencies have responded to requests for potentially embarrassing information they may not want released. Open records laws are designed to give the public access to government records at little or no cost, and have historically exposed waste, wrongdoing and corruption. According to Gillum, since the death and ensuing protest, news organizations, nonprofit groups and everyday citizens have submitted records requests to Ferguson officials, asking for police reports, records about Brown and the personnel files of Officer Darren Wilson, who shot Brown Aug. 9.

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.

Islamic State Hits Syria Hard As U.S. and Allies Ramp up Offensive, Ukraine and Russia Make Progress and Catalonia Looks For Independence Following Scotland’s Vote

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On Thursday, Islamic State fighters besieged a Kurdish city in northern Syria after seizing 21 villages forcing neighboring Kurds in Turkey to call to arms followers to resist the group’s advance, Tom Perry and Laila Bassam report, Islamic State Seizes Syrian And Kurdish Villages In Major Assault. The attack on Ayn al-Arab, Kobani in Kurdish, came two days after U.S. military officials said the Syrian opposition would be needed in order for the Syrian Kurds to defeat the Islamic State. U.S. President Barack Obama last week said he would strike the radical Islamist group that used Syria as a base to advance its pan to reshape the Middle East according to the radical views of Sunni Islam. The United States is conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and now Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria. Ocalan Iso, deputy head of the Kurdish forces in Kobani, told Reuters via Skype, “We’ve lost touch with many of the residents living in the villages that ISIS (Islamic State) seized.” The Kurds appealed for military aid from other Kurdish group including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party who issued a call for young men in Turkey’s southeast to join the fight in norther Syria. On their website, in a statement, PKK said, “The youth of northern Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) should go to Kobani and take part in the historic, honorable resistance.” As night fell, a Reuters witness said 3,000 men, women and children waited at the Turkish border 6 miles from Kobani as Turkish forces stopped the crowd from crossing. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara: “We’re ready to help our brothers who are building up at the borders regardless of their ethnicity, religion and sect. But our priority is to deliver aid within Syria’s borders.” Redur Xelil, spokesman for the YPG, said Islamic State had encircled Kobani, telling Reuters via Skype.: “We call on world powers to move to halt this barbaric assault by ISIS.” Obama’s plan to expand support for groups fighting Islamic State in Syria focus on Sunni Muslim insurgents deemed moderate by Washington. On Friday, several thousand Syrians mostly Kurds crossed into Turkey finding refuge from the Islamic State militants who took over villages in northern Syria in the past 28 hours, the Associated Press reported, Syrian Kurds fleeing IS group cross into Turkey. In a statement on his website, Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region, said the Islamic State’s “barbaric and terrorist acts” on the Kobani area in northern Syria “threaten the whole entirety of the Kurdish nation and it has targeted the honor, dignity and existence of our people.” He also said, “The ISIS terrorists perpetrate crimes and tragedies wherever they are, therefore they have to be hit and defeated wherever they are.” The main Kurdish forces in Syria called the People’s Protection Unit or YPK have been battling the Islamic State for more than a year, but is viewed with suspicion by mainstream Syrian rebels and there Western supporters due to their supposed link to President Bashar Assad’s government. Meanwhile, France on Friday conducted its first airstrikes against the Islamic State group destroying a logistics depot that it controlled, Iraqi and French officials said, according to Jamey Keaten, France strikes Islamic State group’s depot in Iraq. President Francois Hollande confirmed the hit in northern Iraq, saying, “Other operations will follow in the coming days with the same goal – to weaken this terrorist organization and come to the aid of the Iraqi authorities. There are always risks in taking up a responsibility. I reduced the risks to a minimum.” Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military, said four French airstrikes hit the town of Zumar, killing dozens of extremist fighters. France has become the first foreign country to publicly add military aid to the United Stated airstrikes against the group. In Washington, Congress approved with a vote of 78-22 in the Senate, a bill already approved by the House 273-156 Wednesday, to allow funding for the government after the end of the budget year on Sept. 30 and allow the U.S. military to train and equip Syrian rebels for a war against ISIS on Thursday night, the Associated Press reported, Strong Senate vote for Obama on Syria rebel aid. In the Senate, 44 Democrats, 33 Republicans and one independent voted for the bill, while 9 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one independent opposed it. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told one House committee that Obama “is not going to order American combat ground forces into that area.” Obama’s general plan is to have U.S. troops train Syrian rebels at camps in Saudi Arabia, a process that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said could take a year. Kathleen Miles reports, Iranian Foreign Minister: America Helped Create ISIS And Is Taking The Wrong Approach … Again, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday that the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S created ISIS and foreign military presence will only create new terrorists. During a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations, Zarif said: “If you look at the essence of ISIS, it’s the product of foreign invasion. Foreign presence in any territory creates a dynamic for demagogues like ISIS to use the resentment in the population of being occupied.” He noted that the Islamic State began with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an Islamist leader of the anti-American insurgency in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion. He continued on to say: “As a principle, we do not believe that injection of foreign forces, either air or ground, solves our problem. We continue to have serious doubts about the willingness and ability of the U.S. to seriously engage this menace across the board –- and not just pick and choose where to engage. People need to be realistic. The so-called Syrians moderates — look at what’s happening on the ground — they control no territory. They can have no influence in fighting against either ISIS or the Syrian government. Syria is either controlled by the government or by ISIS. The U.S. cannot effectively fight against both at the same time.” Referring to the meeting in Paris and the U.S. led coalistion to fight ISIS, Zarif said: “Most participants in that meeting in one form or another provided support to ISIS … at the end of the day, creating a Frankenstein that came to haunt its creators. [Extremists] do not fly into Iraq. They come on foot from somewhere, and they don’t come from Iran. You can look at the addresses, and I believe every location was [represented] around the table in Paris.”

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Poroshenko renewed his call for American weaponry during his address to a joint meeting of Congress, expressing his appreciation for non lethal assistance from the U.S. but saying it was not enough to quell the violence in eastern Ukraine. the Associated Press reports, Ukraine’s pleas for lethal aid from US go unmet. Poroshenko, before heading to the White House to meet with Obama, said, “Blankets and night vision goggles are important, but one cannot win a war with a blanket.” The White House announced a new $46 million security package for Ukraine’s military that included counter mortar radar to detect incoming artillery fire, vehicles and patrol boats, body armor and heavy engineering equipment. In addition, $7 million will go to humanitarian organizations to assist people affected by the violence. Regarding his discussion with Obama and the desire for lethal American military assistance, Poroshenko told reporters: “I am satisfied with the level of our cooperation with the United States of America in the defense and security sector. I cannot say more, but I am satisfied.” In the Oval Office, Obama sat side by side with Poroshenko declaring, “The people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.” Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists agreed to a cease-fire on Sept. 5, but the deal has been violated repeatedly. Both sides have promised to regroup and continue fighting, if required. Poroshenko came to Washington seeking lethal military assistance to help push back the Russian forces. His request has support from some members of the Obama administration, as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously Thursday to advance legislation that would authorize $350 million for military assistance including anti-tank weapons. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the committee, said, “President Putin has upended the international order, and a slap on the wrist will not deter future Russian provocations. In the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine needs our steadfast and determined support, not an ambiguous response. ” Obama has argued more weapons into the conflict will not de-escalate the situation. However, Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said, “The more costly the Ukrainians can make any fighting for the Russians, the less Moscow’s interest in resuming the conflict.” While sanction from both the European Union and the United States have had a negative impact on Russia’s economy, they have done little to detour PUtin’s tactics. Meanwhile, back in Ukraine, Yuras Karmanau and Mstyslav Chernov report, Ukraine, Russia, Rebels Agree To Buffer Zone In Peace Talks, Saturday that sporadic artillery fire hit part of eastern Ukraine hours after negotiators agreed to create a buffer zone between government troops and pro-Russian militants by halting their advances, pulling back heavy weapons and withdrawing foreign fighters. Despite a ceasefire agreement that has been in place since Sept. 5, the fighting between the two sides has been deadly. Shelling could be heard in Donetsk and rebels opened fire on the village of Stakhanovets in the Luhansk region, according to the Interior Ministry. Ukrainian national security council spokesman Volodymyr Polyoviy said Saturday that about 20 rebels and one soldier had been killed in clashes but did not specify if those took place after the negotiators agreed on the buffer zone around 4 a.m. The deal reached by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the Moscow-backed rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says the two sides should stay where they were Friday and make no attempt to advance. According to the report: “Under the deal, each party must pull back artillery of 100 millimeters (about 4 inches) or larger at least 15 kilometers (9 miles), setting up a buffer zone that would be 30 kilometers (19 miles) wide. The longer-range artillery systems are to be pulled even farther back to make sure the parties can’t reach one another. The deal also specifically bans flights by combat aircraft over the area of conflict and setting up new minefields.” NATO’s top general, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, hopes the agreement announced Saturday to create a buffer zone between Ukrainian government troops and the pro-Russian militants will succeed in stabilizing the situation. On Friday, Reuters reports, US, Canada send jets to intercept Russian aircraft, that U.S. and Canadian fighter jets intercepted Russian aircraft flying near U.S. and Canadian air space this week, a military spokesman confirmed. On Wednesday, six Russian aircraft entered the United States’ air defense identification zone (ADIZ), an area beyond sovereign U.S. airspace, according to a statement from NORAD, a U.S. and Canadian aerospace command, and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). In response, “two Alaskan-based F-22 fighter jets acting under the authority of NORAD identified and intercepted two Russian IL-78 refueling tankers, two Russian Mig-31 fighter jets and two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the ADIZ, west of Alaska,” the statement said. On Thursday, Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the Canadian ADIZ. John Cornelio, a spokesman for NORAD and NORTHCOM, said that such intercepts had happened over 50 times in the last five years as Russian aircraft conducted exercises.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s vote for independence from Britain ended with voters resoundingly rejecting independence, but helped pave the way for a possible vote for Catalonia who wants independence from Spain, Jil Lawless and Danica Kirka report, Scots reject independence in historic vote. The historic vote and referendum ultimately prevented the rupture of a 307 year old union with England and brought a sigh of relief to Britain’s political establishment including Prime Minister David Cameron, who faced demands for his resignation if Scotland broke away. The vote on Thursday saw an unprecedented turn out of 85 percent with 55 percent against independence and 45 percent in favor. Alistair Darling, head of the no campaign, said Friday from Glasgow: “We have chosen unity over division. Today is a momentous day for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.” Cameron from his Downing Street office lived up to his promise to Scotland to give new powers on taxes, spending and welfare and the new plans will be agreed upon by November with draft legislation by January. He added, “We will ensure that those commitments are honored in full. We have heard the voice of Scotland, now the voices of millions in England must be heard.” Cameron also said people in other parts of the U.K. should also have more rights to govern their own affairs, particularly in England. The No campaign won the capital city, Edinburgh, by a margin of 61 percent to 38 percent and triumphed by 59 percent to 41 percent in Aberdeen, the country’s oil center. The Yes campaign won Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, but it was not enough. The vote to keep the U.K. together helps it avoid substantial loses to its territory and oil reserves and prevents it from having to find an new base for its nuclear arsenal housed in Scotland. The no vote also allowed the United Kingdom to keep its influence within international institutions including 28 nation European Union, NATO and the United Nations. Additionally, Britain avoids a prolonged period of financial insecurity that were predicted by Scotland’s independence. AOL reports, Catalonia pushes for independence following Scottish vote, hours after the vote on Friday, Spain’s Catalonia region took steps toward holding their own independence referendum. Catalonia’s regional parliament authorized a consultation vote on independence for the region with a presumptive November 9 date. However, the Spanish government condemned the possible vote as illegal. Due to Spain’s painful financial crisis, nearly two million people lined the streets of Barcelona a week earlier in support of independence. The decades-old independence movement has also been bolstered by Scotland’s referendum. Catalonia’s President Artur Mas told reporters he admired the U.K.’s commitment to a democratic referendum and expected the same process from Madrid. “It is more important to hold the referendum than the independence. … This represents high-quality democracy.” But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who opposes Catalan independence, has been quick to congratulate Scotland for choosing not to break with the U.K. Catalan independence faces a battle due to the Spanish constitution that requires the authorization by Spanish parliament for any referendum. Spain will most likely take the Catalan parliament’s new law to the country’s constitutional court that favors Madrid over Barcelona. If held, Catalonia’s planned referendum would not result in legal separation from Spain, but provide President Mas with a political mandate to pressure Madrid for independence.

Ebola in Senegal While Human Trials Begin, Ukraine Crisis Deepens, E.U. Plans to Deal with ISIS, Hong Kong and Pakistan Divided After Elections and Americans Detained in North Korea Need U.S. Help

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Senegalese authorities confirmed Monday they are monitoring everyone who was in contact with a student infected with Ebola who crossed into the country and who has lost three family members to the disease, according to Babacar Dione, Senegal monitors contacts of first Ebola patient. So far, more than 1,500 people have died from the latest Ebola outbreak that hit Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. The university student is Senegal’s first case of the dreaded disease. Dione reports: “The 21-year-old left Guinea on Aug. 15, just days after his brother died of the disease, according to Guinea’s Health Ministry. It said that the brother apparently caught Ebola in Sierra Leone. The student traveled by road, crossing into Senegal despite a border closure. He arrived in Dakar, the Senegalese capital, on Aug. 20, according to the World Health Organization, and was staying with relatives on the outskirts of the city. The agency said that on Aug. 23, he went to a medical facility seeking treatment for fever, diarrhea and vomiting – all symptoms of Ebola but also many other diseases. But he concealed from doctors that he had had contact with infected people. He was treated instead for malaria and continued to stay with his relatives before turning up at a Dakar hospital on Aug. 26.” Senegal’s Health Ministry said Sunday that they are examining every person who came into contact with the student twice a day. Since the man left home, the Health Ministry in Guinea reports his mother and a sister have died from the disease, while two other brothers area being treated. The arrival of the disease in Senegal has raised fears that the disease will spread even farther, but public health experts said that shutting borders and banning flights is not the answer. During a visit to the airport in Conakry, Guinea on Monday, Tom Frieden, the director of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said: “Countries might try to restrict travel in order to protect themselves, and it will do the opposite. If we cut off these countries, we will interfere with our ability to support them and stop the outbreak and that will actually increase the risk to the rest of the world.” On Monday, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered civil servants to stay home to prevent the disease from spreading for another month and schools have been closed. Caleb Hellerman reports, Human trial of experimental Ebola vaccine begins this week, the National Institutes of Health will begin this week testing an experimental Ebola vaccine as anxiety and fears increase about the spread of the disease in West Africa. After an expedited reveiw by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, researchers will begin human safety trials, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, confirmed. The process for testing Hellerman describes as follows: “The experimental vaccine, developed by the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and the NIAID, will first be given to three healthy human volunteers to see if they suffer any adverse effects. If deemed safe, it will then be given to another small group of volunteers, aged 18 to 50, to see if it produces a strong immune response to the virus. All will be monitored closely for side effects. The vaccine will be administered to volunteers by an injection in the deltoid muscle of their arm, first in a lower dose, then later in a higher dose after the safety of the vaccine has been determined.” Fauci said preclinical studies normally done were waived by the FDA during reviews, so “we want to take extra special care that we go slowly with the dosing.” In addition, the vaccine tested on chimpanzees worked well noting that the method being used to prompt an immune response to Ebola cannot cause a healthy person to become infected with the virus. According to NIH, the vaccine will then be tested on healthy volunteers in the United Kingdom, Gambia and Mali after details are finalized in those countries. Fauci remarked the reason trials cannot be done in the countries currently affected is due to a health care infrastructure that cannot not support it, while Gambia and Mali were chosen due to a “long-standing collaborative relationships” with researchers in those countries. However, according to the NIH, officials from the CDC are in talks with health officials from Nigeria to conduct part of the safety trial there. Funding from an international consortium will allow GlaxoSmithKline to begin manufacturing 10,000 additional doses of vaccine while clinical trials are ongoing, according to a statement from the pharmaceutical company. These doses will made available to the WHO if they decide to do emergency immunizations in high risk communities. Another vaccine, developed by the Public Health Agency of Canada and licensed this month to NewLink Genetics, a company based in Iowa. According to the NIH, safety trials of that vaccine will start this fall. A third vaccine given in combination with Depovax developed by the NIH was tested on primates and found to protect them from infection. While vaccine will help to prevent the disease among health workers and other people high risk, development has also sped up for drugs to treat patients with the disease already. ZMapp, the most publicized in recent months, was formally tested on humans with five of the seven treated in the current outbreak still alive. However, experts say there is too little data to say whether it played a role in recovery of these patients including two American missionary medical workers, Nancy Writebol and Dr. Kent Brantly.

Meanwhile, at the start of Monday’s negotiations in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, pro-Russian rebels said they would respect Ukraine’s sovereignty in exchange for autonomy reflecting Moscow’s desire to strike a deal at this new round of peace talks, the Associate Press reports, Pro-Russian rebels lower demands in peace talks. The same day, brutal fighting continued in eastern Ukraine with rebels pushing government forces from an airport near Luhansk adding to their military gains. The peace talks follow last week’s meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. The negotiations involve former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine, an envoy from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and representatives of the rebels. This round of negotiations are quite different as rebels in a statement carried by Russia’s state run RIA Novosti news agency said they are willing to discuss “the preservation of the united economic, cultural and political space of Ukraine.” However, they demand amnesty and broad local power including being able to appoint their own local law enforcement officials in eastern Ukraine as Crimea is not part of this negotiation. According to RIA Novosti, rebel negotiator Andrei Purgin said the talks lasted for several hours Monday and will continue Friday as parties will discuss a ceasefire and an exchange of prisoners. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told students at at Moscow State Institute of International Relations on Monday: “There will be no military intervention. We call for an exclusively peaceful settlement of this severe crisis, this tragedy.” Ukrainian National Security Council spokesman Col. Andriy Lysenko said on Monday that “not less than four battalions and tactical groups of the Russian armed forces are active in Ukraine.” Fighting in eastern Ukraine between rebels and government forces began a month after the annexation of Crimea in mid-April killing 2,600 people so far and forced 340,000 to flee their homes, the U.N. reports. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday regarding a planned summit in Wales to discuss how to protect member nations against Russian aggression: “(This) ensures that we have the right forces and the right equipment in the right place at the right time. Not because NATO wants to attack anyone. But because the dangers and the threats are more present and more visible. And we will do what it takes to defend our allies.”

While Ukraine deals with its own insurgency problems, Iraq and other world leaders address the issue of the Islamic State Militants that has overran large parts of Syria and Iraq. Nour al-Maliki, Iraq’s outgoing prim minister, Monday announced during an unannounced visit to Amirli that he would turn his country into “a big grave” for Sunni militants from the Islamic State group and praised security forces for their victory that ended the siege of a the Shiite town, according to Sameer N. Yacoub, Iraqi prime minister pledges to root out militants. In footage on state TV, al-Maliki ordered promotions and awards fro those who fought the battle. He vowed to root out Sunni militants from areas they control in the country. The U.S. airstrikes helped to liberate Amirli and were the first to hit areas where Iranian backed militias were fighting Sunni militants making an unlikely alliance between the U.S. and Shiite militiamen who fought American soldiers in Iraq. Since Aug. 8, the U.S. has conducted 120 airstrikes with aircraft and unmanned drones against the militants focusing on areas bordering self ruled northern Kurdish region where Kurdish forces are fighting militants. Monday, the United Nations reported 1,420 Iraqis have been killed in the violence in August which is down from the previous month. According to Yacoub: “The U.N. mission to Iraq, known as UNAMI, said in its monthly statement that the death toll includes 1,265 civilians and 155 members of Iraq’s security forces. Another 1,370 were wounded, including 1,198 civilians. July’s death toll stood at 1,737 people. In June, 2,400 were killed as Sunni militants swept across the country, the highest figure since at least April 2005.” In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended the decision to send arms to Kurds fighting the Islamic State in Iraq by telling parliament Monday that the group poses a major security threat to Germany and Europe, Noah Barkin reports, Merkel: ISIS Poses Major Risk To Europe. In a speech to the Bundestag lower house, Merkel said, “The far-reaching destabilization of an entire region affects Germany and Europe. Ladies and gentlemen, when terrorists take control of a vast territory to give themselves and other fanatics a base for their acts of terror, then the danger rises for us, then our security interests are affected.” Recent polls show that two out of three Germans think the government should not send arms to Kurdish fighters for fears the arms could end up in the hands of jihadists or could put a target on Germany’s back. However, Merkel in her speech notes over 400 German and hundreds of Europeans have taken up arms to fight alongside Islamic State militants and could return home at any time presenting a threat to Germany. Merkel said, “We faced a choice: not to take any risks, not to deliver (arms) and to accept the spread of terror; or to support those who are desperately but courageously fighting the barbarous terror of ISIS with limited resources. We are aware of the risks of this support, of course we considered them. But we also asked ourselves about the acute risks from ISIS if we do not deliver arms.” In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron has laid out his plan to fight the threat posed by the group as returning citizens come home after fighting with the militants, but many doubt if Parliament will go for it, according to Karl Penhaul, Susannah Cullinane and Laura Smith-Spark, Cameron lays out plans to counter UK jihadi threat. Announcing his plan on Monday, Cameron said, “Dealing with this terrorist threat is not just about new powers, it is also about how we combat extremism in all its forms…Passports are not an automatic right. We will introduce specific and targeted legislation to fill this gap by providing the police with a temporary power to seize a passport at the border, during which time they will be able to investigate the individual concerned. This power will include appropriate safeguards and oversight arrangements.” While it will help to stop would be jihadists, Cameron said Britain need measures to prevent foreign fighters from returning. UK authorities estimate 500 Britons have gone to fight in Iraq and Syria with Islamist militants. However, oppositions lawmakers question whether it is legal to do so. The White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, “The most detailed intelligence assessment that I can offer from here is that there is no evidence or indication right now that ISIL is actively plotting to attack the United States homeland.” U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson believes while ISIS is not a threat at home, they prove to be a threat to Americans overseas notably the execution of American journalist James Foley and the threats of more killings to follow. Paul Cruickshank, a CNN terrorism analyst, said, “The threat is much greater in the UK, and that’s why you are seeing a raft of new measures in the UK to try and tackle this problem. They are very, very worried that ISIS may try and retaliate in some form or way.” Meanwhile, a U.S. drone strike against senior leaders of Al-Shabaab in southern Somalia Monday highlights continuing concern about extremists around the world. Will Geddes, a security analyst and managing director of International Corporate Protection, told CNN: “You will have various groups working together, sharing resources, sharing capability, and in this particular region, it’s important to try to dismantle it where possible” adding that Somalia’s porous borders mean it presents a particular risk. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said it would be “a mistake to take our eye off the ball when it comes it al Qaeda” and warned that the rise of ISIS could aid the terror network. He added: “With ISIS’s rise, it gives al Qaeda a prime opportunity to rebrand itself as being a more rational, more moderate voice of jihadism, and as a result I think there’s a lot of risks of more money channeling into the al Qaeda network.”

While Europe becomes increasingly concerned over the Islamic State, Pakistan and China face problems within their own government. Jack Chang and Kelvin Chan report, China: No Open Nominations For Hong Kong Leader, China’s legislature on Sunday will not allow open nominations in the inaugural vote for Hong Kong’s leader stating it would create chaos, while democracy activists in the Asian financial hub said that a long threatened mass occupation of the heart of the city will happen. The guidelines laid out by China’s communist leaders could pit Beijing against Hong Kong democracy supporters representing a large swath of society, including students, religious leaders and financial workers. Benny Tai, a leader of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace protest movement, said: “At this very moment, the path of dialogue has been exhausted.” Tai told reporters the group will launch “wave after wave of protest action” in the coming weeks “until we get to a point when we launch the all-out Occupy Central action.” Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee, told a news conference in Beijing: “These rights come from laws, they don’t come from the sky. Many Hong Kong people have wasted a lot of time discussing things that are not appropriate and aren’t discussing things that are appropriate. He has to be responsible to Hong Kong and to the central government. If Hong Kong’s chief executive doesn’t love the country and love the party, then that can’t work in one country.” Occupy Central said the plan to block the Central financial district was “the last resort, an action to be taken only if all chances of dialogue have been exhausted and there is no other choice.” It said that “the occupation of Central will definitely happen,” without specifying a date. Meanwhile Sunday, the incumbent leader of the nearby Chinese-controlled casino capital of Macau, Fernando Chui, was elected to a second five-year term by a Beijing-friendly committee even though 95 percent of 8,688 votes cast in a similar referendum were in favor of universal suffrage in 2019. In Pakistan, anti-government protesters stomred the building and took the state television channel off the air requiring Pakisrani soldiers and paramilitary forces to secure the headquarters Monday, Syed Raza Hassa and Maria Golovnina reports, Pakistani Protesters Clash With Police. The article reports: “Protesters led by opposition leaders Imran Khan, a hero cricket player turned politician, and firebrand Muslim cleric Tahir ul-Qadri have been on the streets for weeks trying to bring down the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Protests descended into deadly chaos over the weekend, with demonstrators clashing with police in a central area near many government buildings and embassies. Three people were killed.” Sharif, who was toppled by the army in 1999 coup came back with a big election win in May last year and refused to quite amid protest leaders rejecting his offers of talks creating deadly clashes. Army chief General Raheel Sharif met Prime Minister Sharif on Monday, but it was unclear what they discussed. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Reuters that later on Monday another crackdown on protesters could occur warming protestors against storming government buildings : “The writ of the state must be enforced. We hope to make a decisive move sometimes later today, not in the evening but even before that. I personally feel that the next few hours will determine the course of coming events.” If the protests get out of hand, the military could step in to impose a curfew or martial law. However, if the army sides with the protestors and put pressure on Sharif to resign, then an interim government would be put into place and early parliamentary elections would be held to elect an new government. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “Violence and destruction of private property and government buildings are not acceptable means of resolving political differences, however, and we strongly oppose any efforts to impose extra-constitutional change to the political system.” Some ruling party officials accuse the military of orchestrating the protests to weaken the government, while disagreements on how to handle Islamist militants and relations with India have also caused turmoil.

In North Korea, three detained Americans told the foreign media on Monday that they were allowed to contact their families and called for Washington to negotiate their freedom, the Associated Press reports, Americans detained in North Korea call for U.S. help. Jeffrey Fowle and Mathew Miller said they expect to face trial within a month, but do not know what they will be charged with or what the punishment is, while Kenneth Bae, serving a 15 year term, said his heath has deteriorated at the labor camp where he works eight hours a day. Talking to the Associate Press in Pyongyang, they said the only solution to their situation is for a U.S. representative to come to North Korea to make a direct appeal. No date has been announced for a trial, but North Korea says Fowle and Miller committed Hostile acts that violate their status as tourists. In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Patrick Ventrell said, “We have seen the reports of interviews with the three American citizens detained in North Korea. Securing the release of U.S. citizens is a top priority and we have followed these cases closely in the White House. We continue to do all we can to secure their earliest possible release.” Ventrell noted that the State Department has issued a travel warning recommending not to travel to North Korea. According to the Associated Press: “Fowle arrived in North Korea on April 29. He is suspected of leaving a Bible in a nightclub in the northern port city of Chongjin. Christian proselytizing is considered a crime in North Korea. Fowle, 56, lives in Miamisburg, Ohio, where he works in a city streets department. He has a wife and three children aged 9, 10, and 12. North Korea says Miller, 24, entered the country on April 10 with a tourist visa, but tore it up at the airport and shouted that he wanted to seek asylum. Miller refused to comment on whether he was seeking asylum. Bae, a 46-year-old Korean-American missionary, has been held since November 2012. He was moved from a work camp to a hospital because of failing health and weight loss but last month was sent back to the work camp outside of Pyongyang, where he said he does farm-related labor. He said he has lost 15 pounds (6.8 kilograms) and has severe back pain, along with a sleep disorder. His family has said his health problems include diabetes, an enlarged heart, liver problems and back pain.” The U.S. has repeatedly offered to send an envoy for North Korean human rights issues, Robert King, to Pyongyang to seek a pardon for Bae and other U.S. detainees, but will no success as Washington has no diplomatic ties with North Korea and no embassy in Pyongyang. Instead, the Swedish Embassy has taken responsibility for U.S. consular affairs and met with Fowle and Miller. North Korea has been pushing tourism lately to bring in foreign cash, but remains highly sensitive to any action it deems political particular anything deemed to be Christian proselytizing. In March, North Korea deported an Australian missionary who was spreading Christianity after he apologized and requested forgiveness.

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

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

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

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

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

The Middle East Crisis Deepens as Militants Gain Ground

AP Photo/Jaber al-Helo

Last Friday, Pentagon officials announced that the U.S. had started to fly armed drones over Baghdad to protect U.S. civilians and military forces in the Iraqi capital, according to the Associate Press. The senior defense official under anonymity confirmed that a handful of Predators armed with Hellfire missiles are being used in the mission. The drones are assisting manned and unmanned aircraft in the collection of data as well as provide protection for U.S. interests since President Obama has not authorized airstrikes against Sunni militants who have overrun parts of the country. The Pentagon on Thursday said that four teams of Army special forces had arrived in Baghdad bringing the number of American troops there to 90 of the 300 Obama promised to send. The Americans will advise and assist in the Iraqi counterterrorism efforts.

On Saturday of last week, the Iraqi government took steps to retake the northern city of Tikrit back from Sunni militants using soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, reported Ryan Lucas and Qassim Abdul Zahra (Iraq Launches Push For Militant-Held Tikrit). Reports coming from the city were conflicting as residents said the militants were still in control of the city by nightfall, while Iraqi officials said the troops had reached the outskirts and even made it as far as the heart of Tikrit itself. What has become very clear was the government’s desire to portray their efforts as a significant step in the right direction after two weeks of defeats at the hands of the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The series of defeats across the northern and western regions of Iraq has lead to the deepest crisis since the U.S. exited in December of 2011 threatening the stability of the country as the militants threaten to cleave the  nation in three along sectarian and ethnic lines. If successful, according to Lucas and Abdul Zahra, the Tikrit operation could restore some faith in the security forces and save Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s job. Many residents of the city have fled in anticipation of a government assault turning Tikrit into a ghost town. The city has been without power or water since last Friday night, according to one resident, Muhanad Saif al-Din. Early Saturday, the military carried out three airstrikes on the insurgent held city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and the initial target of the Islamic State’s offensive in the country. The Islamic State, which has seized control of large parts of northern and eastern Syria, aim to create a state straddling Syria and Iraq governed by Islamic law. Al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, has failed to unite the Shiite and Sunni groups allowing militants to tap into the deep seated discontent among Iraq’s Sunni community fueling their anger. The Unites States and other world leaders have told al-Maliki to reach out to the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities and have called for more inclusive government to address longstanding grievances, according to Lucas and Abdul Zahra. Al-Maliki has refused to step aside and will seek a third consecutive term as prime minister as his bloc won the most seats in the April election.

On Sunday of last week, the al-Qaida breakaway group declared the establishment of a new Islamic state demanding allegiance from Muslims worldwide, according to the Associate Press article Al-Qaida splinter declares new Islamic caliphate. The spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, made the announcement in an audio statement posted online on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Al-Adnanai declared the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the new leader, or caliph, calling for jihadi groups everywhere to swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi and support him. Al-Adnani states,”The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas. Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day.” The Islamic state’s territory runs from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala, according to Al-Adnani. With the establishment of the caliphate, the group changed its name to the Islamic State. In email comments, Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, explains that:”This announcement poses a huge threat to al-Qaida and its long-time position of leadership of the international jihadist cause. Taken globally, the younger generation of the jihadist community is becoming more and more supportive of (the Islamic State), largely out of fealty to its slick and proven capacity for attaining rapid results through brutality.” Al-Baghdadi has long been at odds with al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri and the two have had a very public falling out after al-Baghdadi ignored al-Zawahri’s demands that the Islamic State leave Syria. In February, al Zawahri formally disavowed al-Baghdadi. The declarations comes as the Iraqi government tries to take back some of its territory lost in recent weeks to jihadi groups and Sunni militants. The fighting continued on Sunday as Iraqi helicopter gunships took out suspected insurgent positions for the second day in the northern city of Tikrit. However, the insurgent were able to repel the military effort and remain in control of the city with clashes continuing to take place in the northern neighborhood of Qadissiyah, according to two residents.So far, Washington has sent 180 of the 300 American troops President Obama promised to help Iraqi forces, in addition, to flying unmanned and manned aircraft over Iraq.

President Obama has become increasingly concerned that the battle hardened militants who have spent time in Iraq and Syria could pose a threat to U.S. security due to the fact they could enter the country without visas on European passports, the Associate Press reports Obama: Battle-Hardened Militants Pose Threat To U.S. In an interview last Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”, Obama said,”They’re gaining strength in some places. We’ve seen Europeans who are sympathetic to their cause traveling into Syria and now may travel into Iraq, getting battle-hardened. Then they come back.”  The POTUS believes that the U.S. must improve surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering to neutralize the risk, in addition, possible military strikes against these organizations that could do us harm. As of Monday, officials confirmed that the U.S. will be sending another 300 troops to Iraq to beef up security at the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere in Baghdad to protect U.S. citizens and property, the HuffPost and Associated Press report (Obama Orders More Troops To Iraq). This addition brings the count to 750 total U.S. troops present in Iraq. The State Department has announced it will temporarily move unspecified embassy staffers in Baghdad to U.S. consulates in the northern city of Ibril and the southern city of Basra. On Sunday and Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that 200 troops have arrived to reinforce security at the embassy, its support facilities and Baghdad International Airport as requested by the POTUS. In a written statement, the Pentagon’s press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, had this to say: “The presence of these additional forces will help enable the embassy to continue its critical diplomatic mission and work with Iraq on challenges they are facing as they confront Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” Obama notified House and Senate leaders in a letter Monday of the additional forces. Obama has ruled out sending combat troops and insists the extra troops will stay in Iraq until security improves and reinforcement are no longer needed. Kirby said 100 additional troops who are on standby in the Middle East since the mid June will move to Baghdad to provide security and logistics support.