While the U.S. Senate Clears the Way for Homeland Security Funding and as the World Continues to Struggle with ISIS, Ukraine and Russia Continue to Struggle with Another Ceasefire

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Reuters reported on Thursday that the Senate moved Wednesday to advert a shutdown of U.S. domestic security agency this weekend by voting to clear the way for funding a funding bill that does not include the immigration issue. The vote came shortly after an appeal from the current and two former Security secretaries appealed to Congress to avoid the shutdown and give full funding for the department of Homeland Security this year. The final hurdle for passage will fall to the conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives who still oppose the bill and procedural negotiations that could delay the final vote beyond Friday’s funding deadline for the department. The agency set up after 9/11 coordinates domestic efforts to combat security threats like the recent Somali based Islamic militants against U.S. shopping malls and encompasses the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration as well as border, immigration and several other federal agencies. The original bill would of funded the agency with $39.7 billion until Republicans against Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive order lifted deportation threats of undocumented immigrants got in the way causing Republicans to approve the bill adding a provision to ban spending on the order. This in turn caused a deadlock that lasted weeks between Republicans and Democrats leading up to Wednesday’s vote. The 98-2 vote cleared the way to take out the House’s immigration provisions and leave the vote on immigration orders for a later date under the plan designed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to end the deadlock. The overwhelming bipartisan support for McConnell’s approach means there is strong support for drama free funding for Homeland Security. Democrats have called for a clean Homeland bill all along without any immigration restrictions as Obama had threatened to veto the House passed measure. House Speaker John Boehner declined to tell Reuters if he would put the bill to a House vote even thought the deadline ends at midnight Friday. If no deal is reached, then Homeland Security would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees or 15 percent of its workforce. This translate to many of the essential personnel such as airport and border security agents would have to wait to be paid until new funding is approved. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and some of his predecessors pleaded at a news conference for Congress to swiftly pass the funding bill. A cut-off in funds also would suspend grants to states to support local counter-terrorism activities.

As security issues at home become increasingly worrisome, the White House has said President Barack Obama would be open to negotiating with Congress for new authorization for military force against Islamic State militants including a three year limit on U.S. military action and use of American troops, according to the AP’s Nedra Pickler, Obama open to changes to military authority against IS. After a weeklong holiday break, lawmakers returned to Washington Monday and have started to consider the proposal with some Republicans saying it is too restrictive for the mission to succeed and some Democrats wanting more limitations on Obama’s authority so the U.S. doesn’t sign on for another open ended war. Obama is open to discussing every aspect of his proposal but firmly opposed to any geographic restriction on where the U.S. military pursues ISIS with strongholds in Iraq and Syria but have been operating across international boundaries. White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated, “I’m not at all going to be surprised if there are members of Congress who take a look at this legislation and decide, ‘Well, I think there are some things that we should tweak here, and if we do, we might be able to build some more support for. So I think it is fair for you to assume that this reflects a starting point in conversations.” Obama argues he doesn’t need new authority to legally pursue the militant group as he has been launching strikes based on authorizations given to President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. However, critics say Obama’s use of this authority is a stretch and the White House has taken a new position making it clear it doesn’t see reliance on this authorization as ideal. Once new authority is signed into law, the White House says Obama will mot longer rely on the 2001 approved authority to purse the group and rely solely on the new powers. The White House added that Congress could make that clear in the new authorization. The change also prevents any future president from interpreting the law the way Obama has since last year. On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced the arrest of three men accused of planning or supporting ISIS in Syria, AP’s Deepti Hajela reports, Feds: 3 accused in Islamic State plot vocal about beliefs. Two men are charged with plotting to help the Islamic State group as evident by both online and personal conversations about their commitment and desire to join the extremists, federal authorities reported. Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, was arrested at Kennedy Airport, where he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul, with plans to head to Syria, authorities said. Another man, 24-year-old Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, had a ticket to travel to Istanbul next month and was arrested in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said. The two were held without bail after a brief court appearance. A third defendant, Abror Habibov, 30, is accused of helping fund Saidakhmetov’s efforts. He was ordered held without bail in Florida. If convicted, each faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton said this was the first public case in New York involving possible fighters going to the Islamic State, but he hinted at other ongoing investigations. According to the federal complaint, Saidakhmetov said he intended to shoot police officers and FBI agents if his plan to join the IS group in Syria was thwarted. Loretta Lynch, who is Obama’s choice to be U.S. attorney general, said “The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies.” The Islamic State group largely consists of Sunni militants from Iraq and Syria but has also drawn fighters from across the Muslim world and Europe.

While the U.S. fights to thwart and contain the Islamic State, the rest of the world has not been so lucky in keeping ISIS as bay. On Tuesday, AP’s Zeina Karam reported, Dozens of Christians abducted by Islamic militants in Syria, the Islamic State militants before dawn raided homes in a cluster of villages along the Khabur River in northeastern Syria abducting at least 70 Christians as thousands fled to safer areas. The captives’, mostly women and children, fate was unclear Tuesday as relatives said mobile phone service was cut off and land lines were not working and heavy fighting in the area was reported. The Islamic State group has a history of killing captives, including foreign journalists, Syrian soldiers and Kurdish militiamen. Most recently, militants in Libya affiliated with the extremist group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. While the U.S. and coalition of regional partners conduct airstrikes against the group, the group has repeatedly targeted religious minorities since taking a third of both Syria and Iraq. The British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights working with a network of activist in Syria have reported the number of Christians held by the group at 90. The extremists could use the Assyrian captives to try to arrange a prisoner swap with the Kurdish militias it is battling in northeastern Syria. Hassakeh province, where a majority of the captives come from, is strategically important due to sharing a border with Turkey and areas controlled by IS in Iraq. Kurdish militiamen from the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, backed by the coalition airstrikes, have made advances in the province in a new offensive launched this week. Heavy fighting broke out in the province Monday as Kurdish fighters and IS militants battled for control of villages near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. The Kurds have been one of the most effective foes of IS, a reputation they burnished in recent months by repelling an assault by the extremists on the town of Kobani on the Turkish border. The coalition carried out hundreds of airstrikes that helped the Kurds break the siege in January.

As the world tries to get a grip on the seemingly phantom group called ISIS, the ongoing ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia seems once again to have fallen apart as fighting continues to rage and Russia refuses to loosen its grip on Ukraine. On Wednesday, AP reported Russian courts refused to release Ukrainian prisoners whose fate has attracted global attention as Moscow’s City Court turned down an appeal by Nadezhda Savchenko’s lawyers leaving her to remain behind bars pending an investigation, according to the article, Russian court refuses to release Ukrainian prisoner. Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in June and put in custody in Russia, is awaiting trial on charges of involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. She denies the accusations. Russia claims Savchenko voluntarily crossed the border into Russia before she was detained, but she said she was dragged across the border into the Russian custody. Savchenko has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 13 demanding her release, and her lawyers on Wednesday voiced concern about her condition. More than 11,000 people including prominent cultural figures have petitioned Russian President Vladimir Putin urging Savchenko’s release. Even while in jail, Savchenko was elected to the Ukrainian parliament and named a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The European Union and the United States have urged her release. Pavel Polityuk and Anton Zverev reported, Kiev Says It Can’t Withdraw Weaponry As Attacks On Ukrainian Troops Persist, the Ukrainian military said Monday it could not leave the front line in the east as required by the ceasefire due to pro-Russian separatists who advanced last week were attacking its position making it difficult to withdraw heavy weaponry. A truce to end fighting that has killed more than 5,600 people appeared stillborn last week after rebels ignored it to capture the strategic town of Debaltseve in a punishing defeat for Kiev. Nevertheless, the peace deal’s European sponsors still hold out hope it can be salvaged, now that the Moscow-backed separatists have achieved that objective. Spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said in a televised briefing: “Given that the positions of Ukrainian servicemen continue to be shelled, there can not yet be any talk of pulling back weapons.” Anatoly Stelmakh, another military spokesman, said rebel forces had attacked the village of Shyrokyne overnight, along the coast on the road to Mariupol, a port of half a million that Kiev fears could be the next big rebel target. Rebel commander Eduard Basurin denied the fighters had launched any such attack, and said the situation was calm. Nearly a million people have been driven from their homes by the war between pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine and government forces. Last week’s ceasefire was reached after the rebels abandoned a previous truce to launch their advance, arguing that previous battle lines had left their civilians vulnerable to government shelling. Kiev says the rebels are reinforcing near Mariupol for a possible assault on the port, the biggest city in the two rebellious provinces still in government hands. Defense analyst Dmytro Tymchuk, who has close ties to the military, said rebels had brought 350 fighters and 20 armored vehicles including six tanks to the area.

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.

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.

Ukraine at War Despite Ceasefire with Rebels and the U.S. Continues to Rally Support Against an Ever Growing Islamic State

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On Saturday, despite a ceasefire between Kiev’s forces and Moscow backed rebels in the east, Ukraine is ‘still in a state of war” with Russia, according to the country’s prime minister shortly after a second convoy of Russian trucks rolled into Ukraine, the Associated Press reports, Ukraine Prime Minister says country still in ‘state of war’. Speaking to a conference of politicians and business leaders in Kiev, Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to take all of Ukraine: “He cannot cope with the idea that Ukraine would be a part of a big EU family. He wants to restore the Soviet Union.” The second convoy of Russian trucks that entered through rebel held territory in eastern Ukraine on Saturday with 2,000 tons of humanitarian aid. The last truck crossed early Saturday from the Russian border town Donetsk, 120 miles east of the Ukrainian city with the same name, Rayan Farukshin, a spokesman for Russia’s custom agency, told the Associated Press via phone. News Agency ITAR TASS reported 250 trucks were heading toward the city of Luhansk. Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told journalist Saturday the trucks entered illegally: “Ukraine border guards and customs were not allowed to examine the cargo and vehicles. Representatives of the Red Cross don’t accompany the cargo, nobody knows what’s inside.” President Petro Poroshenko has tried to since last week’s ceasefire to prove that improvements on the ground have happened in eastern Ukraine, but Friday, he admitted that the deal has been riddled with violations. Galina Balzamova, a representative of the ICRC’s Moscow office said, “We were not officially notified of an agreement between Moscow and Kiev to ship the cargo.” Lysenko said 6 Ukrainian servicemen have died since the truce and 12 rebel fighters have been killed by Ukrainian forces near Seas of Azov city of Mariupol. A Saturday statement from the Donetsk city council said that fighting occurred throughout the night near the airport with two shells hitting a residential building in the area and reported no causalities. Laura Mills and Peter Leonard report, Ukraine government repels rebel attack on airport, the convoy of 200 white trucks crossed the border with humanitarian aid to Ukraine on Saturday without Kiev’s consent but was met with silence by Ukraine’s leaders. Yury Stepanov, a Russian overseeing the convoy, said: “Early in the morning, we entered Ukraine to bring aid to Luhansk. We came in around 215 vehicles.” The aid arrived as fighting continued between pro-Russian rebels and government forces. Stepanov said the goods consisted mainly of food such as rice sugar and canned fish and beef, but included medicine, technical equipment and clothes. While local workers unloaded boxes, several carloads of armed militiamen in camouflage arrived to inspect the scene. Stepanov said his team was responsible for delivery, while distribution will be handled by local authorities which means the separatist leaders of the self proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. Gennady Tsepkalo, a senior separatist officials, said, “The militia will feed itself separately. This is for the residents of the Luhansk People’s Republic.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission to the Russian-Ukrainian border said Saturday that ed220 trucks cross into Ukraine, none of which were inspected by the Ukrainian side or accompanied by the ICRC. Allowing more humanitarian aid into the region was one component of the 12-point deal.

Meanwhile, across the world, ISIS continues to grow stronger as the U.S. continue to rally support internationally in the fight to stop the Islamic extremist, while some neighboring Arab countries in the Middle East choose not to participate. On Sunday, Prime Minister David Cameron summoned military and security chiefs for an emergency meeting in response to the beheading of a British hostage and a threat against another, Gregory Katz reports, UK’s Cameron calls emergency meeting after killing. The meeting was in response to the release of a video showing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines and the threat of another with death by Islamic extremists. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it saw no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video. Haines is the third Westerner to be executed with the first two being U.S. journalists. President Barack Obama said the United would stand with Britain in an expanded effort against terror groups. “We will work with the United Kingdom and a broad coalition of nations from the region and around the world to bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice, and to degrade and destroy this threat to the people of our countries, the region and the world,” he said. Germany and France also condemned the killing during their international conference Monday to combat IS. French President Francois Hollande said, “The odious assassination of David Haines shows once more the need for the international community to mobilize against the base and cowardly Daesh.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the Haines killing “an abhorrent act of barbaric violence beyond all limits of human civilization” and said the Paris meeting comes at the right time. Some British lawmakers called for Britain to launch air strikes against Islamic State forces after the killing. Desmond Butler reports, Turkey seeks behind-the-scene role in NATO coalition, that Turkey has decided to take a behind the scenes role in the war with the Islamic State group as it wants to keep its soldiers out of combat operations and declined to allow NATO to use its bases or territories to launch air attacks. The reason is rooted in two dilemmas: the Islamic State groups has dozens of Turkish hostages including diplomats and Turkey is wary of boosting its rebellious Kurdish minority in the battle against Islamic State enemies in Iraq. Even though NATO allies have shown publish support for Turkey, they would like more action from heir ally. Butler reports: “They would chiefly like to see Turkey tighten its border controls, stem the flow of fighters transiting Turkey from Western Countries and the Middle East, and crack down on oil smuggling from Syria that finances the Islamic State group. They could also benefit from closer intelligence cooperation and possibly the use of Incirlik Airbase in southern Turkey as a base from which to launch strikes against the group.” Western governments are alarmed by the Islamic State’s ability to smuggle Iraqi and Syrian oil across Turkey’s borders and while Turkey has cracked down, analysts say that Turkey is not able to police the smuggling across its 750 mile border with Iraq and Syria. Both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chick Hagel were in Ankara last week on successive trips to press Turkey on its role, but failed to get a pledge of support in combating IS. In addition, Turkey decline to sign a U.S. brokered statement by Middle Eastern countries last week denouncing the Islamic State group and pledging to fight it. Another reason for hesitation is a three decade long conflict with the Kurdish minority that has cost tens of thousands of lives. Last year, Kurdish rebels declared a ceasefire and began withdrawing fighters from Turkey into bases in norther Iraq, but tensions rose again as the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, accused Turkey of not boosting Kurdish rights quickly enough. Government officials say there are signs that Kurds from Turkey are crossing the border to help PKK militants in Iraq and Syria fight the Islamic State group. Teams of security officials operating at Turkish airports and bus stations have interrogated more than 500 people over the last four months and have deported 107 to their countries of origin, according to one official in the Turkish prime minister’s office. Officials also say they are fighting oil smuggling, but face challenges across a more than 550 mile border with Syria. Lori Hinnant reports, Iran says rejects US call to fight IS militants, Iran will not join the international coalition to fight the militant group. Neither Iran nor Syria, who share most of their borders with Iraq, was invited Monday to the international conference in Paris. Opening the diplomatic conference intended to discuss how to combat the group, French President Francois Hollande said, “The terrorist threat is global and the response must be global. There is no time to lose.” The killing of David Haines, a British aid worker, added to the urgency for a clear strategy to fight the well organized Sunni group who has amassed members from all over the world and makes $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to U.S. intelligence officials and private experts. Iraq’s President Fouad Massoum called for a coordinated military and humanitarian approach, as well as regular strikes against territory in the hands of the extremists and the elimination of their funding. According to Hinnant: “Western officials have made clear they consider Syrian President Bashar Assad part of the problem, and U.S. officials opposed France’s attempt to invite Iran, a Shiite nation, to the conference in Paris.” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Iranian state television, said his government refused American requests for cooperation, warning that another U.S> incursion would result “in the same problems they faced in Iraq in the past 10 years.” Ahead of the conference, France’s foreign minister acknowledged many of the countries at the meeting Monday probably financed Islamic State’s advances, while Haider al-Abadi, in his first interview aired Sunday as Iraqi prime minister, told state run al-Iraqiyya that he has given France approval to use Iraq airspace and said all such authorizations must come from Baghdad.

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

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

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

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

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

Possibly More Sanctions for Russia, U.S. Wants Coalition to Fight Islamic State, Gaza Struggles to Rebuild and U.N. Condemns U.S. Over Police Brutality

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On Friday, Russian backed separatists held control of the coastal city of Novoazovsk on the new front in the Ukraine conflict announcing their intention to keep moving west toward the major port city of Mariupol, according to Peter Leonard and Juergen Baetz, Russian-backed rebels aim to push west along coast. The day before, the Ukrainian government accused Russia of sending tanks, artillery and troops across the border, and NATO estimated at least 1,000 Russian troops were in Ukraine. As tension rose, the European Union foreign ministers called for heavier sanctions against Moscow ahead of Saturday’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. One rebel commanders identified himself as nom de guerre Frantsuz or the Frenchman said: “We are fighting with the machinery the (Ukrainian forces) abandon. They just dump it and flee.” However, top rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Russia was supplying equipment and fighters. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen Friday said: “Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border. This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.” Speaking at a Kremlin organized youth camp Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the Ukrainian government’s fight with separatists to the Nazi siege of Leningrad in 1941-44 which many Russians see the 872 day siege and 670,000 civilians dead as one of the most heroic chapters in the country’s history. Putin added to stop the bloodshed the Kiev government should open talks with the rebels. Ivan Simonovic, U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights, said the death toll has reached 2,600 as of Wednesday. The U.N. human rights office Friday accused both sides of deliberately targeting civilians. The Associated Press reports: “The separatists have carried out murders, torture and abductions along with other serious human rights abuses, while Ukraine’s military is guilty of such acts as arbitrary detentions, disappearances and torture, the organization said in a report.” The head of the EU’s executive commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, warned Putin further destabilization of Ukraine “will carry high costs.” Putin has called on separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine for a week, but the rebel leader said the Ukrainian troops must lay down arms before they can go “so that this weaponry and ammunition will not be used against us in future.” Col. Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s national security council spokesman, rejected the demand: “Ukraine is not ready to surrender arms and kneel in front of the aggressor.” Meanwhile, Ukraine will receive $1.39 billion aid installment as part of a financial support package from the International Monetary Fund bringing the total paid out to $4.51 billion of $16.67 billion due over two years. On Sunday, the European Union leaders decided no to impose new sanctions against Moscow; however, the 28 nation bloc’s head of state and government tasked their executive body to prepare tougher economic sanctions that could be adopted in a week, according to EU summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy, Juergen Baetz and Jim Heintz reports, EU threatens Russia with more sanctions. According to Rompuy, the new sanctions will depend on the evolution of the situation on the ground but “everybody is fully aware that we have to act quickly and EU leaders call on Russia to “immediately withdraw all its military assets and forces from Ukraine.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told reporters in English: “Thousands of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine. There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine, but for the whole … of Europe.” Meanwhile, Moscow is preparing to send a second convoy of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine, according to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, who said Moscow already received Kiev’s approval and aid would be sent in coordination with the Red Cross. Ukraine’s Lysenko told reporters: “We are surrendering this city. Our task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in order to regroup.” In addition, Lysenko said regular units of military are ordered to retreat from Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, two towns on the main road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. Ukraine had claimed control of Novosvitlivka earlier in August.

While the Ukrainian government tries to minimize losses, Islamic State and other al-Qaida offshoots continue to move through Syria posing a threat to neighboring countries as well as displacing millions of Syrians. According to John Heilprin’s reports, Syria Refugees Top 3 Million Mark, UN Says, three million Syrian refugees have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday with many trapped by the advance of Islamic militants or the inability to reach an open border crossing, according to the United Nations. The U.N. refugee agency said Syrians desperate to leave their homeland pay hefty bribes at armed checkpoints along Syria’s borders or to smugglers. In addition, the agency said “almost half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives” as 6.5. million have been displaced within Syria and the record figure is one million more than a year ago. Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner fro Refugees, said in a statement: “The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them.” The UNHCR reports the vast majority of Syrian refugees remain in neighboring countries, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (1.17 million), Turkey (830,000) and Jordan (613,000). Some 215,000 refugees are in Iraq with the rest in Egypt and other countries, while the host governments estimate hundreds of thousands more have sought sanctuary in their countries without formally registering. The Obama administration announced Thursday that the United States wants to build an international campaign against the Islamic State jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria including partners for potential military action. According to Reuters, John Kerry: U.S. To Push For Coalition To Fight ‘Cancer’ Of Islamic State, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will push for a coalition of countries to beat back the incursion in Syria and Iraq by Islamic State militants via the NATO summit next week. On Saturday, Kerry wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times saying “With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries.” Kerry said along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with their European counterparts to enlist support for their coalitions with the goal to “enlist the broadest possible assistance.” Addressing the current action taken in the Middle East, he wrote: “Already our efforts have brought dozens of nations to this cause. Certainly there are different interests at play. But no decent country can support the horrors perpetrated by ISIS, and no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to help stamp out this disease.” Republican and Democrats in Congress have called for lawmakers to vote on whether the United States should broaden its actions against Islamic State.

On Sunday, Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen broke a six week siege by the Islamic State extremist group on northern Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli as a suicide bombing killed 14 people in Anbar western province, Sameer N. Yacoub reports, Iraqi forces break militant siege of Shiite town. Breaking the siege was a big achievement for all involved including the Iraqi army, elite troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias. Turkish lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said they entered the town from two direction distributing aid to the residents. About 15,000 Shiite Turkmens were stranded in the farming community, 105 miles north of Baghdad, deciding to stay and fortify their town with trenches and armed positions instead of fleeing. On Saturday, the U.S. conducted airstrikes against the Sunni militants and air dropped humanitarian aid to residents. Aircraft from Australia, France and Britain joined the aid drop which came after the Iraq government requested it. The U.S. launched airstrikes near Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq, that allowed Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the facility from Islamic State fighters. The U.S. Central Command said another airstrike on Sunday near Mosul Dam destroyed an Islamic State armed vehicle bring the total number of airstrikes across Iraq since Aug. 8 to 120. German officials said Sunday they would soon be sending enough high end rifles, anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles to equip 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters battling Islamic extremists in Iraq. On Sunday night, Iraqi police officials said a suicide driver rammed an explosives laden car into a police checkpoint in Ramadi in the Anbar province killing 14 people including nine police and about 27 people were injured.

While it seems one war is far from over, the Associate Press reports, Rebuilding Gaza Will Take 20 Years, Housing Group Says, the assessment by Shelter Cluster, co-chaired by the U.N. refugee agency and the Red Cross, says post conflict reconstruction will take 20 years for Gaza’s battered and neglected housing stock to be rebuilt and some Palestinian officials estimate the cost at $6 billion. The effort to rebuild will be stifled by Egypt and Israel as Israel since 2007 has severely restricted import of concrete and other building material due to fears that militants will use them to build rockets and reinforce cross border tunnels. In its report issued late Friday, Shelter Cluster said 17,000 Gaza housing units were destroyed or severely damaged and 5,000 units still need work after previous military campaigns. Additionally, Gaza has a housing deficit of 75,000 units. Shelter Cluster said its 20 years assessment is based on the capacity of the main Israel Gaza crossing to handle 100 trucks of construction material a day. The death toll of the conflict included 2,100 Palestinians, most civilians, died in the war and Israel lost 71 people with all but six soldiers. To add to the difficulty, Israel announced it was appropriating almost 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank for Israeli settlers, according to AOL News, Israel Seizes 1,000 Acres Of Land In West Bank. Israeli officials declared a 990 acre region as state land confiscating it from Palestinians who live nearby and claim ownership with several established settlements there west of Bethlehem. Peace Now, an Israeli group opposed to further settlements, said the move was the biggest land grab in over 30 years. Sunday’s announcement may be punishment for the Palestinians, according to the New York Times, and was prompted by the murder of three Israeli teenagers back in June. A spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization told reporters it would “‘wipe out any Palestinian presence on the land’ and impose a ‘de-facto one-state solution’.” However, a U.S. State Department spokesperson called the move “counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution.” The U.S., U.N. and E.U. have repeatedly condemned the settlement expansions, but Israeli officials believe the land will be theirs in any final peace deal. The Wall Street Journal quotes one housing minister calling land appropriations “an appropriate Zionist response to the Palestinian terrorist government.” And a commerce minister told the BBC: “I think that stopping anyone from living in our land is a profound mistake. … Why should I stop building on my land? It’s my own.” Israeli officials say the appropriation is still open to legal review. Any Palestinian landowners in the region now have 45 days to submit their objections to an Israeli court before their lands will be seized.

While the U.N. has weighed in on many of the conflicts brewing internationally, it was only a matter of time before they weighed in on the Ferguson, Missouri issue. Stephanie Nebehay reports, UN Condemns U.S. Police Brutality, Calls For ‘Stand Your Ground’ Review, the U.N. racism watchdog urged the U.S. Friday to halt excessive use of force by police after the murder of unarmed teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri. After examining the U.S. record, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination determined minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities. Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman and expert from Algeria, told a news briefing: “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing. The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown. This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.” The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what they consider a persistent racial discrimination against African Americans and other minorities including within the criminal justice system. U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination” but conceded that “we have much left to do”. In its conclusions issued Friday, the U.N. panel said “Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense.” Nebehay reports: “Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.” In addition, it urged an investigation saying, “The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police.” The committee also urged the U.S. to address obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous people to exercise their right to vote due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies. Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the U.N. recommendations highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth.”