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.

Ebola Crisis Worsens, Gaza Talks Continue, Fighting Continues in Ukraine, Russia Retaliates Against Sanctions, Islamic State Pushes through Iraq and War Crime Charges for Former Cambodian Leaders

Debt Crisis, Third World andhttps://i0.wp.com/ingrid19thcenturyhumanities.weebly.com/uploads/5/3/1/1/5311173/6414099.pnghttps://i0.wp.com/www.world-crisis.com/images/uploads//Gazabama.jpgOn Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on African leaders to attack the health crisis, security challenges and government corruption that has crippled the continents economic advancement as he concluded the White House African Summit, the Associated Press reported, Obama, African Leaders Confront Continent’s Crises. Also in attendance was former President George W. Bush who launched a $15 billion HIV/AIDS initiative while in office and made public health issues in Africa a priority since leaving office. Bush’s institute partnered with first lady Michelle Obama to host a daylong event for the African leaders’ spouses. Bush, who lives in Dallas, said: “There’s not many things that convince me to come back to Washington. The first lady’s summit, of course, is one.” While Bush has his African legacy in his initiative, Obama has been trying to build his own and the U.S. African summit is seen as a symbol of that start as he brought 50 countries together for three days of talks. Moving away from humanitarian aid, Obama announced $33 billion in new U.S. commitment to bolster investments in Africa fr0m the private sector. According to the Associated Press: “African nations are still struggling with the HIV epidemic, malaria, and the current outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Government corruption remains a persistent problem. And a surge in violent extremism, particularly in North Africa and the Sahel region, has sparked international concern.” Obama added: “Today we can focus on how we can continue to strengthen Africa’s capacity to meet transitional threats and in so doing make all of our nations more secure.” During the private security session, leaders were expected to talk about Boko Haram, the Violent Islamic group that kidnapped 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria earlier this year. Meanwhile, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bush, who hosted an event last summer in Tanzania, met with the African first ladies to talk about investments in education, health and economic development.

Meanwhile, back in Western Africa, on Tuesday global health experts stated that the Ebola outbreak is “out of control” and the international community has no organized plan to address it, Kathlenn Miles reports, Health Expert: ‘No Strategic Plan’ For Controlling Ebola Outbreak. Laurie Garrett, senior global health fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations, said Tuesday during a CFR conference call: “We’re now in a perfect storm. There is no strategic plan for how this epidemic will be brought under control. People believe that there’s a giant World Health Organization office in Geneva stocked full of specialized equipment and talented health care workers. Not only do we not have any such thing –- the WHO is essentially bankrupt.” Garrett added that the largest response group, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) who has 550 staff member on the ground, has issued plea after plea in recent days for assistance due to fatigue as more than 60 health workers have been infected with the virus. Garret said: “(health workers) in a state of seige — feeling that the population despises and loathes them. Rumors are rife that they are actually deliberately infecting people, cutting off people’s arms and selling them on some alleged international market, and even that there are health care workers who are cannibals.” The need now is for an agreed upon international leader to fight the epidemic and tale on the $1.2 billion deficit or face possible chaos, according to Garrett. WHO spokeswoman Christy Feig confirmed the deficit to HuffPost, while on Monday, the World Bank pledged $200 million to fight the epidemic leaving the WHO short $78 million. Garrett criticized the African Summit in Washington due to the act the 50 leaders at the summit should be discussing how to mobilize more health workers, and consider closing borders and canceling flights adding: “We should be taking advantage of this remarkable coincidental moment, but as far as I can tell, it’s not on the agenda.” The WHO will meet on Wednesday in Geneva at a special summit where experts will decide if the epidemic should be called an international public health emergency which, if designated, will force the international community to try to develop vaccines, implement border checks, give instructions to flight carriers and more. The Ebola virus, which is spread through bodily fluids, has killed 932 people since February in four West African countries and caused 1,711 cases making it the largest outbreak of the virus in history with no cure. The death rate is at 70 percent and its epicenter has shifted to Liberia and Sierra Leone from its outbreak in the forests of Guinea with two confirmed cases in Nigeria, according to Garrett. Additionally, Saudi Arabia officials said a man who tested for the Ebola virus died on Sunday after returning from Sierra Leone, where 286 people have died from Ebola, while hospitalized in Jiddah after showing signs of the viral hemorrhagic fever. While on Wednesday, Spain’s Defense Ministry said a medically equipped Airbus 310 is ready to fly to Liberia to recover a Spanish missionary priest who has the virus, but it is not known when the plane will leave, Bashir Adigun and Krista Larson report, WHO: Ebola death toll reaches 932; 1,700 cases. According to Dan Kedmey, Sierra Leone Dispatches Troops to Enforce Ebola Quarantine, Sierra Leone has dispatched 750 soldiers Wednesday to enforce new quarantine measures as the virus’ global death toll increase. Liberia’s president orders a 30 day state of emergency due to the Ebola outbreak late Wednesday, according to a radio broadcast. A Reuters reports in Monrovia reported that relatives of Ebola victims dumped infected bodies in the streets to avoid quarantines as forces are deployed to maintain order. While some of the numerous untested Ebola drugs will go into human trials to test safety and effectiveness this years, none will be available for widespread production for several years.

Switching to the ongoing Middle East crisis, talks in Cairo for an long term truce continued between Israel and the Palestinian side (Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Liberation Organization) as many Palestinians returned to devastation in Gaza but no fighting, according to CNN, Talks to extend Gaza truce under way in Cairo. From Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his country’s troops for their performance, blamed Hamas for civilian casualties and hoped that the Cairo talks could allow for broader peace. On Wednesday, a Palestinian delegate, Qais Abdelkarim, told CNN that the delegations had yet to reach an agreement to extend the ceasefire. An Israeli government official, who asked to remain anonymous, told CNN Thursday regarding a ceasefire extension: “The current one is unconditional, and from our point of view, it can be extended unconditionally.” On Wednesday Obama weighed in on the matter: “I’m very glad that we have, at least temporarily, achieved a cease-fire. The question now is, how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way? I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza.” Nasser Judeh, the foreign ministers of Jordan, which borders Israel and the West Bank, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “The problem is that — regardless of the blame game that’s taking place right now and it usually does happen after every Gaza escalation — it’s the people of Gaza who are suffering from the siege, from a disastrous humanitarian situation, civilian deaths, destruction. I think we all have to collectively think about how we can rescue them from this.” The United Nations reports around 520,000 Gaza residents were displaced which is 29% of the territory’s 1.8 million inhabitants, more than 10,00 homes were destroyed or severely damaged and the Palestinian Health Ministry reports nearly 1,900 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the conflict with the U.N. estimating that about 70% of the dead were civilians. The immediate challenge for residents is to secure water, food and shelter. The U.N. says water is scarce and there is only two to four hours of electricity a day. Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA’s commissioner general, told CNN: “We will be very closely following not only the needs of people who stay at our schools (which house about 270,000), but also those who are returning to their home and may find themselves in very difficult situations in the days and weeks to come.” Nachman Shai, an opposition member of the Israeli parliament, said talking isn’t the only thing Israel needs to do referring to the idea of disarming Hamas: “I’m not sure that we accomplished the mission. I think we have to do much more. If you ask me, the next phase in this mission is to build new relations between us and the Palestinians.” Netanyahu did agree with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that realignment could present opportunities to use the Cairo talks fro broader discussions: “I think he’s right that there are opportunities now, perhaps opportunities that we’ve not seen before with the realignment of important parties in the Middle East, to be able to fashion a new reality, one more conducive to the end of violence, the establishment of calm, sustainable peace, or at least a sustainable quiet that can lead to other things.” Palestininan negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN Wednesday that the conflict cannot be resolved through violence and Mohammed Shtayyeh, a senior negotiator for the PLO, states Israeli’s call to demilitarize Gaza is balckmail. Hamas leaders want to negotiate an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza or find another body to control the borders. U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told CNN’s Tapper: “We don’t negotiate with Hamas. We don’t talk to Hamas. But we certainly want to be there to support an effort to negotiate over these key issues that have been so troubling in the region for so many years.”

On Wednesday, as fighting continues not far from the Malaysian Flight 17 crash site in Eastern Ukraine, the Dutch prime minster has halted recovery efforts to find the remaining bodies as it is too dangerous. Donetsk City Council confirmed three people were killed and five wounded on overnight shelling in eastern Ukraine as government forces tighten their hold on the pro-Russian rebel stronghold, the Associated Press reported, 3 killed, 5 wounded in east Ukraine fighting. On the council’s website Thursday, a statement detailed that several residential buildings were damage 4 miles from the city’s center due to shelling. As rebels are pushed back by Kiev forces, many fear that Russian may intervene as Western Leader accuse Russia of massing troops at the border, a claim Russia denies. Meanwhile, Toby Sterling reports, Dutch premier halts search for Ukraine victims, Wednesday Mark Rutte, at a news conference, praised the efforts of the international recovery mission and promised victims’ families the search will resume when Ukraine is more stable. Rutte added that before the international team was able to reach the site due to fighting in the area the local authorities immediately after the crash conducted a thorough search of the area with 800 volunteers and found many bodies in the first days and have been identified in the Netherlands. As for the cause of the crash, Rutte said the investigation is continuing as the Dutch Safety Board spokesman on Wednesday states the preliminary findings due Aug. 17 won’t be ready for several weeks after that date. The reason, according to Wim van der Weegen via phone interview, is due to the difficulty investigators had reaching the site.

While Ukraine continues to struggles to end the fighting and the families of Flight 17 must wait longer to find their loved ones, Russia, who has been sanctions over its alleged action in Ukraine, has banned all Western Food imports in retaliation. Jim Heintz reports, Report: Russia to block US agricultural imports, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted an official of Russia’s sanitary oversight agency as saying all imports of agricultural product from the U.S. to Russia will be banned. President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered state authorities to make a list of agricultural products from countries who imposed the sanctions on Russia with a ban or limit for up to one year. On Thursday, Russia officially banned most food imports from the West in retaliation that will cost Western farmers billions of dollars and lead to empty shelves in Russian cities, the Associate Press reports, Russia bans Western food over Ukraine sanctions. The decisions by President Vladimir Putin shows he will no bow to international pressure over Ukraine and will strike back as Russia pursues its course in Ukraine. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a televised Cabinet meeting that the ban covers all imports of meat, fish, milk and milk products and fruit and vegetables from the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway. He said: “Until the last moment, we hoped that our foreign colleagues would understand that sanctions lead to a deadlock and no one needs them. But they didn’t and the situation now requires us to take retaliatory measures.” Large cities may be hit the hardest like Moscow where imported food fills 60 to 70 percent of the market. Medvedev said Russia may carry their ban further and prevent Western carriers from flying over Russia on flights from Asia which would significantly swell the costs and increase flight times. The move is retaliation against EU sanctions levied on the low cost Russian airline Dobrolet. Medvedev hopes the ban will make the West revise their policy and stop trying to pressure Russia with sanctions. Another import from the U.S. will not be banned , according to Heintz, Edward Snowden Gets Permission To Stay In Russia For 3 More Years: Lawyer, as NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden on Thursday was granted permission to stay in Russia for three more years. Analtoly Kucherena, his lawyer, quoted by the Russian news agency as saying Snowden was not granted political asylum but residency for three more years.

Back in the Middle East, the Islamic State made another push into Northern Iraq leaving many Iraq’s the only two options, to flee their towns and villages or face Sunni militants who are notorious for beheading. According to Ahmed Rasheed and Michael Georgy, Iraq’s Yazidis Face Extremist Militants Or Perilous Mountains, the Yazidis of Sinjar are especially concerned since the Islamic state, deemed excessive by al Qaeda, see the minority ethnic group as devil worshipers making them prime targets for the sword. Witnesses and the United Nations reports that tens of thousands fled the weekend assault on Sinjar and are now surrounded after Sunni militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on Kurdish forces who held the town for three years. Residents said 50 people were killed after the Sunni militants, who declared parts of Iraq and Syria a caliphate, arrived in Sinjar late Saturday and 20 were killed trying to defend the town. Many panicked Yazidis tried to find water and food for their children before leaving in a rush to the surrounding mountains, while some did not escape. Vian Dakheel, a member of the Yazidi community parliament, said tearfully: “The innocent people of Sinjar were slaughtered. Men were killed and women have been taken as slaves by Islamic State fighters.” Dakheel said some could not withstand the weekend offensive and 70 children between one month and four died of thirst and hunger. The U.N. children’s agency said families fleeing the area needed assistance including the 25,000 children stranded in the mountains. While the Islamist State sets its sights on new territory, no sign Iraq’s bickering politicians will be able to share power anytime soon leaving the government powerless in countering the insurgency. Fortunately, as Reuters reported, UN Rescues Some Refugees From Sinjar Mountain, some of the thousands trapped by Islamic State militants on Sinjar mountain in northern Iraq have been rescued in the last 24 hours leading up to Thursday announcement by a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. David Swanson via phone from Iraq said: “We’re just receiving the information right now. We’ve just heard that people over the last 24 hours have been extracted and the U.N. is mobilizing resources to ensure that these people are assisted on arrival. This is a tragedy of immense proportions, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Over the past couple of days, almost 200,000 people have made their way northwards to Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Dohuk governorate, or to disputed border areas inside Ninewah. We have also received reports that thousands more may have fled across the border into Syria, and are waiting to cross back into Iraq, but I have no concrete confirmation of that. Many of the displaced are in immediate need of essential life-saving humanitarian items, including water, food, shelter and medicine.” A spokesman for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in Geneva, Christopher Tidey, said: “We have received reports of dehydrated children and we know that at least 40 children have died.” Another group, Iraqi Christians, have long suffered more than any other group since the Islamic State took power as the region’s Christian population is around 5% and dropping, according to Yasmin Hafiz, ‘Vicar Of Baghdad’ Canon Andrew White Refuses To Leave Iraq, Despite Christian Persecution By ISIS. In Mosul, Iraq, Islamic State distributed flyers in July giving them three options: convert to Islam, pay a fine, or be killed. Many of their abandoned homes now say in black lettering, “Property of the Islamic State.” Canon Andrew White refuses to leave Baghdad, despite the danger, as St. George’s is Iraq’s last Anglican church. He estimates his numbers at 6,000 people, but in the last decade over 1,200 have been killed, CNN’s Arwa Damon reports.

On Thursday, a long over due ruling three and a half decades after the genocidal rule of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge ended has finally been handed down Thursday by a U.N. backed tribunal. Todd Pitman and Sopheng Cheang report, Cambodia tribunal convicts Khmer Rouge leaders, two top leaders of the former regime received life sentences for crimes against humanity during the country’s 1970s terror period that left 2 million people dead. The histroic verdicts were announced against Khieu Samphan, the regime’s 83-year-old former head of state, and Nuon Chea, its 88-year-old chief ideologue – the only two surviving leaders of the regime left to stand trial, Pitman and Cheang. The tribunal’s chief judge said both men were guilty of “extermination encompassing murder, political persecution, and other inhumane acts comprising forced transfer, enforced disappearances and attacks against human dignity.” The rulings can be appeals, however, Nil Nonn told the court that “given the gravity of the crimes” both would remain in detention. Nearly a quarter of the population died under the Khmer Rouge about 1.7 million people through a combination starvation, medical neglect, overwork and execution when the group held power in 1975-79. Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen called it “a historic day for both the Cambodian people and the court. The victims have waited 35 years for legal accountability, and now that the tribunal has rendered a judgment, it is a clear milestone.” According to the article: “The current trial began in 2011 with four senior Khmer Rouge leaders; only two remain. Former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died in 2013, while his wife, Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia in 2012. The group’s top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.” khieu Samphan acknowledged the mass killings, but testified in 2011 he was a figure head with no authority. Nuon Chea, bother no.2 for Pol Pot’s trusted deputy, denied responsibility claiming Vietnamese soldiers killed Cambodians en masse. Due to poor health and advanced age, the case was divided into two trials in an effort to render justice before they die. Both men will be tried in September or October for charges of genocide, according to Olsen, and could take a year to complete. Survivors of the regime had mixed reactions to the verdicts. 54 year old Chea Sophon, whose brother was killed during the Khmer Rouge era and spend years in a hard labor camp building dams and working in rice fields, said: “The crimes are huge, and just sentencing them to life in jail is not fair. But what can I do? I just accept the verdict. Even if they die many times over, it would not be enough.” While a 58 year old female survivor, Khuth Vouern, said she felt a sense of relief that justice was served: “I have been waiting for this day for many years. Now, for the first time, my mind feels at least some degree of peace.”

Possible Peace Between Palestine-Israel, While ISIS Hits Hard in Iraq and Clashes in Libya Cause Evacuations

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On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued to work on a deal between Hamas and Israel for a seven day truce in Gaza as Israel’s defense minister earned that the military may soon broaden its ground offensive significantly, Karin Laub and Ian Deitch reports, John Kerry says no deal yet on 7-day Gaza truce. The total causalities amid the endless fighting on Friday were at 820 Palestinians and 38 people in Israel killed. After days of Kerry moving between the Egyptian capital, the West Bank and Jerusalem talking to official from Qatar who are in contact with Hamas, Kerry so far has been able to get Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to consider a 12 hour halt to fighting proposed by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. Kerry said, Netanyahu “has indicated his willingness to do that as a good faith down payment to move forward.” Kerry said the parties are closer than ever to reaching an agreement for a seven day humanitarian truce starting with Muslim Eid holiday Monday, ending the holy month of Ramadan. Alongside the U.N. secretary general and the Egyptian foreign minister, he explained: “Gaps have been significantly narrowed. It can be achieved, if we work through some of the issues that are important for the parties.” The fighting in Gaza continued while talks of a truce continued, while unrest intensified in the West Bank over the conflict where five Palestinians were killed during protests against the Israeli operation in Gaza. The U.S. top diplomat said the goal for the seven day truce was to provide time to address the demands of each side.

On Saturday, Israel agreed to extend the 12 hour humanitarian truce in Gaza by four hours, according to a Cabinet minister as the death toll surpassed 1,000 Palestinians, according to a heath official, Laub and Deitch report, Israel agrees to extend Gaza war truce by 4 hours. In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with European foreign ministers to find a way to build on Saturday’s lull which is the longest since the fighting erupted on July 8. Top United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, called for both sides to halt their fighting an additional 24 hours. The Israeli Cabinet voted by phone to agree to the four hour extension and will consider the U.N. request for a 24 delay in fighting at a Cabinet meeting later Saturday. According to Laub and Deitch, under a gradual extension of a humanitarian truce, Israel did not have to discuss new border arrangements with Gaza and could continue to destroy Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. A Hamas spokesman, Mushir al-Masri, speaking before Israel’s decision, said the group would consider an extension if “it does not mean that we retreat from our known demands.” During Saturday’s humanitarian truce, Palestinian health official Asraf al-Kidra said an additional 132 bodies were retrieved from rubble surpassing 1,000 casualties. In the 19 days of fighting, 6,000 Palestinians have been wounded, hundreds of homes destroyed and tens of thousands displaced in Gaza. Israel lost 40 soldiers and 2 civilians so far. During the truce on Saturday, thousands of Gaza residents returned to devastated border areas after fleeing the violence. The U.N. said more than 160,000 Palestinians have sought shelter at dozens of U.N. schools, an eight fold increase since the start of Israel’s ground offensive more than a week ago. Unfortunately, late Saturday Hamas said it fired five rockets at Israel after rejecting Israel’s offer to extend a 12 hour humanitarian ceasefire by four hours making it more difficult to broker a deal to end the 19 days of fighting. Hamas said it fired two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv, While a spokesman said Police in Israel’s second largest city dispersed a peace rally attend by several thousand people because of the threat.

While Israel and Gaza continue to butt heads, two Hunter college students decided to start a social media campaign to spread love rather than hate, Mashable reports. Abraham Gutman, Israeli, and Dania Darwish, Syrian, posted photos of themselves with the hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies and launched a Facebook page under the same name. In the Christian Science Monitor, Gutman wrote: “With tempers only rising both on the ground and in social media platforms, we thought it would be productive to remind people that they are allowed to refuse to join the hateful discourse.” The campaign has proven to work as it has gone viral inviting Jews and Arabs around the world to share their stories. Sulome Anderson, a half Lebanese journalist, posted a photo of herself kissing her Jewish boyfriend that went viral getting thousands of re-tweets and favorites making her the face of the campaign. In New York Magazine, Anderson said: “He had seen that violence from the other side. As the region exploded into war, we started to come closer together in our opinions given the fact that we both share critical values: respect and concern for human life.”

While Israel and Gaza are taking steps to find common ground, the militant group ISIS continues to wreak havoc on Iraq by destroying the tomb of Jonah, a place thought to be the site of the prophet’s tomb who was swallowed by a whale or fish in Abrahamic faiths. On Thursday, civil defense officials in Mosul, Iraq, told CNN that ISIS operatives planted explosives around the mosque containing the tomb and detonated it remotely, according to Yasmine Hafiz, ISIS Destroys Jonah’s Tomb In Mosul, Iraq, As Militant Violence Continues. Though ISIS claims to follow the Sunni branch of Islam, they have targeted multiple Sunni shrines that they deem “unIslamic” and blow them up or bulldoze them. In addition, the Imam Aoun Bin al-Hassan mosque was destroyed on Thursday. Al-Arabiy reports that Zuhair al-Chalabi, a local Mosul official told Al-Samaria News that “ISIS implanted explosives around Prophet Daniel’s tomb in Mosul and blasted it, leading to its destruction.” AFP reports that an anonymous official said, “Islamic State completely destroyed the shrine of Nabi Yunus after telling local families to stay away and closing the roads to a distance of 500 metres from the shrine.” Sam hardy, a professor at the American University of Rome, told the Washington Post that ISIS will destroy, “basically pretty much anything in the Bible. It indicates they are going for total eradication not just of their enemies but even of the possibility of people living together under their rule.” Leila Fadel of NPR believes that ISIS’s destruction of shrines may be a big mistake since they establish the “Islamic caliphate” and “it may cause a deep rift in the uneasy alliances the Sunni extremist group has made with other Sunni fighting groups marginalized.”

Meanwhile in Libya on Saturday, the United States closed up and evacuated its diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Libya to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias, Matthew Lee and Lara Lakes reports, US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes. The withdrawal reinforces the Obama administration’s concern over risks to American diplomats overseas especially in Libya where a deadly attack in 2012 took place in Benghazi. The State Department issued a new travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to enter and to leave immediately. It read: “The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security. Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including anti-aircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.” The State Department said embassy operations will be suspended until the security situation improves. Tripoli has for weeks been under siege by inter-militia violence that killed and wounded dozens on both sides. Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, expressed gratitude toward U.S. forces who helped in the evacuation. Libya is experiencing one of the worst spans of violence since Gadhafi’s ouster. The U.S. is the latest country to close its embassy as Turkey on Friday shut its embassy and militia clashes in Benghazi prompted the United Nations, aid groups and foreign envoys to leave. The battle in Tripoli began this month when Islamist led militias launched an attack on the airport under the control of rival militias. The rival militia made up of former anti-Gadhafi rebels forced a weeklong closure of gas stations and government offices. In recent days, armed men have attacked vehicles carrying money from the Central Bank to local banks, forcing them to close as well. Libyan government officials and activist have been targeted in the violence recently with gunmen kidnapping two lawmakers in Tripoli a weak ago and on Friday abducted a well known Libyan political activist in Tripoli, Abdel Moaz Banoun.