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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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