Flight 17 Possible War Crimes Amid Intensified Fighting in Ukraine, While Israel Strains Its Relationships with Allies

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Officials on Monday in Eastern Ukraine said at least eight civilians have been killed by fighting and shelling in two Ukrainian cities held by pro-Russian militants. Peter Leonard reports, Death toll mounts as clashes intensify in Ukraine, authorities in Luhansk that five people were killed and 15 injured by artillery strikes overnight, while three were killed in Donetsk as a result of clashes, according to the city’s government. The territory between the cities has seen intense fighting as government troops try to regain control of the area where a Malaysia Airlines plane was show down earlier this month. On Monday morning, Dutch and Australian police set off fir the crash site in a convoy of 20 cars to secure the areas so investigations can continue and recover bodies. Both sides have accused each other regarding the rising civilian death toll, while the armed conflict has displaced more than 200,000 people over more than three months. Rebels accuse government troops of deploying artillery against residential areas, meanwhile authorities complain insurgents use apartment blocks as firing positions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expecting OSCE observers to arrive at the Russian Ukrainian border in the coming days and prove that rebels traveling freely into Ukraine from Russia is false. Ukrainian officials said the mission is largely pointless since only two dozen observers monitor the 1,240 mile border between the two countries.

The fighting in Eastern Ukraine, while serious and concerning, has taken a back burner to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site and the possibility, according to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, of war crime charges. John Heilprin reports, UN rights chief: Flight 17 possible war crime, Pillay, the U.N’s top human right official, wants a thorough investigation into the violation of international law when the flight was shot down with a surface to air missile over a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatist on July 17 that killed all 298 on board. At the same time, a new report by her office says that at least 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 wounded in Ukraine’s fighting as of Saturday and more than 100,000 have fled the violence since April. She said, “This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime. It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event.” Fighting over the weekend prevented the Dutch and Australian police officers from visiting the crash site to search for bodies and evidence. The report by the U.N.’steam of 39 field monitors in Ukraine says there has been an alarming buildup of heavy weaponry in civilians areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. The report says an attack could amount to violations of international humanitarian law. Gianni Magazzeni, head of the U.N. office’s branch that oversees Ukraine, told reporters in Geneva: “There is an increase in the use of heavy weaponry in areas that are basically surrounded by public buildings. All international law needs to be applied and fully respected.” Peter Leonard reports, Police team turns back from Ukraine crash site, Ukraine accused rebels of tampering with evidence at the crash site and are trying to cover up their role in bringing the Malaysia Airlines jet down with anti-aircraft missile. On Monday, Ukrainian security spokesman that data recovered from the flight recorders shows the plane crashed due to a massive, explosive loss of pressure after being punctured multiple times by shrapnel. The data recorders were sent to experts in Britain for examination, while Russia and Ukraine trade accusations and the death toll rises.

While tensions rises between Ukraine and Russia, Israel continues to strain its relationships with the rest of the world especially the United States as it tries to mediate an end to the three week old war in Gaza. On Monday, as tensions rise between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and Washington over U.S. mediation of the situation, an Israeli official was quotes as saying Israel sees no need for another Gaza ceasefire, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams report U.S. – Israeli Tensions Rise Over Gaza Conflict. Fighting has quieted over the weekend as Hamas endorsed a U.N. call for a 24 halt ahead of Monday’s Eid al-Fitr festival. However, Israel abandoned an offer to extend a 12 hour truce from Saturday after Palestinian rocket launched persisted. In the early hours of Monday, Netanyahu’s security cabinet met to debate whether to escalate the Gaza offensive that has killed 1,100 people. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited last week to try and halt the violence with assistance from contacts with Hamas facilitated by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. U.S. President Barack Obama via phone on Sunday talked with Netanyahu about Israel holding fire unconditionally and appeared to link its core demand to disarm Hamas and destroy infiltration tunnels to a peace accord with the Palestinians that is nowhere on the diplomatic horizon. The White said: “The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.” Israel radio quoted an unidentified government official saying: “There is no need for any more ceasefires. Let Hamas stop firing first.” On Sunday, Netanyahu told CNN: “I think you can’t get social and economic relief for the people of Gaza without having an assured demilitarization.” A poll published by Israel’s Channel 10 on Sunday said 87 percent of respondents wanted Israel to continue until Hamas was toppled, while another poll, published in the Jerusalem Post found 86.5 percent of Israel’s majority Jews oppose calling a truce while rocket fire continues and Gaza retains any cross border tunnels. On Monday, Karin Laub and Tia Goldenberg report, Strike hits Gaza park, killing at least 10, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people including nine being children as Israeli and Palestinian authorities blamed each other over the attack and fighting in the Gaza war raging on despite a major Muslim holiday. The United Nations called for an immediate ceasefire in fighting that has killed 1,040 Palestinians, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, according to his office, in which Netanyahu voiced his dismay at the announcement saying: “It does not include a response to Israel’s security needs and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.”

Death and Destruction: The Children of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict


On Saturday in Gaza, Israeli bulldozers destroyed more than a dozen tunnels as Palestinian authorities reported intensified airstrikes and shelling causing the death toll to rise to at least 342 Palestinians since Israel’s ground offensive began. Meanwhile, diplomats struggle to bring about renewed talks of ceasefire, according to Ibrahim Barzak and Aron Heller, Israeli troops battle Hamas, uncover Gaza tunnels. The Israeli military said that soldiers found 34 shafts leading into dozens of underground tunnels that could be used to carry out attacks. However, even after tunnels were destroyed, Palestinian gunmen entered Israel from Gaza using another tunnel killing two Israeli soldiers and injuring several, according to the military. While Hamas said 12 of its fighters participated in the attack and at least one Palestinian was killed in the clash. This is the second time Palestinians used the underground tunnel network to enter Israel in the current conflict. Thirteen armed Palestinians used the tunnel from Gaza and emerged inside Israel near a southern community where an Israeli airstrike killed the militants as they pooped out of the tunnel. The current ground offensive by Israel began late Thursday in order to seek and destroy the tunnels. Cheif military spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz said, “These tunnels aren’t for hiding. They are intended for large attacks in Israeli communities and army bases.” According to Barzak and Heller, footage of the tunnels being destroyed by army excavators, ground equipment and airstrikes was released by the Israeli military. Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra said the newest airstrikes raised the death toll of the 12 day offensive to 342 Palestinian with many being civilian. In Israel, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld reports that a Gaza rocket killed a man near Dimona making it the second Israeli civilian casualty and an Israeli soldier was killed after the ground operation began. The UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees said some 50,000 Palestinians are already in U.N. shelters. Barzak and Heller report, “Early Saturday, Israeli tank fire killed at least five members of the Al Zawaydi family at their home in Beit Lahiya, including two children. In a separate incident, tank shell fire killed three members of the Hamooda family in their home, among them two children. In Gaza City, two boys and a 12-month-old infant neighbor were killed Friday evening following the break of the Ramadan fast. On Saturday, at least two of the bodies were carried by somber relatives during a funeral procession in Gaza City.” Israel blames the civilian casualties on Hamas who they claim fire from within residential areas and use civilian as human shields. Additionally, the military said it hit more than 2,350 targets in Gaza including 1,100 rocket launchers during the 12 days of fighting with 70 terrorist and another 13 brought to Israel for questioning. Gaza militants have fired more than 1,600 rockets at Israel since July 8. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri on Sautrday said, “This initiative still presents the chance for the two sides to cease fire, ending the bloodshed. It meets the needs of both sides. We will continue to propose it. We hope both sides accept it.” Israeli officials say the offensive may last two weeks or longer, while Ziad Nakhala, a leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group, told a Palestinian radio station: “The Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip will not surrender to the enemy and will not raise the white flag.” With little international or regional support from its allies in Turkey and Qatar, Hamas appears weaker than previous offensives. Protests against the offensive took place Friday in Turkey, Jordan and the West Bank. Additionally, protests against Israel continued in European countries.

While the war rages on between Hamas and Israel, Palestinian children are paying a heavy price. Karin Laub and Yousur Alhlou, 1 in 5 of Gaza dead are children, report that the United Nations says minors make up one fifth of the 299 Palestinians killed in 11 days of intense Israeli airstrikes of the Gaza Strip where half the 1.7 million people are under 18. Even with Israel warning residents to evacuate target areas, most Gazans have no safe place to go according to rights activists. Bill Van Esveld, a researcher for New York based Human Rights Watch, said, “If you are going to attack civilian structures in densely populated areas, of course you are going to see children killed.” Since fighting began, 71 of those killed were under 18 the Associated Press reports based on information provided by Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra. forty eight of the victims were under 13 with many children killed in their own homes. Lt. Col. Pete Lerner, a military spokesman on Friday said,” Israel’s efforts to try to minimize civilian casualties are unprecedented in the Western world,”referring to the evacuation warning system using text messages, automated calls and leaflets dropped from planes. In addition, he said more than a dozen attacks were aborted when civilians were spotted in the area. In recent days, Israel urged people to leave their homes near the border in preparation for a ground offensive Israel launched late Thursday deploying thousands of troops. Abu Musallam, who lost three children in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza near the border, said on Friday at a local hospital: “We are with the resistance” referring to Hamas militants. “Three children died and I can offer another three just to give Palestine its freedom.” Outside the hospital, fourteen year old Yousef Aliyan watches as the dead and wounded are brought to the hospital. “This is not the first time we came under shelling attack,” he said. “I’m used to it.”

The Human Cost of Conflicts and Wars

On Friday, protestors stood outside the Israeli Embassy in Ankara holding Palestinian flags to protest against the attacks on Gaza by Israel who allege the attacks are in response to rocket fire from Gaza. According to the Associated Press, Israel strikes mosque as death toll tops 120, the UN’s human rights office said that Israel could be violating the laws of war by bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza where the death toll from Israeli strikes have risen to 100. Israel has alleged that the Islamic group Hamas and other Palestinian militants deliberately placed military installations in populated areas of Gaza as part of its defense by using civilians as human shields. Palestinian Officials on Saturday reported that the death toll has now reached 120 after an Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque and a center for the disabled killing two women. In response, the Israeli military alleged the mosque concealed rockets similar to the ones used during the five day offensive and is looking into claims that other sites were hit. The problem no facing Israel is how to orchestrate a ground invasion in the region with such a densely populated Gaza Strip  and immense danger to civilians.

While there are no fatalities reported in Israel from rocket fire, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra confirmed the death toll from Israeli strikes at over 120 and more than 920 wounded. Though the breakdown of casualties is not clear and Hamas militants have been hit hard, dozens of the dead are civilians. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Saturday that the Israeli people should prepare for several more days of fighting making it clear that the offensive shows no signs of ceasing anytime soon. Hamas said Israel struck a pair of mosques in its offensive, however, the claim along with Israel’s claim could not be confirmed. A Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar, had this to say: “The bombing of two mosques in Gaza overnight shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much is it hostile to Islam. This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier.” The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it struck stating Hamas hid rockets next to another religious site and civilian homes. In addition, they said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militant groups regularly use this tactic to endanger its own civilians. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman explains,”Hamas terrorists systematically exploit and choose to put Palestinians in Gaza in harm’s way and continue to locate their positions among civilian areas and mosques, proving once more their disregard for human life and holy sites.”

Israel’s military, the Associate Press reports, has struck more than 1,100 targets including rocket launchers, command centers and weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, while Gaza officials said the strikes, in addition to hitting the home for the disabled and the mosques, have hit affiliated charities and banks. The “Iron Dome,” a U.S. funded, Israeli developed rocket defense system, has intercepted more than a 130 rockets from Gaza preventing any fatalities and only a handful of Israelis have been wounded. As a precaution, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv has relocated personnel to Beersheba. The frequent rocket fire, particularly in southern communities, has disrupted daily life with most people staying indoors, television channels airing non-stop coverage of the violence and radio broadcasts being interrupted by air raid siren warnings. Meanwhile, at the border of Gaza and Israel, Israel has massed thousands of troops along the border in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

However, recently, Israel has come under international pressure to halt its offensive due to the growing casualties in Gaza, the Associate Press reports. With the United States and Europeans leaders defending Israel’s actions, the United Nations has expressed its concern over civilian deaths in Gaza and anti-Israel protests in Europe. In the West Bank, Hamas supporters clashed with Israeli troops over the Gaza offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has requested an emergency meeting with the Arab League and Arab foreign ministers that will happen in Cairo Monday to discuss the continued offensive and measures to urge the international community to pressure Israel. In New York, the United Nations Security Council called unanimously for a ceasefire, even though there are no signs of stopping from Israel nor Gaza.

Even with international pressures for a cease fire, Israel has widened its range of targets to civilian institution with alleged Hamas ties and deployed troops inside Gaza early on Sunday to raid a rocket launching site, according to Khaled Khazziha and Mohammed Daraghmeh, Israel troops briefly raid Gaza as offensive rages. The death toll now stands at more than 156 Palestinians killed. Four Israeli soldiers were hurt during the brief incursion to destroy rocket sites in norther Gaza, but returned to Israeli territory the military confirmed. Even though this was the first time Israeli ground troops entered Gaza in the current offensive, the military did say the operation was carried out by special forces and was not the beginning of a broad ground invasion. In a move to broaden the conflict, Israel fired into Lebanon late Saturday in response to two rockets fired into norther Israel. No injuries or damages reported, however Israel fears Lebanese militant groups may try to open a second front.

Critics say Israel’s heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, “this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well.”But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following Israeli warnings.At the United Nations, a Security Council statement approved by all 15 members called for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm, and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.The statement also called for “the re-institution of the November 2012 cease-fire,” which was brokered by Egypt, but gives no time frame for when it should take effect.

While Israel faces international criticism for his possible human right’s violations, on Saturday, the Human Rights Watch alleges that Iraqi security forces and government affiliated militias have unlawfully executed 255 prisoners over the past month in apparent revenge for killings by Islamic State fighters. According to Reuters’ Stephen Addison, Iraqi Forces Executed 255 Prisoners: Human Rights Watch, the group claims the killings took place in six Iraqi towns and villages since June 9 and at least eight of the dead are under 18. On the groups website, the groups says that the killing took place while the Iraqi forces were fleeing from Islamic State militants and other armed groups. In addition, most of the security forces and militias are Shiite, while the murdered prisoners were Sunni. HRW said,”The mass extrajudicial killings may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by (Islamic State).” The Islamic State was formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The militants have never hid the face that mass executions of their prisoners occurred. Days after they began sweeping through norther cities last month, they released videos showing their masked fighters machine gunning captive government soldiers in shallow graves, Addison reports. In addition, Addison states, “HRW said it has statements from witnesses, security forces and government officials indicating Iraqi soldiers or police, pro-government Shi’ite militias, or combinations of the three had extrajudicially executed prisoners, in nearly all cases by shooting them….(HRW) has documented five of Sunni prisoners between June 9 and 21 in Mosul and Tal Afar in northern Nineveh province, in Baaquba and Jumarkhe in eastern Diyala province, and in Rawa in western Anbar province. It said residents and activists those areas believed Iraqi security forces and militias killed Sunni prisoners released by Islamic State, to stop them joining the rebellion and in revenge for the killings of government troops.” Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director believes the actions of the government are “an outrageous violation of international law” adding that “While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of (Islamic State), it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces.”

On Saturday, the same day that Israel and Iraq had accusations of human right’s violations and international law, Ukrainian war planes attacked separatists along the broad front causing huge losses according to Kiev, after President Petro Poroshenko said that many will pay for a deadly missile attack on Ukrainian forces. According to Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets, Ukrainian Fighter Jets Pound Rebels, a military spokesman confirmed that jets struck at the epicenter of the battle against the rebels near the Russian border. The planes targeted positions where high powered Grad missiles were fired by separatists on an army motorized brigade that killed 23 servicemen Friday. The warplanes also struck near Donetsk, the east’s main town where rebels have dug in, destroying a powerful fighter base near Dzerzhinsk, a spokesman for the anti-terrorist operation, Andriy Lysenko, said. Lysenko told reporters, “According to preliminary assessment, Ukrainian pilots … killed about 500 (rebel) fighters and damaged two armored transporters.” In addition, an earlier attack on a base near Perevalsk, two tanks, 10 armored vehicles and 500 rebel fighters were destroyed. However, Luhansk based separatists, referring to the Peravalsk attack, said,”There were no volunteers (rebels) where the Ukrainian aviation was active yesterday.” So far, Lysenko reports, during Friday evening and throughout Saturday, five Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 16 overflights by Ukrainian fighter jets have taken place.

The increasing violence require now more than ever a need for diplomacy to end the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. Since the ousting of the Moscow backed president in February and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, more than 200 Ukrainian servicemen have died and hundreds of civilians and rebels have died also. The United States and the EU have brought sanctions against Russian businesses as Ukrainian government claims Moscow has aided in the conflict and turned a blind eye to military equipment and Russian fighters crossing its border. On Saturday, the EU targeted 11 Ukrainian separatist leaders with travel bans and asset freezes without new sanctions on Russian business in order to avoid antagonizing its main energy supplier. Lysenko explained, “The situation on the border is very difficult because there is a strip of border there which has been turned into the epicenter of confrontation. This is because this is a part of the border through which the Russian terrorists are trying to bring in military equipment and arms. Ukrainian forces are there to cover that part. If the Ukrainian unit pulls out of there then columns of military equipment will start to flow on to Ukrainian territory again.” Poroshenko, urged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to use a sense of proportion in actions against separatists, had talked on Friday with Donetsk mayor Aleksander Lukyanchenko on the issue. Meanwhile,  western allies and Russia are pushing for a new meeting of the contact group involving separatist leaders to negotiate an end to the crisis. Poroshenko has proposed various venues for these talks to take place, but has said he will not repeat a 10 day unilateral ceasefire by government forces like the one that ended June 30. The rational is due to the fact, the Ukrainian government alleges that rebels repeatedly violated the ceasefire and more than 20 Ukrainian servicemen were killed while it was enforced.

The Israeli Palestinian Conflict Intensifies

ISRAEL

HAZAM BADER/AFP/Getty Images

On Monday of this week, the bodies of the three missing teenagers were recovered by the Israeli military just over two weeks after they were taken in the West bank which ended the frantic search that led to Israel’s largest ground operation in the Palestinian territory in a decade and drew Israeli threats of retaliation, according to Josef Federman and Ian Deitch (Israel Launches Airstrikes In Gaza After Rockets Reportedly Fired, Bodies Of Teens Found In West Bank). Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that “Hama is responsible and Hamas will pay” referring to the Islamic militant group accused of carrying out the kidnappings. He further commented at an emergency meeting of his Security Cabinet that the teenagers “were kidnapped and murdered in cold blood by human animals.” Early Tuesday, Israel carried out airstrikes in Gaza striking 34 targets across the Hamas controlled area. The military said the strikes were in response to the 18 rockets fired into Israel since last Sunday. No casualties of yet have been reported. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a military spokesman comments that “the IDF will continue to act in order to restore the peaceful living to the civilians of the state of Israel. The Hamas terror organization and its extensions are solely responsible for any terror activities emanating from the Gaza Strip.” The kidnapping has put Netanyahu in a difficult position, as public outrage over the deaths has provided widespread support to strike Hamas, the two week crackdown on the group has limited the number of new targets and many leaders internationally are calling for restraint.

News of the teen’s deaths prompted a public outpouring of grief late Monday with large crowds rushing to the homes of the families in the central Israeli towns of Nof Ayalon and Elad, and the West Bank settlement of Talmon with supporters lighting candles and praying. President Shimon Peres said, “All of Israel bows its head today.” While thousands have died in wars and militant attacks in Israel over the years and Israel has dealt with the kidnappings of soldiers in the past, the ages of the victims who were unarmed civilians struck a nerve. Israel has yet to provide direct evidence that Hamas was involved in the kidnappings, even though the group has not taken responsibility for them, Hamas has praised the kidnappings as it frequently encourages its members to kidnap Israelis in order to force a release of its members from Israeli prisons.

The news of their deaths also received condemnations from around the world. The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, confirmed that the Pope in May visited the region to share in the families “unspeakable pain.” In Washington, President Barack Obama sent his deepest sympathies to the families saying, “As a father, I cannot imagine the indescribable pain that the parents of these teenage boys are experiencing.” In addition, he urged all parties to refrain from taking steps that would destabilize the situation further. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made a similar remark and urged both sides to “refrain from any actions that could further escalate this highly tense situation.”

With few options, Israel could turn its attention to the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip where Israel has been battling heavy rocket fire. However, strong political action could be considered as Netanyahu has urged Abbas to disband a unity government recently formed with Hamas’ backing. In addition, Israeli media has suggested that Israel might consider deporting Hamas leaders in the West Bank to Gaza. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri in Gaza has warned against any sort of offensive saying that the Gaza militants would unleash a heavy barrage of rockets at Israel. He stated that “Netanyahu should know that threats don’t scare Hamas, and if he wages a war on Gaza, the gates of hell will open on him.” Abbas has condemned the kidnappings and his forces coordinated with Israel during the search for the teens, however, he has refused to terminate the unity government which ended the seven year rift with Hamas. A spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdeneh, for the Palestinian president said that a meeting of the Palestinian leadership to discuss the events happened on Tuesday. An adviser to Abbas,  Abdallah Abdallah, said, “We want peace to be created in this part of the world so no mother or no family will be bereaved for the loss of their beloved ones, Palestinian or Israeli.”