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

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

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

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

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

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.”

Israel Reaches its Boiling Point Deploys Ground Troops into Gaza

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Courtesy of BBC News Middle East

On Wednesday, Israel war planes and naval vessels intensified attacks across the Gaza Strip targeting senior Hamas leaders and bombarding coastal areas killing four Palestinian boys and injuring several others at the beach, according to Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav, Israeli strike kills 4 Gaza youths on coastal road. These deaths have raised the total deaths in nine days to 213 Palestinians and one Israeli. The renewed violence came after Hamas rejected a ceasefire proposal that Israel had accepted to end the nine day old conflict. In response, Hamas fired dozens of rockets into Israel vowing no to agree to a ceasefire until its demands are met which include easing border closures and releasing former Hamas prisoners who were released in 2011 then rearrested last month in the West Bank. Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri in a press conference called on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of the rival Fatah faction in the West Bank, for support in Hamas’ refusal to accept Egypt’s ceasefire proposal. Many Hamas leaders have gone into hiding since the beginning of the Israeli offensive as Israel in recent days has been targeting their homes. One leader Zahar was a key figure in Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, while the other three leaders were members of Palestinian parliament elected in 2006. The uncle of the four boy, Abel Kareem Baker said, “It’s a cold blooded massacre. It’s a shame who come they didn’t identify them as kids with all of the advanced technology they claim they’re using.” The Israeli military said it was looking into the incident. Along with the airstrikes, Israel also warned tens of thousands of residents of the northern town of Beit Lahiya and the Zeitoun and Shijaiyah neighborhoods of Gaza City near the border of Israel to evacuate by 8am Wednesday. The warnings were delivered in automated phone calls, text messages and leaflets dropped from planes, Barzak and Enav report. The message itself warned that due to the large number of rockets fired from these areas Israel plans to bomb these locations. In addition the message said: “Whoever disregards these instructions and fails to evacuate immediately, endangers their own lives, as well as those of their families.” On Wednesday morning, hundreds of residents in these areas were walking the streets and carrying small bags. The Wafa Rehabilitation Center in Shijaiyah caring for 15 disabled and elderly patients received many calls to evacuate, but its director, Basman Ashi, said his patients have nowhere to go and will not evacuate. Four foreign volunteers from England, U.S., France and Sweden have set up camp in the center to deter the military from targeting it. The office of the Israeli military spokesman said the residents were asked to leave and added that a rocket launching site was in the area including the center.

Fortunately, on the same day, Israel agreed to a proposed six hour cessation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip for humanitarian reasons, a senior Israeli official told Reuters (Israel Accepts Proposal For Temporary Ceasefire In Gaza: Official). Speaking on conditions of anonymity, the official stated that the lull in fighting had not been determined, while Hamas had no comment. Israeli media reports confirmed that the appeal came from a United Nations official shortly after Hamas rejected an Egyptian ceasefire to end the nine day war. According to the Associated Press article, Hundreds Of Palestinians In Gaza Flee After Israeli Warning by Ibrahim Barzak and Daniel Estrin, Israel and Hamas had agreed to the five hour U.N. brokered humanitarian pause offering some hope that the fighting may come to an end. Israel said it would hold its fire Thursday from 10 am in order to allow Palestinians to restock food, water and other necessities, but would retaliate if Hamas or other militant groups launched attacks during that time. Later, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that Hamas and various factions would respect the pause and refrain from firing rockets during those hours as well. Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, asked Israel to agree to a unilateral humanitarian pause so supplies can be delivered to Gaza and urged the parties in Gaza to respect the pause, according to U.N deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. In Washington, President Barack Obama said the U.S. supports efforts by Egypt to restore the 2012 ceasefire and will use diplomatic resources and relationships to secure a deal to end the violence. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said that Palestinian death toll rose to 222 with 1,670 wounded and only one Israeli death. Abbas met with deputy Hamas chief Moussa Abu Marzouk to discuss Egypt’s initiative in an effort to get Hamas on board, according to what an official with Abbas’ Fatah faction told the Associate Press.

Unfortunately, as the five hour U.N. humanitarian ceasefire expired, Palestinian militants fired a rocket at Israel on Thursday, the Israeli military said. According to the article, Gaza rocket hits Israel as humanitarian lull ends, the military states that the rocket struck the city of Ashkelon at 3pm as the pause in military activity ended. No injuries were reported. In addition Gaza militants fired three mortar shells toward Israel after the truce took effect at 10am. Israel had yet to response to either incident but promised to strike hard if it continued. Israel accepted Egypt’s initial call for a halt to all hostilities, but Hamas rejected because it does not want to return to the situation before the outbreak of fighting. Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri in an interview with the Associate Press insisted a ceasefire deal was still alive and expressed frustration that Hamas did not agree to it demanding that the blockade be eased significantly which Israel and Egypt will likely reject as it would strengthen the group’s hold on Gaza. Thursday’s truce, brokered by the United Nations, came after Israel carried out 2,000 airstrikes on Gaza over 10 days and Hamas fired 1,300 rockets into Israel. The fighting continued early Thursday in the lead up to the ceasefire with the military saying it foiled an attack by 13 militants who came through a tunnel from Gaza. The military said 15 rockets were fired at Israel Thursday morning including toward areas in the center some 90 kilometers from the Gaza Strip. A senior Hamas official said the group’s deputy leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, met with Egyptian officials Wednesday night to present Hams’ demands which were also delivered to Jordan and the U.N. In addition, Hamas want other countries involved in forging the agreement to end fighting. Egypt’s new leaders have since launched a sweeping crackdown on Hamas by shutting down smuggling tunnels along the border and weapons supply route. Also on Thursday, a Jerusalem court indicted a 29-year-old and two 16-year-olds in the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, 16,who was kidnapped and set on fire. According to the indictment, the suspects carried out the crime in revenge for the death of three Israeli teens last month and killed the boy because he was an Arab by strangling, beating and burning him to death. In response to the boy’s death, Palestinians protested in east Jerusalem and clashed with the police.

As the 10 day military operation escalated on Thursday, Israel launched a large scale ground offensive into the Gaza Strip to destroy Hamas’ weapons arsenal, rocket firing abilities and tunnels under the Palestinian territory’s border with Israel. According to Karin Laub and Ian Deitch, Israel says it has sent ground troops to Gaza, it was the first major Israeli ground offensive in Gaza in over five years coming hours after Hamas militants tried to enter Israel through a tunnel under the border. Thousands of Israeli soldiers had massed at the border in recent days waiting for order to go in. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu instructed the army to go ahead after Hamas rejected the ceasefire plan earlier in the week and after militants tried to invade Israel through tunnels. The statement said: “In light of the despicable and relentless aggression by Hamas and the dangerous infiltration into Israel, Israel is obliged to protect its citizens.