New Truce Begins Between Israel and Hamas, the Kurds Fight ISIS, China Earthquake Aftermath and Pollution Problem, and Britain’s Tribute to WWI

On Tuesday, a three day long ceasefire between Israel and Hamas when into effect in Gaza ahead of talks in Cairo to find a deal to prevent future cross border violence, Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav reports, 72-hour cease-fire takes effect in hopes of bringing an end to nearly a month of fighting. The temporary ceasefire agreed to by both sided started at 8am and will last 72 hours while Israel and Hamas hold indirect talks in the Egyptian capital. The situation in Gaza is still unstable as minutes ahead of the truce shelling still occurred across Gaza and Israel said Hamas fired a heavy barrage of rockets at southern and central Israel. The fighting has claimed 1,900 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 67 Israelis dead, all but three soldiers. A unilateral withdrawal will allow Israel to end the conflict on its own terms without negotiating new border arrangements in Gaza, while Israel will be asked to make concessions it is unwilling to make such as opening Gaza borders. Early Tuesday, the Israeli military said it would have all its ground troops out of Gaza by the start of the truce. Military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the withdrawal was going forward after Israel destroyed Hamas tunnels build for Islamic attacks inside Israel. Meanwhile, in Washington, President Barack Obama signed a bill Monday giving $225 million in U.S. taxpayers dollars for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system, according to the Associated Press, Obama Signs Funding Package For Israel’s Iron Dome. Congress approved the money last week before lawmakers took their summer break. The funds are meant to replenish Israel’s capabilities. The defense system has been highly effective in current violence between Hamas and Israel allowing the Israeli military to shoot down incoming rockets or mortars head toward Israel with a success rate as high as 90 percent.

According to CNN’s Alan Duke and Hamdi Alkhshali, Official: Kurdish forces fend off ISIS fighters, hold Mosul Dam, the director of Iraq’s largest hydroelectric dam dismissed reports Monday that it had been seized by the radical Islamic State saying Kurdish forces were able to fight them off. Abdul Khaliq al-Dabbagh, Mosul Dam director, confirmed that fighters for the Islamic State or ISIS were pushed back after gaining access to employee housing just north of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. On Sunday, however Kurdish commander told CNN that ISIS took control even though employees remained at the dam, while al-Dabbagh said the Kurds held their position until reinforcements arrived early Monday. The United Nations in Iraq warned 200,000 civilians were trapped in dire circumstances following the Islamic State and associated armed groups seizing “control of nearly all of Sinjar and Tal Afar districts” in the northern Ninevah province, including several small oil fields that border Iraq’s Kurdish region. In addition, the United Nations said most of the fleeing civilians in the districts are minority Kurdish Yezidis, an ancient religion with ties to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and took refuge in the Jabal Sinjar mountains. As fighting ranges on in these districts, according to the Kurdish commander, fighting has also been reported in the border town of Rabia with Syria based Kurds joining the fight against ISIS. Massoud Barzani, the Kurdistan Regional Government head, told a group of Yezidi leaders that his government will help to liberate Sinjar since the Kurds have been fighting without help from the Iraqi government or international community, according to a reports on the government’s website. The State Department said Sunday that it was monitoring the situation and supports the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces in their fight against ISIS. In a statement, Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman, said: “The assault over the past 48 hours on territories along the border of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region and focusing on towns and villages populated by vulnerable minorities, demonstrates once again that this terrorist organization is a dire threat to all Iraqis, the entire region and the international community.”

Meanwhile China continues to deal with the devastation caused by an earthquake that killed 405 people, while dealing with the deadly pollution in its capital. On Tuesday, 10,000 troops used axes and backhoes to clear roads and rescue residents from collapsed homes after a quake in southwest China, the Associated Press reports, Troops, volunteers dig through China quake debris. Volunteers helped in the effort in Yunnan province’s Ludian county where Sunday’s 6.1 magnitude quake collapsed thousands of homes in the impoverished mountainous farmland. Hundred of volunteers converged on the nearby city of Zhaotong with some bringing their own relief aid to distribute thanks to company sponsored units, while the government provided thousands of tents, quilts, sleeping bags and cotton coats to the region, as well as folding beds, chairs and tables, and mobile toilets. Much of the damage was due to landslides following heavy rain Tuesday making it difficult to reach the affected area. Ambulances, bulldozers, and trucks filled with water, noodles and volunteers congested the main rode to the hardest hit town of Longtou. Helicopters lifted supplies as well to the most remote areas. In all, Yunnan Civil Affairs Bureau said Tuesday that 405 people were killed and 2,297 injured with 12 still missing 36 hours after the quake. In the capital, Beijing, China announced plans to ban coal use by 2020 as the country fights deadly pollution in its capital and major cities, the Associated Press reports, China to ban all coal use in Beijing by 2020. On Monday, Beijing’s Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau on its website said the city would prioritize electric and natural gas for heating. The official Xinhua News Agency said coal makes up a quarter of Beijing’s energy consumption in 2012 and 22 percent of the fine particles in the air with motor vehicles, industrial production and general dust contributing to pollution. Unfortunately, coal use is expected to soar causing coal fired power and heating is a major generator of greenhouse gases and helped China turn into the world’s largest emitter of carbon and other heat trapping gases. The central government listed environmental protection as a top priority which its leaders will be judged by due to pressure among the middle class to clean up the environment including smog, water and soil contamination. In September, the government announced a prohibition on new cold fired power plans around Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

In Britain on Monday night, Lights across the country went out for an hour in tribute to the dead of WWI inspired by Britain’s foreign minister on the eve of war 100 years ago, Tess Little reports, Lights go out across Britain, 100 years on from WW1. Edward Grey shortly before Britain declared war on Germany in Aug. 4, 1914, told an acquaintance: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” British landmarks including the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge and St Paul’s Cathedral went dark at 10 p.m. local time and Prime Minister David Cameron asked Britons to do the same and leave a single light on in their homes for an hour. The “war to end all wars” spread across Europe especially in northern France and Belgium killing 17 million soldiers and civilians in 1914-18 with over one million dead British soldiers and its then empire. Gery’s prophecy was commemorated in London’s Westminster Abbey later on Monday where candles went out one by one until only a burning oil lamp remained at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior. At 11p.m., the lamp was extinguished marking the exact time the British empire joined the war. Acting as a beacon for the capital, a pillar of light beamed into the clouds from Victoria Tower Gardens. In a statement, Boris Johnson, the London mayor, said, “The light that ‘spectra’ throws up into the night sky is a unifying point; it echoes how the First World War affected all Londoners, but also how they and the rest of the country came together, standing united during those dark days.” Prime Minister Cameron and Prince William attended the 100th anniversary ceremonies in Scotland and Belgium on Monday. Speaking at Liege, William alluded to Germany and its cohorts in the First and Second World War: “We were enemies more than once in the last century and today we are friends and allies.” He told Belgium’s King Phillipe and other state heads attending the Liege ceremony at the Allies’ Memorial near where German troops invaded Belgium on Aug. 4, 1914 and Britain entered the war: “We salute those who died to give us our freedom. We will remember them.” German ceremonies were understated, but Germans were encouraged to place flowers on soldiers’ graves and local small scale efforts marked the anniversary. According to Little: “Politicians and royalty from 83 countries, including presidents Francois Hollande of France and Joachim Gauck of Germany, were among those in Belgium. In Glasgow, Scotland, Cameron was joined by heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles at a centenary service.” Poppies, a symbol of the war, were featured at the Tower of London with an art installation titled “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” by Paul Cummins included thousands of ceramic poppies flowing from the medieval monument wall into the dry moat. The artwork will grow through summer until 888,246 poppies have been added to represent British and colonial fatalities during the war which is more than double that of World War Two. Red poppies became a symbol of remembrance since the trench warfare in the poppy field of the Belgian region of Flanders during the war.

What does the Future Hold for Israeli-Palestinian Relations and for Ukrainian-Russian-U.S. Relations?

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The United Nations and United States announced a 72 hour humanitarian ceasefire beginning Friday morning with no guarantees the lull in violence will bring an end to the 24 day Gaza War according to Secretary of State John Kerry, Ian Deitch and Ibrahim Barzak report, US, UN announce deal on Gaza cease-fire. The announcement happened hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to destroy Hamas tunnels with or without a ceasefire and the Palestinian death toll reached 1,400. Kerry said, “This is not a time for congratulations or joy or anything except a serious determination – a focus by everybody to try to figure out the road ahead. This is a respite. It is a moment of opportunity, not an end.” At least four humanitarian ceasefires have been announced during the conflict and all have been broken by renewed fighting. A statement by Kerry and U.N. assures both parties agreed, which Hamas leaders and Israel confirmed, to the unconditional ceasefire and would send delegates to Cairo for negotiations to reach a lasting truce. During the ceasefire Kerry said Israel will continue to destroy Hamas tunnels that are behind its territorial lines and Palestine will receive food, medicine and humanitarian assistance, bury their dead, treat the wounded and travel to their homes. In addition, repairs will be made to water and energy systems. Kerry said, “Israel has to live without terror and tunnels and rockets and sirens going on through the day. Palestinians have to be able to live freely and share in the rest of the world and live a life that is different from the one they have long suffered.” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the ceasefire was a result of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s trip to the region “but also 48 hours of extremely active diplomacy at all levels from the secretary-general to his senior advisers talking to key regional players.”

Unfortunately, the ceasefire did not last long as Israel and Hamas accused each other of violating the truce that resulted in four Palestinians being killed in heavy fire in the southern town of Rafah, Ibrahim Barzak and Daniel Estrin report, 4 Palestinians killed after Gaza truce begins. Two hours after the ceasefire went into effect, Israeli tanks shelled the eastern part of Rafah killing four people and wounding 15, according Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra and Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office explained, “Once again, Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza have blatantly broken the cease-fire to which they committed, this time before the American Secretary of State and the U.N. Secretary General.” Reuters reports, Gaza Death Toll Soars As Israel Presses Offensive, Gaza health officials said 19 Palestinians were killed in Israeli assaults on Thursday, while Israeli military said more than 60 rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave into Israel with one person being wounded by the Gaza projectile striking Kiryat Gat, a southern town. Washington has allowed Israel to use local U.S. arms stockpiles in the past few weeks to replenish grenades and mortar rounds, a U.S. defense official said Thursday. On India’s NDTV, Kerry said during an interview: “No country can sit there and live with tunnels being dug under its border, out of which jump people who are carrying handcuffs and tranquilizer drugs in order to kidnap their citizens and hold them for ransom.” Reuters reports: “Gaza officials say at least 1,410 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the battered territory and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling in Israel.” On Thursday, the United Nation’s senior human rights official, Navi Pillay, said that Israel has attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. premises in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions. The assault on residential areas by Israel has lead to mass evacuations and more than 200,000 displaced Palestinians in a population of just 1.8 million in Gaza leaving the infrastructure ruined with power and water outages. Diplomacy to end the conflict is complicated due to the fact Israel and the United States shun Hamas as a terrorist groups, while the go betweens of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey disagree on Gaza policy.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a top U.N. envoy told the United Nationals Security Council that Israel will be required under international law to take responsibility for helping Palestinian civilians if more large scale displacements take place in Gaza, Michelle Nichols reports, UN Envoy: Israel May Be Required To Take Responsibility For Displaced In Gaza. The United Nations struggles to cope with a flood of 220,000 Palestinian civilians into shelters to due to the fighting and have come under fire during the three weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Pierre Krähenbühl, the Swiss-born chief of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), via phone told the 15 member Security Council: “Should further large-scale displacement indeed occur, the occupying power, according to international humanitarian law, will have to assume direct responsibility to assist these people. With as many as 2,500 displaced people residing in (each U.N.) school and an average of 80 people to a classroom, we have exceeded the tolerable limits we can accommodate.” U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos told the Security Council via video link: “The reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe. We have all watched in horror the desperation of children, of civilians as they have come under attack.” After meeting behind closed doors for four hours after the briefing, Nichols reports, the Security Council once again called for an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.”

In Ukraine, a team of international investigators reached the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 site Friday to begin combing for evidence in the area now designated a crime scene while fighting continued less than 20 kilometers from the site, the Associated Press reports, Ukrainian troops suffer heavy loss in ambush. Despite both sides in the ongoing conflict in east Ukraine agreeing to a ceasefire around the crash zone, a deadly attack by rebels on government troops Friday morning took place less than 20 kilometers south of the crash site in Shakhtarsk, a rebel stronghold where sustained battles over several days has taken place. The town links Donetsk and Luhansk, two large rebel controlled cities, which Ukrainian forces are focusing on in their strategy to drive a wedge into the area. Mstyslav Chernov reports, Ukraine MH17 Wreckage Site Finally Accessed By Investigators, two investigators from the Netherlands and Australia made an initial survey of the crash area after lunch, while fighting raged on between government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels with mortar shells falling in a nearby village. Despite the dangers, the team called the one hour inspection a success. Ukrainian President Petro Proshenko’s office urged rebels to comply with the ceasefire 20 kilometers around the wreckage site in a statement, while the European Union and U.S. formed a united front in accusing Russia of ramping up the unrest in eastern Ukraine by supplying weapons to rebels which Russia denies. In Brussels, the EU formally adopted economic sanctions, which will take effect Friday, designed to pressure Russia to bring a peaceful end to the Ukraine crisis.

Meanwhile, Russia is dealing with another old but familiar problem of what to do with former NSA contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden who received temporary asylum a year ago, which expired Thursday, following disclosure of classified NSA documents, according to an AOL report, As asylum expires, Snowden’s expulsion from Russia unlikely. Snowden has submitted his request for an extension of his asylum. While he waits, Snowden has a job and is learning Russian which are two requirements for an extension to be granted, Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s Russian lawyer, explained. Another member of his legal team has this to say on Australian radio (From ABC Australia): “PM with Mark Colvin”: “For now he is in the safest place that he can be, and Russia has indicated that it intends to plan on having him, allowing him to continue to stay.” This was said in response to the German justice minister’s suggestion to turn him over to the U.S. to face prosecution. Journalist Glenn Greenwald explained to MSNBC why Russia took Snowden in and why they did not turn him over this past year: “There’s no legal basis to turn him over to the U.S. because the U.S. and the Russians don’t have an extradition treaty. … And secondly, that he faces persecution.” Euronews points out Snowden has asked for amnesty from prosecution if he ends up stateside and told Brian Williams in an Exclusive NBC interview that he would like to go home. Right now though, Snowden faces espionage charges in the U.S. that could lead to prison time. Snowden’s Russian attorney said the decision on his asylum could be made this week.