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.

Pope Pleads for Peace Amid Fighting in Ukraine and Gaza, While the Ebola Epidemic Worsens in Western Africa

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Pope Francis marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I by making an impassioned plea for people to welcome dialogue rather than violence to overcome conflicts and “not repeat the mistakes of the past.” According to the Associate Press, Pope: World War I should teach us: No more war, Francis cited the current war between Israelis and Palestinians as well as Iraq and Ukraine. On Sunday he told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square that he was thinking of the children who have been killed, maimed or orphaned by war and who “for toys, have the debris of war.” He added, “I beg you, stop. I ask you with all my heart” and cited World War I era Pope Benedict XV’s denunciation of the Great War as a “useless massacre.” Francis said: “Everything is lost with war, nothing is lost with peace. Never more war.”

Meanwhile, Hamas on Sunday agreed to a 24 hour truce in Gaza after rejecting initially a similar Israeli offer as fighting resumed and the two sides fought over the terms of the lull that international diplomats hoped would turn into a more sustainable truce, according to Aron Heller and Ibrahim Barzak, Hamas agrees to 24-hour holiday truce in Gaza war. Late Saturday, after Israel announced the 24 hour truce, Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel causing Israel to resume their offensive aimed at destroying tunnels and rocket launchers. However, hours after fighting resumed, Hamas said it would be willing to abide by a new 24 hour humanitarian truce ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The three day Eid al-Fitr holiday begins on Monday or Tuesday depending on the sighting of the new moon. Shortly after the truce was to begin, warning sirens wailed in southern Israel and the military said three rickets landed in the area with no casualties or damage. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, did not say if Israel would hold its fire during the time Hamas requested, but would continue destroying tunnels as this was the primary goal of the offensive in Gaza. In the outdoor markets of the Jebaliya refugee camp, venders set up stands with clothes and shoes, but said business was slow. According to Palestinian health officials, the 20 day war killed more than 1,060 Palestinians many were civilians and Israel lost 43 soldiers, two civilians, and a Thai workers. In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said: “The military is aiming its fire at terror sites, but if citizens are accidentally harmed Hamas is responsible for this since it once again violated an offer for a humanitarian lull that Israel accepted.” Before the holiday ceasefire announcement, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said any truce must include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and tens of thousands of displaced people be allowed to return to their homes. However, Israel’s acceptance of the ceasefire extension was based on its soldiers being able to continue to destroy the tunnels under the Gaza Israel border used by Hamas. In the West Bank, nine Palestinians have been killed due to protest and clashes in recent days between stone throwers and Israeli security forces. In Gaza, the local Red Cross office said its building in Khan Younis was attacked by people who lost family members in the fighting and the lack of support by emergency services. Each side blames the other for why the fighting resumed on Sunday with Hamas saying Israel’s “lack of commitment” is the problem and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that Hamas could not be trusted after violating ceasefire efforts.

While Israeli and Gaza brace for more causalities, Ukraine continues to try to take back Donetsk and gain control of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site. Ukrainian officials said their forces have advanced to the outskirts of Donetsk on Saturday trying to take back the Pro-Russia rebel stronghold, according to Ayse Weiting and David McHugh, Ukraine launches offensive to retake Donetsk. The move comes as Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have been successful in retaking control of territory from the rebels. However, Russia has become more involved in the fighting it seems with the U.S. and Ukraine accusing Moscow of moving heavy artillery across the border to the rebels. Ukrainian national security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said once they take Horlivka, where Ukrainian forces are outside of now, “the direct route is open for the forces of the anti-terrorist operation to the capital of the Donbass region – the city of Donetsk. The approaches to Donetsk are being blocked so that the terrorists do not get the chance to receive ammunition, reinforcements or equipment.” About 35 miles to the east, the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down was eerily empty and a full investigation still hasn’t started due to security risks posed by fighting. On Saturday, another 38 coffins carrying victims left Kharkiv on two military planes bound for the Netherlands for identification and investigation with the Dutch government later identifying the first victim who was a Dutch national. Officials said the two flight took the last of the 227 coffins containing victims that had been brought to Kharkiv, a government controlled city, by refrigerated train. The intensified fighting on Sunday to gain control of the Malaysia Airlines crash site between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian armed forces caused a team of Dutch and Australian police officers to postpone their trip to start searching for evidence and the remaining bodies, according to Dmitry Lovetsky and Peter Leonard, Fighting intensifies near MH17 crash site. In Washington, the State Department released satellite images which it says show that Russia fired rockets more than seven miles into Eastern Ukraine. In a statement Sunday, the Donetsk regional government said at least 13 people including two children were killed in fighting in Horlivka and another five people were killed in clashes in a northern suburb of Donetsk. In addition evidence that rockets were fired into Ukraine from Russia, the United States said it had seen powerful rocket systems moving closer to the border.

Meanwhile, another kind of battle rages on in Western Africa as the Ebola epidemic worsens. On Saturday, Nigerian health authorities race to stop the spread of Ebola after a man sick with the virus brought it by plan to Lagos, Africa’s second largest city with 21 million people, Heather Murdock reports, Nigeria death shows Ebola can spread by air travel. The traveler from Liberia boarded an international flight with a stop over in the country of Tago to Lagos casing officials’ to be concerned about other passengers who could spread the disease beyond Africa because of poor inspections of passengers and Ebola is similar to other diseases. Officials in Togo wen ton high alert after learning that Ebola could spread to a fifth country. Ebola has already killed 672 people across West Africa before the Nigeria case was announced making it the deadliest outbreak on record of Ebola and now it threatens Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Dr. Unni Krishnan, Plan International’s Disaster Response and Preparedness Head, said, “Lagos is completely different from other cities because we’re talking about millions of people.” International airports in Nigeria are screening passengers arriving from foreign countries for symptoms of Ebola, according to Yakubu Dati, the spokesman for Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria. In addition., health officials are working with ports and land borders to inform people what to look for and what to do. Nigerian airports are setting up holding rooms to ready in case an Ebola victim lands in Nigeria. Health experts also say that airports in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, who all are dealing with current Ebola outbreaks, have taken preventative measure that are not completely foolproof. Patrick Sawyer, a consultant for the Liberian Ministry of Finance arrived in Nigeria Tuesday and was detained by health authorities suspecting he might have Ebola. On Friday, a blood test from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital confirmed Sawyer died of Ebola earlier that day. Nearly 50 passengers on the flight are being monitored for signs of Ebola but not isolated, according to an employee at Nigeria’s Ministry of Heath. Ebola is highly contagious and kills more than 70 percent of the people infected. Sawyer’s sister died of Ebola in Liberia, but he claimed to have no contact with her, Liberian officials report. The Associated Press reported Saturday an American doctor working with Ebola patients in Liberia tested positive. North Carolina based Samaritan’s Purse issued a news release Saturday saying Dr. Kent Brantly tested positive for the disease and was being treated in Monrovia, Liberia. Meliisa Strickland, a spokeswoman, said Brantly began serving in Africa as part of a post residency program before the Ebola outbreak began and at one point his wife and children were living with him in African until they moved back to the U.S. On Sunday, Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported, Official: Ebola kills senior doctor in Liberia, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of Liberia’s most high profile doctors, is the first Liberian doctor to die in the outbreak that has killed 129 people in the West African nation and a Ugandan doctor working in the country died earlier this month. The World Health Organization also confirmed that 319 people in Guinea and 224 in Sierra Leone have died. News of Brisbane’s death first began circulating on Saturday, a national holiday marking Liberia’s independence in 1847. According to Paye-Layleh: “President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf used her Independence Day address to discuss a new task force to combat Ebola. Information Minister Lewis Brown said the task force would go ‘from community to community, from village to village, from town to town’ in order to increase awareness.” Heath workers are at risk of contracting thr disease which spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Experts believe the outbreak could have started as far back as January in southeast Guinea though the first confirmed cases happened in March.