Investigators Finally Reach MH17 site, Israel Continues its Assault and the Ebola Virus Causes More Evacuations

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For almost two weeks now, the remains of some of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 passengers are feared rotting in the 90 degree midsummer heat causing concern for frustrated relatives who want the bodies of their loved ones, the Associate Press reported, Clashes prevent experts from reaching bodies. Fighting between Ukrainian forces and separatist rebels have prevented international police from securing the area and forensic experts from collecting any remaining bodies or collect debris for analysis. Even rebels who initially oversaw the collection of 200 bodies out of 298 have abandoned the sight saying attacks from Ukrainian military forced them to defend themselves. Prime Minster Mark Rutte said bringing back the remaining bodies is his government’s top priority, but Dutch officials on Wednesday were skeptical about the prospect of reaching the site soon. After investigators failed to reach the site Wednesday, the United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric called on both sides to cease hostilities in the area: “The families of the victims of this horrific tragedy deserve closure and the world demands answers. International teams must be allowed to conduct their work.” In a statement, the Dutch said the observers talked to rebels and turned back after being “warned of gunfire on the route and in the surrounding areas.” Ukraine’s U.N. Ambassador Yuriy Sergeyev in New York said that Ukrainian forces are try to “liberate the villages and the cities around this site and to give the possibility to international experts to come in.” Fortunately, on Thursday, an international team of investigators reached the crash site of the Malaysia Arline Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine for the first time, Mstyslav Chernov reports, Investigators reach Ukraine crash site. An Associated Press journalist at the scene Thursday said the site appeared to be controlled by separatist rebel fighters. Police and forensic experts from the Netherlands and Australia will focus initially on recovering the remaining bodies still on the site and collect victims’ belongings. Sergei Izvolsky, a Russian state aviation agency spokesman, told AP that a delegation of Russian specialist from Rosaviatsiya were due in Kiev Thursday to participate in the investigation. Ukrainian parliament, meanwhile, voted not to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk who resigned last week after two parties left the coalition supporting him and rejected passing laws to fund the country’s war against pro-Russian separatists.

While the investigation begins for Flight 17, Vladimir Putin continues to receive criticism from western leaders and from the rebels he’s accused of arming. Aleksander Vasovic reports, Some Rebels In Ukraine Vent Frustration With Putin. The European Union and the United States have imposed new sanctions on Russia due to the fact Putin has not persuaded the pro-Russian separatist to stop fight and for supplying them with weapons. In addition, rebels have become increasingly frustrated with the Russian president as the Ukrainian army squeezes the rebel’s last two stronghold in Donetsk and Luhansk leaving the rebels outnumbered and outgunned. A fighter named Pavel outside the rebel headquarters in Donetsk said, “Oh, how we would like to see the Russian army here. If they were here, the Ukrainian border would be 300 km away to the west and south. But they’re not coming. But that’s only a fraction of what we need. We need people, experienced people. But Putin is afraid of spending Russian funds and his oligarchs’ funds.” Another rebel fighter, who declined to give his name, voiced his frustrations with Moscow: “Russia must enter Novorossiya [means New Russia used to describe Eastern Ukraine by Putin]. This is Russian soil, and every day they waste waiting (to send in arms and personnel) means more deaths. We feel somewhat as if we are Russia’s cannon fodder.” The leaders of the Donetsk People’s Republic including some Russians dismiss the rumors of divisions in the rank and Russia’s role in the crisis. One top rebel official, Vladimir Antyufeyev, told a news conference: “We are receiving constant political and humanitarian support from Russia … Political support is the most important one. We would want to see that kind of (military) aid from Russia, but there will be none.” A senior U.S. official under conditions of anonymity said, “There are indications that some groups feel betrayed by Moscow not doing enough. I do think it’s fair to say that there are divisions in those ranks.”

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Meanwhile, on Wednesday, according to Gaza health officials, an Israeli airstrike hit a crowed Gaza shopping area killing 16 and wounding 150 hours after Israeli tank shells slammed into a U.N. school for displaced Palestinian that killed 15 people, Karin Laub and Peter Enav report, Strike on crowded Gaza area kills 16, wounds 150. The attacks comes after both Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers vowed to step up attacks after three weeks of fighting killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and more than 50 Israelis. The Israeli military had no comment on the shopping area attack and said it was investigating reports. Salim Qadoum who witness the strike in the shopping area said, “People were in the street and in the market, mostly women and kids. Suddenly more than 10 shells landed in the area, the market, in the Turkman area, and next to the gas station. The area now is like a blood bath, everyone is wounded or killed. People lost their limbs and were screaming for help. It’s a massacre. I vomited when I saw what happened.” Total killed was more than 108 Palestinians on Wednesday due to Israeli airstrikes and shelling. The military declared a four hour humanitarian ceasefire in parts of Gaza at 3pm, however Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said it lacked value due to the fact it excluded border areas from where Hamas needed to evacuate the wounded. The military said Gaza militants fired 84 rockets at Israel include 26 during the ceasefire, while Gaza health official, Al-Kidra, said seven Palestinians were killed by Israeli airstrikes in that same period. As Peter Enav and Ibrahim Barzak report, Israel vows to destroy Hamas tunnels, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military will dismantle the Hamas tunnel network in Gaza “with or without a ceasefire.” On Thursday, Netanyahu said he will not accept a truce if Israel cannot complete its mission to destroy the tunnel network allowing militants to carryout deadly attacks inside Israel. In addition, Israel has called up 16,000 reservists allowing it to expand its Gaza offensive against Hamas rule. An Israeli defense official, under conditions of anonymity, said the purpose of the call up was to provide relief for troops on the Gaza firing line adding to the already 86,000 reserves called up during the Gaza conflict. Secretary General Ban KI-Moon called the deadly school shelling “outrageous” and “unjustifiable” demanding an immediate humanitarian cease-fire. Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council, said, “We are extremely concerned that thousands of internally displaced Palestinians who have been called on by the Israeli military to evacuate their homes are not safe in U.N. designated shelters in Gaza.”

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As both the war in Ukraine and Gaza continue to worsen, a viral war rages in Western Africa that has many concerned about the potential pandemic spread of one of the world’s deadliest viruses, Ebola. Liberia announced it will close schools and quarantine communities in order to halt the worst Ebola outbreak on record. According to David Lewis and Emma Farge, Liberia shuts schools, considers quarantine to curb Ebola, security forces in Liberia were orders to enforce the steps as part of an action plan to place all non-essential government workers on 30 day compulsory leave. The World Health Organization figures reports that Ebola has killed 672 in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone as underfunded systems struggle to deal with the epidemic with one fifth of those deaths occurring in Liberia. Lewis Brown, Liberia’s information minister, told Reuters: “This is a major public health emergency. It’s fierce, deadly and many of our countrymen are dying and we need to act to stop the spread. We need the support of the international community now more than ever. We desperately need all the help we can get.” Due to international concerns, the U.S. Peace Corps said it was withdrawing 340 volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. According to the presidency’s website, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said the government was considering quarantining several communities on the recommendation of the health ministry. An earlier draft, Reuters reports, specified communities to be quarantined with Sirleaf outlining protocol: “When these measures are instituted, only health care workers will be permitted to move in and out of those areas. Food and other medical support will be provided to those communities and affected individuals.” Mike Noyes, head of humanitarian response at Action Aid UK, said people need to be treated with compassion rather than criminalized adding: “Enforced isolation of a whole community is a medieval approach to controlling the spread of disease.” Britain as well as the United States are monitoring the situation. An assistant minister of health, Tolbert Nyenswah, told Reuters via phone: “The staff here are overwhelmed. This is a humanitarian crisis in Liberia. On Wednesday, Samaritan’s Purse, a U.S. charity operating in Liberia, said that Kent Brantly, a doctor working for the charity, and Nancy Writebol, a colleague who volunteers in Liberia, had shown some improvement in their condition but was still serious after being infected this past week. In addition, dozens of local health workers and two top Ebola doctors from Sierra Leone and Liberia have died while treating patients. However, the organization will stop running case management centers in Liberia, as Lewis and Farge report, after an attack on employees over the weekend and local resistance to expansion of their unit in Monrovia. Additionally, they are withdrawing non-essential staff from the country.

Possible Peace Between Palestine-Israel, While ISIS Hits Hard in Iraq and Clashes in Libya Cause Evacuations

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On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued to work on a deal between Hamas and Israel for a seven day truce in Gaza as Israel’s defense minister earned that the military may soon broaden its ground offensive significantly, Karin Laub and Ian Deitch reports, John Kerry says no deal yet on 7-day Gaza truce. The total causalities amid the endless fighting on Friday were at 820 Palestinians and 38 people in Israel killed. After days of Kerry moving between the Egyptian capital, the West Bank and Jerusalem talking to official from Qatar who are in contact with Hamas, Kerry so far has been able to get Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to consider a 12 hour halt to fighting proposed by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. Kerry said, Netanyahu “has indicated his willingness to do that as a good faith down payment to move forward.” Kerry said the parties are closer than ever to reaching an agreement for a seven day humanitarian truce starting with Muslim Eid holiday Monday, ending the holy month of Ramadan. Alongside the U.N. secretary general and the Egyptian foreign minister, he explained: “Gaps have been significantly narrowed. It can be achieved, if we work through some of the issues that are important for the parties.” The fighting in Gaza continued while talks of a truce continued, while unrest intensified in the West Bank over the conflict where five Palestinians were killed during protests against the Israeli operation in Gaza. The U.S. top diplomat said the goal for the seven day truce was to provide time to address the demands of each side.

On Saturday, Israel agreed to extend the 12 hour humanitarian truce in Gaza by four hours, according to a Cabinet minister as the death toll surpassed 1,000 Palestinians, according to a heath official, Laub and Deitch report, Israel agrees to extend Gaza war truce by 4 hours. In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with European foreign ministers to find a way to build on Saturday’s lull which is the longest since the fighting erupted on July 8. Top United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, called for both sides to halt their fighting an additional 24 hours. The Israeli Cabinet voted by phone to agree to the four hour extension and will consider the U.N. request for a 24 delay in fighting at a Cabinet meeting later Saturday. According to Laub and Deitch, under a gradual extension of a humanitarian truce, Israel did not have to discuss new border arrangements with Gaza and could continue to destroy Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. A Hamas spokesman, Mushir al-Masri, speaking before Israel’s decision, said the group would consider an extension if “it does not mean that we retreat from our known demands.” During Saturday’s humanitarian truce, Palestinian health official Asraf al-Kidra said an additional 132 bodies were retrieved from rubble surpassing 1,000 casualties. In the 19 days of fighting, 6,000 Palestinians have been wounded, hundreds of homes destroyed and tens of thousands displaced in Gaza. Israel lost 40 soldiers and 2 civilians so far. During the truce on Saturday, thousands of Gaza residents returned to devastated border areas after fleeing the violence. The U.N. said more than 160,000 Palestinians have sought shelter at dozens of U.N. schools, an eight fold increase since the start of Israel’s ground offensive more than a week ago. Unfortunately, late Saturday Hamas said it fired five rockets at Israel after rejecting Israel’s offer to extend a 12 hour humanitarian ceasefire by four hours making it more difficult to broker a deal to end the 19 days of fighting. Hamas said it fired two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv, While a spokesman said Police in Israel’s second largest city dispersed a peace rally attend by several thousand people because of the threat.

While Israel and Gaza continue to butt heads, two Hunter college students decided to start a social media campaign to spread love rather than hate, Mashable reports. Abraham Gutman, Israeli, and Dania Darwish, Syrian, posted photos of themselves with the hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies and launched a Facebook page under the same name. In the Christian Science Monitor, Gutman wrote: “With tempers only rising both on the ground and in social media platforms, we thought it would be productive to remind people that they are allowed to refuse to join the hateful discourse.” The campaign has proven to work as it has gone viral inviting Jews and Arabs around the world to share their stories. Sulome Anderson, a half Lebanese journalist, posted a photo of herself kissing her Jewish boyfriend that went viral getting thousands of re-tweets and favorites making her the face of the campaign. In New York Magazine, Anderson said: “He had seen that violence from the other side. As the region exploded into war, we started to come closer together in our opinions given the fact that we both share critical values: respect and concern for human life.”

While Israel and Gaza are taking steps to find common ground, the militant group ISIS continues to wreak havoc on Iraq by destroying the tomb of Jonah, a place thought to be the site of the prophet’s tomb who was swallowed by a whale or fish in Abrahamic faiths. On Thursday, civil defense officials in Mosul, Iraq, told CNN that ISIS operatives planted explosives around the mosque containing the tomb and detonated it remotely, according to Yasmine Hafiz, ISIS Destroys Jonah’s Tomb In Mosul, Iraq, As Militant Violence Continues. Though ISIS claims to follow the Sunni branch of Islam, they have targeted multiple Sunni shrines that they deem “unIslamic” and blow them up or bulldoze them. In addition, the Imam Aoun Bin al-Hassan mosque was destroyed on Thursday. Al-Arabiy reports that Zuhair al-Chalabi, a local Mosul official told Al-Samaria News that “ISIS implanted explosives around Prophet Daniel’s tomb in Mosul and blasted it, leading to its destruction.” AFP reports that an anonymous official said, “Islamic State completely destroyed the shrine of Nabi Yunus after telling local families to stay away and closing the roads to a distance of 500 metres from the shrine.” Sam hardy, a professor at the American University of Rome, told the Washington Post that ISIS will destroy, “basically pretty much anything in the Bible. It indicates they are going for total eradication not just of their enemies but even of the possibility of people living together under their rule.” Leila Fadel of NPR believes that ISIS’s destruction of shrines may be a big mistake since they establish the “Islamic caliphate” and “it may cause a deep rift in the uneasy alliances the Sunni extremist group has made with other Sunni fighting groups marginalized.”

Meanwhile in Libya on Saturday, the United States closed up and evacuated its diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Libya to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias, Matthew Lee and Lara Lakes reports, US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes. The withdrawal reinforces the Obama administration’s concern over risks to American diplomats overseas especially in Libya where a deadly attack in 2012 took place in Benghazi. The State Department issued a new travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to enter and to leave immediately. It read: “The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security. Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including anti-aircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.” The State Department said embassy operations will be suspended until the security situation improves. Tripoli has for weeks been under siege by inter-militia violence that killed and wounded dozens on both sides. Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, expressed gratitude toward U.S. forces who helped in the evacuation. Libya is experiencing one of the worst spans of violence since Gadhafi’s ouster. The U.S. is the latest country to close its embassy as Turkey on Friday shut its embassy and militia clashes in Benghazi prompted the United Nations, aid groups and foreign envoys to leave. The battle in Tripoli began this month when Islamist led militias launched an attack on the airport under the control of rival militias. The rival militia made up of former anti-Gadhafi rebels forced a weeklong closure of gas stations and government offices. In recent days, armed men have attacked vehicles carrying money from the Central Bank to local banks, forcing them to close as well. Libyan government officials and activist have been targeted in the violence recently with gunmen kidnapping two lawmakers in Tripoli a weak ago and on Friday abducted a well known Libyan political activist in Tripoli, Abdel Moaz Banoun.