Gaza Truce Holds for Second Day, While Fighting Continues in Other Parts of the Middle East and Ukraine

Luckovich cartoon: Mideast fighting

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For the second day now, a ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has ended the month long fighting ahead of negotiations in Cairo for a long term truce and broader deal for the Gaza Strip, the Associate Press reports, Cease-fire in Gaza holds for second day. On Wednesday, delegations from both sides plus Egyptian mediators met in Cairo to work out a deal with some of Hamas’ negotiating points including an internationally funded reconstruction of Gaza, which would be overseen by a Palestinian unity government led by President Mahmoud Abbas. The ceasefire is the longest pause in the war that killed 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis including three civilians. The lull in the violence allowed people to return to their devastated homes and inspect the damage.

In Ukraine, the story changes as Ukrainian government forces backed by warplanes advanced their military offensive to reclaim lost territory from pro-Russian separatists on Tuesday and cautiously watched Russia’s military exercises over the border, according to Richard Blamforth, Ukraine Fighting Intensifies Amid Tensions With Russia. In the 24 hours up to Tuesday morning, Kiev’s military said government forces clashed 26 times with separatists in the east as fighter jets struck at rebel positions and concentrations of military equipment. In addition, Ukraine condemned Russian war games near the joint border as provocation and violating Ukrainian air space by Russian warplanes and drones as well as cross border shelling. Defense officials said separatist on Tuesday opened fire on unarmed Ukrainian Soldiers crossing back into Ukraine from Russia where they took shelter from fighting. Ukraine confirmed Monday that 311 soldiers and border guards were forced by fighting to cross the border saying they destroyed their weapons before crossing back, however, the rebels said they left them behind allowing separatists to seize them. In the past 24 hours, three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 46 wounded in action against separatists. Fighting since April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said more than 1,100 people including government forces, rebels and civilians have died, while 730,000 Ukrainians have left the country into Russia this year due to fighting according to the European head of the United Nations agency for refugees. Defense spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that Ukrainian forces had come under mortar and artillery attack from Russia and Russia has been violating Ukrainian airspace with Russian planes. In addition to a foreign ministry statement calling for Russia to pull back its forces, he said, “Ukraine regards the carrying out of such unprecedented military exercises on the border with Ukraine as a provocation.”

On Wednesday, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters that Kurdish forces attacked Islamic State fighters 25 miles from Arbil in norther Iraq, the Kurdish regional capital, Reuters reports, Kurds, Islamic State clash near Kurdish regional capital. Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of the ministry of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters, said: “We have changed our tactics from being defensive to being offensive. Now we are clashing with the Islamic State in Makhmur.” Yawar also confirmed that the Kurds have re-established military cooperation with Baghdad after a dramatic weekend offensive in the north by the Sunni militants prompted the Kurdish leadership and the Shi’ite led governments of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to bury the hatchet. The two, who previously fought over oil, budgets and land, now are working together against the biggest threat to Iraq’s security since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Yawar said 50,000 members of Iraq’s Yazidi ethnic minority are hiding in the mountains near Sinjar and risk starving to death if they are not rescued in 24 hours.

Meanwhile Wednesday, in Lebanon, state media reported clashes breaking out in a border town held by Islamic extremists from Syria after negotiating a cease fire, mediate by Muslim clerics, collapsed overnight, the Associate Press reports, New clashes break out in Lebanese border town. The ceasefire was meant to help end four days of fighting in Arsal and allow for the negotiations for the release of captive Lebanese solders, however, the National News Agency reported fighting again early Wednesday with militants firing on troops. So far, 17 Lebanese troops have died and 22 soldiers and an unknown number of police are missing.

While fighting continues, migrants flow into Europe in alarming numbers causing tension in France where clashes between asylum seekers in camps and police broke out as tear gas is fired to quell the chaos, Elaine Ganley reports, Migrants clash in France as camp tensions soar. Sudanese and Eritreans battle the heat in Calais, a port city in France, while Africans fight for space and try to sneak into Britain some 20 miles away. British police tried to prevent people from crossing over as their french counterparts fired tear gas Tuesday to break up this third battle which left 51 injured and one critical, according to the Calais prefecture. Migrants fleeing poverty and war in African and the Middle East arrive in Calais with hopes of crossing the channel using the ferry or on cargo laden trucks. Their numbers have increase up to 1,300 in the city at the edge of the English Channel overwhelming the city, aid agencies and police. Deputy Mayor Philippe Mignonet, in charge of security, said, “There are migrants who arrive each day and each day some who succeed in getting to Britain. Calais has been taken hostage.” The Monday night and twice Tuesday clashes were a culmination of a month long tug of war between Calais and migrants after the city bulldozed makeshift camps in May and the migrants then occupied a food distribution center but were expelled. Now, authorities want to expel hundreds in two abandoned factories causing migrants to turn on each other. Noemie Bourdet of aid group Secours Catholique in Calais believes the clashes are over a place at a parking lot where smugglers didn’t ask for payments, even though, migrants are usually forced to pay for a place in line in a parking lot where trucks leave for Britain. In addition, Bourdet addressed the charge that Calasi migrants are simply a security problem: “They expel them without solutions.” However, Mignonet disagrees: “It is a doubly catastrophic situation for us. People only talk of Calais for its migrant problems … This seriously hurts the city’s image.”

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.

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.”

Palestinian Israeli Conflict Deepens as Lebanon Strikes

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Courtesy of Higher Learning

On Friday, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he will not give in to international pressure to stop a military offensive in Gaza and will continue until rocket fire out of Gaza ceases. According to Aron Heller, Israel leader: World pressure won’t stop military offensive, the Prime Minister had a good conversation with many world leaders in recent days including President Barack Obama and has decided to continue with his plans. So far, Netanyahu has attacked more than 1,000 targets in Gaza during the four day operation using twice the force used in a similar 2012 offensive. The death toll after the four day offensive comes to 100 Palestinians with no word how many Israelis have died so far.

However, as the death toll from Israel’s massive air campaign in Gaza topped 100 Friday, militants in neighboring Lebanon fired rockets at Israel as Gaza militants continued rocket fire reaching deeper into Israel. According to Heller, Gaza militants have fired 550 rockets against Israel in the offensive with Israeli military hitting more than 1,100 targets identified as launch sites and bombarding the territory every 5 minutes on average. In Gaza, an Israeli Airstrike on Friday and overnight strikes has killed eight people raising the death toll to at least 98 with a later strike pushing the total over 100 along with 670 wounded, the Associated Press reports. Hamas says it intends to fire rockets at the airport and warned foreign airlines to stop flying to Israel. However, Israel has shot down at least 110 incoming rockets so far with its “Iron Dome” defense system. In northern Israel, rocket fire struck near the Lebanese border causing the military to respond with artillery fire toward southern Lebanon, according to military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. The Lebanese military stated that militants fired three rockets toward Israel around 6 am and the Israelis retaliated by firing 25 artillery shells on the area. Lebanon’s state run National News Agency confirmed one militant firing the rockets was wounded and taken to the hospital, while the Lebanese’s military said troops found the two rocket launchers and dismantled them. The recent rocket fire from Lebanon was blamed on radical Palestinian factions in the area and Hezbollah, a Shiite militant stronghold in Southern Lebanon, was not involved. The  Associated Press reports that a pair of Lebanon based al-Qaida groups, the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, in the past have claimed responsibility for similar rocket attacks on Israel.

The recent conflict between Israel and Gaza came after the death of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank and a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death as retaliation. Lerner states that the military was trying to prevent civilian causalities calling residents ahead of time to warn of imminent attacks and using “non-explosive munitions” to warn people to leave before the attack. Lerner blames Hamas for the deaths of innocent bystanders by firing into heavily populated areas. Israeli leaders are considering a ground assault in Gaza to target Hamas, even though, this would most likely increase Palestinian civilian casualties and put Israeli troops at risk. Israel has mobilized more than 30,000 reservists to aid in the possible ground invasion. In the past, the Associated Press reports, a ground incursions in 2009 left hundreds of civilians dead and both sides drew war crimes accusations in a United Nations report. Middle East envoy Tony Blair said that efforts to reach a truce were being made. According to the Associated Press, Blair state, “We are in a critical point. I think we have got to do everything we can to … create a situation in which the people in Gaza and the West Bank and in Israel feel that this is not then going to recur and there is some genuine plan in place.”