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.

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.