Ebola Crisis Faces New Problems, Gaza Talks Continue as Deadline Looms, While Iraqi and Ukrainian Forces Continue to Make Progress

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Scientists and health officials see an even bigger threat than the current Ebola outbreak: The fact that no one knows where the virus came from or how ti stop it from starting new outbreaks. Mike Stobbe and Marilyn Marchione report, Another Ebola problem: Finding its natural source, since 1976, two dozen outbreaks of the deadly virus has occurred in Africa with its possible origin beginning in bats, but experts don’t know exactly its origins in nature. The current outbreak has claimed 1,100 people in four countries making it the highest death toll in history of Ebola. Jonathon Towner, a scientist who helped to find the bat source of another Ebola like disease called Marburg, said: “First and foremost get the outbreak under control. Once that piece is resolved, then go back and find what the source is.” Towner works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist formerly a lead for the International Society for Infectious Diseases, says, “confirming the source would definitely be important.” Throughout history, halting a deadly infections not only involved limiting person to person contact but finding and controlling the source of the infection in nature. Stobbe and Marchione explain: “Plague was halted after the germ was tied to rat-riding fleas. With the respiratory disease SARS, civet cats played a role. With typhus it was lice, and with bird flu, live poultry markets. Efforts to control MERS, a virus causing sporadic outbreaks in the Middle East, include exploring the role of camels.” Health experts think the initial cases in each outbreak began with eating or handling infected animals such as certain bats that in parts of Africa are considered a delicacy. The World Health Organization lists chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines as possibly playing a role and pig farms where fruit bats may reside. Part of the puzzle is how long the virus has been in West Africa as previous outbreaks have been in the east and central regions of Africa. However, some scientist believe the virus had been in the are for years pointing to a case of a lone scientist who got sick in 1994 after doing an autopsy on a wild chimp in the Ivory Coast and to a recent study exploring the possibility that past Ebola cases in the region were undiagnosed. On Saturday, armed protestors raided an Ebola clinic in Liberia’s capital stealing blood stained bedding and forcing 20 infected patients to flee into the densely populated city, according to the article, Ebola isolation clinic looted in Liberia, patients flee. According to the United Nation’s Integrated Regional Information Networks, the West Point shantytown of 70,000 residents suffer from debilitating sanitary conditions with access to only four public toilets meaning defecation in the street is common. A senior Liberia police official told BBC: “This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life” and that the looting of blood-stained mattresses and bedding could spread the virus to all of West Point. Front Page Africa reports the assistant health minister on Thursday said there are plans to quarantine the area, but food and water must be brought into the township. The looting came the same day the Kenyan government banned travel to West African countries afflicted with the deadly Ebola virus. According to WHO, more than 400 people have died in Liberia from Ebola with more than 1,100 in total between Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Adam Schrek reports Monday, Nigerian woman suspected of Ebola dies in UAE, that a Nigerian woman who arrived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus, later died in the city, according to health officials. In a statement carried by the Emirati state news agency WAM Sunday, the health authority said the 35 year old woman was traveling to India from Nigeria fro treatment of advanced metastatic cancer. Her health deteriorated in transit at the Abu Dhabi International Airport as medics tried to resuscitate her and found signs of possible infection. The medical staff who treated the woman followed the measures outlined by the World Health Organization, however, the woman’s husband, who sat newt to her on the place, and the five medics who treated her were isolated pending test results on the deceased woman. All are in good health and show no signs of illness, health officials reported.

Meanwhile, as the clock winds down in the Gaza truce, the Palestinians remain divided Sunday on the latest Gaza ceasefire with Hamas opposed to a compromise Egyptian proposal to ease closure of the territory and other factions including delegates for President Mahmoud Abbas were inclined to accept, Mohammed Daraghmeh reports, Palestinian Divisions Emerge In Gaza Truce Talks. Hamas officials said they wanted more concessions in the Egypt mediated talks as the temporary truce expires late Monday. The outcome if a deal is not reached would be a return to fighting bringing more devastation to Gaza, an unofficial understanding falling short of a formal negotiated deal or another extension to negotiations. Nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 10,000 people wounded since July 8, according to United Nations figures. In Israel, 67 people have been killed with all but three soldiers. A Palestinian and Israeli negotiators returned to Cairo on Sunday following a weekend of consultations across the Middle East as the gap remained wide. The current five day ceasefire will end at midnight Monday. According to negotiators, the Egyptian proposal calls for compromise on both sides as it seeks to ease the blockade by allowing more imports and exports for Gaza and increase movement of people in and out of the territory’s Israeli controlled crossing. However, Hamas’ demands for Gaza’s air and seaports to be reopened are to be left until later. Gaza will not be forced to disarm rather Gaza’s border crossing will be controlled by forces loyal to Abbas and international reconstruction efforts in Gaza will also be controlled by Western backed Abbas to make sure money and materials don’t fall into the hands of Hamas. One member of the delegation said even if Hamas refuses the deal, Abbas’ forces are prepared to oversee the crossings and reconstruction. Other members said both Israel and Hamas appeared to agree on one thing which is neither wants to return to heavy fighting like in the past month. One official said, under conditions of anonymity: “The proposed agreement is not bad and can be amended a little bit. That prevents bloodshed and opens the way for rebuilding Gaza.” On Monday, Israeli troops destroyed the home of two Palestinians suspected of the abduction and killing of three teenagers in the occupied West Bank in June, the army said, according to Reuters, Israel destroys homes of Palestinians suspected of killing Israeli teens. Troops set charges to destroy the homes of Hussam Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha in the southern West Bank before dawn and sealed off the home of a third suspect, Marwan Kawasme. Israeli accused Hamas militants, however, Hamas will not confirm or deny the accusations. Hussam Kawasme, a 40 year old resident Hebron, was arrested July 11 and the other two suspects remained at large. The killings sparked the current cycle of violence that led to a month long offensive between Israel and militants in Hamas dominated Gaza. The military statement said Israel’s supreme court affirmed the military’s wish to demolish the homes and rejected three appeals by the suspects’ families against their destruction.

In a turn of events, on Sunday, Ukraine’s government said separatists shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane after troops entered into the rebel controlled city in the east marking a possible turning point in the four month long conflict, Peter Leonard reports, Ukraine says troops entered rebel-held city. Ukraine’s national security council said government forces captured a district police station in Luhansk after intense clashes in the Velika Vergunka neighborhood. Weeks of fighting in Luhansk has left the city on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe as the siege mounted by government forces has prevented delivery of basic provisions and cut off power and running water. Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky on Sunday said the separatists shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane over the Luhansk region after launching an attack on rebels. Fortunately, the pilot ejected and was taken to a secure place. Meanwhile Sunday, part of the Russian convoy carrying food and supplies for Luhansk and other afflicted zones headed to the section of border closest to the city, but stopped short of the frontier crossing in early afternoon. The Red Cross, responsible for distributing the aid, on Saturday said the main holdup was the lack of security guarantees from both sides of the conflict. In a video posted online this weekend, the leader of the self-proclaimed rebel government in Donetsk region, Alexander Zakharchenko, said new military equipment was on its way from Russia including tanks and some 1,200 fighters who undergone training in Russia. Lysenko said the government had information that separatists have received reinforcements from Russia, but not all the equipment allegedly promised. Russia has denied the accusations of supporting the rebels with equipment and training, however, Ukraine’s President on Friday said that Ukraine had destroyed a large number of military vehicles crossing from Russia recently.

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East on Monday, following two days of U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces took back control of the country’s largest dam from Islamic militants, according to a military spokesman in Baghdad as fighting was underway for the rest of the strategic complex, Sinan Salaheddin reports, Iraq forces retake Mosul Dam; militants deny claim. Soon after the announcement, the Islamic State group, controlling the Mosul Dam for two weeks from the Tigris River just north of the city of Mosul, denied the claims insisting it was still in control. The retaking would be the first victory for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling the group since the airstrikes started earlier this month. The dam and its broader complex hold a strategic advantage as they supply electricity and water to a large part of the country. Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the dam itself was secured by Kurdish peshmerga troops and Iraqi security forces on Monday, but the southern side of the complex remains contested and fierce fighting is underway. Al-Moussawi said the Iraqi and Kurdish forces “hoisted the Iraqi flag over” the dam adding that the troops were backed by joint aerial support. Iraq’s Ministry of Defense said security forces “liberated a large part of the Mosul Dam” with the help of U.S. airstrikes, while U.S. Central Command would not confirm their involvement. In an internet statement, the Islamic State denied losing the dam and dismissing the government claim as propaganda. The U.S. military said U.S. forces conducted nine strikes Saturday and another 16 on Sunday. The decision to launch the airstrikes was the first direct U.S. military intervention in Iraq since the last American troops left in 2011 and reflect growing international concern about the extremist group. In a letter to Congress Sunday, the White House said that its air campaign in Iraq “is consistent with the president’s directive that the U.S. military protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, since the failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians and threaten U.S. personnel and facilities – including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” It also stated that the failure of the dam could “prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services” to the Iraqi people.

Ebola Patient Zero Found, Ceasefire in Gaza, Islamic State Massacre of Yazidis and Ukraine Demand Rebels to Surrender

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According to the AOL article, Ebola outbreak: ‘patient zero’ could be young boy, the latest and deadliest outbreak of Ebola in history might have started with a 2 year old boy, according to researchers who traced the virus to a village in Guinea located by the borders of Sierra Leone and Liberia. The boy died December 6th four days after vomiting, black stools and fever followed by his mother, sister, and grandmother in January and then a midwifed passed from the same sickness in February causing the person who took care of her to get sick. The illness was identified in March as Ebola,however, it had spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone all declared states of emergencies and West Africa has received nearly $16 million to help battle the deadly outbreak that has killed 1,000 killed. Sharon Begley and Toni Clarke of Reuters reports that three U.S. facilities are on standby in the event of a major public health threat to quickly make vaccines and therapeutics to treat Ebola if the U.S. government decided to scale up. The facilities, called Centers for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (ADM), were set up by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in partnership with private industry, to respond to pandemics or chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear threats. Brett Giroir, chief executive of Texas A&M Health Science Center, site of one of the facilities, said: “They know our number and they can call us 24 hours a day. We are prepared.” Global health agencies are considering whether to make experimental drugs, which have only been tested on monkeys, available to patients in West Africa where the deadly Ebola outbreak has claimed so many. The World Health Organization is bringing together a group of bioethicists to consider the issue as who gets the treatments or vaccine. U.S. officials have emphasized quarantine measures to help prevent the spread. The decision to order any of the three advanced labs to start production of Ebola treatments must come from the highest level of the Obama administration. According to Rodrique Ngowi, Ebola Outbreak Flagged By Online Tool Before Formal WHO Announcement, an online tool run by experts in Boston flagged a “mystery hemorrhagic fever” in the forested area of southeastern Guinea nine days before the World Health Organization announced the epidemic. Ngowi reports, “HealthMap uses algorithms to scour tens of thousands of social media sites, local news, government websites, infectious-disease physicians’ social networks and other sources to detect and track disease outbreaks. Sophisticated software filters irrelevant data, classifies the relevant information, identifies diseases and maps their locations with the help of experts.” The co-founder John Brownstein said: “It shows some of these informal sources are helping paint a picture of what’s happening that’s useful to these public health agencies.” HealthMap is operated by a group of 45 researchers, epidemiologists and software developers at Boston Children’s Hospital. HealthMap generates information that included location of specific outbreaks and tracks new cases and deaths.

To the east, the Israeli military says no rockets were fired on Monday at Israel and the military hasn’t targeted any locations in densely populated territories since the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel when into effect midnight Sunday as the two sides resume talks in Cairo, the Associated Press reported, Cease-fire holding in Gaza between Israel and Hamas. In total, 1,900 Palestinians were killed and 67 on the Israeli side in the almost two month long war. Palestinians negotiators are asking for an end to the Gaza blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, while Israel wants all Gaza militants to disarm. Egypt brokered a similar truce last week, but after three days, militants resumed rocket fire on Israel and new fighting erupted. Egypt called on Israel and Palestinian factions to observe a 72 hour ceasefire beginning within hours and resume talks on more comprehensive Gaza agreement. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry announcement followed after hours of talks with Palestinian factions in Cairo who accepted the proposal and the deal would not have been made if the ceasefire agreement was not secure indicating Israel had accepted. Sunday’s decision was aimed at bringing Israeli back to the table, according to a Palestinian negotiator: “We are here to look for an agreement. We cannot have an agreement without talks, so we accepted an Egyptian proposal to have a cease-fire for 72 hours in order to resume the talks.” A senior Palestinian negotiator noted that Palestinian would make more modest demand if talks resume and seek an end to the bloodshed in Gaza, internationally backed efforts to rebuild and an easing of the blockade. One negotiator commented: “We might not get everything we want, particularly on freedom of movement. But we believe the Israelis and the world have gotten the point that Gazans should live normally and things should be much better than today.” Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said Hams could get the blockade lifted if they meet international demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist: “Basically what they are trying now to do is not to lift the blockade. They want to get legitimacy as a terrorist organization, without accepting the requirements of the international community.”

In Neighboring Iraq, the Obama administration has decided to directly provide weapons to Kurdish forces to fight the Islamic militants in northern Iraq, according to a senior U.S. officials, the Associated Press reports, US sending arms to Kurds in Iraq. Previously, the U.S. would only sell arms to the Iraqi government in Baghdad, but the Kurdish fighters were losing ground in recent weeks to the Islamic State militants. In recent days, the U.S. military has facilitated weapons deliveries from the Iraqis to the Kurds providing logistic assistant and transportation to the north. The assistance allowed the Kurdish forces on Sunday to take back two towns from the Islamic insurgents aided in part by U.S. airstrikes int he region. President Barack Obama authorized the airstrikes to protect U.S. interests and personnel in the region, including at facilities in Ibril as well as Yazidi refugees fleeing militants. Speaking in Australia on Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said no force should be used by political factions as Iraq struggles to form a government and the country’s new president is acting appropriately despite the accusations of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki is resisting calls to step down and will file a complaint against the president for not naming him prime minister. Kerry said: “We believe that the government formation process is critical in terms of sustaining the stability and calm in Iraq. And our hope is that Mr. Maliki will not stir those waters.” While some progress has been made in the north, Reuters reports, Islamic State Killed 500 Yazidis, Buried Some Victims Alive: “Islamic State militants have killed at least 500 members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, burying some alive and taking hundreds of women as slaves, an Iraqi government minister told Reuters on Sunday.” Human rights minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani accused the militant group of celebrating “a vicious atrocity” with cheers and weapons waved in the air. Sudani via phone interview said: “We have striking evidence obtained from Yazidis fleeing Sinjar and some who escaped death, and also crime scene images that show indisputably that the gangs of the Islamic State have executed at least 500 Yazidis after seizing Sinjar. Some of the victims, including women and children were buried alive in scattered mass graves in and around Sinjar.” During a visit by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Kurdish regional president Masoud Barzani said: “We are not fighting a terrorist organization, we are fighting a terrorist state.” Barzani has asked his allied to send weapons to help fight the insurgency. In comments likely to put pressure on Washington to step up its response, Iraqi rights minster Sudani said: “The terrorist Islamic State has also taken at least 300 Yazidi women as slaves and locked some of them inside a police station in Sinjar and transferred others to the town of Tal Afar. We are afraid they will take them outside the country. In some of the images we have obtained there are lines of dead Yazidis who have been shot in the head while the Islamic State fighters cheer and wave their weapons over the corpses. This is a vicious atrocity.” At the Vatican, Pope Francis held a silent prayers during his weekly address on Sunday for the victims of the Iraqi conflict including the Christan minority saying: “Thousands of people, among them many Christians, banished brutally from their houses, children dying of hunger and thirst as they flee, women kidnapped, people massacred, violence of all kinds. All of this deeply offends God and deeply offends humanity.” Both France and the U.S. criticize Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite led government for failing to share power with Iraq’s Sunni minority who dominated before the U.S. led invasion. Foreign Minister Fabius said: “Iraq is in need of a broad unity government, and all Iraqis should feel that they are represented in this government. All Iraqis should feel they are represented to take part in this battle against terrorism.”

Leaving the Middle East for another conflict to the north, on Sunday, fighting raged on in Donetsk as government forces closed in on the rebel stronghold Ukraine and pro-Russian insurgents backed away from an unconditional ceasefire offer announced the day before, Yuras Karmanau reports, Ukraine Demands Rebels In Donetsk Surrender. With western backing and a string of military success, Kiev has taken a hard line stance against rebel forces and won’t relent until the rebels surrender. In a statement Saturday, newly elected rebel leader Aleksandr Zakharchenko called an apparent ceasefire without stating any preconditions, however Sunday, rebel spokeswoman Elena Nikiting told the Associated Press that talks on the conflict could begin if the Ukrainian army withdrew from the region which Kiev won’t do. Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the only way the rebels in Donetsk will be saved will be to lay down their arms and give up and has not seen any real willingness to cooperate: “If white flags come up and they lay down their arms, nobody is going to shoot at them. (But) we have not seen any practical steps yet, just a statement.” Lysenko added that the Ukrainian military’s recent success has caused “panic and chaos in the ranks of the rebels” and Kiev has information that the rebels are “deserting their posts en masse.” More than 1,300 people have died in the conflict since April, according to U.N. estimates. On Sunday, German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmer expressed concern over the humanitarian situation for civilians in Donetsk and Luhansk where conditions are getting worse. He said Germany is working with ICRC and U.N. agencies to ensure that existing aid is coordinated and gets delivered where it is needed. He said it was “good that there seems to be basic agreement about the delivery of humanitarian goods between Ukraine and Russia,” but said that Russian aid “must only be delivered with the express agreement of the Ukrainian government” and under the supervision of international organizations.