Ukraine at War Despite Ceasefire with Rebels and the U.S. Continues to Rally Support Against an Ever Growing Islamic State

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On Saturday, despite a ceasefire between Kiev’s forces and Moscow backed rebels in the east, Ukraine is ‘still in a state of war” with Russia, according to the country’s prime minister shortly after a second convoy of Russian trucks rolled into Ukraine, the Associated Press reports, Ukraine Prime Minister says country still in ‘state of war’. Speaking to a conference of politicians and business leaders in Kiev, Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to take all of Ukraine: “He cannot cope with the idea that Ukraine would be a part of a big EU family. He wants to restore the Soviet Union.” The second convoy of Russian trucks that entered through rebel held territory in eastern Ukraine on Saturday with 2,000 tons of humanitarian aid. The last truck crossed early Saturday from the Russian border town Donetsk, 120 miles east of the Ukrainian city with the same name, Rayan Farukshin, a spokesman for Russia’s custom agency, told the Associated Press via phone. News Agency ITAR TASS reported 250 trucks were heading toward the city of Luhansk. Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told journalist Saturday the trucks entered illegally: “Ukraine border guards and customs were not allowed to examine the cargo and vehicles. Representatives of the Red Cross don’t accompany the cargo, nobody knows what’s inside.” President Petro Poroshenko has tried to since last week’s ceasefire to prove that improvements on the ground have happened in eastern Ukraine, but Friday, he admitted that the deal has been riddled with violations. Galina Balzamova, a representative of the ICRC’s Moscow office said, “We were not officially notified of an agreement between Moscow and Kiev to ship the cargo.” Lysenko said 6 Ukrainian servicemen have died since the truce and 12 rebel fighters have been killed by Ukrainian forces near Seas of Azov city of Mariupol. A Saturday statement from the Donetsk city council said that fighting occurred throughout the night near the airport with two shells hitting a residential building in the area and reported no causalities. Laura Mills and Peter Leonard report, Ukraine government repels rebel attack on airport, the convoy of 200 white trucks crossed the border with humanitarian aid to Ukraine on Saturday without Kiev’s consent but was met with silence by Ukraine’s leaders. Yury Stepanov, a Russian overseeing the convoy, said: “Early in the morning, we entered Ukraine to bring aid to Luhansk. We came in around 215 vehicles.” The aid arrived as fighting continued between pro-Russian rebels and government forces. Stepanov said the goods consisted mainly of food such as rice sugar and canned fish and beef, but included medicine, technical equipment and clothes. While local workers unloaded boxes, several carloads of armed militiamen in camouflage arrived to inspect the scene. Stepanov said his team was responsible for delivery, while distribution will be handled by local authorities which means the separatist leaders of the self proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. Gennady Tsepkalo, a senior separatist officials, said, “The militia will feed itself separately. This is for the residents of the Luhansk People’s Republic.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission to the Russian-Ukrainian border said Saturday that ed220 trucks cross into Ukraine, none of which were inspected by the Ukrainian side or accompanied by the ICRC. Allowing more humanitarian aid into the region was one component of the 12-point deal.

Meanwhile, across the world, ISIS continues to grow stronger as the U.S. continue to rally support internationally in the fight to stop the Islamic extremist, while some neighboring Arab countries in the Middle East choose not to participate. On Sunday, Prime Minister David Cameron summoned military and security chiefs for an emergency meeting in response to the beheading of a British hostage and a threat against another, Gregory Katz reports, UK’s Cameron calls emergency meeting after killing. The meeting was in response to the release of a video showing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines and the threat of another with death by Islamic extremists. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it saw no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video. Haines is the third Westerner to be executed with the first two being U.S. journalists. President Barack Obama said the United would stand with Britain in an expanded effort against terror groups. “We will work with the United Kingdom and a broad coalition of nations from the region and around the world to bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice, and to degrade and destroy this threat to the people of our countries, the region and the world,” he said. Germany and France also condemned the killing during their international conference Monday to combat IS. French President Francois Hollande said, “The odious assassination of David Haines shows once more the need for the international community to mobilize against the base and cowardly Daesh.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the Haines killing “an abhorrent act of barbaric violence beyond all limits of human civilization” and said the Paris meeting comes at the right time. Some British lawmakers called for Britain to launch air strikes against Islamic State forces after the killing. Desmond Butler reports, Turkey seeks behind-the-scene role in NATO coalition, that Turkey has decided to take a behind the scenes role in the war with the Islamic State group as it wants to keep its soldiers out of combat operations and declined to allow NATO to use its bases or territories to launch air attacks. The reason is rooted in two dilemmas: the Islamic State groups has dozens of Turkish hostages including diplomats and Turkey is wary of boosting its rebellious Kurdish minority in the battle against Islamic State enemies in Iraq. Even though NATO allies have shown publish support for Turkey, they would like more action from heir ally. Butler reports: “They would chiefly like to see Turkey tighten its border controls, stem the flow of fighters transiting Turkey from Western Countries and the Middle East, and crack down on oil smuggling from Syria that finances the Islamic State group. They could also benefit from closer intelligence cooperation and possibly the use of Incirlik Airbase in southern Turkey as a base from which to launch strikes against the group.” Western governments are alarmed by the Islamic State’s ability to smuggle Iraqi and Syrian oil across Turkey’s borders and while Turkey has cracked down, analysts say that Turkey is not able to police the smuggling across its 750 mile border with Iraq and Syria. Both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chick Hagel were in Ankara last week on successive trips to press Turkey on its role, but failed to get a pledge of support in combating IS. In addition, Turkey decline to sign a U.S. brokered statement by Middle Eastern countries last week denouncing the Islamic State group and pledging to fight it. Another reason for hesitation is a three decade long conflict with the Kurdish minority that has cost tens of thousands of lives. Last year, Kurdish rebels declared a ceasefire and began withdrawing fighters from Turkey into bases in norther Iraq, but tensions rose again as the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, accused Turkey of not boosting Kurdish rights quickly enough. Government officials say there are signs that Kurds from Turkey are crossing the border to help PKK militants in Iraq and Syria fight the Islamic State group. Teams of security officials operating at Turkish airports and bus stations have interrogated more than 500 people over the last four months and have deported 107 to their countries of origin, according to one official in the Turkish prime minister’s office. Officials also say they are fighting oil smuggling, but face challenges across a more than 550 mile border with Syria. Lori Hinnant reports, Iran says rejects US call to fight IS militants, Iran will not join the international coalition to fight the militant group. Neither Iran nor Syria, who share most of their borders with Iraq, was invited Monday to the international conference in Paris. Opening the diplomatic conference intended to discuss how to combat the group, French President Francois Hollande said, “The terrorist threat is global and the response must be global. There is no time to lose.” The killing of David Haines, a British aid worker, added to the urgency for a clear strategy to fight the well organized Sunni group who has amassed members from all over the world and makes $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to U.S. intelligence officials and private experts. Iraq’s President Fouad Massoum called for a coordinated military and humanitarian approach, as well as regular strikes against territory in the hands of the extremists and the elimination of their funding. According to Hinnant: “Western officials have made clear they consider Syrian President Bashar Assad part of the problem, and U.S. officials opposed France’s attempt to invite Iran, a Shiite nation, to the conference in Paris.” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Iranian state television, said his government refused American requests for cooperation, warning that another U.S> incursion would result “in the same problems they faced in Iraq in the past 10 years.” Ahead of the conference, France’s foreign minister acknowledged many of the countries at the meeting Monday probably financed Islamic State’s advances, while Haider al-Abadi, in his first interview aired Sunday as Iraqi prime minister, told state run al-Iraqiyya that he has given France approval to use Iraq airspace and said all such authorizations must come from Baghdad.

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.”

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.”

Hezbollah Role In Syria Crisis Looks Poised To Grow

Hezbollah Role In Syria Crisis Looks Poised To Grow.

Religious wars have been waging for millennia, so why do we think its going to stop anytime soon? In October, Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah leader, in a rare speech commented on rumors about his Lebanese Shiite group’s involvement in Syria’s civil conflict since reports from the front had reported Hezbollah fighters returning from Syria. Of course he denied these reports, but did say the group may join the fight in the future. According to Huff Post, he remarked that “As of now, we have not fought alongside the regime…We don’t know about the future.” The battle lines have been drawn quite neatly as most of the rebels are Sunni Muslims supported by Arabian Gulf countries, while the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime are backed by the Iranian Shiite government and Hezbollah. Since the speech by the leader of Hezbollah, there are signs that the group is being drawn into the conflict spreading the violence no over into Lebanon. A Lebanese newspaper last week said a handful of Hezbollah fighters have been killed in battles with Syrian rebels in Al-Qusayr a town close to the Lebanon border. The reports of Hezbollah’s incursions into Syria date back months and unconfirmed reports of Syrian rebels attacking Hezbollah positions have surfaces after rebels gave Hezbollah a deadline set to end Friday to withdraw their forces from Syria or they would take action. Hezbollah party leaders are asking for the Lebanese government to become more involved in making a political settlement with Syria over the violence.