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.

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

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

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

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

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