Update On Malaysian Flight 17, Russia and Ukraine Tensions Rise at Border, Iraq Declared an Emergency, and The Ebola War Zone

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Dutch authorities have identified 127 victims from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster in Ukraine. The flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine last month killing all 298 aboard. The investigation suffered many delays due to fighting between pro-Russia separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces near the crash site leaving the bodies to decompose in the sun for a week or so. Eventually, the victims’ remains were gathered and sent to the Netherlands for identification. According to AOL, 127 victims identified from Ukraine plane disaster, the Justice Ministry Thursday said the identified victims’ families were notified. One of the Netherlands’ top prosecutors hops those responsible for downing the plane will eventually face trial in the Netherlands, according to confirmed remarks by his office, Chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, and the case will take years to build. The Netherlands and other countries have launched criminal investigations, while jurisdiction is unclear.

Meanwhile, at the Russian-Ukrainian border, Alexander Roslyakov reports, Ukraine: Inspectors checking Russian convoy, Ukraine said its customs and border service officials on Friday began inspecting Russian aid convoys parked just beyond its border addressing the mounting tensions over the shipments. Sergei Astakhov, an assistant to the deputy head of Ukraine’s border guard service, said the cargo will be inspected in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross representatives. Friday morning, a group of 41 Ukrainian border service representatives and 18 customs officials began inspecting the Russian aid at the Donetsk crossing, defense officials in Kiev said in a statement. Russian news agencies said Russia will present all necessary documentation and had over the cargo to the Red Cross. The 200 Russian white tarped trucks had been parked since Thursday near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky some 17 miles from the border where much of the border in this part of eastern Ukraine has been under the control of pro-Russian rebels. Russia sent the aid despite tentative agreements to deliver the aid through government controlled border crossing in the Kharkiv region. Ukraine fears that Russia is using the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion to help the rebels and threatened ti use all means necessary to block the convoy if Ukrainian officials and the Red Cross were unable to inspect them. A statement on President Petro Poroshenkp’s website said he and British Prime Minister David Cameron via phone spoke about reports from some Western journalists that Russian APCs crossed into Ukraine near the point where a Russian aid convoy was parked, according to the article, Ukraine: Some Russian military vehicles destroyed. No proof was provided, but the statement said: “The president informed that the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of the machines had been eliminated by Ukrainian artillery at night.” Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s Security Council spokesman, said some Russian military vehicles crossed into Ukraine, a charge Russia denies, but Lysenko provided no specific source for his information. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday the alliance had observed a Russian “incursion” into Ukraine. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and was set to travel to Ukraine on Saturday. After the talks, Putin stated, “we will do all we can to end the military conflict as soon as possible, establish a dialogue between the interested parties and provide humanitarian assistance.” Some Russian Military vehicles seen near the aid convoy Friday carried a Russian acronym that stands for “peacekeeping forces” which means Moscow could consider a possible military escort. Ukraine has warned Russia that an attempt to have a military escort will be seen as an invasion. Ukraine proceeded with its own aid operation in the Luhansk area as trucks from Kharkiv unloaded Friday at warehouses in the town of Starobilsk, which is 60 miles north of Luhansk, where the goods were to be sorted and transported by the Red Cross. Other Ukrainian aid was taken to Lysychansk, which was retaken by Ukrainian forced last month despite sporadic clashes until earlier this week. So far, fighting has claimed 2,100 lives with half of those in the last few weeks and began after Putin annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in April.

Late Thursday, back in he Middle East, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced he will step down and relinquish his post to his nominated replacement, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra report, UN Declares Highest Level Emergency In Iraq As Militants Battle On. Standing alongside senior members of his party, including rival Hider al-Abadi, al-Maliki said he would step aside in favor of his “brother,” in order to “facilitate the political process and government formation.” The United States, the u.N. and political faction in Iraq have backed al-Abadi, saying only a new leader can unite a country under siege by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group. In a televised address, al-Maliki said his decision to support his rival reflect his desire to “safeguard the high interests of the country” adding, “My position is your trust in me, and no position is higher than your trust,” he declared in a televised address. In a statement, national security adviser Susan Rice said the White House commended his efforts for backing al-Abadi and expressed hope that the power shift “can set Iraq on a new path and unite its people” against the threat from Islamic militants. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the move “sets the stage for a historic and peaceful transition of power in Iraq. We urge Mr. Abadi and all Iraqi leaders to move expeditiously to complete this process, which is essential to pulling the country together and consolidating the efforts of Iraq’s many diverse communities against the common threat posed by the Islamic State …” The United Nations also welcomed the change, according to special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, it “demonstrates statesmanship and a commitment to the democratic process and the constitution.” The U.N. Security Council urged al-Abadi to work toward “an inclusive government that represents all segments of the Iraqi population and that contributes to finding a viable and sustainable solution to the country’s current challenges.” Iraqis everywhere welcomed the announcement on Thursday. The extremist Islamic State group has moved across norther and western Iraq displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes since June and last week prompted the U.S. to launch aid operations and airstrikes as the militants threatened religious minorities and the largely automous Kurdish region. The U.N. declared Wednesday the situation in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency” allowing for additional assets to respond to the need o the Displaced, U.N. special representative Nicoklay Mladenov said pointing to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.” The decision followed the news that 45,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority escaped from the remote desert mountaintop where they were encircled by Islamic State fighters. The U.N. said it would provide increased support to the Yazidis and to 400,000 Iraqis who fled since June to the Kurdish province of Dahuk. In total, 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting. French President Francois Hollande Thursday confirmed the “imminent delivery of military equipment” to Kurdish forces via phone call to the new Iraqi president, Fouad Massoum, according to Hollande’s office. On Thursday, according to Robert Burns and Julie Pace, Obama: No Iraq rescue; further airdrops unlikely, President Barack Obama said the humanitarian crisis atop the barren hill in northern Iraq is over thus no U.S. rescue mission is necessary, however, Iraqis elsewhere face dire threats from advancing Islamic army. A U.S. military and civilian team of 16 people spent Wednesday atop Sinjar Mountain to assess the conditions for a possible evacuation, but reported the number trapped to be 4,000 and that U.S. supplied food and water to those in need in recent days totaling 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of water. The U.S.Central Command said late Wednesday four cargo planes dropped 108 bundles of food and water to the remaining people making it the seventh delivery of food and water since the relief operation began last week.

In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak has killed 1,000 and could last another six months, according to Doctors Without Borders said Friday, with the true death toll unknown, Sarah Dilorenzo and John Heilprin report, Aid group: W. Africa Ebola outbreak like ‘wartime’. Tarnue Karbbar, working for the aid group Plan International in northern Liberia, said response teams are unable to document all the cases erupting as many of the sick are still being hidden at home by relatives fearful of going to treatment centers. Others are buried before the team gets to the areas. In the last several days, some 75 cases have emerged in the Voinjama district with Karbbar saying the challenge now is “to quarantine the area to successfully break the transmission.” Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for World Health Organization in Geneva, said the beds are filling up faster than expected demonstrating that the outbreak is more severe than the number shows. Joanne Liu, the medical charity’s international president, likened the situation to war as the outbreak has continued to move unpredictably telling reporters in Geneva Friday: “We’re running behind a train that is going forward. And it literally is faster than what we’re bringing in terms of a response.” The U.N. health agency Thursday warned that the official count at 1,069 dead and 1,975 infected may still “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.” It said extraordinary measures are needed “on a massive scale to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear.” Liberian officials faced a difficult choice Thursday deciding who receives an experimental drug that could be live saving, ineffective or harmful. Jonathan Paye-Layleh and Sarah DiLorenzo report, Nigeria Confirms 1 More Ebola Case, ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the country late Wednesday, however a day later no one has received the treatment yet which official said would go to three people. The Liberian government said two doctors would receive the treatment, while Information Minister Lewis Brown said Thursday the remaining dose would probably go to another health care worker. These are the last known doses of the drug and San Diego based company who developed it said it would take months to build a modest supply. The outbreak has sparked an international debate over the ethics of giving untested drugs to the sick and deciding who gets the treatments, since two Americans and one Spaniard have received ZMapp with the Spaniard dying within days. According to the U.N. health agency, 50 percent of those infected with Ebola have died. Dr. Moses Massaquoi, who helped Libria obtain the drug, said: “The criteria of selection is difficult, but it is going to be done. We are going to look at how critical people are. We are definitely going to be focusing on medical staff.” Arthur Caplan, director of medial ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the choice of who to treat would have to balance helping the largest number of people with learning the most from the treatments. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department ordered families of embassy personnel to leave Sierra Leone on Thursday as concerns arise that the crisis would make it difficult to receive treatment for routine health problems. Nigeria announced Thursday that another person died from Ebola, bringing the total to four. The Health Ministry said the person was a nurse who helped treat the country’s first Ebola case, Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer who flew in last month and died. The ministry corrected the number of cases from 11 to 10.

The Downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 and the Aftermath

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Courtesy of PlaneTalking twitter page showing re-routing of planes to avoid Ukrainian airspace

After the allege attack on a Malaysia Airlines commercial jet flying over Ukraine, international flights are being re-routed from their usual paths to avoid the war torn country. The twitter account PlaneTalking posted the dramatic re-routing in effect, according to Benjamin Hart’s article Flight Radar Shows Planes Avoiding Ukraine In Aftermath Of Malaysia Airlines Crash. The image taken from Flight Radar 24 tracks all planes in the air at a given time with many major airlines announcing their intention to bypass the country. This is the second Boeing 777 in Malaysia Airlines arsenal of planes to meet a disastrous end in less than five months. As Chris Brummitt reports,For Malaysia Airlines, disasters strike twice, the first occurred on March 8 when a Malaysia Airlines jet vanished an hour after take off from Kuala Lumpur causing an international mystery yet to be solved. On Thursday, the airline and the nation faced a new crisis as the same type of plane was reportedly shot down over Ukraine. Ukraine said the plane was brought down by a missile over Eastern Ukraine and further details are just beginning to emerge. Now the struggling airline and nation must grapple with another round of grief, recriminations, international scrutiny and serious legal and diplomatic implications. The Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, commented, “This is a tragic day in what has already been a tragic year for Malaysia.” Flight 370 went off course during a flight to Beijing and is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean far off the Western Australian coast. The search area has changed several times with no signs of the aircraft or the 239 people aboard. On Thursday, the wreckage of a Boeing 777-200ER plane was found in Ukraine after it went down with 283 passengers and 15 crew members. Officials believe that the plane was shot down at 33,000 feet in a region where heavy fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russia separatists has increased in recent days. Additionally, the Prime Minister of Malaysia said, “If it transpires that the plane was indeed shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must swiftly be brought to justice.” No link between the two flights have been found. According to an email, Charles Oman, a lecturer at the department of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said: “Given the military conflict in the region, one has to be concerned that identities could have been mistaken.” The investigation of the downed flight will be extremely sensitive as there will be legal and diplomatic implications depending on who was responsible. The accident will definitely inflict more financial damage on Malaysia Airlines. According to Brummitt, before the March disaster, the airline reported a $370 million loss in 2012 when most airlines were posting a 4.7 percent profit. After the Flight 370 disaster, passengers canceled flights, and even though the airline is insured, it faces uncertainty over payouts to the victims’ families.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine at the wreckage sites, emergency workers, police officers and even off duty coal miners on Friday searched the fields and villages of Eastern Ukraine for wreckage. As Peter Leonard and Dmitry Lovetsky report, Putin urges Ukraine cease-fire after plane attack, the attack on Thursday killed 298 people from a dozen countries including vacationers, students and a large contingent of scientists heading to an AIDS conference in Australia with 189 of the dead from the Netherlands. According to U.S. intelligence authorities, a surface to air missile brought down the plane, but could not say who fired it. The Ukrainian government in Kiev, the separatist pro-Russia rebels and the Russian government accused of supporting the rebels all deny responsibility. After an emergency session, the U.N. Security Council called for a full and thorough investigation by an independent group. On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin called for a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and insist the two sides hold peace talks as soon as possible. Access to the crash site was hard and perilous as the road into Donetsk was marked by five rebel checkpoints on Friday with document checks at each. By midday, 181 bodies had been found, according to local emergency workers. A spokeswoman for Ukraine’s emergency service, Nataliya Bystro, said the rebel militiamen were interfering with the recovery but did not elaborate. It is not known if the separatist rebels had found the black box of the plane or not. Ukraine’s state aviation service closed the airspace Friday over two border regions gripped by separatist fighting, Donetsk and Luhansk, and Russian airlines suspended all flights over Ukraine. In Hrabove, large numbers of sticks made from tree branches affixed with red or whit rags mark where body parts were found. Ukraine Foreign Ministry representative Andriy Sybiga said the bodies will be taken to Kharkiv, a government-controlled city 270 kilometers (170 miles) to the north, for identification, according to Leonard and Lovetsky. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott demanded a thorough independent inquire stating, “The initial response of the Russian ambassador was to blame Ukraine for this and I have to say that is deeply, deeply unsatisfactory. It’s very important that we don’t allow Russia to prevent an absolutely comprehensive investigation so that we can find out exactly what happened here. This is not an accident, it’s a crime.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed Kiev’s accusations that Moscow was behind the attack. Among the passengers was a large group of world renowned AIDS researchers and activists traveling to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia. News of their death sparked an outpouring of grief across the global scientific community. In the Netherlands, flag flew at half staff as residents mourned the victims, while riders at the Tour de France took a minute to observe a moment of silence for victims before starting the day.