Ukraine’s Prime Minister Resigns, While Iraq Elects A President and U.N. Probes Israeli Violence

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On Wednesday, the White House speculated that the downing of two fighter jets in Ukraine was part of a pattern to of Russian backed separatists using Russian weapons to pose risk to aircraft and further destabilize the conflict in the former Soviet republic, according to an Associated Press report, U.S.: Downed Ukraine Jets Part Of Russia Influenced Pattern. The two jets were shot down 20 miles away from the Malaysian Airlines crash site meaning that separatist are undeterred by the international outrage of the disaster last week that killed 298 people. White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes on Wednesday explained, “The only aircraft they’re not taking responsibility for is MH-17. But I don’t think anybody believes that. How could anybody believe anything that the separatists or Russia says about this when we see a clear pattern of threatening Ukrainian aircraft in eastern Ukraine?” Rhodes added that the U.S. was weighing tougher sanctions against Russia if they continue to arm the separatists even before the European Union deepens its own sanctions against Russia. The U.S. has sought to coordinated their efforts with the EU on tougher sanctions, however the E.U. has been reluctant to do so since many European leaders fear their strong trade ties with Russia could make their own economies vulnerable to fallout. The U.S. this week has sought to present more specific evidence tying the separatists to the shooting down of the passenger jet MH17 citing intercepts, satellite photos and social media postings by separatists. However, officials have yet to find direct evidence that the missiles used came from Russia or that they were directly involved. Rhodes. “Do we know who pulled the trigger? No, that’s the hardest thing to determine. But when you add up the different pieces of evidence, they’re telling one story here,” Rhodes said.

While many mysteries are yet to be solved regarding MH17, on Thursday, Ukrainian Prime Minster Arseniy Yatsenyuk resigned opening the door for a new elections that would reflect the country’s changed political scene after the ousting of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, according to David McHugh’s article Ukraine’s Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk Resigns. Yatsenyuk, supporter of stronger ties with Europe and a key participant in the protests that toppled Yanukovych, made the announcement from the dais of Parliament after two parties pulled out of the governing coalition, McHugh reports. He said Parliament could no longer do their work and pass necessary laws. Poroshenko’s call for political renewal implies that the resignation and new elections may be the result of planning and political maneuvering. Yatsenyuk took over five months ago backed by a coalition of pro-European parties following the ousting of Yanukovych by months of street protests. In addition, the protest began because the former president refused to sign a trade deal with the European Union but grew from their to include wider grievances such as suppression of protestors with riot police, corruption and lack of progress in modernizing the economy. Balazs Jarabik, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, explains, “I think this is a fully expected and planned development. The president and the government coalition looked for ways to clear the legal way for an early election, as they are under a lot of pressure from Maidan and the public.” The president can dismiss Parliament, which at one time was dominated by Yanukovych supporters in the pro-Russian Party of Regions, if no new government is formed in 30 days. The government faces tensions with Russia who sees Yanukovych’s ouster a coup, seized Ukraine’s Crimea region and cut off gas supplies in a price dispute. The nationalist Svoboda party and the Udar party pulled out of the coalition, who according to Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov was suppose to propose a candidate for temporary prime minister until the parliamentary election could be held.

While Ukraine struggles to keep the government running, Iraq named a new president on Thursday hours after an attack on a prison convoy that killed dozens of people, Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Sinan Salaheddin report, Iraq: Kurdish politician Massoum named president. Kurdish politician Fouad Massoum, 76, accepted the position after winning two thirds votes and noting the “huge security, political and economic tasks” facing the government. Last month, the Islamic State extremist group captured Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and continues to advance plunging the country into the worst crisis since the U.S. withdrew in 2011 and inflamed existing tensions between sectarian and political rivals. Hours before, militants fired at a Taji military base where detainees were facing terrorism charges causing the facility to be evacuated by authorities, according to officials. However, militants attacked the bus with roadside bombs igniting a gun battle that killed 52 prisoners and eight soldiers while wounding seven prisoners and eight soldiers. Massoum is considered a soft spoken moderate and has kept good relations with Sunni and Shiite Arab politicians. The next step for the new president is to select a candidate for prime minster to try to form the new government. Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki’s bloc won the most seats in the April Elect, but his critics want him to step aside accusing him of monopolizing power and alienating the Sunni and Kurdish minorities adding to the tension. However, Al-Maliki vows to remain at his post he has held since 2006. On Thursday, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon arrived in Baghdad. At a press conference with al-Maliki, Ban said Iraq is facing an “existential threat” and could overcome it if it forms a “thoroughly inclusive government.” Dating back to thew 2003 U.S. led invasion, an unofficial agreement said the presidency is held by a Kurd, the prime minister is Shiite and the parliament speaker is Sunni. Al-Mailiki responded: “Despite the fact that we have problems…we are moving at a confident pace to implement the mechanisms of the democratic work.” More than a million Iraqis have been displaced this year with many fleeing the violence, the U.N. said. Ban offered continued U.N. support to the refugees fleeing the violence and condemned the persecution of religious and ethnic minority groups by jihadi militants in Mosul and elsewhere in Iraq.

Meanwhile, Israel continued its ground offensive on Thursday hitting a compound housing a U.N. school in the Gaza Strip killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens seeking shelter from the clashes on the street, Palestinian official said. Kamel al-Kafarne, who was at the school, said the U.N. was putting people on the buses when three tank shell hit, Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav report, UN school caught in Gaza cross-fire; 15 killed. Israeli military said it was looking into the incident and said Hamas rockets are possibly to blame but offered no proof. It was the fourth time a U.N. facility has been hit in fighting between Israel and Palestinian militant in Gaza since July 8. According to military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, “We can’t confirm that this is a result of errant fire. In any case, we do not target U.N. facilities.” Lerner said the U.N. and Red Cross were told to evacuate the school three days ago, which is what they were doing at the time the shells hit. The delay came as the U.N. waited for a response from the Israeli military on if a lull in fighting would take place and never heard back, U.N. Refugee Agency Spokesman Chris Gunness explained. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, during a visit to Iraq, said: “Today’s attack underscores the imperative for the killing to stop – and to stop now.” Dozens have been killed in a day of heavy fighting in Gaza raising the death toll to 788 Palestinian, 32 Israeli soldiers and three civilian, two Israeli and one Thai worker. With growing casualties on both sides, the international community has increase diplomatic efforts to broker a ceasefire. State Department spokesman Jen Psaki on Thursday said Thursday’s attack on the U.N. school “underscores the need to end the violence and to achieve a sustainable cease-fire and enduring resolution to the crisis in Gaza as soon as possible. We call on all parties to protect these facilities from the conflict and we have condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza.” British Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond called for Hamas to agree to a humanitarian ceasefire so Israel and Palestinian authority could come together for talks. After a meeting with Hammond, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We started this operation to return peace and quiet to Israel… And we shall return it.”

With the battle continuing and no end in site, the international community has stepped up their efforts to find a resolution amid possible warm crime charges levied against both Hamas and Israel. On Wednesday, the Unite Nations launched an international inquiry into human rights violations and crims committed by Israel during its military offensive in Gaza, according to Stephanie Nebehay and Tom Miles, UN Launches Probe Into Israeli Violations In Gaza. The U.N. Human Rights Council condemned the Israeli assault which it said is full of “disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks” that include aerial bombing of civilian areas, collective punishment, and the killing of more than 650 Palestinians. At the end of the emergency session, requested by the Palestinians, Egypt and Pakistan, the 47 member forum adopted a resolution presented by Palestinians by a vote of 29 states in favor, 1 against (the United States) with 17 abstentions including all nine European Union members. Ibbrahim Khraishi, ambassador of the Palestinian observer mission to the U.N. in Geneva, said: “We came here to try to achieve together with you at least minimum justice for children who are being dismembered, for women whose bodies are lying in the streets, to find some justice for those who are being exterminated.” Israel and its ally the United States reject the probe calling it a one sided and counterproductive amid efforts to reach a ceasefire, according to Nebehay and Miles. Before the vote, Israel ambassador Eviator Manor told the forum: “Why does this Council believe that naming and shaming Israel will get it anywhere? Throughout the entire escalation of events, Israel has always acted with maximum restraint, fully committed to international law in general and the laws of armed conflict. Hamas is the aggressor. Hamas is the one committing war crimes … Open your eyes to reality.” In another article published on AOL, Palestinians In Gaza Denounce Israel For Saying It Warns Civilians Before Strikes, many Palestinian civilian and survivors of Israeli airstrikes caught in the crossfire mock and criticize Israel’s insistence that it tries to avoid killing civilians. Instead, they believe civilians are being targeted as a collective form of punishment with strikes recently hitting hospitals, a center for the disabled, and even a school run by UNRWA, the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees. In many of these strikes like the attack that killed 25 members of four households in southern Gaza, there are few survivors if any at all. In addition, Palestinians said they haven’t received warning when the Israeli military hits vehicles in what are often targeted assassinations, the article reports.

Conflicts Intensify Around the World

As Huff Post’s Catherine Taibi put it: “Covering the violent scene in Gaza has proven difficult for even the most season reporter.” The above video shows Al Jazeera’s Gaza correspondent Wael Al-Dahdouh walked off camera on Sunday during a report on the dozens of people killed and thousands of Shijaiyah residents fleeing their home while Israeli aircraft bombed the area. Taibi reports in her article Al Jazeera Reporter Breaks Down On The Air In Gaza that Al-Dahdouh is an award winning journalist who has covered the conflicts in his hometown for years, but could not hide his emotions while reporting on the 87 Palestinians killed on Sunday.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made another trip to the Middle East hoping to jump start a deal for a renewed ceasefire between Israel and Hamas following a weekend where the civilian death toll increased dramatically, Lara Jakes reports Kerry returns to Mideast to push for cease-fire. Kerry left for Cairo on Monday from Washington to join dimplomatic efforts to resume a truce that was agreed upon in November 2012. The goal is to urge Hamas to accept the ceasefire agreement offered by Egypt halting the two weeks of fighting which has resulted in 430 Palestinians and 20 Israelis being killed. The Obama administration and Kerry have criticized Hamas for its rocket attacks on Israel and other provocations such as tunneling under the border. In addition, it has also back peddled on its earlier criticisms of Israel for attacks on Gaza that resulted in civilian and child deaths. On Sunday night, the State Department confirmed that two Americans, Max Steinberg of California and Nissim Carmeli of Texas, who fought for Israel were killed in fighting in Gaza. While on Sunday talk shows, Kerry said Hamas needs to take their own responsibility for the conflict, telling ABC’s “This Week”: “It’s ugly. War is ugly, and bad things are going to happen.” Both Obama and Kerry said Israel has a right to defend itself from rocket attacks by Hamas, while Kerry accused Hamas of attempting to kidnap and sedate Israelis through a network of tunnels. On CNN’s “State of the Union”, Kerry said that Hams must “step up and show a level of reasonableness, and they need to accept the offer of a cease-fire.” The two week conflict has escalated in recent days as U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon continues to try and revive ceasefire efforts in the region. Obama via phone Sunday told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Kerry was coming to the Mideast and condemned Hamas’ attacks, according to a White House statement. The U.N. relief agency in Gaza estimates 70,000 Palestinians have fled from the fighting and seeking shelter in schools and other shelters the U.N. has set up. According to Jakes: “The prime minister said his top goal is to restore a sustainable peace, but he then will ask the international community to consider demilitarizing Gaza to rid Hamas of its rockets and shut down the tunnels leading into Israel.”

On Monday, the death toll among Palestinians reached 508 with the bloodiest day of fighting so far in the two week campaign, according to Gaza heath officials, while diplomats continue to try to reach a ceasefire deal. Karin Laub and Peter Enav report, Palestinian death toll in Gaza fighting at 508, that the U.N. Security Council has expressed serious concern about the increase in civilian deaths and demanded an immediate end to fighting following the emergency session in New York. Meanwhile, Israeli military foiled a Hamas infiltration attempt Monday through two tunnels into southern Israel from northern Gaza. The military said 10 infiltrators were killed after being detected and targeted by Israel aircraft, Laub and Enav report. On Sunday, the first major ground battle killed 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and caused thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes in an area where alleged rocket launches took place and now devastated by fighting. The 13 Israeli soldiers died in clashed with militants in Shiyajiah, a Gaza City neighborhood, bring the Israeli death toll to 20. Among all the carnage, the Associated Press reports that Israeli tank shells struck a hospital in Gaza on Monday killing four people and wounding 60 according to Palestinian officials. Despite the new diplomatic efforts to renew a ceasefire, Israel continues to attack targets in the densely populated coastal strip by air and tanks, while Hamas fires more rockets and utilizes its network of tunnels under the border. A dozen shells hit the Al Aqsa hospital in the town of Deir el-Balah on Monday hitting the administrative building, the intensive care unit and the surgery department. A doctor at the hospital, Fayez Zidane, told Al Aqsa TV station that shells hit the third and fourth floor and the reception area. The Israeli military said it was looking into it. On Monday, one family member Sabri Abu Jamea, who witness their home in Khan Younis be destroyed by one airstrike burying 25 people including 24 from the same family, said: “Twenty-five people! Doesn’t this indicate that Israel is ruthless? Are we the liars? The evidence is here in the morgue refrigerators. The evidence is in the refrigerators.” Hamas fired 50 more rockets into Israel with two pointed at Tel Aviv, but caused no injuries or damage. Addressing a parliamentary committee, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said: “If needed we will recruit more reservists in order to continue the operation as long as necessary until the completion of the task and the return of the quiet in the whole of Israel especially from the threat of the Gaza Strip.”

While Israel and Hamas continue to fight it seems an un-winnable battle, Ukraine and the rest of the world try to piece together the tragedy of Malaysian Flight 17. On Monday, a refrigerated train carrying the victims of flight 17 finally left a rebel held town in Eastern Ukraine, according to Dmitry Lovetsky and David McHugh Hrabove, Train with plane crash bodies leaves rebel town. Hours earlier, Dutch experts called for a full forensic sweep of the Flight 17 crash site telling the armed separatists controlling the area that the train needs to leave as soon as possible. It has been four days since the Boeing 777 was shot down killing 298 people. The U.S., Ukraine and others have accused Moscow of supplying rebels with the arms used to shoot down the plan. Russia has denied the allegations. In Washington, President Barack Obama insisted that international investigators be given full access to the crash site and accused the separatists of removing evidence and blocking investigators. Obama asked, “What exactly are they trying to hide?” This came after the U.S. presented evidence that the rebels shot down the plane with a Russian surface to air missile. At the U.N. in New York, the Security Council voted Monday on an Australia proposed resolution demanding access to the site and a ceasefire in the area. According to the article, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said a veto vote from Russia would be viewed very badly adding that no reasonable person could object. Fighting continued between separatists and government troops in Donetsk about 30 miles west of the crash site on Monday near the town’s airport, according to city authorities. After the bodies left Torez, two military jets flew overhead and black smoke could be seen rising in the distance. The Netherlands are concerned about the bodies since 192 of the victims were Dutch. Dutch Prime Minster Mark Rutte said Monday that repatriating the bodies was his no.1 priority. Meanwhile, workers recovered 21 bodies from the site bring the total to 272 bodies found, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk confirmed. At the Torez station, the Dutch investigators stood for a moment with their heads bowed and hands clasped before climbing aboard to inspect. In Kharkiv, another team of international experts arrived including three Australians, 23 Dutch, two Germans, two Americans and one person from the U.K. In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s prime minister said the rebels will hand over both black boxes from Flight 17 to Malaysian investigators in Ukraine late Monday. Putin criticized the Ukrainian government in Kiev, saying: “If fighting in eastern Ukraine had not been renewed on June 28, this tragedy would not have happened. Nobody should or does have a right to use this tragedy for such mercenary objectives.” To counter the U.S. claims, Russian officials offered evidence that proves Ukrainian surface to air systems were operating in the area before the crash. In addition, they also had evidence that a Ukrainian Su-25 fighter jet flew between 2 to 3 miles from the Malaysia Airlines jet.

While fighting continues to escalate in the previously mentioned conflicts, some decades long battles seem to be flaring up again. Officials on Monday confirmed that attack overnight in two Iraqi cities killed at least 16 people as authorities struggle to stop a Sunni offensive that has taken large areas of northern and western Iraq. As Sinan Salaheddin reports, Overnight attacks in Iraq kill at least 16 people, one attack on a Shiite neighborhood in Mahmoudiya on Sunday night left 11 civilians dead and 31 wounded according to police. In Bagdad’s western suburb of Abu Ghraib, a roadside bomb struck an army patrol killing two soldiers and three volunteer soldiers while wounding eight people. In January, al-Qaida breakaway, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, seized control of Fallujah and parts of Ramadi. In June, the Islamic State launched a massive blitz offensive that ended with the group controlling large parts of northern and western Iraq. On Friday, the U.S. mission in Iraq said at least 5,576 civilians have died and another 11,665 were wounded in the first six months of the year with 1.2 million people uprooted due to violence. According to the U.N., the civilian deaths so far this year are a dramatic increase from the previous year with 7,800 civilian deaths. Meanwhile, a suicide bomber targeted a police convoy in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province Monday killing two people, one civilian and one police, according to a local official. The Associate Press reports, Afghan official: Suicide bombing kills 2 in south, the attack happened in Lashkar Gah wounding an additional 15 people including eight policemen and seven civilians according to Omar Zwak, the spokesman for the provincial governor. No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Taliban frequently used roadside bombs and suicide attacks against Afghan and NATO forces and government offices in their country. Last month, hundreds of Taliban insurgents attacked several Afghan security checkpoints in Sangin district of Helmand killing more than 100 people and displacing dozens from their homes in a week long intensive battle. The government in response deployed 2,000 reinforcements there. The attacks and fighting are continually testing the Afghan government’s ability to maintain security in the volatile areas after foreign combat troops leave at the end of this year.

Probe Begins into Malaysian Flight MH17 As International Outcry Intensifies

Malaysia flight MH17 Ukraine flight path

Courtesy of Flight Radar 24

On Friday, world leaders demanded that pro-Russia rebels controlling the eastern Ukraine crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 give complete access to independent investigators to determine who shot down the flight, according to Peter Leonard and Dimitry Lovetsky, Malaysia Airlines Plane Crash: Rescue Workers Comb Through Debris Searching For Clues. At a U.N. Security Council emergency meeting, the U.S. blamed separatists saying Washington believes an SA 11 missile shot down the plane carrying 298 people including 80 children, however, “we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel.” In addition, the White House and the Kremlin called for peace talks between Ukrainian government forces and Russian speaking separatists. Heavy fighting 60 miles from the crash site was reported with 20 civilians killed. Emergency workers and local coal miners recover bodies from grasslands and sunflower fields where the Boeing 777 wreckage fell Thursday. According to the article, 30 officials from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe mostly, arrived at the crash site between Rozsypne and Hrabove, 25 miles from the Russian border. The rebels only allowed a superficial inspection of the wreckage before ordering the delegation to leave even firing a warning shot in the air. President Barack Obama called it “a global tragedy” adding: “An Asian airliner was destroyed in European skies filled with citizens from many countries, so there has to be a credible international investigation into what happened. In Kiev, Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniv Yatsenyuk called for an international investigation saying: “We ask all respective governments … to support the Ukrainian government to bring to justice all these bastards who committed this international crime.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed allegations that Moscow could be behind the attack. According to U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, at the Security Council meeting, said early Thursday a journalist saw an SA-11 system known as a Buk missile system in Russia in separatist-controlled territory near Snizhne, “and separatists were spotted hours before the incident with an SA-11 SAM system close to the site where the plane came down.” She added, “Separatists initially claimed responsibility for shooting down a military transport plane, and claimed responsibility and posted videos that are now being connected to the Malaysian Airlines crash. Separatist leaders also boasted on social media about shooting down a plane, but later deleted these messages. Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel. Thus, we cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems.”

Meanwhile, according to Leonard and Lovetsky, the entire Security Council called for “a full, thorough and independent international investigation, in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines, and for appropriate accountability” and the need for “immediate access by investigators to the crash site to determine the cause of the incident.” In agreement that an investigation was critical, Obama added: “The eyes of the world are on eastern Ukraine, and we are going to make sure that the truth is out.” On Saturday, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, in agreement, said: “Australia takes a very dim view of countries which facilitate the killing of Australians.” On Thursday, Putin blamed Ukraine for the crash saying Kiev caused the unrest in its Russian speaking eastern regions, but stop short of accusing Ukraine of showing down the plane. Ukraine’s state aviation service closed airspace on Friday over two border regions where separatist fighting was ongoing, Donetsk and Luhansk, while Russian airlines suspended all flights over Ukraine. There was uncertainty over whether Flight17’s data and cockpit voice recorders had been recovered. Meanwhile Ukraine’s government said it has already prepared for the bodies to be taken to Kharkiv, 190 miles north of the crash site, however Andrei Purgin, leader of the separatists, said they would go to government controlled Mariupol.

At the crash site, internationals monitors moved through fields on Saturday trying to secure the site in hopes that a credible investigation of the disaster can be done, Peter Leonard and Evgeniy Maloletka report,  Monitors try to secure Ukraine plane crash site. Doubts about the investigation’s credibility have arisen as claims by the government in Kiev allege militiamen have removed 38 bodies from the site and taken them to rebel held Donetsk. The Ukrainian government said on Saturday that rebels are “seeking large transports to carry away plane fragments to Russia.” However, separatists leader Alexander Borodai in Donetsk denies any bodies have been taken or the rebels had interfered with the work of observers. Treatment of the victims’ remains, which have been left in the open air under the hot summer sun with intermittent rainfall, has provoked outrage and distress. Dutch Foreign Minster Frans Timmermans told the Ukrainian president in Kiev: “The news we got today of the bodies being dragged around, of the site not being treated properly, has really created a shock in the Netherlands. People are angry, are furious at what they hear. Once we have the proof, we will not stop until the people are brought to justice.” According to German government spokesman Georg Streiter and the Kremlin, both Merkel and Putin agreed on Saturday that an independent international commission with the International Civil Action Organization should be given swift access to the crash site. Additionally, the commission should examine the circumstances of the crash and recover the victims. In the Netherlands, forensic teams across the country Saturday fanned out to collect material including DNA to positively identify the remains of the 192 Dutch victims. Police said that 40 pairs of detectives from the National Forensic Investigations Team will visit victims’ relatives over the coming days. John Goglia, a U.S. aviation safety expert and former National Transportation Safety Board member, said the most useful evidence will be missile pieces if found in the debris trail that came down when the plane exploded. Meanwhile on Saturday, Malaysia Airlines said it had no plans to fly victims’ relatives to the crash site due to safety concerns. A spokesman said the next of kin are being cared for in Amsterdam while a team from the carrier including security officials were in Ukraine accessing the situation. In the Netherlands, travelers out of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport laid flowers and signed a condolence book before boarding their flights Saturday including the latest Malaysia Flight 17 to Kuala Lumpur.