Flight 17 Possible War Crimes Amid Intensified Fighting in Ukraine, While Israel Strains Its Relationships with Allies

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Officials on Monday in Eastern Ukraine said at least eight civilians have been killed by fighting and shelling in two Ukrainian cities held by pro-Russian militants. Peter Leonard reports, Death toll mounts as clashes intensify in Ukraine, authorities in Luhansk that five people were killed and 15 injured by artillery strikes overnight, while three were killed in Donetsk as a result of clashes, according to the city’s government. The territory between the cities has seen intense fighting as government troops try to regain control of the area where a Malaysia Airlines plane was show down earlier this month. On Monday morning, Dutch and Australian police set off fir the crash site in a convoy of 20 cars to secure the areas so investigations can continue and recover bodies. Both sides have accused each other regarding the rising civilian death toll, while the armed conflict has displaced more than 200,000 people over more than three months. Rebels accuse government troops of deploying artillery against residential areas, meanwhile authorities complain insurgents use apartment blocks as firing positions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is expecting OSCE observers to arrive at the Russian Ukrainian border in the coming days and prove that rebels traveling freely into Ukraine from Russia is false. Ukrainian officials said the mission is largely pointless since only two dozen observers monitor the 1,240 mile border between the two countries.

The fighting in Eastern Ukraine, while serious and concerning, has taken a back burner to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site and the possibility, according to U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, of war crime charges. John Heilprin reports, UN rights chief: Flight 17 possible war crime, Pillay, the U.N’s top human right official, wants a thorough investigation into the violation of international law when the flight was shot down with a surface to air missile over a part of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian separatist on July 17 that killed all 298 on board. At the same time, a new report by her office says that at least 1,129 people have been killed and 3,442 wounded in Ukraine’s fighting as of Saturday and more than 100,000 have fled the violence since April. She said, “This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime. It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event.” Fighting over the weekend prevented the Dutch and Australian police officers from visiting the crash site to search for bodies and evidence. The report by the U.N.’steam of 39 field monitors in Ukraine says there has been an alarming buildup of heavy weaponry in civilians areas of Donetsk and Luhansk. The report says an attack could amount to violations of international humanitarian law. Gianni Magazzeni, head of the U.N. office’s branch that oversees Ukraine, told reporters in Geneva: “There is an increase in the use of heavy weaponry in areas that are basically surrounded by public buildings. All international law needs to be applied and fully respected.” Peter Leonard reports, Police team turns back from Ukraine crash site, Ukraine accused rebels of tampering with evidence at the crash site and are trying to cover up their role in bringing the Malaysia Airlines jet down with anti-aircraft missile. On Monday, Ukrainian security spokesman that data recovered from the flight recorders shows the plane crashed due to a massive, explosive loss of pressure after being punctured multiple times by shrapnel. The data recorders were sent to experts in Britain for examination, while Russia and Ukraine trade accusations and the death toll rises.

While tensions rises between Ukraine and Russia, Israel continues to strain its relationships with the rest of the world especially the United States as it tries to mediate an end to the three week old war in Gaza. On Monday, as tensions rise between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and Washington over U.S. mediation of the situation, an Israeli official was quotes as saying Israel sees no need for another Gaza ceasefire, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams report U.S. – Israeli Tensions Rise Over Gaza Conflict. Fighting has quieted over the weekend as Hamas endorsed a U.N. call for a 24 halt ahead of Monday’s Eid al-Fitr festival. However, Israel abandoned an offer to extend a 12 hour truce from Saturday after Palestinian rocket launched persisted. In the early hours of Monday, Netanyahu’s security cabinet met to debate whether to escalate the Gaza offensive that has killed 1,100 people. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited last week to try and halt the violence with assistance from contacts with Hamas facilitated by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. U.S. President Barack Obama via phone on Sunday talked with Netanyahu about Israel holding fire unconditionally and appeared to link its core demand to disarm Hamas and destroy infiltration tunnels to a peace accord with the Palestinians that is nowhere on the diplomatic horizon. The White said: “The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.” Israel radio quoted an unidentified government official saying: “There is no need for any more ceasefires. Let Hamas stop firing first.” On Sunday, Netanyahu told CNN: “I think you can’t get social and economic relief for the people of Gaza without having an assured demilitarization.” A poll published by Israel’s Channel 10 on Sunday said 87 percent of respondents wanted Israel to continue until Hamas was toppled, while another poll, published in the Jerusalem Post found 86.5 percent of Israel’s majority Jews oppose calling a truce while rocket fire continues and Gaza retains any cross border tunnels. On Monday, Karin Laub and Tia Goldenberg report, Strike hits Gaza park, killing at least 10, a strike on a Gaza park killed 10 people including nine being children as Israeli and Palestinian authorities blamed each other over the attack and fighting in the Gaza war raging on despite a major Muslim holiday. The United Nations called for an immediate ceasefire in fighting that has killed 1,040 Palestinians, 43 Israeli soldiers and three civilians on the Israeli side. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, according to his office, in which Netanyahu voiced his dismay at the announcement saying: “It does not include a response to Israel’s security needs and the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip.”

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.