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.”

More Controvery Surrounding Malaysian Flight MH17

Ukrainian officials and monitors on Sunday reported that armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines site then loaded them onto refrigerated train cars bound for a rebel held city, according to Yuras Karmanau, Plane crash bodies put on train for rebel city. This development Sunday morning came in response to international outrage over how the bodies of the victims were being handled among fears that the rebels controlling the territory were tampering with evidence. Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface to air missile Thursday that downed the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine killing 283 passengers and 15 crew. In addition, Ukraine accuses Russia of supplying the rebels with sophisticated arms which Moscow denies. The rebels have limited the movement of monitors and journalists at the site near the Russian border and Ukraine’s Emergency Ministry claims its workers were laboring under duress, overseen by the armed rebels. On Saturday, an AP journalist saw bodies baking in the heat and piled into body bags by the road or still laid out where they landed in the field. By Sunday though, no bodies and no armed rebels were at the site with emergency workers searching for body parts. Nataliya Khuruzhaya, a deputy officer at the train station in Torez, 9 miles away, said she saw emergency workers loading bodies into five sealed refrigerated train cars on Sunday morning. She added that the train was scheduled to go to Ilovaysk, 22 miles further east toward Russian border, but no further instructions were given. Russian news agencies said the bodies were going to Donetsk a rebel stronghold, while Ukrainian officials expect the bodies to be taken to the government held city of Kharkiv. The deputy governor of Kharkiv, where the government set up a crisis center, said the Ukrainian state railway company provided the refrigerated train cars. Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for monitors for the Organization fro Security and Cooperation in Europe,  told reporters in Kiev via phone from the site: “We’re looking at the field where the engines have come down. This was the area which was exposed to the most intense heat. We do not see any bodies here. It appears that some have been vaporized.”As far as the 102 other bodies, officials have yet to locate these bodies. The latest U.S. intelligence assessment suggests that more than one missile system was given to separatists by Russia in the last week or so, but both Russia and the rebels deny the allegations. In the Sunday Times, British Prime Minster David Cameron called the attack a “direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them. We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action…For too long, there has been a reluctance on the part of too many European countries to face up to the implications of what is happening in eastern Ukraine.” Despite calls from world leaders for an independent international investigation, armed separatist limited access to the crash site for the first few days. Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told the Ukrainian president in Kiev Saturday: “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.” Both Putin and Merkel agreed via phone on Saturday that an independent commission led by the International Civil Action Organization should be given full access to the site.

While the crash site reports seems to be an area of confusion, on Sunday, rebel leaders announced that rebels had recovered black boxes from the downed plan and will hand them over to   the International Civil Aviation Organization. Karmanau reports, Rebels to give MH17 black boxes to aviation group, Alexander Borodai confirmed that the bodies recovered from the site would remain in refrigerated cars at the Torez station until the international aviation delegation arrives. It is unclear if rebels and the Ukrainian government are working together or were at odds with each other on recovering the bodies. Borodai said he expects a team of Malaysian experts and was disappoint about how long they have taken to arrive insisting rebels are not interfering with the crash investigation despite reports. According to Kurmanau’s article: “The U.S. embassy in Kiev issued a strong statement Sunday pointing to Russian complicity in arming the rebels, saying it has concluded ‘that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.’ It said over the weekend of July 12-13, ‘Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles, including tanks armored personnel carriers artillery, and multiple rockets launchers’ to the separatists. The statement also said Russia was training separatist fighters in southwest Russia, including on air defense systems.” Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines will retire the flight number of the plane shot down over Ukraine announcing in a statement Sunday that beginning Friday MH17 will no longer be used for it Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flights “out of respect for our crew and passengers” and replaced with MH19.