While the U.S. Senate Clears the Way for Homeland Security Funding and as the World Continues to Struggle with ISIS, Ukraine and Russia Continue to Struggle with Another Ceasefire

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Reuters reported on Thursday that the Senate moved Wednesday to advert a shutdown of U.S. domestic security agency this weekend by voting to clear the way for funding a funding bill that does not include the immigration issue. The vote came shortly after an appeal from the current and two former Security secretaries appealed to Congress to avoid the shutdown and give full funding for the department of Homeland Security this year. The final hurdle for passage will fall to the conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives who still oppose the bill and procedural negotiations that could delay the final vote beyond Friday’s funding deadline for the department. The agency set up after 9/11 coordinates domestic efforts to combat security threats like the recent Somali based Islamic militants against U.S. shopping malls and encompasses the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration as well as border, immigration and several other federal agencies. The original bill would of funded the agency with $39.7 billion until Republicans against Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive order lifted deportation threats of undocumented immigrants got in the way causing Republicans to approve the bill adding a provision to ban spending on the order. This in turn caused a deadlock that lasted weeks between Republicans and Democrats leading up to Wednesday’s vote. The 98-2 vote cleared the way to take out the House’s immigration provisions and leave the vote on immigration orders for a later date under the plan designed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to end the deadlock. The overwhelming bipartisan support for McConnell’s approach means there is strong support for drama free funding for Homeland Security. Democrats have called for a clean Homeland bill all along without any immigration restrictions as Obama had threatened to veto the House passed measure. House Speaker John Boehner declined to tell Reuters if he would put the bill to a House vote even thought the deadline ends at midnight Friday. If no deal is reached, then Homeland Security would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees or 15 percent of its workforce. This translate to many of the essential personnel such as airport and border security agents would have to wait to be paid until new funding is approved. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and some of his predecessors pleaded at a news conference for Congress to swiftly pass the funding bill. A cut-off in funds also would suspend grants to states to support local counter-terrorism activities.

As security issues at home become increasingly worrisome, the White House has said President Barack Obama would be open to negotiating with Congress for new authorization for military force against Islamic State militants including a three year limit on U.S. military action and use of American troops, according to the AP’s Nedra Pickler, Obama open to changes to military authority against IS. After a weeklong holiday break, lawmakers returned to Washington Monday and have started to consider the proposal with some Republicans saying it is too restrictive for the mission to succeed and some Democrats wanting more limitations on Obama’s authority so the U.S. doesn’t sign on for another open ended war. Obama is open to discussing every aspect of his proposal but firmly opposed to any geographic restriction on where the U.S. military pursues ISIS with strongholds in Iraq and Syria but have been operating across international boundaries. White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated, “I’m not at all going to be surprised if there are members of Congress who take a look at this legislation and decide, ‘Well, I think there are some things that we should tweak here, and if we do, we might be able to build some more support for. So I think it is fair for you to assume that this reflects a starting point in conversations.” Obama argues he doesn’t need new authority to legally pursue the militant group as he has been launching strikes based on authorizations given to President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. However, critics say Obama’s use of this authority is a stretch and the White House has taken a new position making it clear it doesn’t see reliance on this authorization as ideal. Once new authority is signed into law, the White House says Obama will mot longer rely on the 2001 approved authority to purse the group and rely solely on the new powers. The White House added that Congress could make that clear in the new authorization. The change also prevents any future president from interpreting the law the way Obama has since last year. On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced the arrest of three men accused of planning or supporting ISIS in Syria, AP’s Deepti Hajela reports, Feds: 3 accused in Islamic State plot vocal about beliefs. Two men are charged with plotting to help the Islamic State group as evident by both online and personal conversations about their commitment and desire to join the extremists, federal authorities reported. Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, was arrested at Kennedy Airport, where he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul, with plans to head to Syria, authorities said. Another man, 24-year-old Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, had a ticket to travel to Istanbul next month and was arrested in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said. The two were held without bail after a brief court appearance. A third defendant, Abror Habibov, 30, is accused of helping fund Saidakhmetov’s efforts. He was ordered held without bail in Florida. If convicted, each faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton said this was the first public case in New York involving possible fighters going to the Islamic State, but he hinted at other ongoing investigations. According to the federal complaint, Saidakhmetov said he intended to shoot police officers and FBI agents if his plan to join the IS group in Syria was thwarted. Loretta Lynch, who is Obama’s choice to be U.S. attorney general, said “The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies.” The Islamic State group largely consists of Sunni militants from Iraq and Syria but has also drawn fighters from across the Muslim world and Europe.

While the U.S. fights to thwart and contain the Islamic State, the rest of the world has not been so lucky in keeping ISIS as bay. On Tuesday, AP’s Zeina Karam reported, Dozens of Christians abducted by Islamic militants in Syria, the Islamic State militants before dawn raided homes in a cluster of villages along the Khabur River in northeastern Syria abducting at least 70 Christians as thousands fled to safer areas. The captives’, mostly women and children, fate was unclear Tuesday as relatives said mobile phone service was cut off and land lines were not working and heavy fighting in the area was reported. The Islamic State group has a history of killing captives, including foreign journalists, Syrian soldiers and Kurdish militiamen. Most recently, militants in Libya affiliated with the extremist group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. While the U.S. and coalition of regional partners conduct airstrikes against the group, the group has repeatedly targeted religious minorities since taking a third of both Syria and Iraq. The British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights working with a network of activist in Syria have reported the number of Christians held by the group at 90. The extremists could use the Assyrian captives to try to arrange a prisoner swap with the Kurdish militias it is battling in northeastern Syria. Hassakeh province, where a majority of the captives come from, is strategically important due to sharing a border with Turkey and areas controlled by IS in Iraq. Kurdish militiamen from the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, backed by the coalition airstrikes, have made advances in the province in a new offensive launched this week. Heavy fighting broke out in the province Monday as Kurdish fighters and IS militants battled for control of villages near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. The Kurds have been one of the most effective foes of IS, a reputation they burnished in recent months by repelling an assault by the extremists on the town of Kobani on the Turkish border. The coalition carried out hundreds of airstrikes that helped the Kurds break the siege in January.

As the world tries to get a grip on the seemingly phantom group called ISIS, the ongoing ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia seems once again to have fallen apart as fighting continues to rage and Russia refuses to loosen its grip on Ukraine. On Wednesday, AP reported Russian courts refused to release Ukrainian prisoners whose fate has attracted global attention as Moscow’s City Court turned down an appeal by Nadezhda Savchenko’s lawyers leaving her to remain behind bars pending an investigation, according to the article, Russian court refuses to release Ukrainian prisoner. Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in June and put in custody in Russia, is awaiting trial on charges of involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. She denies the accusations. Russia claims Savchenko voluntarily crossed the border into Russia before she was detained, but she said she was dragged across the border into the Russian custody. Savchenko has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 13 demanding her release, and her lawyers on Wednesday voiced concern about her condition. More than 11,000 people including prominent cultural figures have petitioned Russian President Vladimir Putin urging Savchenko’s release. Even while in jail, Savchenko was elected to the Ukrainian parliament and named a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The European Union and the United States have urged her release. Pavel Polityuk and Anton Zverev reported, Kiev Says It Can’t Withdraw Weaponry As Attacks On Ukrainian Troops Persist, the Ukrainian military said Monday it could not leave the front line in the east as required by the ceasefire due to pro-Russian separatists who advanced last week were attacking its position making it difficult to withdraw heavy weaponry. A truce to end fighting that has killed more than 5,600 people appeared stillborn last week after rebels ignored it to capture the strategic town of Debaltseve in a punishing defeat for Kiev. Nevertheless, the peace deal’s European sponsors still hold out hope it can be salvaged, now that the Moscow-backed separatists have achieved that objective. Spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said in a televised briefing: “Given that the positions of Ukrainian servicemen continue to be shelled, there can not yet be any talk of pulling back weapons.” Anatoly Stelmakh, another military spokesman, said rebel forces had attacked the village of Shyrokyne overnight, along the coast on the road to Mariupol, a port of half a million that Kiev fears could be the next big rebel target. Rebel commander Eduard Basurin denied the fighters had launched any such attack, and said the situation was calm. Nearly a million people have been driven from their homes by the war between pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine and government forces. Last week’s ceasefire was reached after the rebels abandoned a previous truce to launch their advance, arguing that previous battle lines had left their civilians vulnerable to government shelling. Kiev says the rebels are reinforcing near Mariupol for a possible assault on the port, the biggest city in the two rebellious provinces still in government hands. Defense analyst Dmytro Tymchuk, who has close ties to the military, said rebels had brought 350 fighters and 20 armored vehicles including six tanks to the area.

The Brutal Gaza War Continues, Ukrainian Troops Advance, Shocking Details Involving the Islamic State and Deported Children Face Certain Death

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On Friday, 18 alleged spies include seven shot behind a mosque after midday prayers were killed by Gaza gunmen in response to Israel’s deadly airstrikes against top Hamas leaders, the Associate Press reports, Hamas kills 18 suspected informers for Israel. Two killed were women, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, who also called for an immediate end to the “extra-judicial executions.” Al Majd website which is close to the Hamas security services said suspects will no now be dealt with “in the field” not in the courts in order to create deterrence. One witness to the executions behind the mosque, 42-year-old Ayman Sharif, said masked gunman lined up the seven against the wall along with a piece of paper above each explaining his crime and his initials. One of the gunmen said that the seven “had sold their souls to the enemy for a cheap price” and had caused killing and destruction. The bodies were collected by an ambulance and the gunmen left after shooting each one with their automatic rifles. According to Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell, Gaza War Rages On As Israeli Airstrikes Kill 11 Palestinians, Including Hamas Leader’s Wife And Son, more than a 180 rockets were launched by Palestinians on Tuesday and Wednesday at southern Israel with some intercepted by the Iron Dome system, the military sad with no casualties reported on the Israeli side. Since the failure attempted at a ceasefire on Tuesday by Egypt that collapse into violence, Israeli aircraft has carried out more than 100 strikes in Gaza Strip, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said adding it was “targeting terror sites”. Hamas an medical officials said 23 people died in the latest Israeli raids. Netanyahu, speaking at a news conference in Tel Aviv, said Israel’s Gaza campaign will last a while and described its goal as seeking calm and safety for Israeli citizens. Ya’alon, his defense chief said “all options are open, including renewed ground operations” in Gaza. Gaza health officials report that five children were killed in separate airstrikes and the Israeli military said it had targeted four gunmen in norther Gaza. In total, the Palestinian Health Ministry said 2,040 people mostly civilians have been killed din Gaza, while Israel says it killed hundreds of Palestinian militants in fighting that the United Nations says has displaced 425,000 people. A diplomatic source said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas whose Fatah party participated in the Cairo talks, was due to meet the emir of Qatar, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Doha on Wednesday. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement he was “gravely disappointed by the return to hostilities” and urged the sides not to allow matters to escalate.

On Friday, Ukraine alleged that Russia has launched a “direct invasion” of its territory after Moscow sent a convoy of aid trucks across the border into eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are fighting government forces, Dmitry Madorsky, Russian aid convoy drives into Ukraine. Kiev said Ukrainian forces would not attack the convoy allowing it to pass to avoid “provocation” as thousands of Russian troops are stationed at the border. The Ukraine conflict has cause the deepest rift between Moscow and the West since the Cold War with Western states imposing sanctions on Moscow and the Kremlin retaliating causing NATO to deploy additional troops in member states bordering Russia. Regarding Russian aid convoys, Ukrainian Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists:”They passed into Ukraine without clearance or participation of the International Red Cross or (Ukrainian) border guards.” Ukrainian state security chief Valentyn Nalivaychenko in a statement to journalists added: “We consider this a direct invasion by Russia of Ukraine.” However, Ukrainian authorities said the convoy would pass through the area where the rebels were firing and security could not be guaranteed. In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said: “All excuses to delay sending aid have been exhausted. The Russian side has taken the decision to act. We warn against any attempts to disrupt this purely humanitarian mission. Responsibility for any possible consequences of provocations … will lie, completely and entirely, with those who are prepared to further sacrifice human lives for the sake of their ambitions and geo-political ploys.” The International Committee for the Red Cross has decided “due to the volatile security situation” not to supervise the convoy. The last few weeks of fighting has seen a string of rebel defeats in the conflict that has claimed 2,000 lives. Russia says the trucks contain food, medical supplies, water and some clothing amid fears by many western countries that the aid convoy is a cover for a Russian invasion. After four months of fighting in Russian speaking eastern Ukraine, the area faces a humanitarian crisis, lacking food, medicine and clean water. Meanwhile, fierce fighting continued in eastern Ukraine as government troops try to take back territory from pro-Russian rebels before the arrival of the Russian aid convoy overseen by the Red Cross, according to Nataliya Vasilyeva, Deadly Fighting In Ukraine As Government Troops Advance Into Rebel-Held Territory. Trucks loaded with water, generators and sleeping bags for civilians in the rebel city of Luhansk have begun to move through Ukrainian customs after being held for a week at the border. The trucks are expected to cross into Ukraine Friday morning on their way to Luhansk, a city with a war reduced population of a quarter of a million people 20 miles from the Russian border. At Russia’s urging, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a ceasefire during the humanitarian mission. Fighting on Thursday was reported in Luhansk, a day after the government said it had retaken the city which has been under siege fro 19 days and lacking the basics of running water and electricity.

Even more concerning, the United Nations human rights office on Friday reported that at least 191,369 people have been killed in the Syria conflict through April, Stephanie Nebehay reports, UN: Death toll from Syrian civil war tops 191,000. The U.N. report included cross-checked data from four groups and the government and according to U.N> high Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay reflects a reality of killing and torture while the civil war has “dropped off the international radar.” In a statement, Pillay explained: “With additional killings reported from earlier periods, in addition to the new killings that have taken place, the total is more than double the number documented a year ago. Nevertheless, as the report explains, tragically it is probably an underestimate of the real total number of people killed during the first three years of this murderous conflict.” An additional 51,953 killings were not included due to a lack of information, according to the report issued in Geneva. Nebehay reports: “The highest number of documented killings were recorded in Rural Damascus province(39,393), followed by Aleppo (31,932), Homs (28,186), Idlib (20,040), Daraa (18,539) and Hama (14,690).” Pillay repeated her call for referring alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides in Syria’s conflict to the International Criminal Court: “The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis. It is essential governments take serious measures to halt the fighting and deter the crimes, and above all stop fueling this monumental, and wholly avoidable, human catastrophe through the provision of arms and other military supplies.”

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a Pentagon news conference said the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq has helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces regain footing, however, well resourced Islamic State militants are expected to regroup and stage a new offensive, Robert Burns reports, Pentagon: Islamic state militants will regroup. Army. Gen. Martin Dempsey added that although the Islamic State can be contained it cannot be defeated unless it is attacked in Syria. Hagel said, “Overall, these operations have stalled ISIL’s momentum and enabled Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regain their footing and take the initiative.” Dempsy said,”They can be contained, not in perpetuity. This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated. To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border. And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time. ISIS will only truly be defeated when it’s rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad.” A new report states that hundred of American citizens are among the roughly 12,000 ruthless fighters backing the ISIS led Islamic State’s reign of terror in the Middle East, according to Ryan Gorman, Hundreds of Americans have joined the brutal ISIS militia. The National Journal reports American and European officials are concerned about the growing number of citizens taking up the mujahedeen cause: “ISIS today represents a direct and growing threat to the United States… including hundreds of Europeans and Americans who can travel freely with Western passports.” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, outgoing director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Journal: “Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland… we’re doing all we can to understand the outflow of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, many of them with Western passports.”

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported that minors deported to Honduras over the last month are being killed, according to a morgue director in the city of San Pedro Sula, who said “at least five, perhaps as many as 10” children killed there since February had been deported from the United States. Hector Hernandez, of the San Pedro Sula morgue, told Times reporter Cindy Carcamo: “There are many youngsters who only three days after they’ve been deported are killed, shot by a firearm. They return just to die.” Rogue Planas reports, Children Deported To Honduras Are Getting Killed: Report: “Almost 63,000 unaccompanied minors — the vast majority from the violence-plagued Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — have crossed illegally into the United States since October. Many are fleeing the gang violence, poverty and political instability that has made the so-called ‘Northern Triangle’ countries some of the most dangerous in the world.” House Republicans joined by four Democrats last month to do away with the president’s policy of deferring deportations for undocumented immigrants who arrive as children despite little evidence that the policy caused the crisis. According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll last month, most Americans see young migrants as refugees with 70 percent of Americans thinking the country should provide temporary support while their cases proceed in court as a majority say that hose facing the threat of violence should not be immediately deported. The White House has responded by pushing to expedite the deportation process for Central American minors and families traveling together in order to send the message to other migrants that they won’t be able to stay. On Wednesday, eleven undocumented immigrants are pleading with Obama to protect them and others in similar circumstances from being deported as the administration considers a broad executive action on immigration enforcement, Elise Foley reports, Jose Antonio Vargas Among Undocumented Immigrants Making Urgent Plea To Obama. Wednesday morning, the undocumented immigrants including journalist-activist Jose Antonio Vargas announced the initiative at a press conference organized by Vargas’ organization, Define American, and in partnership with the National Immigration Law Center. They are applying for deferred actions that would allow them to stay in the U.S. temporarily, while urging President Barack Obama to halt deportations. Vargas in an interview with HuffPost about the 1 of 11 Million campaign said, “This is our way to insist on the urgency and the humanity of the 11 million people like us. For us, it’s really important to ask the question of how inclusive is the Obama administration’s relief going to be?. Who is going to get left out, and why? This is our effort to get in front of that and make sure that people understand that we’re talking about human beings here with families.” Besides Vargas, the other documented immigrants asking for deferred action on Wednesday have been int he U.S. for years and include people ages 22 to 55 from Mexico, Senegal, South Korea, Honduras, Germany and the Philippines with some already in deportation proceedings. Vargas said he hopes the White House will meet the group and undocumented immigrants in general to discuss any executive action taken.

Ebola Myths, New Dispute in Gaza, U.S. Deepens Involvement in Iraq Again, U.S. Warns Russia and Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan

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On Friday, four new Ebola cases in Nigeria are reportedly linked to Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian American, who died last month including cleaners, hospital and health care workers, Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, told the Washington Post, Amanda L. Chan reports, 4 Newly Reported Ebola Cases In Nigeria Are All Linked To Patrick Sawyer. Sawyer collapsed after getting of the plane from Nigeria having traveled to Liberia. A doctor and a nurse who treated him contracted the virus and died. In all, the WHO reports 13 probable or suspected cases of Ebola in Nigeria. A presidential spokesman told Reuters, the outbreak has cause the Nigerian president to declare an national emergency approving emergency fund of $11.7 million to “strengthen steps to contain the virus such as … additional isolation centers, case management, contact tracing, deployment of additional personnel, screening at borders, and the procurement of required items and facilities,” a spokesman for the president told Reuters. The WHO also declared West Africa Ebola to be an international emergency as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have reported cases and deaths of the deadly virus nearing 1,000 dead since it started earlier this year. Anna Almendrala reports, The Most Destructive Myths AboutEbola Virus, Debunked, due to myths and rumors about the deadly virus in West Africa, health workers are hindered from doing their jobs abroad and have caused unnecessary panic and paranoia in the United States. Here are the important facts Almendrala covers:

Myth: Ebola virus is airborne, waterborne or spreads through casual contact.

Truth: Ebola virus spreads when the bodily fluids of an infected person comes into contact with the mucous membranes of a non-infected person. That means Ebola virus in fluids like blood, sweat or urine has to come in contact with your eyes, mouth, nostrils, ears, genital area or an open wound in order to infect you.

In other words, it takes a lot of contact — not just casual contact — to become infected with the virus, which is why many of the victims of the disease in West Africa are health care workers or family members caring for a sick relative. In Western hospitals, transmission is easily prevented with precautionary measures like face masks, gloves, protective gowns and isolation units.

Health workers in West Africa are teaching community members about the importance of washing hands with soap and water, bringing sick family members to clinics and burying the bodies of people who have died from Ebola to minimize infection risk.

Myth: Immigrant kids from Latin America could bring Ebola into the U.S.

Truth: We can thank Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind. for this ridiculous rumor. He made the bogus claim on Monday on a local radio show, arguing that the release of unaccompanied immigrant children into the U.S. pose a public health risk, reports nwi.com.

Rokita recounted a conversation he had with a fellow congressman about the so-called risk, saying, “He said, ‘look, we need to know just from a public-health standpoint, with Ebola circulating and everything else’ — no, that’s my addition to it, not necessarily his — but he said we need to know the condition of these kids.”

The Indiana congressman was swiftly put in place by a rep at the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, who told nwi.com that no one has ever contracted the Ebola virus disease in the Western Hemisphere.

Myth: International medical teams brought the virus to West Africa.

Truth: This devastating myth may actually be prolonging the Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organization notes that a team of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) were accused of bringing the virus into Guinée Forestière, where they were working, and temporarily had to stop working because of it. The Centers for Disease and Control are coordinating efforts to reach out to community leaders like healers and elders to combat the myth with education about Ebola symptoms and proper treatment in a clinic.

Kalala Ngalamulume, Ph.D., an associate professor of history and Africana studies at Bryn Mawr College, argues that the death rate of this current Ebola strain (around 55 percent and expected to rise), combined with misinformation about the disease, gives villagers good reason to be skeptical.

“People are told that there is no treatment for the Ebola virus, that the people who are taken to the medical centers will die, and that nobody survives after contracting an infection,” wrote Ngalamulume in an email to The Huffington Post. “It is thus not surprising that many villagers assume that people are being taken to hospital to die, or even that hospitals are killing them. Rumors fly.”

Myth: Bringing Ebola patients to the U.S. puts Americans at risk.

Truth: Donald Trump decided to weigh in against bringing American Ebola patients back to the U.S. for treatment, tweeting, “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!”

While leaving soldiers on the battlefield may be his style, Trump’s tweet reveals that he doesn’t understand what makes the Ebola outbreak so fatal. The spread of Ebola is possible not because it’s a uniquely potent virus strain, but because of the healthcare disparity in West Africa.

Gloves, gowns, masks, proper hygiene standards and isolation units are enough to protect healthcare workers from contracting Ebola from their patients. But the countries where Ebola has spread don’t have the adequate resources or facilities to properly treat and quarantine patients.

Tulane University virus expert Dr. Daniel Bausch told Voice of America that years of war and poverty have left countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia uniquely vulnerable to an outbreak.

“You go to a hospital in Sierra Leone or Liberia, and it’s not unusual for a healthcare worker to say, ‘We don’t have gloves.’ Or, ‘We don’t have clean needles,'” said Bausch to VOA. “All of the large outbreaks of Ebola or its sister virus, Marburg, happen in places where social and political unrest over the years have decimated the public health system.”

Myth: Even if you beat Ebola, you can still pass on the virus to others.

Truth: Usually, only people who are exhibiting Ebola symptoms can pass the virus on to others. The only American who has died from Ebola during this outbreak is from Minnesota, where there is a large Liberian population. To address fears in the community, Aaron DeVries, the medical director of the infectious disease divison at the Minnesota Department of Health, addressed this issue and others during an interview with local NBC affiliate Kare 11.

DeVries confirmed that only people exhibiting Ebola symptoms, like fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, can pass the virus on to others. However, the World Health Organization notes that a man who has had Ebola can transmit the virus via his semen for up to 7 weeks after they’ve recovered from the disease.

Myth: This is the first major outbreak of Ebola.

Truth: This is the largest outbreak of Ebola in history, but it isn’t the first. The virus was first diagnosed in humans in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It infected 318 people and had an 88 percent fatality rate. Since then, various strains of the disease have popped up around the African continent, infecting as many as 425 people in 2000 and, most recently, 57 people in 2012, according to WHO.

As of Aug. 4, 2014, the most recent count available, Ebola virus has infected 1,711 people and killed 932 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since the virus emerged again this year.

Myth: Ebola can be treated with antibiotics (or onions, or condensed milk, or…)

Truth: Antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections. Currently, there is neither a cure nor a vaccine for the Ebola virus.

Instead, there is an experimental serum called ZMapp, which contains antibodies designed to help block the virus. Before the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it had only ever been tested on monkeys and has not been approved for human use. American Ebola patients Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol decided to risk it and take the experimental drug, and early reports are cautiously optimistic about their improving conditions. However, it’s unclear what role (if any) the drug is playing in their recovery, reports the Washington Post.

Myth: Ebola liquifies your organs, which causes bleeding from the orifices.

Truth: While Ebola symptoms can include bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, those things only happen in about 20 percent of cases, explained Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, M.D., the associate hospital epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center and director of Infection Control at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories in a previous HuffPost story.

The body’s organs are not liquified. However, when people die from Ebola, it’s usually because the virus causes multi-organ failure and shock. This occurs because Ebola virus weakens blood vessels, causing internal and sometimes external bleeding. The virus also prevents the body from clotting blood effectively, which would help to stop the bleeding.

In Gaza, the U.N. and rights groups operating there say about three quarters of the 1,900 Palestinians killed were civilians including 450 children with many perishing in the strikes that killed several family members at the same time, according to Karin Laub, and Yousur Alhlou, In Gaza, dispute over civilian vs. combat deaths. The pair reports that in the math of the Israel Hamas war there are conflicting counts of combatants and civilians killed emerging with the ratio not as important as the final total in shaping world opinions of the month long conflict. However, Israel estimates that 40-50 percent were fighters in Gaza. Both used different methods and different standard to determine civilian casualties as well as combatant casualties. The U.N. and human rights groups used eyewitness accounts and community contacts of field researchers to distinguish civilians from combatants, according to Mahmoud AbuRahma of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and Israel relied on intelligence reports to determined who belonged to Hamas or other militant groups. The numbers could to be used by either side to explain the conflict. Israel has been criticized for the large number of civilian killed in the war with President Barack Obama and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon saying Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties. Israel explains the high civilian casualties as a side effect of Gaza fighters launching their attacks in crowded residential areas. Brig. Gen. Mickey Adelstein, a senior Israeli army commander, said forces under his command “avoided attacking many, many targets” because civilians were present and that “Hamas took advantage of that issue.” Adelstein on Thursday claimed that the military estimates between 1,700 and 2,000 Palestinians were killed, but the number of dead militants was being under reported: “In one set of 300 names classified as civilians ‘at least 50 percent were … members of the Hamas terrorist movement.'” The Health Ministry in Hamas run Gaza has become more efficient in collecting data over the years due to two previous rounds of fighting in 2008-2009 and 2012, according to Ashraf al-Kidra, the keeper of the statistics and by all counts his stats match up with the human rights groups’ stats, who checked theirs’ against their own research. On Friday, his overall total since July 8 was 1,902 dead including 450 children and 243 women. Al-Kidra defines a civilian as anyone not claimed by one of the armed groups as a member. Laub and Alhlou report the U.N. started with figures from the ministry, the media and other sources, but then cross-check them with the help of Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups coming to the conclusion that 1,922 Palestinians were killed including 73 percent or 1,407 civilians killed. The highest total has come from the Gaza based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, who used a broader definition of civilian, at 1,976 Palestinians killed over the past month, almost 83 percent of them civilians. The most conservative estimate comes from the Israeli group B’Tselem putting only women, children and men over 60 in the civilian category totaling 615 of the 1,510 dead counted so far.

Leaving one conflict for another in the Middle East, Ken Dilanian reports, Kurdish pleas for weapons may finally be heard, Kurdish officials have asked the Obama administration to let them buy U.S. weapons and the administration has ignored he request even though they are America’s closest allies in Iraq. However, the administration is dealing with the consequences of this policy as the Islamic State group, which some American officials called “a terrorist army,” overpowered lightly armed Kurdish units threatening the Kurdish region and American personnel stationed there. The U.S. tried to halt the groups advances on Friday with an airstrike, but Kurdish officials say Washington promised to being sending guns.However, Pentagon officials said the policy is the same they will only sell arms to Baghdad. A growing number of voices are calling for the U.S. to begin arming the Kurds such as Re. Adam Schiff, a California democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee: “If Baghdad isn’t supplying the Kurds with the weapons that they need, we should provide them directly to the Kurds.” Retired Gen,. Michael Barbero, who ran the mission training the Iraqi military, said: “The only way to confront this threat is to arm Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces, and yet we’re doing nothing to support either one of those. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s an existential threat, so why we are not in there at least equipping and arming them?” White House spokesman John Earnest said Friday: “We have a strong military-to-military relationship with Iraq’s security forces, and the Iraqi security forces have shared some of those assets with Kurdish security forces. We have also demonstrated a willingness to increase the flow of supplies, including arms, to Kurdish security forces as they confront the threat that’s posed by ISIL.” In an interview published Saturday in The New York Times, Obama said: “We will be your partners, but we are not going to do it for you. We’re not sending a bunch of U.S. troops back on the ground to keep a lid on things.”

While the Kurds struggle to fight off militants, hundreds of women from the Yazidi religious minority have been kidnapped by Sunni militants, an Iraqi official said Friday, according to Sameer N. Yacoub’s report, Iraqi Official: Hundreds Of Yazidi Women Held Captive By Islamic State. Kamil Amin, the spokesman for Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry, said women below the age of 35 were being held in schools in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and learned of the captives from their families. Amin told the Associated Press: “We think that these women are going to be used in demeaning ways by those terrorists to satisfy their animalistic urges in a way that contradicts all the human and Islamic values.” A U.S. official spoke under conditions of anonymity about a classified intelligence reports that confirms the Islamic State group has kidnapped and imprisoned Yazidi women in order to sell or marry them off to extremist fighters. The Islamic state sees Yszidis and Shiite Muslims as apostates and demands Christians convert to Islam or pay a special tax. In a statement Friday, the U.N. Security Council condemned the targeting of Iraq’s minorities adding any attacks against civilian populations based on ethnic, religious or political background could be considered a crime against humanity for which those responsible will be held accountable.

Back in Washington, President Barack Obama’s new military strategy for Iraq is containment not destruction of the Islamic militant group that controls the northern region of the country leaving open the question of how deeply involved the U.S. will be drawn into the sectarian conflict and if the airstrikes alone will work to stop the militant advances, according to Robert Burns and Lara Jakes, Obama’s Iraq aim: contain, not destroy, extremists. U.S. military jets on Friday launched several airstrikes on isolated targets near the Kurdish capital of Ibril including two mortar position and a vehicle convoy in northeastern Iraq, while U.S> officials announced Friday night a second airdrop of food and water in as many days for imperiled refugees in northwestern Iraq. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said of the Islamic State group, “They are well organized and they’re armed and they are a significant threat to the stability of Iraq.” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Islamic State group must halt its advance on Ibril to prevent more strikes.

Meanwhile, Obama dealt with another matter, Russia, warning on Friday that any further intervention in Ukraine including delivering humanitarian aid would be seen as “an invasion of Ukraine,” Edith M. Lederer reports, US Warns Russia: Further Intervention In Ukraine Will Be Seen As ‘Invasion’. U.S> Ambassador Samantha Power delivered the warning at the Security Council meeting focused on human rights in Ukraine’s east where fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists continues. Power said Russia has increased its aid to separatist, amassed more troops and hardware at the border, began military exercises this week and launched shells across the border into Ukraine. While Power welcomes the Ukrainian government’s creation of a humanitarian corridor to get aid into separatist controlled areas and allow civilians out, Power warned: “…any further unilateral intervention by Russia into Ukrainian territory, including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid, would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming, and it would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine.” On Tuesday, at an emergence council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine called by Russia, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the situation in the east disastrous and said Moscow wants to send a humanitarian convoy to the two areas under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in parts of eastern Ukraine and called for both parties to end the conflict, according to a deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Churkin called Friday for an immediate end to fighting in the east and lashed out at the U.N. report on human rights situation in Ukraine as one sided and blaming “the self-defense formations for … everything short of cannibalism.” In recent weeks, Russia floated the idea of a peacekeeper to Ukraine, however, Power thinks: “A Russian peacekeeper in Ukraine is an oxymoron. At every step in this crisis, Russians have sabotaged peace, not built it, and it is particularly worrisome given Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea… Peacekeepers are impartial, yet Russia fully supports Russia’s armed separatists in this conflict.” Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, via video conference from Croatia briefed the council, welcoming Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s proposal for a new round of talks to find a way to restore a cease-fire. He warned that due to the ongoing violence, “the fabric” of Ukrainian society is being torn apart as “hate speech” increases especially in social media and there is “what amounts to a reign of fear and terror in areas under control of the armed groups, with a breakdown of law and order.”

On Wednesday, the U.N. deputy peacekeeping chief announced that the South Sudan humanitarian operation is now the largest in a single countries and the world’s youngest nation is on the brink of catastrophe as famine looms, Mirjam Donath reports, South Sudan ‘On The Brink Of A Humanitarian Catastrophe’: UN. Ahead of a visit by U.N. Security Council ambassadors to Africa next week, Edmond Mulet told the 15 member council the dire situation could spark security concerns “as communities begin to compete for diminishing resources,” adding: “After three years of independence, South Sudan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe and a protracted internal conflict. This is a man-made crisis, and those responsible for it have been slow in resolving it.” Since fighting erupted in December, 10,000 people have been killed as President Salv Kiir’s government forces fight against supporters of Riek Machar, his former deputy and longtime political rival. Kiir and Machar agreed to a ceasefire in May and to work out details for a transitional government, but little progress has been made. Mulet said more than one million people are displaced by violence and more tha n 400,00 fled the country, while the South Sudan U.N. peacekeeping operation houses nearly 100,00 civilians at its base. Additionally, he said: “With the prolonged presence of this considerable number of people at the facilities which were not built for such a purpose, conditions have become extremely challenging. The scale of humanitarian operations in South Sudan has reached the point that it now constitutes the biggest aid operation inside any single country. However, the capacity and funding of the humanitarian operation falls far short in the face of overwhelming needs.” Mulet states some 3.9 million people are facing food insecurity at alarming levels and 50,000 children may die as a consequence of acute malnutrition this year with 5,300 cases of cholera including 115 deaths. The U.N. Security Council, in addition to the United Sates and the European Union sanctions already imposed on both sides, warns South Sudan’s warring parties it may impose sanctions as well.

Palestinian Israeli Ceasefire , Russia and Ukraine Push Their Boundaries and the Islamic State Militia Continues to Expand Its Middle Eastern Territory

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Israel withdrew most of its troops from Gaza on Sunday which could be a sign that Israel is winding down its month long offensive against Hamas leaving 1,800 Palestinians and 60 Israelis dead. AOL reports, Israel withdraws most troops from Gaza, even though Israel is close to completing its mission, heavy fighting continued with 10 Palestinians being killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike near a U.N. school, according to U.N. and Palestinians officials. The U.S. and United Nations condemned the attack. It is uncertain whether Israel would unilaterally end the war since Hamas officials vowed to continue their fight. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, confirmed most of the ground troops have pulled out of Gaza after destroying a majority of the Hamas tunnel network. He said Israel detected 30 tunnels dug along the border for what he called a “synchronized attack” on Israel. However, Lerner said the operation was not over and Israel will continue to target Hamas’ rocket firing capabilities as well as its ability to infiltrate Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voes to continue his assault against Hamas, but has come under international pressure to halt the fighting due to a high civilian death toll. U.N. officials say more than three quarters of the dead are civilians including the 10 killed on Sunday at a U.N. school in Rafah. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the attack a “moral outrage and a criminal act” and demanded a quick investigation, while the U.S. State Department said Washington was “appalled” by the “disgraceful” attack. Israel Cabinet minister Amir Peretz told channel 10: “It’s not a withdrawal. It’s setting up a new line that is a more controlled line with the air force doing its work.” One senior officials, under conditions of anonymity because he was discussing internal Hamas deliberations, said: “If Israel stops unilaterally, Hamas will declare victory and will not grant any security or truce to Israel. In this case, we are going to live under a war of attrition until a political solution is found.”

Unfortunately, a seven hour truce went into effect Monday after Israel agreed it would unilaterally hold fire in Gaza, but Palestinians immediately accused Israel of breaking the ceasefire agreement by bombing a house in Gaza, Reuters reports, Palestinians accuse Israel of immediately breaking 7-hour ceasefire that began Monday at 3am EST. An Israel military spokeswoman said she was checking into it, while Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf Al-Qidra said 15 people were wounded in the strike on a house in Shati camp of mostly women and children. An Israeli defense officials said the ceasefire would apply to all areas except Rafah where ground forces have intensified assaults after three soldiers died in a Hamas ambush Friday. While a Hamas envoy in Egypt negotiates a truce that Israel has shunned in anger, Sami Abu Zuhri, the group’s spokesman said: “The calm Israel declared is unilateral and aims to divert attention away from the Israeli massacres. We do not trust such a calm and we urge our people to exercise caution.” Meanwhile, Israeli Brigadier General Motti Almoz told Army Radio: “Redeployment lets us work on the tunnels, provides defense (of Israeli communities nearby) and lets the forces set up for further activity. There is no ending here, perhaps an interim phase.” According to Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav, Cease-fire slows Gaza war as Israeli bus attacked, while Israel declared the temporary ceasefire and troops withdrawals slowed violence on Monday in Gaza, an Israeli bus was attacked killing one person in Jerusalem which symbolizes the tensions simmering in the region. For the moment though, violence seems to be waning as Hamas rocket fire tapers off and Israel’s ground operation in Gaza winds down. According to the article: “Israel’s Channel 10 TV showed cellphone video of what it said was the attack, with the yellow excavator slamming its large shovel into the bus. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a police officer in the area opened fire and killed the attacker. A pedestrian also was killed, said Jerusalem district police chief Yossi Piranti.” Before the attacks, the seven hour Israeli ceasefire in Gaza was in effect , even though Israel continued to hit selected Palestinians target, the level of fighting was lower than previous days.

Fortunately, on Monday, as Josef Federman reports, Israel accepts Egyptian cease-fire plan, the Israeli government has finally accepted an Egyptian ceasefire deal to halt the month long war against Hamas militants in Gaza signaling the end of one of the bloodiest rounds of fighting, according to a senior Israeli official said. In addition, the official said a preliminary truce would begin at 8am Tuesday as the Israeli delegation would head to Egypt to work out a long term truce over the next three days. A delegation of Palestinian officials has negotiated with Egypt in recent days and representative have accept the proposal, while Hamas had no comment but has delegate presents at the time. Bassam Salhi, a member of the Palestinian delegation, said, “It’s clear now that the interest of all parties is to have a cease-fire. It’s going to be tough negotiations because Israel has demands too.” Under conditions of anonymity, the Israeli official said Israel will be watching the negotiation “with a certain amount of skepticism” given the previous failures.

Meanwhile, the Russian military is exercising their power as a show of their strength near the border with Ukraine, while Ukrainian troops cross over into Russia. Reuters reports, Russia Conducts Military Exercises With More Than 100 Aircraft Near Ukraine, Igor Kilmov quoted by Interfax news agency said it was the first session in a series to increase the unity of the air force this year as well as conduct missile practice with some of Russia’s newest frontline bombers and did not mention Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are fighting the Ukrainian government. While, Laura Mills reports, Ukrainian soldiers cross border into Russia, a Russian border security official said 400 Ukrainian soldiers crossed into Russia, an Interfax news agency report said. There were conflicting reports on both sides of why the soldiers were there. The Russian official said the soldiers deserted the Kiev governments and the Russian side opened the corridor, however, a Ukrainian military official said the soldiers were forced into Russian territory by rebel fire after running out of ammunition. Vasily Malayev, head of the Federal Security Service’s border patrol in the Rostov region, told Interfax 438 soldiers on Monday were allowed to safely enter the country. A spokesman for the Ukrainian military operation in the east, Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky, said the 72nd brigade army was pinned into their position due to a sustained barrage of fire from separatists forcing the brigade to split up into two sections. The battle in eastern Ukraine has been raging since April and claimed at least 1,129 civilians, according to a U.N. estimate. Though Russia denies any involvement, Ukraine and Western countries have accused Russia of providing the rebels with equipment and expertise.

On Sunday, Islamic State fighters claimed control of Iraq’s biggest dam, an oilfield and three more towns on Sunday inflicting their first major defeat on Kurdish forces since moving across norther Iraq in June, Ahmed Rasheed and Raheem Salman report, Islamic State Seizes Small Towns In Iraq’s North. Capturing the electricity generating Mosul Dam could allow Sunni militants to flood major Iraqi cities or withhold water in a bid to topple Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shi’ite-led government. In addition, the Islamic state has seized the Ain Zalah pil field, adding to the four others it controls providing funding for their operation, and three towns. The group poses the biggest threat to OPEC member Iraq since Saddam Hussein fell in 2003 as it has already declared a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria to rule over Muslims. On Sunday, the group also fought in a border town far away in Lebanon symbolizing its ambition to spread across the Middle East. So far, it controls cities in Iraq’s Tigris and Euphrates valley s north and west of Baghdad and a large portion of Syria stretching from the Iraqi border in the east to Aleppo in the northwest. In a statement, the Islamic State said, “Hundreds fled leaving vehicles and a huge number of weapons and munitions and the brothers control many areas. The fighters arrived in the border triangle between Iraq, Syria and Turkey.” The Islamic State has tried to consolidate its gains by setting its sights on strategic towns near oil fields as well as border crossing with Syria so it can move supplies back and forth. Maliki’s opponents say the prime minister, a Shi’ite Islamist who is trying to stat in power for a third term after an inconclusive parliamentary election in April, is to blame for the insurgency due to excluding Sunnis from power. Additionally, Kurdish leaders call for Maliki to step down to create a more inclusive government in Baghdad. After Sunday’s withdrawal of Kurdish troops, the Kurdish region is pressing Washington for sophisticated weapons to help their fighters to push back the Islamist militants, according to U.S. and Kurdish officials. The Islamic State’s ambitions have caused other Arab states to take notice and fear their success will embolden militants region wide. Meanwhile, in Lebanon on Monday, thousands of civilians and Syrian refugees fled in packed cars and pickup trucks from an eastern border town where militants from Syria have overrun, Bassem Mroue reports, Thousands flee as Lebanese battle Syrian militants. The fleeing comes as Lebanese troops struggle to rid Arsal of the Syrian extremists marking the most serious spillover of violence from Syria’s cavil war into Lebanon and increasing fears that Lebanon is becoming a new front for Syria;s conflict, now in its third year. In all, at least 11 Lebanese troops have been killed and 13 missing in the Arsal clashes that erupted Saturday after Syrian militants crossed the border and overran army positions in the area.

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.

Growing Global Conflicts: Finding Peace in A Restless World

On Monday of this week, as the death toll in Gaza rises to 175 after a week long Israeli airstrike offensive, the Israeli military said it downed a drone launched by militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel began the campaign against Hamas controlled Gaza last Tuesday in response to rocket fire from the densely populated territory. In total, the military has launched more than 1,300 airstrikes since then, while Palestinian militants have launched close to 1,000 rockets at Israel, Peter Enav reports (Israel Says It’s Downed Drone Along Southern Coast). The unmanned drone, which was shot down by Israel, represent a new level of sophistication for Hamas which has never admitted to having such a weapon. The Israeli military confirmed that the dsrone was shot down mid-flight by a Patriot surface to air missile along the southern Israeli coastline never Ashdod. Speaking under anonymity, a senior military official, said Israel was aware Hamas possessed drones and Israel has targets Hamas drone facilities in Gaza previously. In a media statement, Hamas alleges that three drones were launched into Israel on Monday with only one confirmed by Israel. According to Enav, drones refer to a range of unmanned aircraft from rudimentary to advanced with weapons or surveillance capabilities. Hamas said it has both intelligence and munitions drones. In addition, the group alleges that it lost contact with one drone and targets included the Israeli Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said,”Hamas is trying everything it can to produce some kind of achievement and it is crucial that we maintain our high state of readiness. The shooting down of a drone this morning by our air defense system is an example of their efforts to strike at us in any way possible.”

On Monday fighting continued as two Israeli airstrikes struck the southern city of Khan Younis killing four Palestinians and raising the death toll to at least 175 people killed including dozens of civilians, according to officials at European Hospital and the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza. No Israelis have been killed in Hamas rocket fire, however, several people have been wounded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday, said the current operation could last a long time and the military is prepared for all possibilities including a Gaza ground invasion. The outbreak of violence followed the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an alleged revenge attack, along with Israeli raids against Hamas militants and infrastructure in West Bank. Though the killers of the Palestinian teenagers have been caught, the killer of the three teenagers has yet to be caught. Israeli leaders widely condemned the killing and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed those responsible would be brought to justice. Israel accuses Hamas of the killing and cracked down on the Islamic militants in the West Bank after the abduction of the teens causing Gaza to respond with rocket fire that led to the current round of fighting.

However since the fighting began, Netanyahu has come under international pressure to end the operation. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a ceasefire and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that America was ready to help restore calm. A key mediator between Israel and Hamas, Egypt continued to work to stop the conflict as Hamas has shown signs it would agree to a ceasefire if hundreds of arrested activist were freed as part of a truce. On the other hand, Netanyahu wants to show the Israeli public that he can succeed in degrading Hamas’s ability to strike Israeli targets before moving to a truce.

Unfortunately, Tuesday confirmed that Hamas has rejected Egypt’s proposal for a ceasefire with Israel after the Israeli Cabinet accepted the plan squashing international efforts to end the fighting that’s killed 192 Palestinians and risking the lives of Israelis. The Associated Press reports, Israel accepts cease-fire to end Gaza conflict; Hamas calls proposal unacceptable,  that senior Israeli government officials now warn that Israeli will strike Gaza harder if Hamas does not accept the truce. The Egyptian proposal for a truce presented on late Monday called for a stop to the violence as of Tuesday morning followed by negotiations on easing the closure of Gaza’s borders which has been enforced by Israel and Egypt since Hams seized the territory in 2007. On conditions of anonymity, an Israeli official said, “As you know, the Cabinet has accepted the Egyptian proposal. If Hamas rejects it, Israel will continue and intensify its operations and Hamas will find itself totally isolated, including in the Arab world, which supports the proposal.” In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the proposal was not acceptable as Hamas officials are weary of promises from Egypt and Israel to ease the border blockade since the promise was part of the 2012 truce, which was broken due to a violent flare up. Referring to the 2012 truce, he said,” It’s not logical to ask people who are under aggression to cease fire and then later to negotiate terms that were not respected in the past by the Israelis.” The ease of the blockade is crucial to Hamas’ survival because the outbreak of fighting has left the militant group in serious financial woes  as the closure by Egypt has prevented cash and goods from being smuggled in across the Gaza-Egypt border.

As of Tuesday afternoon, in Gaza, the death toll now stands at 194 people killed with 1,400 wounded so far making it the deadliest conflict between Israel and Hamas in over five years. Israel resumed its heavy bombardment of Gaza on Tuesday and warned that the Islamic militant group will pay the price for not accepting the Egyptian truce plan and unleashing rocket fire at the Jewish state killing one Israeli. According to Karin Laub and Aron Heller,  Israel: Hamas to pay price for its ‘no’ to truce, Hamas does not consider Egypt’s current ruler a fair broker, who ousted the Hamas friendly government in Cairo a year ago. Hamas will continue to fight as it has little to lose, while a truce on unfavorable terms could weaken the grip on the Gaza Strip, a territory it seized in 2007. Reaffirming this stance, Gaza militants fired more than 120 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel on Tuesday with more than 40 rockets hitting in a few minutes and causing the first Israeli death since the beginning of the offensive. In a TV response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated,”Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision. When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire.” After holding fire for six hours, the Israeli air force opened fired launching 33 strikes from midafternoon. In Washington, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Israel had the right to defend itself, but would not want to see a ground invasion. Hamas officials rejected the plan on Tuesday noting they weren’t consulted by Cairo and see the truce as an ultimatum to Hamas from Israel and Egypt. A top Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told the Lebanese TV channel Al-Mayadeen: “The siege on Gaza must be broken, and the people of Gaza should live freely like other people of the world. There should be a new equation so that we will not have a war on Gaza every two years.” In addition, Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas leader in Gaza, had this to say: “Mediation to end this aggression needs to come from different countries, and the guarantees should be given by different countries in order to commit the occupation (Israel) to what any future agreement might say.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ main political rival, was to meet Wednesday in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and then fly to Turkey for high-level talks. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been under a lot of pressure from his Cabinet and the ruling Likud Party to launch a ground offensive to end the rocket fire. He faced intense criticism from the right over agreeing to the Egyptian truce plan.

On Monday, according to Barbara Surk’s article, Heavy Clashes Between Hezbollah And Syrian Rebels Leave Many Dead, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human right said militants from the Islamic State took over territory from a rival al-Qaida linked Nusra Front group near the border of Iraq. The march by militants of the IS on the city of Deir el-Zour brings them closer to a showdown with Bashar Assad’s forces. The group recently captured cities and towns in northern Iraq and merged them with territory under its control in eastern Syria. Assad’s forces still control half of Deir el-Zour city, however no fighting between his troops and the extremist group have been reported. The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 following peaceful protest against Assad’s rule that turned into armed revolts after opposition supporter took up weapons to fight a brutal government crackdown. The situation dissolved in to civil war in which Islamic extremists with hard line al-Qaida ideologies have played a prominent role among fighters leading to the dampening of support from the West. On Monday, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution authorizing cross border delivery of food and aid to Syrians in rebel held areas without government approval. The article explains: ” The resolution expressed ‘grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria’ and deplored the fact that its previous demands for humanitarian access ‘have not been heeded’ by the Syrian government and opposition fighters.” The council adopted a resolution in February for aid, but monthly reports from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on its implementation paint a dire picture. According to Surk: “Just hours before the resolutions was adopted, 13 Syrian Red Crescent trucks loaded with 1,000 parcels crossed into the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh, which has been besieged by government troops for more than two years, causing widespread hunger-related illness and death among its residents. In Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus that has been under government siege for over a year, U.N. aid workers were not allowed to distribute aid on Monday, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement, adding that 18,000 civilians remain trapped there in desperate need of food and medicine. The interruption follows a week of sustained food distribution in Yarmouk during which the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees in the Middle East distributed food parcels to 3,316 families, Gunness said.”

While the Middle East deals with numerous conflicts between governments and militants with different ideologies, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday continues his verbal assault on Russia accusing military staff officers of fighting with separatists in eastern Ukraine and using a newly developed Russian missile system against government forces. According to Reuters’ article,  Ukraine’s President Poroshenko Says Russian Officers Fight Alongside Separatists, Poroshenko made his accusations as he was speaking to security chiefs at an emergency meeting after a weekend of Ukrainian air strikes on rebel position near the Russian border and charges by Moscow that Kiev killed a Russian man with cross border shell. After three months of fighting, several hundred Ukrainian servicemen, civilians and rebels have been killed as the fighting and war of words between Moscow and Kiev intensifies. As Poroshenko on Sunday accused Russia of movement of heavy military equipment into the country, he added: “Information has … been confirmed that Russian staff officers are taking part in military operations against Ukrainian forces.” Accusing Russia of escalating fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions, National and Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists: “In the past 24 hours, deployment of (Russian) units and military equipment across the border from the Sumy and Luhansk border points was noticed. The Russian Federation continues to build up troops on the border. The (rebel) fighters systematically fire mortar and shoot into Russian territory which killed a Russian citizen.”

As Ukraine and the Middle East struggle to find a common ground, top U.S. and Iranian diplomats came together Monday for nuclear talks. The talks of U.S. and Iran were further complicated as both sides are fighting proxy wars in Israel, Gaza and Syria. However, both are talking cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan, while negotiating the decrease in the Islamic republic’s uranium and plutonium programs.  According to Bradely Klapper and Goerge Jahn, Kerry And Top Iranian Diplomat To Hold In-Depth Nuclear Talks Days Before Deadline, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif talked for two hours Monday in a second day of talks in Vienna and again in the afternoon hoping to meet Sunday’s initial deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Kerry told U.S. Embassy staff in Vienna that: “We are in the middle of talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran’s program. It is a really tough negotiation.” In addition, both men talked about Afghanistan which Kerry visited before Vienna to broker a power sharing agreement between rival presidential candidates and a full audit of election ballots. Both men were in agreement that the mediation was extremely important for the Afghan people and echoed thr need for unity. However the two countries remain divided when it comes to the current Israeli Palestine conflict with Iran being the main benefactor for Hamas and alleged source of its new drone capacity, while Washington provides billions in aid each year to Israel. Nonetheless, the talks focused on nuclear matters. Monday’s talk came a day after failed talks between Britain, France and Germany with Iran on uranium enrichment and other issues standing in the way of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the end of nuclear sanction on Tehran. Under a six month interim agreement in effect since January, world powers and Iran have until July 20 to conclude a final deal. The interim agreement does allow for an additional six month period for negotiation which seem likely. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Iran has defied the expectation of some, but has yet to make the necessary decisions to prove the world its intentions are peaceful. Iranian hardliners oppose any concession by President Hassan Rouhani’s government, while U.S. lawmakers threaten to shoot down any agreement that would allow Iran to keep some enrichment capacity.

Palestinian Israeli Conflict Deepens as Lebanon Strikes

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Courtesy of Higher Learning

On Friday, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he will not give in to international pressure to stop a military offensive in Gaza and will continue until rocket fire out of Gaza ceases. According to Aron Heller, Israel leader: World pressure won’t stop military offensive, the Prime Minister had a good conversation with many world leaders in recent days including President Barack Obama and has decided to continue with his plans. So far, Netanyahu has attacked more than 1,000 targets in Gaza during the four day operation using twice the force used in a similar 2012 offensive. The death toll after the four day offensive comes to 100 Palestinians with no word how many Israelis have died so far.

However, as the death toll from Israel’s massive air campaign in Gaza topped 100 Friday, militants in neighboring Lebanon fired rockets at Israel as Gaza militants continued rocket fire reaching deeper into Israel. According to Heller, Gaza militants have fired 550 rockets against Israel in the offensive with Israeli military hitting more than 1,100 targets identified as launch sites and bombarding the territory every 5 minutes on average. In Gaza, an Israeli Airstrike on Friday and overnight strikes has killed eight people raising the death toll to at least 98 with a later strike pushing the total over 100 along with 670 wounded, the Associated Press reports. Hamas says it intends to fire rockets at the airport and warned foreign airlines to stop flying to Israel. However, Israel has shot down at least 110 incoming rockets so far with its “Iron Dome” defense system. In northern Israel, rocket fire struck near the Lebanese border causing the military to respond with artillery fire toward southern Lebanon, according to military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner. The Lebanese military stated that militants fired three rockets toward Israel around 6 am and the Israelis retaliated by firing 25 artillery shells on the area. Lebanon’s state run National News Agency confirmed one militant firing the rockets was wounded and taken to the hospital, while the Lebanese’s military said troops found the two rocket launchers and dismantled them. The recent rocket fire from Lebanon was blamed on radical Palestinian factions in the area and Hezbollah, a Shiite militant stronghold in Southern Lebanon, was not involved. The  Associated Press reports that a pair of Lebanon based al-Qaida groups, the Battalions of Ziad Jarrah and the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, in the past have claimed responsibility for similar rocket attacks on Israel.

The recent conflict between Israel and Gaza came after the death of three Israeli teenagers who were kidnapped and killed in the West Bank and a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death as retaliation. Lerner states that the military was trying to prevent civilian causalities calling residents ahead of time to warn of imminent attacks and using “non-explosive munitions” to warn people to leave before the attack. Lerner blames Hamas for the deaths of innocent bystanders by firing into heavily populated areas. Israeli leaders are considering a ground assault in Gaza to target Hamas, even though, this would most likely increase Palestinian civilian casualties and put Israeli troops at risk. Israel has mobilized more than 30,000 reservists to aid in the possible ground invasion. In the past, the Associated Press reports, a ground incursions in 2009 left hundreds of civilians dead and both sides drew war crimes accusations in a United Nations report. Middle East envoy Tony Blair said that efforts to reach a truce were being made. According to the Associated Press, Blair state, “We are in a critical point. I think we have got to do everything we can to … create a situation in which the people in Gaza and the West Bank and in Israel feel that this is not then going to recur and there is some genuine plan in place.”