Islamic State Hits Syria Hard As U.S. and Allies Ramp up Offensive, Ukraine and Russia Make Progress and Catalonia Looks For Independence Following Scotland’s Vote

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On Thursday, Islamic State fighters besieged a Kurdish city in northern Syria after seizing 21 villages forcing neighboring Kurds in Turkey to call to arms followers to resist the group’s advance, Tom Perry and Laila Bassam report, Islamic State Seizes Syrian And Kurdish Villages In Major Assault. The attack on Ayn al-Arab, Kobani in Kurdish, came two days after U.S. military officials said the Syrian opposition would be needed in order for the Syrian Kurds to defeat the Islamic State. U.S. President Barack Obama last week said he would strike the radical Islamist group that used Syria as a base to advance its pan to reshape the Middle East according to the radical views of Sunni Islam. The United States is conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and now Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria. Ocalan Iso, deputy head of the Kurdish forces in Kobani, told Reuters via Skype, “We’ve lost touch with many of the residents living in the villages that ISIS (Islamic State) seized.” The Kurds appealed for military aid from other Kurdish group including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party who issued a call for young men in Turkey’s southeast to join the fight in norther Syria. On their website, in a statement, PKK said, “The youth of northern Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) should go to Kobani and take part in the historic, honorable resistance.” As night fell, a Reuters witness said 3,000 men, women and children waited at the Turkish border 6 miles from Kobani as Turkish forces stopped the crowd from crossing. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara: “We’re ready to help our brothers who are building up at the borders regardless of their ethnicity, religion and sect. But our priority is to deliver aid within Syria’s borders.” Redur Xelil, spokesman for the YPG, said Islamic State had encircled Kobani, telling Reuters via Skype.: “We call on world powers to move to halt this barbaric assault by ISIS.” Obama’s plan to expand support for groups fighting Islamic State in Syria focus on Sunni Muslim insurgents deemed moderate by Washington. On Friday, several thousand Syrians mostly Kurds crossed into Turkey finding refuge from the Islamic State militants who took over villages in northern Syria in the past 28 hours, the Associated Press reported, Syrian Kurds fleeing IS group cross into Turkey. In a statement on his website, Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region, said the Islamic State’s “barbaric and terrorist acts” on the Kobani area in northern Syria “threaten the whole entirety of the Kurdish nation and it has targeted the honor, dignity and existence of our people.” He also said, “The ISIS terrorists perpetrate crimes and tragedies wherever they are, therefore they have to be hit and defeated wherever they are.” The main Kurdish forces in Syria called the People’s Protection Unit or YPK have been battling the Islamic State for more than a year, but is viewed with suspicion by mainstream Syrian rebels and there Western supporters due to their supposed link to President Bashar Assad’s government. Meanwhile, France on Friday conducted its first airstrikes against the Islamic State group destroying a logistics depot that it controlled, Iraqi and French officials said, according to Jamey Keaten, France strikes Islamic State group’s depot in Iraq. President Francois Hollande confirmed the hit in northern Iraq, saying, “Other operations will follow in the coming days with the same goal – to weaken this terrorist organization and come to the aid of the Iraqi authorities. There are always risks in taking up a responsibility. I reduced the risks to a minimum.” Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military, said four French airstrikes hit the town of Zumar, killing dozens of extremist fighters. France has become the first foreign country to publicly add military aid to the United Stated airstrikes against the group. In Washington, Congress approved with a vote of 78-22 in the Senate, a bill already approved by the House 273-156 Wednesday, to allow funding for the government after the end of the budget year on Sept. 30 and allow the U.S. military to train and equip Syrian rebels for a war against ISIS on Thursday night, the Associated Press reported, Strong Senate vote for Obama on Syria rebel aid. In the Senate, 44 Democrats, 33 Republicans and one independent voted for the bill, while 9 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one independent opposed it. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told one House committee that Obama “is not going to order American combat ground forces into that area.” Obama’s general plan is to have U.S. troops train Syrian rebels at camps in Saudi Arabia, a process that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said could take a year. Kathleen Miles reports, Iranian Foreign Minister: America Helped Create ISIS And Is Taking The Wrong Approach … Again, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday that the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S created ISIS and foreign military presence will only create new terrorists. During a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations, Zarif said: “If you look at the essence of ISIS, it’s the product of foreign invasion. Foreign presence in any territory creates a dynamic for demagogues like ISIS to use the resentment in the population of being occupied.” He noted that the Islamic State began with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an Islamist leader of the anti-American insurgency in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion. He continued on to say: “As a principle, we do not believe that injection of foreign forces, either air or ground, solves our problem. We continue to have serious doubts about the willingness and ability of the U.S. to seriously engage this menace across the board –- and not just pick and choose where to engage. People need to be realistic. The so-called Syrians moderates — look at what’s happening on the ground — they control no territory. They can have no influence in fighting against either ISIS or the Syrian government. Syria is either controlled by the government or by ISIS. The U.S. cannot effectively fight against both at the same time.” Referring to the meeting in Paris and the U.S. led coalistion to fight ISIS, Zarif said: “Most participants in that meeting in one form or another provided support to ISIS … at the end of the day, creating a Frankenstein that came to haunt its creators. [Extremists] do not fly into Iraq. They come on foot from somewhere, and they don’t come from Iran. You can look at the addresses, and I believe every location was [represented] around the table in Paris.”

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Poroshenko renewed his call for American weaponry during his address to a joint meeting of Congress, expressing his appreciation for non lethal assistance from the U.S. but saying it was not enough to quell the violence in eastern Ukraine. the Associated Press reports, Ukraine’s pleas for lethal aid from US go unmet. Poroshenko, before heading to the White House to meet with Obama, said, “Blankets and night vision goggles are important, but one cannot win a war with a blanket.” The White House announced a new $46 million security package for Ukraine’s military that included counter mortar radar to detect incoming artillery fire, vehicles and patrol boats, body armor and heavy engineering equipment. In addition, $7 million will go to humanitarian organizations to assist people affected by the violence. Regarding his discussion with Obama and the desire for lethal American military assistance, Poroshenko told reporters: “I am satisfied with the level of our cooperation with the United States of America in the defense and security sector. I cannot say more, but I am satisfied.” In the Oval Office, Obama sat side by side with Poroshenko declaring, “The people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.” Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists agreed to a cease-fire on Sept. 5, but the deal has been violated repeatedly. Both sides have promised to regroup and continue fighting, if required. Poroshenko came to Washington seeking lethal military assistance to help push back the Russian forces. His request has support from some members of the Obama administration, as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously Thursday to advance legislation that would authorize $350 million for military assistance including anti-tank weapons. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the committee, said, “President Putin has upended the international order, and a slap on the wrist will not deter future Russian provocations. In the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine needs our steadfast and determined support, not an ambiguous response. ” Obama has argued more weapons into the conflict will not de-escalate the situation. However, Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said, “The more costly the Ukrainians can make any fighting for the Russians, the less Moscow’s interest in resuming the conflict.” While sanction from both the European Union and the United States have had a negative impact on Russia’s economy, they have done little to detour PUtin’s tactics. Meanwhile, back in Ukraine, Yuras Karmanau and Mstyslav Chernov report, Ukraine, Russia, Rebels Agree To Buffer Zone In Peace Talks, Saturday that sporadic artillery fire hit part of eastern Ukraine hours after negotiators agreed to create a buffer zone between government troops and pro-Russian militants by halting their advances, pulling back heavy weapons and withdrawing foreign fighters. Despite a ceasefire agreement that has been in place since Sept. 5, the fighting between the two sides has been deadly. Shelling could be heard in Donetsk and rebels opened fire on the village of Stakhanovets in the Luhansk region, according to the Interior Ministry. Ukrainian national security council spokesman Volodymyr Polyoviy said Saturday that about 20 rebels and one soldier had been killed in clashes but did not specify if those took place after the negotiators agreed on the buffer zone around 4 a.m. The deal reached by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the Moscow-backed rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says the two sides should stay where they were Friday and make no attempt to advance. According to the report: “Under the deal, each party must pull back artillery of 100 millimeters (about 4 inches) or larger at least 15 kilometers (9 miles), setting up a buffer zone that would be 30 kilometers (19 miles) wide. The longer-range artillery systems are to be pulled even farther back to make sure the parties can’t reach one another. The deal also specifically bans flights by combat aircraft over the area of conflict and setting up new minefields.” NATO’s top general, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, hopes the agreement announced Saturday to create a buffer zone between Ukrainian government troops and the pro-Russian militants will succeed in stabilizing the situation. On Friday, Reuters reports, US, Canada send jets to intercept Russian aircraft, that U.S. and Canadian fighter jets intercepted Russian aircraft flying near U.S. and Canadian air space this week, a military spokesman confirmed. On Wednesday, six Russian aircraft entered the United States’ air defense identification zone (ADIZ), an area beyond sovereign U.S. airspace, according to a statement from NORAD, a U.S. and Canadian aerospace command, and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). In response, “two Alaskan-based F-22 fighter jets acting under the authority of NORAD identified and intercepted two Russian IL-78 refueling tankers, two Russian Mig-31 fighter jets and two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the ADIZ, west of Alaska,” the statement said. On Thursday, Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the Canadian ADIZ. John Cornelio, a spokesman for NORAD and NORTHCOM, said that such intercepts had happened over 50 times in the last five years as Russian aircraft conducted exercises.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s vote for independence from Britain ended with voters resoundingly rejecting independence, but helped pave the way for a possible vote for Catalonia who wants independence from Spain, Jil Lawless and Danica Kirka report, Scots reject independence in historic vote. The historic vote and referendum ultimately prevented the rupture of a 307 year old union with England and brought a sigh of relief to Britain’s political establishment including Prime Minister David Cameron, who faced demands for his resignation if Scotland broke away. The vote on Thursday saw an unprecedented turn out of 85 percent with 55 percent against independence and 45 percent in favor. Alistair Darling, head of the no campaign, said Friday from Glasgow: “We have chosen unity over division. Today is a momentous day for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.” Cameron from his Downing Street office lived up to his promise to Scotland to give new powers on taxes, spending and welfare and the new plans will be agreed upon by November with draft legislation by January. He added, “We will ensure that those commitments are honored in full. We have heard the voice of Scotland, now the voices of millions in England must be heard.” Cameron also said people in other parts of the U.K. should also have more rights to govern their own affairs, particularly in England. The No campaign won the capital city, Edinburgh, by a margin of 61 percent to 38 percent and triumphed by 59 percent to 41 percent in Aberdeen, the country’s oil center. The Yes campaign won Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, but it was not enough. The vote to keep the U.K. together helps it avoid substantial loses to its territory and oil reserves and prevents it from having to find an new base for its nuclear arsenal housed in Scotland. The no vote also allowed the United Kingdom to keep its influence within international institutions including 28 nation European Union, NATO and the United Nations. Additionally, Britain avoids a prolonged period of financial insecurity that were predicted by Scotland’s independence. AOL reports, Catalonia pushes for independence following Scottish vote, hours after the vote on Friday, Spain’s Catalonia region took steps toward holding their own independence referendum. Catalonia’s regional parliament authorized a consultation vote on independence for the region with a presumptive November 9 date. However, the Spanish government condemned the possible vote as illegal. Due to Spain’s painful financial crisis, nearly two million people lined the streets of Barcelona a week earlier in support of independence. The decades-old independence movement has also been bolstered by Scotland’s referendum. Catalonia’s President Artur Mas told reporters he admired the U.K.’s commitment to a democratic referendum and expected the same process from Madrid. “It is more important to hold the referendum than the independence. … This represents high-quality democracy.” But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who opposes Catalan independence, has been quick to congratulate Scotland for choosing not to break with the U.K. Catalan independence faces a battle due to the Spanish constitution that requires the authorization by Spanish parliament for any referendum. Spain will most likely take the Catalan parliament’s new law to the country’s constitutional court that favors Madrid over Barcelona. If held, Catalonia’s planned referendum would not result in legal separation from Spain, but provide President Mas with a political mandate to pressure Madrid for independence.

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.

Israel Ignores Any Talks of a Ceasefire, While Other Bloody Civil War continues and Putin Talks Ukraine with Obama

The short video above posted by several news outlets on YouTube sums up the human tragedy that is the Palestinian Israeli conflict and for that matter tells of the toll such violence takes on people who have to see it every day. As Charlotte Alfred explains the incident, UN Official Chris Gunness Breaks Down On Air After School Bombing, the breakdown happened on camera with Al Jazeera Arabic on Wednesday of last week when UN official Chris Gunness could not contain his grief after a U.N. run school sheltering 3,000 Palestinians was shelled. Gunness, spokesman for the UN Agency for Palestinians Refugees (UNRWA), told Al Jazeera Arabic from Jerusalem: “The rights of Palestinians, and even their children, are wholesale denied… and it’s appalling.” Soon after the interviewer thanked him appearing, Gunness broke down and wept. Gaza’s Ministry of Health said 17 people died and 90 were wounded by the school shelling, while the Israeli military spokesman told the New York Times that Israeli troops did not target the UN facility, but did respond to militants firing near the school in Jabaliya refugee camp. According to Alfred, in an official statement last Wednesday, the UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Kranhenbuhl wrote: “Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.”

Meanwhile on Friday, President Barack Obama during a White House briefing addressed the situation in Israel. Obama again voiced his support for Israeli’s right to defend itself, while condemning Hamas and Palestinian militants after a ceasefire unraveled and calling for the release of a captive Israeli soldier. Paige Lavender reports, Obama Calls For Unconditional Release Of Captured Israeli Soldier, Obama said: “I think it’s important to note that we have, and I have, unequivocally condemned Hamas and the Palestinian factions that were responsible for killing two Israeli soldiers and abducting a third almost minutes after a cease-fire had been announced. I want to make sure that they are listening. If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that solider needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible.” In addition, the U.S. will continue to work on a ceasefire deal even though Friday’s violation will make it difficult since the ceasefire deal brokered by the U.N. and U.S. only lasted two hours.

Back in Israel, on Saturday, Israel launched dozens of airstrikes in southern Gaza as part of a large scale search fro a captive Israeli soldier, Karin Laub and Hamza Hendawi report, Israel pounds Gaza as it searches for soldier. At least 35 Palestinians were killed in and around the city of Rafah where the bombardment and shelling took place forcing the area’s main hospital to evacuate, according to a Palestinians health official. The Israeli military said the soldier was grabbed in a Hamas ambush about an hour after the ceasefire started on Friday morning causing international condemnation and calls for immediate release by President Barack Obama and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. The Hamas military wing in a statement on its website said it was “not aware until this moment of a missing soldier or his whereabouts or the circumstances of his disappearance.” Israel and Hams accuse each other of violating the humanitarian pause. more than 1,650 Palestinians most civilians have been killed and 8,000 wounded, according to health official Ashraf al-Kidra. Israel has lost 63 soldiers and three civilians. al-Kidra added that since Friday morning more than 100 Palestinians were killed in the Rafah area including 35 on Saturday. The police operations room reported 77 airstrikes on the area and heavy shelling. Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary general, blamed Hamas for violating the ceasefire and demanded the release of Goldin, the 23 year old captured Israeli solider. In a statement from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, Netanyahu told Secretary of State John Kerry via phone that the Palestinian militants had violated the ceasefire and attack Israeli solder after 9am: “Israel will take all necessary steps against those who call for our destruction and perpetrate terrorism against our citizens.” Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hams’ deputy leader, denied Hamas violated the truce telling Al-Arabiya news channel from Cairo that the movement’s military wing carried out no operations after 8 am. In a statement to reporters outside his home, Goldin’s father said: “We want to support the military in the fighting against Hamas in Gaza. We are sure the military will not stop before it turns over every stone in Gaza and returns Hadar home safe and sound.”

As for now, Israeli officials and media reports on Saturday said Israel won’t participate in cease fire talks with Hamas and will scale back its 26 day military operation in Gaza on its own terms. Ian Deitch and Ibrahim Barzak report, Israel signals scaling back Gaza war on its terms, cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz said Israel will not send a delegation to truce talks in Cairo, according to Israel’s Channel 10, alleging that Hamas has repeatedly violated ceasefire deals and this “leads us to the conclusion that with this organization there is no point speaking” about any deal. Under conditions of anonymity, an Israeli official told The Associated Press that troops will finish demolishing tunnels under the Gaza Israel border since they are close to completing their mission. Referring to Friday’s 72 hour truce, Steinitz said: “We are currently not sending any representative to Cairo because we agreed to several cease-fires and the Egyptian proposal and time after time, and the last time was yesterday. That leads us to the conclusion that with this organization there is no point in speaking about an agreement or a cease-fire because we have tried it too many times.” The Israeli officials said the army announced that the town of Beit Lahiya, where previous fighting took place and now is safe for residence to return, is “a signal that things are pretty much being wrapped up.” In addition, on Saturday, Israeli troops and tanks began to redeploy away from the area east of the south central Gaza town of Khan Younis to the border with Israel, according to residents and police officials. One resident, Assad Ghanam said of the Israel army that: “We are afraid to go back, simply because we cannot trust them. My uncle and his wife went back to the area to feed their chickens and animals after an earlier cease-fire. They both got killed.” Elsewhere in Gaza, Palestinian officials on Saturday reported more than 150 Israeli airstrikes and heavy shelling continued along the border areas. The Israeli military said 200 targets were hit over 24 hours, while Gaza militants fired 74 rockets at Israel since midnight and seven were intercepted by Israel’s rocket defense system.

Following the collapse of a ceasefire deal in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the White House not to force a ceasefire with Hamas on Israel advising the Obama administration “not to ever second guess me again” on the matter, according to sources familiar with conversation between Netanyahu and senior U.S. officials including Secretary of State John Kerry. The condemnation of Hamas by Obama came as top Israeli officials questioned the ceasefire efforts accusing the U.S. and United Nations of being naive to Hamas adhering to the terms, Matthew Lee reports, Netanyahu Tells U.S. ‘Not To Ever Second Guess Me Again’ On Hamas. Obama told reporters that until the captive’s release, a cease fire deal could be difficult: “If they are serious about trying to resolve this situation, that soldier needs to be unconditionally released as soon as possible. It’s going to be very hard to put a cease-fire back together again if Israelis and the international community can’t feel confident that Hamas can follow through on a cease-fire commitment.” After the latest truce was violated, an Israeli official said the Netanyahu government viewed both Hams and Qatar as violating the commitment given to the U.S. and the U.N. and expected the international community to take practical steps as part of a strong and swift response especially regarding the captive soldier’s return. IN a phone call with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, Netanyahu told Shapiro the Obama administration was “not to ever second-guess me again” and Washington should trust his judgement regarding Hamas. In addition, Netanyahu expects the U.S. and other countries full support in Israel’s offensive in Gazas, according to people familiar with the call, who spoke under conditions of anonymity.

While the world focuses on the Ukraine Crisis and the Israeli Palestine Conflict with their rising death tolls, other conflicts with massive death tolls have been largely ignored. Sophia Jones reports, While The World Watched Gaza Crumble, Syria Had One Of Its Bloodiest Weeks Yet, at least 1,496 Palestinians have been killed and more than 60 Israelis have been killed, while in Ukraine 800 civilians have been killed since April as the United States and the European Union beef up sanctions against Russia. In Syria, ripped apart by a three year war and counting, last week saw more than 1,700 people killed in their country making it one of the bloodiest weeks yet, reports the British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch reported that the Syrian regime is using barrel bombs, something that the U.N. Security Council banned in February, in full force against civilians and in Aleppo the civilian population is bearing the brunt of these bombs. On Thursday, for the first time, the U.N. using nine trucks supplied shelter, food and water purification supplies upon entering Syria without the consent of thr regime which usually denied access. In Libya, heavy clashes between Islamist militants and government forces wreaked havoc on civilian populations. On Monday, Islamist led militants took a special forces base in Benghazi and local medical workers said 75 bodies were recover from the area, while the U.S.Canadian and French embassies among other were evacuated from the country this week and foreign nationals were told to leave immediately. On Sunday, Tripoli’s airport lay in ruins as a rocket fired near the airport prompted a massive blaze that has burned for days eating through millions of gallons of scarce oil reserves. The Los Angeles Times reported the countries oil productions dropped by 20 percent since the fighting broke out. In Iraq, militants from the Islamic State destroy half a dozen holy sites in Mosul, has taken over a large piece of the country in June with the aim of creating its own Islamic caliphate and claimed responsibility for killing dozens of people in recent bombings. On Friday, the United Nations said more than 1,700 people were killed in Iraq in July. In Afghanistan, civilians in the Helmand province celebrated Eid al-Fitr in fear due to fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces continued. Since the 2001 U.S. led invasion in Afghanistan, 2,197 soldiers have been killed. Meanwhile in Nigeria, more than a dozen people were killed and injured in Tuesday’s mosques explosions with many blaming Boko Haram, a radical Islamist group seeking to impose Shariah law, for carrying out the bomb attacks. Multiple female suicide bombers this week, suspected of working for Boko Haram, have killed dozens as well with the Nigerian government announcing on Thursday that two men belonging to the group were traveling with a10 year old girl with explosives strapped to her chest. And in the Central African Republic, Christians and Muslim militias signed a fragile ceasefire last week after violence killed thousands and uprooted millions since late 2012. In Southern Sudan, planned peace talks have been delayed this week between warring parties and the civil war has killed 10,000 people since December with one third of the population risking starvation. On Friday, the Associated Press reported, Obama, Putin Discuss Ukraine Crisis, President Barack Obama, on Friday via phone, spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about Russia’s support of separatists in Ukraine and Russia complying with a 1987 nuclear missile treaty that the U.S. says Moscow breached. The same day, the White said Vice President Joe Biden called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to announced $8 million in new assistance to Ukraine to improve border security including transportation, small boats and better surveillance equipment, but does not including armaments.

Relief for the VA, Paul Ryan Rants, Saving Chicago, DC Gun Laws and Fast Food Worker’s Rights

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After six weeks of negotiations, House and Senate negotiators have agreed to a compromise to fix a veterans health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays and deaths. Matthew Daly reports, After 6 weeks, finally a deal on VA health care, the chairman of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees will hold a news conference on Monday afternoon to unveil a plan to authorize billions in emergency spending to lease 27 new clinics, hire more doctors and nurses and make it easier for veterans who can’t get prompt appointments with VA doctors to get outside care. An agreement Sunday by Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), chairman of the House panel, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Senate veterans panel chair, was reached after many private meetings, no shows and public spats with only days left until Congress goes on a five week recess. A partisan impasse loomed which both sides hoped to avoid what Miller called the “sort of bickering and name-calling for which Washington has become infamous.” Three days later, via telephone from Florida and Vermont, Miller and Sanders were on the same page. The tentative deal requires a vote by a conference committee of House and Senate negotiators and a full vote in the House and Senate. The plan announced Monday, according to Miller and Sanders, is intended to “make VA more accountable and to help the department recruit more doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.” Luis Celli, legislative director for the American Legion, the nation’s largest veterans group, said on Sunday: “There is an emergency need to get veterans off the waiting lists. That’s what this is all about.” Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said: “It’s about time they’re doing their jobs. You don’t get a medal for doing your job.” An updated audit by the VA this month shows 10 percent of veterans seeking medical care at VA hospitals and clinics still wait 30 days for an appointment with 46,000 veterans waiting at least three months for an initial appointment and an additional 7,00 veterans who asked for appointments over the past decade that never got them. The Senate and House are set to adjourn at the end of the week until September and lawmakers from both parties see the VA bill as a top priority. Meanwhile, the Senate is also expected to vote this week to confirm former Procter Gamble CEO Robert McDonald as the new VA secretary, replacing Gibson.

While one problem may potentially be resolved this week, on Sunday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) condemned the federal government’s approach to poverty reduction claiming the Obama administration is responsible for the system that “perpetuates poverty” in America, according to Ashley Alman’s article Paul Ryan Accuses Obama Administration Of System That ‘Perpetuates Poverty.’ On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Ryan came to discuss his new poverty proposal involving consolidating 11 federal anti-poverty programs including food stamps and housing vouchers into one program coordinated by each state. Host David Gregory commented that Ryan sounded like he had little “sympathy” for impoverished Americans. Ryan responded by saying: “We don’t want to have a poverty management system that simply perpetuates poverty. The federal government’s approach has ended up maintaining poverty, managing poverty, in many ways it has disincentivized people from going to work. Able-bodied people should go to work, and we should have a system that helps them do that so that they can realize their potential.” Ryan announced his poverty proposal Thursday saying it is an opportunity for reform that would be “budget neutral.” However, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) disagrees: “The core idea of the Ryan proposal is not a new idea at all: it’s nothing more than a block grant gussied up with some bells and whistles. If you look at the block grant proposal in the context of the Ryan-Republican budget, it would dramatically slash the resources available to help struggling families.”

As families to continue to struggle to keep their heads above water, cities are not only struggling to keep people working, but keep gun violence to a minimum. Glenn Minnis reports, Can Noah’s Arc save streets of Chicago?, Joakim Noah, an NBA All Star Center, on Friday spoke to a room full of teens and adolescents at a Major Adams Community Center room about gun and gang violence culture so out of control it has brought his hometown of Chicago to its knees. Noah spoke of his motivation to start his “Stand up Chicago” campaign: “It’s very important that we understand that this is not just a problem that’s going on on the South Side, the violence is not a problem that’s going on on the West Side. This is a Chicago problem.” Noah also enlisted the help of teammate and Chi-town native Derrick Rose who appeared on a 60 second PSA for his initiative. Join by rapper and Chicago native Common, he states in the PSA: “I stand for my city.” In a statement on his Noah’s Arc Foundation site, Noah and his mom, Cecilia Rodhe, called on all Chicagoans to “take a stand against violence and become ambassadors for peace and positivity.” Over the first seven months of the year, 207 homicides have taken place in Chicago with the most recent incident on July 4 weekend where the L.A. Times reported at least 16 people killed and 82 injured over three and half days. In response, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms has added seven more ATF agents to its former roster of 45 in hopes of somehow of corralling all the madness, according to Minnis. Noah summed up the goal of his organization by saying: “As somebody who plays for the Bulls, I feel like I’m somebody who represents the city, and I think that helping our youth is important. The summer months bring a lot of violence, and we felt it was urgent to get a public service announcement out now in order to bring some hope, change and support to the community. We have to find a way together, whether you’re rich, poor, black, white, whatever you are, to come together and solve this together. To me personally, this is just as important as winning a championship.”

Meanwhile, gun advocates in Washington, D.C. this weekend celebrate following a federal judge ruling that struck down the city’s ban on handguns in public, the AOL article, D.C.’s gun laws take another hit in handgun carry ruling, explains. District Judge Frederick Scullin reached the conclusion many other district courts reached in similar cases: “The Second Amendment secures an individual right … to carry a common weapon outside the home for self-defense.” The ruling prevents D.C. officials from enforcing public gun bans until licensing regulations are put in place. In 2008 a Supreme Court decision, District of Columbia v. Heller, overturned the city’s total ban on handguns ruling the Second Amendment guarantees the right to own weapons for self-defense, AOL reports. The latest decision comes from an Aug. 2009 lawsuit that, according to SCOTUSblog notes, got tangled up in the D.C. district’s legal red tape for five years frustrating the plaintiffs. “The challengers to the D.C. law tried repeatedly to get a ruling, even asking a federal appeals court to step in to command that the case be decided.” In addition, Congress is challenging gun control in D.C. House Republicans approved an amendment to the district’s funding bill that would prevent D.C. from enforcing their gun laws. However, it will still be illegal to bring to a gun into a federal building. D.C. officials have yet to announce plans to appeal the ruling, but a spokesman told reporters the city is looking into options.

As the gun fight rages on, on Saturday, fast food workers across the nation voted to escalate efforts for $15 an hour pay and union membership using nonviolent civil disobedience. More than 1,300 workers came together at a convention center in Chicago to discuss the future of a campaign to spread to dozens of cities in less than two years, Tammy Webber reports, Fast Food Workers Vow Civil Disobedience. The Service Employee International Union provides financial and organizational support to fast food protests. They began in 2012 in New York City including daylong strikes and peaceful demonstrations outside this year’s McDonald’s Corp. shareholder meeting where 130 protestors were arrested for stepping onto company property. Saturday’s convention in Villa Park, Illinois, included session on civil disobedience and leadership training. Rev.William Barber II, head of the North Carolina NAACP, said: “People should not work and be willing to work and then be denied living wages and be denied health care because of greed. This movement is saying that America is less than she promises to be, morally and constitutionally, by denying living wages. If you raise wages for workers, you buoy the whole economy.” The movement comes as President Barack Obama and many other Democrats try to make a campaign issue out of their call to increase the federal and state minimum wage which stands at $7.25 an hour for federal wages or about $15,000 per year for40 hours a week. Obama and others want to increase it to $10.10. The restaurant industry argues that a $15 hourly wage would lead to business closing and job cuts. According to Webber: “The National Restaurant Association said last week that increasing wages to $15 will not solve income inequality and that the campaign was an attempt by unions to boost dwindling membership.” Scott DeFife, the association;s executive vice president of policy and government affairs, said protesters are “demonizing” an industry that employs all ages, backgrounds and skill levels instead of focusing on policies to increase education and job training. Unfortunately, many workers say that people stay in these jobs for years because they are the only ones available. Barber believes that “this movement is intensifying and it is going to shake the moral consciousness of this country.”

Russia Receives New Sanctions While Embattled Rebels Continue to Fight in Eastern Ukraine

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On Wednesday, the United States imposed comprehensive sanctions on Russia’s economy including Gazprombank and the Rosneft Oil Co and other major banks, energy and defense companies. As Anna Yukhananov, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason report, US imposes toughest sanctions yet on Russia over Ukraine, Washington has increased its financial sanctions on Russia due to Moscow’s alleged interference in its neighbor Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Other targeted companies include Russia’s second-largest gas producer, Novatek, Vnesheconombank, or VEB, a state-owned bank that acts as payment agent for the Russian government, and eight arms firms. The U.S. Treasury Department said the measures close medium and long term dollar funding to the two banks and energy companies, however, the sanctions did not freeze these four companies’ assets. The sanctions do not target Russia’s Gazprom, which owns 36 percent of Gazprombank, the world’s largest natural gas producer and provider of most of Europe’s energy supplies. On the same day, the European Union leaders met in Brussels to expand their own sanctions on Russia. The U.S. sanctions now include Feodosiva Enterprises, a shipping facility in Crimea, and senior Russian officials including the deputy head of the State Duma, or parliament, the minister of the Crimea, a commander of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, and a Ukrainian separatist leader. On Wesdnesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, “There are some clear steps that we’ve asked Russia to take that they haven’t taken. And that is what has elevated the risk that Russia faces right now as it relates to additional economic costs that could be imposed by the international community.” In addition, Washington said that 12,000 Russian forces were back on the border with Ukraine and weapons were crossing over to pro-Russian separatists.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday stated that the recent addition to U.S. sanctions against Russia will stalemate bilateral relations and hurt Russian and American businesses, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, Putin Speaks Out Against New U.S. Sanctions. According to Vasilyeva: “Russia’s benchmark MICEX was down 2.9 percent in late afternoon trading Thursday upon news of the sanctions while Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft, was nearly 5 percent down and second-largest oil producer was trading 9 percent lower.” Putin’s comments came hours after President Barack Obama announced border sanctions against Russia. The POTUS hopes that the increased pressure will end the insurgency in eastern Ukraine which is believed to be backed by the Kremlin. The U.S. penalties stop short of the most stringent action threatened which is to cut off key sectors of Russia’s oil dependent economy, however, those steps are on the table if Russia fails to agree to the West demands to stop supporting insurgents who have destabilized eastern Ukraine. The fighting in eastern Ukraine has gone on for four months in a conflict the U.N. says has killed over 400 people and displaced tens of thousands. The conflict began shortly after Russia annexed Crimea. Putin warned Washington that the sanctions will backlash against American companies working in Russia including Rosneft and Novatek which are both barred from getting long term loans from U.S. entities. Moscow based investment bank Sberbank-CIB said in a note to investors that Russian companies cannot replace long term loans from the U.S. immediately, while Rosneft’s multimillion dollar deal with ExxonMobil may be in jeopardy. Russia’s foreign minitry dismissed the sanctions as bullying and said it will push back. In addition, Prime Minister Dimtry Medvedev in televised remarks said the sanctions are throwing Russia’s relations with the west back to the 1980s adding that Russia “will have to pay more attention to military and security spending.” Putin did not mention the additional sanctions from the European Union which urge the European Investment Bank to sign no new financing agreements with Moscow and was suspending operations in Russia financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, according to Vasilyeva. The foreign ministry did lash out at the EU’s new sanctions by accusing Europe of “giving in to the bullying of the U.S. administration.”

While Russia got hit with sanctions from more than one governmental entity, pro-Moscow separatists battle to break through government forces near the border with Russia in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday as steps toward a ceasefire failed. Fighting has intensified since Ukrainian forces pushed rebels out of their stronghold in the town of Slaviansk 10 days ago, Richard Balmforth and Anton Zverev report (As Fighting In East Ukraine Intensifies, Hundreds Of Bodies Of Rebels Found In Shallow Graves). The Ukrainian military said 11 more troops were killed in 24 hours near the frontier. Ukraine has tried to put down a revolt of heavily armed fighters since April, many of them Russian who want independence for two eastern provinces. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March after pro-Russian president was ousted in Kiev. Moscow has denied supporting the separatist fighters, but Kiev says many of them and their leaders came from Russia and brought heavy weapons with them. Ukrainian troops are concentrating their efforts on securing the frontier to prevent more fighters and weapons from coming in.

The escalation in recent days raised the prospect that Moscow could intervene in Ukraine directly, as Kiev reports, the numbers of Russian troops have risen at the border area again. In telephone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy,  Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko provided evidence of fighters crossing into Ukraine from Russia with heavy military equipment. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk in a speech on his website said: “Everything which is happening in Ukraine has been planned by Russia since 2004. Putin has a clear plan and that is to destroy Ukraine and establish his influence over post-Soviet space.” Around 270 Ukrainian servicemen and hundreds of civilians and rebels have been killed since operations began in April to crush the rebels. Lysenko, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said that in Slaviansk, the former rebel stronghold, “hundreds of bodies of…(rebel) fighters” had been found in shallow graves. Some of these graves have been mined by the terrorists. Efforts to forge a truce have failed after a planned video link up with separatists on Tuesday never materialized. Since losing Slaviansk, hundreds of rebel fighters moved to Donetsk vowing to make a stand. The city itself has seen a drop in its pre-conflict population of 1 million as many flee the city fearing a government offensive.

While fighting continued on the ground, a Malyasian Airlines passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down over eastern Ukraine Thursday, Ukrainian officials said, and both the government and pro-Russia separatists deny any responsibility. As Peter Leonard reports, Ukraine: Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 295 passengers shot down, an Associated Press journalist counted at least 22 bodies at the wreckage site near rebel held Hrabove 40 kilometers from the Russian border. The village has seen severe fighting between the two sides in recent days. A Russian news reports said pro-Russian rebels intend to call a three day ceasefire in order to allow for investigation of the crash site and recovery efforts. The Boeing 777-200ER was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and appears to have broken up before impact spreading the wreckage over a wide area. Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters that Malaysia was unable to verify “the cause of this tragedy but we must, and we will, find out precisely what happened to this flight” and added that the plane didn’t make any distress call before it went down. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the downing an act of terrorism and wants an international investigation into the crash insisting that his forces did not shoot it down. According to Huib Gorter, Malaysian Airlines senior vice president in Europe, at least 154 people on the flight were Dutch citizens, 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians including 15 crew and 11 Indonesians. In addition, other nationalities included six from the United Kingdom, four from Germany, four Belgians, three from the Philippines and one Canadian. Unfortunately, 47 dead passengers are still unidentified. Ukraine’s security services said they intercepted two telephone conversations that showed rebels were responsible. Earlier in the week, rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down two Ukrainian military plans. In a Kremlin statement issued early Friday, Putin said, “This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.” Britain has asked for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Ukraine. Within hours of Thursday’s crash, several airlines including Lufthansa, Delta and KLM released statements saying they were avoiding parts of Ukrainian airspace. Poroshenko stated: “We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets. We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible.” The White confirmed the call made by Putin to inform “the U.S. president of the report from air traffic controllers that the Malaysian plane had crashed on Ukrainian territory.” Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told the Associate Press he was certain that Ukrainian troops shot down the plane and that rebels forces if they owned Buk missile launchers were not capable of operating them. Around the time of the crash, Russian media quoted witnesses saying they saw what they thought was a rocket hit the plane. This is the second time a Malaysian Airlines plane was lost in less than six months.  In another article, Ukraine: Pro-Russia rebels downed Malaysian plane, Peter Leonard reports that American intelligence authorities allege a surface to air missile brought down the plane but still don’t know if Russia or Ukraine had fired it. The U.S. has the technology to detect missile launches including the identification of heat from rocket engines.

Putting An End to the Ukraine Conflict

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On Monday, as reported by the Associate Press, the Kremlin confirmed that President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama had talked on the phone agreeing that direct talks between warring parties in Ukraine is necessary to end the conflict. In addition, Putin emphasized the need to end the fighting and start direct talks between the parties involved in order to normalize the situation in eastern Ukraine. In an article entitled Obama and Putin Discuss Ukraine Crisis, the Associated Press explains that, “Putin has welcomed Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s declaration of a cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, but added it can only be viable if the Ukrainian government sits down for talks with insurgents, who have declared their border regions independent and fought government troops for two months.”

On Tuesday, the day after his talk with the POTUS, Putin cancelled his resolution to sanction the use of military force in Ukraine, according to Laura Mill’s article Putin withdraws request to use force in Ukraine. The announcement came after pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine said they would respect the cease fire declared by Ukraninan President Petro Poroshenko possibly ending the months of fighting that killed hundreds and driven thousands out of their homes. The Kremlin stated on their website that Putin asked the head of Russia’s upper house of parliament to cancel his March 1 request.  According to RIA Novosti, Russian parliament member Valery Shnyakin confirmed that the house would vote Wednesday on the issue. The news lead to a 1.6 percent gain for Russian markets on Tuesday reaching a four month high. The request was made, according to Mill, after Ukraine’s pro-Russian president was ousted in February after months of protest and Russia annexed the Black Sea region of Crimea. However, Putin’s latest move shows an effort to de-escalate the situation ahead of his visit to Vienna Tuesday to meet with Organization for Security and Co-operation officials who have helped broker peace talks between Kiev and Moscow. Both Kiev and western governments in the past have accused Russia of supporting eastern rebels and amassing troops at the border to invade Ukraine, but the announcement by Putin Tuesday has led to praised from Poroshenko. The cease fire in eastern Ukraine has largely held up with some fighting occurring around the rebel stronghold of Slovyansk.

Unfortunately, on Tuesday an already shaky cease fire in Ukraine hit a snag when pro-Moscow separatists shot down a Ukrainian helicopter killing nine service men, according to the Associated Press. Ukraninan President Petro Poroshenko warned he would end the truce early. The attack itself happened only a day after the rebels promised to honor the cease fire which began last Friday. Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Ukraine to extend the true and sit down for talks with rebels. However, the cease fire has been broken by sporadic attacks and violated again Tuesday when rebels fired missiles that resulted in the downing of a helicopter in Slovyansk. Poroshenko states that the insurgency had fired on Unkranina positions 35 times since the announcement of a cease fire and instructed soldiers to fire back if attacked. The Associate Press reports that Poroshenko hopes that his phone call on Wednesday with Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande would lead to “practical steps by Russia to disarm and recall mercenaries from Ukraine and ensure the reliable protection of the border.” In Vienna, Putin explained that the Ukrainian demand for insurgents to lay down weapons in a week was unrealistic due to fears of government reprisal and urged Ukraine to extend the truce so that peace talks could begin. Speaking about the recent attack, Putin blamed Ukrainian forces claiming that they had launched an airborne raid in Slovyansk on Tuesday before the attack breaking the cease fire. Putin offered to facilitate peace talks with Ukraine, but added that Russia will defend and protect Russian speakers in Ukraine. The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, demands Putin take actions to de-escalate the situation citing recent contradictory behavior such as the return of troops to the border, an increase flow of weapons and military equipment to separatists and Putin’s decision to put combat forces on alert, the Associate Press reports.

Sequestration 2013: When will it end?

Sequestration 2013: With Cuts In Place, Obama And GOP Brace For Next Fight.
To all my readers, I find it important for everyone to inform themselves about the actual sequester with an official document sent to Congress  as a direct result of Congress and the President’s inability to reach a decision to avoid the sequester that has now gone into effect on March 1. There is a lot of misinformation going around through various groups so I decided that the actual facts might be nice, then let you the reader decide what is truth. Since both parties the President and Congress refuse to come to a decision on Saturday to avoid sequester, we as a country now face the consequences through automatic spending cuts of $85 billion. Even with last minutes talks and no deal, the sequester which is outline in the official document below has gone into effect with the stroke of Obama’s pen. There are no signs that either group will budge as the Republican refuse any deal with more taxes and Democrats will not do a deal without it. Both parties lay the blame on the other for damages the cuts might inflict which are across the board.  In the words of Obama on his weekly radio and internet address, “None of this is necessary…It’s happening because Republicans in Congress chose this outcome over closing a single wasteful tax loophole that helps reduce the deficit.” The president also commented that the cuts will cause ripples across the economy the longer they stay in place and could cost more than 750,000 jobs not to mention disrupt the lives of middle class families. The next major battle for both will be to negotiate a plan to fund the government beyond March 27 or possibly face a government shutdown and another debt ceiling clash in May.

OMB REPORT TO THE CONGRESS ON THE JOINT COMMITTEE SEQUESTRATION FOR FISCAL YEAR 2013