Possibly More Sanctions for Russia, U.S. Wants Coalition to Fight Islamic State, Gaza Struggles to Rebuild and U.N. Condemns U.S. Over Police Brutality

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On Friday, Russian backed separatists held control of the coastal city of Novoazovsk on the new front in the Ukraine conflict announcing their intention to keep moving west toward the major port city of Mariupol, according to Peter Leonard and Juergen Baetz, Russian-backed rebels aim to push west along coast. The day before, the Ukrainian government accused Russia of sending tanks, artillery and troops across the border, and NATO estimated at least 1,000 Russian troops were in Ukraine. As tension rose, the European Union foreign ministers called for heavier sanctions against Moscow ahead of Saturday’s summit of EU leaders in Brussels including Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. One rebel commanders identified himself as nom de guerre Frantsuz or the Frenchman said: “We are fighting with the machinery the (Ukrainian forces) abandon. They just dump it and flee.” However, top rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko said Russia was supplying equipment and fighters. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen Friday said: “Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border. This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.” Speaking at a Kremlin organized youth camp Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin compared the Ukrainian government’s fight with separatists to the Nazi siege of Leningrad in 1941-44 which many Russians see the 872 day siege and 670,000 civilians dead as one of the most heroic chapters in the country’s history. Putin added to stop the bloodshed the Kiev government should open talks with the rebels. Ivan Simonovic, U.N. assistant secretary general for human rights, said the death toll has reached 2,600 as of Wednesday. The U.N. human rights office Friday accused both sides of deliberately targeting civilians. The Associated Press reports: “The separatists have carried out murders, torture and abductions along with other serious human rights abuses, while Ukraine’s military is guilty of such acts as arbitrary detentions, disappearances and torture, the organization said in a report.” The head of the EU’s executive commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, warned Putin further destabilization of Ukraine “will carry high costs.” Putin has called on separatists to release Ukrainian soldiers surrounded by the rebels in eastern Ukraine for a week, but the rebel leader said the Ukrainian troops must lay down arms before they can go “so that this weaponry and ammunition will not be used against us in future.” Col. Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s national security council spokesman, rejected the demand: “Ukraine is not ready to surrender arms and kneel in front of the aggressor.” Meanwhile, Ukraine will receive $1.39 billion aid installment as part of a financial support package from the International Monetary Fund bringing the total paid out to $4.51 billion of $16.67 billion due over two years. On Sunday, the European Union leaders decided no to impose new sanctions against Moscow; however, the 28 nation bloc’s head of state and government tasked their executive body to prepare tougher economic sanctions that could be adopted in a week, according to EU summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy, Juergen Baetz and Jim Heintz reports, EU threatens Russia with more sanctions. According to Rompuy, the new sanctions will depend on the evolution of the situation on the ground but “everybody is fully aware that we have to act quickly and EU leaders call on Russia to “immediately withdraw all its military assets and forces from Ukraine.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told reporters in English: “Thousands of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine. There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine, but for the whole … of Europe.” Meanwhile, Moscow is preparing to send a second convoy of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine, according to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday, who said Moscow already received Kiev’s approval and aid would be sent in coordination with the Red Cross. Ukraine’s Lysenko told reporters: “We are surrendering this city. Our task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in order to regroup.” In addition, Lysenko said regular units of military are ordered to retreat from Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, two towns on the main road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. Ukraine had claimed control of Novosvitlivka earlier in August.

While the Ukrainian government tries to minimize losses, Islamic State and other al-Qaida offshoots continue to move through Syria posing a threat to neighboring countries as well as displacing millions of Syrians. According to John Heilprin’s reports, Syria Refugees Top 3 Million Mark, UN Says, three million Syrian refugees have registered in neighboring countries as of Friday with many trapped by the advance of Islamic militants or the inability to reach an open border crossing, according to the United Nations. The U.N. refugee agency said Syrians desperate to leave their homeland pay hefty bribes at armed checkpoints along Syria’s borders or to smugglers. In addition, the agency said “almost half of all Syrians have now been forced to abandon their homes and flee for their lives” as 6.5. million have been displaced within Syria and the record figure is one million more than a year ago. Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner fro Refugees, said in a statement: “The Syrian crisis has become the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era, yet the world is failing to meet the needs of refugees and the countries hosting them.” The UNHCR reports the vast majority of Syrian refugees remain in neighboring countries, with the highest concentrations in Lebanon (1.17 million), Turkey (830,000) and Jordan (613,000). Some 215,000 refugees are in Iraq with the rest in Egypt and other countries, while the host governments estimate hundreds of thousands more have sought sanctuary in their countries without formally registering. The Obama administration announced Thursday that the United States wants to build an international campaign against the Islamic State jihadist fighters in Iraq and Syria including partners for potential military action. According to Reuters, John Kerry: U.S. To Push For Coalition To Fight ‘Cancer’ Of Islamic State, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States will push for a coalition of countries to beat back the incursion in Syria and Iraq by Islamic State militants via the NATO summit next week. On Saturday, Kerry wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times saying “With a united response led by the United States and the broadest possible coalition of nations, the cancer of ISIS will not be allowed to spread to other countries.” Kerry said along with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will meet with their European counterparts to enlist support for their coalitions with the goal to “enlist the broadest possible assistance.” Addressing the current action taken in the Middle East, he wrote: “Already our efforts have brought dozens of nations to this cause. Certainly there are different interests at play. But no decent country can support the horrors perpetrated by ISIS, and no civilized country should shirk its responsibility to help stamp out this disease.” Republican and Democrats in Congress have called for lawmakers to vote on whether the United States should broaden its actions against Islamic State.

On Sunday, Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen broke a six week siege by the Islamic State extremist group on northern Shiite Turkmen town of Amirli as a suicide bombing killed 14 people in Anbar western province, Sameer N. Yacoub reports, Iraqi forces break militant siege of Shiite town. Breaking the siege was a big achievement for all involved including the Iraqi army, elite troops, Kurdish fighters and Shiite militias. Turkish lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said they entered the town from two direction distributing aid to the residents. About 15,000 Shiite Turkmens were stranded in the farming community, 105 miles north of Baghdad, deciding to stay and fortify their town with trenches and armed positions instead of fleeing. On Saturday, the U.S. conducted airstrikes against the Sunni militants and air dropped humanitarian aid to residents. Aircraft from Australia, France and Britain joined the aid drop which came after the Iraq government requested it. The U.S. launched airstrikes near Mosul Dam, the largest in Iraq, that allowed Iraqi and Kurdish forces to retake the facility from Islamic State fighters. The U.S. Central Command said another airstrike on Sunday near Mosul Dam destroyed an Islamic State armed vehicle bring the total number of airstrikes across Iraq since Aug. 8 to 120. German officials said Sunday they would soon be sending enough high end rifles, anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles to equip 4,000 Kurdish Peshmerga fighters battling Islamic extremists in Iraq. On Sunday night, Iraqi police officials said a suicide driver rammed an explosives laden car into a police checkpoint in Ramadi in the Anbar province killing 14 people including nine police and about 27 people were injured.

While it seems one war is far from over, the Associate Press reports, Rebuilding Gaza Will Take 20 Years, Housing Group Says, the assessment by Shelter Cluster, co-chaired by the U.N. refugee agency and the Red Cross, says post conflict reconstruction will take 20 years for Gaza’s battered and neglected housing stock to be rebuilt and some Palestinian officials estimate the cost at $6 billion. The effort to rebuild will be stifled by Egypt and Israel as Israel since 2007 has severely restricted import of concrete and other building material due to fears that militants will use them to build rockets and reinforce cross border tunnels. In its report issued late Friday, Shelter Cluster said 17,000 Gaza housing units were destroyed or severely damaged and 5,000 units still need work after previous military campaigns. Additionally, Gaza has a housing deficit of 75,000 units. Shelter Cluster said its 20 years assessment is based on the capacity of the main Israel Gaza crossing to handle 100 trucks of construction material a day. The death toll of the conflict included 2,100 Palestinians, most civilians, died in the war and Israel lost 71 people with all but six soldiers. To add to the difficulty, Israel announced it was appropriating almost 1,000 acres of land in the West Bank for Israeli settlers, according to AOL News, Israel Seizes 1,000 Acres Of Land In West Bank. Israeli officials declared a 990 acre region as state land confiscating it from Palestinians who live nearby and claim ownership with several established settlements there west of Bethlehem. Peace Now, an Israeli group opposed to further settlements, said the move was the biggest land grab in over 30 years. Sunday’s announcement may be punishment for the Palestinians, according to the New York Times, and was prompted by the murder of three Israeli teenagers back in June. A spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization told reporters it would “‘wipe out any Palestinian presence on the land’ and impose a ‘de-facto one-state solution’.” However, a U.S. State Department spokesperson called the move “counterproductive to Israel’s stated goal of a negotiated two-state solution.” The U.S., U.N. and E.U. have repeatedly condemned the settlement expansions, but Israeli officials believe the land will be theirs in any final peace deal. The Wall Street Journal quotes one housing minister calling land appropriations “an appropriate Zionist response to the Palestinian terrorist government.” And a commerce minister told the BBC: “I think that stopping anyone from living in our land is a profound mistake. … Why should I stop building on my land? It’s my own.” Israeli officials say the appropriation is still open to legal review. Any Palestinian landowners in the region now have 45 days to submit their objections to an Israeli court before their lands will be seized.

While the U.N. has weighed in on many of the conflicts brewing internationally, it was only a matter of time before they weighed in on the Ferguson, Missouri issue. Stephanie Nebehay reports, UN Condemns U.S. Police Brutality, Calls For ‘Stand Your Ground’ Review, the U.N. racism watchdog urged the U.S. Friday to halt excessive use of force by police after the murder of unarmed teenager by a white policeman touched off riots in Ferguson, Missouri. After examining the U.S. record, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination determined minorities, particularly African Americans, are victims of disparities. Noureddine Amir, CERD committee vice chairman and expert from Algeria, told a news briefing: “Racial and ethnic discrimination remains a serious and persistent problem in all areas of life from de facto school segregation, access to health care and housing. The excessive use of force by law enforcement officials against racial and ethnic minorities is an ongoing issue of concern and particularly in light of the shooting of Michael Brown. This is not an isolated event and illustrates a bigger problem in the United States, such as racial bias among law enforcement officials, the lack of proper implementation of rules and regulations governing the use of force, and the inadequacy of training of law enforcement officials.” The panel of 18 independent experts grilled a senior U.S. delegation on Aug. 13 about what they consider a persistent racial discrimination against African Americans and other minorities including within the criminal justice system. U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the panel that his nation had made “great strides toward eliminating racial discrimination” but conceded that “we have much left to do”. In its conclusions issued Friday, the U.N. panel said “Stand Your Ground” Laws, a controversial self-defense statute in 22 U.S. states, should be reviewed to “remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to principles of necessity and proportionality when deadly force is used for self-defense.” Nebehay reports: “Ron Davis, father of Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old shot dead in a car in Jacksonville, Florida during an argument over loud rap music in November 2012, attended the Geneva session. Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen killed in Miami, Florida by a neighborhood watch volunteer, testified.” In addition, it urged an investigation saying, “The Committee remains concerned at the practice of racial profiling of racial or ethnic minorities by law enforcement officials, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Transportation Security Administration, border enforcement officials and local police.” The committee also urged the U.S. to address obstacles faced by minorities and indigenous people to exercise their right to vote due to restrictive voter identification laws, district gerrymandering and state-level laws that disenfranchise people convicted of felonies. Jamil Dakwar of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said the U.N. recommendations highlighted “shortcomings on racial equality that we are seeing play out today on our streets, at our borders and in the voting booth.”

The Death Tolls Rise in Israel, Eastern Ukraine and Syria, While the West Levies Heavier Sanctions on Russia

On Tuesday, Israel unleashed its heaviest attack against Hamas in the three week war striking symbols of the militant group’s control in Gaza and firing tank shells that shut down the only power plant, according to Palestinian officials. Karin Laub and Peter Enav report, Israel hits symbols of Hamas rule; scores killed, the station’s shutdown disrupted power and water to 1.7 million people in the narrow Palestinian coastal territory. On Tuesday evening, Palestinian health officials reported that 10 members of an extended family were killed and 50 others wounded in Jebaliya refugee camp in norther Gaza due to intense tank shelling. Mousa al-Mabhouh, a volunteer for Gaza’s Civil Defense, described the shelling: “It was like an earthquake. Roofs collapsed, walls cracked and wounded people everywhere.” The strikes came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday warned of a prolonged campaign against Hamas dealing a significant blow to plans of a sustainable truce in fighting. Palestinian health official Ashraf al-Kidra said at least 1,175 Palestinians have been killed since July 8 including 100 on Tuesday, while Israel reports 53 soldiers and three civilians killed. Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza Energy Authority said: “We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tanks and the control room. Everything was burned.” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, did not comment on the plant explosion, but told the Associate Press that Israel’s latest strikes signal “a gradual increase in the pressure” on Hamas, while Israel is “determined to strike this organization and relieve us of this threat.” International calls for a ceasefire have increased in recent days as the extent of the destruction in Gaza becomes apparent with tens of thousands of Gazans have been displaced by fighting in the border areas. Despite appeals, both sides are holding out for bigger gains, The military said Palestinian militants fired at least 64 rockets Tuesday at Israeli cities. Since the the war began, the U.N. has found weapons hidden it its schools. Agency spokesman Chris Gunness said: “We condemn the group or groups who endangered civilians by placing these munitions in our school. This is yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises.”

While Israel continues unabated in its efforts to crumble Hamas, Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu continues to criticize the U.S. specifically Secretary of State John Kerry on the handling of a ceasefire deal. On Monday, Netanyahu defended the Gaza air and ground offensive in a televised speech saying, “there is no war more just than this.” Karin Laub and Tia Goldenberg report, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu warns of prolonged campaign in Gaza war, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry keep pressuring Israel to accept an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire amid a torrent of criticism from Israel over Kerry’s latest bid to secure a ceasefire with Hamas. The Obama administration pushed back Monday accusing Israel of launching a misinformation campaign against Kerry. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “It’s simply not the way partners and allies treat each other.” The White House agreed by saying it was disappointed by Israeli reports that cast Kerry’s efforts to negotiate a cease fire more favorable to Hamas. Kerry’s response, according to Matthew Lee’s article Kerry shrugs off Israeli criticism, “I have taken hits before in politics, I am not worried about it. This is not about me. I am not going to worry about personal attacks,” adding that he and President Barack Obama are convinced “it is more appropriate to try to resolve the underlying issues at a negotiating table than to continue a tit-for-tat of violence that will invite more violence and perhaps a greater downward spiral which would be much more difficult to recover from.” In regards to Netanyahu and the push for a ceasefire: “Prime Minister Netanyahu himself said to me, ‘Can you try to get a humanitarian cease-fire for this period of time?’ And if it weren’t for his commitment to it, obviously the president of the United States and I would not be trying to make this effort. Now either I take his commitment at face value or someone is playing a different game here, and I hope that’s not the fact.” At the National Pres Club, House Speaker John Boehner on Monday remarked as Donna Cassata reports, Boehner urges US solidarity with Israel: “At times like this, people try to isolate Israel – but we are here to stand with Israel. Not just as a broker or observer – but as a strong partner and a trusted ally. Well, it doesn’t mean issuing vague, on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand statements. No, it means backing up our words, and showing solidarity with our friend. We will not equate professional militaries with terrorist organizations that use human shields and seek to maximize civilian casualties. And we insist that the demilitarization of Gaza be not just a House goal but a shared, uncompromising U.S. and international objective.”

Examining the U.S. Israeli relationship deeper, Stephen M. Walt, professor of International Affairs at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, believes that Israel’s power over the U.S. comes in the forms of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee which holds major political clout along with other hardline elements of the Israel lobby. In his article, AIPAC Is the Only Explanation for America’s Morally Bankrupt Israel Policy, Walt explains that in every occasion where the death toll exceeds 500, Israel has used weapons provided by U.S. taxpayers to attack the captive and impoverished Palestinians in Gaza. As usual, according to Walt, the U.S. government is siding with Israel, even though most American leaders know Israel instigated the latest round of violence, is not acting with restrain, and makes Washington look callous and hypocritical in the eyes of the world. Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis groups points out that the latest round of fighting is neither vengeance for the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli hikers in the West Bank nor to protect Israel from Hamas’ rockets, Netanyahu’s real purpose is to undermine the power share agreement between Hamas and Fatah that could lead to a unified Palestinian leadership and result in a two state solution. Therefore, he want to isolate and damage Hamas and drive a wedge between the two factions. Two weeks ago, Netanyahu confirmed that he is dead set against a two state solution and will never allow it while in office. According to Walt: “Worst of all, the deaths of hundreds more Palestinians and a small number of Israelis will change almost nothing. Hamas is not going to disband. When this latest round of fighting ends, the 4.4 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza will still be Israel’s de facto prisoners and still be denied basic human rights. But they are not going to leave, mainly because Palestine is their homeland, but also because they have nowhere to go, especially given the turmoil in other parts of the Middle East. Eventually another ceasefire will be negotiated. The dead will be buried, the wounded will recover, the tunnels now being destroyed will be rebuilt, and Hamas will replenish its stockpile of missiles and rockets. The stage will then be set for another round of fighting, and Israel will have moved further down the road to becoming a full-fledged apartheid state.” Walt points out that as soon as fighting starts and even if Israel instigates it, AIPAC will demands that Washington stands with Tel Aviv and Congress will pass a resolution endorsing Israel. Even if the lobby cannot get everything it wants when it wants it, the lobby is still able to keep $3 billion in U.S. aid to Israel flowing each year, prevent U.S. presidents from pressuring Israel and can get U.S. to wield its veto power when a resolution criticizing Israel’s actions is floated in the U.N. Security Council, according to Walt. This situation has allowed Israel to ignore requests from Washington for “two states for two peoples” since Israel gets generous support no matter what it does. Walt sums up the situation best: “Historians will one day look back and ask how U.S. Middle East policy could be so ineffectual and so at odds with its professed values — not to mention its strategic interests. The answer lies in the basic nature of the American political system, which permits well-organized and well-funded special interest groups to wield significant power on Capitol Hill and in the White House. In this case, the result is a policy that is bad for all concerned: for the Palestinians most of all, but also for the U.S. and Israel as well. Until the lobby’s clout is weakened or politicians grow stiffer spines, Americans looking for better outcomes in the Middle East had better get used to disappointment and prepared for more trouble.”

While Israel contends with the world and criticizes its closest allies, fighting continues uncontrolled in Eastern Ukraine as the West agrees to wider sanctions on Russia and the U.S. accuses Russia of treaty violations. Mstyslav Chernov reports, 22 Civilian Deaths Reported After One Day Of Shelling In East Ukraine, at least one person killed after three shells hit an apartment block in Donetsk, Eastern Ukraine and around 50 people took refuge in an underground car park amid the smell of household gas. Rebels accuse the government of using heavy artillery against residential neighborhoods, while Ukraine’s government accuses separatist of targeting civilians to discredit the army. On Monday U.S. and European leaders agreed to impose wider sanctions on Russia’s financial, defense and energy sectors as Ukraine said its forced move toward the crash site of Malaysian flight 17, Gabriela Baczynska and Aleksandar Vasovic report, The West Agrees To Wider Sanctions On Russia Over The Crisis In Ukraine. The new sanctions, discussed via phone with U.S. President Barack Obama, Germany, Britain, France and Italy, aim at increasing the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin after Malaysian airliner was shot down over territory held by pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine. Tony Blinken, a national security advisor to Obama, said: “It’s precisely because we’ve not yet seen a strategic turn from Putin that we believe it’s absolutely essential to take additional measures and that’s what the Europeans and the United States intend to do this week.” In Brussels, EU sources said diplomats reached a preliminary agreement on a new list of companies and people, including Putin associates, to be targeted by asset freezes. EU member states are expected to reach a final deal on Tuesday on measures including closing the bloc’s capital markets to Russian state banks, an embargo on future arms sales and restrictions on energy technology and technology that could be used for defense. After the leaders’ call, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: “The latest information from the region suggests that even since MH17 was shot down, Russia continues to transfer weapons across the border and to provide practical support to the separatists. Leaders agreed that the international community should therefore impose further costs on Russia and specifically that ambassadors from across the EU should agree a strong package of sectoral sanctions as swiftly as possible.” Earlier in thr day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters at a news conference: “We will overcome any difficulties that may arise in certain areas of the economy, and maybe we will become more independent and more confident in our own strength.” One pro-government militia said 23 of its men has been killed in fighting in 24 hours, while a rebel commander said 30 of his soldiers had been killed. The United Nations in their report said 1,100 people have died in the three months of fighting between government forces and separatist rebels who have set up a pro-Russian republic in the east.

While Gaza continues to incur heavy fighting during a major Muslim holiday, Syrian President Bashar Assad prayed at a Damascus mosque on Monday as his own country battles Islamic extremists and reports unprecedented high death tolls. Zeina Karam reports, Syria Suffers Record Death Toll, the military causalities come as fighting intensified in the past two weeks with al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State group trying to eliminate all opponents and the government as well as the rebels deal with a series of setbacks. The Britain based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 1,240 soldiers and other Assad loyalists have died in the past 10 days in northern Syria. The director, Rami Abdurrahman, said they are among 1,800 deaths in the same period which is a record number since the uprising against Assad in March 2011. According to activists, Syria’s three year civil war has already killed more than 170,000 people. Despite the raging civil war, Assad was re-elected last month in a vote confined to government controlled areas which his oppositions and Western allies dismiss as a sham. He was sworn in a third term and confidently declared victory, in his inauguration speech, and praised his supporters for “defeating the dirty war” against Syria. Shortly after his speech, government losses began due to the Islamic state group fighter launching attacks against army positions in northern and central Syria. Beyond Syria, the Islamic State fighters have taken large expanses of land in northern and western Iraq in a blitz offensive beginning last month and declared a self-styled caliphate across their territory on the Iraq-Syria border.