Ebola Death Toll Continues to Rise, No End in Sight for Gaza War, Islamic State Advances and Russia Wants to Send More Aid

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So far, according to figures released Friday by the WHO, 2,615 people have been infected with Ebola and 1,427 deaths have occurred in the outbreak in West Africa with Sierra Leone being the hardest hit at 910 cases and 392 deaths. On Sunday, the health minister, Felix Kabange Numbi, in the Congo confirmed two Ebola deaths from the northwest Equateur province out of eight samples, the Associated Press reports, Health minister: 2 people have died of Ebola in Congo. Numbi stated that Congolese officials believe 13 people have died of Ebola in the region including five health workers, while 11people are sick and in isolation as 80 contacts were being traced. In addition, the Congo has been hit seven times before with Ebola outbreaks, however the two deaths are the first in a long time and admits the infections were of a different strain than those of the outbreak in West Africa that has killed 1,400 people. The samples came from the region where the World Health Organization said an outbreak of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis has killed 70 people in recent weeks. The HuffPost UK reports, Britain’s First Ebola Victim Is Flown Home In Hi-Tech Quarantine For Treatment At Royal Free, a volunteer nurse working in West Africa has landed back in Britain for treatment in a high tech isolation unit after contracting the disease. A man in his 20s identified as William by several news sites landed at RAF Northolt in west London to be transported to UK’s high level isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London. It is the first confirmed case of a Briton contracting the disease in the current outbreak and the identity of the patient, who lived in Sierra Leone, has not been confirmed. The virus was identified first in March in Guinea and spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. The effects of disease take between two and 21 days after infections and is transmitted to people from wild animals spreading in the human population through person to person transmission. The Sierra Leone Parliament has voted to pass a new law which means anyone caught hiding Ebola patients can receive prison terms of up to two years. The numbers in the country have been underestimated as the WHO reports that corpses are being buried in rural villages without notifying health officials and no investigation into the cause of death. In some cases epidemiologists have traveled to villages and counted the number of fresh graves as a rough estimate of suspected cases. Lawmaker Ansumana Jaiah Kaikai said the new law passed Friday and will now go for presidential approval, Clarence Roy-Macaulay reports, Sierra Leone makes hiding Ebola patients illegal. He said the measure was necessary to force residents to cooperate wit government officials noting some residents resisted steps to contain Ebola and build isolation centers in their community for fear of stigma related to the disease. New treatment centers in Liberia are being overwhelmed by patients that were not previously identified suggesting more cases are going undetected, the WHO said Friday. The Ivory Coast announced Friday it was closing its land borders with Guinea and Liberia, while Gabon, Senegal, South Africa and Cameroon all imposed border restrictions on some or all of the four countries with confirmed cases – Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. On Saturday, the Philippine government was recalling 115 peacekeepers from Liberia due to the health risks posed by Ebola. According to Mari Yamaguchi, Japan ready to offer flu drug for Ebola treatment, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan can offer the anti-influenza drug tablet favipiravir, developed by a Fujifilm Holdings Corp. subsidiary, at any time the WHO requests it. The Who said earlier in the month that it is ethical to use untested drugs on Ebola patients given the magnitude of the outbreak. The tablet itself is used to treat novel and re-emerging influenza viruses and was approved by the Japanese health ministry in March. Fujifilm is in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on clinical trials of the drug in treating Ebola, company spokesman Takao Aoki said. The drug is stocked to treat 20,000 and theoretically similar effects can be expected on Ebola as in influenza which are the same type of virus. According to the company: “Favipiravir inhibits viral gene replication within infected cells to prevent propagation, while conventional ones are designed to inhibit the release of new viral particles to prevent the spread of infection.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials said in the southern town of Rafah Israeli airstrikes leveled a seven floor office building and damaged a two story shopping center in Gaza Sunday signalling a new escalation in the seven week long war with Hamas and Israel, Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav report, Israeli airstrike levels 7-story building in Gaza. The strikes came hours after Israel bombed an apartment tower in Gaza City collapsing the 12 story building with 44 apartment wounding 30 and killing one. Over the weekend, the army began warning Gaza residents via phone that it would target building harboring terrorist infrastructures and to stay away. A senior military officials confirmed that strikes require prior approval from military lawyers and the local population must be warned before hand. Before Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gaza residents: “I call on the people of Gaza to immediately evacuate any structure that Hamas is using to commit acts of terror,” he said. “Every one of these structures is a target for us.” On Sunday, Gaza militant continue to fire rockets and mortar shells at Israel, at least 10, the military said, in addition to 100 on Saturday. In addition, five rockets were fired from Syria and fell in northern Israel with no clear picture of who fired them. As violence escalates, Egypt urged Israel and the Palestinian to resume indirect talks in Cairo on a long lasting ceasefire, but stopped short of an invitation. The Israeli military has carried out 20 strikes on Gaza since midnight Saturday with eight fatalities, Gaza police and medical officials report. The U.N. estimates that 17,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair since July 8. More than 2,000 Palestinians including 500 children have been killed with Israel losing 64 soldiers and four civilians, according to Palestinian health officials and U.N. figures. Scott Anderson, deputy director of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in the territory said: “Despite the difficult circumstances, the (U.N.) stands by the refugee committee here in Gaza. Even though we can’t start the school year as we would normally it is very important that the children have structure in their lives and we will continue their education by any means possible.”

In Baghdad and northern city of Kirkuk, 42 people were killed in Iraq on Saturday as the government investigated a deadly attack on Sunni mosque the day before that increase already volatile sectarian tensions in a fragile political transition, Sinan Slaheddin and Vivian Salama report, Bombings Hit Iraq’s Kirkuk, Baghdad, Dozens Dead. Kirkuk deputy police chief Tarhan Abdel Rahman said three bombs went off in a crowded district killing 31 people and wounding dozens. In Baghdad, a suicide bomber drove an explosive laden car into the gate of the intelligence headquarters in Karrada district killing six civilians and five security personnel, the police officer confirmed, while wounding 24 others. Since earlier this year, Iraq has been in a constant state of chaos due to the Islamic State extremist group and allied Sunni militants who have seized large areas in the country’s west and north. Local security officials in Diyala said Friday’s attack began with a suicide bombing near the mosque entrance followed by gunmen storming the building and opening fire on worshipers. At least 64 people died including the four Shiite militants who found the bombs planted by the militants as they rushed to the scene with security forces. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he’s “deeply concerned about the impact such acts of sectarian violence will have on the already grave security situation and on the political process,” While the European Union said the “heinous crime” should not stand in the way of government formation and urged Iraqis to unite against violence. In addition, Saturday, an explosion in the Kurdish capital of Ibril injured three, military officials report, but what caused the explosion is still under investigation.

Activist and state media reported on Sunday that the Islamic State has captured a major military base in northeastern Syria eliminating the last government held outpost in the province dominated by the group, Ryan Lucas reported, Islamic State Fighters Capture Syrian Air Base. The British Observatory on Human Rights said at least 100 Islamic State fighters were killed and 300 wounded not including casualties from the final assault, while 170 government troops were killed on Sunday alone and there were reports 150 were captured. Their slow and stead push in northern and eastern Syria and quick advances across Iraq has brought a large stretch of territory running from Syria’s northern border with Turkey to the outskirts of Baghdad in central Iraq under their control. The mainstream Syrian opposition, which is fighting President Bashar Assad and the Islamic State group, called for similar raids against the extremist in Syria, however, the Obama administration refuses wary of getting dragged into a bloody and complex civil war that has killed 190,000 people, according to U.N. figures. Also Sunday, an American hostage held in Syria by an al-Qaida linked group was released, a relative and the U.S. government confirm. Meanwhile, the foreign ministries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan met in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, the official Saudi news agency said without providing details. However, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the group will discuss the security threat posed by Islamic State group and search fro ways to bring about needed political solutions to the Syrian crisis.

On Saturday, hundreds of Russian aid trucks left from rebel held eastern Ukraine headed for home highlighting the need for long term assistance to the region destroyed by the months of fighting, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks in Kiev ahead of the much anticipated meeting between Russia and Ukraine, Alexander Roslyakov and Peter Leonard reports, Russian Aid Trucks Leave Ukraine. The Russian aid trucks came through the rebel held border point Friday and by mid-afternoon Saturday all the vehicles returned to Russia, Paul Picard of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told reporters in the Russian town of Donetsk. Ukraine and others including the U.S., the European Union and NATO denounced the move as a violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty. One country pledging aid to Ukraine is Germany as Merkel held talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev Saturday promising 500 million euros in loan guarantees to support private investment in infrastructure and schools in war-struck areas. Merkel urged for political solutions to the crisis three days before Poroshenko meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk in their first encounter since June. Asked what message he would like to convey to Putin, Poroshenko said “take away your armed people from our territory and I can promise peace will come to Ukraine very soon.” The United Nations says more than 2,000 people have been killed and 340,000 forced to flee their homes since the fighting began in April following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, Russia wants to send a second humanitarian aid convoy to eastern Ukraine in the near future after Kiev and the West criticized Moscow for sending the first cargo without official permission, Reuters reports. Lavrov told a news conference: “The humanitarian situation is not improving but deteriorating. We want to reach an agreement on all conditions for delivering a second convoy by the same route… in the coming days.” Ukraine marked its independence day on Sunday with a military march past Kiev to send a message of defiance to Russia, however, pro-Moscow rebels countered by parading captured Ukrainian troops through the streets of their main stronghold, Reuters reports, Ukraine defiant on national day, rebels parade captives. Some of the troops marching past Kiev were heading to the front line in eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko said. In an emotional speech, he said his country is fighting “a war against external aggression, for Ukraine, for its freedom, for its people, for independence”. It is clear that in the foreseeable future, unfortunately, a constant military threat will hang over Ukraine. And we need to learn not only to live with this, but also to be always prepared to defend the independence of our country.” In Donetsk, 100 people introduced in a public address as Ukrainian pirsoners-of-war were marched through the city’s central Lenin Square on Sunday. People came to watch the parade shouting “fascists!” and “murderers!” with some throwing bottles at the POWs. Alexander Zakharcheno, self proclaimed prime minister of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” said his forced will launch a counter attack and were fighting to take the town of Olenivka, 20 miles from Donetsk. He told reporters, “I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to kill anyone, but I will fight to the last for my land. We want to live the way we want to live on our own soil.” To date, officials in Kiev report 722 people with Ukrainian government forces have died jumping from 568 announce don Aug. 11.

What does the Future Hold for Israeli-Palestinian Relations and for Ukrainian-Russian-U.S. Relations?

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The United Nations and United States announced a 72 hour humanitarian ceasefire beginning Friday morning with no guarantees the lull in violence will bring an end to the 24 day Gaza War according to Secretary of State John Kerry, Ian Deitch and Ibrahim Barzak report, US, UN announce deal on Gaza cease-fire. The announcement happened hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to destroy Hamas tunnels with or without a ceasefire and the Palestinian death toll reached 1,400. Kerry said, “This is not a time for congratulations or joy or anything except a serious determination – a focus by everybody to try to figure out the road ahead. This is a respite. It is a moment of opportunity, not an end.” At least four humanitarian ceasefires have been announced during the conflict and all have been broken by renewed fighting. A statement by Kerry and U.N. assures both parties agreed, which Hamas leaders and Israel confirmed, to the unconditional ceasefire and would send delegates to Cairo for negotiations to reach a lasting truce. During the ceasefire Kerry said Israel will continue to destroy Hamas tunnels that are behind its territorial lines and Palestine will receive food, medicine and humanitarian assistance, bury their dead, treat the wounded and travel to their homes. In addition, repairs will be made to water and energy systems. Kerry said, “Israel has to live without terror and tunnels and rockets and sirens going on through the day. Palestinians have to be able to live freely and share in the rest of the world and live a life that is different from the one they have long suffered.” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the ceasefire was a result of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s trip to the region “but also 48 hours of extremely active diplomacy at all levels from the secretary-general to his senior advisers talking to key regional players.”

Unfortunately, the ceasefire did not last long as Israel and Hamas accused each other of violating the truce that resulted in four Palestinians being killed in heavy fire in the southern town of Rafah, Ibrahim Barzak and Daniel Estrin report, 4 Palestinians killed after Gaza truce begins. Two hours after the ceasefire went into effect, Israeli tanks shelled the eastern part of Rafah killing four people and wounding 15, according Health Ministry official Ashraf al-Kidra and Gaza police spokesman Ayman Batniji. In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office explained, “Once again, Hamas and the terror organizations in Gaza have blatantly broken the cease-fire to which they committed, this time before the American Secretary of State and the U.N. Secretary General.” Reuters reports, Gaza Death Toll Soars As Israel Presses Offensive, Gaza health officials said 19 Palestinians were killed in Israeli assaults on Thursday, while Israeli military said more than 60 rockets were fired from the Palestinian enclave into Israel with one person being wounded by the Gaza projectile striking Kiryat Gat, a southern town. Washington has allowed Israel to use local U.S. arms stockpiles in the past few weeks to replenish grenades and mortar rounds, a U.S. defense official said Thursday. On India’s NDTV, Kerry said during an interview: “No country can sit there and live with tunnels being dug under its border, out of which jump people who are carrying handcuffs and tranquilizer drugs in order to kidnap their citizens and hold them for ransom.” Reuters reports: “Gaza officials say at least 1,410 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed in the battered territory and nearly 7,000 wounded. Fifty-six Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza clashes and more than 400 wounded. Three civilians have been killed by Palestinian shelling in Israel.” On Thursday, the United Nation’s senior human rights official, Navi Pillay, said that Israel has attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. premises in apparent violation of the Geneva Conventions. The assault on residential areas by Israel has lead to mass evacuations and more than 200,000 displaced Palestinians in a population of just 1.8 million in Gaza leaving the infrastructure ruined with power and water outages. Diplomacy to end the conflict is complicated due to the fact Israel and the United States shun Hamas as a terrorist groups, while the go betweens of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey disagree on Gaza policy.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, a top U.N. envoy told the United Nationals Security Council that Israel will be required under international law to take responsibility for helping Palestinian civilians if more large scale displacements take place in Gaza, Michelle Nichols reports, UN Envoy: Israel May Be Required To Take Responsibility For Displaced In Gaza. The United Nations struggles to cope with a flood of 220,000 Palestinian civilians into shelters to due to the fighting and have come under fire during the three weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Pierre Krähenbühl, the Swiss-born chief of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), via phone told the 15 member Security Council: “Should further large-scale displacement indeed occur, the occupying power, according to international humanitarian law, will have to assume direct responsibility to assist these people. With as many as 2,500 displaced people residing in (each U.N.) school and an average of 80 people to a classroom, we have exceeded the tolerable limits we can accommodate.” U.N. aid chief Valerie Amos told the Security Council via video link: “The reality of Gaza today is that no place is safe. We have all watched in horror the desperation of children, of civilians as they have come under attack.” After meeting behind closed doors for four hours after the briefing, Nichols reports, the Security Council once again called for an “immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire.”

In Ukraine, a team of international investigators reached the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 site Friday to begin combing for evidence in the area now designated a crime scene while fighting continued less than 20 kilometers from the site, the Associated Press reports, Ukrainian troops suffer heavy loss in ambush. Despite both sides in the ongoing conflict in east Ukraine agreeing to a ceasefire around the crash zone, a deadly attack by rebels on government troops Friday morning took place less than 20 kilometers south of the crash site in Shakhtarsk, a rebel stronghold where sustained battles over several days has taken place. The town links Donetsk and Luhansk, two large rebel controlled cities, which Ukrainian forces are focusing on in their strategy to drive a wedge into the area. Mstyslav Chernov reports, Ukraine MH17 Wreckage Site Finally Accessed By Investigators, two investigators from the Netherlands and Australia made an initial survey of the crash area after lunch, while fighting raged on between government forces and pro-Russian separatist rebels with mortar shells falling in a nearby village. Despite the dangers, the team called the one hour inspection a success. Ukrainian President Petro Proshenko’s office urged rebels to comply with the ceasefire 20 kilometers around the wreckage site in a statement, while the European Union and U.S. formed a united front in accusing Russia of ramping up the unrest in eastern Ukraine by supplying weapons to rebels which Russia denies. In Brussels, the EU formally adopted economic sanctions, which will take effect Friday, designed to pressure Russia to bring a peaceful end to the Ukraine crisis.

Meanwhile, Russia is dealing with another old but familiar problem of what to do with former NSA contractor and whistle-blower Edward Snowden who received temporary asylum a year ago, which expired Thursday, following disclosure of classified NSA documents, according to an AOL report, As asylum expires, Snowden’s expulsion from Russia unlikely. Snowden has submitted his request for an extension of his asylum. While he waits, Snowden has a job and is learning Russian which are two requirements for an extension to be granted, Anatoly Kucherena, Snowden’s Russian lawyer, explained. Another member of his legal team has this to say on Australian radio (From ABC Australia): “PM with Mark Colvin”: “For now he is in the safest place that he can be, and Russia has indicated that it intends to plan on having him, allowing him to continue to stay.” This was said in response to the German justice minister’s suggestion to turn him over to the U.S. to face prosecution. Journalist Glenn Greenwald explained to MSNBC why Russia took Snowden in and why they did not turn him over this past year: “There’s no legal basis to turn him over to the U.S. because the U.S. and the Russians don’t have an extradition treaty. … And secondly, that he faces persecution.” Euronews points out Snowden has asked for amnesty from prosecution if he ends up stateside and told Brian Williams in an Exclusive NBC interview that he would like to go home. Right now though, Snowden faces espionage charges in the U.S. that could lead to prison time. Snowden’s Russian attorney said the decision on his asylum could be made this week.