Israeli Citizens Flee the Border, Ukraine Faces New Challenges, and New Threats to U.S. Security

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Tens of thousands of Israelis are fleeing their homes near the border of Gaza as fear and frustration grow in a war between Israel and Hamas that appears to have no end in site. The government on Monday has offered assistance in the first large scale voluntary evacuation in the eight week war with the school year fast approaching, Ian Deitch reports, Gaza attacks triggers Israeli exodus from border. Officials estimate 70 percent of the 40,000 inhabitants of the farming communities along the Gaza border have left including hundreds on Monday. According to Gaza officials, the fighting has killed 2,100 Palestinians, leveled thousands of buildings and left tens of thousands displaced. The death toll on the Israeli side has remained low due to air raid sirens, bomb shelters and the Iron Dome missile defense system. In a TV interview Sunday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid said, “It is their right to leave, and we will assist them with temporary solutions. The state of Israel will not run away from terror organizations. It fights terror organizations.” Israeli education officials said the children will be absorbed into areas schools, but Tamir Idan, a regional council head in southern Israel, said schools will not open next week if rocket fire persists. The fighting in Gaza has caused more disruption to students as officials have delayed the start of classes which should of started on Sunday.The Israeli military said it carried out 65 airstrikes Monday, while the Palestinian militants fired more than 100 rockets into Israel. Palestinian health officials said seven people were killed, while one Israeli was wounded by Palestinian fire.

On Tuesday, meanwhile in Ukraine, Ukrainian military reportedly captured a group of Russian paratroopers who crossed into Ukrainian territory on a mission, but Moscow claims they ended up there by mistake, Andrei Makhovsky and Alessandra Prentice report, Ukraine Releases Footage Of Captured Russian Soldiers. In addition, the military reports pro-Russian separatist forces were shelling the town of Novoazovsk and buildings were ablaze with 12 Ukrainian soldiers killed and 19 wounded in the past 24 hours, according to military spokesman Andriy Lysenko. Earlier, the security services released video footage claiming that it shows testimonies from Russian paratroopers detained by the Ukrainian government forces while fighting with pro-Moscow rebels in Ukraine. The video provides the strongest evidence so far to back up claims by Kiev that Russia is involved in the conflict and the intensified fighting in the east overshadowed the meeting of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in the Belarussian capital Minsk. Russia denies giving military help and a Russian defense source, quoted by RIA Novosti, said the servicemen had strayed into Ukrainian territory by mistake during border patrol. Lysenko in a briefing stated, “It wasn’t a mistake, but a special mission they were carrying out.” In the footage posted to Kiev’s Anti-Terrorist Operation Facebook page, one of the soldiers who identified himself as Ivan Milchakov listed his personal details including the name of the paratroop regiment based in the Russian Town of Kostroma. In the video, he said: “I did not see where we crossed the border. They just told us we were going on a 70-kilometer march over three days. Everything is different here, not like they show it on television. We’ve come as cannon fodder.” Another man named Sergeant Aleksei Generalov said: “Stop sending in our boys. Why? This is not our war. And if we weren’t here, none of this would have happened. They would have sorted things out with the government themselves.” Social network pages appear to corroborate the men’s story that they are active in the Russian military. The Russian soldiers were detained with personal documents and weapons near Amvrosiyivka in the Donetsk region, the Ukrainian state security service reports. Lysenko said Russian Mi-24 helicopters has fired on a border post Monday killing four border guards, while rebel forces backed by an armored column allegedly moved across the border from Russia attacked Novoazovsk on Monday aiming to open up a new front. In a Facebook post, Defense Minister Valeriy Heletey said: “Officially they are on military exercises in various corners of Russia. In reality they are involved in military aggression against Ukraine.” The same day, Tuesday, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine sat down for talks meeting fact to face for the first time since June to discuss the fighting that has engulfed Ukraine’s east. Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, Putin sits down with Ukrainian president for talks, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko were joined by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan and three senior officials from the European Union in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. As talks began, Poroshenko said: “The fate of my country and Europe is being decided here in Minsk today. The interests of Donbass (eastern Ukraine) have been and will be taken into account.” Opening the meeting, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko urged both sides to “discard political ambitions and not to seek political dividend.” Ukraine wants the rebels to hand back the territory they captured in eastern Ukraine, while Putin wants to retain leverage over the mostly Russian speaking region so Ukraine does not join NATO or the European Union. THe fighting in eastern Ukraine began in April and has killed 2,000 people, 726 Ukrainian servicemen and forced 340,000 to flee, according to the U.N.

While internationally Ukraine has faced many challenges and criticism from rivals and allies, internal conflict has forced Poroshenko to dissolve parliament and call for new elections to take place quickly. Jim Heintz reports, Ukrainian president dissolves parliament, Ukraine’s president on Monday announced in a statement via his website that he has dissolved parliament and called for early elections on October 26. He said the move was in coherence with the Ukrainian constitution commenting that the ruling coalition collapsed several weeks ago. Poroshenko stated: “Many deputies who are in the Rada (parliament) are direct sponsors or accomplices, that is to say allies of the militant separatists….I have decided to prematurely end the authority of parliament.” Under the law, the election must be held within 60 days of the decree being published.

Back in the Middle East, the Associated Press reported, The US has begun surveillance flights over Syria, the White House and U.S. officials have announce surveillance flights over Syria following President Barack Obama approval, but has yet to approve military actions inside Syria due to lack of intelligence on the militants. Pentagon officials have drafted potential options for the president that include airstrikes, while one official said the administration needs reliable intelligence from Syria and called the surveillance flights important to obtain data. Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday the U.S. wants more clarity on the militants in Syria. Dempsey explained: “Clearly the picture we have of ISIS on the Iraqi side is a more refined picture. The existence and activities of ISIS on the Syrian side, we have … some insights into that but we certainly want to have more insights into that as we craft a way forward.” The U.S. began launching strikes against the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this month with Obama citing the threat to American personnel in the country and the humanitarian crisis in the north, while top Pentagon officials said the only way the threat from militants can be eliminated is to attack the group in Syria as well. The president has tried to avoid getting involved in Syria’s long standing bloody civil war, however, due to the execution of American journalist James Foley in Syria and the group threatening to kill other U.S. citizens held in Syria, the president has changed his tune. Dempsey said the U.S. has been meeting with allies in the region to help develop a better understanding of the threat and believes those talks are setting “the conditions for some kind of coalition to form.” Dempsey believes key allies in the region will join the U.S. in quashing the Islamic State group including Jordan, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Prior to the airstrikes in Iraq, the U.S. had already stepped up air surveillance of the Islamic State inside Iraq earlier this year. In addition the administration run some surveillance missions over Syria when an attempted mission to rescue Foley and other U.S. hostages failed earlier this summer. A top Syrian official said Monday any U.S. airstrikes without consent from Syria would be considered an aggression. Speaking in Damascus, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told reporters his government is ready to cooperate and coordinate with any side including the U.S. or join any regional or international alliance against the Islamic group. However, any action taken would be coordinated with the Syrian government adding: “Any strike which is not coordinated with the government will be considered as aggression.” He said Damascus has long warned of the threat of terrorism and the need to cut off resources and funding, but no one listened. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the west will “have to choose what is more important: to change the regime and satisfy personal antipathies with the risk that the situation will crumble, or find pragmatic ways to join efforts against the common threat, which is the same for all of us – terrorism.” Moscow and Damascus have been close allies for decades providing it will weapons and funding to help support Assad through the current conflict. Mustafa Alani, the director of the security and defense department at the Gulf Research Center in Geneva, said: “The Syrian government is trying to say they are on the same side as the international community. The old claim from Day 1 that the Syrians have tried to make is that they are fighting pure terrorism. There’s no revolution, no rebels, no opposition. I don’t see this sort of call being acceptable, especially on the regional level. The Americans might find themselves forced to cooperate under the table with the Syrians. But I don’t think Arab countries will accept Syria as a member of the club fighting the Islamic State.” Referring to the failed attempt at rescuing U.S. citizens held by the militant group, al-Moallem said: “Had there been prior coordination that operation would not have failed.” The minister did condemn the killing of James Foley, but asked: “Has the West ever condemned the massacres by the Islamic State … against our armed forces or citizens?”

Possible Peace Between Palestine-Israel, While ISIS Hits Hard in Iraq and Clashes in Libya Cause Evacuations

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On Friday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued to work on a deal between Hamas and Israel for a seven day truce in Gaza as Israel’s defense minister earned that the military may soon broaden its ground offensive significantly, Karin Laub and Ian Deitch reports, John Kerry says no deal yet on 7-day Gaza truce. The total causalities amid the endless fighting on Friday were at 820 Palestinians and 38 people in Israel killed. After days of Kerry moving between the Egyptian capital, the West Bank and Jerusalem talking to official from Qatar who are in contact with Hamas, Kerry so far has been able to get Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu to consider a 12 hour halt to fighting proposed by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon. Kerry said, Netanyahu “has indicated his willingness to do that as a good faith down payment to move forward.” Kerry said the parties are closer than ever to reaching an agreement for a seven day humanitarian truce starting with Muslim Eid holiday Monday, ending the holy month of Ramadan. Alongside the U.N. secretary general and the Egyptian foreign minister, he explained: “Gaps have been significantly narrowed. It can be achieved, if we work through some of the issues that are important for the parties.” The fighting in Gaza continued while talks of a truce continued, while unrest intensified in the West Bank over the conflict where five Palestinians were killed during protests against the Israeli operation in Gaza. The U.S. top diplomat said the goal for the seven day truce was to provide time to address the demands of each side.

On Saturday, Israel agreed to extend the 12 hour humanitarian truce in Gaza by four hours, according to a Cabinet minister as the death toll surpassed 1,000 Palestinians, according to a heath official, Laub and Deitch report, Israel agrees to extend Gaza war truce by 4 hours. In Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with European foreign ministers to find a way to build on Saturday’s lull which is the longest since the fighting erupted on July 8. Top United Nations envoy to the Middle East, Robert Serry, called for both sides to halt their fighting an additional 24 hours. The Israeli Cabinet voted by phone to agree to the four hour extension and will consider the U.N. request for a 24 delay in fighting at a Cabinet meeting later Saturday. According to Laub and Deitch, under a gradual extension of a humanitarian truce, Israel did not have to discuss new border arrangements with Gaza and could continue to destroy Hamas military tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border. A Hamas spokesman, Mushir al-Masri, speaking before Israel’s decision, said the group would consider an extension if “it does not mean that we retreat from our known demands.” During Saturday’s humanitarian truce, Palestinian health official Asraf al-Kidra said an additional 132 bodies were retrieved from rubble surpassing 1,000 casualties. In the 19 days of fighting, 6,000 Palestinians have been wounded, hundreds of homes destroyed and tens of thousands displaced in Gaza. Israel lost 40 soldiers and 2 civilians so far. During the truce on Saturday, thousands of Gaza residents returned to devastated border areas after fleeing the violence. The U.N. said more than 160,000 Palestinians have sought shelter at dozens of U.N. schools, an eight fold increase since the start of Israel’s ground offensive more than a week ago. Unfortunately, late Saturday Hamas said it fired five rockets at Israel after rejecting Israel’s offer to extend a 12 hour humanitarian ceasefire by four hours making it more difficult to broker a deal to end the 19 days of fighting. Hamas said it fired two rockets aimed at Tel Aviv, While a spokesman said Police in Israel’s second largest city dispersed a peace rally attend by several thousand people because of the threat.

While Israel and Gaza continue to butt heads, two Hunter college students decided to start a social media campaign to spread love rather than hate, Mashable reports. Abraham Gutman, Israeli, and Dania Darwish, Syrian, posted photos of themselves with the hashtag #JewsAndArabsRefuseToBeEnemies and launched a Facebook page under the same name. In the Christian Science Monitor, Gutman wrote: “With tempers only rising both on the ground and in social media platforms, we thought it would be productive to remind people that they are allowed to refuse to join the hateful discourse.” The campaign has proven to work as it has gone viral inviting Jews and Arabs around the world to share their stories. Sulome Anderson, a half Lebanese journalist, posted a photo of herself kissing her Jewish boyfriend that went viral getting thousands of re-tweets and favorites making her the face of the campaign. In New York Magazine, Anderson said: “He had seen that violence from the other side. As the region exploded into war, we started to come closer together in our opinions given the fact that we both share critical values: respect and concern for human life.”

While Israel and Gaza are taking steps to find common ground, the militant group ISIS continues to wreak havoc on Iraq by destroying the tomb of Jonah, a place thought to be the site of the prophet’s tomb who was swallowed by a whale or fish in Abrahamic faiths. On Thursday, civil defense officials in Mosul, Iraq, told CNN that ISIS operatives planted explosives around the mosque containing the tomb and detonated it remotely, according to Yasmine Hafiz, ISIS Destroys Jonah’s Tomb In Mosul, Iraq, As Militant Violence Continues. Though ISIS claims to follow the Sunni branch of Islam, they have targeted multiple Sunni shrines that they deem “unIslamic” and blow them up or bulldoze them. In addition, the Imam Aoun Bin al-Hassan mosque was destroyed on Thursday. Al-Arabiy reports that Zuhair al-Chalabi, a local Mosul official told Al-Samaria News that “ISIS implanted explosives around Prophet Daniel’s tomb in Mosul and blasted it, leading to its destruction.” AFP reports that an anonymous official said, “Islamic State completely destroyed the shrine of Nabi Yunus after telling local families to stay away and closing the roads to a distance of 500 metres from the shrine.” Sam hardy, a professor at the American University of Rome, told the Washington Post that ISIS will destroy, “basically pretty much anything in the Bible. It indicates they are going for total eradication not just of their enemies but even of the possibility of people living together under their rule.” Leila Fadel of NPR believes that ISIS’s destruction of shrines may be a big mistake since they establish the “Islamic caliphate” and “it may cause a deep rift in the uneasy alliances the Sunni extremist group has made with other Sunni fighting groups marginalized.”

Meanwhile in Libya on Saturday, the United States closed up and evacuated its diplomats from the U.S. Embassy in Libya to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias, Matthew Lee and Lara Lakes reports, US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes. The withdrawal reinforces the Obama administration’s concern over risks to American diplomats overseas especially in Libya where a deadly attack in 2012 took place in Benghazi. The State Department issued a new travel warning for Libya urging Americans not to enter and to leave immediately. It read: “The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security. Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including anti-aircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.” The State Department said embassy operations will be suspended until the security situation improves. Tripoli has for weeks been under siege by inter-militia violence that killed and wounded dozens on both sides. Rep. Howard McKeon, R-Calif., the House Armed Services Committee chairman, expressed gratitude toward U.S. forces who helped in the evacuation. Libya is experiencing one of the worst spans of violence since Gadhafi’s ouster. The U.S. is the latest country to close its embassy as Turkey on Friday shut its embassy and militia clashes in Benghazi prompted the United Nations, aid groups and foreign envoys to leave. The battle in Tripoli began this month when Islamist led militias launched an attack on the airport under the control of rival militias. The rival militia made up of former anti-Gadhafi rebels forced a weeklong closure of gas stations and government offices. In recent days, armed men have attacked vehicles carrying money from the Central Bank to local banks, forcing them to close as well. Libyan government officials and activist have been targeted in the violence recently with gunmen kidnapping two lawmakers in Tripoli a weak ago and on Friday abducted a well known Libyan political activist in Tripoli, Abdel Moaz Banoun.

Sequester Cuts Could Force Army To Extend Afghanistan Tours, Deploy Insufficiently Trained Troops

Sequester Cuts Could Force Army To Extend Afghanistan Tours, Deploy Insufficiently Trained Troops.

With the world financial crisis taking its toll on our neighbors across the Atlantic, the United States is struggling to keep its own economy afloat and cutting back on the military is not the way to do it. The government does not pay the men the women of our country enough to ask them to do more for our country than the country does for them. The government h made too many promises it can’t keep and doing nothing to protect its citizen or for that matter the men and women who sacrifice their lives to protect the lives of other. On Friday, General Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, said that soldiers deployed to Afghanistan next year may see their tours extended due to budget cuts that will limit training brigades to replace them. A number of combat brigades will deploy later this year and next year even as the war winds down for the U.S.

The Army right now is facing a shortfall of $8 billion in operation funding for Afghanistan, while an additional $5.4 billion in cuts if Congress cannot resolve the budget standoff and automatic reductions called a sequester goes into effect. On Friday Rep. Howard McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Service Committee, said that the sequester will go into effect March 1 that triggers $46 billion in automatic cuts to the Pentagons budget through September. “I think it’s going to happen,” McKeon told reporters. “We have just not been able to get past the politics of it to really focus in on the devastating effects.”

This week, President Obama said he would cut the size of U.S. forces roughly in half by next year as their are currently 66,000 U.S. troops in the war zone meaning 34,000 will be withdrawn by next year. In 2007, the Army extended deployments from a year to 15 months to meet the demands of the Iraq war and then President Bush. When brigades returned home however, they were ordered to deploy again 12 month later leading many leaders to worry about the forces being strained to the breaking point. Over time, the Iraq war ended and the deployment times were scaled back to a year and most are nine month long. Right now the only units scheduled to deploy are the 4th Brigade and 3rd Infantry Division, based at Fort Stewart, Ga. later this spring, but the Army has not announced what units will go to Afghanistan later in the summer in fall.