U.S. Attempts to Fight Ebola, Ukraine Ratifies Landmark Deal Amid Russian Sanctions and U.S. Steps Up Plans to Fight ISIS as al-Qaeda Expands

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The ravages of the Ebola virus can easily be seen in West Africa six months on, but the outbreak has become more dire in recent weeks as death tolls rise and health officials warn of a potential global disaster. In an effort to contain the virus, the United States will send thousands of military personnel to aid the region’s crippled health care system which marks a major milestone in the effort to fight the disease. Nick Robins Early reports, 14 Numbers That Show The Magnitude Of The World’s Worst Ebola Outbreak, how devastating the medical crisis has become in West Africa through a collection of revealing stats on the fight against Ebola. The numbers are as follows:

2,400 – The number of estimated Ebola deaths as of Sept. 12, 2014.

4,784 – The total number of Ebola cases reported as of Sept. 12, 2014. Due to many unreported cases, this figure is thought to be less than the actual number of people infected with the virus.

2 – The age of the Guinean boy who some researchers think may have been “patient zero” in the Ebola outbreak. Scientists believe humans originally caught the virus from a sick animal.

5 – The number of West African nations that have reported cases of Ebola. A sixth nation, the Democratic Republic of Congo, has also suffered from an Ebola outbreak, although it is a different strain from the one that originated in Guinea.

12-18 – The number of months that U.S. scientists predict the outbreak will last under current conditions.

20,000 – The number of Ebola cases that the World Health Organization estimates could occur by the time the virus is contained. It should be noted, however, that these type of long-term projections are prone to uncertainties and can vary. A recent New York Times report says that researchers at various universities predict the number could be more like 20,000 in a single month.

12,750 – The total number of health workers that the World Health Organization has called for in order to stem the outbreak and treat people infected with the virus.

3,000 – The number of U.S. military personnel that the United States is expected to send to West Africa to assist in medical training, distribution of aid and the building of health care facilities.

$1,000,000,000 – The estimated global resources needed for the next six months in the fight against Ebola, according to U.N. officials. This is a 10-fold increase from just a month ago, and is what the U.N. says is needed just to keep the outbreak contained to tens of thousands of people.

400,000 – The number of home protective kits that the United States reportedly plans to distribute to the four West African nations most affected by the outbreak.

178 – The number of days since the outbreak was first reported to the World Health Organization by Guinea’s health officials.

52 percent – The approximate fatality rate of the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Given access to proper medical treatment, especially adequate fluid replacement, the fatality rate of the Ebola outbreak can be significantly lowered.

1,700 – The number of beds that the new U.S. aid effort will reportedly aim to set up in Liberia, one of the hardest hit nations.

0 – The number of beds currently available to treat Ebola patients in Liberia, according to World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan.

The Obama administration is preparing to send 3,000 U.S. military personnel to West Africa to aid in the Ebola crisis and supply logistical and medical support to local health care systems and boost the number of beds needed to isolate and treat patients, according to Jim Kuhnhenn, US to assign 3,000 from US military to fight Ebola. President Obama announced the effort Tuesday during a visit to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta as the outbreak could spread and mutate into more easily transmitted disease. The announcement comes amid regional and aid organization appeals for the U.S. to increase their role in com batting the outbreak that has claimed 2,200 people. Administration officials said Monday that the new initiatives aim to:

– Train as many as 500 health care workers a week.

– Erect 17 heath care facilities in the region of 100 beds each.

– Set up a joint command headquartered in Monrovia, Liberia, to coordinate between U.S. and international relief efforts.

– Provide home health care kits to hundreds of thousands of households, including 50,000 that the U.S. Agency for International Development will deliver to Liberia this week.

– Carry out a home- and community-based campaign to train local populations on how to handle exposed patients.

The officials, under the condition of anonymity, said the plan would cost $500 million in overseas contingency operations, such as the war in Afghanistan, that the Pentagon already has asked Congress to redirect to carry out humanitarian efforts in Iraq and in West Africa. In addition, they said it would take two weeks to get U.S. forces on the ground. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations African affairs subcommittee, said, “This humanitarian intervention should serve as a firewall against a global security crisis that has the potential to reach American soil.” The countries hardest hit include Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, while the virus has reached Nigeria and Senegal. The U.S. will provide medics and corpsmen for treatment and training, engineers to help erect the treatment facilities and specialists in logistics to assist in patient transportation. The visit to the CDC by Obama came a day after the U.S. demanded international aid response to step up. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, called Monday for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday, warning that the potential risk of the virus could “set the countries of West Africa back a generation.” The meeting Thursday with the Security Council marks a rare occasion when a public health crisis is addressed rather than threats to peace and security, according to Power. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to brief the council with World Health Organization chief Dr. Margaret Chan and Dr. David Nabarro, the recently named U.N. coordinator to tackle the disease, as well as representatives from the affected countries. The Senate also weighed in Tuesday with a hearing to examine the U.S. response and an American missionary doctor who survived the disease set to testify. Four Americans have been treated for Ebola in the U.S. after evacuation. The U.S. has already spent $100 million responding to the outbreak and offered to operate treatment centers for patients. Additionally, Obama will be briefed on cases of respiratory illness being reported in the Midwest where public health officials are monitoring a high number of reported illness associated with human enterovirus 68 in Iowa, Kansas, Ohio and elsewhere. Lauran Neergaard reports, Ebola survivor: No time to waste as Obama ups aid, on Tuesday, Dr. Kent Brantly told senators: “We can’t afford to wait months, or even weeks, to take action, to put people on the ground.” Under the plan, the government could end up spending $1 billion to contain the disease. Obama after his briefing with doctors from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and from Emory University, he said: “If the outbreak is not stopped now, we could be looking at hundreds of thousands of people affected, with profound economic, political and security implications for all of us.” World Health Organization Director-General Margaret Chan said, “This massive ramp-up of support from the United States is precisely the kind of transformational change we need to get a grip on the outbreak and begin to turn it around.” Brice de le Vingne, director of operations for Doctors without Borders, said, “The response to Ebola continues to fall dangerously behind and too many lives are being lost. We need more countries to stand up, we need greater concrete action on the ground, and we need it now.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Obama’s plan, his spokesman said in a statement, and called on the international community “to be as bold and courageous in its response as those who are on the front lines fighting this disease.” Congress still needs to vote on Obama’s request for $88 million more to help fight the disease including funding CDC work in West Africa through December and speeding development of experimental treatments and vaccines. Late Tuesday, the Obama administration submitted a request to reprogram $500 million in Pentagon money for the Ebola effort. Meanwhile in Britain, the Associated Press reports, 1st UK volunteer gets experimental Ebola vaccine, a former nurse has become the first person in the country to receive an experimental Ebola vaccine in an early trial to test its safety. Ruth Atkins, 48, received the shot Wednesday in Oxford, the first of 60 healthy volunteers in the U.K. who will receive the vaccine developed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health and GlaxoSmithKline and targets the Zaire strain of Ebola that caused the ongoing outbreak in West Africa. A trial of the same vaccine has already begun in the U.S. The vaccine is meant to spark the immune system’s production of Ebola antibodies and does not contain infectious material. In a statement, trial leader Adrian Hill of Oxford University, said, “Witnessing the events in Africa makes it clear that developing new drugs and vaccines against Ebola should now be an urgent priority.” Hill and colleagues hope the trial will finish at the end of 2014 and could be used to vaccinate health workers in West African if proven safe and effective. Faith Karimi reports, Ebola patients buying survivors’ blood from black market, WHO warns, desperate patients are buying blood from survivors of the virus on the black market, the World Health Organization warns. The WHO reports, “Studies suggest blood transfusions from survivors might prevent or treat Ebola virus infection in others, but the results of the studies are still difficult to interpret. It is not known whether antibodies in the plasma of survivors are sufficient to treat or prevent the disease. More research is needed.” Convalescent serum used to treat patients such as American aid worker Rick Sacra who received blood from Kent Brantly who survived Ebola has been effective. However, patients in affected nations are getting blood through improper channels which could lead to the spread of other infections such as HIV and other blood related ailments. Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director general, said this week: “We need to work very closely with the affected countries to stem out black market trading of convalescent serum for two reasons. Because it is in the interest of individuals not to just get convalescent serum without … going through the proper standard and the proper testing because it is important that there may be other infectious vectors that we need to look at.” Meanwhile, a French volunteer with Doctors Without Borders contracted Ebola in Liberia and will be taken for treatment in France by a private American plan, according to the organization.

In Ukraine, on Tuesday, lawmakers strengthened their ties to Europe and loosened control over the country’s rebellious east region where fighting between government forces and pro-Russian rebels has left 3,000 people dead and returned Western and Russian relations back to the Cold War era, the Associate Press reports, Ukraine lawmakers ratify landmark deal with Europe. The deal lowers trade tariffs between Europe and Ukraine. requires Ukrainian goods to meet European regulatory standards and forces Kiev to undertake major political and economic reforms. President Petro Poroshenko called the vote a “first but very decisive step” toward bringing Ukraine fully into the European Union. In a live broadcast after the deal was made, Poroshenko said the protesters who died in clashes with riot police in Kiev and government troops who died fighting the rebels “have died not only for their motherland. They gave up their lives for us to take a dignified place among the European family.” He continued, “After World War II, not a single nation has paid such a high price for their right to be European. Can you tell me, who now after this will be brave enough to shut the doors to Europe in front of Ukraine?” Earlier Tuesday, parliament also approved laws granting temporary self rule to pro-Russian region in the east as well as amnesty for those involved in the fighting. One law calls for three years of self rule in parts of eastern Ukraine and for local elections in November. A separate bill calls for amnesty for those involved in the fighting in the east, but not those suspected or charged with crimes including murder, sabotage, rape, kidnapping and terrorism. The law could exclude those who tried to kill Ukrainian law enforcement officials and servicemen meaning many of the separatists who waged war for five months. Although Poroshenko did not mention the bills in his speech, he later said according to Interfax-Ukraine that he felt “we are obliged to take a step to ensure that the other side takes corresponding steps” toward peace. Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the rebels in the Donetsk region, told Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency that the separatist leadership would study the measures, an unusually conciliatory statement compared to the rebels’ previous assertions that they aim for complete independence. The U.S. state Department and Vicd President Joe Biden congratulated Ukrainian lawmakers and leaders. Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman at the State Department, said, “By forging ahead with this agreement in the face of great challenges, Ukraine’s leaders have carried out the will of the Ukrainian people, who demonstrated their overwhelming support for further integration with Europe last winter and with their votes in the May 25 presidential elections.” The passage of the measures came as Poroshenko begins his first state visit to Canada and the U.S., where he will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday and is also scheduled to speak to the U.N. General Assembly next week. Martin Schulz, the president of the EU Parliament, said, “The message this sends could not be clearer: the European Parliament supports Ukraine in its European vocation. The European Parliament will continue defending a united and sovereign Ukraine.” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday said the military will increase its forces in Crimea due to the “exacerbation of situation in Ukraine and increased foreign military presence near our borders.” Also on Tuesday, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, Russian ruble drops to historic low amid sanctions, Russian currency dropped to all time low against the dollars as investors worry bout the fallout of economic sanctions. The United States and the European Union last week imposed a new round of sanctions against Russia for its action in Ukraine such as blocking off Western financial markets to key Russian companies and limiting imports of some technologies. Economist Alexei Kudrin, who served as finance minister under President Vladimir Putin for 11 years until 2011, said Tuesday that the sanctions could send Russia’s economy into recession for one or two years. Interfax quoted him as saying, “The sanctions that have been imposed are going to have an effect (on the economy) for the next one or two years because they have limited opportunities for investment in this uncertain environment.” Vasilyeva reports: “Among the most recent sanctions, the United States on Friday tightened the maximum credit duration for a number state-owned Russian companies and banks to 30 days, effectively shutting off Russia from long-term loans. The U.S. and the EU indicated, however, they may reverse some of the sanctions if they see that Moscow is supporting peace process in Ukraine, where more than 3,000 died since mid-April.” Jitters over the impact of the US. EU sanctions were fueled by reports that the Russian government is preparing more import bans that could hurt Russian consumer spending. Russian in August imposed an import ban on dairy products, meat and vegetables from the European Union and the United States, causing prices to shoot up for selected foods.

While Ukraine tries to rebuild a fragile and devastated government, the U.S. continues to implement its plan for ISIS. U.S. officials on Monday said the United States took its first step in its plan to expand the fight against the extremist group, going to the aid of Iraqi security forces near Baghdad who were under attack, the Associated Press reports, First U.S. airstrikes in expanded Iraq fight. The U.S. Central Command said on Sunday two airstrikes were conducted in support of Iraqi forces near Sinjar and southwest Baghdad. The strikes authorized by President Barack Obama represent a new offensive against the group to protect not only U.S. interest and personnel, but directly support Iraqi forces fighting militants. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced plans to stop American extremist from joining terrorist groups like ISIS during a presentation Monday, but details are a little fuzzy, according to the AOL article, Holder announces plan to stop Americans from joining ISIS. HOLDER VIA U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: “Ultimately the pilot programs will enable us to develop more effective and inclusive ways to build a more just, secure and free society that all Americans deserve.” He said his plan will bring together community representatives, public safety officials, religious leaders and U.S. attorneys in hopes of building a broad network to keep the nation safe. Other nations have taken steps involving local officials such as British Prime Minister David Cameron who asked his government to pass legislation that allows law enforcement to seize the passport of anyone suspected of traveling to support ISIS, while Germany banned its citizens from any activities supporting the group. The International Centre for Radicalization estimates more than 11,000 Western Europeans have traveled to fight with Syrian rebels. Maria Golovnna reports, New al Qaeda wing in South Asia claims major attack, Al Qaeda’s South Asia wing has claimed responsibility for hijacking a Pakistani naval ship and trying to use it to fire rockets at U.S. vessels in the Arabian Sea, in the first major assault by the newly created group. The SITE monitoring service quoted its spokesman, Usama Mahmoud, said: “These mujahideen had taken control of the Pakistani ship, and they were advancing towards the American fleet when the Pakistani army stopped them. As a result, the mujahideen, the lions of Allah and benefactors of the Ummah, sacrificed their lives for Allah, and the Pakistani soldiers spoiled their hereafter by giving up their lives in defense of the enemies of the Ummah the Americans.” The naval yard on Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast is a strategic facility at the cent of the U.S. Pakistani security, anti-terrorism and anti-trafficking cooperation. The Pakistani Taliban, allied with al-Qaeda, said the Sept.6 attack was carried out with the help of insiders leading to the arrest of a number of navy personnel on suspicion of collaborating with attackers. Back in the U.S., Republican controlled House voted to give U.S. military authority to train and arm Syrian rebels Wednesday, David Espo and Donna Cassata report, House grudgingly approves arms for Syrian rebels. The provision will be added to spending legislation to assure the federal government runs normally after Sept.30 end of the budget year and final approval in the Senate may come as earl as Thursday. It grants Obama authority until Dec.11 and gives Congress plenty of time to return to the issue in a post-election session set to begin mid-November. The Senate will vote only once on the legislation combining approval for arming and training rebels with the no shutdown federal spending provisions. Testifying before a Senate Committee, Secretary of State John Kerry said the forces seeking to create an Islamic state ” must be defeated. Period. End of story.” The legislation also includes $88 million to combat the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa. In France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that his country was ready to take part int he airstrikes in Iraq if needed, the Associated Press reports, France ready to participate in Iraq airstrikes. He spoke in Paris before President Barack Obama was expected to outline Washington’s plans for fighting the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. France has said it will join a U.S. led coalition in Iraq and send arms to Kurdish authorities to fight militants. The French president and foreign minister are going to Iraq Friday and hosting an international conference Monday on how to stop the group and help Iraq. Fabius said that “we will participate, if necessary, in military air action” in Iraq, according to a text provided by the French Foreign Ministry. Earlier, Fabius said people should not refer to the group as the Islamic State since they do not represent Islam or a state and started to refer to the group Wednesday as Daesh, the acronym in Arabic for its full former name, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Speaking to lawmakers, Fabius said “the determination of the Daesh butchers is strong. Ours must be even stronger.” Egypt’s top Islamic authority also said the group should not be called the Islamic State.

Ebola Crisis Worsens, Gaza Talks Continue, Fighting Continues in Ukraine, Russia Retaliates Against Sanctions, Islamic State Pushes through Iraq and War Crime Charges for Former Cambodian Leaders

Debt Crisis, Third World andhttps://i2.wp.com/ingrid19thcenturyhumanities.weebly.com/uploads/5/3/1/1/5311173/6414099.pnghttps://i1.wp.com/www.world-crisis.com/images/uploads//Gazabama.jpgOn Wednesday, President Barack Obama called on African leaders to attack the health crisis, security challenges and government corruption that has crippled the continents economic advancement as he concluded the White House African Summit, the Associated Press reported, Obama, African Leaders Confront Continent’s Crises. Also in attendance was former President George W. Bush who launched a $15 billion HIV/AIDS initiative while in office and made public health issues in Africa a priority since leaving office. Bush’s institute partnered with first lady Michelle Obama to host a daylong event for the African leaders’ spouses. Bush, who lives in Dallas, said: “There’s not many things that convince me to come back to Washington. The first lady’s summit, of course, is one.” While Bush has his African legacy in his initiative, Obama has been trying to build his own and the U.S. African summit is seen as a symbol of that start as he brought 50 countries together for three days of talks. Moving away from humanitarian aid, Obama announced $33 billion in new U.S. commitment to bolster investments in Africa fr0m the private sector. According to the Associated Press: “African nations are still struggling with the HIV epidemic, malaria, and the current outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. Government corruption remains a persistent problem. And a surge in violent extremism, particularly in North Africa and the Sahel region, has sparked international concern.” Obama added: “Today we can focus on how we can continue to strengthen Africa’s capacity to meet transitional threats and in so doing make all of our nations more secure.” During the private security session, leaders were expected to talk about Boko Haram, the Violent Islamic group that kidnapped 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria earlier this year. Meanwhile, Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Bush, who hosted an event last summer in Tanzania, met with the African first ladies to talk about investments in education, health and economic development.

Meanwhile, back in Western Africa, on Tuesday global health experts stated that the Ebola outbreak is “out of control” and the international community has no organized plan to address it, Kathlenn Miles reports, Health Expert: ‘No Strategic Plan’ For Controlling Ebola Outbreak. Laurie Garrett, senior global health fellow for the Council on Foreign Relations, said Tuesday during a CFR conference call: “We’re now in a perfect storm. There is no strategic plan for how this epidemic will be brought under control. People believe that there’s a giant World Health Organization office in Geneva stocked full of specialized equipment and talented health care workers. Not only do we not have any such thing –- the WHO is essentially bankrupt.” Garrett added that the largest response group, Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) who has 550 staff member on the ground, has issued plea after plea in recent days for assistance due to fatigue as more than 60 health workers have been infected with the virus. Garret said: “(health workers) in a state of seige — feeling that the population despises and loathes them. Rumors are rife that they are actually deliberately infecting people, cutting off people’s arms and selling them on some alleged international market, and even that there are health care workers who are cannibals.” The need now is for an agreed upon international leader to fight the epidemic and tale on the $1.2 billion deficit or face possible chaos, according to Garrett. WHO spokeswoman Christy Feig confirmed the deficit to HuffPost, while on Monday, the World Bank pledged $200 million to fight the epidemic leaving the WHO short $78 million. Garrett criticized the African Summit in Washington due to the act the 50 leaders at the summit should be discussing how to mobilize more health workers, and consider closing borders and canceling flights adding: “We should be taking advantage of this remarkable coincidental moment, but as far as I can tell, it’s not on the agenda.” The WHO will meet on Wednesday in Geneva at a special summit where experts will decide if the epidemic should be called an international public health emergency which, if designated, will force the international community to try to develop vaccines, implement border checks, give instructions to flight carriers and more. The Ebola virus, which is spread through bodily fluids, has killed 932 people since February in four West African countries and caused 1,711 cases making it the largest outbreak of the virus in history with no cure. The death rate is at 70 percent and its epicenter has shifted to Liberia and Sierra Leone from its outbreak in the forests of Guinea with two confirmed cases in Nigeria, according to Garrett. Additionally, Saudi Arabia officials said a man who tested for the Ebola virus died on Sunday after returning from Sierra Leone, where 286 people have died from Ebola, while hospitalized in Jiddah after showing signs of the viral hemorrhagic fever. While on Wednesday, Spain’s Defense Ministry said a medically equipped Airbus 310 is ready to fly to Liberia to recover a Spanish missionary priest who has the virus, but it is not known when the plane will leave, Bashir Adigun and Krista Larson report, WHO: Ebola death toll reaches 932; 1,700 cases. According to Dan Kedmey, Sierra Leone Dispatches Troops to Enforce Ebola Quarantine, Sierra Leone has dispatched 750 soldiers Wednesday to enforce new quarantine measures as the virus’ global death toll increase. Liberia’s president orders a 30 day state of emergency due to the Ebola outbreak late Wednesday, according to a radio broadcast. A Reuters reports in Monrovia reported that relatives of Ebola victims dumped infected bodies in the streets to avoid quarantines as forces are deployed to maintain order. While some of the numerous untested Ebola drugs will go into human trials to test safety and effectiveness this years, none will be available for widespread production for several years.

Switching to the ongoing Middle East crisis, talks in Cairo for an long term truce continued between Israel and the Palestinian side (Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Palestine Liberation Organization) as many Palestinians returned to devastation in Gaza but no fighting, according to CNN, Talks to extend Gaza truce under way in Cairo. From Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his country’s troops for their performance, blamed Hamas for civilian casualties and hoped that the Cairo talks could allow for broader peace. On Wednesday, a Palestinian delegate, Qais Abdelkarim, told CNN that the delegations had yet to reach an agreement to extend the ceasefire. An Israeli government official, who asked to remain anonymous, told CNN Thursday regarding a ceasefire extension: “The current one is unconditional, and from our point of view, it can be extended unconditionally.” On Wednesday Obama weighed in on the matter: “I’m very glad that we have, at least temporarily, achieved a cease-fire. The question now is, how do we build on this temporary cessation of violence and move forward in a sustainable way? I have no sympathy for Hamas. I have great sympathy for ordinary people who are struggling within Gaza.” Nasser Judeh, the foreign ministers of Jordan, which borders Israel and the West Bank, told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer: “The problem is that — regardless of the blame game that’s taking place right now and it usually does happen after every Gaza escalation — it’s the people of Gaza who are suffering from the siege, from a disastrous humanitarian situation, civilian deaths, destruction. I think we all have to collectively think about how we can rescue them from this.” The United Nations reports around 520,000 Gaza residents were displaced which is 29% of the territory’s 1.8 million inhabitants, more than 10,00 homes were destroyed or severely damaged and the Palestinian Health Ministry reports nearly 1,900 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during the conflict with the U.N. estimating that about 70% of the dead were civilians. The immediate challenge for residents is to secure water, food and shelter. The U.N. says water is scarce and there is only two to four hours of electricity a day. Pierre Krahenbuhl, UNRWA’s commissioner general, told CNN: “We will be very closely following not only the needs of people who stay at our schools (which house about 270,000), but also those who are returning to their home and may find themselves in very difficult situations in the days and weeks to come.” Nachman Shai, an opposition member of the Israeli parliament, said talking isn’t the only thing Israel needs to do referring to the idea of disarming Hamas: “I’m not sure that we accomplished the mission. I think we have to do much more. If you ask me, the next phase in this mission is to build new relations between us and the Palestinians.” Netanyahu did agree with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that realignment could present opportunities to use the Cairo talks fro broader discussions: “I think he’s right that there are opportunities now, perhaps opportunities that we’ve not seen before with the realignment of important parties in the Middle East, to be able to fashion a new reality, one more conducive to the end of violence, the establishment of calm, sustainable peace, or at least a sustainable quiet that can lead to other things.” Palestininan negotiator Saeb Erakat told CNN Wednesday that the conflict cannot be resolved through violence and Mohammed Shtayyeh, a senior negotiator for the PLO, states Israeli’s call to demilitarize Gaza is balckmail. Hamas leaders want to negotiate an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza or find another body to control the borders. U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki told CNN’s Tapper: “We don’t negotiate with Hamas. We don’t talk to Hamas. But we certainly want to be there to support an effort to negotiate over these key issues that have been so troubling in the region for so many years.”

On Wednesday, as fighting continues not far from the Malaysian Flight 17 crash site in Eastern Ukraine, the Dutch prime minster has halted recovery efforts to find the remaining bodies as it is too dangerous. Donetsk City Council confirmed three people were killed and five wounded on overnight shelling in eastern Ukraine as government forces tighten their hold on the pro-Russian rebel stronghold, the Associated Press reported, 3 killed, 5 wounded in east Ukraine fighting. On the council’s website Thursday, a statement detailed that several residential buildings were damage 4 miles from the city’s center due to shelling. As rebels are pushed back by Kiev forces, many fear that Russian may intervene as Western Leader accuse Russia of massing troops at the border, a claim Russia denies. Meanwhile, Toby Sterling reports, Dutch premier halts search for Ukraine victims, Wednesday Mark Rutte, at a news conference, praised the efforts of the international recovery mission and promised victims’ families the search will resume when Ukraine is more stable. Rutte added that before the international team was able to reach the site due to fighting in the area the local authorities immediately after the crash conducted a thorough search of the area with 800 volunteers and found many bodies in the first days and have been identified in the Netherlands. As for the cause of the crash, Rutte said the investigation is continuing as the Dutch Safety Board spokesman on Wednesday states the preliminary findings due Aug. 17 won’t be ready for several weeks after that date. The reason, according to Wim van der Weegen via phone interview, is due to the difficulty investigators had reaching the site.

While Ukraine continues to struggles to end the fighting and the families of Flight 17 must wait longer to find their loved ones, Russia, who has been sanctions over its alleged action in Ukraine, has banned all Western Food imports in retaliation. Jim Heintz reports, Report: Russia to block US agricultural imports, the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti quoted an official of Russia’s sanitary oversight agency as saying all imports of agricultural product from the U.S. to Russia will be banned. President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday ordered state authorities to make a list of agricultural products from countries who imposed the sanctions on Russia with a ban or limit for up to one year. On Thursday, Russia officially banned most food imports from the West in retaliation that will cost Western farmers billions of dollars and lead to empty shelves in Russian cities, the Associate Press reports, Russia bans Western food over Ukraine sanctions. The decisions by President Vladimir Putin shows he will no bow to international pressure over Ukraine and will strike back as Russia pursues its course in Ukraine. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a televised Cabinet meeting that the ban covers all imports of meat, fish, milk and milk products and fruit and vegetables from the United States, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Norway. He said: “Until the last moment, we hoped that our foreign colleagues would understand that sanctions lead to a deadlock and no one needs them. But they didn’t and the situation now requires us to take retaliatory measures.” Large cities may be hit the hardest like Moscow where imported food fills 60 to 70 percent of the market. Medvedev said Russia may carry their ban further and prevent Western carriers from flying over Russia on flights from Asia which would significantly swell the costs and increase flight times. The move is retaliation against EU sanctions levied on the low cost Russian airline Dobrolet. Medvedev hopes the ban will make the West revise their policy and stop trying to pressure Russia with sanctions. Another import from the U.S. will not be banned , according to Heintz, Edward Snowden Gets Permission To Stay In Russia For 3 More Years: Lawyer, as NSA whistle blower Edward Snowden on Thursday was granted permission to stay in Russia for three more years. Analtoly Kucherena, his lawyer, quoted by the Russian news agency as saying Snowden was not granted political asylum but residency for three more years.

Back in the Middle East, the Islamic State made another push into Northern Iraq leaving many Iraq’s the only two options, to flee their towns and villages or face Sunni militants who are notorious for beheading. According to Ahmed Rasheed and Michael Georgy, Iraq’s Yazidis Face Extremist Militants Or Perilous Mountains, the Yazidis of Sinjar are especially concerned since the Islamic state, deemed excessive by al Qaeda, see the minority ethnic group as devil worshipers making them prime targets for the sword. Witnesses and the United Nations reports that tens of thousands fled the weekend assault on Sinjar and are now surrounded after Sunni militants inflicted a humiliating defeat on Kurdish forces who held the town for three years. Residents said 50 people were killed after the Sunni militants, who declared parts of Iraq and Syria a caliphate, arrived in Sinjar late Saturday and 20 were killed trying to defend the town. Many panicked Yazidis tried to find water and food for their children before leaving in a rush to the surrounding mountains, while some did not escape. Vian Dakheel, a member of the Yazidi community parliament, said tearfully: “The innocent people of Sinjar were slaughtered. Men were killed and women have been taken as slaves by Islamic State fighters.” Dakheel said some could not withstand the weekend offensive and 70 children between one month and four died of thirst and hunger. The U.N. children’s agency said families fleeing the area needed assistance including the 25,000 children stranded in the mountains. While the Islamist State sets its sights on new territory, no sign Iraq’s bickering politicians will be able to share power anytime soon leaving the government powerless in countering the insurgency. Fortunately, as Reuters reported, UN Rescues Some Refugees From Sinjar Mountain, some of the thousands trapped by Islamic State militants on Sinjar mountain in northern Iraq have been rescued in the last 24 hours leading up to Thursday announcement by a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. David Swanson via phone from Iraq said: “We’re just receiving the information right now. We’ve just heard that people over the last 24 hours have been extracted and the U.N. is mobilizing resources to ensure that these people are assisted on arrival. This is a tragedy of immense proportions, impacting the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Over the past couple of days, almost 200,000 people have made their way northwards to Iraq’s Kurdistan region, Dohuk governorate, or to disputed border areas inside Ninewah. We have also received reports that thousands more may have fled across the border into Syria, and are waiting to cross back into Iraq, but I have no concrete confirmation of that. Many of the displaced are in immediate need of essential life-saving humanitarian items, including water, food, shelter and medicine.” A spokesman for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF in Geneva, Christopher Tidey, said: “We have received reports of dehydrated children and we know that at least 40 children have died.” Another group, Iraqi Christians, have long suffered more than any other group since the Islamic State took power as the region’s Christian population is around 5% and dropping, according to Yasmin Hafiz, ‘Vicar Of Baghdad’ Canon Andrew White Refuses To Leave Iraq, Despite Christian Persecution By ISIS. In Mosul, Iraq, Islamic State distributed flyers in July giving them three options: convert to Islam, pay a fine, or be killed. Many of their abandoned homes now say in black lettering, “Property of the Islamic State.” Canon Andrew White refuses to leave Baghdad, despite the danger, as St. George’s is Iraq’s last Anglican church. He estimates his numbers at 6,000 people, but in the last decade over 1,200 have been killed, CNN’s Arwa Damon reports.

On Thursday, a long over due ruling three and a half decades after the genocidal rule of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge ended has finally been handed down Thursday by a U.N. backed tribunal. Todd Pitman and Sopheng Cheang report, Cambodia tribunal convicts Khmer Rouge leaders, two top leaders of the former regime received life sentences for crimes against humanity during the country’s 1970s terror period that left 2 million people dead. The histroic verdicts were announced against Khieu Samphan, the regime’s 83-year-old former head of state, and Nuon Chea, its 88-year-old chief ideologue – the only two surviving leaders of the regime left to stand trial, Pitman and Cheang. The tribunal’s chief judge said both men were guilty of “extermination encompassing murder, political persecution, and other inhumane acts comprising forced transfer, enforced disappearances and attacks against human dignity.” The rulings can be appeals, however, Nil Nonn told the court that “given the gravity of the crimes” both would remain in detention. Nearly a quarter of the population died under the Khmer Rouge about 1.7 million people through a combination starvation, medical neglect, overwork and execution when the group held power in 1975-79. Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen called it “a historic day for both the Cambodian people and the court. The victims have waited 35 years for legal accountability, and now that the tribunal has rendered a judgment, it is a clear milestone.” According to the article: “The current trial began in 2011 with four senior Khmer Rouge leaders; only two remain. Former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died in 2013, while his wife, Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia in 2012. The group’s top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.” khieu Samphan acknowledged the mass killings, but testified in 2011 he was a figure head with no authority. Nuon Chea, bother no.2 for Pol Pot’s trusted deputy, denied responsibility claiming Vietnamese soldiers killed Cambodians en masse. Due to poor health and advanced age, the case was divided into two trials in an effort to render justice before they die. Both men will be tried in September or October for charges of genocide, according to Olsen, and could take a year to complete. Survivors of the regime had mixed reactions to the verdicts. 54 year old Chea Sophon, whose brother was killed during the Khmer Rouge era and spend years in a hard labor camp building dams and working in rice fields, said: “The crimes are huge, and just sentencing them to life in jail is not fair. But what can I do? I just accept the verdict. Even if they die many times over, it would not be enough.” While a 58 year old female survivor, Khuth Vouern, said she felt a sense of relief that justice was served: “I have been waiting for this day for many years. Now, for the first time, my mind feels at least some degree of peace.”

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.

International Conflicts Rage On As Russia Sparks Gun Buying in the U.S. and More Planes Meet Disaster

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No one can deny the fact that this year have been the worst in the history of aviation especially the past week with a cluster of disaster spanning three continents including 300 passengers killed on a plane shot out of the sky, suspension of flights to Israel’s largest airport due to rocket attacks, and airliner crashing in a storm and another disappears. According to the AOL article, Very bad week: Airline disasters come in a cluster, industry analysts and safety experts have concluded their is no common theme with these disasters as they all seem random tragedies and do not think the events indicate that flying is suddenly becoming less safe. The International Air Transportation Association reported that less than one in 2 million flights last year ended in an accident where the plane was damaged. John Beatty, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia, a non-profit promoting global aviation safety, said: “One of the things that makes me feel better when we look at these events is that if they all were the same type event or same root cause then you would say there’s a systemic problem here, but each event is unique in its own way.” Beatty added that because of the growth in the industry especially in the developing world that more accidents could potentially happen. Malaysia Flight 17 shot down on July 18 in Eastern Ukraine killed 298 people and Malaysia Flight 370 disappeared with 239 people in March adding up to more than twice the total global airline fatalities in all of last year which was the safest year on record with 163 fatalities in 2013. ON Wednesday, seven days after Flight 17 met disaster, a TransAsia plane crashed in Taiwan due to stormy weather killing 48 people injuring 10 others and crew and injuring five more people on the ground. The next day an Air Algerie flight with 116 people disappeared in a rainstorm which the wreckage was later found in Mali, a Burkina Faso official said late Thursday. Together, the disasters may push the fatalities over 700 for this year, the most since 2010, and 2014 is still only half over. According to Robert W. Mann Jr., an aviation industry analyst: “They’re all tragic, but the global air travel consumer has a very short memory and it’s highly localized to their home markets where they fly. The places where these things are happening, 99 percent of passengers never go to or fly to. … This isn’t a headline issue for most people, and that’s why people continue to fly despite the headlines.”

While aviation industry faces a tough year, Russia and Pro-Russian separatists face new accusations regarding Ukraine. According to Catherine Taibi, CNN Freelancer Abducted By Pro-Russian Separatists In Ukraine, a CNN freelance journalist has been detained in eastern Ukraine since Tuesday after being abducted by pro-Russian separatists as reported by the network Thursday. Anton Skiba was taken from his hotel in Donetsk after covering days of the MH17 crash site and the network chose not to report the incident for safety concerns. CNN reports that several press freedom groups and organizations including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have called for Skiba’s immediate release. Skiba was accused of “terrorism” and “of posting cash rewards for the killing of separatist fighters on his Facebook page.” The Unites States on Thursday accused Russia of firing artillery across the border in to Ukraine to target Ukrainian military positions, Reuters reports Russia Fired On Ukraine, U.S. Says. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf explained: “We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions.” Ukraine’s Security Council said on Wednesday that preliminary information indicated that missiles were fired from Russia that took down two government fighter jets over Eastern Ukraine. Russia’s Defense Ministry on Thursday dismissed this saying it is an attempt to mislead the public, according to Interfax news agency reports citing a defense ministry official. Meanwhile, back in the U.S., after new sanction imposed by the Obama administration last week against Russia included several companies such as Kalashnikov Concern, who makes the most popular weapon in the world, the Ak-47. As Hunter Stuart reports, Russian Sanctions Spark AK-47 Buying Frenzy In U.S., the move has sent Americans in to a buying frenzy seeking to buy AK-47s that are already for sale in the U.S. Gun sellers around the country say they are seeing big business in AK-47s and other Russian firearms. The Treasury Department says people and businesses who own Kalashnikov guns can still sell them in the U.S. as the Kalashnikov company does not benefit.

While Russia and the pro-Russian rebels deal with the fallout of the alleged allegations, Israel elected a new president amid the violence and destruction. Newly elected president Reuven Rivlin, a legislator from the hawkish Likud Party, took over the reigns from Nobel Prize Laureate Shimon Peres whose presidency ended on Thursday, according to the Associated Press report Israel swears in new president amid Gaza war. During his handover ceremony, Peres, 90, said: “I did not imagine that in the last days of my presidency I would be called upon, once more, to comfort bereaved families” and blaming the Islamic militant group Hamas for starting the war by firing at Israel, but emphasized that “Israel is not the enemy of the people of Gaza.” Rivlin’s speech was similar saying: “We are not fighting against the Palestinian people, and we are not at war with Islam. We are fighting against terrorism.” However, unlike Peres, Rivlin has long been an opponent of efforts to establish a Palestinian state, the Associated Press reports. Peres spent his last days of his seven year term dealing with grieving families of soldiers killed din the two weeks of fighting. So far, 30 have died and three civilians on the Israeli side, while more than 700 Palestinians with most being civilians have died. Israel’s president is meant to be a unifying figure and moral compass, while executive power rest with the prime minister who is currently the conservative Benjamin Netanyahu. This week, Peres met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to try and broker a ceasefire. Rivlin, 74, a stalwart in Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said he will turn his priorities inward focusing on domestic issue such as rising living costs and affordable housing, while Peres said ,once out of office, he will facilitate investments in education, health care, agriculture and technology throughout the Middle East.

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.