While the U.S. Senate Clears the Way for Homeland Security Funding and as the World Continues to Struggle with ISIS, Ukraine and Russia Continue to Struggle with Another Ceasefire

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Reuters reported on Thursday that the Senate moved Wednesday to advert a shutdown of U.S. domestic security agency this weekend by voting to clear the way for funding a funding bill that does not include the immigration issue. The vote came shortly after an appeal from the current and two former Security secretaries appealed to Congress to avoid the shutdown and give full funding for the department of Homeland Security this year. The final hurdle for passage will fall to the conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives who still oppose the bill and procedural negotiations that could delay the final vote beyond Friday’s funding deadline for the department. The agency set up after 9/11 coordinates domestic efforts to combat security threats like the recent Somali based Islamic militants against U.S. shopping malls and encompasses the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration as well as border, immigration and several other federal agencies. The original bill would of funded the agency with $39.7 billion until Republicans against Democratic President Barack Obama’s executive order lifted deportation threats of undocumented immigrants got in the way causing Republicans to approve the bill adding a provision to ban spending on the order. This in turn caused a deadlock that lasted weeks between Republicans and Democrats leading up to Wednesday’s vote. The 98-2 vote cleared the way to take out the House’s immigration provisions and leave the vote on immigration orders for a later date under the plan designed by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell to end the deadlock. The overwhelming bipartisan support for McConnell’s approach means there is strong support for drama free funding for Homeland Security. Democrats have called for a clean Homeland bill all along without any immigration restrictions as Obama had threatened to veto the House passed measure. House Speaker John Boehner declined to tell Reuters if he would put the bill to a House vote even thought the deadline ends at midnight Friday. If no deal is reached, then Homeland Security would be forced to furlough about 30,000 employees or 15 percent of its workforce. This translate to many of the essential personnel such as airport and border security agents would have to wait to be paid until new funding is approved. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and some of his predecessors pleaded at a news conference for Congress to swiftly pass the funding bill. A cut-off in funds also would suspend grants to states to support local counter-terrorism activities.

As security issues at home become increasingly worrisome, the White House has said President Barack Obama would be open to negotiating with Congress for new authorization for military force against Islamic State militants including a three year limit on U.S. military action and use of American troops, according to the AP’s Nedra Pickler, Obama open to changes to military authority against IS. After a weeklong holiday break, lawmakers returned to Washington Monday and have started to consider the proposal with some Republicans saying it is too restrictive for the mission to succeed and some Democrats wanting more limitations on Obama’s authority so the U.S. doesn’t sign on for another open ended war. Obama is open to discussing every aspect of his proposal but firmly opposed to any geographic restriction on where the U.S. military pursues ISIS with strongholds in Iraq and Syria but have been operating across international boundaries. White House press secretary Josh Earnest stated, “I’m not at all going to be surprised if there are members of Congress who take a look at this legislation and decide, ‘Well, I think there are some things that we should tweak here, and if we do, we might be able to build some more support for. So I think it is fair for you to assume that this reflects a starting point in conversations.” Obama argues he doesn’t need new authority to legally pursue the militant group as he has been launching strikes based on authorizations given to President George W. Bush after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. However, critics say Obama’s use of this authority is a stretch and the White House has taken a new position making it clear it doesn’t see reliance on this authorization as ideal. Once new authority is signed into law, the White House says Obama will mot longer rely on the 2001 approved authority to purse the group and rely solely on the new powers. The White House added that Congress could make that clear in the new authorization. The change also prevents any future president from interpreting the law the way Obama has since last year. On Wednesday, the U.S. Justice Department announced the arrest of three men accused of planning or supporting ISIS in Syria, AP’s Deepti Hajela reports, Feds: 3 accused in Islamic State plot vocal about beliefs. Two men are charged with plotting to help the Islamic State group as evident by both online and personal conversations about their commitment and desire to join the extremists, federal authorities reported. Akhror Saidakhmetov, 19, was arrested at Kennedy Airport, where he was attempting to board a flight to Istanbul, with plans to head to Syria, authorities said. Another man, 24-year-old Abdurasul Hasanovich Juraboev, had a ticket to travel to Istanbul next month and was arrested in Brooklyn, federal prosecutors said. The two were held without bail after a brief court appearance. A third defendant, Abror Habibov, 30, is accused of helping fund Saidakhmetov’s efforts. He was ordered held without bail in Florida. If convicted, each faces a maximum of 15 years in prison. New York Police Department Commissioner William Bratton said this was the first public case in New York involving possible fighters going to the Islamic State, but he hinted at other ongoing investigations. According to the federal complaint, Saidakhmetov said he intended to shoot police officers and FBI agents if his plan to join the IS group in Syria was thwarted. Loretta Lynch, who is Obama’s choice to be U.S. attorney general, said “The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and to our allies.” The Islamic State group largely consists of Sunni militants from Iraq and Syria but has also drawn fighters from across the Muslim world and Europe.

While the U.S. fights to thwart and contain the Islamic State, the rest of the world has not been so lucky in keeping ISIS as bay. On Tuesday, AP’s Zeina Karam reported, Dozens of Christians abducted by Islamic militants in Syria, the Islamic State militants before dawn raided homes in a cluster of villages along the Khabur River in northeastern Syria abducting at least 70 Christians as thousands fled to safer areas. The captives’, mostly women and children, fate was unclear Tuesday as relatives said mobile phone service was cut off and land lines were not working and heavy fighting in the area was reported. The Islamic State group has a history of killing captives, including foreign journalists, Syrian soldiers and Kurdish militiamen. Most recently, militants in Libya affiliated with the extremist group released a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Christians. While the U.S. and coalition of regional partners conduct airstrikes against the group, the group has repeatedly targeted religious minorities since taking a third of both Syria and Iraq. The British based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights working with a network of activist in Syria have reported the number of Christians held by the group at 90. The extremists could use the Assyrian captives to try to arrange a prisoner swap with the Kurdish militias it is battling in northeastern Syria. Hassakeh province, where a majority of the captives come from, is strategically important due to sharing a border with Turkey and areas controlled by IS in Iraq. Kurdish militiamen from the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, backed by the coalition airstrikes, have made advances in the province in a new offensive launched this week. Heavy fighting broke out in the province Monday as Kurdish fighters and IS militants battled for control of villages near the Iraqi and Turkish borders. The Kurds have been one of the most effective foes of IS, a reputation they burnished in recent months by repelling an assault by the extremists on the town of Kobani on the Turkish border. The coalition carried out hundreds of airstrikes that helped the Kurds break the siege in January.

As the world tries to get a grip on the seemingly phantom group called ISIS, the ongoing ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia seems once again to have fallen apart as fighting continues to rage and Russia refuses to loosen its grip on Ukraine. On Wednesday, AP reported Russian courts refused to release Ukrainian prisoners whose fate has attracted global attention as Moscow’s City Court turned down an appeal by Nadezhda Savchenko’s lawyers leaving her to remain behind bars pending an investigation, according to the article, Russian court refuses to release Ukrainian prisoner. Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer captured by Russia-backed rebels in eastern Ukraine in June and put in custody in Russia, is awaiting trial on charges of involvement in the deaths of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. She denies the accusations. Russia claims Savchenko voluntarily crossed the border into Russia before she was detained, but she said she was dragged across the border into the Russian custody. Savchenko has been on a hunger strike since Dec. 13 demanding her release, and her lawyers on Wednesday voiced concern about her condition. More than 11,000 people including prominent cultural figures have petitioned Russian President Vladimir Putin urging Savchenko’s release. Even while in jail, Savchenko was elected to the Ukrainian parliament and named a delegate to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The European Union and the United States have urged her release. Pavel Polityuk and Anton Zverev reported, Kiev Says It Can’t Withdraw Weaponry As Attacks On Ukrainian Troops Persist, the Ukrainian military said Monday it could not leave the front line in the east as required by the ceasefire due to pro-Russian separatists who advanced last week were attacking its position making it difficult to withdraw heavy weaponry. A truce to end fighting that has killed more than 5,600 people appeared stillborn last week after rebels ignored it to capture the strategic town of Debaltseve in a punishing defeat for Kiev. Nevertheless, the peace deal’s European sponsors still hold out hope it can be salvaged, now that the Moscow-backed separatists have achieved that objective. Spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said in a televised briefing: “Given that the positions of Ukrainian servicemen continue to be shelled, there can not yet be any talk of pulling back weapons.” Anatoly Stelmakh, another military spokesman, said rebel forces had attacked the village of Shyrokyne overnight, along the coast on the road to Mariupol, a port of half a million that Kiev fears could be the next big rebel target. Rebel commander Eduard Basurin denied the fighters had launched any such attack, and said the situation was calm. Nearly a million people have been driven from their homes by the war between pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukraine and government forces. Last week’s ceasefire was reached after the rebels abandoned a previous truce to launch their advance, arguing that previous battle lines had left their civilians vulnerable to government shelling. Kiev says the rebels are reinforcing near Mariupol for a possible assault on the port, the biggest city in the two rebellious provinces still in government hands. Defense analyst Dmytro Tymchuk, who has close ties to the military, said rebels had brought 350 fighters and 20 armored vehicles including six tanks to the area.

Ebola Continues to Spread Across the Globe as ISIS Continues its Reign of Terror Across the Middle East and Beyond

Luckovich cartoon: Ebola and cable news

As the spread of Ebola continues outside of West Africa to the United States and Europe, the death toll continues to increase and more cases arise forcing areas outside thew outbreak zone to take preventative measures and contain the virus. On Friday, the infected nursing assistant, Teresa Romero who tested positive Monday for Ebola, according to a spokeswoman for Madrid’s regional health agency said on conditions of anonymity, was scheduled to start a round of the experimental anti-Ebola drug ZMapp after Spain obtained some of the drug, the Associated Press reports, Spain: Ebola nurse “stable” after serious downturn. Spanish Prime Minister Marian Rajoy visited the Madrid hospital where the nurse is being treated on Friday despite harsh criticism from unions and oppositions politicians claiming that the nation’s health system provided substandard high risk disease training and protective gear to doctors, nurses and ambulance personnel. Rajoy did announce Spain will set up a high level special commission to prevent an outbreak of Ebola that will meet daily, additionally he praised Spanish health care workers and said the World Health Organization thinks “the risk is very low that this disease will spread in the future” in Spain and Europe. Romero, 44, is the first person known to have caught the disease outside West Africa in the current Ebola outbreak. She was helping to care for a Spanish priest infected in West Africa who died at the hospital on Sept. 25. Health authorities suspect she may have been infected after touching her gloved hand to her face while taking off protective gear. Romero’s husband is also quarantined, along with a nurse who displayed possible symptoms but tested negative for Ebola in a first test and will undergo a second one. Ten people who came into contact with Romero checked themselves into the hospital voluntarily for observation for 21 days instead of staying at home. On Wednesday, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S. died despite intense but delayed treatment, forcing the government to expand airport examinations to guard against the spread of Ebola, the Associated Press reports, US Ebola patient dies; airport screening expanded. The checks will include taking the temperatures of hundreds of travelers arriving from West Africa at five major American airports. The new screenings will begin Saturday at New York’s JFK International Airport and then expand to Washington Dulles and the international airports in Atlanta, Chicago and Newark. An estimated 150 people per day will be checked, using high-tech thermometers that don’t touch the skin. The White House said the fever checks would reach more than 9 of 10 travelers to the U.S. from the three heaviest-hit countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. A delay in diagnosis and treatment for Duncan and the infection of a Spanish nurse have raised worries about Western nations’ ability to stop the disease. Obama via teleconference with mayors and local officials said: “As we saw in Dallas, we don’t have a lot of margin for error. If we don’t follow protocols and procedures that are put in place, then we’re putting folks in our communities at risk.” AP reports that health authorities scrambled to respond to the disease Wednesday:

– “In Spain, doctors said they may have figured out how a nurse became the first person infected outside of West Africa in this outbreak. Teresa Romero said she remembered once touching her face with her glove after leaving the quarantine room where an Ebola victim was being treated. Romero’s condition was stable.

-A social media campaign and a protest by Spanish animal rights activists failed to save Romero’s dog, Excalibur. The pet was euthanized under court order out of fear it might harbor the Ebola virus.

– In Sierra Leone, burial teams returned to their work of picking up the bodies of Ebola victims, after a one-day strike to demand overdue hazard pay.

– Health workers in neighboring Liberia also were threatening a strike if their demands for more money and personal protective gear are not met by the end of the week. The average health worker salary is currently below $500 per month, even for the most highly trained staff.

-The World Bank estimated that the economic toll of the largest Ebola outbreak in history could reach $32.6 billion if the disease continues to spread through next year.

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry made a plea for more nations to contribute to the effort to stop the disease ravaging West Africa, saying the international effort was $300 million short of what’s needed. He said nations must step up quickly with a wide range of support, from doctors and mobile medical labs to basic humanitarian aid such as food.”

Meanwhile, the hardest hit countries have seen a dramatic increase in casualties due to the Ebola outbreak and children orphaned by the deadly virus are now struggling more than ever before to survive. Liberia, a country with large, deeply religious, families, an aunty or relative usually takes in a child who lost a parent, but Ebola has changed that bond for fear of contagion and death, Krista Larson reports, How Children Orphaned By Ebola Fight For Survival. According to the U.N. children’s agency, at least 3,700 children across Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have lost one or more parents to Ebola and the figure is expected to double by mid-October with many children left to fend for themselves and continue to live in infected homes. ON Friday, the U.N. special envoy on Ebola said the number of cases is probably doubling every three to four weeks and without a mass global mobilization “the world will have to live with the Ebola virus forever,” Edith M. Lederer reports, UN envoy: Ebola cases doubling every 3-4 weeks. David Nabarro told the U.N. General Assembly the response needed to be 20 times greater. U.N. Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said in order to counteract the exponential growth of the virus, a massive scale up of financial resources, medical staff and equipment is needed. Unfortunately, only one quarter of the $1 billion the U.N. agencies have appealed for to tackle the disease has been funded. Eliasson told diplomats from most of the 193 U.N. member states, “I now appeal to all member states to act generously and swiftly. Speed is of the essence. A contribution within days is more important than a larger contribution within weeks.” Nabarro, a 35 year public heath veteran dealing with disease outbreaks and pandemics, has never encountered the challenge of such an outbreak that has moved from rural areas into towns and cities that is now “affecting a whole region and … impacting on the whole world.” Anthony Banbury, head of the United Nations Mission for Ebola Emergency Response, warned that a failure to help Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – the three worst affected countries – “while we have the chance could lead to unpredictable but very dire consequences for the people of the countries and well beyond.” He added, “As long as there is one case of Ebola in any one of these countries, no country is safe from the dangers posed by this deadly virus.” Both Nabarro and Banbury cited the importance of traditional burial practices in the West African countries, noting that this is a time when the bodies of Ebola victims are most toxic and any touching can transmit the disease. Banbury said, “To defeat the virus we will have to change behavior. We are late, but it is not too late to fight and win this battle.” According to the Geneva based U.N. agency, the World Health Organization, reports 4,033 confirmed, probable or suspected Ebola deaths have been recorded. All but nine are int he three hardest hit countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea with eight of those in Nigeria and one in the United States. The defeat of Sirleaf’s proposal in the House of Representatives came as U.S. military forces worked on building a hospital for stricken health workers in Liberia, the country that has been hit hardest by the epidemic. Liberian Lawmakers rejected the president’s proposal to give her further power to restrict movement and public gatherings and the authority to appropriate property “without payment of any kind or any further judicial process” to combat Ebola. Liberia has 2,316 recorded deaths due to Ebola, which is the most of any country as the WHO reports. Sirleaf’s government imposed a three-month state of emergency beginning Aug. 6, but critics have accused the Nobel Peace Prize winner’s approach to fighting Ebola since then as ineffective and heavy handed. In August, a quarantine of Monrovia’s largest shantytown sparked unrest and was derided as counterproductive before being lifted. The Committee to Protect Journalists has accused Sirleaf’s government of trying to silence media outlets criticizing its conduct. Meanwhile, the U.S. military was rushing to set up a 25-bed hospital to treat health workers who may contract Ebola. The arrival of 100 U.S. Marines on Thursday brings to just over 300 the total number of American troops in Liberia. The Marines and their aircraft will help with air transportation and ferrying of supplies, overcoming road congestion in Monrovia and bad roads outside the capital, said Capt. R. Carter Langston, spokesman for the U.S. mission. A priority will be transporting building materials to treatment unit sites. The U.S. has said it will oversee construction of 17 treatment units with 100 beds each. The 101st Airborne Division is expected to deploy 700 troops by late October and the U.S. may send up to 4,000 soldiers to help with the Ebola crisis, depending on what is needed. In Mali, a health ministry spokesman said two more people had begun participating in the first phase of a study for a possible Ebola vaccine. Mali has not had any cases of Ebola, but it borders the outbreak zone. University of Maryland researchers announced Thursday that the first study of a possible vaccine was underway, and that three health care workers in Mali had received the experimental shots developed by the U.S. government. Health ministry spokesman Markatie Daou said, “Today, we are at five people vaccinated. We envision vaccinating between 20 and 40 people for this first phase and the results are expected next month.”

While the world battles and struggles to control the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, ISIS also known as the Islamic State continues to besiege strategic towns on the border of Syria raising concern and criticism over Turkey’s lack of action and the effectiveness of the U.S. coalition. According to Akbar Shahid Ahmed, 3 New Findings On ISIS Weapons That You Should Know About, the Islamic State militants are wielding arms manufactured in 21 different countries including the U.S. a new report released Monday reports. Ahmed reports: “The study of ammunition captured during the Islamic State’s battles with Kurdish forces in northern Iraq and Syria in July and August highlights the diverse array of arms sources fueling the extremist group, also known as ISIS. Investigators from the arms monitoring group Conflict Armament Research cataloged more than 1,700 bullet cartridges by their country of origin and their date of manufacture. The report says most of the related arms appear to have been seized by ISIS from opposing forces — from national armies to foreign-backed rebel groups across Syria and Iraq.” James Bevan, Director of the European Union funded Conflict Armament Research, told the New York Times, “The lesson learned here is that the defense and security forces that have been supplied ammunition by external nations really don’t have the capacity to maintain custody of that ammunition.” As the article states, three key takeaways from the report are as follows:

1. Most of the Islamic State’s arms ultimately came from China, Russia and the U.S.

“Two of the biggest sources of the militants’ weaponry, the report says, are supplies wrested from the Syrian army, which possesses a significant stock of Soviet- and Russian-made arms that is still being replenished, and supplies captured in Iraq, many of which were made in America.

Between them, China, Russia, the now-defunct Soviet Union, the U.S. and Serbia provided more than 80 percent of the ammunition in the sample collected, according to a New York Times analysis of the report.”

2. Some militants in Syria are learning how to make weapons more difficult to trace.

“Numerous former U.S. officials told the Center for Public Integrity that they are already skeptical that the new supplies of U.S. weapons heading to certain Syrian rebel groups — whose arming was approved by Congress last month — will be safe from the Islamic State’s hands.

Keeping track of weaponry is unlikely to be easier this time around, one investigator indicated to the Center for Public Integrity. The investigator said that militants within Syria — he did not specify which group — are now using oxyacetylene torches to remove the serial numbers from some foreign weapons. They have even added new serial numbers. That makes it more difficult to trace the arms back to their original provider and to attempt to control their flow, the investigator said.”

3. Arms are constantly passed between various fighting groups.

“The many foreign weapons within Syria and Iraq are not only ending up with the Islamic State, the report explains. It describes how Kurdish forces have used battles against the militants to restore their own supplies of ammunition.

As if all that bad news weren’t bad enough, here’s a bonus from one of Conflict Armament Research’s earlier reports: The Islamic State appears to possess anti-tank rocket launchers, made in the former Yugoslavia, that it seized from other Syrian rebels.

The Islamic State’s weaponry — particularly heavy armaments not documented in the new report — has been a key factor in campaigns like the group’s ongoing assault on the Kurdish town of Kobani in Syria.”

On Wednesday night, Islamic State fighters launched a renewed assault on the Syrian city of Kobani as at least 21 people were killed amid riots in neighboring Turkey where Kurds rose up against the government for doing nothing to protect their kin, according to Reuters, Renewed assault on Kobani; 21 dead in Turkey as Kurds rise. Heavily outgunned defenders said Islamic Sate militants pushed into two districts of the Kurdish town, despite U.S.led air strikes that the Pentagon acknowledge would not be enough. In Istanbul and Ankara, street battles erupted between Kurdish protestors and police as fallout from the Iraq and Syrian war threatened to unravel the Kurdish peace process. Washington said its war planes hit nine Syrian targets along with coalition ally the United Arab Emirates included six near Kobani and struck five ISIS positions in Iraq. Nevertheless, Kobani remained under intense bombardment from Islamic State emplacements, within sight of Turkish tanks at the nearby frontier that have so far done nothing to help. Asya Abdullah, co-chair of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), told Reuters from inside the town, “Tonight, (Islamic State) has entered two districts with heavy weapons including tanks. Civilians may have died because there are very intense clashes.” U.S. officials were quoted voicing impatience with the Turks for refusing to join the coalition against Islamic State fighters who have seized wide areas of Syria and Iraq. Turkey says it could join only if Washington agrees to use force against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Sunni Muslim jihadists fighting him in a three-year-old civil war. Turkey’s own Kurds, who make up the majority in the southeast of the country, say President Tayyip Erdogan is stalling while their brethren are killed in Kobani. Others died in clashes between protesters and police in the eastern provinces of Mus, Siirt and Batman. Thirty people were wounded in Istanbul, including eight police officers. Disturbances spread to other countries with Kurdish and Turkish populations. Police in Germany said 14 people were hurt in clashes there between Kurds and radical Islamists. In Turkey, parliament voted last week to authorize cross-border intervention, but Erdogan and his government have so far held back, saying they will join military action only as part of an alliance that also confronts Assad. Erdogan wants the alliance to enforce a “no-fly zone” to prevent Assad’s air force flying over Syrian territory near the Turkish border and create a safe area for an estimated 1.2 million Syrian refugees in Turkey to return. While Turkey has taken in the wounded and displaced from Kobani, Turkey has deep reservations about deploying its own army in Syria and beyond being a target for ISIS, Turkey fears being sucked into Syria’s three year civil war.

On Friday, the AP reported, Islamic State group shells Syrian border crossing, that the Islamic State group shelled a Syrian border crossing with Turkey to try and capture it and cut off Kobani, a local Kurdish official and Syrian activists said. The official, Idriss Nassan, said Islamic State fighters aim to seize the crossing in order to close the noose around the town’s Kurdish defenders and prevent anyone from entering or leaving Kobani. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the militants shelled several areas in Kobani, including the border crossing, which is the town’s only gateway to Turkey. Nassan, referring to the Islamic State group by its Arabic acronym, said: “Daesh is doing all it can to take the border crossing point through the farmlands east of the city. They think there might be help (for the Kurdish militia) coming through the crossing so they want to control the border.” Meanwhile, Ryan Gorman reports, Iraqi journalist among more than a dozen people executed by ISIS terrorists, a dozens people on Friday evening were executed by ISIS terrorists including an Iraqi journalist and his brother. Raad al-Azzawi, 37, and an Iraqi citizen, was reportedly killed Friday evening near Tikrit for refusing to work for the terror group, according to AFP. His brother and two other civilians were also executed. The cameraman was among about 20 people captured last month in an ISIS raid on Samara, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The execution of an Iraqi journalist is proof ISIS is no longer waging war on just the West, but on anyone who they fear may oppose their attempt to put a stranglehold on the region, according to RSF. U.S. journalists James Foley and Stephen Sotloff, along with a Briton and a French citizen, are among the Westerners also executed by the insurgents. In a statement, U.S. Central Command said the U.S. military conducted on Friday and Saturday six airstrikes against Islamic State militants near Kobani as well as three airstrikes with Dutch militaries against targets in Iraq near Tal Afar and Hit. In multiple airdrops near Baiji, U.S. aircraft delivered 8 tons of ammunition, more than 2,000 gallons (7,800 liters) of water and more than 7,300 halal meals, the statement said. It said Iraqi forces control Baiji, 110 miles (180 km) north of Baghdad, but Islamic State “continues to conduct operations” in the area.

Obama Defends Syria Strikes as the Stock Market Drops, While Turkey and France Defend Their Roles in the Fight Against ISIS

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On Tuesday, President Bashar Assad of Syria said he supports any international effort against terrorism as he tries to position his government on the side of the U.S. led coalition conducting airstrikes against the Islamic State in Syria, Albert Aji and Ryan Lucas report, U.S.-Led Airstrikes Kill At Least 10 Civilians In Syria: Activists. One Syrian activist group reports dozens of Islamic state fighter were killed in the pre-dawn strikes, while several activist also reported at least 10 civilians killed. Some rebels fighting against Assad welcomed the American led airstrikes, but many expressed frustration that the coalition is only targeting the Islamic State group and not the Syrian government. In a statement posted to Twitter, Harakat Hazm, a rebel faction who has received U.S. made advanced weapons, said, “The only party benefiting from the foreign intervention in Syria is the Assad regime, especially in the absence of a real strategy to bring it down.” The air campaign also hit al-Qaida’s branch in Syrian, the Nusra Front, which has fought against the Islamic State group. Washington considers it a terrorist group threatening the U.S., although Western-backed Syrian rebel groups frequently cooperate with Nusra Front fighters on the battlefield. State news agency SANA reports, In an meeting Tuesday with an Iraqi envoy, Assad voiced his support and Syria is “”decisively continuing in the war it has waged for years against extremist terrorism in all its forms.” He also stressed that all nations must commit to stop support for terrorism — an apparent reference to countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar who are strong backers of Syrian rebels, whom the Syrian government calls terrorists. Though Damascus required permission before an international strike on Syrian soil could occur in recent weeks, the United States has ruled out any coordination with Assad’s government. Damascus said Syria “stands with any international effort to fight terrorism, no matter what a group is called — whether Daesh or Nusra Front or something else.” In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States informed Syria through the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. of its intent to take action, but did not request the Assad government’s permission or coordinate with Damascus. The Lebanese Shiite militant Hezbollah group, which has dispatched fighters to Syria to bolster Assad’s forces, condemned the strikes along with Syria’s allies, Iran and Russia. In a televised speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said, “We are against an international coalition, whether it is against the regime … or whether it is against Daesh. This is an opportunity, pretext, for America to dominate the region again.” According to the report: “The strikes, conducted by the U.S., Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, hit Islamic State training compounds and command centers, storage facilities and vehicles in the group’s de facto capital, Raqqa, in northeastern Syria, and the surrounding province, U.S. officials said. They also struck territory controlled by the group in eastern Syria leading to the Iraqi border. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that at least 70 Islamic State group fighters were killed and more than 300 wounded. Rami Abdurrahman, the Observatory head, said about 22 airstrikes hit Raqqa province in addition to 30 in Deir el-Zour province. Farther west, the strikes hit the village of Kfar Derian, a stronghold of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front.”

Meanwhile, after a second day of U.S. strikes in Syria, addressing the United Nations General Assembly, U.S. President Barack Obama called for united action to confront violent extremist Wednesday, according to CNN, More airstrikes against ISIS as Obama urges action at U.N. against extremism. Airstrikes were carried out overnight Tuesday into Wednesday against five more targets: four in Iraq and one in Syria, the U.S. Central Command said. Speaking in New York, Obama said, “It is no exaggeration to say that humanity’s future depends on us uniting against those who would divide us along fault lines of tribe or sect; race or religion. This is not simply a matter of words. Collectively, we must take concrete steps to address the danger posed by religiously motivated fanatics, and the trends that fuel their recruitment.” According to Obama, the world must focus on four areas to defeat ISIS: First, ISIS must be degraded and ultimately destroyed; Second, it is time for the world to explicitly reject the ideology of al Qaeda and ISIS; Third, the world must address the cycle of conflict, including sectarian conflict, that creates the conditions that terrorists thrive on; And fourth, Arab and Muslim countries must focus on the potential of their people, especially youths. Obama warned, “Already, over 40 nations have offered to join this coalition. Today, I ask the world to join in this effort. Those who have joined ISIL should leave the battlefield while they can. Those who continue to fight for a hateful cause will find they are increasingly alone. For we will not succumb to threats; and we will demonstrate that the future belongs to those who build, not those who destroy.” Obama’s call for action comes as he faces questions about his decision to bomb terror groups in Syria without approval from the U.N. Security Council or U.S. Congress. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s lawmakers will soon debate whether their country will join the U.S. and France in conducting airstrikes in Iraq. British Prime Minister David Cameron has recalled Parliament early to discuss the possibility. Parliament will meet Friday to “debate the UK’s response to the request from the Iraqi government for airstrikes to support operations against (ISIS) in Iraq,” a Downing Street representative said Wednesday. A U.S. law enforcement official with knowledge of the warning told CNN that concerns over possible backlash from terror groups over the U.S. strikes has prompted Homeland Security to warn law enforcement agencies of lone wolf terror attacks on American soil. On Wednesday, CNN reports, U.N. Security Council passes anti-terror resolution, U.N. Security Council members unanimously passed a draft anti-terror resolution to address the growing threat of foreign terrorist fighters. U.S. President Barack Obama said the resolution requires nations to “suppress the recruiting, organizing, transporting, equipping” and financing of “foreign terrorist fighters.” Regarding Syria specifically, Obama said, “The only lasting solution to Syria’s civil war is political: an inclusive political transition that responds to the legitimate aspirations of all Syrian citizens, regardless of ethnicity or creed. Cynics may argue that such an outcome can never come to pass. But there is no other way for this madness to end, whether one year from now or 10. I can promise you America will remain engaged in the region, and we are prepared to engage in that effort. I can promise you that the United States of America will not be distracted or deterred from what must be done…We are heirs to a proud legacy of freedom, and we are prepared to do what is necessary to secure that legacy for generations to come.”

President Barack Obama took his call for world cooperation against terror, climate change, Ebola and a host of other issues to the United Nations Wednesday, saying the world stands at a crossroads “between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope.” Besides the growing threat of ISIS, Obama also addressed a variety of other international crises currently facing the global community. Obama said regarding Ukraine that the country represents “a vision of the world in which might makes right — a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another, and civilized people are not allowed to recover the remains of their loved ones because of the truth that might be revealed (referring to Malaysia airline Flight 17 shot down in Ukraine).” Obama stated that if Russia rolls back its involvement, then the U.S. “will lift our sanctions and welcome Russia’s role in addressing common challenges.” In the fight against Ebola, while the U.S. has promised to send medical workers and the military to build treatment centers in Africa, the President called for a “broader effort to stop a disease that could kill hundreds of thousands, inflict horrific suffering, destabilize economies, and move rapidly across borders.” As far as the Iranian nuclear program, Obama addressed it by saying, “We can reach a solution that meets your energy needs while assuring the world that your program is peaceful.” Regarding global poverty, Obama said, “We will do our part — to help people feed themselves; power their economies; and care for their sick,” he said. “If the world acts together, we can make sure that all of our children can enjoy lives of opportunity and dignity.” As far as climate change, Obama said the United States will work on the isue within its own borders, but “we can only succeed in combating climate change if we are joined in this effort by every major power. That’s how we can protect this planet for our children and grandchildren.”

While France has definitively joined the fight against the extremist group, Turkey is still mulling over the idea as it considers its options. According to Aomar Quali and Paul Schemm, France Won’t Stop Fight Against Islamic State Militants Despite Kidnapping, IN a video posted Monday, the group calling itself the Jund al-Khilafah said it would kill Frenchman Herve Gourdel in 24 hours unless France ended its participation in airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq. Speaking to reporters at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, French President Francois Hollande said he had “plenty of confidence” in Algerian security forces that “everything will be done so that we can recover our compatriot.” He added, “As grave as the situation is, we will give in to no blackmail, no pressure, no ultimatum. No terrorist group can in any way influence France’s position, will, and freedom. I repeat it here … we will continue to provide our support to the Iraqi authorities.” That would include weapons deliveries to those fighting the Islamic State group and continued air support for Iraqi troops and Kurdish peshmerga forces. French forces on Friday joined the U.S. in carrying out airstrikes against extremists who have overrun large areas of Syria and Iraq. Herve Gourdel, a mountaineering guide from Nice, was taken Sunday night while driving through the Djura Djura mountains in Algeria’s rugged Kabylie region, which remains one of the last active areas of operation for al-Qaida in Algeria. He was taken with four Algerian companions who were later released. The U.S. embassy in Algiers renewed its travel warning for Algeria Tuesday, urging Americans traveling there to “exercise vigilance” in their movements. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports, Turkey Mulls Military Role Against ISIS, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Turkish reports in New York he is considering expanding support for Western and Arab operations against the Islamic State group to include military involvement following only hours after the U.S. and Arab allies launched airstrikes against the Islamic State targets in Syria. Erdogan spoke as a sideline to the annual meeting of world leaders at the United Nations a day after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he expected Turkey to play a bigger role in the fight against ISIS after Ankara secured the release of 49 Turkish hostages being held by the group. Turkey is a main backer of Syrian rebels trying to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has allowed thousands of foreign fighters cross into Syria along their common border.

Ukraine at War Despite Ceasefire with Rebels and the U.S. Continues to Rally Support Against an Ever Growing Islamic State

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On Saturday, despite a ceasefire between Kiev’s forces and Moscow backed rebels in the east, Ukraine is ‘still in a state of war” with Russia, according to the country’s prime minister shortly after a second convoy of Russian trucks rolled into Ukraine, the Associated Press reports, Ukraine Prime Minister says country still in ‘state of war’. Speaking to a conference of politicians and business leaders in Kiev, Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s goal is to take all of Ukraine: “He cannot cope with the idea that Ukraine would be a part of a big EU family. He wants to restore the Soviet Union.” The second convoy of Russian trucks that entered through rebel held territory in eastern Ukraine on Saturday with 2,000 tons of humanitarian aid. The last truck crossed early Saturday from the Russian border town Donetsk, 120 miles east of the Ukrainian city with the same name, Rayan Farukshin, a spokesman for Russia’s custom agency, told the Associated Press via phone. News Agency ITAR TASS reported 250 trucks were heading toward the city of Luhansk. Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told journalist Saturday the trucks entered illegally: “Ukraine border guards and customs were not allowed to examine the cargo and vehicles. Representatives of the Red Cross don’t accompany the cargo, nobody knows what’s inside.” President Petro Poroshenko has tried to since last week’s ceasefire to prove that improvements on the ground have happened in eastern Ukraine, but Friday, he admitted that the deal has been riddled with violations. Galina Balzamova, a representative of the ICRC’s Moscow office said, “We were not officially notified of an agreement between Moscow and Kiev to ship the cargo.” Lysenko said 6 Ukrainian servicemen have died since the truce and 12 rebel fighters have been killed by Ukrainian forces near Seas of Azov city of Mariupol. A Saturday statement from the Donetsk city council said that fighting occurred throughout the night near the airport with two shells hitting a residential building in the area and reported no causalities. Laura Mills and Peter Leonard report, Ukraine government repels rebel attack on airport, the convoy of 200 white trucks crossed the border with humanitarian aid to Ukraine on Saturday without Kiev’s consent but was met with silence by Ukraine’s leaders. Yury Stepanov, a Russian overseeing the convoy, said: “Early in the morning, we entered Ukraine to bring aid to Luhansk. We came in around 215 vehicles.” The aid arrived as fighting continued between pro-Russian rebels and government forces. Stepanov said the goods consisted mainly of food such as rice sugar and canned fish and beef, but included medicine, technical equipment and clothes. While local workers unloaded boxes, several carloads of armed militiamen in camouflage arrived to inspect the scene. Stepanov said his team was responsible for delivery, while distribution will be handled by local authorities which means the separatist leaders of the self proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic. Gennady Tsepkalo, a senior separatist officials, said, “The militia will feed itself separately. This is for the residents of the Luhansk People’s Republic.” The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s observer mission to the Russian-Ukrainian border said Saturday that ed220 trucks cross into Ukraine, none of which were inspected by the Ukrainian side or accompanied by the ICRC. Allowing more humanitarian aid into the region was one component of the 12-point deal.

Meanwhile, across the world, ISIS continues to grow stronger as the U.S. continue to rally support internationally in the fight to stop the Islamic extremist, while some neighboring Arab countries in the Middle East choose not to participate. On Sunday, Prime Minister David Cameron summoned military and security chiefs for an emergency meeting in response to the beheading of a British hostage and a threat against another, Gregory Katz reports, UK’s Cameron calls emergency meeting after killing. The meeting was in response to the release of a video showing the beheading of British aid worker David Haines and the threat of another with death by Islamic extremists. Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it saw no reason to doubt the authenticity of the video. Haines is the third Westerner to be executed with the first two being U.S. journalists. President Barack Obama said the United would stand with Britain in an expanded effort against terror groups. “We will work with the United Kingdom and a broad coalition of nations from the region and around the world to bring the perpetrators of this outrageous act to justice, and to degrade and destroy this threat to the people of our countries, the region and the world,” he said. Germany and France also condemned the killing during their international conference Monday to combat IS. French President Francois Hollande said, “The odious assassination of David Haines shows once more the need for the international community to mobilize against the base and cowardly Daesh.” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier called the Haines killing “an abhorrent act of barbaric violence beyond all limits of human civilization” and said the Paris meeting comes at the right time. Some British lawmakers called for Britain to launch air strikes against Islamic State forces after the killing. Desmond Butler reports, Turkey seeks behind-the-scene role in NATO coalition, that Turkey has decided to take a behind the scenes role in the war with the Islamic State group as it wants to keep its soldiers out of combat operations and declined to allow NATO to use its bases or territories to launch air attacks. The reason is rooted in two dilemmas: the Islamic State groups has dozens of Turkish hostages including diplomats and Turkey is wary of boosting its rebellious Kurdish minority in the battle against Islamic State enemies in Iraq. Even though NATO allies have shown publish support for Turkey, they would like more action from heir ally. Butler reports: “They would chiefly like to see Turkey tighten its border controls, stem the flow of fighters transiting Turkey from Western Countries and the Middle East, and crack down on oil smuggling from Syria that finances the Islamic State group. They could also benefit from closer intelligence cooperation and possibly the use of Incirlik Airbase in southern Turkey as a base from which to launch strikes against the group.” Western governments are alarmed by the Islamic State’s ability to smuggle Iraqi and Syrian oil across Turkey’s borders and while Turkey has cracked down, analysts say that Turkey is not able to police the smuggling across its 750 mile border with Iraq and Syria. Both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chick Hagel were in Ankara last week on successive trips to press Turkey on its role, but failed to get a pledge of support in combating IS. In addition, Turkey decline to sign a U.S. brokered statement by Middle Eastern countries last week denouncing the Islamic State group and pledging to fight it. Another reason for hesitation is a three decade long conflict with the Kurdish minority that has cost tens of thousands of lives. Last year, Kurdish rebels declared a ceasefire and began withdrawing fighters from Turkey into bases in norther Iraq, but tensions rose again as the Kurdish Workers’ Party, or PKK, accused Turkey of not boosting Kurdish rights quickly enough. Government officials say there are signs that Kurds from Turkey are crossing the border to help PKK militants in Iraq and Syria fight the Islamic State group. Teams of security officials operating at Turkish airports and bus stations have interrogated more than 500 people over the last four months and have deported 107 to their countries of origin, according to one official in the Turkish prime minister’s office. Officials also say they are fighting oil smuggling, but face challenges across a more than 550 mile border with Syria. Lori Hinnant reports, Iran says rejects US call to fight IS militants, Iran will not join the international coalition to fight the militant group. Neither Iran nor Syria, who share most of their borders with Iraq, was invited Monday to the international conference in Paris. Opening the diplomatic conference intended to discuss how to combat the group, French President Francois Hollande said, “The terrorist threat is global and the response must be global. There is no time to lose.” The killing of David Haines, a British aid worker, added to the urgency for a clear strategy to fight the well organized Sunni group who has amassed members from all over the world and makes $3 million a day from oil smuggling, human trafficking, theft and extortion, according to U.S. intelligence officials and private experts. Iraq’s President Fouad Massoum called for a coordinated military and humanitarian approach, as well as regular strikes against territory in the hands of the extremists and the elimination of their funding. According to Hinnant: “Western officials have made clear they consider Syrian President Bashar Assad part of the problem, and U.S. officials opposed France’s attempt to invite Iran, a Shiite nation, to the conference in Paris.” Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Iranian state television, said his government refused American requests for cooperation, warning that another U.S> incursion would result “in the same problems they faced in Iraq in the past 10 years.” Ahead of the conference, France’s foreign minister acknowledged many of the countries at the meeting Monday probably financed Islamic State’s advances, while Haider al-Abadi, in his first interview aired Sunday as Iraqi prime minister, told state run al-Iraqiyya that he has given France approval to use Iraq airspace and said all such authorizations must come from Baghdad.

Progress in Gaza and Ukraine as Russian Soldiers Return Home, Escalation Between Obama and ISIS Cast a Big Shadow Over 9/11 Rememberance and an Important Global Warming Update

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In an interview with Al Quds TV on Thursday, Hamas No. 2 Musa Abu Marzouk said “Hamas is willing to talk directly to the Israelis” regarding issues including Gaza border crossings and prisoner releases, according to Ibrahim Barzak, Hamas Says It’s Ready For Direct Talks With Israel. Obtained by the Associated Press, in the taped interview, he said: “Just as you negotiate with weapons you can also negotiate by talk. Up till now our policy was no negotiation with (Israel), but others should be aware that this issue is not taboo.” Israel has consistently said it will not talk directly with Hamas until the group recognizes its right to exist and renounces violence. Abu Marzouk insist the reason for considering take such steps reflects growing tensions with Abbas, whom Hams believes is trying to reclaim control of Gaza. He said, “Hamas finds itself compelled to make this move when the natural rights of the people in Gaza come under pressure from the Palestinian Authority and the government.” Hamza Hendawi and Josef Federman report, Evidence growing that Hamas used residential areas, that evidence is mounting against Hamas militants regarding the use of residential areas as cover for launching rockets at Israel several times which Hamas now admits mistakes were made. According to the Associated Press, Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, said: “Gaza, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah in the south, is one uninterrupted urban chain that Israel has turned into a war zone. The Israelis kept saying rockets were fired from schools or hospitals when in fact they were fired 200 or 300 meters (yards) away. Still, there were some mistakes made and they were quickly dealt with.” According to Palestinian figures, 2,000 Palestinians died with three quarters of them civilians and more than 500 children included, while 11,0000 were wounded and 100,000 left homeless. On the Israeli side, seventy two people died including six civilians. Ahead of the U.N. investigation, the Israeli military released reams of evidence, including satellite photos and aerial footage, to support its claims that it acted appropriately and tried to minimize casualties, while Hamas made no effort to disguise its aim of maximizing Israeli casualties. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said, “Hamas’ excuses are outrageous, misleading and contrary to the evidence supplied by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and the reality documented by international journalists on the ground in Gaza.” A visit to the area uncovered three separate military sites possibly training grounds larger than a football field near state schools concealed from the street with barriers made of corrugated iron. Hamas restricted access to these areas making it impossible for photographers to enter the site and Israel confirmed that the areas were targeted in airstrikes. Another site identified by Israeli military as a rocket launching site is in northern Gaza near the new Indonesian hospital in close proximity to residential homes. The two Hamas military facilities are across the road to the west of the two story hospital which stands intact. Hamad, the Hamas official, said the buildings shown in Israeli videos were either a safe distance from the rocket launchers or the building were vacant during fighting. Bill Van Esyeld, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Watch, said: “I don’t think there’s any doubt urban areas were used to launch rockets from in the Gaza Strip. What needs to be determined is how close to a populated building or a civilian area were those rocket launches.” Sami Abdel Shafi, a Palestinian American representing the Carter Center in Gaza, said: “Yes, Hamas and others may have used civilians as human shields, but was that consistent and widespread? The question is whether Israel’s response was proportionate.” The death toll and number of civilian deaths led to harsh condemnation of Israel and raised questions on the proportionality of Israeli’s response causing Israel, in order to prevent an international investigation, on Wednesday to open its own criminal investigation into two high profile cases involving Palestinian civilian casualties. Hamas also has been sharply criticized for launching rockets aimed at Israeli cities and towns. Israel says its own civilian death toll would have been much higher had it not been for its rocket defenses. The U.N. Human Rights Council has appointed a commission to look into the latest fighting. Its report is expected no sooner than March.

While long standing peace could remain elusive for Gaza and progress is slow to say the least, Ukraine is taking steps forward to ensure peace in eastern Ukraine as Russia beefs up its military strategy. Laura Mills reports, Ukraine’s President Pledges To Give The Country’s East More Autonomy, Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday said he will introduce a bill next week offering greater autonomy to the pro-Russian east but rejects the idea of federalization that both Russia and the rebels want. During a televised Cabinet meeting, Poroshenko explained: “[the ceasefire deal reached] envisages the restoration and preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty over the entire territory of Donbas, including the part that is temporarily under control of the rebels. Ukraine has made no concessions with regards to its territorial integrity.” Ukraine and the West both accused Russia of fueling the separatists with arms, expertise and its own troops, something Russia denies. In late August, NATO estimated more than 1,000 troops were operating on Ukrainian spoil and helping the rebels to turn the tide of the war in their favor. In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Wednesday for new sanctions against Russia that would deepen earlier penalties targeting Russia’s energy and arms sectors and tighten Russia’s access to International loans. Merkel told German parliament that the ceasefire improved the situation but there was “a lack of clarity on the fulfillment” of many other points of the peace plan. Ambassadors from EU nations were meeting Wednesday to discuss the sanction against Russia in Brussels. Poroshenko says since the agreement, 70 percent of the Russian troops in Ukraine have been withdrawn and 700 Ukrainian prisoners have been freed from rebel captivity with 500 more being freed by the end of the week. Mills reports: “Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security Council, told journalists that only 20 servicemen had returned home so far. In Donetsk, a rebel spokesman said a planned exchange of 36 soldiers from each side had been put off until Thursday, blaming the government for the delay. The cease-fire has been violated numerous times and Poroshenko accused the separatists of “provoking” Ukraine’s troops. Ukraine says five servicemen have been killed and 33 injured since Friday. A volley of rocket fire was heard in the rebel-held city of Donetsk late Tuesday.” In a statement carried by Russian news agencies, the leader of the rebels in Luhansk, Igor Plotnitsky, reacted to Poroshenko’s commnets: “Neither we, nor our friends in Donetsk, are going to abandon the course to build our own state. A temporary cease-fire cannot cancel the results of the people’s vote. People voted unanimously for the independence of our republics. There’s no way back to the previous status.” Other rebels have been in favor of a broad autonomy. Plotnitsky said the next round of talks between Moscow, Kiev, the insurgents and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is likely to discuss the status of the rebel-held areas. The Ukrainian public has been largely supportive of the war against the separatists. Peter Leonard reports, Ukraine, rebels exchange prisoners in peace deal, government and revel forces on Friday exchanged dozens of prisoners captured during fighting in Ukraine as part of a ceasefire agreement earlier this month outside the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk under the watch of international observers. Yurly Tandit, a negotiator for the government, said: “There is an ongoing process of talks. We are meeting each other’s demands and fulfilling our promises.” Meanwhile, Reuters reports, Russia Tests Nuclear Missile, Russia successfully tested their new Bulava intercontinental nuclear missile on Wednesday and will perform two more test launches in October and November, according to the head of its naval forces. The 12-meter long Bulava, or mace, has undergone numerous tests, some of which have failed, causing setbacks for the project that aims to be the cornerstone of Russia’s nuclear arsenal over the next decade. Thomas Grove and Maria Tsvetkova report, Moscow stifles dissent as soldiers return in coffins, that 15 Russian soldiers were killed in Ukraine and hundreds more are in the hospital, according to human rights workers and military workers. A survey by pro-Kremlin pollster Fund of Social Opinions said 57 percent of Russians support the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk, but only 5 percent support an invasion of Ukrainian territory. Russian authorities have worked to systematically silence rights workers’ complaints over soldiers’ deaths, intimidating those who question the Kremlin’s denials regarding Ukraine. Vladimir Isachenkov reports, Putin: Russia to focus on new offensive weapons, on Wednesday, President Vladimir Putin announced Russia is developing a variety of new nuclear and conventional weapons to counter the U.S. and NATO and weighing the cost to avoid overburdening its economy. Putin said potential threats must be analyzed and an adequate response given to avoid excessive military spending. In addition, he said Russian defense industries must rid themselves of dependence on imports and become capable of producing key components at home, referring to recent Western sanctions imposed on Russian arms sales. Russian West relations are at their lowest point since the Cold War with NATO deciding last week to create a rapid reaction spearhead force to protect Eastern Europe from Russian bullying. Meanwhile, Fred Westerbeke of the Dutch National Prosecutors Office told reporters that most likely the downing of MH17 in eastern Ukraine on July 17 was shot down as a separate Dutch air crash investigation concluded this week that the plane was hit from the outside by numerous high energy objects, according to Mike Corder, Shooting down of MH17 ‘most likely’ scenario. Police chief Patricia Zorko said detectives are poring over 350 million webpages and thousands of photos and films that could contain evidence and are trying to authenticate intercepted phone conversations. Corder reports: “A highly placed rebel officer told the AP in an interview after the disaster that the plane was shot down by a mixed team of rebels and Russian military personnel who believed they were targeting a Ukrainian military plane. Intercepted phone conversations between the rebels released by the Ukrainian government support that version of events.” Detectives and forensic experts are looking at 25 metal objects recovered from bodies and wreckage to see if any clues surface. Westerbeke warns the complex investigation is complex and time consuming comparing it to the Lockerbie bombing hat took years to identify suspects.

As the rebels and Ukraine government try to reach some sort of long lasting peace and stability internally and externally with Russia, the United Stated joined by other countries in their alliance try to wage war against an entity that has spread quickly throughout the Middle East and internationally through recruitment of foreigners to brutal battles. Julie Pace reports, Obama orders airstrikes in Syria for first time, President Barack Obama authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria for the first time Wednesday night with expanded strikes in Iraq as part of a “steady, relentless effort” to root out Islamic State extremists. In a prime time address to the nation from the White House, Obama declared: “We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.” Obama announced he will send 500 more U.S. troops to advise and assist Iraqi security forces as well as conduction intelligence and reconnaissance flights, bringing the total number of American forces this summer to 1,500. He urged Congress to authorize a program to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting both the Islamic State militants and Syrian President Bashar Assad. He added: “But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.” Officials said Obama plans to proceed with both broader airstrikes in Iraq and Syria without seeking new authorization from Congress as he is acting under a use of force authorization Congress passed in the days following 9/11 to give President George W. Bush the ability to go after those who perpetrated the terror attacks. Obama previously called for its repeal, but used it as support for strikes against terror targets in Yemen and Somalia. Pace reports: “Obama said his approach in Syria is modeled after those long-running U.S. counterterrorism campaigns. But it is different in important ways, starting with the fact that it marks the first time since 9/11 that a U.S. president has authorized the bombing of terror targets in another nation without seeking permission or at least notifying it in advance.” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, praised Obama for acknowledging the grave and growing threat that the Islamic State poses, but said Obama was coming to that conclusion too late. Boehner said: “He has finally begun to make the case the nation has needed him to make for quite some time: that destroying this terrorist threat requires decisive action and must be the highest priority for the United States and other nations of the free world.”The White House wants Congress to include the authorization in a temporary funding measure lawmakers will vote on before they adjourn this month. Republicans have made no commitment to support the request and the House GOP has so far not included the measure in the funding legislation, while a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the Nevada Democrat might opt to seek separate legislation. The White House announced Wednesday that it was also providing $25 million in immediate military assistance to the Iraqi government as part of efforts to combat the Islamic State. David Cohen, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, wrote in a blog post that the U.S. would be working with other countries, especially Gulf states, to cut off the group’s external funding networks and its access to the global financial system. The U.S. has been pressing allies in Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere to help with efforts to degrade the terror group. Meanwhile, rebels, desperate and disenchanted, don’t believe help will come from the West, blaming the United States and its allies for past failures when support was promised and not delivered allowing the rise of ISIS, according to Sophia Jones, Cash-Strapped Moderate Syrian Rebels Blame West For Rise Of Islamic State. The Islamic State has amassed considerable wealth from foreign donations, oil smuggling, extortion and hostage ransoms. They’ve taken control of crucial weapons warehouses and supplies, such as weaponry the U.S. gave to the Iraqi Army. In addition, the new found power has allowed them to gain support by setting up needed infrastructures and imposing order as well as strictly enforced rules such as bans on smoking, and mandates that women wear full-face veils. Jones reports: “Three and a half years into a devastating civil war that has ripped apart the country, Syrian fighters say that if something doesn’t change they’ll lose more and more moderate fighters to the Islamic State. As secular, moderate rebel groups face infighting, divisions and a lack of necessary equipment and training, some may be enticed by the rich and highly organized Islamic State. The group of fighters gathered in the Turkish border town said they usually make roughly $50 a month. But they’ve heard that Islamic State fighters can make $600 or more.” As the rebels fight both the regime and Islamic State, they fear the threat of the jihadi group will cast a shadow over their efforts to curb the regime’s grip on Syria. While the Islamic State beheads U.S. journalists and persecutes and kills religious minorities, the Assad regime continues to indiscriminately bomb civilian areas and likely is using chemical weapons against its own population.

Meanwhile, international, the U.S. tries to rally allegiance from neighboring countries int he Middle East and allies to fight the Islamic State casting a shadow on the 13 anniversary of 9/11. On Thursday, Key Arab allies promised to help in the fight against the Islamic State, but NATO member Turkey refused, Lara Jakes and Adam Schreck report, Arab allies pledge to fight Islamic state group. As the CIA doubled its assessment of how many fighters the extremist group can muster, the Arab states’ endorsed the broad strategy to stop the flow of fighters and funding to the insurgents and to join possible military action. On Thursday, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress joined the President in his call to combat the militants after laying out his long term campaign to include expanding airstrikes against the fighters in Iraq, launching strikes against them in Syria for the first time and bolstering the Iraqi military and moderate Syrian rebels to allow them to reclaim territory from the militants. After a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in thr Red Sea city of Jiddah, 10 Mideast allies announced their backing for a strategy to destroy the group wherever it is. Kerry’s visit, on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, was aimed at pinning down regional allies and so far 40 nations have agreed to contribute to what Kerry said would be a worldwide fight to defeat the group. Kerry said of the terror attacks on the U.S. 13 years ago: “The devastating consequences of extremist hate remain fresh in the minds of all Americans, and to so many of our friends and allies around the world. Those consequences are felt every day here in the Middle East.” New intelligence assessments estimate the extremists have between 20,000 and 31,500 fighters across Iraq and Syria, up from a figure of 10,000, the CIA said Thursday. CIA spokesman Ryan Trapani said the new total reflects stronger recruitment by extremists since June, following battlefield successes and the group’s declaration of an Islamic State or caliphate on territory under its control. On Friday, Larak Jakes reports, US, Turkey mull strategy against Islamic militants, the United States pressed Turkey to harden its borders against fighters and funding going to the Islamic State and sought clarity on how far Ankara is willing to go to help a world coalition to destroy the group. While Turkey sits on the front line battlegrounds of Iraq and Syria as it assists refugees and cracked down on cross border traffic from both countries, Turkey resist endorsing the new strategy as 49 Turkish citizens have been kidnapped including diplomats. At the start of a meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu cited “challenges and threats” in Iraq and Syria. Jakes reports: “It was the third meeting so far this month between Kerry and Cavusoglu, who also together participated in talks during the annual NATO summit in Wales and this week in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, about the Islamic State threat. Kerry said the two men also will chair a counterterrorism forum at the United Nations General Assembly at the end of September. But the U.S. is being careful to not push Turkey too hard as it grapples with trying to free its hostages. The Turks were kidnapped from their consulate in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when it was overrun by the Islamic State in June.” In addition, American hostages are being held as payback for the 150 airstrikes that Washington has launched in Iraq since last month. Kerry said: “But I think for the moment, they have a few sensitive issues. We respect those sensitive issues, and we’re going to work with them very carefully.” Rachelle Blinder and Jonathan Lemire report, New terror fight casts shadow over 9/11 ceremonies, due to the growing threat of the Islamic State, a heavy cloud hung over the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks Thursday causing many to feel anxiety and determination in coming to ground zero to remember loved ones. The silence to mark the attack and the roll call of the nearly 3,000 lives lost came hours after President Barack Obama told the country he is authorizing expanded strikes in Iraq and Syria against the Islamic State group. Vasile Poptean said as he left the ceremony, where he had gone to remember his brother, Joshua Poptean: “It’s an ongoing war against terrorists. Old ones die out and new ones pop up. If we don’t engage them now, there’s a possibility there will be another 9/11 down the road.” Victims’ relatives and dignitaries gathers in the plaza where the twin towers stood and now where the soon to open 1,776 foot One World Trade Center stands to commemorate the attacks, while in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where former House Speaker Dennis Hastert gave the flag that flew atop the U.S. Capitol on 9/11 to the Flight 93 National Memorial, did the same. At the Pentagon, Obama spoke at the wreath laying ceremony without mentioning the rise of Islamic State extremists specifically, but noted: “We cannot erase every trace of evil from the world. That was the case before 9/11 and that remains true today.”

As many try to heal old wounds and remember those they lost to what it seems is an endless war, the United Nations along with scientist this week had some good news about the health of the planet. Seth Borenstein reports, Scientists say the ozone layer is recovering, earth’s protective ozone layer has begun to heal largely due to the phase out since the 1980s of certain chemicals used in refrigerants and aerosol cans, the U.N. scientific panel reported Wednesday. Scientists said the development demonstrates that when the world works together, it can counteract a brewing ecological crisis. For the first time in 25 years, scientists confirmed a statistically significant and sustained increase in stratospheric ozone shielding the planet from solar radiation that causes skin cancer, crop damage and other problems. Paul A. Newman, a NASA scientist and co-chaired the every four years ozone assessment by 300 scientist published by the United Nations, said from 2000 to 2013 ozone levels climbed 4 percent in key mid-northern latitudes at 30 miles up. The ozone layer has been thinning since the 1970s due to man made chlorofluorocarbons called CFCs which release chlorine and bromine destroying ozone molecules high in the air. After scientists raised the alarm, countries agreed to a treaty in 1987 that phased out CFCs allowing those chemicals to decrease between 30 and 50 miles up. The United Nations calculated in earlier reports that without the pact, by 2030 there would be an extra 2 million skin cancer cases a year around the world. Newman added that heat trapping greenhouse gases are also helping to rebuild the ozone layer as the cooler air caused by carbon dioxide and other gases increase the amount of ozone. MIT atmospheric scientist Susan Solomon said the chemicals that replaced CFCs contribute to global warming and are on the rise expecting that a dramatic increase will occur by 2050 and make a big contribution to global warming. The long lasting ozone eating chemicals still linger in the atmosphere creating a yearly fall ozone hole over the extreme southern Hemisphere and the hole hasn’t closed up. By Newman’s calculations, the ozone layer is still 6 percent thinner than in 1980. Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, said there are encouraging signs that the ozone layer “is on track to recovery by the middle of this century.” He added: “More than 98 percent of the ozone-depleting substances agreed over time have actually been phased out. If not for such efforts, Steiner said, “we would be seeing a very substantial global ozone depletion today.” Earlier this week, the United Nations announced that atmospheric levels of the main greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, surged to another record high in 2013. The increase from 2012 was the biggest jump in three decades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaza Ceasefire Holding, Libya on the Brink of Collaspe, Islamic State Advances, New Challenges for Syria, and All While Ukraine and Russia Hurl Accusations

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Officials on Tuesday from Hamas and Islamic Jihad , the main groups in Gaza, said a deal had been reached with Israel to end the seven week war that killed 2,000 Palestinians, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub report, Palestinian officials: cease-fire made with Israel. Ziad Nakhala, a senior Islamic Jihad officials, said the deal included an open ended cease fire, an Israeli agreement to ease the blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the territory and talks on more complex issues, such as Hamas’ demand to build an airport and a seaport for Gaza, would begin in a month. According to Palestinian health officials and the United Nations, the Gaza war this round killed 2,133 Palestinians and wounded more than 11,000, while the Unite Nations estimates 17,000 homes were destroyed leaving 100,000 homeless. The Israeli side had 68 deaths with only four being civilians. Later the same day, both Egyptian state television and the state news agency MENA announced officially the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that began at 7p.m. local time, the Associate Press reported, Egypt state media announces Gaza war cease-fire. Hamas declared victory and celebratory gunfire erupted across Gaza. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a long rival of Hamas, will likely play a key role in the new border deal for Gaza as he is expected to regain a foothold under the Egyptian brokered deal after losing it to Hamas in 2007. In this scenario, Abbas forces will be posted at Gaza’s border crossings to allay fears by Israel and Egypt about renewed attempts by Hamas to smuggle weapons. On Tuesday night, Abbas in a televised address said a permanent solution to the conflict with Israel is needed: “What’s next? Gaza has been subjected to three wars. Shall we expect another war in a year or two? Until when will this issue be without a solution? Today, I’m going to give the Palestinian leadership my vision for a solution and after that we will continue consultations with the international community. This vision must be clear and well defined and we are not going to an open-ended negotiation.” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a news conference at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital: “We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance.” In Washington, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki told journalists: “We view this as an opportunity, not a certainty. Today’s agreement comes after many hours and days of negotiations and discussions. But certainly there’s a long road ahead. And we’re aware of that and we’re going into this eyes wide open.” On Wednesday, the Associate Press reports, Gaza cease-fire holds as sides weigh gains, the Israeli military said there were no reports of violations since the ceasefire went into effect at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not put the ceasefire to a vote in his cabinet because of opposition from ministers who wanted to continue fighting. Political commentator and critic of Netanyahu, Nahum Barnea, wrote in the mass circulation Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper: “Israelis expected a leader, a statesman who knows what he wants to achieve, someone who makes decisions and engages in a sincere and real dialogue with his public. Instead they received a slick spokesman and very little else.” In Gaza, life regains some normalcy as civilians returned to their homes and utility crews hurried to fix electrical and water infrastructure issues.

While Gaza seems on the mend, Libya seems to be on the verge of collapse as weeks of fighting escalated in Libya this weekend when anti-government fighters secured control of the country’s main airport in the capital of Tripoli, Eline Gordts reports, How Libya Became A Country On The Brink Of Collapse. A group of pro-government fighter from the curt of Zintan controlled the airport after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2001, however Saturday, a collation of Islamist fighters from Misrata called Operation Dawn pushed them out. Only three years ago, the two fought together side by side against Gaddafi forces, but now the two groups are locked in a vicious fight for economic and political control pushing the country toward collapse. The current violence is the most intense since 2011 starting after the country’s parliamentary elections in June when members of the outgoing Islamist dominated parliament lost the vote to liberal and federalist candidates. The Islamist and their backers would not recognize the newly elected body forcing the new MPs to move the parliament from the capital to the eastern city of Tobruk out of fear of safety. The Islamists victory in Tripoli this weekend has led to demands on Monday for the old parliament to be reinstated and calls for their own prime minister to be elected causing the country to have two rival leaders and assemblies backed by armed factions. The Libyan army has few national troops it can rely on forcing it to turn to local militias to secure key sites, but these militias have their own agenda and allegiance ultimately lies with their commanders. Washington Post’s Frederic Wehrey explains the divide between groups, according to Gordts: “There’s a political divide between Islamists and liberals, a regional divide between fighters from the city of Misrata and Zintan, and a divide between the old order and those who consider themselves revolutionaries.” Libya’s Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdel Aziz told the Guardian on Monday that Operation Dawn is stronger and better armed than the government making it impossible for the government to safeguard key institutions. On Monday, American officials told the New York Times that attacks on Islamist fighters last week were by Egyptian and the United Arab Emirates’ planes, nut both countries deny involvement in the strikes. The article explains: “Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt one year ago, the new Egyptian government, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc exerting influence in countries around the region to roll back what they see as a competing threat from Islamists. Arrayed against them are the Islamist movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood, backed by friendly governments in Turkey and Qatar, that sprang forward amid the Arab Spring revolts.” Meanwhile, civilians in the capital are facing dire conditions as violence in Tripoli lead to gangs of armed men burning and destroying the homes of government supporters with entire neighborhood being leveled. A the beginning of August, 5,000 to 6,000 people cross into Tunisia each day forcing authorities to close the border, while international organizations pulled employees out of Libya and many countries closed their diplomatic posts due to violence. According to Bradley Klapper and Maggie Michael, Officials: Egypt, UAE behind airstrikes in Libya, a joint statement from the United States, Britain, France, Germany and Italy expressed concerns over the recent attack saying “outside interference in Libya exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition.” Newly appointed U.N. convoy to Libya headed by diplomat Bernardino Leon said only an inclusive political process with all Libyans represented in parliament, government and other state institutions can get “Libya get out of chaos.”

While Israel was granted a temporary reprieve from fighting in Gaza, another battle seems to be spilling over into the country from the Syrian border. Islamic State militants, an offshoot of al-Qaida, executed Syrian army soldiers and took hostages after capturing an air base in northeast Syria near Ragga city on Sunday, posting pictures on the Internet and on Twitter by supporters on Wednesday, Reuters reports, ISIS executes soldiers, takes hostages at Syria base. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports after five days of fighting at the base cost more than 500 lives with 346 Islamic State fighters and 170 members of security forces dead. According to the Associated Press, Syrian rebels seize border crossing with Israel, Syrian rebels, including fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, took control of a frontier crossing with Israel in the Golan Heights on Wednesday after heavy clashes with President Bashar Assad’s forces leaving 20 Syrian soldiers dead, The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said reports. Fighting also took place in the towns of Jaba, Tal Kroum and Rawadi in Quneitra province. Gen. Ibrahim Jbawi, the spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s southern front, as well as the Local Coordination Committees activist group, also confirmed the rebel gains. Israel’s military said an officer stationed in Golan Heights was wounded by errant fire Wednesday from the Syrian side of the frontier as it appeared that the heavy fighting from Syria had spilled over with large clouds of smoke could be seen in the distance. Israel has avoided taking sides in the war, but has responded to the violence across its border, according to the military, by targeting two Syrian army positions that were confirmed hits. Israel says it holds the Syrian government responsible for any violence that comes out of the territory.

While war rages on in the region, an independent U.N. commission on Wednesday said that the Syrian government has likely used chlorine gas to attack civilians and the Islamic State group fighting them has committed crimes against humanity with attacks on civilians in two provinces, John Heilprin reports, UN Panel: Crimes Against Humanity Spread In Syria, Including Possible Gas Attack. The commission said government forces loyal to President Bashar Assad used a chemical agent likely chlorine on civilians in northern Syrian villages eight times in April. Commission member Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai professor who investigated human rights in North Korea, said: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that the chlorine has been dropped, particularly in barrel bombs from helicopters belonging to the government authorities. So the finger points there.” The commission also said the widespread and systematic killings of civilians by the Islamic State, which controls large parts of north and eastern Syria, have also committed crimes against humanity in Iraq and Syria where the group has carved out their caliphate. One disturbing fact was the large training camps where children mostly 14 and older are recruited and trained to fight along side adult Islamic State fighters. Commission member Carl del Ponte, a Swiss former war crimes prosecutor, said: “In Syria, it’s total impunity. Crimes are committed each day, from all parties, and nobody’s dealing with the criminal responsibility for those crimes.” Heilprin explains: “The report, based on 480 interviews and documentary material, cited dozens of documented public executions in Aleppo and Raqqa during the bloody and complex Syrian civil war that the U.N. says has killed more than 190,000 people since 2011. Crowds of people including children have reportedly watched as the group’s fighters pronounce mostly adult men guilty of violating religious laws and then behead them or shoot them in the head at close range. The purpose, according to the commission, is ‘to instill terror among the population, ensuring submission to its authority.’ But the commission also emphasized that Assad’s government forces continue to perpetrate crimes against humanity through massacres and systematic murder, torture, rape and disappearances. And it said other factions fighting Assad’s government are also committing massacres and war crimes.” Zeina Karam reports, Syria Suffers Record Death Toll, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said about 1,240 soldiers and other Assad loyalist have been killed in the past 10 days in northern Syria. Despite the war, Assad was re-elected last month in a vote confined to government controlled areas and dismissed by the opposition and its Western allies as a sham. He was sworn in on July 16 and declared victory praising his supporters for “defeating the dirty war” against Syria. The government losses followed shortly after his speech when fighters from the Islamic State group attacked army positions in northern and central Syria capturing a government controlled gas field and two major air bases in three different provinces this past week.

While the Middle East has collapse into chaos with cross border fighting, Ukraine and Russia trade accusations about alleged men in green crossing from Russia into Ukraine. Maria Tsvetkova reports, Heavily Armed ‘Men In Green’ Enter East Ukrainian Villages, heavily armed strangers with Russian accents have appeared in an eastern Ukrainian village arousing suspicions despite Moscow’s denial. Two witness told Reuters on Tuesday that dozens of men entered the village over the weekend and set up a road block and carrying military ration packs marked with Russian writing. The men had white arm bands similar to the ones worn by 10 men captured by Ukrainian forces few miles away and were identified as Russian paratroopers on Tuesday. Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said in a Twitter post: “The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counter-offensive may be underway.” A resident of the town said the military vehicles had their identifying marks painted over with white circles adding: “The people at the new checkpoint, they were polite military men wearing green. Definitely not Ukrainian. They’re definitely not from around here.” Another witness, Alexei, who was in Kolosky Monday, said the men told residents that they came to protect them. In addition, he and a friend counted what they said was 38 armored personnel carriers, 2 fueling trucks and numerous military transport vehicles full of people in Kolosky and the immediate vicinity. Both sides said they first saw military hardware in Sunday including anti-aircraft systems and artillery guns. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the presidents of Russia and Ukraine met late Tuesday for their first bilateral talks in Minsk. The talks came as Ukraine captured 10 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine and shelling spread to a new front in the southeast. Nataliya Vasilyeva and Peter Leonard report, Putin sits down with Ukrainian president for talks, Poroshenko said the purpose of the visit was to find political compromise and promised that the interests of Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine would be taken into account, while Putin concentrated on Ukraine’s decision to sign an association agreement with the 28 nation EU that would result in losses for Russia who would then be forced to protect its economy. Ukraine is set to ratify the agreement in September. Regarding the fighting in the east, Putin said the conflict “could not be solved by further escalation of the military scenario without taking into account the vital interests of the southeast of the country and without a peaceful dialogue of its representatives.” Poroshenko is unlikely to agree with Russia’s demand to federalize Ukraine, but would consider giving the regions some expanded powers.