Ebola Vaccine Testing Promising, Post-War Gaza Update, and Islamic Militants Increase Activity As U.S. Puts Together Game Plan

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Sierra Leone has decided for three days to lockdown the country in order to curb the Ebola epidemic sweeping across West Africa as the WHO announced that over 2,000 people have died from the outbreak across the three hardest hit countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. AOL reports, Sierra Leone Plans lockdown to fight Ebola, Sierra Leone hopes it will stop the spread of the virus that killed 491 people in the country, according to WHO estimates. Sierra Leone’s information minister told CNN,” “Locking down the country is like turning the whole country into an open laboratory. … When they develop symptoms within three days, they will be identified and taken to treatment centers.” However, a Doctors Without Borders spokesperson told reporters, lockdowns and quarantines “end up driving people underground and jeopardizing the trust between people and health providers. This leads to the concealment of potential cases and ends up spreading the disease further.” One medical official told the New York Times educating communities about the risk of harboring Ebola patients is much more effective than lockdowns. Liberia responded with lockdowns as well in August when the Liberian government shit down a neighborhood in the capital of Monrovia that led to protests and clashes between residents and security forces. The Ebola epidemic shows no signs of slowing down, and agencies around the world are racing to develop a treatment. Yesterday, the WHO greenlit the use of blood transfusions from Ebola survivors to combat the virus. Josh Funk reports, Nebraska doctors say Ebola patient making progress, the Nebraska doctors treating Dr. Rick Sacra, 51, who arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center on Friday for treatment in the specialized isolation unit after contracting the disease in Liberia, said he remains stable and was more alert Sunday. Dr. Phil Smith, one of the doctors, said on Sunday: “We are encouraged by what we see, but it’s too early to say he has turned a corner.” In the race to treat the disease, Lauran Neergaard reports, Researchers rolling up their sleeves for first human safety study of Ebola vaccine, that new monkey studies show one shot of an experimental Ebola vaccine triggers fast protection and waned if the animal did not get a booster shot in a different way. Some healthy people are rolling up their sleeves at the National Institutes of Health for the first human safety study of this vaccine in hopes it eventually might be used in the current Ebola outbreak in West Africa. The NIH on Sunday published some of their findings in the Nature Medicine journal that showed a single dose of vaccine protected all four vaccinated monkeys when exposed to high levels of Ebola just five weeks later. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said it didn’t take multiple doses to trigger protection which is in line with other vaccines today. The problem is the vaccine wanes over time as researchers exposed monkeys to Ebola 10 months later to find that only half were protected. The vaccine is made with a chimpanzee cold virus, used as a delivery system for pieces of an Ebola gene. Since giving another dose two months later was not enough, researchers used a different approach called “prime boost” where the fist does primes the immune system which was the original virus based Ebola vaccine then for the booster two months later encased the Ebola gene inside a poxvirus used to make a vaccine against smallpox. This time, all four monkeys were still protected 10 months later. Neergaard explains: “The booster-shot findings illustrate an added complexity to speeding an experimental vaccine into the field. The initial first phase study results would shed light only on that “priming” vaccine made from the chimp cold virus, Fauci said. The poxvirus booster step would be tested later only if scientists decided the initial vaccine was promising enough.” Still, manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline has said it plans to begin manufacturing up to 10,000 doses of the initial NIH-developed vaccine. Canadian researchers created a similar Ebola vaccine that works in monkeys. Manufacturer NewLink Genetics of Ames, Iowa, said first-stage safety testing in healthy volunteers is set to begin in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, back in Gaza, President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday threatened to dissolve his alliance with Hamas if the Islamic militant group does not hand over power in Gaza Strip, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Sarah El Deeb reports, Palestinian President Urges Hamas To Give Up Power In Gaza. Hamas has controlled Gaza since overrunning Abbas’ forces in 2007, however due to international isolation and deep financial crisis, the Islamic militant group agreed to form a new unity government with Abbas’ Fatah movement in June which would restore power to Abbas in the territory. Unfortunately, it has yet to yield any power. Late Saturday in Cairo in comments carried by Egypt’s state news agency MENA, Abbas said: “We will not accept having a partnership if their status in Gaza remains this way. Unity has terms. This situation does not represent any kind of unity. If Hamas does not want one authority, one law, one weapon, we will not accept a partnership with it.” Abbas said that as long as Hamas remains in control of Gaza, he added, “the government of national unity can do nothing on the ground.” Ismail Radwan, a Hamas leader, denounced Abbas’ comments, saying they “contradict the spirit of the new partnership and play down the victory of the resistance.” Abbas under the new deal will form a Cabinet of apolitical technocrats as Hamas offers its backing from the outside. Israel has boycotted the government saying Hamas’ involvement is clear, while Western countries want to give the government an opportunity to prove itself. Abbas criticized the heavy death toll and damage saying, “With every passing day, more blood was shed. Is this the victory they talk about? Regrettably, I can only say the results are tragic.” Daraghmeh and El Deeb sum up what each side in the negotiation are asking for: “In the coming weeks, Israel and Hamas are expected to start a new round of indirect, Egyptian-mediated talks for an extended cease-fire. Hamas is demanding a full lifting of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza, including the reopening of a sea and airport. Israel has said the blockade will remain in effect as long as Hamas controls Gaza. The international community has made clear that all funding and reconstruction efforts be handled through Abbas’ government. Israel, and the West, want guarantees that none of the aid will be diverted for military use by Hamas. A conference of donor nations is expected to take place in October. Hamas has expressed willingness to turn over control of border crossings with Israel and Egypt to Abbas’ forces. But over the weekend, Ismail Haniyeh, a top Hamas leader in Gaza, rejected Israel’s demand that the group be disarmed as a condition for ending the blockade.” In internal Palestinian negotiations, Abbas’ aides said he president will seek full control of Gaza.

While the fighting has temporarily stop in Gaza with one branch of al-Qaida, other branches, possibly more extreme, continue to ravage the Middle East and Nigeria. Lolita C. Baldor reports, U.S. Launches Airstrikes Around Iraq’s Haditha Dam, the U.S. military on Sunday launched airstrikes around Haditha Dam in western Iraq targeting Islamic State insurgents in order to prevent the group from capturing the vital dam. The strikes are part of a broader U.S. campaign against the group moving the military operation closer to Syria where the group also operates. Speaking in Georgia at his meeting with government and defense officials, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said if the dam falls into militant hands “or if that dam would be destroyed, the damage that that would cause would be very significant and it would put a significant additional and big risk into the mix in Iraq” including U.S. interests there. Georgian Minister of Defense Irakli Alasania said Georgia will provide some assistance in the campaign against the Islamic State such as training and carrying out military exercises with the Iraqi forces with plans to discuss it further. U.S. officials said while the Anbar Province dam remains in control of the Iraqis, the U.S. offensive was an effort to beat back the militants who are try to take over key dams across the country. Hagel said the Iraqi government asked the U.S. to launch airstrikes and the Iraqi forces on the ground conceived the operation. Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby, in a statement said: “We conducted these strikes to prevent terrorists from further threatening the security of the dam, which remains under control of Iraqi Security Forces, with support from Sunni tribes. We will continue to conduct operations as needed in support of the Iraqi Security Forces and the Sunni tribes, working with those forces securing Haditha Dam.” U.S. officials are concerned that militants could flood Baghdad and other large swaths of the country if they control the dams and could gain control over the residents if they control the electricity. Water is a precious commodity in Iraq, a largely desert country of 32.5 million people. The decline of water levels in the Euphrates over recent years has led to electricity shortages in towns south of Baghdad, where steam-powered generators depend entirely on water levels. Ibrahim Abulaziz and Michelle Faul report, Islamic extremists grab towns in northeast Nigeria, the Nigerian Islamic extremist group, Boko Haram, has seized more towns in northeastern Nigeria along the Cameroon border and is adopting a strategy of encouraging civilians to stay as militants carve out an Islamic caliphate, witness said Sunday. Nigerian army soldiers fled when hundreds of insurgents in stolen military armored personnel carriers, trucks and motorcycles attacked Gulak, an administrative headquarters of Adamawa state, said resident Michael Kirshinga. The nearby towns of Duhu, Shuwa, Kirshinga and others also fell in assaults over Friday night and Saturday, witnesses said. Further north, soldiers fought off rebels advancing Saturday on Maiduguri, the Borno state capital, headquarters of the military campaign against the insurgency and the birthplace of Boko Haram. The military attacked the rebels’ camp at a village outside Kondudga, just 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Maiduguri. In Gulak, Kirshinga said, “They assured us that they will not attack us, but people begun to run for their lives, some of us have fled for fear that, after subduing the soldiers, the insurgents will turn their (gun) barrels on us.” The Nigerian Emergency Management Agency reported 26,000 people fled Bama adding to the 1.5 million people forced to flee their homes since Nigeria declared a state of emergency in May 2013, according to U.N. figures. They need shelter and food which officials war of a looming food crisis since most refugees are farmers. Boko Haram’s April kidnapping of more than 300 schoolgirls, of whom more than 200 remain captive, attracted international attention and promises of help from several countries including the United States, China and former colonizer Britain. Nigeria has a large army of 80,000 troops and a $2.3 billion budget but soldiers say they are outgunned with some of their colleagues colluding with and fighting for the insurgents. Boko Haram now holds a string of towns in all three of the northeastern states that have been under a military emergency since May 2014 – Adamawa, Yobe and hardest-hit Borno. The seizures come as the United States announced it would launch a major border security program for Nigeria and its neighbors to fight Boko Haram. Meanwhile three German men suspected of being members of Somalian terrorist organization al-Shabab were arrested at Frankfurt airport attempting to re-enter the country, according to prosecutors Monday, AOL reports, 3 al-Shabab suspects arrested in Frankfurt. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office said they were arrested Saturday after landing in Frankfurt from Kenya on charges of membership in a foreign terrorist organization and preparing acts of violence in connection with their time in Somalia. At the moment, however, “there is no evidence the suspects had made any concrete preparations or plans for attacks” in Europe, the office said. The three – identified only as Steven N., 26; Abdullah W., 28; and Abdulsalam W., 23, in line with German privacy laws – are alleged to have gone to Somalia in 2012 and 2013 to join al-Shabab, and received weapons and combat training.

While Islamic extremist groups seems to be spreading like a cancer throughout the world, President Barack Obama said this week his plan to start his offensive against the Islamic State militants, who he said could pose a threat to the U.S., will be explained to Americans and congressional leaders, according to Roberta Rampton, Obama To Announce Game Plan Against ISIS. Obama will make a speech Wednesday to “describe what our game plan’s going to be,” and meet congressional leaders on Tuesday for support for his strategy to halt the group controlling parts of Syria and Iraq. Aired on Sunday, Obama in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” said: “I just want the American people to understand the nature of the threat and how we’re going to deal with it and to have confidence that we’ll be able to deal with it. The next phase is now to start going on some offense. I want everybody to understand that we have not seen any immediate intelligence about threats to the homeland.” However, the group has attracted foreign fighters from Western Nations who could travel to the United States, which over time could be a serious threat to the homeland, according to Obama. He ruled out sending in ground troops into Iraq and Syria as this is not the same as the Iraq war. He did say that this is going to be “similar to the kinds of counterterrorism campaigns that we’ve been engaging in consistently over the last five, six, seven years.” He added: “We are going to be a part of an international coalition, carrying out air strikes in support of work on the ground by Iraqi troops, Kurdish troops. We are going to systematically degrade their capabilities. We’re going to shrink the territory that they control. And ultimately we’re going to defeat ’em. The strategy both for Iraq and for Syria is that we will hunt down ISIL members and assets wherever they are. I think, for … perhaps the first time, you have absolute clarity that the problem for Sunni states in the region, many of whom are our allies, is not simply Iran. It’s not simply a Sunni-Shia issue.” Obama wants regional allies to help win over and work with disaffected Sunni tribes in Iraq which could include an “economic element.” Meanwhile, Lawmakers returned to Capital Hill after a summer vacation for a September session where feuding Republicans and Democrats promise action to prevent government shutdown while holding votes aimed at defining the parties for the fall campaign, Andrew Taylor reports, Congress Returns To Work With Government Shutdown Threat Looming. Republicans control the House and intend on a drama free passage of temporary spending bill to prevent a shutdown at the end of the month and fund government agencies into mid-December. The Senate is hopeful it will pass as long as it is free of objectionable add ons. House Republicans plan to votes aimed at drawing attention to legislation they say would boost jobs and energy production. Republicans and Democrats are clamoring for legislation authorizing Obama to use military forces against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, but the short session and lack of consensus raises doubts about whether congressional action is possible. Some lawmakers say the president under the 1973 War Powers Resolution has the power to act without permission and several Republicans are willing to give Obama blanket authority without a detailed strategy from the administration. Several lawmakers want new economic penalties against Russia in response to its aggressions toward Ukraine, but it’s doubtful Congress will move quickly on a measure.

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

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

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

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

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