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.

Islamic State Hits Syria Hard As U.S. and Allies Ramp up Offensive, Ukraine and Russia Make Progress and Catalonia Looks For Independence Following Scotland’s Vote

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On Thursday, Islamic State fighters besieged a Kurdish city in northern Syria after seizing 21 villages forcing neighboring Kurds in Turkey to call to arms followers to resist the group’s advance, Tom Perry and Laila Bassam report, Islamic State Seizes Syrian And Kurdish Villages In Major Assault. The attack on Ayn al-Arab, Kobani in Kurdish, came two days after U.S. military officials said the Syrian opposition would be needed in order for the Syrian Kurds to defeat the Islamic State. U.S. President Barack Obama last week said he would strike the radical Islamist group that used Syria as a base to advance its pan to reshape the Middle East according to the radical views of Sunni Islam. The United States is conducting air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and now Obama has authorized surveillance flights over Syria. Ocalan Iso, deputy head of the Kurdish forces in Kobani, told Reuters via Skype, “We’ve lost touch with many of the residents living in the villages that ISIS (Islamic State) seized.” The Kurds appealed for military aid from other Kurdish group including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party who issued a call for young men in Turkey’s southeast to join the fight in norther Syria. On their website, in a statement, PKK said, “The youth of northern Kurdistan (southeast Turkey) should go to Kobani and take part in the historic, honorable resistance.” As night fell, a Reuters witness said 3,000 men, women and children waited at the Turkish border 6 miles from Kobani as Turkish forces stopped the crowd from crossing. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters in Ankara: “We’re ready to help our brothers who are building up at the borders regardless of their ethnicity, religion and sect. But our priority is to deliver aid within Syria’s borders.” Redur Xelil, spokesman for the YPG, said Islamic State had encircled Kobani, telling Reuters via Skype.: “We call on world powers to move to halt this barbaric assault by ISIS.” Obama’s plan to expand support for groups fighting Islamic State in Syria focus on Sunni Muslim insurgents deemed moderate by Washington. On Friday, several thousand Syrians mostly Kurds crossed into Turkey finding refuge from the Islamic State militants who took over villages in northern Syria in the past 28 hours, the Associated Press reported, Syrian Kurds fleeing IS group cross into Turkey. In a statement on his website, Masoud Barzani, the president of Iraq’s largely autonomous Kurdish region, said the Islamic State’s “barbaric and terrorist acts” on the Kobani area in northern Syria “threaten the whole entirety of the Kurdish nation and it has targeted the honor, dignity and existence of our people.” He also said, “The ISIS terrorists perpetrate crimes and tragedies wherever they are, therefore they have to be hit and defeated wherever they are.” The main Kurdish forces in Syria called the People’s Protection Unit or YPK have been battling the Islamic State for more than a year, but is viewed with suspicion by mainstream Syrian rebels and there Western supporters due to their supposed link to President Bashar Assad’s government. Meanwhile, France on Friday conducted its first airstrikes against the Islamic State group destroying a logistics depot that it controlled, Iraqi and French officials said, according to Jamey Keaten, France strikes Islamic State group’s depot in Iraq. President Francois Hollande confirmed the hit in northern Iraq, saying, “Other operations will follow in the coming days with the same goal – to weaken this terrorist organization and come to the aid of the Iraqi authorities. There are always risks in taking up a responsibility. I reduced the risks to a minimum.” Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military, said four French airstrikes hit the town of Zumar, killing dozens of extremist fighters. France has become the first foreign country to publicly add military aid to the United Stated airstrikes against the group. In Washington, Congress approved with a vote of 78-22 in the Senate, a bill already approved by the House 273-156 Wednesday, to allow funding for the government after the end of the budget year on Sept. 30 and allow the U.S. military to train and equip Syrian rebels for a war against ISIS on Thursday night, the Associated Press reported, Strong Senate vote for Obama on Syria rebel aid. In the Senate, 44 Democrats, 33 Republicans and one independent voted for the bill, while 9 Democrats, 12 Republicans and one independent opposed it. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told one House committee that Obama “is not going to order American combat ground forces into that area.” Obama’s general plan is to have U.S. troops train Syrian rebels at camps in Saudi Arabia, a process that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, said could take a year. Kathleen Miles reports, Iranian Foreign Minister: America Helped Create ISIS And Is Taking The Wrong Approach … Again, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Wednesday that the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S created ISIS and foreign military presence will only create new terrorists. During a discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations, Zarif said: “If you look at the essence of ISIS, it’s the product of foreign invasion. Foreign presence in any territory creates a dynamic for demagogues like ISIS to use the resentment in the population of being occupied.” He noted that the Islamic State began with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an Islamist leader of the anti-American insurgency in Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion. He continued on to say: “As a principle, we do not believe that injection of foreign forces, either air or ground, solves our problem. We continue to have serious doubts about the willingness and ability of the U.S. to seriously engage this menace across the board –- and not just pick and choose where to engage. People need to be realistic. The so-called Syrians moderates — look at what’s happening on the ground — they control no territory. They can have no influence in fighting against either ISIS or the Syrian government. Syria is either controlled by the government or by ISIS. The U.S. cannot effectively fight against both at the same time.” Referring to the meeting in Paris and the U.S. led coalistion to fight ISIS, Zarif said: “Most participants in that meeting in one form or another provided support to ISIS … at the end of the day, creating a Frankenstein that came to haunt its creators. [Extremists] do not fly into Iraq. They come on foot from somewhere, and they don’t come from Iran. You can look at the addresses, and I believe every location was [represented] around the table in Paris.”

On Thursday, Ukrainian President Poroshenko renewed his call for American weaponry during his address to a joint meeting of Congress, expressing his appreciation for non lethal assistance from the U.S. but saying it was not enough to quell the violence in eastern Ukraine. the Associated Press reports, Ukraine’s pleas for lethal aid from US go unmet. Poroshenko, before heading to the White House to meet with Obama, said, “Blankets and night vision goggles are important, but one cannot win a war with a blanket.” The White House announced a new $46 million security package for Ukraine’s military that included counter mortar radar to detect incoming artillery fire, vehicles and patrol boats, body armor and heavy engineering equipment. In addition, $7 million will go to humanitarian organizations to assist people affected by the violence. Regarding his discussion with Obama and the desire for lethal American military assistance, Poroshenko told reporters: “I am satisfied with the level of our cooperation with the United States of America in the defense and security sector. I cannot say more, but I am satisfied.” In the Oval Office, Obama sat side by side with Poroshenko declaring, “The people of the United States stand with the people of Ukraine.” Ukraine and the Russian-backed separatists agreed to a cease-fire on Sept. 5, but the deal has been violated repeatedly. Both sides have promised to regroup and continue fighting, if required. Poroshenko came to Washington seeking lethal military assistance to help push back the Russian forces. His request has support from some members of the Obama administration, as well as lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted unanimously Thursday to advance legislation that would authorize $350 million for military assistance including anti-tank weapons. Senator Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the committee, said, “President Putin has upended the international order, and a slap on the wrist will not deter future Russian provocations. In the face of Russian aggression, Ukraine needs our steadfast and determined support, not an ambiguous response. ” Obama has argued more weapons into the conflict will not de-escalate the situation. However, Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, said, “The more costly the Ukrainians can make any fighting for the Russians, the less Moscow’s interest in resuming the conflict.” While sanction from both the European Union and the United States have had a negative impact on Russia’s economy, they have done little to detour PUtin’s tactics. Meanwhile, back in Ukraine, Yuras Karmanau and Mstyslav Chernov report, Ukraine, Russia, Rebels Agree To Buffer Zone In Peace Talks, Saturday that sporadic artillery fire hit part of eastern Ukraine hours after negotiators agreed to create a buffer zone between government troops and pro-Russian militants by halting their advances, pulling back heavy weapons and withdrawing foreign fighters. Despite a ceasefire agreement that has been in place since Sept. 5, the fighting between the two sides has been deadly. Shelling could be heard in Donetsk and rebels opened fire on the village of Stakhanovets in the Luhansk region, according to the Interior Ministry. Ukrainian national security council spokesman Volodymyr Polyoviy said Saturday that about 20 rebels and one soldier had been killed in clashes but did not specify if those took place after the negotiators agreed on the buffer zone around 4 a.m. The deal reached by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the Moscow-backed rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says the two sides should stay where they were Friday and make no attempt to advance. According to the report: “Under the deal, each party must pull back artillery of 100 millimeters (about 4 inches) or larger at least 15 kilometers (9 miles), setting up a buffer zone that would be 30 kilometers (19 miles) wide. The longer-range artillery systems are to be pulled even farther back to make sure the parties can’t reach one another. The deal also specifically bans flights by combat aircraft over the area of conflict and setting up new minefields.” NATO’s top general, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, hopes the agreement announced Saturday to create a buffer zone between Ukrainian government troops and the pro-Russian militants will succeed in stabilizing the situation. On Friday, Reuters reports, US, Canada send jets to intercept Russian aircraft, that U.S. and Canadian fighter jets intercepted Russian aircraft flying near U.S. and Canadian air space this week, a military spokesman confirmed. On Wednesday, six Russian aircraft entered the United States’ air defense identification zone (ADIZ), an area beyond sovereign U.S. airspace, according to a statement from NORAD, a U.S. and Canadian aerospace command, and U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM). In response, “two Alaskan-based F-22 fighter jets acting under the authority of NORAD identified and intercepted two Russian IL-78 refueling tankers, two Russian Mig-31 fighter jets and two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the ADIZ, west of Alaska,” the statement said. On Thursday, Canadian fighter jets intercepted two Russian Bear long-range bombers in the Canadian ADIZ. John Cornelio, a spokesman for NORAD and NORTHCOM, said that such intercepts had happened over 50 times in the last five years as Russian aircraft conducted exercises.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s vote for independence from Britain ended with voters resoundingly rejecting independence, but helped pave the way for a possible vote for Catalonia who wants independence from Spain, Jil Lawless and Danica Kirka report, Scots reject independence in historic vote. The historic vote and referendum ultimately prevented the rupture of a 307 year old union with England and brought a sigh of relief to Britain’s political establishment including Prime Minister David Cameron, who faced demands for his resignation if Scotland broke away. The vote on Thursday saw an unprecedented turn out of 85 percent with 55 percent against independence and 45 percent in favor. Alistair Darling, head of the no campaign, said Friday from Glasgow: “We have chosen unity over division. Today is a momentous day for Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole.” Cameron from his Downing Street office lived up to his promise to Scotland to give new powers on taxes, spending and welfare and the new plans will be agreed upon by November with draft legislation by January. He added, “We will ensure that those commitments are honored in full. We have heard the voice of Scotland, now the voices of millions in England must be heard.” Cameron also said people in other parts of the U.K. should also have more rights to govern their own affairs, particularly in England. The No campaign won the capital city, Edinburgh, by a margin of 61 percent to 38 percent and triumphed by 59 percent to 41 percent in Aberdeen, the country’s oil center. The Yes campaign won Glasgow, Scotland’s biggest city, but it was not enough. The vote to keep the U.K. together helps it avoid substantial loses to its territory and oil reserves and prevents it from having to find an new base for its nuclear arsenal housed in Scotland. The no vote also allowed the United Kingdom to keep its influence within international institutions including 28 nation European Union, NATO and the United Nations. Additionally, Britain avoids a prolonged period of financial insecurity that were predicted by Scotland’s independence. AOL reports, Catalonia pushes for independence following Scottish vote, hours after the vote on Friday, Spain’s Catalonia region took steps toward holding their own independence referendum. Catalonia’s regional parliament authorized a consultation vote on independence for the region with a presumptive November 9 date. However, the Spanish government condemned the possible vote as illegal. Due to Spain’s painful financial crisis, nearly two million people lined the streets of Barcelona a week earlier in support of independence. The decades-old independence movement has also been bolstered by Scotland’s referendum. Catalonia’s President Artur Mas told reporters he admired the U.K.’s commitment to a democratic referendum and expected the same process from Madrid. “It is more important to hold the referendum than the independence. … This represents high-quality democracy.” But Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who opposes Catalan independence, has been quick to congratulate Scotland for choosing not to break with the U.K. Catalan independence faces a battle due to the Spanish constitution that requires the authorization by Spanish parliament for any referendum. Spain will most likely take the Catalan parliament’s new law to the country’s constitutional court that favors Madrid over Barcelona. If held, Catalonia’s planned referendum would not result in legal separation from Spain, but provide President Mas with a political mandate to pressure Madrid for independence.

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.

Losing the War Against Ebola, ISIS Threat Cast A Heavy Shadow Over NATO Summit and Ukraine Ceasefire Deal Met With Skepticism

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On Tuesday, Doctors without Borders said the world is losing the battle against Ebola and is saddened by the fact most people who enter the West African treatment centers go there to die alone. In separate remarks following a United Nations meeting on the matter, the World Health Organization chief said everyone underestimated the crisis that has killed 1,500 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. U.N. officials implored governments worldwide to send medical workers and material contributions. In Liberia, a missionary organization reported that another American doctor has been infected. Doctors without Borders whose treated 1,00 Ebola patients in West Africa since March is overwhelmed, according to the organization’s president, Joanne Liu. She called on other countries to contribute civilian and military personnel familiar with biological disasters, AOL reports. At a U.N. forum, Liu explains, “Six months into the worst Ebola epidemic in history, the world is losing the battle to contain it. Ebola treatment centers are reduced to places where people go to die alone, where little more than palliative care is offered.” In Sierra Leone infectious bodies rot on the street, while Liberia had to build a new crematorium instead of Ebola care center, Liu reported. As for countries already involved in the fight, WHO Director Margaret Chan acknowledged and thanks them at the U.N. meeting: “We need more from you. And we also need those countries that have not come on board.” President Obama urged West Africans on Tuesday to wear gloves and masks when caring for Ebola patients or burying those who died as this has been one of the ways the virus has spread through the populations. In a brief video message, Obama explained, “You can respect your traditions and honor your loved ones without risking the lives of the living.” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the situation is now the world’s first Ebola epidemic, given how widely it is spreading. The latest missionary to contract the disease, a male obstetrician, was not immediately identified by the group Serving in Mission and did not work in the Ebola ward. A Liberian doctor on the treatment team said it was too soon to tell whether he will be evacuated. U.S. offcials on Tuesday announced a $24.9 million 18 month contract with Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. to speed development of ZMapp which will allow a small amount to be used for early stage safety testing while the Department of Health and Human Services works on speeding up production. The outbreak has taken a heavy toll on health care workers and nurses in Liberia and Sierra Leone have gone on strike to demand hazard pay and better protective gear. However, as of Tuesday, the governments report the disputes have been resolved and nurses are back at work. In addition, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warn that food in countries hit by Ebola has become more expensive and will become scarcer due to farmers who can’t reach their fields. AOL reports: “Authorities have cordoned off entire towns in an effort to halt the virus’ spread. Surrounding countries have closed land borders, and airlines have suspended flights to and from the affected countries. Seaports are losing traffic, restricting food imports to the hardest-hit countries. Those countries – Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone – all rely on grain from abroad to feed their people, according to the U.N. food agency. For instance, the price of cassava root, a staple in many West African diets, has gone up 150 percent in one market in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.” Vincent Martin, coordinator for the food agency’s response to the crisis, said, “Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the affected areas were spending up to 80 percent of their incomes on food. Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach.”

While Ebola ravages West Africa and continues to spread, another kind of disease has continued to spread its message of hate across the Middle East raising international concern and garnering international condemnation from the political arena. Sinan Salaheddin and Diaa Hadid report, Group accuses extremists of war crimes in Iraq, Amnesty International accused the Islamic State extremists on Tuesday of systematic “ethnic cleansing” in northern Iraq. In a new 26 page report, Amnesty said miltants abducted hundreds maybe thousands of women and girls of the Yazidi faith, killed hundreds of Yazidi men and boys and in one incident rounded them up on trucks, took them to the edge of their village and shot them. On Monday, the United Nations’ top human rights body approved a request by Iraq to open an investigation into crimes committed by the Islamic State group against civilians, aiming to provide evidence of atrocities in Iraq that could be used in international war crimes prosecution of the group. In Amnesty’s report, the advancement of the group has expelled 830,000 people mostly Shiites and tiny religious minorities including Aramaic-speaking Christians, Yazidis, a faith that traces to ancient Mesopotamia, the Shabak, an offshoot of Islam, and Mandeans, a gnostic faith. Thousands of Christians live in schools and churches in northern Iraq, Shiites mostly drifted to southern Iraq and Yazidis crowd into displaced persons camps and half finished building. Donatella Rovera of Amnesty International, said, “Minorities in Iraq have been targeted at different points in the past, but the Islamic State (group) has managed, in the space of a few weeks, to completely wipe off of the map of Iraq, the religious and ethnic minorities from the area under their control.” Yazidi lawmaker, Mahma Khalil, said, “They have been trying hard to force us to abandon our religion. We reject that because we are the oldest faith in Iraq, that has roots in Mesopotamia.” Meanwhile, CNN reports, Leaders hold pivotal NATO summit as threats of ISIS, Russian aggression loom, the spread of ISIS across Syria and Iraq and hundreds of deaths in Ukraine’s struggle to remain independent from Russia mark a pivotal moment for the NATO alliance, leaders on Thursday said. British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “We meet at a crucial time in the history of our alliance. The world faces many dangerous and evolving threats, and it is absolutely clear that NATO is as vital to our future as it has been in our past.” Cameron spoke at the beginning of the two day NATO summit to discuss the alliance’s response to threats int he Middle East and Ukraine as well as Afghanistan’s future. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, “We will take important decisions to keep our nations safe, to keep the vital bond between Europe and North America strong and to help build stability in a dangerous world.” The discussion happened amid a peace plan discussed by Ukraine and Russia expected to be implemented Friday, according to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s Twitter account Thursday. The day before, Poroshenko’s office via phone said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had reached an agreement on the process toward peace between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels. Putin presents a seven point road map to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine even though Russia denies involvement. Rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk said in joint statements Thursday they would order a ceasefire at 3p.m. Friday if “if agreements are achieved and Ukrainian officials sign a plan for a political settlement of the conflict.” Rebel leaders will also take part in talks in Belarus on Friday, the statement said, where they will present proposals on ensuring compliance with the plan. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk along with NATO and United States have greeted Russia’s plan with skepticism seeing it as a disguised rescue plan for pro-Russian rebels. Meanwhile in a statement Thursday, Dutch Safety Board said a preliminary report will be released next Tuesday on the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over rebel controlled eastern Ukraine that killed all 298 people on board on July 17. The report, according to the statement, “will present factual information based on sources available” to its investigators including satellite imagery, radar details and data from the plane’s “black box” recorders. Tuesday’s report will set out what investigators believe happened, but will not apportion blame. Back at the summit, Rasmussen calls on Russia to end the annexation of Crimea and withdraw from Ukraine: “We call on Russia to step back from confrontation and take the path of peace. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has been a wake-up call. It has … reminded all of us that our freedom, security and prosperity cannot be taken for granted, that some are trying to redraw dividing lines in Europe with force and in blood. We will adopt a readiness action plan that will make our forces faster, fitter and more flexible, ready to address any challenges whenever they come and from wherever they come.” NATO members will be urged to prioritize defense as some member states are not pulling their weight. U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Wales for the summit after a visit to Estonia aimed at reassuring nervous Eastern European nations that NATO’s support for its member states is unwavering. In a joint opinion piece in the Times of London Thursday, Obama and Cameron warn against isolationism: “To the east, Russia has ripped up the rulebook with its illegal, self-declared annexation of Crimea and its troops on Ukrainian soil threatening a sovereign nation state. To the south, there is an arc of instability from north Africa and the Sahel to the Middle East…the problems we face today threaten the security of British and American people, and the wider world.” Cameron told CNN ahead of the summit that NATO leaders would discuss the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism and members should agree on how to help Middle Eastern nations tackle the threat. Also on the agenda, Afghanistan, NATO’s biggest overseas commitment of troops, where votes in the contested presidential election are being audited and Rasmussen said the Afghan government needs to finalize a Status of Forces Agreement to protect NATO forces there as they switch to an advisory and training role. But he did say he was “encouraged” that both candidates in the runoff vote, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, have agreed on the need for a new agreement.

Prior to these discussion of the dire situations across the Middle East and Russia on Thursday, President Barack Obama authorized the State Department request for 350 additional troops in Iraq ” “to protect our diplomatic facilities and personnel in Baghdad,” according to a Tuesday statement from the office of the White House Press Secretary, reports Ashley Alman, Obama Authorizes Sending Additional Troops To Iraq. According to the White House statement regarding the request: “This action was taken at the recommendation of the Department of Defense after an extensive interagency review, and is part of the President’s commitment to protect our personnel and facilities in Iraq as we continue to support the Government of Iraq in its fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” In addition, the statement said, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and President Obama’s counterterrorism advisor will soon travel to Iraq “to build a stronger regional partnership.” Earlier Tuesday, the Islamic State group released a video claiming it depicts the beading of captured American Steven Sotloff, which is the second one in two weeks following the video release in August of James Foley’s execution, another American Journalist killed by ISIS.

While the United States tries to take steps to protect its interests in the Middle East after the execution of two of its citizens, India and Israel are both concerned about possibly confronting the group that is now on their doorstep. Daniel Estrin reports, Israelis worry with Syrian al-Qaida on doorstep, fir the first time in the Syrian civil war, al-Qaida fighters are now hunkered down on Israel’s doorstep as Israelis in Golan Height could be their next targets. The push by Nusra Front, a well-known branch of al-Qaida, comes two weeks after Israel ended its 50 day war with Hamas on its southern border with Gaza causing concern in the conflict weary nation. Last weeks seizure of strategic Quneitra border crossing by Nusra fighters who expelled Assad’s forces from eh area plus abducted 45 U.N. peacekeepers in the process has brought the extremists within a few yards of Israeli positions in Golan Heights. For the past three years, Israelis in the Golan have had a relatively safe front seat view of the civil war as Syrian government forces battled rebels attempting to wrest control of the strategic area between Israel and Syria. Some Israelis are convinced it’s a matter of time before the Islamic radicals target them due to their ideology and the fact Israel is a Jewish state. According to Estrin: “Israel captured the Golan, a strategic plateau overlooking northern Israel, in the 1967 Mideast war from Syria. It later annexed the area, a move that has never been recognized internationally. Since the aftermath of the subsequent 1973 war, U.N. monitors have helped to enforce a stable truce and the area has been tense but generally quiet. That started to change when the Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011. Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines of the war next door, quietly content to watch Assad’s forces battle to a stalemate against the various rebel groups trying to oust him. However, Israel has occasionally responded to mortar fire that spilled over the border, usually unintentionally, and is believed to have carried out several airstrikes on weapons shipments thought to be bound for Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. As the Nusra Front took over the border area last Wednesday, the Israeli army ordered Kuniel’s 200 farmhands out of the fields for three days, forcing them to leave behind freshly picked fruit in vats to rot.” However, Israeli officials believe Syrian rebels are focused on battles in Syria not Israel, but do pose a threat to Israel. Oviv Oreg, former head of the al-Qaida desk on the Israeli National Security Council, said the Nusra Front sees Israel as a “legitimate target” as its fighters now “have direct access.” Israeli defense officials estimate that a few thousand Syrian rebels are now positioned along the border in the Golan, with a few hundred in the Quneitra area, including the Nusra fighters. After taking control of the crossing, Nusra Front captured 45 Fijian U.N. peacekeepers and trapped 8o others from the Philippines who later fled to safety. The Philippines announced it would withdraw its troops front the U.N. peacekeeping force known as UNDOF due to this situation. Stephane Cohen, former Israeli military liaison to UNDOF, said the peacekeeping force is collapsing and can no longer serve its purpose to enforce a truce between Israel and Syria leaving Israel alone in front of al-Qaida. Meanwhile, more countries are pulling out of the force and others will not contribute forces in such an uncertain security environment. In addition, the collapse will undermine regional stability as the force provides an important outlet for Israel and Syria to air their grievances. As Uzi Dayan, former deputy military chief of stat, puts it: “In Syria there are no good guys and bad guys. There are bad guys, very bad guys and extremely bad guys.” Meanwhile, al-Qaida has expanded into India, according to a video released by al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri on Thursday, vowing that its militants would bring Islamic law to the entire subcontinent and wage jihad against its enemies,” AOL reports, Al-Qaida says it has expanded into India. Three Indian states with large Muslim populations are on alert following the video’s release, local TV stations report, though no indications of an increased security are present. Al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahri said in the video seen online by the SITE monitoring group that the new group “is the fruit of a blessed effort of more than two years to gather the mujahedeen in the Indian subcontinent into a single entity.” Al-Zawahri message seems largely directed at his own rivals in the international jihad movement and with raising the group’s profile in the wake of repeated success by the Islamic State group. Ajai Sahni, a top Indian security analyst with the New Delhi based Institute for Conflict Management, said: “Al-Qaida is struggling for its legitimacy in the eyes of the radicalized Muslim world. Osama bin Laden has been killed and (al-Qaida’s) entire top leadership, apart from Zawahri and a few others, one by one have been decimated by the American drone attacks.” Al-Zawahri said the group, Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent, would fight for an Islamic state and laws across the region, “which was part of the Muslims’ territories before it was occupied by the infidel enemy.” The leader of the new group, Essam Omar, said in an audio recording released with the video, that Jews and Hindus – who he referred to as “apostates of India” – “will watch your destruction by your own eyes.” Fighters will “storm your barricades with cars packed with gunpowder,” Omar said, decrying what he called the region’s “injustice toward Muslims.” In the past few months, the Islamic State has grown in India. Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh met Thursday morning with top security and intelligence officials to discuss the threat. India, however, has suffered from underfunded and ill trained security infrastructure that has allowed Pakistani militants in 2008 to attack Mumbai, a financial hub, that shut down the city for days killing 166 people and New Delhi has fought an insurgency in Kashmir, a majority Muslim state, with militants wanting to bring independence to the Himalayan region or join it to Pakistan leaving thousands dead.

Ebola Containment Issues, Israel Hamas Talks Deteriorate, U.S. Continues its Strike on Iraq and Ukrainian Rebels Open to Ceasefire

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According to Guinea news, in West Africa, the afflicted nation announced Saturday its closing its borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia in order to halt the influx of infected people in and out of the country, AOL reports, International response to Ebola: Travel bans, funding. Al Jazeera quotes the country’ heat minister as saying: “We have provisionally closed the frontier between Guinea and Sierra Leone because of all the news that we have received from there recently.” The health minister most likely is referring to the World Health Organization’s call for international aid as the Ebola outbreak has become an “extraordinary event:” “The possible consequences of further international spread are particularly serious in view of the virulence of the virus, the intensive community and health facility transmission patterns, and the weak health systems in the currently affected and most at-risk countries.” Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone have all declared a state of emergency following the Ebola outbreak putting limits on civil liberties and closing public institutions like schools. On Saturday, riot police had to break up an demonstration blocking Liberia’s busiest highway as angry crowds protested the government’s delays in removing the Ebola victims bodies, Jonathon Paye-Layleh reports, Liberia Protesters Demand Govt Pick Up Ebola Bodies. The growing unease in Liberia raised the specter of social unrest as almost 300 people have died from the disease in Liberia. Residents say that the government has yet to pick up the bodies of the dead by the roadside along the central town of Weala, 50 miles from Monrovia the capital, which have been sitting there for two day. The government has ordered all victims be cremated amid resistance to neighborhood burials for fear of contamination. Information Minister Lewis Brown warned Saturday on state radio: “Security people are on their way to put things under control. We don’t want people taking the law into their own hands.” So far, 961 people have died, according to figures released Friday by the U.N. Heath agency. The situation in Liberia has been describes as “catastrophic” by the Doctors Without Borders Charity. Lindis Hurum. the group’s emergency coordinator, said: “There are reports of dead bodies lying in streets and houses.” In addition, 40 health care workers in Liberia have contracted Ebola in recent weeks, while most city hospitals are closed, Hurum reports. On Saturday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf met with health workers at City Hall in Monrovia. “The president wants to express the collective gratitude of the entire nation to our health care workers who have continued to make tremendous sacrifices for this country and people,” Brown said. Liberia has launched “Operation White Shield” where soldiers are deployed in different locations and at checkpoints outside the capital to discourage residents’ movements, part of Sirleaf’s emergency measures to fight the disease.

On Sunday, back in the Middle East, Palestinian negotiators threatened to quit Egypt brokered truce talks unless Israeli negotiators return to Cairo, Mohammed Daraghmeh and Karin Laub report, Palestinians to quit Gaza talks if Israel no-show. Israeli officials said their negotiators will return when Gaza rocket fire stops. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday: “Israel will not negotiate under fire.” As talks have stalled, Israel responded to rocket fire from Gaza with 20 airstrikes killing three Palestinians, according to Gaza officials. Since Friday following the truce expiration, smaller Gaza militant groups hot Hamas have fired rockets and mortar shells at Israel and on Sunday fired two more. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said: “If Hamas thinks it has worn us down, it is wrong. We will return to the table only after an end to the fire. … We are not intending to compromise.” On Sunday, Palestinian negotiators vented frustrations about a lack of progress and the Israeli team’s absence. Azzam al-Ahmad, the delegation head f and confidant of Abbas, said: “If it is proven to us that the Israeli delegation is setting conditions for its return to Cairo, we will not accept any condition for the continuation of the talks.” Late Saturday, Palestinian negotiation Bassam Salhi representing a small PLO faction said the team met with Egyptian mediators who are in touch with Israeli officials and hope to make progress. However, he Salhi said: “We told the Egyptians that if the Israelis are not coming and if there is no significant development, we are leaving today.” Israel has targeted 5,00 sites so far, according to the army, while Gaza militants have fired 3,000 into Israel. Meanwhile, on Saturday, Israel launched 30 aerial attacks in Gaza killing five Palestinians and militants fired rockets at Israel as the conflict entered its second month and defied international efforts for a peaceful resolution by extending the ceasefire. Nidal al-Mughrabi and Allyn Fisher-Ilan report, Israel-Gaza Violence Resumes, Defying Ceasefire Efforts, the Israeli military said since midnight it has attacked 30 sites in Gaza without specifying targets and Gaza militants, since the 72 hour ceasefire ended Friday, have fired more than 65 rockets at Israel injuring two Israelis by mortar on Friday. Heavy civilian causalities and destruction during Israel’s offensive in packed residential areas of Gaza has garnered international attention over the past month. The White House urged both sides to do what theyt can to preserve civilians after failure to extend the ceasefire with Spokesman John Earnest saying Friday “the United States is very concerned” about the renewed violence. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged the parties “not to resort to further military action that can only exacerbate the already appalling humanitarian situation in Gaza”. At a rally in South Africa, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu accused Israel of behaving like a “barbaric bully” in Gaza.

Meanwhile in Iraq, U.S. officials confirmed on Friday that the Iraqi government provided Peshmerga fighters with a plane load of ammunition, according to Missy Ryan, Iraq Arms Kurds Against ISIS. The officials said Iraqi security forces flew to Abril, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, with small arms ammunition in a move that American officials hope helps the fighters keep militants from the Islamic State at by. Under conditions of anonymity, the officials said: “Developments over the last few days have refocused the issue, and we’ve seen unprecedented cooperation between Baghdad and Arbil in terms of going after (the Islamic State), not only in terms of conversation but in terms of actual support.” As Islamic State fighters advanced earlier this week, Maliki ordered his air force for the first time to back Kurdish forces in their fight against militants marking a significant step in a country where in recent years Peshmerga and Iraqi forces under the command of Baghdad would have fought each other rather than cooperate. The Obama administration working with the Iraqi government, the official said, to ensure additional requests for the Kurdistan Regional Government are met. Vivian Salama and Bram Janssen reports, Iraq Says U.S. Airstrikes Have Been Effective Against Islamic State, President Barack Obama announce on Saturday that the U.S. military return to Iraq is to prevent genocide, protect its diplomats and provide humanitarian aid to refugees trapped by Islamic State militants on a mountain ridge near the Syrian border. In addition, Obama said it was a long term project and cannot succeed unless Iraqis form an inclusive government in Baghdad to keep the country from breaking apart. U.S.plans and drones launched four airstrikes on Islamic State forces Saturday, while they fired n Yazidi civilians taking shelter in the Sinjar mountains, U.S. Central Command reports. It was the third round of strikes against Islamic State forces by the U.S. military since being authorized by Obama Thursday allowing for aid flights to drop food and water to thousands of starving refugees in the Sinjar area. A delayed response from Baghdad left Kurdish forces unable to fight off the Islamic State militants causing many Yazidi refugees to seek shelter in the mountains. UNICEF’s spokesman in Iraq, Karim Elkorany, told the Associated Press Saturday that at least 56 children have died of dehydration in the mountains, while British officials estimate Saturday between 50,000 and 150,000 people are trapped on the mountain. Juan Mohammad, a local government spokesman in the Syrian city of Qamishli, told AP more than 20,000 starving Yazidis are fleeing across the border. Iraq’s embattled Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki waited til Monday to call in aerial reinforcements for Kurdish fighter to help contain the Islamic State militants. Iraqi Foreign Minster Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd, said: “Air strikes are intended to degrade the terrorists’ capabilities and achieve strategic gains — and have been very effective.” Many of America’s allies support the intervention since the Yazidis plight received so much international attention. Obama said the U.S. will focus on helping refugees, eliminating terrorists, protecting Americans and keeping “key infrastructure” intact so that the Islamic State group can’t permanently cripple Iraq before an inclusive government can form. During his Sunday address, Pope Francis expressed outrage at the violence aimed at the religious minority in Iraq who include fleeing children dying of thirst and said he is sending Cardinal Fernando Filoni, the Vatican’s ambassador in Baghdad during the Iraqi war, to Iraq Monday to show solidarity with Christians, the Associated Press reports, Pope expresses outrage at violence in Iraq.

As the Middle East struggles with containing and resolving their conflicts, Ukrainians rebels are ready to agree to a ceasefire to prevent a “humanitarian catastrophe”, according to the insurgents’ new leader on Saturday as conditions worsen in the rebel stronghold of Donetsk, Yuras Karmanau reports, Ukraine rebel leader: We are open to a cease-fire. Aleksandr Zakharchenko, the so called prime minister of the Donetsk separatists, said in a statement posed on the rebel website: “We are prepared to stop firing to bar the spread of the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in Donbass (eastern Ukraine).” Russia, who the Kiev governments and Western countries allege is supporting the rebels. has called repeatedly for humanitarian missions into eastern Ukraine, but Kiev and thr West believe it will allow Russian forces into the region as supposedly 20,000 troops are waiting across the border. Late Saturday, in a statement from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine is prepared to accept humanitarian assistance in eastern Ukraine, but aid must come without military accompaniment, pass through border checkpoints controlled by the Ukrainian government and the mission must be international. Poroshenko spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss German participation in such a mission, while in Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama and Merkel agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine was unacceptable and violated international law. Donetsk city council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky told the Associate Press: “The situation is getting worse with every hour.” On Saturday, shelling hit 30 apartment blocks killing one person and wounding 18 adding about 2,000 residential building without power. A 47 year old resident of Donetsk, Dmistry Andronov: “We’re afraid of the Ukrainian army, which is firing on the city, and of the rebels of the Donetsk People’s Republic, who are robbing and killing civilians.” Zakharchenko’s statement came after the rebels’ top commander said Ukrainian forces has seized a key town, Krasnyi Luch, cutting Donetsk and nearby territory off from the rest of the rebel held east. Novorossiya, or “New Russia,” is a term widely used by the rebels for the eastern area that seeks independence from the government in Kiev. Concerns about a possible humanitarian catastrophe in the rebel held second largest city of Luhansk where fighting has been heavy and prolonged. Russians news agencies quote Luhansk authorities on Saturday saying that the city has been without power and water for a week and most stores are closed. Obama ans British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke via phone Saturday about Ukraine and in a statement from Cameron’s office said: “Both expressed grave concern about reports that Russian military vehicles have crossed the border into Ukraine and that Russian armed forces are exercising for a ‘humanitarian intervention’. (Both) are absolutely clear that such a so-called humanitarian mission would be unjustified and illegal.” The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was working to alleviate the crisis in eastern Ukraine, but warned it “will be taken in strict adherence to our fundamental working principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko told U.S. Vice President Joe Biden via phone about his communications with the Red Cross and efforts to distribute humanitarian aid. In a statement from the White House, Biden and Poroshenko agreed that if “Russia were serious about improving the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine,” it had to immediately stop shelling Ukrainian troops, release Ukrainian hostages being held inside Russia and cease providing weapons to pro-Russia separatists in Ukraine.

Pope Pleads for Peace Amid Fighting in Ukraine and Gaza, While the Ebola Epidemic Worsens in Western Africa

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Pope Francis marked the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I by making an impassioned plea for people to welcome dialogue rather than violence to overcome conflicts and “not repeat the mistakes of the past.” According to the Associate Press, Pope: World War I should teach us: No more war, Francis cited the current war between Israelis and Palestinians as well as Iraq and Ukraine. On Sunday he told the crowd in St. Peter’s Square that he was thinking of the children who have been killed, maimed or orphaned by war and who “for toys, have the debris of war.” He added, “I beg you, stop. I ask you with all my heart” and cited World War I era Pope Benedict XV’s denunciation of the Great War as a “useless massacre.” Francis said: “Everything is lost with war, nothing is lost with peace. Never more war.”

Meanwhile, Hamas on Sunday agreed to a 24 hour truce in Gaza after rejecting initially a similar Israeli offer as fighting resumed and the two sides fought over the terms of the lull that international diplomats hoped would turn into a more sustainable truce, according to Aron Heller and Ibrahim Barzak, Hamas agrees to 24-hour holiday truce in Gaza war. Late Saturday, after Israel announced the 24 hour truce, Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel causing Israel to resume their offensive aimed at destroying tunnels and rocket launchers. However, hours after fighting resumed, Hamas said it would be willing to abide by a new 24 hour humanitarian truce ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The three day Eid al-Fitr holiday begins on Monday or Tuesday depending on the sighting of the new moon. Shortly after the truce was to begin, warning sirens wailed in southern Israel and the military said three rickets landed in the area with no casualties or damage. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, did not say if Israel would hold its fire during the time Hamas requested, but would continue destroying tunnels as this was the primary goal of the offensive in Gaza. In the outdoor markets of the Jebaliya refugee camp, venders set up stands with clothes and shoes, but said business was slow. According to Palestinian health officials, the 20 day war killed more than 1,060 Palestinians many were civilians and Israel lost 43 soldiers, two civilians, and a Thai workers. In a statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said: “The military is aiming its fire at terror sites, but if citizens are accidentally harmed Hamas is responsible for this since it once again violated an offer for a humanitarian lull that Israel accepted.” Before the holiday ceasefire announcement, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said any truce must include a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and tens of thousands of displaced people be allowed to return to their homes. However, Israel’s acceptance of the ceasefire extension was based on its soldiers being able to continue to destroy the tunnels under the Gaza Israel border used by Hamas. In the West Bank, nine Palestinians have been killed due to protest and clashes in recent days between stone throwers and Israeli security forces. In Gaza, the local Red Cross office said its building in Khan Younis was attacked by people who lost family members in the fighting and the lack of support by emergency services. Each side blames the other for why the fighting resumed on Sunday with Hamas saying Israel’s “lack of commitment” is the problem and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying that Hamas could not be trusted after violating ceasefire efforts.

While Israeli and Gaza brace for more causalities, Ukraine continues to try to take back Donetsk and gain control of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site. Ukrainian officials said their forces have advanced to the outskirts of Donetsk on Saturday trying to take back the Pro-Russia rebel stronghold, according to Ayse Weiting and David McHugh, Ukraine launches offensive to retake Donetsk. The move comes as Ukrainian forces in recent weeks have been successful in retaking control of territory from the rebels. However, Russia has become more involved in the fighting it seems with the U.S. and Ukraine accusing Moscow of moving heavy artillery across the border to the rebels. Ukrainian national security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said once they take Horlivka, where Ukrainian forces are outside of now, “the direct route is open for the forces of the anti-terrorist operation to the capital of the Donbass region – the city of Donetsk. The approaches to Donetsk are being blocked so that the terrorists do not get the chance to receive ammunition, reinforcements or equipment.” About 35 miles to the east, the site where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down was eerily empty and a full investigation still hasn’t started due to security risks posed by fighting. On Saturday, another 38 coffins carrying victims left Kharkiv on two military planes bound for the Netherlands for identification and investigation with the Dutch government later identifying the first victim who was a Dutch national. Officials said the two flight took the last of the 227 coffins containing victims that had been brought to Kharkiv, a government controlled city, by refrigerated train. The intensified fighting on Sunday to gain control of the Malaysia Airlines crash site between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian armed forces caused a team of Dutch and Australian police officers to postpone their trip to start searching for evidence and the remaining bodies, according to Dmitry Lovetsky and Peter Leonard, Fighting intensifies near MH17 crash site. In Washington, the State Department released satellite images which it says show that Russia fired rockets more than seven miles into Eastern Ukraine. In a statement Sunday, the Donetsk regional government said at least 13 people including two children were killed in fighting in Horlivka and another five people were killed in clashes in a northern suburb of Donetsk. In addition evidence that rockets were fired into Ukraine from Russia, the United States said it had seen powerful rocket systems moving closer to the border.

Meanwhile, another kind of battle rages on in Western Africa as the Ebola epidemic worsens. On Saturday, Nigerian health authorities race to stop the spread of Ebola after a man sick with the virus brought it by plan to Lagos, Africa’s second largest city with 21 million people, Heather Murdock reports, Nigeria death shows Ebola can spread by air travel. The traveler from Liberia boarded an international flight with a stop over in the country of Tago to Lagos casing officials’ to be concerned about other passengers who could spread the disease beyond Africa because of poor inspections of passengers and Ebola is similar to other diseases. Officials in Togo wen ton high alert after learning that Ebola could spread to a fifth country. Ebola has already killed 672 people across West Africa before the Nigeria case was announced making it the deadliest outbreak on record of Ebola and now it threatens Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation. Dr. Unni Krishnan, Plan International’s Disaster Response and Preparedness Head, said, “Lagos is completely different from other cities because we’re talking about millions of people.” International airports in Nigeria are screening passengers arriving from foreign countries for symptoms of Ebola, according to Yakubu Dati, the spokesman for Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria. In addition., health officials are working with ports and land borders to inform people what to look for and what to do. Nigerian airports are setting up holding rooms to ready in case an Ebola victim lands in Nigeria. Health experts also say that airports in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, who all are dealing with current Ebola outbreaks, have taken preventative measure that are not completely foolproof. Patrick Sawyer, a consultant for the Liberian Ministry of Finance arrived in Nigeria Tuesday and was detained by health authorities suspecting he might have Ebola. On Friday, a blood test from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital confirmed Sawyer died of Ebola earlier that day. Nearly 50 passengers on the flight are being monitored for signs of Ebola but not isolated, according to an employee at Nigeria’s Ministry of Heath. Ebola is highly contagious and kills more than 70 percent of the people infected. Sawyer’s sister died of Ebola in Liberia, but he claimed to have no contact with her, Liberian officials report. The Associated Press reported Saturday an American doctor working with Ebola patients in Liberia tested positive. North Carolina based Samaritan’s Purse issued a news release Saturday saying Dr. Kent Brantly tested positive for the disease and was being treated in Monrovia, Liberia. Meliisa Strickland, a spokeswoman, said Brantly began serving in Africa as part of a post residency program before the Ebola outbreak began and at one point his wife and children were living with him in African until they moved back to the U.S. On Sunday, Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported, Official: Ebola kills senior doctor in Liberia, Dr. Samuel Brisbane, one of Liberia’s most high profile doctors, is the first Liberian doctor to die in the outbreak that has killed 129 people in the West African nation and a Ugandan doctor working in the country died earlier this month. The World Health Organization also confirmed that 319 people in Guinea and 224 in Sierra Leone have died. News of Brisbane’s death first began circulating on Saturday, a national holiday marking Liberia’s independence in 1847. According to Paye-Layleh: “President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf used her Independence Day address to discuss a new task force to combat Ebola. Information Minister Lewis Brown said the task force would go ‘from community to community, from village to village, from town to town’ in order to increase awareness.” Heath workers are at risk of contracting thr disease which spreads through contact with bodily fluids. Experts believe the outbreak could have started as far back as January in southeast Guinea though the first confirmed cases happened in March.

Human Tragedies Around the World Today

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On Wednesday, military planes carried the first bodies of victims of the Malaysian Airlines crash left eastern Ukraine giving some relief to the grieving relatives who must still wait for positive IDs and answers to who caused the disaster, according to the Associated Press, Two military aircraft carrying the first bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines left eastern Ukraine Wednesday. In the afternoon, the Dutch government declared a national day of mourning as the first bodies are due to arrive from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash that killed 298 people most who were Dutch citizens. Though U.S. officials are confident that a missile brought down the plan, they have yet to determine Russia’s role if any in the tragedy. On July 23, 2014, at Kharkiv airport in Ukraine, Ukrainian soldiers carry coffins during a sombre ceremony followed by the first plane carrying these coffins left for the Netherlands. The other military plane, Australian, left as well midday headed for Eindhoven air base to be met by Dutch King Willem-Alexander, Queen Maxima, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and hundreds of relatives. Dutch government spokesman Lodewijk Hekkin said 60 coffins were expected but not sure, while Jan Tinder the Dutch official in charge of the international team dealing with the dead said 200 bodies were aboard the train and more remains may be found once the body bags are examined. According to Air Accidents Investigation Branch in Britain, on Wednesday Dutch authorities delivered the black boxes to the agency in Farnborugh, south England, where information from the data and voice recorder will be downloaded. On Tuesday, the European Union imposed sanctions against Russian individuals again, but did not target entire sectors of Russian economy until Moscow’s role is known in the disaster.

While loved ones deal with the loss of loved ones who died tragically on Flight 17, Israel and Gaza continue to fight costing not only innocent lives but may also cost both groups their support. On Tuesday, the United Nations said Palestinian civilians in densely populated areas in Gaza have no where to hide from Israel’s military offensive and children are paying the heaviest price, Stephanie Nebehay reported In Gaza, No Safe Place For Civilians: UN. Israel continued to bombard targets across the Gaza Strip as no ceasefire deal was near. Meanwhile, U.S. and U.N. diplomats are urging talks to end the fighting that has killed 600 lives in the three week conflict. Jens Laerke, spokesman of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told a news briefing in Geneva that the death toll is rising in the coastal enclave with a density of 4,500 people per square kilometer. Nearly 5000 homes have been destroyed by Israeli air strikes and 100,000 people have sough shelter in schools of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), where they need food, water and mattresses, he said. The UNRWA in a statement Tuesday said it was raising its emergency funding appeal to $115 from $60 million. As Juliette Touma of the U.N. Children’s Fund reports, an overwhelming majority of people being killed are Palestinians including 121 Gaza children under 18 and 900 Palestinian children have been injured. Laerke said: “According to an assessment by aid workers on ground at least 107,000 children need psycho-social support for the trauma they are experiencing such as death, injury or loss of their homes.” Meanwhile, more than 1.2 million out of 1.8 million have no water or limited access to water as power networks are damaged or no fuel for generators. In addition, Laerke remarked, “we do have reports of sewage flooding which is a threat to public health.” Spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs of the U.N. World Food Program states emergency food rations and vouchers have been given to 90,000 people adding: “Ready to eat food stocks are running low in Gaza given the conflict has lasted two weeks and the needs are increasing.” The World Health Organization said 18 health facilities have been damages including hospitals. In a statement on Tuesday after WHO visited sites, they found that hospitals in northern Gaza are overwhelmed by high number of trauma cases with little supplies. The International Committee of thr Red Cross, guardian of the rules of war, stated on late Monday that warring parties are obliged under international humanitarian law to protect medical personnel, ambulance and facilities condemning the attack on the Al-Aqsa hospital which have been in direct fire four times. The Associated Press reports that since the U.N. top human rights official warned all sides in the Gaza Strip not to indiscriminately attack civilians and was ignore that violations may amount to warm crimes. On Wednesday, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said around three quarters of those killed in Gaza Strip were civilians and thousands more injured totaling 657 Palestinians and 31 Israelis killed. Among the Palestinian dead, Pillay said at least 147 were children and 74 were women. At the session, Palestinian Foreign Minster Riad Malki accused Israel of committing crimes against humanity and violating international human rights laws, while Israeli Ambassador Eviatar Manor accused Hamas of committing war crimes.

Meanwhile in Europe, the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Italy on Tuesday said they would combat the rising anti-Semitic protests and violence over the conflict in Gaza in their own countries, according to Kirsten Grieshaber article European Politicians Condemn Anti-Semitic Demonstrations. In a joint statement issued in Brussels, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, France’s Laurent Fabius and Italy’s Federica Mogherini said: “Anti-Semitic rhetoric and hostility against Jews, attacks on people of Jewish belief and synagogues have no place in our societies.” In addition, they said that they will respect demonstrators right to assemble and freedom of speech, however, will fight against “acts and statements that cross the line to anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia.” On Tuesday afternoon in Berlin, 500 pro-Palestinian demonstrators marched chanting slogans like “Israel is murder” and “Israel bombs, Germany finances.” In France, pro-Palestinian youth clashed with police on Sunday setting fire to cars, pillaging stores and attacking two synagogues in the Paris suburbs. Italy as well has seen non-violent demonstrations. Jewish groups have expressed shock and discuss about the growing anti-Semitism. Stephan Kramer, director of the European office on anti-Semitism of the American Jewish Committee in Brussels said: “We have reached a new level of hatred and violence in all of Europe that cannot even be compared to the anti-Semitism seen during previous conflicts in Israel.”

Europe and the Middle East see their fair share of conflict and clashes with militants, Nigeria is still reeling from a different type of tragedy. It has now been three months since Islamic extremists have kidnapped more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls and according to residents of Chibok, where the girls were kidnapped from, 11 of their parents have died as well. Michelle Faul explains in her article, 11 parents of Nigeria’s abducted girls die, that the town has been cut off my militants who have been attacking villages in the region. This month, seven of the fathers were among the 51 bodies brought to the Chibok hospital after an attack on Kautakari, a village nearby. In addition, four more parents have died from heart failure, high blood pressure and other illness the community believes was induced by the mass abduction 100 days ago, said community leader Pogu Bitrus and provided the names. He explained, “One father of two of the girls kidnapped just went into a kind of coma and kept repeating the names of his daughters, until life left him.” President Goodluck Jonathan met with parents Tuesday pledging to continue working to see the girls are brought back alive, according to his spokesman. Danger is on the horizon though as Boko Haram is closing in on Chibok by attacking the villages that surround it. Community leader Bitrus siad a food crisis looms along with money and fuel shortages as villager swarm into the town from towns close by straining resource. Many girls who escaped are recovering said a health worker, under conditions of anonymity for fear of retaliation from Boko Haram, and many are now talking about their experience even considering how to continue their education. Boko Haram filmed a video threatening to sell the students into slavery and as child brides. Additionally, the video showed two girls describing their conversion from Christianity to Islam. Most of the girls are believed to be held in the Sambisa forest that borders on sand dunes marking the edge of the Sahara, while sightings of the girls and their captors have been reported in Cameroon and Chad. Local leader Bitrus warns of a famine coming soon due to the fact families are putting up four and five other families arriving with nothing since livestock has been looted by Boko Haram. The town and nearby villages are targets due to the fact they follow Christianity in a predominantly Muslim north Nigeria. The number of soldiers guarding Chibok increased from 15 to 200 following the kidnapping but does little to secure the town since soldiers refuse to deploy to villages under attack even with advance warning 90 percent of the time. Residents feel abandoned after a plea was made this month to the United Nations to send troops and the U.N. told the Nigerian government to live up to its international responsibility. The Defense Ministry says it knows where the girls are but fears any campaign could lead to their deaths. This week, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released a new video demanding that President Goodluck Jonathan release detained extremists in exchange for the girls. After three months. the residents have little hope that the girls will return.