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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ebola Death Toll Continues to Rise, No End in Sight for Gaza War, Islamic State Advances and Russia Wants to Send More Aid

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So far, according to figures released Friday by the WHO, 2,615 people have been infected with Ebola and 1,427 deaths have occurred in the outbreak in West Africa with Sierra Leone being the hardest hit at 910 cases and 392 deaths. On Sunday, the health minister, Felix Kabange Numbi, in the Congo confirmed two Ebola deaths from the northwest Equateur province out of eight samples, the Associated Press reports, Health minister: 2 people have died of Ebola in Congo. Numbi stated that Congolese officials believe 13 people have died of Ebola in the region including five health workers, while 11people are sick and in isolation as 80 contacts were being traced. In addition, the Congo has been hit seven times before with Ebola outbreaks, however the two deaths are the first in a long time and admits the infections were of a different strain than those of the outbreak in West Africa that has killed 1,400 people. The samples came from the region where the World Health Organization said an outbreak of hemorrhagic gastroenteritis has killed 70 people in recent weeks. The HuffPost UK reports, Britain’s First Ebola Victim Is Flown Home In Hi-Tech Quarantine For Treatment At Royal Free, a volunteer nurse working in West Africa has landed back in Britain for treatment in a high tech isolation unit after contracting the disease. A man in his 20s identified as William by several news sites landed at RAF Northolt in west London to be transported to UK’s high level isolation unit at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, north London. It is the first confirmed case of a Briton contracting the disease in the current outbreak and the identity of the patient, who lived in Sierra Leone, has not been confirmed. The virus was identified first in March in Guinea and spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria. The effects of disease take between two and 21 days after infections and is transmitted to people from wild animals spreading in the human population through person to person transmission. The Sierra Leone Parliament has voted to pass a new law which means anyone caught hiding Ebola patients can receive prison terms of up to two years. The numbers in the country have been underestimated as the WHO reports that corpses are being buried in rural villages without notifying health officials and no investigation into the cause of death. In some cases epidemiologists have traveled to villages and counted the number of fresh graves as a rough estimate of suspected cases. Lawmaker Ansumana Jaiah Kaikai said the new law passed Friday and will now go for presidential approval, Clarence Roy-Macaulay reports, Sierra Leone makes hiding Ebola patients illegal. He said the measure was necessary to force residents to cooperate wit government officials noting some residents resisted steps to contain Ebola and build isolation centers in their community for fear of stigma related to the disease. New treatment centers in Liberia are being overwhelmed by patients that were not previously identified suggesting more cases are going undetected, the WHO said Friday. The Ivory Coast announced Friday it was closing its land borders with Guinea and Liberia, while Gabon, Senegal, South Africa and Cameroon all imposed border restrictions on some or all of the four countries with confirmed cases – Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. On Saturday, the Philippine government was recalling 115 peacekeepers from Liberia due to the health risks posed by Ebola. According to Mari Yamaguchi, Japan ready to offer flu drug for Ebola treatment, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan can offer the anti-influenza drug tablet favipiravir, developed by a Fujifilm Holdings Corp. subsidiary, at any time the WHO requests it. The Who said earlier in the month that it is ethical to use untested drugs on Ebola patients given the magnitude of the outbreak. The tablet itself is used to treat novel and re-emerging influenza viruses and was approved by the Japanese health ministry in March. Fujifilm is in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on clinical trials of the drug in treating Ebola, company spokesman Takao Aoki said. The drug is stocked to treat 20,000 and theoretically similar effects can be expected on Ebola as in influenza which are the same type of virus. According to the company: “Favipiravir inhibits viral gene replication within infected cells to prevent propagation, while conventional ones are designed to inhibit the release of new viral particles to prevent the spread of infection.”

Meanwhile, Palestinian officials said in the southern town of Rafah Israeli airstrikes leveled a seven floor office building and damaged a two story shopping center in Gaza Sunday signalling a new escalation in the seven week long war with Hamas and Israel, Ibrahim Barzak and Peter Enav report, Israeli airstrike levels 7-story building in Gaza. The strikes came hours after Israel bombed an apartment tower in Gaza City collapsing the 12 story building with 44 apartment wounding 30 and killing one. Over the weekend, the army began warning Gaza residents via phone that it would target building harboring terrorist infrastructures and to stay away. A senior military officials confirmed that strikes require prior approval from military lawyers and the local population must be warned before hand. Before Israel’s weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Gaza residents: “I call on the people of Gaza to immediately evacuate any structure that Hamas is using to commit acts of terror,” he said. “Every one of these structures is a target for us.” On Sunday, Gaza militant continue to fire rockets and mortar shells at Israel, at least 10, the military said, in addition to 100 on Saturday. In addition, five rockets were fired from Syria and fell in northern Israel with no clear picture of who fired them. As violence escalates, Egypt urged Israel and the Palestinian to resume indirect talks in Cairo on a long lasting ceasefire, but stopped short of an invitation. The Israeli military has carried out 20 strikes on Gaza since midnight Saturday with eight fatalities, Gaza police and medical officials report. The U.N. estimates that 17,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged beyond repair since July 8. More than 2,000 Palestinians including 500 children have been killed with Israel losing 64 soldiers and four civilians, according to Palestinian health officials and U.N. figures. Scott Anderson, deputy director of the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees in the territory said: “Despite the difficult circumstances, the (U.N.) stands by the refugee committee here in Gaza. Even though we can’t start the school year as we would normally it is very important that the children have structure in their lives and we will continue their education by any means possible.”

In Baghdad and northern city of Kirkuk, 42 people were killed in Iraq on Saturday as the government investigated a deadly attack on Sunni mosque the day before that increase already volatile sectarian tensions in a fragile political transition, Sinan Slaheddin and Vivian Salama report, Bombings Hit Iraq’s Kirkuk, Baghdad, Dozens Dead. Kirkuk deputy police chief Tarhan Abdel Rahman said three bombs went off in a crowded district killing 31 people and wounding dozens. In Baghdad, a suicide bomber drove an explosive laden car into the gate of the intelligence headquarters in Karrada district killing six civilians and five security personnel, the police officer confirmed, while wounding 24 others. Since earlier this year, Iraq has been in a constant state of chaos due to the Islamic State extremist group and allied Sunni militants who have seized large areas in the country’s west and north. Local security officials in Diyala said Friday’s attack began with a suicide bombing near the mosque entrance followed by gunmen storming the building and opening fire on worshipers. At least 64 people died including the four Shiite militants who found the bombs planted by the militants as they rushed to the scene with security forces. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he’s “deeply concerned about the impact such acts of sectarian violence will have on the already grave security situation and on the political process,” While the European Union said the “heinous crime” should not stand in the way of government formation and urged Iraqis to unite against violence. In addition, Saturday, an explosion in the Kurdish capital of Ibril injured three, military officials report, but what caused the explosion is still under investigation.

Activist and state media reported on Sunday that the Islamic State has captured a major military base in northeastern Syria eliminating the last government held outpost in the province dominated by the group, Ryan Lucas reported, Islamic State Fighters Capture Syrian Air Base. The British Observatory on Human Rights said at least 100 Islamic State fighters were killed and 300 wounded not including casualties from the final assault, while 170 government troops were killed on Sunday alone and there were reports 150 were captured. Their slow and stead push in northern and eastern Syria and quick advances across Iraq has brought a large stretch of territory running from Syria’s northern border with Turkey to the outskirts of Baghdad in central Iraq under their control. The mainstream Syrian opposition, which is fighting President Bashar Assad and the Islamic State group, called for similar raids against the extremist in Syria, however, the Obama administration refuses wary of getting dragged into a bloody and complex civil war that has killed 190,000 people, according to U.N. figures. Also Sunday, an American hostage held in Syria by an al-Qaida linked group was released, a relative and the U.S. government confirm. Meanwhile, the foreign ministries of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar and Jordan met in the Red Sea city of Jiddah, the official Saudi news agency said without providing details. However, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the group will discuss the security threat posed by Islamic State group and search fro ways to bring about needed political solutions to the Syrian crisis.

On Saturday, hundreds of Russian aid trucks left from rebel held eastern Ukraine headed for home highlighting the need for long term assistance to the region destroyed by the months of fighting, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks in Kiev ahead of the much anticipated meeting between Russia and Ukraine, Alexander Roslyakov and Peter Leonard reports, Russian Aid Trucks Leave Ukraine. The Russian aid trucks came through the rebel held border point Friday and by mid-afternoon Saturday all the vehicles returned to Russia, Paul Picard of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe told reporters in the Russian town of Donetsk. Ukraine and others including the U.S., the European Union and NATO denounced the move as a violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty. One country pledging aid to Ukraine is Germany as Merkel held talks with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kiev Saturday promising 500 million euros in loan guarantees to support private investment in infrastructure and schools in war-struck areas. Merkel urged for political solutions to the crisis three days before Poroshenko meets Russian President Vladimir Putin in Minsk in their first encounter since June. Asked what message he would like to convey to Putin, Poroshenko said “take away your armed people from our territory and I can promise peace will come to Ukraine very soon.” The United Nations says more than 2,000 people have been killed and 340,000 forced to flee their homes since the fighting began in April following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. According to Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday, Russia wants to send a second humanitarian aid convoy to eastern Ukraine in the near future after Kiev and the West criticized Moscow for sending the first cargo without official permission, Reuters reports. Lavrov told a news conference: “The humanitarian situation is not improving but deteriorating. We want to reach an agreement on all conditions for delivering a second convoy by the same route… in the coming days.” Ukraine marked its independence day on Sunday with a military march past Kiev to send a message of defiance to Russia, however, pro-Moscow rebels countered by parading captured Ukrainian troops through the streets of their main stronghold, Reuters reports, Ukraine defiant on national day, rebels parade captives. Some of the troops marching past Kiev were heading to the front line in eastern Ukraine. Poroshenko said. In an emotional speech, he said his country is fighting “a war against external aggression, for Ukraine, for its freedom, for its people, for independence”. It is clear that in the foreseeable future, unfortunately, a constant military threat will hang over Ukraine. And we need to learn not only to live with this, but also to be always prepared to defend the independence of our country.” In Donetsk, 100 people introduced in a public address as Ukrainian pirsoners-of-war were marched through the city’s central Lenin Square on Sunday. People came to watch the parade shouting “fascists!” and “murderers!” with some throwing bottles at the POWs. Alexander Zakharcheno, self proclaimed prime minister of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” said his forced will launch a counter attack and were fighting to take the town of Olenivka, 20 miles from Donetsk. He told reporters, “I don’t want to fight, I don’t want to kill anyone, but I will fight to the last for my land. We want to live the way we want to live on our own soil.” To date, officials in Kiev report 722 people with Ukrainian government forces have died jumping from 568 announce don Aug. 11.

The Brutal Gaza War Continues, Ukrainian Troops Advance, Shocking Details Involving the Islamic State and Deported Children Face Certain Death

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On Friday, 18 alleged spies include seven shot behind a mosque after midday prayers were killed by Gaza gunmen in response to Israel’s deadly airstrikes against top Hamas leaders, the Associate Press reports, Hamas kills 18 suspected informers for Israel. Two killed were women, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, who also called for an immediate end to the “extra-judicial executions.” Al Majd website which is close to the Hamas security services said suspects will no now be dealt with “in the field” not in the courts in order to create deterrence. One witness to the executions behind the mosque, 42-year-old Ayman Sharif, said masked gunman lined up the seven against the wall along with a piece of paper above each explaining his crime and his initials. One of the gunmen said that the seven “had sold their souls to the enemy for a cheap price” and had caused killing and destruction. The bodies were collected by an ambulance and the gunmen left after shooting each one with their automatic rifles. According to Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell, Gaza War Rages On As Israeli Airstrikes Kill 11 Palestinians, Including Hamas Leader’s Wife And Son, more than a 180 rockets were launched by Palestinians on Tuesday and Wednesday at southern Israel with some intercepted by the Iron Dome system, the military sad with no casualties reported on the Israeli side. Since the failure attempted at a ceasefire on Tuesday by Egypt that collapse into violence, Israeli aircraft has carried out more than 100 strikes in Gaza Strip, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said adding it was “targeting terror sites”. Hamas an medical officials said 23 people died in the latest Israeli raids. Netanyahu, speaking at a news conference in Tel Aviv, said Israel’s Gaza campaign will last a while and described its goal as seeking calm and safety for Israeli citizens. Ya’alon, his defense chief said “all options are open, including renewed ground operations” in Gaza. Gaza health officials report that five children were killed in separate airstrikes and the Israeli military said it had targeted four gunmen in norther Gaza. In total, the Palestinian Health Ministry said 2,040 people mostly civilians have been killed din Gaza, while Israel says it killed hundreds of Palestinian militants in fighting that the United Nations says has displaced 425,000 people. A diplomatic source said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas whose Fatah party participated in the Cairo talks, was due to meet the emir of Qatar, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Doha on Wednesday. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement he was “gravely disappointed by the return to hostilities” and urged the sides not to allow matters to escalate.

On Friday, Ukraine alleged that Russia has launched a “direct invasion” of its territory after Moscow sent a convoy of aid trucks across the border into eastern Ukraine where pro-Russian rebels are fighting government forces, Dmitry Madorsky, Russian aid convoy drives into Ukraine. Kiev said Ukrainian forces would not attack the convoy allowing it to pass to avoid “provocation” as thousands of Russian troops are stationed at the border. The Ukraine conflict has cause the deepest rift between Moscow and the West since the Cold War with Western states imposing sanctions on Moscow and the Kremlin retaliating causing NATO to deploy additional troops in member states bordering Russia. Regarding Russian aid convoys, Ukrainian Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists:”They passed into Ukraine without clearance or participation of the International Red Cross or (Ukrainian) border guards.” Ukrainian state security chief Valentyn Nalivaychenko in a statement to journalists added: “We consider this a direct invasion by Russia of Ukraine.” However, Ukrainian authorities said the convoy would pass through the area where the rebels were firing and security could not be guaranteed. In a statement, the Russian foreign ministry said: “All excuses to delay sending aid have been exhausted. The Russian side has taken the decision to act. We warn against any attempts to disrupt this purely humanitarian mission. Responsibility for any possible consequences of provocations … will lie, completely and entirely, with those who are prepared to further sacrifice human lives for the sake of their ambitions and geo-political ploys.” The International Committee for the Red Cross has decided “due to the volatile security situation” not to supervise the convoy. The last few weeks of fighting has seen a string of rebel defeats in the conflict that has claimed 2,000 lives. Russia says the trucks contain food, medical supplies, water and some clothing amid fears by many western countries that the aid convoy is a cover for a Russian invasion. After four months of fighting in Russian speaking eastern Ukraine, the area faces a humanitarian crisis, lacking food, medicine and clean water. Meanwhile, fierce fighting continued in eastern Ukraine as government troops try to take back territory from pro-Russian rebels before the arrival of the Russian aid convoy overseen by the Red Cross, according to Nataliya Vasilyeva, Deadly Fighting In Ukraine As Government Troops Advance Into Rebel-Held Territory. Trucks loaded with water, generators and sleeping bags for civilians in the rebel city of Luhansk have begun to move through Ukrainian customs after being held for a week at the border. The trucks are expected to cross into Ukraine Friday morning on their way to Luhansk, a city with a war reduced population of a quarter of a million people 20 miles from the Russian border. At Russia’s urging, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for a ceasefire during the humanitarian mission. Fighting on Thursday was reported in Luhansk, a day after the government said it had retaken the city which has been under siege fro 19 days and lacking the basics of running water and electricity.

Even more concerning, the United Nations human rights office on Friday reported that at least 191,369 people have been killed in the Syria conflict through April, Stephanie Nebehay reports, UN: Death toll from Syrian civil war tops 191,000. The U.N. report included cross-checked data from four groups and the government and according to U.N> high Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay reflects a reality of killing and torture while the civil war has “dropped off the international radar.” In a statement, Pillay explained: “With additional killings reported from earlier periods, in addition to the new killings that have taken place, the total is more than double the number documented a year ago. Nevertheless, as the report explains, tragically it is probably an underestimate of the real total number of people killed during the first three years of this murderous conflict.” An additional 51,953 killings were not included due to a lack of information, according to the report issued in Geneva. Nebehay reports: “The highest number of documented killings were recorded in Rural Damascus province(39,393), followed by Aleppo (31,932), Homs (28,186), Idlib (20,040), Daraa (18,539) and Hama (14,690).” Pillay repeated her call for referring alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by all sides in Syria’s conflict to the International Criminal Court: “The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis. It is essential governments take serious measures to halt the fighting and deter the crimes, and above all stop fueling this monumental, and wholly avoidable, human catastrophe through the provision of arms and other military supplies.”

On Thursday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at a Pentagon news conference said the U.S. airstrikes in Iraq has helped Iraqi and Kurdish forces regain footing, however, well resourced Islamic State militants are expected to regroup and stage a new offensive, Robert Burns reports, Pentagon: Islamic state militants will regroup. Army. Gen. Martin Dempsey added that although the Islamic State can be contained it cannot be defeated unless it is attacked in Syria. Hagel said, “Overall, these operations have stalled ISIL’s momentum and enabled Iraqi and Kurdish forces to regain their footing and take the initiative.” Dempsy said,”They can be contained, not in perpetuity. This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated. To your question, can they be defeated without addressing that part of their organization which resides in Syria? The answer is no. That will have to be addressed on both sides of what is essentially at this point a nonexistent border. And that will come when we have a coalition in the region that takes on the task of defeating ISIS over time. ISIS will only truly be defeated when it’s rejected by the 20 million disenfranchised Sunni that happen to reside between Damascus and Baghdad.” A new report states that hundred of American citizens are among the roughly 12,000 ruthless fighters backing the ISIS led Islamic State’s reign of terror in the Middle East, according to Ryan Gorman, Hundreds of Americans have joined the brutal ISIS militia. The National Journal reports American and European officials are concerned about the growing number of citizens taking up the mujahedeen cause: “ISIS today represents a direct and growing threat to the United States… including hundreds of Europeans and Americans who can travel freely with Western passports.” Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, outgoing director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Journal: “Some have both the intention and some capability to attack the United States homeland… we’re doing all we can to understand the outflow of foreign fighters from Syria and Iraq, many of them with Western passports.”

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported that minors deported to Honduras over the last month are being killed, according to a morgue director in the city of San Pedro Sula, who said “at least five, perhaps as many as 10” children killed there since February had been deported from the United States. Hector Hernandez, of the San Pedro Sula morgue, told Times reporter Cindy Carcamo: “There are many youngsters who only three days after they’ve been deported are killed, shot by a firearm. They return just to die.” Rogue Planas reports, Children Deported To Honduras Are Getting Killed: Report: “Almost 63,000 unaccompanied minors — the vast majority from the violence-plagued Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala — have crossed illegally into the United States since October. Many are fleeing the gang violence, poverty and political instability that has made the so-called ‘Northern Triangle’ countries some of the most dangerous in the world.” House Republicans joined by four Democrats last month to do away with the president’s policy of deferring deportations for undocumented immigrants who arrive as children despite little evidence that the policy caused the crisis. According to a Public Religion Research Institute poll last month, most Americans see young migrants as refugees with 70 percent of Americans thinking the country should provide temporary support while their cases proceed in court as a majority say that hose facing the threat of violence should not be immediately deported. The White House has responded by pushing to expedite the deportation process for Central American minors and families traveling together in order to send the message to other migrants that they won’t be able to stay. On Wednesday, eleven undocumented immigrants are pleading with Obama to protect them and others in similar circumstances from being deported as the administration considers a broad executive action on immigration enforcement, Elise Foley reports, Jose Antonio Vargas Among Undocumented Immigrants Making Urgent Plea To Obama. Wednesday morning, the undocumented immigrants including journalist-activist Jose Antonio Vargas announced the initiative at a press conference organized by Vargas’ organization, Define American, and in partnership with the National Immigration Law Center. They are applying for deferred actions that would allow them to stay in the U.S. temporarily, while urging President Barack Obama to halt deportations. Vargas in an interview with HuffPost about the 1 of 11 Million campaign said, “This is our way to insist on the urgency and the humanity of the 11 million people like us. For us, it’s really important to ask the question of how inclusive is the Obama administration’s relief going to be?. Who is going to get left out, and why? This is our effort to get in front of that and make sure that people understand that we’re talking about human beings here with families.” Besides Vargas, the other documented immigrants asking for deferred action on Wednesday have been int he U.S. for years and include people ages 22 to 55 from Mexico, Senegal, South Korea, Honduras, Germany and the Philippines with some already in deportation proceedings. Vargas said he hopes the White House will meet the group and undocumented immigrants in general to discuss any executive action taken.

Liberia Ebola Crisis Worsens, Ukraine Faces New Challenges, Gaza Talks Collaspe into Chaos and Islamic State Militants Up the Pressure

On Wednesday, acting on their president’s orders, riot police and soldiers used scrap wood and barbed wire to quarantine 50,000 people inside their Liberian slum in order to contain the Ebola outbreak that has killed 1,350 people and counting across West Africa, according to Jonathon Paye-Layleh and Wade Williams, Liberia Seals Off Slum To Control Ebola, Angry Residents Clash With Troops. The World Health Organization said the death toll has risen quickly in Liberia accounting for 576 of the fatalities, while 2,473 people have been sickened across West Africa making this outbreak larger than the caseloads of all the previous two dozen combined. The U.N. health agency warned of food shortages, water shortages, and other essential supplies in West Africa’s population centers. In West Point, a densely populated slum surrounded by floating sewage, suffers from government neglect in the best of times and mistrust of authorities with open defecation being a major problem. Drinking water is carried in wheelbarrows and people need the market for their food. Mohamed Fahnbulleh, a resident, said: “Why are you ill-treating people like this? How can we take this kind of government to be peaceful? It is not fair — We are human.” Days earlier, residents ransacked a screening center where people in contact with Ebola victims were being monitored causing dozens of potential carriers to be taken somewhere else in the city. In a national address late Tuesday, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf imposed a nighttime curfew and ordered the quarantine of West Point and Dolo Town adding: “There will be no movements in and out of those areas. We have been unable to control the spread due to continued denials, cultural burying practices, disregard for the advice of health workers and disrespect for the warnings by the government. Fellow citizens, these measures are meant to save lives … May God bless us all and save the State.” Via telephone, Deputy Police Chief Abraham Kromah said, “Please remain law-abiding; throwing stones at police officers and security officers is not the best way out.” While counties and districts have been sealed off in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Guinea has imposed internal travel restrictions. The agency responded to shortages of food, fuel and basic supplies, by saying: “WHO is working with the U.N. World Food Program to ensure adequate food and supplies, but calls on companies to make business decisions based on scientific evidence.” Nigeria’s heath minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person has died of Ebola, but all reported cases have been people in direct contact with a Liberian American man who arrived already infected. On Monday, Jonathan Paye-Layleh reported, 17 who fled Liberia Ebola clinic still missing, authorities were looking for the dozen or so patients who abandoned the Ebola quarantine center in Liberia’s capital during looting last weekend, even though several were still being tested and under observation. During the raid, 37 patients left possibly to return to their own communities, according to Information Minister Lewis Brown, however, 20 have been brought back to two hospitals. Meanwhile, the experimental drug from California based pharmaceutical company, ZMapp, was given to three Liberian health workers who contracted the virus are showing signs of recovery, officials reported Tuesday, Jonathon Paye-Layleh and John Heilprin report, Liberia: 3 receiving untested Ebola drug improving. In addition, two infected American received the treatment and are improving, while a Spaniard who also received the treatment died.

Turning our attention to a different kind of war, on Thursday, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, 5 Ukrainian troops killed; fierce battles reported, five troops and two civilians were killed in the past 24 hours in rebel held areas of eastern Ukraine as government forces try to regain territory from pro-Russian separatists. So far, the conflict has claimed 2,000 lives and displaced 340,000 people from their homes. Ukraine celebrates Independence Day on Sunday, while government forces aim to achieve a breakthrough by that date. On Monday Ukraine accused rebels of killing dozens of civilians in an attack ear on a convoy fleeing a besieged rebel held city, according to Vasilyeva, Refugee Convoy In Ukraine Hit By Rocket Fire, Dozens Reportedly Killed. The rebels denied any attack, while the U.S. confirmed the shelling of the convoy but did not know who was responsible. Col. Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s National Security Council spokesman, told reports: “Many people were killed, among them women and children” between the towns of Khryashchuvate and Novosvitlivka adding: “We are not able to count the death toll at this point.” Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky, a Ukrainian government’s military operation spokesman, told the Associated Press 15 bodies had been recovered from the smoldering vehicles and servicemen were collecting the body parts of at least 10 more people. Donetsk rebel chief Alexander Zakharchenko said no attack took place and Andrei Purgin, his deputy, said he had no information either: “If someone was killed, it wasn’t us but the Ukrainian military.” The U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told report in Washington: “We strongly condemn the shelling and rocketing of a convoy that was bearing internally displaced persons in Luhansk and express our condolences to the families of the victims. All sides must take every precaution to protect innocent lives. We are unable to confirm reports of who was responsible for the shelling and rocketing.” Residents of Luhansk have had no running water, electricity or phone connections for 16 days as fighting continues around the city and food is short in supply making it harder to secure food. Tensions have increased as Russia over the past week said it plans to send a massive aid convoy to help rebel held eastern Ukraine. A Red Cross spokeswoman in the region told the Associated Press that they are still waiting for security guarantees as 200 Russian aid trucks.

In the Middle East on Tuesday, Egyptian attempts to make a deal to end the month long conflict between Israel and Hamas has collapsed into heavy fighting Tuesday as Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets and Israeli responded with airstrikes across Gaza killing two people, Ibrahim Barzak reports, Egyptian cease-fire efforts collapse. The violence erupted hours before the temporary truce ended as Israel withdrew its delegation from Cairo Tuesday afternoon and quickly resumed its airstrikes following rocket fire. The two fatalities were the first since a temporary truce last Wednesday started. An Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said, “The Cairo talks were based on an agreed premise of a total cessation of hostilities. When Hamas breaks the cease-fire, they also break the premise for the Cairo talks. Accordingly, the Israeli team has been called back as a result of today’s rocket fire.” No one knows if the team will return to Cairo or whether Israel will continue to talk as Egyptian security officials are still pressing the two sided to agree to a ceasefire. So far, more than 2,000 Palestinians mostly civilians have been killed, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials, with tens of thousands displaced compared to 64 Israeli solider, two Israeli citizens and a guest workers dying.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, U.S. officials said military planners were weighing the possibility of sending a small number of additional U.S. troops into Baghdad as insurgents threaten to kill a second American captive in retribution for airstrikes that have pounded Islamic state militants, Lolita C. Baldor and Lara Jakes reports, Military Considering Sending Additional Troops To Iraq, Officials Say. The strike came hours after militants released a gruesome video Tuesday showing U.S. journalist James Foley being beheaded and underscored President Barack Obama’s promise Wednesday to continue attacks against the group. According to senior U.S. officials the number would be fewer than 300 additional troops. The militants threatened to kill Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who is being held captive, if the U.S. continues to conduct airstrikes. According to Baldor and Jakes: “Currently there are about 748 U.S. forces in Iraq, in addition to the approximately 100 troops that have routinely been assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation in Baghdad. Under the current war powers resolutions sent to Congress, Obama authorized up to 775 U.S. troops for security assistance, assessment teams, and advisers at two joint operations centers in Baghdad and Irbil.” Foley, a 40 year old journalist from Rochester, New Hampshire, went missing in northern Syria while freelancing for Agence France-Presse and the Boston-based media company GlobalPost. Sotloff was kidnapped near the Syrian-Turkish border in August 2013 and freelanced for Time, the National Interest and MediaLine. Larak Jakes reports, Obama: US won’t stop confronting Islamic State, while the execution of journalist James Foley drew international condemnation as western nations stepped up their efforts to counter the militants, in capitals across the Middle East, Foley’s death was met with silence even in Syria and Iraq. On social media, people condemned Foley’s killing, but stressed the Islamic State has been committing atrocities against Iraqis and Syrians for years. On Wednesday, outside their home in Rochester, New Hampshire, Diane and John Foley addressed reporters: “We are just very proud of Jimmy and we are praying for the strength to love like he did and keep courageous and keep fighting for all the people he was fighting for. We pray for all the remaining Americans.” Obama, from Martha’s Vineyard, said: “Today, the American people will all say a prayer for those who loved Jim,” Obama said. “All of us feel the ache of his absence. All of us mourn his loss.” Since August 8, 84 airstrikes have been carried out in Iraq on Islamic State targets including security checkpoints, vehicles and weapons caches. The New York based Committee to Protect Journalist said more than 80 journalist have been abducted in Syria and estimates 20 are still missing. On Monday, Pope Francis endorsed the use of force to stop Islamic militants from attacking religious minorities in Iraq but said the international community not one country should decide how to intervene, Nicole Winfield reports, Pope Francis Endorses Use Of Force In Iraq To Stop Persecution Of Religious Minorities. Francis responded as follows to whether or not he approved of U.S. airstrikes on Islamic State militants: “In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor. I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.” However he said, in history, such excuses to stop an unjust aggressors has been used by world powers to justify a war of conquest in which entire people have been taken over. He added, “One nation alone cannot judge how you stop this, how you stop an unjust aggressor. After World War II, the idea of the United Nations came about: It’s there that you must discuss ‘Is there an unjust aggression? It seems so. How should we stop it?’ Just this. Nothing more.” The Associated Press reported Wednesday, US mission to rescue hostages in Syria failed, that the administration disclosed that President Barack Obama sent special operations troops to Syria this summer on a secret mission to rescue American hostages, including journalist James Foley, held by Islamic State extremists, but they did not find them. Lisa Monaco, Obama’s top counterterrorism advisor, said in a statement: “The U.S. government had what we believed was sufficient intelligence, and when the opportunity presented itself, the president authorized the Department of Defense to move aggressively to recover our citizens. Unfortunately, that mission was ultimately not successful because the hostages were not present.”

Ebola Myths, New Dispute in Gaza, U.S. Deepens Involvement in Iraq Again, U.S. Warns Russia and Humanitarian Crisis in South Sudan

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On Friday, four new Ebola cases in Nigeria are reportedly linked to Patrick Sawyer, a Liberian American, who died last month including cleaners, hospital and health care workers, Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the World Health Organization, told the Washington Post, Amanda L. Chan reports, 4 Newly Reported Ebola Cases In Nigeria Are All Linked To Patrick Sawyer. Sawyer collapsed after getting of the plane from Nigeria having traveled to Liberia. A doctor and a nurse who treated him contracted the virus and died. In all, the WHO reports 13 probable or suspected cases of Ebola in Nigeria. A presidential spokesman told Reuters, the outbreak has cause the Nigerian president to declare an national emergency approving emergency fund of $11.7 million to “strengthen steps to contain the virus such as … additional isolation centers, case management, contact tracing, deployment of additional personnel, screening at borders, and the procurement of required items and facilities,” a spokesman for the president told Reuters. The WHO also declared West Africa Ebola to be an international emergency as Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have reported cases and deaths of the deadly virus nearing 1,000 dead since it started earlier this year. Anna Almendrala reports, The Most Destructive Myths AboutEbola Virus, Debunked, due to myths and rumors about the deadly virus in West Africa, health workers are hindered from doing their jobs abroad and have caused unnecessary panic and paranoia in the United States. Here are the important facts Almendrala covers:

Myth: Ebola virus is airborne, waterborne or spreads through casual contact.

Truth: Ebola virus spreads when the bodily fluids of an infected person comes into contact with the mucous membranes of a non-infected person. That means Ebola virus in fluids like blood, sweat or urine has to come in contact with your eyes, mouth, nostrils, ears, genital area or an open wound in order to infect you.

In other words, it takes a lot of contact — not just casual contact — to become infected with the virus, which is why many of the victims of the disease in West Africa are health care workers or family members caring for a sick relative. In Western hospitals, transmission is easily prevented with precautionary measures like face masks, gloves, protective gowns and isolation units.

Health workers in West Africa are teaching community members about the importance of washing hands with soap and water, bringing sick family members to clinics and burying the bodies of people who have died from Ebola to minimize infection risk.

Myth: Immigrant kids from Latin America could bring Ebola into the U.S.

Truth: We can thank Rep. Todd Rokita, R-Ind. for this ridiculous rumor. He made the bogus claim on Monday on a local radio show, arguing that the release of unaccompanied immigrant children into the U.S. pose a public health risk, reports nwi.com.

Rokita recounted a conversation he had with a fellow congressman about the so-called risk, saying, “He said, ‘look, we need to know just from a public-health standpoint, with Ebola circulating and everything else’ — no, that’s my addition to it, not necessarily his — but he said we need to know the condition of these kids.”

The Indiana congressman was swiftly put in place by a rep at the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement, who told nwi.com that no one has ever contracted the Ebola virus disease in the Western Hemisphere.

Myth: International medical teams brought the virus to West Africa.

Truth: This devastating myth may actually be prolonging the Ebola outbreak. The World Health Organization notes that a team of Médecins sans Frontières (MSF) were accused of bringing the virus into Guinée Forestière, where they were working, and temporarily had to stop working because of it. The Centers for Disease and Control are coordinating efforts to reach out to community leaders like healers and elders to combat the myth with education about Ebola symptoms and proper treatment in a clinic.

Kalala Ngalamulume, Ph.D., an associate professor of history and Africana studies at Bryn Mawr College, argues that the death rate of this current Ebola strain (around 55 percent and expected to rise), combined with misinformation about the disease, gives villagers good reason to be skeptical.

“People are told that there is no treatment for the Ebola virus, that the people who are taken to the medical centers will die, and that nobody survives after contracting an infection,” wrote Ngalamulume in an email to The Huffington Post. “It is thus not surprising that many villagers assume that people are being taken to hospital to die, or even that hospitals are killing them. Rumors fly.”

Myth: Bringing Ebola patients to the U.S. puts Americans at risk.

Truth: Donald Trump decided to weigh in against bringing American Ebola patients back to the U.S. for treatment, tweeting, “The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back. People that go to far away places to help out are great-but must suffer the consequences!”

While leaving soldiers on the battlefield may be his style, Trump’s tweet reveals that he doesn’t understand what makes the Ebola outbreak so fatal. The spread of Ebola is possible not because it’s a uniquely potent virus strain, but because of the healthcare disparity in West Africa.

Gloves, gowns, masks, proper hygiene standards and isolation units are enough to protect healthcare workers from contracting Ebola from their patients. But the countries where Ebola has spread don’t have the adequate resources or facilities to properly treat and quarantine patients.

Tulane University virus expert Dr. Daniel Bausch told Voice of America that years of war and poverty have left countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia uniquely vulnerable to an outbreak.

“You go to a hospital in Sierra Leone or Liberia, and it’s not unusual for a healthcare worker to say, ‘We don’t have gloves.’ Or, ‘We don’t have clean needles,'” said Bausch to VOA. “All of the large outbreaks of Ebola or its sister virus, Marburg, happen in places where social and political unrest over the years have decimated the public health system.”

Myth: Even if you beat Ebola, you can still pass on the virus to others.

Truth: Usually, only people who are exhibiting Ebola symptoms can pass the virus on to others. The only American who has died from Ebola during this outbreak is from Minnesota, where there is a large Liberian population. To address fears in the community, Aaron DeVries, the medical director of the infectious disease divison at the Minnesota Department of Health, addressed this issue and others during an interview with local NBC affiliate Kare 11.

DeVries confirmed that only people exhibiting Ebola symptoms, like fever, headache, vomiting and diarrhea, can pass the virus on to others. However, the World Health Organization notes that a man who has had Ebola can transmit the virus via his semen for up to 7 weeks after they’ve recovered from the disease.

Myth: This is the first major outbreak of Ebola.

Truth: This is the largest outbreak of Ebola in history, but it isn’t the first. The virus was first diagnosed in humans in 1976 in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It infected 318 people and had an 88 percent fatality rate. Since then, various strains of the disease have popped up around the African continent, infecting as many as 425 people in 2000 and, most recently, 57 people in 2012, according to WHO.

As of Aug. 4, 2014, the most recent count available, Ebola virus has infected 1,711 people and killed 932 people in Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria since the virus emerged again this year.

Myth: Ebola can be treated with antibiotics (or onions, or condensed milk, or…)

Truth: Antibiotics cure bacterial infections, not viral infections. Currently, there is neither a cure nor a vaccine for the Ebola virus.

Instead, there is an experimental serum called ZMapp, which contains antibodies designed to help block the virus. Before the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it had only ever been tested on monkeys and has not been approved for human use. American Ebola patients Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol decided to risk it and take the experimental drug, and early reports are cautiously optimistic about their improving conditions. However, it’s unclear what role (if any) the drug is playing in their recovery, reports the Washington Post.

Myth: Ebola liquifies your organs, which causes bleeding from the orifices.

Truth: While Ebola symptoms can include bleeding from the eyes, ears, nose and mouth, those things only happen in about 20 percent of cases, explained Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, M.D., the associate hospital epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center and director of Infection Control at Boston University’s National Emerging Infectious Disease Laboratories in a previous HuffPost story.

The body’s organs are not liquified. However, when people die from Ebola, it’s usually because the virus causes multi-organ failure and shock. This occurs because Ebola virus weakens blood vessels, causing internal and sometimes external bleeding. The virus also prevents the body from clotting blood effectively, which would help to stop the bleeding.

In Gaza, the U.N. and rights groups operating there say about three quarters of the 1,900 Palestinians killed were civilians including 450 children with many perishing in the strikes that killed several family members at the same time, according to Karin Laub, and Yousur Alhlou, In Gaza, dispute over civilian vs. combat deaths. The pair reports that in the math of the Israel Hamas war there are conflicting counts of combatants and civilians killed emerging with the ratio not as important as the final total in shaping world opinions of the month long conflict. However, Israel estimates that 40-50 percent were fighters in Gaza. Both used different methods and different standard to determine civilian casualties as well as combatant casualties. The U.N. and human rights groups used eyewitness accounts and community contacts of field researchers to distinguish civilians from combatants, according to Mahmoud AbuRahma of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, and Israel relied on intelligence reports to determined who belonged to Hamas or other militant groups. The numbers could to be used by either side to explain the conflict. Israel has been criticized for the large number of civilian killed in the war with President Barack Obama and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon saying Israel could have done more to prevent civilian casualties. Israel explains the high civilian casualties as a side effect of Gaza fighters launching their attacks in crowded residential areas. Brig. Gen. Mickey Adelstein, a senior Israeli army commander, said forces under his command “avoided attacking many, many targets” because civilians were present and that “Hamas took advantage of that issue.” Adelstein on Thursday claimed that the military estimates between 1,700 and 2,000 Palestinians were killed, but the number of dead militants was being under reported: “In one set of 300 names classified as civilians ‘at least 50 percent were … members of the Hamas terrorist movement.'” The Health Ministry in Hamas run Gaza has become more efficient in collecting data over the years due to two previous rounds of fighting in 2008-2009 and 2012, according to Ashraf al-Kidra, the keeper of the statistics and by all counts his stats match up with the human rights groups’ stats, who checked theirs’ against their own research. On Friday, his overall total since July 8 was 1,902 dead including 450 children and 243 women. Al-Kidra defines a civilian as anyone not claimed by one of the armed groups as a member. Laub and Alhlou report the U.N. started with figures from the ministry, the media and other sources, but then cross-check them with the help of Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights groups coming to the conclusion that 1,922 Palestinians were killed including 73 percent or 1,407 civilians killed. The highest total has come from the Gaza based Palestinian Center for Human Rights, who used a broader definition of civilian, at 1,976 Palestinians killed over the past month, almost 83 percent of them civilians. The most conservative estimate comes from the Israeli group B’Tselem putting only women, children and men over 60 in the civilian category totaling 615 of the 1,510 dead counted so far.

Leaving one conflict for another in the Middle East, Ken Dilanian reports, Kurdish pleas for weapons may finally be heard, Kurdish officials have asked the Obama administration to let them buy U.S. weapons and the administration has ignored he request even though they are America’s closest allies in Iraq. However, the administration is dealing with the consequences of this policy as the Islamic State group, which some American officials called “a terrorist army,” overpowered lightly armed Kurdish units threatening the Kurdish region and American personnel stationed there. The U.S. tried to halt the groups advances on Friday with an airstrike, but Kurdish officials say Washington promised to being sending guns.However, Pentagon officials said the policy is the same they will only sell arms to Baghdad. A growing number of voices are calling for the U.S. to begin arming the Kurds such as Re. Adam Schiff, a California democrat who serves on the House Intelligence Committee: “If Baghdad isn’t supplying the Kurds with the weapons that they need, we should provide them directly to the Kurds.” Retired Gen,. Michael Barbero, who ran the mission training the Iraqi military, said: “The only way to confront this threat is to arm Iraqi security forces and Kurdish forces, and yet we’re doing nothing to support either one of those. It just doesn’t make sense to me. It’s an existential threat, so why we are not in there at least equipping and arming them?” White House spokesman John Earnest said Friday: “We have a strong military-to-military relationship with Iraq’s security forces, and the Iraqi security forces have shared some of those assets with Kurdish security forces. We have also demonstrated a willingness to increase the flow of supplies, including arms, to Kurdish security forces as they confront the threat that’s posed by ISIL.” In an interview published Saturday in The New York Times, Obama said: “We will be your partners, but we are not going to do it for you. We’re not sending a bunch of U.S. troops back on the ground to keep a lid on things.”

While the Kurds struggle to fight off militants, hundreds of women from the Yazidi religious minority have been kidnapped by Sunni militants, an Iraqi official said Friday, according to Sameer N. Yacoub’s report, Iraqi Official: Hundreds Of Yazidi Women Held Captive By Islamic State. Kamil Amin, the spokesman for Iraq’s Human Rights Ministry, said women below the age of 35 were being held in schools in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and learned of the captives from their families. Amin told the Associated Press: “We think that these women are going to be used in demeaning ways by those terrorists to satisfy their animalistic urges in a way that contradicts all the human and Islamic values.” A U.S. official spoke under conditions of anonymity about a classified intelligence reports that confirms the Islamic State group has kidnapped and imprisoned Yazidi women in order to sell or marry them off to extremist fighters. The Islamic state sees Yszidis and Shiite Muslims as apostates and demands Christians convert to Islam or pay a special tax. In a statement Friday, the U.N. Security Council condemned the targeting of Iraq’s minorities adding any attacks against civilian populations based on ethnic, religious or political background could be considered a crime against humanity for which those responsible will be held accountable.

Back in Washington, President Barack Obama’s new military strategy for Iraq is containment not destruction of the Islamic militant group that controls the northern region of the country leaving open the question of how deeply involved the U.S. will be drawn into the sectarian conflict and if the airstrikes alone will work to stop the militant advances, according to Robert Burns and Lara Jakes, Obama’s Iraq aim: contain, not destroy, extremists. U.S. military jets on Friday launched several airstrikes on isolated targets near the Kurdish capital of Ibril including two mortar position and a vehicle convoy in northeastern Iraq, while U.S> officials announced Friday night a second airdrop of food and water in as many days for imperiled refugees in northwestern Iraq. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said of the Islamic State group, “They are well organized and they’re armed and they are a significant threat to the stability of Iraq.” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the Islamic State group must halt its advance on Ibril to prevent more strikes.

Meanwhile, Obama dealt with another matter, Russia, warning on Friday that any further intervention in Ukraine including delivering humanitarian aid would be seen as “an invasion of Ukraine,” Edith M. Lederer reports, US Warns Russia: Further Intervention In Ukraine Will Be Seen As ‘Invasion’. U.S> Ambassador Samantha Power delivered the warning at the Security Council meeting focused on human rights in Ukraine’s east where fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists continues. Power said Russia has increased its aid to separatist, amassed more troops and hardware at the border, began military exercises this week and launched shells across the border into Ukraine. While Power welcomes the Ukrainian government’s creation of a humanitarian corridor to get aid into separatist controlled areas and allow civilians out, Power warned: “…any further unilateral intervention by Russia into Ukrainian territory, including one under the guise of providing humanitarian aid, would be completely unacceptable and deeply alarming, and it would be viewed as an invasion of Ukraine.” On Tuesday, at an emergence council meeting on the humanitarian situation in Ukraine called by Russia, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin called the situation in the east disastrous and said Moscow wants to send a humanitarian convoy to the two areas under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in parts of eastern Ukraine and called for both parties to end the conflict, according to a deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Churkin called Friday for an immediate end to fighting in the east and lashed out at the U.N. report on human rights situation in Ukraine as one sided and blaming “the self-defense formations for … everything short of cannibalism.” In recent weeks, Russia floated the idea of a peacekeeper to Ukraine, however, Power thinks: “A Russian peacekeeper in Ukraine is an oxymoron. At every step in this crisis, Russians have sabotaged peace, not built it, and it is particularly worrisome given Russia’s purported annexation of Crimea… Peacekeepers are impartial, yet Russia fully supports Russia’s armed separatists in this conflict.” Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic, via video conference from Croatia briefed the council, welcoming Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s proposal for a new round of talks to find a way to restore a cease-fire. He warned that due to the ongoing violence, “the fabric” of Ukrainian society is being torn apart as “hate speech” increases especially in social media and there is “what amounts to a reign of fear and terror in areas under control of the armed groups, with a breakdown of law and order.”

On Wednesday, the U.N. deputy peacekeeping chief announced that the South Sudan humanitarian operation is now the largest in a single countries and the world’s youngest nation is on the brink of catastrophe as famine looms, Mirjam Donath reports, South Sudan ‘On The Brink Of A Humanitarian Catastrophe’: UN. Ahead of a visit by U.N. Security Council ambassadors to Africa next week, Edmond Mulet told the 15 member council the dire situation could spark security concerns “as communities begin to compete for diminishing resources,” adding: “After three years of independence, South Sudan is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe and a protracted internal conflict. This is a man-made crisis, and those responsible for it have been slow in resolving it.” Since fighting erupted in December, 10,000 people have been killed as President Salv Kiir’s government forces fight against supporters of Riek Machar, his former deputy and longtime political rival. Kiir and Machar agreed to a ceasefire in May and to work out details for a transitional government, but little progress has been made. Mulet said more than one million people are displaced by violence and more tha n 400,00 fled the country, while the South Sudan U.N. peacekeeping operation houses nearly 100,00 civilians at its base. Additionally, he said: “With the prolonged presence of this considerable number of people at the facilities which were not built for such a purpose, conditions have become extremely challenging. The scale of humanitarian operations in South Sudan has reached the point that it now constitutes the biggest aid operation inside any single country. However, the capacity and funding of the humanitarian operation falls far short in the face of overwhelming needs.” Mulet states some 3.9 million people are facing food insecurity at alarming levels and 50,000 children may die as a consequence of acute malnutrition this year with 5,300 cases of cholera including 115 deaths. The U.N. Security Council, in addition to the United Sates and the European Union sanctions already imposed on both sides, warns South Sudan’s warring parties it may impose sanctions as well.

Gaza Truce Holds for Second Day, While Fighting Continues in Other Parts of the Middle East and Ukraine

Luckovich cartoon: Mideast fighting

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For the second day now, a ceasefire in Gaza between Israel and Hamas has ended the month long fighting ahead of negotiations in Cairo for a long term truce and broader deal for the Gaza Strip, the Associate Press reports, Cease-fire in Gaza holds for second day. On Wednesday, delegations from both sides plus Egyptian mediators met in Cairo to work out a deal with some of Hamas’ negotiating points including an internationally funded reconstruction of Gaza, which would be overseen by a Palestinian unity government led by President Mahmoud Abbas. The ceasefire is the longest pause in the war that killed 1,900 Palestinians and 67 Israelis including three civilians. The lull in the violence allowed people to return to their devastated homes and inspect the damage.

In Ukraine, the story changes as Ukrainian government forces backed by warplanes advanced their military offensive to reclaim lost territory from pro-Russian separatists on Tuesday and cautiously watched Russia’s military exercises over the border, according to Richard Blamforth, Ukraine Fighting Intensifies Amid Tensions With Russia. In the 24 hours up to Tuesday morning, Kiev’s military said government forces clashed 26 times with separatists in the east as fighter jets struck at rebel positions and concentrations of military equipment. In addition, Ukraine condemned Russian war games near the joint border as provocation and violating Ukrainian air space by Russian warplanes and drones as well as cross border shelling. Defense officials said separatist on Tuesday opened fire on unarmed Ukrainian Soldiers crossing back into Ukraine from Russia where they took shelter from fighting. Ukraine confirmed Monday that 311 soldiers and border guards were forced by fighting to cross the border saying they destroyed their weapons before crossing back, however, the rebels said they left them behind allowing separatists to seize them. In the past 24 hours, three Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 46 wounded in action against separatists. Fighting since April, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said more than 1,100 people including government forces, rebels and civilians have died, while 730,000 Ukrainians have left the country into Russia this year due to fighting according to the European head of the United Nations agency for refugees. Defense spokesman Andriy Lysenko said that Ukrainian forces had come under mortar and artillery attack from Russia and Russia has been violating Ukrainian airspace with Russian planes. In addition to a foreign ministry statement calling for Russia to pull back its forces, he said, “Ukraine regards the carrying out of such unprecedented military exercises on the border with Ukraine as a provocation.”

On Wednesday, a senior Kurdish official told Reuters that Kurdish forces attacked Islamic State fighters 25 miles from Arbil in norther Iraq, the Kurdish regional capital, Reuters reports, Kurds, Islamic State clash near Kurdish regional capital. Jabbar Yawar, secretary general of the ministry of the Kurdish peshmerga fighters, said: “We have changed our tactics from being defensive to being offensive. Now we are clashing with the Islamic State in Makhmur.” Yawar also confirmed that the Kurds have re-established military cooperation with Baghdad after a dramatic weekend offensive in the north by the Sunni militants prompted the Kurdish leadership and the Shi’ite led governments of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to bury the hatchet. The two, who previously fought over oil, budgets and land, now are working together against the biggest threat to Iraq’s security since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Yawar said 50,000 members of Iraq’s Yazidi ethnic minority are hiding in the mountains near Sinjar and risk starving to death if they are not rescued in 24 hours.

Meanwhile Wednesday, in Lebanon, state media reported clashes breaking out in a border town held by Islamic extremists from Syria after negotiating a cease fire, mediate by Muslim clerics, collapsed overnight, the Associate Press reports, New clashes break out in Lebanese border town. The ceasefire was meant to help end four days of fighting in Arsal and allow for the negotiations for the release of captive Lebanese solders, however, the National News Agency reported fighting again early Wednesday with militants firing on troops. So far, 17 Lebanese troops have died and 22 soldiers and an unknown number of police are missing.

While fighting continues, migrants flow into Europe in alarming numbers causing tension in France where clashes between asylum seekers in camps and police broke out as tear gas is fired to quell the chaos, Elaine Ganley reports, Migrants clash in France as camp tensions soar. Sudanese and Eritreans battle the heat in Calais, a port city in France, while Africans fight for space and try to sneak into Britain some 20 miles away. British police tried to prevent people from crossing over as their french counterparts fired tear gas Tuesday to break up this third battle which left 51 injured and one critical, according to the Calais prefecture. Migrants fleeing poverty and war in African and the Middle East arrive in Calais with hopes of crossing the channel using the ferry or on cargo laden trucks. Their numbers have increase up to 1,300 in the city at the edge of the English Channel overwhelming the city, aid agencies and police. Deputy Mayor Philippe Mignonet, in charge of security, said, “There are migrants who arrive each day and each day some who succeed in getting to Britain. Calais has been taken hostage.” The Monday night and twice Tuesday clashes were a culmination of a month long tug of war between Calais and migrants after the city bulldozed makeshift camps in May and the migrants then occupied a food distribution center but were expelled. Now, authorities want to expel hundreds in two abandoned factories causing migrants to turn on each other. Noemie Bourdet of aid group Secours Catholique in Calais believes the clashes are over a place at a parking lot where smugglers didn’t ask for payments, even though, migrants are usually forced to pay for a place in line in a parking lot where trucks leave for Britain. In addition, Bourdet addressed the charge that Calasi migrants are simply a security problem: “They expel them without solutions.” However, Mignonet disagrees: “It is a doubly catastrophic situation for us. People only talk of Calais for its migrant problems … This seriously hurts the city’s image.”

Russia Receives New Sanctions While Embattled Rebels Continue to Fight in Eastern Ukraine

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courtesy of ABC7

On Wednesday, the United States imposed comprehensive sanctions on Russia’s economy including Gazprombank and the Rosneft Oil Co and other major banks, energy and defense companies. As Anna Yukhananov, Steve Holland and Jeff Mason report, US imposes toughest sanctions yet on Russia over Ukraine, Washington has increased its financial sanctions on Russia due to Moscow’s alleged interference in its neighbor Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. Other targeted companies include Russia’s second-largest gas producer, Novatek, Vnesheconombank, or VEB, a state-owned bank that acts as payment agent for the Russian government, and eight arms firms. The U.S. Treasury Department said the measures close medium and long term dollar funding to the two banks and energy companies, however, the sanctions did not freeze these four companies’ assets. The sanctions do not target Russia’s Gazprom, which owns 36 percent of Gazprombank, the world’s largest natural gas producer and provider of most of Europe’s energy supplies. On the same day, the European Union leaders met in Brussels to expand their own sanctions on Russia. The U.S. sanctions now include Feodosiva Enterprises, a shipping facility in Crimea, and senior Russian officials including the deputy head of the State Duma, or parliament, the minister of the Crimea, a commander of the Russian intelligence agency FSB, and a Ukrainian separatist leader. On Wesdnesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters, “There are some clear steps that we’ve asked Russia to take that they haven’t taken. And that is what has elevated the risk that Russia faces right now as it relates to additional economic costs that could be imposed by the international community.” In addition, Washington said that 12,000 Russian forces were back on the border with Ukraine and weapons were crossing over to pro-Russian separatists.

Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin on Thursday stated that the recent addition to U.S. sanctions against Russia will stalemate bilateral relations and hurt Russian and American businesses, Nataliya Vasilyeva reports, Putin Speaks Out Against New U.S. Sanctions. According to Vasilyeva: “Russia’s benchmark MICEX was down 2.9 percent in late afternoon trading Thursday upon news of the sanctions while Russia’s biggest oil company, Rosneft, was nearly 5 percent down and second-largest oil producer was trading 9 percent lower.” Putin’s comments came hours after President Barack Obama announced border sanctions against Russia. The POTUS hopes that the increased pressure will end the insurgency in eastern Ukraine which is believed to be backed by the Kremlin. The U.S. penalties stop short of the most stringent action threatened which is to cut off key sectors of Russia’s oil dependent economy, however, those steps are on the table if Russia fails to agree to the West demands to stop supporting insurgents who have destabilized eastern Ukraine. The fighting in eastern Ukraine has gone on for four months in a conflict the U.N. says has killed over 400 people and displaced tens of thousands. The conflict began shortly after Russia annexed Crimea. Putin warned Washington that the sanctions will backlash against American companies working in Russia including Rosneft and Novatek which are both barred from getting long term loans from U.S. entities. Moscow based investment bank Sberbank-CIB said in a note to investors that Russian companies cannot replace long term loans from the U.S. immediately, while Rosneft’s multimillion dollar deal with ExxonMobil may be in jeopardy. Russia’s foreign minitry dismissed the sanctions as bullying and said it will push back. In addition, Prime Minister Dimtry Medvedev in televised remarks said the sanctions are throwing Russia’s relations with the west back to the 1980s adding that Russia “will have to pay more attention to military and security spending.” Putin did not mention the additional sanctions from the European Union which urge the European Investment Bank to sign no new financing agreements with Moscow and was suspending operations in Russia financed by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, according to Vasilyeva. The foreign ministry did lash out at the EU’s new sanctions by accusing Europe of “giving in to the bullying of the U.S. administration.”

While Russia got hit with sanctions from more than one governmental entity, pro-Moscow separatists battle to break through government forces near the border with Russia in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday as steps toward a ceasefire failed. Fighting has intensified since Ukrainian forces pushed rebels out of their stronghold in the town of Slaviansk 10 days ago, Richard Balmforth and Anton Zverev report (As Fighting In East Ukraine Intensifies, Hundreds Of Bodies Of Rebels Found In Shallow Graves). The Ukrainian military said 11 more troops were killed in 24 hours near the frontier. Ukraine has tried to put down a revolt of heavily armed fighters since April, many of them Russian who want independence for two eastern provinces. Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March after pro-Russian president was ousted in Kiev. Moscow has denied supporting the separatist fighters, but Kiev says many of them and their leaders came from Russia and brought heavy weapons with them. Ukrainian troops are concentrating their efforts on securing the frontier to prevent more fighters and weapons from coming in.

The escalation in recent days raised the prospect that Moscow could intervene in Ukraine directly, as Kiev reports, the numbers of Russian troops have risen at the border area again. In telephone conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy,  Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko provided evidence of fighters crossing into Ukraine from Russia with heavy military equipment. Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk in a speech on his website said: “Everything which is happening in Ukraine has been planned by Russia since 2004. Putin has a clear plan and that is to destroy Ukraine and establish his influence over post-Soviet space.” Around 270 Ukrainian servicemen and hundreds of civilians and rebels have been killed since operations began in April to crush the rebels. Lysenko, a Ukrainian military spokesman, said that in Slaviansk, the former rebel stronghold, “hundreds of bodies of…(rebel) fighters” had been found in shallow graves. Some of these graves have been mined by the terrorists. Efforts to forge a truce have failed after a planned video link up with separatists on Tuesday never materialized. Since losing Slaviansk, hundreds of rebel fighters moved to Donetsk vowing to make a stand. The city itself has seen a drop in its pre-conflict population of 1 million as many flee the city fearing a government offensive.

While fighting continued on the ground, a Malyasian Airlines passenger plane carrying 295 people was shot down over eastern Ukraine Thursday, Ukrainian officials said, and both the government and pro-Russia separatists deny any responsibility. As Peter Leonard reports, Ukraine: Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 295 passengers shot down, an Associated Press journalist counted at least 22 bodies at the wreckage site near rebel held Hrabove 40 kilometers from the Russian border. The village has seen severe fighting between the two sides in recent days. A Russian news reports said pro-Russian rebels intend to call a three day ceasefire in order to allow for investigation of the crash site and recovery efforts. The Boeing 777-200ER was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and appears to have broken up before impact spreading the wreckage over a wide area. Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters that Malaysia was unable to verify “the cause of this tragedy but we must, and we will, find out precisely what happened to this flight” and added that the plane didn’t make any distress call before it went down. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko called the downing an act of terrorism and wants an international investigation into the crash insisting that his forces did not shoot it down. According to Huib Gorter, Malaysian Airlines senior vice president in Europe, at least 154 people on the flight were Dutch citizens, 27 Australians, 23 Malaysians including 15 crew and 11 Indonesians. In addition, other nationalities included six from the United Kingdom, four from Germany, four Belgians, three from the Philippines and one Canadian. Unfortunately, 47 dead passengers are still unidentified. Ukraine’s security services said they intercepted two telephone conversations that showed rebels were responsible. Earlier in the week, rebels claimed responsibility for shooting down two Ukrainian military plans. In a Kremlin statement issued early Friday, Putin said, “This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine. And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.” Britain has asked for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Ukraine. Within hours of Thursday’s crash, several airlines including Lufthansa, Delta and KLM released statements saying they were avoiding parts of Ukrainian airspace. Poroshenko stated: “We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets. We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible.” The White confirmed the call made by Putin to inform “the U.S. president of the report from air traffic controllers that the Malaysian plane had crashed on Ukrainian territory.” Separatist leader Andrei Purgin told the Associate Press he was certain that Ukrainian troops shot down the plane and that rebels forces if they owned Buk missile launchers were not capable of operating them. Around the time of the crash, Russian media quoted witnesses saying they saw what they thought was a rocket hit the plane. This is the second time a Malaysian Airlines plane was lost in less than six months.  In another article, Ukraine: Pro-Russia rebels downed Malaysian plane, Peter Leonard reports that American intelligence authorities allege a surface to air missile brought down the plane but still don’t know if Russia or Ukraine had fired it. The U.S. has the technology to detect missile launches including the identification of heat from rocket engines.

Growing Global Conflicts: Finding Peace in A Restless World

On Monday of this week, as the death toll in Gaza rises to 175 after a week long Israeli airstrike offensive, the Israeli military said it downed a drone launched by militants in the Gaza Strip. Israel began the campaign against Hamas controlled Gaza last Tuesday in response to rocket fire from the densely populated territory. In total, the military has launched more than 1,300 airstrikes since then, while Palestinian militants have launched close to 1,000 rockets at Israel, Peter Enav reports (Israel Says It’s Downed Drone Along Southern Coast). The unmanned drone, which was shot down by Israel, represent a new level of sophistication for Hamas which has never admitted to having such a weapon. The Israeli military confirmed that the dsrone was shot down mid-flight by a Patriot surface to air missile along the southern Israeli coastline never Ashdod. Speaking under anonymity, a senior military official, said Israel was aware Hamas possessed drones and Israel has targets Hamas drone facilities in Gaza previously. In a media statement, Hamas alleges that three drones were launched into Israel on Monday with only one confirmed by Israel. According to Enav, drones refer to a range of unmanned aircraft from rudimentary to advanced with weapons or surveillance capabilities. Hamas said it has both intelligence and munitions drones. In addition, the group alleges that it lost contact with one drone and targets included the Israeli Defense Ministry compound in Tel Aviv. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said,”Hamas is trying everything it can to produce some kind of achievement and it is crucial that we maintain our high state of readiness. The shooting down of a drone this morning by our air defense system is an example of their efforts to strike at us in any way possible.”

On Monday fighting continued as two Israeli airstrikes struck the southern city of Khan Younis killing four Palestinians and raising the death toll to at least 175 people killed including dozens of civilians, according to officials at European Hospital and the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza. No Israelis have been killed in Hamas rocket fire, however, several people have been wounded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Sunday, said the current operation could last a long time and the military is prepared for all possibilities including a Gaza ground invasion. The outbreak of violence followed the kidnappings and killings of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last month and the subsequent kidnapping and killing of a Palestinian teenager in an alleged revenge attack, along with Israeli raids against Hamas militants and infrastructure in West Bank. Though the killers of the Palestinian teenagers have been caught, the killer of the three teenagers has yet to be caught. Israeli leaders widely condemned the killing and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed those responsible would be brought to justice. Israel accuses Hamas of the killing and cracked down on the Islamic militants in the West Bank after the abduction of the teens causing Gaza to respond with rocket fire that led to the current round of fighting.

However since the fighting began, Netanyahu has come under international pressure to end the operation. On Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a ceasefire and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that America was ready to help restore calm. A key mediator between Israel and Hamas, Egypt continued to work to stop the conflict as Hamas has shown signs it would agree to a ceasefire if hundreds of arrested activist were freed as part of a truce. On the other hand, Netanyahu wants to show the Israeli public that he can succeed in degrading Hamas’s ability to strike Israeli targets before moving to a truce.

Unfortunately, Tuesday confirmed that Hamas has rejected Egypt’s proposal for a ceasefire with Israel after the Israeli Cabinet accepted the plan squashing international efforts to end the fighting that’s killed 192 Palestinians and risking the lives of Israelis. The Associated Press reports, Israel accepts cease-fire to end Gaza conflict; Hamas calls proposal unacceptable,  that senior Israeli government officials now warn that Israeli will strike Gaza harder if Hamas does not accept the truce. The Egyptian proposal for a truce presented on late Monday called for a stop to the violence as of Tuesday morning followed by negotiations on easing the closure of Gaza’s borders which has been enforced by Israel and Egypt since Hams seized the territory in 2007. On conditions of anonymity, an Israeli official said, “As you know, the Cabinet has accepted the Egyptian proposal. If Hamas rejects it, Israel will continue and intensify its operations and Hamas will find itself totally isolated, including in the Arab world, which supports the proposal.” In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the proposal was not acceptable as Hamas officials are weary of promises from Egypt and Israel to ease the border blockade since the promise was part of the 2012 truce, which was broken due to a violent flare up. Referring to the 2012 truce, he said,” It’s not logical to ask people who are under aggression to cease fire and then later to negotiate terms that were not respected in the past by the Israelis.” The ease of the blockade is crucial to Hamas’ survival because the outbreak of fighting has left the militant group in serious financial woes  as the closure by Egypt has prevented cash and goods from being smuggled in across the Gaza-Egypt border.

As of Tuesday afternoon, in Gaza, the death toll now stands at 194 people killed with 1,400 wounded so far making it the deadliest conflict between Israel and Hamas in over five years. Israel resumed its heavy bombardment of Gaza on Tuesday and warned that the Islamic militant group will pay the price for not accepting the Egyptian truce plan and unleashing rocket fire at the Jewish state killing one Israeli. According to Karin Laub and Aron Heller,  Israel: Hamas to pay price for its ‘no’ to truce, Hamas does not consider Egypt’s current ruler a fair broker, who ousted the Hamas friendly government in Cairo a year ago. Hamas will continue to fight as it has little to lose, while a truce on unfavorable terms could weaken the grip on the Gaza Strip, a territory it seized in 2007. Reaffirming this stance, Gaza militants fired more than 120 rockets and mortar rounds at Israel on Tuesday with more than 40 rockets hitting in a few minutes and causing the first Israeli death since the beginning of the offensive. In a TV response, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated,”Hamas chose to continue fighting and will pay the price for that decision. When there is no cease-fire, our answer is fire.” After holding fire for six hours, the Israeli air force opened fired launching 33 strikes from midafternoon. In Washington, State Department spokesman Jen Psaki said Israel had the right to defend itself, but would not want to see a ground invasion. Hamas officials rejected the plan on Tuesday noting they weren’t consulted by Cairo and see the truce as an ultimatum to Hamas from Israel and Egypt. A top Hamas official, Moussa Abu Marzouk, told the Lebanese TV channel Al-Mayadeen: “The siege on Gaza must be broken, and the people of Gaza should live freely like other people of the world. There should be a new equation so that we will not have a war on Gaza every two years.” In addition, Mushir al-Masri, a Hamas leader in Gaza, had this to say: “Mediation to end this aggression needs to come from different countries, and the guarantees should be given by different countries in order to commit the occupation (Israel) to what any future agreement might say.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas’ main political rival, was to meet Wednesday in Cairo with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and then fly to Turkey for high-level talks. Meanwhile, Netanyahu has been under a lot of pressure from his Cabinet and the ruling Likud Party to launch a ground offensive to end the rocket fire. He faced intense criticism from the right over agreeing to the Egyptian truce plan.

On Monday, according to Barbara Surk’s article, Heavy Clashes Between Hezbollah And Syrian Rebels Leave Many Dead, the British based Syrian Observatory for Human right said militants from the Islamic State took over territory from a rival al-Qaida linked Nusra Front group near the border of Iraq. The march by militants of the IS on the city of Deir el-Zour brings them closer to a showdown with Bashar Assad’s forces. The group recently captured cities and towns in northern Iraq and merged them with territory under its control in eastern Syria. Assad’s forces still control half of Deir el-Zour city, however no fighting between his troops and the extremist group have been reported. The Syrian conflict began in March 2011 following peaceful protest against Assad’s rule that turned into armed revolts after opposition supporter took up weapons to fight a brutal government crackdown. The situation dissolved in to civil war in which Islamic extremists with hard line al-Qaida ideologies have played a prominent role among fighters leading to the dampening of support from the West. On Monday, the U.N. Security Council approved a resolution authorizing cross border delivery of food and aid to Syrians in rebel held areas without government approval. The article explains: ” The resolution expressed ‘grave alarm at the significant and rapid deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Syria’ and deplored the fact that its previous demands for humanitarian access ‘have not been heeded’ by the Syrian government and opposition fighters.” The council adopted a resolution in February for aid, but monthly reports from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on its implementation paint a dire picture. According to Surk: “Just hours before the resolutions was adopted, 13 Syrian Red Crescent trucks loaded with 1,000 parcels crossed into the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh, which has been besieged by government troops for more than two years, causing widespread hunger-related illness and death among its residents. In Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus that has been under government siege for over a year, U.N. aid workers were not allowed to distribute aid on Monday, UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said in a statement, adding that 18,000 civilians remain trapped there in desperate need of food and medicine. The interruption follows a week of sustained food distribution in Yarmouk during which the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees in the Middle East distributed food parcels to 3,316 families, Gunness said.”

While the Middle East deals with numerous conflicts between governments and militants with different ideologies, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Monday continues his verbal assault on Russia accusing military staff officers of fighting with separatists in eastern Ukraine and using a newly developed Russian missile system against government forces. According to Reuters’ article,  Ukraine’s President Poroshenko Says Russian Officers Fight Alongside Separatists, Poroshenko made his accusations as he was speaking to security chiefs at an emergency meeting after a weekend of Ukrainian air strikes on rebel position near the Russian border and charges by Moscow that Kiev killed a Russian man with cross border shell. After three months of fighting, several hundred Ukrainian servicemen, civilians and rebels have been killed as the fighting and war of words between Moscow and Kiev intensifies. As Poroshenko on Sunday accused Russia of movement of heavy military equipment into the country, he added: “Information has … been confirmed that Russian staff officers are taking part in military operations against Ukrainian forces.” Accusing Russia of escalating fighting in Ukraine’s eastern regions, National and Security Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told journalists: “In the past 24 hours, deployment of (Russian) units and military equipment across the border from the Sumy and Luhansk border points was noticed. The Russian Federation continues to build up troops on the border. The (rebel) fighters systematically fire mortar and shoot into Russian territory which killed a Russian citizen.”

As Ukraine and the Middle East struggle to find a common ground, top U.S. and Iranian diplomats came together Monday for nuclear talks. The talks of U.S. and Iran were further complicated as both sides are fighting proxy wars in Israel, Gaza and Syria. However, both are talking cooperation in Iraq and Afghanistan, while negotiating the decrease in the Islamic republic’s uranium and plutonium programs.  According to Bradely Klapper and Goerge Jahn, Kerry And Top Iranian Diplomat To Hold In-Depth Nuclear Talks Days Before Deadline, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif talked for two hours Monday in a second day of talks in Vienna and again in the afternoon hoping to meet Sunday’s initial deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement. Kerry told U.S. Embassy staff in Vienna that: “We are in the middle of talks about nuclear proliferation and reining in Iran’s program. It is a really tough negotiation.” In addition, both men talked about Afghanistan which Kerry visited before Vienna to broker a power sharing agreement between rival presidential candidates and a full audit of election ballots. Both men were in agreement that the mediation was extremely important for the Afghan people and echoed thr need for unity. However the two countries remain divided when it comes to the current Israeli Palestine conflict with Iran being the main benefactor for Hamas and alleged source of its new drone capacity, while Washington provides billions in aid each year to Israel. Nonetheless, the talks focused on nuclear matters. Monday’s talk came a day after failed talks between Britain, France and Germany with Iran on uranium enrichment and other issues standing in the way of a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for the end of nuclear sanction on Tehran. Under a six month interim agreement in effect since January, world powers and Iran have until July 20 to conclude a final deal. The interim agreement does allow for an additional six month period for negotiation which seem likely. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that Iran has defied the expectation of some, but has yet to make the necessary decisions to prove the world its intentions are peaceful. Iranian hardliners oppose any concession by President Hassan Rouhani’s government, while U.S. lawmakers threaten to shoot down any agreement that would allow Iran to keep some enrichment capacity.

The Human Cost of Conflicts and Wars

On Friday, protestors stood outside the Israeli Embassy in Ankara holding Palestinian flags to protest against the attacks on Gaza by Israel who allege the attacks are in response to rocket fire from Gaza. According to the Associated Press, Israel strikes mosque as death toll tops 120, the UN’s human rights office said that Israel could be violating the laws of war by bombing Palestinian homes in Gaza where the death toll from Israeli strikes have risen to 100. Israel has alleged that the Islamic group Hamas and other Palestinian militants deliberately placed military installations in populated areas of Gaza as part of its defense by using civilians as human shields. Palestinian Officials on Saturday reported that the death toll has now reached 120 after an Israeli airstrikes targeting Hamas in Gaza hit a mosque and a center for the disabled killing two women. In response, the Israeli military alleged the mosque concealed rockets similar to the ones used during the five day offensive and is looking into claims that other sites were hit. The problem no facing Israel is how to orchestrate a ground invasion in the region with such a densely populated Gaza Strip  and immense danger to civilians.

While there are no fatalities reported in Israel from rocket fire, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Kidra confirmed the death toll from Israeli strikes at over 120 and more than 920 wounded. Though the breakdown of casualties is not clear and Hamas militants have been hit hard, dozens of the dead are civilians. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Saturday that the Israeli people should prepare for several more days of fighting making it clear that the offensive shows no signs of ceasing anytime soon. Hamas said Israel struck a pair of mosques in its offensive, however, the claim along with Israel’s claim could not be confirmed. A Hamas spokesman in Doha, Qatar, had this to say: “The bombing of two mosques in Gaza overnight shows how barbaric this enemy is and how much is it hostile to Islam. This terrorism gives us the right to broaden our response to deter this occupier.” The Israeli military released an aerial photo of the mosque it struck stating Hamas hid rockets next to another religious site and civilian homes. In addition, they said Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other Gaza militant groups regularly use this tactic to endanger its own civilians. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman explains,”Hamas terrorists systematically exploit and choose to put Palestinians in Gaza in harm’s way and continue to locate their positions among civilian areas and mosques, proving once more their disregard for human life and holy sites.”

Israel’s military, the Associate Press reports, has struck more than 1,100 targets including rocket launchers, command centers and weapons manufacturing and storage facilities, while Gaza officials said the strikes, in addition to hitting the home for the disabled and the mosques, have hit affiliated charities and banks. The “Iron Dome,” a U.S. funded, Israeli developed rocket defense system, has intercepted more than a 130 rockets from Gaza preventing any fatalities and only a handful of Israelis have been wounded. As a precaution, the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv has relocated personnel to Beersheba. The frequent rocket fire, particularly in southern communities, has disrupted daily life with most people staying indoors, television channels airing non-stop coverage of the violence and radio broadcasts being interrupted by air raid siren warnings. Meanwhile, at the border of Gaza and Israel, Israel has massed thousands of troops along the border in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

However, recently, Israel has come under international pressure to halt its offensive due to the growing casualties in Gaza, the Associate Press reports. With the United States and Europeans leaders defending Israel’s actions, the United Nations has expressed its concern over civilian deaths in Gaza and anti-Israel protests in Europe. In the West Bank, Hamas supporters clashed with Israeli troops over the Gaza offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has requested an emergency meeting with the Arab League and Arab foreign ministers that will happen in Cairo Monday to discuss the continued offensive and measures to urge the international community to pressure Israel. In New York, the United Nations Security Council called unanimously for a ceasefire, even though there are no signs of stopping from Israel nor Gaza.

Even with international pressures for a cease fire, Israel has widened its range of targets to civilian institution with alleged Hamas ties and deployed troops inside Gaza early on Sunday to raid a rocket launching site, according to Khaled Khazziha and Mohammed Daraghmeh, Israel troops briefly raid Gaza as offensive rages. The death toll now stands at more than 156 Palestinians killed. Four Israeli soldiers were hurt during the brief incursion to destroy rocket sites in norther Gaza, but returned to Israeli territory the military confirmed. Even though this was the first time Israeli ground troops entered Gaza in the current offensive, the military did say the operation was carried out by special forces and was not the beginning of a broad ground invasion. In a move to broaden the conflict, Israel fired into Lebanon late Saturday in response to two rockets fired into norther Israel. No injuries or damages reported, however Israel fears Lebanese militant groups may try to open a second front.

Critics say Israel’s heavy bombardment of one of the most densely populated territories in the world is itself the main factor putting civilians at risk. Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said that while using human shields violates international humanitarian law, “this does not give Israel the excuse to violate international humanitarian law as well.”But Michaeli said civilians have been killed when Israel bombed homes of Hamas militants or when residents were unable to leave their homes quickly enough following Israeli warnings.At the United Nations, a Security Council statement approved by all 15 members called for de-escalation of the violence, restoration of calm, and a resumption of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians aimed at achieving a comprehensive peace agreement based on a two-state solution.The statement also called for “the re-institution of the November 2012 cease-fire,” which was brokered by Egypt, but gives no time frame for when it should take effect.

While Israel faces international criticism for his possible human right’s violations, on Saturday, the Human Rights Watch alleges that Iraqi security forces and government affiliated militias have unlawfully executed 255 prisoners over the past month in apparent revenge for killings by Islamic State fighters. According to Reuters’ Stephen Addison, Iraqi Forces Executed 255 Prisoners: Human Rights Watch, the group claims the killings took place in six Iraqi towns and villages since June 9 and at least eight of the dead are under 18. On the groups website, the groups says that the killing took place while the Iraqi forces were fleeing from Islamic State militants and other armed groups. In addition, most of the security forces and militias are Shiite, while the murdered prisoners were Sunni. HRW said,”The mass extrajudicial killings may be evidence of war crimes or crimes against humanity, and appear to be revenge killings for atrocities by (Islamic State).” The Islamic State was formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The militants have never hid the face that mass executions of their prisoners occurred. Days after they began sweeping through norther cities last month, they released videos showing their masked fighters machine gunning captive government soldiers in shallow graves, Addison reports. In addition, Addison states, “HRW said it has statements from witnesses, security forces and government officials indicating Iraqi soldiers or police, pro-government Shi’ite militias, or combinations of the three had extrajudicially executed prisoners, in nearly all cases by shooting them….(HRW) has documented five of Sunni prisoners between June 9 and 21 in Mosul and Tal Afar in northern Nineveh province, in Baaquba and Jumarkhe in eastern Diyala province, and in Rawa in western Anbar province. It said residents and activists those areas believed Iraqi security forces and militias killed Sunni prisoners released by Islamic State, to stop them joining the rebellion and in revenge for the killings of government troops.” Joe Stork, HRW deputy Middle East director believes the actions of the government are “an outrageous violation of international law” adding that “While the world rightly denounces the atrocious acts of (Islamic State), it should not turn a blind eye to sectarian killing sprees by government and pro-government forces.”

On Saturday, the same day that Israel and Iraq had accusations of human right’s violations and international law, Ukrainian war planes attacked separatists along the broad front causing huge losses according to Kiev, after President Petro Poroshenko said that many will pay for a deadly missile attack on Ukrainian forces. According to Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets, Ukrainian Fighter Jets Pound Rebels, a military spokesman confirmed that jets struck at the epicenter of the battle against the rebels near the Russian border. The planes targeted positions where high powered Grad missiles were fired by separatists on an army motorized brigade that killed 23 servicemen Friday. The warplanes also struck near Donetsk, the east’s main town where rebels have dug in, destroying a powerful fighter base near Dzerzhinsk, a spokesman for the anti-terrorist operation, Andriy Lysenko, said. Lysenko told reporters, “According to preliminary assessment, Ukrainian pilots … killed about 500 (rebel) fighters and damaged two armored transporters.” In addition, an earlier attack on a base near Perevalsk, two tanks, 10 armored vehicles and 500 rebel fighters were destroyed. However, Luhansk based separatists, referring to the Peravalsk attack, said,”There were no volunteers (rebels) where the Ukrainian aviation was active yesterday.” So far, Lysenko reports, during Friday evening and throughout Saturday, five Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 16 overflights by Ukrainian fighter jets have taken place.

The increasing violence require now more than ever a need for diplomacy to end the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War. Since the ousting of the Moscow backed president in February and the annexation of Crimea by Russia, more than 200 Ukrainian servicemen have died and hundreds of civilians and rebels have died also. The United States and the EU have brought sanctions against Russian businesses as Ukrainian government claims Moscow has aided in the conflict and turned a blind eye to military equipment and Russian fighters crossing its border. On Saturday, the EU targeted 11 Ukrainian separatist leaders with travel bans and asset freezes without new sanctions on Russian business in order to avoid antagonizing its main energy supplier. Lysenko explained, “The situation on the border is very difficult because there is a strip of border there which has been turned into the epicenter of confrontation. This is because this is a part of the border through which the Russian terrorists are trying to bring in military equipment and arms. Ukrainian forces are there to cover that part. If the Ukrainian unit pulls out of there then columns of military equipment will start to flow on to Ukrainian territory again.” Poroshenko, urged by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to use a sense of proportion in actions against separatists, had talked on Friday with Donetsk mayor Aleksander Lukyanchenko on the issue. Meanwhile,  western allies and Russia are pushing for a new meeting of the contact group involving separatist leaders to negotiate an end to the crisis. Poroshenko has proposed various venues for these talks to take place, but has said he will not repeat a 10 day unilateral ceasefire by government forces like the one that ended June 30. The rational is due to the fact, the Ukrainian government alleges that rebels repeatedly violated the ceasefire and more than 20 Ukrainian servicemen were killed while it was enforced.