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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Stop Ebola, NATO and the E.U. Try to Deter Russia As Ukraine Signs Ceasefire Deal, NATO Allies Join Forces to Fight Militants as Militants Vow Revenge and the Impact of NO Net Neutrality on the World

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The United Nations on Wednesday, said $600 million in supplies were needed to fight West Africa’s Ebola outbreak that has killed 1,900 people and entered new territory within Guinea, Reuters reports, U.N. says $600 million needed to tackle Ebola as deaths top 1,900. The pace of the infection has accelerated with 400 deaths in the past week, officials reported Wednesday. The current outbreak was first identified in March in Guinea and spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria, and Senegal, and has killed more people than all outbreaks since Ebola was first uncovered in 1976. Though there are no approved Ebola vaccines or treatments, Ottawa on Aug. 12 said it would donate 1,000 doses of an experimental Ebola vaccine being held at Canada’s National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg for use in Africa. In a statement, Health Canada spokesman Sean Upton said: “We are now working with the WHO to address complex regulatory, logistical and ethical issues so that the vaccine can be safely and ethically deployed as rapidly as possible. For example, the logistics surrounding the safe delivery of the vaccine are complicated.” Human safety trials will begin this week on a vaccine from GlaxoSmithKline Plc and later this year on one from NewLink Genetics Corp. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Tuesday said a federal contract worth up to $42.3 million will help accelerate testing for an experimental Ebola treatment being developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc. Senior U.N. Coordinator for Ebola, Dr. David Nabarro, said the cost for supplies needed by West Africa to control the crisis will cost $600 million which is higher than the $490 million estimated by the WHO last week. Nabarro explained, “We are working intensively with those governments to encourage them to commit to the movement of people and planes and at the same time deal with anxieties about the possibility of infection.” Ivory Coast, which closed its borders with Liberia and Guinea last month, said on Tuesday it would open humanitarian and economic corridors to its two western neighbors. With more than 3,500 cases across Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) told a press conference in Washington, “This Ebola epidemic is the longest, the most severe and the most complex we’ve ever seen.” While a shortage of equipment and trained staff plague West Africa and the virus has claimed more than 120 healthcare workers, the Liberian government now offers $1,000 bonus to any healthcare workers who will agree to work in Ebola treatment facilities. Meanwhile in Guinea, Aboubacar Sikidi Diakité, head of Guinea’s Ebola task force, said: “There has been a new outbreak in Kerouane, but we have sent in a team to contain it.” Guinea has recorded 489 deaths and 749 Ebola cases as of Sept.1, and the epicenter has shifted to neighboring Liberia and Sierra Leone. In a television broadcast, Guinean President Alpha Conde said: “Even for a simple malaria (case), you have to protect yourselves before consulting any sick person until the end of this epidemic. We had started to succeed, but you dropped the ball and here we go again.” Nigeria, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo , though not linked to the West African cases, have all reported cases of Ebola. Since Ebola was first detected in Congo in 1976, WHO reports more than 20 outbreaks in Africa and 1,590 victims. The WHO warned last week the Ebola epidemic could spread to 10 countries and infect more than 20,0000 people. Dr. Thomas Kenyon, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Centre for Global Health, said on Wednesday: “Guinea did show that with action, they brought it partially under control. But unfortunately it is back on the increase now. It’s not under control anywhere.” He warns that the longer the disease goes uncontained, the greater the possibility it will mutate with suspected cases of airborne infection already being reported in monkeys in laboratories. In a conference call, Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Development and Democracy on the National Security Council, said: “I don’t think at this point deploying biological incident response teams is exactly what’s needed.” Regarding a rapid increase in Ebola treatment centers in affected countries and other required staff and equipment, Smith added: “We will see a considerable ramp-up in the coming days and weeks. If we find it is still moving out of control, we will look at other options.” Margery A. Beck reports, US doctor infected with Ebola arrives in Nebraska, the third American aid worker to become sickened with the disease, Dr. Rick Sacra, arrived Friday at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha and officials said he will be treated at the hospital’s 10 bed special isolation unit on the seventh floor which is the largest of four in the U.S. Sacra delivered babies but was not involved in treating Ebola patients, so how he contracted the disease is unclear. Dr. Phil Smith, medical director of the Omaha unit, said a team of 35 doctors, nurses and other medical staffers will provide Sacra with basic care, including ensuring he is hydrated and keeping his vital signs stable. He added, “We’ve been trying to collect as much information on possible treatments as we can.” Sacra was in stable condition in Liberia ans was able to board the plane to the U.S. under his own power.

While West Africa fights a microscopic enemy, the U.S., E.U. and other NATO allies try to ensure Ukraine’s ceasefire between pro-Russian rebels and the Kiev government remains in place with no inference from Russia. Nataliya Vasilyeva and Peter Leonard report, Ukraine signs cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels, the Ukrainian president declared the ceasefire Friday to end the five month long war in the eastern Ukraine after representatives reached a deal with the Russian backed rebels at peace talks in Minsk. President Petro Proshenko said he ordered government forced to stop fighting at 11 am EDT following a protocol signed by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In a statement, Poroshenko said: “Human life is of the highest value. And we need to do everything that is possible and impossible to stop bloodshed and end people’s suffering.” Heidi Tagliavini of the OSCE told reporters the deal focused on 12 separate points, while Poroshenko said a prisoner exchange would begin Saturday and international monitors would keep watch over the ceasefire. Since April, Moscow backed separatists and government forces have been fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed nearly 2,600 people, according to U.N> estimates. The rebel leader, Alexander Zakharchenko, said from Donetsk: “The cease-fire will allow us to save not only civilians lives, but also the lives of the people who took up arms in order to defend their land and ideals.” However, Igor Plotnitsky, leader of the separatist Luhansk region, told reporters “this doesn’t mean that our course for secession is over.” A plan approved Friday in Wales by NATO leaders will create a rapid response force with a headquarters in Eastern Europe that could quickly mobilize if an alliance country is attacked. Even though Ukraine is not a member, the entire alliance has been alarmed by Russia’s actions in Ukraine causing U.S. and E.U. sanctions to go into effect due to Russia’s backing of the rebels. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday from Wales at the NATO summit: “We have to see whether this cease-fire is being applied. Do Russian troops withdraw, so far as they’re there? Are there buffer zones and things like that – a lot of things will have to be sorted out. These sanctions certainly could be put into force – this is all in flux – but with the proviso that they can be suspended again if we see that this process really yields results.” As of late Friday, Associate Press reporters heard heavy shelling north and east of the key southeastern port of Mariupol suggesting the rebels had partially surrounded the area. Tatyana Chronovil, a Ukrainian activist at a mustering point for the volunteer Azov Battalion on the eastern edge of the city, said, “Mariupol is a strategic point. If we lose it then we could lose the entire coastline, the whole south of Ukraine.” Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s national security council in Kiev, said seven servicemen had been killed over the past day, bringing the Ukrainian forces’ death toll to 846. As of Saturday, the Associate Press reports Cease-fire in Ukraine appears to hold, National Guard Commander Stepan Poltorak was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying that some shooting took place 45 miniutes after the cease-fire, “as of this morning there haven’t been any violations, either from our side, of course, or from the terrorists.” Alexander Zakharchenko, top separatist leader from Donetsk, told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti that the ceasefire had been violated by two rounds of shelling in Amvrosiivka, 50 miles southeast of Donetsk. Earlier Saturday, the mayor’s office in Donetsk said there were no reports of shooting or shelling with some shelling late Friday afternoon.

While battle may be over, the United States and other world leaders are taking on the Islamic State. Reuters reports, Obama To Meet Congressional Leaders On ISIS: Source, U.S. president Barack Obama will meet with four leaders of U.S. Congress Tuesday to discuss rising concerns over the advancement of the Islamic State, a senior congressional source said Friday. Lawmakers return Monday after their five week August recess. The meeting will include Harry Reid, the Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate, and Mitch McConnell, the chamber’s top Republican, as well as John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives and Nancy Pelosi, the House’s top Democrat. Julie Pace reports, US and UK seeks partners to go after Islamic State, President Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday asked NATO leaders to confront the Islamic State militants who have taken large parts of Syria and Iraq, urging regional partners like Jordan and Turkey to join the effort. IN a joint editorial published as the meeting began, they wrote: “Those who want to adopt an isolationist approach misunderstand the nature of security in the 21st century. Developments in other parts of the world, particularly in Iraq and Syria, threaten our security at home.” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he believed the broader international community “has an obligation to stop the Islamic State from advancing further” and would seriously consider requests for assistance, particularly from the Iraqi government. The Islamic State became an international priority after taking large parts of Syria and Iraq to create a caliphate and is considered more merciless than al-Qaida with intelligence officials warning that the violence could spread beyond its declared borders as hundreds of Westerners join. The U.S. launched airstrikes against militant targets in Iraq last month with Britain joining American forces in humanitarian airdrops to minority populations. The militants’ killing of two American journalists inside Syria has raised questions about targeting the group there as well. Beyond direct military action, the White House said it was also seeking commitments from allies to send weapons, ammunition and other assistance to Western-backed Syrian rebels and to Iraqi forces. Pace reports: “Germany moved in that direction Thursday, with the government announcing that it had sent a first planeload of military equipment to the Kurds in Iraq’s north, including helmets, protective vests, field glasses and mine-searching devices. The German government also said it had decided to send assault rifles, ammunition, anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles to the Kurdish forces, but it hadn’t yet set a date for the arms deliveries.” In between sessions on Afghanistan and Ukraine, Obama and Cameron met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II Thursday, and both plan to meet Friday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who are both with Obama in Wales, plan to travel to the Middle East next week to rally more support from regional partners. Cameron told the British network ITV: “We need to show real resolve and determination; we need to use every power and everything in our armory with our allies – with those on the ground – to make sure we do everything we can to squeeze this dreadful organization out of existence.” Lolita C. Baldor reports, NATO allies agree to take on Islamic State threat, on Friday the U.S. and 10 of its allies agreed that the Islamic State group posed a significant threat to NATO countries and they will take them on by squeezing their financial resources and going after them with military might. Obama said the new NATO coalition will mount a sustained effort to push back the militants.At the summit conclusion, Obama said: “I did not get any resistance or push back to the basic notion that we have a critical role to play in rolling back this savage organization that is causing so much chaos in the region and is harming so many people and poses a long-term threat to the safety and security of NATO members. So there’s great conviction that we have to act, as part of the international community, to degrade and ultimately destroy ISIL, and that was extremely encouraging. I think it is absolutely critical that we have Arab states and specifically Sunni-majority states that are rejecting the kind of extremist nihilism that we’re seeing out of ISIL, that say that is not what Islam is about and are prepared to join us actively in the fight. What we can accomplish is to dismantle this network, this force that has claimed to control this much territory, so that they can’t do us harm. They have been, to some degree, outgunned and outmanned. And that’s why it’s important for us to work with our friends and allies to support them more effectively.” In a meeting with the foreign and defense ministers from the coalition countries, Secretary of State John Kerry said: “We very much hope that people will be as declarative as some of our friends around the table have been in order to be clear about what they’re willing to commit, because we must be able to have a plan together by the time we come to (the United Nations General Assembly). We need to have this coalesce.” Along with the United States, the coalition comprises the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Germany, Canada, Turkey, Italy, Poland and Denmark. One prong of a Western coalition approach would be for nations’ law enforcement and intelligence agencies to work together to go after the group’s financing in banks and more informal funding networks; however, U.S. intelligence officials say oil revenue will keep them well funded. NATO agreed to increase cooperation among nations on sharing information about foreign fighters. Denmark’s Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard said the effort against the militants “is not only about a military effort, it is also about stopping the financial contributions to ISIS, to coordinate intelligence, it is about stopping foreign fighters, young people from our own societies. It is decisive that we get more countries along.”

While a solid plan seems to be forming for dealing with ISIS, Somalian government is warning terrorists could strike back after the death of an Islamic Insurgent group who was killed in a U.S. air strike Monday in southern Somalia, the Associated Press reports, Somalia warns of attacks to revenge Godane death. In televised speech Friday night, Gen. Khalif Ahmed Ereg, Somalia’s national security minister, said based on credible intelligence that militants plan to attack key targets including medical and educational institutions following the death of Ahmed Abdi Godane. Godane had publicly claimed al-Shabab was responsible for the deadly Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi, Kenya almost a year ago that left 67 people dead. President Barrack Obama confirmed Friday that Godane was killed by the U.S. airstrike. Robert Burns and Lolita C. Baldar report, Al Shabab Leader Ahmed Godane Killed In U.S. Strike: Pentagon, it took the Pentagon four days to conclusively determine that Godane had not survived Monday’s strike, according to Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon’s press secretary, via written statement. Al-Shabab has not publicly confirmed Godane’s death. In a statement Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said, “While an extreme hardcore may fight over the leadership of al-Shabab, this is a chance for the majority of members of al-Shabab to change course and reject Godane’s decision to make them the pawns of an international terror campaign.” The Somali president said the U.S. operation was carried out “with the full knowledge and agreement of” his government and that Somalis “greatly value the support of our international allies” in the fight against al-Shabab. The Associated Press reports: “Obama, speaking at the conclusion of a NATO summit in Newport, Wales, told reporters the success against al-Shabab should leave no doubt about his determination to degrade and eventually destroy the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. military announced later Friday that a mix of fighter jets, drones, attack planes and bombers launched four airstrikes Thursday and Friday in northern Iraq, destroying a host of Islamic State targets including an observation post, an armed vehicle and three mortar positions.” Army Col, Steven Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, said, “The individual who takes his place will live in fear.” Matt Bryden, the head of Sahan Research in Nairobi, Kenya, said due to Godane weakening and effectively dismantling the al-Shabab council of leaders known as shura, a meeting of regional commanders will have to take place to pick his successor which will be difficult and dangerous to organize. Terrorism analyst J.M. Berger predicted a significant splintering between al-Shabab’s domestically focused insurgents and internationally aspiring terrorists. Abdi Aynte, a Somali analyst who runs a Mogadishu-based think tank called the Heritage Institute for Policy Studies, predicted that Godane’s death “will almost certainly be the beginning of the end of the organization.”

While biological and man made wars are continually fought through out the world, the war over who owns the internet has just begun and may lead to catastrophic consequences for internet users. Ryan Gorman reports, The ‘Battle for the Net’: Companies fighting to save free and open Internet access, several brand name websites are banding together to protest the end of net neutrality which allows equal access to the net. Net neutrality is what keeps the internet free and open from corporate interest, however recent deals by Netflix to secure bandwidth from cable companies are bringing that to an end. Activist group Battle for the Net is organizing a September 10 Internet protest and has been joined by the likes of Etsy, Foursquare, General Assembly Imgur, Kickstarter, Namecheap, Reddit, Vimeo, WordPress and others. The sites are will use animations to simulate the slower loads times on their websites and sevices in a way similar to how activists and experts believe cable companies will if net neutrality ends. “Cable companies want to slow down (and break!) your favorite sites, for profit,” Battle for the Net claims on its website. The group is urging people to put these GIFs on websites as well as email regulators and politicians protesting what it says is the end of open and free Internet. The Federal Communications Commission first introduced net neutrality rules in 2010. They require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to provide fair and equal “lanes” for all web traffic regardless of content. Earlier this year, a U.S. appeals court tossed out this rule that could change the world forever as the court ruled that ISPs are not utilities like phone and electric companies and are free to charge for their services how they see fit. This brought a wave of deals between bandwidth-hungry Netflix and Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and others. Experts claimed immediately after the ruling in a Wall Street Journal report that tiered web access, in which sites who pony up the most money are afforded the fastest loading times, would soon become the norm. The fear is the cost will be passed to the web surfers leading to a barrier to entry for less prosperous people. In a Wired op-ed announcing Etsy’s participation in the September 10 protest, site founder and CEO Chad Dickerson wrote that “the FCC has proposed an end to the open Internet… If internet users find it too difficult to load our websites and see our products, it will be impossible for us to grow or succeed. Companies would succeed because of deals struck with cable companies, not because of superior products.” That sentiment is being echoed not only in forums and article comments, but also in the more than one million comments sent to the FCC in response to a recent proposal basically bringing an end to net neutrality. The Washington Post reports less than one percent of the comments received support the end of net neutrality with 500,000 coming from individuals concerned about internet access and the rest from foundations, law firms, companies and other organizations.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.