Ebola Crisis Faces New Problems, Gaza Talks Continue as Deadline Looms, While Iraqi and Ukrainian Forces Continue to Make Progress

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Scientists and health officials see an even bigger threat than the current Ebola outbreak: The fact that no one knows where the virus came from or how ti stop it from starting new outbreaks. Mike Stobbe and Marilyn Marchione report, Another Ebola problem: Finding its natural source, since 1976, two dozen outbreaks of the deadly virus has occurred in Africa with its possible origin beginning in bats, but experts don’t know exactly its origins in nature. The current outbreak has claimed 1,100 people in four countries making it the highest death toll in history of Ebola. Jonathon Towner, a scientist who helped to find the bat source of another Ebola like disease called Marburg, said: “First and foremost get the outbreak under control. Once that piece is resolved, then go back and find what the source is.” Towner works for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist formerly a lead for the International Society for Infectious Diseases, says, “confirming the source would definitely be important.” Throughout history, halting a deadly infections not only involved limiting person to person contact but finding and controlling the source of the infection in nature. Stobbe and Marchione explain: “Plague was halted after the germ was tied to rat-riding fleas. With the respiratory disease SARS, civet cats played a role. With typhus it was lice, and with bird flu, live poultry markets. Efforts to control MERS, a virus causing sporadic outbreaks in the Middle East, include exploring the role of camels.” Health experts think the initial cases in each outbreak began with eating or handling infected animals such as certain bats that in parts of Africa are considered a delicacy. The World Health Organization lists chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines as possibly playing a role and pig farms where fruit bats may reside. Part of the puzzle is how long the virus has been in West Africa as previous outbreaks have been in the east and central regions of Africa. However, some scientist believe the virus had been in the are for years pointing to a case of a lone scientist who got sick in 1994 after doing an autopsy on a wild chimp in the Ivory Coast and to a recent study exploring the possibility that past Ebola cases in the region were undiagnosed. On Saturday, armed protestors raided an Ebola clinic in Liberia’s capital stealing blood stained bedding and forcing 20 infected patients to flee into the densely populated city, according to the article, Ebola isolation clinic looted in Liberia, patients flee. According to the United Nation’s Integrated Regional Information Networks, the West Point shantytown of 70,000 residents suffer from debilitating sanitary conditions with access to only four public toilets meaning defecation in the street is common. A senior Liberia police official told BBC: “This is one of the stupidest things I have ever seen in my life” and that the looting of blood-stained mattresses and bedding could spread the virus to all of West Point. Front Page Africa reports the assistant health minister on Thursday said there are plans to quarantine the area, but food and water must be brought into the township. The looting came the same day the Kenyan government banned travel to West African countries afflicted with the deadly Ebola virus. According to WHO, more than 400 people have died in Liberia from Ebola with more than 1,100 in total between Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Adam Schrek reports Monday, Nigerian woman suspected of Ebola dies in UAE, that a Nigerian woman who arrived in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, suspected of being infected with the Ebola virus, later died in the city, according to health officials. In a statement carried by the Emirati state news agency WAM Sunday, the health authority said the 35 year old woman was traveling to India from Nigeria fro treatment of advanced metastatic cancer. Her health deteriorated in transit at the Abu Dhabi International Airport as medics tried to resuscitate her and found signs of possible infection. The medical staff who treated the woman followed the measures outlined by the World Health Organization, however, the woman’s husband, who sat newt to her on the place, and the five medics who treated her were isolated pending test results on the deceased woman. All are in good health and show no signs of illness, health officials reported.

Meanwhile, as the clock winds down in the Gaza truce, the Palestinians remain divided Sunday on the latest Gaza ceasefire with Hamas opposed to a compromise Egyptian proposal to ease closure of the territory and other factions including delegates for President Mahmoud Abbas were inclined to accept, Mohammed Daraghmeh reports, Palestinian Divisions Emerge In Gaza Truce Talks. Hamas officials said they wanted more concessions in the Egypt mediated talks as the temporary truce expires late Monday. The outcome if a deal is not reached would be a return to fighting bringing more devastation to Gaza, an unofficial understanding falling short of a formal negotiated deal or another extension to negotiations. Nearly 2,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 10,000 people wounded since July 8, according to United Nations figures. In Israel, 67 people have been killed with all but three soldiers. A Palestinian and Israeli negotiators returned to Cairo on Sunday following a weekend of consultations across the Middle East as the gap remained wide. The current five day ceasefire will end at midnight Monday. According to negotiators, the Egyptian proposal calls for compromise on both sides as it seeks to ease the blockade by allowing more imports and exports for Gaza and increase movement of people in and out of the territory’s Israeli controlled crossing. However, Hamas’ demands for Gaza’s air and seaports to be reopened are to be left until later. Gaza will not be forced to disarm rather Gaza’s border crossing will be controlled by forces loyal to Abbas and international reconstruction efforts in Gaza will also be controlled by Western backed Abbas to make sure money and materials don’t fall into the hands of Hamas. One member of the delegation said even if Hamas refuses the deal, Abbas’ forces are prepared to oversee the crossings and reconstruction. Other members said both Israel and Hamas appeared to agree on one thing which is neither wants to return to heavy fighting like in the past month. One official said, under conditions of anonymity: “The proposed agreement is not bad and can be amended a little bit. That prevents bloodshed and opens the way for rebuilding Gaza.” On Monday, Israeli troops destroyed the home of two Palestinians suspected of the abduction and killing of three teenagers in the occupied West Bank in June, the army said, according to Reuters, Israel destroys homes of Palestinians suspected of killing Israeli teens. Troops set charges to destroy the homes of Hussam Kawasme and Amar Abu Aysha in the southern West Bank before dawn and sealed off the home of a third suspect, Marwan Kawasme. Israeli accused Hamas militants, however, Hamas will not confirm or deny the accusations. Hussam Kawasme, a 40 year old resident Hebron, was arrested July 11 and the other two suspects remained at large. The killings sparked the current cycle of violence that led to a month long offensive between Israel and militants in Hamas dominated Gaza. The military statement said Israel’s supreme court affirmed the military’s wish to demolish the homes and rejected three appeals by the suspects’ families against their destruction.

In a turn of events, on Sunday, Ukraine’s government said separatists shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane after troops entered into the rebel controlled city in the east marking a possible turning point in the four month long conflict, Peter Leonard reports, Ukraine says troops entered rebel-held city. Ukraine’s national security council said government forces captured a district police station in Luhansk after intense clashes in the Velika Vergunka neighborhood. Weeks of fighting in Luhansk has left the city on the verge of humanitarian catastrophe as the siege mounted by government forces has prevented delivery of basic provisions and cut off power and running water. Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Dmitrashkovsky on Sunday said the separatists shot down a Ukrainian fighter plane over the Luhansk region after launching an attack on rebels. Fortunately, the pilot ejected and was taken to a secure place. Meanwhile Sunday, part of the Russian convoy carrying food and supplies for Luhansk and other afflicted zones headed to the section of border closest to the city, but stopped short of the frontier crossing in early afternoon. The Red Cross, responsible for distributing the aid, on Saturday said the main holdup was the lack of security guarantees from both sides of the conflict. In a video posted online this weekend, the leader of the self-proclaimed rebel government in Donetsk region, Alexander Zakharchenko, said new military equipment was on its way from Russia including tanks and some 1,200 fighters who undergone training in Russia. Lysenko said the government had information that separatists have received reinforcements from Russia, but not all the equipment allegedly promised. Russia has denied the accusations of supporting the rebels with equipment and training, however, Ukraine’s President on Friday said that Ukraine had destroyed a large number of military vehicles crossing from Russia recently.

Meanwhile, back in the Middle East on Monday, following two days of U.S. airstrikes, Iraqi and Kurdish forces took back control of the country’s largest dam from Islamic militants, according to a military spokesman in Baghdad as fighting was underway for the rest of the strategic complex, Sinan Salaheddin reports, Iraq forces retake Mosul Dam; militants deny claim. Soon after the announcement, the Islamic State group, controlling the Mosul Dam for two weeks from the Tigris River just north of the city of Mosul, denied the claims insisting it was still in control. The retaking would be the first victory for the Iraqi and Kurdish forces battling the group since the airstrikes started earlier this month. The dam and its broader complex hold a strategic advantage as they supply electricity and water to a large part of the country. Army spokesman Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said the dam itself was secured by Kurdish peshmerga troops and Iraqi security forces on Monday, but the southern side of the complex remains contested and fierce fighting is underway. Al-Moussawi said the Iraqi and Kurdish forces “hoisted the Iraqi flag over” the dam adding that the troops were backed by joint aerial support. Iraq’s Ministry of Defense said security forces “liberated a large part of the Mosul Dam” with the help of U.S. airstrikes, while U.S. Central Command would not confirm their involvement. In an internet statement, the Islamic State denied losing the dam and dismissing the government claim as propaganda. The U.S. military said U.S. forces conducted nine strikes Saturday and another 16 on Sunday. The decision to launch the airstrikes was the first direct U.S. military intervention in Iraq since the last American troops left in 2011 and reflect growing international concern about the extremist group. In a letter to Congress Sunday, the White House said that its air campaign in Iraq “is consistent with the president’s directive that the U.S. military protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, since the failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians and threaten U.S. personnel and facilities – including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.” It also stated that the failure of the dam could “prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services” to the Iraqi people.

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

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

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

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

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