Israel Continues to Press Hamas, While The World Looks for Answer In Ukraine

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Saturday’s demonstration in London came on the heels of numerous protests Thursday and Friday worldwide, including Cairo, Istanbul, Cape Town, Berlin, New York and Washington. Courtesy of beforeitsnews.com

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Ukraine Malaysia Flight MH17 Courtesy of USA Today

On Tuesday, Israel continued their offensive with airstrikes pummeling a wide range of targets in Gaza as the U.N. chief and the U.S. secretary of state began efforts to end the fighting that has claimed 570 Palestinians and 29 Israelis, according to Karin Laub, Israeli aircraft hit more than 70 targets in Gaza. A Gaza police official confirmed that Israel bombed five mosques, a sports complex and the home of the late Hams military chief. The latest strikes came as U.N. chief Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met in Cairo late Monday to try to stop the deadly conflict. Egypt, Israel and the U.S. back an unconditional ceasefire to be followed by talks of a new Gaza border arrangement since as of right now Israel and Egypt have restricted movement in and out of Gaza since Hamas seized the territory in 2007. Hamas with support from Qatar and Turkey want guarantees that the blockade with be lifted before halting fire. The top Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, said Monday that Gaza’s 1.7 million people share their goals adding: “We cannot go back, we cannot go back to the silent death” of the blockade. Gaza has decided to end the blockade by its blood and by its courage.” After a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, Ban said that “violence must stop by all sides,” and negotiations start adding, “We can’t claim victory simply by returning matters to where they stood before they led to terrible bloodshed.” The border blockade has set Gaza back years as tens of thousands of jobs have been wiped out due to bans on exports and imports of vital construction materials Israel says are used for Hamas, while Egypt has restricted passage last year to medical patients, Muslim pilgrims and Gazans with foreign passports to travel. Kerry announced in Cairo that the U.S. will send $47 million in humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Palestinians who left their homes to escape the violence. At the start of his meeting with Ban, Kerry said: “We will work to see if there is some way to not only arrive at a cease-fire of some kind but to get to a discussion about the underlying issues. Nothing will be resolved by any cease-fire, temporary or long, without really getting to those issues at some point and that’s what we need to do.” Kerry stayed in Cairo Monday for more meeting with top Egypt officials, however, no immediate plans for face to face meeting with officials from Qatar, Turkey, Israel and the West Bank were discussed.

Meanwhile, on Monday, the Israel Defense Forces tweeted a photoshopped image of Britain’s House of Parliament under missile fire with the message “What would you do?” which of course backfired. According to AOL, Israel Responds To Critics With Fake London Bombing Tweet, the idea was to put Britain in Israel’s shoes since they have been the most outspoken critic of Israel’s offensive. The tweet came days after a pro-Palestinian demonstration in London that thousands attend over the weekend. Both Israel and Hamas have both turned to social media to stir up support e.g. IDF updates the number of rockets fired by Hams and soldier killed even uploads clips of anti-Hamas propaganda videos. However, the latest tweet has caused angry responses on Twitter directed toward Israel. Even if Israel wins the ground war, it may lose the media war as Twitter has been exploding with pictures of dead Palestinian children killed in Israeli airstrikes. According to CNN, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that’s what Hamas wants: “It’s gruesome – they use ‘telegenically dead Palestinians’ for their cause. They want the more dead the better.” AOL reports, Chanel 4’s Paul Mason explains: “[W]here Israel is losing the hearts and minds of the world is not via “tele” anything: it is in the JPEGs that stream into millions of people’s mobile phones every time they glance at the object in the palm of their hand.” The Washington Post’s Adam Taylor notes, “Last week the IDF Twitter account tweeted the following image of Paris; just a few days later French cities were in flames in anti-Semitic riots.”

While Israel deals with the social media fallout of poor decisions, increased caution about flying over combat zones has caused many U.S. and European airline to stop flights to Israel Tuesday after rockets landed near Tel Aviv’s Bern Gurion Airport, AOL reports, US airlines scrap Israel flights over missile fear. Delta Air Lines and United Airlines suspended service between the U.S. and Israel indefinitely as U.S. Airways has scrapped its one flight to Tel Aviv Tuesday. In addition, Germany’s Lufthansa and Air France have suspended flights as well. The actions come days after a Malaysia Airlines plane was shot down in eastern Ukraine killing 298 people. The Federal Aviation Administration also has prohibited U.S. airlines from flying to Tel Aviv for 24 hours. Aviation consultant Robert Mann said airlines are becoming more proactive after the Flight 17 disaster adding: “It’s really forcing every carrier, every business jet operator to do their own due diligence, do their own risk assessment, given the geopolitical situation.” John Reiter, a New York aviation accident attorney, said, “I’m sure it is human concern as well, but I think (the airlines) feel it is wise to err on the side of caution because it is their burden to prove they are doing everything possible to avoid injuries and deaths.” In a statement, Israel’s Transportation Ministry called on airlines to reverse their decisions, stating: “Ben-Gurion Airport is safe and completely guarded and there is no reason whatsoever that American companies would stop their flights and hand terror a prize.” Casey Norton, a spokesman for American Airlines, parent company to US Airways, said the airline is “in constant contact with the FAA and are monitoring the situation closely” adding that no decisions have been made about flight to Israel on Wednesday and beyond.

On Tuesday, in Ukraine, the remains of the Malaysia Airlines victims arrived in Ukrainian held territory on their way to the Netherlands following delays and haphazard treatment of the bodies putting pressure on European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels to impose sanctions on Russia. Sergei Chuzhavkov and John Thor Dahlburg report, Crash victims’ remains reach Ukraine-held city, the crash site itself remained unsecured for five days in pro-Russian separatists territory after the disaster causing frustration for officials around the world. After 17 hours, the train arrived in Kharkiv from Torez where Ukrainian authorities have set up a crash investigation center. Government spokesman Oleksander Kharchenko said Ukraine will do its best to send the bodies to the Netherlands on Tuesday as 193 victims were Dutch citizens. The goal of the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is to have the first bodies returned on Wednesday adding: “It is our aim – and at the moment our expectation – that sometime tomorrow the first plane carrying victims will leave for Eindhoven.” Rutte said the identification of some bodies will be quick, while other could take weeks or months. In Brussels, European Union foreign ministers discussed what action to take in response to the disaster. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the priority for now was to deal with the concerns of the Netherlands, who lost the most nationals in the disaster, meaning repatriation of the bodies and a full investigation of the site. Unfortunately, the ministers according to Ashton cannot move to Level 3 sanctions targeting Russia’s economy, but will still discuss what actions to take. In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia will do what it can to help in the investigation including pressuring the rebels even though that will not resolve the situation. During a meeting with Russia’s Security Council, Putin again lashed out at Kiev for its military offensive to dislodge the rebels. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicious blamed “terrorists supplied” by Moscow for shooting down the plan and killing all aboard and hoped the EU would impose tougher sanction on Russia calling for an arms embargo. At the crash site near Hrabove, a few rebel fighter accompanied observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. About 70 villagers gathered across the road form the site to sing Ukrainian Orthodox hymns at a memorial service led by several priests.

Early on Tuesday, Malaysia’s prime minster announced that pro-Russian rebels agreed to hand over both black boxes from Flight 17 to Malaysian investigators, according to Satish Cheney, MH17’s Black Boxes To Be Handed Over To Malaysia: Prime Minister. Prime Minster Najib Razak added that as part of an agreement via phone with rebel leader Alexander Borodai on late Monday, international investigators will have safe access to the site and the black boxes will be handed over. Najib announced at a news conference at his residence on Monday evening, “I must stress that although an agreement has been reached, there remain a number of steps required before it is completed. There is work still to be done, work which relies on continued communication in good faith. Mr. Borodai and his people have so far given their cooperation.” In addition the remains of 43 Malaysian citizens who were aboard will be flown to their home country as necessary forensic work needs to be done. On Sunday, he said the remains must be returned before the Eid al-Fitr which marks the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan which is July 28. Anger and resentment toward Russian backed rebels and Moscow has escalated worldwide including in Malaysia where calls for economic sanctions against Russia have been suggested.

While the world continues to pressure Russia into wrangling in Pro-Russia separatists, President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday said Russia would try to get Ukrainian separatists to cooperate with the investigation, but said the West must do more to persuade Kiev to end hostilities, according to Darya Korsunskaya, Putin says will use influence on Ukraine rebels, denounces West. Putin came out fighting since the plan disaster on Thursday denouncing Russia’s role in rebel held east Ukraine. In addition, Putin accused the U.S. of pulling strings in Kiev to bully Russia and meddle in Russia’s domestic affairs adding in televised remarks: “Such methods will not work on Russia.” Reading notes at the head of a long table of top government, parliament, security and defense officials, Putin spoke forcefully about the plane’s downing, but did not address accusations by the U.S. and Ukraine’s pro-Western leaders that Moscow supplied the rebels with arms allegedly used to shoot down the plane. Putin at a meeting of his advisory Security Council said: “We are being called on to use our influence with the separatists in southeastern Ukraine. We of course will do everything in our power but that is not nearly enough. Ultimately, there is a need to call on the authorities in Kiev to respect basic norms of decency, and at least for a short time implement a ceasefire.” His new remarks come after President Barack Obama urged him and Russia to “pivot away from the strategy that they’ve been taking and get serious about trying to resolve hostilities within Ukraine”. Putin wants to de-escalate the crisis to avoid further sanctions from the West as evident by him renouncing powers given to him by parliament to send in Russia’s army to east Ukraine to protect Russian speakers. However, he will not make any big concession that would hurt his popularity in Russia which is at a record high since annexation of Crimea in March. In addition, Putin said Russia would take steps to protect the economy from “external threats” and strengthen its defenses to counter moves by NATO in eastern Europe. Putin also stated that protest to topple Ukraine’s former Russian back president were instigated and funded from abroad: “Russia is being presented with what is almost an ultimatum: ‘Let us destroy this part of the population that is ethnically and historically close to Russia and we will not impose sanctions against you’. This is a strange and unacceptable logic.”

More Controvery Surrounding Malaysian Flight MH17

Ukrainian officials and monitors on Sunday reported that armed rebels forced emergency workers to hand over all 196 bodies recovered from the Malaysia Airlines site then loaded them onto refrigerated train cars bound for a rebel held city, according to Yuras Karmanau, Plane crash bodies put on train for rebel city. This development Sunday morning came in response to international outrage over how the bodies of the victims were being handled among fears that the rebels controlling the territory were tampering with evidence. Ukraine and the separatists accuse each other of firing a surface to air missile Thursday that downed the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine killing 283 passengers and 15 crew. In addition, Ukraine accuses Russia of supplying the rebels with sophisticated arms which Moscow denies. The rebels have limited the movement of monitors and journalists at the site near the Russian border and Ukraine’s Emergency Ministry claims its workers were laboring under duress, overseen by the armed rebels. On Saturday, an AP journalist saw bodies baking in the heat and piled into body bags by the road or still laid out where they landed in the field. By Sunday though, no bodies and no armed rebels were at the site with emergency workers searching for body parts. Nataliya Khuruzhaya, a deputy officer at the train station in Torez, 9 miles away, said she saw emergency workers loading bodies into five sealed refrigerated train cars on Sunday morning. She added that the train was scheduled to go to Ilovaysk, 22 miles further east toward Russian border, but no further instructions were given. Russian news agencies said the bodies were going to Donetsk a rebel stronghold, while Ukrainian officials expect the bodies to be taken to the government held city of Kharkiv. The deputy governor of Kharkiv, where the government set up a crisis center, said the Ukrainian state railway company provided the refrigerated train cars. Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman for monitors for the Organization fro Security and Cooperation in Europe,  told reporters in Kiev via phone from the site: “We’re looking at the field where the engines have come down. This was the area which was exposed to the most intense heat. We do not see any bodies here. It appears that some have been vaporized.”As far as the 102 other bodies, officials have yet to locate these bodies. The latest U.S. intelligence assessment suggests that more than one missile system was given to separatists by Russia in the last week or so, but both Russia and the rebels deny the allegations. In the Sunday Times, British Prime Minster David Cameron called the attack a “direct result of Russia destabilizing a sovereign state, violating its territorial integrity, backing thuggish militias and training and arming them. We must turn this moment of outrage into a moment of action…For too long, there has been a reluctance on the part of too many European countries to face up to the implications of what is happening in eastern Ukraine.” Despite calls from world leaders for an independent international investigation, armed separatist limited access to the crash site for the first few days. Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told the Ukrainian president in Kiev Saturday: “People are angry, are furious at what they hear. Once we have the proof, we will not stop until the people are brought to justice.” Both Putin and Merkel agreed via phone on Saturday that an independent commission led by the International Civil Action Organization should be given full access to the site.

While the crash site reports seems to be an area of confusion, on Sunday, rebel leaders announced that rebels had recovered black boxes from the downed plan and will hand them over to   the International Civil Aviation Organization. Karmanau reports, Rebels to give MH17 black boxes to aviation group, Alexander Borodai confirmed that the bodies recovered from the site would remain in refrigerated cars at the Torez station until the international aviation delegation arrives. It is unclear if rebels and the Ukrainian government are working together or were at odds with each other on recovering the bodies. Borodai said he expects a team of Malaysian experts and was disappoint about how long they have taken to arrive insisting rebels are not interfering with the crash investigation despite reports. According to Kurmanau’s article: “The U.S. embassy in Kiev issued a strong statement Sunday pointing to Russian complicity in arming the rebels, saying it has concluded ‘that Flight MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine.’ It said over the weekend of July 12-13, ‘Russia sent a convoy of military equipment with up to 150 vehicles, including tanks armored personnel carriers artillery, and multiple rockets launchers’ to the separatists. The statement also said Russia was training separatist fighters in southwest Russia, including on air defense systems.” Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines will retire the flight number of the plane shot down over Ukraine announcing in a statement Sunday that beginning Friday MH17 will no longer be used for it Amsterdam-Kuala Lumpur flights “out of respect for our crew and passengers” and replaced with MH19.

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

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courtesy of ABC7

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

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

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

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

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