The Human Cost of Conflicts and Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As the Death Toll Rises, The Great Gun Debate Rages On

From the Debates at home to the debate abroad, the U.S. needs to address and take a firm stance on gun control as the death toll rises. Everyday more people are dying from gun related deaths and nobody has address the real issue which is not the second amendment but finding better ways to regulate the gun trade in America. Here is a compilation of events that will make any American whether for or against gun control to think twice about what is really important.

Hitler Gun Control

When Ohio’s school board president posted her opposition to gun control she used Adolf Hitler’s image to get her point across, while a well known conservative commentator argued about the efforts to restrict guns he commented that if the Jews in Poland had more arms there would of been more survivors of the Holocaust. In the months since the Newtown shooting in Connecticut, some gun rights supports have compared the U.S. gun control efforts to Nazi restrictions on firearms arguing the government is leaving the people defenseless against tyrants reports the Associated Press. Isn’t that what the military is for? However some experts argue that the argument distorts history since Hitler loosened tight gun laws governing World War I Germany evening barring Jews from owning weapons and moved to take them away. Oh those fact checkers strike again. Gun advocates who cite Hitler in the U.S. gun debate fail to realize that Jews in the 1930s Germany were a small population with few guns before Nazis take over, even though it fits the current debate the truth is that Hitler’s firearms laws made no difference in the Jews’ survival. As historian Steve Paulsson, an expert whose family survived the city’s destruction, said, “Objectively, it might have made things worse” if the Jews who fought the Nazis in the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising in Poland had more and better guns. Nonetheless the comparison remains strong online as former Major League Baseball pitcher John Rocker wrote in January, “Absolute certainties are a rare thing in this life, but one I think can be collectively agreed upon is the undeniable fact that the Holocaust would have never taken place had the Jewish citizenry of Hitler’s Germany had the right to bear arms and defended themselves with those arms.” National Rifle Association President David Keene thinks the analogy is appropriate – Gov Andrew Cuomo depicted as Hitler at a New York rally in February- during an radio interview on March 1 saying, “Folks that are cognizant of the history, not just in Germany but elsewhere, look back to that history and say we can’t let that sort of thing happen here.”

However according to the Associated Press, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group, has asked that Hitler and the Nazis be kept out of the debate saying the rhetoric “is such an absurdity and so offensive and just undermines any real understanding of what the Holocaust was about. If they do believe it, they’re making no serious examination of what the Nazi regime was about.” As Harcourt explains, “To suggest that the targeting of Jews in any of the gun regulations or any of the other regulations is somehow tied to Nazis’ view of guns is entirely misleading because the Nazis believed in a greater deregulation of firearms. Firearms were viewed, for the good German, were something to which they had rights.” U.S. gun rights advocates disagree pointing to the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising where 700 armed Jews fought off  a large German force for days until they fled to tunnels and the ghetto was burn to the ground house by house. The problem with this argument as Paulsson points o9ui is that if the Polish Jews would of limited their resistance the Nazi troops might not have destroyed the ghettos allowing more to survive and escape, but when they chose to fight other times in 1930s and 1940s Poland it incited vicious counter attacks. However, Heller a gun activist said the uprising and ore guns might not have stopped the Holocaust but gave the Jews a fighting chance and saved many from the concentration camp according to the Associated Press. But Paulsson, whose mother was freed from Auschwitz at the end of the war, dismisses this twisting of facts: “Ideologues always try to shoehorn history into their own categories and read into the past things that serve their own particular purposes.”

Thousands of gun deaths since Newtown

The Huffington Post has tracked gun-related deaths in the United States since Newtown. Click here for an interactive map of those who have died. In the 98 days since the Sandy Hook Massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, guns have killed at least 2,243 more people. Click here to read about the thousands of gun deaths since by Huff Post “One Nation Under Guns.”

Arms Trade Treaty Nra

The United Nation’s Arms Trade Treaty, an international convention on small arms sales now being negotiated at the United Nations this week and next in New York, has drawn more than a 100 demonstrators at Lafayette Square on Friday urging the U.S. to back the treaty according to Huff Post. The supporters are optimistic even though the treaty would face political and policy hurdles. Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty Internation, told the Huff Post before addressing the protestors across from the White House that, “We are still very hopeful that we’ll end up with a treaty. The important thing is [that the Arms Trade Treaty must] protect human lives and protect human rights. We will get a treaty, the question is ‘how good is it, how strong is it?’ That’s a bit up in the air right now.” The intended purpose for the treaty would be to prevent the transfer of arms across boarders to governments using  them in war crimes, genocide and other human rights violations. There are a few sticking points though. Among the most contentious was ammunition sales as opposed to weapons sales would be covered in the treaty as the United States delegation opposes including ammunition in the ATT which has angered a number of protestors. As Shetty explains to the Huff Post: “The argument the U.S. is making is a very practical one, saying that it’s very difficult to track [things like ammunition]. But there are many governments that produce ammunition, and they’re not blocking [it from being included in the treaty].” As Paul O’Brien, the vice president of policy and campaigns for the human rights group Oxfam explains, “We’re confident we’re going to get something. But something isn’t good enough. If we don’t get a strong treaty, it’s not going to mean anything for the people on the wrong end of violence.”

What would it be without the National Rifle Association voicing its concern? Well of course the NRA chimed in along with strong resistance stateside from gun rights advocates portraying the treaty as in international poly to deprive Americans of their Second Amendment rights states the Huff Post as NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre demanded last summer during a U.N. speech: “We have watched [the treaty] with increasing concern and, one year ago, I delivered … our objections to including civilian arms in the ATT. I said then, and I will repeat now, that the only way to address NRA’s objections is to simply and completely remove civilian firearms from the scope of the treaty.” During the predawn hours of Saturday, two amendments were put forth in the Senate: one to prohibit the U.S. from signing the ATT which was approved in the Senate 53-46 and the other to affirm that the international treaty would not trump the U.S. Constitution which passed by a voice vote. According to Huff Post, both amendments will be worked on in committee then proceed to the House as the Senate departed for Easter recess after passing the budget bill.