Update On Malaysian Flight 17, Russia and Ukraine Tensions Rise at Border, Iraq Declared an Emergency, and The Ebola War Zone

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Dutch authorities have identified 127 victims from the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster in Ukraine. The flight was shot down in eastern Ukraine last month killing all 298 aboard. The investigation suffered many delays due to fighting between pro-Russia separatist rebels and Ukrainian forces near the crash site leaving the bodies to decompose in the sun for a week or so. Eventually, the victims’ remains were gathered and sent to the Netherlands for identification. According to AOL, 127 victims identified from Ukraine plane disaster, the Justice Ministry Thursday said the identified victims’ families were notified. One of the Netherlands’ top prosecutors hops those responsible for downing the plane will eventually face trial in the Netherlands, according to confirmed remarks by his office, Chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke, and the case will take years to build. The Netherlands and other countries have launched criminal investigations, while jurisdiction is unclear.

Meanwhile, at the Russian-Ukrainian border, Alexander Roslyakov reports, Ukraine: Inspectors checking Russian convoy, Ukraine said its customs and border service officials on Friday began inspecting Russian aid convoys parked just beyond its border addressing the mounting tensions over the shipments. Sergei Astakhov, an assistant to the deputy head of Ukraine’s border guard service, said the cargo will be inspected in front of the International Committee of the Red Cross representatives. Friday morning, a group of 41 Ukrainian border service representatives and 18 customs officials began inspecting the Russian aid at the Donetsk crossing, defense officials in Kiev said in a statement. Russian news agencies said Russia will present all necessary documentation and had over the cargo to the Red Cross. The 200 Russian white tarped trucks had been parked since Thursday near Kamensk-Shakhtinsky some 17 miles from the border where much of the border in this part of eastern Ukraine has been under the control of pro-Russian rebels. Russia sent the aid despite tentative agreements to deliver the aid through government controlled border crossing in the Kharkiv region. Ukraine fears that Russia is using the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion to help the rebels and threatened ti use all means necessary to block the convoy if Ukrainian officials and the Red Cross were unable to inspect them. A statement on President Petro Poroshenkp’s website said he and British Prime Minister David Cameron via phone spoke about reports from some Western journalists that Russian APCs crossed into Ukraine near the point where a Russian aid convoy was parked, according to the article, Ukraine: Some Russian military vehicles destroyed. No proof was provided, but the statement said: “The president informed that the given information was trustworthy and confirmed because the majority of the machines had been eliminated by Ukrainian artillery at night.” Andriy Lysenko, Ukraine’s Security Council spokesman, said some Russian military vehicles crossed into Ukraine, a charge Russia denies, but Lysenko provided no specific source for his information. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday the alliance had observed a Russian “incursion” into Ukraine. Finnish President Sauli Niinisto met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi and was set to travel to Ukraine on Saturday. After the talks, Putin stated, “we will do all we can to end the military conflict as soon as possible, establish a dialogue between the interested parties and provide humanitarian assistance.” Some Russian Military vehicles seen near the aid convoy Friday carried a Russian acronym that stands for “peacekeeping forces” which means Moscow could consider a possible military escort. Ukraine has warned Russia that an attempt to have a military escort will be seen as an invasion. Ukraine proceeded with its own aid operation in the Luhansk area as trucks from Kharkiv unloaded Friday at warehouses in the town of Starobilsk, which is 60 miles north of Luhansk, where the goods were to be sorted and transported by the Red Cross. Other Ukrainian aid was taken to Lysychansk, which was retaken by Ukrainian forced last month despite sporadic clashes until earlier this week. So far, fighting has claimed 2,100 lives with half of those in the last few weeks and began after Putin annexed Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in April.

Late Thursday, back in he Middle East, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced he will step down and relinquish his post to his nominated replacement, Sameer N. Yacoub and Qassim Abdul-Zahra report, UN Declares Highest Level Emergency In Iraq As Militants Battle On. Standing alongside senior members of his party, including rival Hider al-Abadi, al-Maliki said he would step aside in favor of his “brother,” in order to “facilitate the political process and government formation.” The United States, the u.N. and political faction in Iraq have backed al-Abadi, saying only a new leader can unite a country under siege by Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group. In a televised address, al-Maliki said his decision to support his rival reflect his desire to “safeguard the high interests of the country” adding, “My position is your trust in me, and no position is higher than your trust,” he declared in a televised address. In a statement, national security adviser Susan Rice said the White House commended his efforts for backing al-Abadi and expressed hope that the power shift “can set Iraq on a new path and unite its people” against the threat from Islamic militants. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the move “sets the stage for a historic and peaceful transition of power in Iraq. We urge Mr. Abadi and all Iraqi leaders to move expeditiously to complete this process, which is essential to pulling the country together and consolidating the efforts of Iraq’s many diverse communities against the common threat posed by the Islamic State …” The United Nations also welcomed the change, according to special representative for Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, it “demonstrates statesmanship and a commitment to the democratic process and the constitution.” The U.N. Security Council urged al-Abadi to work toward “an inclusive government that represents all segments of the Iraqi population and that contributes to finding a viable and sustainable solution to the country’s current challenges.” Iraqis everywhere welcomed the announcement on Thursday. The extremist Islamic State group has moved across norther and western Iraq displacing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes since June and last week prompted the U.S. to launch aid operations and airstrikes as the militants threatened religious minorities and the largely automous Kurdish region. The U.N. declared Wednesday the situation in Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency” allowing for additional assets to respond to the need o the Displaced, U.N. special representative Nicoklay Mladenov said pointing to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.” The decision followed the news that 45,000 members of the Yazidi religious minority escaped from the remote desert mountaintop where they were encircled by Islamic State fighters. The U.N. said it would provide increased support to the Yazidis and to 400,000 Iraqis who fled since June to the Kurdish province of Dahuk. In total, 1.5 million people have been displaced by fighting. French President Francois Hollande Thursday confirmed the “imminent delivery of military equipment” to Kurdish forces via phone call to the new Iraqi president, Fouad Massoum, according to Hollande’s office. On Thursday, according to Robert Burns and Julie Pace, Obama: No Iraq rescue; further airdrops unlikely, President Barack Obama said the humanitarian crisis atop the barren hill in northern Iraq is over thus no U.S. rescue mission is necessary, however, Iraqis elsewhere face dire threats from advancing Islamic army. A U.S. military and civilian team of 16 people spent Wednesday atop Sinjar Mountain to assess the conditions for a possible evacuation, but reported the number trapped to be 4,000 and that U.S. supplied food and water to those in need in recent days totaling 114,000 meals and 35,000 gallons of water. The U.S.Central Command said late Wednesday four cargo planes dropped 108 bundles of food and water to the remaining people making it the seventh delivery of food and water since the relief operation began last week.

In West Africa, the Ebola outbreak has killed 1,000 and could last another six months, according to Doctors Without Borders said Friday, with the true death toll unknown, Sarah Dilorenzo and John Heilprin report, Aid group: W. Africa Ebola outbreak like ‘wartime’. Tarnue Karbbar, working for the aid group Plan International in northern Liberia, said response teams are unable to document all the cases erupting as many of the sick are still being hidden at home by relatives fearful of going to treatment centers. Others are buried before the team gets to the areas. In the last several days, some 75 cases have emerged in the Voinjama district with Karbbar saying the challenge now is “to quarantine the area to successfully break the transmission.” Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for World Health Organization in Geneva, said the beds are filling up faster than expected demonstrating that the outbreak is more severe than the number shows. Joanne Liu, the medical charity’s international president, likened the situation to war as the outbreak has continued to move unpredictably telling reporters in Geneva Friday: “We’re running behind a train that is going forward. And it literally is faster than what we’re bringing in terms of a response.” The U.N. health agency Thursday warned that the official count at 1,069 dead and 1,975 infected may still “vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak.” It said extraordinary measures are needed “on a massive scale to contain the outbreak in settings characterized by extreme poverty, dysfunctional health systems, a severe shortage of doctors, and rampant fear.” Liberian officials faced a difficult choice Thursday deciding who receives an experimental drug that could be live saving, ineffective or harmful. Jonathan Paye-Layleh and Sarah DiLorenzo report, Nigeria Confirms 1 More Ebola Case, ZMapp, the untested Ebola drug, arrived in the country late Wednesday, however a day later no one has received the treatment yet which official said would go to three people. The Liberian government said two doctors would receive the treatment, while Information Minister Lewis Brown said Thursday the remaining dose would probably go to another health care worker. These are the last known doses of the drug and San Diego based company who developed it said it would take months to build a modest supply. The outbreak has sparked an international debate over the ethics of giving untested drugs to the sick and deciding who gets the treatments, since two Americans and one Spaniard have received ZMapp with the Spaniard dying within days. According to the U.N. health agency, 50 percent of those infected with Ebola have died. Dr. Moses Massaquoi, who helped Libria obtain the drug, said: “The criteria of selection is difficult, but it is going to be done. We are going to look at how critical people are. We are definitely going to be focusing on medical staff.” Arthur Caplan, director of medial ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center, said the choice of who to treat would have to balance helping the largest number of people with learning the most from the treatments. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department ordered families of embassy personnel to leave Sierra Leone on Thursday as concerns arise that the crisis would make it difficult to receive treatment for routine health problems. Nigeria announced Thursday that another person died from Ebola, bringing the total to four. The Health Ministry said the person was a nurse who helped treat the country’s first Ebola case, Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer who flew in last month and died. The ministry corrected the number of cases from 11 to 10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myth: This is the first major outbreak of Ebola.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The Middle East Crisis Deepens as Militants Gain Ground

AP Photo/Jaber al-Helo

Last Friday, Pentagon officials announced that the U.S. had started to fly armed drones over Baghdad to protect U.S. civilians and military forces in the Iraqi capital, according to the Associate Press. The senior defense official under anonymity confirmed that a handful of Predators armed with Hellfire missiles are being used in the mission. The drones are assisting manned and unmanned aircraft in the collection of data as well as provide protection for U.S. interests since President Obama has not authorized airstrikes against Sunni militants who have overrun parts of the country. The Pentagon on Thursday said that four teams of Army special forces had arrived in Baghdad bringing the number of American troops there to 90 of the 300 Obama promised to send. The Americans will advise and assist in the Iraqi counterterrorism efforts.

On Saturday of last week, the Iraqi government took steps to retake the northern city of Tikrit back from Sunni militants using soldiers backed by tanks and helicopter gunships, reported Ryan Lucas and Qassim Abdul Zahra (Iraq Launches Push For Militant-Held Tikrit). Reports coming from the city were conflicting as residents said the militants were still in control of the city by nightfall, while Iraqi officials said the troops had reached the outskirts and even made it as far as the heart of Tikrit itself. What has become very clear was the government’s desire to portray their efforts as a significant step in the right direction after two weeks of defeats at the hands of the al-Qaida breakaway Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The series of defeats across the northern and western regions of Iraq has lead to the deepest crisis since the U.S. exited in December of 2011 threatening the stability of the country as the militants threaten to cleave the  nation in three along sectarian and ethnic lines. If successful, according to Lucas and Abdul Zahra, the Tikrit operation could restore some faith in the security forces and save Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s job. Many residents of the city have fled in anticipation of a government assault turning Tikrit into a ghost town. The city has been without power or water since last Friday night, according to one resident, Muhanad Saif al-Din. Early Saturday, the military carried out three airstrikes on the insurgent held city of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq and the initial target of the Islamic State’s offensive in the country. The Islamic State, which has seized control of large parts of northern and eastern Syria, aim to create a state straddling Syria and Iraq governed by Islamic law. Al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq, has failed to unite the Shiite and Sunni groups allowing militants to tap into the deep seated discontent among Iraq’s Sunni community fueling their anger. The Unites States and other world leaders have told al-Maliki to reach out to the country’s Sunni and Kurdish minorities and have called for more inclusive government to address longstanding grievances, according to Lucas and Abdul Zahra. Al-Maliki has refused to step aside and will seek a third consecutive term as prime minister as his bloc won the most seats in the April election.

On Sunday of last week, the al-Qaida breakaway group declared the establishment of a new Islamic state demanding allegiance from Muslims worldwide, according to the Associate Press article Al-Qaida splinter declares new Islamic caliphate. The spokesman for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, made the announcement in an audio statement posted online on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Al-Adnanai declared the group’s chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as the new leader, or caliph, calling for jihadi groups everywhere to swear allegiance to al-Baghdadi and support him. Al-Adnani states,”The legality of all emirates, groups, states and organizations becomes null by the expansion of the caliph’s authority and the arrival of its troops to their areas. Listen to your caliph and obey him. Support your state, which grows every day.” The Islamic state’s territory runs from northern Syria to the Iraqi province of Diyala, according to Al-Adnani. With the establishment of the caliphate, the group changed its name to the Islamic State. In email comments, Charles Lister, a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, explains that:”This announcement poses a huge threat to al-Qaida and its long-time position of leadership of the international jihadist cause. Taken globally, the younger generation of the jihadist community is becoming more and more supportive of (the Islamic State), largely out of fealty to its slick and proven capacity for attaining rapid results through brutality.” Al-Baghdadi has long been at odds with al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahri and the two have had a very public falling out after al-Baghdadi ignored al-Zawahri’s demands that the Islamic State leave Syria. In February, al Zawahri formally disavowed al-Baghdadi. The declarations comes as the Iraqi government tries to take back some of its territory lost in recent weeks to jihadi groups and Sunni militants. The fighting continued on Sunday as Iraqi helicopter gunships took out suspected insurgent positions for the second day in the northern city of Tikrit. However, the insurgent were able to repel the military effort and remain in control of the city with clashes continuing to take place in the northern neighborhood of Qadissiyah, according to two residents.So far, Washington has sent 180 of the 300 American troops President Obama promised to help Iraqi forces, in addition, to flying unmanned and manned aircraft over Iraq.

President Obama has become increasingly concerned that the battle hardened militants who have spent time in Iraq and Syria could pose a threat to U.S. security due to the fact they could enter the country without visas on European passports, the Associate Press reports Obama: Battle-Hardened Militants Pose Threat To U.S. In an interview last Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”, Obama said,”They’re gaining strength in some places. We’ve seen Europeans who are sympathetic to their cause traveling into Syria and now may travel into Iraq, getting battle-hardened. Then they come back.”  The POTUS believes that the U.S. must improve surveillance, reconnaissance and intelligence gathering to neutralize the risk, in addition, possible military strikes against these organizations that could do us harm. As of Monday, officials confirmed that the U.S. will be sending another 300 troops to Iraq to beef up security at the U.S. Embassy and elsewhere in Baghdad to protect U.S. citizens and property, the HuffPost and Associated Press report (Obama Orders More Troops To Iraq). This addition brings the count to 750 total U.S. troops present in Iraq. The State Department has announced it will temporarily move unspecified embassy staffers in Baghdad to U.S. consulates in the northern city of Ibril and the southern city of Basra. On Sunday and Monday, the Pentagon confirmed that 200 troops have arrived to reinforce security at the embassy, its support facilities and Baghdad International Airport as requested by the POTUS. In a written statement, the Pentagon’s press secretary, Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby, had this to say: “The presence of these additional forces will help enable the embassy to continue its critical diplomatic mission and work with Iraq on challenges they are facing as they confront Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.” Obama notified House and Senate leaders in a letter Monday of the additional forces. Obama has ruled out sending combat troops and insists the extra troops will stay in Iraq until security improves and reinforcement are no longer needed. Kirby said 100 additional troops who are on standby in the Middle East since the mid June will move to Baghdad to provide security and logistics support.

Seven Score and Several Wars Ago…

An Associated Press analysis of federal payment records found the government is still making monthly payment to relatives of Civil War veterans, 148 years after the conflict ended, leading many to believe that the U.S. government will be doing the same for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. While many military families come to terms with the sacrifices they make to protect their country, the government has had to pay out more than $40 billion a year to compensate veterans and survivors from the Spanish American War from 1898, World War I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the two Iraq campaigns, and the Afghanistan conflict with costs rising rapidly at the 10 year Iraq war anniversary. As U.S. Senator Patty Murray explains, “When we decide to go to war, we have to consciously be also thinking about the cost” adding that her WWII-veteran father’s disability benefits helped feed their family according to the Associated Press. Alan Simpson, a former Republican senator and veteran, said that government leader working to limit the national debt should make sure the veteran’s need the money as he said “without question I would affluence test all of these people.” Because of the improved battlefield medicine and technology, a greater number of troops survive costing the government more money in disability payments as the Associated Press analyzed the post war cost in each conflict in four compensation programs which include disabled veterans, survivors, survivors of those who died in war or service disability, low income wartime vets over 65 or disabled, and low income survivors of wartime vets or disabled children. The information obtained by the AP gathered the information from millions of federal payment records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The total compensation with each war:

The Iraq wars, Afghanistan and first Persian Gulf 1990s costs $12 billion a year  and total so far at $50 billion since 2003 not including medical car other benefits provided to veterans which is likely to grow.

The Vietnam War costs $22 billion a year 40 years after the conflict and payments are rising as new ailments are added such as diabetes and heart disease. A congressional analysis estimates the total cost of fighting the war was $738 billion in 2011 dollars and the benefits for veterans and families has cost $270 billion since 1970 according to AP calculations.

World War I  which ended 94 years ago has cost$20 million every year while World War II cost $5 billion. The Korean War costs appear to be leveling off at $2.8 billion per year. Of the 2,289 survivors of WWI, one third are spouses and dozens of the are over 100 years old.

 

There are 10 living recipients of benefits tied to the 1898 Spanish American War costing $50,000 per year and the Civil War payments are going to two children of veterans each $876 per year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Iraq Beauty Festival Held Since U.S. Invasion (PHOTOS)

First Iraq Beauty Festival Held Since U.S. Invasion (PHOTOS).

I think that this is what the country needs after so many years of violence and fighting. Iraqi hairdressers and beauticians gather in Baghdad to show off their talents  at the Make Up, Hairdressing and Fashion Show, a symbolic move to empower the people and break from fear that has gripped the country for years. The festival was the first of its kind since 2003 US led invasion and violent aftermath. This latest effort in a series of events has benefited the residents of this once dynamic city in the Middle East as a decline in violence has become more apparent. “The most important thing about this festival is spotlighting the brightness of Iraqi women, which has gone unseen by the world,” said Nadya Hamza Fuad, one of the organizers. She continued to explain,” Darkness used to dominate, and the light of beauty was extinguished 10 years ago, especially in women’s salons. Society has been held back because of the dark period.” The festival brought together a range of participants who as models were dressed to the nines and made up by beauticians and hairdressers who showcased their talents. The event was held in two conference rooms where experts showed the aspiring beauticians  tricks of the trades and best practices, while hairdressers showed their skills to onlookers before their models strutted on the catwalk. This is in sharp  contrast to years before, when tens of thousands were killed in insurgency ans sectarian wars that followed the ousting now executed dictator Saddam Hussein. Religious extremists in particular would target hairdressers, most of whom closed their shops, causing women, few of whom were veiled pre 2003, were forced to cover themselves and stay home. Even though violence has dropped, Baghdad attacks are still common and remains one of the world’s most dangerous cities. The one day festival was limited to word of mouth to avoid the attention of militants who would carry out attacks in Baghdad and across Iraq.