TIME Syria

Journalist Held Captive in Syria Arrives in the U.S.

Peter Theo Curtis
Peter Theo Curtis, who was released from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria, talks to reporters near his mother's home in Cambridge, Mass. on Aug. 27, 2014. Brian Snyder—Reuters

Journalist Peter Theo Curtis returned home to the U.S. on Tuesday, two days after being freed by a Syrian extremist group that held him hostage for 22 months, his family said

(BOSTON) — Journalist Peter Theo Curtis returned home to the United States on Tuesday, two days after being freed by a Syrian extremist group that held him hostage for 22 months, his family said.

Curtis family spokeswoman Betsy Sullivan said in a statement that Curtis arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport Tuesday afternoon after leaving Tel Aviv. By evening he had been reunited with his mother Nancy Curtis at Boston Logan International Airport.

“I have been so touched and moved, beyond all words, by the people who have come up to me today — strangers on the airplane, the flight attendants, and most of all my family — to say welcome home,” Curtis said in the statement.

He also said he was “deeply indebted” to the U.S. officials who worked to get him released.

Curtis, 45, of Boston, was released by al-Nusra Front, a Sunni extremist group.

Last week, journalist James Foley, who also was kidnapped in 2012 while covering the Syrian uprising, was killed. The Islamic State group posted a Web video showing his beheading.

The extremists said they killed the Rochester, New Hampshire, resident in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes targeting Islamic State positions in northern Iraq.

Curtis’ mother said she was “overwhelmed with relief” that her son had been returned to her. “But this is a sober occasion because of the events of the past week,” she said. “My heart goes out to the other families who are suffering.”

U.S. freelance journalist, Austin Tice of Houston, disappeared in Syria in August 2012. He is believed to be held by the Syrian government.

TIME stock market

Another Milestone: S&P 500 Closes Above 2,000

It was a big round-number day for the stock market.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index closed a hair above 2,000 points Tuesday, 16 years after it closed above 1,000 points for the first time.

The milestone added to the market’s gains from the day before and extended the stock index’s record-shattering run this year.

The S&P 500 index, a widely followed barometer of the stock market, has closed at a new high 30 times this year. By this time last year, it had done so 25 times.

The index briefly rose past 2,000 on Monday, but closed just below that level. It still set a record-high close in the process.

“There’s perhaps a small psychological boost when you get over such a significant price level,” said Cameron Hinds, regional chief investment officer at Wells Fargo Private Bank.

U.S. stocks, in the midst of a five-year rally, have surged in the final weeks of the summer after dipping earlier this month on concerns about geopolitical tensions in Russia and the Middle East.

The latest string of shattered market benchmarks comes as investors cheered new indications that the economy is strengthening, setting the stage for stronger company earnings.

Major U.S. indexes began in positive territory in premarket trading Tuesday. That trend held as investors began to digest the latest economic reports.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index rose this month to the highest point in nearly seven years. A separate report showed that orders of durable manufactured goods surged by a record 22.6 percent in July, thanks to a jump in aircraft sales. A third report showed U.S. home prices rose in June, although at a slower pace.

Stocks opened slightly higher and remained in the green the rest of the day. The S&P crossed above 2,000 points early on, and hovered at or above the mark as it approached the close of regular trading.

Moments before the close it dipped below 2,000, then inched up just above.

The S&P 500 rose 2.10 points, or 0.1 percent, to end at 2,000.02. Seven of the 10 sectors in the S&P 500 index gained, led by energy stocks. Utilities declined the most.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 29.83 points, or 0.2 percent, to 17,106.70. The Nasdaq composite gained 13.29 points, or 0.3 percent, to 4,570.64.

The major U.S. indexes are riding a three-week streak of weekly gains and are up for the year.

The string of record highs this year isn’t unusual when a market is recovering from a downturn, said Kate Warne, an investment strategist at Edward Jones.

In the past, once stocks have hit a new high after a downturn, they have continued higher for about two years, on average, she said. The first time the S&P 500 hit a new high after the financial crisis was March 2013. So this year’s record run is still within the average range.

“Markets don’t climb sharply. They tend to climb slowly, and that’s probably good news for a continued climb in the future,” Warne said.

The Dow also has put up some big numbers this year, notching 15 new closing highs. That trails the 30 it racked up by this time a year ago.

While the market is setting records, many stock watchers believe equities remain fairly valued, though not cheap.

The S&P 500 is trading around 16 times its forward-operating earnings, or over the next 12 months. The historical average on that measure is about 15 times.

“That says stocks are no longer cheap, but we also don’t think they’re expensive,” Warne said. “Historically, when the price-earnings ratio has been in that range, returns over the next year have been around 7 percent. That’s not bad.”

Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.39 percent. U.S. crude for October delivery rose 51 cents to $93.86 a barrel. In metals trading, gold rose $6.30 to $1,285.20 an ounce, silver rose three cents to $19.39 an ounce and copper fell three cents to $3.19 a pound.

Among the stocks making big moves Tuesday:

— Amazon rose 2.3 percent after saying that it would buy video streaming company Twitch for $970 million. The stock climbed $7.81 to $341.83.

— Best Buy fell $2.19, or 6.8 percent, to $29.80 after the electronics retailer reported that its fiscal second-quarter net income plunged 45 percent as sales weakened.

— Orbitz fell 4.6 percent after American Airlines and US Airways disclosed they are pulling flight listings from the site because they have not been able to reach agreement on a long-term contract with the travel booking website operator. Orbitz shed 39 cents to $8.04.

TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Israel, Hamas Accept Gaza War Cease-Fire

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas recites a prayer in memory of those killed during the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, ahead of a press conference on August 26, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas recites a prayer in memory of those killed during the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, ahead of a press conference on August 26, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Abbas Momani—AFP/Getty Images

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — Israel and Hamas announced Tuesday that they agreed to an open-ended cease-fire in the Gaza war after seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority Palestinians.

The cease-fire was to take effect at 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT), but violence persisted until the last minute.

In Israel, mortar shells fired from Gaza killed one man and seriously wounded two people, authorities said.

In Gaza, police reported that an Israeli airstrike collapsed a seven-story building in the town of Beit Lahiya, the sixth high-rise to be toppled since the weekend. Booms from Israeli strikes could be heard in Gaza after the truce announcement was made.

In Gaza, massive celebratory gunfire erupted after 7 p.m. Chants normally reserved for Muslim holidays could be heard from mosque loudspeakers.

Earlier, officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main groups fighting Israel, had said the cease-fire included an Israeli agreement to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the war-battered territory.

Talks on more complex issues, such as Hamas’ demand to build an airport and a seaport for Gaza, would begin in a month, said Ziad Nakhala, a senior Islamic Jihad official.

The details of the cease-fire would effectively mean Hamas and Islamic Jihad settled for terms that are similar to those that ended more than a week of fighting with Israel in 2012.

Under those terms, Israel promised to ease restrictions gradually, while Hamas pledged to halt rocket fire from Gaza at Israel. The truce held for long stretches, but Gaza’s border blockade also remained largely intact.

Even though it apparently had little to show for, Hamas declared victory.

“We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a news conference at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Under the restrictions, virtually all of Gaza’s 1.8 million people cannot trade or travel. Only a few thousand are able to leave the coastal territory every month.

During the war, Hamas had said it would only cease fire if the blockade is lifted.

However, Israeli pressure on the group has been escalating. Hamas is believed to be left with just one-third of its initial rocket arsenal of 10,000, while Israel says it has destroyed most of Hamas’ network of military attack tunnels.

Israeli strikes have destroyed or severely damaged more than 17,000 Gaza homes, according to United Nations estimates, leaving about 100,000 people homeless. The number of dead has also been rising steadily, reaching at least 2,140 by Tuesday, with more than 11,000 Gazans wounded since July 8, Palestinian health officials said.

On the Israeli side, 69 people have been killed, all but four of them soldiers. Thousands of Israelis living near Gaza have fled their homes, including in recent days when Gaza militants stepped up mortar fire on southern Israel.

___

Daraghmeh reported from Ramallah, West Bank.

___

Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

TIME Israel

Hamas Official: Cease-Fire Reached With Israel

A senior Hamas official says a cease-fire has been reached with Israel to end a seven-week war that has killed more than 2,000 people.

The official said the deal calls for an “open-ended” cease-fire, and an Israeli agreement to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the war-battered territory.

Talks on deeper issues, such as Hamas’ demand to reopen Gaza’s airport and seaport, would begin in a month.

The official said Egypt planned an announcement later Tuesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity pending the announcement.

There was no immediate Israeli comment.

TIME Ukraine

Putin Sits Down With Ukrainian President for Talks

(MINSK, Belarus) — The presidents of Russia and Ukraine sat down for talks Tuesday, meeting face-to-face for the first time since June on the fighting that has engulfed Ukraine’s separatist east.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko were joined by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan and three senior officials from the European Union in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.

The meeting came as Ukraine said its forces had captured 10 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine and the shelling spread to a new front in the far southeast. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of supporting and arming the rebels, which Russia denies daily.

“The fate of peace and the fate of Europe are being decided in Minsk today,” Poroshenko said as the talks began.

Under pressure to seek a negotiated settlement and not a military victory, the Ukrainian president said the purpose of his visit was to start the process of searching for a political compromise and promised that the interests of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine would be taken into account.

Putin devoted most of his opening remarks to trade, arguing that Ukraine’s decision to sign an association agreement with the EU would lead to huge losses for Russia, which would then be forced to protect its economy. Russia had been counting on Ukraine joining a rival economic union that it is forming with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukraine is set to ratify the EU association agreement in September.

On the fighting that began in April between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia separatists, Putin said only that he was certain the conflict “could not be solved by further escalation of the military scenario without taking into account the vital interests of the southeast of the country and without a peaceful dialogue of its representatives.”

Poroshenko would be unlikely to agree to Russia’s frequent call for federalization — devolving wide powers to the regions from the central government — but could agree to allow them to have some expanded powers.

He also has spoken against holding a referendum on Ukraine’s joining NATO; Russia’s desire to keep Ukraine out of the alliance is seen as one of Moscow’s key concerns.

Opening Tuesday’s meeting, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko urged both sides to “discard political ambitions and not to seek political dividend.”

Putin has so far ignored requests from the rebels to be annexed by Russia — unlike in March, when he annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. But Associated Press journalists on the border have seen the rebels with a wide range of military equipment — including tanks, Buk missile launchers and armored personnel carriers — and have run into many Russians among the rebel fighters.

Ukraine wants the rebels to hand back the territory they have captured in eastern Ukraine, while Putin wants to retain some sort of leverage over the mostly Russian-speaking region so Ukraine does not join NATO or the European Union.

The Facebook page for Ukraine’s anti-rebel operation said soldiers from a Russian paratrooper division were captured Monday around Amvrosiivka, a town near the Russian border.

Towering columns of smoke rose Tuesday from outside a city in Ukraine’s far southeast after what residents said was a heavy artillery barrage. Ukraine accused separatists and their Russian backers of trying to expand the conflict.

It was the second straight day that attacks were reported in the vicinity of Novoazovsk, which is in eastern Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk region but previously had seen little fighting.

Local residents in Novoazovsk, some hastily packing up in order to flee, told The Associated Press it was not clear what direction the firing had come from Tuesday.

Ukrainian officials on Monday said artillery was fired from the Russian side of the border. A Ukrainian soldier who declined to give his name suggested that Tuesday’s shelling could have come from rebels aiming to take out a Ukrainian rocket launcher.

In Kiev, Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, blamed the shelling on “Russian mercenaries.”

Novoazovsk lies on the Azov Sea on the road that runs from Russia to the major Ukrainian port of Mariupol. That same road goes west to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in March.

Ukraine said a small column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles crossed into Ukraine on Monday north of Novoazovsk, raising the possibility that pro-Russia separatists were aiming to take control of a strip of land that would link up Russia with Crimea.

“Russia is trying from its side to open a new front,” Lysenko told reporters.

“The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway,” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said on his Twitter account.

Lysenko said there were enough forces and equipment in Mariupol to defend the city of more than 450,000. An AP reporter saw excavators digging deep trenches Tuesday on the eastern edge of the city.

Ukraine’s posting about the captured soldiers included videos of five of the men.

One of the captured soldiers, who identified himself as Sergei Smirnov, said they were not told anything about their mission.

“We were just traveling through fields and then we stopped in the middle of the field and the BMP2 (armored vehicle) broke down,” he said.

Asked if he knew they were on Ukrainian territory, he said: “When we got into the village we saw a tank with Ukrainian flag. Then we understood.” He said they then came under fire.

Russian news agencies quoted an unnamed official in the Russian Defense Ministry as saying the soldiers were patrolling the border and probably crossed the border inadvertently.

Russia reportedly has tens of thousands of troops positioned in areas near the Ukrainian border, leading to persistent concerns that Moscow could be preparing an invasion.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine began in mid-April, a month after Russia annexed Crimea. It has killed over 2,000 people and forced over 340,000 to flee, according to the U.N.

___

Leonard reported from Novoazovsk, Ukraine. Jim Heintz in Kiev, Ukraine, and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

TIME

Burger King Buying Tim Hortons for About $11B

(MIAMI) — Burger King is buying Canadian coffee-and-doughnut chain Tim Hortons Inc. for about $11 billion, creating the world’s third-largest fast-food company.

The corporate headquarters of the new company will be in Canada, a move that may help Burger King lower its taxes. Burger King will still run its business out of Miami.

Burger King Worldwide Inc. will pay $65.50 Canadian ($59.74) in cash and 0.8025 common shares of the new company for each Tim Hortons share. This represents total value per Tim Hortons share of $94.05 Canadian (US$85.79), based on Burger King’s Monday closing stock price. Alternatively, Tim Hortons shareholders may choose either all-cash or all stock in the new company.

Tim Hortons stock rose more than 10 percent in Tuesday premarket trading. Burger King’s shares fell slightly.

TIME

Israel Destroys 2 Gaza High-Rises in Escalation

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(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — Israel bombed two Gaza City high-rises with dozens of homes and shops Tuesday, collapsing one building and severely damaging the other in a further escalation of seven weeks of cross-border fighting with Hamas.

In the past, the military has hit targets in high-rises in pinpoint strikes, but left the buildings standing. However, since Saturday, it has toppled or destroyed five towers and shopping complexes in an apparent new tactic aimed at increasing pressure on Hamas.

The objects of the latest strikes contain apartments inhabited almost exclusively by middle-class Gazans, who up until now have been largely spared the considerable dislocation that has affected tens of thousands of other residents in densely populated neighborhoods of the coastal strip, like Shijaiyah.

That has raised the possibility that the Israeli military is trying to use better-off Gazans, like professionals and Palestinian authority employees, to put pressure on Hamas to end the fighting on Israel’s terms.

Tuesday’s strikes leveled the 15-story Basha Tower with apartments and offices and severely damaged the Italian Complex, built in the 1990s by an Italian businessman, with dozens of shops and offices.

Both buildings were evacuated after receiving warnings of impending strikes. Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said 25 people were wounded in the attack on the Italian Complex.

One resident of the Italian Complex, 38-year-old engineer Nael Mousa, said that he, his four children and 70-year-old mother had managed to flee the building late Monday night after a guard had alerted them of an impending strike, and that he was in his car some 300 meters (yards) away when it was bombed by an Israeli F-16 fighter jet.

Within two hours, he said, it had been completely levelled by at least five additional bombs.

“I have become homeless, my children’s fear will never be soothed, and something new has now been added to our feelings toward Israel and all the world, which has been looking on without doing anything,” he said.

The Israeli military said it targeted sites linked to militants Tuesday, but made no specific reference to the two buildings. Israel alleges Hamas often operates from civilian locations. The military has not said why it has begun collapsing large buildings, rather than carrying out pinpointed strikes against suspected militant targets located there.

In an email message to The Associated Press, military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said the strikes were “a direct result to Hamas’ decision to situate their terrorist infrastructure within the civilian sphere including schools, hospitals and high-rise buildings.”

He said Israel will not “enable Hamas to continue to kill Israelis, target our towns and cities and expect to operate without consequence to their facilities, militant operatives and the leadership of their heinous attacks against Israel.”

Political scientist Mkhaimar Abu Sada from Gaza’s Al Azhar University said he believed the Israeli tactic was a deliberate attempt to pressure Hamas by targeting middle class structures in neighborhoods like Rimal and Tel al-Hawa, which have so far been spared the worst of the fighting.

He said the tactic will end up creating even greater antipathy toward Israel, but might also result in some tough questions being asked about Hamas’ conduct of the war.

“Some people will now be wondering why Hamas did not accept a cease-fire proposal during the first week of the fighting, when the damage here was still relatively small,” he said.

Retired Israeli air force brigadier general Shlomo Brom, now a fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, said he was doubtful that the high-rise structures had been targeted solely because of their middle-class makeups.

“I have no doubt that these buildings were hit primarily because they contained offices or other facilities that belonged to Hamas,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, two people were killed in an airstrike on a house in Gaza City, police said, and the Red Crescent reported that two others died and three were wounded when Israeli tanks opened fire on Shijaiyah, east of Gaza City.

Israel’s military said it carried out 15 air strikes in Gaza on Tuesday.

It said eight rockets were launched from the coastal strip at Israeli territory, including one that caused extensive damage to a home in the southern city of Ashkelon and lightly injured more than a dozen people there.

The latest strikes came as Egypt urged Israel and Hamas to resume indirect talks on a permanent cease-fire, based on an Egyptian proposal for a new border deal for blockaded Gaza.

The Egyptian offer calls for a gradual easing of restrictions on trade and movement in and out of Gaza and would give Hamas’ Palestinian rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, a foothold in the strip.

Hamas seized Gaza from Abbas in 2007, triggering the blockade that has been enforced to varying degrees since then.

Israel and Hamas have not responded to Egypt’s latest call.

Gaza’s war has so far killed at least 2,133 Palestinians and wounded more than 11,000, according to Palestinian health officials and the United Nations. The U.N. estimates more than 17,000 homes have been destroyed, leaving 100,000 people homeless.

On the Israeli side, 68 people have been killed, all but four of them soldiers.

TIME

4 Dead in Plane Crash Near Cleveland

(RICHMOND HEIGHTS, Ohio) — A small plane crashed and burst into flames just after takeoff from a regional airport outside of Cleveland, killing all four people on board, according to the Ohio State Highway Patrol.

The Cessna 172R crashed at about 10 p.m. Monday after taking off from the Cuyahoga (ky-uh-HOH’-guh) County Airport in Richmond Heights, about 15 miles northeast of Cleveland, the patrol said.

The patrol says the plane began its ascent, then crashed outside the airport and burst into flames. The occupants were trapped in the wreckage and died at the scene.

Mark Gerald, 45, said he was sitting on his front porch when the plane crashed nearby. He said he could hear the plane struggling, but didn’t see it until hit the ground.

Gerald told the Northeast Ohio Media Group that he and neighbors ran toward the plane hoping they could help, but it exploded as they approached.

“We thought we had (a chance to help them). It was too hot,” he said. “The whole fuselage was involved.”

William Honaker, 18, said he was driving nearby when he saw a “ball of light” and realized it was the plane on fire.

Honaker said he also tried to approach the plane, but onlookers warned him to stay away because of the intense fire.

“(The plane) was so mangled,” Honaker said. “I didn’t want to look at it anymore, to be honest.”

It was not immediately known where the plane was headed. The names of those on board have not been released.

The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board asked local authorities to secure the scene for their investigators.

TIME Guatemala

Guatemala Declares State of Emergency for Drought

Central America is suffering one of its worst droughts in decades

(GUATEMALA CITY) — The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency in 16 of the country’s 22 provinces because of a drought that has caused major agricultural losses in Central America.

Agriculture Minister Elmer Lopez said Monday that as of last week more than 236,000 families had been affected mainly in western and central Guatemala.

The state of emergency declaration has to be approved by lawmakers so the government can provide funds to those who have lost their crops, and to stabilize food prices.

Central America is suffering one of its worst droughts in decades, and experts say major farm losses and the deaths of hundreds of cattle in the region could leave hundreds of thousands of families without food.

The losses are largely in the region’s staples of corn and beans.

TIME Iraq

Car Bombing Kills at Least 11 People in Baghdad

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-inspired militants

(BAGHDAD) — A parked car bomb exploded on Tuesday in a busy Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, killingat least 11 people, officials said, the latest in a series of attacks to shake the Iraqi capital as the Shiite-led government struggles to dislodge Sunni militants from areas in the country’s west and north.

The explosives-laden car went off during the morning rush hour in the main commercial area of the NewBaghdad district It was parked close to outdoor pet and vegetable markets and a traffic police office, a police officer said.

The attack killed at least 11 and wounded 31, he added. A medical official confirmed the casualty figures. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to media.

The bombing came a day after a wave of attacks targeted Shiite areas in several cities, including Baghdad, killing at least 58 people. Among them were 15 worshippers who died in a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque in the same New Baghdad neighborhood where Tuesday’s car bomb struck.

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest attacks, which bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-inspired militants.

Iraq has faced a growing Sunni insurgency since early this year as the Islamic State, an al-Qaeda-breakaway group, and allied militants have taken over areas in the country’s west and north. The crisis is Iraq’s worst crisis since the 2011 withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The Islamic State has captured large swaths of territory in western and northern Iraq in a lightning offensive earlier this year.

The blitz stunned Iraqi security forces and the military, which melted away and withdrew as the Islamic State in June overran the northern cities of Mosul and Tikrit, as well as small towns and villages on their path.

Since then, tens of thousands of Iraqis, including members of Christian and other minorities, have been forced from their homes and displaced, while the Islamic State has carved out a self-styled caliphate in the large area straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border that it now controls.

Associated Press writer Murtada Faraj contributed to this report

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