TIME Libya

Libyan Rebels Capture Special-Forces Base in Benghazi

A girl stands next to the wreckage of a government MiG warplane which crashed during Tuesday's fighting, in Benghazi
A Libyan girl stands next to the wreckage of a government MiG warplane that crashed during clashes in Benghazi, Libya, on July 29, 2014 Esam Al-Fetori —Reuters

Libya is quickly sliding into the realm of a failed state as rebel forces and Islamist militants battle against government troops

A special force’s base in Benghazi has fallen after a coalition of rebel militias and Islamist militants pounded the enclave with salvos of rocket fire and artillery.

“We have withdrawn from the army base after heavy shelling,” Libyan Saiqa Special Forces officer Fadel al-Hassi told Reuters.

Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, has been home to fierce fighting between government special-forces troops and former rebel fighters from the Benghazi Shura Council who are now allied with the Islamist force Ansar al-Sharia, according to Reuters.

Since the ousting of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi, the country has gone through periods of perennial chaos, as the militias who overthrew the regime have refused to give up their arms and Islamic groups have steadily grown more powerful.

Earlier this month, heavy fighting among rebel bands near the capital resulted in the closure of Tripoli International Airport after rockets crashed into the facility, killing one person and damaging at least a dozen planes.

Late last week, the U.S. embassy in the capital was evacuated and shuttered amid the increasing unrest. Over the weekend, the U.S. State Department issued an official travel advisory, warning American citizens to avoid any trips to the conflict-riven country.

“The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution,” read the notice. “Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.”

TIME Middle East

Civilian Casualties in Gaza Slated to Rise as Israel, Hamas Intensify Fighting

Palestinians search for victims as people gather atop the remains of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 29, 2014.
Palestinians search for victims as people gather atop the remains of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 29, 2014. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa—Reuters

Any semblance of a possible ceasefire in the restive Palestinian coastal strip withered as fighting intensified throughout Monday night and into Tuesday morning

Chances of peace in the Gaza Strip looked very remote Tuesday morning, as Hamas militants penetrated Israel, and Israeli forces ratcheted up their military offensive in the Palestinian coastal territory.

Israeli aircraft, artillery and ground troops continued to pummel the conflict-ridden enclave after a raft of proposed humanitarian truces discussed over the weekend ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr ultimately failed to take root.

Live feeds broadcasted online throughout Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday provided outsiders with a glimpse of the grim reality of life inside the besieged territory, as Operation Protective Edge entered its third week. Drones hummed out of sight and illumination flares cast an eerie light over Gaza’s skyline, while explosions rumbled in the darkness.

“[Israel] did a very, intensive bombing campaign last night that most people in Gaza say was the worst night of this conflict so far,” Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program, tells TIME.

On Tuesday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) targeted the home of senior Hamas figure Ismail Haniyeh with aerial bombardments. The Al Shorouq building in central Gaza City, which is home to a television station affiliated with Hamas, was also hit with airstrikes. Despite the onslaught, the Hamas leadership struck a defiant tone.

“My house is not more valuable than the houses of other people, destroying stones will not break our determination,” said Haniyeh, according to a statement posted by his son on Facebook.

Earlier on Monday, Israeli media reported that Hamas forces succeeded in entering the country by way of an underground tunnel — the sixth such foray since hostilities erupted earlier this month. At least five Israeli soldiers and one militant were killed during the firefight that erupted near the site of the infiltration.

Following the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the airwaves to warn of a prolonged war with Hamas.

“Patience and determination are needed in order to continue the struggle against a murderous terrorist organization that aspires to our destruction,” he said.

“We will not complete the mission, we will not complete the operation, without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children.”

The Netanyahu Administration has pledged on myriad occasions to continue the ground offensive inside Gaza that began more than a week ago with the goal of dismantling a network of tunnels permeating Israel’s borders.

However, analysts say it’s unlikely the administration has any interest in deploying a full ground incursion in order to re-occupy dense urban areas of the Strip or upping their goals to include disarming Hamas.

“He’s limiting the scope of the operation, setting limited goals that are achievable so that he cannot be as easily accused of failure when it’s all over,” says Thrall.

But as the operation enters its 22nd day, the civilians of Gaza continue to bear the harshest burnt of the Israeli military operation.

The latest audit by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs put the kill count in Gaza at 1,065, a vast majority of which are believed to be civilians including hundreds of women and children. More than 50 Israeli have also died during the fighting, most of whom are soldiers.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly began inundating at least three Gaza neighborhoods in the past 24 hours with leaflets warning thousands of residents to evacuate the area ahead of an approaching assault. In response, the U.N. warned Israel against continuing with an intensified push into residential areas.

“This would have a further devastating humanitarian impact on the beleaguered civilians of those areas of the Gaza Strip, who have already undergone immense suffering in recent days,” read a statement released by the spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“The United Nations agencies present in Gaza do not have the resources on the ground to cope with, or provide assistance to, an enormous extra influx of desperate people.”

The fighting to date has displaced an estimated 215,000 people in Gaza.

TIME Middle East

U.N. Security Council Calls for Unconditional Cease-Fire in Gaza

The international body agreed on a demand for an immediate truce in Gaza on Monday, following the resumption of fighting between Hamas and Israel

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The UN Security Council called for “an immediate and unconditional humanitarian cease-fire” in the Gaza Strip, along with the “the delivery of urgently needed assistance” to the residents of the conflict-riven coastal territory during an emergency meeting in the early hours of Monday morning.

The 15-member council’s call for all “parties to engage in efforts to achieve a durable and fully respected cease-fire” came as the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr commenced on Monday, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The renewed push for an end to hostilities follows the collapse of a humanitarian agreement over the weekend after Hamas fired a salvo of rockets into Israel that was then followed by the renewed shelling of Gaza by Israeli forces.

There is little evidence to suggest that either side trusts the other enough to follow through with another deal, according to Lina Khatib, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. “Israel and Hamas both did not abide by the truce even though they said they agreed to it. The fighting that’s restarted by both sides is a sign that each of them was expecting the other to break the truce first,” she told TIME.

“There’s a dynamic of mistrust that has overwhelmed any desire to engage in truces on both sides.”

During an interview with CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that his administration was not obliged to agree to another armistice that would allow Hamas “to rearm, and continue firing on our citizens.”

“We’ll determine what is important for our own security in the way that we can to protect our people, including working against these terror tunnels that they’re digging against us,” said Netanyahu. “That’s how we’ll act.”

At least 999 Palestinians have been killed and another 6,233 injured during the first 20 days of Israeli military’s offensive into Gaza, according to the latest tally by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Forty-six Israelis have been killed, including two civilians and one foreign national.

Hamas has rejected several cease-fire initiatives, including the U.S.-backed deal tabled by Cairo earlier this month, and said it will continue to do so until the Netanyahu Administration agrees to terminate its seven-year blockade of Gaza. In an exclusive interview with Charlie Rose that is set to air on Monday, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal reiterated the organization’s position. “Life is a right for our people in Palestine,” said Meshaal. “This is a collective punishment. We need to lift the siege.”

Analysts explain that Hamas’s obstinacy reflects the group’s desire to remain a political mainstay in the Israeli-Palestinian equation, after joining a unity government with the Palestinian Authority earlier this year. “Hamas wants to prove that it can make demands and it can deliver results,” says Khatib. “So it’s important for its own credibility to show that it can make demands and see the results.”

TIME Palestine

Tensions Swell in the West Bank as Gaza Offensive Rages

An Israeli armed vehicle seen passing near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 25, 2014 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip.
An Israeli armed vehicle seen passing near the Israeli-Gaza border on July 25, 2014 near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip. Ilia Yefimovich—Getty Images

Israel rejected a cease-fire proposal from U.S. Secretary or State John Kerry as thousands of demonstrators raged against the Israeli military’s military operation in the Gaza Strip

Tensions in the occupied Palestinian territories remained high Friday as Israel rejected a cease-fire proposal from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry amid ongoing clashes between protesters and Israeli authorities in the West Bank and Gaza.

At least five Palestinians were killed near the Qalandiyah checkpoint in the West Bank and another 200 injured after Israeli security forces fired live rounds into the crowd, reports The Los Angeles Times. An Israeli military spokesman told the Washington Post that an estimated 10,000 protesters “were rioting violently” on Thursday night, prompting the violent crackdown by riot police.

Israeli news outlets said the West Bank demonstrations were the largest since a five-year uprising in the territory ended in 2005. Palestinian leaders have called for the observance of a day of anger, which prompted Israel to dispatch thousands of security officials to Jerusalem’s Old City ahead of Friday prayers.

A number of diplomatic envoys, including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, have been canvassing the region to try to broker a truce.

In Cairo Friday for meetings with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Secretary Kerry called for a cease-fire on humanitarian grounds lasting at least five days amid a mounting civilian death toll in the conflict. Israeli’s security cabinet met Friday in Tel Aviv to discuss the temporary cease-fire and rejected the proposal, which would have gone into effect Sunday, reports Haaretz.

The Egyptian government tabled a U.S.-backed cease-fire proposal earlier this month calling for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hamas before negotiations over a seven-year blockade of Gaza commence. Israel endorsed the deal, while Hamas has continued to call for an end to the siege before signing a truce.

“The Israelis somehow seem to think they can do something through Egypt, where the present regime hates Hamas as much as it hates its own Muslim brethren,” Peter Sluglett, director of the Middle East Institute of National University of Singapore, tells TIME. “Really there is no future in that.”

Cairo has traditionally helped broker peace deals with Israel in the past, including the last cease-fire it signed with Hamas in 2012. However, experts say the calculus in Egypt has shifted since a military coup ousted the pro-Hamas Muslim Brotherhood from power a year ago.

Following the putsch, the Egyptian military dismantled numerous tunnels linking the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza, which has increased the choke hold on the Strip’s economy and brought Hamas’s finances to a breaking point.

“What is important to me is there should be a genuine guarantee to lift the siege on Gaza,” said Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during an interview on BBC’s Hardtalk this week. “These promises have been made in the past. Nothing was done.”

Rather than continue to work through Cairo, analysts have suggested a shift to Qatar, where Meshaal is currently based.

“I genuinely believe that the international community should do a few things,” says Sultan Barakat, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “One is maybe turn its attention to Qatar instead of Egypt as a potential place for mediation given that Qatar, unlike Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world, continues its contacts with Hamas.”

As diplomatic wrangling over a potential peace deal continued, Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip carried on.

The U.N. Offices for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported on Friday that 814 people in the Palestinian coastal territory have been killed since the military offensive began, the vast majority of whom are civilians. At least 37 Israelis have died during the fighting, including two civilians and a foreign laborer.

On Friday morning, the Israel Defense Forces reportedly struck 30 targets and claimed to kill a senior Islamic Jihad militant.

TIME Middle East

UN Human Rights Council Launches Inquiry into Gaza Conflict

Displaced Palestinians from Beit Hanoun sleep inside the UNRWA school in Jabalia, July 23, 2014.
Displaced Palestinians from Beit Hanoun sleep inside the UNRWA school in Jabalia, July 23, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls vote to open inquiry a "travesty"

Updated 6:30am ET

The UN Human Rights Council voted Wednesday to launch an inquiry into potential violations of human rights by Israel in its conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip — a move Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly labeled a “travesty.”

The council’s inquiry would investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” in Palestinian areas. The resolution was drafted by Palestine, and supported by 29 of the 46-member council. The U.S. voted against the resolution, while European countries abstained.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the UNHRC inquiry as a “travesty” and condemned the organization for failing to bring Hamas to account for its own conduct.

“The UNHRC is sending a message to Hamas and terror organizations everywhere that using civilians as human shields is an effective strategy,” said the prime minister in statement published on his official Facebook page.

The vote came after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay suggested that war crimes might have been committed in the Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of doing too little to avoid civilian deaths, and condemning Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks” on Israel.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told the U.N. Human Rights Council. “Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated.”

Civilian casualties in Gaza have soared, according to the UN. As of Thursday, 757 Palestinians had been killed, of which 571 were civilians, including 182 children and 95 women, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. At least 30 Israelis have also been killed during the conflict, mostly members of the armed forces.

Israeli tanks and aircraft continued their thrust into the sliver of Palestinian coastal territory on Thursday, aiming to eliminate Hamas’s rocket systems and destroy the matrix of tunnels that Israel says the Islamist group uses to wage war.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it struck 35 targets overnight. But there were more reports of Palestinian civilians killed; six members of the same family and an 18-month-old infant boy were killed when an Israeli airstrike hit the Jebaliya refugee camp, according to the Associated Press.

While whispers of a possible humanitarian truce ahead of the upcoming Eid al-Fitr festival wafted through the social media sphere this week, there have been no concrete signs that such an armistice will be signed. “It would not be accurate to say that we expect a ceasefire by the weekend,” said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to Reuters.

A smattering of international envoys have been shuttling across the Middle East throughout the week in attempt to wrangle up some sort of agreement that remained elusive as of Thursday morning.

In Qatar, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal signaled that the organization would consider a humanitarian ceasefire with Israel, but reiterated that his group would not strike a deal with the Netanyahu Administration until Israel agreed to end its seven-year blockade of Gaza.

“We will not accept any proposal that does not lift the blockade,” said the Hamas chief in a televised address Wednesday. “We do not desire war and we do not want it to continue but we will not be broken by it.”

Analysts say Israel is facing mounting global pressure as civilian losses grow in Gaza, but add that Hamas is facing plenty of pressures of its own.

“Hamas is on the receiving end and they can only go a certain distance in terms of absorbing losses and holding a united front within Gaza,” Sultan Barakat, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, tells TIME. “Soon they will run out of supplies. There will be an increased number of people displaced within Gaza and people will turn their anger towards them.”

TIME Israel

Kerry Lands in Israel in Attempt to Broker Ceasefire

Mideast Israel Palestinians
Relatives mourn Palestinian Mohammad al-Hamaydeh during his funeral in Gaza Strip on July 22, 2014 Eyad Baba—AP

As latest death toll from the offensive rose to 650 Palestinian dead, and 30 Israeli

Updated 7:12am

Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Tel Aviv Wednesday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, as the Israeli offensive into the Palestinian coastal strip entered its third week.

Kerry hopes to broker a deal for what the U.N. described as an “immediate cessation of hostilities” in the escalating war in Gaza. The bloodshed showed little sign of abating throughout Tuesday evening. The Israel Defense Forces reported 30 “terrorists” had been killed in the past 24 hours, while Hamas fired barrages of rockets back into Israel.

As of Wednesday morning, there were 650 Palestinian fatalities, of which 77% were civilians, according to the latest figures from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). At least 30 Israelis have been killed during the conflict, the majority of which are soldiers. Two Israeli soldiers were killed during Tuesday evening’s operations. An additional 135,000 Palestinians are currently displaced across the Gaza Strip.

The U.N.’s humanitarian chief came close to accusing Israel of perpetrating war crimes by taking insufficient care to avoid killing civilians. “There seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” said Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Analysts say the IDF’s continued onslaught targeting Hamas is unlikely to alter Gazans’ feelings toward the Islamist organization.

“Every time Israel engages in an over-the-top reaction to assaults by Hamas, the more the people in Gaza rally around Hamas and become more sympathetic to it,” Lina Khatib, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, tells TIME. “When civilians are attacked by Israel, the sense of resentment amongst the population in Gaza grows and Hamas can capitalize on the sense of grievance.”

Despite the acceleration of diplomatic initiatives across the region, the conflict showed little sign of ebbing as of Wednesday.

Israel continues to support a cease-fire proposal tabled by Cairo earlier this month, but Hamas has refused to accept a truce until the crippling, seven-year blockade on the Strip is lifted.

In Tel Aviv on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s position to Ban Ki-moon and chided Hamas’ refusal to sign an agreement. “In the face of such wanton terrorism, no country could sit idly by,” said Netanyahu. “We did not seek this escalation, Mr. Secretary.”

Ban, who has been traveling across the Middle East for three days attempting to rally support for an armistice, remained unequivocal in his stance.

“My message to Palestinians and Israelis is the same: stop fighting, start talking and take on the root causes of the conflict so we are not back to the same situation in another six months or a year,” he said. “I urge you to demonstrate fortitude by exercising maximum restraint. Recovery and reconstruction are more needed than ever.”

TIME Palestine

Israel Hits More Than 70 Targets in Gaza, as Ban and Kerry Call for Truce

The U.N. Secretary General and the U.S. Secretary of State lament renewed carnage and call for a cease-fire

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Israeli warplanes struck more than 70 targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Tuesday morning, including a stadium, five mosques and the home of a late Hamas military chief, reports the Associated Press.

The attacks came as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry accelerated diplomatic efforts for an immediate cease-fire.

The Israel Defense Forces through its Twitter account on Tuesday said that it had killed 183 “terrorists” and struck at more than 1,300 “terror sites” in Gaza during the two-week-old Operation Protective Edge. However, according to Human Rights Watch, many of the attacks have been made on civilian structures, including a refugee camp and hundreds of homes, leading to thousands of displacements.

Some 584 Palestinians and 29 Israelis have been killed during the conflict. The U.N. estimates that 75% of Palestinian deaths are of civilians, with scores of women and children among them.

“We must find a way to stop the violence,” said Ban at a joint press conference in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, with Kerry. “So many people have died. As [Secretary Kerry] just said, it’s mostly [the] civilian population, women and children. It’s very sad, it’s tragic.”

Kerry called on Hamas to accept a cease-fire framework tabled by Egyptian authorities earlier this month.

“Israel has accepted that cease-fire proposal,” said Kerry, who landed in Egypt on Monday after being dispatched to the region by President Barack Obama on Sunday night. “So only Hamas now needs to make the decision to spare innocent civilians from this violence.”

Despite the heavy loss of Palestinian lives in the fighting, Kerry described Israel’s military operation in Gaza as “appropriate” and a “legitimate effort to defend itself.”

Meanwhile, Israeli authorities acknowledged to local media on Monday that they could not account for the whereabouts of one of their soldiers but that he may have been killed after an attack on an armored vehicle over the weekend.

The admission comes a day after Israel’s envoy to the U.N. dismissed claims made by Hamas on television Sunday that they had kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

TIME Palestine

The U.N. Security Council Calls for an Immediate Cease-Fire in Gaza

More than 500 Palestinians are now dead, along with 20 Israelis

The U.N. Security Council called for an immediate end to hostilities in the Gaza Strip during a late-night emergency meeting on Sunday, following a bloody day of fighting in Gaza City’s Shujaiyeh neighborhood, where at least 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli troops were killed.

In total, more than 500 Palestinians have been killed along with 20 Israelis — 18 of whom were soldiers — during the two-week offensive targeting Hamas.

“The members of the Security Council expressed serious concern about the growing number of casualties,” acting council president and Rwanda’s U.N. Ambassador Eugène-Richard Gasana told reporters following the meeting. “The members of the Security Council called for an immediate cessation of hostilities.”

U.S. President Barack Obama urged similar action earlier in the day during his second phone call in 72 hours with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to a statement released by the White House: “The President underscored that the United States will work closely with Israel and regional partners on implementing an immediate ceasefire, and stressed the need to protect civilians — in Gaza and in Israel.”

President Obama added that Secretary of State John Kerry was being dispatched to Cairo to help secure a cease-fire deal.

Earlier on Sunday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lambasted Israel for failing to protect innocent civilians caught in the crossfire in Gaza.

“While I was en route to Doha, dozens more civilians, including children, have been killed in Israeli military strikes in the Shujaiyeh neighborhood in Gaza,” Ban said. “I condemn this atrocious action. Israel must exercise maximum restraint and do far more to protect civilians.”

Meanwhile, at least two Americans have also died fighting for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the U.S. State Department announced.

“We can confirm the deaths of U.S. citizens Max Steinberg and Sean Carmeli in Gaza. Out of respect for those affected by this, we have nothing further at this time,” said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

On Sunday, Hamas claimed during a televised address to have kidnapped an Israeli solider. However, Israel’s U.N. envoy was quick to deny that any IDF solider was being held by Hamas.

“There’s no kidnapped Israeli soldier and those rumors are untrue,” Israel’s U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor told reporters in New York City.

The weekend’s assault on densely populated Palestinian neighborhoods by Israeli ground forces, supported by a barrage of artillery and air strikes, also led to the dramatic escalation of internally displaced people (IDPs) within Gaza.

“The cumulative number of IDPs has exceeded 100,000,” the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported in a statement released on Sunday.

Despite numerous calls for an end to fighting in Gaza, the conflict showed no signs of subsiding. The IDF claimed to have carried out strikes against “53 terror sites” in Gaza on Sunday night.

Early on Monday, reports also began to surface that an air strike flattened a home near the Gazan city of Khan Younis, killing at least 20 people.

TIME Australia

Australia Grieves After 28 Nationals Die in MH17 Crash

Malaysia Airlines plane crashes in eastern Ukraine
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks about the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine during a press conference in Canberra, Australia on July 18, 2014. Alan Porritt — EPA

Canberra summons Russian ambassador Vladimir Morozov for an explanation

Grief and shock rippled through Australia after news broke early Friday morning that 28 of its citizens had been aboard the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was allegedly shot down by a surface-to-air missile in southeastern Ukraine on Thursday.

Flags flew at half-mast in Canberra as Prime Minister Tony Abbott addressed the nation’s parliament on Friday morning. “The reckless indifference to modern life does not have any place in our world,” he said.

The Russian ambassador to Australia, Vladimir Morozov, was summoned following myriad reports that the plane was downed by weaponry fired by pro-Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine. Kiev has long claimed the rebels are being supported by Moscow.

“I asked him for Russia’s explanation as to how a commercial plane could come down from that altitude over eastern Ukraine,” said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“[Morozov] assured me Russia would do what it could to find those responsible.”

The death of 28 of the nation’s citizens is the largest loss of Australian lives during a terrorist incident — if that is indeed what it is — since the Bali bombings in 2002. Out of the 298 people killed on Thursday, approximately 100 people were also en route to Australia to attend the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne.

Security analysts say the incident will likely have immediate repercussions within the country’s security circles.

“Australia cannot afford to ignore the problems of the world, because they come back and affect us in the most horrible of ways as we’ve seen today,” said Rory Medcalf, security program director at Australian think tank the Lowy Institute.

“This reminds us that what’s happening in Ukraine has now become everybody’s business. It’s affected our security in the most awful, direct way.”

Out of the country’s population of 23 million, approximately 1 million are abroad at any given time — making Australia an unusually integrated country in global affairs despite its geographic isolation, explains Medcalf.

One such person was Perth management consultant Nick Norris, who was travelling on MH 17 along with his grandchildren, Mo, 12, Evie, 10, and Otis, 8. One acquaintance remembered Norris as an integral member in his community.

“Nick has been an important part of the club and an active member — as were his grandchildren,” David Harries, the South of Perth Yacht Club general manager, tells TIME.

The club issued a statement praising Norris as a “well loved and respected” member of the club. It said that members were “shocked by this tragic, senseless loss of family members and club members. It will have a lasting impact on the club and members.”

Others among the 28 who perished on Thursday included a nun from Sydney and a couple coming home after touring Europe.

Blowback to the tragedy was immediate as people began canceling reservations with Malaysia Airlines, which is suffering from the loss of its second plane in over four months after its Flight 370 inexplicably vanished over the Indian Ocean in early March.

“We have had several cancellations of clients booked to fly on Malaysian Airlines,” said Penny Spencer, managing director of popular agency Spencer Travel. “But because this has happened twice now it is going to make things a whole lot more difficult for Malaysia Airlines to get over this.”

TIME Ukraine

Putin: If MH17 Crashed in Ukraine, It’s Ukraine’s Fault

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia on July 16, 2014. RIA Novosti / Reuters

"The government over whose territory it occurred is responsible for this terrible tragedy," he says

During a meeting with his top economic advisers on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin took the opportunity to argue that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 would not have been downed had there not been civil war in Ukraine — a conflict he has repeatedly pinned on the central government in Kiev.

“I would like to note that this tragedy would not have occurred if there were peace in that country, or in any case, if hostilities had not resumed in southeast Ukraine,” Putin told his assembled advisers after observing a moment of silence for the flight’s passengers.

“And certainly, the government over whose territory it occurred is responsible for this terrible tragedy.”

Unconfirmed reports have swirled that MH17 was shot down by a surface-to-air missile fired by pro-Russian separatists based in southeastern Ukraine. Kiev has repeatedly accused Moscow of supporting the rebel forces.

Earlier on Thursday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said the downing of the aircraft was not “an incident or catastrophe,” but “a terrorist attack.” He called for a full-scale investigation into the airliner crash.

Relations between Moscow and Kiev have been on tenterhooks since Russian troops forcefully annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in late March. The annexation was followed by a bitter insurgency against the Ukrainian government by well-armed pro-Russian separatist militias in the country’s east.

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