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.

TIME Ukraine

Did Pro-Russian Rebels Shoot Down MH17 Over Ukraine?

Armed pro-Russian separatists stand at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014.
Armed pro-Russian separatists stand at the site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

Three unconfirmed transcripts released by Kiev appear to connect rebel groups to the tragedy

According to reports in the New York Times, Ukrainian officials have released what they claim are transcripts of three separate conversations, purportedly from pro-Russian separatist fighters near the scene of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash. The fighters appear to be taking credit for shooting down the airliner.

In one call, a rebel commander identified as Igor Bezler appears to tell a Russian intelligence official that his troops “shot down a plane” on Thursday.

In another conversation, an unidentified militant is heard telling a Cossack commander called Nikolay Kozitsin that the bodies of women and children were scattered throughout the crash site. During the call, the militant appears to be confused why the plane bears the markings of a commercial flight.

“It has a Malaysia Airlines logo on it, they say,” said the unidentified militant. “What was it doing in Ukraine’s territory?”

To that, Kozitsin is heard responding: “That means they were carrying spies, [expletive] them, got it? They shouldn’t be [expletive] flying. There is a war going on.”

TIME has been unable to independently confirm the authenticity of the transcripts released by Kiev or the identities of those featured.

TIME Vietnam

China Removes Contentious Oil Rig From Waters Claimed by Vietnam

Chinese Coast Guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shi You 981 in the South China Sea
A Chinese coast-guard vessel passes near the Chinese oil rig Haiyang Shiyou 981 in the South China Sea, about 210 km (130 miles) from the coast of Vietnam on June 13, 2014. Reuters

But as its deployment led to fierce anti-Chinese rioting across Vietnam, don’t except Hanoi and Beijing to rekindle their once fraternal ties anytime soon

The rig is finally gone, but unlikely to be long forgotten.

On Tuesday, the state-backed China Oilfield Services Limited said the billion-dollar platform, which had been drilling in the heart of highly contested waters claimed by Vietnam, had “precisely extracted the related geological data as planned” and was being redeployed to sea blocks off China’s Hainan Island.

The Vietnamese coast guard confirmed the platform was being towed out of the disputed waters south of the Paracel Islands, claimed by Vietnam but occupied by the Chinese, late Tuesday night.

Since early May, the Haiyang Shiyou 981 rig had been anchored in waters that Vietnam claims fall well within its exclusive economic zone. Hanoi responded to the unannounced arrival by allowing the public to hold the first large-scale demonstrations in recent memory.

However, smoldering nationalist anger exploded into deadly bouts of rioting at industrial parks in the suburbs of Ho Chi Minh City and in central Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province in mid-May.

Factories were razed, several Chinese workers were killed and relations between the neighbors deteriorated to their lowest ebb since diplomatic ties were renewed in the early 1990s.

Beijing remained unmoved by Hanoi’s objections, despite continued protests from the highest levels of government.

“The relations are certainly damaged and the outlook is not encouraging, particularly as China has indicated it has plans to send out more oil rigs to disputed waters and has made provocative statements with respect to its plans in the Spratly chain,” Jonathan D. London, a professor and Vietnamese scholar at Hong Kong’s City University, tells TIME.

Tensions remain high. A study released by the Pew Research Center on Monday reported that 84% of the Vietnamese polled said they were concerned that conflict could erupt with their northern neighbor.

Professor Bruce Jacobs, an Asia expert at Australia’s Monash University, says the deployment of Haiyang Shiyou 981 must be viewed within the context of Beijing’s brazen maneuvers to consolidate its long-held, albeit highly disputed, grandiose maritime claims across the Asia-Pacific. “The oil rig was just part of that,” he says.

With China unrepentant, the U.S. has attempted to use the episode to strengthen relations with its Asian partnerships and position itself as an arbitrator in the Pacific.

Last week Michael Fuchs, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Strategy and Multilateral Affairs, called on all states claiming a stake in the South China Sea “to clarify and agree to voluntarily freeze certain actions and activities that escalate disputes and cause instability.”

In response, Beijing accused the U.S. of unsolicited meddling.

“We hope that countries outside the region can stay neutral, distinguish right from wrong and truly respect the joint efforts made by regional countries for peace and stability of the region,” said Hong Lei, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, on Tuesday.

TIME China

Many Asian Nations Believe That a War With China Is Looming

Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag in a protest action in Manila,
Abner Afuang, a retired policeman, sets fire to an inverted Chinese national flag during a protest in Manila on June 9, 2014. Romeo Ranoco—Reuters

A majority in the Asian countries polled in a new Pew study say they fear a looming military conflict with China

China’s neighbors fear the worst is yet to come.

Strong-arm tactics and tough talk coming from Beijing in the past year have succeeded in convincing neighboring countries that war may just be around the corner, according to a new poll released by the Pew Research Center.

“In all 11 Asian nations polled, roughly half or more say they are concerned that territorial disputes between China and its neighbors will lead to a military conflict,” read the report published by the Washington, D.C.-based think tank on Monday.

In Vietnam, where relations with Beijing have been exceptionally tense since a state-owned Chinese drilling platform moved into disputed waters near the Paracel Islands in early May, 84% of participants said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that territorial disputes could lead to war.

In Japan, which is embroiled with Beijing in disputes over vacant outcroppings in the East China Sea, 85% concurred.

Farther south in the Philippines, 93% of those polled feared the possibility of conflict with China. The archipelago nation has a number of ongoing disputes with China in the South China Sea and, much to Beijing’s chagrin, is pursuing international arbitration in a bid to settle those claims.

While many of the territorial disagreements with China have been ongoing for years, a number of incidents initiated by Beijing in the past nine months have led to increasingly strained ties across the region.

The perennially taut relationship between Tokyo and Beijing reached a flash point late last year when China unilaterally declared the establishment of an air-defense zone that covered the skies over disputed isles in the East China Sea.

Both Manila and Hanoi have meanwhile accused China of maintaining a large presence of paramilitary vessels, coast-guard ships and fishing boats in disputed maritime areas in a bid to edge rival nations out of contested waters. Experts following the region say the tactic must have had clearance from the upper echelons of power in Beijing.

“Xi Jinping and the central military commission as well as key figures in Zhongnanhai — they took a calculated risk,” Alexander Neill, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow with the International Institute for Strategic Studies’ Asia office, tells TIME. “China is testing the tensile strength of the sort of hub-and-spokes alliance system in the region.”

A majority of the Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese and South Koreans surveyed considered China as their nation’s top threat and the U.S. as their nation’s most important ally, according to Pew.

Only Pakistani and Malaysian respondents named the U.S. as their top foe and saw China as their biggest ally. (Indonesia was the lone country where respondents named the U.S. as both their biggest threat and No. 1 partner.)

The publication of the Pew poll comes after Washington has upped both economic and military cooperation with its Asian allies and fostered relations with former foe Vietnam to counter China’s increasingly brazen moves in the Asia-Pacific. Beijing has not responded kindly.

“What we seem to be seeing is increasing polarization in Washington and in Beijing,” says Neill. “The Sino-U.S. relationship is going through a rocky period.”

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on China to avoid engaging in behavior that would “destabilize the Asia-Pacific region” and to refrain from enforcing its air-defense zone.

But Beijing does not appear to be interested in backing down. An editorial published in the state-linked Global Times on Monday fired back at Washington.

“[China] has the right to safeguard its sovereignty and it has no intention to go to war,” read the editorial. “China will not make trouble, but equally is unafraid of any trouble.”

TIME Burma

Burmese Journalists Sentenced to a Decade in Prison With Hard Labor

Myanmar Journalist Protest
Burmese journalists hold banners as they protest for press freedom outside the office of the Daily Eleven newspaper in Rangoon on Jan. 7, 2014. Khin Maung Win—AP

Five journalists were handed astonishingly harsh sentences for reporting about an alleged chemical-weapons plant in the central part of the country

Burma may no longer be a pariah state, but its courts have shown that the government’s authoritarian tendencies are alive and well.

On Thursday, a court in Pakokku Township sentenced the CEO of the Unity Weekly current-affairs magazine, and four of its reporters, to a decade in prison with hard labor for publishing an article earlier this year about the possible existence of a chemical-weapons factory in central Burma.

“This is blatant bullying of media workers by the government’s judicial and executive sectors,” Unity reporter Lu Maw Naing told Burmese broadcaster DVB Multimedia as policemen hustled him out of the courthouse.

Following the publication of the article in January, the government cracked down hard on the periodical. It was hit with a lawsuit by the President’s Office, issues of the magazine were seized and reporters were arrested. The journal was soon shuttered as financial pressures mounted.

While the government has confirmed the existence of the factory, Naypyidaw says it is for standard munitions and denies allegations that chemical weapons are being produced on the grounds. The claims are impossible to independently verify because Burma is a not signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

The former generals at the country’s helm remain sensitive about reporting on weapons programs launched by the former junta. Despite the easing of a smattering of sanctions against Burma in the past two years, several nations, including the U.S., have refused to drop sanctions that target members of the country’s shady military.

Thursday’s ruling is the latest in a series of developments that belie Burma’s reformist narrative. Opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi remains barred from holding the country’s highest office, the internal peace process is stagnating and the rise of Buddhist nationalism has ripped massive holes in the diverse country’s delicate social fabric.

In addition, the fourth estate now appears to be firmly in the government’s crosshairs. In the past year, reporters from DVB and Eleven Media have been jailed, and in May the government deported a foreign journalist for covering a press-freedom rally. The palpable optimism that wafted over the nation three years ago is waning rapidly.

“I think [this case] shows the true colors of this government,” Aung Zaw, editor of the Irrawaddy news magazine, tells TIME. “It’s a real reminder of the old days under the previous repressive regime.”

During a radio address to the nation earlier this month, President Thein Sein boasted that Burma’s media environment was one of the freest in Southeast Asia. However, he added the caveat that journalists who undermine “national security” would be punished.

“[If] media freedom threatens national security instead of helping the nation, I want to warn all that we will take effective action under existing laws,” said Thein Sein, according to a state-run publication.

Just a week later, the threat became reality for the reporters of Unity Weekly. The administration relied on the colonial-era Official Secrets Act to wallop the journalists rather than prosecuting them through newly passed media legislation.

“The authorities are clearly shifting from rule of law to rule by law,” says Benjamin Ismail, head of Reporters Without Borders’ Asia-Pacific desk.

“They are just trying to justify their censorship and repression of the press by showing the international community that legal procedures are followed and everything is normal.”

Editors on the ground say the financially ruinous lawsuit launched against Unity is part of the government’s elaborate strategy to silence dissent. With myriad publications struggling to keep their head above the water in the impoverished country, any legal action could prove disastrous.

“There’s a clear glass ceiling from the owners or the business side,” says Toe Zaw Latt, DVB’s Burma bureau chief. “Once there is trouble, of course you lose money.”

Harassment of editors also appears to be on the rise. In the past two weeks, numerous press offices have reportedly been party to unannounced visits from officers from the military’s special branch.

“They come to our office and other media offices asking petty questions: ‘How are you making money?’ ‘Are you making a lot of business?’ ‘Are you making a profit?’” says Aung Zaw. “It’s clearly intimidation.”

TIME Crime

Prosecutors: Houston Shooting Suspect First Bound His 6 Victims

Houston Suburban Shooting
Law enforcement officers surround a shooting suspect Wednesday, July 9, 2014, in Spring, Texas. Brett Coomer—Houston Chronicle/AP

Updated 12 p.m. E.T. on July 10

Six people died in a shooting Wednesday when a gunman opened fire at a home in suburban Houston, authorities said. Four children were among the victims, who prosecutors said had been tied up and shot in the back of the head.

Ronald Lee Haskell, 33, surrendered after a three-hour standoff with police Wednesday night and was booked Thursday for murder charges.

“It appears this stems from a domestic issue with a breakup in the family from what our witness has told us,” assistant chief deputy constable Mark Herman of the Harris County Precinct 4 constable’s office told reporters.

Constable Ron Hickman corrected an earlier report that Haskell was the children’s father, but confirmed he was a relative of the homeowners.

“He came to this location yesterday afternoon … and came under the guise of a FedEx driver wearing a FedEx shirt,” Hickman said in a news conference. “[He] gathered up the children that were here and awaited the arrival of the parents. Sometime later the victims were shot in this residence, and we now learned that Mr. Haskell was married to a relative of the residents of this home.”

Two adults and three children were found dead at the crime scene in the suburb of Spring, authorities told TIME. Another child died after being airlifted to a nearby hospital, officials said. A 15-year-old girl survived the melee with bullet fracture to the skull by playing dead. She told police that the shooter planned to target her grandparents next.

The suspect led law enforcement officers and SWAT team members a car chase late Wednesday. They later cornered the suspect before he surrendered several miles away from the scene of the initial shooting. Members of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office high-risk operations unit and hostage negotiation team spoke to the man prior to his surrender.

One resident who lives close to the scene of the crime said he was shocked by the tragedy. “I’ve lived here 20 years. It’s a very quiet neighborhood,” Wesley Carr told the Houston Chronicle.

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