TIME Middle East

Israel: 3 Mortars Fired From Gaza During Cease-Fire

Israeli soldiers patrol along the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip following Israeli air strikes in the Palestinian coastal enclave before a five-hour truce went into effect, on July 17, 2014.
Israeli soldiers patrol along the southern Israeli border with the Gaza Strip following Israeli air strikes in the Palestinian coastal enclave before a five-hour truce went into effect, on July 17, 2014. Jack Guez—AFP/Getty Images

Israel has refused to say whether it will retaliate, though the military said previously it would respond if the cease-fire was broken

Palestinian militants fired three mortars from Gaza into southern Israel during a cease-fire, an Israeli military spokesperson tells TIME.

Israel and Hamas had agreed to a five-hour humanitarian cease-fire Thursday to allow the U.N. to deliver aid and supplies to the people of Gaza.

“Three mortars hit the Eshkol Regional Council area in southern Israel,” says the Israeli spokesperson. “The mortars landed in open area and there have been no fatalities or injuries.”

The incident is said to have happened around 12 p.m. local time, two hours after the cease-fire came into effect. Hamas has not yet issued a statement.

The Israeli spokesperson added that the military had previously said they would “respond immediately” if Palestinian militants breached the cease-fire agreement. However, she refused to comment on whether the Israel Defense Forces had any plans to retaliate.

The ongoing conflict, which began July 8, has seen 220 Palestinians and one Israeli killed, according to Palestinian and Israeli officials. The Palestinian health ministry say 1,450 Palestinians have been wounded as a result of Israeli strikes.

Israeli leaders have said the country began the military operation in a bid to stop Palestinian rocket attacks.

Thursday’s brief cease-fire comes two days after a cease-fire brokered by Egypt brokered failed. Though Israel agreed to Egypt’s terms, Hamas rejected them and launched more rockets into Israel.

TIME Foreign Policy

Kerry Arrives in Afghanistan to Meet Candidates

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the press conference of the 6th China-U.S. Security and Economic Dialogue and 5th round of China-U.S. High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange at Diaoyutai State Guest House on July 10, 2014 in Beijing, China.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks at the press conference of the 6th China-U.S. Security and Economic Dialogue and 5th round of China-U.S. High Level Consultation on People-to-People Exchange at Diaoyutai State Guest House on July 10, 2014 in Beijing, China. Feng Li—Getty Images

With Iraq wracked by insurgency, Afghanistan's power dispute over the election results is posing a new challenge to President Barack Obama's 5 1/2-year effort to leave behind two secure nations while ending America's long wars in the Muslim world.

Updated: July 11, 2014, 01:40 a.m. ET

(KABUL, Afghanistan) — Secretary of State John Kerry is making a quick stop in Afghanistan to help resolve an election crisis sowing chaos in a country that the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of dollars and lost more than 2,000 lives trying to stabilize.

The visit comes as Afghanistan shows worrying signs of unravelling in its first democratic transfer of power from President Hamid Karzai, who followed a decade of Taliban governance. Kerry will meet Friday with the two candidates claiming victory in last month’s presidential election runoff.

The U.S. and its allies are growing increasingly concerned as Afghanistan shows signs of unraveling in its first democratic transfer of power from President Hamid Karzai. With Iraq wracked by insurgency, Afghanistan’s dispute over election results poses a new challenge to President Barack Obama’s effort to leave behind two secure states while ending America’s long wars.

“I’ve been in touch with both candidates several times as well as President (Hamid) Karzai,” Kerry said before leaving Beijing, where he attended a U.S.-China economic meeting. He called on them to “show critical statesmanship and leadership at a time when Afghanistan obviously needs it.”

“This is a critical moment for the transition, which is essential to future governance of the country and the capacity of the (U.S. and its allies) to be able to continue to be supportive and be able to carry out the mission which so many have sacrificed so much to achieve.”

The preliminary results of the presidential election runoff suggested a massive turnaround in favor of former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a onetime World Bank economist who lagged significantly behind former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah in first-round voting.

Abdullah, a top leader of the Northern Alliance that battled the Taliban before the American-led invasion, claims the runoff was a fraud, and his supporters have spoken of establishing a “parallel government,” raising the specter of the Afghan state collapsing. Abdullah was runner-up to Karzai in a fraud-riddled 2009 presidential vote before he pulled out of that runoff.

Chief electoral officer Zia ul-Haq Amarkhail has resigned, denying any involvement in fraud but saying he would step down for the national interest.

Kerry will seek to persuade both candidates to hold off from rash action while the ballots are examined and political leaders are consulted across Afghanistan’s ethnic spectrum. The U.S. wants to ensure that whoever wins will create a government that welcomes all ethnic factions.

If neither candidate gains credibility as the rightful leader, the winner could be the Taliban. Many Afghans fear the insurgent forces will only gain strength as the U.S. military presence recedes. Internal instability could aid the insurgency.

Abdullah and Ghani each have said that as president they’d sign a bilateral security agreement with the United States, granting American forces immunity from local prosecution. Without such an agreement, the Obama administration has said it would have to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, a scenario that played out in Iraq three years ago. Karzai has refused to finalize the deal, leaving it to his successor.

James Dobbins, the State Department’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said this week some degree of fraud was expected, but it’s believed the fraud was “quite extensive.”

Speaking in Washington, Dobbins said the Abdullah campaign particularly mistrusts the impartiality of the Afghan electoral institutions.

Both campaigns and Karzai have asked the U.N. for help, he noted, and the U.N. has been designing a plan for deciding how ballots can be reviewed and which ones would be reviewed for possible fraud.

A U.N. audit, however rudimentary, probably could be done within two weeks, U.S. officials believe. The focus would be on clear fraud indicators, including districts with high turnout or more women going to the ballots than men.

Kerry also will meet with Karzai and U.N. officials.

Obama spoke to each candidate this week, asking them to allow time for investigations of ballot-stuffing. The White House said Tuesday that Obama warned that any move outside the law to seize power would mean the end of U.S. financial aid to Afghanistan.

Obama differentiated Afghanistan from Iraq, which he declared a “dumb war,” while considering Afghanistan a fight worth waging, ordering tens of thousands of new troops into the country in his first year in office.

The risk of a prolonged Afghan political crisis has alarmed U.S. officials already struggling to respond to sectarian tensions in Iraq that have broken out into open warfare.

The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are distinct. But in each, the U.S. has spent more than a decade trying to set up democratic governments that could effectively police their own territories and stamp out threats to the American homeland.

And in both countries that objective is in peril, their futures threatened by a combination of poor leadership, weak institutions, interethnic rivalry and fierce extremist rebellions.

Suicide bombers and gunmen staged a deadly assault on government compounds Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, killing 30. The U.N. warned this week that such fighting in populated areas was a major cause for a 17 percent uptick in civilian deaths this year in a report that cast doubt on the capacity of government soldiers and police to protect the Afghan people after most U.S. and foreign forces leave.

TIME Iraq

Iraqi ‘Terrorist Groups’ Have Seized Nuclear Materials

A member loyal to the ISIL waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa
A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. Stringer/Reuters

Approximately 88 pounds of uranium compounds stored at an Iraq university have been taken, though they are likely unenriched and so difficult to make weapons from

Iraq has told the U.N. that Islamist insurgents have seized nuclear materials used for scientific research from Mosul University in northern Iraq, according to Reuters.

Approximately 88 pounds (40 kilograms) of uranium compounds were stored at the university, wrote Iraq’s U.N. Ambassador Mohamed Ali Alhakim in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on July 8.

The letter, obtained by Reuters, calls for international assistance to “stave off the threat of their use by terrorists in Iraq or abroad” and warns that the materials could be smuggled out of Iraq.

“Terrorist groups have seized control of nuclear material at the sites that came out of the control of the state,” wrote Alhakim. He added that they “can be used in manufacturing weapons of mass destruction.”

“These nuclear materials, despite the limited amounts mentioned, can enable terrorist groups, with the availability of the required expertise, to use it separate or in combination with other materials in its terrorist acts,” said Alhakim.

A U.S. government source familiar to the situation told Reuters that the materials seized do not appear to be enriched uranium and therefore would be difficult to produce weapons from.

A Sunni militant group called the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, has stirred violent unrest and occupied large areas of Syria and Iraq in recent months.

“The Republic of Iraq is notifying the international community of these dangerous developments and asking for help,” said Alhakim.

[Reuters]

TIME Afghan civilian casualties

U.N.: Civilians Feel Toll of Afghan War as U.S. Withdrawal Nears

A victim's body lies on the road as Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on June 21, 2014.
A victim's body lies on the road as Afghan security forces inspect the site of a suicide attack in Kabul on June 21, 2014. Shah Marai—AFP/Getty Images

1,564 deaths recorded in the first half of this year, up 17 percent compared with 2013

A United Nations report released on Wednesday finds that civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose sharply in the first half of this year as they increasingly feel the brunt of war.

The report by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), compiled as U.S.-led forces withdraw from a 12-year battle with the Taliban and amid a steep decline in security, finds that ground combat—now more than improvised explosive devices—is the leading cause of death and injury to civilians.

More than 4,800 civilian casualties were recorded in the first six months of this year. That figure includes 1,564 deaths, up 17 percent compared to the same period the year before. Child casualties associated with ground combat more than doubled—rising 34 percent to 1,071—while two-thirds more women were killed and wounded by ground engagements.

“The fight is increasingly taking place in communities, public places and near the homes of ordinary Afghans, with death and injury to women and children in a continued disturbing upward spiral,” said Georgette Gagnon, UNAMA’s Director of Human Rights.

Afghanistan’s unrest is increasing amidst the ongoing political crisis, as a disputed presidential election has created a tense stand-off between the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah. Early results on Monday showed Ghani net 56.44% of the run-off vote on June 14, but Abdullah was quick to reject the outcome and claim it was marred by fraud.

Abdullah’s supporters protested in the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday and called on him to form a parallel government. Washington responded by saying it would pull both financial aid and security support if power was seized illegally.

 

TIME weather

Prepare for El Niño, UN Weather Agency Warns

United Nations weather agency tells governments to brace for the weather event, and the devastating droughts and floods it brings

There’s a real risk that weather event El Niño will occur before the year’s end, the U.N.’s weather agency has said.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) issued a statement saying there’s a 60% chance of El Niño occurring between June and August. This likelihood increases to 75-80% from October to December.

Many governments have already begun preparing for El Niño’s arrival, which can be devastating. The event starts as a body of warm water developing in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean. The water then flows towards the western coast of South America setting off a chain of weather events globally.

El Niño can result in droughts or floods in particular regions and usually has the overall effect of raising global temperatures, on top of man-made global warming. WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud commented: “We remain vulnerable to this force of nature but we can protect ourselves by being better prepared.”

Many governments are believed to have begun planning for El Niño. India is expected to experience weaker monsoons whilst Australia may suffer terrible droughts. South America, by contrast, usually falls victim to widespread floods.

Experts believe that the Pacific, which has already warmed to weak El Niño levels, will continue to increase in temperature over the coming months, peaking during the last quarter of 2014 and dissipating after the first few months of 2015.

TIME Vatican

Pope Francis to World: Redistribute The Wealth

Pope meets Ban Ki-moon in Vatican
Pope Francis meets UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and members of UN System Chief Executives Board for the biannual meeting on strategic coordination in the Consistory Hall of the Apostolic Palace in Vatican City on May 9, 2014. Osservatore Romano/EPA

Pope Francis reaffirmed his plea on Friday for world leaders to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor during an address before top U.N. officials and called for a global initiative to reduce the income gap

Pope Francis on Friday renewed his call on global leaders to redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor.

Francis made his plea during an address to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other U.N. leaders gathered in Rome for an audience with the pope, CBS News reports.

Railing against an “economy of exclusion,” Francis called for a state-led global initiative to close the widening gap between rich and poor through redistribution.

Specifically, this involves challenging all forms of injustices and resisting the economy of exclusion, the throwaway culture and the culture of death which nowadays sadly risk becoming passively accepted,” Francis said.

The comments were in keeping with the Pope’s previous critiques of income inequality at the World Economic Forum in January and in a private March meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Pope and Ban skirted the issue of an ongoing U.N. investigation into the Vatican’s handling of sexual abuse cases and briefly touched upon the Catholic church’s stances on birth control and abortion.

[CBS News]

TIME Innovation

U.N. Report: 40% of the World Will Be Online by the End of 2014

An estimated 3 billion people – or 40% of the world population – will have access to the Internet by the end of 2014, a United Nations International Telecommunications Union report reveals.

According to the U.N. data, Europe has the highest rate of Internet proliferation at 75 percent, while only two-thirds of those living in the Americas have Internet access. The report does not specify the percentage of U.S. households that have Internet, though a 2012 report by the U.S. Census puts the rate at 74.8%.

The biggest strides in connectivity have been happening in Africa. In 2010, only 2% of Africa was connected to the Internet. That number is expected to reach 20% by the end of the year. Much of that growth is owed to mobile devices, which have become critical communication tools on the continent.

The U.N. study also reveals that world mobile broadband penetration has reached 32%, with nearly 2.3 billion subscriptions globally.

For more on the U.N. report, visit the UN News Centre.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

More from Techlicious:

TIME Vatican

Vatican Reveals It Punished Thousands of Priests For Sex Abuse

SWITZERLAND-UN-VATICAN-CHURCH-CHILD-SEX-ABUSE-RIGHTS
The Vatican's Ambassador to the United Nations Monsignor Silvano Tomasi (R) gestures next to Vatican Secretary of State Professor Vincenzo Buonomo (L) during a hearing before the United Nations (UN) Committee Against Torture on May 5, 2014, in Geneva. FABRICE COFFRINI—AFP/Getty Images

The Vatican's ambassador released comprehensive figures during the second day of grilling by a U.N. committee that monitors an international convention against torture, claiming to have defrocked hundreds and sanctioned thousands of priests in the last decade

The Vatican on Tuesday revealed a rare, year-by-year tally of how many priests it had disciplined over the past decade for alleged sexual abuses against children.

Archbishop Silvano Tomasi, a Vatican ambassador, revealed to a United Nations committee that the Vatican had defrocked a total of 848 priests and sanctioned another 2,572 over the last 10 years, the Wall Street Journal reports.

A U.N. committee charged with monitoring an international convention against torture has been investigating whether the Vatican’s senior officials are liable for the abuses, and whether it constitutes torture under the terms of the treaty.

[WSJ]

TIME Iran

Iran to Challenge U.S. on Visa Denial for Envoy Pick

United Nations
If Congress has it its way, Hamid Aboutalebi will not be darkening the doors of this building anytime soon Getty Images

Tehran plans to challenge the U.S. decision to deny a visa to diplomat Hamid Aboutalebi over his involvement in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans. A Foreign Ministry official said that Iran would take the matter to the United Nations

Updated April 12, 7:23 a.m. ET

A day after the U.S. said it would not allow Iran’s proposed U.N. envoy Hamid Aboutalebi, a diplomat with links to the 1979 hostage crisis, to enter the country, Iran has dismissed the decision and affirmed it would take the issue directly to the U.N.

“We do not have a replacement for Mr. Aboutalebi and we will pursue the matter via legal mechanisms anticipated in the United Nations,” said Abbas Araghchi, a senior Foreign Ministry official, as quoted by Iran’s official IRNA news agency.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Friday the U.S. had informed the U.N. and Iran it would not issue the visa. Asked whether the Obama Administration is concerned the action may impact ongoing nuclear talks with Iran, Carney said, “We do not expect them to.”

Under a 1947 treaty establishing the headquarters of the UN in New York, the U.S. is generally required to expeditiously approve visa requests for UN diplomats. But on Tuesday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said visas can still be denied on “security, terrorism, and foreign policy” grounds.

However, neither Psaki nor Carney would expand on the reasons for denying Aboutalebi’s visa.

“We’ve been very clear with the Iranians that this nomination is not viable,” Psaki said Friday. “So there has been no secret of that, but I think they understand what the reasons are.”

In 1988, the U.S. denied a visa to then Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the U.N. on account of his group’s ties to terrorism.

Carney’s comments came after Congress gave final passage this week to legislation to formally bar Aboutalebi, Iran’s choice to be its new United Nations ambassador, from entering the country.

Outraged by his involvement in the 1979 hostage-taking of Americans in Tehran, the House unanimously passed the bill Thursday. That followed Senate passage on Monday, which was also unanimous. If signed by President Barack Obama, the bill would bar representatives to the United Nations from entering the U.S., where the U.N. is headquartered, if such persons have engaged in espionage or terrorist activities against the United States.

Carney said Friday that the Administration is “reviewing the legislation and will work to address any issues related to its utility and constitutionality.” It remains unclear if Obama will sign or veto it. Lawmakers sponsoring the bill have called on the President to “act quickly.”

“We, as a country, can send an unequivocal message to rogue nations like Iran that the United States will not tolerate this kind of provocative and hostile behavior,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) said in a statement.

Aboutalebi previously served as Iran’s ambassador to the European Union, Australia, Belgium and Italy.

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