TIME Ukraine

At Least 29 Killed as Rebels Launch Offensive in Ukraine

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISIS-MARIUPOL
Ukrainian servicemen patrol around a damaged building after shelling in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Jan. 24, 2015. AFP/Getty Images

(KIEV, Ukraine) — Indiscriminate rocket fire slammed into a market, two schools, homes and shops Saturday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol, killing at least 29 people, authorities said. Ukraine’s top rebel leader announced that an offensive had begun on the strategically important port.

The attack came a day after the rebels rejected a peace deal and said they were going on a multi-prong offensive against the government in Kiev to vastly increase their territory. The rebel stance is upending European attempts to mediate an end to the fighting in eastern Ukraine, which the U.N. said Friday has killed nearly 5,100 people since April.

Mariupol, which lies on the Azov Sea, is the major city between mainland Russia and the Russia-annexed Crimean Peninsula. Heavy fighting in the region in the fall raised fears that Russian-backed separatist forces would try to take over the government-held city to establish a land link between Russia and Crimea.

The RIA Novosti news agency cited Ukrainian rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko as saying Saturday that an offensive had begun on Mariupol. He spoke as he laid a wreath where at least eight civilians died when a bus stop was shelled in Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine.

Rebel forces have positions within 10 kilometers (six miles) from Mariupol’s eastern outskirts.

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said there were three separate strikes from Grad multiple-rocket launchers Saturday on Mariupol and surrounding areas.

“The area that came under attack was massive,” Mariupol mayor Yuriy Khotlubei said. “The shelling was carried out by militants. This is very clearly Russian aggression that has caused terrible losses for the residents of the eastern part of our city.”

Shortly after the attack, local authorities said around 10 people had died, but by the evening, Khotlubei announced the death toll had risen to 29. There was no immediate report of how many people died in each location.

A Ukrainian military checkpoint on a road out of the city toward rebel-held areas was also hit and one serviceman was killed, the Defense Ministry said.

Mariupol city council urged residents not to panic and to ignore rumors that Ukrainian armed forces were planning to withdraw.

“On the contrary, all units are on fully battle-ready. Security measures in the city have been strengthened,” the council said in a statement.

No armed separatist units have been noted moving toward the city, the statement added.

Responding to the attack upon Mariupol, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini called on Russia to use its influence over the separatist leaders to halt their offensive and to desist from providing military and financial support.

Russia insists it does not support the rebels, but Western military officials say the sheer number of heavy weapons under rebel control belies that claim.

Clashes were taking place across the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where separatist insurgencies emerged in April following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Fighting has also been intensifying recently for the government-held town of Debaltseve, 50 kilometers (31 miles) east of Donetsk. Main roads into the town are under separatist control and it’s feared that Ukrainian forces stationed there could soon be fully surrounded.

A peace deal signed in September in the Belarusian capital of Minsk envisaged a cease-fire and a pullout of heavy weapons from a division line in eastern Ukraine. It has been repeatedly violated by both sides, and heavy artillery and rocket barrages have increased the civilian death toll in the last few weeks.

Foreign ministers from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany agreed Wednesday to revive that division line, but fighting has continued unabated.

On Thursday, mortars rained down on Donetsk, hitting a bus and killing several bystanders. Rebel officials said 13 were killed in that attack. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe cited city morgue officials as saying eight bodies were received.

On Jan. 13, a bus parked near an army checkpoint north of Mariupol was hit by a shell, resulting in the death of 13 people. Ukraine blamed the rocket attack on separatists.

The OSCE’s special monitoring mission in eastern Ukraine condemned the growing number of civilian casualties and called Saturday for restraint from all sides.

__

Raf Casert in Brussels and Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

TIME United Nations

U.N. Hosts First Ever Meeting Dedicated to Combating Anti-Semitism

Bernard-Henri Levy
French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Levy addresses the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015. Richard Drew—AP

Meeting planned long before the recent attacks in Paris

The U.N. General Assembly gathered Thursday for its first ever meeting dedicated to global action against anti-Semitism.

The informal meeting, attended by approximately half the bloc’s 193 member states, was organized by mainly Western nations in order to address an “alarming outbreak of anti-Semitism worldwide.”

Planning began last October in response to the murder of three people outside the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium, and the killing of a rabbi and three children in Toulouse, France, the Associated Press reports.

The U.N.’s 57 Islamic nations unanimously condemned all words and acts that encourage “hatred, anti-Semitism [and] Islamophobia.” The statement, given by the Saudi ambassador, Abdallah Al-Moualimi, was “extremely significant,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power.

Al-Moualimi stressed the importance of dialogue in efforts to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and denounced “any discrimination based on belief and religious practices.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor said that the Holocaust had elicited pledges that anti-Semitism had no place in the modern world. Yet, he lamented, “Here we are again.”

TIME Syria

John McCain Hits the Jackpot With a Syrian Complaint

AFGHANISTAN-US-DIPLOMACY
U.S. Senator John McCain looks on during a meeting with Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah in Kabul on Dec. 25, 2014 Wakil Kohsar—AFP/Getty Images

He's now upset Vladimir Putin, ISIS, Fidel Castro, and the Syrian regime — and he couldn't be more pleased

U.S. Senator John McCain tweeted his pride at winning a diplomatic “superfecta” Monday night, after Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. lashed out at him for violating the country’s sovereignty after McCain visited rebel-held territory in 2013.

A delighted McCain grouped the Syrian complaint with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s March 2014 decision to put him on a sanctions list as occasions when he had upset powers to which he was opposed.

The other two occasions were former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s September 2014 tirade, in which he accused McCain of creating the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) together with the Israeli secret service agency Mossad, and the time, he claimed to Fox News, when ISIS declared him as their No. 1 enemy.

The Syrian complaint was made on Monday, when envoy Bashar Ja’afari asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N.’s 15-member Security Council in a letter to take “the necessary measures against their nationals who enter Syrian territory illegally,” according to Reuters.

Ja’afari also lambasted French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith for entering Syria without a visa.

The Arizona Senator fired back at Damascus and accused Bashar Assad’s government of massacring its own people.

“It is a sad but unsurprising truth that the Assad regime is less concerned with its massacre of more than 200,000 men, women and children than it is my visit with those brave Syrians fighting for their freedom and dignity,” said McCain in a statement.

TIME Syria

U.N.: $8.4 Billion Needed for Syria and Neighbors Hosting Refugees

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres gestures during a news conference for the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 in Geneva
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres gestures during a news conference to launch of the Global Humanitarian appeal for 2015 at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva Dec. 8, 2014 Pierre Albouy—Reuters

Nations hosting refugees to also benefit from improvements to infrastructure and services

The U.N. is seeking $8.4 billion to help the nearly 18 million victims of the Syrian conflict.

The money will go toward jobs, education, public health and public works, reports the New York Times. The request for development aid is an acknowledgement that the conflict may last for many years and that it has seriously disrupted the lives of the Syrian people.

Syria’s war is still escalating,” said António Guterres, the head of the U.N. refugee agency, in a statement Thursday. “And the humanitarian situation is becoming protracted.”

For the first time, this war chest includes aid for neighboring countries, which are feeling the strain of the flood of Syrian refugees.

More than 12 million Syrians are displaced inside the country while 3.2 million have fled to neighbors such as Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan. The U.N. estimates that the number of Syrian refugees will rise to 4.3 million in 2015.

In addition to helping Syrian refugees, the U.N.’s financing plan includes estimates that 20.6 million people in host countries will benefit indirectly from improvements to infrastructure and services.

TIME Afghanistan

Opium Crop at Record High in Afghanistan

An Afghan farmer works on a poppy field collecting the green bulbs swollen with raw opium, the main ingredient in heroin, in the Khogyani district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 17, 2014.
An Afghan farmer works on a poppy field collecting the green bulbs swollen with raw opium, the main ingredient in heroin, in the Khogyani district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, April 17, 2014. Rahmat Gul—AP

As US withdraws troops, opium cultivation reaches new levels

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says Afghanistan’s potential opium production for 2014 is set to increase by 27% from the previous year, up to an estimated 6,400 tons. The Afghan poppy crop has provided the bulk of the world’s heroin supply over the past twenty years, accounting for nearly 70% of it in 2000.

The U.S. said in October they had spent $7.6 billion trying to eradicate opium poppies since troops arrived in the country in 2001 to oust the Taliban. As NATO and U.S. forces withdrew from Afghanistan this year, it comes as little surprise that this year’s report is particularly sobering. Opium poppy cultivation has risen by 7% year on year and now covers more than 553,000 acres of land.

The overwhelming majority of cultivation takes place in the Southern and Western provinces, parts of the country which have been subject to the most violence and are the least secure. Opium accounts for nearly $1 billion, roughly 4% of the country’s estimated GDP.

UNODC Director Yury Fedotov said in a statement that illicit drugs have had a disastrous impact on the country, with more than one million Afghans currently drug dependent.

Fedotov met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani last weekend to discuss plans to counter the harmful effects of drug production on Afghans and their neighbors. Money from the drug production finances Taliban operations and contributes to a great deal of organized crime and corruption in the Afghan government.

TIME Syria

U.S. Says Syria Still Has Several Chemical-Weapons Facilities

Syria: Anniversary of Chemical Massacre in Aleppo
Protesters stand in the first anniversary of the chemical massacre in East Ghota, where hundreds of civilians were killed, in Aleppo, Syria on August 21, 2014. Karam Almasri—Pacific Press/AP

The claim comes just months after the ending of a U.N. joint mission to destroy the country's illicit stockpile

The U.S. envoy to the U.N. Samantha Power took to Twitter on Tuesday, claiming Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has at least four chemical-weapons sites.

Power said that Sigrid Kaag, the special coordinator of a joint mission to eliminate Syria’s declared chemical-weapons program, confirmed that the embattled Syrian regime failed to declare the four facilities.

Kaag told fellow diplomats of the suspect facilities during a briefing at the U.N. on Tuesday.

The U.N.’s joint mission to destroy the Assad government’s illicit chemical arsenal concluded earlier this summer — more than a year after the regime’s forces used sarin nerve gas against rebel fighters and civilians in the suburbs of Damascus, killing hundreds, if not thousands, of people.

The Assad regime later brokered a deal with Moscow, allowing international authorities to destroy the country’s chemical weapons in order to prevent U.S. forces from launching air strikes against forces loyal to the Syrian government.

The existence of chemical-weapons facilities within Syria continues to vex foreign governments and analysts alike, who fear that any number of the myriad opposition forces, including ISIS, could one day get their hands on the illicit stockpile.

The news follows confirmation from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in September that chlorine-based weapons have been deployed against rebel forces fighting the government in Syria.

“The report cites witness accounts indicating helicopters were used in the attacks — a capability the opposition lacks. This strongly points to Syrian regime culpability,” said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s office in a statement late last month.

TIME politics

U.N. Headquarters in South Dakota: How It Could Have Happened

UN HQ - Dec. 10, 1945
From the Dec. 10, 1945, issue of TIME TIME

New York City wasn’t the obvious choice for the United Nations headquarters

Representatives from around the world are now gathering in New York City for the 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly. A vast cadre of diplomats, staff and heads of state have descended on the Big Apple — ensuring a nightmare for daily commuters. But, though that traffic jam is now a dependable annual event, New York City wasn’t the obvious choice for the United Nations headquarters.

In the wake of the 1945 conference establishing the modern day United Nations — which took place in San Francisco — a committee was set up to find the best spot for what would essentially become the world’s capital. A look back into TIME’s coverage of that period shows that the competition to host the U.N. was wide open, though one thing was clear: New York City, where the UN would be overshadowed by “Wall Street, etc…” as one TIME story put it, was no good.

Philadelphia made a strong case for itself when delegates visited to check out potential sites in 1946, TIME reported:

When the time for on-the-spot inspection came, the spirit of brotherly love was almost overpowering. There was a cocktail party for them in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Day, who would be evicted if [one of the potential locations] were chosen. Mr. and Mrs. Day thought that would be a fine idea.

…Philadelphia’s hosts never missed a bet. There was a concert by the famed Philadelphia Orchestra, a luncheon at the Art Museum (under pictures by Matisse, Gauguin and Reynolds). In a helicopter provided for the delegates, Holland’s Jan de Ranitz and Dr. M. P. M. van Karnebeek plopped down near Philadelphia for a hearty greeting by a local farmer & family.

But, still, even Philadelphia was considered to be too close to New York and Washington, D.C.

Chicago, San Francisco, Atlantic City and Boston were among the other locales lobbying to become the permanent headquarters. One unlikely contender, the Black Hills region of South Dakota, made the rational argument that it was far from the reach of an atomic bomb, unlike the coastal cities.

“In the Black Hills there are no military objectives, and the gentlemen who are striving for the peace of the world can live at peace while the atomic bombs are falling,” Paul Bellamy, a businessman representing the Black Hills, told an assembly of the U.N., which was temporarily based in London, according to a TIME story from December 1945.

“It was no part of Bellamy’s job, or of the booster tradition,” the author noted, “to ask what the gentlemen would be doing at that point.”

Ultimately, Bellamy’s urgings were for naught. Despite the organizers’ original misgivings, real-estate concerns ended up carrying more weight than atomic ones: New York City received the boost it needed when philanthropist John D. Rockefeller Jr. gifted a parcel of Manhattan land to the U.N.

Read a 1952 cover story about the building of the current United Nations headquarters: Cheops’ Architect

TIME Syria

Thousands Are Fleeing From Syria to Turkey to Escape the Latest ISIS Onslaught

TURKEY-SYRIA-KURDS-REFUGEES
Syrian Kurds carry belongings as they cross the border between Syria and Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, on Sept. 20, 2014. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

Turkey is already home to nearly 1.5 million Syrian refugees

At least 100,000 Syrian refugees flooded across the border into Turkey over the weekend as Sunni extremist fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) launched an offensive against Kurdish communities in northern Syria.

Approximately 150,000 people have been displaced since ISIS began to encircle the border town of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, last week.

“Four or five days ago this area was quite safe,” Selin Unal, a spokesperson with the U.N.’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, told TIME on Monday. “And then after three days, 100,000 Syrians fled to Turkey.”

The militants have reportedly routed dozens of towns and executed at least 11 people in the villages outside of Kobani, according to activists.

“[ISIS] are continuing to advance,” Welat Avar, a doctor, told Reuters from Kobani. “Every place they pass through they kill, wound and kidnap people. Many people are missing and we believe they were kidnapped.”

International aid groups and Turkish officials warned that thousands of additional refugees are likely to try to cross the border in the coming days amid the militants’ offensive. Before the weekend’s onslaught, Turkey had already been home to close to 1.5 million refugees from the conflict-torn nation.

“Turkish government authorities and UNHCR are preparing for the possibility of hundreds of thousands more refugees arriving over the coming days, as the battle for the northern Syrian city of Kobani forces more people to flee,” read a statement released by the U.N. refugee agency over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group classified as a terrorist organization by both Ankara and Washington, called on fellow Kurds to take up arms to repel ISIS.

“Supporting this heroic resistance is not just a debt of honor of the Kurds but all Middle East people. Just giving support is not enough, the criterion must be taking part in the resistance,” the PKK said in a statement.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that hundreds of Kurdish fighters from inside Turkey crossed into Syria over the weekend to help beat back the ISIS offensive. Near the border, Turkish Kurds demonstrated in solidarity with the refugees, leading to clashes with authorities, who deployed tear gas and water cannon against the protesters.

While ISIS’s thrust in Iraq has been largely slowed by U.S. air strikes, American forces have yet to target the militant group’s myriad positions in neighboring Syria, thus allowing the group to continue to consume large swaths of territory across the country’s north and east.

During an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power hinted that the White House and its allies are ready to strike in Syria, but refrained from announcing how the Obama Administration was preparing to do so.

“The President has said we’re not going to allow [ISIS] to have a safe haven in Syria,” said Power. “But no decisions have been made in terms of how we’re going to proceed in that.”

Earlier this month, Turkey refrained from joining the U.S.-led coalition aiming to take the fight to the jihadist organization.

The uptick in violence along Turkey’s frontier coincides with the release of 49 Turkish diplomats over the weekend. All 49 had been in ISIS’s custody for three months since jihadist militants routed Iraqi security forces in Mosul in July.

Ankara has yet to provide firm details regarding the so-called rescue operation that succeeded in freeing the diplomats.

TIME politics

The History Behind the Other ‘United Nations’

united nations - Jan. 19, 1942
From the Jan. 19, 1942, issue of TIME TIME

In 1942, the group known as the United Nations was convened to accomplish one goal: defeat the Axis powers

The United Nations was created in 1942 — but not the United Nations as we know it, the group whose representatives are this week converging in New York City for the 69th General Assembly.

When the phrase first “slipped into the world’s vocabulary,” as TIME wrote, the world was in the midst of war, and the concept of wide-scale international collaboration was fraught. World War II had already exposed the failure of the League of Nations, the international organization set up after the previous world war. Still, in January of 1942, 26 nations, including the U.S., the U.K., Russia and China, signed a pact uniting them in one goal: to defeat the Axis powers. The name, which had been proposed by the Roosevelt administration, became the official title for the Allied powers.

“For the people of the Axis countries that fact could not be other than sobering: 26 nations—count them—26, all determined that Hitler and his tyranny shall be destroyed,” TIME wrote at the time.

Even then there was skepticism that the United Nations could be effective. Some called for a cooperative body to oversee the war effort, while others continued to call for a union of peoples and not just an intergovernmental pact.

But the United Nations prevailed, and when, after the war, world leaders descended on San Francisco for the conference to hash out the details of an intergovernmental organization to jointly confront the world’s problems, they called it the United Nations. The first session of the United Nations General Assembly opened in 1946.

Take a look at TIME’s coverage of the signing of the declaration of the original United Nations in 1942:

The significance of the pact was slower being digested. In Washington, enthusiasts compared it to the Articles of Confederation that had held the 13 States together until the Constitutional Convention. Advocates of Union Now thought it did not go far enough, wanted a union of peoples, rather than of governments. Josephus Daniels recalled his last talk with Woodrow Wilson, when Wilson had said: “The things we have fought for are sure to prevail . . . [and] may come in a better way than we proposed.” Advocates of a revived, strengthened League of Nations hoped the United Nations would prove the better way.

Taken at its face value, the Declaration was impressive. If the signing nations could actually employ their “full resources,” their power would be staggering. Their combined populations came to almost 1,500,000,000 of the world’s 2,145,000,000. They held twice as much of the world’s steel capacity as the Axis, most of its wheat, most of the materials needed for making war or prospering in peace.

Today’s United Nations, by those standards, is even more impressive: instead of 26 member nations, there are 193.

Read the 1942 story about the original United Nations here, in TIME’s archives: The United Nations

TIME foreign affairs

Soldiers From Poor Countries Have Become the World’s Peacekeepers

Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights.
Undated photograph released by Hanin Network, a militant website, shows Fijian UN peacekeepers who were seized by The Nusra Front on Aug. 28, 2014, in the Golan Heights. AP

It is an unfair burden for troops who are less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped

On Aug. 28, rebels from the al-Qaeda-allied al-Nusra Front stormed the Golan Heights border crossing between Syria and Israel, home to one of the oldest U.N. peacekeeping operations. While two contingents of Philippine peacekeepers managed to flee the rebel attack, 45 Fijian troops were captured and taken away by the rebels to parts unknown.

The Fijians were finally released on Sept. 11, but the two-week crisis crystallized a persistent yet under-reported fact: while the U.N. calls upon the international community to act in times of crises, it is often soldiers from developing nations who shoulder the stiffest burden.

In 1994, on the heels of the Rwandan genocide, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, Russia, France, the U.K. and the U.S.) provided 20% of all U.N. peacekeeping personnel.

But by 2004, Security Council nations contributed only 5% of U.N. personnel. This July, amid a tumultuous summer of violent conflicts, that figure had dropped to a miserly 4%, while the governments of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Fiji, Ethiopia, Rwanda and the Philippines provided a staggering 39% of all U.N. forces.

Critics can counter this charge with stats of their own. After all, they say, the permanent members contribute 53% of the U.N.’s annual budget, far outstripping financial contributions made by countries of the global south. But recent years have also seen sluggish rates of payment from wealthier nations — delays that further strain an overburdened system supporting 16 peacekeeping missions around the world.

On balance, the troops contributed by developing countries are more likely to be less well trained, under-supplied and ill equipped for the missions. Delays in financial contributions only complicate the challenges of modern peacekeeping.

So does the fractured nature of modern conflicts. Military experts, like General Sir Rupert Smith, have noted the shift from “industrial wars” of the past to today’s “war amongst the people.” Modern conflicts involve combatants whose ends are not merely the control of territory or the monopoly of politics. They wage war with their own rules, without concern for the U.N.’s mission to referee.

In response, peacekeeping has been hurriedly ramped up: more comprehensive mandates are issued and troops are cleared to use force in defense of civilians. But in the end, peacekeepers are redundant where there is no peace to keep.

The Golan Heights are no exception. The U.N. Disengagement Observer Force was set up 40 years ago precisely to observe the contentious border between Israel and Syria. Today, the threats aren’t even nation states. The peacekeepers in Golan must contend with spillover from Syria’s three-year-long civil war, and the aggression of al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front. They are forced to become soldiers on the front lines of a perpetually asymmetrical conflict, treated as mere machine-gun fodder whenever the international community seeks to stem the spread of terror by piling blue helmets in its way.

In a New York Times op-ed of Aug. 29, Secretary of State John Kerry discussed U.S. intentions to use its position as president of the Security Council to coordinate a response to terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East.

“The United States … will use that opportunity to continue to build a broad coalition and highlight the danger posed by foreign terrorist fighters,” Kerry wrote, adding that “President Obama, addressing the Security Council, would construct a plan to deal with this collective threat.”

For observers, however, events in Golan should serve as a warning. If the U.N. and its leading members intend to tackle collective threats, it is time to address how best to equitably divide the collective risk. In service of international stability, leaders of the developed world have become far too comfortable asking developing countries to put their troops in the line of fire.

Adam McCauley is a Canadian writer and photographer currently based in Hong Kong. His work has appeared in TIME, the New York Times, Al Jazeera and online in the New Yorker.

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