TIME Middle East

Explosions at Gaza School Kill at Least 16, Health Ministry Says

A Palestinian man holds a girl injured during shelling at a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014.
A Palestinian man holds a girl injured during shelling at a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians, at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014. Alessio Romenzi for TIME

An estimated 750 Palestinians and at least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its operation to counter rocket strikes from Hamas

Updated at 7:50 p.m. ET

At least 16 people were killed after rockets struck a U.N.-run school sheltering Palestinians in northern Gaza, officials said on Thursday.

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, 200 people were wounded in the attack. This marks the fourth time that a UN facility has been hit since Israel began Operation Protective Edge on July 8, the BBC reports.

Nearly 750 Palestinians and at least 32 Israeli soldiers have been killed in the fighting, which intensified last week when Israel launched a ground operation to destroy tunnels used by Hamas to deploy a regular stream of rockets into Israel.

The international community has struggled to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, even as the United Nations has condemned both sides in the conflict.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said Wednesday there was a “strong possibility” that Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza while also condemning the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed “outrage and regret” after rockets were found to have been stored inside a UN building in Gaza.

A spokesman for Israeli military, Lt. Colonel Peter Lerner, said that it was possible that the damage had been caused by Hamas rocket fire, Reuters reports. “We don’t strike schools. We don’t strike U.N. facilities. We do not target the United Nations,” he was quoted in the New York Times.

More than 140,000 Palestinians have been displaced in Gaza since the fighting, many of whom have taken shelter in UN buildings, the UN has said.

According to CBS, survivors at the school on Thursday said they were warned that the school was being targeted and were preparing to leave when Israeli forces opened fire. The Israeli military told CBS it was reviewing the incident.

[BBC]

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the attack on the Gaza shelter was committed by Israel. The source of the attack has not yet been confirmed.

TIME Iraq

UN: ISIS Orders Women and Girls in Mosul to Undergo Genital Mutilation

"This is not the will of Iraqi people," U.N. humanitarian coordinator says

Islamic extremists who control parts of northern Iraq have ordered girls and women in and around the city of Mosul to undergo female genital mutilation, a United Nations official said Thursday.

Nearly 4 million girls could be affected by the “fatwa” issued by the militant group that refers to itself as the Islamic State (formerly the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator in Iraq Jacqueline Badcock told reporters in Geneva via videolink from Iraq.

“This is something very new for Iraq, particularly in this area, and is of grave concern and does need to be addressed,” she said according to Reuters. “This is not the will of Iraqi people, or the women of Iraq in these vulnerable areas covered by terrorists.”

[Reuters]

TIME United Nations

U.N. Calls for Probe of Plane Downed Over Ukraine

(UNITED NATIONS) — The U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday demanding international access to the site of the plane downed over eastern Ukraine and an end to military activities around the area, following intense pressure on a reluctant Russia to support the measure.

The resolution calls for a “full, thorough and independent international investigation” into the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 carrying 298 people in Hrabove. It calls for pro-Russia separatists to allow access to the site of the crash. And it demands that armed groups who control the crash site do not disturb debris, belongings or victims’ remains.

All 15 council members voted in favor of the Australia-proposed measure in a televised meeting.

The vote came after a weekend of negotiations to overcome Russian objections to the text, including a phone conversation between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot.

Russia had pushed for the resolution to state that the International Civil Aviation Organization — rather than Ukrainian authorities — take the lead in the investigation. The final resolution fell short of that demand, but in an effort to assuage veto-wielding Russia, it included wording changes that played up the role of the ICAO, a U.N. agency.

After the vote, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power challenged Russia to use its influence to ensure Russian-backed rebels comply with the resolution. She said a Security Council resolution would not have been necessary had Russia pushed the rebels from the start to allow unimpeded access to the site.

“Russia’s silence since Thursday sent a message to the illegal armed groups it supports: We have your backs,” Power said. “”We are not naïve: if Russia is not part of the solution, it will continue to be part of the problem.”

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who traveled to New York to address the council, said the resolution is an “unambiguous response from the international community to an utterly deplorable act.”

Australia’s “grief is now accompanied by outrage as we witness grotesque violations at the crash site,” Bishop said. “This demands a response. That is why Australia has brought this resolution to the Security Council. Today, the Security Council has responded.”

Australia lost 37 citizens and residents in the crash. Netherlands Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, whose country lost 193 nationals on the flight, also traveled to New York for the vote.

Before the vote, Timmermans said his “first priority today is to make sure that our people are brought home and are treated with the dignity they deserve.”

“It’s about time that actions spoke louder than words on the side of the Russians,” he said.

The United States has presented what it called “powerful” evidence that Ukraine’s rebels shot down the plane with a Russian surface-to-air missile and training. Other governments have stopped short of accusing Russia of actually causing the crash.

Russian officials have blamed Ukraine’s government for creating the situation and atmosphere in which the plane was downed.

TIME United Nations

U.N. Security Council Holds Urgent Meeting on Gaza

Riyad Mansour
Palestinian U.N. Ambassador Riyad Mansour speaks before an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council at the U.N. headquarters on July 20, 2014 John Minchillo—AP

In light of the worsening situation in Gaza, Jordan presented a draft resolution calling for the protection of civilians and an immediate cease-fire at a U.N. Security Council emergency meeting on Sunday

(UNITED NATIONS) — The U.N. Security Council is holding an emergency meeting Sunday night on the worsening situation in Gaza.

French Ambassador Gerard Araud tweeted that the meeting is being held at the request of council member Jordan.

A Jordan-drafted resolution obtained by The Associated Press expresses “grave concern” at the high number of civilians killed in Gaza, including children, and it calls for an immediate cease-fire, “including the withdrawal of Israeli occupying forces from the Gaza Strip.”

The first major ground battle in two weeks of Israel-Hamas fighting on Sunday killed at least 65 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers and forced thousands of terrified Palestinian civilians to flee their neighborhoods.

U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has called Israel’s latest incursion “atrocious,” and said it must do far more to protect civilians.

The draft resolution calls for the protection of civilians, the lifting of the “Israeli restrictions imposed on the movement of persons and goods into and out of the Gaza Strip” and immediate humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.

The draft also calls for “renewed and urgent efforts by the parties and the international community” toward peace.

TIME India

India Is Home to More Poor People Than Anywhere Else on Earth

Poverty of slums at New Delhi
Slum dwellers lead their life in poverty and unhealthy conditions in New Delhi, India on March 10, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

"We don't have to be proud of what we've done," one minister says

One third of the world’s 1.2 billion poorest people live in India, according to the latest Millennium Development Goals report by the U.N.

India only managed to reduce its poverty rate (the ratio of the number of people who fall below the poverty line and a country’s total population) from 49.4% in 1994 to 42% in 2005 and 32.7% in 2010. By contrast, regional rival China brought it down from 60% in 1990 to an impressive 16% in 2005 and just 12% in 2010.

India also accounted for the highest number of under-five deaths in the world in 2012, with 1.4 million children not reaching their fifth birthday.

“We don’t have to be proud of what we’ve done,” admitted minority affairs minister Najma Heptulla to the Times Of India on Wednesday. “Poverty is the biggest challenge.”

TIME Libya

U.N. Withdraws Libya Staff as Fresh Rocket Attack Strikes Tripoli Airport

Mideast Libya
In this image made from video by the Associated Press, smoke rises from the direction of Tripoli International Airport, in the capital of Libya, on July 13, 2014 AP

Facing spiraling unrest, the U.N. is withdrawing its entire staff from the country. "The mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work," read a statement

One person died and six were injured after a rocket assault hit Libya’s main international airport on Monday evening.

Tripoli International Airport had been closed a day before the attack because of fighting between an alliance of militia groups and rebels hailing from the western Zintan region, who have been in control of the airport for the past two years.

The terminal was attacked by “a large number of rockets, including Grad rockets,” a security source told the BBC.

Twelve planes were damaged in the barrage of fire and the control tower had taken a hit, with escalating clashes also forcing nearby Misratah Airport to close.

In response to the worsening security situation, the U.N. announced the withdrawal of its entire staff from the country. “The mission concluded that it would not be possible to continue its work … while at the same time ensuring the security and safety of its staff,” read a statement.

Tripoli is the main national transport hub, and as the only other international airport, Benghazi, has been closed for two months, there are no longer any flights to and from the E.U.

Libya has remained unstable since the fall of dictator Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

[BBC]

TIME Syria

Report Details Hardships Facing Syria’s Refugee Mothers

Syrian Refugees; Lebanon; North Lebanon; refugees
Sanaa, 26, washes clothes in a borrowed washing machine at a shelter in Saida, Lebanon, on March 4, 2014. Lynsey Addario—UNHCR

Some 145,000 refugee households are headed by women

A new U.N. report grimly details the daily plight of thousands of Syrian refugee mothers who have fled civil war and now toil as their household’s primary breadwinner.

Four-fifths of the 2.8 million Syrians who have fled their war-torn homeland since March 2011 are women and children, says the U.N., leading to some 145,000 refugee households headed solely by women. The survey, based on three months of interviews with 135 women in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, provides a snapshot of the complexities they endure while trying to feed and protect their children, find enough work to make rent and retain any semblance of the lives they enjoyed before war broke out.

They represent women who once managed their homes, even as their husbands usually handled physical and financial security, but who now lead households in unfamiliar and often insecure communities. Lebanon, a nation of 4 million, has taken in more than a million people. At least 600,000 have entered Jordan, with most gravitating toward urban areas, an influx that has crushed certain infrastructure. In addition, some 137,000 have made it to Egypt.

António Guterres, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said “escaping their ruined homeland was only the first step in a journey of grinding hardship” and called their treatment “shameful” as the crisis worsens. “They have run out of money, face daily threats to their safety and are being treated as outcasts,” he added, “for no other crime than losing their men to a vicious war.”

Typically, their first challenge was simply finding a roof. Many make do with overcrowded or makeshift housing, due to few options and difficulties in securing a stable and sufficient income. Only one-fifth of those interviewed had paid work, and many others said they relied on cash assistance from aid groups or generosity from others in their community.

Paying rent is among their top stressors, as is feeding loved ones. With an average of 5.6 people per household, some mothers said their families ate less as a whole or individuals held back so others could eat more. “Rent is more important than food,” one woman who lived with her seven children in Amman told the U.N. “We don’t remember what meat or fruit tastes like,” echoed another, who kept a home of nine people in Giza, Egypt.

The vast majority of women interviewed relied on food vouchers from the U.N. World Food Programme, but very few complained that their households were going hungry.

Among a number of other issues reported were an inability to afford proper medical care, regular instances of verbal harassment and even offers of free accommodation in exchange for sexual favors. A significant portion said they left their homes much less often than they did in Syria.

The U.N. expects these problems to worsen, as it estimates the total number of Syrian refugees will reach 3.6 million by year’s end, unless aid agencies, donors and host governments renew their commitments of support.

TIME Crime

U.N. Says Opium Production Has Reached All-Time High

Opium Production All Time High
An Afghan security force member destroys an illegal poppy crop in the eastern Kunar province in April 2014. Noorullah Shirzada—AFP/Getty Images

Fueled by the rising global trade in heroin

More land was used to cultivate illicit opium in 2013 than ever before, due to increased smuggling through southern Afghanistan, according to the U.N.

The annual World Drug Report released on Thursday indicates that land area used for production of opiates and opioids, the leading cause of drug-related disease and death, reached roughly 733,000 acres last year — the highest since the first estimates were recorded in 1998. For the third consecutive year, Afghanistan has logged the world’s largest opium cultivation.

Opium Production
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, World Drug Report 2014

The increase in global opium production has been attributed to the rising contraband trade of heroin, a derivative of opium poppy. An expanding route along the southern corridor in Afghanistan has facilitated the transport of Afghan heroin to Southeast Asia and Oceania, regions traditionally supplied by Southeast Asia’s opium cultivation. This “southern route” also has bumped up supply to the Middle East, Europe and Africa since law-enforcement officials began cracking down on the long-used Balkan route.

The report arrives amid a global war on drugs, as countries continue to reconsider policies that have failed to lessen illegal drug activity. In Latin America, for example, a region plagued by drug violence, U.S. attempts to suppress drug production have been largely unsuccessful, according to Washington Office on Latin America.

Meanwhile, Russia and the U.S. have maintained their positions on criminalizing illegal drugs, while many Middle Eastern countries have come under fire for imposing capital punishment for drug-related crimes, according to the New York Times. Re-examinations of global drug laws and alternatives to militarized interventions will likely be the crux of the 2016 General Assembly on the world drug problem.

The extent of global drug abuse has remained stable over time at 16 million to 39 million people.

TIME

Thousands Flee Ukraine for Russia; Truce Nears End

IZVARYNE, Ukraine — Thousands of Ukrainians in cars stuffed with belongings lined up Thursday at the eastern border to cross into Russia, with some saying they felt betrayed by their government and vowing never to return.

A commander at the rebel-controlled border post southeast of the city of Luhansk said 5,000 people had left by evening, joining a stream he said has continued unabated through a shaky cease-fire set to expire on Friday.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have sought safety in Russia since the fighting began two months ago between government troops and Moscow-backed separatist fighters.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday called on Russia to support his peace plan “with deeds, not words” as the weeklong cease-fire neared its end in Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said they too were looking for more action from Moscow ahead of a summit on Friday of European Union leaders, who will be considering a new round of punitive sanctions on Russia.

The summit also will see Ukraine sign a sweeping trade agreement with the EU that will bind it more closely to the West. It was the former Ukrainian president’s sudden decision late last year to back out of the EU deal under pressure from Russia that led to his ouster and triggered the current crisis.

By declaring a cease-fire only through Friday morning, Poroshenko may have been trying to push forward the peace process ahead of the EU summit. Russian President Vladimir Putin has urged him to extend the truce and hold talks with the separatists, who have declared independence in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Poroshenko announced Thursday that representatives of the mutinous regions have agreed to talks with the Russian ambassador, a former Ukrainian president representing Poroshenko, and a European envoy. The first round of talks on Monday brought rebel leaders to the negotiating table for the first time.

Russian news agencies quoted Andrei Purgin, a leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, as saying the next round would be held Friday in Donetsk.

Poroshenko has shown willingness to extend the cease-fire and his next step may hinge on the outcome of the talks.

It was unclear how many Ukrainians will end up settling in Russia. Russia’s migration service said last week that it had registered the arrival of 90,000 Ukrainians, but few asked for refugee status because it would oblige them to stay in Russia for at least six months.

Many of those at the Izvaryne crossing on Thursday were taking household items, including refrigerators. One family from a village south of Slovyansk, a separatist stronghold that has come under frequent shelling from the military, said they “hated Ukraine” and would not return.

The rebel commander, who would give only his first name, Alexander, said whenever there was a spike in the hostilities the flow of refugees would increase. The day before the cease-fire was announced, the line to cross the border stretched for 5 kilometers (3 miles).

The United Nations estimates that from April 15 to June 20, 423 people, including servicemen and civilians, were killed in eastern Ukraine.

Even though some rebel groups agreed to observe the cease-fire, Poroshenko said 18 government troops have been killed this week. Separatist leaders also have reported deaths among rebel fighters.

Speaking at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on Thursday, Poroshenko urged Moscow to stop the flow of fighters from Russia and take other steps to end the conflict.

“Without that, we cannot talk about peace,” Poroshenko said. “Support the peace plan with deeds, not words.”

Kerry, speaking in Paris, said “it is critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that they’re moving to help disarm the separatists, to encourage them to disarm.”

Merkel also stressed the importance for Russia to show its commitments “in the coming hours,” saying that Germany will “have to decide how we will further proceed” on possible sanctions against Russia after a meeting with Poroshenko on Friday.

Putin and Merkel spoke by phone on Thursday, discussing extending the cease-fire and releasing people held by armed rebels, the Kremlin said.

Germany also announced that it was easing its immigration restrictions for Jews from Ukraine due to reports of an increase in anti-Semitic incidents since the crisis broke out.

TIME

UN Help Sought to Restore Detroit Water Service

DETROIT (AP) — Welfare rights groups want a United Nations agency to help Detroiters whose water service has been cut off due to unpaid bills.

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department launched an effort in March targeting residents and companies more than 60 days in arrears. The department says it sent 46,000 notices and cut off service to 4,500 customers.

The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press report that welfare groups have appealed to a representative at the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights who handles safe drinking water and sanitation issues. The groups say water service should be restored to delinquent customers and that it is a matter of human rights.

On Tuesday, Democratic Congressman John Conyers of Michigan issued a statement calling the shutoffs “inhumane.”

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