TIME Middle East

72-Hour Cease-Fire Announced in Gaza

Mideast Israel Palestinians
Amidst the morning fog, smoke from an Israeli strike rises over Gaza City on July 26, 2014 Lefteris Pitarakis—AP

The unconditional cease-fire will allow both sides to negotiate while victims are buried and the injured receive aid

The U.S. and U.N. announced Thursday that Israel and Hamas have agreed to a 72-hour humanitarian cease-fire, which will begin Friday morning at 8 a.m. local time.

The U.S. and U.N. said in a joint statement that both sides have agreed to suspend fighting in Gaza while they engaged in negotiations in Cairo.

“During this time the forces on the ground will remain in place,” said the announcement released jointly by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Israeli troops that have entered Gaza will remain there.

“This cease-fire is critical to giving innocent civilians a much-needed reprieve from violence,” the statement reads. “During this period, civilians in Gaza will receive urgently needed humanitarian relief, and the opportunity to carry out vital functions, including burying the dead, taking care of the injured, and restocking food supplies. Overdue repairs on essential water and energy infrastructure could also continue during this period.”

More than 1,400 Palestinians and dozens of Israelis have died since the strikes began earlier this month.

TIME North Korea

Activists Send Choco Pies Floating Into North Korea

North Korean defectors and South Korean activists prepare to release balloons to let them fly to the North, carrying chocolate pies and cookies during a rally against the North's recent threat at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, South Korea on July 30, 2014.
North Korean defectors and South Korean activists prepare to release balloons to let them fly to the North, carrying chocolate pies and cookies during a rally against the North's recent threat at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, in Paju, South Korea on July 30, 2014. Ahn Young-joon—AP

"We will continue to send Choco Pie by balloons"

A year after North Korea cracked down on Choco Pies—marshmallow-filled chocolate cakes originating in South Korea—activists in South Korea sent thousands of the beloved confections over the border via helium balloons, AFP reports.

About 200 activists released 50 balloons carrying hundreds of pounds of snacks, including 10,000 Choco Pies.

North Koreans working in South Korean factories in a joint industrial zone received the confections as perks, but their rarity in the North boosted their value and they soon became a sought after commodity. By 2010, according to South Korean media, more than 2 million were traded on the black market every month (though it’s unclear how exactly that figure was determined).

Last May, authorities in Pyongyang ordered the factories to stop handing out Choco Pies.

But on Wednesday, activists—who regularly send leaflets and other items across the border on balloons—said they will continue to deliver the pies across the border.

“We will continue to send Choco Pie by balloons because it is still one of the most popular foodstuffs, especially among hungry North Koreans,” Choo Sun-Hee, one of the organizers, told AFP.

[AFP]

TIME Taiwan

Gas Explosions Kill 24, Injure 271 in Taiwan

Bodies are seen covered after an explosion in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan
Bodies are seen covered after an explosion in Kaohsiung, southern Taiwan, on Aug. 1, 2014 Stringer Taiwan—Reuters

A series of underground gas explosions killed 24 people and injured 271 others late on Thursday in Kaohsiung, Taiwan's second-largest city

(KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan) — At least 24 people were killed and 271 injured when several underground gas explosions ripped through Taiwan’s second-largest city, hurling concrete and cars through the air and blasting trenches in the streets, authorities said Friday, as a search for the cause began.

The series of explosions about midnight Thursday and early Friday struck a densely populated district where several petrochemical plans operate pipelines alongside the sewer system in Kaohsiung, a southwestern port with 2.8 million people.

Firefighters called to the neighborhood to investigate a gas leak were among the victims when the blasts went off several hours later, upending at least five red fire trucks amid the rubble of pavement and dirt.

Four firefighters were among the 24 dead, and 271 people were injured, the National Fire Agency said.

“Last night around midnight, the house started shaking and I thought it was a huge earthquake, but when I opened the door, I saw white smoke all over and smelled gas,” said Chen Qing-tao, 38, who lives 10 buildings away from the main explosion site.

The fires were believed caused by a leak of propene, a petrochemical material not intended for public use, but the cause and source of the leak were not immediately clear, officials said.

The exploded gas line belongs to government-owned CPC Corp., which told The Associated Press it showed no signs of problems before the explosions. CPC officials at the scene Friday declined to offer information about reasons for the blasts.

Video from the TVBS broadcaster showed residents searching for victims in shattered storefronts and rescuers pulling injured people from the rubble of a road and placing them on stretchers while passersby helped other victims on a sidewalk. Broadcaster ETTV showed rows of large fires sending smoke into the night sky.

At least five blasts shook the city, Taiwan’s Premier Jiang Yi-huah said.

Chang Jia-juch, the director of the Central Disaster Emergency Operation Center, said the leaking gas was most likely to be propene. One of the fires, along a 10-meter stretch of gas line, is still on fire, the National Fire Agency says on its website.

The source of the leak was unknown. Chang said, however, that propene was not for public use, and that it was a petrochemical material.

The government’s disaster response center said Friday it was trying to prevent any knock-on gas explosions in the same place or nearby.

“In terms of what we can prevent, we’re afraid another explosion could happen, as there is that possibility,” said Hsu Lee-hao, an economics affairs ministry section chief staffing the disaster response center. “We’re afraid it could be in the same place or elsewhere.”

Most of the injured were people outside on the street, mostly hit by rubble blown toward them or crushed by cars sent flying in the blasts, a police officer at the scene said. Police and firefighters were burned while trying to control blazes.

Kaohsiung Mayor Chen Chu said several petrochemical companies have pipelines built along the sewage system in Chian-Chen district, which has both factories and residential buildings.

“Our priority is to save people now. We ask citizens living along the pipelines to evacuate,” Chen told TVBS television.

Rescue workers are looking for people trapped in the rubble but expect to find few, if any, because no buildings collapsed, Hsu in the disaster response center said.

Power was cut off in the area, making it difficult for firefighters to search for others who might be buried in rubble. About 12,000 people lost power and 23,600 lost gas service.

CNA said the local fire department received reports from residents of gas leakage at about 8:46 p.m. and that explosions started around midnight. CPC says it got reports around the same hour.

Closed-circuit television showed an explosion rippling through the floor of a motorcycle parking area, hurling concrete and other debris through the air. Mobile phone video captured the sound of an explosion as flames leapt at least 30 feet (9 meters) into the air.

One survivor of the blast said he tried to help before paramedics arrived.

“I was on my scooter just across the street, suddenly there was the explosion, a white car was blown toward me, and I saw the driver trapped in the car,” said Wong Zhen-yao, 49, owner of a car repair shop in the disaster area.

“There was still fire nearby. I tried to pull the guy out but couldn’t,” he said. “Only after the smoke was gone did I realize there was such a big hole in the middle of the road.”

One of the explosions left a large trench running down the center of a road, edged with piles of concrete slabs torn apart by the force of the blast. A damaged motorcycle lay in the crater, and other cars were flipped over. The force of the initial blast also felled trees lining the street.

After dawn on Friday, Taiwan’s Global News television channel showed a crane removing a van from a trench more than a meter (yard) deep. It showed other vehicles smashed completely. Flats and shops along Sanduo Road, near an elementary school, showed exterior damage such as burnt walls and toppled signs.

The explosions affected an area of two to three square kilometers, much of it sealed off.

___

Associated Press writers Ralph Jennings in Taipei, and Gillian Wong and Ian Mader in Beijing contributed.

TIME Infectious Disease

The Psychological Toll of Ebola in Sierra Leone

A nurse from Liberia sprays preventives to disinfect the waiting area for visitors at the ELWA Hospital where a US doctor Kent Bradley is being quarantined in the hospitals isolation unit having contracted the Ebola virus, Monrovia, Liberia, 28 July 2014.
A nurse from Liberia sprays preventives to disinfect the waiting area for visitors at the ELWA Hospital where a US doctor Kent Bradley is being quarantined in the hospitals isolation unit having contracted the Ebola virus, Monrovia, Liberia, 28 July 2014. Ahmed Jallanzo—EPA

Ane Bjoru Fjeldsaeter has been counselling staff, patients and their families at the Doctors Without Borders' Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone

In West Africa, the deadly Ebola outbreak is worsening daily. The U.N. announced Thursday that 1,323 people have been infected in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Of those afflicted, 729 have died.

The tiny country of Sierra Leone has been hit hardest, with 533 reported cases. The President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma,
has announced a public health emergency, some schools and banks have closed, and doctors are scrambling to treat people for a virus they can’t cure—or contain. As patients worsen, their bodies—and their minds—take a toll.

Amid that chaos and fear was Ane Bjoru Fjeldsaeter, a psychologist who was working at a Doctors Without Borders’ treatment center in Kailahun until recently, when she returned home to Norway. The only mental health professional in the 64-bed center, she was tasked with providing emotional support and counseling to victims, their families and those treating them.

“The fear is widespread,” she says. “When we first started working in the region there was a lot of denial. It’s a common psychological response when faced with a horrible situation.”

For those inside the treatment center, the grim reality of Ebola was impossible to ignore. “They see people around them with a rapidly progressing and ugly disease,” Fjeldsaeter says. “It’s a scary situation to be in.”

Doctors Without Borders has been operating in Kailahun since June 25 and the mortality rate within the center has dropped from 90% to 60%, according to Fjeldsaeter. She counseled patients at a distance of 1.5 meters, separated by two orange fences that came up to waist height. “If someone is so sick they can’t come to the fence, I’ll wear protective equipment and go to the isolation ward,” she says.

“Most of the patients were more concerned about their relatives than their own lives,” she explains. For others, the isolation can be extremely trying, and as their health worsens and their own mortality looms, many turn to God. “Sometimes they asked me to pray with them or for them,” she says.

In such an emotionally charged environment, staff are often affected. “It’s a workplace where it’s common at times to become overwhelmed with emotion,” Fjeldsaeter says. “Staff told me they didn’t feel professional. I had to tell them, ‘Nobody’s made of stone, we’re all affected by this. It’s a national tragedy and it’s okay to cry.'”

She also offered some group counseling for staff. “They have shared concerns. There’s a fear of contamination and the feeling of helplessness because there’s no cure. They’re up against the disease and they don’t know what to do. There’s clear sadness.”

Despite the horrors that she witnessed during her month in Sierra Leone, Fjeldsaeter remains stoic. She admits to being scared but adds: “If you’re not scared then you’re not careful. You have to embrace your fear a bit, but you can’t let it paralyze you.”

 

 

TIME Television

Maggie Gyllenhaal on Israel and Palestine — and How Obama Broke Her Heart

"I still root for him," she says

+ READ ARTICLE

Maggie Gyllenhaal comes from a long line of lefties, including her mom Naomi Foner, whose screenplay for Running On Empty was nominated for an Oscar. The actress has been politically outspoken before standing up against the Iraq war. So it’s kind of surprising that she’s not such a fan of Obama,not will she take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Or maybe not that unexpected. Taking sides in the Middle East could turn potential viewers away from her new miniseries The Honorable Woman, which starts on July 31 on Sundance. “You know, you say one word on one side or the other, and you alienate hundreds of thousands of people,” she says in the longer version of her interview for the 10 Questions page of Time. “And I’m hoping actually to open many people’s minds and hearts even the tiniest bit. So, yes, I’m trying to think about what my ultimate intention is…and I’m trying to think before I speak.”

In the longer video below (pro-tip: skip the first minute if you watched the one above), Gyllenhaal also explains how President Obama broke her heart. “I really believed in him and I’m not sure what he believes in any more.” She thinks he wasn’t aggressive enough in dealing with the National Security Agency, after it was shown that their activities were Enemy of the State-ish than most Americans had been led to believe. “I still root for him,” says Gyllenhaal. “But I feel a little hopeless right now….I hope for a leader who will stand up and be unpopular.”

 

 

 

 

TIME Argentina

Argentina Defaults After Debt Talks Collapse

Argentina's Economy Minister Axel Kicillof speaks to the media at a press conference at the Argentine Consulate in New York, July 30, 2014. Economy Minister Axel Kicillof speaks to the media at a press conference at the Argentine Consulate in New York
Argentina's Economy Minister Axel Kicillof speaks to the media at a press conference at the Argentine Consulate in New York, July 30, 2014. Carlo Allegri—Reuters

The South American nation failed to strike a deal to avert its second debt default in 13 years

The last time Argentina defaulted on its debts it was announced at a packed session of Congress with the nation’s legislators hollering anti-imperialist slogans and singing the Peronist March, the battle hymn of the Peronist political party that has ruled Argentina for 24 of the last 31 years.

That 2001 default of $93 billion was considered a slap in the face of an international financial system that Peronism abhors and that it sees as saddling countries such as Argentina with unmanageable debt levels. But once the cheering died down, Argentina’s economy collapsed like a house of cards. All banks were closed by government order, destroying the life savings of millions and reducing Argentina to a cashless economy that for about a year relied on barter markets for the procurement of essential household essentials such as food and clothing.

By contrast, 13 years later, on July 30, Argentina went into default quietly, with its political leaders in a state of deep denial. “It’s not default,” claimed Argentina’s Economy Minister Axel Kicillof against all evidence at an improvised press conference in a small wood-paneled room of the Argentine consulate in New York.

Argentina’s blue-eyed 42-year-old minister, who has drawn sighs on the internet for his perceived good looks, disparaged the fact that the credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s had earlier in the day downgraded Argentina to “selective default” for failing to meet a payment deadline on its 2001 debt. “Who believes in credit rating agencies at this stage?” Kicillof sharply demanded.

Turning a blind eye to evident economic realities has been the Achilles heel of the Peronist government of President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who is facing a sharp economic downturn in the last 18 months of her second period in office. When inflation reared its ugly head a few years ago, Kirchner ordered the INDEC national statistics bureau to release grossly low inflation figures. Then she prohibited private economists from putting out their own more realistic estimates.

Similarly, only last week Kirchner remained in sharp denial of the default deadline. “They’re going to have to invent another name for it because Argentina has paid,” Kirchner said.

Yesterday’s default came about after American hedge funds won a lawsuit ordering Argentina to pay them some $1.6 billion for bonds they bought at a low market price after the 2001 default. Some 93% of bondholders accepted a 75% reduction on the Argentine debt they were saddled with back then. But the remaining seven percent who refused the “haircut” took Argentina to court in New York demanding full payment. Two years ago they won the case and last month that victory was validated by the US Supreme Court, which refused to hear an appeal by Buenos Aires.

“That Supreme Court decision was like a lightning bolt out of a cloudless sky,” said Kicillof, who was in New York seeking a last-minute way out of the looming crisis.

President Kirchner has staunchly refused to pay the “vulture funds” that she says prey on weak economies with debt problems. She claims paying them would leave Argentina vulnerable to gigantic claims from the other 93% of bondholders.

“The vulture funds did not lend Argentina a single dollar, a single penny,” said Kicillof. “They are not lenders from 2001 who were cheated.”

Last night’s mini-default could have immediate financial consequences for Argentina, such as a possible devaluation of the Argentine peso and the drying up of investments. But economists expect the jolt for ordinary citizens will be far slower. Although the economy has hit a recession, the situation is nowhere near as fragile as it was 13 years ago.

Meanwhile, a consortium of private Argentine banks has been working on an original solution. At a meeting with the “vulture funds” in New York yesterday, the consortium offered to cover the $1.6 billion awarded by the US court. “I wouldn’t be surprised if a solution was found between private parties, including private bankers,” Kicillof said.

TIME White House

White House: Shelling Of U.N. School in Gaza ‘Totally Indefensible’

TOPSHOTS-PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA
Palestinians collect human remains from a classroom inside a UN school in the Jabalia refugee camp after the area was hit by shelling on July 30, 2014. Marco Longari—AFP/Getty Images

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has issued the Obama administration’s toughest critique yet of Israeli conduct in the ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza, saying Thursday that the Israeli shelling of a U.N. school-turned-shelter for Palestinian civilians was “totally indefensible.”

Addressing reporters, Earnest quoted U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that “all available evidence points to Israeli artillery as the cause” of the attack, which took place early Wednesday morning. At least 19 people died in the incident, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which ran the shelter. The shelling marked the sixth attack on a U.N. shelter during the ongoing conflict.

On Wednesday, National Security Council Spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said “the United States condemns the shelling of a UNRWA school in Gaza,” but did not single out Israel for responsibility. Earnest’s comments went further, noting that the U.S. government has no reason to doubt U.N. reports that Israel was behind the shelling.

“It does not appear there’s a lot of doubt about whose artillery was involved in this incident,” Earnest said.

“The shelling of a U.N. facility that is housing innocent civilians who are fleeing violence is totally unacceptable and totally indefensible,” Earnest said. “And it is clear that we need our allies in Israel to do more to live up to the high standards that they have set for themselves.”

Earnest said the incident should redouble efforts for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire, prospects for which slimmed Thursday as the Israeli military prepared to broaden its operations inside Gaza.

“The thoughts and prayers of the American people are with the families of those who have been lost in this terrible conflict,” Earnest added. “And what we are simply asking the Israelis to do, in fact urging the Israelis to do, is to do more to live up to the standards that they have set for their own military operations to protect the lives of innocent civilians.”

Caches of weapons have been found in at least three UNRWA schools over the course of the three-week conflict. In the most recent incident, the Israeli military said its forces took fire from the area around the school and returned fire.

“We also condemn those responsible for hiding weapons in United Nations facilities in Gaza,” Meehan said. “All of these actions, and similar ones earlier in the conflict, are inconsistent with the UN’s neutrality.”

TIME Ukraine

Investigators Finally Reach Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Crash Site

Alexander Hug deputy head for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine, looks on next to armed pro-Russian separatists on the way to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site, near Donetsk on July 30, 2014.
Alexander Hug deputy head for the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) monitoring mission in Ukraine, looks on next to armed pro-Russian separatists on the way to the Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash site, near Donetsk on July 30, 2014. Sergei Karpukhin—Reuters

Clashes between the Ukrainian military and pro-Russian separatists had kept the team from the site until today.

International investigators reached the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 for the first time since the Boeing 777 was downed by a missile in eastern Ukraine on July 17, the Associated Press reports. Fighting between the Ukrainian military and the pro-Russian separatists had kept the investigation team, made up of Dutch and Australian forensic experts and officials with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, from accessing the site. But on Thursday, the team was able to pass through both Ukrainian and rebel checkpoints. A spokesman for the Ukrainian government announced a “day of quiet” Thursday to ensure the safety of the team, though reporters on the scene say clashes were ongoing in the area. Ukraine has intensified its assault on rebel-held territory since MH17 crashed with 298 people on board, and fighting has left more than 1,000 dead, including hundreds of civilians. The investigators limited their initial visit to reconnaissance, according to the New York Times, and left at around 5 p.m. local time to head back to the rebel-held city of Donetsk, about 40 miles from the site. They are expected to focus on retrieving human remains—Australian Foreign Minister said up to 80 bodies are believed to still be strewn across the crash site—and collect victims’ belongings, the AP reports. [AP]

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