TIME Iraq

US Officials: Military Mulling More Troops to Iraq

(WASHINGTON) — U.S. officials say military planners are weighing the possibility of sending more American forces to Iraq mainly to provide additional security around Baghdad.

A senior U.S. official says the number of troops currently under discussion would be fewer than 300, but there has been no final decision yet by Pentagon leaders.

The talks come as American fighter jets and drones conducted nearly a dozen airstrikes in Iraq since Tuesday when Islamic State militants threatened to kill a second American captive in retribution for any continued attacks.

A U.S. official says the strikes came in the hours after militants released a gruesome video Tuesday showing U.S. journalist James Foley being beheaded.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Says ‘Entire World Is Appalled’ By ISIS Beheading of Journalist

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement from Martha's Vineyard
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement regarding the ISIS attack on photojournalist James Foley from Martha's Vineyard, Mass. on Aug. 20, 2014. Kevin Lamarque—Reuters

"No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day"

President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the “entire world is appalled” by the death of American journalist James Foley, who was kidnapped in Syria more than 18 months ago and whose death was depicted in a video Tuesday.

The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) posted the graphic video of the execution on Tuesday, calling it retribution for American airstrikes against Sunni extremist forces in Iraq. The U.S. intelligence community has authenticated the video, National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden said.

“Today the entire world is appalled by the murder of journalist Jim Foley,” Obama said Wednesday in an emotional statement from Martha’s Vineyard.

Obama said the Middle East must work to “extract this cancer” that threatens the stability of Iraq and the region. “[ISIS] speaks for no religion,” Obama said. “Their victims are overwhelmingly Muslim.”

“No just God would stand for what they did yesterday and what they do every single day,” he added.

Obama called Foley’s family on Wednesday morning to express his condolences on the loss of their son.

“Jim was taken from us in an act of violence that shocked the conscience of the entire world,” Obama said.

The video also includes a threat to kill Steven Sotloff, a freelance journalist who has written for TIME and other outlets, and has been missing since August 2013. “We keep in our prayers those other Americans who are separated from their families,” Obama said. “We will do everything that we can to protect our people and the timeless values that we stand for.”

Obama said the United States would continue its efforts to confront ISIS. “The United States of America will do what we must to protect our people,” he said. “We will be vigilant, and we will be relentless.”

A Facebook page affiliated with the Foley family’s campaign for his release posted a message Tuesday evening from his mother, Diane Foley.

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim,” she wrote. “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people. …We thank Jim for all the joy he gave us. He was an extraordinary son, brother, journalist and person. Please respect our privacy in the days ahead as we mourn and cherish Jim.”

Foley “was taken by an organized gang after departing from an internet café in Binesh, Syria,” near the Turkish border, the FBI said in an alert following the Nov. 22, 2012, kidnapping. He was in Binesh covering the Syrian civil war for the GlobalPost website and AFP.

Foley, 40, grew up in New Hampshire, where his parents live.

-Additional reporting by Mark Thompson.

TIME Infectious Disease

4 Injured in Violent Clashes as Liberians Storm Ebola Barricades

Liberia Battles Spreading Ebola Epidemic
A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, pushes back local residents while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on August 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

The clashes mark a deepening sense of mistrust at official responses to contain the Ebola outbreak

At least four people were injured in clashes with Liberian soldiers and police after the government laid barbed wire barricades around a densely populated slum in an attempt to contain the spread of Ebola.

Young men surged towards the barricades and hurled stones at troops, who responded by firing live rounds of ammunition, the New York Times reports. Agence France-Presse reports that at least four people were injured in the skirmish.

The unrest highlights a deepening sense of mistrust among residents of West Point, a district that government officials designated as a quarantine zone on Wednesday morning. Tensions flared in the area earlier in the week as the opening of an Ebola treatment clinic in a local school fueled fears that health officials were bringing in infected patients from other parts of the city. The clinic was ransacked on Saturday, enabling several quarantined patients to escape.

The death toll from suspected and confirmed cases of Ebola across west Africa climbed to 1,350 people, the World Health Organization said on Wednesday.

[NYT]

TIME ebola

Clashes in Liberia Slum Sealed Off to Halt Ebola

A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.
A Liberian Army soldier, part of the Ebola Task Force, beats a local resident while enforcing a quarantine on the West Point slum on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

Hundreds of residents of the West Point slum in Monrovia clashed with security forces

(MONROVIA, Liberia) — Hundreds of residents of a seaside slum in Liberia’s capital clashed with security forces Wednesday to protest an armed blockade of the peninsula that is their neighborhood as part of the government’s desperate efforts to stop the spread of the deadly Ebola virus.

Protests began in the morning when roads into and out of West Point were blocked by riot police and troops and a coast guard boat patrolled the waters offshore.

When the local government representative, who had not slept at home, returned to get her family out, hundreds of people surrounded her house until police and soldiers packed her and her family into a car and hustled them away. Security forces fired into the air to disperse the crowd, and residents threw stones or whatever was at hand at them. At least one person was injured.

Deputy Police Chief Abraham Kromah said later Wednesday that forces managed to restore order in the area. He said the police were investigating whether any shots had been fired.

Fear and tension have been building in Monrovia for days, and West Point has been one of the flash points. West Point residents raided an Ebola screening center over the weekend, accusing officials of bringing sick people from all over Monrovia into their neighborhood. The move to seal off the densely populated, impoverished peninsula shows that the government is struggling to contain a deadly outbreak that is spreading faster in Liberia than anywhere else.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ordered West Point sealed off and imposed a nationwide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“We have been unable to control the spread” of Ebola, Sirleaf said in an address to the nation Tuesday night. She blamed the rising case toll on denial, defiance of authorities and cultural burial practices, in which bodies are handled. But many feel the government has not done enough to protect them from the spread of Ebola.

Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia.
Family members of West Point district commissioner Miata Flowers flee the slum while being escorted by the Ebola Task Force on Aug. 20, 2014 in Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

The Ebola outbreak, which according to the World Health Organization began in December, has killed at least 1,229 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

On Wednesday, riot police and soldiers created roadblocks out of piles of scrap wood and barbed wire to prevent anyone from entering or leaving West Point, which occupies a half-mile-long (kilometer-long) peninsula where the Mesurado River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Few roads go into the area and a major road runs along the base of the point, serving as a barrier between the neighborhood and the rest of Monrovia. Ferries to the area have been halted.

At least 50,000 people live in West Point, one of the poorest and most densely populated neighborhoods of the capital. Sanitation is poor even in the best of times and defecation in the streets and beaches is a major problem. Mistrust of authorities is rampant in this poorly served area, where many people live without electricity or access to clean water.

The community is in “disarray” following the arrival of forces on Wednesday morning, West Point resident, Richard Kieh, told The Associated Press by phone.

“Prices of things have been doubled here,” he said.

The Ebola outbreak has already touched other parts of the capital, where dead bodies have lain in the streets for hours, sometimes days, even though residents asked that they be picked up by Health Ministry workers.

Liberia has the highest death toll, and its number of cases is rising the fastest. Sirleaf also ordered gathering places like movie theaters and night clubs shut and cordoned off Dolo Town, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of the capital.

While whole counties and districts in Sierra Leone and Liberia have been sealed off and internal travel restrictions have limited the movement of people in Guinea, the sealing off of West Point is the first time such restrictions have been put in place in a capital city in this outbreak.

The current Ebola outbreak is currently the most severe in Liberia and Sierra Leone, but the U.N. health agency said that there were encouraging signs that the tide was beginning to turn in Guinea. There is also hope that Nigeria has managed to contain the disease to about a dozen cases.

Nigeria’s health minister, Onyebuchi Chukwu, said Tuesday that a fifth person had died of the disease in that country. All of Nigeria’s reported cases so far have been people who had direct contact with a Liberian-American man who was already infected when he arrived in the country on an airliner.

___

Associated Press photographer Abbas Dulleh in Monrovia, Liberia, and writer Maram Mazen in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

TIME Japan

Hiroshima Landslide Kills at Least 36

At least 36 people were killed in Japan on Wednesday when landslides triggered by heavy rain hit the outskirts of Hiroshima. Several people were missing after a month's worth of rain fell overnight, loosening slopes saturated by previous heavy rain that fell over the past few weeks

TIME Ukraine

Ukrainian Government Troops Take Over Much of Luhansk

(KIEV, Ukraine) — A Ukrainian official says government troops have taken control of a large part of Luhansk — a besieged rebel stronghold in eastern Ukraine — after days of street battles.

Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, told reporters Wednesday in Kiev that government forces are now controlling “significant parts” of the eastern city.

Hard-hit Luhansk has been without electricity, running water or phone connections for 18 days due to the fighting. Russia has sent a massive aid convoy to help the residents there but it has not yet received Kiev’s approval, because the proposed route lies through rebel-held territory.

TIME Infectious Disease

Aid Group Slams Global Response to Ebola Outbreak

A Liberian burial team wearing protective clothing retrieves the body of a 60-year-old Ebola victim from his home on Aug. 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia.
A Liberian burial team wearing protective clothing retrieves the body of a 60-year-old Ebola victim from his home on Aug. 17, 2014 near Monrovia, Liberia. John Moore—Getty Images

Countries are securing their own borders and leaving West Africa to fend for itself

The main agency fighting the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is lashing out at the international response, calling it “non-existent.”

“We are completely amazed by the lack of willingness and professionalism and coordination to tackle this epidemic,” Brice de le Vingne, the operations director of Doctors Without Borders, told the Financial Times. “We have been screaming for months. Now the situation is even worse – we are today on the verge of seeing an entire country collapsing.”

An estimated 2,240 people have been infected with the virus in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia since it first surfaced in March, and more than half of the afflicted have died. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) describes the current situation in Liberia as “catastrophic” and continuously deteriorating. The country has closed its borders, declared a state of emergency and on Tuesday it imposed a curfew on the main slum area in the capital of Monrovia, where Ebola panic has lead to public unrest.

Fear of infection has compounded the disaster, with workers and patients fleeing Monrovia hospitals in recent days, leading to an almost complete collapse of the health system and causing increased risks for other diseases such as malaria.

To be fair, many countries and organizations are sending aid to the affected region. The African Development Bank has pledged $56 million, the United Kingdom has increased its assistance to $8 million, China has sent supplies worth $4.9 million, E.U. support stands at $15.8 million, and the U.S. has pledged the same amount of aid as well as deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART). According to MSF, however, that’s far from enough.

“Leaders in the West are talking about their own safety and doing things like closing airlines – and not helping anyone else,” Brice de la Vingne told the Guardian, comparing it with the rapid international response to the earthquake in Haiti, where 300,000 people died. “You need very senior people with high profiles, the kind of people who can coordinate a response to a million people affected by an earthquake.”

A million people are currently residing in quarantined regions and are at risk of not receiving adequate supplies of food and water, although the World Health Organization said Tuesday that it had started delivering food aid to hospitalized patients and quarantined districts, in cooperation with the World Food Program. This aid will continue for another three months.

However, the biggest unmet need is for additional well-trained health workers. Professionals on the ground are exhausted, and several hundred have died in part because of a lack of training. MSF and other organizations are stretched to breaking point, some of them because of their involvement in other crises. USAID, for example, is responding to four humanitarian crises at the same time: South Sudan, Syria, Iraq and the Ebola outbreak. It must also weigh up whether to put people at risk.

“There may be a lot of well-intentioned medical staff in the world, but this is Ebola,” DART leader Tim Callaghan told the development web site Devex.

MSF president Dr. Joanne Liu told told the New York Times that it is also more difficult to recruit medical professionals to deal with Ebola than for any other emergency, because of the risk of infection and the dangers of giving constant care to the patients. “You have to learn to live with fear,” she said.

TIME Middle East

Hopes of Prolonged Truce Dashed as Gaza Conflict Reignites

Smoke rises as Palestinians stand atop the rubble of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip
Palestinians stand atop the rubble of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on August 20, 2014. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa — Reuters

Talks in Cairo collapse after rockets are fired from Gaza into Israel

Fighting in Gaza continued into the early hours of Wednesday morning after talks between Israel and Hamas over a cease-fire collapsed in Cairo.

The negotiations in the Egyptian capital came to an abrupt end after three rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel eight hours before the latest truce was set to expire. Hamas denied launching the initial barrage of artillery on Tuesday night, but later claimed responsibility for rockets fired at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Israel responded to the salvos with renewed airstrikes into the Gaza Strip and pulled its negotiation team from Cairo, where it had been engaged in talks with Palestinian representatives over the establishment of a prolonged truce.

“The Cairo process was built on a total and complete cessation of all hostilities and so when rockets were fired from Gaza, not only was it a clear violation of the cease-fire but it also destroyed the premise upon which the talks were based,” Mark Regev, the spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told Reuters.

The Palestinian team was also set to depart Egypt, reported Haaretz.

On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson Peter Lerner accused Hamas of firing 70 rockets into Israel since Tuesday. No Israeli causalities have been reported since the hostilities reignited. Israeli officials went on to label Hamas’s actions as a “grave and direct violation” of the truce.

“This is the eleventh cease-fire that Hamas has either rejected or violated,” tweeted Regev.

Meanwhile, the BBC reported that Hamas accused the Israelis of attempting to “assassinate” one of the group’s top military commanders, Mohammed Deif, during an air raid in Gaza City that reportedly killed his wife and child. There has been no confirmation whether Deif was also killed during the strike.

Following ten days of relative calm in the battle-fatigued strip, where more 380,000 people are displaced, Hamas and Israel remain at loggerheads, with both parties continuing to make demands that neither side appears willing to accept.

“On the Israeli side, you have a demand that is not going to be implemented under any circumstance — and that’s the disarmament of Hamas,” Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program, tells TIME.

“And on the Hamas side you have a demand that is not going to be implemented under any circumstances and that’s a full lifting of the what Hamas calls the blockade or siege of Gaza.”

Approximately 2,000 Palestinians and more than 60 Israelis have been killed in the month-long war between Hamas and Israel. However, analysts suggest that the worst fighting may, at least for the time being, have passed.

“I think that there is a real sense of exhaustion with this conflict on all sides,” says Thrall. “The most likely scenario is that the most violent period of this conflict is behind us, but no one can predict for sure.”

TIME

10 Dead, 22 Missing in Hiroshima Landslide

Japan Landslide
Rescue workers search for survivors after a massive landslide swept through residential areas in Hiroshima, Japan, on Aug. 20, 2014 AP Photo/Kyodo News

Authorities issued warnings that further rains could trigger more landslides and flooding

(TOKYO) — Rain-sodden slopes collapsed in torrents of mud, rock and debris early Wednesday in the outskirts of Hiroshima, killing at least 10 people and leaving 22 missing, the government said.

Video footage from the national broadcaster NHK showed rescue workers suspended by ropes from police helicopters pulling victims from the rubble. Others gingerly climbed into windows as they searched for survivors in crushed homes.

Hillsides caved in or were swept down into residential areas in least five valleys in the suburbs of the western Japanese city after heavy rains left slopes unstable.

The Fire and Disaster Management Agency, citing the local government, said 10 people were confirmeddead and another 22 were missing as of mid-afternoon. It said 19 people were injured, two seriously.

“A few people were washed away and it is hard to know exactly how many are unaccounted for,” said local government official Nakatoshi Okamoto, noting that the conditions in the disaster area were hindering efforts to account for all those affected.

Authorities issued warnings that further rains could trigger more landslides and flooding.

Landslides are a constant risk in mountainous, crowded Japan, where many homes are built on or near steep slopes. Torrential rains in the early morning apparently caused slopes to collapse in an area where many of the buildings were newly constructed.

Damage from land and mudslides has increased over the past few decades due to more frequent heavy rains, despite extensive work on stabilizing slopes. In the past decade there have been nearly 1,200landslides a year, according to the land ministry, up from an average of about 770 a year in the previous decade.

In October last year, multiple mudslides on Izu-Oshima, an island south of Tokyo, killed 35 people, four of whose bodies were never recovered. Those slides followed a typhoon that dumped a record 824 millimeters (more than 32 inches) of rain in a single day.

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine’s Rebel Capital Seeks Ersatz Normality

Russia Ukraine
A Russian military truck carries a MSTA-S self-propelled howitzer about 10 km from the Russia-Ukrainian border control point at town Donetsk, Russia, on Aug. 19, 2014 Pavel Golovkin—AP

The struggle to maintain normal life took a major blow over the weekend as water taps began to run dry

(DONETSK, Ukraine) — It has been weeks since Donetsk last had a traffic jam.

The regular rumble on the edge of this besieged city in eastern Ukraine is a constant reminder of the government’s effort to shell armed pro-Russian separatists out of their stronghold. Rebels give as good as they get, blindly lobbing shells back at an unseen foe.

As fighting edges ever closer to the center, hundreds of thousands have fled a city once home to 1 million people. The bustle of a major industrial center has given way to the stillness of fear.

College teacher Nataliya Badibina said she would have left to stay with relatives in Russia were it not for her mother and father.

“My parents are ill. They live nearby and I am not going to leave them,” said Badibina, whose apartment block in Donetsk’s western Petrovsky district had its windows blown out by shrapnel from a Grad rocket that landed in her courtyard.

Petrovsky district is on the edge of Donetsk and near some of the heaviest fighting seen in the city.

A local supermarket is still open and provides groceries for anybody with the money to buy them. Most people do their shopping before lunchtime, said Badibina, after which the daily booms of artillery start anew.

A few restaurants have braved the shelling and serve customers, albeit typically giving notice that they close well before the 11 p.m. rebel-imposed curfew. After that, the streets become deserted and an even ghostlier silence descends, only to be periodically punctured in the night by artillery booms.

Funds for many are running dry as pensions and government salaries are held up. City council spokesman Maxim Rovinsky said those paid on bank cards still get their money. Many others haven’t been paid since June.

On Tuesday, a crowd formed outside the 11th floor rebel headquarters in Donetsk amid rumors that pension and disability payments and child assistance were being given out.

Holding a sheaf of photocopied documents, Vyacheslav Melnikov said he was there to apply for money for his two disabled grandchildren.

“I don’t even have enough money to feed them. I hope they will help us,” he said.

One woman in line, Tatyana Ostrovksaya, said she wanted to be paid the money due to her brother, Viktor, who was killed in a rocket attack earlier in the month.

“They’re supposed to pay out two months’ worth of pension, but nobody will pay it to me,” Ostrovksaya said.

It is not immediately clear where the funds to pay such applicants will come from. Rebel leaders announced months ago that they would raise funds by levying taxes from local businesses, but almost all private enterprises have ceased to operate altogether.

Shops in pedestrian underpasses feel relatively safe from bombardment, although the racket of trams passing overhead can unnerve newcomers likely to mistake it for a rocket hitting the ground. Business owners say they have long become accustomed to the sounds of war. The sheer imprecision of the weapons being indiscriminately used by rebels and government forces alike makes a target of everybody.

Even as chaos brews, a kind of ersatz normality has taken over.

The rebel headquarters, once the Donetsk region administrative building, has been substantially tidied up since it was first occupied and ransacked by separatists in April.

Many windows and fittings are still smashed, but the smell of stale alcohol that permeated the stairwell is largely gone, as are the random piles of binders once stacked up haphazardly in the offices. Rebelbureaucrats sit at their desks and ink documents with their own self-styled stamps.

The barricades of bricks and tires that once skirted the building were removed in late May, although some crude graffiti remains.

The regular police service has been disbanded and in its place are officers from the self-described Donetsk People’s Republic. Drivers still mostly stop obediently at traffic lights, not least because the rebel road police now carry automatic rifles. Stories abound of drivers caught speeding having their cars impounded at the point of a gun.

As part of an ostensible law-and-order campaign, the rebel leadership announced this week that it was introducing the death penalty for the most serious crimes. Pressed for information about which offenses would be punishable by death, Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the rebel republic, was unable to offer specifics.

The struggle to maintain normal life took a major blow over the weekend as water taps began to run dry. Local authorities explained that damage to an electricity line had cut off power to the water treatment facility that provided for most of the city’s needs. Supplies are now sporadic or nonexistent in some neighborhoods.

Electricity and gas supplies continue to be provided to most of the city because of the efforts of utilities workers who, amid the fighting, repair damaged pipelines and overhead cables. Even gardeners working for City Hall continue to carefully tend flower displays; street cleaners have ensured Donetsk’s streets do not pile up with trash.

Rovinsky of the city council said the hospitals and the fire service are also still operating, although there is a shortage of personnel and medical supplies.

The rebel FM radio station, Radio Respublika, broadcasts tips on how to behave in the event of shelling. Among the pieces of advice offered by the radio presenter in one afternoon show was to always keep mobile phones fully charged, have an emergency suitcase with basic items at hand and stock up on medicine such as painkillers and tranquillizers.

“And you must also have water. Plus some food, which should be high-calorie and not take up too much room, like dry fruit or hard cheese,” he said.

If larger numbers of people have not fled the prospect of all-out urban fighting, it is partly out of fear that their homes will be looted, as Badibina said happened in the Petrovksy district.

Many once eagerly fulminated against the government or grumbled quietly about the rebels. Now a kind of resigned trepidation is setting in as winter beckons.

“Let’s just hope this is all over before the cold sets in,” Badibina said, “because winter is going to be hard.”

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