TIME Libya

Libyan Rebels Capture Special-Forces Base in Benghazi

A girl stands next to the wreckage of a government MiG warplane which crashed during Tuesday's fighting, in Benghazi
A Libyan girl stands next to the wreckage of a government MiG warplane that crashed during clashes in Benghazi, Libya, on July 29, 2014 Esam Al-Fetori —Reuters

Libya is quickly sliding into the realm of a failed state as rebel forces and Islamist militants battle against government troops

A special force’s base in Benghazi has fallen after a coalition of rebel militias and Islamist militants pounded the enclave with salvos of rocket fire and artillery.

“We have withdrawn from the army base after heavy shelling,” Libyan Saiqa Special Forces officer Fadel al-Hassi told Reuters.

Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, has been home to fierce fighting between government special-forces troops and former rebel fighters from the Benghazi Shura Council who are now allied with the Islamist force Ansar al-Sharia, according to Reuters.

Since the ousting of former strongman Muammar Gaddafi, the country has gone through periods of perennial chaos, as the militias who overthrew the regime have refused to give up their arms and Islamic groups have steadily grown more powerful.

Earlier this month, heavy fighting among rebel bands near the capital resulted in the closure of Tripoli International Airport after rockets crashed into the facility, killing one person and damaging at least a dozen planes.

Late last week, the U.S. embassy in the capital was evacuated and shuttered amid the increasing unrest. Over the weekend, the U.S. State Department issued an official travel advisory, warning American citizens to avoid any trips to the conflict-riven country.

“The Libyan government has not been able to adequately build its military and police forces and improve security following the 2011 revolution,” read the notice. “Many military-grade weapons remain in the hands of private individuals, including antiaircraft weapons that may be used against civilian aviation.”

TIME United Kingdom

Driverless Cars to Hit Public Roads in Britain by January 2015

A Google self-driving vehicle drives around the parking lot at the Computer History Museum after a presentation in Mountain View, California
A Google self-driving vehicle roams around the parking lot at the Computer History Museum after a presentation in Mountain View, Calif., on May 13, 2014 Stephen Lam—Reuters

On Wednesday, the British Government will announce its plans to test autonomous vehicles on public roads by January 2015, but first the Highway Code will need to be revised to allow the driverless cars on the streets

Driverless cars will be hitting British streets for test runs by January 2015 — the British government plans to announce on Wednesday — although the Highway Code will need to be revised to allow for the changes, industry experts say.

The self-driving cars for civilians will be an extension of ones already used by the British army, which are provided by MIRA, a vehicle-engineering and design company.

Britain’s trial of autonomous cars will join the ranks of other countries such as Singapore, Japan and Germany, which have already started testing driverless vehicles on public roads, Sky News reports. Google also recently unveiled plans to test out prototypes of its computerized automobile, which has no steering wheel or pedals, in California this summer.

Google says the autonomous vehicles will “shoulder the entire burden of driving,” the Telegraph reports. Despite the convenience that will be offered by the driverless vehicles, safety on the road remains a prevailing concern for British politicians and civilians.

Suzie Mills, a lawyer at the British law firm Ashfords, told Sky News that the government will have the onus of “clarifying exactly where responsibility sits,” for consumers and insurance companies in the case of an accident.

While the autonomous car remains a work in progress, the British government seems to be taking the high road by allowing consumers the option of maintaining control over the car. A government statement released earlier this month said, “Fully autonomous cars remain a further step, and for the time being drivers will have the option (and responsibility) of taking control of the vehicle themselves. Vehicle manufacturers and their systems suppliers continue to explore the opportunities for full autonomy,” the Telegraph reports.

TIME Australia

Australian Flight Attendant Reminds Cabin to Flush Drugs Down Toilet

Qantas Returns to Profit as Emirates Tie-Up Boosts Long-Haul
A Jetstar plane leaves Kingsford Smith Airport in Sydney on Aug. 29, 2013 Jeremy Piper—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Such announcements are routine, but this employee's words were "poorly chosen," Australian airline Jetstar said

Australia’s reputation as a haven perennially secure from terrorist threats may have come into question recently, but it seems that air travel in the country is still a pretty lax affair.

The Daily Telegraph, a Sydney newspaper, reports that a flight attendant on domestic airline Jetstar kindly reminded passengers aboard a Sydney-bound flight to flush their drugs and other contraband down the aircraft toilet prior to landing. There were, she said, “sniffer dogs and quarantine officers” waiting in the domestic terminal.

A number of passengers were returning from the Splendour in the Grass music festival — which could explain why, upon the flight attendant’s announcement, there was allegedly a mad dash for the lavatory.

Australian airlines are indeed required to make a “quarantine announcement” if such measures are being taken at the final destination. Jetstar told the Telegraph that the words of this particular employee — who, according to the initial report, is “casually employed” — were “poorly chosen.”

TIME Gaza

As the War in Gaza Grows, Only Ruins May Be Left

Israel renewed intense airstrikes on Gaza
A Palestinian man walks in front of a fire raging at Gaza's main power plant on July 29, 2014, in Gaza City, following an overnight Israeli air strike Oliver Weiken—EPA

What was meant to be a controlled operation by Israel against Hamas in Gaza has exploded

Israeli officials have said in the past week that their main goal in the war against Hamas in Gaza is to destroy as many of what it calls “terror tunnels,” the underground passages built by the militant group that have repeatedly been used to infiltrate Israel. But following a day in which Hamas militants managed to kill 10 Israeli soldiers, Israel responded early Tuesday with massive air strikes that seemed aimed at both major infrastructure as well as the visible symbols of Hamas’s power in the Gaza Strip.

In overnight strikes by aircraft, tanks and navy gunboats, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) attacked 150 targets in Gaza during the night, including the home and office of Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh’s home, the influential Shujaiyeh battalion commander’s home and the Ministry of Finance, as well as al-Aqsa Radio and al-Aqsa Television, two media outlets operated by Hamas. The IDF also said it attacked two Hamas command centers and four weapons-storage sites hidden inside mosques and a tunnel.

Most prominently, it struck Gaza’s main power plant, all but destroying it. “The plant wasn’t working fully in the past few months due to shortages of fuel that comes from Israel,” Rafeeq Abu Maliha, the plant’s director, told reporters. “Three days ago Israel started to hit the station. The first time one missile hit the water and cooling engine. The second air strike they hit the administration building. Last night’s strike was on [a] streaming engine, and in the morning today the tanks of fuel were hit and caused a huge fire in the station.” Gaza has been suffering from severe shortages of power for years,” he said, and many areas of the power plant hit over the course of the war were not currently repairable because of “access difficulties.”

Tunnels and rockets are easy for Israel to explain as military targets — both directly threaten Israeli citizens. But hitting the power plant as well as government and communications buildings might indicate that Israel is taking its Operation Protective Edge to a far more punishing level — a move some more conservative members in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government have long advocated. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of the influential Jewish Home party on Tuesday said that simply destroying Hamas’ tunnel network isn’t enough, and called on Israel to continue the operation until Hamas loses control. “Hit Hamas without mercy,” Bennett said. “Day and night. On weekdays and holidays. Without respite and without rest. Until they are defeated.”

Whether or not the more conservative Bennett represents the mainstream thinking of the Israeli government, he’s been able to repeatedly make strong statements without a public reprimand from Netanyahu. What seems clear is that the Israeli government and the top political brass fall into two camps: those who see the war ending with the goal of deterrence — hurting Hamas’ military capabilities and making them think twice before launching another rocket once a meaningful cease-fire is actually reached — and those who are gunning for destruction, whether by bringing Hamas to its knees or by managing to overthrow it altogether.

But Talal Okal, an independent Palestinian analyst who lives in Gaza, argues that an extended bombing campaign would be unlikely to topple Hamas. On the contrary, the destruction being broadcast from Gaza will only underscore the need for the kind of international rebuilding efforts that can only be achieved by lifting the embargo on the strip — which happens to be a main demand of Hamas. “I don’t think the Israeli targeting of infrastructure will push Hamas to collapse, but it will be an extra reason to insist to make removing the siege that was imposed seven years ago,” he says. “Everyone suffers from it, Hamas people and ordinary Gazans.

“But at the same time it might push the people to trend more toward finding a political solution soon, as the war is more tiring by the day. I think people are actually supporting Hamas more than in previous wars as there are dead [Israeli] soldiers” for Hamas to point to as a tangible achievement, he explains. “The loss is not only in Gaza but also in Israel, so that would make the people here able to survive and stand more.”

No one doubts that the conditions in Gaza have become extreme. The loss of electricity is causing water shortages and sanitation challenges. The electricity lines along the main street of Gaza City are down entirely, as well as in frontline areas like Shujaiya, Beit Hanoun, Zaitoun and the east of Khan Younis. With no electricity available to charge phones and with many land lines cut by IDF strikes, it is becoming hard for many Gazans to so much as place a phone call to check on a relative or call an ambulance in the event of an emergency.

“Since last night we have been hearing shelling and bombs in the area of the plant, and we’ve had no electricity for three days now,” says Yasser Bakheet, 28, a resident of Nussirat, a neighborhood near the power plant. As much as a missile strike, he now fears an ongoing humanitarian disaster and the outbreak of disease in Gaza. “I don’t care about politics,” he says. “What I care about now is to live normally or at least get the basic needs for me and my family.”

Late Tuesday, the latest diplomatic efforts raised hopes that a cease-fire could be on the horizon. But Mohammed Deif, the head of al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said in broadcast comments that there would be no truce in Gaza unless Israel lifts its “siege.” A war that was billed as an operation to halt Hamas rocket fire seems no closer to resolution than when it started three weeks ago.

— With reporting by Hazem Balousha / Gaza City

TIME ebola

Soccer on Hold in Liberia as the Fight Against Ebola Continues

Ebola in Liberia
A nurse disinfects the waiting area for visitors at the ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia, on July 28, 2014 Ahmed Jallanzo—EPA

A major tournament has been postponed as West African countries struggle to contain the deadly disease

Liberia halted all soccer activity Tuesday in the effort to contain the spread of the deadly Ebola virus, which has killed hundreds in West Africa as the region scrambles to stop the worst outbreak on record.

“We have decided to suspend all football activity while we help the government combat the deadly Ebola disease,” said Liberian Football Association secretary general Alphonso Armeh. “We also want to use this time to create awareness. In its initial stages, we didn’t give this the attention it needed.”

The President’s Cup, scheduled for August, has been postponed and training has been canceled, Bloomberg reports. The soccer ban could be lifted in time for league play in October.

More than 670 people in three West African countries, including more than 129 in Liberia, have been killed in the outbreak. Nigeria recently had to evacuate and quarantine a hospital after a patient died of Ebola in the first reported case to reach its densely populated capital city, Lagos.

On Sunday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shut overland border crossings into and out of the country.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Spain

Lionel Messi Faces Messy Tax-Fraud Allegations

The soccer star and his father allegedly owe $5.3 million in unpaid taxes to Spain

+ READ ARTICLE

Lionel Messi, the highest-paid soccer player in the world, might be in some serious financial trouble.

Messi and his father have been accused of tax fraud in Spain, and if they — in an unlikely case — are convicted, the pair could face up to six years in prison and nearly $32 million in fines.

TIME Israel

White House: Purported Leaked Obama-Netanyahu Transcript ‘Totally False’

Obama Talks With Netanyahu
In this handout frm the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama talks on the phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from the Oval Office September 28, 2012 in Washigton, DC. The White House—Getty Images

U.S. and Israeli officials roundly criticized the report as a "shocking and disappointing" fabrication

The White House rejected reports Tuesday of a transcript purporting to detail a private phone call between U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling the distortions “shocking and disappointing.”

“Neither reports nor alleged transcript bear any resemblance to reality,” read a tweet from the President’s National Security Council.

And White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes tweeted the transcript is “totally false:”

The transcript surfaced on a broadcast by Israel’s Channel 1 which claimed to capture an oddly stilted exchange between the two leaders, in which Obama repeatedly insisted on a cease-fire over the objections of Netanyahu.

The Israeli Prime Minister’s office also tweeted the NSC rejection and condemnation word-for-word.

TIME russia

U.S., E.U. Boost Sanctions On Russia

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to reporters about new sanctions imposed on Russia as he departs the White House
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to reporters about new sanctions imposed on Russia as he departs the White House in Washington D.C.on July 29, 2014. Joshua Roberts—Reuters

"It doesn't have to be this way"

The United States is escalating sanctions on the Russian economy nearly two weeks after the shootdown of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine and amid growing violence along that country’s border with Russia. President Barack Obama announced the new sanctions Tuesday hours after the European Union approved similar measures.

“Today the United States is imposing new sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy: energy, arms, and finance,” Obama said from the White House.

The Treasury Department sanctioned three Russian banks: Bank of Moscow, Russian Agricultural Bank, and VTB Bank OAO, in an effort to increase “costs” on Russia, Obama announced, while the U.S. government is restricting exports of energy-related parts to Russia.

The new sanctions also apply to United Shipbuilding Company, the largest such company in Russia. “We have hit five of the six largest state-owned banks in Russia,” a senior administration official said Tuesday.

The U.S. will also require export licenses for energy-related technology for new Russian deepwater, arctic offshore and shale projects, a according to that official. Additionally, the official said there would be no new Ex-Im Bank transactions with Russia.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Obama said, calling on Russia to rein in separatist forces and become a “good neighbor” to Ukraine. “This is a choice that Russia, and President Putin in particular, has made.”

Obama said that since the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that Russia and “its proxies in Ukraine” have in several ways impeded the crash investigation, including by tampering with evidence. The U.S. government believes that Russian-backed separatist forces deployed a SA-11 surface to air missile provided by Russia to shoot down the airliner, likely confusing it with a Ukrainian military aircraft.

Obama said the new sanctions would further weaken the Russian economy, which has suffered from capital flight amid the ongoing crisis, adding that still more sanctions could be imposed if Russia doesn’t reverse course. When asked if the rising diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Russia represent a “new Cold War,” Obama balked. “No, this is not a new Cold War,” the President said.

TIME Military

U.S. Air Force Finds Boy’s Body in Aircraft Landing Gear

Members of the US Air Force stand alongside a C-130 transport aircraft at Kabul international airport on October 9, 2013.
Members of the US Air Force stand alongside a C-130 transport aircraft at Kabul international airport on October 9, 2013. Noorullah Shirzada—AFP/Getty Images

U.S. officials said they were investigating how an "apparent stowaway" accessed the upper recesses of a C-130's landing gear

Maintenance crews recently discovered the body of an adolescent boy lodged deep in the wheel well of a U.S. Air Force cargo aircraft shortly after it landed at Germany’s Ramstein Air Base.

“The body of an apparent stowaway was found trapped in a compartment above the aircraft’s rear landing gear,” said Rear Admiral John Kirby in a Tuesday press briefing. “American and German emergency responders were summoned; removed the body, transported it to a German facility for autopsy and further investigation.”

Kirby said investigators were still trying to determine when and how the boy accessed the inner recesses of the C-130’s landing gear. The aircraft recently returned from a long-haul mission in Africa, and Kirby said “the boy was an adolescent black male, possibly of African origin.”

 

TIME celebrities

The Lessons of the One Direction #FreePalestine Tweet

Zayn Malik
Zayn Malik of One Direction performs at on May 24, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. Dave J Hogan—Getty Images

One Direction's Zayn Malik has learned — as have others before him — the dangers of mixing celebrity and conflict

Usually when One Direction and the phrase “death threats” are in the same sentence, it’s a case of overenthusiastic fans defending their favorite pop stars — but the group’s Zayn Malik has learned that the backlash can go in the other direction too.

On Sunday, the singer tweeted the phrase “#FreePalestine” — a tweet that’s been both retweeted and favorited over 200,000 times, while it’s also led some of his own fans to lash out at him, death threats and all. He’s not the first to experience blow-back over the topic:

  • Earlier this month, a similar message from Rihanna led her to delete the tweet within minutes of posting it. The singer claimed to have tweeted in error, having clicked a tweet link on a website.
  • Basketball player Dwight Howard followed a similar script the same week, adding that he’s never commented on international politics.
  • Cricket player Moeen Ali has been banned by the International Cricket Council from wearing “Save Gaza” and “Free Palestine” wristbands.
  • Scarlett Johansson‘s dual roles as Oxfam ambassador and SodaStream spokesperson caused controversy that led her to tell the New Yorker felt like she was “put into a position that was way larger than anything I could possibly—I mean, this is an issue that is much bigger than something I could just be dropped into the middle of.”
  • Back in 2012, Kim Kardashian tweeted that she was “praying for everyone in Israel” and subsequently that her prayers were also for Palestine, and then later deleted both tweets, explaining on her blog that she was sorry to have offended anyone on either side.

So one possible takeaway from Malik’s experience, and those before it, is that celebrities should just keep their mouths shut when it comes to Israel and Palestine — especially when even Secretary of State John Kerry has trouble being diplomatic about the issue.

No matter what one thinks about Israel, it’s hard to deny that (a) the subject is controversial, and (b) Twitter (or a symbolic accessory, or a product endorsement deal) isn’t exactly a great place to express a nuanced thought about a complicated topic. Case in point: celebrities aren’t the only ones who’ve found that to be true. Even the Associated Press has experienced the pitfalls of tweeting about Gaza, having decided to revise a tweet that seemed to express negative judgment about U.S. lawmakers who support Israel. In a time when people like Malik and Rihanna have a direct line to their legions of fans, they’re all one click away from saying something they don’t really mean, or saying something they think they mean but haven’t really thought through. Safer, then, not to say anything. If the point of being a celebrity is to please fans, it’s pretty clear that Tweeting about Israel is not the way to do it.

On the other hand, Malik’s #FreePalestine tweet was followed by silence. He hasn’t responded to any fans, he hasn’t apologized and he hasn’t deleted what he said. So maybe “#FreePalestine” was really what he meant, with all its possible connotations and consequences. There’s no evidence to suggest otherwise.

Which means that the other possible takeaway is that maybe pleasing fans isn’t actually what celebrities care about most, and that asking them to be quiet about their opinions is an unrealistic expectation. In that scenario, they’re not different from any other Twitter users in that they can say whatever they want — and in that, when other users disagree, they’ll hear about it.

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