TIME natural disaster

Open Wide: These Sinkholes Swallowed Vehicles Whole

Hungry sinkholes have eaten a firetruck, a Corvette, and a bus

The Pittsburgh woman who lost her sedan to a sinkhole on Tuesday is not alone, as this slideshow reveals. Whether that’s comforting or disconcerting is for her to decide.

TIME Iraq

Rescue Mission ‘Less Likely’ After U.S. Special Forces Land on Iraq Mountain

Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate on August 11, 2014.
Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border, on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain, near the Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate on August 11, 2014. Rodi Said—Reuters

About 20 soldiers scoped out a mountaintop where thousands of Iraqi civilians have fled

The Pentagon may rule out an emergency evacuation mission, after a successful U.S. Army Special Forces mission to check on thousands of stranded Iraqis revealed that conditions have improved more rapidly than expected for the refugees.

The team of less than 20 soldiers, along with USAID personnel, was flown to and from a mountain in northern Iraq via helicopter on Wednesday to evaluate out how to rescue Kurdish speaking Yazidis, who have faced dire conditions since they fled Islamist fighters.

The team did not meet any armed resistance from the militant Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed in a statement Wednesday evening.

Kirby also confirmed that the team had discovered there were fewer Yazidis taking refuge on Mt. Sinjar “than previously feared,” after successful nighttime evacuations over the last several days.

“The Yazidis who remain are in better condition than previously believed and continue to have access to the food and water that we have dropped,” Kirby said.

Hours earlier, White House Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said President Barack Obama has not ruled out sending ground troops to help facilitate the safe rescue of trapped Iraqis. But Rhodes also said Obama won’t send troops to fight ISIS forces.

“What [Obama]’s ruled out is re-introducing U.S. forces into combat on the ground in Iraq,” Rhodes told reporters Wednesday on Martha’s Vineyard, where the President is vacationing. “But there are a variety of ways in which we can support the safe removal of those people from the mountain.”

An unknown number of an ethnic minority group known as the Yazidis have been stranded on a mountain range in northern Iraq for days, fleeing ISIS militants who spread into Iraq from Syria. The United Nations declared a “level 3 emergency” for Iraq on Wednesday in an effort to speed humanitarian aid to those stranded, while relief airdrops have come from the U.S. and several other nations. Washington has made the stranded Yazidis a top priority, deploying 130 military advisers to the region Tuesday to help plan rescue efforts.

Rhodes said Wednesday that the U.S. wants to find the best and safest way to get the trapped Yazidis off the mountain without having to engage ISIS militants.

“We have Kurdish forces who are engaged in the area,” Rhodes said. “We have international partners who also want to support the provision of humanitarian assistance. So we’ll look at what the best way and the safest way is to get those people off that mountain.”

-Additional reporting by Zeke J Miller

TIME Infectious Disease

WHO: More Than 1,000 Killed in Ebola Outbreak

Yazidi families from Sinjar arrive at the Fishkhabur border crossing between Iraq's Dohuk Province and Syria, Aug. 10, 2014.
Liberian nurses carry the body of an Ebola victim on the way to bury them in the Banjor Community on the outskirts of Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 6, 2014. Ahmed Jallanzo—EPA

And there are nearly 2,000 cases

More than 1,000 people have been killed by Ebola in West Africa, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization. Some 1,069 of the 1,975 people infected with the disease have died, with 128 new cases and 56 deaths between August 10 and 11 alone.

Sierra Leone is home to the majority of the Ebola cases, at 783, while Guinea has the highest number of deaths, at 337. The outbreak is so far contained to those two countries as well as nearby Nigeria.

The WHO additionally reports that about 94-98% of people who have been in contact with Ebola patients in West Africa have been tracked down in a process called “contact tracing.” The process is important because if those contacts are sick, they can be isolated, and if they have no symptoms, they are warned about their risk and told to go to treatment centers if they start to feel unwell. The hope among health experts is that the spread of the disease is curbed by this process of tracking down and isolating contacts. More effort is needed in Liberia, however, where the Liberian Army is continuing to quarantine provinces.

The latest data come just a day after a WHO-organized panel deemed it ethical to use experimental drugs and vaccines to fight the current outbreak, even if they haven’t been approved for use in humans. There are still questions to be answered about the best and safest way to distribute the drugs, and the WHO will issue further guidance by the end of the month. At that point, countries will determine to whom they plan to give the drugs, with Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health telling TIME that they will prioritize doctors and health care workers.

TIME indonesia

American Tourist’s Body Found Stuffed in Suitcase at Bali Resort

Bali Indonesia Suitcase Murder
The suitcase where the body of a woman was found inside, displayed at a police station in Nusa Dua on the Indonesian resort island of Bali, Aug. 12, 2014. Sonny Tumbelaka—AFP/Getty Images

Victim’s teenage daughter and daughter’s boyfriend arrested in connection with the death

The half-naked body of an American tourist was found stuffed in a suitcase at a posh five-star resort in Indonesia, officials said Wednesday.

Police identified the corpse as 62-year-old Chicagoan Sheila Von Weise Mack – and said the victim’s teenage daughter and daughter’s boyfriend had been arrested in connection with the death.

The body was found in a suitcase in the back of a parked taxi outside the exclusive St. Regis Bali resort in Nusa Dua, where rooms start at $500 but go for up to $8,000 a night.

Read more from our partners at NBC News

TIME animals

WATCH: Giant Spider Interrupts British News Broadcast

Or crawled over a BBC News camera lens, we can't decide

A giant spider roughly the size of a BBC news anchor’s head interrupted a live broadcast of the morning news, or so it appeared to amused viewers who tweeted pictures of the “attack.”

It was of course a normal house spider that had spun a web across the camera lens, and wasn’t about to let a live telecast get between it and breakfast.

 

TIME Military

How the Pentagon Would Save the Stranded Refugees in Northern Iraq

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CH-47 Chinook helicopters, like this one over Iraq, could be used to airlift stranded Iraqi refugees to safety. Getty Images

With clock ticking, airborne rescue mission gaining favor — but it won't be easy

No one knows how many Yazidis are trapped by Islamic militants in the Sinjar mountain range in northwestern Iraq. Some estimate they total 35,000. And there are questions about whether or not a land corridor can be cleared to rescue them—or adequate landing zones found for an airborne exodus before they die for lack of food and water.

But there are no doubts about one point: the U.S. military is the best-outfitted and trained force in the world capable of leading such an effort. That’s why the U.S. military dispatched 130 more advisers to northern Iraq on Tuesday to draft just such a plan.

The refugees’ plight—many have been in the mountains for a week or more—is now the U.S. military’s most urgent task.

The U.S. military faces two key problems in trying to accomplish the mission. The first is President Obama’s pledge that there will be no U.S. “boots on the ground” inside Iraq. “This is not a combat boots on the ground kind of operation,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., on Tuesday. “Short of that, there are some things that we can continue to do—and we are doing.”

Without U.S. boots on the ground, that means any land-rescue effort would probably require at least some non-U.S. military ground forces to keep the forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) away from the rescue operation while it takes place. U.S. airstrikes in recent days have kept ISIS forces at bay, but a massive rescue operation is likely to require ground forces.

But allies won’t go where the U.S. fears to tread, which means only local troops—the Iraqi army or the Kurdish Peshmerga forces—will be available. The Iraqi army collapsed when ISIS stormed Mosul in June, and there is little evidence it has improved since. The Peshmerga are a more likely candidate, but their small arms can’t defeat the U.S.-supplied armor and artillery that ISIS units captured from Iraqi forces in recent months.

Plus, mounting a land-rescue operation may take more time than the stranded Yazidi have. They are being kept alive by airdrops of food and water by the U.S. and other nations. Continuing reports and video footage of dying civilians are likely to compel the Obama Administration to seek a faster rescue option, which would be by air. The U.S. would seek help from other nations in carrying out the risky endeavor.

Once again, such an operation would require allied ground forces to ensure the security of pickup zones, and to help suppress ISIS’s limited, but lethal, anti-aircraft capability.

Britain said Tuesday it was dispatching several CH-47 Chinook helicopters to the region, and the U.S. is expected to follow suit. The distinctive twin-rotor choppers have a range of 450 miles, and some models can carry up to 55 people. But with up to 35,000 refugees needing to be rescued, that adds up to a lot of flights over a lot of days.

TIME Security

Snowden Claims NSA Knocked All of Syria’s Internet Offline

Wired Snowden
Edward Snowden on the cover of Wired magazine. Platon/WIRED

Former NSA contractor also says the U.S. was working on an automated cyberattack response system in WIRED interview

National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has claimed a team of NSA hackers was responsible for effectively knocking the entire country of Syria offline two years ago during a period of intense fighting in its still-ongoing civil war.

Snowden’s claim is significant because many observers believed one of several other parties to be responsible for the outage, including Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, hackers aligned with but perhaps not a part of Assad’s government, or Israel.

Snowden’s story, as revealed in an interview with Snowden published Wednesday in WIRED, goes like this: The NSA team essentially tried to get access to a primary component of Syria’s main Internet Service Provider. Syria only has one big ISP, making it a particularly inviting target for electronic snooping; setting up that backdoor would have given the U.S. unparalleled access to nearly all digital communications within Syria, a major intelligence advantage.

But the plan backfired as the NSA team accidentally fried the very equipment it was trying to tap. The hardware was so vital to Syria’s Internet infrastructure that its loss essentially plunged the country into digital darkness — ironic, because other parts of the U.S. government were trying to keep Syria connected. Writer James Bamford describes Snowden’s claim:

“One day an intelligence officer told him that TAO—a division of NSA hackers—had attempted in 2012 to remotely install an exploit in one of the core routers at a major Internet service provider in Syria, which was in the midst of a prolonged civil war. This would have given the NSA access to email and other Internet traffic from much of the country. But something went wrong, and the router was bricked instead—rendered totally inoperable. The failure of this router caused Syria to suddenly lose all connection to the Internet—although the public didn’t know that the U.S. government was responsible.”

WIRED‘s Snowden story has another cybersecurity scoop: The former NSA contractor claims for the first time that the U.S. government was (or still is) working on a cybersecurity response program that automatically detects and blocks incoming cyberattacks. However, the program — dubbed “MonsterMind” — isn’t just defensive: Once it blocks an attack, it then automatically carries out a counter-attack against what it thinks was the source, Snowden says.

That could be an issue, says Snowden, as good hackers can — and typically do — make their online attacks look like they’re coming from somewhere else. “You could have someone sitting in China, for example, making it appear that one of these attacks is originating in Russia. And then we end up shooting back at a Russian hospital,” he explains.

The NSA did not comment to WIRED on Snowden’s claims about Syria’s Internet outage or MonsterMind, but it’s possible that MonsterMind or programs like it would be designed to circumvent such spoofing by detecting a rerouted address and either standing down or switching targets.

[WIRED]

TIME Israel

Israel-Hamas Talks Show Changing Imperatives as Cease-Fire Nears End

Gaza Strip, Gaza City: A Palestinian look a heavy destruction in Al Shaaf neighbourhood during a 72 hours ceasefire on August 11, 2012. ALESSIO ROMENZI
A Palestinian man looks at heavy destruction during a 72 hours cease-fire in Al Shaaf neighborhood of Gaza City on Aug. 11, 2014 Alessio Romenzi for TIME

A 72-hour cease-fire is set to end Wednesday night

Almost three decades ago, Benjamin Netanyahu was the editor of a new book called Terrorism: How the West Can Win. He was then Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, and the 1986 book was part of the doctrine he was developing for himself and for Israel: We don’t negotiate with terrorists.

Times have changed.

Today Israel’s negotiators are in Cairo, where they’re engaged in indirect negotiations with the militant group Hamas—as well as other Palestinian factions—in an effort to reach a cease-fire agreement to end more than a month of war in Gaza. The stakes are high, with the latest temporary cease-fire set to expire Wednesday night. The talks are part of the search for an exit strategy from Operation Protective Edge, which Israel launched on July 8 in response to a barrage of rocket fire from Gaza. Hamas says it acted in retaliation for the arrests of its activists in the West Bank. But the very fact that Israel and Hamas are participating in a version of proximity talks—where the parties don’t sit in the same room but are close enough for a mediator to facilitate negotiations—shows how far both sides have come from their hardline positions.

Israel has made its stance clear: It will not negotiate with Hamas, which both Israel and the U.S. view as a terrorist organization. Hamas, for its part, doesn’t recognize Israel and calls in its charter for the destruction of the Jewish State, but has recently offered a 10-year truce, an idea that dates to the time of the Prophet Mohammed.

And yet, the two sides are talking, albeit indirectly.

Netanyahu, now Israel’s Prime Minister, has continued to emphasize that Israel sees Hamas as a force to be ostracized—in the same category as ISIS or Boko Haram, he told foreign reporters last week. Even the most pro-peace member of Netanyahu’s cabinet, Tzipi Livni, said earlier this week that giving in to Hamas’ demands would be “a signal of weakness” that would only encourage yet another round of fighting. “Nobody can afford to send a message to Hamas that those who act with terror towards civilians can get what they want,” Livni told reporters.

Rhetoric aside, though, Israel has found itself faced with two basic choices, says Dr. Jonathan Spyer, a senior research fellow at the IDC Herzilya, a university near Tel Aviv. Either continue with its military campaign, with an eye toward toppling Hamas and possibly re-occupying Gaza—a move bound to engender intense international censure as well as soaring casualty counts—or negotiate with the very people Israel says no one should recognize as legitimate. Netanyahu, Spyer notes, has decided not to go the route of regime change by force, despite pressures from hard-liners to do so. As such, there is nothing to do but to negotiate over the terms.

“If Israel decides that it’s not going to try to destroy Hamas, [it] then [has] to deal with this semi-sovereign enclave between Israel and Egypt, and you end up with a situation of ongoing conflict with a neighboring entity: a situation of no peace but now war, or maybe a war of attrition,” Spyer tells TIME. To let the war drag on indefinitely, he notes, would also be seen in Israel as a failure.

“If the Israeli communities on the border of Gaza become ghost towns, then we have a de facto disengagement from the south of Israel, and I don’t think any Israeli prime minister wants that,” he said.

The majority of Israelis who live in communities that surround the Gaza border, which have borne the brunt of more than 3,500 rocket and mortars fired at them from Gaza over the past month, have been seeking shelter in the center and north of the country. If Netanyahu wants to make good on his pledge to “bring back quiet,” there is no way to get there without doing business with Hamas.

While some analysts commend Netanyahu’s decision to choose cease-fire talks over further military action, he has also come under criticism. Writing in the New York Times, military analyst Ronen Bregman argued that the war has done “significant damage” to Israel’s deterrence. “And as much as Israel is seeking to marginalize Hamas and empower the weakened Mr. [Mahmoud] Abbas, Hamas is, for the first time in its history, on the verge of being internationally recognized as an equal party in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute,” Bregman writes.

Zvi Bar’el, a writer for the left-wing Haaretz daily newspaper, said Netanyahu’s policies have painted Israel into a corner, forcing it to negotiate with Hamas. “Israel’s insistence on viewing the Palestinian unity government as a ‘terrorist entity,’ or at the very least ‘a Hamas government,’ has actually trapped it, and once again forced it into negotiating with Hamas and Islamic Jihad while pushing Abbas into the position of an observer who is not authorized to sign an accord, should one be reached,” Bar’el writes. The end result will likely be to revive Hamas’ popularity, he predicts.

Mark Heller, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, says the international censure coming down on Israel has steered the country’s leadership away from rhetoric around destroying Hamas, choosing a negotiated solution instead. “Israel has the ability to reoccupy Gaza and destroy Hamas, if it’s willing to pay the price, but one of the prices is the lives of troops and Israel’s international standing,” Heller says. “As Hamas still has effective control of Gaza and decides whether or not there will be firing from Gaza, the only way to pursue the possibility of a cease-fire is to speak with them.”

The latest 72-hour truce, meanwhile, expires Wednesday night—and it’s far from certain that the gaps between the two sides will be bridged before then.

TIME Religion

Pope Francis Goes to Korea: The Spiritual Meaning of Travel During Turmoil

The trip poses a new test for the Holy Father’s global spiritual leadership

Pope Francis is headed to South Korea on Wednesday, in the midst of what continues to be a particularly difficult month for the world.

Violence in Gaza and Israel continues to escalate. Religious minorities in Iraq are fleeing ISIS brutality. The Ebola virus is spreading through West Africa. Children are flooding the United States border to escape Central American violence. A civilian airliner was downed in Ukraine amid Russian separatist fighting.

It is safe to say that global spirits are down, and it is a heavy overall context surrounding Pope Francis’ third international trip, a five-day visit to the southern half of a divided Korean peninsula. In Seoul, he will join Asian Youth Day, where thousands of Catholic youth from some 30 countries are gathered. He will also beatify dozens of 18th-and 19th-century Korean martyrs, meet with families of the recent Sewol ferry wreck, and give 11 speeches as he travels through four cities: Seoul, Daejeon, Kkottongnae, and Haemi.

On its face, the trip is important for some obvious political and religious reasons. It has been almost 20 years since a pontiff visited the continent. Pope John Paul II visited South Korea twice, in 1984 and in 1989, then the Philippines in 1995, but Pope Benedict XVI never made the trip. Pope Francis is expected to stress reconciliation and the problems of division, as he will be honoring Christians who died during periods of persecution. He also symbolically comes to minister to the Christians to the North as well, as the archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, is also the apostolic vicar for Pyongyang, meaning that he is appointed to guide the North Korean church as well, even if they are inaccessible.

Political relations with North Korea are off to an expectedly rocky start, as the country already turned down the invitation to send a delegation to Seoul for the Pope’s visit. Holy See spokesman Frederico Lombardi has made it clear that Pope Francis is not planning a visit to the Demilitarized Zone, and it does not seem likely that Pope Francis will announce that he is inviting North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Park Geun-hye to pray together at the Vatican—an approach he tried during a visit to Bethlehem to promote Middle East peace.

Francis’ trip will also be the first time that a pope’s plane flies through Chinese airspace. The Vatican does not have formal relations with Beijing, and the Chinese government did not permit Pope John Paul II to fly over the country in 1989, several months after the Tiananmen Square protests. It is customary for the Pope to send a message to the leaders of the countries he flies over, and so any message to China carries historic weight.

Religiously, Francis’ trip signals his continued focus on new regions of Catholic Church growth. Christianity in South Korea has grown exponentially in recent decades. In 1910, only 1% of the region identified as Catholic, Protestant, or with another denomination of Christianity. By 2010, that share had risen 29%, according to the Pew Research Center. Protestant Christianity, especially its evangelical and Pentecostal strains, is the more common variety: for every five Catholics in the country, there are about eight Protestants. But Francis is no stranger to evangelical strains of Catholicism, or to ecumenical moves bringing the two genres of Christianity together. It is a trend familiar to Latin and South America for decades, and so the first trip of the first Latin American Pope—one who personally knows the ins and outs of these two communities—has special meaning for a region that is experiencing similar change.

But there is another reason that this trip is important right now, and it is harder to quantify: the trip poses a new test for the Holy Father’s global spiritual leadership. It is easy for a religious figure to symbolize a new era of hope and peace when everything is peachy. It is another hallmark of spiritual influence altogether to inspire hope when violence abounds. What can a peace-making trip mean in the midst of such all-encompassing violence? Can he point to a hope that goes beyond mere words, to a hope that is somehow real?

How Pope Francis represents the answers those questions matters, not just for pilgrims in the Korean peninsula, but also for seekers across the world.

TIME South Korea

South Korean Protestants Rally Against Pope Francis’ Visit

South Korea Pope
Workers set a platform as they prepare for a special Korean reconciliation mass by Pope Francis at Gwanghwamun Square in Seoul on Aug. 12, 2014 Ahn Young-joon—AP

Not everyone is happy about the Pontiff's trip

Around 10,000 South Korean Protestants gathered at a convention center near Seoul on Tuesday to protest Pope Francis’ upcoming trip to the country.

The demonstration, organized by fundamentalist Protestants who view Catholicism as blasphemous, underscores tension among some denominations in South Korea, where nearly 30% of the population is Christian.

Participants in Tuesday’s protests, the Wall Street Journal reports, sought to undermine recent efforts by moderate Protestant leaders to reconcile differences with the country’s Roman Catholic establishment.

Pope Francis arrives on Thursday — making the first papal visit to East Asia in a quarter of a century — and will remain in South Korea for four days, during which he intends to beatify 124 Korean Catholics killed by dynastic leaders in the 18th and 19th centuries and also celebrate Asian Youth Day, a massive convention for the continent’s young Catholics.

There had been hopes that the Pope would be able to preach unity on the Korean peninsula, however these fell flat after authorities in Pyongyang declined his request to visit North Korea. The Associated Press reports that he will nevertheless issue a “message of peace and reconciliation for all Koreans.”

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