TIME Israel

Israeli Airstrike Collapses Gaza Apartment Tower

Mideast Israel Palestinians
Palestinians inspect the rubble of the collapsed al-Zafer apartment tower following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, in the northern Gaza Strip, Aug. 23, 2014. Adel Hana—AP

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israel bombed an apartment tower in downtown Gaza City on Saturday, collapsing the 12-story building in an unprecedented strike, while Hamas kept up heavy rocket fire that sent more Israelis fleeing border areas close to Gaza.

The violence signaled that a speedy resumption of truce talks is unlikely, despite another appeal by mediator Egypt. Gaps between Israel and Hamas on a border deal for blockaded Gaza remain vast, and repeated rounds of talks have ended in failure.

In the Gaza City strike, a huge fireball followed by a black column of smoke rose into the sky after two Israeli missiles toppled the Zafer Tower, one in a group of several high-rises in the upscale Tel al-Hawa neighborhood. Neighboring buildings shook from the blasts.

The Israeli military said the missiles targeted a Hamas operations room in the building, but did not explain why the entire tower with 44 apartments was brought down.

Gaza police said a warning missile had been fired five minutes earlier and that some residents were able to rush out of the building in time. Still, 22 people were wounded, including 11 children and five women, according to Gaza hospital officials.

Maher Abu Sedo, an area resident, said the two strikes came within seconds of each other.

“People started shouting Allahu Akbar, and women and kids were screaming,” he said. “This is crazy. The state of Israel has resorted to madness. In less than a minute, 44 families have become displaced … They lost everything, their house, their money, their memories and their security.”

Some 100,000 Gazans have become homeless, with more than 17,000 homes destroyed or damaged beyond repair, according to U.N. figures. However, Saturday strike marked the first time an entire apartment high-rise was destroyed.

Elsewhere in Gaza, an airstrike on a car killed a man and wounded 11 people, said Ayman Sahabani, head of the emergency room at Gaza City’s Shifa Hospital. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine later identified the man killed as a field commander.

Meanwhile, Gaza militants fired over 100 rockets and mortar shells at Israel on Saturday. The barrage came a day after a mortar shell from Gaza hit a farming village in southern Israel, killing a 4-year-old boy.

Israeli media said large numbers of residents of southern Israeli communities near the Gaza border were leaving their homes and heading for safer areas following the death of the boy in Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

“I say whoever can leave, whose presence is not crucial should leave,” said Minister of Public Security Yitzhak Ahronovich during a visit to the south on Saturday.

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon called on southern residents to be ready for a prolonged campaign against Hamas militants.

“In the end we will win,” he said Saturday. “This is a test of staying power and strength.”

Since the fighting erupted on July 8, Israel has launched some 5,000 airstrikes at Gaza, while Gaza militants have fired close to 4,000 rockets and mortars, according to the Israeli military.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, including close to 500 children, have been killed, according to Palestinian health officials and U.N. figures. Israel has lost 64 soldiers and four civilians.

Israel says it is targeting sites linked to militants, including rocket launchers, command centers and weapons depots. The U.N. says about three-fourth of the Palestinians killed have been civilians.

A formula for ending the war remains elusive.

Hamas demands that Israel and Egypt lift a Gaza border blockade they imposed in 2007, after Hamas seized the territory from Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel says it can ease, but not remove the stifling restrictions on Palestinian trade and travel unless Gaza militants agree to disarm and stop manufacturing or smuggling weapons. Hamas has rejected that demand.

During stop-and-go truce talks, Egypt has presented compromise proposals, including a gradual easing of movement for people and cargo at two crossings between Israel and Gaza. However, Israel offered no specific commitments, and Hamas rejected the idea.

Abbas has urged Hamas to accept the plan, which would also give him a new foothold in Gaza because forces under his command would be deployed at the border crossings.

Abbas met Saturday with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi in Cairo to try to find ways to resume truce talks. After the meeting, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry urged Israel and Hamas to agree to an open-ended cease-fire and resume indirect talks. Egyptian officials did not say how they expected renewed talks to produce a different outcome after repeated failures.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas for the collapse of the most recent cease-fire. In a phone conversation with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, Netanyahu alleged that Hamas has violated 11 cease-fires since the war started, Netanyahu’s office said.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev had no immediate comment regarding the renewed call for a cease-fire. Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for Gaza’s ruling Hamas, said the group would consider the Egyptian appeal, but there was no sign it would budge from longstanding demands.

Earlier Saturday, Hamas announced that it has signed a pledge to back any Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court. Such a bid could expose Israel, as well as Hamas, to possible war crimes prosecution.

Hamas had hesitated for weeks before giving its written consent. Its decision could further increase domestic pressure on Abbas to turn to the court.

Abbas has debated the issue for months, since seeking ICC action could transform his relations with Israel from tense to openly hostile, strain his ties with the United States and deprive his government of badly needed Western financial support.

Last month, Abbas said he would not make a move without the written consent of all Palestinian factions. He obtained such support from all groups represented in the Palestine Liberation Organization, while Hamas, not a PLO member, said it would study the idea.

It remains unclear if Abbas will turn to the court, now that he has Hamas support in writing. An Abbas aide said last week that no decision would be made before March when a U.N. commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed in the Gaza war is to hand in its findings.

 

TIME China

Watch Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Compete in China

Chinese mixed martial arts fighters are beating their way out of poverty, the AFP reported

+ READ ARTICLE

Mixed martial arts, or MMA as it’s widely known, is a combination of boxing and Brazilian jujitsu, where almost anything goes during a fight. The sport, widely practiced in Europe and Japan, was unknown in China just a decade ago.

“I didn’t know MMA existed before, when I started fighting in the competition in 2006, I thought it was great fun because there were almost no restrictions,” Chinese fighter Wu Haotian told AFP.

Recently, an increasing number of athletes in China are turning to the sport, which is seen as a springboard out of rural poverty: Fighters can compete for prizes of up to $10,000 in fights in the United States and Hong Kong, the AFP reported.

In the video above, take a look inside a Chinese gym that has already sent several fighters to the U.S.-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

TIME Iceland

Iceland Lowers Alert for Volcanic Eruptions a Day After Raising It

Volcano eruption risk moved to red
A general view of a road closure to the Vattnajokull glacier the site of the Bardarbunga volcano under the Dyngjujokull ice cap in Iceland, Aug. 24, 2014. Vilhelm Gunnarsson—Fretabladid/EPA

Iceland lowered its aviation alert for the volcano to orange on Sunday

Updated Sunday, August 24 at 10:00 a.m.

A subglacial eruption is underway at Iceland’s Bardarbunga volcano, where there have been thousands of earthquakes in the past week, Iceland’s Meteorological Office said Saturday.

Seismic data suggests that volcanic lava is melting ice beneath the Vatnajokull glacier, said seismic vulcanologist Melissa Pfeffer, Reuters reports. It’s unclear whether the eruption will break through the ice and shoot steam and ash into the atmosphere. The amount of ash produced in a larger eruption would depend on how thick the ice is, Pfeffer said, with thicker ice likely to cause a more explosive and ash-rich eruption.

On Sunday, Iceland lowered its aviation alert level to orange from red, saying there is no sign of an eruption at the Bardarbunga volcano. Iceland had said the day before that an eruption could cause “significant emission of ash into the atmosphere” and set its alert level for the volcano to the highest degree, red.

Ash clouds can cause a massive headache for international airlines, as aircraft have to be rerouted to avoid them. More than 100,000 flights were cancelled in 2010 after the eruption of Eyjafjallajokul, an Icelandic volcano that produced a cloud so large it obstructed air travel.

[AP]

TIME Iceland

Iceland: Small Volcano Eruption Underway

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Iceland’s Meteorological Office says a subglacial eruption is underway at the Bardarbunga volcano, which has been rattled by thousands of earthquakes over the past week.

Vulcanologist Melissa Pfeffer says sesmic data indicates that lava is melting ice beneath the Vatnajokull glacier.

She said it was not clear when, or if, the eruption would melt the ice and send steam and ash into the air.

Iceland raised its aviation alert for the volcano to the highest level of red on Saturday, indicating an eruption that could cause “significant emission of ash into the atmosphere.”

TIME Ukraine

Truck Convoy Returns Swiftly to Russia From Ukraine

Ukraine
Trucks marked as being from a disputed Russian aid convoy to Ukraine return to Russia as people wait to enter Ukraine on the border post at Izvaryne, eastern Ukraine, Aug. 23, 2014. Sergei Grits—AP

A Russian truck convoy that raised alarms in the West for driving into war-torn E. Ukraine despite opposition in Kiev returned to Russia Saturday

A large Russian truck convoy that raised alarms in the West for driving into war-torn eastern Ukraine despite opposition in Kiev returned to Russia Saturday.

After the convoy delivered supplies of what Ukrainian border officials said was buckwheat, rice, sugar, water and medical supplies to the city of Luhansk, the column turned back across the border into Russia, the New York Times reports. However, the contents of some of the trucks went unchecked, and some in the Ukrainian government and the West believe they could have been used to deliver military gear to pro-Russia Ukrainian separatists fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine.

Officials in the West and in Ukraine’s government sharply protested the Kremlin’s decision to send the truck convoy into Ukraine without an escort by the International Committee of the Red Cross and over the objections of the Ukrainian government in Kiev. NATO’s Secretary General, meanwhile, said the convoy paired with a “major escalation in Russian military involvement in eastern Ukraine” as NATO accused Russia of moving Russian artillery units into Ukraine.

The trucks, which were only partially filled, were “Russian military vehicles painted to look like civilian trucks,” said Caitlin Hayden, a National Security Council spokeswoman, on Friday. Hayden added that because only some of the vehicles were inspected, it was impossible to know what the whole convoy was carrying.

[NYT]

TIME Foreign Policy

U.S. Weighs Military Action Against ISIS in Syria

"If you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are"

The U.S. is open to the possibility of military action against Islamist militants in Syria, a top Obama Administration official said Friday, warning that the U.S. will “do what is necessary to protect Americans.”

“We’ve made very clear time and again that if you come after Americans, we’re going to come after you wherever you are,” Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters. “And that’s what’s going to guide our planning in the days to come.”

President Barack Obama has resisted pressure from both outside and inside his Administration to take a more muscular approach in Syria, where a bloody civil war has claimed 191,000 lives in recent years, according to a new U.N. estimate Friday. But the emergence of the militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), which released a graphic video on Tuesday depicting the beheading of American journalist James Foley, has raised the stakes — and has seemingly made American officials, already engaged in targeted military action in Iraq, more willing to consider doing so on the other side of the border.

General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday that any strategy against ISIS would have to include action against militants in Syria, and Rhodes didn’t disagree with that assertion Friday.

“Well, we certainly agree that any strategy to deal with the [ISIS] organization has to deal with both sides of the border, Iraq and Syria,” Rhodes said. “The strategy that we are already undertaking does address that in the sense that we are providing training and equipping and assistance to the Iraqi security forces and Kurdish security forces who are fighting them on the ground in Iraq.

“We are also providing support and military assistance to the moderate Syrian opposition,” he added. “What we would like to see is those efforts squeeze the space where [ISIS] operates.”

Rhodes cautioned that no decisions have been made.

“I don’t want to get ahead of decisions the President hasn’t been presented with, specific military options outside of those carrying out the current missions in Iraq,” he said. “But we would certainly look at what is necessary in the long term to make sure we’re protecting Americans.”

TIME Syria

U.N. Slams World Leaders Over Inaction in Syria as Death Toll Surpasses 191,000

"It is scandalous that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained... is no longer attracting much attention"

The United Nations said Friday that more than 191,000 people have been killed in Syria since the country’s civil war began in March 2011, as a top U.N. official lambasted the international community for its “paralysis.”

The U.N. reported that 191,369 people were killed between March 2011 and April 2014, more than double the figure the U.N. reported a year ago, when it said 92,901 people had died. U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the true death toll is likely even higher because it reported only deaths that it was able to confirm.

“I deeply regret that, given the onset of so many other armed conflicts in this period of global destabilization, the fighting in Syria and its dreadful impact on millions of civilians has dropped off the international radar,” Pillay said in a statement. “The killers, destroyers and torturers in Syria have been empowered and emboldened by the international paralysis.”

More than 17,000 women and 2,000 children have been killed in the conflict, which has forced more than 2.9 million people to flee the country.

“It is scandalous that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained, and the relatives of all those who have been killed or are missing is no longer attracting much attention, despite the enormity of their suffering,” Pillay said.

TIME

C. African Republic Prime Minister Names Cabinet

(BANGUI, Central African Republic) — The prime minister of Central African Republic has named a 31-member cabinet, including representatives of two groups that have been involved in horrific violence for more than a year.

Mahamat Kamoun announced the cabinet Friday just hours after interim President Catherine Samba-Panza reiterated confidence in his ability to lead the country to elections next year.

The cabinet includes three Seleka and two anti-Balaka members.

The mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition toppled the president of a decade last year but was soon accused of human rights abuses. The Christian anti-Balaka militia attacked the capital last December, unleashing brutal violence. A U.N. force is expected to take over peacekeeping next month.

Samba-Panza appointed Kamoun, a Muslim, after firing her government earlier this month. Some Seleka leaders have said he doesn’t represent them.

TIME Photos

Feel Good Friday: 11 Fun Photos To Start Your Weekend

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TIME China

U.S. Furious After Chinese Fighter Jet Does Barrel Roll Over American Aircraft

In this Pentagon handout, a Chinese fighter jet is seen from a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft during an incident in which the Pentagon says the Chinese jet came dangerously close to the American aircraft. Department of Defense

The Chinese warplane flew close to a U.S. patrol jet and did a barrel roll over the plane

The United States has formally complained to Beijing over an aerial maneuver conducted by a Chinese fighter jet over international airspace, with the Pentagon calling it an “aggressive and demonstrated a lack of due regard for the safety and well-being of the U.S. and Chinese aircrews and aircraft.”

According to a Pentagon official, a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon patrol jet was flying a routine mission east of Hainan Island Tuesday when a Chinese J-11 warplane passed directly beneath the plane three times, coming as close as 50-100 feet. The Chinese jet then came from beneath, passing the U.S. plane at 90 degrees with the belly of the plane — and its weapons payload — on display.

Finally, the Chinese jet came within 20 feet of the U.S. plane before doing a barrel roll over the plane, the Pentagon official said.

“This incident is the most recent in a rising trend of nonstandard, unprofessional and unsafe intercepts of U.S. aircraft that we have observed since the end of 2013,” the official said, calling it “one of the most unsafe intercepts since the 2001 EP-3 collision,” in reference to an incident in which a Chinese fighter and American aircraft collided in the same area as this week’s incident.

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