TIME Middle East

Israel and Palestinians Reach Open-Ended Cease-Fire Deal

The sign of victory as people gather in the streets to celebrate after a deal had been reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014 in Gaza City.
Palestinians in Gaza City celebrate in the streets after a deal had been reached between Hamas and Israel over a long-term end to seven weeks of fighting in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014 Momen Faiz—NurPhoto/Corbis

Truce ends the seven-week war, but it's an open question whether longer-term political talks will resume

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced Tuesday that Israel and various Palestinian militant factions including Hamas and Islamic Jihad had reached a cease-fire deal to end seven weeks of devastating war, and to postpone negotiations over several remaining issues for one month.

The news follows weeks of intense efforts on the part of the Egyptian government to broker a truce between the sides, both of whom were keen to emerge looking victorious, or at least successful, from a bruising war that resulted in the death of nearly 2,200 Palestinians and 70 Israelis.

Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev told the BBC that the cease-fire would meet Israel’s primary goals of keeping its citizens safe. The deal, he said, “commits Hamas to ending all hostile activity against Israel from Gaza. Now if that in fact does happen, and we hope it does, that is, for us, victory.”

Abbas’ role in announcing the deal from his Ramallah headquarters in the West Bank was evidence of the more prominent role that Egyptian, Israeli and other officials have sought in Gaza for the Palestinian President, whose Fatah party and security forces were ousted from the coastal strip in a Hamas coup in 2007.

In an evening speech making the deal official, Abbas said that he would soon present a detailed plan aimed at establishing a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, a reference to Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, territories Israel occupied in the Six-Day War. He also indicated that he would not return to another round of negotiations with Israel amid what seems like such a discouraging prognosis for progress; the last round of talks ended in failure in April.

“The question now is, What’s next?” Abbas said. “Gaza suffered three wars and are we expecting another one? We will consult friends and the international community, and we can’t continue with cloudy negotiations.”

What’s in the Deal
The deal calls for an “open-ended” cease-fire and an Israeli agreement to ease its strict closure policy on Gaza, which Palestinians consider a siege. In theory, this means Israel should ease access at five crossings into Gaza that it controls, opening them up for a better flow of commercial goods and humanitarian needs, and most importantly, for building materials at the Kerem Shalom Crossing.

This latter aspect, according to a Palestinian source close to Hamas, has held up a deal in recent weeks as Hamas thought it necessary to hold out for the free flow of materials such as cement and steel as part of the reconstruction of Gaza. Also included in the deal is an Israeli agreement to allow Gazan fisherman to fish in waters up to 12 nautical miles off the coast by the end of the year — more than doubling the distance they were able to travel offshore in recent years, leading to overfishing.

What Hamas did not get, but had demanded throughout the past month, are three other things that the sides have agreed to postpone discussing for one month. These include the creation of a Gaza seaport, an airport and the release of approximately 50 Hamas activists who were rearrested by Israel in June. After having let them go in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange in October 2011, Israeli forces arrested them in West Bank raids following the kidnap-murder of three Israeli teenagers in mid-June. A senior Hamas official last week took responsibility for that attack.

Also postponed for a month is the demand by Hamas for Egypt to open the border crossing at Rafah. Egypt said it would work that out in a separate, bilateral agreement, with sources suggesting that that Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi wanted to take a wait-and-see approach before agreeing to ease Egypt’s own closure of the Hamas-run territory. Abbas’ Palestinian Authority forces are expected to take over responsibility for administering Gaza’s borders from Hamas, Reuters reports.

The agreement seems to lack exact details as to what precisely it would mean for Israel to “ease” its blockade of Gaza, leaving room for disagreements as in past years. Moreover, the deal largely mirrored the November 2012 cease-fire agreement that ended a week of war known as Operation Pillar of Defense. Exactly how “open-ended” this cease-fire ends up being thus remains to be seen.

Hamas Declares Victory
Hamas proclaimed itself victorious on Tuesday night, as details of the deal leaked out. Gazans gathered in several places throughout the strip and shot celebratory gunfire into the air.

“We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said at a news conference at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.

The deal fulfilled what the Palestinian group had hoped for during the weeks of negotiations, said Gershon Baskin, an Israeli academic who has acted as a go-between Israel and Hamas on several occasions, including in the lead-up to the Shalit prisoner exchange deal almost three years ago. “Hamas has been ready for an agreement for two weeks, and has made it clear its achievements would not be military but political. What was important to them was to get building materials into Gaza,” he said.

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior member of the Hamas political wing who has not been seen in public in some time, was one of several top Hamas officials to speak to the crowd of thousands gathered in Gaza City’s Rimal neighborhood Tuesday.

“We’re going to build our port and our airport, and if they attack the port, they attack the port. But anyone who attacks the airport will have their airport attacked again,” al-Zahar said, according to an Agence France-Presse report, in a reference to the numerous rockets launched at Israel’s Ben Gurion International airport. Though none of these succeeded, a Hamas rocket that targeted a town near the airstrip caused the Federal Aviation Administration to suspend the landing of several U.S. airlines there for several days in July.

Netanyahu Faces Hard Sell
Israel seems less in the mood for celebrating. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who informed his cabinet of the cease-fire deal Tuesday evening, has a more complicated job of selling the war’s achievements to Israelis. While the vast majority of Israelis believed he was justified in going to war, according to polls, not all of them are ready to end Operation Protective Edge with Hamas seemingly undeterred — and many are fearful that a cease-fire is simply a time-out until the next round. Whereas 82% of Israelis supported Netanyahu in mid-July, when he first sent in ground troops, a new poll showed his approval rating sunk to 32%.

Three of Netanyahu’s most prominent right-wing coalition partners — Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovich — announced their opposition to the cease-fire deal. The heads of local councils in southern Israel also announced Tuesday night that they flatly rejected the cease-fire agreement.

Itamar Shimoni, the mayor of Ashkelon, one of the cities hardest hit by the rocket fire, called the deal a “surrender to terrorism” and added: “We wanted to see Hamas defeated and begging for its life, but instead we’re seeing Israel running to the negotiation table every opportunity that presents itself.”

The upper echelons of Netanyahu’s team and senior Israel Defense Forces officials, however, will present it much differently. “The Israeli spin will be that Hamas shot most of their rockets and that won’t easily be replenished, and that most of the tunnels were destroyed and can’t be rebuilt,” Baskin tells TIME. “The big question is whether the regional political process will restart, as it should.”

TIME Military

Watch the 100-Year History of Tear Gas in 2 Minutes

Banned in warfare, but used for crowd control at home.

+ READ ARTICLE

Tear gas, a noxious agent that causes tearing, vomiting and pain, was first used in combat by the French military during World War One 100 years ago. It was soon co-opted by the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service for use as a crowd control agent.

After being initially introduced as a replacement for poison gas after that substance was banned from battlefields, tear gas was soon being used used to quell large crowds in the 1920’s and 1930’s that gathered in the midst of food scarcity and economic uncertainty.

Its use continued throughout the 1960s, being used to corral anti-war protestors, most notably at the University of California, Berkeley. Despite now being banned from wartime use, tear gas is still in use for domestic crowd control, most recently seen during recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

TIME Egypt

Egypt’s Orphans Struggle Long After Childhood Ends

The problem with Egypt's orphanages goes way beyond isolated cases of abuse, and extends to how society as a whole views "children of sin"

Nahla El-Nemr knew the moment was coming but that still didn’t make it any easier.

As a fourth-year student at an Egyptian institute for training social workers, El-Nemr’s studies required her to spend several months training in a large Cairo orphanage. When her group of 15 students arrived at the facility, El-Nemr’s fellow classmates were shocked to discover that she knew everyone there. The 30-year-old was forced to come clean about her background. “I told them, ‘By the way guys, this isn’t just an orphanage. It’s my home,’” she says.

That was a significant confession to make, in a country where growing up an orphan makes you — in El-Nemr’s words — a “street child, unclean, child of sin, a beggar.” It’s also one of the reasons she’s joined a growing movement of activists dedicated not just to improving the conditions for Egypt’s 12,000 orphans, but also to overturning the social stigma that can leave orphans like El-Nemr restricted to the margins of society throughout their adult lives.

The plight of Egypt’s orphans was recently forced onto the national radar by a disturbing video showing a man purported to be the director of a small orphanage in Giza repeatedly beating and kicking several terrified young children in his care. The video — allegedly filmed and posted by the director’s estranged wife — prompted the closure of the Dar Mecca al-Mokarama Orphanage and the arrest of the director as well as a wave of national debate about the issue.

egypt orphanage
Click the image to see the video on egyptianstreets.com website, showing abuse at the Dar Mecca al-Mokarama Orphanage

These activists are quick to point out that not all Egyptian orphanages are bad or abusive, but they say physical, emotional and even sexual abuse is far more common than publicly reported. “If you want to search for good orphanages and successful models, you will definitely find them,” says Yasmine El-Hagry, an administrator with the children’s-rights NGO Wataneya. “But that video is not news to us. We know there are lots of violations.”

The roots of the problem are numerous, but the lack of proper training for caregivers and personnel inside Egyptian orphanages is cited as a key factor by both government officials and independent children’s-rights activists. In Egypt’s extremely class-conscious society, the job of children’s caregiver is regarded as low-class, with meager pay and minimal respect. “The job of a social worker or a caregiver is not an attractive job in this country,” Ghada Wali, the newly installed Minister of Social Solidarity, says. “You can not have people who are undertrained and underpaid and expect them to do a good job.”

Not only are workers typically inexperienced and poorly compensated, but there also aren’t enough of them to go round. The country has more than 450 orphanages, the vast majority run by private NGOs under the supervision of the Ministry of Social Solidarity. Many of these facilities are operating at less than 50% capacity, Wali says.

This surplus of orphanages is motivated partially by religious beliefs. According to Islamic tradition, to feed, clothe and shelter an orphan is a powerful source of sawab — a sort of celestial extra credit. But many wealthy donors in Egypt would rather open their own facility and put their name on it than donate to an existing orphanage. Unfortunately, some fail to consider what comes next. “The problem here is that people feel that if they open an orphanage and provide an orphan with a roof, food and a bed then they’ve done their job. To me that’s maybe 20% of the job,” says Flavia Shaw-Jackson, founder of the NGO FACE, which runs its own network of local orphanages.

Wali, who was appointed five months ago, says one of her first acts as minister was to suspend the issuing of new orphanage licenses and initiate a review of her ministry’s inspection standards and protocols.

Those government inspections aren’t insufficient, according to El-Hagry and other children’s-rights activists, so much as they are aimed at the wrong thing. The inspectors, they say, tend to focus almost exclusively on the bureaucratic aspects of running a facility — is the paperwork in order, is the kitchen well maintained and is the flow of donations sufficient? — and not the human aspects. “Whether or not the children are trembling and look frightened or the general psychological well-being of the children — that isn’t really considered,” El-Hagry says.

The most widespread problem afflicting Egyptian orphans isn’t necessarily direct abuse, but simple emotional neglect. While their basic physical needs may be met, many live with a minimum of human warmth. “I’ve seen babies lying day and night in cots with the windows closed — no touch or tenderness or sources of stimulation. You see children with no life in their eyes,” says Shaw-Jackson.

But it doesn’t end at childhood. Egyptian orphans often find it nearly impossible to fully integrate into mainstream society outside the orphanage walls. Egypt’s close-knit family-centric culture is simultaneously extremely sympathetic to orphans and extremely suspicious of them. Western-style adoption is illegal, however a modified foster-care system known as kefala does exist. But children taken in under the kefala system are forbidden by law from inheritance or taking the family’s last name, and there remains a limited appetite among Egyptians for taking orphans into their homes.

That’s because being an orphan in Egypt is akin to being in a lower caste of people. Orphans are widely labeled as “children of sin” and assumed to be the illegitimate and abandoned products of extramarital sex. This label follows them throughout life, making it difficult for orphans to attend public schools or universities and nearly impossible for them to marry a nonorphan.

El-Hagry, from the Wataneya NGO, says many orphans feel compelled to “live in the closet” whenever they attempt to integrate into mainstream society. Until two years ago when the law was changed, national ID cards would immediately signify the owner as an orphan to a police officer, potential employer or landlord who knew what to look for.

El-Nemr, the adult orphan who now works as a volunteer coordinator for Wataneya, recalls years of hiding her orphan status from classmates and co-workers. As a teenager, she resisted the wishes of her orphanage director, who tended to send all of the girls to the local nursing institute. But El-Nemr insisted on attending a public high school and pursuing a secondary education. When told by the director that such ambitions were beyond her reach, El-Nemr personally submitted her papers to the local high school and was accepted.

In school, only a tiny circle of her friends and a few teachers knew she was an orphan. “If all of my classmates knew, it would have been a nightmare,” she says. “But I was smart and that helped protect me. Some of my sisters [a term she uses for all of her fellow orphans from the same facility] did the same thing because of my example and they had a very bad time.”

In college she maintained the same closeted existence until she was involuntarily outed by the training semester in her home orphanage. When she and a fellow orphan decided to move out and get their own apartment, she found herself having to lie to the landlord — saying her parents lived overseas. When she took a job at a prominent publishing house, she was enraged when one of her close friends accidentally revealed her orphan status to her co-workers. Luckily, she says, her employers only found out after she had been working there for six months. If it had been known from the start that she was an orphan, El-Nemr said she either wouldn’t have been hired or would have been forced to quit.

“I feel like people think we’re abnormal,” she says. “At best they start feeling sorry for me and I don’t want that. That’s actually worse than the ones that treat me bad because I’m an orphan. I don’t want or need their pity.”

TIME Iraq

The Rise of ISIS Sows Mistrust Between Kurds and Sunni Arabs

A Kurdish peshmerga soldier looks out over the town of Makhmour from defensive positions, Aug. 11, 2014.
A Kurdish peshmerga soldier looks out over the town of Makhmour from defensive positions, Aug. 11, 2014. Sebastian Meyer—Corbis

While some Sunni Arabs have fought alongside the militants in Iraqi Kurdistan, others are being displaced by Kurds eager to take control of disputed regions

In his home in a village south of Erbil, Soran Sabir shows a video he took of what he says are two dead Islamist fighters.

“That is Saleh,” he says, pointing to the body of a young Arab man lying on the ground surrounded by Kurdish fighters. In this mixed Kurdish-Arab area, relations between the two groups had been relatively good in recent years. Sabir says Saleh was a good costumer, frequently visiting his motorcycle repair shop, and he considered him a friend. In June, when the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) took Mosul, Saleh disappeared, said Sabir. The next time he saw him was when Kurdish fighters were battling ISIS to take back Makhmour. They brought the bodies of two militants back. One was Saleh.

“I was very happy to see him dead,” said Soran. What sense does it make, he continued, for someone like Saleh to support “some stranger from Afghanistan who came here to fight” — a reference to the large number of foreign jihadis fighting with ISIS in Iraq — and attack his own neighbors?

The fight against ISIS in villages like Makhmour where Kurdish and Sunni Arabs live side by side has raised tensions between the two groups. Kurds here suspect the Arab residents of co-operating with the militants, who have vowed to create an Islamic caliphate in the broad stretch of land they now occupy over Iraq and Syria.

Those suspicions are not unwarranted, said Gareth Stansfield, a professor of Middle East politics at the University of Exeter. “As the Kurds have become more powerful, the tribes have had to decide if they are going to work with the Kurds or oppose them…now that they’ve got the opportunity to stand up to the Kurds, many of them are doing it.”

But the Kurds are standing up right back. After the Kurdish peshmerga retook the area after ISIS left, Arab residents were stopped from returning to their homes. Kurdish officials say the Arabs aren’t to be trusted, and that the mixed villages actually belong to Erbil. “They occupied our lands for 50 years, and then on such a bad day, they stab us in the back,” said Tariq Sarmami, a senior media advisor of the Kurdistan Parliament in Erbil. “That’s what creates this reaction.”

Arabs and Kurds have always shared the villages of Makhmour, but under Saddam Hussein more Arabs were resettled to these areas as part of his Arabization policies, in an attempt to alter the balance of demographics in mixed areas so that Baghdad could stake claim to the contested regions. When Saddam was ousted in 2003, a wave of Kurds returned to the villages and the current demographics are now contested.

Makhmour is one of the disputed areas outlined in section 140 of Iraq’s constitution, which mandates a referendum on whether the area should join the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, or remain under the control of Baghdad. That vote hasn’t yet been held. In the meanwhile, the residents have been living under two separate administrations; the national government in Baghdad, and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in Kurdish Erbil, which has been steadily making an administrative creep on the territory it sees as belonging to them.

“The Kurdification, or re-Kurdification has actually been an open policy of the KRG since 2003 onwards,” said Stansfield. The Kurds paid compensation to some Arab families to leave contested areas, but many chose to stay, particularly those from tribes that resided here long before Saddam’s Arabization policies. “There are definitely some Arabs that were brought there by the government of Iraq, but there are others that have their roots there,” said Stansfield.

Now, ISIS’s march through the region has allowed Kurdification to intensify. In a junction between Makhmour and Erbil, Garib Nihayet Ojel sits on the side of the road with his family, his daughter-in-law breastfeeding an infant in the sweltering heat. Ojel, an Arab from Tel-Abta, a village between Makhmour and Mosul, is trying to reach Makhmour, with the promise of work with a Kurdish farmer there.

“We can’t go back home,” said Ojel, who said he is looking for a safe place to take his family. “We escaped ISIS.”

The Kurds don’t see Ojel and his family as refugees of a war, but as a potential threat. “Tell them, Arab people are not allowed to enter these provinces,” said an officer of the Asayish, the Kurdish intelligence, stopping in the junction flanked with peshmerga soldiers. “It’s prohibited for them.”

“We are not fighters, we are not combatants, we are just families. We just want to find a safe place,” said Ojel’s wife. The officer accuses them of spying for ISIS. While officials say there are procedures in place to determine genuine threats, there seems to be little due process here.

The fear among Arabs now is that others like Ojel will never be allowed back to their villages, creating de-facto Kurdish control over the productive farm lands south of Erbil. “We should expect that the situation in the disputed territories will remain disputed even if the Kurds say that it’s Kurdish,” said Stansfield. “This is going to be a very significant flash point for some years to come.”

And for the Kurds, it’s not just these mixed villages that pose a threat to their demographics. Of the flood of Iraqi refugees who have come to Kurdish cities such as Erbil since fighting between ISIS and Iraqi national and Kurdish forces worsened, Christians have been warmly welcomed. Sunni Arabs, however, are often restricted to camps on the outskirts, eyed with suspicion by local Kurds.

“We regret taking them,” said Sarmami, sitting in his office in the Kurdish Parliament. “We regret that we accepted all these Arabs here. We accept them without having any plans.”

TIME Scotland

Scotland’s Independence Movement Gets a Boost From the Final TV Debate

Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and Alistair Darling, chairman of Better Together, take part in a live television debate by the BBC in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries on Aug. 25, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Alex Salmond, First Minister of Scotland and Alistair Darling, chairman of Better Together, take part in a live television debate by the BBC in the Kelvingrove Art Galleries on Aug. 25, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland. Jeff J Mitchell—Getty Images

A strong debate performance by Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond lifts spirits in the Yes camp but may not sway doubters

How might an independent Scotland differ from the country that is currently part of the United Kingdom? When two of Scotland’s highest profile politicians—First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party and Britain’s former Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling of the Labour Party—faced off against each other on Aug. 5 in the first of two debates ahead of the Sept. 18 referendum, only viewers north of the England-Scotland border reliably got to hear their answers to this question. The debate was broadcast on TV in Scotland only while a live feed on the website of Scottish broadcaster STV seized up under the weight of would-be viewers elsewhere in the U.K.

Last night’s rematch, by contrast, could be viewed without technical hitches on televisions and computer screens throughout Britain and Northern Ireland because it was broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which serves the whole of the U.K. The BBC is one of many institutions that potentially faces radical surgery to cut it into unequal chunks if a majority of Scotland’s 4.2 million voters agree with Salmond and opt to break with the rest of Britain.

Snap polls judged Salmond the loser of the first debate, by 44% to 56%—closely mirroring the split polling organizations have been finding between supporters of Yes Scotland, the independence campaign, and Better Together, the organization arguing for maintaining the union. The second debate Monday night, by contrast, gifted Salmond a decisive victory over Better Together’s Darling, by 71% to 29%, giving heart to proponents of independence who have just three and a half weeks to convince the ranks of the undecided that smaller is better. “Not Tonight, Darling” read the headline in one Scottish tabloid.

Until last night, both campaigns had focused heavily on the economy. The Yes campaign has calculated that Scots would benefit by £600 ($995) a year in a standalone Scotland that kept its North Sea oil and gas revenues rather than sharing them with the rest of Britain. The No campaign “Better Together“—it tries to keep things polite by styling itself “No Thanks”—says taxpayers in an independent Scotland would have to shell out an additional £1,000 ($1,658) per annum to maintain current levels of public spending.

Standing at lecterns in front of a lurid purple backdrop at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow, the rotund Salmond and the spare Darling traded well-rehearsed blows about how much oil and gas is actually left to be pumped in the North Sea and what it would be worth. (The Scottish independence movement is counting on revenue from North Sea oil and gas to keep the new country financially afloat.) Darling pointed out that the market for oil and gas is “notoriously volatile and uncertain.” Salmond retorted that Darling and his pro-union colleagues were unique in viewing Scotland’s oil as a “curse.”

The men also tangled over the British pound. Salmond wants independent Scotland to keep using sterling in a formal currency union with the rest of Britain that would give Scotland a voice in the management of the currency. But Britain’s Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government and Darling’s opposition Labour Party have all ruled out such an arrangement. Last night Salmond scored a hit with the audience by asserting that if denied a currency union, Scotland could refuse to shoulder its share of public debt. The pro-union camp aims “to deny us the assets of the Bank of England,” he said. “The reason that won’t happen is that if you deny us the financial assets, then the U.K. will get stuck with all of the liabilities.” Darling called this scenario “nonsense”.

But the defining moment of the debate came not during one of these testy exchanges, but when a member of the audience asked about one of the few other British institutions as beloved both sides of the border as the BBC: the National Health Service (NHS). Salmond walked out from behind his lectern and came to the front of the stage. The only way to protect the NHS, he said, was to vote for independence. “To have a health service we can rely on, you’ve got to have financial control as well as political control.” He painted the choice for Scotland as one between a caring social democratic model championed by his government and the austerity policies that have been implemented by the Conservative-led ruling coalition in London. He then rounded on Darling, accusing the Labour politician of being “in bed with the Tory Party.”

That’s a potent insult in Scotland. Support for the Conservatives has never recovered from Margaret Thatcher’s decision to levy a hated tax called the Community Charge on Scots a year before introducing it to the rest of Britain, nor from Tory opposition to the devolution that the Labour Party eventually piloted to give Scotland the parliament and government Salmond now leads. There are twice as many pandas in Scotland as Conservative MPs, as Scots like to point out. (One of the two pandas housed in Edinburgh zoo, Tian Tian, is thought to be pregnant, so the bears may soon outnumber the sole Scottish Tory MP David Mundell by three to one.)

Salmond hopes Scottish voters will use the forthcoming referendum to define themselves against the rest of Britain—and in particular against the government in Westminster. But with the Yes campaign trailing the Nos by as much as 14 points, Salmond’s strong performance in the second debate may not be sufficient to persuade a majority in Scotland that the best way to protect their storied institutions against cuts is to cut them in two.

TIME Syria

American Extremist Killed Fighting for ISIS Terrorists

Douglas Mcauthur McCain Facebook

A woman who said she was Douglas McAuthur McCain's aunt confirmed that he had "passed"

The battle in itself seemed tragically normal. Two Syrian opposition groups fought and there were heavy casualties on both sides. Then victorious rebels rifled through the pockets of the dead. One contained about $800 in cash — and an American passport.

Douglas McAuthur McCain, of San Diego was killed over the weekend fighting for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), according to the Free Syrian Army. Photos of McCain’s passport and of his body — which feature a distinctive neck tattoo — have been seen by NBC News.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News.

TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Israel, Hamas Accept Gaza War Cease-Fire

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas recites a prayer in memory of those killed during the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, ahead of a press conference on August 26, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas recites a prayer in memory of those killed during the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip, ahead of a press conference on August 26, 2014 in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Abbas Momani—AFP/Getty Images

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) — Israel and Hamas announced Tuesday that they agreed to an open-ended cease-fire in the Gaza war after seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,200 people, the vast majority Palestinians.

The cease-fire was to take effect at 7 p.m. local time (1600 GMT), but violence persisted until the last minute.

In Israel, mortar shells fired from Gaza killed one man and seriously wounded two people, authorities said.

In Gaza, police reported that an Israeli airstrike collapsed a seven-story building in the town of Beit Lahiya, the sixth high-rise to be toppled since the weekend. Booms from Israeli strikes could be heard in Gaza after the truce announcement was made.

In Gaza, massive celebratory gunfire erupted after 7 p.m. Chants normally reserved for Muslim holidays could be heard from mosque loudspeakers.

Earlier, officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main groups fighting Israel, had said the cease-fire included an Israeli agreement to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the war-battered territory.

Talks on more complex issues, such as Hamas’ demand to build an airport and a seaport for Gaza, would begin in a month, said Ziad Nakhala, a senior Islamic Jihad official.

The details of the cease-fire would effectively mean Hamas and Islamic Jihad settled for terms that are similar to those that ended more than a week of fighting with Israel in 2012.

Under those terms, Israel promised to ease restrictions gradually, while Hamas pledged to halt rocket fire from Gaza at Israel. The truce held for long stretches, but Gaza’s border blockade also remained largely intact.

Even though it apparently had little to show for, Hamas declared victory.

“We are here today to declare the victory of the resistance, the victory of Gaza, with the help of God, and the steadfastness of our people and the noble resistance,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said in a news conference at Gaza’s Shifa Hospital.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after Hamas seized Gaza by force in 2007. Under the restrictions, virtually all of Gaza’s 1.8 million people cannot trade or travel. Only a few thousand are able to leave the coastal territory every month.

During the war, Hamas had said it would only cease fire if the blockade is lifted.

However, Israeli pressure on the group has been escalating. Hamas is believed to be left with just one-third of its initial rocket arsenal of 10,000, while Israel says it has destroyed most of Hamas’ network of military attack tunnels.

Israeli strikes have destroyed or severely damaged more than 17,000 Gaza homes, according to United Nations estimates, leaving about 100,000 people homeless. The number of dead has also been rising steadily, reaching at least 2,140 by Tuesday, with more than 11,000 Gazans wounded since July 8, Palestinian health officials said.

On the Israeli side, 69 people have been killed, all but four of them soldiers. Thousands of Israelis living near Gaza have fled their homes, including in recent days when Gaza militants stepped up mortar fire on southern Israel.

___

Daraghmeh reported from Ramallah, West Bank.

___

Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Cairo and Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

TIME Infectious Disease

How Fear and Ignorance is Helping Ebola Spread

Overly cautious companies and governments are hindering the flow of help to afflicted regions

+ READ ARTICLE

The Ebola epidemic in West Africa has amassed 2,600 cases and claimed more than 1,400 lives, spreading fear and rumors about the illness around the globe — which may be making things worse.

Some overly cautious airlines and shipping companies are stopping service to infected areas, so aid can’t get in to help. Overzealous governments have also imposed city-wide quarantines and closed borders, so patients find it difficult to seek help.

The World Health Organization continues to try to educate regional governments and firms about the virus, but until the UN agency can reverse the flow of disinformation, Ebola will continue to spread.

TIME Israel

Hamas Official: Cease-Fire Reached With Israel

A senior Hamas official says a cease-fire has been reached with Israel to end a seven-week war that has killed more than 2,000 people.

The official said the deal calls for an “open-ended” cease-fire, and an Israeli agreement to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow relief supplies and construction materials into the war-battered territory.

Talks on deeper issues, such as Hamas’ demand to reopen Gaza’s airport and seaport, would begin in a month.

The official said Egypt planned an announcement later Tuesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity pending the announcement.

There was no immediate Israeli comment.

TIME Ukraine

Putin Sits Down With Ukrainian President for Talks

(MINSK, Belarus) — The presidents of Russia and Ukraine sat down for talks Tuesday, meeting face-to-face for the first time since June on the fighting that has engulfed Ukraine’s separatist east.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko were joined by the presidents of Belarus and Kazakhstan and three senior officials from the European Union in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.

The meeting came as Ukraine said its forces had captured 10 Russian soldiers in eastern Ukraine and the shelling spread to a new front in the far southeast. Ukraine has repeatedly accused Russia of supporting and arming the rebels, which Russia denies daily.

“The fate of peace and the fate of Europe are being decided in Minsk today,” Poroshenko said as the talks began.

Under pressure to seek a negotiated settlement and not a military victory, the Ukrainian president said the purpose of his visit was to start the process of searching for a political compromise and promised that the interests of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine would be taken into account.

Putin devoted most of his opening remarks to trade, arguing that Ukraine’s decision to sign an association agreement with the EU would lead to huge losses for Russia, which would then be forced to protect its economy. Russia had been counting on Ukraine joining a rival economic union that it is forming with Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Ukraine is set to ratify the EU association agreement in September.

On the fighting that began in April between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russia separatists, Putin said only that he was certain the conflict “could not be solved by further escalation of the military scenario without taking into account the vital interests of the southeast of the country and without a peaceful dialogue of its representatives.”

Poroshenko would be unlikely to agree to Russia’s frequent call for federalization — devolving wide powers to the regions from the central government — but could agree to allow them to have some expanded powers.

He also has spoken against holding a referendum on Ukraine’s joining NATO; Russia’s desire to keep Ukraine out of the alliance is seen as one of Moscow’s key concerns.

Opening Tuesday’s meeting, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko urged both sides to “discard political ambitions and not to seek political dividend.”

Putin has so far ignored requests from the rebels to be annexed by Russia — unlike in March, when he annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. But Associated Press journalists on the border have seen the rebels with a wide range of military equipment — including tanks, Buk missile launchers and armored personnel carriers — and have run into many Russians among the rebel fighters.

Ukraine wants the rebels to hand back the territory they have captured in eastern Ukraine, while Putin wants to retain some sort of leverage over the mostly Russian-speaking region so Ukraine does not join NATO or the European Union.

The Facebook page for Ukraine’s anti-rebel operation said soldiers from a Russian paratrooper division were captured Monday around Amvrosiivka, a town near the Russian border.

Towering columns of smoke rose Tuesday from outside a city in Ukraine’s far southeast after what residents said was a heavy artillery barrage. Ukraine accused separatists and their Russian backers of trying to expand the conflict.

It was the second straight day that attacks were reported in the vicinity of Novoazovsk, which is in eastern Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk region but previously had seen little fighting.

Local residents in Novoazovsk, some hastily packing up in order to flee, told The Associated Press it was not clear what direction the firing had come from Tuesday.

Ukrainian officials on Monday said artillery was fired from the Russian side of the border. A Ukrainian soldier who declined to give his name suggested that Tuesday’s shelling could have come from rebels aiming to take out a Ukrainian rocket launcher.

In Kiev, Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council, blamed the shelling on “Russian mercenaries.”

Novoazovsk lies on the Azov Sea on the road that runs from Russia to the major Ukrainian port of Mariupol. That same road goes west to Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula annexed by Russia in March.

Ukraine said a small column of Russian tanks and armored vehicles crossed into Ukraine on Monday north of Novoazovsk, raising the possibility that pro-Russia separatists were aiming to take control of a strip of land that would link up Russia with Crimea.

“Russia is trying from its side to open a new front,” Lysenko told reporters.

“The new columns of Russian tanks and armor crossing into Ukraine indicates a Russian-directed counteroffensive may be underway,” U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt said on his Twitter account.

Lysenko said there were enough forces and equipment in Mariupol to defend the city of more than 450,000. An AP reporter saw excavators digging deep trenches Tuesday on the eastern edge of the city.

Ukraine’s posting about the captured soldiers included videos of five of the men.

One of the captured soldiers, who identified himself as Sergei Smirnov, said they were not told anything about their mission.

“We were just traveling through fields and then we stopped in the middle of the field and the BMP2 (armored vehicle) broke down,” he said.

Asked if he knew they were on Ukrainian territory, he said: “When we got into the village we saw a tank with Ukrainian flag. Then we understood.” He said they then came under fire.

Russian news agencies quoted an unnamed official in the Russian Defense Ministry as saying the soldiers were patrolling the border and probably crossed the border inadvertently.

Russia reportedly has tens of thousands of troops positioned in areas near the Ukrainian border, leading to persistent concerns that Moscow could be preparing an invasion.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine began in mid-April, a month after Russia annexed Crimea. It has killed over 2,000 people and forced over 340,000 to flee, according to the U.N.

___

Leonard reported from Novoazovsk, Ukraine. Jim Heintz in Kiev, Ukraine, and Lynn Berry in Moscow contributed to this report.

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