TIME Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

PLO Offers 24-Hour Truce, Says It Speaks for Hamas

(RAMALLAH, West Bank) — A senior PLO official has called for a 24-hour humanitarian cease-fire in the Gaza war, saying he is also speaking in the name of Hamas.

Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said on Tuesday that Israel must bear the consequences if it rejects this call.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas on the offer.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev brushed aside the offer. He says that until Israel hears from Hamas directly, “it’s not serious.”

TIME Mexico

Strong Quake Shakes Mexico’s Gulf Coast

(MEXICO CITY) — A strong earthquake shook much of eastern Mexico on Tuesday, but there were no immediate reports of damage or injury.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the magnitude-6.3 quake was centered in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, about 260 miles (418 kilometers) east-southeast of Mexico City. The epicenter was relatively deep, 59 miles (95 kilometers) below the surface.

State Gov. Javier Duarte issued a Twitter post saying there were no reports of damage yet, though local news media said the 5:46 a.m. (6:46 a.m. EDT; 1046 GMT) quake was felt strongly.

It rocked buildings at least as far away as Mexico City.

TIME russia

St. Petersburg, Russia, Airport Briefly Evacuated

(ST. PETERSBURG, Russia) — The Pulkovo airport in Russia’s St. Petersburg was briefly evacuated on Tuesday because of a bomb threat.

Transit police of the north-west region said the airport received an anonymous telephone bomb threat at 1.30 p.m. and that a bomb squad was searching the terminal.

Anna Fedoseyeva, spokeswoman for the airport in Russia’s second-largest city, said the evacuation of passengers and staff began at 3 p.m. local time. An hour later, normal operations resumed after the call was judged to be a false alarm, Fedoseyeva said.

Bomb threats are common in Russia, mostly the work of teenage pranksters, but evacuations of airports or railway stations are rare.

The Pulkovo airport, about 14 miles (20 kms) south of St. Petersburg, handled nearly 13 million passengers last year.

TIME

China: Ex-Security Czar Zhou Under Investigation

(BEIJING) — China’s ruling Communist Party announced Tuesday it is launching an investigation into former domestic security chief Zhou Yongkang, who was once one of the country’s most feared leaders.

The party’s anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, said on its website that it is investigating Zhou for serious violations of party discipline, but gave no details.

Until his retirement in 2012, Zhou was one of nine leaders in the party’s ruling inner circle, whose members had until now been considered off-limits for prosecution in an unwritten rule aimed at preserving party unity.

The announcement ended months of speculation over Zhou’s fate that had built up as several high-ranking officials and businesspeople and dozens of other known associates came under investigation.

One after another, they disappeared into the custody of party investigators, foreshadowing the problems that lay ahead for Zhou.

TIME China

Next Up, Microsoft. McDonald’s, Apple, Starbucks, Already Know China’s Wrath

A visitor walks past a Microsoft booth at a computer software expo in Beijing
A visitor walks past a Microsoft booth at a computer software expo in Beijing, June 2, 2010. China Daily—Reuters

Beijing appears to be reciprocating Washington's mistrust of Chinese firms

Is no famous foreign brand safe in China? On July 28, four Microsoft offices across China received an alarming set of unscheduled visitors: Chinese government investigators who appeared to be looking into whether the American software firm had violated Beijing’s controversial anti-trust laws, according to Chinese media. A few days before, it was McDonald’s and KFC’s turn in the spotlight. The U.S. fast-food companies’ supply chains were roiled when one of their major meat suppliers in China was accused of using expired meat. In May, the Western pharmaceutical industry came under scrutiny when GlaxoSmithKline was charged with running an extensive network of corruption in China to push their drugs into the market.

Foreign coffee and cars have also been targeted, with Chinese state media launching shaming campaigns against Starbucks and Jaguar for setting higher prices in China than in much of the West. Official Chinese press have even accused U.S. tech firms like Cisco of possibly being coopted by U.S. intelligence agencies intent on tracking Chinese customers.

Not even Apple — which assembles most of its gadgets in China through subcontractors and counts on voracious Chinese demand for its high-end products — is safe from the mud-slinging. On July 28, China’s official Xinhua news agency referred to “Apple’s immorality” in selling devices through which consumers’ personal data could potentially be mined. Earlier this month, state broadcaster CCTV had deemed the iPhone a conceivable “national security concern” for China.

Nor is this the first time this year that Microsoft has been fingered in China. In May, Beijing began forbidding central-government purchases of the company’s newest Windows 8 computer software because of potential security concerns. As for the Monday surprise visits by officials from the State Administration for Industry and Commerce, Microsoft isn’t saying much. Beyond a standard issuance from a company spokesperson — “We aim to build products that deliver the features, security and reliability customers expect, and we will address any concerns the government may have” — the American software giant declined to comment further to TIME, citing the “ongoing and sensitive nature of this situation.”

The pace does feel like it has quickened in terms of foreign firms being accused by Chinese officialdom of a slew of misdeeds: monopolistic behavior such as price-fixing, cavalier treatment of Chinese consumers and general financial misconduct. Still, some Chinese analysts contend that plenty of domestic firms are being pursued by local regulators, too. Certainly, Chinese consumer confidence has waned recently, with a steady supply of exposés of shoddy, unsafe or fake products. One local survey found that 80% of more than 3,000 people polled considered China’s food safety wanting.

Mao Qiying, an IT analyst with a large following on Chinese social media, also contends that Chinese tech firms like Huawei and ZTE have a tough time entering the U.S. market because of Washington’s concerns that these Chinese firms could be coerced into doing Beijing’s bidding. “The Chinese government,” Mao says, “is more lenient towards Western tech giants compared with the American government’s attitude toward Chinese tech companies.” In May, the U.S. charged five Chinese military officers with hacking into American computer networks from across the Pacific Ocean.

Chinese officials have accused the U.S. of national-security hypocrisy in the post-Edward Snowden era. As for the Chinese consumers themselves, even Xinhua, which on Monday linked tech companies like Apple to a “U.S. surveillance addiction,” conceded that commonly used anti-virus software employs similar technology to the tracking systems in Apple devices. Fears over an American invasion of Chinese privacy haven’t dampened iPhone sales in China either. Last quarter, Apple enjoyed a 28% hike in greater China revenues.

Meanwhile, on Chinese social media, some users were scathing of Beijing’s attempts to censure foreigners for potential antitrust violations. On July 28, China announced that by the end of 2013, the nation boasted 155,000 state-owned enterprises with total assets amounting to $17 trillion. “Will anyone investigate the government’s monopoly on the water, power or petroleum industry?” wrote one microblog wag.

with reporting by Gu Yongqiang/Beijing

TIME Middle East

Civilian Casualties in Gaza Slated to Rise as Israel, Hamas Intensify Fighting

Palestinians search for victims as people gather atop the remains of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 29, 2014.
Palestinians search for victims as people gather atop the remains of a house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on July 29, 2014. Ibraheem Abu Mustafa—Reuters

Any semblance of a possible ceasefire in the restive Palestinian coastal strip withered as fighting intensified throughout Monday night and into Tuesday morning

Chances of peace in the Gaza Strip looked very remote Tuesday morning, as Hamas militants penetrated Israel, and Israeli forces ratcheted up their military offensive in the Palestinian coastal territory.

Israeli aircraft, artillery and ground troops continued to pummel the conflict-ridden enclave after a raft of proposed humanitarian truces discussed over the weekend ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid el-Fitr ultimately failed to take root.

Live feeds broadcasted online throughout Monday night and into the early hours of Tuesday provided outsiders with a glimpse of the grim reality of life inside the besieged territory, as Operation Protective Edge entered its third week. Drones hummed out of sight and illumination flares cast an eerie light over Gaza’s skyline, while explosions rumbled in the darkness.

“[Israel] did a very, intensive bombing campaign last night that most people in Gaza say was the worst night of this conflict so far,” Nathan Thrall, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group’s Middle East and North Africa Program, tells TIME.

On Tuesday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) targeted the home of senior Hamas figure Ismail Haniyeh with aerial bombardments. The Al Shorouq building in central Gaza City, which is home to a television station affiliated with Hamas, was also hit with airstrikes. Despite the onslaught, the Hamas leadership struck a defiant tone.

“My house is not more valuable than the houses of other people, destroying stones will not break our determination,” said Haniyeh, according to a statement posted by his son on Facebook.

Earlier on Monday, Israeli media reported that Hamas forces succeeded in entering the country by way of an underground tunnel — the sixth such foray since hostilities erupted earlier this month. At least five Israeli soldiers and one militant were killed during the firefight that erupted near the site of the infiltration.

Following the attack, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the airwaves to warn of a prolonged war with Hamas.

“Patience and determination are needed in order to continue the struggle against a murderous terrorist organization that aspires to our destruction,” he said.

“We will not complete the mission, we will not complete the operation, without neutralizing the tunnels, the sole purpose of which is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children.”

The Netanyahu Administration has pledged on myriad occasions to continue the ground offensive inside Gaza that began more than a week ago with the goal of dismantling a network of tunnels permeating Israel’s borders.

However, analysts say it’s unlikely the administration has any interest in deploying a full ground incursion in order to re-occupy dense urban areas of the Strip or upping their goals to include disarming Hamas.

“He’s limiting the scope of the operation, setting limited goals that are achievable so that he cannot be as easily accused of failure when it’s all over,” says Thrall.

But as the operation enters its 22nd day, the civilians of Gaza continue to bear the harshest burnt of the Israeli military operation.

The latest audit by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs put the kill count in Gaza at 1,065, a vast majority of which are believed to be civilians including hundreds of women and children. More than 50 Israeli have also died during the fighting, most of whom are soldiers.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reportedly began inundating at least three Gaza neighborhoods in the past 24 hours with leaflets warning thousands of residents to evacuate the area ahead of an approaching assault. In response, the U.N. warned Israel against continuing with an intensified push into residential areas.

“This would have a further devastating humanitarian impact on the beleaguered civilians of those areas of the Gaza Strip, who have already undergone immense suffering in recent days,” read a statement released by the spokesperson for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“The United Nations agencies present in Gaza do not have the resources on the ground to cope with, or provide assistance to, an enormous extra influx of desperate people.”

The fighting to date has displaced an estimated 215,000 people in Gaza.

TIME North Korea

North Korea Denies Selling Missiles to Hamas

SKOREA-NKOREA-MILITARY-MISSILE
Visitors walk past replicas of a North Korean Scud-B missile, right, and South Korean Hawk surface-to-air missiles, left, at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul on March 3, 2014 Jung Yeon-Je—AFP/Getty Images

Earlier report by British newspaper claimed a secret weapons deal was in the works

On Dec. 12, 2009, a Georgia-registered cargo plane made an emergency landing in Bangkok. The manifest said it was carrying drilling equipment, but working on a tip from U.S. intelligence, Thai authorities decided to check. Inside the hold, they found some 35 tons of North Korean–made weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, rocket launchers and grenades. Officials said the plane was likely bound for Iran, and its cargo to Hamas and Hizballah.

North Korea’s international reputation has become so tied to Kim Jong Un memes that it is easy to lose sight of the country’s real-life role in the global arms trade. Starved for foreign currency, North Korea has a long history of manufacturing and selling weapons, including, according to U.S. officials, deals with Syria and Iran. Earlier this month, a U.S. judge found North Korea and Iran liable for missile attacks by Hizballah in 2006. On July 28, the U.N. imposed sanctions on the North Korean company that operated a ship carrying undeclared Cuban weapons that was seized by Panama authorities last year.

Now a British newspaper says North Korea is negotiating a secret deal to sell missiles to Hamas. On July 26, the Daily Telegraph’s Con Coughlin published a report claiming that Hamas paid the Hermit Kingdom “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for missiles and communication equipment in a deal brokered by a Lebanon-based security company. The story was based on information from an unnamed Western security official who reportedly told the London-based paper that “Pyongyang already has close ties with a number of militant Islamist groups in the Middle East.”

The report has not been independently confirmed; however, it would, theoretically, make sense for both parties. Thanks to U.N. sanctions, the market for North Korean weapons is shrinking, says Daniel Pinkston, a Northeast Asia expert at the International Crisis Group. “The incentives are there to sell arms to earn hard currency,” he says, and amid the ongoing conflict with Israel, “Hamas has an incentive to buy.” But there are still a lot questions: If the report is true, when, where and how would the deal take place?

For its part, North Korea denied any involvement — and did so, of course, with exactly the kind of verbose bluster that fuels the North Korea meme machine. “This is utterly baseless sophism and sheer fiction let loose by the U.S. to isolate the DPRK internationally,” said a Foreign Ministry spokesman, according to the state-backed Korean Central News Agency.

The news agency went on to berate Washington for its stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Lurking behind this propaganda is a sinister intention of the U.S. to justify its criminal acts of backing Israel driven into a tight corner by its recent unethical killings in the Gaza Strip.” It is the U.S., it said, not Pyongyang, that is the “kingdom of terrorism and chief culprit of international terrorism.”

TIME Australia

Bloodcurdling Images of Australian Jihadists Puts ‘Lucky Country’ on Edge

Australians protest Israeli attacks in Melbourne
Thousands of people stage a demonstration to protest the Israeli ongoing attacks in Gaza on July 26, 2014, in Melbourne, Australia. Recep Sakar—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Shocking photos emerge amid fears that the worsening conflict in Gaza will only prompt more young radical Muslims to enter the fray

The phenomenon of Australian jihadists fighting in the Middle East took a disturbing new turn last week when photos of a Caucasian man in mujahedin fatigues holding decapitated heads were posted on Twitter.

It follows the uploading last month of a YouTube video by the extremist Sunni group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) of two men with thick Australian accents calling on Westerners to join their violent quest to create a Muslim caliphate.

One of the pair, a teenager from Melbourne identified in the video as Abu Bakr al-Australi, later detonated an explosive belt in a crowded Baghdad marketplace, killing five people and wounding 90 more. He was the second Australian suicide bomber praised by ISIS in recent weeks; an estimated 200 Australian jihadists are currently fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The figure puts Australia in the unenviable position as the highest foreign per capita contributor to the conflict in the Middle East, and providing the largest contingent of foreign fighters from a developed nation. And there are fears that the worsening conflict in Gaza will only prompt more radical young Muslims to enter the fray.

“The government is gravely concerned by the fact that Australian citizens are heading to Iraq and Syria not only to fight but to take leadership roles,” Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said in parliament last week. She paused before adding, “There’s a real danger that these extremists also come back home as trained terrorists and pose a threat to our security.”

The man holding the decapitated heads in the Twitter feed turned out to be Khaled Sharrouf, a boxer from Sydney who was jailed for four years in 2005 for his role in planning the most serious terrorist plot Australia has ever seen. Despite his notoriety, Sharrouf managed to flee while on parole in January by using his brother’s passport to board a flight from Sydney to Southeast Asia from where he made his way to Syria.

The security breakdown has made Canberra redouble efforts to protect the nation from jihadists in the event they return home. Earlier this month, the attorney general’s office added ISIS to its list of terrorists organizations, making it a crime for an Australian to join them punishable with up to 25 years imprisonment.

On advice from intelligence agencies, the Foreign Ministry has canceled the passports of 40 Australians suspected of extremist links. More than $700 million in additional funding will be injected into customs and border patrol over the next six years. In 2015 the service will be streamlined under a tough new national-security agency named the Australian Border Force.

Professor Gary Bouma, acting director of the Global Terrorism Research Centre at Melbourne’s Monash University, agrees that returning jihadists pose “a very serious problem, as they will be ideologically energized.” But he adds some will have been pacified after witnessing the “hideous gore of battle and the unrighteousness of all sides.”

“The first thing that needs to happen is those people need to be reintegrated into society,” Bouma says. “That means counseling, getting them a job and ensuring their cultural and social needs are met. It’s a much healthier approach than isolating them.”

The leader of an Australian Muslim organization who spoke to TIME on condition of anonymity says calling foreign combatants in Syria “terrorists” was wrong, as many had gone there to protect family members from President Bashar Assad’s repressive regime, which has unleashed torture, mass killings, starvation and chemical weapons upon Syrian civilians.

“The idea of them being terrorists just because they go to fight overseas, that is not a fair thing to say,” he says. “It’s also unreasonable to say just because they fought in Syria that they’re going to do the same thing when they come back home. There will always be one or two crazy fanatics among them, but they’re a minority. They’d have to be really misguided to try something here.”

Another community leader, Samier Dandan, president of the Lebanese Muslim Association, has accused the government of double standards by outlawing those who fight in Syria while allowing others, namely members of Australia’s Jewish community, to join the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

“It’s hard when you say something to one side, and they look and say ‘How come we’re not being treated the same?’ The law should be across everyone,” Dandan told the Australian Associated Press.

However, Rafael Epstein, author of Prisoner X, a book about an Australian lawyer who fought with the IDF and worked as an operative with Israel’s spy agency, Mossad, before going rogue, insists Dandan’s comparison is flawed.

“What he is saying is someone who fights for Israel will be just as radicalized and have just as many [warring] skills to pose a security risk to Australia,” Epstein says. “But the values under which someone would fight for Israel, a democratic country with the rule of law, are very different to the values someone would fight for under ISIS, and they’d be much closer to Australia’s values than ISIS’s.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott agrees. “The best thing we can do … is to ensure that jihadis do not come back to this country,” he said last month.

Whether that will be enough to maintain Australia’s record as one of the few major U.S. military partners in Afghanistan and Iraq to not have suffered a terrorist attack on its own soil remains open for discussion.

“U can’t stop me and trust me if I wanted to attack aus [sic] I could have easily,” tweeted convicted terrorist Khaled Sharrouf in a message taunting Australian federal police posted from the battleground in Syria. “I love to slaughter use [sic] and ALLAH LOVES when u dogs r slaughtered.”

TIME Japan

Japanese Heat Wave Leaves 15 Dead, Thousands Hospitalized

Summer Heat Continues Across Japan
People walk under strong sunshine on July 25, 2014, in Osaka, Japan The Asahi Shimbun/Getty Images

Even so, temperatures have not yet surpassed last summer, the hottest in the country's history

At least 15 people have died as a heat wave sweeps over Japan, bringing temperatures above 35°C (95°F) and sending an additional 8,000 people to the hospital with symptoms of heatstroke, Agence France-Presse reports.

By midafternoon on Tuesday, the mercury had climbed above 32°C (90°F) in Kumagaya, a famously hot city about 70 km (45 miles) northwest of Tokyo. In the capital, things were only marginally cooler.

This is not, however, anything especially new. Last summer marked Japan’s hottest on record, with temperatures reaching 41°C (106°F) in some parts of the archipelago.

[AFP]

TIME Iran

Rights Group Urges Iran to Release Detained American Journalist

Washington Post Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian, right, and his Iranian wife Yeganeh Salehi, who works for the the National, an UAE newspaper, during a Foreign Ministry weekly press conference in Tehran on Sept. 10, 2013 EPA

Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian and three others have been detained for one week at an undisclosed location

Iran should immediately free or charge the three journalists, including Washington Post correspondent Jason Rezaian, who were detained a week ago in Tehran, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Iran’s abysmal record on press freedom and this spate of arrests raises a red flag,” HRW’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director Eric Goldstein said in a statement. “The burden now is on Iran’s judiciary to quickly investigate and order their release unless there is hard evidence that they have committed substantive crimes, not merely exercised their right to free speech.”

Four unidentified agents arrested Rezaian, his wife Yeganeh Salehi, an unnamed photojournalist and her spouse in Rezaian’s home on the night of July 22, Rezaian’s mother Mary Breme Rezaian told HRW. Three days later, the head of Tehran’s judiciary Gholamhossein Esmaeili said that Rezaian had “been detained for some questions,” offering no further explanation.

Iranian authorities have not disclosed where the four are held, allowed them access to legal counsel or permitted visits by Swiss consular officials, who represent U.S. interests in Iran. Rezaian’s mother says that if her son is not provided with his blood medication, his health is being compromised.

Rezaian, the photojournalist and her spouse are dual American and Iranian citizens, according to the Post, while Salehi, an Iranian journalist for United Arab Emirates–based the National, is an Iranian who has applied for U.S. permanent residency. Over the past two months, Iranian authorities have also arrested or summoned at least seven local journalists for questioning or to serve lengthy prison terms. Reporters Without Borders stated on July 25 that Iran is currently detaining “65 journalists and netizens in prison — five of them foreign nationals.”

“These latest arrests, coming hard on the heels of other cases of arrest and imprisonment of journalists, suggests that little has changed with respect to freedom of expression almost a year after President Hassan Rouhani swept to power on a promise of reform,” Goldstein said. “Rouhani may have little control over all-power security, intelligence, and judicial apparatus, but silence in the face of such repression is deafening.”

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