Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Where In God’s Name Is President Obama? — “The world would very much respect his increased attention on this matter”

July 23, 2014

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said yesterday, “I’m not going to tell the president what to do, but I think the world would very much respect his increased attention on this matter, and I think there ought to be increased attention.’

Fundraiser in Chief?

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  • President Barack Obama will attend a string of events in Washington in California benefiting Democrats throughout the next three days
  • But even members of the president’s own political party are growing concerned about the optics of his trip
  • This is the second set of fundraisers Obama has attended since MH17 was shot down over Ukraine last week
  • The White House says Obama can ‘fulfill his responsibilities’ from anywhere but will come back to Washington if need be

By Francesca Chambers

 

President Barack Obama will embark on another fundraising trip today – his second since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 – leading a top Democrat to join the chorus of lawmakers voicing concerns that the Commander in Chief’s priorities are misplaced.

Asked about Obama’s three-day fundraising swing down the West Coast this week, California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said yesterday that the president ought to put more energy into working with the international community to tackle the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the Ukraine and Gaza.

‘This is a very hard time,’ she told MSNBC. ‘I’m not going to tell the president what to do, but I think the world would very much respect his increased attention on this matter, and I think there ought to be increased attention.’

Campaigner in chief: President Barack Obama boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, just before flying off to Seattle, Washington, to fundraisers benefiting the Democratic Party

 

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is in Cairo, meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi trying to negotiate a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas

After learning of the Malaysia Airlines crash last week, the president grabbed a burger and gave two speeches to donors in New York.

The White House said the president talked to the relevant world leaders on the phone during his trip to New York on Air Force One and spoke with Secretary of State John Kerry and his national security team on the ground before continuing on to the fundraisers.

But that wasn’t enough for Arizona Sen. John McCain, who sits on the Armed Services committee.

‘I don’t understand this president … this is what we used to call in the military A-W-O-L,’ McCain, a former military POW told Fox News. ‘There’s a direct loss of American lives here and the president goes to a fundraiser? Help me out.’

It was later determined that only one American was among the 298 people killed with the plane that was shot down over the Ukraine but that information had not yet been disclosed at the time of McCain’s remarks.

remarks.

President Obama will tie up rush hour traffic in Seattle, Washington, when he drops in today to raise money for the Democratic National Committee at former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal's water front home. Sinegal's home is the one in the middle

This afternoon President Obama will depart for Seattle, Washington, where he will stop by two events benefiting Democrats, then rush off to California for two more days of fundraising.

The first fundraiser is being hosted by real estate mogul and former Obama campaign bundler Bruce Blume and his wife Ann.

NO KIMMEL APPEARANCE FOR OBAMA

The White House repudiated a report yesterday from TMZ that President Obama would be appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Wednesday during his trip to Hollywood.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed to the LA Times that Kimmel had invited Obama on the show but claimed the White House declined his offer.

‘In advance of the trip, we’ve been in touch with Kimmel’s folks about the president doing his show,’ Earnest said.

‘We elected not to do it this time, but hope we can arrange to do it in the near future.’

The Democratic National Committee event will be held at their 10,000 square foot mansion in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood in the Puget Sound area. Roughly 250 guests will attend the event, with tickets costing $500 – $10,000 a person.

The second Seattle event will take place at former Costco CEO Jim Sinegal’s home at Hunt’s Point and is co-hosted by Tom and Sonya Campion.

Tom Campion is the founder of Zumiez, a clothing store for skaters. Sinegal spoke in favor of Obama’s economic policies at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

The $25,0000 a head fundraiser is being held on behalf of Senate Majority PAC, a political action committee working to help Democrats keep control of the Senate.

Obama will only be in Washington long enough to disrupt rush hour traffic before he flies off to San Francisco, where he plans to attend a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee event on Wednesday hosted by real estate developer George Marcus.

Entry to the Los Altos Hills events ranges from $10,000 a person to $32,400 a couple.

 

More…

The following day he leaves the Bay Area for Hollywood. There, he’ll attend two Democratic National Committee fundraisers – the first of which is at the Hancock Park home of Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes – and give a speech on the economy at the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College before retuning to Washington, D.C. on Thursday night.

OBAMA DROPS BY THE NETHERLANDS EMBASSY TO GIVE HIS CONDOLENCES

President Obama made an unscheduled stop at the Dutch embassy this morning to sign the country’s condolence book.

In his note Obama said: ‘On behalf of the American people, I extend our deepest condolences to the people of the Netherlands as they mourn the loss of so many family and friends.

‘No words can adequately express the sorrow the world feels over this loss. It is made more acute by the deep ties of friendship between our two countries.

‘Bound by that friendship, we will not rest until we are certain that justice is done.’

Tickets to the Rhimes event, which is being co-hosted by Scandal star Kerry Washington, start at $1,000. Attendees who want to have their photo taken with Obama will have to pay the standard $10,000 a person fee. To be a host, one must max out to the DNC at $32,400.

Obama is also slated to participate in a roundtable discussion with 30 Democratic donors at Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino’s home before traveling he leaves Los Angeles. Tickets to the intimate event with the president are also $32,400.

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, this week marks Obama’s nineteenth trip to the L.A. area since he took office in 2009 and his third trip there in the last months.

Before Obama’s recent stretch of fundraisers, CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller determined that Obama had attended 393 fundraisers from the time he took office through the beginning of July. At the same point in George W. Bush’s presidency, Knoller says Bush had only appeared at 216.

President Obama made an unscheduled stop at the Dutch embassy today to sign the book of condolence for the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 disaster

Typically, the president is greeted by Senator Diane Feinstein when he travels to California, as pictured here in November. Feinstein won’t be on hand today when the president visits her home state, however. Feinstein said yesterday Obama ought to pay ‘increased attention’ to global conflicts

The White House pushed back on suggestions yesterday that the President Obama should consider cutting back on his fundraising schedule until conflicts abroad die down.

‘As was demonstrated last week when the President was on the road and two of these crises flared up, the President was able to fulfill his responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief and as the leader of this country from the road,’ White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

‘The President’s top priority and the top priority of the staff here at the White House,’ Earnest said, ‘is making sure that the President is able to do his job in terms of managing the United States’ involvement in these crises. ‘

Earnest noted that Obama travels with staff and communications equipment and ‘fulfill his responsibilities’ from anywhere.

‘And if it becomes clear that there’s a need for him to come back to the White House in order to fulfill those functions, then we’ll make a change in his schedule,’ Earnest concluded. ‘Right now it’s not apparent that that’s the case.’

Likewise, White House Communications Director,Jennifer Palmieri the told The New York Times: ‘It is rarely a good idea to return to the White House just for show when the situation can be handled from the road.’

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC’s Mike Barnicle yesterday that she doesn’t think the president is ‘kind of remote,’ as he put it, but if others do, that signals a problem.

‘While I disagree with the characterization, if that’s the impression people have, then communication has to be stepped up,’ she said.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2701447/Obama-criticized-Democrat-Feinstein-skipping-town-three-day-fundraising-trip-LA-middle-four-global-crises.html#ixzz38GrlDdjP Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

 

 

Is Putin About To Change?

July 22, 2014

In a security meeting today, Putin said Russia would try to rein in Ukraine’s rebels. He also effectively told media and politicians that the country is not under Western siege – and to stop repeating that claim.

By Fred Weir

Vladimir Putin opened a special meeting of the Kremlin’s Security Council today with an odd statement: “There is no direct military threat to our country’s sovereignty or territorial integrity at present,” he said.

To a Western ear, that might sound like belaboring the obvious. For a Russian audience today, it’s a jarring note for their leader to strike.

Mr. Putin’s statement flatly contradicts what the domestic media have been saying for months. Just days ago, Russian outlets were warning of a White House “offensive against Russia and China,” with the US trying to create “instability on Russia’s borders.” Putin himself earlier this month claimed that Russia’s annexation of Crimea was to forestall NATO from getting a foothold in Ukraine.

Recommended: Sochi, Soviets, and tsars: How much do you know about Russia?

“If you’ve been reading the Russian press and watching TV over the past few months you would have gotten an entirely different impression,” that the country was in a state of emergency and facing imminent peril, says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Moscow-based foreign policy journal “Russia in Global Affairs.”

 

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin arrives for a meeting of the Security Council in the Kremlin, Moscow, today.

Russian experts say that Putin’s sudden reversal is a clear sign he is looking to ratchet down the domestic anxieties and anti-Western attitudes that have been rife since the Ukraine crisis erupted about five months ago. And perhaps most significantly, it’s time to end the siege mentality.

“Domestically, he’s calling that off,” Mr. Lukyanov says. “His core message to the West seems to be that we are ready to be flexible. Russia is in no mood to escalate the confrontation, and it’s possible we could do some deal on non-recognition of the Ukrainian insurgents,” he adds.

CHANGING COURSE

Russia has been facing growing isolation, and escalating threats of sanctions, due to its alleged support for east Ukraine’s anti-Kiev insurgency. That has shifted into high gear since the downing of Malaysian flight MH17 last Thursday, which increasingly looks to have been done by Russian-backed Ukrainian rebels.

But Putin today pointed out that Russia supports a full independent investigation of the accident. Moreover, he added the intriguing suggestion that Moscow might be ready to use its leverage on the rebels if there is a serious peace process.

“We are urged to exert influence on the self-defense fighters of the southeast. Let me repeat again, we’ll of course do everything that is in our power,” he said. “But that won’t be enough.”

That looks like Putin is looking for ways to extricate Russia from its messy involvement in post-revolutionary Ukraine, and particularly the increasingly out-of-control eastern rebels, says Dmitry Oreshkin, head of the Mercator Group, a Moscow-based media consultancy.

“All attempts to support rebellion in eastern Ukraine have failed. There is no small victorious war down there,” just a growing disaster, he says. “I think Putin wants to be rid of that, and concentrate all Russia’s political efforts on defending its annexation of Crimea last March. Basically, this is an effort by Putin to save face,” he adds.

 

Among other things, Putin stressed that Russia is a reliable business partner, one that wishes to be part of the global community and will “never turn to isolationism.”  He voiced greater confidence than he has in the past that Russia is immune to the kind of “colored revolution” that has led in the past decade to disorderly power shifts in next-door post-Soviet states, primarily Georgia and Ukraine. And he even seemed to pledge a halt in the Kremlin’s crackdown on liberal opponents and civil society activists who have been actively targeted by a raft of new laws as agents of “foreign” influence.

 

PLAN A OR PLAN B?

Since annexing Crimea, Putin has enjoyed public approval ratings of over 80 percent. “The fact that he mentioned the threat of ‘colored revolution’ is an indication of his [ongoing] fears,” says Boris Makarenko, chairman of the independent Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. “But, in practical terms, a leader with over 65 percent public rating isn’t facing a realistic threat of revolution.”

But with serious economic sanctions looming, and Russia’s economy already stagnating, Putin is probably exploring a “Plan A” that would involve rolling back tensions with the West, helping to broker a political settlement in Ukraine, and easing the political crackdown at home, says Gleb Pavolovsky, a former member of Putin’s inner circle who has since turned critic.

“Most of Putin’s speech was directed at an internal audience, and leaving aside his worries about ‘colored revolutions’ it was mostly an appeal to reason,” he says.

It was primarily a message for all the various factions around Putin to drop their differences and get behind disengagement in Ukraine and conciliation with the West, because the only alternative – “Plan B” – is something very few members of the Russian elite would actually want: “That would be to close the doors and accept a state of maximum isolation for Russia,” Mr. Pavlovsky says.

http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2014/0722/Did-Putin-just-bring-Russia-in-from-the-cold

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End The Bloodshed: Demilitarize Gaza

July 22, 2014

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By Michael B. Oren

Los Angeles Times
Op-Ed

The key to ending the current battle between Hamas and Israel — and preventing more fighting in the future — is the demilitarization of Gaza. Simply put, Hamas without rockets is not the same Hamas.

That solution, though seemingly uncomplicated, has given rise to questions about its practicality. Is it possible? Are there precedents? How could disarmament be implemented and its permanence assured? And who would lead the effort, guaranteeing that removing rockets from Gaza would benefit Palestinians and Israelis alike and advance the cause of peace?

Demilitarization indeed has precedents, beginning with the 1982 evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization from Beirut. While Israeli troops besieged the city, the U.N. Security Council enacted Resolutions 508 and 509, which created an international force to facilitate the PLO’s exit. Similarly, today, the Security Council could authorize international action to oversee Gaza’s disarmament. Rockets, mortars and other heavy weapons could then be safely transported to a designated site and destroyed.

More specific models for demilitarization are contained in the reports submitted by Sen. George Mitchell and CIA Director George Tenet at the height of the second intifada in 2001. Both recommended creating a Palestinian state in stages, beginning with the disarming of Palestinian factions. That process would be carried out by the Palestinian Authority — currently confined to the West Bank — which recognized Israel and committed to the peace process. The Mitchell and Tenet proposals remain integral to U.S. policy. The Obama administration supports the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state.

President Obama also provided the most recent precedent for demilitarizing Gaza: the removal of chemical weapons from Syria. By threatening to use military force against Damascus, the president persuaded Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to surrender his chemical arsenal. Once considered the source of the chemical weapons problem, Assad became a partner in resolving it.

Hamas could do the same. Largely friendless in the world and facing numerous adversaries, Hamas could trade its rockets for at least implicit recognition of its status in Gaza. It could be compensated with international aid for Gaza’s civilians, the reopening of border crossings and the easing of Israel’s maritime blockade. Hamas could also become part of the solution.

So, too, must the Palestinian Authority. In recent days, President Mahmoud Abbas offered to deploy his American-trained security forces at strategic points on Gaza’s borders. Adding disarmament to these forces’ task would strengthen moderate Palestinians and establish the principle — fundamental to sovereignty — that their government is maintaining a monopoly over armed power. According to a Palestinian survey taken last month, 88% of Gaza’s population favors the stationing of disciplined Palestinian Authority forces in the area. Gaza guarded by Palestinian Authority policemen from the West Bank is less likely to become a launching pad for missile attacks against Israel.

None of these measures can happen without leadership. The United States must unite with international and regional governments to convince Hamas that it has no choice but to demilitarize. Other states — Qatar and Turkey — must affirm that their aid to Gaza will be used to build hospitals and schools rather than military bunkers and attack tunnels. The Israelis must be reassured that inspectors will remain in Gaza to prevent Hamas attempts at rearmament. And the Palestinian Authority must be guaranteed that assuming security responsibilities in Gaza is a step toward, rather than a detour from, independence.

Still, even with precedents and effective leadership, Hamas is sure to cling bitterly to its rockets. And unlike the Hamas tunnels, which can be destroyed by a limited Israeli incursion, silencing the rocket fire may require reoccupying most of Gaza. That is why Israel must be allowed to maintain — and, if necessary, escalate — its pressure on Hamas. Just as a credible military threat provided the leverage for extracting the PLO from Beirut and for convincing Assad to relinquish Syria’s chemical weapons, so too must Israel’s operations, crucial to defending its citizens from almost 1,900 Hamas rockets, be recognized as legitimate by the international community.

This may be the greatest challenge en route to demilitarization. Though Israel will continue to exercise extraordinary caution to minimize innocent casualties, combating an enemy that uses civilians as human shields will invariably prove controversial. The painful images of human suffering must not deprive us — Israelis and Palestinians — of the opportunity to restore our daily lives and reopen possibilities for peace.

Michael B. Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, holds the chair in international diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya and is a fellow at the Atlantic Council.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

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During one phone call with President Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “had to interrupt the conversation with the President of the United States to go to a shelter. People can’t live that way,” Kerry said.

The United States supports Egypt’s initiative for a cease-fire and “will work for a fair cease-fire,” he said. The United States has “shown our willingness to try to deal with the underlying issues,” but Hamas “must step up and show a level of reasonableness,” he said.

“No country, no human being, is comfortable with children being killed, with people being killed, but we’re not comfortable with Israeli soldiers being killed either or with people being rocketed in Israel.”

“Hamas uses civilians as shields,” he said. “They fire from a home and draw the fire into the home.”

Israel announced Sunday it would open a field hospital at the Erez Crossing to treat injured Palestinians. On Saturday, the defense forces delivered truckloads of medical supplies to Gaza.

Overnight, Hamas fired rockets from Shaja’ia toward Israel. The militant group also turned down an invitation by Egypt to talk about a cease-fire initiative that Cairo had proposed.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, said on Aqsa TV on Saturday that there would be no truce or surrender while Israel is attacking.

Israel agreed to a two-hour cease-fire Sunday, at the request of the Red Cross, to allow Palestinian emergency medical workers to tend to the wounded and dead in Shaja’ia, the IDF said. But the fighting continued.

The IDF blamed Hamas, saying the militant group fired at Israeli ground forces.

Hamas blamed Israel, saying its forces shelled Shaja’ia, striking ambulances that tried to enter the area.

Netanyahu called on the international community to “undertake a program to demilitarize Gaza” in the future.

The situation is “unacceptable” because of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Netanyahu told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview Sunday

“These people are the worst terrorists — genocidal terrorists. They call for the destruction of Israel and they call for the killing of every Jew, wherever they can find them.”

Hamas fighters in Gaza “don’t care” about the dying people around them, Netanyahu said.

Israel has enabled the shipment of concrete into Gaza for buildings, hospitals, and schools, but the militants use hundreds of tons of it for each tunnel, Netanyahu said.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, speaking to Al-Jazeera, said Israel committed “a crime against humanity,” and that most of those killed in Shaja’ia were women and children. “Our people will not sit idle in front of this brutal aggression.”

He called on the Palestinian Authority, in the West Bank, to “stop its security coordination with the occupation” and to “stop suppressing the demonstrations in the West Bank.” He also said “the Arab world should not sit idle.”

In Shaja’ia, bodies lay in streets beside gashes blasted into apartment buildings, said people who had escaped the violence.

A towering column of black smoke rose over the town, and video showed a helicopter gunship overhead. Ambulances rushed up to take the wounded to hospitals, where moments later, they were rolled into triage.

Many of the wounded were hit inside their homes, the Gaza Health Ministry said. Incoming rounds struck some ambulances and hindered paramedics from picking up some of the injured.

One paramedic died in the shelling, Gaza Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Ashraf al-Qedra said on Hamas-run Aqsa TV. He said injured people were waiting on hospital floors and in hallways for treatment.

On the Israeli side of the border, the sound of outgoing artillery fire thundered every few seconds, as tanks and other military vehicles gathered for a potentially larger incursion.

The IDF is adding more troops to the ground incursion it began on Thursday, after more than a week of airstrikes.

The Israeli government has repeatedly said that, unlike Palestinian militants, the IDF does not target civilians and works to avoid innocent casualties.

But in Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, more than 70% of those killed in the hail of artillery and airstrikes have been civilians, according to the United Nations.

A fifth were children. More than 40% of Gaza’s population is 14 years old or younger.

About 70,000 Palestinians have taken refuge in U.N. schools, Robert Turner, the director of U.N. efforts in Gaza, said Sunday. The United Nations has been investigating a cache of rockets used by militants found in a U.N. school.

Leaders from the United States and Europe last week expressed public support for Israel’s right to defend itself against missiles from Gaza.

The-CNN-Wire

Iran is pushing limits on nuclear deal — Have they out smarted everyone?

July 22, 2014

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Iran nuclear talks

A 2007 photo shows a technician inspecting equipment at the site of a uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, Iran. (Abedin Taherkenareh / European Pressphoto Agency)

By Paul Richter
The Los Angeles Times

hen Iran and the world powers trying to negotiate a nuclear deal announced late Friday that they would extend their five-month-old talks for an additional four months, they said they had been making “tangible progress” toward a deal.

But a former member of President Obama’s inner circle on the Iran issue says Iran is actually moving further from the six world powers on the most important issue of all: how much uranium enrichment capacity the Islamic Republic will be entitled to retain.

Robert Einhorn, who was a special advisor on arms control at the State Department until May 2013, says the Iranians have been quietly extending what they claim they are entitled to on enrichment — what Einhorn calls “rights creep.”

He warns these demands could gridlock the negotiations.

Einhorn’s views carry some weight. He is not among those who have been opposed to deal-making from the start. Rather, he has been a supporter of the diplomacy, acknowledges there has been important progress on some issues, and favors the extension.

But he has been worried that the enrichment issue could be an insurmountable stumbling block.

Einhorn, now with the Brookings Institution, wrote in an article for the think tank’s website Saturday that for years Iran pushed to have the West acknowledge its right to enrich uranium.

Last year, the Obama administration publicly acknowledged for the first time that it could support Iran having a domestic enrichment program. But now Iran has gone further, contending that it is entitled to produce enough enriched uranium to supply what it hopes will be a huge nuclear power generation program.

The Iranians are now insisting that they be able to have that capability by 2021, although the six powers are demanding, so far, that the deal restricting Iranian nuclear capability should last at least 10 years.

Iran’s growing demands became publicly apparent July 7, when Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in a major speech that Iran needed an enrichment capacity that would require more than 100,000 first-generation centrifuges.

The six powers’ opening demand was that Iran be limited to 500 to 1,200 first-generation centrifuges.

Some advocates for a deal have insisted that Khamenei’s statements were a positive sign, because he showed flexibility in indicating that he wasn’t seeking this huge capacity right away. But Einhorn quotes Ali-Akhbar Salehi, head of Iran’s nuclear agency, as clarifying that, in fact, Iran wants the infrastructure in place by 2021.

Last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif disclosed that he had proposed that Iran be allowed to keep running its current operating inventory of 9,400 centrifuges, while not expanding it during the deal. Some Western officials, perhaps eager for signs of progress, claimed this showed a new flexibility from Tehran.

To the contrary, says Einhorn, Tehran’s position is now quite assertive.

Instead of cutting back its capacity to a fraction of what it is today, as the six are now demanding, it wants to keep operating all the machines that are now producing; pursue unlimited research and development; limit the duration of the deal to eight years or less; and be free to expand to industrial scale once the deal lapses.

If Iran sticks to these demands when talks resume, “it will ensure continued deadlock,” Einhorn warned.

Follow @Richtpau for news about U.S. foreign affairs

While Nations Grieve, Putin Comes Under Fire for Arming Rebels in Ukraine

July 22, 2014

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Obama said the costs for Russia’s behavior in Ukraine will only grow if Putin doesn’t cooperate.

The Associated Press

 

Vladimir Putin is being blamed for hamstringing the investigation of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

By
U.S. News and World Report

Lawmakers in Congress are calling on the U.S. to take a hard line against Russian President Vladimir Putin after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday. The crash, which left 298 passengers dead in Ukraine’s Donetsk region, is largely believed to be the work of a surface-to-air missile fired by Russian-backed rebels. Putin has refused to recognize the rebels’ role in the crisis, instead calling on Ukrainian officials to “acknowledge their responsibility before their own people.”

Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the U.S. isn’t doing enough to hold Putin accountable. On Fox News Sunday, Menendez said he pushed for more aggressive sanctions to target Russia and insisted Putin was clearly to blame for training and supplying armaments to the rebels. “I think that the West, including the United States, has to have a far more significant response than we’ve seen to date,” said Menendez. Corker agreed, saying he was “incredibly discouraged” by both the U.S. and Europe’s response to the crash.

One day before the crash, the U.S. imposed new economic sanctions on Russia that target the country’s profitable oil and gas sectors. Putin condemned the Obama administration, saying the sanctions harm “the national long-term interests of the American state and the American people.” Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Segei A. Ryabkov, said that Putin’s government would retaliate with “quite painful and serious” actions.

But some say the sanctions could turn the political tide and damage Russia significantly. Forbes’ Doug Schoen said hurting the Russian economy could be the only way to grab Putin’s attention. “Putin has shown time and time again that he does not take diplomatic overtures all that seriously,” notes Schoen. He added that the U.S. must be prepared to “ratchet up the strength of the sanctions even further if need be.”

Putin’s refusal to cooperate with an investigation at the crash site has only deepened calls for action. Russian-backed separatists have been strongly criticized for removing evidence from the site and mishandling victims’ bodies and remains. Those that have been recovered were placed unceremoniously into refrigerated cars and remain stuck in Ukraine’s rebel-controlled territory. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott called the situation “shambolic,” and Dutch prosecutors have begun investigating the crash on suspicion of war crimes.

Speaking Monday from the White House, President Obama urged Putin to “get serious” about resolving the crisis and compel Russian separatists to allow investigators proper access to the site. “That is the least they can do,” he said. Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte also encouraged Russia to act, threatening action if the immediate crisis was not resolved soon. “If in the coming days access to the disaster area remains inadequate, then all political, economic and financial options are on the table against those who are directly or indirectly responsible for that,” said Rutte.

Obama said he would prefer to solve the crisis diplomatically but suggested there were limits. “[I]f Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and to back these separatists, and these separatists become more and more dangerous – and now are risks not simply to the people inside of Ukraine but the broader international community – then Russia will only further isolate itself from the international community and the costs for Russia’s behavior will only continue to increase,” Obama said Monday. The president, however, did not detail what such costs would entail and has not indicated that the U.S. would take any military action in Ukraine.

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One parent of a 17-year-old girl penned a letter to Russia’s president, telling Putin of how his ‘life was ruined’ over her death. Another parent-of-two requested Putin ‘send them home’ in the wake of a botched recovery of the nearly 300 people who died in the MH17 crash.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Devastated family members who lost loved ones in the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 spoke directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday, pouring out their rage and grief — and their outrage at the bungled recovery operations.

A Dutch father penned a letter to Putin describing his 17-year-old daughter Elsemiek, one of the 298 passengers who perished in the crash.

“Elsemiek would next year take her final exam, along with her best friends Julia and Marina, and she did well in school,” wrote Hans de Borst.

His teenage daughter planned to be an engineer, the anguished father said.

“Many thanks to the separatist leaders of Ukrainian government for the murder of my dear and only child,” de Borst wrote. “Gentlemen of the above, I hope you’re proud of including her and her young life was shot up too, and you can look in the mirror!,” he wrote, signing it Hans de Borst, “whose life is ruined.”

Another Dutch parent spoke out to urge Putin to give international workers access to the site so bodies could be returned home for memorials and burials.

Four days after the Boeing 777 was shot out of the sky, international investigators still had only limited access to the crash site, hindered by the pro-Russia fighters who control the verdant territory.
“She then wanted to go to TU Delft to study engineering, and she was looking forward to it! She is suddenly no more! From the air she was shot in a foreign country where a war is going on,” he raged.

His daughter had been en route to Malaysia with her mother — de Borst’s ex-wife — her brother and her stepfather. The plane was shot out of the sky by what many believe was a surface-to-air missile.

Elsemiek was one of 193 Dutch passengers on the plane when it was shot down near the Russia-Ukraine border — possibly by separatists who thought it was a military aircraft.
Devastated family members who lost loved ones in the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 spoke directly to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday, pouring out their rage and grief — and their outrage at the bungled recovery operations.

A Dutch father penned a letter to Putin describing his 17-year-old daughter Elsemiek, one of the 298 passengers who perished in the crash.

“Elsemiek would next year take her final exam, along with her best friends Julia and Marina, and she did well in school,” wrote Hans de Borst.

His teenage daughter planned to be an engineer, the anguished father said.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/families-malaysia-airlines-passengers-blast-putin-article-1.1874698#ixzz38Aw3e8Ld

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MOSCOW — Russia presented a combination of conciliation and bluster on Monday over its handling of the downed Malaysia Airlines jet, with President Vladimir V. Putin seemingly probing for a way out of the crisis without appearing to compromise with the West.

On one hand, he offered conciliatory words in a video statement, oddly released in the middle of the night, while the separatists allied with Moscow in southeastern Ukraine released the bodies of the victims and turned over the black box flight recorders from the doomed aircraft to Malaysian officials.

However, two senior military officers forcefully demanded that the United States show publicly any proof that rebels fired the fatal missile, and again suggested that the Ukrainian military shot down the Malaysia Airlines jet despite the fact that Ukraine has not used antiaircraft weapons in the fight along its eastern border.

Mr. Putin seemed to respond to the outraged international demands growing daily that he intervene personally to rein in the rebels — particularly to halt the degrading chaos surrounding the recovery of the remains. But at the same time, Moscow did not concede that it was at fault.

Publish Date July 21, 2014. Image CreditGabriella Demczuk/The New York Times

“Putin is trying to find his own variation of a twin-track decision, because he does not have a clear exit,” said Gleb O. Pavlovsky, a political consultant who once worked for the Kremlin.

The pressure continued to expand. President Obama delivered yet another personal rebuke to Mr. Putin from the White House lawn over the intransigence of the rebels toward the international investigation, hours before they agreed to more cooperation. In addition, an initial expert analysis of photographs of the airplane’s fuselage found that the damage was consistent with being struck by the type of missile that U.S. officials said was used.

On Tuesday, Russia faces the threat of far more serious sanctions from its main trading partners in Western Europe.

“Of course this is a strong blow to him, a strong blow to his strategy,” said Mr. Pavlovsky, referring to the fact that Russian separatists fighting in eastern Ukraine have been discredited globally, due to suspicions that they shot down the aircraft and their handling of the crash site.

“It touches him too,” Mr. Pavlovsky said, “He wants to get out, but to get out without having lost.”

Mr. Obama called for Mr. Putin to “pivot away” from the rebels, linking him directly to their abuse of the crash site.

Read the rest:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/22/world/europe/putin-calls-for-talks-in-ukraine-and-a-robust-crash-investigation.html?_r=0

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U.S. President Barack Obama.  Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg 

There is more than a “smidgen of corruption” that the IRS systematically targeted conservative and Tea Party groups

July 22, 2014

By Stephen F. Hayes

The facts are simple. The IRS systematically targeted conservative and Tea Party groups after their activism proved decisive in the 2010 midterm elections—Obama’s famous “shellacking.” The effects of this targeting were widespread. Some Tea Party groups were neutered in the months before the 2012 presidential election.

Few of the explanations or justifications of this targeting provided by IRS leaders and Obama administration officials have held up. IRS officials at first denied that any targeting had taken place. That was false. They later claimed that the targeting had involved only low-level employees in the Cincinnati office. That was false. They argued that conservative groups weren’t singled out, that progressive groups were subject to the same level of scrutiny. That was false. They argued that the IRS has complied with all requests for information from Congress. That was false.

Three years ago, on June 3, 2011, Representative Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, wrote to the IRS requesting all information—including emails and other communication—related to the alleged targeting of conservative groups. Ten days later, Lois Lerner, the woman at the center of the targeting, reported to the IT team at the IRSthat her hard drive had crashed. IRS leaders, questioned repeatedly about Lerner’s emails in subsequent congressional hearings, made no mention of the hard drive crash. Earlier this summer, IRS director John Koskinen disclosed that thousands of Lerner emails—including many of those sent to executive branch agencies—were missing because of the alleged computer problems. From her first appearance before a congressional committee, back in May 2013,Lerner has exercised her right against self-incrimination and refused to testify.

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Internal Revenue Service Headquarters in Washington Associated Press

Last week brought a significant new revelation: an email in which Lerner seeks advice about keeping information from Congress. On April 9, 2013, Lerner emailed Marcia Hooke, an information technology specialist at the IRS, with an inquiry about an internal IRS message system known as OCS—Office Communications Service.

Lerner writes:

I had a question today about OCS. I was cautioning folks about email and how we have had several occasions where Congress has asked for emails and there has been an electronic search for responsive emails—so we need to be cautious about what we say in emails. Someone asked if OCS conversations were also searchable—I don’t know but told them I would get back to them. Do you know?

Hooke responds that OCS conversations are not automatically saved, but adds the obvious disclaimer that the communicating parties may save them on their own. For that reason, it’s possible that they could turn up in a search. But the answer to the original question? No, they’re not saved.

Lerner responds: “Perfect.”

The exchange raises several questions:

• Why would Lerner “caution folks about email” and urge them “to be cautious about what we say in emails” if she and her colleagues had done nothing wrong?

• What was in these OCS communications that Lerner wanted to keep from Congress?

• Why would a senior IRS bureaucrat think it appropriate to withhold any information from lawmakers elected to provide oversight of agencies like the IRS?

• Why was Lerner concerned that Congress would see these internal IRS communications?

There’s actually an answer to that last question: She knew that the IRS scandal was about to explode.

At the time Lerner sent the email, IRS officials had recently learned that the Treasury inspector general would be issuing a report the following month criticizing the agency for its targeting of conservative groups. And Lerner’s email came just before she planted a question in the audience at an American Bar Association conference on May 10 in an effort to get out in front of the controversy.

These facts lead to one conclusion: Lois Lerner and other top IRS officials were desperate to keep information on the targeting of conservative groups from Congress.

It’s crucial to understand why. And that will require a special prosecutor.

Congressional Democrats have repeatedly called for an end to the investigations on Capitol Hill. The Justice Department investigation—using that word loosely—is being run by an Obama contributor. And Barack Obama, who once worried that such targeting was a subversion of our democracy, has since pronounced, in the face of a steady accumulation of evidence to the contrary, that there is not a “smidgen of corruption” to the IRS targeting.

That, too, is false.

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(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

China’s oil rig withdrawal from Vietnam waters: retreat or tactical feint?

July 21, 2014

By An Dien, Thanh Nien News

HO CHI MINH CITY, July 21, 2014 22:57 Email Print

An officer on the Vietnamese Coast Guard vessel No. 8003 looks on as it is flanked by a Chinese Coast Guard ship, right, in Vietnamese waters west of the Paracel (Hoang Sa) Islands, on  May 14, 2014. Photo credit: Bloomberg
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An officer on the Vietnamese Coast Guard vessel No. 8003 looks on as it is flanked by a Chinese Coast Guard ship, right, in Vietnamese waters west of the Paracel (Hoang Sa) Islands, on May 14, 2014. Photo credit: Bloomberg
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The recent withdrawal of a giant Chinese oil rig from Vietnamese waters was welcomed with anxiety in Hanoi as many analysts have interpreted the departure as little more than tactical feint in a territorial battle that is sure to drag on.
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On July 15, the state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation announced that the US$1-billion oil rig had finished drilling near the Paracel (Hoang Sa) Islands, which the country seized by force in 1974.
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The rig will be relocated closer to Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province, after having successfully discovered “signs of oil and gas,” the Chinese company said in a statement last week.
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The rig set of a kind of geopolitical storm when it arrived in Vietnam’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf in the East Sea, internationally known as the South China Sea, on May 2.
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In the ensuing days, China built up an aggressive fleet around the rig to chase off Vietnamese police boats, triggering peaceful protests that erupted into violence in central and southern Vietnam two weeks later. The resulting riots left hundreds of foreign-owned factories vandalized and three Chinese nationals dead.
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The rig was originally scheduled to explore the waters around the Paracels until mid-August and independent analysts have tried to account for why China withdrew it ahead of schedule; China’s Xinhua news agency noted that July was the beginning of the typhoon season.
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Analysts say the move may have been prompted by the simple completion of its mission objective: to find enough hydrocarbons to justify coming back at a later time. The early arrival of two major typhoons allowed China the perfect face-saving opportunity to exit.
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Others argue that Beijing hopes to defuse tensions and repair their bilateral relationship with Vietnam, noting how much China stands to gain from the current uncertainty.
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“The prospects of discussions will constrain Vietnam from taking legal action against China, and it will also constrain Vietnam from seeking to align with the US and Japan,” Carl Thayer, a maritime expert at the University of New South Wales in Australia, told Thanh Nien News.
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Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has said his government will consider taking legal action against China to resolve the dispute. In March, the Philippines submitted a case to an arbitration tribunal in The Hague, challenging China’s claims in the East Sea.
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On July 10, the divided and partisan US Senate unanimously passed a resolution which, among other things, urged China to withdraw its oil rig from Vietnamese waters–a move welcomed by both Vietnam and the Philippines.
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China has bristled at the US’s strategic “pivot” towards the region, blaming it for aggravating an already tense situation. Japan, America’s treaty ally which remains embroiled in its own dispute with China over ownership of islands in the East China Sea, recently ramped up economic and strategic engagement with Hanoi.
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By removing the oil rig ahead of schedule, China may have proven that it can act with impunity–sowing seeds of doubt in the region about America’s reliability as an ally, analysts say.
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“China was also posing two questions to Vietnam: even as you move closer to the US, do you really think that Washington is going to help you defend your claims? Surely it is better to negotiate a solution directly with us?” said Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
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Brewing tensions
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Beijing routinely outlines the scope of its territorial claims by referring to maps featuring a nine-dashed line–a demarcation that takes in about 90 percent of the 3.5 million square kilometer East Sea.
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Chinese maps featuring the line have been emphatically rejected by international geographers. Moreover, the maps fly in the face of competing claims by four members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) –namely Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei.
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In late June, Beijing unveiled a new official map that portrayed these contested islets, shoals and waters as integral parts of China’s territorial limits. In recent weeks, China dispatched three more oil rigs across the East Sea, while ramping up a number of land reclamation projects on small islands in the Spratly Islands (also part of the East Sea), where it plans to build airstrips and other long-term facilities.
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The removal of the oil rig from Vietnamese waters occurred a day after US President Barack Obama called his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to talk about what the White House called the “important progress” at recent meetings between the two countries in Beijing.
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The telephone call took place less than a week after the Senate passed its resolution, which has been disdained by several analysts as a toothless but destabilizing wrench thrown into an already tense situation.

China was also posing two questions to Vietnam: even as you move closer to the US, do you really think that Washington is going to help you defend your claims? Surely it is better to negotiate a solution directly with us?” – Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore

Analysts say that given the Chinese policymaking process, it would be surprising that a single event (either the presidential telephone call or the Senate resolution) could change China’s policy course.
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“It may have been an influence, but a small one,” said Zachary Abuza, a Washington-based Asia analyst. “I think the Chinese know that it is a resolution only from a Congress that tends to be very anti-Chinese in general. They assume that the Obama administration has no stomach for escalating the conflict with Beijing,” he said.
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Although the crisis appears over for the moment and PM Nguyen Tan Dung has demanded that China not send any more rigs into Vietnamese waters, most expect the oil rigs will be back, either later this year or next year, prompting another round of tensions between Hanoi and Beijing.
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“In the meantime, Vietnam’s leaders will have to re-examine their policy towards their giant northern neighbor and how best to deal with a stronger, more confident and more assertive China,” Storey said.
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Hamas Continues Rocket Assault On Israel, Despite Casualities and Calls For Cease Fire

July 21, 2014

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A smoke trail is seen as a rocket is launched from the northern Gaza Strip towards Israel. Reuters photo

Israel says Operation Protective Edge will now end until Hamas stops shooting rockets into Israel and the Israeli people can return to a time of “calm.”

At least two rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome system over metropolitan Tel Aviv. Rocket interceptions were also heard above Bat Yam, Holon, and Rishon Letzion.

Central Israel continued to absorb Palestinian rockets into Monday evening as sirens rang out in key population centers in central Israel.

At least two rockets were shot down by the Iron Dome system over metropolitan Tel Aviv. Rocket interceptions were also heard above Bat Yam, Holon, and Rishon Letzion.

Minutes earlier, sirens sounded in the Shfela region encompassing Rehovot, Ness Ziona, Lod, suburban Modi’in, Ashdod, Gan Yavne, and the Ashkelon area.

Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees claimed credit for launching six rockets toward Tel Aviv, Israel Radio reported on Monday evening.

A heavy barrage of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip set off sirens throughout Israel on Monday morning, including in the Tel Aviv and Beit Shemesh areas.

GAZA ATTACK

An Israeli artillery fires a 155mm shell towards targets in the Gaza Strip from their position near Israel’s border with the Strip on July 20, 2014. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images) | JACK GUEZ via Getty Images

A number of audible explosions were heard in the Tel Aviv area, which was targeted for the first time in several days. Rocket attacks on the city have been reduced since the beginning of the IDF ground invasion into Gaza last week.

Sirens were also heard in Ashkelon, Ashdod, Rishon Lezion, Yavne and Kiryat Malachi  in Monday morning’s attack.

The Iron Dome intercepted a total of five rockets over Ashdod and the greater Tel Aviv area, according to Channel 2. A total of 12 rockets were fired at Ashkelon, six of which were intercepted and six of which fell in open areas.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage in the attack.

Prior to the large salvo of rocket fire just before noon throughout the country, steady rocket fire had targeted Israeli communities directly bordering Gaza.

 

An Israeli artillery unit deployed next to the border with Gaza. Credit Atef Safadi/European Pressphoto Agency

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Cleared for publication: The seven deaths bring the total IDF death toll to 25; 30 soldiers wounded, 3 seriously throughout Monday; four of the fatalities happened during infiltration attempt earlier Monday.

Seven IDF soldiers have been killed and 30 troops were wounded, three seriously, in fighting along the Gaza frontier on Monday.

The incidents brought the Israeli death toll in Operation Protective Edge to 25, all of which have been inflicted since Thursday when the IDF began its ground incursion into the Gaza Strip.

Four of the soldiers were killed when their jeep was hit with an anti-tank missile fired by a terrorist squad that infiltrated southern Israel on Monday morning.

Two terrorist attack cells entered Israel from northern Gaza, via a cross-border underground tunnel, on Monday morning.

The terrorists surfaced near Kibbutz Nir Am, and were dressed in IDF uniforms.

They were detected by an IDF lookout, after the army received an alert from the Shin Bet. The first squad was hit by an air strike, but the second was able to fire on an army jeep before the IDF struck it.

The Shin Bet said a serious and complex terror attack has been thwarted “due to the readiness of the IDF on the ground, following the pinpoint alert that was sent.”

Also on Monday, police closed roads in Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council near the Gaza border due to the security incident.

Roads closed included Route 4 and Route 34. Residents of Erez, Nir Am, Ra’im, Ein Hashlosha were instructed to stay in their houses.

Earlier in the week, 13 Hamas terrorists were killed trying to infiltrate Kibbutz Sufa. The army said it “neutralized the threat” in that incident with an air strike on the cell.

A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows a Hamas rocket being launched from the Gaza strip into Israel, on July 11, 2014. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images) AFP/Getty Images

IDF death toll rises to 25; Egypt mulls changes to truce proposal; Hezbollah vows to aid Hamas; major rocket barrage fired at south and central Israel, two rockets intercepted over greater Tel Aviv; Gaza militants infiltrate south, casualties among IDF troops; IDF death toll rises to 18, six fallen soldiers named; Gaza death toll rises to 508.

Two terrorist cells infiltrated southern Israel via a tunnel from the Gaza Strip on Monday, as Israel began the 14th day of Operation Protective Edge. Casualties were reported among Israel Defense Forces troops. Roads were closed and residents ordered to remain indoors until just after 10 A.M., when the incident was declared over. Meanwhile, the Israel Defense Forces advanced into the Strip overnight, and clashes were reported in a number of areas. Two apparent tunnel sites were located by forces.

The UN Security Council ended an emergency session late Sunday expressing “serious concern” about the rising civilian death toll and demanding an immediate end to hostilities. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meanwhile, will be arriving in Israel later Monday.

The Israel Defense Forces released the names of six of the thirteen soldiers killed in the fighting in Gaza on Saturday night and Sunday. On Monday, the IDF said seven more soldiers were killed, bringing the death toll of IDF soldiers to 25 since the ground operation began late last week.

At least 130 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its ground incursion, raising the death toll in Gaza to 508 since the beginning of the operation 14 days ago, with 3,130 wounded.

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For Sunday’s live updates, click here

Latest updates:

7:45 P.M. Seven Israeli soldiers and officers killed in last 24 hours in the Gaza fighting, the IDF Spokesperson’s reported, raising the IDF death toll of Operation Protective Edge to 25.

Four were killed in the morning incident in which 10 Palestinian gunmen breached the Israeli border near Nir Am. The soldiers were killed by an anti-tank rocket fired at them by the gunmen. Two other soldiers were killed by an anti-tank rocket in a separate incident in the Gaza Strip, during a firefight with Palestinian gunmen – one of them is Staff Sergeant Yuval Dagan, 22, of Kfar Saba, from the Golani Brigade. Another soldier was killed on Saturday in a fire exchange in the Strip.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit also stated that in the last 24 hours three soldiers were seriously wounded, eight were moderately wounded, and 19 other soldiers sustained light wounds in Israeli army activity in the Strip. (Gili Cohen)

7:26 P.M. Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman says: “We will work to prevent Al-Jazeera TV from operating in Israel.” (Barak Ravid)

7:08 P.M. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s entourage in Qatar stated that his meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshal was “good and important. Abbas and Meshal agreed that they’re interested in immediate cease-fire and in Egyptian involvement, despite reservations about the Egyptian initiative. Fatah senior official Azam al-Hamd was sent to Cairo to promote efforts there.” (Jack Khoury)

6:58 P.M. Iron Dome intercepts a rocket above central Israel. Another rocket intercepted above Yavneh. Earlier, rocket sirens were sounded in central Israel, including in Bat Yam, Holon, Rishon Letzion, and in the vicinity of the international airport. (Gili Cohen)

6:27 P.M. Hamas senior official Ismail Haniyeh says: “Our people’s demands are clear – a cessation of aggression and a promise that it will not be resumed, removing the blockade and releasing the prisoners arrested during the IDF’s activities in the West Bank.” (Jack Khoury)

6:18 P.M. In an address at the White House, U.S. President Barack Obama says he instructed secretary of state John Kerry to push for an immediate cease-fire. Obama says the U.S. is seriously concerned over the rising number of Palestinian civilian casualties, and over the loss of life on the Israeli side. “We don’t want to see any more Palestinian civilians killed,” Obama says. (Haaretz)

6:00 P.M.  Egypt might be willing to amend its truce initiative to end the fighting in Gaza in order to accommodate the Palestinian militant movement Hamas, which had rejected its terms, three Egyptian officials told Reuters.

“Egypt does not mind adding some of Hamas’s conditions provided that all involved parties approve,” a senior Egyptian official said.

The change in the Egyptian stance is believed to have occurred against the background of a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in Doha, capital of Qatar. According to Palestinian sources, the new offer will be adopted by the Palestinians, and presented on their behalf to the Arab League, the UN chief and the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. At this stage it is still unclear what understandings have been reached by the Palestinians and Egypt, but it is believed that they include a reopening of the Rafah Crossing, to be manned by Palestinian Authority presidential guard and police. (Reuters, Jack Khoury)

5:43 P.M. Rocket explodes inside community in the Eshkol Regional Council. No damage caused. Earlier, rocket alerts were sounded in Ashkelon and in the Hof Ashkelon Regional Council.

The condition of the three-month-old girl, seriously wounded by a rocket explosion near Dimona several days ago, has improved. She is hospitalized in the Soroka Medical Center, Be’er Sheva, and her condition is still serious, but she is breathing autonomously. (Shirly Seidler)

5:30 P.M. Rocket explodes in Ashkelon parking lot, causing damage to vehicles and to a nearby building. Four people suffer from shock. Another rocket explodes in an open area in the Yoav Regional Council. Earlier, rocket sirens were sounded in Ahskelon, Kiryat Malachi, and in the Be’er Tuvia, Yoav, Gderot and Hof Ashkelon Regional Councils. (Shirly Seidler)

5:10 P.M. Commander of the IDF Southern Command, Maj.Gen. Sami Turgeman, says Israeli troops have uncovered 14 tunnels in the Gaza Strip since the operation began, two of which targeting Israeli communities near the border – Netiv Haasara and Kerem Shalom.

Israeli army officers estimate that Hamas has put in hundreds of thousands of work hours into digging the tunnels, and has upgraded its underground activity significantly over the last decade. According to the IDF, while Hamas tunnels reached only 10 meters underground, the average depth of tunnels found now is 25 meters, and are reinforced with concrete. The Israeli army believes hundreds or possibly thousands of the Strip’s residents are involved in the construction of the tunnels. (Gili Cohen)

5:00 P.M. Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) has called on Israel to stop shelling in the Gaza Strip, saying it is complicating efforts to provide care. In a statement published on its website Sunday, MSF said, “the majority of the dead and wounded in Gaza are civilians and medical workers are also coming under fire.”

The organization also said it had witnessed two paramedics who had died and two others who were injured whilst trying to rescue wounded from Shujaiyeh. In addition, MSF said, “a clearly identified MSF vehicle escaped an air strike 300 meters away.” It added that Israeli authorities had promised secure movements for the organization from the Erez border crossing to Gaza City “so that an incoming surgical team could be picked up.”

In addition, MSF cited its field coordinator in Gaza, Nicolas Palarus, saying, “United Nations shelters are now overcrowded and hygiene conditions are extremely worrying.” (Haaretz)

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.606315

By | Jul. 21, 2014 | 8:21 PM

Obama Seen Gaining on Putin as U.S. Prods EU on Sanctions

July 21, 2014

Bloomberg

By Terry Atlas and Jonathan Allen

July 21, 2014, NOON ET

President Barack Obama’s response to the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine reflects the consensus of U.S. officials that time, evidence, and world opinion are increasingly on his side as he takes on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Secretary of State John Kerry cited the tragedy yesterday in an effort to prod Europeans into expanding sanctions against Russia, even at some peril to their own economies, in an effort to break Putin’s support for pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists. “We are trying to encourage our European friends to realize this is a wake-up call,” Kerry said on “Fox News Sunday,” invoking a phrase used last week by Obama.

U.S. officials, some speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss administration strategy, said the shooting down of the civilian jetliner —- blamed by the U.S. on pro-Russian separatists armed by Russia —- should ignite anti-Putin sentiment and push reluctant EU countries to catch up to the more stringent sanctions the U.S. had imposed last week. Dutch and other European citizens were among the 298 passengers and crew that perished.

This gives Obama confidence that the U.S. and EU can prevail over Putin in the short-run — overcoming European reluctance to expand sanctions — just as the Obama administration believes it will prevail in the long-run over a Russia that has a battered economy and a leader who is overplaying a weak hand, the officials said.

U.S. President Barack Obama.  Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg 

EU Shifting

While the timing for EU decisions isn’t set, two European diplomats said previously resistant members such as Italy now are shifting. The bloc’s foreign ministers are scheduled to meet tomorrow, and top leaders also may meet as early as this week, according to the diplomats, who asked that they not be identified because the plans haven’t been announced.

The U.S. and its allies have the capability to further squeeze Russia through punitive measures such as sanctions against entire sectors of its economy, though they want to leave open a course for Putin to back down, according to several officials.

Europeans may hesitate to ramp up a fight when they need Putin’s influence with the rebels to permit the recovery of passengers’ remains and an international investigation.

The EU foreign ministers at their meeting in Brussels will consider blacklisting more Putin associates and, for the first time, Russian companies accused of profiting from Ukraine’s woes.

Defense Industry

The U.K. is pushing for the EU to sanction the entire Russian defense industry, a British official said in London on condition of anonymity. France has repeatedly rebuffed calls to cancel its sale of two Mistral helicopter carriers to Russia.

The airline disaster follows months of U.S. efforts to persuade the Europeans to raise the costs on Putin for his efforts to destabilize Ukraine. Obama now is “absolutely prepared” to consider more sanctions, and the EU should do likewise, Kerry said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

The top U.S. diplomat appeared on five U.S. Sunday morning talk shows to make the case for further action.

“Since sanctions are the administration’s default instrument of coercive statecraft, I would expect an escalation of U.S. sanctions pressure, specifically targeting more Russian financial institutions, energy companies and military firms,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a nonprofit group that focuses on national security issues.

Putin’s Options

“People are looking for sanctions that are severe enough to change Putin’s mind, but won’t do harm to the U.S. and European economies,” said Andrew Weiss, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who specializes in Russia and Eurasia.

Putin has levers of influence too, including sending Russian forces into eastern Ukraine, as he did in Crimea; reducing natural gas supplies to Europe; and undermining international negotiations seeking to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, one of Obama’s top diplomatic priorities.

Some of the U.S. officials said they see Putin fighting a losing geopolitical battle over time as neighboring states such as Ukraine, once regarded as the breadbasket of the Soviet Union, shift toward western European economies. That also may make him unpredictable and dangerous, they said.

Russian Economy

The long-term strategy, these officials said, is to further isolate Putin, who they say is presiding over the decline of a country facing economic, demographic and social problems. While it has an economy comparable in size to Italy’s, Russia’s per capita gross domestic product, at $14,612, is less than half of Italy’s $34,619, according to World Bank data for 2013.

“From the beginning, Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has been a reflection of its diminished stature and influence in Europe and the world,” said former White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, who worked for Vice President Joe Biden during the Russia reset and once worked in Time Magazine’s Moscow bureau.

The U.S. last week imposed targeted sanctions on selected Russian banks, military, and energy companies including OAO Rosneft (ROSN), Russia’s largest oil company, after the EU was unable to agree on more than limited additional sanctions.

European Trade

“The president imposed a greater cost on Vladimir Putin the day before this shoot-down took place,” Kerry said. “And what we are doing now is trying to bring our European counterparts along” because 4 percent of Russia’s trade is with the United States while “50 percent of their engagement is with Europe.”

The U.S. has been urging the EU to act more forcefully despite its reliance on Russia for about 30 percent of its gas imports. U.K Prime Minister David Cameron said he agreed with his French and German counterparts that Europe should be ready to impose further sanctions this week.

“There’s value, political and economic,” in waiting to see what the Europeans do because Obama wants to show a united front, said Robert Kahn, a former Treasury official who is now a senior fellow for international economics at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Financial Sector

The U.S. could consider adding more companies to the list of those it has sanctioned, he said. “First and foremost you look to the financial sector,” he said. “That’s where our sanctions are most powerful because of our central role in the financial system.”

Some Republicans in Congress, such as Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are pressing Obama to impose sectoral sanctions and begin providing weapons to Ukrainian government forces fighting the pro-Russian rebels.

The U.S. and European allies should impose “very severe economic sanctions” and also consider “symbolic” actions, such as canceling the 2018 World Cup in Russia and banning landing rights to OAO Aeroflot, Russia’s largest airline carrier, Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, said yesterday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.

Already, the existing sanctions are threatening to tip Russia into a recession as they exacerbate a bond sell-off and drive credit risk higher.

“While aggressive unilateral U.S. sanctions would impose a significant toll on Russia’s economy and U.S. business interests, the efficacy of further sanctions really turns on the resolve of the European Union,” Michael L. Burton, a sanctions lawyer at Jacobson Burton Pllc in Washington, said in an e-mail. “Member states of the EU must reconcile the tension between their sense of morality and their economic interests, recognizing that the EU ultimately will bear the highest costs and be judged most critically.”

Incremental Action

Stephen Myrow, managing partner of Beacon Policy Advisors LLC, an independent research firm in Washington, said the U.S. is likely to increase sanctions only incrementally absent strong steps by the EU.

“Even though some members of the Obama administration would like to take stronger action, they do not see it as plausible without the EU’s acquiescence, and the EU still is not there,” said Myrow, a former Treasury Department official. “The EU is threatening another round of sanctions on its own, but the trigger is tied to Russian cooperation in the crash investigation, not its aggression against Ukraine.”

Further, there’s no guarantee that more sanctions will push Putin in the right direction, said Samuel Charap, a fellow at the Washington branch of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based policy group.

Moral Case

“The moral and political case for more sanctions is clearly easier to make now,” Charap said. “The problem is that the theory of the case remains as questionable as before — that this kind of pressure will produce the kind of policy change from Moscow that the West is seeking. In fact, it might well have the opposite effect.”

In a phone call with Cameron, Putin said it’s “important” to refrain from “hasty conclusions and politicized statements” before international investigators determine the reasons for the Malaysian Air crash, according to an e-mailed statement from Russian government.

EU foreign ministers this week will call for unimpeded access to the crash site for investigators and for the repatriation of remains in a humanitarian matter, according to the two EU diplomats.

To contact the reporters on this story: Terry Atlas in Washington at tatlas@bloomberg.net; Jonathan Allen in Washington at jallen149@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net Larry Liebert, Andrea Snyder

U.S. President Barack Obama On The Downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, July 21, 2014

July 21, 2014

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President Barack Obama in the White House Rose Garden making a statement on the shoot down of Malaysia Airlines MH17, Video PHOTOGRAB July 21, 2014

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke about downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 and the situation in Ukraine from the White House Monday.

U.S. officials have been seeking to build a case that the plane was shot down by separatists in eastern Ukraine. Officials also say it is unlikely the separatists could have fired a missile without assistance from Russia.

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This morning, broadcast networks provided special coverage of President Obama’s statement on the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 investigation.

The president called for investigators to gain immediate and full access to the crash site, calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to help facilitate an open investigation.

President Obama made a statement regarding the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down over eastern Ukraine. He urged Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine to grant international investigators access to the plane crash site.

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