India Police Arrest Three over Alleged Gang-Rape at Gunpoint
by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 July 2014, 18:28
Indian police Tuesday arrested three men suspected of gang-raping a 16-year-old at gunpoint and filming the attack in New Delhi, the latest in a series of sexual assault cases in the country.
The girl was on her way to school on July 19 when four of five suspects, three of whom are juveniles, took her to the house of the fifth man and allegedly attacked her.
"Police have arrested Pramod and his two minor accomplices while a manhunt has been launched to nab Surendra Pehalwan and the other minor accused," said a senior police officer, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
The accused told the victim they would post the footage online if she tried to report the crime.
"The matter came to light yesterday (Monday) when she experienced some problems and told her parents about the incident," the officer said, adding that police made the arrests hours after the parents filed an official complaint.
The incident comes just a week after a seven-year-old girl was found hanging from a tree in a village in West Bengal state. Locals suspect she was raped.
The attack bore a chilling resemblance to the fatal gang-rape of two girls, aged 12 and 14, in late May in northern Uttar Pradesh state, where they were found hanging from a tree.
This month, in the southern city of Bangalore, the alleged rape of a six-year-old girl in a school triggered a series of street protests by angry parents and political activists over the lack of safety for women and children in the country.
In 2012, the fatal gang-rape of a student on a moving bus in New Delhi led to a public outcry and tougher laws to deter rapists.
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised a "zero tolerance" approach.
But violence against women is deeply ingrained in some segments of Indian society, activists say, while government crime statistics show one rape is reported every 21 minutes.
India Police Arrest Two Gym Instructors over Alleged Rape of Child
by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 July 2014, 16:35
India police have arrested two gym instructors over the alleged rape of a six-year-old girl at a top school, a crime that has sparked protests by outraged parents, a senior officer said Tuesday.
Police in the southern city of Bangalore seized the pair late Monday after acting on information from a roller-skating instructor who was arrested last week over the crime, which has provoked fierce debate over children's safety in India.
"We have arrested the two culprits working as gymnastics coaches in the Vibgyor High School," Bangalore police commissioner M.N. Reddi told reporters.
"During preliminary investigation and interrogation... (the pair) admitted to have committed the heinous crime in the school premises, which has turned out to be a case of gang rape," he said.
"The child had identified the main culprits and the CCTV footage shows them forcing her to stay back after all other students left the gym classroom."
Reddi also conceded that the roller-skating instructor, who was paraded before the media last week, was not directly involved in the alleged attack. He was still being detained after he was discovered with a laptop containing child pornography.
Hundreds of parents and political activists have led protests over the July 2 attack with some who attempted to storm the school beaten back by police officers.
The child was allegedly assaulted in a classroom of the school, a top fee-paying institution favored by local politicians and businessmen.
India is especially sensitive to cases of sexual violence after the 2012 fatal gang-rape of a student on a moving bus in New Delhi which led to a public outcry and new tougher laws to deter rapists.
Cambodia Court Begins Genocide Trial of Khmer Rouge Leaders
by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 July 2014, 07:25
Cambodia's U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge court on Wednesday began a second trial of two former regime leaders on charges including genocide of Vietnamese people and ethnic Muslims, forced marriages and rape.
The complex case of the regime's two most senior surviving leaders has been split into a series of smaller trials, initially focusing on the forced evacuation of people into rural labor camps and related crimes against humanity.
The first trial against "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 88, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, was completed late last year, with the verdict -- and possible sentences -- set to be delivered on August 7.
At the opening hearing of the second trial, judge Nil Nonn read out the charges against both suspects as more than 300 people watched the proceedings from the court's public gallery.
Nuon Chea did not attend the hearing for health reasons, while Khieu Samphan sat in court alongside his defense team.
During the inaugural session of the second trial, which focuses on genocide and other crimes against humanity, judges will discuss issues such as reparations for victims.
"The second trial is equally important as the first, and more victims and witnesses will have the opportunity to testify about their experiences and suffering during the Khmer Rouge regime, on a broader range of criminal allegations," court spokesman Lars Olsen told AFP.
The mass killings of an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 ethnic Cham Muslims and 20,000 Vietnamese form the basis of the genocide charges against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
Before these charges were filed, the treatment of the minority Muslim group and Vietnamese community was rarely discussed.
The pair also face a string of other charges for the deaths of up to two million people through starvation, overwork or execution during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.
Most of these deaths do not fall under the charge of genocide, which is defined by the United Nations as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".
It is not known how long the second trial will last, but Olsen estimated it may go on until 2016 with hearings covering crimes committed at Khmer Rouge labor camps and prisons including the notorious Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21.
"This trial is very important for me as a victim who lost both parents in Tuol Sleng," said 45-year-old Norng Chan Phal, one of just a handful of survivors from the prison.
"Those criminals who committed genocide and killed their own people must be punished seriously."
- Forced marriages -
Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge dismantled Cambodian society in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.
The new trial will also provide the first forum for justice for tens of thousands of husbands and wives forced to marry, often in mass ceremonies, as part of a Khmer Rouge plan to boost the population.
The rape charges refer to rape within the forced marriages.
In its historic debut trial, the court in 2010 sentenced former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav to 30 years in prison -- later increased to life on appeal -- for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.
But observers and victims have raised concerns that the aging Khmer Rouge leaders may not survive to see a verdict.
Former regime foreign minister Ieng Sary died aged 87 last year while on trial for war crimes and genocide, while his wife was freed from jail in September 2012 after being ruled unfit for trial because of failing mental health.
Uighur Group Says Nearly 100 Casualties in China Clash
by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 July 2014, 08:33
A clash in China's far western region of Xinjiang, home to the country's mostly Muslim Uighur minority, left nearly 100 people dead and wounded, an exile group said Wednesday.
Chinese state media reported late Tuesday that dozens of civilians and assailants were killed and injured in what it described as a "terrorist attack" in the region, saying a gang armed with knives and axes had attacked a police station and government offices, before moving on to a township.
"Police officers at the scene shot dead dozens of members of the mob," the official news agency Xinhua said of the violence, said to have occurred early Monday.
Xinhua did not give a precise breakdown of the casualties, and information in Xinjiang is often difficult to verify independently.
But Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, an exile group, said the toll had climbed significantly.
Citing local Uighur sources, he said in an e-mail: "Nearly 100 people were killed and wounded during the clash."
The violence came, he added, when "Uighurs rose up to resist China's extreme ruling policy and were met with armed repression resulting in dead and injured on both sides".
Raxit had earlier said more than 20 Uighurs were killed and 10 wounded, while a total of 13 armed Chinese personnel were killed or wounded and about 67 people were arrested.
The violence took place in Shache county, or Yarkant in the Uighur language, near the edge of the Taklamakan desert in the west of the vast region.
Hotel and restaurant staff in Shache contacted by AFP said they had no knowledge of the incident.
According to Xinhua, it was "organized and premeditated".
Beijing commonly blames separatists from Xinjiang for carrying out terror attacks which have grown in scale over the past year and spread outside the restive and resource-rich region.
Among the most shocking incidents was a market attack in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi in May in which 39 people were killed, and a deadly rampage by knife-wielding assailants at a train station at Kunming in China's southwest in March, which left 29 dead.
They came after a fiery vehicle crash at Tiananmen Square, Beijing's symbolic heart, in October last year.
Rights groups and analysts accuse China's government of cultural and religious repression which they say fuels unrest in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia.
The government, however, argues it has boosted economic development in the area and that it upholds minority rights in a country with 56 recognized ethnic groups.
Beijing has also suggested that extremists in Xinjiang are influenced by radical groups outside China, though many foreign analysts are skeptical, pointing instead to Uighur dissatisfaction.
Zhou Yongkang: oil boss who became China's third most powerful man
Zhou, now under investigation for alleged corruption, climbed the ranks in oil sector before making transition into politics
Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing
The Guardian, Tuesday 29 July 2014 16.06 BST
The Chinese Communist party prizes conformity, and many of its aesthetic trademarks – the uniform black suits, the turgid speeches – call to mind a massively powerful machine, its anonymous parts in perfect lockstep. Within this system, the fallen security tsar Zhou Yongkang – China's third most powerful man until he retired in 2012 – was a rare anomaly. The further he receded from view, the more attention he commanded.
On Tuesday, the Communist party put an end to months of speculation when it announced an inquiry into Zhou, 71, "for grave violations of discipline", shorthand for corruption. He is the highest-level figure in the party's history to be investigated for graft. But for years prior, profiles of Zhou painted him as China's Dick Cheney, his immense power matching only his moral decay. He certainly looks the part: while China's president, Xi Jinping, carries a perennial expression of enlightened bemusement, Zhou's steely visage suggests barely concealed malice; his occasional smiles look painful and forced.
During Zhou's last five years in power, he was the head of the Communist party's political and legislative affairs committee, in charge of its state security, courts, police and paramilitary. He was known for his frequent use of the term "hostile forces" – an intentionally vague category encompassing a multitude of disparate camps, from pro-democracy campaigners to activists in Tibet. He worked tirelessly to contain them, maintaining a vast "stability maintenance" apparatus involving draconian internet censorship campaigns and extralegal penal systems. Zhou's only superiors were the president and the prime minister, and during his tenure China's domestic security budget exceeded that of its military.
Reuters and the New York Times first reported that Zhou was under formal investigation in late 2013, but party disciplinary authorities had been tightening the net for months. They detained a large cohort of his one-time aides and proteges, including a former vice-governor of Sichuan province, a state-owned enterprise regulator and a handful of senior officials at China National Petroleum Corporation. They also went after his family members, many of whom had apparently leveraged Zhou's influence to amass extraordinary wealth. Those held included his brother Zhou Yuanqing; his second wife, Jia Xiaoye; his 41-year-old son, Zhou Bin; and various in-laws.
State media remained silent even as Zhou's empire began to crumble, and in the absence of official information, rumours proliferated. They ranged from the carefully deduced to the wildly outrageous. Zhou has been accused of accepting bribes and orchestrating a crippling attack on Google – both of which seem plausible, if unverifiable – but also ordering aides to murder his first wife, and even attempting a coup d'état.
"Zhou turned stability maintenance into an industry," said Zhang Lifan, a prominent Communist party historian in Beijing. Zhang spent years under surveillance after urging the central government to follow its own constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech and assembly. During Zhou's reign, Zhang said, his overseers were unbearably invasive. State security tailed his car and froze his bank accounts. "Monitoring a person to this degree, it's really hard to take," he said. Only a few days after Zhou retired in 2012, he said, the surveillance eased.
Zhou was born in 1942 in Wuxi, a sprawling metropolis in coastal Jiangsu province. His father, Zhou Yisheng, sold eels from a local creek, and his mother raised silkworms. He graduated from the Beijing Petroleum Institute in 1966, the first year of the Cultural Revolution, and over the next three decades climbed the ranks in China's state-controlled oil sector. By 1996 he was the general manager of the China National Petroleum Corporation, the country's largest energy company.
Two years later, he made a remarkable – and poorly understood – transition into mainstream politics, cycling through a brief stint as head of the land and resources ministry before becoming the Communist party head of Sichuan province. He was named minister of public security in 2003.
Analysts say Zhou may be the first person in Communist party history to have entered its highest ranks through the security forces. "He seems to be a terrible crook, if the rumours are true," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, an expert on elite Chinese politics at Hong Kong Baptist University. "Why was he transferred from the oil business to public security? There is no relationship between the two. So he must have been protected, or given something to [the former president] Jiang Zemin and his people for the promotion."
Zhou was considered a patron of the disgraced Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, a one-time presidential hopeful who is serving a life sentence for corruption, embezzlement and abuse of power. Political analysts once agreed that Bo would probably succeed Zhou on the elite politburo standing committee. Then in 2012 Bo's wife murdered a British businessman in a Chongqing hotel, triggering an investigation, his arrest and ultimately his conviction. According to the New York Times, Bo said at his trial that an organisation run by Zhou – the central politics and law commission – ordered him to keep the murder secret.
Analysts say President Xi considered Bo a threat. With Bo out of the picture, Xi could launch an attack on Zhou. And by attacking Zhou, Xi could further consolidate his grip on power, battling entrenched interests across the oil industry and domestic security apparatus and paving the way for economic reform.
Last October, Zhou visited the China University of Petroleum's 60th anniversary celebration. In pictures posted on the university's website, Zhou stands tall, sporting a black suit and his trademark grin. Students bow towards him deferentially. It was the last time he was seen in public.
On Tuesday, shortly after Xinhua, China's official newswire, announced the investigation into Zhou in three short lines, many Chinese media outlets re-ran the photos. There was little else for them to publish.
N. Korea May be Closer to Full ICBM Test
by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 July 2014, 07:17
Fresh satellite images suggest North Korea might be wrapping up engine trials on an intercontinental ballistic missile, fuelling speculation of a full-scale flight test to come, a U.S. think-tank said Wednesday.
Development of a working ICBM would be a game-changing step, bringing the continental United States into range and adding a whole new threat level to the North's regular nuclear-strike warnings.
"The rocket engine test program may wind down by the end of this year," The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University said on its closely followed 38 North website.
"If the engine tests are concluded, the next stage in development of the KN-08 road-mobile ICBM may be full-scale flight tests of the missile," it added.
It stressed, however, that it was unclear just how successful the tests had been.
Regular satellite analysis has shown a major construction program underway at North Korea's Sohae Satellite Launching Station since mid-2013, focused on upgrading facilities to handle larger, longer-range rockets with heavier payloads.
Although there is no doubt that North Korea has an extremely active ballistic missile development program, expert opinion is split on just how much progress it has made.
Images taken this month showed the gantry height on the main launch pad had increased to more than 50 meters, while a wider access road and rail spur capable of transporting larger rockets to the pad were either finished or nearing completion.
"These modifications could be completed by 2015," the 38 North website said.
The images also showed evidence of new engine tests, including the presence of first stage rocket motors and distressed vegetation along the edges of the flame path.
The KN08 was first unveiled at a military parade in April 2012, but many analysts dismissed the models on show as mock-ups.
In December the same year, Pyongyang demonstrated its rocket capabilities by sending a satellite in orbit on a multi-stage launch vehicle.
But it has yet to conduct a test that would show it had mastered the re-entry technology required for an effective ICBM.
Over the past month or so, North Korea has conducted a series of short and medium range missile tests, which were largely seen as a muscle-flexing exercise in response to South Korea-U.S. joint military drills.
North Korea fired four short-range projectiles towards the sea Wednesday in the latest of a series of missile, rocket and artillery tests, the South's defense ministry said.
The latest launches began at 07:30am (2230 GMT) at a site near Mount Myohyang, northeast of Pyongyang, with two fired in the morning and another two in the afternoon, all towards the Sea of Japan (East Sea), the ministry said.
"The type of the projectiles is not known," a ministry spokesman told AFP.
"The test of two projectiles launched in the morning appeared to be unsuccessful because they just flew for several seconds, while two other projectiles fired in the afternoon traveled for up to 210 kilometers (126 miles)," he said.
The ministry declined to confirm a Yonhap news agency report that the North might have tested new 300-millimeter multiple rocket launchers.
The exercise came as cross-border military tensions run high following a series of missile, rocket and artillery launches in recent weeks.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un guided a missile-firing drill last Saturday after the United Nations Security Council condemned Pyongyang for its recent ballistic missile tests in violation of U.N. resolutions.
The North's state media described Saturday's short-range missile test as a "rocket-firing drill" to simulate a strike on military bases in South Korea where 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed.
The North often fires missiles and rockets as a show of force or to express anger at perceived provocations, but the frequency of the recent tests is unusual.
U.N. resolutions bar North Korea from conducting any launches using ballistic missile technology.
But the North has defended the missile launches as a response to "madcap war maneuvers" by the U.S.
Pyongyang has been playing hawk and dove in recent weeks, mixing its tests with peace gestures that have been largely dismissed by Seoul.
The two Koreas are currently trying to sort out logistics for the North's participation in the Asian Games, which begin in September in the South Korean city of Incheon.
Hong Kong Leader Says Occupy Protest would be 'Illegal'
by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 July 2014, 17:38
Hong Kong's leader declared a planned occupation of the city's financial district by pro-democracy campaigners illegal Tuesday, and warned senior officials not to support the movement.
Public discontent in Hong Kong is at its highest for years, with heightened concern over perceived interference from China, notably Beijing's insistence that it vet candidates before the vote for the city's next leader in 2017.
Occupy Central campaigners have pledged to mobilize protesters to take over some of the busiest thoroughfares of the former British colony to push for electoral reform.
But the city's chief executive Leung Chun-ying accused the group of "using the illegal means of paralyzing Central (business district) to coerce the central authorities to accept a political reform proposal they have demanded".
Speaking at a press conference he said: "I think any senior official or any law-abiding citizen should be opposed to such large-scale criminal actions."
"There is no gray area between abiding by the law and breaking the law," he added.
An informal democracy poll organized by Occupy garnered almost 800,000 votes in June after being criticized by state-run media as an "illegal farce."
Voters chose from three options for electoral reform in the civil referendum, all of which included public nomination of candidates for the next leadership elections.
China says voters can choose the next city chief executive but candidates must be picked by a nominating committee -- raising fears among democracy advocates that only pro-Beijing figures will be allowed to stand.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's Chief Secretary for Administration and its second highest official, said Tuesday after meeting with Occupy Central organizers that Beijing would not be moved by the street campaign.
"It would not be possible to try to coerce the Central Authorities into a particular position on this important subject of selection of the Chief Executive by threatening to do some sort of action like Occupy Central," Lam told reporters.
Occupy would "cause a lot of disruptions," she said.
Lam was the most senior official to meet with the organizers of the campaign, which has been heavily criticized by Beijing.
Benny Tai, an Occupy leader, said after the meeting with Lam that the occupation would go ahead if the government failed to propose an acceptable reform package.
"It is a political reality that the Occupy Central campaign will happen if there is no democracy that complies with international standards," he told reporters.
"It is a bit disappointing that the government did not offer concrete plans to resolve the constitutional crisis," he said.
Earlier this month, Leung called for limited electoral change, saying in a report to China that voters want a "patriotic" chief executive.
The city was handed back to China in 1997 under an agreement which guaranteed rights such as freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.
WikiLeaks reveals Australian gagging order over political bribery allegations
Superinjunction reported to have been issued on 19 June to block reporting of claims involving international politicians
The Guardian, Wednesday 30 July 2014
A sweeping gagging order issued in Australia to block reporting of any bribery allegations involving several international political leaders in the region has been exposed by WikiLeaks.
The prohibition emerged from a criminal case in the Australian courts and applies throughout the country. It was issued by the criminal division of the supreme court of Victoria in Melbourne "to prevent damage to Australia's international relations that may be caused by the publication of material that may damage the reputations of specified individuals who are not the subject of charges in these proceedings".
The Australia-wide gagging order is a superinjunction, which means it also contains a clause insisting that the terms of the order itself should remain secret. It was issued on 19 June and states: "Subject to further order, there be no disclosure, by publication or otherwise, of any information (whether in electronic or paper form) derived from or prepared for the purposes of these proceedings including the terms of these orders."
In a statement published with the leak, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, said the gagging order relates to a case that "concerns the subsidiaries of the Australian central bank".
He said it was the first blanket suppression order of this nature in Australia since 1995. "With this order, the worst in living memory, the Australian government is not just gagging the Australian press, it is blindfolding the Australian public," said Assange, who is himself Australian. "This is not simply a question of the Australian government failing to give this international corruption case the public scrutiny it is due. Foreign minister Julie Bishop must explain why she is threatening every Australian with imprisonment in an attempt to cover up an embarrassing corruption scandal involving the Australian government. The concept of 'national security' is not meant to serve as a blanket phrase to cover up serious corruption allegations involving government officials, in Australia or elsewhere. It is in the public interest for the press to be able to report on this case."
Assange has been holed up for more than two years in the Ecuadorian embassy in London evading extradition to Sweden where he is wanted to face questioning over allegations of sexual assault.
Gaza: at least 19 killed and 90 injured as another UN school is hit
UN official condemns ‘in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces’
Harriet Sherwood in Jerusalem
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 12.28 BST
At least 19 Palestinians were killed and about 90 injured early on Wednesday when a UN school sheltering displaced people was hit by shells during a second night of relentless bombardment that followed an Israeli warning of a protracted military campaign.
Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner-general of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, condemned “in in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces”.
He said in a statement: “Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN-designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced.
“We have visited the site and gathered evidence. We have analysed fragments, examined craters and other damage. Our initial assessment is that it was Israeli artillery that hit our school, in which 3,300 people had sought refuge. We believe there were at least three impacts.
“It is too early to give a confirmed official death toll. But we know that there were multiple civilian deaths and injuries including of women and children and the UNRWA guard who was trying to protect the site. These are people who were instructed to leave their homes by the Israeli army.”
It was the sixth time that UNRWA schools had been struck, he added. “Our staff, the very people leading the humanitarian response are being killed. Our shelters are overflowing. Tens of thousands may soon be stranded in the streets of Gaza, without food, water and shelter if attacks on these areas continue.”
At the school, Assad Sabah said he and his five children were huddling under desks in one of the classrooms because of the constant sound of tank fire throughout the night.
“We were scared to death,” he told the Associated Press. “After 4.30am, tanks started firing more. Three explosions shook the school. One classroom collapsed over the head of the people who were inside.”
A spokeswoman from the Israel Defence Forces said that its initial inquiries showed that “Hamas militants fired mortar shells from the vicinity of the school, and [Israeli] soldiers responded by firing towards the origins of the fire”. An investigation was continuing, she added.
A UN source said there was no evidence of militant activity inside the school.
The shelling of the school came as diplomatic attention was focussed on Cairo, where a delegation including the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the main militant factions in Gaza, was due to take part in ceasefire talks. A key issue was whether the Gaza-based factions and their armed wings accepted the authority of the delegation.
The Israeli security cabinet was also due to meet on Wednesday afternoon and would consider any progress made in Cairo. Israel’s political and military leaders face crucial decisions on whether to press deeper into Gaza once the cross-border tunnels have been located and destroyed, or whether to accept a “quiet for quiet” deal. “The next 24-72 hours will be critical,” said a diplomatic source.
The last two nights have seen the most fierce bombardment in this Gaza offensive, with inense air strikes, tank shelling and bombardment from Israeli gunboats. In 23 days more than 1,240 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed. On the Israeli side 53 soldiers and three civilians have been killed.
The shelling of the UN school followed an incident last week when another UN school in Beit Hanoun was hit as the playground was filled with families awaiting evacuation amid heavy fighting. Israel denied it was responsible for the deaths, saying a single “errant” shell fired by its forces hit the school playground, which was empty at the time.
But according to testimonies gathered by UN staff, an initial shell was followed by “several others in the close vicinity of the school within a matter of minutes”, spokesman Chris Gunness said. Reporters who visited the scene minutes afterwards said damage and debris was consistent with mortar rounds.
UNRWA, said on Tuesday it had found a cache of rockets at one of its schools in Gaza and deplored those who had put them there for placing civilians in harm’s way.
“This is yet another flagrant violation of the neutrality of our premises. We call on all the warring parties to respect the inviolability of UN property,” Gunness said. Two similar discoveries were made last week.
Israel says militants from Hamas and other organisations launch rockets from the vicinity of UNRWA properties.
More than 200,000 people in Gaza have taken shelter in the UN’s schools and properties after Israel warned them to leave whole neighbourhoods that it was planning to bomb. UNRWA said it was at “breaking point”.
The Israeli military said it had targeted more than 4,000 sites in Gaza since the start of the conflict on 8 July. It had detonated three tunnels in Gaza in the past 24 hours, it added. Among the overnight targets were five mosques, which the IDF said housed tunnel shafts, weapons stores and lookout posts, and two “facilities” utilised by senior Hamas militants.
International pressure for an end to the bloodshed has continued to mount. On Tuesday the British prime minister, David Cameron, added his weight to calls for an unconditional, immediate humanitarian ceasefire.
“What we’re seeing is absolutely heartbreaking in terms of the loss of life … everyone wants to see this stopped,” he said. Blaming Hamas for triggering the conflict, he added: “Hamas must stop attacking Israel with rocket attacks. That is how this started. It’s completely unjustified and they need to stop as part of the ceasefire.”
Four Latin American countries – Chile, Peru, Brazil and El Salvador – recalled their ambassadors to Israel. “Chile observes with great concern and discouragement that the military operations – which at this point appear to be a collective punishment to the Palestinian civil population in Gaza – don’t respect fundamental norms of international humanitarian law,” its foreign ministry said.
But support for the military operation among the Israeli public remained solid. A poll published by Tel Aviv university on Tuesday found 95% of Israeli Jews felt the offensive was justified. Only 4% believed too much force had been used.
Hamas released a video showing fighters inside tunnels in Gaza and containing a voice message from Mohammed Deif, the leader of its armed wing, the Qassam Brigades. “The occupying entity will not enjoy security unless our people live in freedom and dignity,” Deif said. “There will be no ceasefire before the Israeli aggression is stopped and the blockade is lifted. We will not accept interim solutions.”
On Tuesday flames and clouds of black smoke billowed over Gaza’s only power plant after it was destroyed. “The power plant is finished,” said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif, signalling a new crisis for Gaza’s 1.8 million people, who were already enduring power cuts of more than 20 hours a day.
Amnesty International said the crippling of the power station amounted to “collective punishment of Palestinians”. The strike on the plant will worsen already severe problems with Gaza’s water supply, sewage treatment and power supplies to medical facilities.
“We need at least one year to repair the power plant, the turbines, the fuel tanks and the control room,” said Fathi Sheik Khalil of the Gaza energy authority. “Everything was burned.” He said crew members were trapped by the fire for several hours before they were able to be evacuated.
Gaza City officials said damage to the power station could paralyse pumps and urged residents to ration water.
The home of the Hamas leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, was destroyed on Tuesday and a building used by Hamas-controlled broadcast outlets was damaged. Haniyeh was not at home when a missile struck shortly before dawn; most of Hamas’s senior leaders are presumed to be residing in underground bunkers for the duration of the war.
The US secretary of state, John Kerry, said he was in discussions with Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, to find an end to the fighting in Gaza. The pair had spoken “two, three, four times a day in recent days”, Kerry told reporters in Washington.
They were working “very carefully and thoughtfully” on ways to “prevent this spiralling downwards”, he said.
Kerry reiterated US support for Israel’s right to self-defence, “to live free from rockets and tunnels”. The secretary of state has come under sustained attack in Israel over what was perceived as undue sympathy for Hamas’s position in ceasefire negotiations in the Middle East and Paris last week.
The Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem said 13 Palestinians in the West Bank had been killed by Israeli security forces since the start of the conflict in Gaza, raising concerns about excessive use of live fire.
Israel undermining its support in the west, Philip Hammond says
British foreign secretary refuses to say whether the country's shelling of Gaza is proportionate
Rowena Mason, political correspondent
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 10.47 BST
Philip Hammond, the foreign secretary, has said Israel is undermining its support in the west but has refused to say whether the country's shelling of Gaza is proportionate.
The senior Tory, who took over the brief in this month's reshuffle, said proportionality was an emotive word and claims on both sides would have to be investigated.
He repeated David Cameron's calls for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire after another heavy night of shelling in which a school was reportedly hit and many people died.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "Israelis have to understand that while they are defending their security in seeking to root out these rocket launchers and deal with the attack tunnels, they are also undermining the support for Israel that exists in the west."
The government has repeatedly emphasised Israel's right to defend itself but called for an end to the violence.
Ed Miliband has done the same but clearly opposed Israel's incursion into Gaza, despite "extreme provocation from Hamas".
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, has gone even further by saying the Israeli response "appears to be deliberately disproportionate".
Pressed on his views about Israel's proportionality, Hammond refused several times to be drawn.
"What Israel does in Gaza must be proportionate – that's a requirement of international law. It would not be legal if it was not proportionate.
"Israel will argue that the actions it has taken are taken against military targets and that Hamas has deliberately planted military installations in the middle of civilian areas, using civilians as human shields.
"In due course, the claims on both sides will need to be investigated. What is needed right now is an immediate and unconditional ceasefire."
Loss of Shelter and Electricity Worsens a Crisis for Fleeing Gazans
By BEN HUBBARD
GAZA CITY — When artillery shattered their home near the Israeli border, Ibrahim Hillis, a grandfather, rushed his extended family to the city to seek shelter, but the schools were full and relatives’ houses were already packed with others displaced by the war.
So home became a patch of thin grass around a tree trunk behind this city’s central hospital, where his family rigged up sheets to block the sun. Scores of other families had done the same, food and water were scarce, and ambulances bearing the victims of new attacks screamed in day and night.
“We are living in the dirt,” said Mr. Hillis, 73. “There is no work, no money, no medical treatment, and everything is decided by those fighting, so what can we, the people, do about it?”
Three weeks of war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have pushed the territory to the brink of humanitarian disaster. Israel’s military on Tuesday broadened its offensive, bombing 150 sites, and one strike set ablaze the territory’s only power plant, filling the sky with smoke and cutting the electricity needed to pump water and sewage systems as well.
As the Palestinian death toll has risen to more than 1,220, including about 300 children, 22 medical facilities have been damaged and 215,000 people have fled their homes.
The longer the war lasts, the worse it gets.
International efforts to secure even short-term cease-fires have so far failed, and aid groups say indiscriminate battle tactics on both sides have endangered civilians.
“The Israelis and Hamas this time have crossed the Rubicon,” said Stuart Willcuts, the director of Mercy Corps for the West Bank and Gaza. “There is some kind of psychological marker that they have crossed, and they are not going to quit until we don’t know when.”
Even before the war, Gaza’s humanitarian situation was precarious. An Israeli-Egyptian blockade meant to weaken Hamas had decimated the economy, and half the population depended on food aid.
More than a quarter of Gaza’s arable land was considered a buffer zone and was unusable by Palestinians before the war, according to the United Nations. Now, 44 percent of the territory is a no-go zone.
This has increased the pressure on Gaza City, originally home to about a third of Gaza’s 1.7 million Palestinians, but now holding many more who have fled the front lines.
In the stretches of quiet between the recent wars, Gaza City has striven to be like cities elsewhere, but even its finer areas bear scars. Shattered windows mar beachfront hotels, and Israeli airstrikes have collapsed parts of downtown towers.
“Our whole lives have been war,” said Sobhi Salim, 59, sitting with his family in the park of the Unknown Soldier during a lull this week. They had fled the eastern neighborhood of Shejaiya and returned to find their home destroyed, he said, making it unclear where they would go after the war. Three of his nephews had died fleeing the neighborhood, he said, and another had been killed fighting for Hamas.
As he spoke, a man with a plastic toy car outfitted with speakers and lights charged small change to give children rides. A fountain that children often dived in for respite from the heat had stopped working and now held a foot of dirty, green water.
“The violence will never bring a solution if there is not a political agreement,” he said. “They all say, ‘We’ll bring freedom with the rifle,’ but it’s all empty talk.”
Even when the two sides are not at war, Israel has a complicated relationship with Gaza. It insists it has not occupied the territory since withdrawing its troops and settlers in 2005. But it controls Gaza’s borders, sea access, airspace, cellphone frequencies and population registry.
A baby born in Gaza gets an identification number only after approval by Israel.
“It’s a tool of control over people’s lives,” said Sari Bashi, of Gisha, an Israeli advocacy group focused on Gaza. “It’s one of the elements of occupation that did not end in 2005.”
The United Nations and the United States government consider Gaza occupied, though Israel does not.
Throughout the war, Israel has continued to allow food and electricity into Gaza, complicating Palestinian claims that they are besieged.
Ironically, Tuesday’s strike on the Gaza power station will make the territory even more dependent on Israel.
“Today there is no electricity in Gaza,” said Jamal Dardasawi of Gaza’s power company.
The plant would take months to fix, he said, and eight of the 10 lines that bring electricity to Gaza from Israel have been damaged by the war, leaving only a trickle coming in from there and from Egypt.
Mr. Dardasawi blamed Israel for the strike, but Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman, said Israel had not identified the source of the attack.
“I don’t have a clear picture of what happened there,” he said.
Israel has said the war is necessary to stop rocket fire by Gaza militants on its communities and to destroy a network of tunnels they have used to sneak fighters into Israel to kidnap soldiers. It blames Hamas for the vast destruction and the high civilian death toll, saying the militants fight from residential areas.
But such reasoning angers Gazans, who believe “the resistance” has a right to fight back against a stronger power and say that Hamas’s battle tactics do not justify razing civilian homes.
“Look at where they have forced us to live,” said Mr. Hillis’s wife, Insaf, in the family’s tent behind the hospital. “Every family here has a son or a father or a brother who has been killed, and all of their children will grow up wanting revenge.”
For many people in Gaza, it is the sounds of Israel’s military that fill their days: the ever-present whine of the drones that monitor movements and fire missiles, the deep thump of artillery fired by warships or troops, and the screech of fighter jets that dot the sky with flares and drop bombs that level homes.
There are also phone calls, in Arabic with heavy Hebrew accents, threatening Hamas members, “We will hunt you down no matter where you are!”
Leaflets dropped over the city this week bore a map of Gaza dotted with graves.
“Do you know where the bodies of Hamas and Islamic Jihad elements are?” they read. The back bore a list of dead fighters with a question: “Whose name do you think will be in the next leaflet?”
During the war, Gazans have heard little from Hamas, other than its television or radio stations, which splice jihadi music with news about the “Zionist enemy” and often predict victory “in the next few days.”
As the war continues, most Gazans are just struggling for a safe place to sleep.
About 400 people, all Muslims, have crowded into the Greek Orthodox Church of St. Porphyrius, where Archbishop Alexios has four rules: “Be quiet, be clean, no problems and no weapons.”
The displaced sleep in offices and meeting halls and string their laundry across the courtyard. When it is too dangerous to walk to the mosque, they lay out rugs and pray in the church.
Alaa Sukkar said his family had fled to Gaza City with no place to go and stumbled upon the church, where they had stayed since.
A fighter jet screamed overhead as he spoke, and he blamed Israel for the war and said Hamas had to fire rockets to keep Israel out of Gaza.
But when asked whether the rockets actually did that, he reconsidered.
“The rockets don’t protect us, and the Jews’ tanks and jets don’t protect them,” he said. “The only thing that could protect us would be peace between us.”
07/29/2014 01:34 PM
The Children of War: A Humanitarian Catastrophe Unfolds in Gaza
By Julia Amalia Heyer in Gaza City
Israel's incursion into the Gaza Strip triggered a bloody war. Brutal images of dead and injured Palestinians have circulated widely, but a cease-fire still appears to be a long way off.
Ahmed is hungry. Eyes closed, he clutches his mother's breast and drinks, oblivious to everything around him. He ignores the rattling of the ceiling fan, dangling precariously. And he doesn't notice the dull thuds that cause the walls to shake and his mother, Marwat al-Asasma, to cringe. Sometimes his body trembles, and he balls his tiny hands into fists.
Her son now weighs a little over three kilograms (6.6 lbs.), says al-Asasma, 18, and he is healthy and gaining weight. She sounds as if she can hardly believe what she is saying. Ahmed is just over two weeks old -- born in the night when the Israelis sent their first tanks to the Gaza Strip border.
Ahmed is both a child of the war and one of its victims. Ten days after he was born, he lost his father, his grandparents and his home. His mother doesn't know how much is left of the family house. She remembers only dust and smoke, but is trying to forget even that.
She and her siblings used to live in Shejaiya, a suburb east of Gaza City. Now, though, no one lives there anymore. Shejaiya, where entire city blocks were demolished, now lies in ruins. The Israeli army, after identifying Shejaiya as a Hamas stronghold and a center of resistance, sent in tanks and combat units. At least 100 Palestinians were killed there on the Sunday before last. The exact casualty figures are unknown, but the Red Cross expects that there are significantly more dead, people who were burned to death, crushed or buried under the rubble of collapsed buildings, some of which were still smoldering days later. The ongoing fighting has made it difficult to recover the bodies.
Shejaiya has become a symbol for the people in Gaza, for the brutality and relentlessness of this latest war, one that they cannot escape. There is no longer anywhere in the narrow, sealed-off Gaza Strip that can be considered safe; no place where the lunacy of death and suffering is not palpable.
In a Handcart Through the Rubble
Before Shejaiya came under Israeli fire, thousands of people living even closer to the border had fled there seeking shelter from the advancing tanks. Now, the displaced have moved even farther from the border, into Gaza City, that dense tangle of tall buildings and narrow streets. According to the United Nations, the number of people now in the city has almost doubled, from 600,000 to more than a million. An estimated 100,000 people have lost their homes, some temporarily and some for good. They now live in building entrances, on parking lots and in schools. And they are not even safe here, as evidenced by the death of the German-Palestinian Kilani family. Having heeded Israeli warnings, the family moved from the north into an apartment in Gaza City. A rocket fired by the Israeli army destroyed the building a short time later.
On the Sunday when shells struck the neighboring building and then her own, Marwat al-Asasma was still so weak from giving birth that she could hardly walk. Her sister Noura put baby Ahmed carefully into a backpack and placed Marwat and her own daughter in a handcart before pulling them two kilometers through the rubble to a church.
That is where the two sisters are now sitting, on the stone floor of a whitewashed, windowless room, a space of 30 square meters (323 square feet) that they share with 20 women and children. There are not enough mattresses to go around, so the youngest sleep in cardboard boxes. When a bomb struck the neighboring cemetery, the sisters considered going somewhere else. "But where?" asks al-Asasma. "No place is safe."
A little boy is sucking on his toes, making noises to imitate the impact of artillery fire. He presses his lips together and then pops them open. Noura al-Asama is even afraid to take her five-year-old daughter out into the courtyard to use the toilet, worried that they will be killed along the way.
The women from Shejaiya who have fled to this church with their children yearn for a ceasefire. Both sides must stop the killing, says Noura al-Asasma. "We're not a buffer zone, we're people." She has nothing but contempt for Hamas. "If Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashal lived like us, they would think twice about continuing this war." Instead, she says, the former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas leader Mashal live safely in exile in wealthy Qatar.
'Prepared for a Lengthy Campaign'
Only a few weeks ago, the two sisters still felt optimistic about the future. They hoped that the unity government formed recently by Fatah and Hamas would improve the situation in the Gaza Strip. But it didn't happen. The sisters believe that Israel began this war to prevent a more tolerable life for the Palestinians.
The death toll is mounting on both sides. According to Tuesday media reports, 53 Israeli soldiers have died along with three civilians. More than 1,100 Palestinians have reportedly been killed in the fighting, most of them civilians. Dozens of children have been among them, and there is no sign the violence is going to stop anytime soon. Despite international efforts to at least establish a temporary ceasefire, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised address on Monday evening that the offensive will continue until the tunnels used by the Palestinians to hide and launch rockets into Israeli territory are neutralized. "We need to be prepared for a lengthy campaign," he said.
During the three weeks the war has lasted thus far, the women have learned that there are different kinds of threats. They recognize the thundering noise of F-16 fighter jets, and they can distinguish between the reverberating detonation of bombs dropped from the air and the dull thud of tank artillery. Shells from ships off the coast are always fired three at a time and produce a ghostly echo. When it is quiet in Gaza City, the drones buzz in the hot air like nervous insects. But it is rarely quiet, and whenever a ceasefire is agreed upon, it is almost immediately violated.
For days, US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon have tried unsuccessfully to put an end to the fighting. Their goal is a humanitarian ceasefire that would last several days, so that an agreement could be negotiated to guarantee a long-term cessation of violence. The plan calls for Hamas to stop launching attacks on Israel, while Israel would pull back its army. Egypt would also open the Rafah border crossing to allow both people and goods to pass through once again.
But on Friday evening the Israeli government rejected the proposal for a prolonged truce. The majority of the Israeli cabinet called for a continuation and even intensification of the attacks on the Gaza Strip. A high-level Middle East conference in Paris, which Kerry attended over the weekend, made little headway.
Both parties to the conflict appear to have an interest in continuing the war. Hamas is placing its bets on resistance, losses be damned -- and each dead child drives the price of negotiations even higher. Every day on which flights to Ben Gurion Airport remain cancelled or life in Tel Aviv comes to a standstill is a small victory for the militant organization. Israel, for its part, has taken the ground offensive so far that even moderate members of the government like Justice Minister Tzipi Livni now want to see its continuation until Hamas is incapacitated. Even though the country hasn't suffered this many casualties since the 2006 Lebanon war, recent opinion polls likewise show that popular support for the Gaza Strip offensive remains strong.
This stands in contrast to the rest of the Western world, where social networks are full of expressions of outrage over the deaths of so many innocents, of so many children. The war has become a duel of images, and in contrast to the battlefield, this is where the Palestinian side has the tragic upper hand. No matter how often government officials from around the world insist on their support for Israel's right to defend itself, public opinion would seem to be firmly on the side of the Palestinians. Twitter and Facebook are filled with disturbing photos of dead children, and the hashtag #GazaUnderAttack offers eyewitness reports from the combat zone. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right when he speaks of "telegenically dead Palestinians." He knows that Israel cannot win this war of images.
Many in the US and Europe are seeing such unfiltered reality in Gaza for the first time. Reports in newspapers tend not to include the most brutal of images. But pictures and videos posted directly by Gaza Strip residents are unfiltered and often originate from the victims themselves.
One mobile-phone video in particular has been viewed almost 2 million times on YouTube. It shows a young man in a turquoise T-shirt searching for his family members in the wreckage of Shejaiya, only to be shot dead by Israeli snipers.
The pain of losing a child is no different for a parent in Tel Aviv or Beit Hanun. But the two sides are not suffering equally in this war -- and it doesn't take a comparison of the casualty numbers to reach this conclusion. In contrast to Israel, where people still go to work and the beach despite rocket warnings, normal life no longer exists in Gaza. The people of Gaza, unprotected and at the mercy of the violence, are suffering most of all. Streets are empty and life is concentrated into small spaces, all of them illusions of safety, such as hospitals, schools and international facilities. Last Thursday, when an Israeli missile struck a UN school where many families had taken refuge, 16 people died and more than 200 were wounded. On Tuesday, Israeli air strikes heavily damaged the Gaza Strip's only power plant.
"What's happening here is totally unacceptable," says Canadian national Pernille Ironside, 40, who runs the UNICEF office in Gaza. She says the Israeli army is destroying the civilian infrastructure, and not just Hamas's tunnels and arsenals. She runs her hand through her hair as she sits in front of a clothes rack full of bulletproof vests in UN blue. She used to work in Eastern Congo and Yemen, she says, but "Gaza is worse." She estimates that the war directly affects about 120,000 children and many of them are seriously traumatized. She supports the UN Human Rights Council in its effort to create a commission to investigate possible Israeli war crimes in the Gaza Strip.
Last week, the army even issued a warning that an airstrike on Al-Shifa Hospital was planned. Israel justifies attacks on hospitals and schools by claiming that Hamas uses them to store weapons. Furthermore, there have been unsubstantiated rumors for years that Hamas maintains a secret command center beneath Al-Shifa Hospital, though no proof has been forthcoming. What is certainly true, however, is that Gaza extremists fire rockets from residential areas, and that many of the tunnels it has built for attacks on Israel start in private homes. This has prompted Netanyahu to accuse Hamas of using civilians as human shields, and he asserts that the Islamists are committing a war crime because international law forbids such tactics. It also, however, also forbids the targeting of civilian facilities, even if there is reason to believe that the enemy is hiding there.
"Bombing hospitals is not allowed," says Mads Gilbert, 67, a professor of emergency medicine, as he stands in his turquoise scrubs in the driveway of Al-Shifa Hospital. His voice cuts through the noise of sirens, announcements and the screams of the wounded. The smell of disinfectant is almost completely overwhelmed by the effluvium of hundreds of people. It is hot and it stinks, but there is hardly any water for bathing. Gilbert has been working in the emergency room at Al-Shifa Hospital, sometimes 36-hours at a stretch, since he arrived in the Gaza Strip from Tromsø, Norway about three weeks ago.
Everyone in Gaza becomes a human shield almost perforce, says Gilbert. Hamas doesn't even have to plan. There are simply too many people in too little space, he explains. But this, he adds, is precisely the reason hospitals and schools should be off-limits, since the Israeli army knows full well that civilians seek shelter in such buildings.
Gilbert also worked in Gaza during the last two wars -- in 2012 and in the winter of 2008/2009 -- but he believes that the situation has never been as dire as it is now. This time, he says, many of the severely injured are children. After the attack on Shejaiya, ambulances brought entire loads of dead and wounded to the hospital. "We just pulled them out and placed them on the ground, anywhere, wherever there was room."
There is no space left in Al-Shifa Hospital, not in the wards and not in the yard or the parking lots, where newly-homeless families have laid out pieces of cardboard and rugs. "Where else should we go?" asks a woman who calls herself Um Abulata, or the mother of Abulata. She too fled from Shejaiya, first to her grandfather's house and, when it was bombed, to her aunt's. After moving three times in the last four days, she now lives on a piece of foam mattress under the stairs in a wing of the hospital. She hopes that she will at least be safe there.
Aside from her hope for a rapid end to the violence, Um Abulata has only one wish: that one day she will once again live in a building with running water and won't have to wash herself in the sea every morning. That could take some time: Seventy percent of Gaza residents lost their drinking water after bombs destroyed the main water pipes.
It is Mahir Salim's job to repair them, but the engineer, wearing a white shirt under an orange fluorescent vest, says the damage is too extensive. A 48-year-old who went to university in the German city of Hanover, Salim is in charge of the water supply for Gaza City. He is now sitting in his office, in front of shelves stuffed with yellow binders, but he has to head out again soon. "To be honest, we don't know what to do anymore," he says. Four of the six wells that supply the Gaza Strip with drinking water are no longer accessible because they lie in the contested border zone. Three of Salim's men have died while on duty, killed in Israeli attacks.
The army apparently mistook the pipes the men were trying to replace for rockets, says Salim. He is a polite man and cloaks his criticism in a question: "Why do they destroy everything so that we can no longer live here?" Gaza was already anything but a paradise before, he says, but now it's become hell on Earth. "We're not their adversaries, and we're trapped here."
Even before Tuesday's attack on the Gaza power plant, there were no more than three hours of electricity a day. But sewage treatment plants cannot operate without power. "The Israelis say they are hunting terrorists. If that's true, why are they striking civilians most of all" Salim asks? Each new war is more vicious than the one before, he says. Last year, the UN warned that Gaza was well on its way to becoming uninhabitable.
Salim fears that people in Gaza could soon be fighting over water. "Just imagine that a baby survives the war and then dies of diarrhea, because there is no longer any clean water." Once the fighting is over, he says, the slow dying will begin.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
‘Slaves’ in the Gulf: Malagasy women lured to Middle East
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, July 30, 2014 3:27 EDT
Malagasy mother Solange left the island in 2013 eager to work as a domestic servant in Saudi Arabia and earn a better living for her family. Less than a year later she was dead, her body flown home to a husband asking questions about her slave-like work conditions in the Middle East.
“During our last phone call she said ‘I don’t know where I am, nor the address. Soon I won’t be with you anymore, take care of our two children,’ ” Herinirina told AFP while waiting for his wife’s remains to arrive at the Antananarivo airport.
Her death was attributed to a heart attack and “the will of God”, according to Saudi authorities, said Herinirina, who did not want his family name published.
His 34-year-old wife was one of many women from Madagascar who face horrific working conditions while earning a pittance, having travelled to the Middle East through recruitment agencies.
“They treated me like a slave, like a dog. My boss told me: ‘You domestic workers are rubbish to us,’” said 20-year-old Annick, who escaped Kuwait to return home.
“My boss threw Clorox (a household product) and acid in my eyes,” said Zitale Nirina, 39.
“I told his wife that I needed to go to hospital, but she wouldn’t let me and told me to work whether I liked it or not, sick or not,” Nirina told AFP.
“I started work at 6:00 am, had lunch at 3:00 pm and went to bed only at 2:00 am.”
- ‘Human trafficking’ -
The abuse is not limited to women from the Indian Ocean island.
“Madagascar is one example among others in Africa,” said International Labour Organisation (ILO) spokesman Hans von Rohland from Geneva.
“A recent ILO report on Ethiopia showed a lot of trafficking of Ethiopians to the Middle East and Sudan.”
Rights groups also regularly denounce abuse and even torture of impoverished women from Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Nepal who work as maids in Gulf countries.
Typically, recruitment agencies enlist women from poorer countries and take a cut of their pay.
The system has been operating for about 15 years in Madagascar, but the government decided last year to block sending its women to “risk countries”.
Out of 52 recruitment agencies AFP contacted, 21 have closed down, but eight still offer work opportunities in blacklisted countries.
One agent who proposes work trips to Lebanon told AFP “the bosses are kind”.
The country’s labour ministry says international trafficking networks are keeping up the practise.
“An agency here in Madagascar is in contact with another one, say, in Saudi Arabia. Then the two divide the profits,” said the ministry’s director-general Samuelson Ramanitriniony.
“It’s human trafficking pure and simple.”
But the problem reaches up to the corridors of power, and people within his own ministry are implicated or even own such recruitment agencies, Ramanitriniony acknowledged.
With nine out of 10 Malagasies living under the poverty line, the trade finds many willing applicants.
Every week, up to 30 maids return to Madagascar, some without any luggage. Many arrive after spending time in prison, because they are arrested after fleeing the homes where they work, according to social workers’ union SPDTS.
The group estimates that at least 35 women have died, though no official figure exists.
A family in the Gulf pays out about $3,400 to hire a maid, though some of these employees receive as little as $200 a month, said SPDTS’s Norotiana Jeannoda.
The ILO believes families save around $8 billion a year by cheating their maids out of their salaries.
“We estimate that the domestic workers who do forced labour get on average 40 percent of the salary owed to them,” said the ILO’s Rohland.
Saudi Arabia last year passed new rules that grant maids one day rest a week and guarantee the payment of their salaries.
Treaty to Combat Violence against Women
by Naharnet Newsdesk
29 July 2014, 17:26
The world's most far-reaching treaty on combating violence against women, from marital rape to female genital mutilation, comes into force on Friday in a dozen European states.
An estimated 12 women are killed by gender-related violence in Europe every day, with domestic violence accounting for almost a third of all murders in the region.
The 2011 Istanbul Convention had to be ratified by at least 10 Council of Europe member states to come into force -- a milestone met in April with the addition of tiny Andorra.
Nils Muiznieks, rights commissioner for the pan-European watchdog, said the text "could not come at a better time."
"Violence against women remains one of the most widespread human rights violations" in Europe, he said in a statement.
"Intimate partner violence is still among the major causes of non-accidental death, injury and disability for women."
Last year, domestic violence claimed the lives of 121 women in France, 134 in Italy, 37 in Portugal, 54 in Spain and 143 in the United Kingdom, according to statistics compiled by the rights watchdog.
In Azerbaijan 83 women were killed and 98 committed suicide following domestic violence, while media estimates in Turkey suggest at least 214 women were killed by men, "often despite these women having asked the authorities for protection."
Parties to the convention have an obligation to "prevent violence, protect its victims, prosecute the perpetrators, and to coordinate any such measures through comprehensive policies."
"It will contribute to ending forced marriage, female genital mutilation, and forced abortion and sterilization," Muiznieks added.
The European Parliament estimates around half a million women and girls live with female genital mutilation in the EU, while 180,000 others are at risk each year.
Signatories also pledge to provide adequate shelter to victims of domestic violence, as austerity cutbacks threaten an already "largely insufficient" number of places according to the council.
Thirteen states to date have ratified the text including Albania, Andorra, Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, France, Italy, Montenegro, Portugal, Serbia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey.
The Istanbul Convention comes into force on August 1 for the first 11. France and Sweden, which ratified it this month, will apply it from November.
A further 23 countries have signed the text, but not yet ratified it.
NASA’s Opportunity rover breaks out-of-this-world distance record
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 13:51 EDT
The US space agency’s Opportunity rover has now clocked more miles on Mars than any man-made vehicle to reach another celestial body, NASA said.
Since arriving on the Red Planet in 2004, the solar-powered robot has journeyed across 25 miles (40 kilometers) of Martian terrain.
That surpasses the previous record, held by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover, which landed on the Moon in 1973.
“Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
“This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance.”
Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit — now defunct — discovered wet environmental conditions on ancient Mars, some of which are mild enough to have been favorable for life.
Opportunity is now exploring the Endeavour Crater on Mars.
Its next-generation robotic counterpart, the Curiosity rover, launched in 2012 and is tooling around near the Gale Crater on Mars.
NASA said that the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover landed on Earth’s moon on January 15, 1973, and drove about 24.2 miles (39 kilometers) in less than five months.
Those figures are based on calculations recently made using images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) cameras that reveal Lunokhod 2′s tracks, the US space agency said.
European Space Agency: Milky Way telescope ready after glitches
By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 14:07 EDT
A billion-dollar telescope designed to provide the most detailed map yet of the Milky Way is ready to start work after teething problems, the European Space Agency (ESA) said on Tuesday.
“Following extensive in-orbit commissioning and several unexpected challenges… Gaia is now ready to begin its science mission,” the agency said.
Launched on December 19, the 740-million-euro ($990-million) device is the most advanced space telescope ever built by Europe.
It seeks to compile an “astronomical census” of around a billion stars, repeatedly observing them from the so-called Lagrange point L2, a position 1.5 million kilometres (937,000 miles) from Earth.
Data on the distance, speed, direction and motion of these stars will help astronomers build an unprecedented 3-D map of our section of the galaxy, ESA hopes.
Gaia’s commissioning phase was supposed to last only four months, but engineers ran into problems as they prepared it for its five-year mission.
One was water that may have been trapped in the telescope before launch and which froze on some parts of the optics, affecting visibility. This has been fixed by heating the optics to remove the ice.
Another problem is of “stray light” from the Sun that finds its way past Gaia’s sunshield — a hitch that will affect Gaia’s ability to detect very faint stars but not its ability to spot brighter ones, ESA said.
“The commissioning phase has been challenging… (but) all in all Gaia is in good shape to fulfil its promise — all of the core scientific goals are still achievable, as hoped,” Gaia scientist Timo Prusti said.
An intermediate library of data will be released to scientists and the public in mid-2016, somewhat later than expected, he said.
“However, if rapidly changing objects such as supernovas are detected, open alerts will be made as soon as possible — a service we hope to have up and running before the end of this year.
In the USA..United Surveillance America
Republicans Have Proven On Multiple Occasions That Their Loyalty Is Not With America
Tuesday, July, 29th, 2014, 7:53 pm
This column addresses patriotism more often than it should, but it is simply because over the past few years Republicans have demonstrated their loyalty and devotion to anyone except the American people or the nation itself. During the Viet Nam War, there was an oft-repeated phrase from conservatives that Americans who did not love America’s habit of perpetual war should get out. The implication was that opposing the war was supporting the enemy and therefore unpatriotic, but today, there is a tendency among Republicans to support foreign nations and leaders over the interests of this nation that clearly shows their patriotism is reserved for any nation other than America.
The idea of patriotic duty to one’s own country, and its citizens, has never caught on with Republicans, particularly Republicans loyal to foreign nations. Over the past five years, Republicans worked diligently to advance the economic interests of the Canadian oil industry and preserve Canada’s environment by pushing to build Canada’s leak-prone KeystoneXL pipeline across America, heaped inordinate praise on Russia’s homophobic religious right President Vladimir Putin, and of course, provided unwavering support, and untold sums of taxpayer dollars, to the nation where their true allegiance and patriotism lies; Israel. In fact, as mentioned here last week, “Supporting Israel unconditionally has become the hallmark of American patriotism, and questioning anything it does is of the Devil, treason, attacking god, anti-Semitic, assaulting the holy bible, and an affront to Christianity.”
An accusation last week by evangelical freak Ted Cruz that President Obama utilized an American regulatory agency to economically punish Israel really revealed two facts about Republicans demanding compliance to demands made by Israel. First, because Israel is the source of most of the Christian bible’s Old Testament mythology, America has an obligation to obey Israeli demands as if they were uttered directly from the mouth of god. Second, because Cruz protested, quite vigorously, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) regard for the safety of Americans citizens flying to Israel, he obviously cares more about Israel’s economy and tourism trade than the safety of American lives. It is the truest form of patriotism to Israel, and monumental contempt for American citizens’ safety.
According to Cruz, the FAA ban on flights to Israel was not a safety issue, but a devious plot by President Obama to “use a federal regulatory agency to punish Israel, and aid Hamas.” The half-American claimed the FAA flight ban was the Obama Administration’s attempt “aid our enemy and isolate and hurt our ally.” Cruz also asserted that the White House needs to answer for deliberately launching an economic boycott on Israel to destroy its tourism industry. Cruz needs to provide answers to two simple questions; is he an American or Israeli citizen, and which nation does he swear allegiance to above all others? According to his disregard for the safety of American lives and accusations President Obama is plotting to hurt Israel’s economy, his allegiance is to Israel, not America.
Now, on the subject of Israel’s economy, America has been propping up Israel for decades with unwavering support of its defense industry, but it is never enough. Last week, while Republicans were busy obstructing funding for the so-called Bush-Republican immigration crisis and funding for Veterans’ healthcare, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced standalone legislation to provide funding for Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile system. The Senate Appropriations Chairwoman, Barbara Mikulski, had included the Israeli military welfare in a supplemental to legislation addressing the “crisis” of child refugees seeking out Border Patrol officers for assistance according to the 2008 Bush-Republican law, but McConnell’s patriotism, and American taxpayer’s largesse, lies with Israel; not America’s immigration dilemma.
Republicans were incensed that Mikulski’s bill would not unilaterally repeal Bush’s 2008 anti-trafficking law, so McConnell’s bill allows Republicans to demonstrate their loyalty to Israel with more taxpayer money and cement their opposition to addressing the border crisis they created. On the floor of the Senate, McConnell said, “Republicans are united in support of our ally Israel, and we have legislation that allows Congress to send a message to Hamas that its terrorist tactics and its attempts to terrorize Israel’s populace will not succeed.” Of course, being loyal to Israel, McConnell, Republicans, and Congress in general refuse to address Israel’s terrorism against Palestinian civilians forced to exist in a fenced, mined, and isolated interment camp and have no problem funding Israel’s war effort. And, they reveal they have no loyalty to America by staunchly opposing any funding for Bush’s immigration law, Veterans, hungry and homeless Americans, or to repair this country’s rapidly deteriorating infrastructure.
Last Wednesday, the The UN Human Rights Council condemned Israel’s assault on Palestinian civilians it said involved “disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks including aerial bombing of civilian areas, collective punishment, and the killing of more than 650 Palestinians.” At the end of the emergency session, the U.N. Human Rights forum adopted a resolution by a vote of 29 in favor and 1 against (the United States). To punctuate America’s unwavering support for continued humanitarian abuses, America jumped at the chance to send Israel hundreds-of-millions more in military aid while Republican refused to spend one penny for Americans or its immigration problem.
Now, there is no doubt that America is, and always will be, Israel’s staunchest ally. It was, after all, America and the United Kingdom that handed Israel a homeland while the Jewish state refuses to negotiate a peaceful settlement and give Palestinians a homeland. In 2012, American taxpayers funded 21% of Israel’s military that belies Cruz’s claim the Obama Administration plotted to damage Israel’s economy. However, funding 21% of Israel’s military is still not enough according to Republicans and a fair number of Democrats, and there is a question the American people funding nearly a quarter of Israel’s military deserve an honest answer to; what has Israel done for America to deserve taxpayer largesse?
For the level of funding this country provides to “our ally Israel,” one would think the very least they could do was reduce tensions with Palestinians sequestered in a fenced off and heavily-mined reservation by providing what America and the U.K. gave Israel; a homeland. Israel was furious that America attempted to mediate an end to its assault on Palestinian civilians, and instead Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s security cabinet met to debate proposals for how best to escalate the Gaza offensive.
The idea of a Palestinian homeland or a peaceful resolution is a concept Republicans oppose out-of-hand because they support Israel’s refusal to seek peace; and why should Israel negotiate for a peaceful settlement? America dependably funds their war effort that includes the inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people and a military assault on innocent civilians. Ted Cruz assailed Secretary of State John Kerry’s request for humanitarian aid such as food, water, and medical care for war-torn Palestinian civilians as support for terrorists. This nation’s opposition to the United Nations’ humanitarian resolution is all the proof anyone needs that despite the Obama Administration’s calls for peace, America is funding and supporting the invasion of Gaza.
Republicans, and some Democrats, need to come clean with the American people and elucidate precisely where their loyalties lie and which country they swear allegiance to because it is increasingly clear it is not America. Whether it is supporting Canada’s oil industry and protecting their environment from the KeystoneXL pipeline, praising Russian President Putin’s anti-gay, religious right agenda and “patriotic” invasion of Ukraine, or Israel’s decades long refusal to seek a peaceful resolution and provide Palestinians with a homeland; there is no evidence Republican patriotism is for America or its people.
Apparently, Republican loyalty, patriotism, and unwavering support for the nation they love above all others is simply because Israel is the central theme of the bible’s Old Testament. If there is another reason, like something Israel has done to garner billions-of-dollars America gives them every year, it is time for Republicans to explain their Israeli patriotism. If they cannot, they should renounce their American citizenship, move to Israel, and join the inhumane war against Palestinians; but without American taxpayers’ assistance.
Ukraine Announces Halt to Offensive over MH17 Probe
by Naharnet Newsdesk
31 July 2014, 12:10
Kiev on Thursday announced a day-long halt to its deadly offensive to oust pro-Russian rebels in east Ukraine after fighting had stalled efforts by international investigators to kickstart a probe into the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.
International fallout from the crisis tearing apart the ex-Soviet nation rumbled on as the Group of Seven major developed economies warned Moscow that it could face even tougher sanctions over its backing for the insurgents, despite the EU and U.S. already hitting Russia with the most punitive measures since the Cold War.
Dutch and Australian police experts were trying for the fifth day running to access the crash site of the downed Malaysian airliner after clashes between government and insurgent forces thwarted previous attempts to reach the scene.
Ukraine's military announced the surprise suspension of its entire operation across the east after a plea from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to halt fighting in the area of the crash, where remains from some of the 298 victims lie festering in the sun some two weeks after the jet was shot down over rebel territory.
"We have taken a decision not to conduct military operations on this so-called 'day of quiet'," military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkivsky told AFP.
Kiev -- which has continually blamed rebels controlling the site for blocking the probe -- warned however that insurgents had continued shelling its troops positions around the region.
Negotiators from Kiev and Moscow were set to fly into the Belarussian capital Minsk for possible negotiations with rebels over access to the site but there appeared little hope for a major breakthrough.
Separatist leaders have said that they would be willing to meet the so-called trilateral Contact Group -- which includes international monitors, as well as Russian and Ukrainian representatives -- but demanded that Kiev withdraw its troops from their territory as a first condition.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Kiev were set Thursday at a closed-door session discussing the downing of MH17 to vote on ratifying agreements with the Hague and Canberra that could see the two nations send some 1,000 armed personnel to secure the vast crash site where many of their nationals died.
The Netherlands has already ruled out the possibility of sending in troops as "unrealistic" over fears they could get entangled in Ukraine's murky conflict that has claimed over 1,100 lives in more than three months of bitter fighting.
Despite the brief pause the death toll continued to climb, with local authorities saying that clashes in the rebel stronghold of Lugansk left three civilians dead, including a five-year-old child, over the past 24 hours.
The rising toll comes against the background of fresh threats from the West that they could tighten the screws still further on Russia after a defiant Moscow warned fresh sanctions targeting its vital energy, arms and finance sector would backfire on the US and lead to energy price hikes in Europe.
In a statement released by the White House the G7 powers urged the Kremlin to "choose the path of de-escalation" in Ukraine, where it is accused of arming the insurgents suspected of shooting down flight MH17.
If Russia "does not do so, however, we remain ready to further intensify the costs of its adverse actions," the G7 statement said.
But Russia remained bullish in the face of the latest punishment with Moscow's foreign ministry blasting the United States for hitting the Kremlin over its "independent policies that Washington finds inconvenient."
Some EU diplomats and Russia experts expressed concern that tighter sanctions may in fact embolden malignant tumor Pig Putin, convincing him that he no longer has anything to lose by further escalating the Ukraine conflict.
Fueling concern, NATO's top commander, General Philip Breedlove, said Wednesday that Russia had boosted the number of troops along the border with Ukraine to "well over 12,000" and the number was on the rise.
In addition, Russian deployments in the crisis area include "every kind of weapon, supplies, man portable weapons, field weapons, armored vehicles, all of the weapons," he said.
Meanwhile, Ukraine's squabbling legislators also looked set to try to row back from the brink of political crisis with a display of faith in the government of premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who quit dramatically last week after his ruling coalition collapsed, raising the possibility of early parliamentary polls.
Investigators Reach Ukraine Crash Site
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
JULY 31, 2014,
7:16 A.M. E.D.T.
ROZSYPNE, Ukraine — An international team of investigators in eastern Ukraine on Thursday reached the crash site of the Malaysia Airline Flight 17 for the first time.
Fighting along the route to the wreckage site between government troops and pro-Russian separatist rebels had for several days kept the delegation from reaching the area.
An AP journalist at the scene Thursday said it appeared to be under the control of separatist rebel fighters.
Police and forensic experts from the Netherlands and Australia are expected to initially focus their efforts on retrieving bodies still on the site and collect victims' belongings.
It remains unclear exactly how many bodies remain and what condition they are in after being exposed for so long to the elements.
A delegation from Russia's state aviation body said Thursday it also hoped to visit the site, an agency spokesman said Thursday.
Sergei Izvolsky told the AP that a delegation of Russian specialists from Rosaviatsiya was due in Kiev Thursday to participate in the investigation.
Representatives of the Dutch and Ukrainian commissions would not comment on the arrival of Russian officials. Continuing fighting has hindered access to the crash site, located in rebel-controlled territory in east Ukraine.
Ukraine's parliament, meanwhile, voted not to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Yatsenyuk had said last week he was resigning after two parties left the coalition supporting him and parliament balked at passing laws he said were essential to fund the country's war against pro-Russian separatists.
Number of Russian Troops on Ukraine Border Rising, Says NATO
by Naharnet Newsdesk
30 July 2014, 20:51
NATO's top commander said Wednesday that Russia was "increasing" the number of troops and weaponry along the border with Ukraine.
"The number of troops along the (Ukrainian) border is increasing. It is well over 12,000," General Philip Breedlove told reporters at the end of his one day visit to Kosovo, where he inspected the alliance's peacekeeping mission.
"The number of battalion task groups, specials, Spetznaz (special forces) units, air defense units, artillery units are all increasing," he said.
According to Breedlove, the supreme allied commander of NATO, the Russian weaponry contingents deployed to the crisis area includes "every kind of weapon, supplies, man portable weapons, field weapons, armored vehicles, all of the weapons."
"We watch the materials move from inside the central military district of Russia to the area of Rostov, where they are assembled, met, trained, moved towards the border, and then we see them across the border being employed in the Ukraine," Breedlove said.
In mid-July NATO sounded the alarm over a Russian build-up on the border to up to 12,000 after a drop-off to fewer than 1,000 in June.
The European Union and the United States have imposed harsh new sanctions against Russia, targeting the finance, defense and energy sectors to increase the cost to Russia of its intervention in Ukraine.
Rebels to Attend Talks With Russia in Belarus-Source
JULY 31, 2014,
7:00 A.M. E.D.T.
DONETSK Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine intend to take part in talks with Moscow, Kiev and the OSCE security and rights organisation in Belarus, a source in the rebel leadership said on Thursday.
It is not yet clear when the sides will meet for the talks on the conflict in east Ukraine, where fighting has intensified since a Malaysian airliner was downed on July 17, killing all 298 people on board.
"The DNR will be represented in Minsk," said an official from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "At what level, and who will be there to represent the DNR, that remains to be seen."
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic, writing by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Timothy Heritage)
Europe adds malignant tumor Pig Putin's cronies, aide and bank to sanctions blacklist
Expanded list of those subject to EU asset freezes and travel bans is unprecedented in its reach into president's inner circle
The Guardian, Thursday 31 July 2014
The EU has added three longstanding "cronies" of malignant tumor Pig Putin, an important presidential aide and a Russian bank to its sanctions blacklist in the latest punitive measure aimed at Moscow for its involvement in fuelling the conflict in Ukraine.
The expanded list of people and entities subject to asset freezes and travel bans, agreed earlier this malignant tumor Pig Putin's by ambassadors from the 28 EU member states, marks the furthest EU sanctions have reached into Putin's inner circle. Leading members of rebel groups in eastern Ukraine and Crimea are also on the list. The addition of new targets follows the announcement on Tuesday of sweeping financial sanctions, an arms embargo and a freeze on exports of equipment to the Russian oil industry.
Arkady Rotenberg An old friend of malignant tumor Pig Putin's from St Petersburg, who was his judo sparring partner. He has grown rich from being granted lucrative government contracts, particularly for the Sochi Winter Olympic Games. Giprotransmost, a firm in which he is majority shareholder, has been given a contract to do a feasibility study on a bridge from Russia to Crimea, aimed at further integrating the annexed territory into Russia.
Yuri Kovalchuk Another member of the St Petersburg network, who is part of an even more exclusive circle around malignant tumor Pig Putin which goes by the modest title of the Ozero Dacha co-operative society, but which is in fact a group of billionaires closely bound to the Russian leader. Kovalchuk is known as the personal banker for the Kremlin leadership, because of his role as chairman and largest shareholder of Bank Rossiya. He is being blacklisted in particular because the bank has opened branches across Crimea. It also owns a large part of the National Media Group, a propaganda outlet supporting Moscow's expansionist policies.
Nikolay Shamalov Another member of the Ozero Dacha society and the second largest shareholder in Bank Rossiya.
Alexey Gromov malignant tumor Pig Putin's first deputy chief of staff and a former Russian diplomat. He is deemed responsible for instructing Russian media to back the Crimea annexation and the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine.
EU and US sanctions against Russia: which will they hurt more?
Sanctions more sweeping than previous ones, and target whole sections of Russian economy – not just individuals and firms
Angela Monaghan and Jennifer Rankin
theguardian.com, Wednesday 30 July 2014 17.01 BST
The latest round of EU sanctions against Russia is designed "to hurt Russia more than it hurts us", according to the foreign secretary Philip Hammond. With trade between Europe and Russia worth 10 times more than US trade with Russia, European Union leaders are treading a fine line between sanctions that will influence Moscow while not damaging their own economies – many of which are still emerging from the eurozone crisis.
The latest sanctions are more sweeping than previous ones, and target whole sections of the Russian economy – not just individuals and companies.
On Thursday the EU will publish full details of the sanctions, which include:
• A ban on Russian state-owned banks' access to western capital markets
• An arms embargo and ban on the sale of any "dual-use" technology destined for use by the Russian military
• Restrictions on the export of hi-tech oil-production machinery, with a total ban on equipment destined for deep water, Arctic or shale production.
Washington has also blocked three Russian state-owned banks from US capital markets, as part of a package of measures Barack Obama said would impose growing costs on Russia. But Hammond also acknowledged: "It would be absurd to suggest that we can impose wide-ranging sanctions on the Russian economy without also having some impact on ourselves." Both sides will be watching closely to see which is hurting the most. Below are the industries targeted and the pain factor for each side on a scale of 1-5, with 5 the most painful.
Denying Russian banks access to the moneylenders of New York, London and other western financial capitals could eventually tip the country's struggling economy into full-blown recession. The EU has banned banks and companies registered on its territory from buying or selling bonds issued by Russia's state-owned banks or their subsidiaries. The US has put Russia's second-largest bank, VTB, the Russian Agricultural Bank and the Bank of Moscow on its banned list. But Russia's largest bank, Sberbank, has not been included, raising fears that loopholes and exclusions may weaken the impact of the sanctions.
US banks have been less generous funders of Russia in the past: European banks had lent Russian institutions around $155bn (£92bn) at the end of March, according to the most recent figures available from the Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements.
Excluding Russian state banks from international finance would not trigger instant collapse, but the measures are certain to increase capital flight, increase pressure on the rouble and put any investment plans into the deep freeze. So far, the Russian Central Bank has vowed to stand by its banks and take "necessary, adequate measures" to protect depositors and customers.
The City of London is often seen as the main loser from any attempt to freeze Russia out of the financial system but only 1% of its earnings come from Russia. Austria's Raiffeisen Bank, which has a large retail banking operation in Russia, is more exposed, with France's Société Générale in second place.
Pain factor: Russia 4, west 1
The big western energy firms are heavily involved in Russia, which produces 10.5m barrels of oil a day and is the world's third-largest producer. BP, which has a 20% stake in Kremlin-controlled Rosneft, has already warned it could see damage to its business and reputation from dealing with Russia. Even while the conflict in east Ukraine was raging, BP and Rosneft struck a deal to exploit potential shale reserves in the Urals in May. A company spokesman said he could not comment on how the EU's export ban would affect this deal until BP had seen the full EU sanctions list.
ExxonMobil, Statoil and Shell, which also hope to profit from Russia's hydrocarbon riches, are likely to be caught out by sanctions. But the biggest cost is likely to fall on Russia, which is in desperate need of western cash and know-how to modernise its antiquated refineries and leaky pipelines. In 2012, the EU exported £150m in specialist energy technology to Russia, a tiny part of overall exports, suggesting the measure will hurt Europe far less.
The EU sanctions deliberately excluded the gas industry, in a tacit acknowledgement of Europe's dependency on Russian gas. Poland gets more than 80% of its gas from Russia, while the Baltic states and Finland are 100% dependent. But Hungary, which is 80% dependent on Russian gas, could come under increased pressure following a deal it signed with Russia in February to build two nuclear reactors.
Pain factor: Russia 5, west 2
The ban on dual-use goods, those that have civilian and military applications, could have the biggest impact on Germany, Europe's export powerhouse and the largest EU exporter to Russia. Not only does Germany export machine tools, cars and chemicals to Russia, around 6,000 German companies have a presence in the country. The Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations in Germany estimates that the country's exports to Russia and Ukraine are on course to shrink by €6bn (£4.8bn) in 2014 and claims 25,000 people will lose their jobs if affected firms do not find alternative export markets. But in recent days the lobby group has softened its rhetoric to recognise "the primacy of politics".
While certain companies are heavily exposed, German exports to Russia account for barely 1% of its economic output, while only a small subset of its chemicals industry is expected to fall foul of the dual-use category under the sanctions, according to Capital Economics.
Pain factor: Russia 4, west 1
Countries will be banned from signing new contracts to sell arms to Russia, although France's controversial €1.2bn (£950m) deal to sell Mistral assault ships to Russia will go ahead. A future ban could have a far reaching impact on a number of countries, especially the UK and France. As recently as mid-July, the UK had 200 arms export licences in place to sell weapons, military components and missile launching equipment to Russia.
The ban on the EU-Russian arms trade will hit Russia harder than the EU. While Russian arms exports to the EU were worth €3.2bn (£2.5bn) in 2012, the EU's trade was €300m (£237m). The European commission has said only a fraction of the €20m (£15m) dual-use technologies that the EU exports to Russia would fall foul of the ban on military exports.
Pain factor: Russia 4, west 1
Nato unprepared for potential threats from Russia, say MPs
Cross-party report issued as group of former Russian and European defence ministers warn of risk of accidental war
Richard Norton-Taylor and Julian Borger
The Guardian, Thursday 31 July 2014
Nato is ill-prepared to confront new threats posed by Russia, and members of the western military alliance may not have the collective political will to take concerted action to deter an attack, a cross-party group of MPs warn on Thursday.
Nato's command and control structures, the alliance's ability to predict and give adequate warning of a potential attack and the state of its forces are all seriously deficient, the Commons defence committee says.
The committee's findings come at a time of exceptionally fraught and volatile relations between Russia and the west. Intense gun battles are raging between Ukrainian military forces and pro-Russian rebels around the crash site of Malaysia Airlines MH17 preventing international investigators from approaching the scene.
Sweeping US and EU sanctions on Russia this week are the most severe since the end of the cold war. On Wednesday, G7 leaders said they are prepared to "further intensify the costs" to Russia if it does not change its policy of supporting separatists in the Ukraine.
The MPs' warning has been issued at the same time as another report, by a group of former Russian and European defence and foreign ministers, warning of the increasing likelihood of an unplanned, direct clash between Russian and Nato forces leading to an accidental war, and calling for communication between the two sides to be improved.
"Russian military forces have been stationed near and have exercised close to Ukraine's borders. Nato has announced additional force deployments in eastern Europe," the ministers – including Sir Malcolm Rifkind, the former UK foreign and defence secretary, Des Browne, another former defence secretary, and Igor Ivanov, Russia's former defence minister – write in a report on crisis management in Europe.
"We remain deeply concerned … that the situation on the ground may yet escalate, putting the security of everyone in Ukraine, and Europe, at risk."
In the closest encounter to date, a Russian fighter jet buzzed a US destroyer a dozen times on 14 April in the Black Sea at a height of just 500ft, drawing accusations of recklessness and lack of professionalism from the US navy. Moscow accused the US ship of staying too long in the Black Sea in violation of a 1936 international convention.
"With Ukraine doing better militarily, there is an acute dilemma for [Vladimir] Putin on whether to raise the stakes. It's a dangerous cocktail," said Ian Kearns, director of the European Leadership Network, which published the ministers' report.
"Given this dynamic, it is easy for events to unfold in a way none of the key players intended. It's an illusion we can keep all of this under control indefinitely."
The Commons defence committee said Nato should consider broadening the terms of a key article in its founding treaty triggering collective action in the event of "an armed attack against one or more" of its members.
The MPs argued that given the threat of unconventional "ambiguous warfare", the word "armed" should be removed from the clause, so that Nato could respond effectively to any kind of attack.
"Events in Ukraine demonstrate in particular Russia's ability to effectively paralyse an opponent in the pursuit of its interests with a range of tools including psychological operations, information warfare and intimidation with massing of conventional forces," said the MPs.
"Such operations may be designed to slip below Nato's threshold for reaction. In many circumstances, such operations are also deniable, increasing the difficulties for an adversary in mounting a credible and legitimate response."
The report says Nato must deploy more military equipment to the Baltic states, maintain a "continuous presence" of troops training and exercising in the Baltic, and beef up Nato's rapid reaction force.
Nato must also develop new tactics to respond to the threat of such "ambiguous" attacks from Russia as cyber and information warfare and irregular militia, according to the report.
By contrast, in their joint warning on crisis management, the European and Russian ex-ministers argued for de-escalation and better communication between Nato and Moscow.
"Despite recent phone contact between senior Russian and Nato military officials, there are also currently few, if any, effective exchanges of information on military deployments in the Euro-Atlantic region. EU-Russia crisis management arrangements also do not exist," they said.
To avoid an unplanned clash, the former ministers urged: "Political leaders on all sides should review their military rules of engagement and ensure clear guidance in favour of restraint is passed through the military chain of command."
The report singles out Igor Strelkov as a man whose ambiguous relation to the Russian state was symptomatic of a new asymmetric threat. The former member of the FSB, the Russian security service, whose real name is Igor Girkin, fought in Transnistria, Serbia and Chechnya, and played a role in the annexation of Crimea.
"The uncertainty over his relationship to the downing of the Malaysian airliner on 17 July highlights the unpredictable threats posed by Russia's involvement in asymmetric operations of this kind," the Commons defence committee said.
Radical improvements are needed in Russian expertise within the British government, "allowing for real analysis and assessment of the Russian threat", it added. The Ministry of Defence, as a matter of urgency, must build up "its capacity to understand the nature of the current security threat from Russia and its motivations".
Nato's spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, said that she had not seen the defence committee report but added: "Nato has already taken measures to reinforce collective defence, especially for our eastern allies, with more planes in the air, more ships at sea, and more exercises on the ground. All 28 allies are contributing, and the United Kingdom is playing an important role in policing Baltic airspace and planned exercises in Poland."
Rory Stewart, Conservative chair of the committee, said: "The risk of attack by Russia on a Nato member state, while still small, is significant … Nato has been too complacent about the threat from Russia, and it is not well-prepared."
He added: "Even worse, the nature of Russian tactics is changing fast – including cyber-attacks, information warfare, and the backing of irregular 'separatist groups', combining armed civilians with Russian special forces operating without insignia. We have already seen how these tactics have been deployed by Russia and its proxies in Ukraine to destabilise a Nato partner state, annex part of its territory, and paralyse its ability to respond."
Parts of Alexander Litvinenko inquiry to be heard in secret, coroner confirms
Sir Robert Owen also says sections of his final conclusion will be withheld due to sensitivity of documents he will consider
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent
theguardian.com, Thursday 31 July 2014 11.35 BST
Parts of the inquiry into the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB spy, will be held in secret, the coroner conducting it has confirmed.
Sir Robert Owen also revealed that sections of his final conclusion would also be withheld because of the sensitivity of British security documents he will consider.
The full inquiry is now scheduled to start in January next year.
The schedule emerged as the inquest into Litvinenko's murder was formally suspended and the inquiry opened.
Litvinenko's widow, Marina, was among those sitting in court 76 of the royal courts of justice.
Litvinenko died aged 43 after drinking tea laced with radioactive polonium-210 with two Russian men at the Millennium hotel in Grosvenor Square, central London, in November 2006.
The former KGB agents Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitri Kovtun have been identified as the prime suspects. Both deny any involvement and remain in Russia, where Lugovoi is a deputy in the state Duma.
Outside the courts, Marina Litvinenko said: "Finally we will know about this crime. It's been so many years. It's very important for all of us, for everybody around the world to know the truth.
"The question of who killed my husband has still not been answered."
Litvinenko accepted she herself would not be able to see the sensitive, intelligence documents but said it was important lawyers for the inquiry should be able to examine them so that they could inform the inquiry's final judgment.
"I know that it's material I will not be able to see."