U.K. retail sales rise 0.1% in June

Investing.com –

Investing.com – Retail sales in the U.K. rose less than expected in June, dampening optimism over the country’s economic outlook, official data showed on Thursday.

In a report, the U.K. Office for National Statistics said retail sales increased by a seasonally adjusted 0.1% last month, below forecasts for a 0.3% gain. May retail sales fell by 0.5%.

Year-on-year, retail sales rose at an annualized rate of 3.6% in June, below expectations for a 3.9% gain, after rising at a rate of 3.7% in May.

Core retail sales, which exclude automobile sales, declined by a seasonally adjusted 0.1% last month, compared to forecasts for a 0.3% gain, after falling 0.5% in the preceding month.

Following the release of the data, the pound added to losses against the U.S. dollar, with GBP/USD shedding 0.16% to trade at 1.7018, compared to 1.7040 before the data.

Meanwhile, European stock markets were mixed. London’s FTSE 100 dipped 0.1%, the DJ Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.4%, France’s CAC 40 tacked on 0.3%, while Germany’s DAX picked up 0.2%.

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U.K. retail sales rise 0.1% in June

Investing.com –

Investing.com – Retail sales in the U.K. rose less than expected in June, dampening optimism over the country’s economic outlook, official data showed on Thursday.

In a report, the U.K. Office for National Statistics said retail sales increased by a seasonally adjusted 0.1% last month, below forecasts for a 0.3% gain. May retail sales fell by 0.5%.

Year-on-year, retail sales rose at an annualized rate of 3.6% in June, below expectations for a 3.9% gain, after rising at a rate of 3.7% in May.

Core retail sales, which exclude automobile sales, declined by a seasonally adjusted 0.1% last month, compared to forecasts for a 0.3% gain, after falling 0.5% in the preceding month.

Following the release of the data, the pound added to losses against the U.S. dollar, with GBP/USD shedding 0.16% to trade at 1.7018, compared to 1.7040 before the data.

Meanwhile, European stock markets were mixed. London’s FTSE 100 dipped 0.1%, the DJ Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.4%, France’s CAC 40 tacked on 0.3%, while Germany’s DAX picked up 0.2%.

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Russian Court Finds Udaltsov, Razvozzhayev Guilty

A Moscow City Court on July 24 found two Russian opposition activists — Sergei Udaltsov and Leonid Razvozzhayev — guilty of organizing mass disorder.

Udaltsov, the coordinator of the Left Front movement, and Razvozzhayev are accused of preparing mass riots in Russian regions and organizing an anti-Putin rally on Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square in May 2012 that turned violent and left scores of protesters and police injured.

Razvozzhayev is also accused of illegally crossing the border.

The judge has not yet read the sentences for the two men.

Investigators say the protest was orchestrated by a Georgian politician, Givi Targamadze, who is not in Russia.

The two went on trial in February and pleaded not guilty.

On July 7, the prosecutor asked the court to sentence Udaltsov and Razvozzhayev to eight years in jail each.

Eight participants in the Bolotnaya protest were sentenced to prison terms of between three and four years earlier this year.

Some of them were amnestied and released.

 
Based on reporting by ITAR-TASS and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Communist Faction In Ukrainian Parliament Dissolved

Ukrainian parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov has dissolved the Communist faction in the parliament.

Turchynov’s action on July 24 comes two days after President Petro Poroshenko signed into law changes that allow the speaker to dissolve a parliamentary faction with fewer members than it had when it was formed at the first session of parliament.

Several members of the Ukrainian Communist Party’s parliamentary faction have quit recently, reducing its size in parliament by about one-third.

Communist deputies will still be present in parliament but without a faction.

Meanwhile, the Kyiv District Administrative Court is expected on July 24 to start hearings on the banning of Ukraine’s Communist Party.

Turchynov said his dissovling of the Communist faction was a historic event and expressed hope that the Communist Party will be banned.

Based on reporting by UNIAN and Interfax

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Attack on Iraq prisoner convoy kills dozens

At least 60 people have died in clashes after suicide bombers and fighters attacked a bus transferring convicts from a prison north of Baghdad, according to Iraqi police.

Security and medical officials said on Thursday that about 50 prisoners were among the dead, many of them burnt beyond recognition. A number of policemen also died.

“At least 60 people, prisoners and policemen, were killed in a suicide attack followed by several IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and shooting,” an Interior Ministry official told the AFP news agency.

It was not immediately clear who launched the assault, which targeted a security convoy escorting a bus that was transferring the 60 prisoners, many of them held on terrorism charges, from the main prison in Taji, roughly 25km north of Baghdad.

The attack took place at about 4am local time (0100 GMT), just hours before Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, was to hold talks with Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister, in an effort to spur international mobilisation against self-declared armed groups operating in the country.

It came a year almost to the day after fighters attacked the same prison in Taji and another facility in Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad, killing at least 20 members of Iraq’s security forces.

Officials said at the time that no inmates had escaped from Taji prison but 500 broke out of Abu Ghraib.

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Gold prices dip in Asia, but global tensions offer support

Investing.com –

Investing.com – Gold prices dipped slightly in Asia on Thursday, but remained well supported on global tensions.

On the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold futures for August delivery traded at $ 1,305.10 a troy ounce, down 0.03%, after hitting an overnight session low of $ 1,303.60 and off a high of $ 1,311.60.

Upbeat data released in the U.S. on Tuesday and a slew of better-than-expected earnings enticed investors out of gold and into equities on Wednesday.

The Labor Department reported Tuesday that the U.S. consumer price index rose 2.1% in June, unchanged from the previous month and in line with forecasts.

On a month-over-month basis, U.S. consumer prices were up 0.3% after a 0.4% increase in May, also in line with expectations.

June’s core inflation rate, which excludes food and energy costs, rose by just 0.1% from May and 1.9% on year, slightly below market calls for 0.2% and 2.0% readings, respectively, which illustrated how gasoline was driving the headline CPI up, though markets viewed the numbers as fundamentally healthy anyway.

Also on Tuesday, the National Association of Realtors reported earlier that existing U.S. home sales rose 2.6% to 5.04 million units in June from 4.91 million in May, beating market forecasts for a 2.0% rise to 4.97 million units.

Reports of waning physical demand pushed gold prices lower, though ongoing geopolitical concerns in Ukraine and Israel kept safe-harbor demand alive, which cushioned losses.

Silver for September delivery was down 0.01% at $ 20.965 a troy ounce. Copper futures for September delivery were down 0.11% at $ 3.203 a pound.

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Japan’s trade balance -1.08T vs. -1.11T forecast

Investing.com – Japan’ trade balance fell less-than-expected last month, official data showed on Wednesday.

In a report, the Ministry of Finance said that the country’s trade balance fell to a seasonally adjusted -1.08T, from -0.86T in the preceding month.

Analysts had expected the trade balance to fall to -1.11T last month.

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Probe after Arizona execution takes two hours

A condemned Arizona inmate has died nearly two hours after being administered with a lethal injection in what his defence lawyer described as a botched exection that should have taken 10 minutes.

Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne’s office said Joseph Rudolph Wood, a double murderer, was pronounced dead at 3:49pm (22:49 GMT), one hour and 57 minutes after the execution started.

Governor Jan Brewer said afterwards that she was ordering a full review of the US state’s execution process, saying she was concerned by how long it took for the administered drug protocol to kill Wood.

Wood had filed several appeals that were denied by the US Supreme Court, including one that said his rights under the First Amendment of the Constitution were violated when the state refused to reveal details such as the supplier of the drugs.

His lawyers had filed an emergency appeal with the court while the execution was underway, saying Wood was “gasping and snorting for more than an hour”.

Word that Justice Anthony Kennedy denied the appeal came about a half hour after Wood’s, 55, death.

Family members of the victims said they had no problems with the way the execution was carried out.

“This man conducted a horrific murder and you guys are going, ‘let’s worry about the drugs’,” said Richard Brown.

Wood looked at the family members as he delivered his final words, saying he was thankful for Jesus Christ as his savior.

At one point, he smiled at them, which angered the family.

“I take comfort knowing today my pain stops, and I said a prayer that on this or any other day you may find peace in all of your hearts and may God forgive you all,” Wood said.

Drugs administered wrongly

The case has highlighted scrutiny surrounding lethal injections after two controversial executions, including that of an Ohio inmate in January who snorted and gasped during the 26 minutes it took him to die.

In Oklahoma, an inmate died of a heart attack minutes after prison officials halted his execution because the drugs were not being administered properly.

Arizona uses the same drugs, the sedative midazolam and painkiller hydromorphone, that were used in the Ohio execution.

A different drug combination was used in the Oklahoma case.

States have refused to reveal details such as which pharmacies are supplying lethal injection drugs and who is administering them, because of concerns over harassment.

The Arizona Supreme Court also delayed the execution Wednesday morning to consider a last-minute appeal about whether Wood received inadequate legal representation at his sentencing.

About an hour later, the state’s high court allowed the execution to proceed.

Wood was convicted in the 1989 shooting deaths of Debbie Dietz, 29, and her father Gene Dietz, 55, at a car repair shop in Tucson.

Wood and Dietz had a tumultuous relationship during which he repeatedly assaulted her.

Dietz tried to end their relationship and got an order of protection against Wood.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Mediators Voice Concern Over ‘Targeted Killings Of Civilians’

International mediators in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict have voiced “serious concern” over the increase in tensions and violence in the region, including “the targeted killings of civilians.”

Russian, French, and U.S. representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group held separate meetings earlier this week with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan in Brussels, Eduard Nalbandian and  Elmar Mammadyarov.

The Minsk Group is trying to mediate a settlement between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mainly ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan.

Armenia and Azerbaijan dispute control of Karabakh, which was violently seized from Azerbaijan by ethnic Armenian forces in the early 1990s.

On July 23, the mediators issued a statement from Vienna, saying that during the meetings they urged the parties “to committ themselves to avoiding casualties” and “rejected the deliberate targeting of villages and the civilian population.”

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Forex

Investing.com –

Investing.com – The Australian dollar gained Thursday after preliminary private survey data showed top trading partner China’s manufacturing rebound reached solid expansion territory.

HSBC’s China flash manufacturing PMI for July rose to 52.0, a jump from the June reading of 50.7 that indicated that the economy is finally turning around.

“The HSBC China Manufacturing PMI rose further to 52.0 in the flash reading for July. Both new orders and new export orders expanded at a faster pace than in June,” said HSBC chief China economist Qu Hongbin.

“The employment and prices sub-indices also improved. Meanwhile, stocks of finished goods contracted at a slower pace. Economic activity continues to improve in July, suggesting that the cumulative impact of mini-stimulus measures introduced earlier is still filtering through. We expect policy makers to maintain their accommodative stance over the next few months to consolidate the recovery.”

AUD/USD traded at 0.9469, up 0.13%, after the data.

Earlier, Japan’s June trade deficit came in at 822.2 billion, wider than the expected 643 billion, and the 24th straight monthly shortfall.

USD/JPY traded at 101.57, up 0.08%, after the data and ahead of a 1245 local time (0545 GMT) speech by Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda at a policy forum in Bangkok hosted by the Bank of Thailand. His QA session is scheduled to start after that.

The New Zealand dollar fell Thursday after the central bank signalled a pause in a tightening cycle.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand hiked the Official Cash Rate for the fourth time in a row as widely expected and signaled a period of pause as it assesses the impact.

Governor Graeme Wheeler raised the OCR by 25 basis points to 3.5% and said the economy “appears to be adjusting to the monetary policy tightening that has taken place since the start of the year.”

“It is prudent that there now be a period of assessment before interest rates adjust further towards a more-neutral level.”

NZD/USD traded at 0.8621, down 0.60%, after the decision.

New Zealand also reported a trade balance for June with a surplus of NZ$ 247 million, above the NZ$ 150 million expected month-on-month.

Overnight, the dollar traded largely higher against most major currencies, buoyed by Tuesday’s inflation and home sale data as well as upbeat earnings, though geopolitical tensions in Ukraine weighed on the greenback’s advance.

The Labor Department reported Tuesday that the U.S. consumer price index rose 2.1% in June, unchanged from the previous month and in line with forecasts.

On a month-over-month basis, U.S. consumer prices were up 0.3% after a 0.4% increase in May, also in line with expectations.

Separately, reports that two Ukrainian jet fighters were shot down over the rebel-held city of Donetsk only days after pro-Russian separatists allegedly shot down a Malaysian Airlines flight with a missile rattled nerves, which took its toll on the dollar, the euro and other currencies.

The US Dollar Index, which tracks the performance of the greenback versus a basket of six other major currencies, was up 0.03% at 80.91.

On Thursday, the U.S. is to produce data on unemployment claims, manufacturing activity and new home sales.

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Chattels discusses the budget law

Chattels Article: “Parliament forms committee to speed up endorsing Budget Law Wednesday, 23 July 2014 20:59 Baghdad (AIN) -Parliament approved forming a committee to speed up the ratification of the budget law draft. Parliamentary source said to AIN “The parliament has voted on a proposal to form a committee to follow up the endorsement of the budget.” it is the first article that i have seen confirming that a committee has been formed. [When is the deadline to chose a POR and/or PM?] there is some talk of a deadline for the Presidency on tomorrow and the PM 15 days thereafter.

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Chattels discusses the budget law

Chattels Article: “Parliament forms committee to speed up endorsing Budget Law Wednesday, 23 July 2014 20:59 Baghdad (AIN) -Parliament approved forming a committee to speed up the ratification of the budget law draft. Parliamentary source said to AIN “The parliament has voted on a proposal to form a committee to follow up the endorsement of the budget.” it is the first article that i have seen confirming that a committee has been formed. [When is the deadline to chose a POR and/or PM?] there is some talk of a deadline for the Presidency on tomorrow and the PM 15 days thereafter.

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EU Envoys To Discuss Tougher Russia Sanctions

European Union ambassadors on July 24 are due to discuss widening sanctions on Russia after the downing of a Malaysian airliner in eastern Ukraine, allegedly by Moscow-backed rebels.
 
EU leaders agreed at a summit last week to expand sanctions against Russia to target companies that help undermine Ukrainian sovereignty and to draw up a list of companies and people to be targeted with asset freezes by the end of July.

EU foreign ministers said on July 22 the bloc could also restrict Russia’s access to capital markets, defense and sensitive technologies “including in the energy sector” unless Russia halts the flow of weapons across the Ukraine border.

European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger has suggested that the EU should not give Russia technical help to develop Arctic oil and gas fields if Moscow failed to help defuse the Ukraine crisis.

Based on reporting by Reuters and BBC

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Hamas rejects Gaza truce unless blockade ends

Hamas has rejected a ceasefire to end the 16-day offensive against Gaza unless Israel ends its blockade of the strip, its leader Khaled Meshaal has said.

“We reject today… and will reject in the future” a ceasefire before negotiations on Hamas’ demands, which include lifting years of blockade against the Palestinian enclave, Meshaal told journalists in Doha, Qatar’s capital.

Lifting the eight-year blockade is a main demand of Hamas, which also wants the opening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt and Israel to free prisoners.

Meshaal’s statement came as the UN Human Rights Council voted to launch an independent inquiry into Israel’s offensive.
 
As international calls for an end to the fighting in Gaza mount, Meshaal said that Hamas “welcomes all efforts to end the aggression” and “does not object” to mediation by any party, including Egypt.

“We will not accept any initiative that does not lift the blockade on our people and that does not respect their sacrifices,” he said.

Egypt, whose President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has sought to isolate Hamas in neighbouring Gaza, had tried to broker a truce between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas had rejected the ceasefire proposal which it said was favourable to Israel.

It argues that Egypt’s proposal, which is backed by the United States, United Nations and Arab League, would allow Israel to dictate if and when to ease its blockade on Gaza.

“Let us agree on achieving our demands and we will then agree on the zero-hour for a ceasefire,” Meshaal said.

‘We will not bow’

Meshaal appealed to the international community and NGOs to “come to the aid of Gaza and not wait until after the war ends”.

“I call today for opening border crossings to allow the entry of aid convoys” to Gaza Strip which needs “fuel, food and electricity,” he said.

“We are more concerned about a humanitarian truce, like last Thursday … for evacuating casualties and assisting the population.

“We are not closing the door to a humanitarian truce … that would not manoeuvre around demands of the resistance,” he added.

Meshaal said Hamas wants the “aggression to stop tomorrow, today, or even this minute. But [Israel must] lift the blockade with guarantees and not as a promise for future negotiations.”

He added “we will not shut the door in the face of any humanitarian ceasefire backed by a real aid programme”.

UK charity Oxfam said Wednesday that thousands of Palestinians have fled their homes but have nowhere safe to shelter from Israeli airstrikes and warned that supplies of water and food are dangerously low.

The conflict has so far killed 715 Palestinians, 32 Israeli soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai worker.

“We do not want a war and we do not want it to continue, but we will not bow in front of it,” said Meshaal.

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Forex

Investing.com –

Investing.com – The U.S. dollar fell to session lows against the Canadian dollar on Wednesday after data showed that Canadian retail sales rose at a faster than expected rate in May.

USD/CAD touched session lows of 1.0711, before pulling back to trade at 1.0726.

The pair was likely to find support at 1.0690 and resistance at 1.0775.

Statistics Canada reported that retail sales rose 0.7% in May, ahead of forecasts for a 0.6% gain, while the previous month’s number was revised up to 1.3%.

Core retail sales, which strip out automobile sales, rose 0.1% in May, falling short of expectations for a 0.3% increase and slowing from an upwardly revised 0.8% in April.

The Canadian’s dollar’s gains were held in check as demand for the greenback continued to be underpinned by expectations that U.S. interest rates may rise sooner than expected.

Data on Tuesday showing that U.S. inflation rose 0.3% in June, in line with forecasts, added to the view that the economy is improving.

Elsewhere, the loonie, as the Canadian dollar is also known, was at its 2014 highs against the broadly weaker euro, with EUR/CAD dipping 0.10% to 1.4443, the lowest since January 6.

Sentiment on the single currency was hit hard on Wednesday by concerns that a fresh round of sanctions against Russia would have a negative impact on the growth outlook for the euro area.

The euro has come under pressure since the European Central Bank cut rates to record lows on June 5, in a bid to stave off the threat of deflation and shore up the faltering recovery in the bloc.

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Adam says the picture is showing progress.

Adam Montana To further address the issue of moving forward in picking a PM, forming government, and just general progress – Ban Ki-moon (United Nations Secretary General) will be in Baghdad tomorrow. While we obviously don’t have an RV yet, the big picture remains one of progress and resilience. As we approach the end of Ramadan and we continue to see positive action in Parliament/GOI/etc, I continue to stay hopeful that we’re on the edge of something big, and soon.

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Ukraine says Russian missiles shot down jets

Ukraine has said that two of its attack jets have been shot down by missiles fired from within Russian territory, in the latest violence in eastern Ukraine. 

“According to preliminary information, the rockets were launched from Russian territory,” Kiev’s defence council said in a statement on Wednesday. Neither Russia nor the rebels commented on the accusation.

The planes came down close to the village of Dmytrivka, about 45km southeast of where a Malaysian Airlines jet crashed after being hit by a missile last week.

The council added that the Su-25 jets were flying at an altitude of 5,200 metres and were providing ground support for government troops. The pilots from both jets managed to eject, it said.

Pro-Russian rebels have insisted on several occasions that they were not equipped with weapons capable of hitting targets above an altitude of 2,500 metres.

However, a spokesman for the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic told AFP its fighters had shot down the two aircraft.

In a video posted on YouTube, rebels showed the crash site of one of the jets.

Mourning in the Netherlands

The downing of the government jets comes just six days after the MH17 crashed near the Russian border, after apparently being hit by a missile, killing all 298 people on board.

Pro-Russian rebels battling government troops in the east had previously taken out a number of Ukrainian military aircraft. 

Kiev alleged last week that an air force transport plane was shot down from across the Russian frontier while another Su-25 jet was destroyed by a Russian plane.

The rebels have denied that they attacked flight MH17 as it flew at some 10,000 metres, accusing the Ukrainian military of being responsible for hitting the jet.

The latest incident came after a ceasefire was declared by both sides in the immediate vicinity of the Boeing 777 crash site, where Malaysian experts and international monitors were examining the airliner’s wreckage on Wednesday.

Earlier, the first 40 bodies recovered from MH17 were flown out of the government-held city of Kharkiv and where taken to Eindhoven in the Netherlands, where an arrival ceremony was held for the dead victims.

Somber welcome for MH17 victims

Investigators hoped two flight recorders, which have been recovered from the crash site and sent to Britain for analysis, would help to shed light on the disaster that killed all 298 on board.

Late on Wednesday, investigators from the Dutch Safety Board said that the date from the cockpit voice recorder was intact and had not been tampered with. 

Evidence gathered by US intelligence officials suggests pro-Russian separatists launched the SA-11 surface-to-air missile that blew up the Malaysia Airlines flight on Thursday, but it remains unclear “who pulled the trigger” and why.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Koran company to build airfield in southern Iraq

Baghdad (AIN) -South Korea’s largest aircraft manufacturer is pushing to build a new airfield and repair airports in Iraq, the company’s CEO told reporters.

In a meeting with reporters on Friday, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) President Ha Sung-yong said Iraq has proposed building a new airfield in the southern part of the country that can be used by 24 FA-50 light attack fighters.

KAI inked a US$ 1.1 billion deal with Baghdad in December to deliver the aircraft, an armed variant of the T-50 supersonic trainer, to the Middle East country from 2015 through 2016. Aircraft to be sold to Iraq are called the T-50 IQ and can be armed with the latest air-to-air and air-to-surface munitions, as well as automatic cannons.

“Iraqi authorities suggested the need for a military airbase for the new jets, and although no deal has been signed, KAI expressed a desire to pursue talks on this matter,” the executive said.

The KAI’s chief said that more detailed negotiations on the airfield will be carried out in August.

The aerospace company will likely go into Iraq to build the airfield that may be worth $ 600-700 million in cooperation with a builder.

“Building the airfield is not hard, although setting up related facilities and systems to control aircraft requires know-how that KAI can share,” the CEO said.

If the airfield project makes headway, KAI may also be able to win repair work on airports across the country that have been damaged in the recent fighting. /End/

LINK

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War Crime Question Hovers Over Malaysian Airliner Tragedy

Countries seeking to prosecute those responsible for downing a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine last week face a complex legal question: Is the tragedy a war crime?

The answer, legal experts say, rests largely on whether governments can establish that those behind the attack intentionally shot down the plane on July 17, killing all 298 people onboard. And even if that determination is made, prosecuting the perpetrators as war criminals will be difficult.

“The problem is, it’s not a war crime to shoot down a civilian airliner by mistake, as egregious as that sounds,” David Glazier, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, says. “It’s a war crime to shoot one down deliberately.”

The United States and Western governments accuse pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine of striking the airliner with a surface-to-air missile, while the rebels have accused the Ukrainian government of carrying out the attack.

The Netherlands, which lost 193 of its citizens in the Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, has sent a top prosecutor to Ukraine to examine whether the downing of the plane constitutes a war crime.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross has made a confidential legal assessment that Ukraine is officially at war as it battles pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country, Reuters quoted Western diplomats and officials as saying this week.

This designation obliges the warring parties to adhere to the Geneva Conventions or risk being prosecuted for war crimes, according to legal experts.

“The significance of that is that crimes committed during an armed conflict may rise to the level of war crimes, and therefore the criminal conduct is not limited to domestic crimes and domestic prosecution,” said Jimmy Gurule, a University of Notre Dame law professor and former government official.

U.S. officials said this week that the attack appears to have been accidental, with separatists initially believing they had targeted a Ukrainian government plane.

Even if the Malaysian airliner was not intentionally targeted, prosecutors could still pursue a war crimes case if they establish that a missile was fired indiscriminately at the plane, legal experts said.

“The question amounts to what degree of care is necessary if you’re shooting these weapons off,” Columbia Law School professor Michael Doyle says. Russian officials could also be prosecuted for war crimes if it is proven that they are providing materiel and direction to rebels in Ukraine who commit these offenses, he adds.

Forum For Justice

Should governments pursue war crimes charges in connection with the Malaysia Airlines tragedy, finding a forum to prosecute the case could prove difficult.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine are parties to the International Criminal Court (ICC), meaning that The Hague-based tribunal does not have jurisdiction over those countries’ citizens unless they commit crimes on the territory of a state that is a signatory to the Rome Statute that created the court.

The ICC can handle war crimes cases referred to it by the UN Security Council, regardless of the citizenship of the suspects. But such a referral in the case of the Malaysian airliner is unlikely due to the veto power held by Russia, which has suggested that the Ukrainian government might have downed the plane.

“What the Security Council might do in a case like this is obviously going to be extremely limited by the fact that it is going to have to be acceptable to Russia,” Loyola’s Glazier says.

Individual states, like the Netherlands, could prosecute individuals for war crimes in the Ukraine conflict under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” though gaining custody of suspects could be difficult unless the Ukrainian government regains control of rebel-held areas.

“Unless the Security Council authorizes the ICC to investigate, unless by some chance one of these people ends up in another country, or unless Ukraine gets control of the territory and puts these people on trial in Ukrainian courts, for the short term at least they are kind of beyond the reach of criminal justice,” University of Michigan law professor Steven Ratner says.

Legal Limbo

In the aftermath of the Malaysia Airlines tragedy, the international community should seek to change international criminal law to account for the accidental downing of civilian aircraft, Loyola Law School’s Glazier says. “I do think that a commander ought to have a legal obligation to take every possible precaution before conducting military activity that can result in civilian casualties,” he explains.

There is a precedent for such amendments, Glazier adds. After the Soviet Union shot down a Korean passenger plane that flew into its airspace in 1983, killing all 269 people on board, international civil-aviation law was modified to forbid states from using weapons against civilian airliners, Glazier notes.

At the time of that tragedy, Moscow was within its rights under international law to down a civilian plane that entered Soviet airspace, he says. “The facts as we seem to know them in this situation suggest that this was a tragic mistake, but it was a mistake,” Glazier says of the Malaysia Airlines tragedy. “They did not have the intent to kill these couple hundred civilians. And so there’s a real gap in international criminal law between the horrors of what happened here and what’s criminalized.”

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

BGG gives a review.

BGG To review: Parliament has been sworn in. There is a new Parliament, there is a new functioning government. They have taken some positive steps & they may move farther than anyone believes tomorrow [Wednesday] or shortly after. I believe Maliki had the 100 people nominate themselves for the President of the Republic to somehow game the system and if you have to resort to “game the system” tactics then you are not in very good shape. They are doing a secret balloting and it is critical to the process. I think this is how they will get rid of Maliki. They don’t want anyone being intimidated. I am very encouraged. We are in the waiting mode right now. We are waiting for the President of the Republic & soon after the PM nominations. Once the POR and the PM are seated we should see economic reform and currency reform shortly after.

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

Ukrainian Separatist Commander Admits Having Buk Missiles

In an exclusive interview with Reuters news agency, pro-Russian separatist commander Aleksandr Khodakovsky has admitted the separatists had the type of antiaircraft missiles Washington says were used to shoot down a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine.

Khodakovsky, the commander of the Vostok Battalion, told Reuters, “I knew that a Buk came from Luhansk.”

The Buk is the missile defense system that is suspected of bringing down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 on July 17.

Prior to the crash of MH17, separatist commanders in eastern Ukraine had claimed they possessed the missile system but after the Malaysian plane was brought down denied having it.

Khodakovsky continued that he heard the Buk was coming “from Luhansk, under the flag of the LNR,” or the self-proclaimed Luhansk People’s Republic.

“I found out about it at exactly the moment that I found out that this [MH17] tragedy had taken place,” he added. “They probably sent it [the Buk system] back in order to remove the proof of its presence.”

But Khodakovsky said the blame still rested with the government in Kyiv.

Khodakovsky said the Ukrainian government knew about the Buk system’s presence in separatist-held territory and “did nothing to protect security, but provoked the use of this type of weapon against a plane that was flying with peaceful civilians.”

He said the Ukrainian government knew it would be deployed in the area and “provoked the use of this Buk by starting an air strike on a target they didn’t need, that their planes hadn’t touched for a week.”

Khodakovsky said that just before the Malaysian airliner flew over eastern Ukraine, government warplanes were “intensively flying, and exactly at the moment of the shooting, at the moment the civilian plane flew overhead, they launched air strikes.”

Khodakovsky concluded that “even if there was a Buk, and even if the Buk was used, Ukraine did everything to ensure that a civilian aircraft was shot down.”

U.S. intelligence officials have said the separatists were likely responsible for shooting down Flight MH17 but were probably unaware they were shooting at a civilian plane.

Based on reporting by Reuters

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

MH17: Cold War Replay?

malaysia-airlines-flight-17-mh-17-ukraine-separatists

The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 can serve as a wake-up call to negotiate an immediate truce in Ukraine. Or it can lead to the most serious escalation in tensions between Moscow and Washington since 1983.(Photo: EricFoo / Flickr)

The most bizarre conspiracy theory surrounding the recent downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine comes from a leading pro-Russian separatist, Igor Girkin.

Relying on second-hand information, Girkin asserted that many of the passengers from the crash had already been dead before the plane had even taken off. His underlings had reported to him that the bodies were badly decomposed and drained of blood. This, of course, was news to all the families of the victims who’d seen off their loved ones at the airport in Amsterdam.

The separatists have denied responsibility for shooting down the plane and have pinned the crime instead on the Ukrainian government. Until recently, the rebels restricted access to the crash scene and the bodies, which gave them ample opportunities to tamper with the evidence—such as sawing the cockpit in half and lugging away pieces of the plane. Now that the bodies are in the hands of outside investigators, presumably the rebels have moved on to more plausible exculpatory explanations.

The United States, meanwhile, argues that it has conclusive proof that the rebels not only shot down the plane but also gloated over their success on social media (before deleting the posts). Moreover, Washington argues that Moscow is ultimately responsible for the disaster because it gave the separatists the surface-to-air missile system in the first place.

Russia denies delivery of the Buk missile system and has claimed that a Ukrainian fighter jet was near the civilian airplane shortly before it was hit. The problem with the latter claim is that the fighter jet that Moscow asserts was trailing Malaysian Airlines Flight 17—a Ukrainian SU-25—couldn’t actually reach that particular altitude and doesn’t have the weaponry onboard capable of taking down a plane 10,000 feet further above.

The Ukrainian government has denied having any missile batteries within firing range of the flight that day. But, strangely, Ukraine didn’t completely shut down the airspace over the disputed territory and direct traffic to safer routes. It was permitting overflights above 32,000 feet, and Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was cruising at an altitude of 33,000.

Moreover, as Russ Wellen points out in the FPIF blog Focal Points, the Ukrainian government knew that the rebels possessed the capacity to bring down planes that high up, and yet Ukrainian air traffic controllers rejected a request from MH17 to fly 2,000 feet higher. Was the government in Kiev guilty of poor judgment, or was some darker motive at play?

Unless a plane completely disappears—a truly unlikely scenario until it happened to another Malaysian airliner back in March—it’s usually possible to get to the bottom of air disasters with the help of black box recordings, satellite data, and the scraps of wreckage. But it takes time to sift through the evidence. And during that time, all manner of wild speculation can take place.

Sometimes that speculation is idle and produces only flame wars on the Internet. But sometimes it can lead to a very dangerous escalation in tensions between armed combatants.

I was returning to college in 1983 when news broke that the Soviet Union had shot down Korean passenger jet KAL 007, killing all 269 people on board. For a couple days in early September, the campus worried that this tragic incident would spark something even worse: a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. President Ronald Reagan had been rapidly escalating his anti-Soviet rhetoric. Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov, directing Soviet policy from his hospital bed by that point, was firmly convinced that Reagan was planning a first nuclear strike. Indeed, a false alarm later that September—Soviet satellite sensors had mistaken high-altitude clouds for incoming nuclear missiles—nearly triggered a Soviet launch. Only a single quick-thinking lieutenant colonel in Soviet military intelligence saved the world from nuclear annihilation.

There were plenty of rumors back in 1983 about KAL 007. The jet had veered more than 200 miles off course to enter Soviet airspace, so perhaps it was gathering intelligence for the CIA or testing Soviet air defenses. Or maybe the Soviets deliberately downed the airliner knowing that it was a civilian craft. You can still find conspiracy theories on the Internet claiming that the airplane was never shot down in the first place and the Soviets had taken all the passengers into custody (obviously some people have watched too many Lost episodes).

After a number of exhaustive investigations, including an analysis of the black box recordings, the shooting down of KAL 007 turns out to have been the result of error, misinterpretation, and incompetence.

Five years later, it was the United States’ turn to engage in criminal negligence when the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down Iran Air Flight 655 in the Persian Gulf, killing all 290 people on board. The Iranian government used language very similar to Reagan’s in 1983, calling the attack a “massacre” and an “atrocity.” The United States denied that the attack was deliberate. It eventually paid reparations to Iran and expressed regret for the incident, though it did not issue a formal apology. Here, too, it appears that errors of judgment determined the tragic outcome. The evidence that the Iranian plane was civilian should have been clear to the U.S. warship, but the chain of command was apparently so convinced that it was dealing with a military target that it ignored all contrary indicators.

In this case, however, the Airbus disaster didn’t escalate the war between Iran and Iraq (in which the United States had intervened on the side of the latter). Within two weeks of the downing of the plane, Iran signed a UN ceasefire. The eight-year struggle was over within the next two months.

The downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 can produce either of these results. It can serve as a wake-up call to the combatants that, because their actions are resulting in inexcusable civilian casualties, they should negotiate an immediate truce. Or it can lead to the most serious escalation in tensions between Moscow and Washington since 1983.

Back in the early 1980s, the United States was convinced that the Soviet Union was fomenting instability in an “arc of crisis” that stretched from the Horn of Africa to South Asia. Moscow, or so Washington asserted, was bent on seizing a warm-water port, securing access to Middle East oil, and picking up allies in its Cold War competition with the United States.

It was yet another example of Washington overestimating Moscow. Certainly the Soviet Union wanted the region along its vast borders to be friendly. But there was no secret plan for Eurasian dominance. The Soviet Union was acting more out of weakness than strength when it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Its rash intervention was not the beginning of a neo-imperial surge to the south, but the beginning of the end for the overextended Soviet Union.

Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea and involvement in eastern Ukraine—taken alongside Russia’s encouragement of separatists in Georgia and Moldova and its support for Assad in Syria—might look like a sequel to the arc of crisis. And indeed some on the right are dusting off some of the language from this period. But Putin’s ambitions are circumscribed. He is not interested in reconstituting the Soviet Union, much less the former Soviet sphere of influence incorporating Eastern Europe and client states elsewhere in the world.

At most, Putin wants to recreate a greater Russia, which involves some swathes of the “near abroad.” But even that plan has its limits. Latvia and Estonia, where there are large numbers of ethnic Russians, are both firmly in the EU and NATO. Kazakhstan, home to the second largest number of Russians outside of Russia, has already proposed new laws criminalizing separatist rhetoric. And given the sheer incompetence of his Donbas allies, Ukraine may well turn into Putin’s Afghanistan.

What Putin has done so far in Ukraine is inexcusable. But it’s not part of a plan for global or even regional domination.

All of which is to say that the United States should not overreact to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. This should be an opportunity for Washington and Moscow to work together on investigating the tragedy, which Putin has agreed to do. This is a chance for the combatants to lay down their arms, which Putin has also urged.

Yes, sometimes Moscow’s words and deeds do not match, but Washington suffers from flare-ups of the same disease. Before this war in Ukraine claims more victims and sends U.S.-Russian relations into a deep freeze, both Obama and Putin need to realize that both sides benefit a great deal more from cooperation than confrontation.

A full reset in U.S.-Russian relations is obviously not in the offing. But returning to the status quo ante that existed before the change of government in Ukraine would at least prevent a replay of those perilous scenarios of 1983.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus

UN to investigate Israel’s Gaza offensive

The UN Human Rights Council has voted to launch an independent inquiry into Israel’s offensive in Gaza, backing efforts by the Palestinians to hold the Israel up to international scrutiny.

The vote on Wednesday in Geneva came hours after the UN rights chief, Navi Pillay, told an emergency session of the council that Israel’s military actions could amount to war crimes, as it continued pounding the enclave for a 16th day.

The 47-member council adopted the investigation under a draft resolution after a request by Palestine, which has UN observer status.

  • 29 states voted in favour of the investigation.
  • 17 abstained, including many EU states.
  • 1 voted against – the US.

Al Jazeera’s Lauren Taylor, reporting from Geneva, said that the president of the council would now have to agree who would lead the investigation before it was put into effect. Even then, the investigation could face opposition from Israel. 

The Israeli prime minister’s office said in a statement that the decision was a “travesty”, adding that Israel had “gone to unprecedented lengths to keep Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way”.

A total of 693 Palestinians – the vast majority of them civilians – have been killed in Israel’s 16-day campaign in Gaza. 

Two Israeli civilians have been killed by rocket fire into Israel, and 32 Israeli soldiers have died in the assault on Gaza. 

Hours before the vote, Pillay told the emergency session that there was a “strong possibility” that Israel had violated international law in Gaza, “in a manner that could amount to war crimes”.

She said the killing of civilians in Gaza, especially children, raised concerns over Israel’s precautions and respect for proportionality.

Pillay also criticised rocket attacks into Israel by Hamas, the group that controls Gaza.

“Once again, the principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed during such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups,” she said.

The resolution lodged with the UN rights council by Palestine condemned “the widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

It called on the international community to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry” to investigate “all violations of international human rights law” in the occupied territories.

The aim, it said, was to “establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible … ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults”.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Kaperoni talks about Maliki being at his best.

Kaperoni Article: “Parliament will vote on the four candidates for prime minister” This is the time when Maliki is at his best. Some of these new MPs will get a cash gift tonight. Or, some of the MPs will be told their wifes and children could be missing tomorrow. Having a vote in parliament that includes Maliki’s name is not a good thing. Where something can go wrong it usually does.

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Dinar Daddy’s Tidbits

U.S. Senators Urge Naming Donetsk People’s Republic Terrorist Organization

WASHINGTON — Less than a week after a Malaysian airliner was shot down over Ukraine, a group of influential U.S. senators has authored a letter to Barack Obama urging the president to impose more severe sanctions on Russia and consider designating the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) as a “foreign terrorist organization.”

Leading Democratic Party Senators Dianne Feinstein (California), Robert Menendez (New Jersey), and Carl Levin (Michigan) wrote the letter to Obama on July 22.

The letter also called for the United States to impose “immediate broad sanctions against Russia’s defense sector” and energy and financial industries.

The three senators pointed to what they said was “increasing evidence of their [DNR] human rights violations, including abductions and torture” that demonstrated the pro-Russian separatist leaders in Donetsk “have threatened the lives of innocent Ukrainians, not to mention those unfortunate innocents merely traveling in civilian airspace over Ukraine.”

“They are likely the ones who attacked a civilian airliner,” Levin told RFE/RL. “It works to putting additional pressure on stopping any aid that goes through that part of Ukraine.”

Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona) said he supported the effort. “Sure. Why not?” he told RFE/RL. “People that shoot down airplanes generally earn that designation.”

He further pointed the finger at Russia. “That is pure fantasy to believe that they’re [DNR] some kind of entity. They’re not. They’re Russian.”

The State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment, makes the designation about which groups appear on the list. There are currently no groups from Eastern Europe on the list of “foreign terrorist organizations” (FTO).

Being on the list makes it a crime to provide material support to the group, and freezes the financial accounts that the groups may have at a U.S. institution. (The DNR has already been sanctioned by the White House, therefore freezing any assets it may have in the U.S.)

Ukraine’s government designated the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” as terrorist organizations on May 16.

The Donetsk People’s Republic has denied shooting down the plane, but residents near the crash site have told reporters that they saw a Buk missile launcher near the crash site.

Aleksandr Khodakovsky, commander of the pro-Russian Vostok Battalion, told Reuters on July 22 that the rebels were in possession of a Buk but denied responsibility for the plane’s downing, again blaming the central government in Kyiv.

Jimmy Gurule, a former official with U.S. departments of Treasury and Justice, who now is a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, says that the designation could lead to prosecution. “Under U.S. law it’s a federal felony to provide material support to an FTO. So any individuals that provide weapons, logistical support, financial support to a foreign terrorist organization could be criminally prosecuted for their assistance,” he adds.

“The question here is: Are these acts of terrorism or are these lawful acts committed during an armed conflict, are they war crimes? I certainly don’t think that the secretary of state is going to rush to that determination or judgment at this point, but I think that it’s certainly another legal tool that’s available and that could be used if the facts justify such a designation.”

Carl Schreck contributed reporting to this article

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Christians Say Terror Drove Them From Mosul

Iraqi Christians leave St. Joseph’s Church after a mass in Irbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region, on July 20.Rawan Jinan, a 25-year-old Iraqi Christian, says when she received an order on June 18 to leave Mosul within 24 hours, she could not believe her eyes.

The order came in the form of a letter delivered to every Christian home by the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which rules Iraq’s second-largest city. The letter offered the recipients just three choices: to convert to Islam, to begin paying a monthly tax for practicing a religion other than Islam, or to be executed if they remained in Mosul.

Jinan, now in a refugee camp near Irbil, in the Kurdish autonomous region, says she and her husband stared at the paper in amazement. “We were prepared for anything, but we were not expecting to be banished from our city in this manner,” she says. “When we first heard Christians should leave the city, we thought this meant that Mosul was about to be targeted by heavy shelling. We did not know they were going to rob us and throw us out.”

The couple initially thought the letter was an evacuation, not expulsion, order because they and their two young sons — one 4 years old, the other 18 months — had already fled fighting in Mosul once. That was when ISIL captured the city in three days of combat that ended with the rout of the Iraqi Army on June 9.

The Honeymoon’s Over

But after that fighting ended, the family returned amid reports that the Islamic State promised to guarantee the safety of all religious minorities in the city, so long as they respected Islamic law.

At first, she says, the militants seemed almost protective. “They welcomed us, and asked us what we needed, asking us to contact them if anyone bothered us.”

In return, the city’s Christians saw no reason why they would offend the city’s fundamentalist new rulers. Christian women had already long been wearing the “abaya,” the figure-shrouding outer garment Muslim women wear for modesty outdoors, and both Christian men and women mostly stayed within their own neighborhoods to avoid trouble.

But the honeymoon period, which contrasted starkly with the Islamic State’s reputation for cruelty toward religious minorities in areas it occupies in Syria, did not last long. As soon as the militia was firmly in control of Mosul, the mood began to change.

Then, Jinan says, the militants began to enter Christian churches, intimidating priests and making people afraid to go to their places of worship. “They did not only enter the churches,” she says. “They also went into the shrine of Prophet Younis [the Old Testament prophet Jonas], which they demolished. They also demolished monasteries.”

The reported destruction of the tomb of Jonas was shocking for Mosul’s Christians and many mainstream Muslims alike, because he is revered by both faiths. The tomb itself is housed in a mosque built on a site where a church once stood, and the interlayering of faiths around the site had long been a symbol of Mosul’s tradition of religious tolerance.

Things soon got worse.

On July 16 and 17, Jinan says, a black painted symbol began appearing on Christian homes. “They began marking Christians’ homes with the letter ‘N’ within a circle and the phrase ‘property of the Islamic State.’ When we asked why, they said that ‘this would ward off anyone coming to loot [your home] because looters will fear that this house belongs to us. You need not be afraid; there’s nothing wrong,’” she recalls.

But the Christians were feeling terrorized. The letter N stood for “Nasrani,” a term used for Christians in the Koran that refers to Nazareth, Christ’s birthplace. By this time, the Islamic State was also replacing the crosses atop some churches with their own black jihadist flags, as if they had been seized in a holy war. “I saw the flags on the Orthodox Mar [St.] Ephraim Cathedral and the Chaldean Bishop’s Seat,” Jinan notes.

Driven From Their Homes

When the order with three choices came, Jinan says she and the other several thousand Christians in the city had no trust left in the Islamic State. She personally did not even inquire about the amount of the “jizya,” or religious tax, the militants promised would grant Christians immunity. The amount has been variously reported by other refugees as being around $ 100 monthly.

Instead, Jinan and her husband rushed to get their sons and fled by car to one of the Christian towns to the east of Mosul on the Nineveh plain. From there, they proceeded on to the greater safety of Ayn Kawa, a town just inside the Kurdish autonomous region where they remain today.

The Kurdish autonomous region, which is religiously tolerant and is guarded by its own powerful security forces, puts her beyond the reach of the Islamic State. But Jinan says she and most other refugees lost many of their possessions to the Islamic State’s fighters, who shook them down as they fled from Mosul.

The fighters took the money her husband was carrying and searched their luggage thoroughly, stealing clothes and even baby diapers. They also treated their victims with open contempt. “They opened the can of baby milk and poured its contents into the street,” she says. “We begged them to give us a bottle of water for the children, to quiet them, but they opened the water bottles and poured out the water in front us.”

Now, with Mosul less about 80 kilometers to the west but her former life closed to her, Jinan says she doesn’t know what to expect next.

Her options range from waiting for the Iraqi government to retake Mosul — something she calls unlikely when the Islamic State is at the gates of Baghdad — to emigrating, something she says she never had to consider before.

Her only certainty is that her family now would not want to return to Mosul even if it could. “No Christian, and I for one, will return to the place where I lived, where I was persecuted, and from which I have been expelled,” she says.

Reported from Irbil by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq correspondent Abdelhamid Zebari. Written by Charles Recknagel in Prague. Translation from Arabic by Ayad al-Gailani.

Assyrian International News Agency

Mosul Expulsion Ends Centuries-Old Christian Community

The expulsion of Mosul’s Christian community by Islamic extremists on July 18 put an end to nearly 2,000 years of Christian life in Iraq’s second-largest city.

The city was first Christianized in the first and second centuries, when it was known as Nineveh and was the remains of the capital of Mesopotamia’s ancient Assyrian empire. That was long before the Muslim conquest of the seventh century.

Following the Muslim conquest, the city became majority Muslim but remained home to dozens of cathedrals and churches as well as the tombs of the Old Testament prophet Jonah.

When the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), ordered Mosul’s Christian community of several thousand families this month to convert to Islam, pay a tax for practicing Christianity, or be executed, the entire community reportedly fled en masse.

READ MORE: Christians Say Terror Drove Them From Mosul

Today, they have taken shelter in the small Christian towns and villages that dot the vast Nineveh plain around Mosul or sought refuge in the adjoining Kurdish autonomous region.

“For the first time in the history of Iraq, Mosul is now empty of Christians,” Louis Raphael Sako, the Baghdad-based Chaldean Catholic patriarch of Babylon, told reporters on July 19.

Those who fled include both Assyrian and Arab Christians and belong to many different churches.

The majority of Assyrian Christians follow the Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, and the Syriac Orthodox Church, while a minority follow the Assyrian Church of the East.

The Arab Christians belong to the Greek Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and the Syriac Orthodox Church, as well as a number of Protestant churches.

The Christians’ homes and their places of worship have now been taken over by the Islamic State. “There have been churches taken over and occupied by the Islamic State and the black signature banners of the Islamic State have been hoisted on church properties and a statue of the Virgin Mary was taken down,” says Letta Tayler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, who has compiled witness accounts of the events in northern Iraq.

The expulsion order marks the final blow for a once prosperous urban community that had already seen its ranks decimated by violence since the U.S. overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Long before the arrival of the Islamic State, which swept across northern Iraq in early June and has since declared an Islamic caliphate on the territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, Christians in Mosul were systematically targeted in bombings, executions, and kidnappings for ransom by extremists. The attacks by extremist Muslims, who see the Christians as allied by their faith with Western powers and values, have caused thousands to flee the country.

Church leader Sako says that before 2003 there were about 25,000 Christians in Mosul but this number was steadily decreasing. While no precise numbers are available, he told Reuters on July 21 that several thousand families remained in Mosul at the time of the Islamic State’s expulsion order.

The same attrition applies to Christian communities across the country. Overall, some 1.5 million Christians reportedly lived in Iraq before the U.S. invasion, but the number has dropped to some 400,000 today.

Iraqi Christian leaders have sought to underline that they believe Iraqi Muslims as a whole remain religiously tolerant and that the extremist groups who target Christians also pose a danger to all Iraqis. “We have lived with our Muslim brothers in Nineveh for centuries in peace and harmony and never exchanged violence on any day,” Father Sabah Boutros of St. George’s Church in Baghdad told reporters on July 18.

He said the acts of the Islamic State do not represent Muslims but only the group itself “as it launches its terrorist attacks on all without exception.”

Christians are among several minorities who are being systematically expelled or killed by the Islamic State.

Human Rights Watch notes that Shi’ite Shabaks and Shi’ite Turkomans have come under particularly harsh treatment, with tens of thousands of families fleeing their communities near Mosul as a result of Islamic State raids. “They have gone in and rounded up [Shi'ite] men by the dozens in their villages, they have pillaged their homes and they have destroyed and desecrated their shrines and mosques,” Tayler says.

The Yazidis, a tiny sect that has survived for centuries and whose theology fuses elements of Islam, Christianity, and Zoroastrianism, have also suffered harsh treatment.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

100 French MPs Demonstrate in Support of Assyrians in Mosul

100 French MPs Demonstrate in Support of Assyrians in Mosul

Posted 2014-07-23 17:02 GMT

French Parliament members demonstrate in Paris in support of Assyrians in Mosul, who have been targeted by ISIS.Paris (AINA) — One hundred members of the French Parliament demonstrated in front of the parliament building today in support of the Assyrians of Mosul, who have been targeted by ISIS. The demonstrators expressed their solidarity with the Assyrian of Mosul by carrying signs with the Arabic letter “n”, which is the first letter of the word “Nasrani” (Christian) in Arabic. ISIS has marked all Christian homes in Mosul with this letter (AINA 2014-07-19).

Since taking over Mosul, ISIS has destroyed nearly half of the 30 churches in the city and occupied the rest, converting them into mosques and headquarters.

Nearly 2,000 Assyrian families have fled Mosul to the Assyrian villages in the north, including Ankawa and Dohuk. The water and electric service that was supplied from Mosul to the surrounding towns and villages has been cut off by ISIS. Residents are now using well water and their is a life-threatening shortage of water.

In a statement issued today, Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako said this is the worst disaster to hit Iraq’s Christians since the coming of Genghis Khan.

Assyrian International News Agency

Christians Say Terror Drove Them From Mosul

Rawan Jinan, a 25-year-old Iraqi Christian, says when she received an order on June 18 to leave Mosul within 24 hours, she could not believe her eyes.

The order came in the form of a letter delivered to every Christian home by the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which rules Iraq’s second-largest city. The letter offered the recipients just three choices: to convert to Islam, to begin paying a monthly tax for practicing a religion other than Islam, or to be executed if they remained in Mosul.

Jinan, now in a refugee camp near Irbil, in the Kurdish autonomous region, says she and her husband stared at the paper in amazement. “We were prepared for anything, but we were not expecting to be banished from our city in this manner,” she says. “When we first heard Christians should leave the city, we thought this meant that Mosul was about to be targeted by heavy shelling. We did not know they were going to rob us and throw us out.”

The couple initially thought the letter was an evacuation, not expulsion, order because they and their two young sons — one 4 years old, the other 18 months — had already fled fighting in Mosul once. That was when ISIL captured the city in three days of combat that ended with the rout of the Iraqi Army on June 9.

The Honeymoon’s Over

But after that fighting ended, the family returned amid reports that the Islamic State promised to guarantee the safety of all religious minorities in the city, so long as they respected Islamic law.

At first, she says, the militants seemed almost protective. “They welcomed us, and asked us what we needed, asking us to contact them if anyone bothered us.”

In return, the city’s Christians saw no reason why they would offend the city’s fundamentalist new rulers. Christian women had already long been wearing the “abaya,” the figure-shrouding outer garment Muslim women wear for modesty outdoors, and both Christian men and women mostly stayed within their own neighborhoods to avoid trouble.

But the honeymoon period, which contrasted starkly with the Islamic State’s reputation for cruelty toward religious minorities in areas it occupies in Syria, did not last long. As soon as the militia was firmly in control of Mosul, the mood began to change.

Then, Jinan says, the militants began to enter Christian churches, intimidating priests and making people afraid to go to their places of worship. “They did not only enter the churches,” she says. “They also went into the shrine of Prophet Younis [the Old Testament prophet Jonas], which they demolished. They also demolished monasteries.”

The reported destruction of the tomb of Jonas was shocking for Mosul’s Christians and many mainstream Muslims alike, because he is revered by both faiths. The tomb itself is housed in a mosque built on a site where a church once stood, and the interlayering of faiths around the site had long been a symbol of Mosul’s tradition of religious tolerance.

Things soon got worse.

On July 16 and 17, Jinan says, a black painted symbol began appearing on Christian homes. “They began marking Christians’ homes with the letter ‘N’ within a circle and the phrase ‘property of the Islamic State.’ When we asked why, they said that ‘this would ward off anyone coming to loot [your home] because looters will fear that this house belongs to us. You need not be afraid; there’s nothing wrong,’” she recalls.

But the Christians were feeling terrorized. The letter N stood for “Nasrani,” a term used for Christians in the Koran that refers to Nazareth, Christ’s birthplace. By this time, the Islamic State was also replacing the crosses atop some churches with their own black jihadist flags, as if they had been seized in a holy war. “I saw the flags on the Orthodox Mar [St.] Ephraim Cathedral and the Chaldean Bishop’s Seat,” Jinan notes.

Driven From Their Homes

When the order with three choices came, Jinan says she and the other several thousand Christians in the city had no trust left in the Islamic State. She personally did not even inquire about the amount of the “jizya,” or religious tax, the militants promised would grant Christians immunity. The amount has been variously reported by other refugees as being around $ 100 monthly.

Instead, Jinan and her husband rushed to get their sons and fled by car to one of the Christian towns to the east of Mosul on the Nineveh plain. From there, they proceeded on to the greater safety of Ayn Kawa, a town just inside the Kurdish autonomous region where they remain today.

The Kurdish autonomous region, which is religiously tolerant and is guarded by its own powerful security forces, puts her beyond the reach of the Islamic State. But Jinan says she and most other refugees lost many of their possessions to the Islamic State’s fighters, who shook them down as they fled from Mosul.

The fighters took the money her husband was carrying and searched their luggage thoroughly, stealing clothes and even baby diapers. They also treated their victims with open contempt. “They opened the can of baby milk and poured its contents into the street,” she says. “We begged them to give us a bottle of water for the children, to quiet them, but they opened the water bottles and poured out the water in front us.”

Now, with Mosul less about 80 kilometers to the west but her former life closed to her, Jinan says she doesn’t know what to expect next.

Her options range from waiting for the Iraqi government to retake Mosul — something she calls unlikely when the Islamic State is at the gates of Baghdad — to emigrating, something she says she never had to consider before.

Her only certainty is that her family now would not want to return to Mosul even if it could. “No Christian, and I for one, will return to the place where I lived, where I was persecuted, and from which I have been expelled,” she says.

Reported from Irbil by RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq correspondent Abdelhamid Zebari. Written by Charles Recknagel in Prague. Translation from Arabic by Ayad al-Gailani

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Gaza under heavy attack despite truce efforts

Israel has bombarded the southeast of Gaza, killing more than a dozen people and forcing residents to flee, as the death toll since the fighting began in Gaza rose to above 655 and diplomats tried to find a solution to the conflict.

Sources and witnesses told Al Jazeera that Israel had bombed the areas of Khuzaa, Bani Suhaila and Absan, near Khan Younis, killing at least 17 Palestinians and injured dozens, as it attacked Hamas fighters. 

Hundreds of people were seen fleeing their homes in eastern Khan Younis as the battle unfolded, flooding into the streets with what few belongings they could carry. Many had children in tow. 

“The airplanes and airstrikes are all around us,” said Aziza Msabah, a resident. “They are hitting the houses, which are collapsing upon us.”

Residents who fled Khuzaa, a rural area, said that families were trapped and Israeli snipers had taken up positions on top of buildings.

“Ambulances are having hard time to get to the wounded in Khuzaa since the fighting is still going on,” said Al Jazeera’s Nicole Johnston said, reporting from Gaza.

Witnesses told Al Jazeera that appeals to evacuate the wounded were not possible due to the ferocity of the Israeli shelling.

“Tank shells were landing on the roads out of the area,” she added, making it difficult for anyone to enter or leave.

The death toll in Gaza has now passed 650 in 16 days of Israeli attacks, which more than 4,000 people wounded. The number of Israelis who have died is 31 – 29 soldiers and two civilians. 

Gaza residents also said on Wednesday that Israel attacked the power station which provides electricity to half the population of Gaza. The attack means only 10 percent of Gaza has access to electricity.

John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said that diplomats had made progress on negotiating a ceasefire, after meeting the Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Ban Ki Moon, the UN secretary-general.

“We have certainly made some steps forward. There is still work to be done,” Kerry said shortly after flying into Israel.

“The UN is wholeheartedly in this effort to try to see if we can advance not just a ceasefire but a sustainable process of going forward, which is very important.”

He met Abbas in the West Bank and Ban in West Jerusalem. 

Al Jazeera’s James Bays in West Jerusalem said that Kerry was at the forefront of intense diplomatic traffic on the crisis, but both sides were still opposed on the terms of a ceasefire.

According to Bays, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, said that Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, wanted negotiations to include a deal on lifting Israel’s siege of the enclave. Israel controls ports, airspace and borders.

However, Israel has no interest in concessions on the blockade, he said. “They want an unconditional ceasefire, and then negotiations somewhere along the road,” Bays said.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Turkish exports to decline by 35% Iraq

Said Turkish Economy Minister, said on Tuesday that his country’s exports to Iraq have fallen 35 percent from a year earlier in the period of the tenth of June to July 20.

, Iraq’s second-largest market for Turkish exports and the size of up to about a billion dollars a month. comes this statement after days A few of the modern Premier exporters Kurds retreat his country’s exports to Iraq increased by 51% during the months past and present, warning that it threatens to obtaining negative impact average of 2.5 points on the overall activity of Turkish exports during the year 2014 the current reinforces the risks of the current deficit in the country’s budget.
said Mohammed Bioakja, as reported by the Daily Hurriyet Turkish, said that “Turkey’s exports to Iraq dropped by 30% in July present,” adding that “it comes after falling 21% in June last.” added Bioakja that “Iraq is the second largest market exports to Turkey after Germany, “noting that” the annual value of Turkish exports to Iraq of up to 12 billion dollars. ” The economic official, that “Turkey’s exports to Iraq during the first five months of the current year 2014, amounted to 5.04 billion dollars,” pointing out that “it is an increase of 11% compared to the same duration of 2013,

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Patriarch Tells Mosul’s Christians: Do Not Be Afraid

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate has published the text of a speech that Patriarch Louis Raphaël I Sako addressed to Mosul’s Christians after they fled their city rather than convert to Islam.

“Our suffering if joined to the suffering of our Savior Jesus, Man of Sorrows, will turn out to be a blessing and salvation to us and to others,” he said. “Be brave in front of what you are facing, do not be afraid, you have deep roots in Iraq, do not give up for frustration and despair, confident that ‘for all who draw the sword will die by the sword’ (Mt. 26:52) and evil does not last! You are the small mustard seed, the Lord will not let you fall.”

“We are your shepherds, and with our full responsibility towards you, we will stay with you to the end, will not leave you, whatever the sacrifices,” he added. “I repeat, do not be afraid; stay strong as you are with your faith and your hope and love.”

Here is the text of the speech:

Word of Christ as His Word is the source of strength and salvation of us, the poor of this lost world: “There is no need to be afraid, little flock” (Luke 12:32).

Our present pain is associated with our Christianity and with the mystery of our Passover (i.e., Easter). Our suffering if joined to the suffering of our Savior Jesus, “Man of Sorrows”, will turn out to be a blessing and salvation to us and to others. And the current challenges are faced with more faith, hope and prayer and solidarity and wisdom. Be brave in front of what you are facing, do not be afraid, you have deep roots in Iraq, do not give up for frustration and despair, confident that “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword” (Matthew 26:52) and evil does not last! You are the small mustard seed, the Lord will not let you fall. He is with you today, tomorrow and after tomorrow and forever.

We are your shepherds, and with our full responsibility towards you we will stay with you to the end, will not leave you, whatever the sacrifices. I repeat, do not be afraid; stay strong as you are with your faith and your hope and love. We thank God for your safety, as no matter what, your life has no price.

God’s blessing be upon you.

Assyrian International News Agency

Iraq’s full solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza

BAGHDAD / Nina /– The head of the House of Representatives, Salim al-Jubouri expressed Iraq’s full solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza.

Jubouri said during the session of the House of Representatives today, : “ Iraq declares its solidarity with the Palestinian people in Gaza.” / End

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ISIS, Kurds Clash Near Assyrian Town, 2000 Assyrian Families Driven From Mosul

ISIS, Kurds Clash Near Assyrian Town, 2000 Assyrian Families Driven From Mosul

Posted 2014-07-23 14:11 GMT

Tel Kepe, upper left, where ISIS and Kurds are fighting(AINA) — ISIS and Kurdish forces clashed yesterday at about 10 PM on the outskirts of Tel Kepe, an Assyrian town 13 miles north of Mosul. ISIS to take over a medicine factory about 1.5 miles west of Tel Kepe. ISIS were forced to go back after a short battle.

The latest count of the number of Assyrian families driven out of Mosul stands at 2,000.

The following report is from the Christian Aid Program Nohadra Iraq (CAPNI), an aid organization of the Assyrian Church of the East.

Mosul

  • All 30 churches and monasteries are under ISIS control
  • Crosses have been removed from all of them
  • Many of them have been burned, destroyed and looted
  • Many are been used as ISIS centers

The following are few examples:

  • St. Ephraim Syriac Orthodox Cathedral in Al Shurta district (East side of Mosul): ISIS converted it to a mosque and installed loudspeakers for call to prayers
  • Syriac Catholic church in the old part of Mosul was looted and torched
  • Mar Gewargis (St. George) monastery was looted
  • Mar Thomas (St. Thomas) Syriac Catholic historical and old church was looted after the doors were broken
  • Mar Behnam (St. Behnam) Syriac Catholic monastery in the Ancient Assyrian town of Nimrod is controlled by ISIS
  • religious Sunni, Shiite and Christian tombs have been destroyed, according to Sharia
  • Shiite prayer mosques (Hussayniya) have been demolished

All non-Sunni communities have been targeted by ISIS. Christian, Yazidi and Shiite religious sites have been destroyed. Turkish and Shabak Shiites have fled from their homes and villages.

Nearly 80% of the residents of Baghdede (Hamdaniya/Qaraqosh) have returned after fleeing from fighting between ISIS and Kurds. Baghdede, with a population of 50,000, is 97% Assyrian. There is still a severe shortage of electricity and water still cut off. Residents are using wells for water.

All municipal services have stopped.

The same conditions exist for the Assyrian towns of Bartilla, Bashiqa and Bahzany.

Assyrian International News Agency

Shakhtar Donetsk Soccer Club Moves Home Games To Lviv

Ukraine’s Shakhtar Donetsk football team has announced it is moving its home games to Lviv due to the military conflict in its native Donetsk region.

Team coach Mircea Lucescu made the announcement on the Shakhtar Donetsk website on July 23.

Lucescu wrote that “we’ll train and reside in Kyiv, and Arena Lviv will be our home.”

The western city of Lviv is some 1,000 kilometers from Donetsk city.

The announcement came shortly after Shakhtar won the Ukrainian Super Cup in Lviv on July 22, defeating Dynamo Kyiv 2-0.

Shakhtar won the game without six of its star South American players, who have refused to report to the team citing safety reasons.

Donetsk is the largest city controlled by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine and is currently a battleground area as Ukrainian forces try to recapture the region.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and dpa

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Malaysia Regains Its Footing Amid Intensifying Hostilities in Ukraine

Malaysia is applying the lessons it learned mismanaging MH370 to managing MH317. (Photo: Richard Deakin / Flickr)

Malaysia is applying the lessons it learned mismanaging MH370 to managing MH317. (Photo: Richard Deakin / Flickr)

The blame game has already begun over the Malaysian airliner that appears to have been downed by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine.

Both the West and Ukraine insist that Russian President Vladimir Putin must be held accountable for the tragedy. Some, like U.S. Senator John McCain, are calling for the United States to respond more forcefully against Russia by increasing sanctions and providing more arms to the Ukrainians.

Putin, on the other hand, said in a televised statement that Ukraine bears sole responsibility for the disaster because it “renewed hostilities” in the troubled region.

Amidst all the finger pointing and chaos, one country has remained relatively quiet: Malaysia. According to the New York Times, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was reluctant to single out Russia for blame, saying, “We need verification on that.”

No one could have predicted that the small Southeast Asian country would find itself entangled in the dispute between Ukraine and Russia. But judging by its response to this latest tragedy, Malaysia seems to have learned valuable lessons on crisis management from the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 earlier this year, which sparked a media firestorm.

Both airline and government officials faced heavy criticism for their slow and disorganized response to Flight 370’s disappearance. It took Malaysia Airlines nearly five hours to inform the public that the jet had disappeared, and nine hours had passed before an official search-and-rescue effort began. The subsequent investigation was rife with confusion, with statements from the airline and the Malaysian government frequently contradicting each other.

Malaysia’s response to the Flight 17 disaster has been calmer, more confident, and more authoritative.

From the start, Malaysia has called for an independent investigation into the incident. It has also pressured the United States and Russia to exert their influence to ensure that investigators have access to the crash site, which has been impeded by Ukrainian separatists. Constant updates on the investigation have been posted on the prime minister’s and minister of transportation’s Twitter accounts.

The Malaysian government has been adamant that the plane’s two black boxes should be handed over to Malaysian authorities. In a July 21statement, Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that he had established contact with Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Borodai, with the two agreeing on the return of the black boxes to Malaysia, the safe access to the crash site for international investigators, and the recovery of the bodies. Twelve hours later, the rebels handed over the flight recorders to Malaysian authorities. A train filled with the bodies of the victims also left Donetsk and made its way to Kharkiv, a territory controlled by the Ukrainian government.

Though the downing of Flight 17 is a senseless tragedy, it is also an opportunity for Malaysia to correct the mistakes it made after Flight 370’s disappearance in March. As long as it continues to assume an active role in the investigation, Malaysia can rebuild its damaged reputation—and maybe even spur negotiations to get an increasingly dangerous eastern Ukraine under control.

Latifah Azlan is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

Foreign Policy In Focus

U.S. oil futures decline ahead of weekly supply data

Investing.com –

Investing.com – West Texas Intermediate oil futures declined on Wednesday, as investors awaited the release of weekly supply data out of the U.S. later in the session to gauge the strength of oil demand from the world’s largest consumer.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, U.S. crude oil for delivery in September dipped 0.41%, or 41 cents, to trade at $ 101.98 a barrel during European morning hours. Futures held in a tight range between $ 101.80 and $ 102.34 a barrel.

U.S. oil futures ended Tuesday’s session down 0.46%, or 47 cents, to settle at $ 102.39 a barrel.

New York-traded oil futures were likely to find support at $ 101.48 a barrel, the low from July 21 and resistance at $ 103.45 a barrel, the high from July 22.

Wednesday’s government report was expected to show that U.S. crude oil stockpiles fell by 2.8 million barrels last week, while gasoline stockpiles were forecast to increase by 1.3 million barrels.

After markets closed Tuesday, the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said that U.S. crude inventories fell by 555,000 barrels in the week ended July 18, compared to expectations for a decline of 2.6 million barrels.

The report also showed that gasoline stockpiles increased by 3.6 million barrels, while distillate stocks rose by 2.5 million barrels.

Elsewhere, on the ICE Futures Exchange in London, Brent oil for September delivery shed 0.13%, or 14 cents, to trade at $ 107.19 a barrel, as traders awaited new developments from Ukraine and the Middle East.

The European Union threatened Russia on Tuesday with harsher sanctions over Ukraine, while fighting in the Gaza Strip between Israeli security forces and Hamas militants continued.

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US Outraged Over Forced Exodus of Iraqi Christians

The United States is condemning the Islamic radicals who forced thousands of Christians to flee for their lives from Iraq’s second-largest city.

Last week the terrorist group who call themselves the Islamic State used loudspeakers to threaten the Christians in Mosul. They gave them till midday Saturday to either convert to Islam, pay a protection tax, or die.

A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the United States is “particularly outraged” about the death threat.

The vast majority of the Christians have now fled Mosul to other cities, mostly to the largely autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq

This may have been the final exodus of Christians from Mosul, where Christian communities had lived for nearly 2,000 years.

Zaid Qreqosh Ishaq was among those who escaped with his family. He told The Associated Press on Tuesday that they fled with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.

“On our way, we had to go through an area where they (the Islamic State) had set up a checkpoint. They asked us to get out of the car. We got out. They took our things and our bags, our money, everything we had on us,” he said.

The family took temporary refuge in Saint Joseph Church in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. The governor there has pledged to protect the Christians.

Zaid’s uncle, Ishaq Lazar Gago, a 45-year-old mechanic, said the family had been living in Mosul for generations.

“Our future is uncertain. Our house is now gone. They put it under their name and wrote ‘Islamic State’ on it. Now what?” he wondered.

Before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, around 1 million Christians called Iraq home.

Since then, the community has been a frequent target for various terrorist groups. Attacks prompted many Christians to leave the country. Church officials now estimate the community at around 450,000.

Assyrian International News Agency

UN: Israel assault in Gaza may be war crime

Israel’s military actions in the Gaza Strip could amount to war crimes, UN rights chief Navi Pillay has said, as Israel continued pounding Gaza for a 16th day.

Pillay on Wednesday also condemned indiscriminate rocket attacks by Hamas fighters.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay told an emergency session on Gaza at the UN Human Rights Council.

Pillay said the killing of civilians in Gaza, especially children, raised concerns over Israel’s precautions and respect for proportionality.

Israel has killed more than 600 Gazans and injured thousands. Two Israeli civilians have been killed by rocket fire into Israel, and 29 Israeli soldiers have died in the assault on Gaza.

Pillay added that Israeli civilians also had a right to live without fear of rocket attacks.

“Once again, the principles of distinction and precaution are clearly not being observed during such indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas by Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups,” she said.

‘Gross violations’

The 46-nation council – which is the UN’s top human rights forum – was poised to call for an international inquiry into Israel’s offensive in the Palestinian territories.

The meeting was called by Arab and fellow Islamic nations.

It was set to vote on a resolution lodged by Palestine – which has observer status at the UN – condemning “the widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.

The resolution also called on the international community to “urgently dispatch an independent, international commission of inquiry” to investigate “all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip”.

The aim, it said, was to “establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated and to identify those responsible, to make recommendations, in particular, on accountability measures, all with a view to avoiding and ending impunity and ensuring that those responsible are held accountable, and on ways and means to protect civilians against any further assaults”.

‘Counterproductive’

The Palestinian foreign minister Riad Malki, speaking at the council, appealed to the international community for Israel to be held accountable for it actions in Gaza.

“How many martyrs must die before Israel puts an end to its aggression?” he said.

The Israeli representative to the UN in Geneva, said Israel’s military “makes great efforts” to minimise civilian casualties and blamed Hamas for “war crimes”.

Eviatar Manor criticised the human rights council for holding the special session, calling the decision “misguided, ill-conceived and counterproductive” to the ceasefire efforts.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)

Kyrgyz Premier Concerned Uzbekistan Will Not Deliver Gas

Kyrgyz Prime Minister Joomart Otorbaev has called on citizens and businesses to prepare to use coal instead of natural gas during the upcoming winter.

Otorbaev said on July 23 that there is no sign that Uzbekistan will resume natural gas deliveries to Kyrgyzstan anytime soon.

Uzbekistan cut natural-gas deliveries to Kyrgyzstan on April 14 after Bishkek sold a majority stake in its state KyrgyzGaz natural-gas company to Russia’s Gazprom.

The move mainly affected Kyrgyzstan’s southern regions, where residents have staged several protests since April demanding that local authorities solve the problem.

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Polish retail sales 1.2% vs. 4.1% forecast

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Investing.com – Retail sales in Poland fell unexpectedly in the last quarter, official data showed on Wednesday.

In a report, Central Statistical Office said that Polish Retail Sales fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.2%, from 3.8% in the preceding quarter.

Analysts had expected Polish Retail Sales to rise to 4.1% in the last quarter.

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Some 200 Foreign Climbers Stuck In Kyrgyz Mountains

Kyrgyzstan’s Union of Tour Operators says some 200 foreign mountaineers have been stuck in the country’s Tian Shan Mountains after the Defense Ministry halted rescue operations because of harsh weather.

The union said the rescue attempts were called off after a Defense Ministry rescue helicopter crashed due to heavy winds while carrying a rescue team and a Russian climber.

Everyone survived the crash.

The Defense Ministry’s General Staff declined to comment on the union’s statement.

A Ukrainian mountaineer died of a heart attack while trying to climb Lenin’s Peak on July 22.

Last week, a Russian climber was rescued at the same place after he suffered a nonlethal stroke.

Another mountaineer, reportedly from Moldova, has been missing since July 22.

Kyrgyzstan’s vast array of mountains are full of climbers in the summer months.

 
With reporting by KyrTAG

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Taiwanese industrial production 8.63% vs. 7.20% forecast

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Investing.com – Industrial production in Taiwan rose more-than-expected last month, official data showed on Wednesday.

In a report, Ministry of Economic Affairs Taiwan said that Taiwanese Industrial Production rose to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 8.63%, from 5.19% in the preceding month.

Analysts had expected Taiwanese Industrial Production to rise to 7.20% last month.

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Poroshenko Signs Law Allowing Dissolution Of Parliamentary Factions

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signed into law amendments to parliamentary rules that allow the speaker to dissolve parliamentary factions.

Poroshenko’s press secretary, Svyatoslav Tseholko, wrote on Twitter that the law was signed on July 22.

The Ukrainian parliament passed the legislation earlier that day.

The law gives the parliament speaker the right to dissolve a faction that has fewer members than it did when it was formed during the first session of parliament.

Several members of the Ukrainian Communist Party’s parliamentary faction have quit recently, greatly reducing its size.

Meanwhile, the Kyiv District Administrative Court is expected to start hearings on banning the Communist Party on July 24.

Ukraine’s Communist Party has positioned itself as a force promoting closer ties with Russia, which some politicians claim led to it illegally supporting and providing assistance to pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Based on Interfax and Tseholko’s Twitter statement

Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty

Israel pounds Gaza amid renewed truce efforts

Israeli forces have pounded multiple sites across the Gaza Strip, including the enclave’s sole power plant, as diplomats intensified efforts to end the bloodshed.

Palestinian emergency services said that at least six people were killed early on Wednesday during prolonged shelling of the southern town of Khan Yunis and 20 more were wounded, most of them seriously.

Wednesday’s deaths bring the number of Palestinians killed during the 16-day Israeli assault on Gaza to 648 Palestinians, including dozens of children. More than 4,000 people have been injured.

The number of Israelis who died from fighting with Palestinian fighters has climbed to 31, including 29 soldiers and two civilians.

One other soldier remains missing, but is presumed dead, according to the Israeli army.

Adding to the woes of the besieged strip, residents on Wednesday said Israel shelled a power plant which provides electricity to half the population of Gaza.

The power station spokesperson in Gaza told Al Jazeera that the main equipment of the plant was hit last night, adding that now only 10 percent of the people in Gaza had electricity.

Electricity supplies from Israel were cut short last week, after Israel said that rockets from Gaza had damaged the infrastructure.

A rocket fired from Gaza on Tuesday hit Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion international airport prompted major US and European airlines to suspend their flights from and to Israel, a blow to Israel’s economy.

Diplomatic efforts

But US Secretary of State John Kerry flew into Tel Aviv on Wednesday, defying the US flight ban, to try to broker a ceasefire.

He immediately set off for Jerusalem where he was to meet visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon, after which he was to travel to the West Bank city of Ramallah for talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, a State Department official said.

Kerry was in Cairo a day earlier, from where he called on Hamas to accept an Egyptian proposed-ceasefire.

Hamas has so far refused the Egyptian proposal, saying that any peace deal must include a pledge by Israel to open border crossings with Gaza and lifting the siege on the enclave.

The Palestinian faction is also demanding the release of dozens of prisoners who were freed in a 2011 swap for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit but re-arrested this summer.

UN chief Ban Ki Moon on Tuesday urged to both sides to lay down arms.

“Stop fighting, start talking and take on the root causes of the conflict so that we are not at the same situation in the next six months or a year.”

He said Israel must exercise “maximum restraint” in Gaza and described Hamas rocket fire on Israel as “shocking”.

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AL JAZEERA ENGLISH (AJE)