As a matter of law, we do not need the UN’s permission to attack ISIS

As parliament is about to debate whether Britain should go to war with ISIS, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson writes: Isis is a group of international criminals, committing war crimes and crimes against humanity with genocidal intent, and the right – arguably the duty – to protect their victims does not depend on Russian approval in the Security Council.

Isis has been killing innocent civilians because of their religion and issuing blood-curdling incitements to kill “all non-believers”. They have been executing without trial, recruiting children as soldiers, taking and killing hostages. They are, in the Latin phrase used in international law, hostis humanis generis, the enemies of humankind. As with the pirate, torturer and slave trader, no UN approval is necessary for law-abiding states to use force against such barbarity.

But our complicity in the invasion of Iraq has cast a long shadow; Ed Miliband, for example, has evinced a “preference” for a Security Council resolution. This is unnecessary and in fact undesirable – action in humanitarian emergencies should not be vulnerable to the veto of the Chinese, or of President Putin. A resolution was necessary for the invasion of Iraq – a sovereign state where there was no basis for humanitarian intervention. President Bush expressly excluded this justification for his (and our) war. As for last year’s proposal to bomb Syria, it was a one-off punishment reprisal of questionable legality and doubtful purpose and it was sensibly rejected by Parliament (and people). [Continue reading...]

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Why U.S. airstrikes in Syria may be bad for the planet

The Washington Post reports: The United States and its partners expanded its war against Islamic State on Tuesday, with airstrikes against the extremist group striking within Syria for the first time. It’s a dramatic escalation: Strikes in Syria have been a subject of heated debate for months, and a lesser-known but widely feared group linked to al-Qaeda, known as Khorasan, is being targeted for the first time.

The strikes in Syria are clearly a big deal. It’s also possible, however, that they may overshadow an issue with an even wider importance.

On Tuesday, more than 120 world leaders were gathering at the United Nations General Assembly in New York for an unusual one-day summit on climate change. While there have been some notable absences, the scale of the event is hard to ignore: It’s one of the largest one-day meetings of world leaders in history, and it’s certainly the largest-ever summit on climate change.

However, despite a push for publicity from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and a huge climate change march in New York City on Sunday, it’s hard not to feel like attention is elsewhere at the United Nations.

In the U.N. Correspondents Lounge, much of the talk focuses on the strikes in Syria, and while President Obama is due to speak at the summit later, his comments on the Syria strikes were dominating the news during the mid-morning.

Online data seem to confirm that the strikes in Syria are winning the war for attention: According to social analytics firm Topsy, the number of people tweeting about “Syria” on Tuesday morning was twice the number tweeting about “climate change.” Google Trends shows a spike of search traffic for Syria, but topics related to climate change are not mentioned. [Continue reading...]

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Ahead of UN Climate Summit, global treaty on warming looks unlikely

National Geographic: Behind all the fanfare around this week’s UN Climate Summit, which will bring 120 heads of state to New York on Tuesday, looms one big question: Will the nations of the world agree on a path to avoid the most dangerous consequences of climate change, such as dramatic sea-level rise and extreme droughts and storms?

The answer will not come during the official summit. This week’s event is not a negotiating session for the next international agreement; that will happen in December 2015, when countries that are signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meet in Paris.

But it’s looking increasingly likely that the next big international agreement on climate change will not be a legally binding treaty like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which required developed countries to reduce greenhouse gases by specific amounts (and which was rejected by the United States and, more recently, Canada).

Nor will the next global climate deal likely require the deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say would be necessary to prevent catastrophic impacts from global warming, according to current and former Obama administration officials and other observers of ongoing international climate negotiations.

There are lots of reasons why a treaty is unlikely, beginning with the near certainty that the U.S. Senate would not ratify one. [Continue reading...]

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People speaking up: #PeoplesClimate March

MSNBC: They’re calling it the largest mobilization against climate change in the history of the planet. On Sunday morning, protesters from all over the United States and the world are converging on Manhattan to demand that global leaders take action to avert catastrophic climate change. Earlier this week Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental group 350.org, projected that the march would consist of “hundreds of thousands” of participants.

Those participants include dyed-in-the-wool environmental activists, but also elected officials, union members, nationwide community organizing groups, LGBT groups, members of indigenous communities, students, clergy members, scientists, private citizens, and a plethora of other concerned parties. Actors Russell Brand and Mark Ruffalo pledged to join the walk, along with South African civil rights activist Desmond Tutu and Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid. All told, more than 1,400 partner organizations have signed onto the march.

“Not only will it be the largest climate march that’s ever happened, but it really represents a new kind of movement that’s much more diverse,” said 350.org executive director May Boeve. “Climate change has been something of a siloed issue for a long time, but I think that’s really changed, and that’s a good thing. More and more people are seeing how climate change effects them.” [Continue reading...]

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A world with 11 billion people? New population projections shatter earlier estimates

National Geographic: In a paper published Thursday in Science, demographers from several universities and the United Nations Population Division conclude that instead of leveling off in the second half of the 21st century, as the UN predicted less than a decade ago, the world’s population will continue to grow beyond 2100.

And for the first time, through the use of a “probabilistic” statistical method, the Science paper establishes a range of uncertainty around its central estimate-9.6 billion Earthlings in 2050, 10.9 billion by 2100. There’s an 80 percent chance, the authors conclude, that the actual number of people in 2100 will be somewhere between 9.6 and 12.3 billion.

That range “is the truly innovative part,” says John Wilmoth, head of the UN Population Division and one of the authors of the Science paper. “It’s a much more plausible analysis of uncertainty—but we may still be off by two billion.” [Continue reading...]

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UN commission: ISIS not the primary agent of death and destruction in Syria

The Associated Press reports: As nations mount an offensive against the Islamic State militants that have gained a stronghold in Iraq and Syria, a U.N. human rights commission emphasized Tuesday that the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government has committed the bulk of atrocities in the civil war.

The head of the commission, Brazilian diplomat and scholar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, told the U.N.’s top human rights body that the government’s killing of civilians — often through the use of ubiquitous checkpoints — exceeds the crimes against civilians perpetrated by the militants and other anti-government armed groups.

The Islamic State extremists and anti-government armed groups are not “the sole agents of death and destruction inside Syria,” Pinheiro told the 47-nation Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Council authorized the commission to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law since March 2011 in Syria and to identify whenever possible those responsible, so that they can be prosecuted.

“The Syrian government remains responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties, killing and maiming scores of civilians daily — both from a distance using shelling and aerial bombardment and up close, at its checkpoints and in its interrogation rooms,” Pinheiro said. “Checkpoints are often the starting point of a horrific journey of disappearance, torture, sexual abuse and, for many, death. Checkpoints are used to enforce sieges and to trap civilians in areas under indiscriminate bombardment.” [Continue reading...]

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Domestic violence kills far more people than wars

Reuters reports: Domestic violence, mainly against women and children, kills far more people than wars and is an often overlooked scourge that costs the world economy more than $8 trillion a year, experts said on Tuesday.

The study, which its authors said was a first attempt to estimate global costs of violence, urged the United Nations to pay more attention to abuse at home that gets less attention than armed conflicts from Syria to Ukraine.

“For every civil war battlefield death, roughly nine people … are killed in inter-personal disputes,” Anke Hoeffler of Oxford University and James Fearon of Stanford University wrote in the report.

From domestic disputes to wars, they estimated that all violence worldwide cost $9.5 trillion a year, mainly in lost economic output and equivalent to 11.2 percent of world gross domestic product.

In recent years, about 20-25 nations suffered civil wars, devastating many local economies and costing about $170 billion a year. Homicides, mainly of men unrelated to domestic disputes, cost $650 billion.

But those figures were dwarfed by the $8 trillion annual cost of domestic violence, mostly against women and children.

The study said about 290 million children suffer violent discipline at home, according to estimates based on data from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF. Based on estimated costs, ranging from injuries to child welfare services, the study estimated that non-fatal child abuse sapped 1.9 percent of GDP in high income nations and up to 19 percent of GDP in sub-Saharan Africa where severe discipline was common.

Bjorn Lomborg, head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center which commissioned the report, said household violence was often overlooked, just as car crashes attracted less attention than plane crashes even many more died in road accidents. [Continue reading...]

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Syria may have hidden chemical arms, U.S. says

The New York Times reports: The United States expressed concern on Thursday that Syria’s government might be harboring undeclared chemical weapons, hidden from the internationally led operation to purge them over the past year, and that Islamist militant extremists now ensconced in that country could possibly seize control of them.

The assertions by Samantha Power, the United States ambassador to the United Nations and current president of the Security Council, were made after the Council received a private briefing on the Syria chemical weapons disarmament effort from Sigrid Kaag, the United Nations official appointed last year to coordinate it. Under Ms. Kaag, 96 percent of Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile, including all of the most lethal materials, have been destroyed.

But Ms. Kaag told reporters after the briefing that Syria had yet to address what she described as “some discrepancies or questions” about whether it had accounted for all of the chemical weapons in its arsenal. She also said Syria had yet to destroy seven hangars and five tunnels used for mixing and storing the weapons — which is required under the chemical weapons treaty that Syria has signed. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague-based group that collaborated with the United Nations in overseeing the Syrian chemical disarmament, is now responsible for ensuring that Syria honors its promise. [Continue reading...]

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UN says ISIS has carried out atrocities on ‘an unimaginable scale’ in Iraq

Reuters reports: Islamist fighters have carried out atrocities on “an unimaginable scale” in months of fighting with Iraqi forces, who have also killed detainees and shelled civilian areas, a U.N. official said on Monday.

There is “strong evidence” Islamic State and allied groups have carried out targeted killings, forced conversions, sexual abuse and torture in Iraq, U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Flavia Pansieri said, opening an emergency debate on the conflict in Geneva.

Iraq’s human rights minister, Mohammed Shia’ Al Sudani, told the session that Islamic State militants, “oozing with barbarity”, threatened his country and the world, but did not immediately respond to allegations against state troops.

Islamic State has grabbed large areas of Iraq and neighboring Syria, declaring a cross-border caliphate and driving hundreds of thousands from their homes. At least 1,420 people were killed in Iraq in August alone, U.N. figures showed on Monday. [Continue reading...]

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Abbas may push for deadline to end occupation

The New York Times reports: President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority may use the global stage of the annual General Assembly here in a few weeks to publicly demand a deadline for ending Israel’s occupation, according to his ambassador, while expecting that the Israelis — and almost certainly their American allies — will oppose that demand.

“He wants the international community to agree on a date,” the ambassador, Riyad H. Mansour, said. Mr. Mansour called the demand part of what he described as a new strategy by Mr. Abbas to unilaterally advance the goal of Palestinian independence and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after a litany of frustrations, notably the collapse of American-brokered talks with Israel this year.

Mr. Abbas also is apparently hoping that the Palestinian Authority’s role in helping to halt the 50-day war in Gaza between Israeli forces and Hamas militants, achieved last Tuesday with an Egyptian brokered cease-fire agreement, has infused his position with new vitality and leverage.

If Mr. Abbas is denied an occupation end date, Mr. Mansour said, he will use the Palestine observer state status at the United Nations, an upgrade won nearly two years ago over Israeli and American objections, to make the occupied territories even more like the independent state he has sought.

The most coercive measure available to him is to make Palestine a member of the International Criminal Court, opening the way for possible prosecutions of Israeli actions as an occupying power. [Continue reading...]

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Unappealing as nation-building may be, the alternative is usually even worse

Suzanne Nossel writes: Obama had good reason to be wary of nation-building [in Libya], having spent a good part of his presidency trying to unwind commitments George W. Bush made to Afghanistan and Iraq. But he now finds himself caught in a dilemma. On one hand, rebuilding failed states and conflict-torn societies is expensive, dangerous, unpredictable, open-ended, and painstakingly slow. Rather than thanks, an assertive approach can elicit debilitating and deadly political backlash. Because of its intense and sustained involvement, the nation-builder is held morally and politically accountable for the consequences of its efforts — even more so than the government that strafes a country from 30,000 feet. At least so far, as bad as the crisis in Libya is, international blame isn’t being pinned on Washington. On the other hand, failure to stabilize a nation after a debilitating war can undermine even the most decisive military action. Bad actors may be removed from authority, but the power vacuums, rivalries, corruption, incompetence, and dysfunction they leave behind can be as dangerous, if not more so. Terrorists and spoilers can encroach on weakly governed and poorly secured territory. Neighbors can jump into the fray, sparking regional conflagrations.

The nation-builder’s dilemma is not new. Failure to restore a beleaguered Germany after World War I arguably sowed the seeds of World War II. The massive investments of the Marshall Plan were designed to avoid a repeat, and they benefited from underlying political, economic, and institutional strengths in Japan and Germany. International military engagements in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti, and South Sudan were all followed by contested nation-building engagements, most of which continue in some form to this day.

The paradox of distaste for nation-building and the imperative to nation-build should prompt long-term strategic thinking about how to get done what no single government wants to do. Three principles can help: burden sharing; creative alignments of capabilities and political credibility; and greater attention to how international post-conflict missions can build national pride and smooth the path to full sovereignty for nations in transition.

Sharing the burdens of rebuilding a war-torn nation is often best achieved through the United Nations, which currently has more than 118,000 personnel deployed in peacekeeping operations in 16 countries, alongside another 10 political missions that don’t involve military forces. U.N. peacekeeping and related missions have played an indispensable role in midwifing relative political stability in Guatemala, El Salvador, Cambodia, Mozambique, Namibia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. But in Libya, there was no U.N. peacekeeping mission after Qaddafi’s ouster — only a small, unsecured stabilization effort. Cost concerns raised by Britain and France, coupled with the Libyans’ own reticence, scuttled early talk of a more ambitious U.N. presence. This understaffed operation was woefully unable to tackle Libya’s most serious security challenges, struggling instead to keep its own personnel out of danger. As discussions about an expanded U.N. presence in Libya now get underway, it’s worth recognizing that wherever the next stabilization operation occurs — eastern Ukraine, Syria — the United Nations’ role is unique and essential and should be adequately funded, equipped, and thought out ahead of time. It is hard to fathom any solution to the White House’s nation-building dilemma that doesn’t begin at U.N. headquarters in New York. [Continue reading...]

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In ISIS-ruled Mosul, resentment of militants grows

The Wall Street Journal reports: In Islamist-held Mosul this week, a local doctor watched insurgents berate and arrest a man in a public market, accusing him of adultery.

When Islamic State militants then stoned the man to death in public, the doctor chose not to watch. But many others did, and not by choice. The fighters repeatedly screened a video recording of the killing on several large digital monitors they erected in the city center.

More than two months after the Sunni extremist group took over on June 10, such displays of public brutality and humiliation have become part of a constant drumbeat of indignity endured by the population of Iraq’s second-largest city, according to about half a dozen residents interviewed by phone.

A United Nations report published Wednesday said Islamic State militants, who have captured large swaths of territory across Syria and Iraq, hold executions, amputations and lashings in public squares regularly on Fridays in territory they control in northern Syria. They urge civilians, including children, to watch, according to the report.

Initially, many in the Sunni-majority city of Mosul were pleased to see Islamic State fighters send the mostly Shiite Iraqi army fleeing after sectarian tensions in the country worsened under Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. But that enthusiasm faded fast.

“People aren’t sympathizing with them anymore,” said the doctor. “People wanted to get rid of the Iraqi army. But after the Islamic State turned against Mosul, the people of Mosul started turning against them.”

Residents say the rising resentment has come alongside rumors that homegrown militias are mustering troops in secret to overthrow the militants. Two such groups in particular, the Prophet of Jonah Brigades and the Free Mosul Brigades, have formed in the past few weeks, residents said.

But few people in Mosul expect the city’s residents to succeed where the Iraqi army has failed, unless they have outside help. Unlike most Iraqis, the people of Mosul were left largely unarmed after the Iraqi army went house to house a few years ago and confiscated weapons in a bid to reduce violence in the city.

With pressure mounting, the insurgents appear to be bracing for the worst. They have been spotted placing improvised explosive devices around the center of the city so they can detonate them in case of a ground attack, said Atheel Al Nujaifi, the former governor of Nineveh province in northern Iraq, where Mosul is located.

On Tuesday, Mr. Nujaifi said the insurgents rigged bridges connecting the city’s two opposing banks with plastic C4 explosives, though that couldn’t be independently verified.

The planting of land mines and other explosives in an effort to stave off counteroffensives is part of the Islamic State’s unfolding battlefield strategy. They used the tactic at the Mosul Dam, but failed to hold the strategic site in the face of Kurdish ground offensive backed by Iraqi special forces and U.S. airstrikes. They have employed it with more success in the city of Tikrit, where repeated Iraqi counteroffensives have failed so far.

A local civilian uprising against Islamic State wouldn’t be unprecedented. In January, civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo who were disgusted by the group’s cruelty helped more moderate fighters expel the group that was then known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS.

Many in Mosul are afraid to complain publicly. But those who do describe a blighted city that is now almost entirely void of the black-clad, masked militants—many of whom were clearly foreign. They once paraded through the streets, boasting about their victories over the Iraqi military while passing out religious literature.

“Before, they were proud and they were telling people about their victories. ‘We’re fighting here, we’re fighting there,’ ” said another Mosul resident. “But now they don’t talk about their victories and how proud they are that they’re fighting. In terms of morale, they are not like before.”

Some estimate that there are fewer than 500 militants now policing the city of 1.7 million. Most of those who remain are local collaborators who are securing the streets while hard-bitten insurgents repel increasingly fierce attacks from the Kurdish regional forces known as Peshmerga and elite Iraqi units further east. [Continue reading...]

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New UN report counts 191,369 Syrian-war deaths — but the true toll is probably much higher

Vox: A new UN report says that at least 191,369 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict so far. That number is astounding: it is the equivalent of the entire population of Salt Lake City being wiped out, or Tallahassee. However, the true number of casualties is almost certainly much higher.

Patrick Ball, Executive Director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group and one of the report’s authors, explained to me that this new report is not a statistical estimate of the number of people killed in the conflict so far. Rather, it’s an actual list of specific victims who have been identified by name, date, and location of death. (The report only tracked violent killings, not “excess mortality” deaths from from disease or hunger that the conflict is causing indirectly.)

To be included in the report, a death had to be identified and documented by one of the five organizations gathering data on the ground in Syria: the Syrian Center for Statistics and Research, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Violations Documentation Centre, the Syrian government, or the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The report does not extrapolate from that data to determine an overall estimate of deaths from the conflict. That means that it is almost certainly an undercount, and the true death toll could be thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands higher. [Continue reading...]

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As part of its black economy, oil sales earn ISIS $2 million every day

Luay Al Khatteeb writes: The United Nation Security Council dramatically escalated the conflict with the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL), Al Nusra Front (JNF) and other Al Qaeda splinter groups by passing UN Resolution 2170 in August 2014, thereby expanding the range of retaliatory measures (short of military action) against individuals associated with those groups. This UN Security Council is the latest in a series of draconian UN Resolutions against terror groups pursuant to its responsibility of Forgotten Obligations and affirming its primary role as peacekeepers enshrined in the UN Charter.

The cumulative effect of these resolutions recognizes the long term threat posed by ISIL which was addressed by President Obama in a White House briefing on the 18 August. What Obama did not address however was ISIL’s threat to global energy security, which forms (in part) the premise of this article.

The implications of these UN resolutions for ISIL are clear. The UN Security Council has effectively decided to cut off ISIL’s main lifeline, which is the illicit black economy derived mainly from the oil resources under its control. Consequently, ISIL’s ability to recruit and equip members, consolidate gains if not expand its theatre of operations will be affected. Furthermore, middle men including financiers, arms dealers, traders and Member States now face punitive action for failing to comply.

Whilst I have aired my thoughts on the main features of ISIL’s black market economy, I set out in this Article, my analysis of the background and significance of the UN’s latest bold move against ISIL, ANF and other Qaeda splinters.

Contrary to the media’s one dimensional portrayal of ISIL as a bunch of nihilist extremists, ISIL have moved relatively fast and in a relatively sophisticated manner to create an ‘ad-hoc’ black market economy over the territories it controls. ISIL is no longer desperate for donors’ funding to continue and expand their operations given they now possess a loosely integrated and thriving black economy consisting of approximately 60% of Syria’s oil assets and 7 oil producing assets in Iraq. It has successfully achieved a thriving black market economy by developing an extensive network of middlemen in neighboring territories and countries to trade crude oil for cash and in kind.

ISIL’s estimated total revenues from its oil production are around USD $2 million a day! Put simply, ISIL are in a position to smuggle over 30,000 barrels of crude oil a day to neighboring territories and countries at a price of between USD $25 to USD $60 per barrel depending on the number of middle men involved. [Continue reading...]

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UN raises estimate of dead in Syrian conflict to 191,000

The New York Times reports: The number of dead in Syria’s civil war more than doubled in the past year to at least 191,000, the United Nations human rights office said Friday. The agency’s chief, Navi Pillay, bluntly criticized Western nations, saying their inaction in the face of the slaughter had “empowered and emboldened” the killers.

In its third report on Syria commissioned by the United Nations, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group identified 191,369 deaths from the start of the conflict in March 2011 to April 2014, more than double the 92,901 deaths cited in their last report, which covered the first two years of the conflict.

“Tragically, it is probably an underestimate of the real total number of people killed during the first three years of this murderous conflict,” Ms. Pillay said in a statement that accompanied the report, which observed that many killings in Syria were undocumented.

The report was confined to counting individuals who had been identified by name, along with the date and location of their death, using data from five organizations that was screened to avoid duplication. It did not include nearly 52,000 deaths that were recorded but lacked sufficient detail. [Continue reading...]

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Pope Francis supports international effort to ‘stop’ ISIS

The Associated Press reports: Pope Francis on Monday said efforts to stop Islamic militants from attacking religious minorities in Iraq are legitimate but said the international community — and not just one country — should decide how to intervene.

Francis was asked if he approved of the unilateral U.S. airstrikes on militants of the Islamic State group, who have captured swaths of northern and western Iraq and northeastern Syria and have forced minority Christians and others to either convert to Islam or flee their homes.

“In these cases, where there is an unjust aggression, I can only say that it is licit to stop the unjust aggressor,” Francis said. “I underscore the verb ‘stop.’ I’m not saying ‘bomb’ or ‘make war,’ just ‘stop.’ And the means that can be used to stop them must be evaluated.”

Francis also said he and his advisers were considering whether he might go to northern Iraq himself to show solidarity with persecuted Christians. But he said he was holding off for now on a decision. [Continue reading...]

Reuters reports: The Islamic State militant group that has seized large parts of Iraq and drawn the first American air strikes since the end of the occupation in 2011 has warned the United States it will attack Americans “in any place” if the raids hit its militants.

The video, which shows a photograph of an American who was beheaded during the U.S. occupation of Iraq and victims of snipers, featured a statement which said in English “we will drown all of you in blood”.

U.S. airstrikes on Kurdish forces in northern Iraq have helped the fighters take back some territory captured by Islamic State militants, who have threatened to march on Baghdad.

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U.S. will block the cash grants that Gazans need to rebuild their homes

The New York Times reports: On Sunday, more than 235,000 people were still crammed into 81 of the United Nations’ 156 schools, where classes are supposed to start next Sunday. “The chances of that,” acknowledged Scott Anderson, deputy director of the agency that runs them, “are zero.”

After a month of fierce fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants that killed more than 1,900 Gaza residents, the extension of a temporary cease-fire through Monday was a great relief. But with an estimated 11,000 homes destroyed and many more severely damaged, Gaza’s housing and humanitarian crises are just beginning, and the uncertainty over the timing and terms for a more durable truce makes recovery planning elusive.

“Our fate at the end will be in the street,” lamented Alia Kamal Elaf, a 35-year-old mother of eight who has been staying at a school since fleeing the Shejaiya neighborhood in east Gaza City at the onset of Israel’s ground incursion on July 17.

The destruction has been far more severe than in previous rounds of Israeli attacks, especially in Shejaiya, the northern border town of Beit Hanoun and the southeastern village of Khuza’a, where little at all is left. Palestinian leaders plan to ask international donors for $6 billion at a conference scheduled for September, but there are many challenges money cannot solve.

The Hamas-run government that ruled Gaza since 2007 resigned in June, but the Palestinian Authority has yet to take control of its ministries. So who will assess damage or coordinate reconstruction?

Israel currently bans the import of construction materials for private projects, citing security concerns. In any case, several of Gaza’s cement-mixing plants and other factories that make doors, windows and floor tiles have been reduced to rubble.

Many aid workers think cash grants would provide the most efficient relief: People could fix homes that are still standing, rent new spaces or offset expenses as they cram in with relatives. But the United States will not give cash directly to people because it is too complicated to determine their possible connections with Hamas, which is deemed a terrorist organization by Washington.

“We’ll get lots of money to rebuild homes we can’t rebuild, but we won’t get the money to help these people help themselves,” said Robert Turner, director of Gaza operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which provides education, health and other services to the 70 percent of Gaza residents who are classified as refugees. “You cannot do widespread shelter construction unless construction material is free and available in the local market. Which it’s not, and is it ever going to be?” [Continue reading...]

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Israel braces for war crimes inquiries on Gaza

The New York Times reports: The fighting is barely over in the latest Gaza war, with a five-day cease-fire taking hold on Thursday, but attention has already shifted to the legal battlefield as Israel gears up to defend itself against international allegations of possible war crimes in the monthlong conflict.

Israel has excoriated the United Nations Human Rights Council over the appointment of Prof. William Schabas, a Canadian expert in international law, to head the council’s commission of inquiry for Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip.

The broader struggle will be over what some experts describe as Israel’s “creative” interpretation of international law for dealing with asymmetric warfare in an urban environment. More than 1,900 Palestinians were killed in the recent fighting, a majority of them believed to be civilians, while on the Israeli side 64 soldiers and three civilians were killed.

Israeli leaders view the Human Rights Council as hopelessly biased against Israel and say statements made in the past by Professor Schabas rule him out as a fair adjudicator. In one prime example, Professor Schabas was filmed in New York almost two years ago saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was his “favorite” to be in the dock at the International Criminal Court.

“The report of this committee has already been written,” Mr. Netanyahu said this week. “They have nothing to look for here. They should visit Damascus, Baghdad and Tripoli.”

Mr. Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Hamas of a “double war crime” for targeting Israeli civilians with its rockets and, he says, using Gaza’s civilians as a human shield for its activities.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister for strategic affairs, said that paradoxically, the only way Professor Schabas could prove he was worthy of the job would be by resigning from it.

Responding to the charges by telephone from London, Professor Schabas said Thursday: “Everybody in the world has opinions about Israel and Palestine. I certainly do.”

He added: “I was recruited for my expertise. I leave my own personal views at the door, as a judge does.”

Rejecting assertions that he is “anti-Israeli,” he said he had lectured in Israel often and was on the board of the Israel Law Review. “I don’t think everyone in Israel agrees,” he said. “I would fit in well there.” [Continue reading...]

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