Russia Wants UN Investigation into Downed Malaysia Airlines Plane

(MOSCOW) -- Russia is calling for the United Nations Security Council to approve a UN-led investigation into what brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

“We believe that such an inquiry must begin as quickly as possible under the UN aegis. To that end the Security Council must make yet one more decision. We are alarmed that some of our partners have been trying to steer practical efforts to organize the inquiry into separate bilateral contacts with the Ukrainian authorities,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on Monday.

The United States has accused pro-Russian rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine of shooting down the plane. Russia, however, has dismissed the accusations and suggested that Ukrainian authorities were responsible.

“I do not want to attack with accusations too soon, but I hope no one will be trying to cover tracks,” Lavrov said about an investigation facilitated by Kiev.

In the wake of the Flight 17 disaster, Western countries have increased pressure on Russia to end what they say is an attempt to covertly support pro-Russian rebel fighters in eastern Ukraine.

Investigators have had trouble visiting the site of the downed plane due to nearby fighting. So far, only a small team, led by the Netherlands, has visited the site. The international monitors at the site have raised concerns that significant portions of the wreck have been altered and cut apart, perhaps during the search for remains -- but potentially also to hide evidence.

British intelligence sources told the BBC last week that they had intercepted phone calls suggesting rebels in the area wanted to give the black box fight recorders to Russia. Those recorders were eventually handed to investigators and sent to the United Kingdom for analysis.

On Monday, Lavrov seemed to confuse the U.S. intelligence images published over the weekend, suggesting they were about Flight 17 when they were about accusations Russia fired into Ukraine last week.

“It appears some images have just been published. Ten days later. We do not know what they did to these images, whether or not they were prepared,” he said, calling the images a “pretext to punish Russia.”

The images, released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on Sunday, claim to show evidence that “Russian forces have fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces, and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery, provided by Russia, in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine.”

One slide provided by U.S. intelligence claims to show evidence of “self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units” aimed at Ukrainian targets.

In what appears to have been a contentious phone call Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry urged Lavrov “to stop the flow of heavy weapons and rocket and artillery fire from Russia into Ukraine, and to begin to contribute to de-escalating the conflict,” according to a State Department statement.

The unusually blunt statement added that Kerry “did not accept Foreign Minister Lavrov’s denial that heavy weapons from Russia were contributing to the conflict.”

Ukrainian authorities and the United States have sounded the alarm about fighters, weapons, and funding crossing into Ukraine from Russia. The White House has warned that unless the Kremlin halts the flow they will face more sanctions. On Monday, Lavrov said Russia will allow OSCE observers to monitor a few border crossings with Ukraine.

Lavrov said he was confused by Western demands that Russia change its policies or face consequences.

“I don't know what they mean by policy changes,” he said, adding defiantly that Russia will adapt to sanctions.

“We will overcome the difficulties that will arise in certain parts of our economy. Maybe, we will become more self-reliant and more self-confident. This, too, is useful,” he said.

Lavrov said Russia will not go “eye for an eye” with the West over sanctions because it’s not “worthy of a big country.”


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Rising Violence in Tripoli Leads to US Clearing Out Embassy

iStock/Thinkstock(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- Members of the U.S. embassy in Tripoli had to be relocated outside of Libya Saturday due to ongoing violence.

The State Department called the move a "temporary relocation," pointing to the recent clashes between Libyan militias in the vicinity of the embassy.

U.S. military personnel assisted in the relocation of embassy personnel, all of whom were taken to Tunisia without incident.

The State Department said that the situation in Libya is "unpredictable and unstable," and that U.S. citizens may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks or death.

In addition, all American citizens living or traveling in Libya were urged to leave the country immediately.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the decision to move the embassy on Saturday, noting "freewheeling militia violence." Still, Kerry said the U.S. is "deeply committed...to the diplomatic process in Libya."


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Investigators Cancel Trip to MH17 Crash Site Due to Fighting

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(KIEV, Ukraine) -- Personnel from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe won't risk a Sunday trip to the site of the Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down earlier this month.

Alexander Hug, Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine says that reports of fighting in the area caused the change of plans. "The security situation at the moment on the way to the site we planned to go today -- and on the site itself -- appears to be not safe," Hug said.

The team is expected to reassess the situation on Monday and deploy personnel then, if the situation is safer. "We will not risk our unarmed civilian observer mission to deploy to a site where we can't control the risk to a degree where we are confident we have it at the level where it is acceptable."


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US Releases Photos Purported to Show Russia Fired Artillery Into Ukraine

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The United States has released images that, it says, prove Russian military forces have fired artillery from Russian territory into Ukraine.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released a series of overhead images that, it says, show evidence of artillery fire from the Russian side of the border directed at Ukrainian military positions in Ukraine.

ODNI claims the images prove Russian military -- not Russian-backed separatists operating from across the border -- were responsible.

"The following images provide evidence that Russian forces have fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces, and that Russia-backed separatists have used heavy artillery, provided by Russia, in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine," ODNI wrote atop a four-page file that includes four images ODNI says were taken July 21-26.

The newly released images back up the claim of direct Russian involvment made Thursday by the State Department and the Pentagon, as international tensions have risen sharply over the conflict in eastern Ukraine since the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in rebel-held territory.

"We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions," State Dept. spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters at a daily press briefing on Thursday.

The U.S. has alleged Russian complicity in the downing of the Malaysia Airlines jet, pointing to Russian support for separatists and alleged supplying of heavy weaponry. Recordings of phone conversations released by the Ukrainian government purportedly show separatists telling Russian officials they shot down the airliner.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has not directly addressed recent allegations of Russian military support for the rebels, or that rebels downed the plane with a missile system provided to them by Russia.

In a statement on MH17 released through the Kremlin on July 21, Putin warned that "no one should and no one has the right to use this tragedy to pursue their own political goals" and promised that "[f]or its part, Russia will do everything within its power to move the conflict in eastern Ukraine from the military phase we see today to the negotiating phase, with the parties using peaceful and diplomatic means alone."


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Israel Resumes Attacks in Gaza, Hamas Offers Cease-Fire

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- The Israeli Army resumed its attacks on Gaza on Sunday, pointing at "incessant rocket fire" launched by Hamas throughout the previous humanitarian cease-fire.

The two sides had, on Saturday, agreed to a temporary truce to allow residents of Gaza to gather supplies and retrieve the bodies of those killed in the ongoing tension. Israel stated late on Saturday that it would extend the cease-fire for 24 hours -- through Sunday -- but promised that it would respond to any Hamas rocket fire.

Sunday morning, the Israel Defense Forces said that seven rockets were fired from Gaza. Two of the rockets were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome defense system.

Also on Sunday, Hamas spokesman Sami abu Zoihri said that the organization had agreed to call for a 24-hour cease-fire beginning at about 2 p.m. local time. Still, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Hamas was not abiding by that cease-fire, firing rockets at Israel, which prompted the Israeli military activity to resume.


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Costa Concordia Refloated, Towed to Port on Final Voyage

Photo by Jacopo Raule/Getty Images(GENOA, Italy) -- The Costa Concordia finished its final trip on Sunday, entering the port of Genoa in Italy with the help of tugboats.

The Italian cruise ship that struck a reef in January 2012 before capsizing was refloated earlier this week. Ship captain Francesco Schettino is being tried for alleged manslaughter after causing the 2012 wreck that killed 32.

Investigators also plan to search the ship for the body of an Indian waiter, the only body that was never found.

In total, BBC News reports that the operation to refloat and tow the Costa Concordia from the reef to Genoa will have cost about $2 billion.


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Gaza Cease-Fire Ends, No Agreement Reached on Extension

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- A 12-hour cease-fire between Israel and Hamas ended on Saturday, and despite efforts to negotiate an extension, no deal was reached.

The two sides had been discussing a four-hour extension of the humanitarian truce. During the 12 hour truce, Palestinians in Gaza stocked up on supplies and retrieved the bodies of the dead.

According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, the death toll includes over 1,000 people killed in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces notes that three more soldiers were killed in combat since Friday night, bringing the total number of Israeli deaths to 43, including 40 soldiers.

Israel said on Saturday evening that mortars were fired from Gaza into Israel.


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Pope May Visit United States in 2015

ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images(PHILADELPHIA) -- Pope Francis may visit the United States in 2015, says Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Caput.

The Vatican did not immediately confirm the visit, but Caput says the pope accepted an invitation to attend the World Meeting of Families in September 2015. Vatican spokesperson Federico Lombardi said the pope would like to attend the meeting, and is considering invitations to other cities, including New York and Washington, D.C.

A trip to the U.S. would be Pope Francis' first since becoming pope in 2013. Pope Benedict last visited the U.S. in 2008.


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Gaza Cease-Fire Follows More Heavy Clashes

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- Israel and Hamas agreed to a 12-hour cease-fire early Saturday in order to allow for humanitarian activity.

The pause in tensions follows some of the heaviest clashes. The Palestine Health Ministry says the total death toll in the clashes rose to 985 in Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces say 40 people have been killed in Israel, including 37 IDF soldiers and three civilians.

Gaza residents have been using the cease-fire to gather supplies and retrieve bodies of the dead. International talks continued on Saturday in Paris in the hopes of reaching a long-term truce.

Israel said that it would continue to "locate and neutralize" tunnels used by Hamas during the cease-fire.


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US Embassy in Libya Relocated Amidst 'Freewheeling Violence'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- The U.S. embassy in Libya was relocated on Saturday and a new travel warning was issued by the U.S. Department of State due to ongoing violence.

The State Department called the move a "temporary relocation," noting the recent clashes between Libyan militias in the vicinity of the embassy. American military personnel assisted in the relocation of all embassy personnel, who were taken to Tunisia without incident.

The State Department said that the situation in Libya is "unpredictable and unstable," and that U.S. citizens may be targeted for kidnapping, violent attacks or death. All U.S. citizens in Libya are urged to depart immediately.

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke about the decision to move the embassy on Saturday, noting "freewheeling militia violence." Still, Kerry said, the United States is "deeply committed...to the diplomatic process in Libya."

The withdrawal of the embassy comes nearly two years after a deadly attack on the U.S. mission in Benghazi.


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Biden to Ukraine Leader: US To Continue Sanctions on Russia for "Irresponsible Actions"

Official White House Photo by David Lienemann(WASHINGTON) -- Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday, telling the leader that the United States would continue to coordinate with the European Union and the G7 about imposing further sanctions on Russia.

In a readout of their correspondence, Biden called Russia's actions in Ukraine "deeply destabilizing and irresponsible."

The two discussed the political situation in the country, as well as access for international investigators to the MH17 crash site.

President Poroshenko said the government would continue its work to address "critical" economic reforms, and told Biden of his efforts to facilitate the investigation into the Malaysia Airline tragedy.

The Ukrainian leader added that Russia is still supplying heavy weapons to separatists, bringing Ukrainian troops under direct fire from positions on the Russian side of the border.


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US Fighter Jets Escort Plane to Toronto After Passenger Threat

iStock/Thinkstock(TORONTO) -- A Canadian SWAT team burst onto a jetliner that had turn back to Toronto on Friday following word that an "agitated" passenger threatened the aircraft.

American fighter jets escorted Sunwing Flight 772 "as a precautionary measure," according to officials. The plane, originating in Toronto, was bound for Panama City around 8:30 a.m. when a 25-year-old passenger made "an unspecified threat."

Ali Shahi, a Canadian citizen from Mississauga, was taken into custody and charged with mischief to property, mischief interfering with the lawful enjoyment of property, uttering threats, and endangering the safety of an aircraft.

Law enforcement searched the plane and found no suspicious objects. No injuries were reported, according to Peel Regional Police.


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Israel Will Continue 'Neutralizing' Tunnels During Cease-Fire

iStock/Thinkstock(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- Israeli forces will continue "neutralizing" tunnels in Gaza despite a 12-hour cease-fire Saturday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announced Friday.

The cease-fire in Gaza will be in effect from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. local time (1 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET).

"During this time, the Operational activities to locate and neutralize tunnels in the Gaza Strip will continue," read a statement from the IDF.

A U.S. official said there was no word from Hamas on whether they'd agree to the cease-fire.

Secretary of State John Kerry had called for a seven-day cease-fire earlier in the day during a news conference in Cairo as part of last-ditch efforts to resolve the 18-day conflict. He had proposed the cease-fire over the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday next week, marking the end of Ramadan.

He's now headed to Paris for another round of talks.

As soon as Kerry finished his remarks, Israeli Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon announced that troops should be prepared for an expansion of their ground invasion in Gaza.

 


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More Russian Troops Mass Along Ukrainian Border

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Russian troops are continuing to gather along the border with Ukraine, the U.S. says.

"The number of Russian troops across -- along the border continues to steadily increase. We have seen that in the past few days, but have seen no indication that the Ukrainians have fired back," State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said on Friday.

Her remarks came after U.S. Ambassador to NATO Douglas Lute said at the Aspen Security Forum on Friday that there are 15,000 Russian troops massed along the border.

That number is slightly higher than the estimate of 10,000 to 12,000 troops that had been reported this week.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Friday morning that the estimate has likely moved upwards to 12,000. 


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John Kerry's Proposed Seven-Day Gaza Truce in Limbo

State Department photo/Public Domain(CAIRO) -- The "seven days of peace" that Secretary of State John Kerry envisions as a path toward a Gaza cease-fire remain as elusive as ever after last-ditch efforts to resolve the 18-day conflict.

"We don't yet have that final framework, but none of us are stopping," he said Friday of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Addressing a news conference in Cairo, he said, "There’s a lot on the table, it didn’t get easy last night. But with good will and good effort, I think progress can be made."

Kerry had proposed the cease-fire over the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday next week, marking the end of Ramadan.

He's now headed to Paris for another round of talks.

Kerry said that there was never any formal proposal on which to vote, suggesting that reports that Israel had rejected a cease-fire deal were inaccurate.

"They may have voted on language from a framework but there was no proposal submitted by me on which there was a proposal or a ripe one," he said.

He added later: "It's fair to say that Israel had some opposition to some concepts, but that doesn't mean a proposal, by any means."

Mediators originally tried to sell this latest proposal as a week-long humanitarian truce designed to help the hundreds of wounded Palestinians. Israel wanted the deal to include a stipulation that some of its troops be allowed to remain in Gaza during the humanitarian cease-fire.

Kerry flew to Egypt and, later, Israel before returning to Cairo this week to help broker a deal alongside United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

He formally made the proposal to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday evening and the Israeli Security Council held a meeting Friday afternoon to vote on the deal.

The U.N. has proposed a 12-hour "pause" in fighting to which, Ban says, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed, and that Ban and Kerry hope would be extended to 24 hours.

Kerry made no mention Friday of Palestinian militant group Hamas, only referring to “many different Palestinian factions.”

Hamas, which has been accused of firing hundreds of rockets into Israel throughout the conflict, had rejected an earlier cease-fire deal.

The conflict, which emerged after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed, eventually escalated and the Israeli Defense Forces launched Operation Protective Edge on July 8.

Hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israelis, mostly soldiers, have died in the conflict.


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