- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

US credits airstrikes with allowing Iraqis to escape mountain, making rescue mission unlikely

EDGARTOWN, Mass. (AP) - Crediting U.S. airstrikes and humanitarian aid, the Obama administration said Wednesday many trapped Iraqis have fled a mountain where they had sought refuge from militants, making it less likely the military would have to carry out a potentially dangerous rescue mission.

The assessment came after U.S. troops secretly scouted Sinjar Mountain Wednesday, revealing far fewer people than originally thought.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said six days of U.S. airstrikes against militant targets in the region gave many people an opportunity to get off the mountain. He also said the food and water supplies the U.S. airdropped to the refugees helped to sustain them during the ordeal.

U.S. officials said only several thousand refugees remained on the mountain, far lower than the tens of thousands that had been reported earlier. As a result, a rescue mission is “far less likely now,” Hagel said Wednesday night, adding that those Iraqis who remained on the mountain were in relatively good condition.

President Barack Obama had been weighing a range of military options, including airlifts and humanitarian corridors, to rescue the refugees. Officials said Obama had not completely ruled out the possibility of a mission to rescue those remaining on the mountain, but agreed with Hagel’s assessment that such steps were now less likely.

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UN says humanitarian crisis in Iraq has reached its highest level; US special forces assess

BAGHDAD (AP) - The United Nations on Wednesday announced its highest level of emergency for the humanitarian crisis in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands have been driven from their homes and tens of thousands had been trapped on a desert mountain by the advance of Islamic militants across the north of the country.

But after a U.S. Army Special Forces team was flown atop Sinjar Mountain to assess the situation Wednesday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters that far fewer refugees were stranded and it was far less likely the U.S. would undertake a rescue mission. Hagel said airdrops of food and water had sustained the refugees and that airstrikes on Islamic State group militants had allowed many to escape.

U.S. officials said only several thousand Iraqi refugees remained on Sinjar Mountain, and Hagel said they were in relatively good condition.

The U.N.’s declaration of a “Level 3 Emergency” will trigger additional goods, funds and assets to respond to the needs of the displaced, said U.N. special representative Nickolay Mladenov, who pointed to the “scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe.”

Since June, Iraq has been facing an onslaught by the Islamic State group and allied Sunni militants across much of the country’s north and west. In recent weeks, the crisis has worsened as the militant fighters swept through new towns in the north, displacing members of the minority Christian and Yazidi religious communities, and threatening the neighboring Iraqi Kurdish autonomy zone.

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Egypt says Israel, Hamas, agree to extend cease-fire for another 5 days

CAIRO (AP) - Israel and Hamas agreed to extend a temporary cease-fire for five days, Egyptian and Palestinian officials announced Wednesday, permitting the sides to continue to negotiate a substantive deal to end the war in Gaza.

Yet even as the extension was announced just minutes before a previous truce was set to expire at midnight, violence spiked, with Palestinian militants firing five rockets at Israel and Israel targeting sites across the Gaza Strip in response. It was not clear if the fighting was isolated or might shatter the truce.

Egypt’s foreign ministry and the head of the Palestinian negotiating team announced the extension, which began at midnight local time. A spokesman for Israel’s prime minister had no immediate comment.

The cease-fire extension is meant to grant both sides additional time to negotiate a longer-term truce and a roadmap for the coastal territory.

“We have agreed on a cease-fire for five days,” said Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of the Palestinian delegation to the Cairo talks. He noted that there had been “significant progress” but that disagreements remained over the wording regarding security arrangements, reconstruction efforts for the Gaza Strip and the permissible fishing area.

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Ukraine death toll spikes as government onslaught on rebels intensifies and aid stuck in limbo

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) - A rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine came under intensified shelling Wednesday as the U.N. revealed that the death toll from the fighting between government troops and separatists has nearly doubled in the last two weeks.

A spokeswoman for the U.N.’s human rights office, Cecile Pouilly, said the organization’s “very conservative estimates” show the overall death toll has risen to at least 2,086 people as of Aug. 10, up from 1,129 on July 26.

Pouilly said at least 4,953 others have been wounded in the fighting since mid-April.

While the humanitarian crisis reaches critical stage in at least one major Ukrainian city, trucks apparently carrying some 2,000 tons of aid have lain idle at a military depot in Russia. Moscow insists it coordinated the dispatch of the goods, which range from baby food and canned meat to portable generators and sleeping bags, with the international Red Cross, but Ukraine says it’s worried the mission may be a cover for an invasion.

A spokesman for local authorities in the main rebel-controlled city of Donetsk told The Associated Press on Wednesday that rocket attacks over the previous night had increased in intensity.

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AP video journalist Simone Camilli, translator and 4 others killed in Gaza explosion

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) - Six people - including an Associated Press video journalist - were killed Wednesday when leftover ordnance believed to have been dropped in an Israeli airstrike blew up in the Gaza Strip.

Simone Camilli and his Palestinian translator, Ali Shehda Abu Afash, were covering the aftermath of the war between Israel and Islamic militants in Gaza when they were killed. The blast occurred as Gaza police engineers were trying to defuse unexploded ordnance fired by Israel.

Four police engineers also were killed, police said. Three people, including AP photographer Hatem Moussa, were badly injured.

Moussa told a colleague that they were filming the scene when an initial explosion went off. He said he was hit by shrapnel and began to run when there was a second blast, which knocked him out. He woke up in a hospital and later underwent surgery before he was transferred to a hospital in Israel for more advanced care.

Police officials in Gaza said the blast took place at a special site set up in the northern town of Beit Lahiya where authorities have collected unexploded ordnance to be defused. The cause of the blast was not immediately known.

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Withheld identity of suburban St. Louis officer who shot, killed unarmed teen festering issue

FERGUSON, Mo. (AP) - The police chief of a St. Louis suburb rocked by racial unrest since a white police officer shot an unarmed black teenager to death said Wednesday he won’t be pressured into publicly identifying the officer despite mounting demands from clergy, protesters and even hackers.

Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson, who has been the public face of the city torn by Saturday’s death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, told reporters the St. Louis County investigation of the shooting could take weeks to complete. In the meantime, he said, his department welcomes Justice Department training on racial relations in the suburb, where two-thirds of the 21,000 residents are black while all but three of the police force’s 53 officers are white.

“Unfortunately, an undertow (of racial unrest) has bubbled to the surface,” said Jackson. “Race relations is the top priority right now.”

The mystery of the officer’s identity has fanned the discord, with Jackson arguing that revealing that detail could bring retribution to the officer whose life since Saturday has been countlessly threatened.

But civil rights activists and the attorney for Brown’s family, all pressing for calm amid nights of unrest since Brown’s death, counter that knowing the officer’s name may help the area to heal, allowing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and others to dig into the officer’s background for any prior brutality.

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Study questions the need for most people to cut salt; most risk is with high blood pressure

A large international study questions the conventional wisdom that most people should cut back on salt, suggesting that the amount most folks consume is OK for heart health - and too little may be as bad as too much. The findings came under immediate attack by other scientists.

Limiting salt is still important for people with high blood pressure - and in fact, a second study estimates that too much sodium contributes to up to 1.65 million deaths each year. The studies both have strengths and weaknesses, and come as the U.S. government is preparing to nudge industry to trim sodium in processed and restaurant foods.

The first study’s leader, Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute in Hamilton, Ontario, urged keeping an open mind.

“There are those who have made a career out of promoting extreme sodium reduction that will attack us,” he said. It’s better to focus on healthy lifestyles and overall diets instead of a single element, “and that is something everyone can rally around.”

No one should view this as permission to eat more salt, he said, adding that “most people should stay where they are.”

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Despite depression, Robin Williams presented joyful face to friends, public before death

LOS ANGELES (AP) - In public, Robin Williams shared only the joy he found in life, never the sorrow. He was the same man in private, shielding even longtime friends from the darkness of depression that finally enveloped him.

“I can honestly say I never saw him in the down times,” said comedian David Steinberg, who was friends with Williams for more than 30 years and toured with him for six months last year in a two-man show. “I read about it, heard about it, but that down time he kept to himself.”

When the endlessly inventive, explosively manic comedian and actor was found dead in his Northern California home Monday, an apparent suicide, the brutal shock was felt by fans, friends and colleagues alike.

Williams, 63, who had been so breezily open about seeking therapy - “I went to rehab in wine country to keep my options open,” he joked in 2006 - minimized or hid the immensity of his pain from perhaps all but a handful of people.

Steve Martin, a pal who worked with Williams, tweeted that he was “stunned by the loss.” Chevy Chase, in a statement, said he and friend Williams both suffered from depression but added, “I never could have expected this ending to his life.”

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Clinton and White House try to shrug off differences after foreign policy split

VINEYARD HAVEN, Mass. (AP) - In yet another twist in their complex and heavily scrutinized relationship, Hillary Rodham Clinton and President Barack Obama did their best to shrug off their differences Wednesday as they gathered on Martha’s Vineyard following a foreign policy split.

Obama’s spokesman said the White House “is looking onwards and upwards,” while Clinton joked she was planning on hugging it off with her former boss at a party on the upscale getaway where the president was vacationing.

“We have disagreements as any partners and friends, as we are, might very well have,” Clinton told reporters crowded into a bookstore signing of her memoir “Hard Choices.” ”But I’m proud that I served with him and for him, and I’m looking forward to seeing him tonight.”

Clinton made her first public comments since a flap emerged over her interview with The Atlantic magazine in which she seemed to try to set herself apart from the unpopular Obama as she heads toward a possible 2016 White House bid.

“Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle,” she had said in the interview, referring to a version of the phrase Obama and his advisers have used privately to describe his approach to foreign policy. Clinton described a more aggressive approach she would take in places like Syria and the Mideast.

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Doctors say decision not to use untested Ebola drug on African doctor an ‘impossible dilemma’

DAKAR, Senegal (AP) - Doctors treating a Sierra Leone physician with Ebola defended their decision not to give him an experimental drug, saying Wednesday they feared it was too risky.

Calling it “an impossible dilemma,” Doctors Without Borders explained in detail last month’s decision in response to a New York Times story on the case. It would have been the first time the experimental drug was tried in humans.

The explanation came the same day that another top doctor from Sierra Leone died of the disease, further fueling a debate about how to apportion a limited supply of untested drugs and vaccines and whether they are even effective.

Ebola has killed more than 1,000 people and sickened nearly 2,000 in the current West African outbreak that has also hit Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria. Many of the dead are health workers, who are often working with inadequate supplies and protection.

At the time that the experimental treatment was being considered for Dr. Sheik Humarr Khan, his immune system was already starting to produce antibodies suggesting he might recover, Doctors Without Borders said in the statement. Khan was also due to be transferred to a European hospital that would be more capable of handling problems that might arise, it said.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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