- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 27, 2014

US journalist’s mother pleads for his life as photos show killings by Islamic State gunmen

BEIRUT (AP) - The mother of a hostage American journalist pleaded for his release Wednesday in a video directed at the Islamic State group, while new images emerged of mass killings, including masked militants shooting kneeling men after the capture of a strategic air base in Syria.

Shirley Sotloff’s plea came as a U.N. commission accused the group, which dominates a broad swath of territory spanning the Syria-Iraq border, of committing crimes against humanity and President Barack Obama weighs options for targeting the extremists’ stronghold in Syria.

The Islamic State militants have threatened to kill 31-year-old Steven Sotloff unless the U.S. halts its airstrikes against it.

Sotloff, who free-lanced for Time and Foreign Policy magazines, had last been seen in Syria in August 2013 until he appeared in a video released online last week by the Islamic State group showing the beheading of fellow American journalist, James Foley. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit against the backdrop of an arid Syrian landscape, Sotloff was threatened with death unless the U.S. stopped airstrikes on the group in Iraq.

Addressing the leader of the Islamic State by name, Shirley Sotloff said her son was “an innocent journalist” who shouldn’t pay for U.S. government actions in the Middle East over which he has no control.

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Israeli prime minister and Hamas declare victory in Gaza war as questions over future linger

JERUSALEM (AP) - Both Israel’s prime minister and Hamas declared victory Wednesday in the Gaza war, though their competing claims left questions over future terms of their uneasy peace still lingering.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments, delivered in a prime-time address on national television, appeared aimed at countering critics of the war, with both hard-liners in his governing coalition, as well as residents of rocket-scarred southern Israel, saying the war was a failure because it did not halt Hamas’ rocket attacks or oust the group from power.

Masked Hamas militants carrying heavy weapons gave their own address upon the rubble of one destroyed Gaza neighborhood, though their own major demands won’t be addressed until indirect talks with Israel begin again in Cairo.

Israel and Hamas agreed to an open-ended truce Tuesday, with each side settling for an ambiguous interim agreement in exchange for a period of calm. Hamas, though badly battered, remains in control of Gaza with part of its military arsenal intact. Israel and Egypt will continue to control access to blockaded Gaza, despite Hamas’ long-running demand that the border closures imposed in 2007 be lifted.

Hamas is seeking an end to the Israeli blockade, including the reopening of Gaza’s sea and airport. It also wants Egypt to reopen its Rafah border crossing, the territory’s main gateway to the outside world. Under the restrictions, virtually all of Gaza’s 1.8 million people cannot trade or travel. Only a few thousand are able to leave the coastal territory every month.

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AP ANALYSIS: Gaza war seems to end with another grim stalemate amid devastation in the strip

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) - The third Gaza War in six years appears to have ended in another sort of tie, with both Israel and Hamas claiming the upper hand. Their questionable achievements have come at a big price, especially to long-suffering Palestinians in Gaza.

In a sense, Israel got what it wanted: Hamas stopped firing rockets in exchange for mostly vague promises and future talks. But the cost to Israel was huge: Beyond the 70 people killed - all but six of them soldiers - the economy has been set back, the tourism season destroyed, its people rattled for 50 days and its global standing pummeled by images of devastation in Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces bristling from people who sense that Hamas controlled events and could not have its grip loosened on the Gaza Strip, which it seized by force from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Around the corner lie international investigations into war crimes allegations.

Hamas is celebrating its success after surviving Israel’s far superior firepower. The Islamic militant group’s rocket fire emptied a string of Israeli border communities and disrupted Tel Aviv’s international airport. Weak a few months ago, it may emerge as more of a player in Palestinian politics, and the plight of Gazans is again atop the world’s concerns.

It also paid dearly: 2,143 Palestinians were killed, including nearly 500 children and hundreds of militants. The U.N. estimates the war destroyed or severely damaged 17,200 homes and left 100,000 Palestinians homeless, with considerable swaths of Gaza in rubble. Hamas’ rocket arsenal is much depleted and many - if not all - of its attack tunnels against Israel have been destroyed.

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Rebels enter southeastern town as battle for Ukraine’s strategic coastline heats up

NOVOAZOVSK, Ukraine (AP) - Pushing west in a new offensive along Ukraine’s strategic coastline, heavily armed Russian-backed separatist forces captured new territory Wednesday far from their previous battles with government troops.

The bold offensive along a new southeastern front raised the prospect that the separatists are seeking to create a land link between Russia and Crimea, which also would give them control over the entire Azov Sea.

After a third day of heavy shelling that sent many residents fleeing, rebel fighters with dozens of tanks and armored vehicles entered Novoazovsk, a resort town of 40,000 on the Azov Sea, the mayor told The Associated Press.

Novoazovsk lies along the road linking Russia to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol and onto Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in March.

The separatist attack appears to have caught government forces off guard, and they were scrambling Wednesday to build up defenses. The offensive also adds to growing evidence that the rebels receive Russian support.

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Deadly shooting of instructor by 9-year-old girl stirs debate over children and guns

PHOENIX (AP) - The accidental shooting death of a firing-range instructor by a 9-year-old girl with an Uzi has set off a powerful debate over youngsters and guns, with many people wondering what sort of parents would let a child handle a submachine gun.

Instructor Charles Vacca, 39, was standing next to the girl Monday at the Last Stop range in White Hills, Arizona, about 60 miles south of Las Vegas, when she squeezed the trigger. The recoil wrenched the Uzi upward, and Vacca was shot in the head.

Investigators said they do not plan to seek charges.

Gerry Hills, founder of Arizonans for Gun Safety, a group seeking to reduce gun violence, said that it was reckless to let the girl handle such a powerful weapon and that tighter regulations regarding children and guns are needed.

“We have better safety standards for who gets to ride a roller coaster at an amusement park,” Hills said. Referring to the girl’s parents, Hills said: “I just don’t see any reason in the world why you would allow a 9-year-old to put her hands on an Uzi.”

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US official warns Ebola will get worse before it gets better; 3rd doctor dies in Sierra Leone

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) - A third top doctor has died from Ebola in Sierra Leone, a government official said Wednesday, as a leading American health official warned that the outbreak sweeping West Africa would get worse.

The disease has already killed more than 1,400 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone, and Doctors Without Borders warned that the tremendous influx of patients in Liberia, in particular, is overwhelming their treatment centers there.

“I wish I didn’t have to say this, but it is going get worse before it gets better,” Dr. Tom Frieden, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said of the outbreak at the end of a visit to Liberia, where he described the situation as dire.

Liberia has recorded the highest number of cases and deaths of any of the four countries. Doctors Without Borders said in a statement that a new treatment center recently opened in the country’s capital with 120 beds filled up almost immediately.

The tremendous number of patients means that the medical charity is not able to provide those patients with intravenous treatments, a primary way doctors keep people who are losing a tremendous amount of fluid alive.

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Sources: US considering humanitarian relief mission for ethnic Turkmen in northern Iraq

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Obama administration is considering a humanitarian relief operation for Shiite Turkmen in northern Iraq who have been under siege for weeks by Islamic State militants, U.S. defense officials said Wednesday.

And as the administration weighed its options for targeting the Islamic State group’s strongholds in neighboring Syria, the U.S. Central Command announced three more airstrikes in the vicinity of Ibril and the Mosul Dam. The strikes by unspecified U.S. fighter, attack and drone aircraft, destroyed an Islamic State Humvee, a supply truck and three armored vehicles and damaged an Islamic State building, Central Command said.

The three attacks brought to 101 the number of U.S. airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Iraq since Aug. 8. The northern Iraqi city of Irbil was the site earlier this month of U.S. airstrikes to protect Americans helping Kurdish forces repel the militant group. The dam was recently released from Islamic State control.

The contemplated relief mission would be the second recent U.S. military humanitarian intervention in Iraq. U.S. C-17 and C-130 cargo planes dropped tons of food and water to displaced Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq earlier this month, supported by U.S. airstrikes on nearby Islamic State fighting positions.

The administration is now focused on the imperiled town of Amirli, which is situated about 105 miles north of Baghdad and just a few miles from Kurdish territory. An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people are estimated to have no access to food or water.

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White House crafts legal argument: Congress left Obama no choice but to act on immigration

WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House is crafting a blame-it-on-Congress legal justification to back up President Barack Obama’s impending executive actions on immigration.

Facing an expect onslaught of opposition, the administration plans to argue that Congress failed to provide enough resources to fully enforce U.S. laws, thereby ceding wide latitude to White House to prioritize deportations of the 11.5 million people who are in the country illegally, administration officials and legal experts said. But Republicans, too, are exploring their legal options for stopping Obama from what they’ve deemed egregious presidential overreaching.

A self-imposed, end-of-summer deadline to act on immigration is rapidly approaching. While Obama has yet to receive the formal recommendations he’s requested from Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, administration officials said the president is intimately familiar with the universe of options and won’t spend much time deliberating once Johnson delivers his recommendations.

After resisting calls to act alone in hopes Congress would pass a comprehensive immigration fix, Obama in June bowed to immigration activists and said that “if Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours.” The most sweeping, controversial step under consideration involves halting deportation for millions, a major expansion of a 2012 Obama program that deferred prosecutions for those brought here illegally as children.

Roughly half a million have benefited from that program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA.

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Q-and-A about Westerners who go to join the fight in war-torn Syria and efforts to stop them

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - Douglas McAuthur McCain, an American killed in Syria while fighting with the Islamic State group, was part of a growing number of Americans and other foreigners recruited by terror groups to help them wage war in the Mideast.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest confirmed Wednesday that McCain was fighting for ISIL in Syria in a conflict that now includes thousands of combatants from around 50 countries.

Some questions and answers about Westerners traveling to join the battle in Syria:

WHO ARE THESE TRAVELERS?

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Boston Marathon bombing victim marries nurse who helped him heal

BOSTON (AP) - If something good could come out of the Boston Marathon bombing, James Costello and Krista D’Agostino seem to have found it.

Sixteen months after the attack killed three people and injured more than 260, including Costello, he married D’Agostino, the nurse who helped him recover. The couple exchanged vows Saturday at the Hyatt Regency Boston in front of about 160 guests.

A photograph of Costello with his clothes ripped to shreds and parts of his body burned became one of the most recognized images of the 2013 attack. He met D’Agostino, a nurse at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, while he was recovering from multiple surgeries for shrapnel injuries and serious burns that required pig skin grafts on his right arm and right leg.

After the couple became engaged, Costello said he believed he was involved in the tragedy in order to meet D’Agostino, whom he described as his best friend and the love of his life.

“One thing that she hates that I always say is I’m actually glad I got blown up,” Costello said on the “Today” show in December. “I wish everyone else didn’t have to, but I don’t think I would have ever met her if I didn’t.”

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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