The U.S. and Ukrainian governments are accusing Russia of launching a new cross-border operation to back separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. On Wednesday, officials in Washington and Kiev said Russian forces had moved across the border for the third time this week, effectively opening a third front in Ukraine’s battle with the rebels. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Russia has launched a counteroffensive against Ukrainian troops.
Jen Psaki: “These incursions indicate a Russian-directed counteroffensive is likely underway in Donetsk and Luhansk. Clearly, that is of deep concern to us. I’ll also note that we are — and I’m not sure, many of you have seen this — but we’re also concerned by the Russian government’s unwillingness to tell the truth even as its soldiers are found 30 miles inside Ukraine. Russia is sending its young men into Ukraine, but are telling — are not telling them where they’re going or telling their parents what they’re doing.”
The apparent Russian operations have helped separatist forces make several advances, including on the town of Novoazovsk earlier today.
Global health officials are warning the Ebola outbreak in West Africa continues to escalate and could get far worse. The World Health Organization says the death toll in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria has reached 1,552 out of just over 3,000 known cases. More than 40 percent have occurred within the past three weeks. The WHO says the total could eventually exceed 20,000 cases. Speaking in Liberia, Lindis Hurum of Doctors Without Borders said aid workers are overwhelmed in trying to contain a worsening crisis.
Lindis Hurum: “Ebola today is all over the city. All areas, all districts of the city today have people dying and people getting sick every day. So the population has turned, and they are now afraid. They are asking for help. They don’t know how to respond to this, because if they call the hotline, nobody will come and pick them up because the system is completely overstretched. There are too many, and the response is too weak. It’s very important to understand today this is more than an Ebola outbreak. Today we are facing a humanitarian crisis, and it’s evolving in front of our eyes, and it’s getting worse every day.”
The mother of an American journalist held hostage by Islamic State has issued a public appeal for his release. Steven Sotloff was kidnapped while covering the conflict in Syria last year. He can be seen in the video Islamic State released earlier this month of its beheading of another American journalist, James Foley. In a taped message, Shirley Sotloff made a direct plea to the head of Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Shirley Sotloff: “Since Steven’s capture, I have learned a lot about Islam. I’ve learned that Islam teaches that no individual should be held responsible for the sins of others. Steven has no control over the actions of the U.S. government. He’s an innocent journalist. I’ve also learned that you, the caliph, can grant amnesty. I ask you to please release my child. As a mother, I ask your justice to be merciful and not punish my son for matters he has no control over.”
Freed journalist Peter Theo Curtis has spoken out upon his return to the United States. Curtis was held for nearly two years by another militant group, the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front. He was released on Sunday in a deal brokered by Qatar. Addressing reporters on Wednesday, Curtis thanked his supporters.
Peter Theo Curtis: “In the days following my release on Sunday, I have learned bit by bit that there have been literally hundreds of people, brave, determined and big-hearted people all over the world, working for my release. They’ve been working for two years on this. I had no idea when I was in prison. I had no idea that so much effort was being expended on my behalf. And now having found out, I am just overwhelmed with emotion. To all those people, I say a huge thank you from my heart, from the bottom of my heart.”
A new United Nations probe is accusing both the Syrian government and Islamic State insurgents of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in their fight against the other. Paulo Pinheiro, chair of a U.N. panel on the civil war in Syria, said the Islamic State is recruiting young children for its bloody campaign.
Paulo Pinheiro: “Among the most disturbing findings in this report are accounts of large training camps, where children, mostly boys, from the age of 14 are recruited and trained to fight in the ranks of ISIS along with adults. To what concerns ISIS, the commission, as you can read in the report, indicates that members of ISIS have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Aleppo and al-Raqqa governorates, including acts of torture, murder, enforced disappearances and forcible displacement.”
The U.N. probe also faults the Syrian government for continued killings, torture and other war crimes, including multiple barrel bombings laced with chlorine gas since April.
The Libyan government is warning of a full-scale civil war unless heavily armed militias are brought under control. Libya has been roiled by fighting among rival militias following the U.S.-backed ouster of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. On Sunday, Islamist militias claimed control of the Libyan capital Tripoli after taking over the main airport. On Wednesday, Libyan Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi told the U.N. Security Council his country risks descending into a “full-blown civil war if we’re not very careful.” Warning of a “mounting danger,” the outgoing U.N. envoy to Libya, Tarek Mitri, said more than 100,000 people have been displaced since the conflict escalated last month.
Tarek Mitri: “The threat from the spread of terrorist groups has become real. Their presence and activities in a number of Libyan cities are known to all. At present, the chaotic security situation and the very limited capacity of the government to counter the threat may well have created a fertile ground for a mounting danger in Libya and beyond.”
Protesters have gathered in Dayton, Ohio, to call for a federal probe into the fatal police shooting of an African-American man in a Beavercreek Wal-Mart. Police say John Crawford ignored commands to drop a gun, which turned out later to be a BB gun he had picked up from a shelf. But an attorney for the family of Crawford says surveillance video, which has not been released publicly, shows Crawford was leaning on the butt of the gun while talking on a cellphone when he was “shot on sight.” Ohio’s attorney general has assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the case.
In Chicago, hundreds of people have marched to protest the fatal police shooting of an 18-year-old African-American man. Roshad McIntosh was shot dead on Sunday after police say he pointed a gun in the direction of an officer. But residents, including McIntosh’s mother, claim he was on his knees surrendering when he was shot. According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago police shot 36 people last year, 26 of them black men. So far this year, they have shot more than 30 people, including another African-American man killed the same night as McIntosh. In a separate case, a Chicago police commander has been charged with aggravated battery for sticking his gun into a suspect’s mouth during an arrest last year. A review board found police commander Glenn Evans was named in 14 complaints over a five-year period ending in 2006.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has nominated former St. Louis Police Chief Daniel Isom to the state’s top law enforcement position, heading the Department of Public Safety. If confirmed, Isom would be the lone African-American member of Nixon’s Cabinet. His nomination comes in the aftermath of this month’s police shooting of unarmed African-American teen Michael Brown.
Police in Omaha, Nebraska, have accidentally shot and killed a sound technician with a crew filming their operations for the long-running television show ”COPS.” Bryce Dion was embedded with officers as they confronted a robbery suspect inside a fast-food restaurant when he was struck by a police bullet. Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer described the incident and said he had authorized the COPS filming because he wanted to repair the police department’s tarnished reputation after an incident last year.
Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer: “When they encountered the suspect, and gunfire ensued — and it’s a very dramatic video — when the gunfire ensued, at some point Mr. Washington started exiting his way out, as you can see in that bottom picture there. He’s on his way out. Officers are returning fire. Bryce is in that vestibule and gets struck by a round. I don’t regret it in one sense, because I wanted to be transparent for the community, how I thought transparency was the way to instill and better police-community relations. Personally, I will live with this forever, and if I’d have known this would happen, of course I wouldn’t have done it.”
The news comes admist reports about a nine-year-old girl who accidentally shot an instructor who was teaching her to use an Uzi submachine gun at a shooting range in Arizona. As the shooting became a topic of national discussion Wednesday, the National Rifle Association drew criticism for tweeting a link about “seven ways children can have fun at the shooting range.” An account with the handle @NRAWomen tweeted that link and later deleted it.
Closing arguments have wrapped in the trial of four Blackwater operatives over the 2007 massacre at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square. The suspects are charged for the deaths of 14 of the 17 Iraqi civilians who died when their Blackwater unit indiscriminately opened fire. The case has lagged for years with prosecutors accused of dragging their feet and a lower court’s dismissal of the charges in 2009. The trial featured testimony from witnesses who survived the attack and saw loved ones gunned down. In closing arguments on Wednesday, prosecutors said Blackwater guards had shot fleeing civilians and boasted of taking their lives. Jury deliberations are set to begin next week.