The United States is reportedly considering arming Ukraine’s military amidst renewed fighting with Russian-backed separatists. According to The New York Times, top administration and military officials are leaning toward sending defensive weapons to help Kiev fight a new rebel offensive that has shattered a five-month truce. The White House has held off on directly arming Ukraine in favor of economic sanctions against the rebels’ chief backer, Russia. Violence has spiked in recent days with heavy attacks across all parts of the eastern Ukrainian frontline. At least 13 government soldiers and as many civilians were killed in one 24-hour period over the weekend as talks in Belarus over a new truce broke down. Mediators with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe say the rebels have refused to discuss implementing a ceasefire and instead want to revise the terms of the September truce to reflect their territorial gains.
The militant group the Islamic State has released a video showing the beheading of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. Goto is the second Japanese hostage to be killed by ISIS in a week following the expiry of a 72-hour ultimatum. ISIS had demanded a ransom of $200 million — the same amount Japan recently pledged in nonmilitary aid to the anti-ISIS coalition. A freelance journalist, Goto had been held since his kidnapping in Syria last year. On Sunday, his mother remembered him as someone who sought a world without war.
Junko Ishido: “I cannot find the words in the face of such a heartbreaking death. I can only express this grief with tears. I wish to continue to believe in Kenji Goto’s wish for a world without war and in his work to save the children from poverty and war.”
Jordan, meanwhile, says it is making every effort to obtain the release of a fighter pilot also in ISIS captivity. ISIS wants to swap the pilot for a prisoner accused of involvement in a 2005 hotel bombing that killed 60 people. Jordan has signaled it would consider the exchange if it is given proof the pilot is still alive.
The United Nations says at least 1,375 people were killed in Iraq last month, making it one of the country’s deadliest in years. The January toll follows more than 12,000 deaths in 2014, Iraq’s most lethal year since 2008.
The militant group Boko Haram has launched a major new attack in northern Nigeria. Fighters hit the city of Maiduguri from four different fronts after earlier offensives last week. The Nigerian government says it has repelled the assault and inflicted “massive casualties” on the Boko Haram. This comes as African leaders have approved a new force of at least 7,500 troops to confront Boko Haram’s rise. The group’s recent attacks include the reported massacre of hundreds of people in the northern town of Baga last month. Nigeria is due to hold national elections in two weeks.
Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste has been released from an Egyptian prison after 400 days behind bars. Greste and two of his Al Jazeera colleagues, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were convicted on terrorism charges in a case widely denounced as a sham. They were arrested as part of a crackdown on Al Jazeera while covering the aftermath of the coup that overthrew President Mohamed Morsi in 2013. Greste flew to Cyprus on Sunday following his release, but Fahmy and Mohamed remain behind bars. Al Jazeera English managing director Al Anstey said the network continues to seek the remaining pair’s freedom.
Al Anstey: “We spoke to Peter earlier on this afternoon, just after he was released from detention. And I can’t tell you how relieved we are that Peter has left Egypt and is on his way to be reunited with his family. It’s a day of very mixed emotions, and I think we’ve got to focus on the fact that Baher and Mohamed are still behind bars 400 days after being taken into detention, and that injustice needs to come to an end. They are guilty of nothing apart from great journalism.”
In other news from Egypt, an Egyptian court has confirmed the mass death sentences of nearly 200 supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The defendants were convicted in December of involvement in the 2013 killings of police officers. Defense attorneys say the accused were excluded from the courtroom and that no effort was made to prove anyone’s individual guilt. It was the third such mass sentencing of alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters last year, as part of a crackdown on the group by Egypt’s military regime.
Former intelligence officials have confirmed the CIA and its Israeli counterpart, the Mossad, assassinated a senior Hezbollah leader seven years ago this month. Imad Mughniyah was killed in a 2008 car bombing in the Syrian capital of Damascus. According to The Washington Post, CIA and Mossad operatives worked closely together to carry out the attack. The bomb was built and tested in the United States. Israeli agents in Tel Aviv then triggered it while coordinating with CIA colleagues on the ground in Damascus. As the head of Hezbollah’s international operations, Mughniyah was accused of involvement in attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets in Lebanon and around the world as part of the group’s effort to end the two-decade Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. U.S. officials also accused him of involvement in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and of arming Shiite fighters targeting the U.S. occupation in Iraq.
The killing of former senior Hezbollah leader Imad Mughniyah raises a number of legal and political issues. Its approval required a presidential finding by President George W. Bush and the endorsement of several top Cabinet officials, including the attorney general. Of the use of a car bomb to kill a target, Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor of international law at the University of Notre Dame, said: “It is a killing method used by terrorists and gangsters. It violates one of the oldest battlefield rules.” With CIA involvement confirmed, the disclosure could also set off retaliatory strikes by Hezbollah against U.S. targets around the world. It comes just days after Hezbollah and Israel exchanged fire in one of their most violent clashes since the 2006 war.
The Israeli government has announced a new round of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, approving 450 homes in several Palestinian areas. On Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest criticized the move.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “Our position is that we believe that settlements are illegitimate and counterproductive to achieving a two-state outcome. We have deep concerns about these highly contentious settlement construction announcements. They will have detrimental impacts on the ground, inflame already heightened tensions with the Palestinians and further isolate the Israelis internationally.”
The new settlement building comes amid reports that ties between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama are at their lowest point. White House officials have criticized Netanyahu for a planned trip to the United States next month to address a joint session of Congress on Iran. Netanyahu has backed new sanctions on Iran, despite Obama’s vow to veto them as he pursues a nuclear deal with Tehran. An unnamed administration official told the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz: “There are things you simply don’t do. [Netanyahu] spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.” According to The New York Times, a senior administration said the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, “had repeatedly placed Netanyahu’s political fortunes above the relationship between Israel and the United States.”
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have returned to the streets of Hong Kong to protest China’s rejection of a free vote. Sunday’s action was the first since a pro-democracy encampment was dismantled late last year. The protests erupted in September after the Chinese government said it would only allow Beijing-approved candidates to run for Hong Kong’s next chief executive. Rally organizer Daisy Chan said protesters are prepared to resume the civil disobedience that shut down key roads for more than two months.
Daisy Chan: “We try to use peaceful methods to give an opportunity to government to respond to our ideas. But if the government rejects our sincere opportunity, then the government must face more pressure from more and more civil disobedience action will be taken.”
In Yemen, Houthi rebels have set a three-day deadline to seize power unless a political crisis is resolved. The announcement coincides with ongoing talks following last month’s resignation of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi amidst a Houthi offensive.
Guatemala has marked the 35th anniversary of the Spanish Embassy massacre just weeks after a historic verdict in the case. Thirty-seven peasant activists and student organizers were burned to death in 1980 after the Spanish Embassy in Guatemala City was set on fire. The activists had been occupying the embassy to protest government repression. Last month, former police chief Pedro García Arredondo was found guilty of ordering the attack and sentenced to 90 years in prison. A memorial was held to mark the 35th anniversary on Saturday. Rigoberta Menchú, whose father, indigenous peasant leader Don Vicente Menchú, died in the massacre, said a copy of Arredondo’s guilty sentence will be stored at the memorial.
Rigoberta Menchú: “Well, first of all, it was the truth. I mean, I think we have been drawn out from the dark, from the abandonment of the truth of the massacre of the Spanish Embassy. The sentence is huge. To read it completely takes six hours, so therefore we will place it in a box here at the foundation, and you can go by in a little while to see where it will always be for those who want to ask questions about the sentence.”
Dozens of people have rallied outside the White House to oppose President Obama’s plans to upgrade the nation’s nuclear weaponry. Obama has called for a nuke-free world, but has reportedly put the United States on pace to spend as much as $1 trillion over the next three decades to rebuild its nuclear arsenal and facilities. On Sunday, activists held up a full-size inflatable missile while calling for the verified elimination of all nuclear stockpiles by the year 2030.
The family of slain New York City teenager Ramarley Graham will receive $3.9 million to settle a lawsuit over his fatal shooting three years ago today. Graham, an 18-year-old African American, was unarmed when a police officer shot him dead inside his own home. The officer, Richard Haste, was initially charged with manslaughter, but a judge later threw out the indictment on procedural grounds. A second grand jury elected not to indict. Graham’s killing sparked a series of protests in the Bronx and across New York City led by his family. The settlement comes as federal prosecutors continue a probe of possible civil rights violations in the case.