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The ceasefire in eastern Ukraine remains in limbo one week after it came into effect. The Ukrainian military says it cannot withdraw heavy weaponry from the front line because of continued rebel violence. The rebels took the strategic town of Debaltseve last week, several days after the truce began, but deny carrying out further attacks. On Sunday, two people were killed when a bomb hit a rally in Kharkiv marking the one-year anniversary of the killing of demonstrators in the Maidan protests that topped President Viktor Yanukovych. The Ukraine government says it’s arrested four suspects tied to Russia. Thousands also marched in Kiev, while a parallel rally was held in Moscow to denounce the Maidan anniversary. Despite the continued unrest, fighting has stopped in several areas, and the Ukrainian military and rebels have exchanged dozens of prisoners.
The top U.N. envoy on Syria is in Damascus today in a bid to halt the government’s bombing of Aleppo. Staffan de Mistura said last week he had received assurances from the regime of Bashar al-Assad to stop attacks on Aleppo for up to six weeks. If implemented, it could be one of the most significant diplomatic breakthroughs of Syria’s four-year civil war. Mistura will go on to Turkey in a bid to secure an agreement with opposition leaders, who have not yet signed on. Over the weekend, Turkish forces carried out a raid inside Syria to rescue a group of its soldiers guarding an ancient tomb.
Meanwhile, a new tally says U.S.-led strikes against the Islamic State in Syria have killed more than 1,600 people since they began five month ago. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims most of the dead were ISIS fighters, but at least 62 civilians were also killed.
United Nations investigators probing war crimes in Syria’s civil war say they are considering publishing the names of suspects responsible for atrocities. Panel chair Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro accused both the Syrian government and Islamic State insurgents of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro: “The horrific things are not only being perpetrated by the two terrorist groups, as the Security Council has defined, so-called ISIS (Islamic State) and Jabhat al-Nusra. But it’s very important not to forget the human rights violations, the war crimes, the crimes against humanity committed by government forces and by other nonstate armed groups that continue to act, to be present in the conflict.”
One of the leading activists in Egypt’s 2011 revolution has been sentenced to five years in prison. Alaa Abd El-Fattah received the term in a retrial following an original sentence of 15 years. He was accused of inciting a 2013 protest that broke a law barring public gatherings without government approval. El-Fattah has been imprisoned multiple times since playing a key role in the protests that toppled Hosni Mubarak four years ago, missing the birth of his child and, more recently, the death of his father. As the verdict was read today, El-Fattah’s family and friends wept in the courtroom and shouted, “Down with military rule.”
The United States and Iran have resumed high-level talks in a bid to reach a nuclear deal before a March 31 deadline. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif in Geneva. The talks for the first time have included top U.S. and Iranian officials on energy and nuclear issues, to work out the technical details of an agreement that would curb Iran’s nuclear program and impose international monitoring. Both sides say they have no plans to extend the talks a second time after initially missing a deadline in November. The Obama administration meanwhile is reportedly withholding details of the talks from Israeli counterparts over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s effort to undermine an agreement. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Israel has spread false information about the negotiations.
Donations to rebuild Gaza from a devastating Israeli assault this summer have fallen far short of the amounts pledged. While countries around the world vowed to give more than $5 billion to help Gaza rebuild, the humanitarian news service IRIN reports only 5 percent of the pledges have come in. Last month the United Nations Relief and Works Agency said it had run out of funding for repairs and rental subsidies in Gaza. Meanwhile, a new report has confirmed hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed in Israeli airstrikes on homes during the summer bombardment. The Associated Press found that of the more than 800 Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes on homes, over 60 percent were civilians, and just 11 percent were confirmed or suspected militants. The United Nations has reported nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the assault overall, the vast majority civilians.
The Islamic State has taken responsibility for a suicide attack that killed at least 40 people and wounded dozens more in Libya. Friday’s bombing in the town of Quba came days after Egypt launched strikes on the ISIS affiliate in northern Libya following the beheadings of 21 Egyptian nationals.
Greece has reached a deal with European creditors to extend a financial rescue package for up to four months. Greece’s new Syriza government sought the agreement as part of its bid to undo the austerity demands of its international bailout. Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis called the move the “first step on a long journey.”
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis: “Today, we have found partners amongst those who, up until very recently, looked at us with suspicion. There are some partners still that are looking at us with suspicion. This is our challenge to win over their trust, and we intend to do this. This is only a very first step on a long journey, but long journeys have to commence with a step.”
The extension will be formally ratified after Greece submits a list of economic reforms today.
The United States says it is mulling new punitive actions against Venezuela following the arrest of an opposition mayor. The mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, was detained last week and indicted for what the government called a U.S.-backed coup plot. Rejecting Venezuela’s claims, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the United States is not interfering in Venezuela, but then said it is considering new actions to steer its government in a different direction.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest: “The fact is the Venezuelan government should stop trying to blame the United States and other members of the international community for events inside Venezuela. The Venezuelan government actually needs to deal with the grave situation that it faces. The United States is not promoting unrest in Venezuela, nor are we attempting to undermine Venezuela’s economy or its government. Well, I can tell you that the Treasury Department and the State Department are obviously closely monitoring this situation and are considering tools that may be available that could better steer the Venezuelan government in the direction that they believe they should be headed.”
In response, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said the United States has no right to change Venezuelan policies, and appealed for global solidarity.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro: “I call on all the brother governments of Latin America and the Caribbean. I am calling on all our brothers and sisters in Latin America and the Caribbean. This is the moment for solidarity with the Venezuelan people, who are being attacked by the government of the United States. No one should stay quiet in the face of this aggression. What are the 'tools' that are being considered by the (U.S.) Treasury Department? More economic war. What are the 'tools' that are being considered to move us in any direction they should please? Who said that the government of the United States has any authority to move Venezuela in any way in this world?”
A federal judge has blocked the Obama administration’s wholesale detention of Central Americans fleeing violence at home. Amidst an influx of asylum seekers from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the Obama administration has been jailing women and children at so-called family detention centers, where immigrants have reported prison-like conditions. On Friday, U.S. District Judge James Boasberg placed the policy on hold pending a full hearing, saying it “causes irreparable harm,” while the administration has presented “little empirical evidence” it deters further immigration. While officials have justified the policy by arguing an ongoing influx of immigrants could threaten national security, Judge Boasberg ruled the “incantation of the magic word 'national security' without further substantiation is simply not enough to justify significant deprivations of liberty.” The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case on behalf of mothers and children they say have fled from extreme violence, rape and death threats. Attorneys say they expect the women and children will be released from detention beginning this week.
The Somali militant group al-Shabab has issued a threat to attack Minnesota’s Mall of America as it did Kenya’s Westgate shopping center in 2013. The mall says it has tightened security in response.
One of the top scientists involved in denying climate change has failed to disclose his extensive funding from the fossil fuel industry. Dr. Wei-Hock Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has downplayed global warming and rejected human activity as its cause, arguing the sun is more responsible than greenhouse gases. Climate denialists frequently cite his work to reject concrete action. But documents released by Greenpeace show Soon has received more than $1.2 million from fossil fuel corporations over the last decade and failed to disclose those ties in most of his scientific papers. According to The New York Times, Soon’s hidden financial ties likely violate ethical guidelines in at least eight different cases. In correspondence with his funders, Soon referred to his scientific papers or congressional testimony as “deliverables.” In response, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center says Soon’s behavior is “inappropriate” and will be handled internally.