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Afghan Election Audit Stalled by ‘Misunderstanding’

Afghan Election Audit Stalled by ‘Misunderstanding’

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(KABUL, Afghanistan) — An audit into the recently completed Afghan Presidential Election has been halted, the Afghan Independent Election Commission said Sunday. Without providing further detail, the AIEC blamed the suspension on a “misunderstanding.”
Over the weekend, officials on each side staged walkouts in response to disputes over the audit process.Both candidates, Dr. Abdullah Abdullah and Dr. Ashraf Ghani have accused each other of electoral fraud following the June 14 run-off election. Abdullah won the initial round of voting, but failed to secure the 50 percent of the vote needed to void a runoff. In the second round of voting, Ghani finished on top.U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said earlier this month that all votes in the election would be audited, a process that was always expected to take weeks to complete.
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IDF Opens Field Hospital for Palestinians at Border Crossing

IDF Opens Field Hospital for Palestinians at Border Crossing

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) — The Israel Defense Forces announced on Sunday that it would open a field hospital for Palestinians at the Erez border crossing.The hospital began operating at 8 p.m. on Sunday, according to an IDF statement. The hospital was established to provide medical assistance and humanitarian care to Palestinians from Gaza amidst the ongoing tensions.Among other services, the hospital will offer an emergency clinic, pediatric and gynecologic services and a delivery room. Staff will include doctors, nurses, X-ray technicians and lab technicians.
The establishment of such a hospital was approved by the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Gantz.
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Malaysia Airlines to Retire MH17 Flight Number

Malaysia Airlines to Retire MH17 Flight Number

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(KUALA LUMPUR) — Malaysia Airlines announced on Sunday that it would retire the flight number MH17 after the flight was tragically shot down over eastern Ukraine last week.In a statement, Malaysia Airlines said the decision was made “out of respect for our crew and passengers of the mentioned flight code.” The change will take effect on Friday, July 25. The airline insists that there will be no changes to the route aside from the flight number, with the same flight frequency between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur. The route will take on a new flight number, MH19, on Friday.
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Pro-Russian Rebel Leader: We Want to Give Crash Victims’ Bodies to Families

Pro-Russian Rebel Leader: We Want to Give Crash Victims’ Bodies to Families

DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) — It may be some time before the bodies of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 are returned to their families.
In an exclusive interview with ABC News Sunday, the leader of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic said they would not be turned over until international inspectors come here to inspect them.
“We can and we want to give bodies to the relatives but experts have to examine the bodies here. That is international practice,” Alexander Borodai said.
He feared that if the remains are turned over to the Ukrainian government they will be used as evidence to blame his fighters for shooting down the plane, something he again denied.
The problem is that the team of international investigators remains in Kiev. Despite what has been described as a “preliminary” agreement on their travel to the crash site, there has been no announcement about when they might finally arrive.
“We guarantee their safety and their ability to work. After that the bodies can be transported wherever,” Borodai said. He insisted that he placed no conditions on their travel to the crash site and wants an “open and independent” investigation.
Borodai said he was willing to provide the remains unconditionally to the Russian government because he trusted them. Given Western accusations about Russia’s backing for the rebels, however, it remains to be seen if that will be an acceptable offer.
For now, the remains of nearly 200 passengers remain under rebel control and are being stored in refrigerated rail cars, not far from the crash site. Borodai said they would remain there until they are transported following the examination.
At a press conference, Borodai defended the decision to remove the bodies from the wreckage on Saturday, two days after the crash, saying it was “inhumane” to leave them there. The State Department had criticized that decision, saying it was compromising the crime scene.
The United States has also voiced concerns about the crash site being compromised under rebel control.
“We do our best not to do it,” Borodai said in response.
He dismissed growing concern about the crash site, which is essentially unguarded. Anywhere else in the world, such a scene would be roped off and crawling with investigators.
Yet here, only a handful of guards patrol the access roads and the wreckage. When ABC News departed the scene late Saturday evening, the rebels had retreated to their tents and left the site unmonitored.
Borodai said he has increased the number of guards but could not spare enough men from the front lines of their battle with the Ukrainian military.
“That is why we are inviting and waiting for the experts to come as soon as possible,” he said.
Even so, few expect the rebels to be neutral guards in the first place. The U.S. has expressed concerns that key evidence may have been carried off or disturbed in the days since the crash.
In response to reports that the site may have been looted, Borodai insisted it was done only by a handful of locals and promised to prosecute them according to the “laws of war.”
International monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, who are not investigators but have been observing the conflict, have so far been unsatisfied with the access they have received at the crash site. On Saturday, rebel guards would not let them approach the wreckage.
Borodai said the OSCE team wanted him to cut off journalist access to the site, but he declined to do so, claiming his interest in “freedom of the press.”
Earlier, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev provided the most detailed evidence thus far to prove the rebels shot the passenger plane down with a surface to air missile.
Borodai confirmed that his forces had recently refurbished what he described as a Strela-10, an old Soviet-era mobile surface-to-air missile system, which he said was a war trophy taken from the Ukrainian military. He said the weapon did not have enough power or range to shoot down a passenger jet at cruising altitude.
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Victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 Stuck in Limbo

Victims of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 Stuck in Limbo

Rob Stothard/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) — Rebels in Eastern Ukraine Sunday moved the bodies of 196 victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 into refrigerated trains that will stay in the rebel-held town of Torez, nine miles away from the debris field, until the arrival of an international aviation delegation, rebel leader Alexander Borodai told ABC News.
Armed rebels are limiting the access of rescue workers to the debris field, only allowing them to work for up to 75 minutes at a time, said Col. Andriy Lyenskol, spokesman for Ukraine’s National Security Council.
Evidence suggests that Russia had previously provided support to the rebels accused of shooting down flight MH 17, Secretary of State John Kerry told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos Sunday morning.
“There are an enormous array of facts that point at Russia’s support for and involvement in this effort,” Kerry said. “Drunken separatists are stacking bodies into the backs of trucks, removing materials from the site … This is an insult to everybody. It’s really a moment of truth for Russia to step up and be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”
Kerry’s comments come as the United States Embassy in Kiev issued a statement detailing how Russia aided the rebels.
“Over the past month, we have detected an increasing amount of heavy weaponry to separatist fighters crossing the border from Russia into Ukraine,” read the statement. “We also have information indicating that Russia is providing training to separatist fighters at a facility in southwest Russia, and this effort included training on air defense systems.”
The embassy added that the surface-to-air missile that downed MH 17, a SA-11, was likely fired by rebels as there were no Ukrainian missile systems in the range of the debris field at the time of the strike.
The embassy also said that Ukraine has not fired any surface-to-air missiles in the conflict with separatists.
Borodai told ABC News that the rebels believe they have recovered the black boxes from flight MH 17 but that they are unsure of the finding and are waiting for the arrival of experts to verify the black boxes.
The items believed to be the black boxes will be protected and secured until investigators arrive, Borodai said.
Borodai also guaranteed the safety of international investigators and journalists at the MH 17 debris field. He questioned why experts had not yet arrived, suggesting that Ukraine was stalling investigations.
The international community has come together to mourn the 298 victims of flight MH 17.
In the Netherlands, families came together at Sunday morning church services to grieve and mourn.
In Rome, Pope Francis led a prayer in St. Peter’s Square for peace in Ukraine.
“I invite you to remember and to keep praying for tensions and conflicts which are going on in different parts of the world, especially in the Middle East and in Ukraine,” he said.
In Australia, the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne opened with a tribute to several delegates who were killed in the MH 17 disaster.
“It’s a really important time for what we think everyone needs, which is a space to grieve and to respect the six members of our community that died on MH 17,” conference co-chair Sharon Lewin said.
Among the victims who were en route to the conference was Dr. Joep Lange, a leading expert in the field of HIV/AIDS.
There were nearly 100 HIV/AIDS researchers and scientists on flight MH 17 when it was shot down over Ukraine.
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Typhoon Rammasun Destroys Homes in Southern China

Typhoon Rammasun Destroys Homes in Southern China

ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images(BEIJING) — A strong storm that wreaked havoc in the Philippines last week has now hit China.
The strongest typhoon to hit southern China in four decades has killed 18 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes, the government and state media said Sunday.
In the Philippines, the death toll from the storm’s earlier destruction rose to 94.
Typhoon Rammasun destroyed 37,000 homes and ravaged 1.2 million acres, according China’s official news agency. The typhoon is the strongest to hit southern China in 41 years.
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Australian Newlyweds Escape MH17 Tragedy

Australian Newlyweds Escape MH17 Tragedy

Paul Jeffers/Getty Images(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) — Australian newlyweds booked to fly on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 are part of a small group who narrowly escaped tragedy by changing their travel plans at the last minute.
Simone La Posta and Juan Jovel were booked to fly on MH17 for the return trip from their honeymoon, but decided to fly a day earlier.
“We are feeling lucky but at the same time our hearts bleed for these families that are expecting their loved ones to come back,” Jovel told ABC News.
Posta and Jovel are among the few travelers who were scheduled to fly on Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, which was shot down on Thursday while flying above eastern Ukraine, but for one reason or another changed their plans.
The crash claimed the lives of 298 passengers from 11 different countries, including Karlijn Keijzer, a Dutch national at Indiana University.
Barry and Izzy Sim, along with their baby son, were also scheduled to fly on MH17 but had to change flights due to a shortage of seats.
Barry Sim described the feeling of learning about the fate of MH17 as “just shock.”
“You get this sick feeling in the pit of your stomach,” he said. “So yes, just… we started getting butterflies. Your heartbeat starts going.”
Also supposed to be on the flight was Dutch cyclist Maarten de Jonge, who remarkably escaped death on a Malyasia Airlines jet not once buy twice.
Not only was de Jonge scheduled to fly on Malaysia flight MH17, he was also scheduled to fly on Flight 370, which went missing in March.
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What We Know About Downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17

What We Know About Downed Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17

Alexander KHUDOTEPLY/AFP/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) — Two days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 was shot down while flying above eastern Ukraine, investigators from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) arrived at the debris field on Saturday after world leaders raised concerns about the status and safety of the wreckage.
Malaysia Airlines also released its passenger manifest Saturday, identifying the 298 people on board MH 17 who came from 11 different countries.According to Malaysian officials, 192 of the 298 abroad were listed as Dutch. The passenger list also included 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine Britons, four Belgians, four Germans, three Filipinos, one Canadian and one New Zealander.One of the Dutch passengers, Quinn Lucas Schansman, had dual United States citizenship. Kevin Jesurun, a Dutch passenger who graduated from Palmer School in Miami, was also on board.Among the victims identified were the Gunawan family, relatives of an ABC News employee. Hadiono Gunawan, an employee of Malaysia Airlines, was headed to the Philippines for a family vacation. His wife, Irene, and their two children, Daryl and Sherryl, were traveling with him.Karlijn Keijzer, a Dutch student studying in the United States, was going on vacation with her boyfriend.
“I’m just in disbelief and expecting Karlijn to pop up on Facebook and tell everybody she’s OK,” Keijzer’s friend, Rachel Weigler said in a phone interview with ABC News.Also killed were nearly 100 scientists and researchers heading toward an AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia. Among the dead was Joep Lange, a pioneer in AIDS/HIV research. The World Health Organization confirmed Friday that WHO spokesman Glenn Thomas was also aboard.
As the wreckage recovery has been complicated by the ongoing conflict between Ukraine and Russia, President Obama called for an immediate ceasefire in the region between the two countries and Russian-backed separatists who control the area in order to conduct an investigation.”We know [Russian separatists] have received steady support from Russia, which includes heavy weapons and training … and includes anti-aircraft weapons,” Obama said.On Friday, U.S Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said U.S. officials could not rule out whether Russia helped launch the single surface-to-air missile that intelligence officials say brought down the plane.”Because of the technical complexity of the SA-11, it is unlikely that the separatists could effectively operate the system without assistance from knowledgeable personnel,” she said. “We cannot rule out technical assistance from Russian personnel in operating the systems.”The Ukrainian government has blamed the crash on Russian-backed separatists.In a statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin rebuffed that assumption and said “the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.”
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Dutch Cyclist Avoids Tragedy After Being Scheduled On Two Doomed Flights

Dutch Cyclist Avoids Tragedy After Being Scheduled On Two Doomed Flights

MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) — A Dutch cyclist escaped tragedy twice after being scheduled to fly on doomed Malaysia Airlines flights — Flight MH 17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine, and Flight MH 370, which disappeared over the Indian Ocean in March.
According to a Netherlands public broadcaster RTV Oost, Maarten de Jonge was scheduled to be on both Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 and the still missing flight MH 370. In both cases de Jonge ended up changing his flight at the last minute.
In a statement on his website De Jonge, 29, confirmed he had been scheduled to take the doomed flight on Thursday but ended up changing his ticket for another flight this weekend.
“What has happened is terrible, so many victims, that’s a horrible thing,” de Jonge said in a translated statement on his website. “I have my story done and I would like to leave it … my story is ultimately nothing compared to the misery in which so many people are paid.”
De Jonge told RTV Oost in spite of his close calls with disaster, he plans on flying to Malaysia later this week and isn’t worried about the flight.
The Dutch cyclist is a member of the Terengganu Cycling Team in Malaysia and came in 35th in last month’s National Championship Road Race in the Netherlands, according to ProCyclingState.com.
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Thousands March in India Demanding Arrest of Child’s Rapist

Thousands March in India Demanding Arrest of Child’s Rapist

STR/AFP/Getty Images(BANGALORE, India) — Thousands of people marched in Bangalore on Saturday, demanding police arrest those involved in the rape of a small girl.
The assault happened in the beginning of the month but was reported only this past week. 
The incident happened earlier this month at a primary school in Bangalore, India’s technology hub.
The school has refused to take responsibility for the crime. Eight members of the school’s staff have now been detained for questioning.
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Bodies Remain in Malaysia Airlines Debris Field 48 Hours After Downing

Bodies Remain in Malaysia Airlines Debris Field 48 Hours After Downing

Alexander Ermochenko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images(KIEV, Ukraine) — Malaysia Airlines flight 17 remains scattered across Ukraine Saturday, 48 hours after the plane downed, killing the 298 people on board.The crash site has been described as the biggest crime scene in the world. International inspectors say they’ve been given some access, but Ukraine has accused pro-Russian separatists who control the fields where the plane went down of trying to destroy evidence. Ukraine’s intelligence chief said the attack was supported and organized by Russia, and claimed to have the proof. But Russia has denied involvement and said Ukraine is responsible for breeding tension in its war-torn eastern countryside.ABC’s Kirit Radio says investigators have arrived at the scene to begin removing the bodies.
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UN Figures Estimate 2,417 Killed in Iraq in June

UN Figures Estimate 2,417 Killed in Iraq in June

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(BAGHDAD) — The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq released casualty figures for the month of June on Friday, in which the mission noted the highest number of civilian casualties this year.In the month of June, a staggering 1,531 civilians were reportedly killed, including 270 civilian police. An additional 1,763 civilians were injured, according to the UNAMI. Further, 886 members of the Iraqi Security Forces were killed in June, and 524 more were injured.”The staggering number of civilian casualties in one month points to the urgent need for all to ensure that civilians are protected,” the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for Iraq Nickolay Mladenov said. While large swaths of the country remain under the control of the militant group the Islamic State of  Iraq and Syria, Mladenov insisted that “it is imperative that national leaders work together to foil attempts to destroy the social fabric of Iraqi society.”Baghdad was the worse affected Governorate with 375 civilians killed and 715 injured. UNAMI casualty figures exclude the province of Anbar.
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Iran Nuclear Talks Deadline Extended to November

Iran Nuclear Talks Deadline Extended to November

Hemera/Thinkstock(VIENNA) — In a statement, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif announced an extension in the Iran nuclear talks.Citing progress made in recent talks between all of the P5+1 foreign ministers, the statement said that talks will continue through a new deadline of November 24. Still, the statement said, “there are…significant gaps on some core issues which will require more time and effort.”U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted that the new deadline date is significant in that it is exactly one year to the day after the original plan of action was agreed to. Until the new deadline date, the terms agreed to in the interim deal remain in place, with the freezing of the Iranian nuclear program and suspension of some U.S. sanctions.Kerry said that a “draft text” exists with many of the main issues, but that “brackets and blank spaces” still exist, including a disagreement over the enrichment capacity of the Natanz enrichment facility. Kerry calls that issue “an absolutely critical component of any potential comprehensive agreement.”
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What Israel’s ‘Significant Expansion’ in Gaza Could Mean

What Israel’s ‘Significant Expansion’ in Gaza Could Mean

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that one of his options in his Gaza ground offensive is a “significant expansion,” but experts said Friday there are a few likely moves.Netanyahu sent thousands of troops, accompanied by tanks, into Gaza Thursday night and the offensive showed no signs of easing Friday.Israel Defense Forces first announced that they would target lengthy tunnels that members of Hamas use to reach rocket launching sites and to infiltrate Israel. Hamas’ rocket launchers have also been targeted. The IDF said they have taken control of 10 tunnels so far.”Hamas’ underground tunnels are made for kidnapping and murdering Israelis. That’s why we are destroying them,” the IDF spokesman said on their official Twitter account.Israel said on Friday that their troops have moved 3 kilometers into Gaza.”An expansion of that would involve pushing forces deeper into Gaza, but probably not entering into the major civilian areas and population centers,” Jeffrey White, a defense fellow at The Washington Institute, told ABC News.The IDF has been bolstering their forces, calling up more than 53,000 reservists over the past week.Bruce Hoffman, the director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies, said the IDF is likely focused on specific targets that will serve as a stopgap to halt the rocket attacks that Israel has faced recently.”They’re going to engage in what they call ‘mowing the grass,’ meaning they want to make sure that after two weeks of rocket barrages, Hamas’ ability to fire missiles into Israel is negated – not just in the immediate future, but for an extended period of time,” Hoffman told ABC. “Israel is under no illusion that they are solving the problem, but they’re just trying to buy time.”White, who specializes in Middle Eastern studies after retiring from the U.S. Defense Intelligence Service, said that if the operation is escalated, there are two likely paths that it would follow. The first would be an order to send more troops into Gaza and effectively divide the strip in two by marching down the center and cutting off Hamas’ movement throughout the territory. The second and more extreme option would be a full-scale offensive, effectively leading to a re-occupation of the area. Israel occupied Gaza from 1967 to 2005.Many, including White, do not see a re-occupation of Gaza as a likely option because of the manpower that would require and the international outcry it would trigger.“The Israeli government understands the downsides internationally,” said Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.He said that a massive offensive “shifts attention from the rocket attacks that led to the ground operation and onto their [Israeli] continued presence in Gaza.””No army in the world likes to control civilian population for an extended period of time. The Israelis don’t want to escalate. That’s what so frustrating to them. They wanted to press Hamas hard enough that Hamas would say ‘Okay, uncle.’”
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Intel Shows Missile that Downed Jet Launched from Area Controlled by Russian Separatists: US Official

Intel Shows Missile that Downed Jet Launched from Area Controlled by Russian Separatists: US Official

iStock Editorial/Thinkstoc(WASHINGTON) — Intelligence officials in the United States said Friday that the missile that brought down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 on Thursday was launched from inside Ukraine in an area controlled by Russian Separatists.There is nothing that definitively links Russia to the training of those who launched the missile, U.S. officials told ABC News.The officials said that based on preliminary intelligence, they believe the missile was an SA-11 and that they have reports showing an explosion in the air following the missile launch.Investigators from around the world will descend on the crash site Friday to continue the probe into the missile launch and subsequent crash. The incident left 298 people dead.The pro-Russian separatists who control the area where the jetliner was brought down agreed to allow investigators safe access to the site in order to recover bodies and gather evidence, according to a statement from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.It was unclear how soon investigators would begin sifting through the wreckage, which went down Thursday in Ukraine near the Russian border. The plane had left Amsterdam at 12:15 p.m. Thursday (local time) and was estimated to arrive in Kuala Lumpur International Airport today at 6:10 a.m. (local time), according to Malaysia Airlines.
FBI and NTSB officials will head to Ukraine in an “advisory role” in the investigation, a senior U.S. administration official told ABC News.Malaysia Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai, speaking at a news conference Friday, called the initial indications that the plane was shot down “an outrage against human decency.””Malaysia condemns any such action in the strongest possible terms, and calls for those responsible to be swiftly brought to justice,” he said.Malaysia officials are calling for an independent international investigation into the incident.At this point, no Americans have been verified among the passengers. Malaysia officials said that 173 passengers were Dutch. In addition, according to officials at a news conference Friday, 44 were Malaysian, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine British, four Belgians, four Germans, three Filipinos and one Canadian. Nationalities of 20 other passengers remain unknown at this time.Among the victims identified were the Gunawan family, relatives of an ABC News employee. Hadiono Gunawan, an employee of Malaysia Airlines, was headed to the Philippines for a family vacation. His wife, Irene, and their two children, Daryl and Sherryl, were traveling with him.Karlijn Keijzer, a Dutch student studying in the United States, was going on vacation with her boyfriend.”I’m just in disbelief and expecting Karlijn to pop up on Facebook and tell everybody she’s OK,” Keijzer’s friend, Rachel Weigler said in a phone interview with ABC News.One Dutch passenger, Cor Pan, posted a chilling picture of the plane right before takeoff on Facebook with the caption, “Should it disappear, this is what it looks like,” a reference to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared earlier this year.Amid the tragedy were unbelievable twists of fate. Sarah Moonen says her brother and a friend were bumped from the flight at the last minute, but two of their friends boarded the doomed jetliner.”I felt bad for feeling good that my family hadn’t been ruined and that my brother was alive,” Moonen said in a telephone interview.The International AIDS Society said in a statement it was looking into reports that some of its members may have been on the flight en route to the International AIDS Conference taking place in Melbourne, Australia.”At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy,” the statement reads.The World Health Organization announced on its Twitter account that spokesman Glenn Thomas was on board the jetliner.John Wendle, a freelance reporter for ABC News, described seeing “bodies scattered everywhere” at the crash site.”There’s blood splattered everywhere, and pieces of remains,” Wendle said. “It’s a pretty grim sight…This is terrible.”Among the debris were watches and smashed mobile phones, charred boarding passes, passports and guidebooks.Intelligence and analysis of the situation determined that it was a single surface-to-air missile that struck the Boeing 777-200 aircraft while at cruising altitude, a U.S. official told ABC News. It is unclear whether the missile was fired from inside Ukrainian or Russian territory and who fired it, the official added.The White House issued a statement calling it “vital that no evidence be tampered with in any way and that all potential evidence and remains at the crash site are undisturbed” until an investigation can begin.”The role of international organizations — such as the United Nations and the OSCE in Ukraine — may be particularly relevant for this effort, and we will be in touch with affected nations and our partners in these organizations in the coming hours and days to determine the best path forward,” the statement said.”While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training,” the White House statement said. “This incident only highlights the urgency with which we continue to urge Russia to immediately take concrete steps to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine and to support a sustainable cease-fire and path toward peace that the Ukrainian government has consistently put forward.”Investigators will also be tasked with determining the series of events leading up to the crash.Ukrainian authorities told U.S. Embassy officials that debris was spread out over a 10-mile path near the town of Hrabove in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine.A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Kiev claimed the plane had been “shot down.””According to the General Staff of Ukrainian Armed Forces, the airplane was shot down by the Russian Buk missile system as the liner was flying at an altitude of 10,000 meters [33,000 feet],” the statement reads. “Ukraine has no long-range air defense missile systems in this area. The plane was shot down, because the Russian air defense systems was affording protection to Russian mercenaries and terrorists in this area. Ukraine will present the evidence of Russian military involvement into the Boeing crash.”Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko later added, “We are not calling it an accident, or a disaster, but an act of terrorism.”In a tweet soon after the plane went down, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, “Condolences to Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak in connection with the crash of a passenger aircraft in Ukraine.”A Kremlin statement said Putin opened a meeting with his economic advisers by calling for a moment of silence over the crash.”This tragedy would not have happened if there were peace on this land, if the military actions had not been renewed in southeast Ukraine,” he said. “And, certainly, the state over whose territory this occurred bears responsibility for this awful tragedy.”The plane did not make a distress call and the route had been deemed safe by the International Civil Aviation Organization despite the ongoing fighting in Ukraine, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said.The FAA Thursday issued an order that U.S. flight operations avoid airspace over eastern Ukraine, expanding on a previous warning about flying over the contested Crimean region and additional portions adjacent to the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.At Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, grieving family members gathered as airline officials briefed them. Malaysia Airlines said a manifest of the passengers would not be released until all next of kin were notified.This is the second Malaysia Airlines plane to be involved in an air tragedy this year. On March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished with 239 people on board after it took off from Kuala Lampur bound for Beijing. Malaysian officials said the plane disappeared somewhere in the Southern Indian Ocean, but no wreckage has been recovered.
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Israel Ready to Expand Ground Attack in Gaza

Israel Ready to Expand Ground Attack in Gaza

David Silverman/Getty Images(TEL AVIV, Israel) — Israel has approved an expansion of its ground offensive into Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday, as troops pushed deeper into Gaza to destroy rocket launching sites and tunnels.”…Since there is no way to deal with the tunnels only from the air, our soldiers are doing it now from the ground,” Netanyahu said before an emergency Cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv, according to The Jerusalem Post. “We decided to launch the action after we tried all the other ways, and with an understanding that without this operation the price we will have to pay later would be much higher,” he said.Israel launched the ground operation Thursday following a 10-day slugfest featuring rocket and mortar attacks.
More than 270 people have died and 2,000 were injured since the ground invasion began, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Additionally, one Israeli soldier — identified as Gt. Eitan Barak, 20 — died while fighting Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip, the Israeli Defense Forces said. The casualty marks the first Israeli casualty among troops. One Israeli civilian was killed earlier this week.Israeli troops targeted the tunnels because they are viewed as an “utmost threat” by Israel, an IDF spokesman said, with Hamas previously using the tunnels to sneak across the Gaza-Israel border.The ground attack occurred following failed cease-fire efforts. Israel twice halted its attacks and has been negotiating with Hamas for a more permanent ceasefire in Cairo, Egypt. Hamas rejected the plans, demanding guarantees to ease the blockade on Gaza.The IDF said it sent troops into Gaza “following 10 days of Hamas attacks by land, air and sea, and after repeated rejections of offers to deescalate the situation.”The invasion was punctuated by the thud of tank shells echoing across Gaza, often just a few seconds apart. Heavy plumes of black smoke were visible across Gaza City.The battle has broken a two-year lull in hostilities between Israel and Hamas and was triggered by the slaying of three Israeli teens and revenge burning death of a Palestinian teen. Angry protests escalated to rocket launches and retaliatory air strikes.
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South Africa Celebrates First Nelson Mandela Day Since His Death

South Africa Celebrates First Nelson Mandela Day Since His Death

UN Photo(PRETORIA, South Africa) — South Africa celebrated the first Mandela Day — celebrated on the birthday of former President Nelson Mandela — since the leader’s death on Friday, spending time working on community projects.Mandela would have turned 96 on Friday. He died in December 2013 after spending months in the hospital receiving treatment for a recurring lung infection. Nelson Mandela International Day was declared five years ago by the United Nations, which urged people around the world to spend 67 minutes volunteering, in honor of Mandela’s 67 years of activism for South Africa’s freedom.”This year, we have decided to honour Madiba’s memory through a massive ‘Operation Clean Up for Madiba’ campaign,” South African President Jacob Zuma said, using Mandela’s clan name. “We should demonstrate our love for our beautiful country by cleaning our surroundings, together.”
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Indiana Student, AIDS Workers Among Malaysia Airlines Victims

Indiana Student, AIDS Workers Among Malaysia Airlines Victims

NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) — A graduate student from Indiana University is among the victims who died when a Malaysia Airlines jetliner carrying 298 people was shot down by a missile in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.Karlijn Keijzer, a 25-year-old pursuing her doctorate in chemistry, moved to the U.S. from Amsterdam and was a member of the school’s rowing team during the 2011 season, the university said. She was on Flight 17 taking a vacation with her boyfriend.“I’m just in disbelief and expecting Karlijn to pop up on Facebook and tell everybody she’s OK,” Keijzer’s friend Rachel Weigler told ABC News Friday.At least one American, Quinn Lucas Schansman, was also on board, President Obama said Friday.Heartbreaking stories about passengers aboard the doomed Boeing 777 are emerging Friday as families and friends learn what happened when officials say a surface-to-air missile struck the Malaysia Airlines jetliner, months after another plane from the airline mysteriously disappeared.The World Health Organization confirmed that its spokesman Glenn Thomas was on the plane, and many AIDS activists, researchers and health workers heading to a major conference in Australia were also on board.In an eerie twist, Dutch passenger Cor Pan posted a Facebook photo of the plane before he boarded, with the caption, “Should it disappear, this is what it looks like.”Pan, who was on board with his girlfriend Neeltje Tol, was likely referencing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished in March en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing.Devastated friends have taken to Pan’s Facebook page to express their shock.“I don’t want to believe this is true because this is too awful for words,” one woman wrote.An Australian family is experiencing twice the heartache — having lost relatives in both Malaysia Airlines tragedies.Kaylene Mann’s brother Rod Burrows and sister-in-law Mary Burrows were on board the disappeared Flight 370 earlier this year, and her stepdaughter was on the plane shot down over Ukraine.
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Malaysia Airlines Cargo Included Two Dogs, Nine Birds

Malaysia Airlines Cargo Included Two Dogs, Nine Birds

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia) — Along with the 283 passengers and 15 crew members, downed Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 also carried two dogs, nine birds and a 9.4-pound “SHIPMENT OF POT,” according to the cargo manifest the carrier posted on its website.Click here to get to the cargo manifests that list additional items.
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Why Is There So Much Turmoil Right Now?

Why Is There So Much Turmoil Right Now?

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Ukraine. Gaza. Iraq. Syria.The list of places erupting in conflict seems to grow each month, as unstable countries become entangled in wars over territory, power, resources and other reasons.”We’re in a cycle where international conflicts are becoming more the norm than the exception,” Ilan Berman, vice president at the American Foreign Policy Council, told ABC News Friday. “In Iraq, in Palestinian territories, in Ukraine, there are a lot of hot spots in the world that are heating up.”Each conflict is unique in its origin, Berman and other foreign experts pointed out Friday when asked about the sudden surge in global conflicts. But there are underlying reasons we are seeing so many come to the surface now.”The takeaway is that when you have global instability of this kind, it’s usually a signal that the existing order is beginning to break down. The things that kept hostilities in check for a long time, those rules, those stabilizing powers, aren’t really there anymore. Things are changing,” Berman said.A good example of this, he said, is when Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean peninsula in March despite protests from Western nations and the threat of punishment.”It was done, quite frankly, because the Russians thought they could get away with it without consequences from the U.S., and they were right. And that adventurism is more common today,” Berman said.The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has escalated, and was highlighted Thursday when a missile struck down a commercial jet over Ukraine.The rising tide of conflicts around the globe “isn’t necessarily somebody’s fault,” he said, though America’s withdrawal from Iraq, Afghanistan and other foreign affairs has played a role. “There’s far fewer variables for bad guys to worry about, let’s say.”Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, disagreed, noting that the most severe conflicts in the world today have to be taken individually on their own terms.”There are four or five key determinants or causes,” he said.O’Hanlon outlined the distinctive threads, which included what he called “violent rejectionism,” as seen in various extremist Islamist groups, interstate competition for resources, historical grudges, and the quest to limit nuclear proliferation, such as in Iran and North Korea.”There’s Sunni Islamist extremism, there’s a Shia Islamist extremist component, the Iranian nuclear weapons components, Iran’s willingness to help extremist groups,” O’Hanlon said, offering examples of different types of causes for conflicts. “The Chinese-Taiwanese issue, which has more dimensions of ongoing civil war, and the Japanese-Chinese as well as other regional issues which are more old fashioned competition for resources.””I don’t think they reduce to one cause that’s distinctive to this moment in history,” O’Hanlon said.
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