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Obama confers with European leaders for next steps on Ukraine

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and European leaders are conferring about next steps for dealing with the crisis in Ukraine.

The White House says Obama held a joint call Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande (frahn-SWAH’ oh-LAWND’), British Prime Minister David Cameron and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi.

The call comes as the U.S. and European Union weigh tougher sanctions against Russia. The West accuses separatists in eastern Ukraine of shooting down a passenger jet earlier this month and blames Russia for supplying the rebels with equipment that can take down a plane.

Tougher U.S. sanctions are expected this week. The EU also reached a preliminary deal last week on sanctions that would target Russia’s access to European capital markets and trade in the defense sector and sensitive technologies.

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As temporary truce breaks down, Israeli police stop car with explosives near Jerusalem

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HARI SREENIVASAN: For the latest from Israel we’re joined tonight from Jerusalem via Skype by Ruth Eglash of the Washington Post. So, what’s the latest?

RUTH EGLASH: Yeah, well it’s been a very up and down and day. This morning it looked like there was a ceasefire and it was holding for a little bit, even though there was still rocket fire coming from Gaza into Israel.

The Israeli government had ordered the military not to respond up until mid-morning and at that point the rockets just kept on coming and the government decided to instruct the military to continue on pounding Gaza with its airstrikes and from the sea. And also to continue searching and destroying tunnels that had been discovered under the ground between Israel and Gaza.

At around two o’clock today there was some word that Hamas was seeking a ceasefire and that proposal by Hamas was rejected by Israel. And then, overall the ceasefire attempts by the US—US Secretary of State John Kerry—has been as far as I know rejected, flatly rejected by the Israeli government here.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We’ve also heard that there have been attempts at infiltration along the border with Gaza

RUTH EGLASH: That’s been ongoing for the last three weeks. There has been—pretty much every few days—infiltration attempts, soldiers discovering tunnels inside the Gaza Strip, and militants managing to go through those tunnels and come out into Israel. That’s been pretty much constant for the last three weeks.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We’ve also heard that there was an attempted infiltration into Israel from the West Bank today.

RUTH EGLASH: Yes, I received around midday an update from the army that said a car carrying explosives had been stopped at a checkpoint near Jerusalem. The suspect was apprehended and the car was taken in for further investigation.

I don’t have any more details on that incident at this time but there has been large amounts of protests in the West Bank over the last few days and at least nine Palestinians killed during clashes with the Israeli security forces in the West Bank.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We’ve seen a couple of clips and images and videos of peace rallies in cities like Tel Aviv—is this gaining any traction? We also see social media campaigns as well.

RUTH EGLASH: Yeah, these have been happening since the beginning. There was always a small number of people in Israel who were speaking out against the war, saying that it wasn’t going to achieve anything.

Last night possibly was the biggest rally in Tel Aviv, roughly 3,000 people attended, and that rally was cut short when Hamas fired rockets towards Tel Aviv and the sirens went off in Tel Aviv forcing people to go into bomb shelters. But there is a consistent voice here but it’s very very small.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Ruth Eglash of the Washington Post joining us via Skype from Jerusalem this evening. Thanks so much.

RUTH EGLASH: You’re welcome.

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US claims rockets fired from Russia into Ukraine, releases satellite images

U.S.
         State Department releases satellite images it claims prove Russia fired artillery into Ukraine.

U.S. State Department releases satellite images it claims prove Russia fired artillery into Ukraine. Credit: U.S. State Department

WASHINGTON — Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the U.S. on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighboring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists also has crossed the border.

The images, which came from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, show blast marks where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 – after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The four-page memo is part of the Obama administration’s push to hold Russia accountable for its activities in neighboring Ukraine and the release could help to persuade the United States’ European allies to apply harsher sanctions on Russia.

The timing of the memo also could be aimed at dissuading Russia from further military posturing. The Pentagon said just days ago that the movement of Russian heavy-caliber artillery systems across its border into Ukraine was “imminent.”

Russian officials have denied allegations of Russia’s involvement in eastern Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke on Sunday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, but details about their discussion have not yet been released by the State Department.

The U.S. images claim to show multiple rocket launchers fired at Ukrainian forces from within Ukraine and from Russian soil. One image shows dozens of craters around a Ukrainian military unit and rockets that can travel more than seven miles.

The memo said one image provides evidence that Russian forces have “fired across the border at Ukrainian military forces and that Russian-backed separatists have used heavy artillery provided by Russia in attacks on Ukrainian forces from inside Ukraine.”

Another satellite image depicted in the memo shows “ground scarring at multiple rocket launch sites on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of Ukraine military units within Ukraine.”

“The wide areas of impact near the Ukrainian military units indicates fire from multiple rocket launchers,” the memo said.

Moreover, the memo included a satellite image that it stated is evidence of self-propelled artillery only found in Russian military units “on the Russian side of the border oriented in the direction of a Ukrainian military unit within Ukraine.”

Tensions have run high in that region since Russia seized Crimea in March and Washington has been highly critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s behavior.

More recently, U.S. intelligence officials have said they have what they call a solid circumstantial case that Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine are responsible for downing the Malaysia Airlines plane. Citing satellite imagery, intercepted conversations and social media postings, officials say a Russian-made SA-11 surface-to-air missile hit the plane on July 17.

Moscow angrily denies any involvement in the attack.

U.S. officials said they still don’t know who fired the missile or whether Russian military officers were present when it happened. But until Sunday, they were unwilling to share evidence that the separatists had the technology to down a plane.

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Second American tests positive for Ebola in Liberia

Staff
         of the international aid organization, Samaritan's Purse, put on protective gear at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia, Liberia.
         Dr. Kent Brantly, an American who was recently infected by Ebola, is currently being treated at the hospital's isolation center.

Staff of the international aid organization, Samaritan’s Purse, put on protective gear at the ELWA hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. Dr. Kent Brantly, an American who was recently infected by Ebola, is currently being treated at that hospital’s isolation center. Credit: AFP Photo/Zoom Dosso via Getty Images

A second American citizen working to treat Ebola patients in Liberia has tested positive for the deadly virus, an international aid organization reported Sunday, amid the outbreak that has ravaged West Africa since March. 

Nancy Writebol, a North Carolina woman and an employee of the Christian humanitarian group, Serving in Mission, contracted the disease while working at a hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. She has been working in the region since March.

On Saturday, the North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse said that Dr. Kent Brantley, 33, a Texas doctor working at the same hospital, also tested positive for Ebola and was undergoing treatment at the isolation center in Monrovia where he worked.

The center will continue to remain open, the aid organization said in a press release.

The organization’s website says Writebol has two children and Brantly has worked as a family practice physician in Forth Worth, Texas, and is married with two children.

Earlier this week, Sheik Umar Khan, a leading Ebola doctor in Sierra Leone, was also infected with the virus. 

Occurrences of aid workers contracting the diseases they were trying to treat are common — something Dr. Brantly spoke out about earlier this year.

“In past Ebola outbreaks, many of the casualties have been healthcare workers who contracted the disease through their work caring for infected individuals,” Brantly said.

West Africa’s Ebola epidemic is now the deadliest on record, according to the World Health Organization, which said the virus has a mortality rate of about 60 percent and has lead to more than 660 deaths.

Responding to the outbreak has been particularly challenging for international relief organizations, as they routinely encounter violence and mistrust among West African communities.

Earlier this month PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown spoke with Laurie Garrett of the Council on Foreign Relations about the buildup of resentment against health workers trying to contain the Ebola outbreak. 

“It is a general fearfulness from the population,” Garrett said. “Widespread crazy rumors, such as the doctors are infecting people … and you have to stay away because they are ruining hospitals. All of this is making the problem absolutely catastrophic.”

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BBC News

Deadly violence in Gaza and Israel

Gaza and southern Israel see an upsurge in violence despite a plea by the UN secretary general for a cessation of hostilities.

MH17 jet 'downed by shrapnel'

Security officials in Ukraine say the Malaysia Airlines jet downed in eastern Ukraine suffered an explosive loss of pressure caused by missile shrapnel.

Tripoli fuel fire 'out of control'

A second fuel tank at Libya's biggest fuel storage facility is in flames as the government requests international assistance to contain the huge blaze.

Russia to appeal $50bn Yukos payout

Russia will appeal a court decision ordering it to pay the biggest compensation package to date, amounting to $50bn (£29.5bn) in damages.