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Militant rockets can be seen launching from crowded neighborhoods, near apartment buildings, schools and hotels. Hamas fighters have set traps for Israeli soldiers in civilian homes and stored weapons in mosques and schools. Tunnels have been dug beneath private property.

With international condemnation rising over the death toll in Gaza exceeding 650 in the war’s 16th day, Israel points to its adversaries’ practice of embedding forces throughout the crowded, impoverished coastal enclave of 1.7 million people.

“Hamas uses schools, residential buildings, mosques and hospitals to fire rockets at Israeli civilians,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Canadian counterpart in a call over the weekend, according to a statement from Mr. Netanyahu’s office. “Hamas uses innocent civilians as a human shield for terrorist activity.”

Nothing is ever so clear in the complex and often brutal calculus of urban warfare. There is no evidence that Hamas and other militants force civilians to stay in areas that are under attack — the legal definition of a human shield under international law. But it is indisputable that Gaza militants operate in civilian areas, draw return fire to civilian structures, and on some level benefit in the diplomatic arena from the rising casualties. They also have at times encouraged residents not to flee their homes when alerted by Israel to a pending strike and, having prepared extensively for war, did not build civilian bomb shelters.

Israel, for its part, says it takes precautions to avoid killing civilians, but has also accepted as inevitable that there will be large numbers of civilian casualties when it strikes at certain targets, like Hamas members in their houses, or offices, or mosques.

“It’s a bit of a fluid concept,” said Bill Van Esveld, a lawyer and senior researcher in the Middle East division of Human Rights Watch. “If you have any choice in the matter, you should not be fighting from an apartment building full of civilians.”

Some of Hamas’s tactics mirror those of other insurgent groups, like the Irish Republican Army and Nicaraguan contras.

“Hamas knows that it works to its advantage, politically and diplomatically, as the civilian death toll mounts, there is increasing pressure to end the war immediately, and what that typically entails, if past is precedent, is making some concessions to Hamas,” said Nathan Thrall, co-author of a recent International Crisis Group report on Gaza. “Hamas deliberately buries the weapons in populated civilian areas hoping that will reduce the chance that those weapons will be taken out from the air — that’s a pretty clear-cut case.”

Experts in international law say that even as Hamas is legally obligated to minimize its operations near civilians — and is committing a war crime by firing rockets indiscriminately — so, too, is Israel obligated to identify specific military targets and keep the risk to civilians proportionate to the threats the targets pose.

The New York Times, "Civilians as Human Shields? Gaza War Intensifies Debate"

As civilian casualties mounted on Monday in the Israeli ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military reminded the world that it had warned people living in targeted areas to leave. The response from Palestinians here was unanimous: Where should we go?

United Nations shelters are already brimming, and some Palestinians fear they are not safe; one shelter was bombed by Israel in a previous conflict. Many Gaza residents have sought refuge with relatives, but with large extended families commonly consisting of dozens of relatives, many homes in the shrinking areas considered safe are already packed.

Perhaps most important, the vast majority of Gazans cannot leave Gaza. They live under restrictions that make this narrow coastal strip, which the United Nations considers occupied by Israel, unlike anywhere else.

Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain in 2010 called Gaza “an open-air prison,” drawing criticism from Israel. But in reality, the vast majority of Gazans are effectively trapped, unable to seek refugee status across an international border. (Most are already refugees, those who fled from what is now Israel and their descendants.)

A 25-mile-long rectangle just a few miles wide, and one of the most densely populated places in the world, Gaza is surrounded by concrete walls and fences along its northern and eastern boundaries with Israel and its southern border with Egypt.

Even in what pass for ordinary times here, Israel permits very few Gazans to enter its territory, citing security concerns because suicide bombers and other militants from Gaza have killed Israeli civilians. The restrictions over the years have cost Palestinians jobs, scholarships and travel.

Egypt has also severely curtailed Gazans’ ability to travel, opening its border crossing with the territory for only 17 days this year. During the current fighting between Israel and the Hamas militants who control Gaza, only those with Egyptian or foreign passports or special permission were allowed to exit.

Even the Mediterranean Sea to the west provides no escape. Israel restricts boats from Gaza to three nautical miles offshore. And Gaza, its airspace controlled by Israel, has no airport.

So while three million Syrians have fled their country during the war there, more and more of Gaza’s 1.7 million people have been moving away from the edges of the strip and crowding into the already-packed center of Gaza City.

The New York Times, "Havens Are Few, If Not Far, for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip"

As Israeli troops and war planes bombarded Gaza, both sides reported death tolls that made clear Sunday was the deadliest day so far in the war. The Palestinian Health Ministry reported 87 Palestinians had died and the Israeli military said 13 soldiers were dead.

The fighting signaled that what had begun as a limited ground invasion by Israel had moved into a more extensive and costlier phase for both sides.

Most of the Palestinians were killed in an eastern neighborhood of Gaza City called Shejaiya. For the Palestinians, it was the deadliest episode since July 8, when Israel began its offensive, first from the air, which was intended to curb rocket fire against its cities and the danger of infiltration through tunnels running under the border from Gaza into Israel. The Gaza Health Ministry reported that more than 300 people were injured in Shejaiya. Tolls were not available from the refugee camps in central Gaza, where fleeing residents reported a similar Israeli advance, with artillery.

The Palestinian government, which is led by President Mahmoud Abbas of the Western-supported Palestinian Authority and by Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, in a statement described the killing of Palestinians in Shejaiya as “a heinous massacre” and a war crime.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed in combat overnight, according to that country’s military, and a spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, suggested that there would soon be an announcement about more casualties on the Israeli side. Earlier, Hamas’s military wing said it had ambushed an Israeli force after luring it into a minefield.

It was not immediately clear whether the growing death toll and increasing pressure on both sides would help or hinder international efforts to forge a cease-fire. Mr. Abbas was expected to meet on Sunday in Dohar, Qatar, with the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and Qatari officials to discuss an Egyptian proposal for ending the fighting, according to Palestinian officials. Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, is also based in Qatar.

The New York Times, "Both Sides Report Deadliest Day in Gaza War"

“I can’t… I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”

43-year-old Staten Island resident ERIC GARNER, as a New York City police officer wrapped his arm around his neck and other officers knocked him to the sidewalk, one pushing his head violently into the concrete.  

Garner died at the scene; seconds before, he complained as the officers tried to arrest him for “breaking up a fight,” according to eyewitnesses.

God damn it.

(via the New York Daily News)

“We did warn you — do not fly in our sky. …a plane has just been downed somewhere around Torez, it lays there behind the ‘Progress’ mine. …And here is the video proving another ‘bird’ falling down. The bird went down behind a slagheap, not in a residential district. So no peaceful people were injured.”

Quote attributed to the VK.com account of pro-Russian commander IGOR STRELKOV, soon after the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which killed all 298 passengers and crew; the plane is believed to have been shot out of the sky with a missile.

VK.com is the Russian version of Facebook; the post was deleted after the plane was revealed to have been a civilian plane, not military.

And now Putin has blood on his civil warring hands.

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 295 people aboard was shot down over eastern Ukraine on Thursday by a surface-to-air missile, American officials have confirmed. The plane was traveling at about 30,000 feet, according to tracking information from a military spy satellite. The satellite was unable to detect where exactly the missile was fired.

Military and intelligence analysts are using mathematical formulas, high-speed computers and other sensors to try to pin down the missile’s point of origin. Other analysts will work with the Ukrainian authorities to recover and analyze pieces of the missile and the aircraft to help determine what kind of missile was fired, the officials said.

The plane — Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — crashed and burned in an eastern Ukraine wheat field near the Russian border, in an area roiled by fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces. There were no known survivors. Ukrainian officials immediately called the crash an act of terrorism.

The furiously unfolding investigation centered on Ukrainian separatists or Russian troops as the missile operators. The Ukrainian authorities said they had intercepted communications that indicated separatist involvement. But the reason for the attack — whether it was a deliberate strike or a tragic accident — was unknown.

“What we still don’t know is what were they thinking,” one official said.

“This is truly a grave situation,” said Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. of the United States, speaking in Detroit. “It’s important we get to the bottom of this sooner than later because of the possible repercussions that can flow beyond from this, beyond the tragic loss of life.”

Ukraine’s president, Petro O. Poroshenko, called for an immediate investigation and asked the Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, to send experts to assist. “I would like to note that we are calling this not an incident, not a catastrophe, but a terrorist act,” Mr. Poroshenko said.

Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, said, “If it transpires that the plane was, indeed, shot down, we insist that the perpetrators must be brought to justice.”

The New York Times, "Malaysian Jet Brought Down in Ukraine by Missile, U.S. Officials Say"