Iraqis trade war for hardship
Abbas Mohammed Habib was born into Iraq’s rapidly expanding world of the displaced.
His mother Laila Ali was among tens of thousands of Shiite Turkmens driven from their homes when Islamic extremists captured the northern town of Tal Afar. Nine months pregnant, she fled with her husband and four young children, eventually squeezing into a bus for a 16-hour trip across the desert. They went an entire day without food or water.
As the extremist Islamic State group plowed across northern Iraq, centuries-old communities of religious minorities — some viewed as apostates by the Sunni militants — fled for their lives. Christians and Yazidis headed to the north, where many found refuge in the largely autonomous Kurdish region.
But the Turkmens, an ethnic group with historic ties to neighboring Turkey, said they were turned away by the Kurds, who fear that such an influx would dilute their majority and undermine their ambition of one day having an independent state. So some 50,000 Shiite Turkmens instead headed south to the holy city of Najaf, believing like so many other Iraqis that they would only be safe among those who share their faith.
In Najaf they have security, for now, but little else.
Cautious optimism in Gaza
Palestinian officials voiced cautious optimism Thursday, hinting at progress in Egyptian-mediated negotiations with Israel to bring an end to the fighting in Gaza and secure new arrangements for the war-battered territory.
But with the sides’ demands still seemingly irreconcilable, that optimism may be premature and a deal not so close in the making.
Israel and Hamas are observing a five-day cease-fire which began at midnight Wednesday, in an attempt to allow talks between the sides in Cairo to continue. The negotiations are meant to secure a substantive end to the monthlong war and draw up a roadmap for the coastal territory, which has been hard-hit in the fighting.
Israeli officials have largely kept quiet about the negotiations. But militant groups represented in Cairo said progress was being made toward a deal — a stark turnaround from earlier posturing.
“The war is now behind us, and the chances for an agreement on a lasting cease-fire are encouraging,” Ziad al-Nakhaleh, deputy leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group, told The Associated Press. “Though we didn’t get all that we wanted, there was progress here and there.”
Aid dispute at Ukraine border
Raising the stakes in Ukraine’s conflict, a Russian aid convoy of more than 200 trucks pushed up to the border on Thursday but then stopped, provocatively poised to cross into rebel-held territory.
The Ukrainian government threatened to use all means available to block the convoy if the Red Cross was not allowed to inspect the cargo. Such an inspection would ease concerns that Russia could use the aid shipment as cover for a military incursion in support of the separatists, who have come under growing pressure from government troops.
The United States has warned Russia that it needs to secure Ukraine’s permission for the convoy to enter.
“We’ve made that very clear to the Russians that they should not move these trucks in, without taking all of the steps the Ukrainian government has outlined,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Thursday.
Amid the tensions surrounding the convoy, European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso called Russian and Ukrainian leaders to arrange three-way consultations on ways to de-escalate the crisis. Barroso’s office said that details will be worked out through diplomatic channels.
Williams’ wife shares details
Robin Williams was in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease at the time of his death, his wife said Thursday.
In a statement, Susan Schneider said that Williams, 63, was struggling with depression, anxiety and the Parkinson’s diagnosis when he died Monday in his Northern California home. Authorities said he committed suicide.
“Robin’s sobriety was intact and he was brave as he struggled with his own battles of depression, anxiety as well as early stages of Parkinson’s disease, which he was not yet ready to share publicly,” Schneider said.
Schneider did not offer details on when the actor comedian had been diagnosed or his symptoms.
The Marin County Sheriff’s Department, which said Williams hanged himself, is conducting toxicology tests and interviews before issuing a final ruling.MORE IN Wire NewsWASHINGTON ó The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an... Full StoryPORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti ó Haiti President Michel Martelly met Wednesday with opposition leaders in ... Full Story
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