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US Has Sold Ammunition to Israel Since Start of Gaza Conflict


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- In the last week, the United States has provided Israel with mortars and ammunition for grenade launchers requested as part of a foreign military arms sale. The weapons came from a $1 billion stockpile of ammunition stored by the U.S. military in Israel for that country's use if needed for an emergency.

However, a U.S. defense official stressed the delivery of weapons from the existing stockpile in Israel was more a matter of convenience to rotate U.S. ammunition stocks than an emergency request from Israel.

Since the 1990's, U.S. European Command has maintained a little -known stockpile inside Israel officially known as War Reserve Stockpile Ammunition-Israel (WRSA-I). While ostensibly for use by U.S. or Israeli forces, the stockpile is essentially available for Israel's use if it makes a request for an emergency foreign military sale. Such an emergency sale can be authorized by the president as was the case in 2006, when Israel was conducting its war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.

On July 20, Israel made a foreign military sales request for munitions that included an undisclosed amount of 120mm mortar rounds and 40mm ammunition for grenade launchers. The defense official said the ammunition was sold to Israel as a "routine" foreign military sales request and not an emergency request to tap into the U.S. military stockpile in Israel.

The Israeli request to purchase the ammunition was made just days after Israel launched its ground offensive into Gaza. The fighting in Gaza since has resulted in the deaths of 1,340 Palestinians and 59 Israelis, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. More than 7,200 have been injured.

In a statement, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby confirmed the transfer of the two requested munitions from the stockpile.

"Both munitions had been in WRSA-I stock for a few years, well before the current crisis," said Kirby. All stocks in WRSA-I, as required by law, are, "in excess to U.S. requirements." Issuing munitions from the WRSA-I stockpile was, "strictly a sourcing decision and White House approval was not required."

Kirby said the U.S. is committed to Israel's security, "and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability. This defense sale is consistent with those objectives."

A U.S. defense official told ABC News the requested ammunition was approaching the end of its shelf life at the stockpile and would have needed to be restocked anyway.

The location of the stockpile as well as the types and quantities of ammunition it stores are classified.  However, a Congressional Research Service report from April says, "the United States stores missiles, armored vehicles and artillery ammunition" in the stockpile.

The Congressional Research Service Report says, "the government of Israel pays for approximately 90% of transportation, storage and maintenance costs associated with the WRSA-I program."

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Peace Corps Pulling Volunteers from Ebola-Affected Countries


iStock/Thinkstock(MONROVIA, Liberia) -- The United States Peace Corps is removing all personnel from countries where the Ebola virus has broken out and has placed two of its volunteers in isolation, program officials said Wednesday.

The Peace Corps cited the "increasing" spread of the deadly Ebola virus in its decision to remove volunteers temporarily.

The two Peace Corps volunteers under isolation have no symptoms but had contact with an infected person who later died, officials said.

There are 102 volunteers in Guinea working in the areas of education, agriculture and health, 108 volunteers in Liberia, and 130 volunteers in Sierra Leone working in education in the U.S.-run Peace Corps program.

The Peace Corps news comes hours after a U.S. aid group on the frontlines of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa announced it was evacuating nonessential personnel as two of its workers fight to survive the deadly infection.

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Theodore VanKirk, Enola Gay Navigator, Dies at 93


iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- The last surviving crew member of the American plane that unleashed the nuclear attack on Hiroshima, Japan has died.

Theodore VanKirk, 93, died Monday at home in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Known to his fellow fliers as Dutch, VanKirk was navigator of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay.

On August 6, 1945, Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb. The blast killed 140,000 people, hastening the end of World War II.

At a public forum in 2011, VanKirk recalled seeing nothing left other than a cloud rising over the city of Hiroshima.

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Teen's Body in Wheel Well of Plane Carrying Evacuated Americans


File photo. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Melissa Sheffield)(RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany) -- In a shocking turn of events, the C-130 aircraft on which an African stowaway's body was found this weekend had just been used to transport United States personnel evacuated from Libya.

Officials have now determined that the male teen died of asphyxiation after sneaking into one of the aircraft's wheel wells in Mali, which means the boy's remains were aboard when the plane was used to fly the evacuated personnel from Tunisia to Sigonella, Italy.

The C-130 was one of several involved in the mission to evacuate at least 150 U.S. embassy personnel and Marines who had been driven out of Libya into Tunisia early Saturday morning, several U.S. officials say. The State Department ordered the relocation of the personnel from Tripoli because of rising violence levels between fighting militias that posed a threat to embassy staff.

After driving westward into Tunisia, the embassy personnel boarded aircraft that took them to the U.S. Naval base at Sigonella. Two officials say it is unclear whether the aircraft was carrying civilian personnel or Marines.

When the body was discovered Sunday night at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the aircraft had just completed an eight-day journey, originating in Senegal and then stopping in Mali, Chad, Tunisia and Italy before returning to Ramstein.

One of the officials said the aircraft had originally gone to Africa on a resupply mission before being "reassigned to support the movement of persons from Tunisia to Sigonella, and from there back to Ramstein."

At a Pentagon news conference Wednesday, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III said U.S. European Command has confirmed "that the young man died of asphyxiation."

"He got on the plane in Mali," Welsh said. "I don't know if he is from Mali or not."

How the teen managed to get into the C-130's wheel well "is a huge question mark" and the incident "raised security flags for everybody involved," Welsh said.

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James agreed, saying, "obviously, whatever happened here, something fell through the cracks that his boy was able to gain access to the aircraft."

One U.S. official said the boy's remains were found in a part of the wheel well "that couldn't be considered accessible by anyone." Maintenance crewmembers saw what appeared to be an orange rag sticking out of a portion of the wheel well, according to the official.

They tried pulling it out but found it was attached to something. They then removed a panel in the well and found the teen's remains.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby Tuesday told reporters that security measures at airfields in remote locations may not be the same as those found in the United States.

"The aircraft is a rugged aircraft designed to operate in austere locations. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody that the security at some of these fields is not going to be at the same level," he said. "We shouldn't expect that the security environment in every location that these aircraft operate in will be at the same high standard."

The German and U.S. teams that removed the body wore protective clothing because of concerns about the potential for communicable diseases, military officials said.

Subsequent tests were negative, Kirby said.

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Russia Says Sanctions Will Also Affect US


iStock/Thinkstock(MOSCOW) -- The U.S. and its European allies have slapped yet another round of sanctions on Russia -- punishment, they say, for Russia's continued meddling in Ukraine.

But Russia says the sanctions will also hurt the U.S. and do a little more than harm relations between the two countries.

Russian officials, meanwhile, are defiant, declaring that Russia will make up the difference on its own. Russia's Central Bank said it would help financial institutions that were hit by sanctions, including the giant VTB.

But privately, economists and businesses reportedly worry these latest sanctions will push the fragile Russian economy towards recession, even as the latest independent poll finds nearly two thirds of Russians think sanctions won't affect them.

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Michelle Obama Rallies for Women's Rights in Africa


Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon(WASHINGTON) -- First lady Michelle Obama rallied for equality for women and girls in Africa at a summit of the Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders on Wednesday.

The first lady emphasized the importance of leadership.

"Leadership is about empowering all of our people, men, women, boys and girls to fulfill every last bit of their god-given potential," she said.

"We all know that girls who are educated earn higher wages. They are more likely to stand up to discrimination and abuse. They have healthier children who are more likely to attend school themselves," Obama added.

The three-day flagship program comes ahead of the first U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit being held in Washington next week.

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ABC News Goes Inside Gaza with an Israeli Armored Unit


File photo. Credit: Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesReporter's Notebook by ABC News' Terry Moran

(GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip) -- “The Cruel Lady” rolled along.

That’s the nickname the Israeli soldiers use to describe their armored personnel carrier, or APC -- it’s basically an oven on wheels. ABC News traveled into Gaza on an APC with troops from the Israeli Defense Forces’ 188 Armored Brigade today, witnessing a rarely-seen side of Israel’s conflict with Hamas, now in its third week.

The soldiers in “The Cruel Lady” were accompanied by two tanks, all under the command of Col. Tomer Ifrah.

Ifrah says he’s proud of the work he and his troops are doing.

The mounting civilian casualties in Gaza, especially the children, affect him, he said.

"I see my own kids," he said. "A child is a child is a child. We do everything we can to avoid hurting innocents. It is the first thing we brief every day. But sometimes, it happens."

The squad was commanded by Barak Lanes, 29, a veteran of Operation Cast Lead. Lanes said he was scared to go into Gaza today. He has a 1-year-old boy at home, and Lanes hopes his son never has to enter the army.

The unit traveled from Kissufim Crossing, where incoming mortar fire sent us scrambling for shelter. The unit's destination today was a newly-discovered tunnel on the outskirts of Gaza City.

On the way, we stopped. One of the tanks had spotted what they feared was a Hamas militant team with an anti-tank missile. The tank took cover. Ifrah assessed the situation. A school housing refuges was located nearby -- too close to engage the threat, Ifrah decided -- so another route was taken.

The tunnel the soldiers visited was uncovered the day before when an armored vehicle sank into the sandy ground under what were once greenhouses, but now were sandy ruins. The IDF dug it out this morning.

The tunnel stretched into darkness, sided in concrete and narrow.

Two Israeli soldiers stood with their guns pointed down the shaft, scanning for potential threats. Hamas militants have been using the tunnels for sneak attacks, a main focus for the Israeli forces.

The soldiers decided against entering the tunnel -- booby-traps are always a possibility. The Israelis believe there may be other entrances, too.

Entrances to the tunnel had already been found at a nearby house. But at the moment, that location was too difficult to reach.

As the soldiers stood at the tunnel’s entrance, sniper fire peppered down. The Israelis countered with suppressing fire and a smokescreen. We hustled back to our vehicles, and back to Israel.

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Following Malaysia Airlines Tragedy, Is It Safe to Fly?


iStock/Thinkstock(MONTREAL) -- The United Nations agency that governs civil aviation is creating a task force aimed at improving security measures after the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines jet over eastern Ukraine.

In an emergency meeting in Montreal, top officials from four international organizations discussed risks to civilian aviation in conflict zones.

Airlines and international leaders are calling on nations to be more honest and quick with information about the safety of their skies. Some countries argue such releases could jeopardize their national security -- but International Air Transport Association CEO Tony Tyler disagreed.

“When considering whether or not they will share information, of course they should if they know something,” Tyler said. “If it is not safe, how can they sit back and watch innocent people threatened in this way?”

The July 17 Malaysia Airlines shoot-down -- which left 298 people dead -- has drawn attention to airline conflict zones. The air zone where the plane was shot down was not restricted above 32,000 feet, and the pilots followed known protocols.

The shooting has left air passengers wondering if it’s safe to fly. That safety will be addressed at a high-level meeting scheduled for February 2015.

“The world’s airlines are angry. And I suspect the same is true for each of the 3.3 billion people who will board aircraft this year,” Tyler said.

While officials say that a more efficient system is needed, they also expressed concerns about over-regulation.

"We don't need to throw away 100 years of good experience because of one terrible and tragic incident," Tyler said. "We've identified that gap. Let's close that gap."

Investigators remain unable to work the grisly scene of the downed plane. It’s too dangerous, with clashes ongoing between the region’s pro-Russia rebel leaders and the Ukraine government.

“The recovery of the bodies and proper investigation from the event is still being hampered by the activities of people in control of that area,” Tyler said. “It is an appalling situation.”

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Israel Steps Up Campaign in Gaza


File photo. Credit: David Silverman/Getty Images(JERUSALEM) -- Even as the United Nations relief agency for Palestinians warned of a grave humanitarian crisis, Israel intensified its air and ground offensive Tuesday against the militant group Hamas, striking key targets in Gaza.

To reduce casualties, Israel says it is making a point of giving non-combatants advance notice of impending rocket attacks but so far has not been able to avoid mass fatalities.

On Tuesday alone, more than 100 Palestinian were reported killed, bringing their death toll in the now 24-day conflict to more than 1,200. The Israelis have lost 53 soldiers in the fighting as well as three civilians killed by Hamas missile strikes.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian Health Ministry alleged that 15 people where killed Wednesday morning when Israeli artillery struck a school the U.N. was using as a shelter. A spokesman for the Israeli military said he was investigating the claim.

According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, more than 200,000 Palestinians are staying in 85 shelters throughout Gaza, having been displaced by the Israeli offensive. With thousands more expected to crowd into these facilities each day, the UNRWA is pleading with Israel to halt its military operation.

However, all attempts at getting the two sides to stop fighting have not succeeded with only a few brief lulls to allow Palestinians to quickly gather necessities.

Israel says it wants a guarantee of security from Hamas but failing that, is determined to demilitarize Gaza by destroying the group’s weaponry and tunnels that lead into Israel.

Early Wednesday morning, Israel proposed a four-hour cease-fire period, but Hamas spokesman Sami abu Zohri rejected the offer, calling Israel's announcement a PR move that carries no value because it keeps areas under shelling out of this ceasefire.

Hamas says it won’t stop fighting until Israel agrees to lift a blockade of Gaza that was imposed when it took control of the region in 2007.


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Militias Creating Havoc in Libya


iStock/Thinkstock(TRIPOLI, Libya) -- Libya has descended into chaos as armed militias fight for control of the embattled country.

It is the worst siege of violence since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown and executed three years ago.

Foreign nations, including the U.S., are pulling out their diplomats as the weak central government has had no luck in establishing any semblance of order among the militias fighting one another.

Adding to the mayhem is a major fire at a fuel depot near Tripoli's airport that has raged out of control since last weekend. There are worries the blaze could reach a natural gas reservoir that, if ignited, could be unstoppable.

Libya's appeal for international help to put out the fire is apparently contingent on a halt to the fighting that's not likely to happen.

Mostly, the conflict is between Islamist extremists and supporters of ex-Libyan General Khalifa Haftar. While estimates of casualties are hard to determine due to the violence, it's believed the death toll is in the hundreds.

It's estimated there are as many as 1,700 armed groups operating in Libya, many of whom captured weapons left behind by Gadhafi's military.

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Obama: New Sanctions Against Russia Will Have 'An Even Bigger Bite'


The White House(WASHINGTON) --  The United States will unleash a new round of sanctions against Russia in the wake of the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, President Obama said Tuesday.

"The cost on Russia will continue to grow," the president said in a statement at the White House emphasizing Russian "energy, arms and finance" as targets. "Today is a reminder that the United States means what it says."

Obama said Russia has, so far, "failed to cooperate with the investigations" into the downing of the Malaysian aircraft, adding that he and key European leaders "are united in our view that the situation in Ukraine ought to be resolved diplomatically."

Obama said he has been coordinating closely with European allies to ensure a unified response. Earlier Tuesday, the European Union agreed to a new package of sanctions on Russia, for the first time imposing "sectoral" sanctions on Russia’s finance and energy industries, as well as banning arms exports to Russia.

Obama, in his remarks this afternoon, called them the, "most significant and wide-ranging sanctions to date."

The European Union says the sanctions will limit access to E.U. capital markets for Russian state-owned financial institutions, impose an embargo on trade in arms, establish an export ban for dual-use goods for military end-users, and curtail Russian access to sensitive technologies, particularly in the oil sector.

Meanwhile, at the State Department, spokeswoman Jen Psaki emphasized that the United States welcomed, "Europe's determination to take strong new steps and ... this trans-Atlantic community and G-7 are united in their determination to respond to continued and intensified Russian aggression."


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White House Pushes Back Against GOP's Immigration Crisis Bill


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The White House is pushing back against a House Republican bill aimed at fixing the immigration crisis at the border.

The GOP legislation would devote $659 million in emergency funding to deal with the influx of unaccompanied children -- far less than the $3.7 billion requested.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest says, "They're refusing to take the kind of action that would ensure the administration has the necessary resources to deal with what they themselves describe as a serious problem."

The bill would also change laws to make it easier to deport children from Central America and require that immigration hearings be held within one week of the children being apprehended by Border Patrol.

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US: North Korea's Push for Nuclear Weapons is Threatening Region


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The United States says that North Korea's push for nuclear weapons is a threat to the region.  

At Tuesday's Defense Department briefing, Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, said, "The proliferation of activities that North Korea -- their desire for nuclear missiles and nuclear capabilities -- as we've said over and over again, are highly threatening to this global security environment."

Locklear said that keeping North Korea in check is important.

"That denuclearization of North Korea is a central part of the way ahead in that -- this part of the world," he added.

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Kerry Addresses Critics, Says He's Still Talking with Netanyahu


US Department of State(WASHINGTON) -- Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that he is still talking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about achieving a lasting truce, saying the two men spoke again Monday night.

“The prime minister talked to me about an idea and a possibility of a cease-fire, he raised it with me, as he has consistently,” Kerry said during a press conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

Kerry also dismissed the criticism that has been directed at him, including a blistering op-ed in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that likened him to “an alien, who just disembarked his spaceship in the Mideast.”

“I've taken hits before in politics; I'm not worried about that. This is not about me,” the almost three-decade veteran of the U.S. Senate said.

The Israelis have made no secret of their problems with a draft proposal Kerry gave them last week, which they contend gave too many concessions to Hamas. Kerry suggested that in this last conversation with Netanyahu, the prime minister underscored his desire for Israeli forces to continue destroying tunnels Hamas has built across the border.

The United States supports the Israel Defense Forces’ ability to do so, but that provision was not explicitly laid out in the proposal Kerry submitted to Israel last week.

“What we put on the table, in fact, allowed Israel -- let me make this clear -- allowed Israel to continue to deal with these tunnels even as they were in a short-term cease-fire to try to see if there was a way to reach a sustainable cease-fire,” Kerry insisted.

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Prince William Photobombs British Cyclist


Chris Jackson/Getty Images(LONDON) -- Prince William was caught photobombing a professional British cyclist at the Commonwealth Games.

The Duke of Cambridge is all smiles in the background of Olympic cycling champ Chris Hoy's picture.

Along with the photo, the cyclist tweeted, "Got to love a royal photobomb!"

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