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EU Approves More Sanctions Over Ukraine Crisis

iStock/Thinkstock(BRUSSELS, Belgium) -- The European Union approved further sanctions linked to the crisis in Ukraine, adding more Ukranian and Russian individuals and entities to its list Thursday.

The Council's Committee of Permanent Representatives implemented further restrictions as a result of the annexation of Crimea. The subjects of the prohibitions will have their assets frozen and undergo a visa ban.

The individuals and entities added follow 72 people already listed under EU sanctions.

"The meeting also reached agreement on extending the designation criteria," representatives said in a statement. "This will pave the way for imposing asset freezes and visa bans on persons and entities that actively support or are benefiting from Russian decision makers responsible for the annexation of Crimea or the destabilisation of Eastern Ukraine."

In addition to sanctions, the group discussed additional measures to restrict trade with and investment in Crimea and Sevastopol.

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Wreckage From Algerian Jetliner Found in Mali, Says Office of French President

iStock/Thinkstock(OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso) -- The wreckage of an Algerian airliner that disappeared from radar Thursday was found in Mali near the border of Burkina Faso, according to a statement from the office of the French president.

"The device has been clearly identified despite its disintegrated state," read the statement.

The Air Algerie jetliner had 110 passengers and six crew members when it took off from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, en route to Algiers, the airline said.

Air navigation services lost track of the plane, an MD-83 model, about 50 minutes after it took off.

French forces, which are stationed in Mali to help combat al Qaeda and tribal separatists, sent two planes searching for the airliner.

Earlier in the day, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the aircraft "probably crashed."

A French military detachment was dispatched to the area to secure the site and gather first information on the wreckage.

The airline said that among the passengers were 51 French nationals along with 24 Burkina Faso nationals, six Lebanese, five Canadians, four Algerians, two Luxemburg nationals, one Swiss, one Nigerian, one Cameroonian and one Malian. The six crew members were Spanish.

News of the plane's disappearance came when Swiftair, the Spanish company that operated the plane, released a statement saying the plane had not arrived at its destination.

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Prince George's Birthday Gifts from President Obama Revealed in New Exhibit

John Stillwell - WPA Pool /Getty Images(LONDON) -- Ever wonder what President Obama got Prince George when he was born?

This weekend, the Buckingham Palace children's exhibit will answer that question and more.

President Barack Obama sent the son of Kate Middleton and Prince William a blue alpaca wool baby blanket shortly after his birth last year on July 22, according to the Palace.

George, who turned one earlier this week, was also sent a handmade rocking horse with the presidential seal on its saddle, and a polo mallet with a head made from the branch of an oak tree that once stood on the south lawn of the White House.

These lavish gifts will be on display at the Palace for the “Royal Childhood” exhibit, which opens Saturday and lasts for eight weeks. It is a yearly tradition that starts with the Queen leaving for Balmoral Castle in Scotland.

While the Queen is on holiday, visitors can come into the palace and tour the exhibit.

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US Says Russian Military Has Fired Artillery into Ukraine

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Russian military forces have fired artillery rounds into eastern Ukraine to target Ukrainian military positions, and plans to send even more heavy multiple rocket launchers to Russian separatists, U.S. officials said for the first time Thursday.

A Pentagon official labeled the Russian activity as “a clear escalation” of the conflict in that region that has drawn worldwide attention since Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot out of the skies over Ukraine, apparently by a Russian-built missile system.

“We have new evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers to the separatist forces in Ukraine, and have evidence that Russia is firing artillery from within Russia to attack Ukrainian military positions,” said Marie Harf, a State Department spokeswoman.

Harf did not provide additional information as to how the U.S. concluded that the Russian military had been shelling Ukrainian military positions. However, she said that the information that the heavier rocket launchers were headed into Ukraine had been gleaned from what she referred to as “human intelligence.”

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren later said, “We do know now that the Russians have been firing artillery from Russia into Ukraine to attack Ukrainian military positions.”

“This has been happening, we believe, for several days,” said Warren. “This is a military escalation, there’s no question about it.”

As evidence that the Russians intend to deliver heavier multiple rocket launchers to separatist forces in Ukraine, Warren referred to activity at a site in southwestern Russia where the Russian military has provided training for Russian separatists and gathered heavy military equipment for their use.

Senior intelligence officials referred to the site outside of Rostov on Tuesday when they made their case for why Russia had “created the conditions” for the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner with a Russian-built SA-11 surface-to-air missile.

Since the shoot-down, “there’s been ongoing multiple rocket launcher activity at the Rostov site and multiple rocket launchers continue to depart and return to Rostov at irregular intervals,” Warren said.

For the last month, the Russian military has gathered between 10,000 and 12,000 troops along the border with Ukraine, officials said. The forces are deployed along the border at varying distances, with some elements coming as close as five miles to the border with Ukraine, one official said.

It has been difficult to determine what the Russian intent is for these forces, the official said, but the information released Thursday indicates at least some of them have been engaged in artillery fire targeting Ukrainian military positions.

Ukrainian officials have alleged direct Russian military support for separatists for weeks. Over the past 24 hours, pictures have appeared in Ukrainian media outlets that were purportedly taken by a Russian soldier displaying the artillery equipment his unit has used during its deployment to the border. The images have since been taken down from the Russian social media site on which they were originally posted.

While officials did not provide a precise time as to when the Russian military began to fire artillery across the border, a U.S. official said it began as early as July 15.

Videos posted on social media on July 16 appeared to show Grad rockets being fired from inside Russia into Ukraine. The Grad system is a multiple rocket launcher system used by the Russian military that has been provided to Russian separatists.

NATO Supreme Commander Gen. Philip Breedlove tweeted his concerns about the videos the following day. “I am deeply concerned by this latest video that appears to show Russia engaging in military action against Ukraine,” he wrote.

Senior intelligence officials said Tuesday that the flow of Russian heavy military equipment has continued into eastern Ukraine since the crash of the Malaysian airliner.  The flow of weapons included tanks, armored personnel carriers and Grad multiple rocket launcher systems.

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Peace Corps Suspends Kenya Program

iStock/Thinkstock(NAIROBI, Kenya) -- The Peace Corps is suspending its entire volunteer program in Kenya as a result of security concerns in the region, a U.S. State Department official announced Thursday.

The organization has been monitoring the environment in the country, along with the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi.

"The Peace Corps plans to continue to monitor the security environment and reassess the security situation at an appropriate future date to determine if and when volunteers can return," the official said in a statement. "The Peace Corps has enjoyed a long partnership with the government and people of Kenya and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there."

Violent attacks in the country, along with the incident at Westgate Mall in 2013 that killed at least 67 people, have raised concerns over safety.

The United States has kept up a partnership with Kenya for more than 50 years, set on improving Kenya's economy and developing its health, education, and security sectors. The U.S. provides between $700 million and $1 billion in annual assistance, and the embassy in Nairobi will remain open and staffed for its regular operations.

"The commitment of the United States to Kenya is unwavering. We remain a strong and steadfast partner of the government and people of Kenya," the State Department official added.

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Official: Terrorists in Syria Now as Dangerous to US as Those in Yemen

iStock/Thinkstock(ASPEN, Colo.) -- Syria has risen as a top threat to the U.S. homeland that rivals Yemen's al Qaeda affiliate known for its innovative bombs successfully smuggled aboard airplanes, a top Pentagon official said on Thursday.

"Syria is probably the number one threat -- or, with... threats out of Yemen -- to the American homeland right now and elsewhere in the west," said Michael Vickers, the Pentagon’s under secretary for defense intelligence.

In answer to a question by moderator Brian Ross of ABC News at a panel at the Aspen Security Forum, an annual gathering of national security veterans, Vickers, himself a former Special Forces operator, said that the foreigners flocking to Syria are hard to track and are a "serious problem."

"Foreign fighters who are western passport holders, including Americans, a subset of that, numbers in the four digits," Vickers said.

Since 2010, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen has held the top spot in the minds of counter-terrorism officials after the terror group tried unsuccessfully to use four different improvised explosive devices, hidden in underwear on a bomber or inside printer cartridges, in an effort to blow up U.S.-bound commercial passenger and cargo jets.

But a portion of the thousands of foreign fighters joining extremists for training and jihad against Syria's embattled dictator Bashar al Assad over the last few years are viewed as likely to eventually try to attack western targets, many officials have said.

Top U.S. officials have spoken more openly about the threat emanating from Syria this year.

John Carlin, the assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department, has established a prosecutors unit to focus on Americans fighting in Syria or aspiring to, because of the enormity of the threat.

"The number of foreign fighters that are already in place in Syria, and a number of other westerners in that group, is one that is unprecedented, and is a larger number than we ever saw in ungoverned spaces in Pakistan and Afghanistan," Carlin said during the panel discussion.

Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said it's all his European colleagues want to discuss, their fears are so pronounced.

"It's number one on the list of discussion topics," he told the security conference.

The tactical threat still remains rooted in the disturbing expertise provided by AQAP's master bomb maker Ibrahim al-Asiri, officials said.

Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole, on a separate panel, said that the type of device he worries about most, "from everything I'm aware of, [is] still a non-metallic IED."

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UN Shelter in Gaza Comes Under Fire

iStock/Thinkstock(JERUSALEM) -- The United Nations body responsible for Palestinian refugees  -- UNRWA -- reported Thursday that one of its designated shelters in Northern Gaza was hit.

Initial reports suggest at least 15 Palestinian civilians were killed and scores more were injured.  

UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said the explosion tore through the courtyard of a school in Beit Hanoun filled with Palestinian civilians waiting to obey evacuation orders.

Eyewitnesses blamed the bloodshed on an Israeli tank shell.

Gunness said Israel knew the coordinates of the school and had not granted his requests for safe passage.  

But the Israeli Army denied this. It said a Hamas rocket may have been responsible and it has opened an investigation.

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Sudanese Woman Condemned to Hang Reportedly Flies to Italy

iStock/Thinkstock(ROME) -- A woman sentenced to death for marrying a Christian has flown to Italy, according to a report from the BBC.

Meriem Ibrahim, 27, was sentenced to be flogged and hanged to death in Sudan for marrying a Christian and converting from the Muslim faith to Christianity. Ibrahim's story drew outrage from people across the globe as her story went viral on social media under the "#savemeriam" hashtag and world leaders condemned the harsh sentence.

Ibrahim, who was raised by her Christian mother, was eight months pregnant at the time of her sentence and has since given birth.

Ibrahim and her family flew on an Italian government plane, accompanied by Italian minister Lapo Pistelli, the BBC reports. Pistelli posted a photo to Facebook showing the group with the caption, “With Miriam, Maya, Martin and Daniel, in a few minutes of Rome. Mission accomplished.” 

Pope Francis reportedly met with Ibrahim and her family for about 30 minutes in his private residence at the Vatican. The pope thanked Ibrahim for "her steadfast witness of faith," a Vatican spokesman said, according to the Catholic News Service.

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Hockey Player Shares Story Behind Queen Elizabeth's Photobomb

@_JaydeTaylor/Twitter(LONDON) -- Photobombs happen all the time. A photobomb by Queen Elizabeth -- smiling no less -- does not.

Jayde Taylor, an athlete competing in the Glasgow Commonwealth Games with the Australian women's hockey team, was warming down with her teammate Brooke Peris when the Queen stopped by to say hello. It was at that point that Taylor snapped the photo.

"Brooke and I planned it so that when she came out the door she would be behind us. And then she came out and smiled at the camera!" Taylor told ABC News. "We were in the right spot at the right time."

However, meeting the royal may have surpassed the experience of taking a photo with her.

"She asked us a bit about the pitch, how we were going and told us to enjoy our time here," Taylor said. "She was lovely. Really, really lovely."

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Seven Hundred Dead or Missing this Year in Plane Tragedies

Purestock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The numbers are stark, and chilling.

Four commercial planes have crashed or disappeared in just four months this year and, perhaps more startlingly, 700 lives have been lost.

The latest news of tragedy in the skies came Thursday morning, when an Air Algerie plane flying over Africa with 116 aboard disappeared off radar.

The disappearance comes on the heels of two other high-profile incidents: the crash of TransAsia Flight 222 in Taiwan Wednesday, which killed 47, and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine last week, which had 298 aboard.

Earlier this spring, the world was stunned when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, taking 239 people with it. It has not yet been found.

The countries hit hardest by these plane tragedies have been the Netherlands, with 193 dead or missing, and China, with 153 dead or missing.

Malaysia had a high number of passengers on both MH370 and MH17, and lost 81 of its residents this year.

France, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia have all lost dozens of citizens in the tragedies.

The United States lost three residents aboard MH370 and one dual U.S.-Dutch resident aboard MH17.

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Woman in Stilettos Ascends Kilimanjaro

Rima Suqi(NEW YORK) -- If Rima Suqi was going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, she resolved to do it in style. The writer, who called herself "a little bit of a shoe person," reached the top of the spectacular summit in a pair of stilettos.

Suqi told ABC News that she had devised the solo trip to Tanzania almost a year in advance as a meaningful way to fete her 40th birthday, which she celebrated the day after the ascent. But she admitted that her choice of footwear was not quite so intentional.

"I don't honestly know what made me think to do it," she said, before adding that she figured it would be "an opportunity for a good picture."

"It's 40," she said. "Forty is kind of a big deal. You've got to do something."

Besides, she reasoned, were she at home to mark the milestone, she would "probably be in a heel and red lipstick, too."

As she wrote in a postcard published on, Suqi toted the strappy sandals up the face of the mountain. After she arrived at the peak, she swapped her hiking boots for the stilettos, slicked on a layer of berry-red Chanel lipstick, and asked her bemused guide to snap "a mini photo shoot."

"He loved it," she said. "I think at first he looked at me like I was slightly crazy, but then he loved it and he did say nobody had ever done that before."

According to Suqi, the sartorial stunt was not just for show.

In a diary entry dated from the trip, Suqi wrote: "This climb is really a metaphor for life. Ups, downs, easier patches, rough patches. People who look after you, feed you, provide shelter, help you when you are sick and provide encouragement when you are down. You just take it slow -- pole, pole -- and try to find your way at your own pace."

And as in life, so too at Kilimanjaro: It never hurts to look your best.

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UN Will Investigate Possible War Crimes in Gaza

iStock/Thinkstock(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- The United Nations Human Rights Council voted Wednesday to establish a commission of inquiry into incidents in Gaza, investigating whether any war crimes have been committed in the area. 

The United States was the only county to vote against establishing the investigation, while Britain, Germany, and France abstained.

Addressing the U.S. decision, State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said the country had no issue being the sole vote against the commission, adding that the U.S. will continue to stand up for Israel, "even if it means standing alone."

Experts on the Geneva Convention are sounding the alarm on unrest in Gaza, with Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch telling the BBC that both sides in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict may be guilty of war crimes.

"We see very serious violations of the Geneva Convention, the rules designed to spare civilians the hazards of conflict, which apply to both Israel and Hamas," Roth said.

Conflict in the region shows little sign of letting up as the death toll continues to climb. The U.N. says nearly 75 percent of the almost 700 Palestinians killed were civilians. Meanwhile, Israel claims to be targeting militants and accuses Hamas of using innocent people as human shields. Two Israeli civilians and more than 30 soldiers have lost their lives.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the U.N.'s decision a "travesty," adding that it, "should be rejected by decent people everywhere."

Netanyahu claimed that while Hamas is "committing a double war crime" by firing rockets at Israeli civilians, Israel has "gone to unprecedented lengths" to protect Palestinian civilians by dropping leaflets, making phone calls, and sending text messages.

"The HRC should be launching an investigation into Hamas' decision to turn hospitals into military command centers, use schools as weapons depots and place missile batteries next to playgrounds, private homes and mosques," the Prime Minister said.

"By failing to condemn Hamas's systematic use of human shields and by blaming Israel for the deaths that are caused by this grotesque human shields policy, the HRC is sending a  message to Hamas and terror organizations everywhere that using civilians as human shields is an effective strategy."

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More than 80 Killed in Nigeria Bombings

iStock/Thinkstock(KADUNA, Nigeria) -- More than 80 people were killed in twin bombings in northern Nigeria on Wednesday.

The attacks targeted a prominent Muslim scholar, Shaykh Dahiru Usman Bauchi, and may have also been aimed at former head of state General Muhammadu Buhari, according to reports from American officials.

The U.S. State Department extended its sympathies to the family and loved ones of the victims killed.

"We call on Nigerian authorities to fully investigate these attacks, and we urge all Nigerians to avoid reprisals and continue to practice the interfaith cooperation that violent extremists seek to undermine," Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf said in a statement.

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Dutch Mayor Sorry He Said Putin's Daughter Should Be Deported from Netherlands

Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images(AMSTERDAM) -- The mayor of a Netherlands city has apologized for suggesting Russian President Vladimir Putin's daughter should be kicked out of the country.

Pieter Broertjes, mayor of Hilversum, made the comment during a radio interview Wednesday, The Guardian reported. His dig at Maria Putin, who reportedly lives in South Holland, comes as the Netherlands mourns victims of a Malaysia Airlines flight that was shot down by a missile in Ukraine last week. Ukrainian authorities have alleged that Russia is responsible for the attack.

Broertjes apologized on Twitter, saying his comments were "not wise," but that they "stemmed from a feeling of helplessness that many people will recognize."

About two-thirds of the 298 passengers aboard the doomed plane were Dutch, Malaysian authorities said. As bodies of victims are flown home to families, the Dutch government declared Wedneday a day of mourning.

Unlike their dad, Putin's two daughters Maria and Katerina have largely avoided the media spotlight, but The Guardian reports that Maria lives in Voorschoten with her Dutch boyfriend, not far from Hilversum, where Broertjes presides.

U.S. officials haven't confirmed the origin of the missile attack on July 17.

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Airline with Missile Defenses Goes to Israel When US Carriers WonÂ’t

iStock/Thinkstock(TEL AVIV, Israel) -- As the grounding of American air carriers flying to Israel was extended Wednesday, one major Israeli airline -- one of the only ones in the world boasting high-tech anti-missile defenses --  says it’s braving potential rocket attacks to fly home to Tel Aviv.

“In light of flight cancelations to Israel by foreign air carriers we would like to inform you that El Al, as always, will continue to fly from and to Israel,” the airline wrote on its website. “The company will continue to keep Israel’s skies open, and will be at your service any time.” The company said it’s also adding flights “to accommodate stranded passengers.”

The FAA first told U.S. airlines not to head to Israel on Tuesday in response to a rocket strike “approximately one mile” from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport. In what he called a “show of solidarity,” former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew from New York to Tel Aviv on an El Al flight Wednesday.

El Al, the national airline of Israel, has reportedly equipped its planes with some form of anti-missile tech since the mid-2000s, a move that came in response to an attack on an Israeli chartered aircraft in late 2002 in Mombasa, Kenya. Two shoulder-fired rockets narrowly missed their target then, and El Al and other Israeli airlines have been preparing for a repeat ever since.

In the years following the failed attack, El Al turned to Flight Guard, a combination of several technologies reportedly including early warning systems and flares designed to confuse any heat seeking missiles. The use of flares was controversial, with some European airports purportedly concerned that the flares, if fired, could cause damage below. Israeli newspaper Ynet reported that Israeli defense officials felt those concerns were a “misunderstanding.”

Regardless, in recent years, El Al and the Israeli government sought to upgrade civilian airline defenses. Last February the Israeli Defense Ministry announced a new countermeasure system, dubbed Sky Shield or C-MUSIC, installed on a Boeing 737 had been successful in live fire tests.

According to the defense think tank IHS Janes, the new system, housed in a pod under the fuselage, employs an infrared missile-tracking camera, an “infrared (IR), ultra-violet (UV), or radar missile-approach warning (MAWS) sensor to detect a missile launch in the very early stages of an attack,” and a laser system meant to jam the incoming missile’s “seeker” and “cause it [the missile] to be diverted away from the aircraft.”

Israel’s Channel 2 reported the new system costs $1 million per plane and will be installed on several Israeli airlines, including El Al, that fly “sensitive routes.”

For the most part, the defensive systems have been designed to defeat shoulder-fired rockets, also known as MANPADS, which can menace a plane near takeoff and landing, as opposed to larger and radar-based anti-aircraft missile systems like the SA-11 -- the one the U.S. believes shot down Malaysian Airlines MH17 while the plane was at cruising altitude in Ukraine last week.

When Moammar Gadhafi’s dictatorship in Libya fell in 2011, thousands of MANPADS were believed to have been looted from government armories, stoking the fears of American counter-terrorism officials that the relatively cheap, easy-to-use weapons could target a civilian airliners in the region.

“Personally, I think that the terrorism threat is the main threat these days dealing with civilian transportation,” former El Al President and CEO Elyezer Shkedy says in a promotional video for the Sky Shield system.

Missile countermeasures are widely used by military planes and several times, the U.S. government and American airlines have looked into adding their own countermeasures to civilian flights, but declined due to the high cost and comparatively low risk of a MANPAD attack in the homeland. Recent events in Israel and in Ukraine, however, have renewed interest in the defense systems.

Sen. Mark Kirk told The Washington Post he was petitioning the FAA to rethink security measures.

“I think they should actively look into mounting active defenses on civil aircraft that are carrying hundreds of people,” Kirk said.

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