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Smoke from shelling rises over a residential apartment house in Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, on Monday. An international team abandoned its attempt to reach the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane for a second day running Monday as clashes raged in a town on the road to the area. (AP)

Team Investigating Downing Of MH17 Turns Back Due To Heavy Fighting

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 28, 2014

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For a second day in a row, Dutch and Australian experts were unable to reach the debris field left by downed Malaysia Airlines flight 17 in eastern Ukraine.

CNN reports that as the team tried to make their way to the area, they heard explosions and were told there was heavy fighting, so they turned back. The network adds:

"Among other things, the team had hoped to work on the retrieval of human remains from the fields strewn with wreckage from the passenger jet, which had 298 people on board when it was brought down by a suspected surface-to-air missile on July 17.

"The team of observers, investigators and experts had anticipated getting good access to the site after negotiating with both sides in the conflict, said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission, before the team was forced to turn back.

"Ukrainian government forces have been battling pro-Russian rebels in the region for months, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Now, as Ukrainian troops attempt to cut off access to Donetsk, fighting is heading north, closer to the crash site, which sits amid rebel-held territory."

Meanwhile, on the diplomatic front, there are two headlines:

Bloomberg reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier said Germany wants the European Union to agree on new sanctions against Russia.

As we've reported, the United States said they had found no evidence of direct involvement by the Russians in downing the passenger plane, but the U.S. says the missile system used was Russian-made.

— U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay says the downing of MH17 may be a war crime.

The AP reports:

"Pillay's comments coincided with a new report by her office that says at least 1,129 people had been killed and 3,442 wounded in Ukraine's fighting as of Saturday, and more than 100,000 have fled the violence since April.

"'This violation of international law, given the prevailing circumstances, may amount to a war crime,' Pillay said of the downed jetliner, which U.S. and Ukrainian officials say was shot down by a missile from rebel territory, most likely by mistake.

"'It is imperative that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation be conducted into this event,' she said."

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Smoke from shelling rises over a residential apartment house in Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, on Monday. An international team abandoned its attempt to reach the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane for a second day running Monday as clashes raged in a town on the road to the area. (AP)

Top Stories: Compromise Reached For VA Programs; Gaza Conflict

Jul 28, 2014

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Korva Coleman

Related Topics at NPR.org

Good morning, here are our early stories:

— Conflict In Gaza: Here's What You Need To Know Today.

— Lawmakers Reach Deal Intended To Fix VA System In Crisis.

And here are more early headlines:

Investigators Still Blocked From Ukraine Plane Wreckage. (New York Times)

Boko Haram Kidnaps Wife Of Cameroon's Vice Premier. (Reuters)

Russia Ordered To Pay Shareholders Of Seized Oil Firm. (Wall Street Journal)

Ebola Takes Life Of Top Liberian Doctor, Infects 2 Americans. (AP)

Lightning Strike Leaves One Swimmer Dead In California. (KTLA)

U.S. Gas Prices At The Pump Drop Over Past Two Weeks. (Businessweek)

Sarah Palin Launches Internet Channel. (USA Today)

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Smoke from shelling rises over a residential apartment house in Shakhtarsk, Donetsk region, on Monday. An international team abandoned its attempt to reach the crash site of a Malaysia Airlines plane for a second day running Monday as clashes raged in a town on the road to the area. (AP)

The Ice Cream Sandwich That Wouldn't Melt

Jul 28, 2014 (Morning Edition)

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Horse Feathers art ( )

Song Premiere: Horse Feathers, 'Violently Wild'

Jul 28, 2014

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Describing Horse Feathers almost inevitably diminishes the band's music: "Let's see, the lead singer has a beard and a soft voice, and he plays the acoustic guitar, and there's a string section. Oh, and they're from Portland, of course." All those identifying details hold true, and yet Horse Feathers' music never feels slight or ineffectual. Take an exquisitely pretty song like this one, in which Justin Ringle's dark words function like a current that pulls you under when you least expect it.

On Oct. 21, Horse Feathers will release So It Is With Us, and its first single, "Violently Wild," is due out tomorrow. (Watch an album trailer and pre-order here.) As you might imagine, the song's title is a bit of a misnomer — Horse Feathers' music has never fit been particularly violent or wild, lyrical content aside — but there's a zippy quality to it, and the band wears it well. Where the strings in past Horse Feathers songs provided chamber-folk shading, in "Violently Wild" they're employed with a welcome bit of energy, even aggression, without sacrificing the bracing beauty for which the band is rightly known.

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House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, a Republican from Florida. (Getty Images)

Lawmakers Reach Deal Intended To Fix VA System In Crisis

by Eyder Peralta
Jul 28, 2014

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Lawmakers in Washington have reached a deal to overhaul the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, multiple news organizations are reporting.

The Washington Post reports the deal struck by the chiefs of the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs committees would "provide funding to hire more doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals." The New York Times reports the deal calls for new facilities, upgrading the scheduling system and allowing "veterans who live far from a V.A. facility or who face wait times that exceed a certain duration to see private doctors, and have those visits paid for by the government."

As we've been reporting, the VA has been engulfed in controversy over allegations that the agency falsified documents and allowed sick veterans to languish in its bureaucracy.

Quoting an unnamed aid, Politico reports that the deal struck by Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont and Rep. Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, will touch "both the short-term and long-term needs of the VA."

NPR's Ron Elving tells Morning Edition that this may only be "an agreement to agree." There are still many unanswered questions; the big one is how Congress would pay for a bill like this.

Politico explains:

"Negotiations hit a snag last week over disagreements with how to offset portions of the bill, which will likely cost between $10 billion and $25 billion, and also how to handle a last-minute request from acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson for $17.6 billion to hire more doctors and make improvements to VA centers.

"While Sanders and Senate Democrats prefer the bill's costs to be treated as emergency spending, there is a strong push from Republicans to raise revenue or make other cuts to offset the bill's costs as much as possible.

"Even before the deal was struck, lawmakers like Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) were pressing to make sure there was a clear portrait of the bill's final price tag before it gets a vote in either chamber. The Senate's original bill flew through the chamber before the Congressional Budget Office could give a precise estimate of the bill's fiscal impacts. The CBO's preliminary numbers contained the eye-popping estimate that veterans seeking additional care could cost the government an additional $50 billion a year, a number that was disputed by some senators."

The lawmakers are expected to present their proposal this afternoon.

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