1. According to Reuters, Russian President Vladimir Putin told Kiev to let its soldiers surrender to pro-Russian rebels, who spurned a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and fought their way on Tuesday into the town of Debaltseve, encircling thousands of government troops. A peace deal reached at all-night talks in the Belarussian capital Minsk last week had all but unravelled, with both sides failing to begin pulling back heavy guns as required after the rebels refused to halt their advance. Putin, whom Western countries accuse of directing the rebel assault with Russian soldiers and weapons, said Kiev should allow its soldiers to surrender to the advancing rebels.
2. According to Religion News Service, An up-and-coming evangelical pastor has been told his denomination will no longer support his new church in Portland, Ore., because of his support for gays and lesbians. The Rev. Adam Phillips arrived in Portland in 2013 to start Christ Church, a new congregation sponsored by the Chicago-based Evangelical Covenant Church. On Feb. 4, Covenant officials told Phillips they were dropping support for Christ Church because of his “personal convictions and advocacy for the full inclusion and participation of LGBT Christians in the church at all levels of membership and leadership.” Phillips said he agrees with the denomination’s position that calls for “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage,” but said the same standards should extend to LGBT members. Since 2004, the Covenant’s official position has been to not allow gay marriages, and pastors are told that individual beliefs “must never overshadow” denominational policy.
3. According to NBC News, Italy warned that ISIS is at Europe’s doorstep as France and Egypt called for the United Nations Security Council to meet over the spiraling crisis in Libya. The growing alarm came as Egyptian jets bombed ISIS targets in the North African nation as revenge for the beheadings of 21 Coptic Christian Egyptian nationals in Libya. Libya is not only situated close to Egypt and Algeria, but is just across the Mediterranean Sea from Europe. The spiraling violence has sent floods of migrants to European shores. Italy’s Interior Minister expressed the growing alarm in an interview and urged NATO to intervene “for the future of the Western world.” He said, “ISIS is at the door. There is no time to waste.”
4. According to Reuters, President Barack Obama’s administration on Tuesday delayed implementing his unilateral steps to shield millions of illegal immigrants from deportation after a judge blocked the actions at the urging of 26 states accusing Obama of exceeding his powers. In a setback to the president, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen in Brownsville, a city along the Texas border with Mexico, issued a temporary court order on Monday stopping Obama’s executive actions that bypassed a gridlocked Congress. Obama said he disagreed with the ruling and expected his administration to prevail once the issue made its way through the courts. The president said the administration will comply with the judge’s order and delay accepting applications from some of the illegal immigrants for deportation relief and work permits that had been set to begin on Wednesday. Obama said the Justice Department will appeal Hanen’s preliminary injunction.
5. According to The Daily Beast, U.S. and coalition forces have conducted nearly 2,300 airstrikes hitting more than 4,800 targets in Iraq and Syria since August 2014, as part of the ongoing campaign to defeat the so-called Islamic State. Three service members have already perished in these ongoing operations against ISIS. But according to Attorney General Eric Holder, “we’re not at a time of war.” The comments, during a luncheon at the National Press Club, came just days after the White House sent Congressional leaders a draft bill that would authorize the continuation of the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
6. According to Wall Street Journal, The U.S. has granted some moderate Syrian rebels the ability to summon U.S. airstrikes, in what the Wall Street Journal describes as an effort to “replicate the success Kurdish forces, aided by American B-1B bombers, had over Islamic State last month.” The U.S. is in the midst of preparing to train moderate rebels, in sessions lasting between six and eight weeks. The first training site will open March 1 in Jordan and the second sometime after that in Turkey.
7. According to Reuters, Myanmar President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in the Kokang region in the east and imposed a three-month period of martial law there in an announcement on state television on Tuesday night. Fighting broke out on Feb. 9 between the Myanmar army and an ethnic Kokang force called the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA). At least 47 Myanmar soldiers and 26 MNDAA fighters have been killed since then, the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported, and thousands of civilians have fled, either to other areas in Myanmar or over the border into China.
8. According to CNS News, The Defense Intelligence Agency’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment,” delivered this month to Congress, warns that the Islamic State terrorist group “is beginning to assemble a growing international footprint.” The leader of the group has also threatened a direct conflict with the United States. A Congressional Research Service report published last week said, “In January 2014, Al Bagh-da-di [the leader of ISIS] threatened the United States directly, saying, ‘Know, O defender of the Cross, that a proxy war will not help you in the Levant [Syria], just as it will not help you in Iraq. Soon, you will be in direct conflict–God permitting–against your will.'”
9. According to The New York Times, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said on Sunday that his government was encouraging a “mass immigration” of Jews from Europe. Speaking the morning after a Jewish guard was fatally shot outside a synagogue in Copenhagen in one of two attacks there, the remarks echoed a similar call by the prime minister inviting France’s Jews to move to Israel after last month’s attacks in Paris. Netanyahu said, “Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews. Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country, but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home.”
10. According to Russia Today, Washington is working to install a new air base in Iraq’s Kurdistan to be used in a campaign against ISIS. This comes as the White House’s special envoy on ISIS speaks of a ground operation in Iraq against the militants. This time an American stronghold in the region will be deployed in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region. It is expected to be used as a logistics hub to supply primarily munitions for warplanes of the US-led coalition against ISIS militants.