Updated at 10:30 p.m. ET.

A spokesman for Hamas claimed Sunday that the group has captured an Israeli soldier. Reuters quotes Israel's ambassador to the U.N., Ron Prosor, as saying that no Israeli soldier has been kidnapped.

It's the latest development in a bloody day of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Israel's military said today that a series of attacks on its forces inside the Gaza Strip has killed 13 soldiers, by far the heaviest single-day toll for its troops since the beginning of the offensive nearly two weeks ago.

Updated at 4:35 p.m. ET.

International investigators say armed rebels have limited their inspection of the Eastern Ukraine site of the downed Malaysian Airlines flight that killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, as Kiev accused pro-Russian separatists of destroying evidence at the scene.

Israel has unleashed repeated military offensives in the Gaza Strip since 2000 and has never been able to permanently suppress Palestinian rocket fire or seal off the territory's smuggling tunnels.

So why is Israel launching another major ground incursion now, and is there any reason to think the outcome will be different this time?

Israeli Ground Operation In Gaza Continues

Jul 18, 2014

This post was updated at 6:15 p.m. ET:

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will travel to the Middle East on Saturday in hopes of finding a way to stop the fighting between Israel and Hamas.

"Israel has legitimate security concerns, and we condemn the indiscriminate rocket fire from Gaza into Israel that ended yesterday's temporary cease-fire," Jeffrey Feltman, deputy U.N. secretary-general for political affairs, told the Security Council on Friday. "But we are alarmed by Israel's heavy response."

Israel Launches Ground Offensive In Gaza

Jul 17, 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the army to send ground forces into Gaza Thursday night.

"We are hearing reports that so far the operation has been concentrated in the north," reports NPR's Emily Harris, who is in Gaza.

Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, called the invasion "a dangerous step. "The occupation will pay its price expensively, and Hamas is ready for confrontation," he said in a statement.

This post was updated at 4:10 p.m. ET: Ground Offenses Begin

Israel has sent ground forces into Gaza on Thursday, which we are covering in this post.

Update at 1:15 p.m. ET: Hostilities Resume

MomentCaptured1 / Creative Commons

Two snapshots: The first from the publication American Bazaar, right after the German World Cup win. "In the city of Leipzig, a solitary car scuttled along, with the flag attached to the roof. Waving the flag has yet to catch on. Jan Hoffman, who works in Frankfurt, was in New York when 9/11 happened.  'I had never seen so many flags in my life. Here, there are hardly any, although we won football's greatest tournament.

Years Home, Female Iraq Vets Endure the Wounds of War

Jul 8, 2014
Tony Bacewicz / Connecticut Health I-Team

It’s been nine years since Eunice Ramirez served in Iraq, but she still suffers from war wounds: post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, respiratory problems, and frequent crying triggered by her memories.

Updates at 5:32 p.m. ET

Israel said Tuesday it is expanding its operations against Hamas "and other terrorist organizations" in the Gaza Strip amid an escalation of violence that saw a barrage of rockets fired from the enclave toward Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other parts of the country.

Extremist Sunni group ISIS has announced a plan to rule the territory it has carved out of Iraq and Syria in recent months, in a declaration that touches on public services, salaries and compensation for damages from the violence.

The plan was unveiled as Iraq's central Shiite government tries to retake the city of Tikrit, in its first major operation against the insurgents.

In Iraq, More Than 1,000 Were Killed In June

Jun 24, 2014

The United Nations has some grim news on Iraq this morning: It says at least 1,075 people were killed in June as Sunni militants overtook some significant cities in the country.

Most of the deaths, the U.N. reports, were civilians. The AP adds:

Screenshot / White House

President Barack Obama said the U.S. is prepared to take targeted military actions in Iraq if they would help fight a growing threat from extremist militants. He also said the U.S. is ready to send as many as 300 military advisers to Iraq.

In an attempt to stop the juggernaut advance of the Sunni extremist group ISIS, Iraq's central government says the fight for the country's largest oil refinery is far from over. A military official says 40 militants have been killed.

"Iraqi government officials say an elite special operations force is holding off ISIS militants at the Beiji refinery 160 miles north of the capital," NPR's Deborah Amos reports from Erbil. "But local police report ISIS is tightening a grip on the facility."

What's Next For Iraq?

Jun 18, 2014
This post was updated at 9:40 p.m. ET to reflect the Obama administration's pressure on the Iraqi government.

A week ago, it would have been difficult to find anyone in the U.S. arguing for renewed U.S. military action in Iraq. Now there's a furious debate about what the U.S. should, or shouldn't, do in the latest Iraqi crisis.

The drama seemed to erupt out of nowhere as Islamist extremists captured Mosul, one of the country's largest and most important cities, and kept pushing south toward the capital Baghdad.

As the U.S. steers warships closer to Iraq and beefs up its embassy's security in Baghdad with nearly 300 troops, a nagging question has resurfaced.

What compelling interests does Washington still have in a nation where all U.S. forces were pulled out 2 1/2 years ago?

Three days after Sunni militants calling themselves the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria seized Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, President Obama paused on the White House lawn and issued a warning.

The extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is tightening control of Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland, attacking the strategic city of Baqouba, less than 40 miles from Baghdad. The U.S. is sending up to 275 military personnel to bolster its embassy in the capital; President Obama is also reportedly weighing airstrikes.

Tech. Sgt. Rick Sforza / The U.S. Army

Throughout the U.S. occupation of Iraq, there was concern about what would happen to the country when combat forces left. Over the last year, militant extremists have slowly taken over the country and now President Barack Obama is weighing his options. "We will not be sending U.S. troops back into combat in Iraq, but I have asked my national security team to prepare a range of other options that could help support Iraqi security forces," Obama said on Friday.

The Iraqi government says it has halted a militant group's advance on Baghdad.

As The Telegraph reports, the Iraqi army started engaging the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, after it made a rapid advance in which it captured the key city of Mosul.

The Telegraph adds:

Updated at 7:30 p.m. ET

The violence in Iraq has intensified today, with al-Qaida-linked Sunni militants moving into areas close to Baghdad after capturing the cities of Mosul and Tikrit.

An 89-year-old World War II veteran, reported missing by his U.K. nursing home, has been found at the D-Day commemorations in France.

Bernard Jordan, who served in the Royal Navy during WWII, is a resident at The Pines nursing home in Hove, Sussex, reports the BBC. He had previously attended the 50th and 60th memorial services in Normandy.

Kathrin Möbius / Wikimedia Commons

This hour, we feature three international voices with Connecticut connections. We begin with a local professor, who recently returned from serving as an elections monitor in Ukraine. He tells us about his experience and talks about what lies ahead for the country and its people. 

We also talk with a Nigerian-American artist, who has found a way to create beautiful prints using just his fingers and an iPad. We learn as well the story of a Polish hero, and find out what a top Polish official in America thinks of Ukraine’s chances for success.

As part of a prisoner swap to free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the United States agreed to transfer five Guantánamo detainees to Qatar.

NPR's Tom Bowman received a list of the prisoners being released from a Pentagon official. According to documents leaked to the organization WikiLeaks, all five prisoners were high-ranking Taliban officials. Some were considered high-risk and "likely to post a threat to the U.S., its interests and allies."

(This post was last updated Sunday at 5:50 a.m. ET. on Sunday)

Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the final remaining captured American soldier from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been released by the Afghan Taliban after almost five years of being held captive, the White House said on Saturday.

In exchange for Bergdahl's release, the U.S. will transfer five detainees at the Guantánamo Bay prison to Qatar.

Militants in Ukraine shot down a military helicopter near the eastern city of Slovyansk Wednesday, killing 14 soldiers that included an Army general. The incident comes days after Ukraine stepped up its operations against pro-Russian rebels this week.

From Kiev, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports for our Newscast unit:

A day ahead of a big foreign policy speech at West Point tomorrow, President Obama is making public his plan to pull troops out of Afghanistan.

Obama is largely taking the recommendation of his generals and plans to leave 9,800 troops in Afghanistan for one year beyond the withdrawal of combat forces in December. By the end of 2015, that number will be halved with troops consolidated in the Kabul area, and their primary mission will not be combat but counter-terrorism.

(This post was last updated at 3:00 p.m. ET.)

President Obama announced on Tuesday a plan to leave a residual force of 9,800 service members in Afghanistan beyond 2014. By 2016, most troops will be out of the country.

"It's time to turn the page on more than a decade in which so much of our foreign policy was focused on... wars in Afghanistan and Iraq," Obama said in the White House Rose Garden.

Pro-Russian rebels who had taken over an international airport in Donetsk have been pushed back, Ukraine's government says. Violent clashes erupted Monday and Tuesday; at least 35 people have died.

From Kiev, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports for our Newscast unit:

"The battle for Donetsk airport appears to symbolize the government's tougher stance on the pro-Russian insurgents in the east. Using fighter jets and helicopter gunships, the military says it has retaken control of the airport, though rebels dispute that claim.

When Russian President Vladimir Putin started vilifying the U.S., and state-controlled media took his cue, Michael McFaul was portrayed as one of the American villains. McFaul was the American ambassador to Russia from January 2012 to February of this year. He planned to leave just after the Sochi Olympics, which ended up coinciding with the Ukrainian Parliament voting to remove President Viktor Yanukovych from office, leading to Russia's annexation of Crimea.

Corporal Dan Elenhof as a Medic in Afghanistan

May 9, 2014
Jake Warga

In addition to the physical objects Corporal Elenhof carries on his person, he also says he brings with him a sense of hospitality. "You know, just working every day with a foreign culture," he said, "definitely that culture rubs off on you. In Afghan culture, hospitality is a huge part of it. I'm definitely going to be carrying home a lot of that."

Urging the release of separatists detained during Friday's unrest that left dozens dead, more than 100 pro-Russia activists surrounded a police station in the southern Ukrainian port city of Odessa Sunday.

Update at 4:30 p.m. ET: More Activists Released

Police in Odessa say 67 pro-Russia activists were freed Sunday.

CNN quotes the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's website: