The U.S. is being widely criticized around the world for backing an Israeli plan that will allow Israel to keep large areas of the West Bank while denying the Palestinians a right of return to their homeland. President Bush endorsed the plan on Wednesday during a meeting in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. Never before has an American president openly backed Israel’s building of settlements in the occupied territories. Another part of the plan calls for Israel to pull completely out of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qurie said,"This is a catastrophe that has to be dealt with. What is fixed is that we have rights and we will defend them." U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan criticized Bush for ignoring the wishes of Palestinians, while the European Union said it would only accept such a plan if both the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to it. The head of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, said Bush’s move "cancels all frameworks and it represents dangerous developments in the Arab-Israeli conflict." Lebanese President Emile Lahoud added "It undermines hope for a just and comprehensive peace, inflames feelings of enmity toward America and opens the door toward retaking these rights by force, through all legitimate means of resistance." The Guardian of London reports British Prime Minister Tony Blair will ask Bush today to take a more even handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Blair is in Washington for a special summit with Bush.
The increasing resistance in Iraq against the US occupation has forced the Pentagon to extend the stay of 20,000 US troops who were scheduled to leave soon for home. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made the announcement Thursday as he admitted the US had not anticipated the recent level of violence. 93 U.S. troops have died so far in April. He said, "I certainly would not have estimated that we would have had the number of individuals lost."
In Fallujah, hospital officials are reporting another 15 Iraqis have been killed by US forces This comes as the United Nations’ top advisor in Iraq is criticizing the US for its attack on Fallujah. Over 600 Iraqis have been killed over the past week. The UN advisor Lakhdar Brahimi said, "The collective punishments are not acceptable, cannot be acceptable, and to cordon off and besiege a city is not acceptable. There is no military solution to the problems and ... the use of force, especially of excessive use of force, makes matters worse."
Meanwhile UN advisor Lakhdar Brahimi has proposed a possible way for the US to hand over power in Iraq after June 30. Under the proposal, the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council would be dissolved and replaced by a transitional government appointed by the UN. The Bush administration has backed the plan, which would allow the US to remain in charge of military and security matters.
In other news from Iraq, a senior Iranian diplomat was assassinated Thursday a day after he was sent to Iraq to head a Iranian delegation that was negotiating a truce between the US and Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr.
The United Nations nuclear watchdog group is reporting the U.S. has left some Iraqi nuclear facilities unguarded allowing radioactive materials to be taken out of the country. The International Atomic Energy Agency sent the US a letter outlining their findings three weeks ago. The Bush administration has yet to respond.
And the three Japanese civilians who were taken hostage last week in Iraq were released unharmed Thursday in Baghdad.
The Associated Press is reporting a senior intelligence official has come forward to reveal that the CIA warned as early as 1995 that Islamic fundamentalists were likely to use planes to carry out attacks against American landmarks in Washington and New York. And by 1997 the CIA had identified Osama Bin Laden’s intent to attack the US. The official disclosed information contained in the classified National Intelligence Estimate of 1995 and 1997. The release of information came less than a day after the 9/11 Commission criticized the CIA for failing to recognize al-Qaida as a formal terrorist organization until 1999.
Meanwhile the New York Times is reporting the White House may pre-empt the Sept. 11 commission’s final report this summer by embracing a proposal to create a powerful new post of director of national intelligence, administration officials. The director would be put in charge of the government’s 15 different intelligence agencies.
The Environmental Protection Agency has determined that more one half of the country lives in areas with air quality below federal standards. A total of 474 counties were cited for having too much smog-causing pollution. The dirtiest sections identified were all in California. We’ll have more on this story later in the show.
South Africa the African National Congress strengthened its power in the country’s Parliament this week by winning 70 percent in an election that marked the 10th anniversary of the ANC’s historic rise to power in post-apartheid South Africa.
In South Korea, the liberal Uri Party has won a majority of seats in the country’s National Assembly in what the Washington Post describes as the country’s sharpest shift to the left in four decades. The election results are seen as a response to conservative lawmakers’ vote last month to impeach South Korean president.
Bush In campaign news, Senator John Kerry accused President Bush of manipulating fears about security for political gain. Kerry said "Home base for George Bush, as we saw to the nth degree in the press conference, is terror. Ask him a question, he’s going to terror."