The Wall Street Journal is reporting the Bush administration is leaning toward sending up to 20,000 more troops to Iraq. Aides say no final decisions have been made, but that the White House has been receptive to calls to increase the current contingent of 140,000. The plan would come against growing public opposition — a poll this week showed just 12 percent of Americans support a troop increase in Iraq.
Word of the apparent plan comes as the Army’s top general has warned his force "will break" without an influx of thousands of active-duty troops and reserves. Testifying on Capitol Hill Thursday, General Peter J. Schoomaker said current demands would require an increase of at least 7,000 troops per year.
In the Occupied Territories, fears of a Palestinian civil war are growing as violence continues to engulf Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas. On Thursday, a convoy carrying Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh was attacked after crossing into the Gaza Strip. One of Haniyeh’s bodyguards was killed, while Haniyeh’s son was wounded with light injuries. Palestinian border guards linked to Fatah had initially obeyed orders from Israel to block Haniyeh’s entrance. The guards also refused to let Haniyeh bring $35 million in cash he had collected on a foreign trip to help ease the economic crisis in Gaza. Earlier Thursday, Linda Balousha, the mother of three young children murdered on their way to school Monday, appealed for national unity.
Linda Balousha: "I lost my three children, but I would like to keep the children that I have. This is why I say speak up. Enough injustice. Let us forget what faction we belong to. Let us all be one people and to care for our children. Our blood is not cheap for us, not cheap for our families, nor our children. Save your blood. Enough of the disregard of lives. Enough of the disregard of the people living here as if they don’t exist, as if all that exists is the factions and the people are at the bottom of the chain."
Meanwhile, in Israel, the Supreme Court has upheld the military’s practice of "targeted killings" in the Occupied Territories. On Thursday, the court rejected a petition from Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups that the targeted killings violate international law. According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, the more than 200 "targeted killings" have killed 129 civilian bystanders.
In Afghanistan, hundreds of people rallied in the southeastern province of Khost Thursday against a U.S.-led raid that killed at least four civilians, including a teenage girl.
Abdul Sobhain, a tribal leader in the village of Dornami: "We gathered here to express our anger at the brutal killing of four men and one young woman in a family the day before yesterday by foreigner soldiers. The foreign soldiers entered the house of a family from the Mandozai tribe and killed innocent people. We want to know why these innocent people have been killed."
At the United Nations, the veteran South Korean diplomat Ban Ki-moon was sworn in Thursday as the U.N.’s eighth secretary-general.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "By strengthening the three pillars of our United Nations — security, development and human rights — we can build a more peaceful, more prosperous and more just world for our succeeding generations. As we pursue our collective endeavor to reach that goal, my first priority will be to restore trust. I will seek to act as a harmonizer and bridge builder."
In one of his last addresses, outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised his successor.
Outgoing U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: "I depart convinced that today’s United Nations does more than ever before. It does it better than ever before. Yet our work is far from complete. Indeed, it will never be. It falls to my successor to carry forward the U.N.'s valuable mission. From the contacts I've had with him, I already know that you have chosen well. Our organization will be in safe hands."
Annan steps down at the end of the month.
In other U.N. news, outgoing U.S. Ambassador John Bolton joined a group of international lawyers and former diplomats Thursday to announce plans to charge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with inciting genocide against Israel. Ahmadinejad has called for Israel’s elimination and this week said Israel would soon be "wiped out."
U.N. Ambassador John Bolton: "In the case of Ahmadinejad, not only is what he says outrageous and unacceptable, but what he’s doing about it and what his government is doing about it demonstrates that this is not merely a series of statements about his intentions. His government is seeking to acquire the capabilities to do exactly what he’s talking about."
The Bush administration has issued another public rejection of the Iraq Study Group’s call to open talks with Syria and Iran. In an interview with The Washington Post, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the cost of reaching a deal with Iran and Syria would be too high.
The White House also denounced Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida for meeting this week with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But more senators are on their way to Damascus. Democratic Senators Christopher Dodd of Connecticut and John Kerry of Massachusetts and Republican Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania have all announced plans to visit Syria within the next month.
In Britain, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes has lost its appeal of a decision not to charge any of the police officers involved in his shooting death. De Menezes was the innocent Brazilian man shot in the London subway last year after police mistook him to be a possible terrorist.
Back in the United States, Democratic Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota is said to be in stable, yet critical condition following an emergency operation to stop bleeding in his brain. Johnson’s illness could hand Senate control back to Republicans. If Johnson is forced to give up his seat, South Dakota Republican Governor Mike Rounds would choose his replacement. If Rounds were to choose a Republican, that would mean a 50-50 tie in the Senate. That would hand control back to Republicans because Vice President Dick Cheney would hold the tie-breaking vote.
In Florida, opponents of the death penalty have filed a petition to halt lethal injection after an execution of a death row prisoner took more than half an hour. The prisoner, murder convict Angel Diaz, was killed Wednesday by a three-drug cocktail used in Florida and other death penalty states. Witnesses reported Diaz appeared to suffer and had to have the drugs administered twice. Petitioners are asking the state Supreme Court to halt lethal injunction and order an autopsy on Diaz’s body. Diaz is a native of Puerto Rico. He was executed over the objections of Puerto Rican officials including Governor Acevedo Vila and Senate President Kenneth McClintock.
In Miami, a jailed man accused of leading the so-called Miami 7 has spoken out for the first time since his arrest last June. The man, Narseal Batiste, is one of seven charged with conspiring to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and FBI buildings in five cities. The case has drawn scrutiny because it appears to rest entirely on Batiste’s conversations with an FBI informant posing as a representative of al-Qaeda. The FBI later described the alleged plot as "aspirational rather than operational." In an open letter, Batiste said his group never had terrorist intentions and only told the informant what he thought the informant wanted to hear so he could solicit money for his religious group.
In New Jersey, state lawmakers legalized same-sex civil unions Thursday but said those civil unions cannot be called "marriage." The measure follows October’s ruling by New Jersey’s Supreme Court the state must grant gay couples the same legal rights as married heterosexuals.
In North Carolina, the woman at the center of the Duke lacrosse rape case is pregnant and due to give birth — roughly nine months after the party where she says she was assaulted and raped. The woman, an African American, was hired as a dancer for a lacrosse team party held in a house rented from Duke University. There she says she was beaten, raped and choked by three white lacrosse team members who also called her racial epithets. All three players have proclaimed their innocence.
And a federal appeals court has upheld the rejection of a case brought by descendants of slaves seeking reparations from several large American corporations. The court ruled slave descendants have no grounds to sue over injustices suffered by their ancestors and that the statute of limitations expired more than a century ago. But in a decision hailed by reparations advocates, the court ruled companies that try to conceal their past links to slavery can be charged with fraud.