Israel is warning some 300,000 Lebanese to abandon their homes as it edges towards a full-on ground invasion of southern Lebanon. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting thousands of Israeli troops are already operating inside the Lebanese border. The Israel Defense Forces is preparing to call up thousands of reserve troops. Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr told the Arabic television network Al Jazeera Thursday Lebanon would resist an Israeli attack.
Meanwhile, the bombardment of Lebanon continues. At least thirty Lebanese were killed Thursday. The Lebanese death toll stands at around 320 — almost all civilians. Earlier today, Israeli warplanes attacked Lebanon’s main highway to Syria. Several passenger buses were set on fire but no casualties were reported.
The World Food Program says damage to roads and bridges has almost completely disrupted the food supply chain, hurting large numbers of the estimated 500,000 people displaced by the attack. The situation in the southern Lebanese village of Tyre is getting worse by the day. The Los Angeles Times reports: "Civil structure appears to have broken down almost completely. Ambulances haven’t been able to operate. The dead are rotting in the rubble of smashed homes. Food and clean drinking water are running out."
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told Al Jazeera Thursday the two captured Israeli soldiers will be freed only as part of a prisoner exchange through indirect negotiations. Nasrallah also denied Israel’s claim it had struck a meeting of top Hezbollah leaders late Wednesday.
Hezbollah continues to launch rockets at Israeli towns. Earlier today, ten Israelis were wounded in an attack on Haifa. One person sustained serious injuries. More than forty Katyusha rockets landed in several cities Thursday but no casualties were reported. Fifteen Israeli civilians have been killed by Hezbollah rockets since fighting began. Nineteen soldiers have lost their lives, including four on Thursday. Inside northern Israel, a United Nations observation post was badly damaged when it was struck by what officials said was an Israeli shell. At the United Nations, Secretary General Koffi Annan warned of a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon and appealed for a ceasefire.
Annan went on to say he deplored Hezbollah’s actions but also condemned what he called Israel’s "excessive use of force." Israel and the United States continue to reject calls for a ceasefire.
Meanwhile, Lebanese envoy Nouhad Mahmoud said Israel is attempting to destroy Lebanon.
At least 2,000 Americans were evacuated from Beirut Thursday, the largest single-day total so far. Evacuees have begun arriving in the US. On Thursday, more than 160 people landed in Baltimore. Tarek Dika, a resident of Michigan, talked about what he left behind.
Demonstrations against the attack on Lebanon continue world-wide. On Thursday, more than 2,000 people marched in Venezuela. An estimated 10,000 people took to the streets of Madrid. Other demonstrations were held in Mexico, El Salvador, Malaysia and Indonesia. Meanwhile in Israel, a group of Israeli peace activists held a demonstration in the city of Haifa.
The US government continues to back Israel’s actions. On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a resolution supporting the attack on Lebanon. The final vote was 410 to 8. The Senate unanimously passed a similar measure earlier this week.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to attack the Gaza Strip. Earlier today, four Palestinians were killed in an attack on a home in Gaza City. The dead included a mother, her two children and a man Israel claims fired at Israeli troops. On Thursday, at least six Palestinians were killed and fifteen wounded as Israel shelled areas by land, sea, and air. A ten-year girl died Thursday of wounds sustained in an Israeli attack the day before. Meanwhile, an Israeli naval boat shelled a road used by Palestinian emergency vehicles. One ambulance was damaged in the attack. More than one hundred Palestinians have now died in the siege following the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The Associated Press is reporting the Israeli army has officially adopted a policy of attacking homes in residential areas where Israel believes weapons are being stored. Israel has dropped leaflets warning Gaza’s residents to destroy any weapons or ammunition in their homes or face "dangerous consequences." The attack on Gaza continues to receive international criticism. The International Committee of the Red Cross is demanding Israel end its of blockade of the Palestinian Red Crescent in Nablus. The Red Cross says Israel is hindering the movement of ambulances and patients. Meanwhile, a UN human rights official is calling for an independent inquiry into whether Israel’s recent bombing of Gaza’s only power station constitutes a war crime. The official, Paul Hunt, said the bombing has worsened Gaza’s humanitarian crisis by leaving thousands without water and effective sewage disposal. According to Hunt, the attack may be a crime because international law prohibits attacks on civilians.
In Iraq, at least fifty people were killed in violent attacks around the country Thursday. Newly-released data underscores the severity of the violence. On Thursday, Baghdad’s morgue said it has taken in more than one thousand bodies so far this month. Meanwhile, the government said the number of people fleeing their homes is higher than previously thought. More than thirty thousand people have registered as refugees this month alone. The violence in Baghdad is only increasing. According to the US military, bombings and shootings increased by more than forty percent in the past week.
In Afghanistan, a government inquiry has concluded a US-led bombing campaign was responsible for the deaths of at least ten civilians last week. The bombing occurred in a village in southern Afghanistan, where the US is leading a heavy offensive against Taliban insurgents. A government official says many of the dead were women and children. Another twenty-seven civilians were wounded in the attack.
In Cambodia, a former Khmer Rouge military commander accused of committing genocide has died. Ta Mok, known also by his nickname "The Butcher" was one of just two surviving Khemer Rouge leaders facing prosecution for their roles in the Pol Pot regime.
Here in the United States, the Senate voted Thursday to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act for another quarter-century. The bill will now be sent to President Bush.
The vote came hours after Bush gave his first ever address to the NAACP. He had previously refused to address the civil rights group during every year of his presidency. Several audience members made peace signs while at least two heckled the President over the current crisis in the Middle East.
In other news, a federal judge has rejected the Bush administration’s attempt to dismiss a major lawsuit over its secret domestic spy program. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is suing AT&T over its alleged involvement in the surveillance of US citizens. The Bush administration had argued the case could expose state secrets and jeopardize the war on terror. But U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said the case is unlikely to reveal much new information since the spying has already received extensive public attention. The ruling could have a major impact on dozens of pending cases against telecom companies and the US government.
In Connecticut, a new poll shows Ned Lamont is holding a razor thin lead over Senator Joe Lieberman ahead of next month’s Democratic primary. Lieberman has vowed to run as an independent in the event of a loss. The same poll shows Lieberman would retain his Senate seat in a three way race along with Lamont and the Republican challenger. But Lamont would win the Senate seat in a two-person race against a Republican opponent.
And in Las Vegas, city council members have established a new punishable offense —-— feeding the homeless. On Wednesday, the Las Vegas City Council voted to outlaw the presence of mobile soup kitchens in public parks. Anyone caught serving food to the homeless will be subject to a misdemeanor charge. City officials say they’ve enacted the law because soup kitchens have kept people away from visiting public spaces. The American Civil Liberties Union has harshly criticized the measure, calling it both unconstitutional and unenforceable. But Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman said the law will be enforceable because: "Certain truths are self-evident. You know who’s homeless."