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The top humanitarian official at the United Nations has lashed out at Israel for unleashing a deluge of cluster bombs in the final hours of its invasion of Lebanon. The official, UN Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland, says the cluster bombs have affected large residential and farming areas and could be on the ground for years.
Jan Egeland went on to say some of the cluster bombs came from the United States and urged the Bush administration to stem further shipments. Egeland also addressed Israel’s ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip.
Egeland’s comments come as Israel says it’s completed a six-day incursion into Gaza that killed at least eighteen Palestinians. The Israeli army says it uncovered a tunnel that had been dug to launch attacks on its soldiers. Meanwhile in the West Bank, Israeli troops have killed a top commander of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades during a raid on the city of Nablus.
Back in Lebanon, Hezbollah has repeated calls for a negotiated prisoner exchange with Israel. This is Hezbollah member and Lebanese Minister of Water and Energy Mohammed Fneish.
Israel has publicly dismissed calls for a prisoner swap.
Meanwhile the Israeli government has rejected UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s call for an end to its air and sea blockade of Lebanon. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says the blockade will continue until his government determines Lebanon has complied with the UN’s ceasefire resolution.
Kofi Annan was in the West Bank Wednesday for meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. At a joint news conference, Annan said ending Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land is the key to peace in the Middle East.
Annan also said the Arab League is preparing to revive the four-year old Beirut initiative that offers Israel a comprehensive peace agreement in return for its full withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 War. Annan says the offer will be discussed at a meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Cairo next week. Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni says Israel will oppose the effort because it prefers to reach separate agreements with individual countries.
In Lebanon, Prime Minister Foud Siniora said Wednesday his government will no longer deal with Israel directly and would be the last to sign a peace deal with it because of the recent invasion. Siniora also announced his government will pay $33,000 dollars to Lebanese whose homes were destroyed by Israeli attacks. Siniora says some 130,000 housing units were damaged or destroyed in the thirty-four day war.
The State Department announced Wednesday US assistance could start reaching Lebanon by next week. The delivery had been put into question after a high-ranking Congressmember announced this week he would ask the Bush administration to freeze its aid package to Lebanon. The Congressmember, California Democrat Tom Lantos, said the freeze would last until the Lebanese government takes control of its borders and: "displays responsibility." At a press conference in the United Arab Emirates, US Ambassador Michele Sison was asked how the US could reconcile sending aid to Lebanon after giving Israel most of the weaponry that attacked the country.
The administration’s $230 million dollars for Lebanon has been criticized for being at least one-tenth of annual US military aid to Israel. But there are reports that disparity could get even wider. A high-ranking American diplomat tells the Jerusalem Post the Bush administration would "seriously consider" an Israeli request for more money to make up for the large expense of its attack on Lebanon. Israel says it spent close to seven billion dollars and may ask the US for up to two billion. Critics say an aid increase would bolster speculation the US had a role in encouraging Israel’s attack on Lebanon. Earlier this month, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reported the US helped plan the Lebanon war in part to remove Hezbollah as a deterrent to a potential bombing of Iran. In his interview with the Jerusalem Post, the US diplomat denied Hersh’s report but admitted the administration was not surprised by Israel’s decision to attack.
In other news, the Washington Times is reporting the Pentagon is drafting war plans under the assumption Iran is five to eight years away from being able to build its first nuclear weapon. Defense sources say the time-frame gives the Bush administration additional leeway to decide on whether to launch military strikes.
Iran faces a United Nations Security Council deadline today to stop enriching uranium. At the UN Wednesday, US Ambassador John Bolton warned the US will seek sanctions if Iran fails to comply.
The New York Times is reporting the push for sanctions may be hampered by a new report today from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The report says Tehran has made only slow progress in uranium enrichment and doesn’t have the capability to produce uranium for nuclear weapons. Iran continues to insist its nuclear program is peaceful and should be dealt with as part of comprehensive negotiations. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi spoke earlier today on a visit to Japan.
In Sri Lanka, international truce monitors are accusing government forces of being behind this month’s massacre of seventeen local aid workers. The workers were all employees of the French group Action Against Hunger.
The Sri Lankan government angrily rejects the charges and says it’s carrying out its own investigation.
In Chile, President Michelle Bachelet declared a new National Day Wednesday to honor the thousands killed during Chile’s seventeen-year dictatorship. Bachelet made the announcement from the site of the US-backed coup that overthrew president Salvador Allende.
Scores of relatives of the disappeared attended the ceremony. Bachelet herself is a former political prisoner.
In Darfur, the International Committee of the Red Cross has announced the killing of one its aid workers. The Red Cross did not release his name. The worker was kidnapped there two weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the Sudanese government has charged a visiting American journalist with espionage. Paul Salopek, who won two Pulitzer Prizes as foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, was arrested three weeks ago in Darfur. He’s in the region on a freelance assignment for National Geographic Magazine. He faces several years in prison. In a statement, Chicago Tribune Editor and Senior Vice President Ann Marie Lipinski said Salopek is "one of the most accomplished and admired journalists of our time… We are deeply worried about Paul and his well-being, and appeal to the government of Sudan to return him safely home."
Here in the United States, the state of California has announced a landmark deal that will impose this country’s first broad limits on emissions of greenhouse gases. The measure would target power plants, oil refineries and cement factories to reduce California’s emissions by one-quarter over the next fourteen years. Democratic lawmakers and Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger struck the deal over the objections of the Bush administration and local business leaders. California currently accounts for two percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
President Bush is in Utah today where he’s expected to launch a new public relations blitz in defense of the Iraq war. The Washington Post reports the President’s speech will be the first of many accusing Democrats of aiming to appease terrorists and cut off funding for troops on the battlefield. Under questioning from reporters, White House officials were unable to cite one major Democrat who has proposed cutting off funds to US troops. On Wednesday, President Bush insisted his new speeches are not political, saying: "I seriously hope people wouldn’t politicize these issues that I’m going to talk about." His comments come one day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld likened critics of the war in Iraq to those who tried to appease Nazi Germany during the 1930s. He was speaking to the American Legion veterans group in Salt Lake City — the same group the President will address today.
And as President Bush begins his PR effort, the Washington Post is reporting the Pentagon has tendered a new twenty-million dollar contract to promote more "positive" news coverage of the Iraq war. The contract calls on bidders to monitor and analyze news coverage in the US and international media. The stories would be analyzed for their tone and attitude towards US military operations and used as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military. A public relations industry source said the Pentagon has been "overwhelmed" by news stories that have differed from how the military originally wanted them transmitted.