Hamas appears to have taken control of nearly the entire Gaza Strip as its battle with rival Palestinian faction Fatah continues to escalate. At least 21 people were killed in internal violence Wednesday, bringing this week’s toll to 80. Hamas forces continue to seize key Fatah positions in Gaza. Earlier today gunmen took control of the headquarters of the Preventive Security forces. Witnesses say Fatah guards were pulled from the compound and executed in the street. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has for the first time ordered members of his elite guard to strike back.
Gaza’s civilian population is bearing the brunt on top of the dire humanitarian situation brought on by Israeli attacks and closures. Hospitals are operating without water, electricity and functioning blood units — some even coming under attack.
Unidentified woman: "He was in the hospital when they shot him. Look, see his head. They were doing a surgery for him, here inside the hospital. They killed you, they killed you."
More than 1,000 people emerged from their homes to hold a peaceful rally calling for an end to the violence.
Islamic Jihad leader Khaled al-Batsh: "We are demonstrating today in the Gaza Strip to say one word to Hamas and Fatah: to stop the clashes, to stop the violence between the brothers and to end all kind of clashes between Fatah and Hamas, because this violence destroys and demolishes our dream to be in a free Palestine."
The marchers, including women and children, converged on a beachfront neighborhood that has been a daily site of fighting. The marchers stood in the crossroads separating gunmen from both sides. But they were forced to disperse when unidentified attackers opened fire, killing two people.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr, a political independent, said the fighting could be calmed by a resumption of peace talks and end to the international boycott on the Palestinian government.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Ziad Abu Amr: "In order to salvage the situation, perhaps we need to go back to peace negotiations immediately. We need to resume economic assistance for the Palestinian people. We need to engage the Palestinians constructively. We need to end a political siege. So this is the way to help the Palestinians solve that internal violence and problems instead of locking them into this cage, putting them under siege, having them live under the most adversarial conditions."
Meanwhile, the United Nations relief agency has suspended most of its operations in Gaza following the shooting of two of its employees.
United Nations Relief and Works Agency representative John Ging: "We hope that the situation will calm down and that we will be able to reserve our services, and we will resume our services imminently when it does. But in the meantime, we call on those, everybody who can help, to calm the situation down locally, regionally and internationally to help. Palestinians, the decent civilized people of the Gaza Strip, have lived in misery for far too long, and this is just too much."
The turmoil in Gaza comes as new details emerge about criticism from a former top U.N. envoy on the U.S. and U.N. role in Israel and the Occupied Territories. In a confidential report disclosed earlier this week, Alvaro de Soto condemns the boycott on the Palestinian government and says the U.S. and Israel have virtually neutralized prospects for peace. De Soto said the Bush administration had relied on a small group of Palestinian contacts who "tell them what they want to hear." De Soto also faulted the Middle East Quartet of the U.N., U.S., European Union and Russia for abandoning pressure on Israel. He writes: "With all focus on the failings of Hamas, the Israeli settlement enterprise and barrier construction has continued unabated." De Soto also says the U.N. should consider dropping out of the Quartet unless its policies are changed.
Meanwhile in Israel, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak has won the race for leadership of Israel’s Labor Party. Barak beat out former intelligence chief Ami Ayalon. Ayalon has been one of the few Israeli leaders to call for negotiated peace based on a near-complete withdrawal from the Occupied Territories.
In Iraq, several Sunni mosques came under attack within hours of Wednesday’s bombing of the Askariya Shiite shrine in Samarra. At least five people were killed in bombings of four mosques in Basra. Another four mosques were attacked or burned around Baghdad. The Iraqi government has imposed a national curfew amid fears of a repeat of the violence that followed the first attack on the Askariya mosque last year. Speaking at the United Nations, Iraqi imam Sheikh Majid Ismail Mohammed al-Hafeed warned of the attack’s significance.
Sheikh Majid Ismail Mohammed al-Hafeed: "If it was another mosque in another place, maybe it would be different from this special mosque, because it is not a memento of Shiites only, it is a Sunni area. It is a symbol of unity for the whole area for the past 13 centuries."
In Lebanon, an anti-Syrian lawmaker was among 10 people killed in a car bombing Wednesday in Beirut. It was the sixth attack to hit the Lebanese capital in the last month. Walid Eido was an ally of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was killed in a car bombing two years ago. Al-Hariri’s son, Saad al-Hariri, blamed Syria for the latest attack.
Saad al-Hariri: "The martyrs Walid Eido and his son, the flower of martyrs, the lawyer Khaled, and others have joined the trail of martyrs for freedom in the battle to turn Lebanon into a submissive country and hijack its decision. It’s the same hands which assassinated Rafik al-Hariri and other martyrs. It’s the hands of evil and its apparatus."
In South Africa, tens of thousands of union workers and supporters filled streets across the country yesterday amid a continuing strike for better wages.
Thulas Nxesi of the South African Democratic Teachers Union: "Well, the anger, the frustration and the militancy which we saw today is demonstrating that the workers in their thousands, they are ready to fight for what they are looking for. We are definitely satisfied with the turnout. The turnout on its own says a lot, and it speaks for itself."
In Cuba, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez emerged from a lengthy meeting with his Cuban counterpart Fidel Castro to predict Castro was near a full recovery from intestinal surgery.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez: "Yesterday, Fidel and I were like baseball players warming up before a game, warming up for six hours. And I want to tell you that Fidel is 90 miles down the road of recovery — a very long way."
The Sudanese government has announced it will accept a new deal on a joint U.N.-African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur. The accord would put at least 20,000 troops and police on the ground. Critics say Sudan is likely to backtrack or impose new conditions, but Sudanese envoy Mutrif Siddig said this is not the case.
Sudanese envoy Mutrif Siddig: "So we have full understanding we are not now posing or setting any conditions for the operations. It will operate according to the agreed understanding between the three parties."
On Capitol Hill, two former White House aides have been subpoenaed in the ongoing probe into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys. The House and Senate judiciary committees want to question former White House counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor over their roles in the scandal.
A veteran Republican operative and lobbyist has joined the White House as President Bush’s new chief counselor. Edward Gillepsie will replace Dan Bartlett, who steps down this month. Gillespie is one of Washington’s top corporate lobbyists. His firm Quinn Gillespie pulled in nearly $17 million last year. Don Simon, a former general counsel with the watchdog group Common Cause said: "Someone who is at the top of the corporate lobbying world is going into the top of the White House staff, and it shows the sometimes incestuous relationship between lobbyists and government."
An American Iraq War veteran has been given a general discharge with honorable conditions after he was reprimanded for wearing his uniform during an antiwar protest. Adam Kokesh is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. The military began investigating him after The Washington Post published a photograph of him at an antiwar protest in March to mark the fourth anniversary of the war.
In Chicago, students and faculty at DePaul University are taking action over an academic freedom controversy that is drawing increasing national attention. Last week the university announced it would deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein, one of the most prominent critics of the Israeli government in American academia. The Political Science Department and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recommended tenure for Finkelstein, but the college’s dean and the University Board on Promotion and Tenure recommended against it. In another controversial move, DePaul also said it was denying tenure to Professor Mehrene Larudee, who was set to become chair of her department. Larudee had the unanimous support of her department, the college personnel committee and the dean. Critics say she was targeted because she supported Finkelstein’s case. More than 50 people turned out for a demonstration in support of the two professors on Wednesday. Student supporters have held a 24-hour sit-in at the DePaul president’s office.
DePaul student Evan Lorendo: "We’ve all had these professors, and they’re great people. They’re great members of society. They try so hard for social justice. The way DePaul has totally overlooked them for tenure is absolutely terrible. There’s been outside influence, especially in Professor Finkelstein’s case. Alan Dershowitz from Harvard has been actively lobbying against him. We’re fighting for their tenure and their right to teach and academic freedom."
Meanwhile, the Chicago Sun-Times is reporting DePaul’s faculty association is considering taking votes of no confidence in the school president and other administrators in light of the tenure denials.