U.S. Lifts Embargo on Palestinian Authority

The United States yesterday has lifted its embargo on direct aid to the Palestinian government in an effort to support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah’s struggle against Hamas. Last week Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. Abbas responded by dismissing the democratically elected Hamas-led government and formed a new cabinet led by a prime minister who has the backing of Israel and the United States.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice: "Hamas has made its choice. It has sought to attempt to extinguish democratic debate with violence and to impose its extremist agenda on the Palestinian people in Gaza. Now responsible Palestinians are making their choice, and it is the duty of the international community to support those Palestinians who wish to build a better life and a future of peace."

Today Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet with President Bush in Washington to discuss the situation. Olmert has said Israel recognizes Abbas’ new government.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: "I promised the Palestinians that our government would consider the new Palestinian government free of any Hamas people as a genuine partner. We will cooperate with this government. We will defreeze monies that we kept under our control because we didn’t want these monies to be taken by Hamas in order to be used for a terrorist action."

Olmert is also expected to urge President Bush to help isolate the Gaza Strip. But humanitarian groups have warned Israel not to cut off Gaza. This is Mazen Al-Aloul, the head of a maternity ward at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza.

Mazen Al-Aloul: "Separate the politics and humanitarian cases. This is a hospital, and we have something like one million and half citizens that are treated in the hospital, and they need all sorts of medicine. Some have cancer, others have kidney problems, and we rely a lot on electric devices, and cutting the power off will be a disaster for the patients, like cutting their lives off."

Report: Israel Planning Invasion of Gaza

Meanwhile, the Times of London reports Israel’s new defense minister, Ehud Barak, is considering an attack on Gaza to crush Hamas. Citing unnamed Israeli military sources, the paper says Israel has drawn up plans to send 20,000 troops into Gaza within weeks if Hamas resumes attacks against Israel.

10,000 U.S. Troops Launch New Offensive in Iraq

In Iraq, about 10,000 U.S. soldiers have launched a major offensive in Baquba targeting alleged al-Qaeda militants. U.S. forces have killed at least 22 people so far.

U.S. Values Iraqi Life at $2,500

Meanwhile, a new government report has raised questions over a U.S. military program to offer financial payments to Iraqis affected by the war. The report found that the military offers a maximum of $2,500 to families of Iraqis civilians killed as a result of U.S. forces. The U.S. offers the same amount of money to Iraqis if their car is destroyed because of U.S. actions.

Iraq Ranked Second Most Unstable Nation in World

A new survey by Foreign Policy magazine has determined Iraq is the second most unstable country in the world, behind Sudan. Afghanistan was ranked eighth in the annual Failed States Index.

Hundreds of Thousands of White House Emails Destroyed

House investigators have learned that the Bush administration has routinely violated federal laws by using private email accounts for official business. At least 88 White House officials have Republican National Committee email accounts, and House investigators say hundreds of thousands of these emails may have been destroyed. President Bush’s top adviser, Karl Rove, sent or received 140,000 emails on his RNC account. According to House investigators, the RNC has preserved only 130 emails sent to Rove during Bush’s first term and no emails sent by Rove prior to November 2003, including the period in the lead-up to the Iraq War. Congressman Henry Waxman accused the Bush administration of completely disregarding the Presidential Records Act.

Scrutiny Increases over Bush’s Use of Signing Statements

A new government study has revealed that federal officials have disobeyed several new laws that President Bush challenged by issuing signing statements. According to The Boston Globe, the report provides the first evidence that the government may have acted on claims by Bush that he can set aside laws under his executive powers. President Bush has used signing statements to challenge more than 1,100 sections of bills — more than all previous presidents combined. Virginia Sloan, of the Constitution Project, condemned the president’s use of signing statements. Sloan said: "This report should put to rest any doubts as to the real impact of signing statements. The Constitution does not bestow upon the president the power to simply ignore portions of laws he doesn’t like." The congressional study did not cover any of President Bush’s most controversial claims such as his assertion that he can set aside a torture ban and new oversight provisions in the USA PATRIOT Act because he is the commander-in-chief.

Court: Gov’t Needs Warrant to Search Emails

Civil liberties advocates are hailing a new federal appeals court ruling that determined that the government cannot secretly search emails without a warrant. The appeals court said protecting emails is "as important to Fourth Amendment principles today as protecting telephone conversations has been in past." The government has contended that emails stored with service providers could be seized without warrants.

Vietnamese Agent Orange Victims Argue Case in NYC Court

Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange appeared in a New York courtroom on Monday to argue that U.S. chemical companies should be held accountable for manufacturing the toxin. One of the plaintiffs, Nguyen Van Quy, said he has suffered from cancer, and two of his children had birth defects.

Nguyen Van Quy: "I am here as a living evidence to tell the people in the court that dioxin really has a negative impact on human beings as well as the environment."

U.S. warplanes dumped about 18 million gallons of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. Constantine Kokkoris is one of the attorneys representing the Vietnamese plaintiffs.

Constantine Kokkoris: "It poisoned an entire country. Even though the effect of that poison was latent, it took a long time to manifest in some cases, it’s still poisoning nonetheless. It’s basically like dropping an atom bomb during a war and then having people affected by radiation for the next 30 years. That’s illegal under international law, and we hope that they’re going to see that point."

The Vietnamese government says more than three million people have been disabled by Agent Orange. But the United States maintains there is no scientifically proven link between the wartime spraying and the disabilities. Attorney Jonathan Moore disputed the claims of the U.S. government.

Jonathan Moore: "Well, we spent three-and-a-half hours listening to issues about Agent Orange and fully vetted our belief that what these companies did during the war was a violation of international law because they used poison and because it was unnecessary and unjustified under any standard. Hopefully the court will agree with this and let us go forward."

Lebanese Gov’t Accused of Torturing Palestinian Detainees

In Lebanon, the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp remains under siege as fighting continues for a fifth week between Lebanese troops and militants from the group Fatah al-Islam. The fighting is Lebanon"s worst internal violence since the civil war ended in 1990. At least 162 people, including 32 civilians, have been killed so far. Meanwhile, human rights organizations have accused the Lebanese government of abusing Palestinian refugees rounded up at the Nahr al-Bared camp.

Caoimhe Butterly, of Voices in the Wilderness: "The patterns that emerged in the gathered testimonies indicate both physical and psychological abuse. In a number of cases, detainees have been told that they would be killed or tortured. Detainees have been told, for example, that their toes would be cut off or that they would be electrocuted. Most detainees have reported being hooded or blindfolded during the beatings, and being handcuffed and forced to kneel in pressured positions for up to a day."

Italian Judge Suspends CIA Rendition Trial

An Italian judge has suspended the trial of 26 CIA agents accused of kidnapping an Islamic cleric from the streets of Milan in 2003. The Italian government has asked the court to throw out the indictments in the politically sensitive case. On Monday the presiding judge suspended the trial until the country’s highest court can rule on the case.

Pakistani Lawmakers Decry British Knighthood for Rushdie

Britain’s decision to honor the writer Salman Rushdie with a knighthood has sparked controversy in Pakistan and Iran. On Monday Pakistan’s National Parliament passed a resolution demanding Britain retract the award. The Pakistani resolution stated that Rushdie is still hated in the Muslim world because of his book The Satanic Verses. In 1989 Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sentenced Rushdie to death because of Rushdie’s depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. Britain has defended the decision to make Rushdie a knight. A government spokesperson said the knighthood is not intended to be an insult to Islam or the Prophet Muhammad.

ABC Reporter Picked to be New Pentagon Spokesperson

In military news, the Pentagon has hired a new press spokesperson — ABC News correspondent Geoff Morrell. Morrell has covered the White House for ABC News since April 2003.

Cuba’s First Lady, Vilma Espin, 77, Dies

The wife of acting Cuban President Raul Castro has died at the age of 77. Vilma Espin was widely viewed as the first lady of Cuba. Espin was a key figure in the Cuban Revolution and founded the Cuban Women’s Federation.

Celebrations Mark Juneteenth

And Juneteenth celebrations are being held today across the country. It was on June 19, 1865, when slaves in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 had abolished slavery.

New York Lawmakers to Apologize for Slavery

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the New York State Assembly are considering passing a bill to officially apologize for slavery in New York. If the bill passes, New York would become the first Northern state to offer an apology for its role in the slave trade.


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