U.S. Launches New Offensive as Iraq Bombing Kills Dozens

In Iraq up to eighty people were killed and more than eighty-five wounded in a suicide truck bombing on a Baghdad mosque. The attack came as the U.S. military launched one of its largest operations of the Iraq war. At least ten thousand troops have been deployed around Diyala province against what the military says are al-Qaeda groups.

Iraqi Red Crescent: Internal Displacements Quadruple in ‘07

Meanwhile Iraq’s largest aid group is warning a record number of civilians, mostly women and children, are fleeing their homes to avoid worsening violence. In a new report, the Iraqi Red Crescent says the number of internal refugees has quadrupled since January. An increasing number of pregnant women are being forced to obtain illegal abortions because of a lack of available medical care.

Bush Olmert Vow Abbas Support, Gaza Blockade

In Washington, President Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Tuesday to voice support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and back the continued isolation of the Gaza Strip. Abbas dismissed the democratically-elected Hamas-led government last week after Hamas forces seized control of Gaza. The U.S. has lifted the aid embargo on the West Bank while promising to tighten the blockade on Gaza. President Bush said he hopes Abbas will lead Palestinians in a "different direction."

President Bush: "Our hope is that President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad who is a good fellow will be strengthened to the point where they will be able to lead the Palestinians in a different direction with a different hope. The Prime Minister has spoken to me and I have spoken to him about our desire to help suffering Palestinians. Nobody likes suffering on the border. Nobody likes suffering in the world."

Hundreds Trapped at Gaza Border

Meanwhile Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is growing. Hundreds of Palestinians are trapped in Gaza’s border crossing with Israel trying to flee to the West Bank. An estimated ten people have been let in so far. The Israeli group Physicians for Human Rights is asking Israel’s High Court to order immediate entry for all Palestinians in need of medical treatment.

Palestinian Factions Claim Authority over Gaza

As the situation in Gaza declines, tensions are escalating between the two Palestinian factions. On Tuesday, former Gaza security chief Mohammad Dahlan called Hamas militants in Gaza an occupation force.

Mohammad Dahlan: "The Palestinian National Authority and President Abu Mazen and the PLO is in charge politically and legally of the West Bank and Gaza. There is no place for things that we are hearing and all these matters that took place are illegal, and we will not recognise it at all. In reality, Hamas is besieging the Gaza Strip. We will treat it as an occupation force, but we will not resist the occupation force now."

Senior Hamas leader Khalil Al-Hayya vowed Hamas will not relinquish its new control.

Khalil Al-Hayya: "(Hamas) will be completely taking over legal responsibilities in order to serve. If we have to choose between us and between caretaking for the West Bank, we will take on our full responsibility in Gaza, and we will not allow anyone to take over this responsibility from us, or interfere in the government’s authority."

Cubans Mourn “First Lady” Vilma Espin

In Cuba, memorial services are being planned for Vilma Espin, the late wife of acting Cuban president Raul Castro and widely viewed as the first lady of Cuba. Espin was a key figure in the Cuban Revolution and founded the Cuban Women’s Federation.

Havana resident Francisco Hernandez: "It is a very painful loss, because it deals with one of the heroines of this country, a woman who sacrificed much, who gave everything for the revolution."

Iran, Pakistan Protest Rushdie Knighthood

A diplomatic row is widening over Britain’s decision to knight the writer Salman Rushdie. On Tuesday, Iran told the British embassy the move was a provocative act. In 1989 Iran’s Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini sentenced Rushdie to death because of Rushdie’s depiction of the prophet Mohammad in his book the Sanatic Verses. Pakistan’s national parliament has passed a resolution demanding Britain retract the award. This is Pakistan’s Minister For Religious Affairs, Ijazul Haq.

Pakistan’s Minister For Religious Affairs Ijazul Haq: "People like Salman Rushdie who do not carry any weight anywhere in the world, if we start encouraging people like this I am sorry the gulf between the Western countries and the Muslim Ummah is going to widen. And it has hurt the feelings of every Muslim who is alive, let me tell you this."

Oxfam Pulls Out of Darfur’s Largest Refugee Camp

The international aid group Oxfam has announced it’s pulling out of the largest refugee camp in Darfur. Oxfam says local authorities in Gereida have failed to prevent violence against aid workers. Gereida is under control of the Sudan Liberation Movement, which signed a peace agreement last year.

Senators Demand Probe of GOP “Caging” of Black Voters

In Washington, U.S. Senators Edward Kennedy of Massachusets and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island are demanding a probe into allegations Republicans deliberately tried to prevent people of color from voting in the 2004 elections. Internal emails show Republicans including former Karl Rove aide Tom Griffin sent so-called voter "caging-lists" designed to challenge voters from casting ballots. The caging lists were skewed towards targeting people of color, predominantly African-Americans. Griffin announced his resignation as U.S. attorney in Arkansas earlier this month.

FEC Nominee Accused of Blocking Vote Discrimination Challenges

Meanwhile a former senior Justice Department official is being accused of blocking several challenges to the violation of voting rights of African Americans. In a letter to the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, seven former employees of the Voting Rights Section say the official, Hans von Spakovsky, blocked at least three lawsuits and two investigations into voting discrimination. Von Spakovsky is seeking a new six-year term on the Federal Election Commission. The former employees say his nomination should be rejected.

Judge Blocks Anti-Immigrant Housing Law

A federal judge has blocked a Dallas suburb from enforcing a sweeping anti-immigration law would have barred the rental of homes to most undocumented immigrants. Landlords in Farmers Branch would have been forced to check if renters are U.S. citizens or visa-approved immigrants before giving them a lease. U.S. District Judge Sam Lindsay ruled town officials were trying to regulate immigration separately from the federal government.

New York Mayor Leaves GOP

Here in New York, mayor Michael Bloomberg has announced he’s leaving the Republican party to become an independent. The announcement is fueling speculation Bloomberg is preparing a run for the White House.

Giuliani Dropped out of Iraq Study Group for Paid Speaking Gigs

Meanwhile more news has emerged that could hurt the election chances of former New York mayor, Republican hopeful Rudy Giuliani. Newsday has revealed Giuliani dropped out of the Congress-backed Iraq Study Group last year after he failed to attend a single meeting. Giulani was given an ultimatum to either show up at the sessions or step down. Both of his absent meetings conflicted with scheduled speaking appearances where he collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees.


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