Independent tallies have confirmed the claim of an Afghan human rights group that the U.S.-led NATO force has killed more civilians than the Taliban in the first half of this year. U.N. figures show at least 314 civilians died in NATO bombings this year; 279 were killed by the Taliban. The NATO figure does not include anywhere from 45 to 80 civilians reportedly killed in a NATO bombing in Helmand province last week. The Los Angeles Times reports Afghan police recently barred journalists from the scene of a suicide attack on a U.S. military convoy. The police officers explained: "Don’t go close. The Americans might shoot you."
In Iraq, U.S. fighter jets carried out airstrikes on the Sadr City district of Baghdad Thursday, injuring three people and destroying several vehicles in a parking lot. Meanwhile, ground troops carried out raids on dozens of homes. Six people were arrested, including two teenage boys. Their mother, Umm Nour, pleaded for their return.
Umm Nour: "They stormed the house and took my two sons. They took both of them. They are both sick and weak. Please let them free my sons. I want nothing but their freedom."
Australia’s defense minister is attracting controversy for admitting oil has been a major reason for the Iraq War. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Brendan Nelson was asked if oil is a factor in why Australia remains in Iraq.
Australian Defense Minister Brendan Nelson: "The defense update we’re releasing today sets out many priorities for Australia’s defense and security, and resource security is one of them. And obviously the Middle East itself, not only Iraq but the entire region, is an important supplier of energy, oil in particular, to the rest of the world, and Australians and all of us need to think, well, what would happen if there were a premature withdrawal from Iraq."
Australian Prime Minister John Howard quickly distanced himself from Nelson’s comments. He said: "A lot of oil comes from the Middle East, we all know that, but the reason we remain there is we want to give the people of Iraq a possibility of embracing democracy."
New Mexico Senator Pete Domenici has become the latest Republican to abandon the Bush administration on Iraq. On Thursday, Domenici said he would support legislation that would withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq by March of 2008. Domenici is up for re-election. He says he changed his stance following recent conversations with the families of dead soldiers from his home state. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid welcomed Domenici’s shift, but added: "Republicans will have the opportunity to not just say the right things on Iraq but vote the right way, too, so that we can bring the responsible end to this war that the American people demand and deserve." The Senate reconvenes next week to vote on a series of measures that would cut off war funding and set a date for withdrawal.
Meanwhile, a McClatchy newspaper with a large military audience has come out for a withdrawal from Iraq. In an editorial published on the 4th of July, The Olympian newspaper of Olympia, Washington, says the war in Iraq "isn’t worth a single more American life." The Olympian reaches nearby Fort Lewis and McChord Air Force Base.
In Israel and the Occupied Territories, an Israeli human rights group is warning the blockade on Gaza threatens to destroy Gaza’s already depleted commercial sector and encourage local support for violent extremism. According to Gisha, three-quarters of Gaza’s factories have closed in just three weeks due to a ban on importing or exporting goods. The price for raw materials has risen by up to 34 percent. Thirty thousand people, or one-tenth of the workforce, are expected to lose their jobs. And in a further setback, the local U.N. relief groups are expected to announce today an end to all construction projects in Gaza because Israel won’t allow the import of cement. An Israeli military official involved in Gaza policy described Israel’s strategy there as "no development, no progress, no humanitarian crisis."
Meanwhile, Israeli forces have pulled out of Gaza following a raid that killed at least 11 militants and left more than 20 people wounded. A Palestinian cameraman was shot as he filmed clashes between Palestinian militants and Israeli troops. Imad Ghanem was near a group of Palestinian gunmen when he was hit by Israeli bullets. Footage of the attack shows he came under continued fire as he lay on the ground next to his camera. A group of Palestinians tried to rescue him but were sent back as the firing continued. Ghanem was finally rushed to the hospital, where doctors were forced to amputate both his legs.
The newly freed BBC journalist Alan Johnston met with Palestinian President Mahmmoud Abbas in Ramallah Thursday. Johnston was released on Wednesday after nearly four months in captivity. Johnston thanked Abbas for his efforts.
Alan Johnston: "Thank you to President Abbas for his support and all his troubles. I had a radio, and I was aware of how much he was doing to try and secure my release. I also have come to the West Bank to say thank you so much with all my heart for all the Palestinians here, especially to the civil society organization and especially to the journalists in the West Bank in Nablus, in Jenin, in Ramallah, who campaigned so often and so passionately to try and secure my release."
Johnston is expected to return home to Scotland on Saturday.
Johnston was freed following an undisclosed deal between Hamas leaders and his militant captors. Meanwhile in Gaza, Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas deserved international recognition.
Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum: "What we have put forth is a great achievement for the Arab world and Muslim world, the Palestinian people and entire world. This achievement should really affect the world attitude regarding the recognition of the Hamas movement and the Palestinian Authority and to recognize the Palestinian cause. We are a people who want to share with the world under the international system in order to support our rights and expectations."
In Pakistan, Islamic students holed up in an Islamabad mosque are vowing a fight to the death in their four-day standoff with government forces. Tensions that have brewed for months came to a head this week after militant students reportedly kidnapped six Chinese prostitutes. An ensuing raid by government forces led to clashes that killed 19 people. More than 1,000 students are believed to remain inside. One surrendering student, identified as Bano, described the scene inside the mosque.
Bano: "And dead bodies are also lying inside, two Mujahideen brothers who were martyred last night, then an elderly sister who died the first day and a girl who died yesterday morning. She went onto the roof and was shot. There are four bodies lying in there."
In Yemen, hundreds of people gathered in Sana’a Thursday to condemn a suicide attack that killed seven Spanish tourists and two Yemenis.
Mohamad Alqusi: "We all came here to present our condolences to the families and friends of the Spanish victims. We are with them. Our hearts are with their families. And we, the Yemeni people, are united as one against terrorists."
In Argentina, a former police chaplain has gone on trial for alleged involvement in torture, kidnapping and murder of dissidents during Argentina’s "dirty war." Roman Catholic priest Christian von Wernich is the first clergy member to go on trial for crimes committed by several U.S.-backed military regimes in Latin America during the 1970s and 1980s.
Argentina researcher and activist Horacio Verbitsky: "The case of von Wernich is an extreme. There is a point at which it’s impossible to distinguish the priest from a cop. I mean, he was personally torturing people. So, it is an extreme, but it is an extreme within a continuum."
In Colombia, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Bogota Thursday to call for an end to the conflict between government forces and rebel groups. Eleven hostages were killed in a botched military rescue mission last week.
Yolando Pulecio, mother of the kidnapped political Ingrid Betancourt: "They (the government and the FARC) must converse to free the hostages. It is about a conversation, not with violence or military operations, not with bombs or anything else."
The U.N.'s top environmental official has backed Cuban President Fidel Castro's recent warnings that the U.S.-backed reliance on ethanol production will increase food prices and global hunger. U.N. Environment Program head Achim Steiner spoke Wednesday in Havana.
U.N. Environment Program head Achim Steiner: "What President Castro points to is something that, for instance, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization has also recently also pointed to, that there is significant potential and risk for competition between food production and production for a global biofuels markets. The latest scientific consensus is that we have 10 to 15 years to initiate the kinds of changes that will require fundamental transformations in our energy and transport economies."
Steiner went on to praise Cuba for solving its energy shortages without undermining a pledge to promote environmentally friendly fuels. Steiner says Cuba has taken important steps toward reliance on wind and solar power.
And back in the United States, an African-American prisoner in Georgia has been given an execution date for later this month despite several questions surrounding his conviction. Troy Davis was convicted of killing an off-duty police officer in 1989. Amnesty International has rallied behind his case, arguing that no physical evidence connected him to the crime. Seven out of nine prosecution witnesses have since recanted their testimony that was used to convict him for murder. Jurors were also unaware several witnesses signed affidavits under pressure from police — including one witness who said he had not read what he signed.