In Israel and the Occupied Territories, at least eighteen Palestinians have been killed in continued Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip. Thursday’s Palestinian toll includes four young boys, killed by bombs as they were playing soccer. The youngest was eight years old. Another Palestinian child was killed along with two adult civilians. Palestinian officials say at least nine Palestinian militants also died. At least thirty-one Palestinians, including nine children, have died in the past two days of Israeli attacks. Israel says it’s responding to Palestinian rocket fire, with forty-five rockets launched from Gaza on Thursday. One Israeli was killed this week in the town of Sderot, the thirteenth Israeli killed by Palestinian rockets in the last seven years. A seventeen-year-old girl was lightly injured Thursday when Palestinian rockets struck the Israeli town of Ashkelon. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is warning of a full-scale Israeli invasion of Gaza. In what could be a first for an Israeli official, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai has threatened a “holocaust” in Gaza if rocket fire continues. Vilnai said, “The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust, because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” An opinion poll taken this week shows 64 percent of Israelis favor a ceasefire with Hamas, the highest majority to date. Hamas has made several proposals for a truce, but the Israeli government has rejected its overtures.
In Iraq, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Baghdad Thursday to protest a US raid on a Sunni neighborhood. Two women were arrested when US troops entered their homes.
Baghdad resident: "We condemn the US forces’ acts. They raided houses at midnight, exploding doors of houses and roofs, houses of peaceful families. They raided them for the sake of nothing, arresting women. They are believers in democracy, as they say, so why did they do this?"
Elsewhere in Baghdad, a funeral was held Thursday for the head of Iraq’s largest journalism organization slain in an apparent targeted attack. Seventy-four-year-old Shihab al-Tamimi died this week from gunshot wounds. He was an independent journalist, known as an outspoken opponent of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq. An Iraqi journalist attending the funeral said Iraq’s journalists are increasingly being targeted.
Hussein Al-Miah: "We send our condolences to all the Iraqi journalists with this serious event that journalists have been inflicted with. Shihab al-Tamimi will not be the last martyr, as the Iraqi journalist became target for (insurgents)."
More than 170 journalists and support workers have been killed in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003.
In other news from the Middle East, the US has deployed three warships, including the USS Cole, off the coast of Lebanon. US officials say the ships were sent to support “regional stability” amidst Lebanon’s ongoing internal political deadlock.
President Bush is dismissing widely feared speculation the nation is headed into a recession. At a White House news conference Thursday, Bush said his recent economic stimulus package would help the nation cope with a slowdown.
President Bush: "I don’t think we’re headed to a recession. But, no question, we’re in a slowdown. And that’s why we acted and acted strongly with over $150 billion worth of pro-growth economic incentives, mainly money going into the hands of our consumers, and some money going to incent businesses to invest, which will create jobs."
Bush went on to renew calls for Congress to approve a surveillance law that would immunize telecommunications companies that aided government spying on US citizens. He also took a backhanded shot at Democratic hopeful Barack Obama over his recent comments promising to sit down with leaders of Iran and Cuba.
President Bush: "The decisions of the US president to have discussions with certain international figures can be extremely counterproductive. It can send chilling signals and messages to our allies. It can send confusion about our foreign policy. It discourages reformers inside their own country. And in my judgment, it would be a mistake, on the two countries you talked about."
On the campaign trail, the fundraising race continues to break new records. On Thursday, Senator Hillary Clinton announced she’s raised $30 million this month. Senator Barack Obama did not disclose his total take, but aides said it was "considerably more," with estimates of around $50 million. Taken together, an $80 million combined February total would surpass the previous high set by President Bush and Sen. John Kerry in March 2004. Clinton spent Thursday campaigning in Ohio, which hosts a critical primary next week.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: "You should have a president again who actually gets up thinking about you every day, who knows that people in southeastern Ohio are, as Ted tells me all the time, salt-of-the-earth great people. Most Americans are doing the best we can, and we need those partners, and we need a president who’s a fighter and a doer and a champion for the American people again, and that is what I will do."
Clinton, meanwhile, has called for a ban on the use of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. In a statement posted on her website late last night, Clinton said she would cosponsor a measure to ban the use of Blackwater and other private military firms. Clinton said, “The time to show these contractors the door is long past due. We need to stop filling the coffers of contractors in Iraq and make sure that armed personnel in Iraq are fully accountable to the US government and follow the chain of command.”
Obama, meanwhile, was in Texas, the other top contest in Tuesday’s vote.
Sen. Barack Obama: “We can’t afford to wait to fix our healthcare system. We can’t wait to fix our schools. We can’t wait to invest to make America more competitive. We can’t wait to solve our energy crisis. We can’t wait to bring this war in Iraq to a close. We cannot wait."
Meanwhile, in Washington, Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader held a news conference to announce his running mate.
Ralph Nader: "Year after year, the Republican and Democratic parties, in varying corporate-indentured degrees have blocked the American people from a chance to improve their country, a chance to improve their health, safety and economic well-being, a chance to believe in the sovereignty of the people and a government that is functionally of, by and for the people, instead of of big business, by big business, for big business. Today, I am announcing my vice-presidential running mate, who is Matt Gonzalez."
Gonzalez is a San Francisco-based attorney. He was almost elected mayor of San Francisco in a 2003 race that drew national attention.
In Kenya, President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga have reached a power-sharing deal following two months of violence. More than 1,000 people have died since Kibaki beat Odinga in a widely disputed vote late last year. Under the deal, Odinga will be named prime minister in Kibaki’s government. Odinga joined Kibabi at a televised ceremony announcing their coalition.
Raila Odinga: "With the signing of this agreement, we have opened a new chapter in our country’s history, from the era or phase of confrontation to the beginning of cooperation. We, on our side, are completely committed to ensuring that this agreement will succeed."
The deal was brokered by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Cuba has ratified two international human rights treaties at the United Nations. On Thursday, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The move comes just four days after longtime President Fidel Castro stepped down. At the UN, Roque renewed calls for an end to the US embargo on Cuba.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque: "We will never negotiate our sovereignty and our right to be an independent country. We will never make any concession for the lifting of the embargo. The embargo has to be lifted, because it is a violation of the international law. It is a violation of the human rights of the Cuban people, and it is a violation of the human rights of the American people."
In Pakistan, at least eight alleged militants have been killed in what appears to be a NATO attack from Afghanistan. If confirmed, it would be the second NATO strike in Pakistan in a month.
A new report has found that a record 1-in-100 American adults are behind bars. According to the Pew Center, the prison population has grown by 25,000, even though the rate of violent crimes has decreased. 1-in-100 black women are jailed, compared to 1-in-350 white women. 1-in-36 Hispanic men and 1-in-15 black men are in jail or prison. The US has the highest rate of prisoners in the world, with more than 2.3 million people behind bars.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans have blocked a Democratic measure addressing the nation’s housing crisis. The proposal would have allocated billions for communities to buy up subprime mortgages and allowed judges to lower interest rates for low-income homeowners. Lobbyists for the mortgage industry had waged a fierce campaign against the bill. Supporters failed to gather the sixty votes needed to avoid a Republican filibuster.
The media giant Comcast has admitted to paying people to fill the seats at a government hearing on net neutrality. The gathering at Harvard University Monday was one of several organized by the Federal Communications Commission to gather public input. Critics say Comcast was trying to take space away from critics of media consolidation. Harvard says dozens of genuine participants were forced to stand outside the hearing unable to participate.
In Puerto Rico, teachers have entered the second week of a national strike. The union representing Puerto Rico’s 42,000 public school teachers declared the strike after thirty months of negotiations. The US government is refusing to negotiate with the union until teachers end the walkout.
And the longtime women’s health activist Barbara Seaman has died at the age of seventy-two. Seaman authored many books, including The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill, one of the first indictments of the birth control pill, published in 1969. She was the co-founder of the National Women’s Health Network.