Thousands of mourners have gathered in Jerusalem for the funeral of eight Israeli seminary students gunned down last night in an attack on the Mercaz Harav yeshiva, which is considered the birthplace of religious Zionism. Police say a Palestinian gunman from East Jerusalem opened fire in the seminary’s library and began shooting students while they were studying. Seven of the students were teenagers ranging in age from fifteen to nineteen. One student was twenty-six years old. Nine other people were wounded in the attack, the deadliest in Jerusalem in over four years. Israeli Foreign Spokesman Aviv Shiron condemned the shooting.
Aviv Shiron: "Once again, we experienced deadly terror in the center of Jerusalem by extremists who were trying to kill as many Jews as possible. This is connected with the attacks of Qassam rockets on Sderot, Grad missiles on Ashkelon, and now a massacre in a school in the center of Jerusalem."
The shooting occurred following one of the bloodiest weeks in Gaza in years. Israeli troops killed at least 120 Palestinians over the past week. At the United Nations, Libya blocked the Security Council from condemning the attack. Libya’s deputy ambassador Ibrahim Al-Dabbashi insisted the statement should be "balanced" by including condemnation of Israeli actions in Gaza.
Ibrahim Al-Dabbashi: "For us, the human lives are the same. We don’t judge the incident in itself. We judge — we talk about the killing. We think there is no superhuman and human from second grade or something like that. We think that the lives of the Palestinians are the same as those of the Israelis."
Dan Gillerman, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, decried Libya’s stance.
Dan Gillerman: "The Security Council was unable to reach a decision, a unanimous decision on condemning the massacre that happened in Jerusalem tonight. Unfortunately, this is what happens when the Security Council is infiltrated by terrorists."
In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the shooting, but Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri described the shooting as heroic.
Sami Abu Zuhri: "The heroic operation that took place in Jerusalem is a natural reaction to the Israeli massacres they committed in the Gaza Strip and the general crimes committed against the Palestinians. This heroic martyrdom operation comes to reassure the failure of defeating the resistance."
In Gaza, thousands of Palestinians reportedly celebrated upon hearing the news. Meanwhile, hundreds of Israelis gathered outside the yeshiva last night chanting, "Death to Arabs."
In other news from the Middle East, at least sixty-eight Iraqis died Thursday in a coordinated twin bomb attack at a shopping area in Baghdad. Another 120 people were wounded. It was the single bloodiest incident in Iraq’s capital since last June.
The Bush administration is claiming congressional approval is not needed to strike a long-term security agreement with Iraq.
The Washington Post reports the Bush administration is arguing that the 2002 vote in Congress authorizing the use of force permits indefinite combat operations in Iraq.
Congress has been demanding a role in any long-term agreement signed. Democratic Congressman Gary Ackerman accused the White House of trying to claim the authority to be at war in Iraq forever with no limitations.
In election news, the Associated Press is now projecting that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton will be able to win the Democratic nomination without relying on superdelegates. Obama currently has a 140 delegate lead among pledged delegates. On Thursday, the attacks between the two campaigns intensified. Clinton’s communications director Howard Wolfson accused the Obama campaign of imitating Whitewater investigator Ken Starr. Meanwhile, one of Obama’s top foreign policy advisers, Samantha Power, described Clinton as a monster in an interview with a Scottish newspaper. On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton suggested again that Barack Obama is not prepared to be president. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has announced it raised a record $55 million last month.
In economic news, the price of oil hit a new high Thursday, nearly reaching $106 a barrel. The record came as the dollar struck a new low against the Euro.
Meanwhile, defaults on home mortgages have reached another all-time high. The Mortgage Bankers Association say nearly eight percent of all home loans were past due or in foreclosure at the end of last year. The Federal Reserve also announced that Americans’ percentage of equity in their homes has fallen below 50 percent for the first time since 1945.
In other economic development, a new report from the Center for American Progress warns that a rise in credit card defaults could produce an economic fallout on par with the mortgage crisis. Credit card debt reached a record high of nearly $800 billion last November. Approximately 35 million credit card customers can no longer afford to make more than the minimum payment every month.
In Colombia, 40,000 people marched in Bogota Thursday to honor thousands of victims of right-wing paramilitaries and death squads who are missing around the country. The protest came less than a week after the Colombian military carried out an attack inside Ecuador that killed at least twenty-four FARC rebels. Thursday’s protest was organized by the State Crimes Victims Movement. Marchers included human rights activist Ivan Cepeda, whose father, a Colombian senator, was brutally killed in 1994.
Ivan Cepeda: "To tell the government that we don’t want anymore paramilitaries, to tell the government that we don’t want anymore violations of human rights of farmers who have been taken out of their lands, because they deserve a better future. We want democracy. This is a political defeat for the government of President Alvaro Uribe, who rejected this march, and he’s attacking it by saying it’s a march of guerrillas."
Meanwhile, Nicaragua has joined Ecuador and Venezuela in breaking off relations with Colombia. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega accused Colombia of carrying out political terrorism.
The Boston Globe reports the nation’s top Iraq war contractor —- Kellogg Brown & Root -— has avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies based in the Cayman Islands. More than 21,000 people working for KBR in Iraq, including over 10,000 Americans, are listed as employees of two shell companies in the Cayman Islands. Despite cheating the government of the tax money, KBR has received $16 billion in contracts in Iraq. Up until last year KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton.
Police in Thailand have arrested Victor Bout, one of the world’s leading underground arms traffickers. Bout was arrested in a sting operation orchestrated by the Drug Enforcement Administration with secret help from security officials in four other nations. The Russian arms dealer was charged in New York with conspiracy to provide material support to the Colombian rebel group FARC.
US Attorney Michael Garcia: "Today’s arrests mark the culmination of a long-term DEA undercover investigation that spanned the globe, and it marks the end of the reign of one of the world’s most wanted arms traffickers."
While Bout was arrested for allegedly arming FARC rebels, he has also been accused of supplying weapons to armed groups in Afghanistan, Congo, Liberia, Angola, Sierra Leone and Sudan. He has been nicknamed "the Merchant of Death." Bout also had ties to the US government. Early in the Iraq war, the US and Pentagon contractors, including KBR, reportedly paid him $60 million to fly hundreds of supply flights to Iraq.
Demonstrations and rallies are scheduled across the globe Saturday to mark International Women’s Day. On Thursday, a new report revealed that on average women are paid 16 percent less than their male counterparts. The report on the global gender pay gap was issued by the International Trade Union Confederation.
Meanwhile, here in the United States, women’s health advocates are condemning a recent vote in Congress that permanently bars health providers from using Indian Health Service funds to provide Native American women with abortion services. Planned Parenthood accused the author of the amendment, Republican Senator David Vitter, of putting politics over the health and welfare of Native American women.
In an update in a story we’ve been following, imprisoned Palestinian activist Sami Al-Arian has entered the fifth day of a hunger strike in a Virginia jail. He has lost twelve pounds this week and was transferred to a prison medical unit. Al-Arian had been scheduled to be released on April 7th, but the Justice Department has just requested he testify before a third grand jury, a move that could potentially keep the former Florida professor behind bars.
In Tacoma, Washington, a federal jury has convicted environmental activist Briana Waters of arson for her alleged role in a 2001 fire at the University of Washington. But the jury failed to reach a decision on two other charges. Waters, who has maintained her innocence, had faced up to thirty-five years in prison if she had been convicted on all counts.
And the National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced. Edwidge Danticat’s book Brother, I’m Dying won for best autobiography. Harriet Washington won the nonfiction prize for Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Other winners included Junot Diaz, Tim Jeal and Alex Ross.