Israel continues its heavy bombardment of the Gaza Strip despite talk of a looming ceasefire. A barrage of Israeli shelling hit Gaza overnight, with Israel claiming it struck forty targets. Twenty-one days into the Israeli attack, more than 1,100 Palestinians have been killed and more than 5,200 wounded. At least 700 civilians are among the dead, including more than 350 children. Much of Gaza is without food, water and electricity.
On the diplomatic front, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Palestinian officials in the West Bank city of Ramallah and urged Israel to declare a unilateral ceasefire. Meanwhile, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is due to meet with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Washington later today. An Israeli envoy was sent to Cairo to discuss ceasefire terms offered by Hamas. Hamas is reportedly offering a year-long truce if Israel withdraws from Gaza and lifts its blockade.
On Thursday, the UN again suspended aid delivery after the Israeli bombing of its Gaza headquarters. The attack set fire to warehouses storing direly needed aid. Hundreds of Palestinians were taking shelter there at the time. Three UN employees were injured. It was the second time the UN had suspended its Gaza aid because of an Israeli attack on its workers and facilities. UNRWA official Judy Clark said all the agency’s food and medicine has been destroyed in the latest bombing.
Judy Clark: "A very unfortunate situation here in the UN compound in Gaza. Our warehouses have been hit by some type of explosive and have caught alight. The fire has spread from the workshops by the oil and spread to the warehouses. One by one, the warehouses are going up. We’re now trying to build a buffer zone between the warehouses and the offices to try and stop the offices. We’ve lost all our food and all our medicine to this fire."
Another humanitarian group, CARE International, also announced a suspension of aid delivery following Israeli bombings near its Gaza City sites.
Speaking on the House floor, Democratic Congressmember Dennis Kucinich condemned the attack on the UN compound, saying, “Using US planes, helicopters and munitions to attack a wounded, starved and thirsty civilian population of mostly children trapped in a box called Gaza has become acceptable, perhaps because we have already accepted the deaths of over one million innocent civilians in Iraq in a war based on lies…When we recognize the humanitarian disaster in Gaza, when we come to grips with the reality of suffering on both sides, we may yet find a way to save ourselves.” Kucinich has been one of the few members of Congress to publicly oppose the Israeli attack on Gaza.
A senior Hamas leader was among the victims of Israeli strikes on Thursday. Hamas Interior Minister Said Siam was killed when Israeli warplanes bombed a home in the Jabalya refugee camp. Nine others were killed in the attack.
Meanwhile, in Israel, two Israeli human rights groups urged the Supreme Court to stop the Israeli government from worsening Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.
Human rights attorney Yadin Ilam: “We know for a fact that 250,000 people are without electricity since the war started twenty days ago, and half a million people are without proper water. Sewage is overflowing to the street, and we are on the verge of epidemics. So we are here to ask the Supreme Court to order the army to supply the Gazan citizens, who are not part of this war, with proper water, electricity and medicine and whatever else that they need.”
Meanwhile, a ship trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza has returned to Cyprus after the Israeli navy threatened to shoot the civilian passengers on board. The Free Gaza movement boat had left Cyprus on Wednesday seeking to deliver doctors and medical supplies. It was the group’s first attempt to reach Gaza since an Israeli navy vessel deliberately rammed another of its boats last month, almost forcing it to sink. Huwaida Arraf of the Free Gaza movement described the threats that forced her boat to return home.
Huwaida Arraf: “In the middle of the night at about 2:30 in the morning, while we were still well into international waters about a hundred miles from the coast of Gaza, the Israeli military communicated with us. We told them exactly who we were and where we were going, and they told us to turn back. And we told them we were carrying humanitarian aid and it is incumbent upon them as an occupying force and as a belligerent force to facilitate the receipt of aid to the people who need it and we intend to enter Gaza. They surrounded us with four of their warships, flashing bright lights at us, and they were maneuvering in front of us in a way that threatened a collision, because our simple boat could not make the maneuvers they were making. And I told them, I said, ‘the maneuvering of your warships is threatening the safety of this boat and the lives of the twenty-one passengers on board. Stay back.’ And then they threatened that if we did not turn around immediately, they would open fire on us."
At the United Nations, the General Assembly reconvened a special meeting on Gaza Thursday over Israeli and US objections. General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua condemned the Israeli attack.
General Assembly President Miguel D’Escoto Brockmann: "If this onslaught in Gaza is indeed a war, it is a war against a helpless, defenseless, imprisoned population. On January 4th, the Foreign Minister of Israel stated clearly and unequivocally that, I quote, ‘the intensive diplomatic activity of the last few days aims to alleviate the pressure for a ceasefire and to allow time for continuing the military operation.’"
Protests continue to denounce Israel’s assault across the United States. On Thursday, nine people were arrested after chaining themselves together to block the Israeli consulate in San Francisco. The protest came one day after six Jewish activists held a similar action at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles. Dozens of others gathered outside the consulate, chanting “US Jews say not in our name.” Eric Romann of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network took part in the protest.
Eric Romann: “As Jews, we condemn it. We believe it’s a betrayal of our legacy as a people. As US citizens, we are outraged that our government continues to provide both military, economic and political support and to defend Israel in the international community. We’re very upset with local Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa for his repeated public statements defending what is an unjustifiable criminal siege by Israel against Gaza.”
As the US-backed Israeli attack on Gaza continued, President Bush took to the airwaves Thursday night for a farewell address to the nation. Despite the more than 1,000 Palestinians, one-third of them children, killed by US-supplied weaponry, Bush spoke of what he called “America’s moral clarity” and opposition to “murdering the innocent.”
President Bush: “America must maintain our moral clarity. I have often spoken to you about good and evil. And this has made some uncomfortable. But good and evil are present in this world, and between the two there can be no compromise. Murdering the innocent to advance an ideology is wrong every time, everywhere."
Bush also used his speech to defend his legacy, saying his presidency will be defined by its response to the 9/11 attacks.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has voted to release the second half of the $700 billion Wall Street bailout. The vote came despite ongoing concerns over a lack of oversight and accountability in how the money is dispersed. Following the vote, the Treasury Department announced an additional $118 billion infusion for Bank of America. The new money comes on top of the $25 billion Bank of America received under the first bailout installment. Meanwhile, Democratic leaders in the House have unveiled their version of an $825 billion economic stimulus package offering new spending and tax cuts.
In other news from Washington, Roland Burris has been sworn in to fill President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat. The now-Senator Burris was appointed by the scandal-plagued Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich over initial objections from top Democrats.
Outgoing CIA Director Michael Hayden is claiming President-elect Obama has no intention on launching a probe of CIA torture practices, including waterboarding. Speaking at a farewell news conference, Hayden said Obama shared his plans at an intelligence briefing last month. Hayden said, “He’s looking forward, and that’s very appropriate.” Hayden’s comments came as Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder, told the Senate Judiciary Committee he thinks waterboarding is a form of torture. More from Holder’s confirmation hearing after headlines.
In Iraq, the family and attorney of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush are voicing grave concerns about his safety. Muntadhar al-Zaidi has been allowed just two visitors since his arrest and none for nearly a month. Relatives say they don’t know where Zaidi is being held and haven’t been able to speak to him by phone. Zaidi’s lawyer says medical records describe bruising over Zaidi’s face and body, a missing tooth, a nose gash and an apparent burn mark on his ear.
Back in the United States, a secret federals appeals court has ruled telecommunications companies must help the government monitor email and phone calls of Americans suspected of being terrorists or spies. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court ruling came down in August but has only just been publicly disclosed. The ruling came in response to an unidentified company’s legal challenge to the 2007 FISA law OKing warantless spying.
The US government has agreed to pay a $350,000 settlement to the parents of a US marine who committed suicide after returning home from Iraq. Joyce and Kevin Lucey had filed a lawsuit alleging the government’s failure to treat veterans cost their son, Jeffrey Lucey, his life. Jeffrey hanged himself after the US military refused to deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder. In May 2004, Jeffrey’s parents had him involuntarily committed to a VA hospital, but the hospital discharged him after a few days. Two weeks later, Kevin Lucey came home to find his son hanging from a hose in the cellar. Lying on his bed were the dog tags of two unarmed Iraqi prisoners Jeffrey had said he was forced to shoot. In an interview with Democracy Now! in July 2007, Kevin Lucey talked about the VA’s neglect of his son.
Kevin Lucey: “We need to emphasize that Jeff had revealed to them three ways that he had planned to commit suicide. He told them that he would suffocate himself, he would overdose, or he would hang himself. He also shared with the psychiatrist how he had bought a hose. And, of course, on the following, of June 5th, when we tried to admit him the second time, and the VA declined, Joyce and I went through the house, we took everything that he could hurt himself with, but we never thought of a hose.”
The Lucey family’s wrongful death suit was the first such case over an Iraq war veteran. In a statement, Kevin Lucey said, “The US government sent my son into an illegal and reckless war and then…denied him the basic healthcare he needed. We hope that this case serves as a wake-up call that our government must be held accountable for the suffering it has caused thousands of US military families.”
In Sri Lanka, the editor of a leading newspaper known for its criticism of the government’s war on Tamil rebels has been assassinated. Lasantha Wickramatunga was shot by gunmen on his way to work at the Sunday Leader. He had previously survived earlier attempts on his life. In a posthumous essay written in anticipation of his eventual murder, Wickramatunga says, “In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.”
And the Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess has died at the age of ninety-seven. He was the founder of the deep ecology movement and active in the Norwegian Green Party.
In education news, a new report says black and Latino students are experiencing increasing segregation in US schools. The University of California’s Civil Rights Project says black and Hispanic students are more separate from whites than at any moment since the civil rights era. Study authors blame neglect of civil rights and education reforms as well failure to uphold the Fair Housing Act, established to promote equality in the housing market.