Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is being buried today in the West Bank at the site of his Ramallah compound. He died yesterday at the age of 75. Earlier today a private military funeral was held in the Egyptian capital of Cairo. Dignitaries from around the world attended the Cairo procession but the event was closed to the public. No Israeli officials attended. Arafat’s body was then flown to Ramallah. In Ramallah, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets and swarmed around Arafat’s coffin after it was unloaded from the helicopter. Earlier thousands of youths had burst–uninvited–into Arafat’s compound hours before his body arrived from Cairo. A symbolic funeral service is also being held in Gaza. Most Palestinians in Gaza have been barred by the Israelis from traveling to the West Bank to attend Arafat’s burial. Meanwhile jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouthi yesterday urged Palestinians to retain their commitment to the intifada after the death of Arafat. Barghouthi has been often been mentioned as a possible successor to Arafat due to his enormous popularity, but Israeli officials insist he will spend the rest of his life in jail. In June he was handed five life terms for murder by an Israeli court.
In other news from Israel, nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu is now under house arrest, a day after Israeli police raided his home and detained him for questioning. In April, Vanunu was released from jail after spending 18 years imprisoned for leaking secrets about Israel’s nuclear weapons program. Yesterday he was re-arrested. Upon his release he spoke with press
Mordechai Vanunu will now be under house arrest for the next seven days. No formal charges were filed against him yesterday but Vanunua was told he may face charges for speaking with the foreign media. In recent months he spoke to a handful of media outlets including the BBC and Democracy Now.
Reuters is reporting the residents of Fallujah are now facing a humanitarian crisis as the US assault on the city enters its fifth day. The U.S. military has reported 18 of its soldiers have died as well as 600 Iraqis whom the military described as insurgents. The US has offered no estimates as to the number of civilians killed so far in the battle. Aid workers in the city said innocent people are dying because no medical workers can reach them. The interim Iraqi government has made it illegal for all men between the ages of 15 and 55 to be on the streets of the city at any time. In addition the US has destroyed several medical buildings including a hospital, first aid clinic and medical storage center.
The British-based Al Quds newspaper is reporting that resistance fighters have also accused the U.S. of firing illegal chemical and nerve weapons in Fallujah. Earlier this week the Washington Post reported that doctors have reported seeing patients who have had their skin melted off after being hit by phosphorus rounds fired by U.S. troops. In other news from Fallujah, two U.S. helicopters were shot down yesterday.
More questions are being raised as to the tactical value of waging such an assault on Fallujah. While the US has taken over most of the Sunni city, much of the Iraqi resistance appears to have simply left Fallujah and started fighting elsewhere. U.S. forces are now under attack across the country.
In Iraq’s third biggest city, Mosul, five Iraqi police stations were bombed and the Iraqi resistance has taken over major portions of the city. In response the US military yesterday launched air and ground assaults against Mosul. Parts of Ramadi and Sammarah are also under the control of the Iraqi resistance. Meanwhile the Asia Times reports the resistance has taken over numerous neighborhoods in the greater Baghdad area for the first time [including the southern suburb of ad-Durha, as well as Hur Rajab, Abu Ghraib, al-Abidi, as-Suwayrah, Salman Bak, Latifiyah and Yusufiyah].
To counter this spreading resistance, the US and interim Iraqi government have begun cracking down on Sunni leaders who back the resistance as well as the press. Yesterday the U.S. military raided the house of Hareth al-Dhari, a leader of the Association of Muslim Scholars which has called for a boycott of the January elections. Later in the day the U.S. raided the Ibn Taymiyah Mosque to arrest another Sunni leader who has called for armed resistance against the U.S.
The interim Iraqi government is also threatening media outlets in Iraq to be careful on how it describes members of the Iraqi resistance and how it describes military operations carried out by the U.S and interim Iraqi government. The government said reporters must differentiate between, “innocent citizens of Fallujah who are not targeted by the military operations and between the terrorist groups who infiltrated the city and took its people hostage under the pretext of resistance and jihad.” Iraq’s Media High Commission also told news organizations they must provide space to explain “the government position” and journalists have been warned not to add patriotic descriptions to members of the Iraqi resistance. Journalists were told to underscore that “these military operations did not come about until all peaceful means were attempted.” It is unclear what will happen to news organizations that break the new guidelines. The commission said that failure to follow the instructions will require authorities to “take all necessary measures to safeguard the supreme interest of the homeland.”
In other news, British Prime Minister Tony Blair is scheduled to become the first international leader to visit with President Bush following his victory last Tuesday. Meanwhile Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has begun a week-long tour of Latin America during which time he will visit with leaders from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama and Ecuador
In election news, lawyers with John Kerry’s presidential campaign have begun a fact-finding mission in Ohio to ensure that all votes in the state are counted. Attorney Dan Hoffheimer, said they are not trying to challenge the election but are trying to identify any voting problems in the state. Unofficial polls show that Bush beat Kerry by about 136,000 votes in Ohio. But there have been numerous problems reported in the state. In one county, Bush initially received an extra 3,900 votes due to a voting machine mishap. Six Democratic members of Congress including Rep. John Conyers of Michigan have called for an investigation by the General Accounting Office.