At least 12 Palestinians have died overnight in what may be the largest Israeli offensive in Gaza in years. Thousands of Palestinians fled Rafah Monday before Israel sealed off the city cutting it off from the rest of Gaza. Israeli gunships bombed targets in the city of 90,000 overnight including the Tel Sultan mosque. Palestinian sources have told the Associated Press Israeli snipers also shot at two ambulances. Last week Israel demolished over 100 homes in Rafah leaving 1,000 Palestinian homeless and the army has threatened to demolish hundreds of more homes. Amnesty International called on Israel today to immediately stop the home demolitions which have left tens of thousands of Palestinians homeless over the past three years. Israel claims the attack in Rafah is justified and needed to secure the Gaza-Egyptian border where they say weapons are being smuggled through underground tunnels. Last week 6 Israeli soldiers were killed in Rafah, a day after 7 were killed in Gaza City.
In Iraq, a funeral was held earlier today at the US occupation headquarters for Izzedine Salim, the leader of the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council who was assassinated on Monday in a car bombing. The head of the US occupation Paul Bremer gave the eulogy saying “We must continue the political process leading to an interim government next month and to elections next year. Izzedine Salim gave his life for this cause, and we honor his life and memory by continuing that quest.” Agence France Press describes the killing of Salim to be “the biggest blow yet to US plans for a smooth transition of power.”
In Britain, former foreign minister Robin Cook called on Prime Minister Tony Blair to draw up plans to withdraw British troops from Iraq but Blair ruled out a quick exit and said Britain would not cut and run. Meanwhile at least 50 Iraqis, three Americans and an Italian were killed in fighting Monday. In southern Iraq, Italy suffered its first combat loss and coalition warplanes bombed portions of Nasiriya.
The New York Times is reporting that the government has decided to stop its monthly payments of $335,000 to the Iraqi National Congress. The Iraqi exile group, headed by Ahmed Chalabi has come under increasing criticism for supplying the US government and media with fabricated or misleading intelligence in the lead up to the invasion. Since the summer of 2002, the Defense Intelligence Agency paid the group $4 million a year to gather intelligence about Iraq even though the INC was widely distrusted by the State Department and CIA.
Powell: I Was “Deliberately Mislead” On Iraq Weapons
On Sunday Secretary of State Colin Powell alluded to the bad intelligence when he appeared on Meet the Press with Tim Russert. Russert asked Powell if he was concerned that some of the intelligence he cited before the United Nations about Iraq having biological and chemical weapons turned out to be inaccurate. Powell didn’t mention the INC by name but admitted the sourcing of the intelligence was “inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading.” Powell added “And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.” This marked the first time Powell charged that anyone had deliberately mislead him or the government about Iraq’s weapon capacity
On Meet the Press, Russert almost never had a chance to ask Powell about the faulty Iraqi intelligence. Moments before Russert asked what turned out to be his final question, an aide of Powell, who was at a remote location, abruptly pulled the camera away from the secretary in an attempt to cut the interview short. Even though NBC recorded the interview hours before it was aired, the interview was broadcast unedited. One moment viewers saw Powell speaking in Jordan at a resort on the Dead Sea. The next moment all one could see was the Dead Sea. After the interview concluded Russert told the New York Times “I’ve been doing this program for 13 years and nothing like that has ever happened. I remember sometimes in countries around the world this happens, but not in America.” The State Department says it tried to pull the plug not because of Russert’s questioning but because the interview went on too long.
A top U.S. military official in Iraq told the press Monday an artillery shell that may have contained the nerve agent sarin exploded near a U.S. military convoy in Baghdad recently. Former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said the shell was likely a stray weapon possibly from the first Gulf War and is not likely a sign that Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons before the U.S. invasion.
Newsweek is reporting that President Bush’s top lawyer warned two years ago that Bush could be prosecuted for war crimes as a result of how his administration was fighting the war on terror. In 1996, Congress passed a law known as the War Crimes Act that bans any American from committing war crimes or grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. To protect the president from such prosecution his attorney Alberto Gonzales urged in a January 2002 memo that the administration declare the war in Afghanistan to be exempt from provisions of the Geneva Convention. Gonzales wrote that it “substantially reduces the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act.”
More connections between the Bush family and Saudi Arabia have emerged in the Riggs Bank scandal. Last week federal regulators fined Riggs Bank a record $25 million for “willful, systemic” violations of anti-money laundering laws in part due to the banks failure to monitor tens of millions of dollars in cash withdrawals from the Saudi Arabian embassy. Riggs Bank is headed by a longtime friend of President Bush’s, Joe Allbritton. The president’s uncle Jonathan Bush works as the CEO of the investment arm of Riggs Bank.
In New York, the 9/11 commission will begin two days of hearings today examining why the city of New York was not better prepared for the Sept. 11 attacks especially in coordinating the rescue effort between the police and fire departments. The panel’s chair Thomas Kean said “We’ll be asking questions that haven’t been asked before, at least not publicly. I think the shock was so great to all of us who lived in the region, and we were so stunned for such a long time, that it wasn’t the time for those questions. Now is the time.’’
In Massachusetts, more than 1000 gay and lesbian couples applied for marriage licenses on Monday, the day Massachusetts became the first state in the union to allow same sex marriages. Meanwhile in Washington, President Bush issued a statement saying, “The sacred institution of marriage should not be redefined by a few activist judges.”