On Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced that President Bush will meet separately in the spring with each leader. In addition Bush plans to appointing a senior security coordinator to help train and equip Palestinian forces and monitor Israeli and Palestinian promises. Rice met with Abbas in Ramallah on Monday but decided not to visit Arafat’s nearby tomb.
In other news from the region, Palestinian residents in the West Bank town of Qalqilya have blamed the Israeli separation wall for widespread flooding because the wall has trapped water inside the town. The wall almost completely encloses the farming community. For months residents complained the wall cut off the town from surrounding farmland as well as jobs, schools and medical care.
In Iraq, the country’s interim interior minister said Monday it could take 18 more months before Iraqi security forces would be prepared to properly secure the country. His comments came as a pair of suicide bombings killed more than 25 people in two of the deadliest attacks since last week’s election. Earlier today another 21 Iraqis died after a bomb went off near an Iraqi army recruitment center in west Baghdad.
In other Iraq news, hundreds of Iraqis from Mosul demonstrated Sunday outside the heavily guarded Green Zone to protest the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters in Mosul. The demonstrators included many Iraqi Christians who said polling centers never opened in their neighborhoods. The groups estimated as many as 200,000 people around Mosul were prevented from voting.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee has approved Michael Chertoff as Homeland Security Director by a voice vote. Senator Carl Levin voted “present” to protest what he said was the unwillingness of the Justice Department to provide information about accusations of unusually harsh interrogations at Guantanamo.
In other news on Guantanamo Bay, an attorney for 11 Kuwaiti prisoners held at the U.S. prison claim their clients have been beaten by chains, sodomized, and given electrical shocks. The attorney learned of the abuse after meeting with the Kuwaitis.
Meanwhile a former Australian detainee at Guantanamo has accused US officials of secretly listening to conversations he had with his attorney. Mamdouh Habib said officials then used information they obtained from the eavesdropping during interrogations to get at him psychologically. Habib’s attorney Stephen Hopper said “The American authorities were obviously listening in to private conferences and not respecting client-lawyer privilege as they said they would do.”
The United Nations is calling on world governments to fulfill their pledges to help the victims of December’s tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Governments pledged nearly $1 billion but only about $360 million has been received so far. A spokesperson from Oxfam criticized the inaction saying “When the public pledged their funds, these were delivered in hours, yet governments have had over a month and far less than 50% has been delivered.”
In Nepal, military troops have attacked Maoist rebel camps in the jungles in a new offensive that began after the Nepali king seized power last week. Reuters reports dozens of rebels may have been killed. Last week Nepali King Gyanendra sacked the entire government and suspended all civil rights including the right of the press to criticize the government. Since then hundreds of political leaders, activists, journalists and human rights workers have been arrested around the country.
In Boston, former priest Paul Shanley was convicted Monday of raping and assaulting a young boy in the 1980s. He faces up to life a prison. The victim who is now a 27-year-old firefighter said the priest began raping him when he was six years old when he was attending religious school at Shanley’s church.
The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee is encouraging taxpayers opposed to the war in Iraq to file a Peace Tax Return when they file taxes with the IRS. The group has published two types of Peace Tax Returns — one for tax resisters who are refusing to pay for part or all of their federal taxes and another for taxpayers who want to request the federal government divert their taxes to nonmilitary programs. The letter reads in part, “Each year at least half of our tax dollars are used to pay for current and past wars. If instead this money were invested in peace initiatives and aid programs we could truly build a better and more secure world.”