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A ceasefire in Gaza between the Israeli military and Palestinians has entered its second day. On Sunday, Israeli troops pulled out of Gaza, ending, at least temporarily, a five-month offensive that has killed more than 400 Palestinians, including at least 74 Palestinians under the age of 18. Thousands of Palestinian security officers are now patrolling the northern Gaza Strip to prevent militant groups from firing homemade rockets into southern Israel.
Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti: “There is a very good basis and a common ground for a Palestinian consensus on calming the situation on the basis of mutuality and to cease the military activities at least in the case of the Gaza Strip.”
Israel Radio is reporting that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will soon meet in a three-way summit. Earlier today, Olmert gave a major address on Israel-Palestinian relations. He called on Palestinians to renounce violence and give up their insistence on the right of return for refugees. Olmert also said Israel would be willing to release many Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured this summer. Israel has not yet agreed to stop carrying out attacks in the West Bank. Earlier today, Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian fighter and a woman near Jenin.
On Sunday, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned the Middle East could soon face three civil wars—in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.
King Abdullah: “And we can possibly imagine going into 2007 and having three civil wars on our hands, and therefore it is time that we really take a strong step forward as part of the international community and make sure we avert the Middle East from a tremendous crisis that I fear and I see could possibly happen in 2007.”
King Abdullah’s comments on ABC’s This Week came three days after the Shiite neighborhood of Sadr City in Baghdad suffered what has been described as the deadliest attack on Iraqis since the war began. For eight hours, a barrage of car bombs, mortars and missiles struck the neighborhood, leaving over 215 Shiites dead. Sunni militants were blamed for the attacks. Hundreds of more Iraqis died over the weekend in reprisal killings. On Friday, members of a Shiite militia reportedly grabbed six Sunnis as they left a mosque and burned them alive. On Sunday, two mortar rounds hit a U.S. military post in eastern Baghdad, setting it on fire.
Residents of Baghdad say the violence is at its worst yet.
Jamal, Baghdad resident: “The situation is terrible. No one is safe. People can’t even walk safely in the street. This war has to stop. Day by day life gets even more difficult. For four years life has just got worse and worse. I have a big family. It’s a struggle to even pay for a house and food. This government has done nothing for Iraqis.”
President Bush is scheduled to travel to Jordan on Wednesday to meet with Nouri al-Maliki, but the Iraqi prime minister is being pressured not to go. The Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has threatened to pull out of Maliki’s government if the meeting occurs. On Saturday, al-Sadr took over a state-run television station for two hours to denounce Maliki’s government and to call Sunnis “terrorists.” On Sunday, Maliki visited Sadr City, the scene of Thursday’s attacks. Residents responded by throwing stones at his convoy. They also called him a “coward” and “collaborator.”
Meanwhile, a prominent Iraqi Sunni religious leader, Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, warned that Iraq’s escalating sectarian violence will spread throughout the Middle East unless the international community withdraws support for al-Maliki’s government. He declared Iraqi efforts toward a unity government “dead.”
In other Iraq news, The New York Times is reporting that a draft report written by James Baker and the Iraq Study Group urges an aggressive regional diplomatic initiative that includes direct talks with Iran and Syria but sets no timetables for a military withdrawal.
While President Bush’s Iraq policies have been widely criticized, at least one world leader is praising his actions—Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert: “I stand with the president because I know that Iraq without Saddam Hussein is so much better for the security and safety of Israel and all of the neighbors of Israel which have any significance to us. Iraq without Saddam is much better for us than Iraq with Saddam Hussein, and thank God for the courage and determination and leadership manifested by George W. Bush in facing this challenge admirably as he did.”
Here in New York, the police department is coming under intense criticism after a group of undercover officers shot and killed a 23-year-old African-American man hours before he was supposed to get married to his high school sweetheart. Early Saturday morning, five officers fired 50 shots at a car carrying the groom-to-be, Sean Bell, who had just left his bachelor party with two friends. None of them were armed. Bullets hit Bell in the neck and arm. He died before reaching the hospital. Joseph Guzman is in critical condition after being hit by 11 bullets. Trent Benefield is in stable condition with wounds to his leg. Benefield was screaming out in pain when reporters arrived at the scene Saturday morning.
Trent Benefield: “I can’t feel my legs! No! I can’t feel my legs!”
Two transit workers were also injured by stray bullets fired by the police. The police claim the shooting occurred after Bell’s car hit an undercover officer and an unmarked police minivan. One witness told the Daily News that the undercover police officers didn’t identify themselves until after they had begun shooting, and that the men initially thought they were being robbed. On Sunday, the Rev. Al Sharpton led a protest of hundreds of demonstrators.
Rev. Al Sharpton: “I’ve already communicated with the city that this stinks. Something about the story being told does not smell right.”
Al Sharpton also criticized police for handcuffing the two men to their hospital beds while they received emergency care. Many people compared the shooting of Sean Bell to the death of Amadou Diallo, who was killed in 1999 when police fired 41 shots at him.
In Ecuador, Rafael Correa has been elected the country’s next president. With 31 percent of the ballots counted, the left-leaning economist had won 67 percent of the vote, easily beating the conservative banana baron Alvaro Noboa. Correa celebrated his victory last night, but Noboa declined to concede defeat and demanded a recount. Correa, who describes himself as a humanist, leftist Christian, has vowed to seek closer ties to Venezuela. He has also promised to reject a new trade agreement with the United States.
In Venezuela, hundreds of thousands of supporters of President Hugo Chavez gathered on Sunday for a final rally before this week’s presidential election. Chavez directed many of his comments at the Bush administration and proclaimed that on December 3 he would defeat the most powerful empire on Earth by a knockout. Polls show Chavez maintains a commanding lead over his main challenger, Manuel Rosales.
In the Mexican state of Oaxaca, the police have detained at least 160 members of APPO, the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca. On Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters marched in Oaxaca to call on the state’s governor, Ulises Ruiz, to resign. Dozens of people were injured after clashes broke out between the police and protesters. There were unconfirmed reports of several deaths, as well. We’ll have more from Oaxaca later in the show.
The International Criminal Court has announced it is close to launching prosecutions against war crimes suspects in Sudan’s Darfur region. This is the court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo.
Luis Moreno-Ocampo: “We have enough evidence in the file—the incidents and who we believe are the most responsible. That, we have now.”
The prosecutor said there is reasonable grounds to believe that crimes against humanity have been committed, but he declined to identify who would be charged.
Newly declassified government documents reveal that President Bush’s pick to become the new secretary of defense, Robert Gates, advocated for President Reagan to bomb Nicaragua in 1984 in an effort to topple the Sandinista government. At the time, Gates was deputy director of the CIA. In a memo to CIA Director William Casey, Gates wrote that the United States should do everything in its power short of invasion to bring down the Sandinista government. Gates has also been closely linked to the Iran-Contra scandal and the secret arming of Saddam Hussein. Nomination hearings for Gates are scheduled to begin on December 5.
In Britain, a former Russian spy named Alexander Litvinenko has died under mysterious circumstances. A highly toxic radioactive substance was found in his urine, leading authorities to believe he was poisoned. In a statement written on his deathbed, Litvinenko wrote a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin. It read: “You have succeeded in silencing one man, but the howl of protest from around the world will reverberate, Mr. Putin, in your ears for the rest of your life.” At the time of his death, Litvinenko was investigating the death of Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist and government critic who was shot at her Moscow apartment last month.
In news from Washington, the Bush administration has stopped using the words “hunger” or “hungry” when describing the millions of Americans who can’t afford to eat. Instead of suffering from hunger, the Agriculture Department now says these people are experiencing “very low food security.” The USDA estimates that 12 percent of Americans, or 35 million people, could not put food on the table at least part of last year.
The New York Police Department has proposed new rules regulating public gatherings and protests. For the first time, any group of 30 or more vehicles or bicycles would be required to obtain a police permit, even if the group was obeying all traffic laws. The police proposal also would allow the arrest of any group of 10 or more if any member of the group violated a traffic rule. The New York City Bar Association, New York Civil Liberties Union, United for Peace and Justice and other groups oppose the rule changes. The police department is holding a public hearing on the issue today.
And in Colorado, a homeowners’ association is threatening to fine a resident for putting up a Christmas wreath with a peace sign on her house because it could be considered divisive. The owner of the wreath, Lisa Jensen, has vowed to keep the wreath up until after Christmas, even though it will result in a fine of about $1,000.