An Israeli military raid on a Palestinian jail has ignited a new crisis in the Occupied Territories. On Tuesday, Israeli troops invaded the main prison in the West Bank town of Jericho, seizing five Palestinians accused of assassinating former Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi. Israel used helicopters and tanks to fire at the prison before smashing through its walls with armed bulldozers. Two Palestinians, including a security guard, were killed in the assault.
Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and four others had been in the prison under guard from British and US jailers. But early Tuesday, the British government removed the supervisors, citing security reasons. The Israeli government said it raided the prison to prevent a Hamas government from carrying out a promise to release the prisoners.
Following the raid, armed Palestinians kidnapped at least nine foreigners in the West Bank and Gaza. All of the hostages have since been released. Armed men also stormed the British Council and EU offices in Gaza. Many Palestinians accused the British and US governments of colluding with Israel in the raid. The British government denied the allegations. The Palestinians’ criticisms were bolstered when it was revealed the Israeli troops raided the prison just 30 minutes after the British monitors had been withdrawn.
Violence continues to grip Iraq — on Tuesday, authorities recovered the dead bodies of at least 87 men. Most showed signs of execution-style gun wounds or strangulation. In Baghdad, at least 29 bodies were found stacked in a massive grave.
Meanwhile, the Iraqi Interior Ministry said it has foiled a plot that would have placed hundreds of al-Qaida operatives at guard posts throughout Baghdad’s Green Zone. The area houses the Iraqi government as well as the US embassy. Several high-ranking Defense Ministry officials have reportedly been jailed in the plot.
At the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hinted Tuesday the US might increase its troop presence in Iraq. Speaking to reporters, Rumsfeld said the US may want to “bulk up” its troop presence ahead of the upcoming Shiite Muslim holiday of Ashura.
In further Iraq news, Knight Ridder is reporting the US government has increased airstrikes by more than half in the last five months. According to military figures, US forces have dropped at least double the number of bombs on Iraqi cities than they did during the same period one year ago. This year, U.S. warplanes have struck at least 18 different cities.
In other Iraq news, the Associated Press is reporting electricity output has reached its lowest point since the period right after the US invasion of Iraq three years ago. Some analysts believe Iraq may have to turn to neighboring Iran to solve its energy crisis — as early as this summer. Iraq’s electricity grid has suffered numerous problems since it was targeted in the US-led invasion in 1991. It is currently able to meet less than half of Iraq’s needs. Iraqi concerns for the grid’s recovery have been stoked by dwindling reconstruction funding from the US. According to the inspector-general for Iraq reconstruction, current funding is over $200 million dollars short of meeting the grid’s minimal needs.
In Thailand, tens of thousands of protesters continued their campaign to force the resignation of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. In Banghkok, a crowd of over 70,000 students, union workers, teachers and activists blockaded the Prime Minister’s offices. Thaksin vowed to impose emergency rule if the protests turned violence. But in a blow to his authority, military leaders distanced themselves from his warnings and indicated they would not enforce the emergency measures. Thaksin, a billionaire re-elected in a landslide victory last year, has faced growing criticism following the January sale of a telecom company that reaped his family a nearly $2 billion dollar, tax-free windfall.
Here in the United States, Senator Russ Feingold has lashed out at fellow Democrats for not supporting his measure to censure President Bush for his warrantless domestic spy program. Feingold has failed to attract any co-sponsors. Appearing on Fox News, Feingold said: “I’m amazed at Democrats, cowering with this president’s numbers so low. The administration just has to raise the specter of the war and the Democrats run and hide. … Too many Democrats are going to do the same thing they did in 2000 and 2004.… [Democrats shouldn’t] cower to the argument, that whatever you do, if you question the administration, you’re helping the terrorists.”
In other news, the case against 9/11 suspect Zacarias Moussaoui was dealt a serious blow Tuesday when a federal judge barred the prosecution from calling nearly half of its key witnesses. The ruling followed the disclosure a government lawyer had improperly coached several witnesses. Moussaoui has already pleaded guilty but now a jury is deciding whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison.
In other news, the Boston Globe is reporting the Pentagon has asked Congress for hundreds of millions of dollars to test weapons in space. The Globe calls the request the biggest step toward creating a space battlefield since President Reagan’s so-called “Star Wars” program. The budget request would fund a variety of tests on several weapons. Military specialists believe the Pentagon is operating several other space weapons programs not disclosed in its budget request. Philip Coyle, who served as the Pentagon’s top weapons tester from 1994 to 2001, criticized the new emphasis on space weaponry at a time when: ’’there is no threat in space to justify a new arms race in space.”
And in New Orleans, the NAACP has called on the Justice Department to block the upcoming mayoral election amid concerns substantial numbers of the city’s residents have been disenfranchised. NAACP President Bruce Gordon said the government has not done enough to guarantee New Orleans residents, most of whom are African-American, a chance to vote. Louisana Secretary of State Al Ater, the state’s top elections official, denounced the NAACP’s demand, saying: “This will be the most accessible race in the history of America.” State officials have rejected calls to set up satellite polling stations in cities such as Houston and Atlanta where there are large numbers of New Orleans residents displaced by Hurricane Katrina.
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