Israel has launched its heaviest air bombing of Lebanon in twenty four-years. The attack was launched Wednesday following the capture of two soldiers by Hezbollah. Overnight raids across southern Lebanon killed up to 47 civilians, including more than 15 children. At least one hundred were wounded. More than 20 bridges were targeted in the bombings, causing heavy damage. An Israeli helicopter fired a missile at the headquarters of Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV station in a Beirut suburb. Israel is threatening to attack Beirut’s residential neighborhoods where Hezbollah members live. Israeli Army Chief of Staff Dan Halutz told Haaretz: “Nothing is safe [in Lebanon], as simple as that.” Israel is imposing an air and sea blockade and has sent ships into Lebanese waters to block ports. The Beirut international airport has been closed after Israeli rockets targeted its runways. Hezbollah responded by firing volleys of rockets into northern Israel killing one Israeli woman and injuring twenty-nine. Eight Israeli troops were killed and two were injured in the Hezbollah operation that nabbed the two soldiers. Israel says it holds the Lebanese government directly responsible.
The Lebanese Prime Minister has denied any knowledge of the Hezbollah operation and refuses to take responsibility for the soldiers’ capture. Meanwhile, Hezbollah says the soldiers will not be returned without a deal for the release of Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Meanwhile, at the UN, Secretary General Koffi Annan called on Hezbollah to release the soldiers. He also urged all sides to practice restraint and addressed the targeting of innocent civilians.
The bombing of Lebanon has not slowed Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip. Israeli strikes killed at least twenty-three Palestinians Wednesday. It was the highest single-day Palestinian death toll in nearly two years. Earlier today, an Israeli plane bombed the Palestinian Foreign Ministry in Gaza, severely damaging the building and surrounding homes. A Palestinian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said Israel is carrying out “organized terrorism.” Meanwhile, the death toll in the bombing of a Gaza home early Wednesday rose to at least eighteen, including a mother and her five children. Five Qassam rockets fired by Palestinians in Gaza landed on Israeli territory, causing no injuries or casualties.
In Iraq, at least thirty people were killed and nearly forty wounded in violence in and around Baghdad Wednesday. Twenty Sunni Iraqis were found dead after they were kidnapped from a bus station north of the capital. Hours later, Sunni militants seized twenty-five people in an attack on a Shiite part of Baghdad. More than one hundred thirty people have now been killed in the Baghdad area since Sunday. US General George Casey says he’s considering moving more US troops into the capital to respond to the violence.
In Mumbai, the death toll from Tuesday’s train attacks has passed two hundred. Hundreds more were wounded in the blasts, which ripped through commuter trains at the height of rush hour. More than three hundred people have been detained in police raids following the attacks.
In Afghanistan, the first wave of a new deployment of British troops began arriving in Kabul Wednesday. The British government announced this week it would send an additional nine hundred troops amid a renewed Western-led offensive in southern Afghanistan.
In Mexico, tens of thousands of supporters of Presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador marched through Mexico City Wednesday to demand a recount of the contested presidential election. The marchers convened after setting off from electoral districts around Mexico City. Thousands more are expected to join them as they pour in from districts across the country. Lopez Obrador has called on supporters to begin assembling in advance of a major rally this Sunday.
In Britain, a top adviser to Prime Minister Tony Blair was arrested Wednesday. The adviser, Lord Levy is also the leading fundraiser for Blair’s Labour party. Police are investigating whether Labour offered donors state honors in return for million-dollar loans.
In other news from Britain, police have confirmed a man found dead in a London park Tuesday was a potential witness in the Enron fraud case. The man, Neil Coulbeck, was a former employee of the Royal Bank of Scotland. He had been interviewed by the FBI about the role of Bank of Scotland subsidiary NatWest in selling off part of its Enron unit. His death comes as Britain is locked in an internal political struggle over the extradition of three NatWest bankers to the United States. The three are being extradited under a treaty critics say is one-sided because the US has yet to ratify it.
Meanwhile in Houston, former Houston mayor Bob Lanier collapsed Wednesday as he attended the memorial service for Enron founder Ken Lay. Former President George Bush, his wife Barbara and former Secretary of State James Baker were among those in attendance.
In Colombia, the Associated Press is reporting President Alvaro Uribe is waging a secret campaign to silence UN human rights monitors who have documented thousands of abuses. Foreign diplomats and rights groups say the government wants to stop the monitors from voicing criticism and publishing their findings. The monitors’ investigations have recently forced the government to arrest more than a dozen soldiers in the killings of nearly thirty civilians, including children and pregnant women. The government had previously claimed the victims were rebels. The Bush administration has been a key ally of the Uribe government. In March, a letter signed by more than sixty foreign and Colombian rights and development groups urged the White House to back renewing the mandate for the Colombian office of the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Bush administration has refused.
And finally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has weighed in on the Bush administration’s controversial plan for intervention in Cuba. The Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba released a report Monday calling on the US to spend millions of dollars supporting opponents of Fidel Castro.
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