Israel has intensified its attacks on Lebanon as warplanes launched fresh strikes on Beirut’s airport, communication networks, Lebanese roads and a power plant. More than sixty Lebanese civilians have been killed in the offensive which follows the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. Israeli jets bombed the main highway linking Beirut to Damascus, tightening an air, sea and land blockade of Lebanon.
The Israeli army said Hezbollah fighters fired more than 100 rockets on northern Israel on Thursday, killing two people, wounding 92 others and hitting Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. Hezbollah denied firing into Haifa, but Israel described the incident as a “major escalation.”
In Tel Aviv, dozens of Israelis gathered to protest the strikes on Lebanon.
The escalation has sparked international calls for restraint. The European Union and Russia have criticized Israel’s strikes in Lebanon as disproportionate. President Bush said Israel has the right to defend itself, but should not weaken the Lebanese government. The UN Security Council is due to hold an emergency meeting later on Friday. Lebanon has urged it to adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire.
Meanwhile Thursday, the US vetoed a Security Council resolution demanding Israel end its military offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Diplomats criticized the Bush administration because the resolution’s sponsors had also included language calling for the release of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and an end to rocket attacks on Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinians said the international community is abandoning them.
The US has now cast eight of the last nine vetoes at the United Nations Security Council. Seven of those were on resolutions dealing with the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Former CIA operative Valerie Plame has filed suit against Vice President Dick Cheney, presidential aide Karl Rove and Cheney’s former chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Three years ago today, columnist Robert Novak published a column identifying Plame as the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson. Wilson had gone public with findings challenging one of the Bush administration’s pre-war claims on Iraqi weapons. Plame’s lawsuit accuses the Bush administration of conspiring to end her career and putting her and her family at risk. Libby is the only administration official to have been charged in connection with the case. He faces trial in January. Prosecutors told Rove’s lawyer last month he will not face charges. The suit says: “As their chief method of punishment, the White House officials destroyed (Plame’s) cover by revealing her classified employment with the CIA to reporters.” The White House “embarked on an anonymous 'whispering campaign' designed to discredit … (the Wilsons) and to deter other critics from speaking out.”
The Bush administration has agreed to allow a court review of its domestic eavesdropping program. But the review will not be unconditional. Senate Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter says Bush has approved wording for a bill that would allow the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court — known as FISA — to conduct only a one-time review — not ongoing oversight. The court would be held in secret and its ruling possibly kept under wraps. An administration official told the Associated Press the White House agreed to the one-time review so long as the Senate makes it voluntary and not a requirement. The Washington Post is also reporting the deal would repeal a clause of the original FISA law that made it the exclusive statute governing such intelligence programs. Revoking the clause would appear to make the warrantless eavesdropping no longer illegal. The deal was immediately criticized. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said: “[President Bush is] saying, if you do every single thing I tell you to do, I’ll do what I should have done anyway,” Leahy said.
On Capitol Hill, the House voted Thursday to renew the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The law was originally passed to reverse years of disenfranchisement of African Americans .The measure passed by 390 to 33. All “no” votes came from Republicans. Southern Republicans have complained the reauthorization unfairly targets their states. They failed to add amendments that would have shortened the bill’s extension period and would have stricken requirements that ballots be printed in other languages to accommodate non-English speakers. Before the vote was taken, the Bush administration said it supported “the intent” of the act but did not take a position on the amendments.
New developments in the case of Jose Padilla — a federal judge has ruled Padilla will be permitted to view classified documents and videotapes that summarize his statements while in custody. Padilla was only charged in November after over three years in solitary confinement on a military brig in South Carolina. At the time of his arrest in May 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft accused Padilla of involvement in “a terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive 'dirty bomb.'” None of his current charges include these allegations.
GQ Magazine has revealed new details of the ties between Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed and convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. According to former associates, Reed and Abramoff devised a plan they called the Black Churches Insurance Program. The plan would offer lobbying services to African-American churches. Instead of direct payment, Abramoff would arrange life-insurance polices that would have made him the beneficiary when elderly Church members passed away. A former Reed associate said: “…It sounds like Jack approached Reed about mortgaging old black people.” The news comes just one week before Reed faces a primary in his campaign for Georgia’s Lieutenant Governor.
A state of emergency has been declared in California over a 48,000-acre fire that is approaching the San Bernardino National Forest. Firefighters say they’ve contained just one-fifth of the massive blaze. More than one hundred homes and buildings have been destroyed. Dozens have been given evacuation orders. Lightning ignited the fire last weekend. It has escalated into an inferno that has spread through several small desert towns.
The New York Times has revealed new details on Steven Green, the former soldier accused of raping fourteen-year old Abeer Qasim Hamza and killing her, her parents, and five-year old sister. Green enlisted last year just days after leaving jail on his third misdemeanor conviction. He joined the armed forces just as the military increased by nearly half the rate of “moral waivers” to potential recruits.
In El Salvador, the FMLN is calling for rallies outside Salvadoran consulates in several North America cities today to protest a recent police crackdown on protesters at the University of El Salvador. Students say police opened fire at a peaceful demonstration against rising prices for transportation and food last week. They say they responded by throwing stones and were met with fire from snipers and helicopters. A gunfight broke out, leading to the deaths of three students and two police officers. Dozens more were injured.
And in Mexico, more than half a million people are expected to gather in Mexico City Sunday for a massive rally in support of Andrez Manuel Lopez Obrador’s court challenge for a full recount of the presidential vote. Tens of thousands have already set off from across the country on what organizers are calling the “March for Democracy.” On Thursday, Lopez Obrador held a news conference in Mexico City.
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