Lebanese troops have begun entering south Lebanon after reaching a compromise deal over Hezbollah’s presence in the region. More than 15,000 Lebanese troops are expected as part of a contingent that will stretch to the border with Israel. Hezbollah has agreed to drastically scale back its visible armed presence in the south but will be allowed to maintain access to its operation centers and weaponry.
Lebanon’s death toll continues to rise as more bodies are recovered from the rubble of destroyed homes and buildings. Robert Fisk of the London Independent reports workers found sixty-one bodies on Wednesday, bringing Lebanon’s toll to almost thirteen hundred people.
Democracy Now’s Ana Nogueira is in Lebanon. She recently visited Bint Jbail where she spoke to Nabil Beydoun. He had only recently returned to Lebanon from the United States when his town came under attack.
Nogueira also visited the border village of Ain El Chaab.
Meanwhile, aid and human rights groups have launched an appeal for an international effort to clear out unexploded bombs they say are putting thousands of Lebanese at risk.
As military control is transferred to the Lebanese government, Hezbollah is now vowing to focus on relief efforts.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has pledged new furniture and a year’s worth of rent to some 15,000 families whose homes were destroyed. The funding will come from Iran.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting Lebanese aid officials are complaining over a lack of funding from the US government. Lebanon’s reconstruction is expected to cost upwards of $7 billion dollars. But the Bush administration has promised just $50 million. Officials say the administration has also delayed aid transfers. The US State Department waited two weeks before declaring the war a humanitarian emergency after clashes broke out last month. Lebanon’s interior minister, Ahmad Fatfat, said: “[The Americans] ask us to do a lot, and they don’t help us to do it, which is so different from what the Iranians have done to help Hezbollah.” Meanwhile, many aid agencies are reporting they’ve failed to reach their fundraising goals. The World Food Programme says it’s raised less than half the $21 million dollars it needs to provide aid to Lebanon. Last week, the Washington Post reported Arab and Muslim-American charities have also been receiving less donations for Lebanon. Leaders said the slowdown could be attributed in part to fears over the US government’s crackdown on Arab and Muslim charities.
Meanwhile in Israel, a new poll shows declining support for the two top Israeli leaders behind the attack on Lebanon. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s approval rating has fallen to forty percent, down from nearly eighty percent at the height of the war. Defense Minister Amir Peretz has also seen his rating fall by more than half, to below thirty percent.
In Iraq, four people were killed and 12 injured earlier today when a car bomb exploded in the Sadr City section of Baghdad.
Meanwhile the New York Times is reporting of a growing consensus inside the US military the Iraq insurgency is getting stronger. According to the Pentagon, July saw the highest monthly total of roadside bombs since the start of the war. The number of daily strikes against US and Iraqi security forces has doubled since the start of this year. A senior Defense Department official said the insurgency “has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels.” The official added the insurgency has more public support and more available fighters than at any point. The attacks are increasingly targeting US troops. Five hundred and eighteen soldiers were wounded in attacks last month, up from less than three hundred in January. And of more than sixteen hundred bombs that exploded in July, more than two-thirds were directed at the US-led occupation force. One military consultant with ties to the White House said the Bush administration is considering plans for the possibility Iraq’s elected government might not survive. The expert said the plans include alternatives other than democracy.
Meanwhile, a US Marine officer has been charged with assaulting three Iraqi civilians. Military prosecutors say Lt. Nathan Phan beat and choked the Iraqis and placed his gun in one of the victim’s mouth. The alleged incident took place in the town of Hamdania in April. Lt. Phan was the platoon leader for the troops who have been charged with the killing of an Iraqi man there, but he has not been charged in that case.
In Britain, a judge has ruled police have until next week to detain twenty three suspects arrested in the alleged plot to blow up ten airplanes bound for the United States. On Wednesday Home Secretary John Reid said some of the suspects would likely not be charged with major crimes, but vowed indictments for others he says were deeply involved.
In other news from Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing a potential row over the reported comments of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott on the Bush administration. According to the London Independent, Presscott told a gathering of Labour parliamentarians this week he believes White House policy for the Middle East is “crap.” Prescott is also quoted as saying President Bush is “just a cowboy with his Stetson on.” Prescott denies making the comments.
UN Secretary General Koffi Annan is warning the humanitarian crisis in Darfur is worsening by the day. Half of Darfur’s civilians are completely cut off from humanitarian aid. Getting to the other half is fraught with risk. Villagers are fleeing in massive numbers reporting “indiscriminate killings, rape and abduction.” The situation has worsened since rebels reached a peace agreement with the Sudanese government in May. Fighting has increased between them while the Sudanese-backed militias have stepped up attacks on humanitarian workers and UN troops.
Here in the United States, a new government-commissioned report is warning of severe electoral problems in Ohio’s most populous county. According to the Election Science Institute, problems in Cuyahoga County are so widespread it’s unlikely they’ll be fixed by November — or even by the next presidential election. The report singles out voting machines manufactured by the company Diebold. Poll workers have had difficulty operating the machines, absentee ballots have gone uncounted, and the machine’s vote totals have not added up.
The lawyer for outed CIA operative Valerie Plame is vowing to force Vice President Dick Cheney, ex-chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby and presidential adviser Karl Rove to testify in Plame’s civil lawsuit against them. Plame filed suit last month accusing the three of conspiring to end her career and putting her and her family at risk. She was outed as a CIA operative shortly after her husband Ambassador Joseph Wilson went public with findings challenging one of the Bush administration’s pre-war claims on Iraqi weapons. Plame’s attorney, Joseph Cotchett says he will invoke a 1997 Supreme Court ruling in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment case against President Bill Clinton. According to Cotchett, the ruling establishes a precedent that would grant the accused White House officials immunity only if they could prove they were acting on government business when they leaked Plame’s name to the media.
In military news, the US has announced it will double the number of missile-defense ships in the Pacific Ocean. The military says the ships are needed to protect the US from potential missile strikes from North Korea or Iran.
In New Orleans, a group of more than eighty immigrant hotel workers have filed a lawsuit against the prominent US chain Decatur Hotels. The workers were recruited from Peru, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic to take maintenance and support jobs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina under promises of high wages and steady work. But they say Decatur has withheld travel reimbursements and overtime pay.
In Colombia, the government has announced it has used US-supplied planes for the first time to fumigate a national park where rebels and farmers have grown coca, the raw ingredient for cocaine. The government says it cleared more than 11,000 acres. The spraying took place over the challenges of environmentalists and local groups. They’ve accused the government of endangering the environment and putting thousands of local residents at risk.
And finally in Paraguay, former dictator Alfredo Stroessner has died at the age of 93. Stroessner seized power in 1954 and ruled for thirty five years. He provided a haven to several Nazi war criminals, including Dr. Josef Mengele, known as “The Angel of Death” at Auschwitz. Stroessner was a stanch ally of the US government.