Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora is urging the United States to pressure Israel into ending the air and sea blockade of Lebanon. Although a ceasefire went into effect 10 days ago, Israel still maintains control of Lebanon’s ports and air space. This comes as the international community is scrambling to put together a peacekeeping force to deploy to Southern Lebanon in order to preserve the ceasefire.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has rejected an Israeli demand for the deployment of international troops on the Lebanese-Syrian border.
Three Lebanese soldiers were killed on Wednesday while clearing unexploded Israeli shells in southern Lebanon. They are the first Lebanese troops to die since the army moved into the region last week. An Israeli soldier also died on Wednesday from an unexploded munition.
UNICEF is warning that Lebanon’s water infrastructure has been largely destroyed makign a major obstacle for people to return home. Water and sanitation systems were badly damaged in Israeli air strikes across southern Lebanon. A water and sanitation specialist from UNICEF said “I have never seen destruction like this. Wherever we go, we ask people what they need most and the answer is always the same: water.”
A leading British think tank has concluded that Iran has been the chief beneficiary of the war on terror in the Middle East and that Iran now wields more influence in Iraq than the United States. The report from Chatham House said Iran had gained from the defeat of two of its most immediate regional rivals, Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The war in Lebanon has also strengthened Iran’s regional influence. The report comes as tensions are increasing between Iran and the United States. On Tuesday Iran said it was willing to engage in serious talks with Western nations over its nuclear program but it rejected a UN security council ultimatum to give up uranium enrichment. The Bush administration criticized Tehran’s response.
A new Congressional report warns that the United States is facing “significant gaps” in its intelligence on Iran. The report states “There is a great deal about Iran that we do not know.” It goes on to say there are major gaps in the government’s knowledge of Iranian nuclear, biological, and chemical programs.
In Iraq, a senior U.S. general said there is clear evidence that Iran is funding, training and arming Shiite militants. Brig. Gen. Michael Barbero accused Iran of promoting the destablization of Iraq.
Here in this country, a growing number of hawkish Repblicans are advocating a U.S. attack on Iran. Weekly Standard editor William Kristol recently said on Fox News “We could be in a military confrontation with Iran much sooner than people expect.”
In other news from the Middle East, Iraq’s interior minister narrowly escaped a roadside bomb blast in Baghdad. Jawad al-Bolani was traveling in a convoy of about 10 vehicles when the bomb exploded. The blast killed two bystanders, including a 12-year-old girl.
A videotape has been released of the two Fox News journalists who were kidnapped nine days ago in Gaza. Reporter Steve Centanni and cameraman Olaf Wiig appear together sitting on the floor.
Kidnapped Cameraman Olaf Wiig, who is from New Zealand, also spoke on the videotape.
A previously unknown group named Holy Jihad Brigades has taken responsibility for the kidnapping. They demanded that all Muslims in US jails be released within 72 hours. All of the main political factions in Gaza have condemned the kidnapping.
Earlier today, Olaf Wiig’s wife Anita McNaught pleaded for their release.
In news from Israel, The Jerusalem Post is reporting that Israel has agreed to buy two submarines capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Israel signed a contract with a German company in July.
The Los Angeles Times reports the White House has begun a public relations blitz to mark the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The Bush administration is attempting to convince the American public that it is fulfilling its promises to rebuild the Gulf Coast. On Wednesday, the president met with a Katrina survivor on the South Lawn of the White House. The man, Rocky Vaccarella, lost his home a year ago. On Wednesday he heaped praise on the president and said he wished Bush could have a third term in office. It turns out that Vaccarella once ran for public office as a Republican. Meanwhile Democrats on Capitol Hill have released a new report titled “Broken Promises: The Republican Response to Katrina.” The report argues that every aspect of recovery — including housing, business loans, healthcare, education and preparedness — suffers from a “failed Republican response marked by unfulfilled promises, cronyism, waste, fraud, and abuse.”
The Bush administration has sued the state of Maine in an attempt to block an inquiry into Verizon’s role in the government’s domestic surveillance program. Maine’s Public Utilities Commission has requested that Verizon confirm whether it has participated in the National Security Agency’s spy program.
A new survey has found that 20 percent of female cadets at the Citadel have been sexual assaulted at the military school in South Carolina. Most of the reported incidents occurred in the barracks or elsewhere on campus, and most often the perpetrator was another cadet. Some of the female cadets reported being subjected to more than one sexual assault. Sixty-eight percent of the women also reported one or more incidents of sexual harassment at the school.
The European Union has moved to block the import of long grain rice from the United States. This comes after the biotech company Bayer CropScience revealed that unauthorized genetically modified rice had accidentally entered commercial rice supplies inside the United States. European Commission spokesperson Phillip Tod: “The emergency measures adopted by the Commission today mean that, with immediate effect, only consignments of U.S. long grain rice that have been tested by an accredited laboratory using, a validated detection method, and accompanied by a certificate assuring the absence of LL 601 will be able to enter the EU.” The European Union says the new regulations will last six months. Japan has also suspended the import of all long grain rice from the United States. Meanwhile a Germany company plans to begin testing genetically modified potatoes in Britain. It will mark the first time in more than three years that any genetically modified food has been grown in Britain.
In Australia, more than 1,200 people held a candlelight vigil on Tuesday calling for the United States to release David Hicks from Guantanamo. Hicks is an Australian citizen who was captured in Afghanistan over four years ago. Hicks’ attorney says his health is deteriorating because he has been held in solitary confinement for the past five months.
In labor news, janitors at the University of Miami have approved their first union contract following a long fight to win the right to unionize. Under the deal, workers will receive up to a 40 percent pay increase and healthcare coverage. The contract covers 400 janitors, housekeepers and landscapers. Earlier this year the workers staged a nine-week strike that gained national attention in part because the school’s president was Donna Shalala, President Clinton’s Secretary for Health and Human Services.
Here in New York, the Daily News has revealed that less than a month after 9/11, a top city Health Department official blasted an order from City Hall to reopen several blocks near Ground Zero. In an internal memo, the official warned in October 2001 that air quality for asbestos at those locations was not yet suitable for re-occupancy.
The Washington Post is reporting that the Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve making the emergency contraceptive Plan B available without a prescription to women 18 and older. The decision could come as early as today.
In other medical news, biologists have announced that they have developed a method of gathering stem cells without killing an embryo. It is unclear whether the development will end the controversy over stem cell research. One scientist said, “There is no rational reason left to oppose this research.”
A U.S. judge in Oregon has postponed the trial of four environmentalists facing life sentences for committing arson and sabotage. The trial was scheduled to begin in October but has been delayed, possibly until March. Defense lawyers said they needed more time to analyze tens of thousands of pages of evidence. The activists, Daniel McGowan, Jonathan Paul, Nathan Block and Joyanna Zacher, have been accused of being involved in a series of arsons done in the name of the Earth Liberation Front. The arsons resulted in widespread property damage but no one was injured in any of the fires. The government’s case rests largely on testimony from six other co-defendants. The National Lawyers Guild has accused the government of intimidating the co-defendants into become cooperating witnesses by charging them with offenses that carry life sentences. This is attorney Lauren Regan, the founder and executive director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Oregon.
In Minnesota, the Catholic Church of Duluth has uninvited the well-known nun, Helen Prejean, from speaking at an upcoming fundraising dinner. Sister Prejean is the author of the book Dead Man Walking. The church said it canceled her speech after her name appeared in ad in the New York Times calling for the removal of President Bush from office.