Israel has resumed air strikes on the Lebanese capital of Beirut, Lebanon’s border with Syria and the eastern Bekka valley. The strikes come one day after Hezbollah fired more 230 rockets into Israel, the most since fighting began last month. One Israeli man was killed and more than thirty people were wounded. Hezbollah says it stepped up the attack “after [Israel] went too far in targeting civilians.”
Earlier today in Beirut, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the death toll from Israel’s invasion has reached 900 people.
According to Prime Minister Siniora, one-third of the casualties are children under the age of twelve. The number of refugees has also reached one million people.
Siniroa’s comments came just hours after the Lebanese government warned the attack on Lebanon is inflicting crippling damage on Lebanon’s economy and infrastructure.
Aid workers are warning large numbers of food and supplies are piling up because Israel won’t guarantee security for their delivery. On Wednesday, both the U.N. and Red Cross announced they’ve delayed aid shipments. The U.N. World Food Program says its reached 80,000 people — just one-tenth of those in need.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has released a major report saying Israel has systematically failed to distinguish between combatants and civilians in its attack on Lebanon. Human Rights Watch says some of these attacks constitute war crimes. The report analyzes nearly two dozen strikes that killed one hundred fifty three civilians — almost half of them children. Human Rights Watch Executive director Kenneth Roth said: “The pattern of attacks shows the Israeli military’s disturbing disregard for the lives of Lebanese civilians… In the many cases of civilian deaths examined by Human Rights Watch, the location of Hezbollah troops and arms had nothing to do with the deaths because there was no Hezbollah around.”
Meanwhile, Israel says it captured five Hezbollah militants during a raid on the ancient city of Baalbek late Tuesday. Hezbollah says Israel kidnapped civilians, including a 60-year old grocery store owner and two construction workers. Israel has come under criticism for killing more than 15 civilians, including a family of seven, and shelling the Baalbek hospital. Israel says the hospital was used as a Hezbollah base.
The Israeli attack has brought about rare unity between Lebanon’s three main religious groups. On Wednesday, Lebanese newspapers published joint a statement released by Lebanon’s Maronite Catholic church and Shiite and Sunni Muslim groups. The statement showed photographs of victims of Israeli bombings and praised the Hezbollah-led “resistance.” The New York Times calls the joint statement an event that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago.
Meanwhile in Vatican City, Pope Benedict repeated his recent calls for an immediate ceasefire.
In other news, Israel continues its almost daily airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. Earlier today, seven Palestinians, including at least two unarmed civilians, were killed in strikes on southern Gaza. The dead include a ten-year old boy. Another twenty-five Palestinians were wounded. The United Nations has launched an appeal asking the international community not to forget the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. In a statement signed by 30 aid agencies, the UN says the situation in Gaza is at least as serious as in southern Lebanon. More than 140 Palestinians have been killed since the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in June. The agencies say Israel has slowed the delivery of aid supplies to a trickle. According to the UN, Israel is firing an average of around 150 shells into Gaza each day. Palestinian militants have fired an average ten rockets into Israel.
In Iraq, more than 50 people were killed in violent attacks Wednesday. In Baghdad, a dozen young Iraqi athletes were killed when their soccer game was bombed.
In other Iraq news, a military probe has found evidence that backs allegations US Marines massacred 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November. The Marines initially claimed that 15 civilians died in a roadside blast caused by insurgents. Months later, reports emerged the civilians were killed when marines burst into their homes and shot them dead in their nightclothes. An ongoing probe is examining whether Marine commanders tried to cover up the events. The news comes as a Marine has filed suit against Democratic Congressmember John Murtha for claiming the Haditha killings were deliberate.
Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has reversed his decision not to testify at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Iraq today. Rumsfeld came under intense criticism after announcing he would not testify publicly and would only meet with Senators in a closed briefing.
In Mexico, a standoff between activist groups and the governor in the state of Oaxaca is intensifying. On Wednesday, a group of close to 500 women seized a state-run television station. The women banged spoons against pots and pans and broadcast footage showing police beating protesters at a major rally last month. The action was the latest in the continuing struggle against Oaxaca Governor Ulises Ruiz. He has been accused of fixing his election victory two years ago and violently suppressing opposition groups.
In Las Vegas, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed suit to strike down a new law that makes it illegal to feed the homeless in public parks. The Las Vegas City Council approved the measure last month. Violators will face a fine of up to $1,000 dollars and as many as six months in prison. Three people have already been arrested for the offense. City officials say they’ve enacted the law because soup kitchens have kept people away from visiting public spaces. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the group Food Not Bombs, which provides free vegetarian meals to the poor.
In Seattle, the man accused in last week’s shooting at the Jewish Federation office was charged Wednesday with nine felony counts, including murder and committing a hate-crime. One woman was killed and five people were wounded in the attack. Naveed Afzal Haq reportedly told the victims he was mad at Israel and the war in Iraq.
And in San Francisco, an independent video journalist has been jailed for refusing to turn over footage of a protest subpoenaed by a grand jury. Josh Wolf could remain in jail until he hands over the tape or until the investigation is concluded. Prosecutors maintain Wolf’s footage shows demonstrators setting a police vehicle on fire. Wolf says no such images exist but will not hand over the tape in accordance with his First Amendment rights.
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