Israel continues to expand the bombing of Lebanon. At least seven Lebanese civilians were killed in airstrikes on southern villages Thursday. Earlier today, Israeli warplanes bombed three bridges linking Beirut to northern Lebanon. The attack killed four civilians and wounded at least ten others. The bombings came just hours after Israel dropped leaflets on Beirut’s suburbs warning residents to flee their homes ahead of a massive bombardment. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz says the strikes are the worst northern Lebanon has seen so far.
Meanwhile, Hizbollah fired more than two hundred rockets into northern Israel Thursday. Eight Israeli civilians were killed. Another four Israeli soldiers died inside Lebanon, making it Israel’s worst day of casualties since launching the attack on Lebanon last month. Wounded civilians crowded the hospital in the northern city of Nahariya.
The violence comes one day after Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah released a new statement threatening to strike Tel Aviv if Israel attacked central Beirut. But for the first time since the start of the Israeli invasion, Nasrallah also made a direct offer of a ceasefire.
Israel immediately rejected Nasrallah’s comments. A defense official told Israel’s Channel One the Israel Defense Forces would destroy Lebanon’s infrastructure in the event of a strike on Tel Aviv.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US is working toward a UN resolution that would seek an end to hostilities but did not offer specifics. In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair also said his government is helping efforts for a ceasefire. In his strongest criticism of Israel’s assault on Lebanon so far, Blair said some of the bombing was “unacceptable” but refused to call it disproportionate. Blair also said he would re-start the Israel-Palestine peace process.
Meanwhile, Venezuela has become the latest country to become embroiled in the diplomatic fallout over the war on Lebanon. On Thursday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he’s withdrawn his ambassador to Israel in protest of its invasion of Lebanon.
A report has emerged Israel is being assisted by a new partner in its attack on Lebanon — the National Security Agency. In a piece published on Salon.com, former Clinton administration official Sydney Blumenthal says the NSA has been providing signal intelligence to Israel to monitor whether Syria and Iran are supplying new weapons to Hezbollah. Citing unnamed national security sources, Blumenthal writes secret intelligence the sharing effort has been pushed by Vice President Dick Cheney and other leading neo-conservatives. Blumenthal writes: “The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.”
In Cuba, the Bush administration’s plan for political intervention has been pushed into the spotlight following this week’s announcement President Fidel Castro is temporarily ceding power to his brother Raoul while he undergoes surgery to stop intestinal bleeding. On Thursday, President Bush made his first public statements since the news of Castro’s health and transfer of power. The President said the US is “actively monitoring the situation in Cuba.” In comments some critics label a tacit call for de-stabilizing Cuba’s government, Bush told Cubans the US will: “support you in your effort to build a transitional government committed to democracy, and we will take note of those, in the current Cuban regime, who obstruct your desire for a free Cuba.” Raoul Castro has yet to make a public appearance since temporarily assuming control. There has been no update on Castro’s condition since Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon told Democracy Now on Wednesday Castro was “very alive and very alert” while recovering from surgery. In Miami, Fidel Castro’s estranged sister, Juanita Castro, said she’s been told her brother was released from intensive care and that: “He’s very sick.”
In Iraq, tens of thousands of Iraqi Shias gathered in the Baghdad suburb of Sadr City for a rally in support of Hizbollah. The rally was called by Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr. Organizers said the crowd reached up to 250,000.
Here in the United States, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton has joined the growing chorus of lawmakers and former military officials calling for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Clinton made the announcement Thursday just hours after she questioned Rumsfeld as he testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Rumsfeld testified alongside General John Abizaid, the top US military commander in Iraq. In a moment of candid testimony, General Abizaid warned Iraq is descending into civil war.
Abizaid’s comments come on the heels of the disclosure of a report written by the outgoing British Ambassador to Iraq. In the confidential memo, the ambassador, William Patey, writes Iraq is likely to be embroiled in: “a low-intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq.” Patey left Baghdad just last week.
In Afghanistan, at least twenty civilians were killed Thursday in a suicide bombing aimed at a NATO convoy. The bombing came hours after four Canadian soldiers with the NATO force were killed in clashes with suspected Taliban fighters.
In Sri Lanka, at least 26 people are dead following clashes between the army and Tamil Tiger rebels. At least 161 people have died and thousands have been displaced since fighting erupted last week. Government and rebel forces are battling over control of a town in northeastern Sri Lanka. Analysts call the recent wave of clashes the most intense since a truce was reached four years ago.
Palestinians continue to bury their dead in the Gaza Strip. On Thursday, thousands took the streets for the funerals of eight Palestinians killed in overnight Israeli attacks. The dead included a ten-year old boy.
On Capitol Hill Thursday, the Senate voted down a measure that would have raised the minimum wage. Although Democrats initially proposed the increase, they voted against the measure Thursday after Republicans attached a provision that would have cut the estate tax for the wealthiest Americans. In comments opposing the Republican effort, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said: “8,100 of the wealthy and well-off hit the jackpot, while millions of working families get $800 billion in [federal] debt.”
In Texas, state Republicans have been dealt a major setback in their efforts to replace former Congressmember Tom Delay’s name on November’s congressional ballot. Delay won a primary in March but stepped down three months later following his indictment on campaign finance violations and his involvement in the scandal centering around Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. A three-judge panel rejected Delay’s argument he’s ineligible to run because he has moved to Virginia. Barring a successful appeal to the Supreme Court, the ruling means Delay will be the Republican candidate on election day regardless of whether he chooses to run a campaign.
Meanwhile in Connecticut, a new poll shows Democratic challenger Ned Lamont now holds a double-digit lead over Senator Joseph Lieberman. According to Quinnipiac University, Lamont leads Lieberman by fifty-four to forty-one percent. Just this week, Lieberman claimed he had regained the momentum following a visit by former President Bill Clinton to support his campaign for re-election. Shortly before Clinton’s visit, Lamont led Lieberman by 51 to 47 percent. Just two months ago, Lamont was trailing Lieberman by fifteen percentage points.
North Carolina has become the first state to establish an “Innocence Commission”. The eight-member panel will hear testimony from inmates and their advocates who claim they’ve been wrongfully convicted.
A California resident freed this week after spending two years behind bars on suspicion of terrorist ties is facing a new government threat — deportation. Abdel Jabbar Hamdan, a Palestinian-American was arrested in July 2004 on suspicion of ties to terrorism, but was never hit with any terror charges. Instead, government officials charged him with overstaying a student visa dating back to 1982. A judge finally ordered his release last week over the objection of the Department of Homeland Security saying he poses a threat to national security. Immigration officials said this week they will attempt to have Hamdan deported.
The news comes just days after the release of a man some call the last domestic detainee swept up in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Benemar Benatta, a Canadian citizen, was released last week after spending five years in prison on suspicion of links to terrorism. He is just one of more than 1,200 Arab or Muslim men imprisoned following 9/11. Benatta’s five-year incarceration included more than six months in solitary confinement in a federal jail in Brooklyn. He was kept in jail despite not being accused of any links to terrorism as early as November 2001.
This news on Jose Padilla — the US government’s case against the detainee it once deemed an “enemy combatant” is being called into question by the presiding federal judge. U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke has once again ordered prosecutors to provide more details to make their case against Padilla and two co-defendants. Judge Cooke said the case against Padilla appears: “very light on facts.”
And finally, the environmental movement may have a new, unexpected convert — Christian televangelist Pat Robertson. In a segment broadcast on his television program “The 700 Club” Thursday, Robertson said “We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels. It is getting hotter, and the icecaps are melting and there is a buildup of carbon dioxide in the air.” As recently as October, Robertson blamed what he called: “far left environmentalists” for saying global warming is caused by human activity. Robertson’s new views may lead to conflicts with fellow Republicans. Just this month, Texas Republican Congressmember Joe Barton was quoted as saying: “I cannot imagine any objective finding that CO2 is a pollutant. If that’s true, God is a polluter.”