The UN says Iran is in violation of an international deadline to halt uranium enrichment. The deadline passed at midnight earlier today. The Bush administration has vowed to seek sanctions. President Bush talked about Iran during a speech in Salt Lake City Thursday.
In Sweden, an international donor conference for Lebanon has pledged more $940 million — double organizers’ initial goal. Lebanon says at least 130,000 homes were damaged or destroyed during Israel’s invasion.
In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Siniora said Israel has practiced “criminal behaviour” in Lebanon and created “several little Hiroshimas” throughout the South. But he said he would accept a lasting settlement if Israel agreed to a four-year old peace offer from the Arab League.
Meanwhile, Israel is coming under criticism for continuing attacks inside Lebanon despite the UN-brokered ceasefire. The UN says Israel has committed seventy violations since the ceasefire was reached. Hezbollah has committed four violations during the same period.
The Sudanese government has rejected a new UN Security Council resolution to send thousands of international peacekeepers into Darfur. Thursday’s measure calls for the deployment of more than twenty thousand troops to replace the current African Union contingent. Sudan says the resolution is illegal. The news comes amid increasing signs Sudan is preparing a new offensive inside Darfur. Rebel groups are claiming Sudanese forces attacked western villages just hours before the UN vote.
In Iraq, at least 64 people are dead following a series of coordinated bombings in Baghdad late Thursday. Another 280 were injured. The attacks brought Thursday’s death toll across Iraq to at least 85.
Meanwhile, the US military occupation of Iraq has reached its highest level since the start of this year. The Pentagon says it has 140,000 troops in Iraq, up 13,000 from a month ago. More than 15,000 US troops are currently in Baghdad. The announcement comes one day after the top US military leader in Iraq, General George Casey, predicted Iraqi forces will be able to take control as soon as next year. As the US troop presence increases, so does its death toll — sixty-four US servicemembers lost their lives last month, ending three straight months of declines.
There are new developments in the case of the massacre at Haditha: documents have been released showing the Marine in charge of the unit accused of slaying 24 Iraqis was subsequently recommended for a medal. The Marine, Staff Sgt. Frank Wuterich, is among the troops under investigation for deliberately killing civilians. In a memo written weeks after the massacre obtained by the Washington Post, Sgt. Wuterich’s commander calls him “an outstanding squad leader” deserving of a medal for his actions at Haditha. The Marines initially claimed that 15 civilians died in a roadside blast caused by insurgents there. Months later, reports emerged the civilians were killed when marines burst into their homes and shot them dead in their nightclothes.
In the Occupied Territories, an Israeli military court has ordered fifteen Hamas officials to go on trial for membership in an outlawed organization. The group includes twelve elected parliamentarians and two cabinet members. They are among dozens of Hamas political leaders who have been rounded up since the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Abdul Aziz Duaik, the Palestinian speaker of parliament, was brought before the court shackled in chains. Defense attorneys say Israel is trying to punish Hamas for winning this year’s elections and that the Hamas officials do not recognize the legality of the court. Meanwhile in Gaza, a leading Hamas official has called on militants to stop firing rockets into Israel. In a letter to local newspapers, Hamas spokesperson Ghazi Hamad said the attacks are hurting the Palestinian cause. He wrote: “We have lost our sense of direction.”
In other news from the region, the Vatican and three churches in Israel have come out against the Christian Zionist movement — the American evangelicals who have lobbied the US government for aggressive support of Israel’s policies. In a statement called the “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism”, the four Church groups write: “The Christian Zionist programme provides a world view where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war.”
In China, a Hong Kong journalist has been sentenced to five years in prison for spying on behalf of Taiwan. Ching Cheong, a reporter for Singapore’s Straits Times, was tried behind closed doors after being detained for more than a year. Human rights groups say his case marks a warning to local and foreign journalists working in China.
In health news, a new study has found the amount of nicotine in most cigarettes has risen by almost ten percent in less than a decade. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, those brands most popular among young people and minorities recorded both the highest increases and the highest content of nicotine. Of one hundred and sixteen brands, ninety-two of them had more nicotine than they did just six years before. More than fifty had increases of more than ten percent. Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the results indicate the nicotine increase has been: “conscious and deliberate.”
And finally in Detroit, close to 10,000 teachers and staff are in the fifth day of a city-wide public school strike. A local judge has ordered round the clock negotiations but there are doubts an agreement will be reached before the start of classes next week. The teacher’s union contends they were lied to in negotiations that forced them to make millions of dollars in concessions last year.