In Gaza, at least 25 Palestinians died on Wednesday in a day that saw fierce internal fighting between Hamas and Fatah. Most Gaza residents were forced to hide inside as gun battles raged in the street. At one point a group of journalists were caught inside a burning building. Israel also carried out airstrikes in Gaza. Fighting decreased in Gaza this morning after Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas threatened to declare a state of emergency. Tension is also rising between Hamas and Israel. Hamas fired crude rockets at the southern Israeli town of Sderot. Meanwhile, Israeli airstrikes in Gaza killed at least four Palestinians.
Israel has claimed it will not get involved in the factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah, but many Middle East observers say the U.S. and Israel have both directly helped Fatah in recent months as part of an effort to topple the elected Hamas leadership. The U.S. is spending $86 million to help arm and train the Palestinian presidential guard which is loyal to Fatah leader, Mahmoud Abbas. This has helped pay for shipments of rifles and bullets. In January President Bush’s deputy national security adviser, Elliott Abrams, called for a “hard coup” in the Occupied Territories to overthrow Hamas. Last week a Jordanian newspaper obtained a secret 16-page U.S. document that outlined an action plan for undermining and replacing the Palestinian national unity government.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has rejected a bill to cut off money for combat operations in Iraq after March 31, 2008. Nineteen Democratic senators joined Republicans in opposing the bill. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin drafted the bill.
Sen. Russ Feingold: “Iraq’s problems will not be solved by an open-ended, massive U.S. military engagement. And, Mr. President, I am convinced that our own national security will be weakened until we bring this war to a close.”
The bill was rejected by 67-to-29 vote. Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia introduced an alternative bill that would have threatened billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Iraq if Baghdad failed to implement certain political and security reforms.
Sen. John Warner: “Now the purpose of this amendment is to require the administration to keep the Congress well informed. The situation in Iraq changes almost daily. Our losses continue, and in my judgment it is the responsibility of every member of Congress to keep well versed on this situation.”
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized Warner’s bill as not going far enough in part because it contained a provision allowing the president to waive the restrictions.
Sen. Harry Reid: “But, Mr. President, the situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. It requires actions, certainly not more reports, especially those without consequences. I will vote against the Warner amendment, and I hope everyone votes against it. It is nothing.”
The Warner bill also failed to win passage in the Senate.
Meanwhile in Iraq, at least 88 people died on Wednesday in a series of attacks. In Baghdad, 32 people died in a car bombing that officials said might have involved chlorine gas. A mortar attack on the U.S.-controlled Green Zone killed at least two people and injured 10 more. One of the dead was said to be a driver for the staff of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The mortar attack raised new questions about whether the U.S. can keep the Green Zone secure.
The British military has announced Prince Harry will not be sent to Iraq because the situation is too unsafe. General Sir Richard Dannatt made the announcement on Wednesday.
Gen. Dannatt: “There are a number of specific threats, of a varied nature, some reported, some not reported, specifically aimed at Prince Harry. And it is for that reason and in light of recent events, that you have referred to one affecting U.S. servicemen, that I have decided that the risk to Prince Harry is too great. And I have also decided that the threat that he brings to his troops and squadron, by his presence, in light of the specific threats to him, is now too great.”
Members of the British group Military Families Against the War criticized the decision. Rose Gentle, whose son was killed in Iraq, said, “If it’s too dangerous for Prince Harry, it’s too dangerous for the rest of the boys. They should all come home.” April was the deadliest month for British troops in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
In other Iraq news, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops have been conducting house-to-house searches in an attempt to find three missing U.S. soldiers. Iraqi residents complained about the actions of the U.S. troops.
Iraqi woman: “They damaged the fence of the house and entered. They damaged the house and belongings, seizing our money, gold, passports and identity cards. They threw the old man here and hit the young man, too. They blindfolded them and bound their hands.”
A Norwegian company has announced it will soon become the first foreign oil firm to pump crude oil from Iraq in over three decades. The company, DNO, said it will begin producing a small amount of oil from the northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan. For the past 35 years, Iraq’s oil industry has been under state control. The Iraqi Parliament is debating a bill that will open up the country’s vast oil reserves to foreign oil companies. On Tuesday, protesters from the group Hands Off Iraqi Oil gathered in London to demonstrate outside the annual shareholders’ meeting of the oil giant Shell.
The United Nations top humanitarian chief is saying the refugee situation in Somalia is now worse than Darfur. John Holmes said, “In terms of the numbers of people displaced, and our access to them, Somalia is a worse crisis than Darfur or Chad or anywhere else this year.” In December, U.S.-backed Ethiopian troops invaded Somalia to topple the Islamic Courts Union. Since then, over 400,000 people have fled their homes. Unlike in Sudan, Holmes said no emergency camps have been set up to help the refugees. Most of those who have fled, including women, children and the elderly, are camping in fields without access to food, shelter, clean water or medicines.
At the World Bank, The New York Times is reporting, Paul Wolfowitz has begun negotiating the terms under which he would resign in return for the dropping or softening of the charge that he had engaged in misconduct. The World Bank oversight committee has concluded Wolfowitz broke ethics rules when he oversaw a pay raise and promotion for his companion, Shaha Ali Riza.
There is a new development in the U.S. attorneys scandal. The Washington Post is reporting the Justice Department considered dismissing at least 26 prosecutors between February 2005 and December 2006. They amounted to more than a quarter of the nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys. Thirteen of those known to have been targeted are still in their posts.
Christine Todd Whitman, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is refusing to testify before Congress about the government”s handling of air quality in New York following the 9/11 attacks. A week after the attacks, Whitman claimed that air-monitoring tests at ground zero showed the air was safe to breathe. Later the EPA’s own inspector general determined that Whitman’s comments were misleading. Thousands of rescue workers, firefighters and downtown residents have since developed severe respiratory problems after being exposed to dust and toxic material.
A federal judge has ordered the New York City police to release about 600 pages of internal documents that detail the department’s wide-ranging surveillance of activists ahead of the 2004 Republican National Convention. The judge ordered the first batch of documents to be made public following a lawsuit by the New York Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times.
Donna Lieberman of the NYCLU: “What’s shocking is the breadth of the surveillance activity. They were in lots of different cities across the nation and internationally. We have in here of people doing graffiti in Germany, in Croatia. We have reports from Berkeley, from Baltimore, from Syracuse, from Fresno. The police department was all over the country, all over the globe.”
The city is still fighting to keep secret other documents related to the convention, including the raw intelligence collected by the police department. According to The New York Times, these unfiltered reports include more detailed information about the groups and individuals that were watched and in some cases disclose how the undercover officers conducted the surveillance.
In health news, a new international study has ranked the United States healthcare system last among major rich countries, even though the U.S. spends double what the average industrialized country spends on healthcare. The study by the Commonwealth Fund found that the U.S. ranked last in most areas, including access to healthcare, patient safety, timeliness of care, efficiency and equity. Forty-five million Americans, or 15 percent of the U.S. population, have no health insurance.
A group of University of California students on a hunger strike are planning to protest today outside the University of California Board of Regents meeting. The students started their hunger strike over a week ago to protest the university’s close ties to the nation’s nuclear weapons industry. The university recently won a contract to manage the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore nuclear laboratories.
And Yolanda King has died at the age of 51. She was the eldest daughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King.