The Lebanese Army is continuing to shell a refugee camp near Tripoli that houses over 40,000 Palestinians. For the past three days the camp has been under siege as Lebanese troops have battled with gunmen from the group Fatah al-Islam. At least 79 people have died since Sunday in the bloodiest internal fighting since the end of Lebanon’s civil war. Palestinian sources in the camp said the number of civilian deaths could rise as rescue workers have not been able to reach some of the wounded. Food, water and aid supplies are running out inside the camp. The fighting began after members of Fatah al-Islam robbed a bank on Sunday. The Lebanese government accuses the group of having ties with al-Qaeda and the Syrian government, but the group denies the accusations. On Monday, Palestinian leaders in Lebanon called for a ceasefire. This is Ali Shaaban of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
Ali Shaaban: “Palestinian groups and factions call on the Lebanese army to halt its policy of chaotic shelling which has destroyed houses and killed and wounded 50 civilians.”
Meanwhile in Washington, State Department spokesperson Sean McCormack said the Bush administration supports the actions of the Lebanese government.
Sean McCormack: “The Lebanese armed forces are doing an admirable job on behalf of the Lebanese government and the Lebanese people to bring law and order back to this area of Lebanon, and it’s well within their rights to do so.”
There has also been sporadic violence in Beirut. Last night a bomb exploded injuring 10 people.
Congressional Democrats have reportedly decided to make a major concession to President Bush over the war in Iraq. According to the Associated Press, Democrats intend to draft an Iraq War-funding bill without a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. It would provide funds for military operations in Iraq through Sept. 30. The bill also includes the first federal increase in the minimum wage in over a decade. The Democrats made the concession on the war funding after President Bush vetoed an earlier bill because Democrats included a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops. Presidential candidate John Edwards criticized congressional Democrats for compromising with President Bush. Edwards said in a statement, “Congress should send him the same bill back to him again and again until he realizes he has no choice but to start bringing our troops home.”
In Iraq, at least 25 people died earlier today when a car bomb exploded in a packed outdoor market in southwestern Baghdad. Another 60 people were injured.
The U.S. military is planning to make a major push into the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City that houses two million Shiites. The Washington Post reports that the U.S. military is considering a wholesale clearing of the neighborhood if political avenues fail. One military officer said, “A second Fallujah plan exists, but we don’t want to execute it.”
In other news from Iraq, the British journalist Patrick Cockburn has revealed explosive details about a secret U.S. plan to kill or capture one of Iraq’s best-known Shiite leaders, Muqtada al-Sadr. According to Cockburn, the U.S. Army tried to carry out the plan two-and-a-half years ago by luring al-Sadr to peace negotiations at a house in the holy city of Najaf. Iraq’s national security adviser said the effects of the U.S. plan are still being felt because it led to Sadr losing all confidence and trust in the U.S.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate has voted to move ahead with a debate to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws, but the proposal is already facing widespread criticism. Last week, a bipartisan group of senators outlined a proposal that quickly received the support of President Bush. The Senate leadership had hoped the bill would be passed this week, but it has been met by unexpected opposition from the both the left and right. The actual vote on the immigration proposal has now been pushed off until June. The Senate proposal calls for increased border security, a temporary guestworker program and a provision that would give legal status to some of the undocumented immigrants living in the United States. The proposal would also create a point system for future immigration to de-emphasize family ties in favor of educational attainment and work skills.
In environmental news, the United States is battling to stop world leaders at next month’s G8 meeting from pushing for urgent talks on a new deal to fight global warming. Reuters is reporting the Bush administration wants to delete references in G8 documents that describe the urgency of the climate crisis and that call for a new U.N. conference on the issue. The United States is trying to get the following paragraph deleted from G8 documents. It reads: “We firmly agree that resolute and concerted international action is urgently needed in order to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and sustain our common basis of living.” The Bush administration has also objected to most references to targets and timetables to cut climate-warming carbon emissions. This includes an effort by Germany to get rich nations to agree to cut energy consumption by 20 percent by 2020 and raise energy efficiency in transport and power generation by the same amount over the same period.
Meanwhile, in related news, a team of international scientists reported on Monday that worldwide carbon dioxide levels have taken a sudden and alarming jump since the year 2000. The scientists found that CO2 emissions from fossil fuels are increasing at three times the rate experienced in the 1990s.
Israel is threatening to intensify its attacks on the Hamas leadership following a rocket attack on Monday that killed an Israeli woman.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni: “The Palestinian government headed by Hamas terrorist organization responsible for this situation and this unacceptable situation must be stopped. Until now Israel has shown restraint, but the rockets and the Qassam missiles on Sderot and the attacks continued. Israel must defend its citizens.”
High-ranking Israeli officials are now threatening to assassinate members of the Hamas political leadership. Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh hinted today that Israel might even target Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as part of an effort to stop the rocket attacks. Earlier today, the Israeli military sealed off Gaza and the West Bank ahead of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot.
The United Nations’ humanitarian chief John Holmes is urging the international community not to turn its back on Somalia at a time of desperate need. Holmes said the U.S.-backed Somali government appears to be seriously underestimating the humanitarian suffering in the country. Holmes testified before the U.N. Security Council on Monday. He said that almost 400,000 Somalis fled Mogadishu following the U.S.-backed Ethiopian invasion and that the vast majority of people have not returned home. Newsweek has reported some refugees have resorted to renting trees for shelter. Meanwhile, aid workers in Somalia have described a dire situation inside the few medical clinics set up.
Mathias Frese, of the International Committee of the Red Cross: “We are doing distribution of food for displaced families from Mogadishu. We are addressing about 800, 900 families in this town. The families, the people fled from Mogadishu recently because of the heavy fighting, and here they are seeking protection by their clan.”
The head of one Somali Red Crescent clinic said many of the refugees are suffering from malnutrition.
Nassra, head of Somali Red Crescent clinic: “There are 25 to 30 people who come every day, mainly displaced people from Mogadishu. Their main problem is watery diarrhea and malnutrition. Our medical stock is decreasing faster than usual, and this affects our supply chain.”
The Virginian-Pilot newspaper is reporting the private security company Blackwater USA has succeeded in partially derailing a landmark lawsuit brought by the families of four Blackwater employees killed in Fallujah, Iraq, three years ago. A federal judge has ordered the lawsuit be decided behind closed doors in arbitration. This will allow Blackwater to avoid public examination of its practices in Iraq. The outcome of the arbitration will be confidential. One of the three arbitrators is William Webster. He served as head of the FBI and CIA under President Reagan and has personal and business ties to several Blackwater lawyers.
Iran has charged a prominent American scholar of trying to topple the Iranian government. The scholar, Haleh Esfandiari, was imprisoned in Iran on May 8 after more than four months under virtual house arrest. She is the director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Wilson Center said the charges against Esfandiari had no foundation. Esfandiari is a dual U.S. and Iranian citizen. She went to Iran last year to take care of her 93-year-old mother. Her arrest has been widely condemned in the academic world.
In political news, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson officially declared his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination. He is attempting to become the nation’s first Latino president. Richardson made the announcement in both English and Spanish during a speech in Los Angeles.
Gov. Richardson: “We need a president who is not dismissive of diplomacy, but someone who embraces it as the primary instrument of our foreign policy because he has practiced it and knows how to and gets results.”
Bill Richardson served as secretary of energy and ambassador to the United Nations during the Clinton administration.
There are new developments in the student loan industry scandal. The financial aid directors at Johns Hopkins and Columbia universities have been forced out of their posts amid revelations that they received payments or gifts from loan companies they recommended to students. Columbia’s David Charlow is said to have held more than $100,000 in stock from the company Student Loan Xpress. The same lending company paid Ellen Frishberg at Johns Hopkins $65,000.
And this news in from London: British prosecutors have announced they are charging a former KGB agent in the poisoning death of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. The British government said Andrey Lugovoy met with Litvinenko at a London hotel only hours before Litvinenko became ill with polonium-210 poisoning. Litvinenko was a former spy and prominent critic of the Russian government. The Russian prosecutor-general’s office has announced it will not turn Lugovoy over to Britain to be tried.