In eastern Afghanistan, at least seven children have died after a U.S-led airstrike blew up a compound housing a mosque and a religious school. The U.S. blamed al-Qaeda for the deaths, claiming that the children had been used as human shields.
The U.S. airstrike came hours after 35 people died in Kabul in a bombing aboard a bus filled with Afghan police instructors. It was the deadliest bombing in the Afghan capital since the Taliban was ousted in 2001.
In the West Bank, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has formed an emergency Cabinet to replace the unity government which he dissolved last week after Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. Hamas officials said they do not recognize the new government, which was installed without the approval of the democratically elected Hamas-led Palestinian Parliament. One Hamas official dismissed Abbas’ new Cabinet as an illegitimate lackey of Israel and the United States. Mahmoud Abbas selected Salam Fayyad as the new Palestinian prime minister. Fayyad is a U.S.-educated economist who previously worked for the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
While both the U.S. and Israel have said they plan to lift restrictions on aid for the West Bank, Israel has blocked all cargo shipments into Gaza where supplies of fuel, food and medicine are running low. Many areas of Gaza have been without electricity since last week’s fighting.
U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Kevin Kennedy: “What we really need to do as a first step is to resume our full program in Gaza. As you might know, the United Nations feeds nearly one million people a month in Gaza, not their entire ration but very important of their diet, and we have to get these operations back up running in full speed along with the medical clinics, the hospitals and the schools.”
Israel has also blocked Palestinian civilians from leaving Gaza. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat of Fatah dismissed Hamas as a group of gangsters but said the Palestinian people in Gaza need help.
Saeb Erekat: “Gaza has 1.5 million people. These people have suffered more than enough. These people have nothing to do with the coup d’etat and this group of gangsters who are terrorizing them now. These people should not — way of life — these people’s fuel, electricity, water, food, medical supplies should not be undermined. So we appeal to all not to add to the complexities, and to add to the suffering of those 1.5 million Palestinians.”
In other news from the region, two rockets exploded near the Israeli town Kiryat Shmona near the Lebanese border.
In Iraq, suspected Shiite militants blew up a major Sunni mosque in Basra on Friday. It was the second mosque destroyed in the city since last week’s bombing of the Shiite Golden Shrine in Samarra.
On Saturday, a top U.S. general admitted security forces have full control over just 40 percent of Baghdad five months after the beginning of the so-called surge. Meanwhile, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, said the U.S. is launching a new Baghdad offensive against al-Qaeda.
Gen. Petraeus: “A fairly large coordinated offensive operation with all of these surge forces — and these large three pieces are very, very important — has only just now been launched.”
This comes as The Washington Post reports that private security companies are engaged in a parallel surge in Iraq. More than 100 firms are now operating in Iraq, and they are boosting manpower, adding expensive armor and stepping up offensive attacks.
The war on journalists in Iraq is also continuing. On Sunday the body of Flayeh Wadi Mijdab was found four days after he was abducted by gunmen in Baghdad. Mijdab was managing editor of the state-owned daily newspaper, al-Sabah.
The former Army general who led the Pentagon’s first investigation into the abuses at Abu Ghraib has revealed that he was forced to retire because his report was too critical of the U.S. military. In his first interview since then, Major General Antonio Taguba told investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld misled Congress about the Abu Ghraib investigation, minimizing how much he knew about the abuse and torture. Taguba also said the military has unpublished photographs and videos that show the abuse and torture was even worse than previously disclosed. Taguba said he saw a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee. Taguba said he was blocked from investigating who ordered the torture at Abu Ghraib. He said, “These M.P. troops were not that creative. Somebody was giving them guidance, but I was legally prevented from further investigation into higher authority. I was limited to a box.”
A federal appeals court in New York will hear oral arguments today in a lawsuit filed by Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. The lawsuit accuses over 35 chemical companies including Monsanto and Dow Chemical of knowingly providing the U.S. government with a poisonous agent that was then sprayed indiscriminately on millions of civilians during the Vietnam War. The Vietnamese Red Cross estimates 150,000 children have been born with birth defects since 1975 because of Agent Orange. U.S. veterans including David Cline of Veterans for Peace have backed the lawsuit.
David Cline: “If you want to end a war, you have to help the victims and the veterans seek justice, and the Vietnamese people are standing up for their rights. And as American veterans, we are supporting and want to see that all victims are given some amount of justice.”
Vietnam’s President Nguyen Minh Triet is expected to raise the issue with President Bush on Friday when Triet becomes the first Vietnamese head of state to visit Washington since the end of the Vietnam War.
In Washington, another top Justice Department official has resigned for his involvement in the U.S. attorneys scandal. Michael Elston served as chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Several of the fired prosecutors said Elston personally threatened them not to speak publicly about what happened.
And finally, New Orleans is turning to foreign aid to help rebuild the city nearly two years after Hurricane Katrina. The city is talking to more than five countries because the federal government in Washington has been so slow in sending assistance. As of last week, the city said it had received just over half of the $320 million FEMA has obligated for rebuilding the city.