In Israel and the Occupied Territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ruled out talks with Hamas for what he says was a plot on his life. Abbas dismissed the democratically elected Hamas-led government last week after Hamas forces seized control of Gaza. On Wednesday, Abbas said he had obtained footage of Hamas militants smuggling explosives meant for an attack. Abbas called Hamas “murderous terrorists, killers and coup seekers.” But he also warned Israel not to exploit the internal Palestinian conflict.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “Our problems are not only with Hamas — I emphasize my rejection of any Israeli attempt aiming to take advantage of this disdain, perpetrated by the coup militants, to choke our people.”
Hamas immediately dismissed Abbas’ remarks and accused him of collaborating with Israel and the U.S.
Meanwhile, a top official said Hamas would enter a ceasefire with Israel if the Israeli military halted operations in Gaza and the West Bank. The offer came as Israel launched its first attacks in Gaza since the Hamas takeover. Israeli troops killed four militants after nine rockets were fired at the Israeli border town of Sderot.
Meanwhile, Israel’s High Court has rejected a motion for immediate entry of all Gaza residents in need of life-saving medical attention. Israel has allowed at least 35 Palestinians, but some 25 remain stranded at Gaza’s crossing with Israel. Sari Bashi of the Israeli human rights group Gisha urged the Israeli government to allow them entry.
Sari Bashi: “Since Thursday Israel has closed the borders of Gaza, no one can leave. These are patients who if they don’t enter Israeli hospitals immediately, their life is threatened. Because Israel continues to exercise control over Gaza’s borders, it has an obligation to let patients receive life-saving treatment outside of Gaza.”
Meanwhile, former President Jimmy Carter has weighed in on the Bush administration’s role in the current crisis. Speaking in Ireland, Carter said the U.S., Israel and the European Union are trying to divide the Palestinian people. Carter also called the administration’s refusal to accept Hamas’ election win last year “criminal.” He said: “The United States and Israel decided to punish all the people in Palestine and did everything they could to deter a compromise between Hamas and Fatah.”
BBC News is reporting British Prime Minister Tony Blair is in talks with the White House about becoming a Middle East envoy when he steps down next week. The administration reportedly wants Blair to represent the quartet of the U.S., European Union, the U.N. and Russia. Blair is resigning after 10 years in office.
Friends, family and colleagues of the BBC reporter Alan Johnston gathered Wednesday to mark the 100th day since he was kidnapped in Gaza. A moment of silence was observed at vigils in more than a dozen cities, including London, Jerusalem, Kabul, New York and Washington.
In Iraq, at least 13 people have been killed and more than 70 wounded in a suicide attack just outside Diyala province. Thousands of U.S. troops are engaged in a new offensive there against what the Pentagon says are al-Qaeda militants. Earlier today at least 11 civilians were wounded in a U.S. airstrike in Baquba. The U.S. military says it was firing on a militant safehouse but missed its target. The violence comes as The Washington Post reports Iraq’s government is in disarray. Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi said he tried to resign last week amidst growing frustration with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
In Washington, Senator Hillary Clinton was met with a hostile audience for the second year in a row in a speech at the “Take Back America” conference.
Sen. Hillary Clinton: “The American military has done its job. Look what they accomplished. They got rid of Saddam Hussein. They gave the Iraqis a chance for free and fair elections. They gave the Iraqi government the chance to begin to demonstrate that it understood its responsibilities to make the hard political decisions necessary to give the people of Iraq a better future. So the American military has succeeded. It is the Iraqi government which has failed to make the tough decisions which are important for their own people.”
At that point boos were heard from the crowd as Clinton supporters tried to outcheer her critics. A spokesperson for the group CodePink said Clinton’s focus on the Iraqi government amounted to blaming the victim. Clinton was booed last year when she refused to support a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
Nigeria has been brought to a standstill as hundreds of thousands of people take part in a general strike. Union leaders are demanding better wages, a drop in rising oil prices and the reversal of a new tax increase.
Nigerian citizen Debo Thorpe: “As far as Nigeria is concerned, we are rich, but the government is wasting our money on useless things, some of them having 50 houses, 150 houses, while others are living in a mud house, in a wooden house, on the water side, in the slum. We are suffering, and we are tired of this.”
In South Korea, thousands of South Korean farmers gathered in Seoul Wednesday to protest a pending trade agreement with the United States. American negotiators are set to arrive today to revise the deal according to environmental and labor standards in last month’s bipartisan trade pact. But South Korean officials say the talks amount to a consultation, not a renegotiation. Park Eui-kyu of the Korea Advanced Farmers Federation: “Free trade with the United States is like robbing our right to live. We will have no place to live after the free trade. We’re protesting to get our right to live back.”
Back in the United States, President Bush has vetoed a bill funding research on embryos from human stem cells. Wednesday’s move marks the third veto of his presidency.
President Bush: “I made it clear to Congress and to the American people that I will not allow our nation to cross this moral line. Last year, Congress passed a similar bill, and I kept my promise by vetoing it. And today I’m keeping my word again. I’m vetoing the bill that Congress has sent.”
Democrats will need a two-thirds majority in Congress to overturn the veto.
More campaign woes for Rudy Giuliani. The treasurer of the former New York mayor’s South Carolina campaign has been indicted on charges of distributing cocaine. The treasurer, Thomas Ravenel, faces up to 20 years in prison.
The Bush administration’s nominee for the top legal position at the CIA has revealed he supported the infamous 2002 Justice Department memo that said torture would not occur unless a prisoner experiences pain serious enough to cause organ failure or death. Speaking before the Senate Select Committee, John Rizzo also refused to publicly answer whether the CIA has transferred prisoners to countries using torture. Rizzo said he would answer the question in closed session.
In military news, a new Harvard Medical School study shows around 1.8 million U.S. veterans lack basic health insurance or access to care. The number of uninsured veterans has increased by nearly 300,000 since President Bush took office in 2000.
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class-action suit on behalf of two immigrant males who say they were drugged against their will as U.S. officials tried to deport them. One of the men is an Indonesian national seeking asylum, the other a Senegalese married to a U.S. citizen. Both say they were forcibly injected with psychotropic drugs. The ACLU wants a judge to block all drugging of immigrants facing deportation proceedings.