Israel’s Supreme Court has ordered the state to reroute part of its West Bank separation wall around the Palestinian village of Bil’in. For nearly three years residents of Bil’in and international peace activists have held weekly nonviolent demonstrations against the wall because it cuts off a large part of their farming land. Bil’in’s mayor, Ahmed Issa Abdallah Yassin, hailed the court ruling as a victory, but he said protests will continue until the wall is eliminated. Israel is building a 425-mile wall through the West Bank to separate Palestinian residents and Jewish settlers. In 2004, the International Court of Justice issued a nonbinding ruling that parts of the wall are illegal and should be torn down, but Israel has vowed to complete the project.
President Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday. He spent six hours at a U.S. air base in Anbar province and met with top U.S. military and Iraqi political leaders. The president suggested that a reduction of U.S. troops in Iraq is possible.
President Bush: “But I want to tell you this about the decision — about my decision about troop levels: Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground, not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media. In other words, when we begin to draw down troops from Iraq, it will be from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure.”
President Bush said remarkable changes had taken place in Anbar because of the so-called U.S. surge. But military analysts have disputed Bush’s claim. The Associated Press reports the progress in Anbar was initiated by the Iraqis themselves. Sunni tribes decided to fight and retake control from al-Qaeda many months before the president decided to send an extra 4,000 marines to Anbar as part of his troop buildup. In addition, Middle East analyst Juan Cole said Anbar province remains more violent than President Bush let on. One quarter of all U.S. troops killed in Iraq in July died in the province. Eighty percent of the population in Anbar remains unemployed.
President Bush stopped in Iraq on his way to Australia, where he is attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Sydney. The APEC summit brings Bush together with 20 other world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Hu Jintao. Climate change is expected to top the summit’s agenda. Outside the summit, antiwar protesters gathered earlier today to denounce President Bush.
Alex Bainbridge, protester: “We have organized the rally because we cannot sit on the sidelines while a warmonger like George Bush comes to this country. We cannot sit on the sidelines in the face of innocent people being killed every day in Iraq, with the support of the Australian government, in our name. We cannot sit by while these things happen. And we’re here today to say not only George Bush is not welcome in this country, but we are not intimidated, and our protest will be going ahead on Saturday.”
On Saturday, up to 20,000 protesters are expected to take part in a rally organized by the Stop Bush Coalition. Environmental groups have also been staging demonstrations urging the APEC nations to take action to cut the emission of greenhouse gases. Eleven protesters were arrested today after they chained themselves by the neck to equipment at the world’s biggest coal port, Newcastle, north of Sydney.
The Sunday Times in London is reporting the Pentagon has drawn up plans for massive air strikes against 1,200 targets in Iran, designed to annihilate the Iranians’ military capability in three days. Alexis Debat of the Nixon Center told the paper that U.S. military planners were not preparing for “pinprick strikes” against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Instead, he said, military planners are talking about trying to take out the entire Iranian military. President Bush has recently intensified the rhetoric against Iran. Last week he accused Tehran of putting the Middle East “under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.” He warned that the U.S. and its allies would confront Iran “before it is too late”.
In other news on Iran, the Iranian-American scholar Haleh Esfandiari has been allowed to leave Iran after spending four months in an Iranian jail. Esfandiari heads the Middle East Studies Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. She was accused of promoting revolution in Iran. Two more Iranian Americans remain in jail in Iran: Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the Open Society Institute, and peace activist Ali Shakeri.
In campaign news, former Senator John Edwards has won the endorsement of the United Steelworkers and the United Mine Workers of America. The endorsements were announced in Pittsburgh on Labor Day before an audience of 1,000 union members. Edwards told the crowd, “America was not built on Wall Street. America was built by steelworkers and mine workers.”
Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho has announced he will resign at the end of September. His announcement came on Saturday — just under five days after it was reported that he had been arrested in June in a sex-sting operation at an airport bathroom in Minneapolis.
Sen. Larry Craig: “I am deeply sorry. I have little control over what people choose to believe, but clearly my name is important to me and my family is so very important also. Having said that, to pursue my legal options as I continue to serve Idaho would be an unwanted and unfair distraction of my job and for my Senate colleagues.”
Meanwhile, Newsweek is reporting airport police in Minneapolis have arrested 41 men since May in sting operations at the airport bathroom. A police spokesperson admitted undercover officers spend a considerable amount of time inside the bathroom trying to find and arrest men looking for sex.
In other news from Capitol Hill, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia has announced he will retire when his term ends in 2009. The 80-year-old senator said age was a factor. Warner’s retirement boosts Democratic hopes of increasing their slim Senate majority.
In Pakistan, two bombs exploded earlier today in the city of Rawalpindi during the morning rush hour. The blasts killed at least 24 people and wounded 66.
Mexican President Felipe Calderon has harshly criticized the Bush administration for its crackdown on undocumented immigrants. Calderon condemned recent immigration raids and the record number of immigrants being deported from the United States.
Felipe Calderon: “I want to express again an energetic protest at the unilateral measures taken by the U.S. Congress and government which exacerbate the persecution and abusive treatment of undocumented Mexican workers.”
Calderon called on the U.S. Congress to pass changes to immigration laws to grant legal status to about 12 million undocumented Mexicans living and working in the United States. He also reiterated his strong opposition to plans to build more walls along much of the southern border.
In economic news, analysts are predicting the rate of foreclosures in the United States is approaching heights not seen since the Great Depression. Last year there were 1.2 million foreclosure filings. This year it is projected that the number will top two million. On Friday, President Bush unveiled a plan to help some homeowners facing foreclosure because of the subprime mortgage crisis, but he ruled out a federal bailout.
President Bush: “It’s not the government’s job to bail out speculators or those who made the decision to buy a home they knew they could never afford. Yet, there are many Americans homeowners who could get through this difficult time with a little flexibility from their lenders or a little help from their government. So I strongly urge lenders to work with homeowners to adjust their mortgages. I believe lenders have a responsibility to help these good people to renegotiate so they can stay in their home.”
And in Jena, Louisiana, a judge is scheduled to hear arguments today on motions to toss out the conviction of Mychal Bell. Last year Bell and five other African-American high school students were arrested for beating a white student after nooses were hung from a tree in the schoolyard where the black students dared to sit. The six African-American students were originally charged with attempted murder. Bell was convicted before an all-white jury of aggravated second-degree battery and faces up to 22 years and six months in jail. Bell is the only student to have been convicted so far. The other five are awaiting trial. Civil rights groups have called for all of the charges to be dropped.