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President Bush has concluded a three-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Territories. The President has left Israel one day after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank.
President Bush: "Some day, I hope that as a result of the formation of a Palestinian state, there won’t be walls and checkpoints and people will be able to move freely in a democratic state, and that’s the vision."
Bush later joked about the Israeli checkpoints, saying his motorcade had no problems passing through.
President Bush: "You’ll be happy to know, my whole motorcade of a mere forty-five cars was able to make it through without being stopped, but I am not sure if that happens to the average person."
Bush called for an end to the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. But he did not back down from his endorsement of Israel’s intent to retain large Jewish-only settlement blocs that Palestinians say will make peace impossible. Bush called on Israel to dismantle unauthorized settlement outposts scattered across the West Bank. But he did not criticize Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s declaration that Israel’s pledge to freeze settlement expansion only applies to those settlements that Israel doesn’t intend on keeping. Israel agreed to freeze settlement activity under the U.S.-backed road map but has continued to build in East Jerusalem and its large West Bank settlements. For the first time, President Bush called for a compensation fund for Palestinian refugees who lost their homes in 1948. He did not offer details. The value of lost Palestinian land is estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars. President Bush’s visit to the West Bank came after a day of talks in Israel. The Independent of London reports Bush’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert “had the flavor of a love-in on a grand scale which transcended mere diplomacy.” In Gaza, Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri dismissed Bush’s visit.
Sami Abu Zuhri: "Bush reiterated empty promises, upon which we, the Palestinians, hold no hopes, because we had many promises before and he never fulfilled, and he will never do, now during his last days in the White House. We condemn the Palestinian president statements when he spoke about fulfilling all the consequences to the Palestinian people."
The U.S. is claiming success in a massive air-strike campaign south of Baghdad. More than 40,000 pounds of bombs were dropped on the Arab Jabour district in one of the most intense air attacks since the U.S. invasion. Defense Secretary Robert Gates vowed to continue the bombing.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "So this job is not finished. There is more to do. But I think there is the sense that this is an important offensive. Because we are on the offensive again in areas where we have not been active for some time, it’s not a surprise that we will see some higher casualties until that area is cleared."
The Pentagon says no civilians were killed, but the claim hasn’t been independently verified.
A high-level delegation from the African Union has left Kenya without brokering a resolution to the crisis over last month’s disputed election. Some 600 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced since President Mwai Kibaki beat out challenger Raila Odinga. Kibaki has sworn in a new cabinet despite allegations of election fraud. As he left Kenya, Ghana President and Africa Union chair John Kufuor called for new efforts at mediation.
Ghana President John Kufuor: "It is very sad. It’s a beautiful country, it’s a great country, and everybody should be able to live in together happily. Everybody talks of democracy. Democracy entails that even when you disagree, you agree to disagree, you don’t shoot at each other, you don’t kill."
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to lead a new push for a truce. Meanwhile, Kenya’s National Commission on Human Rights is calling for a criminal probe into alleged election abuses by Kenyan officials. Human Rights Commission chair Maina Kiai presented a petition to police in Nairobi.
Maina Kiai: "We, the Kenyans for peace with truth and justice, are filing a criminal complaint against the Electoral Commission of Kenya with regard to a series of criminal offenses that we believe were committed by various people
in the processing, management and control of the immediate past general elections."
Here in the United States, Democratic Senator John Kerry has endorsed Senator Barack Obama in the Democratic presidential race. Kerry chose Obama over his 2004 running partner John Edwards.
In other campaign news, Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich is calling for a recount of Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary vote. Kucinich says he’s making the request because of unexplained differences in hand-counted and machine-counted ballots.
In Pennsylvania, a former death row prisoner freed by DNA testing after twenty-two years in jail has reached a multi-million-dollar settlement with the U.S. government. Nicholas Yarris was wrongly convicted of rape and murder in Pennsylvania in 1982. The conviction was overturned in September 2004, when DNA tests unavailable in the 1980s proved that genetic material found under the victim’s fingernails, on her undergarments, and in a pair of gloves possibly worn by the killer was not his. Yarris is the first death row inmate in Pennsylvania cleared by DNA testing.
A federal judge has blocked the deportation of an Egyptian national and ordered his immediate release from prison. Sameh Khouzam has been jailed for most of the past decade in Pennsylvania. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Vanaskie said Khouzam can’t be sent back to Egypt, because he faces the risk of torture. Judge Vanaskie rejected the Bush administration’s claim that Khouzam would be safe, saying U.S. officials have blocked an independent assessment. The American Civil Liberties Union says the ruling is the first of its kind.
A government audit has found that major telecommunication companies have repeatedly cut off FBI spying on customers — because the FBI did not pay its own phone bills. According to the Justice Department, more than half of nearly 1,000 FBI phone bills were not paid on time. Michael German of the ACLU said, “It sounds as though the telecoms believe it when the FBI says the warrant is in the mail, but not when they say the check is in the mail.”
In Colombia, two hostages of the rebel group FARC were released yesterday after years in captivity. Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo and Clara Rojas were freed under a deal brokered by Venezuela. After her rescue, de Perdomo thanked Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo: "President Chavez, I don’t know how to express my thanks to you for your humanitarianism. Your attitude reflects immensely the democratic attitude that leaders should have. Thank you for your commitment, for being human."
And in Pakistan, at least twenty-two people were killed and sixty wounded in a suicide bombing on the High Court building in Lahore. Most of the victims were police officers. The attack came ahead of a planned anti-government rally organized by lawyers.
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