Thousands of Palestinians are pouring into Egypt from Gaza for a second consecutive day after militants destroyed most of a border wall in the town of Rafah. Gazans are rushing across the border to stock up on food, fuel, medicines, and other basic supplies which have become scarce or unaffordable after months of economic isolation and the latest Israeli blockade. Hundreds of Egyptian security forces have moved into the area but are so far making no attempt to stem the traffic. A Gaza resident said the Egyptian supplies are critical to helping the population survive.
Resident: “We ask our Egyptian brothers to help these people who have lost eight months of their daily needs while under siege, and we call on our Egyptian brothers to help us and bring the goods to Rafah in Sinai from there to enter Gaza, and we also ask from our brothers in the Arab countries, the gates are open, they should bring help via Egypt.”
Israel has canceled emergency shipments of fuel it had promised for today. The Palestinian Energy Authority says it will have to shut down Gaza’s main power plant by Sunday unless deliveries are renewed. The Israeli government says the shipments are no longer needed because Palestinians can now cross the Egyptian border.
Israeli President Shimon Peres: “Well, it’s more a problem between the Egyptians and the Palestinians, the people in Gaza. Apparently they are not ready to even respect the Egyptian position, which is basically intended to help them.”
Deputy Israeli Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said today Israel hopes to completely cut off its ties to Gaza. He said, “We want to stop supplying electricity to them, stop supplying them with water and medicine, so that it would come from another place.” Hamas officials rejected the suggestion, saying Israel still bears responsibility because Gaza remains occupied. Israel says it is trying to stop Palestinian militants from launching rockets at nearby Israeli towns. Over the past ten days, more than 200 rockets and mortars have been fired into Israel, lightly wounding ten people. Meanwhile, Israeli army raids in Gaza have killed more than forty Palestinians over the same period.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, more than two dozen militia groups have signed onto an agreement seeking to end fighting in the eastern part of the country. The pact is being described as a general framework that could ultimately lead to a permanent peace deal. A recent report by the International Rescue Committee says an estimated 5.4 million people have died in the Congo over the past decade, with around 45,000 losing their lives each month.
A group of former top military commanders in NATO countries including the U.S. are calling on their governments to insist on the right to preemptive nuclear attack. In a new manifesto, the former army leaders — including ex-joint chiefs of staff chair, General John Shalikashvili — say NATO should maintain that a “first strike” nuclear option remains an “indispensable instrument.” The group says this is in part because there is “simply no realistic prospect of a nuclear-free world.” The proposal is likely to be reviewed at a NATO summit in April.
The Bush administration has announced plans to expand military training and equipment to Pakistan over the next five years. The $2 billion package would seek to boost Pakistan’s intelligence service and its air and ground power.
In Ohio, a racial controversy is unfolding over the police shooting of an African American woman and her infant son in a drug raid. Twenty-six-year-old Tarika Wilson was killed earlier this month when police burst into her home seeking her boyfriend. Wilson’s one-year-old son, Sincere Wilson, was injured and had to have his finger amputated. Prosecutors are currently deciding whether to file charges against the white officer who fired the shots.
The United States has placed at the bottom of industrialized countries in a new ranking of global environmental compliance. Researchers at Yale and Columbia listed the U.S. as the worst among the Group of Eight nations and thirty-ninth out of a total 149 countries on the list.
On Capitol Hill, the Bush administration and Democratic leaders are said to be close to agreeing on a $150 billion economic stimulus deal. Most of the money would go towards tax rebates. Republicans are reportedly opposing proposals to include low-income Americans not paying income tax in the rebate package. At the White House, President Bush said current economic woes should encourage Congress to pass through several pending trade deals.
President Bush: “One way we can also send a message that we want to continue to grow is to open up markets for U.S. products and services. We were talking about these trade votes coming up in front of Congress, and the importance of getting markets opened up for our workers and entrepreneurs.”
Meanwhile, the nation’s mayors have launched a new appeal for federal aid to deal with the home foreclosure crisis. More than 250 mayors are gathered in Washington, D.C. for the United States Conference of Mayors. Conference president, Mayor Douglas Palmer of Trenton, New Jersey, called the rise in foreclosures an “economic tsunami” in need of immediate attention.
In other news from Washington, Democrats have failed to override President Bush’s veto of an expansion to child health insurance for the second time in nearly four months. President Bush has twice vetoed a $35 billion measure to expand health insurance to millions of low-income children. On Wednesday, supporters came up fifteen votes short to override Bush’s latest veto last month.
A new congressional study has found U.S. war funding increased by more than $50 billion last year. The $170 billion total was nearly double the $93 billion spent on average between 2003 and 2005. President Bush is seeking to continue the upward trend, asking for more than $190 billion this fiscal year.
The Senate has opened debate on the Bush administration-backed surveillance law that includes immunity to telecom companies who took part in spying on Americans. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says Congress will need at least another month to agree on replacing the temporary surveillance law expiring on February 1st. On Wednesday, Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut renewed a vow to filibuster any version of the bill that includes telecom immunity.