Residents of Gaza suffered the most intense bombardment of the eighteen-day war last night as Israel carried out air and artillery strikes throughout the Gaza Strip. Israeli tanks backed by attack helicopters have moved into several southern neighborhoods of the densely populated Gaza City. Hospital officials report dozens of calls for ambulances have been received, but they could not be dispatched because of the fighting. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of aiming to “wipe out” the Palestinian people in Gaza by refusing to end its attack. The Palestinian death toll is now at least 935.
More than 4,300 Palestinians have been injured. Thirteen Israelis have died over the past eighteen days. An estimated 90,000 Palestinians have fled their homes, but many residents of Gaza have nowhere to go to because all of the Gaza border crossings are closed.
Antoine Grand, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza: “There is no place safe in Gaza for the civilians. They’re afraid to stay home. They’re afraid to move. They’re also afraid to go down the street to try to find some water or to try to buy some food. No electricity, no water, difficult access to hospitals, ambulances that are not able to reach some places to collect the wounded.”
On Monday, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution condemning Israel. The non-binding resolution said Israel’s attack had “resulted in massive violations of human rights of the Palestinian people.”
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has publicly claimed that he personally called President Bush last week to urge him not to support a UN Security Council ceasefire resolution that was partially drafted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. After Olmert’s call, the United States changed course and abstained from the vote, which passed 14-to-0.
Two Norwegian doctors who have just returned from Gaza have accused Israel of testing a new experimental weapon known as Dense Inert Metal Explosives, or DIME. The weapon causes the tissue to be torn from the flesh. Dr. Mads Gilbert said, “We have seen a number of very brutal amputations…without shrapnel injuries, which we strongly suspect must have been caused by the DIME weapons.” Dr. Erik Fosse said, “I have seen and treated a lot of different injuries for the last thirty years in different war zones, and this looks completely different.”
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports an Israeli soldier has been jailed for fourteen days for refusing to fight in Gaza. The soldier, who has not been identified, was the first member of the IDF to be tried for refusing orders since the war on Gaza began.
Activists with the Free Gaza Movement are vowing to try again to bring humanitarian aid to Gaza by sea. Yesterday, a Free Gaza boat had to return to Cyprus after it suffered a mechanical failure.
Free Gaza activist Huwaida Arraf: “We can’t wait 'til Israel decides to stop the killing and then open up Gaza for the international community and aid workers to come pick up the pieces. No, we must insist on the right to enter. And so, in that sense, we're not going to let the violence that Israel used against us or what they might use against us again stop us.”
In other news, aides to Barack Obama say the President-elect plans to issue an executive order on his first full day in office directing the closing of the Guantánamo prison camp in Cuba. But experts say it could be as long as a year to empty the prison, which still holds 248 men. On Sunday, Obama said it would be a challenge to close Guantanamo in his first 100 days. Many of the prisoners are expected to be transferred to other countries. Officials with Obama’s transition team are also reportedly committed to ordering an immediate suspension of the Bush administration’s military commissions system for trying prisoners.
In the latest news from Guantanamo, military officials are reporting forty-two prisoners are now on hunger strike. Thirty-one of the prisoners are being force-fed.
The Washington Post reports President-elect Barack Obama intends to sign off on Pentagon plans to send up to 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan, which will nearly double the current US force of 32,000. This comes as there are more signs that the US military is planning to stay in Afghanistan for years to come. The Army is spending up to $4 billion to build new barracks, training areas, headquarters, warehouses and airfields to help the surge in US troops.
President-elect Barack Obama has launched an aggressive campaign to persuade Congress to permit him to spend another $350 billion of the financial bailout program to stabilize the US financial system. On Monday, the Bush White House formally notified lawmakers of Obama’s intention to use the second half of the $700 billion bailout package. Congress has fifteen days to approve a resolution blocking the funds. Obama vowed his administration would do a better job to track how money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program is spent.
President-elect Barack Obama: “I think many of us have been disappointed with the absence of clarity, the lack of transparency, the failure to track how the money has been spent and the failure to take bold action with respect to areas like housing, consumer credit, so that we can maintain credit flow, small businesses, students who need students loans, people who are interested in buying a car getting car loans, that in all sorts of ways Main Street has not seen the effects of these efforts.”
In other financial news, a federal magistrate issued a ruling Monday to allow Bernard Madoff to keep living in his $7 million penthouse while he awaits trial for stealing $50 billion from investors. Federal prosecutors had asked the judge to revoke Madoff’s bail, because he attempted to give away valuable jewelry to family and friends.
President Bush held his final news conference Monday. He rejected the idea that the nation’s moral standing has been damaged over the past eight years and defended the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina. Bush was asked if he had made any mistakes over the past eight years.
President Bush: “There have been disappointments. Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency. Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment. I don’t know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but they were — things didn’t go according to plan. Let’s put it that way. And anyway, I think historians will look back, and they’ll be able to have a better look at mistakes after some time has passed. I — along Jake’s question, there is no such thing as short-term history. I don’t think you can possibly get the full breadth of an administration ’til time has passed.”
In news from Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic leaders said Monday that Roland Burris would be seated as the new senator from Illinois, ending two weeks of drama. The Senate leadership had initially vowed not to seat anyone named by the embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who was arrested last month on corruption charges for trying to sell the Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.
President-elect Barack Obama is reportedly intending to nominate his technology adviser, Julius Genachowski, to head the Federal Communications Commission. Genachowski worked in the FCC during the Clinton administration and at Barry Diller’s company IAC/InterActive.The Wall Street Journal reports that during the campaign, Genachowski put together a detailed technology and innovation plan that expressed support for open internet or “net neutrality” protections, media ownership rules that encourage more diversity, and expansion of affordable broadband access across the country.
A new study is estimating the US government is spending at least $52 billion a year on nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons-related programs. The estimate was calculated by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The majority of the $52 billion is spent on upgrading, operating and sustaining the US nuclear arsenal. Only about ten percent of the money is devoted to controlling the spread of nuclear weapons and technology. In other nuclear news, the State Department has slapped sanctions on thirteen individuals and three private companies because of their involvement in the nuclear proliferation network associated with Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan. The sanctions were issued four years after Khan was put under house arrest in Pakistan.