Israeli ground troops and tanks have pushed deeper into Gaza and surrounded Gaza City, effectively splitting Gaza into two sections. At least 531 Palestinians have died over the past ten days, including eighty since Israeli ground forces invaded Gaza on Saturday. Five Israelis have died since the fighting began.
The United States blocked a UN Security Council statement on Saturday calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
US Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff: “This Council has spoken on many times about the concerns we had about Hamas’s military attacks on Israel. The charter of this organization respects the right of every member state to exercise its self-defense, and Israel’s self-defense is not negotiable.”
The United Nations estimates Israeli forces have now killed at least 100 Palestinian civilians. Earlier today, a navy shelling off the coast of Gaza killed a Palestinian family of seven inside the Shati refugee camp. Israel says it is not targeting civilians, only seeking to halt rocket fire from Hamas militants. Despite ten days of attacks, Hamas fighters are continuing to fire rockets into Israel. On Sunday, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg was touring Sderot, Israel, when he had to be taken into a bomb shelter due to a possible rocket attack. Bloomberg and New York Police Chief Ray Kelly traveled to Israel to express their support for Israel’s attack on Gaza.
Much of Gaza is without electricity or running water. Hospitals are running on back-up generators in order to stay open. A Norwegian doctor named Mads Gilbert said the situation in Gaza is the worst he has ever seen in a conflict zone. He said hospitals in Gaza lack everything: monitors, anesthesia, surgical equipment, heaters and spare parts. Over the weekend, Israel blocked an emergency medical team from the International Committee for the Red Cross from entering Gaza. Israeli officials claim there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
Peter Lerner, Israel Defense Ministry official: “Israel, for the last week, has implemented a humanitarian effort alongside the military operation, and over approximately 10,000 tons of humanitarian assistance — food supplies, medical supplies, medication — have gone into Gaza through Karem Shalom (crossing). This is part of our ongoing activities in order to try and give the Palestinians some of the food that they require and the medical supplies. And indeed the UN has acknowledged that they have enough supplies in the hospitals, and we will continue to do this activity.”
On Friday, Israeli warplanes blew up the home of Nizar Rayyan, a senior Hamas leader and cleric. The assassination strike also killed his four wives and eleven children. A Palestinian living in the Khan Younis refugee camp accused Israel of targeting civilians at home.
Umm Thaer: “Does anyone evacuate their house that they have been living in for all their life? Why would we evacuate our home? Why are they lying to the civilians? They say that their air strikes target the militants, but this is all lies. They target the children, the house. It’s the sleeping people that get the air raids.”
Protests against the Israeli invasion continue around the world. In Israel, twenty-one members of the group “Anarchists Against the Wall” were arrested Friday morning after they blocked an Israeli Air Force base in North Tel Aviv. On Saturday, over 10,000 Israelis attended a rally in Tel Aviv opposing the Israeli invasion. Here in this country, a group of 100 scholars calling themselves California Scholars for Academic Freedom have condemned Israel’s bombing of the Islamic University and other educational sites.
In other news, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name to be Commerce Secretary nominee. Richardson cited a federal grand jury investigation into claims that his administration gave out lucrative contracts in exchange for donations to political action committees established by Richardson.
The Wall Street Journal reports President-elect Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are crafting a plan to offer about $300 billion of tax cuts to individuals and businesses as part of the new administration’s massive stimulus package. The size of the proposed tax cuts is greater than many on both sides of the aisle in Congress had anticipated. Republicans and business leaders welcomed the idea of basing a bigger proportion of the stimulus plan on tax cuts.
Democratic challenger Al Franken has taken a 225-vote lead over Republican incumbent Norm Coleman in the Minnesota Senate race. The state’s Canvassing Board meets today to certify the final result of the race. But Coleman has vowed to challenge the results. Senate Republicans are threatening to block any attempt to seat Franken until the Minnesota Supreme Court rules on whether some absentee ballots were wrongly rejected.
In Colorado, Democratic Governor Bill Ritter has named Denver Public Schools superintendent Michael Bennet to fill Senator Ken Salazar’s seat. Salazar is President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Interior Department.
Meanwhile, it remains unclear what will happen with the Illinois Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Last week, embattled Democratic Governor Rod Blagojevich appointed former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is threatening to block Burris from taking his seat because of Blagojevich’s recent arrest for trying to sell the seat to the highest bidder. The Republicans are pushing for a special election.
In Tennessee, new tests have revealed high levels of arsenic in the water near last month’s massive coal ash spill. Independent tests found the arsenic level to be as much as 300 times higher than drinking water limits. Two weeks ago, the walls of a retention pond holding the coal ash crumbled. Over one billion gallons of toxic coal ash spilled out covering homes and roads. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the Tennessee Valley Authority had known about problems in the retention pond for more than two decades but opted not to pay for long-term solutions to the problem.
In Baghdad, a female suicide bomber killed at least forty people on Sunday in an attack outside one of Iraq’s holiest Shiite shrines. The dead included sixteen Iranian pilgrims. On Friday, another twenty-three people died in a suicide bombing inside the home of a tribal leader south of Baghdad. The attacks came just after a new US-Iraq security agreement went into effect. Meanwhile, former US-backed Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has denounced the policies of President George W. Bush. Allawi said Bush’s policies have been an “utter failure” that gave rise to the sectarian venom that ravaged his country.
The Sri Lankan military has captured the de facto rebel capital Kilinochchi. The military has also taken over other strongholds of the Tamil Tigers. For twenty-six years the rebels have been fighting for a separate homeland in the north and east of the South Asian island.
The Cuban government held a ceremony Thursday to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban revolution. On January 1, 1959, US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the island.
Cuban President Raul Castro said the struggle will continue.
Raul Castro: “Today, the revolution is stronger than ever. It has never ceded a millimeter of its principles in its most difficult moments, not changed in the least bit. It’s true that a few have tired and have even reneged its history, forgetting that life is an eternal battle.”
The airliner AirTran has issued an apology to nine members of a Muslim family who were removed from their plane and questioned by the FBI on New Year’s Day. AirTran refused to rebook the family even after FBI agents said they had done nothing wrong. The nine passengers were flying from Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C. to Orlando, Florida.
A prominent activist in Austin, Texas named Brandon Darby has revealed he worked as an FBI informant in the eighteen months leading up to the Republican National Convention. Darby has admitted to wearing recording devices at planning meetings and wearing a transmitter embedded in his belt during the convention. Darby is expected to testify on behalf of the government later this month in the trial of two Texas activists who were arrested at the RNC on charges of making and possessing Molotov cocktails. Darby’s role as an FBI informant has shocked the activist community in Austin. Darby is best known as a founder of the New Orleans-based group Common Ground Relief, which he helped start after Hurricane Katrina.
And the renowned anti-apartheid campaigner Helen Suzman has died at the age of ninety-one. Suzman was one of South Africa’s best known white anti-apartheid activists. She served in the all-white Parliament for over thirty-five years and openly challenged the segregation of blacks by the apartheid system. In 1990, on the fortieth anniversary for the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Suzman said it would take “decades to overcome the bitter legacy of apartheid” and its effects.
Helen Suzman: “But I don’t think that we can look forward necessarily to the protection of the rule of law. We do not know whether the Internal Security Act is one of the acts which is going to be repealed. I think we can have remandments, but let us not delude ourselves into thinking that within a short time the devastating effects of forty years of inferior education and training, of functional illiteracy, which so many young black people have, of inadequate housing, of grinding poverty will be overcome.”
Nelson Mandela said last week South Africa had lost a “great patriot and a fearless fighter against apartheid.” Using her parliamentary privilege, Suzman frequently met with Mandela while he was imprisoned on Robben Island.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “We pay this tribute very, very proudly, humbly, to say that we have lost one of the greatest South Africans, and I certainly hope that we can show it as a nation by giving her what she deserves, an official funeral, something like a state funeral for someone who, I would say her name will be written in letters of gold. We just owe so much that we will never be able to repay.”