Israel has broadened its attack on Gaza as Israeli tanks have entered Khan Younis, Gaza’s second largest city. In northern Gaza, witnesses reported wave after wave of bombing strikes accompanied by gunfire from helicopters and artillery from land and sea. On Monday, Israel rejected European calls for a ceasefire.
More than forty Palestinians were killed in Gaza yesterday, almost half of them children. Five civilians were killed early today when a shell fired by an Israeli ship hit their house. The United Nations said three Palestinians died last night when an Israeli bomb hit a UN school where hundreds of Gazans had sought refuge. UN officials say they provided their location coordinates to Israel’s army to ensure that their buildings in Gaza are not targeted.
Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor in Gaza, told the BBC that Palestinians civilians are being particularly hard hit.
Dr. Mads Gilbert: “The statistics are clear. Among the 2,400-2,500 injured, 45 percent are women and children. And then there are also all the civilian men. So the large majority of the injured, the victims, are women, men and children civilian. Among the the killed, 25 percent of the killed are children and women, and among the children, today, it was — this morning, it was 801 children either killed or injured. 101 children had been killed.”
Dr. Gilbert also criticized Israel for claiming there is no humanitarian crisis.
Dr. Mads Gilbert: “I ask, where is the international community, who has this big organization to come to disasters. We are two doctors from the West. Where are the others? They are not let in, because the Israelis say there is no disaster. Now, how can they know? They never came here, they never saw. They don’t care. So this is the worst man-made disaster for the time I can think of.”
Earlier today, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Gaza was now in a “full-blown” humanitarian crisis. Over the past eleven days, at least 573 Palestinians have been killed with more than 2,500 wounded. Four Israeli soldiers were also killed on Monday, bringing the Israeli death toll to eight. The Israeli military says the four soldiers died in two separate friendly fire incidents. Militants with Hamas continue to fire rockets into Israel. One struck an empty kindergarten in Ashdod.
On Monday, President Bush refused to call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
President Bush: “And, finally, all of us, of course, would like to see, you know, violence stop, but not at the expense of an agreement that does not prevent the crisis from happening again. I know people are saying, ’Let’s have a ceasefire.’ And those are noble ambitions. But any ceasefire must have the conditions in it so that Hamas does not use Gaza as a place from which to launch rockets.”
A new public opinion poll has shown that Americans are closely divided over Israel’s actions. The Rasmussen Reports poll found 44 percent of Americans say Israel should have taken military action against the Palestinians, but 41 percent say it should have tried to find a diplomatic solution. Democratic voters overwhelmingly opposed Israel’s attacks by a 24-point margin. Republicans support Israel’s actions by a 35-point margin. The poll also found that more than half of Americans fear Israel’s actions will cause more terrorism against the United States.
On Monday, President-elect Barack Obama made his first comment about the situation in Gaza — ten days after Israel’s attacks began. Obama said he would not interfere in “delicate negotiations” by the outgoing Bush administration.
President-elect Barack Obama: “Obviously, international affairs are of deep concern. With the situation in Gaza, I’ve been getting briefed every day. I’ve had consistent conversations with members of the current administration about what’s taking place. That will continue. I will continue to insist that when it comes to foreign affairs, it is particularly important to adhere to the principle of one president at a time, because there are delicate negotiations taking place right now, and we can’t have two voices coming out of the United States when you have so much at stake.”
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki criticized Obama’s position.
Riyad al-Maliki: “Disappointedly, President-elect Obama refused to comment on the situation in Gaza, despite the fact that he commented on the situation on the bombing in Mumbai, in India. And we expected him really to be open and responsive to the situation in Gaza, and still we expect him to make a strong statement regarding this as soon as possible.”
In other news, President-elect Barack Obama has reportedly picked President Clinton’s former chief of staff Leon Panetta to serve as the next director of the CIA. Panetta is a former California congressman who served on the Iraq Study Group. The selection has surprised many in Washington, because Panetta has little experience on intelligence matters. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the new chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, criticized Obama’s pick. Feinstein said, “My position has consistently been that I believe the agency is best served by having an intelligence professional in charge at this time.” Leon Panetta has been a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s torture policies. He wrote last year, “Those who support torture may believe that we can abuse captives in certain select circumstances and still be true to our values. But that is a false compromise. We either believe in the dignity of the individual, the rule of law, and the prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment, or we don’t. There is no middle ground. We cannot and we must not use torture under any circumstances.”
Meanwhile, President-elect Obama has picked another outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s interrogations policy to head the Office of Legal Counsel, a top position in the Justice Department. Dawn Johnsen is a law professor at Indiana University. Last year, she said she was “appalled” by Justice Department memos that allowed for the torture of prisoners. Obama also announced that Harvard Law School dean Elena Kagan will become Solicitor General.
On Monday, President-elect Obama also called on Congress to approve a massive stimulus package to help revive the economy.
President-elect Barack Obama: “We are in a very difficult spot. The economy is bad; the situation is getting worse. Last week, we learned that manufacturing had hit a twenty-year low. On Friday, we’re going to get the final jobs report from this year, and every indication is that we will have lost in 2008 more jobs than at any time since World War II. It’s clear that we have to act and we have to act now to address this crisis and break the momentum of the recession, or the next few years could be dramatically worse.”
In Minnesota, the state Canvassing Board has unanimously certified Democrat Al Franken’s 225-vote lead over Republican incumbent Senator Norm Coleman. The Coleman campaign plans to file a lawsuit today in order to prevent Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Secretary of State Mark Ritchie from certifying the election. Al Franken briefly spoke to reporters on Monday.
Al Franken: “After sixty-two days of careful and painstaking hand inspection of nearly three million ballots, after hours and hours of hard work by election officials and volunteers across this state, I am proud to stand before you as the next senator from Minnesota.”
In Iraq, the US has opened its massive new embassy in Baghdad. The $700 million building is the most expensive and largest embassy in the world. The 104-acre compound includes twenty-one buildings, a commissary, cinema, retail and shopping areas, restaurants, schools, a fire station, power and water treatment plants, as well as telecommunications and wastewater treatment facilities. The compound is six times larger than the United Nations in New York.
President Bush is set to announce the creation of the world’s largest marine protection area. Under the plan, 195,000 square miles in the Pacific Ocean will be preserved as marine national monuments. The areas include the Mariana Trench and northern Mariana Islands, the Rose Atoll in American Samoa and a chain of remote islands in the Central Pacific. Under the plan, Bush will sharply restrict oil and gas exploration and commercial fishing in the protected areas.
JetBlue Airways and two Transportation Security Authority officials have paid out $240,000 to the Iraqi-born blogger Raed Jarrar, who sued after he was stopped from boarding a JetBlue flight at JFK Airport because he was wearing a t-shirt that said “We will not be silent” in both Arabic and English. Jarrar first spoke about the incident on Democracy Now! Last year, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on Jarrar’s behalf. ACLU attorney Aden Fine said, “This settlement should send a clear message to all TSA officials and airlines that they cannot discriminate against passengers based on their race or the ethnic content of their speech.” The settlement was announced just days after the airline AirTran removed a Muslim family of nine heading to Orlando. AirTran refused to let the family fly on the airline even after they were questioned and cleared by the FBI.
And in Oakland, California, videotape has emerged showing a BART police officer fatally shooting an unarmed African American man on a train platform on New Year’s Day. The video, which may be disturbing to some viewers, shows an officer pulling out a gun and shooting twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant in the back. At the time of the shooting, Grant was lying face down on the ground. The video was shot by a passenger on a train stopped at Oakland’s Fruitvale Station. The San Francisco Chronicle reports there is a possibility that the officer had intended to fire his Taser stun gun instead of his handgun. An attorney for the family has announced plans to file a $25 million lawsuit.