In Gaza, at least forty Palestinians died Tuesday after Israel fired mortars at a United Nations school that was sheltering Palestinians who had been forced to flee their homes. Fifty-five Palestinians were also wounded in the attack. Doctors said all of the victims were civilians, including many children. Christopher Gunness of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency condemned the Israeli attack.
Christopher Gunness: “Over a thousand had taken refuge in this school. The Israelis had been told exactly what the GPS coordinates of the school was, of all of our facilities in Gaza. All of our facilities are very clearly marked as UNRWA facilities. If there have been violations of international humanitarian law, and our response is rooted very firmly in international humanitarian law, we want there to be a full and impartial investigation.”
Israel admitted to firing mortar rounds at the school but claimed its actions were justified, because Hamas militants were using the school to fire rockets. But the UN said there were no militants at the school.
John Ging, the director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency: “We very carefully vet anybody seeking shelter in our locations. We have experienced, long-serving staff who are managing those facilities. We are hugely sensitive to the integrity of our facilities at this time of conflict. And we have zero tolerance for any violations by any of the militants. And so far we’ve not had violations by militants of our facilities.”
Israeli Army spokesperson Avital Leibovich accused Hamas of using Palestinians as human shields.
Avital Leibovich: “The fact that Hamas is putting civilians in areas where military activity takes place is horrible, I think. I think Hamas should be accountable for any civilian in those areas, which he located those warehouses, those storages of Grads (rockets) and so on.”
Al Jazeera reports 680 Palestinians have died in the twelve days since Israel’s attack began. Over 3,000 Palestinians have been injured. The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights reports at least 130 Palestinian children have died. The Israeli death toll stands at ten, including four Israeli soldiers who died by so-called friendly fire.
Following the Israeli attack on the UN school, President-elect Barack Obama addressed the situation in Gaza.
President-elect Barack Obama: “The loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern to me. And after January 20th, I’m going to have plenty to say about the issue, and I am not backing away at all from what I said during the campaign, that starting at the beginning of our administration, we are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.”
On the diplomatic front, Israel and Hamas are said to be studying an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that has won backing from the United States and Europe. A French official said the plan could lead to a withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Gaza Strip within eight days. However, the Jerusalem Post reports Israeli officials are considering expanding its ground invasion of Gaza.
Meanwhile, in Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has expelled the Israeli ambassador in Caracas in protest over the Israeli military operation in Gaza.
Five former Blackwater armed contractors pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal manslaughter and gun charges stemming from the 2007 Nisoor Square massacre in Baghdad, when Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians and injured dozens of others. The five are charged with fourteen counts of manslaughter, twenty counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence. A sixth former Blackwater contractor has already pleaded guilty and is cooperating with prosecutors. Meanwhile, in a separate case, a Blackwater contractor who fatally shot a body guard of Iraqi Vice President Adil Abdul-Mahdi will reportedly soon be charged in the killing. The shooting occurred on Christmas Eve in 2006 in the Green Zone.
On Capitol Hill, Senate Democrats blocked fellow Democrat Roland Burris from claiming his Senate seat six days after he was appointed by Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to fill the seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the appointment of Burris is tainted because Blagojevich is accused of trying to auction off the job for cash or other favors. The governor was arrested on December 9 on federal corruption charges, but he remains in office. Burris is the former Illinois Attorney General. If he is allowed to serve, he would be the only African American in the Senate. After Burris was denied his Senate seat, he spoke to reporters outside.
Roland Burris: “Members of the media, my name is Roland Burris, the junior senator from the state of Illinois. I presented my credentials to secretary of the Senate and advised that my credentials were not in order and I would not be accepted, and I will not be seated, and I will not be permitted on the floor, and therefore I am not seeking to have any type of confrontation. I will now consult with my attorneys, and we will determine what our next step will be. Thank you all very much, and God bless each and every one of you.”
Democratic officials are discussing allowing Roland Burris to take over Obama’s old seat as long as he agrees not to run for election in 2010.
Meanwhile, there are new developments in the Rod Blagojevich scandal. The Wall Street Journal reports Andy Stern, the president of the Service Employees International Union, met with Blagojevich in early November. This is around the time that federal prosecutors allege the governor was discussing ways to sell the Senate seat vacated by Obama for a lucrative union position. Federal prosecutors allege that one of Blagojevich’s plans was to appoint a labor-friendly candidate to the vacated Illinois Senate seat in exchange for a $300,000-a-year position at an SEIU-affiliated labor federation called Change to Win. The SEIU was Blagojevich’s biggest campaign contributor, contributing $1.8 million for his two campaigns for governor.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has directly accused the Pakistani government of being involved in November’s deadly attacks in Mumbai. Singh said, “On the basis of investigations carried out, there is enough evidence to show that, given the sophistication and military precision of the attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan.” Pakistan has rejected the Indian allegation.
The Miami Herald reports the Bush administration has rejected a request by Haitian President René Préval and others to allow tens of thousands of undocumented Haitians living in the United States to stay until their homeland recovers from a string of deadly summer storms. Randy McGrorty of Catholic Legal Services criticized the decision. McGrorty said, “The successive storms destroyed 15 percent of Haiti’s GDP. That’s the equivalent of eight to ten hurricane Katrinas hitting the United States in a month’s period of time.”
The Pentagon has rejected a proposal to make troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder eligible for the Purple Heart. The newspaper Stars and Stripes reports the matter came up in May, when a military psychologist told reporters he felt that making troops suffering from PTSD eligible for the Purple Heart would help remove the disorder’s stigma. The psychologist, John Fortunato, said soldiers have paid as high a price as anybody with a traumatic brain injury or anybody with a shrapnel wound.
Exports of Russian gas to Europe via Ukraine appear to have completely stopped amid a dispute over gas supplies between the two countries. The BBC reports EU depends on Russia for about a quarter of its total gas supplies, some 80 percent of which is pumped through Ukraine. The list of countries that have reported a total halt of Russian gas via Ukraine includes Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Hungary, Macedonia, Serbia and Austria. In eastern Bulgaria, some 12,000 households have been left without central heating.
In Hayward, California, a funeral will be held today for twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant, who was shot dead on New Year’s Day by a BART police officer on an Oakland train platform. Three cell phone videos of the shooting have emerged. They show an officer pulling out a gun and shooting Grant in the back while he was lying face down on the ground. Grant worked as a butcher at an Oakland grocery store and was the father of a four-year-old daughter. Investigators have yet to interview the officer involved in the shooting.
Several activists were arrested on Tuesday after they dropped a series of banners inside the Senate Hart Office Building on Capitol Hill. The banners read “Iraq,” “Palestine,” “Afghanistan,” “The Audacity of War Crimes” and “We Will Not Be Silent.” The activists were arrested because they were wearing masks inside a government building.
And President-elect Barack Obama has reportedly offered the job of surgeon general to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s chief medical correspondent. In addition to his work at CNN, Gupta is a practicing neurosurgeon and professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Emory University Hospital and Grady Memorial Hospital. During the late 1990s he served as an adviser to First Lady Hillary Clinton. In 2007, Dr. Sanjay Gupta made headlines when he accused Michael Moore of fudging facts in his film Sicko. Gupta and Moore debated each other on Larry King Live.
Michael Moore:… Eighteen thousand people die every year for no other reason other than the fact that they don’t have insurance. Medical bills are now the number one cause of bankruptcy in this country.
And if I —- if I could, I would just like to say one thing about these wait times in Canada. They always talk about how you’ve got to wait longer in Canada, which is true for some things that are not emergencies.
But the reason why you have a little bit longer wait in Canada is because everybody is in line, because they cover everybody.
In our country, we’ve removed 47 million people from the line. And any time you remove 47 million people from a line, you’re going to have less wait in line. Those of us who have insurance have a less wait time because 47 million of our citizens aren’t there in front of us in line. That’s the -—
Larry King:Good point.
Michael Moore:That’s wrong and it’s immoral.
Larry King:Sanjay, good point?
Sanjay Gupta:I think it’s worth bringing up the numbers. I think Michael is right. I think, you know, for a cardiac catheterization, for example, Michael, which is something you and I both might need one day in our lives, you wait six days if it’s sort of an emergency in Canada, and up to 60 days for it to be elective.
I don’t know what you think about those numbers. In the United States, on average — and I understand the un-insurance problem. I get it. I hear what you’re saying.
But it can take about a day for someone whose non-emergent and a few hours for someone who is emergent.
These are the facts. These are the numbers, Michael. I mean if you have a heart problem, where would you rather be?
If you were having chest pain right now and you needed a heart catheterization, would you want to be waiting six days, up to 60 days? Or do you want to be taken care of within hours or a day?