Tensions are escalating in Israel and the Occupied Territories as the Israeli government continues to defy calls for a settlement freeze on Palestinian land. On Tuesday, hundreds of Palestinians held protests across East Jerusalem in a “day of rage” against Israeli settlement expansion. Palestinian youths set tires and garbage ablaze. Israeli police fired tear gas and rubber bullets, leaving at least ten Palestinians seriously wounded. Sixty Palestinians were also arrested. Dina Zibat, a Palestinian student protester, urged world support for the Palestinian struggle.
Dina Zibat: “There are things happening here that are against humanity and shouldn’t happen, and each one should come and do something about it.”
The clashes occurred as the Israeli government announced another new settlement expansion — over 300 homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Neve Yaakov. This follows the 1,600 new settler homes announced last week during a visit from Vice President Joe Biden. On Tuesday, the Israeli government again rejected US calls to cancel the project, saying settlement construction would proceed “business as usual.” The Obama administration has canceled a visit from Middle East envoy George Mitchell in protest of the building. But in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton backed off from earlier criticism, calling US-Israel ties “unshakable.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “We have an absolute commitment to Israel’s security. We have a close unshakable bond between the United States and Israel and between the American Israeli people. We share common values and a commitment to a democratic future for the world, and we are both committed to a two-state solution. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to agree.”
In other Mideast news, the parents of the slain American peace activist Rachel Corrie were on hand Tuesday for events marking the seventh anniversary of her killing. Corrie was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in Gaza as she stood in front of a Palestinian home to help prevent its demolition. Her parents, Craig and Cindy Corrie, have traveled to Israel and the Occupied Territories to take part in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Israeli government. The trial began earlier this month in the Israeli city of Haifa. On Tuesday, the Corries attended a ceremony in Ramallah where Palestinians named a street in Rachel’s honor. Later in the day the Corries returned to Haifa for a performance of a play based on Rachel’s writings called My Name Is Rachel Corrie.
In Pakistan, at least nine people have been killed in two apparent US drone strikes. The attacks struck a suspected militant compound and two vehicles in North Waziristan.
This comes as the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit demanding the US government disclose the legal basis for its drone attacks overseas. The lawsuit seeks details under the Freedom of Information Act on the circumstances under which drone attacks are authorized as well as the number and rate of civilian casualties. The ACLU first filed its request in January but says the government simply refused to respond. Jonathan Manes of the ACLU’s National Security Project said, “The public has a right to know whether the targeted killings being carried out in its name are consistent with international law and with the country’s interests and values.”
A Scottish newspaper is reporting the US is shipping hundreds of powerful “bunker buster” bombs overseas in preparation for a possible attack on Iran. Citing details of a shipping contract reportedly signed in January, the Sunday Herald says the US is sending nearly 400 BLU-110 and BLU-117 bombs to the occupied Indian Ocean military outpost of Diego Garcia.
In Iraq, former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi is holding a slight lead over current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in early returns from last week’s national elections. With 80 percent of votes counted, Allawi’s Iraqiya bloc is ahead of Maliki’s State of Law bloc by around 9,000 votes. It appears likely no political bloc will win enough votes on its own to avoid forming a coalition with other parties.
In Haiti, aid workers are rushing to move hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the January earthquake from vulnerable areas before the rainy season begins next month. The intensified rainfall could lead to flooding and the spread of waterborne diseases. On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Haitians face a “race against time” to move to safer locations.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: “So far, we have distributed tents and tarpaulins to nearly 700,000 people among 1.3 million displaced persons. We will reach the rest by the end of next month. We have also identified five alternative sites around the capital, where we can move IDPs and where they will be safer and better cared for. But let me be clear, we are in a race against time.”
Of the 700,000 Haitians believed to be displaced, around 250,000 are estimated to be children.
The Afghan government has confirmed it’s enacted a law providing blanket amnesty for any war crimes or human rights abuses committed before 2001. President Hamid Karzai had promised not to sign the measure when Afghan lawmakers approved it three years ago. But an Afghan government spokesperson said the measure was enacted anyway because it was approved with a two-thirds parliamentary majority, which would remove the need for Karzai’s signature. Human rights groups have voiced criticism in recent years amidst speculation the law was enacted. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch called the law “a disgrace” and “a slap in the face to all the Afghans who suffered for years and years of war crimes and warlordism.”
In New Zealand, three peace activists have been found not guilty of breaking into and damaging a spy base used in the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq. In April 2008, the three activists entered the Waihopai facility and deflated a plastic dome used to cover a satellite dish. After the verdict, one of the three acquitted activists, Dominican friar Peter Murnane, said they acted to help mitigate the human suffering caused by the Iraq war.
Peter Murnane: “We attacked property in a pretty moderate way to save enormous life and to draw attention to the enormous crimes against humanity that the base is guilty of sharing in.”
Here in the United States, CNN is reporting five more House Democrats have announced plans to vote against the healthcare bill. That would leave opponents just eleven votes shy of the 216 needed to defeat the measure in the House. Within the Democratic caucus, opponents range from right-leaning Democrats, who want to include harsh anti-abortion measures or who think it’s too expensive, and progressive Democrats, who are insisting on a public option. One the most vocal progressive Democrats, Dennis Kucinich, has called a press conference today to announce which way he’ll vote.
In other healthcare news, Pennsylvania has nearly doubled the cost of a monthly health insurance program for low-income residents. The program’s 2,400 recipients are on a waiting list for Medicaid coverage because they haven’t yet qualified. As of this month, their monthly bill went from $313 to around $600. State officials say they were forced to raise the price because the program covers many people in need of care. Pennsylvania’s state insurance commissioner, Joel Ario, says the price was increased despite acknowledgment it could have devastating consequences for those no longer able to afford medical coverage. In an interview with the New York Times, Ario said, “This is very likely going to send us into a death spiral.”
The Obama administration says it expects the nation’s official unemployment rate to remain around the ten percent mark at least through the end of the year. On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, White House budget director Peter Orszag and Council of Economic Advisers chair Christina Romer issued a statement saying they expect unemployment will “remain elevated for an extended period.”
The Obama administration is threatening to veto a measure authorizing the 2010 intelligence budget over proposals calling for increased oversight of US spy agencies. The White House wants lawmakers to remove provisions that would require all members of congressional intelligence committees to be briefed on matters now only disclosed to senior lawmakers known as the “gang of eight.” The administration is also opposing a provision that would let the General Accountability Office investigate intelligence operations.
The US military has disclosed the number of sexual assaults within its ranks increased 11 percent last year. A Pentagon report says there were two reported cases of sexual assault for every 1,000 servicemembers. Military officials say the number is likely higher due to the fear among some victims of reprisals for reporting sexual assaults.
In Florida, hundreds of students rallied at the University of Florida on Tuesday over the shooting of an African graduate student by campus police. The student, Kofi Adu-Brempong, has been hospitalized in critical condition after he was shot in the face by an officer in a raid on his home earlier this month. Police say they were called to the home after neighbors reported the student to be visibly distraught. According to police, Adu-Brempong tried to attack officers with a knife and a metal rod. But supporters and family members have rejected the allegations and say the rod was actually a walking cane used by Abu-Brempong as a result of a childhood bout with polio. On Tuesday, a crowd of over 300 students marched on the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees.
UF Student Fernando Figueroa: “We’re demanding that all charges be dropped against Kofi, because they’re trying to do, you know, kind of something what’s called extortion. Like they’re saying, 'Oh, we'll drop the charges if you don’t file a lawsuit.’ And so, we’re demanding that all the charges be dropped and that more severe action be taken against the offending officer, Keith Smith.”
The officer who shot Kofi Adu-Brempong has been identified as Keith Smith. He has previously been reprimanded for an incident in which he allegedly harassed and threw eggs at African Americans while off-duty.
And a prominent Irish peace activist says he’s had his US visa revoked without explanation. The activist, Edward Horgan, is the co-founder of ShannonWatch, which has documented the use of Ireland’s Shannon Airport in the US kidnapping practice known as “extraordinary rendition.” Horgan is a former UN peacekeeper who has also served in the Irish military. He is currently scheduled to speak at North Carolina’s Duke University next month about his opposition to “extraordinary rendition.”