At least ten peace activists have been killed in an Israeli attack on a humanitarian aid ship making its away to the Gaza Strip in international waters. The Mavi Marmara was part of a flotilla organized by the Free Gaza Movement carrying nearly 700 international activists and over 10,000 tons of aid. On Monday, Israeli forces stormed the ship nearly forty miles off the Gaza coast. In the Occupied Territories, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack as a “massacre.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas: “There is no doubt that Israel had planned for this attack and it meant to take part in this in order to put down the world and the people from supporting the Palestinian people. This is why it carried out this sinful attack in this sinful massacre against those innocent.”
Hundreds of activists are being detained in an Israeli prison, and nearly fifty others have been deported. Israel has still not released the names of the dead, injured, and detained international civilians.
The United Nations Security Council has condemned actions that “led” to the deaths. In a statement approved after hours of deliberation, the Council also demanded the immediate release of the ships and the civilians held by Israel and called for an impartial investigation. All the permanent member of the Security Council except for the United States explicitly called for Israel’s three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip to be lifted. Thousands of people in cities across the world, from Turkey to Europe to the United States to Pakistan, have come out on the streets to protest the bloody attack on the humanitarian aid convoy. In Israel, the Israeli peace activist Jeff Halper denounced the attack on the ship.
Jeff Halper: “These people died last night, and dozens were wounded. And this whole mission set out because governments did not do their job. It’s the governments’ responsibility of the world and the UN to end this siege, which is illegal, which is inhumane, which is immoral. And if the governments don’t do their work, people have to get up. I didn’t want to get on a boat and go through the Israeli Navy and get arrested. These people didn’t want to die.”
The Israeli attack came two days after signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty approved a resolution backing a nuclear-free Middle East and calling on Israel to open its nuclear sites to international inspection. The measure was approved by consensus by all 189 NPT signatories, including the United States. Egypt’s ambassador to the UN, Maged Abdelaziz, hailed it as a major step forward.
Maged Abdelaziz: “The road ahead is not easy, but it is the only way forward. Today’s reaffirmation by the conference of the importance of Israel’s accession to the treaty and the placement of all its nuclear facilities under IAEA comprehensive safeguards confirms the continued resolve of the state’s parties to pursue the 1995 and 2000 commitments in this respect.”
Israel is the only Middle East state not to have signed the NPT. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the measure, calling it biased for excluding Iran.
The Gulf Coast oil spill is now expected to continue gushing until August after BP’s failed attempt to plug the leak in the underwater well. White House climate and energy adviser Carol Browner issued the warning Sunday during an appearance on CBS’s Face the Nation. Browner said the spill is likely the worst environmental disaster in US history.
Carol Browner: “This is probably the biggest environmental disaster we’ve ever faced in this country. It’s certainly the biggest oil spill. And we’re responding with the biggest environmental response. There could be oil coming up 'til August, when the relief wells are dug. I think, David, it's important to know that there’s not just one being dug, there are two, because we insisted, the government insisted, that there be a second one in case something went wrong with the first one.”
Last week, BP tried to stop the leak by pumping heavy drilling mud into the well, a procedure known as “top kill.” But experts now fear the operation may have further damaged the well and its blowout preventer, threatening future efforts.
Government scientists, meanwhile, are now warning the spill could threaten two neighboring states. On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said heavy winds this week could move oil toward the Mississippi and Alabama coasts.
BP has vowed to clean up the spill, but is now trying to deny aspects of its environmental damage. On Sunday, BP CEO Tony Hayward was quoted disputing experts’ claims to have discovered oil plumes trapped in large quantities and spreading miles underseas. Hayward said, “The oil is on the surface. There aren’t any plumes.” Hayward also told reporters he doubts that scores of workers and fishermen have gotten sick from the toxic dispersants used to break up the oil in the water. He instead said the workers had suffered food poisoning.
Tony Hayward: “I’m sure they were genuinely ill, but whether it was anything to do with dispersants and oil, whether it was food poisoning or some other reason for them being ill, you know, there’s a — food poisoning is clearly a big issue when you’ve got a, you know, concentration of this number of people in temporary camps, temporary accommodation. It’s something we have to be very, very mindful of. It’s one of the big issues of keeping the army operating. You know, armies march on their stomachs.”
A number of workers involved in the clean-up have been hospitalized. Hayward’s comment came shortly after he publicly complained about the disaster’s impact on his personal life.
Tony Hayward: “We’re sorry for the massive disruption it’s caused to their lives. And, you know, we’re — there’s no one who wants this thing over more than I do. You know, I’d like my life back.”
BP is under continued criticism here in Louisiana. On Sunday, hundreds of people marched in New Orleans to protest BP’s control of the spill response. The New Orleans musician Dr. John said BP shouldn’t be in charge of the cleanup.
Dr. John: “Killing eleven people is a crime, and why are they still in charge of the crime site? I’m upset because they knew — BP oil knew since March — that the shut-off valves weren’t working and the rubber was disintegrating around this. And I find that, of course, they’re a big corporation, and all they kept telling all of the people working on it was 'Keep drilling.'”
The Washington Post is reporting the US is drawing up new plans for a possible unilateral strike in Pakistan in the event of a successful attack on US soil. The options under consideration include air and missile strikes, as well as the deployment of US Special Operations forces deployed along Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan. The US has recently established a joint intelligence center with Pakistan in the northwestern city of Peshawar and is in talks for a second center in the city Quetta. The Washington Post reports the intelligence centers are partly aimed to make Pakistan “more dependent on US intelligence, and less likely to curtail Predator drone patrols or other programs that draw significant public opposition.”
In other news from Pakistan, the US is claiming to have killed a militant described as the “number three” of al-Qaeda. The US says Mustafa Abu al-Yazid died in an unspecified attack in northwest Pakistan last month.
The US military has faulted a group of officers for a February drone attack that killed twenty-three Afghan civilians and wounded a dozen more. The victims were traveling in three vehicles when a Predator drone hit them with rockets and missiles. The drone operators launched the attack from the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, where the drones are controlled. A Pentagon review found the operators ignored warnings from intelligence analysts that children were inside the vehicles. The military says four US officers have been reprimanded and two junior officers have been disciplined.
The US government has quietly acknowledged a majority of Guantánamo Bay prisoners held when President Obama took office were low-level fighters. In a study completed in January but released only on Friday, the Guantánamo Review Task Force determined that just ten percent of the 240 Guantanamo Bay prisoners were “leaders, operatives and facilitators involved in plots against the United States.” Five percent of prisoners were found to be unclassifiable. The Task Force says 126 prisoners should be transferred to their homes or a third country, thirty-six be prosecuted in a federal court or a military commission, and that forty-eight continue to be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial.
Colombia’s presidential race is headed to a runoff later this month after a first round of voting. Former Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos captured 47 percent of the vote, short of the fifty-plus-one percent needed for a victory. Santos is a close ally of the outgoing President Álvaro Uribe. He’ll square off against the Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus, who won 22 percent of the vote.
Ten of thousands of people took part in rallies across the nation on Saturday in a national day of action against Arizona’s recent anti-immigrant law. The largest rally was in Phoenix, where as many as 50,000 people turned out.
Protester: “We’re here to stand in unison with immigrant families. This law violates our fundamental principles of human dignity and in human rights.”
A coalition of musicians, meanwhile, has announced a boycott of Arizona over the law. Spearheaded by Zack de la Rocha of the group Rage Against the Machine, the “Sound Strike” has drawn backers from artists including Kanye West, Sonic Youth and Massive Attack.
And the amount of money spent on the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has now surpassed the $1 trillion mark. The National Priorities Project Cost of War counter says the milestone was reached Sunday morning. To date over $747 billion has been appropriated for the war in Iraq and $299 billion for the war in Afghanistan. The US is spending over $136 billion on the wars this year.