Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit returned home today after five years in captivity, as hundreds of Palestinian prisoners exchanged for him were welcomed home in Gaza. The 25-year-old soldier was released in exchange for 477 Palestinian prisoners. Earlier today, he was taken across the frontier from the Gaza Strip into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and driven to Israel’s Vineyard of Peace border crossing. He was interviewed on Egyptian television.
Reporter: “Gilad, you’ve known what it’s like to be in captivity. There are more than 4,000 Palestinians still languishing in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?”
Gilad Shalit, newly released Israeli prisoner: “I would be very happy if they were all freed, so they can go back to their families and their land. I would be very happy if this was to happen.”
Reporter: ’’What are your plans for the future?”
Gilad Shalit: “I hope this deal will help us reach peace between the Israeli and Palestinian sides and support cooperation between the two sides.”
Some of the freed Palestinian prisoners spoke to the media after they were released.
Released Palestinian prisoner: ’’We want to tell the world that we are oppressed and we need people to support us. This is what we have to say to the world. We want to tell the world that the Palestinian people need their support, and Israel always attacks us and oppresses us.”
While a massive celebration is underway in Gaza, Sahar Francis, director of the group Addameer, said it was difficult to full-heartedly celebrate the homecoming of these prisoners. He said, “When the dust settles, 4,347 Palestinian political prisoners, who have been arbitrarily arrested, tried by unjust military tribunals and held in inhumane conditions, will still remain in Israeli prisons with no real solution in sight.”
A new poll by Quinnipiac University has found that most New York City voters want the city to allow the Occupy Wall Street protesters to stay in their encampment in the Financial District. In the survey, 72 percent of city voters — including 52 percent of Republicans — expressed support for the protesters as long as they continued to obey the laws. On Monday, thousands of protesters marked the beginning of the second month of the protest. Kobi Skolnick is an organizer with Occupy Wall Street.
Kobi Skolnick, Occupy Wall Street organizer: “Some people did not believe that it will grow so fast, but some of us really wanted it to grow fast. And as you see now, it’s pretty widespread, at least in this nation, and around the world, but around the world is not because of us. Each nation has its own problem with economic injustices.”
Occupy Cincinnati protesters have sued police and city officials for violating their free speech rights. The protesters are challenging a city rule that bars gatherings after 10 p.m. at the downtown park they have occupied for more than a week. Meanwhile, Seattle police officers and park employees raided the Occupy Seattle encampment on Monday. Some 150 tents were taken down, and eight people were arrested.
Greece’s two main unions are preparing to launch a 48-hour general strike on Wednesday to protest a planned vote on a deeply unpopular package of austerity measures demanded by international lenders. Meanwhile, hundreds of Greek police officers and firefighters staged a protest on Monday against a reduction in wages, jobs and benefits. Dimitris Georgatzis is the president of the Hellenic Police Association.
Dimitris Georgatzis, Hellenic Police Association president: “We are forced to come out to the streets to protect our dignity. Services are not operating as they should be, because there is a cutback in funding, with the result that people are blaming police officers who are not to blame.”
Thamolakos Tzanetos, the president of a Greek firemen association, also spoke at the protest rally.
Thamolakos Tzanetos, Firemen Association of Laconia Region president: “We have financial problems. There had been cutbacks, and the budgets of each fireman’s family are no longer enough. We wanted to protest to say workers are not to blame, neither are pensioners, for the situation. The people who are to blame have not suffered any cutbacks yet.”
In news from Yemen, the U.S. government is being accused of killing a 16-year-old U.S. citizen in a drone strike last week. The teenager, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, became the third American killed in Yemen in a U.S. drone strike in the past three weeks. He was the son of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric assassinated in a separate drone strike last month. Initial news accounts reported Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was 21 years old, but his family says he was only 16. They said he was born in Denver in 1995. Nasser al-Awlaki, the boy’s grandfather, said, “To kill a teenager is just unbelievable, really, and they claim that he is an al-Qaeda militant. It’s nonsense. They want to justify his killing, that’s all.”
Prior to launching air strikes against Libya, U.S. officials debated carrying out a cyber attack against Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s air-defense system. According to the New York Times, the goal of the computer-based assault would have been to break the Libyan government’s computer networks, to sever military communications links, and to disable Libya’s early warning radar system. The Obama administration reportedly opted not to employ the strategy out of fear it would set a dangerous precedent and could result in similar attacks being carried out by Russia or China. The administration was also concerned that the attack could not be mounted in time.
At least 25 people were killed as forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pushed into the flashpoint city of Homs Monday. The state forces carried out the assault with tank support, leading to one of the deadliest single days in the seven-month-old popular uprising. Meanwhile, medical workers in Homs claim Assad’s forces have been scouring hospitals in search of demonstrators and commandeering ambulances to abduct them. Doctors, ambulance drivers, medical students and Red Crescent volunteers all say they have faced intimidation from Assad’s forces, who attempt to prevent them from treating wounded dissidents.
A split appears to be growing between the White House and the Pentagon over the future of U.S. troops in Iraq after the Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline. On Saturday, a senior Obama administration official and a senior U.S. military official said that the United States is abandoning plans to keep any troops in Iraq past the year-end withdrawal deadline — other than about 160 troops who would be attached to the U.S. embassy. The Obama administration says a full withdrawal is needed because Iraq has voted against a U.S. request to grant full immunity to U.S. soldiers after this year. But on Monday, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta expressed hope Monday that a deal would be reached to allow U.S. troops to stay in Iraq.
Leon Panetta, U.S. Defense Secretary: “At the present time, you know, I’m not discouraged, because we’re still in negotiations with the Iraqis. General Austin [General Lloyd Austin], the ambassador continue discussions with the Iraqi leaders, and we’re hoping, ultimately, that they’ll be able to find an agreement here. So, at this stage of the game, you know, I think our hope is that the negotiators can ultimately find a way to resolve this issue in terms of what are the Iraqi needs and how can we best meet them once we’ve concluded our combat operations.”
The United States is now exploring the possibility of keeping troops after the end of the year, but placing them under the NATO umbrella to protect them legally. Raed Jarrar is an Iraqi-American blogger and political advocate based in Washington, D.C.
Raed Jarrar, blogger: “There are two tracks that the Pentagon is trying to keep troops in Iraq: either by keeping them under an agreement with the Iraqi government, which seems very unlikely by now, or by keeping them under an agreement between the NATO and Iraq, an agreement that was signed in 2009. And this agreement was just sent to the Iraqi parliament for ratification. If the parliament approves that agreement, maybe we will have a few hundred or thousand U.S. troops staying in Iraq as NATO forces.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide if companies can be held liable in the United States for international human rights law violations under a 1789 U.S. law called the Alien Tort Statute. On Monday, the justices said they would hear an appeal by a group of Nigerians who sued the oil company Shell for aiding the Nigerian government in human rights violations between 1992 and 1995. The plaintiffs are the families of seven Nigerians who were executed by a former military government for protesting Shell’s exploration and development.
In other political news, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney is emerging as the candidate of choice for the financial industry. Newly released campaign finance records show Romney has raised $7.5 million from the financial industry—nearly twice as much as President Obama. Goldman Sachs gave the most to Romney at just more than $350,000, followed by Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, JPMorgan and Citigroup.
On Monday, the Iowa Republican Party announced its first-in-the-nation caucus will be held on Jan. 3, 2012. Politico reports the decision could upend the primary calendar by pushing New Hampshire’s primary date into December. Iowa is usually the first vote of the season, followed by New Hampshire, but now New Hampshire may go first.
Questions continue to linger about the role of a clandestine CIA operative within the New York City Police Department. The unnamed agent, who arrived in July, serves as assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence, but his specific responsibilities are not clear. The AP revealed the existence of the agent in August and detailed how the CIA helped the NYPD develop a so-called “Demographics Unit” that used informants, known as “mosque crawlers,” to monitor sermons without any evidence of wrongdoing and spy on people carrying out jobs typically done by Muslims. Senior U.S. officials have offered differing accounts on the operative’s place in the department. NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly claims he provides officers with information “usually coming from perhaps overseas,” but “doesn’t have access to any of our investigative files.” David Petraeus, director of the CIA, meanwhile, says the agent is an adviser, despite the fact that the agency already has someone doing that job. The possibility that the agent is wearing two hats in his roles within the spy agency and the world’s largest police department has raised concerns among many.