Reports of civilian casualties are mounting in Libya amidst ongoing U.S.-led air strikes and the Gaddafi regime’s assault on three rebel-held towns. At least 16 civilians were reportedly killed after forces loyal to Col. Muammar Gaddafi resumed an attack on the coastal city of Misurata, shelling an area around the city’s main hospital. Gaddafi forces are also carrying out attacks in the towns of Ajdabiya and Zintan. The Gaddafi regime, meanwhile, has attempted to provide evidence of repeated claims of civilian deaths in U.S.-led air strikes for the first time. Earlier today, Libyan officials showed journalists the bodies of 18 people it said were military personnel and civilians killed in bombing by allied forces. The claim could not be independently verified. Libya’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Khalid Kaim, called for an end to the air strikes.
Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid Kaim: “The air strikes, as what happened today, they didn’t differentiate between the civilians or the armed personnel. To start up the national dialogue and get back life back to normal, the air strikes should stop immediately.”
Aid groups are preparing for a humanitarian emergency in Misurata as the Gaddafi regime’s attacks on the city intensify. The city’s main hospital is said to be overrun with patients and is running low on supplies. The U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for Libya, Rashid Khalikov, warned that civilians are facing growing danger.
Rashid Khalikov: “We are extremely concerned about impact on civilians of the ongoing conflict. And I think one has to understand the humanitarian situation, that it’s not only limited to the requirements in emergency food aid or water supplies or medication supplies or shelter. It’s also protection of people who find themselves in the middle of crossfire.”
Japan is facing shortages of bottled water after dangerous radiation levels were detected in water supplies in Tokyo and other areas. Store shelves were empty across Tokyo after Japanese authorities warned that tap water was too dangerous for consumption by infants. Thousands of people remain without water in areas of northern Japan ravaged by the earthquake and tsunami. James Lyons of the International Atomic Energy Agency said radiation levels around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station could be on the decline.
James Lyons: “More data has become available from the Japanese authorities, and their measurements indicate that the radiation dose rates at the Daiichi site are decreasing. There are some positive indications on the site. Precautionary restrictions around the site on certain foodstuffs have been put in place. A monitoring of the environment continues to expand beyond the evacuation zone and out to sea. Overall, no significant risk to human health has been identified.”
Despite the apparent improvements, the IAEA has warned Japanese officials continue to withhold crucial data, including the temperatures of spent fuel pools at the plant’s reactors.
The toll of the dead or missing in Japan has topped 26,000.
The death toll from a Syrian government crackdown on opposition protesters continues to rise. At least 15 people were killed Wednesday when forces raided a mosque housing protesters in the early morning hours. But there have been reports the death toll may be significantly higher. Amnesty International is reporting the Syrian government has swept up dissident students, intellectuals, journalists and activists over the past several weeks.
The Israeli military has launched new air strikes on the Gaza Strip after the bombing of a bus stop in Jerusalem. Israeli warplanes hit smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border as well as a training cramp linked to the Palestinian group Hamas. A power transformer was also hit, causing blackouts. The strikes come after one person was killed and more than 30 wounded when a bomb exploded at a bus stop in Jerusalem on Wednesday. An Israeli police spokesperson announced the attack.
Micky Rosenfeld: “The explosion took place at the bus stop. All the people that were injured, 24 people were injured at the site itself from, directly from, the explosion. Immediately our units and emergency teams arrived at the scene. Three people have been injured seriously, four moderately, and all the rest lightly.”
It was the first such bombing to hit Jerusalem in seven years. Israeli officials say they suspect Palestinian militant groups. The Palestinian Authority immediately condemned the bombing and warned Israel could exploit it to strengthen the occupation of Palestinian land.
Ghassan Khatib: “The Palestinian Authority has condemned this explosion in Jerusalem and explained that all kind of violent activities, regardless of the victims, do not serve the Palestinian cause, but rather is used as an excuse by the Israeli right-wing government in order to further pursue their agendas.”
The bus bombing in Jerusalem came one day after Israeli strikes killed eight people in Gaza, including four civilians—a grandfather and three teenage boys. Another 10 Palestinians were wounded, including children, some of them seriously. The Obama administration has condemned the attack on Israeli civilians but has rejected a similar stance for Israel’s deadlier attacks on Palestinian civilians. In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized Palestinian militants for “terrorism and targeting of civilians.” But when it came to Palestinian civilian deaths by the U.S.-armed Israeli military, Clinton said only that the U.S. extends “sincere condolences.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The United States is committed to Israel’s security, and we strongly condemn this violence and extend our deepest sympathies to all those affected. We also strongly condemn recent rocket attacks from Gaza against innocent Israeli civilians and hold fully responsible the militants perpetrating these attacks. And I join President Obama in extending our sincere condolences to the friends and families of the Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza yesterday and appreciate that Israel has expressed regret.”
Embattled U.S.-backed Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh has enacted sweeping emergency powers amidst a growing uprising against his 30-year rule. On Wednesday, Yemen’s parliament approved the implementation of emergency laws suspending the constitution, barring protests, allowing far-reaching media censorship, and handing more authority to state forces. Just over half of Yemen’s 301 parliament members were present for the vote. Thousands of people remain in the streets of Yemen in defiance of the new laws.
A U.S. Army soldier has been sentenced to 24 years in prison with an earlier possibility of parole after pleading guilty to murdering three Afghan civilians. Jeremy Morlock is one of 12 alleged members of a secret “kill team” that murdered unarmed Afghan civilians at random and collected body parts, such as fingers, for trophies. Morlock entered a guilty plea Wednesday under a deal with prosecutors that will see him testify against other accused soldiers. Morlock will be eligible for release after seven years under the terms of the plea bargain. Leaked photos published this week show Morlock grinning as he poses with the bloodied and partially naked corpse of one of his victims. Prosecutors say Morlock acted as the right-hand man to accused ringleader, Army Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs.
A federal appeals court has rejected an attempt to suspend California’s ban on gay marriage while it is challenged in court. The ban was approved in 2008 when California voters passed the initiative known as Proposition 8, but last year U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled it was unconstitutional. The judge’s decision has been put on hold pending an appeal to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. LGBT rights advocates, along with California’s attorney general, had requested gay marriages be allowed to proceed while the appeal is underway.
Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York has announced plans to reintroduce a measure that would defend bi-national gay and lesbian couples whose partnerships are threatened by deportations. The Uniting American Families Act would seek to provide immigration equality to bi-national same sex couples. Nadler’s plan follows a New York judge’s decision to halt deportation hearings that would have separated a female citizen of Argentina from her American wife. The judge’s decision marks the first time a married same-sex couple has successfully halted a pending deportation based on the Obama administration’s decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act.
A group of House Republicans is quietly pushing a measure that would deny food stamps to any household with a family member involved in a workplace strike. According to the website, Think Progress, House Resolution 1135 would bar food stamps to any family where one adult member is involved in a strike against an employer.
The civil rights attorney Leonard Weinglass has died. In a career spanning over four decades, Weinglass’s cases included those of the Chicago Eight antiwar protesters at the 1968 Democratic Convention, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, Philadelphia death row prisoner Mumia Abu Jamal, and the Cuban Five. Weinglass died Wednesday on his 78th birthday. Weinglass discussed the Cuban Five on Democracy Now! in 2007.
Leonard Weinglass: “This was a very unique case, Juan. This is the first time in our history that there’s been an espionage charge, conspiracy to commit espionage. The government admitted they could not prove espionage. But even conspiracy to commit espionage, there wasn’t a single page of classified document involved in this case. That never happened before. Furthermore, the defense was able to call General Atkinson, General Wilhelm, Admiral Carol, the adviser to the President of the United States on Cuba, all these witnesses for the defense. That never happened before in an espionage case.”
Amy Goodman: “Who are these men? And explain why they came here.”
Leonard Weinglass: “These are five Cuban men who were employees of the Cuban government. After a series of bombing attacks on Cuba in the early ’90s—a hotel was bombed, an Italian tourist was killed. The airport was bombed. Tourist buses were bombed. Cuba protested each and every act. The United States did nothing. Cuba then invited the FBI to come to Havana, and they did go, a delegation. They provided them with names and places and people who were engaged in this kind of violence. Again, the government did nothing. Then Cuba sent the five to infiltrate these groups, monitor their activities, and warn Cuba.”