Syrian forces have stormed a university in the town of Aleppo, killing at least four students and arresting dozens of others. The raid came shortly after the students held an anti-government protest. It’s the latest reported attack by government forces as the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad holds talks for a U.N.-brokered ceasefire. Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, is accusing the Syrian government of conducting a wave of killings just as it began negotiating with U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan on the terms of a truce over a month ago. In a new report, HRW says it documented the slayings of at least 95 people and the burning or destruction of hundreds of homes in the northern province of Idlib. Field researcher Ole Solvang said many of the victims were executed in their homes.
Ole Solvang: “The government forces surrounded the city [Taftanaz] and started shelling it with tank fire. They then moved into the city. They destroyed several hundred houses, burned and destroyed them. In addition, they committed numerous extrajudicial executions. In one of the places that we visited here in Taftanaz, they found 11 dead bodies. We were able to see the marks from bullets on the walls where the people had been lined up and executed.”
Protests are continuing in the occupied West Bank in an ongoing show of solidarity with a mass hunger strike by Palestinian prisoners. On Wednesday, Israeli troops fired tear gas at hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators marching on the military camp of Ofer. More than 1,400 Palestinian prisoners are currently on a hunger strike to protest Israel’s policy of indefinite detention without charge. A doctor with Physicians for Human Rights said at least two prisoners are near death.
Graciela Carmon: “Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, they are striking for 63 days or 62 days, and their physical condition is catastrophic.”
The Israeli military has ended an internal probe of its killing of 21 members of a Palestinian family, concluding it was not at fault. The ordeal of the Samouni family drew international attention after it was revealed Israeli forces shelled their homes and then blocked medical aid. In addition to the 21 dead, another 45 relatives were injured, most of them children. But this week, the Israeli military said its review of the massacre had found no evidence of a war crime or deliberate targeting of civilians. Zahwa Samouni, whose husband Atiyah died in the attack, criticized the Israeli probe.
Zahwa Samouni: “This is not a solution. They executed my husband in front of his children before 16 people. They executed him while he had his hands up in the air, and then they opened fire at us. I have a child who is injured, and only 10 days ago he had his last surgery.”
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz is reporting the Obama administration has agreed to an Israeli government request to thwart a U.N. panel investigating settlements in the occupied West Bank. The White House’s so-called “Middle East peace” envoy, David Hale, reportedly asked U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay to postpone the panel’s investigation indefinitely. The White House apparently hopes to delay the panel as long as possible in the hopes of eventually quashing it altogether.
The Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng is seeking entry into the United States rather than remaining in China. Chen escaped house arrest and took refuge at the U.S. embassy last week. He was freed under a deal with the Chinese government but now says he fears for his family’s safety and would like to emigrate abroad. The State Department says it will confer with Chen on his plans. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is currently in China, and Chen says he hopes to return with her to Washington.
Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has assumed her seat in parliament after spending much of the past two decades as a political prisoner. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in a by-election last month. Supporters hope the Nobel Peace Prize winner will help bring a new era of democracy to a legislature still dominated by former members of the military junta that ruled for nearly 50 years. After taking the oath of office, Suu Kyi told reporters she is prepared to work with the junta and its supporters.
Aung San Suu Kyi: “I have tremendous good will towards the military, so it doesn’t in any way bother me to sit with them. I’m pleased to be sitting together with them.”
Reporter: “But you would like to either reduce their presence or not have them in the parliament?”
Aung San Suu Kyi: “We would like our parliament to be in line with genuine democratic values. It’s not because we want to remove anybody as such. We just want to make the kind of improvements that will make our national assembly a truly democratic one.”
At least five people have died after a gunman killed four people near Phoenix, Arizona, and then took his own life. The victims included a toddler girl no more than two years old. The shooter was J.T. Ready, a well-known neo-Nazi who was running for sheriff in Pinal County.
A transgender African-American woman in Minneapolis has pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter to avoid a murder trial for the fatal stabbing of a man who harassed her with racial and homophobic slurs. Supporters say Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald was the victim on June 5, 2011, after two women and a man, all of them Caucasian, began harassing her and her friends outside a bar. While the events of that night remain unclear, the fight that ensued left 47-year-old Dean Schmitz dead after he was apparently stabbed by a pair of fabric scissors that had been in McDonald’s purse. McDonald’s supporters have said the case is symptomatic of the bias against transgender people and African Americans in the criminal justice system. McDonald was due to go on trial this week. But rather than face up to 80 years in prison, she agreed on Wednesday to plea guilty to second-degree manslaughter for an expected sentence of three years and five months. In a statement, the CeCe McDonald Support Committee said: “We’ve been proud to stand with CeCe as she fought this unjust prosecution and will continue to stand with her as she fights for justice as a trans woman of color within the prison system.”
The Drug Enforcement Administration has apologized to a San Diego college student who nearly lost his life after being left handcuffed in a cell for more than four days without food or water. The student, Daniel Chong, had been arrested in a drug raid along with six others. He was not charged with any crime and was due to be released. But instead, the DEA says agents forgot about Chong after placing him inside a holding cell in handcuffs. Chong says he could hear DEA staffers outside his cell, but no one answered his pleas for help. He drank his own urine in a bid to survive before finally being found just as he says he felt his life slipping away.
Daniel Chong: “That was when I really felt my life go. And for some reason, they heard me that time and turned on a light and found me. At first I was just relieved to be alive, 100 percent. But, you know, I started realizing what happened to me.”
Chong says he plans to file suit against the DEA in the coming days.
A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit seeking to hold former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo accountable for authoring the “torture memos” that permitted harsh abuses on detainees. The former so-called “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla had sued Yoo for devising the legal justification for his imprisonment and torture. Padilla was jailed for 43 months without charge in a Navy brig in South Carolina and is now serving a 17-year sentence. In its ruling, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Yoo is immune because U.S. torture laws were unclear when the memos were produced. A similar lawsuit filed by Padilla against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was thrown out last year.
The Obama administration is reportedly seeking to ease barriers to exporting guns and other weapons abroad in the hopes of improving trade and sales by U.S. firms. According to the Wall Street Journal, officials at the Department of Homeland Security have already expressed concerns the proposed overhaul could make it easier for weapons to wind up in the hands of “criminal groups, terrorist organizations or enemy combatants.” The White House says those concerns will be addressed in its final proposal in the coming months.
A MySpace page has surfaced that shows Trayvon Martin shooter George Zimmerman made disparaging remarks about Mexicans and boasted about escaping from legal problems. While the page is dated from 2005 and has not been used for some time, lawyers on both sides say the social media page could become a factor in the case against Zimmerman, who is accused of shooting the unarmed African-American teenager in Sanford, Florida, on February 26. The page, titled “only to be a king again,” shows Zimmerman sounding off against Mexicans and celebrating his evasion of charges after a fight with a law enforcement officer. In a possible reference to an alleged 2005 domestic violence incident, Zimmerman also uses a disparaging slang word for prostitute against his former girlfriend. Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Trayvon Martin’s family, says the page shows Zimmerman has a history of racial profiling.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has signed into law a measure banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy except in cases where the mother’s life is in danger or the fetus is unlikely to survive. In a statement, Deal based his signing of the law on the highly contested notion that a fetus can feel pain at that stage. At least six other states currently ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy based on the assumption of fetal pain, despite medical research debunking the idea.
Newt Gingrich has bowed out of the Republican presidential race after Mitt Romney wrapped up the nomination with a string of victories last month. Speaking to supporters, Gingrich said he will back Romney because President Obama is “the most, radical leftist president” in U.S. history.
Newt Gingrich: “Today, I’m suspending the campaign, but suspending the campaign does not mean suspending citizenship. Callista and I are committed to be active citizens. We owe it to America. … As to the presidency, I’m asked sometimes, 'Is Mitt Romney conservative enough?' And my answer is simple: Compared to Barack Obama? You know, this is not a choice between Mitt Romney and Ronald Reagan. This is a choice between Mitt Romney and the most radical, leftist president in American history.”
The United Methodist Church has voted down two proposals to divest from companies linked to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. At its quadrennial convention in Florida, Methodist delegates rejected a call to fully join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, but approved a measure urging a boycott of products made in West Bank settlements.