President Obama is set to propose sweeping new gun restrictions today, more than a month after the Newtown school massacre. Obama will reportedly call for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as expanded background checks for gun buyers. In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Obama will hold a campaign-style public event to unveil his proposals.
Jay Carney: “The president and vice president will hold an event here at the White House to unveil a package of concrete proposals to reduce gun violence and prevent future tragedies like the one in Newtown, Connecticut. They will be joined by children from around the country who wrote the president letters in the wake of that tragedy expressing their concerns about gun violence and school safety, along with their parents.”
Obama’s gun violence initiative comes as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed into a law a new measure expanding the state’s ban on assault weapons, limiting ammunition clips to seven rounds, and imposing new mental health screening for purchases of weapons.
The House has approved a $50 billion package for the victims of Superstorm Sandy after failing to pass the measure before the previous congressional term ended last month. Republicans had come under wide criticism after delaying the vote, forcing millions of Sandy victims to continue waiting for federal aid. Tuesday’s vote was approved over the objections of 80 Republicans who demanded that any money for Sandy relief be matched by an equal amount in cuts to government spending.
French troops are preparing to engage in direct combat with rebels in Mali after beginning the first ground offensive of their military intervention. France has launched air strikes in Mali for the past six days in a bid to oust rebels that have held the country’s north since March. French forces began heading north overnight, setting the stage for clashes on the ground.
The United States has backed France’s operation with surveillance and logistical support. Speaking in Spain, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States is considering French requests for additional military help.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta: “We are discussing in Washington some of the requests that have been made to determine exactly what assistance we can provide. Our goal is to try to do what we can to provide whatever assistance is necessary in order to help them in that effort. But specifically in what areas, that’s still something that is under discussion.”
The Washington Post reports France has asked for U.S. intelligence that could be used for “targeting purposes,” a request that could raise questions under international law. The United States is also reportedly considering whether to help France transport its troops and military supplies. The Obama administration is said to be wary of deepening its involvement in Mali after having trained military leaders that ended up staging a coup and even joining the rebels’ fight.
The U.S.-backed French strikes in Mali have already killed a reported 11 civilians, including three children. On Tuesday, an Amnesty International spokesperson called for the deployment of international human rights monitors and urged all sides to safeguard civilian life.
Scott Edwards: “Amnesty is calling for an immediate deployment of human rights monitors precisely because the risk to civilians is so great. And this isn’t risk just posed by indiscriminate bombing, but Amnesty has documented over the course of fighting in northern Mali sexual violence, rape of women and children, torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions. If there is any hope that the civilians aren’t going to be bear the brunt of these security operations, we have to have monitors in place, and it has to done with a very — much urgency.”
At least 87 people were reportedly killed on Tuesday when a series of bombings struck the campus of Syria’s Aleppo University. Both rebels and government forces have blamed the other for the attack. The town of Aleppo has been the site of constant violence with both sides of the Syrian conflict in control of different areas. Syria’s military has apparently launched a new offensive against Aleppo rebels in the aftermath of Tuesday’s bombings.
The Israeli military has forcibly prevented Palestinians and solidarity activists from returning to the site of a dismantled encampment that challenged Israel’s ongoing settlement expansion in the West Bank. On Tuesday, Israeli forces used stun grenades to stop a group of around 50 people seeking to re-pitch the tents they had erected at what they called Bab al-Shams, Arabic for “Gate of the Sun,” in the so-called E1 settlement zone that bisects the West Bank. It marked the activists’ first attempt to reclaim the site after Israeli forces raided them over the weekend. The E1 construction had largely been put on hold following U.S. objections dating back to President George W. Bush. But Israel resumed work there last month in response to the U.N. vote recognizing Palestine as a non-member observer state. The Obama administration has refused to pressure Israel for a building halt, limiting its reaction to calling the E1 expansion “counterproductive.”
Clashes also erupted in the occupied West Bank Tuesday at the funeral of an unarmed Palestinian teen killed by Israeli troops. Seventeen-year-old Samir Awad was shot multiple times as he tried to walk away from Israeli soldiers near the Israeli separation wall that carves up the West Bank. Samir’s brother said he was killed on his way to write a final exam at school.
Mohammed Awad: “He was on his way to school because he had an exam, his last school exam. After half an hour, they called and told us that my brother was injured.”
Samir Awad was reportedly the fourth unarmed Palestinian killed by Israeli forces in the Occupied Territories in the last four days, including a farmer shot in the head in the Gaza Strip. Israeli forces fired tear gas and rubber-coated bullets at mourners who threw stones following Awad’s funeral.
At the United Nations, a spokesperson reaffirmed U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s view that Israeli settlements are illegal and called for an end to their expansion.
Eduardo del Buey: “He notes the Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal under international law. The secretary-general repeats his call that any such settlement plans for E1 must be rescinded.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar is reportedly stepping down rather than staying on for President Obama’s second term. Salazar is said to have made plans to leave Obama’s Cabinet by the end of March.
Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland is preparing to unveil a measure that would ban the death penalty in his state. O’Malley made the announcement in an appearance with leaders of the NAACP.
Gov. Martin O’Malley: “The death penalty is expensive, and it does not work, and for that reason alone, I believe we should stop doing it. This week, once again, I will be filing legislation to repeal the death penalty in Maryland.”
If the ban is approved, Maryland would become the 18th state to abolish capital punishment.
A U.S. Army sergeant who went AWOL in opposition to the war in Afghanistan has been detained and held at Fort Irwin, California. Micah Turner left his unit in September and later went public with his antiwar views. Supporters say he informed the military multiple times of his whereabouts since his desertion and even tried to turn himself in, but was only arrested earlier this month while visiting his parents’ home. He is expected to be transferred to North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, where his unit is based. Turner has reportedly spent five tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The late Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz was laid to rest on Tuesday at a funeral near Chicago. Swartz killed himself on Friday, weeks before he was to go to trial for downloading millions of articles provided by the nonprofit research service JSTOR. He was facing 35 years in prison, a penalty that supporters of Swartz called excessively harsh. Speaking to mourners, Swartz’s father, Robert Swartz, continued to blame prosecutors for his son’s death, saying he was “killed by the government.” In response to the family, the husband of prosecutor Carmen Ortiz has publicly criticized them on Twitter, claiming Swartz was offered a six-month plea deal. The husband, IBM executive Tom Dolan, has since deleted his Twitter profile.
In Washington, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California has introduced a measure in honor of Swartz. Lofgren’s bill, dubbed “Aaron’s Law,” would modify the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to omit terms of service breaches. In a statement, Lofgren said: “There’s no way to reverse the tragedy of Aaron’s death, but we can work to prevent a repeat of the abuses of power he experienced.”
More than 8,000 school bus drivers and matrons have gone on strike in New York City in a dispute over job security and the outsourcing of their contracts. New York City has put its deals with the private bus companies that hire the drivers up for bidding, a move the drivers say could threaten their jobs at the end of the school year.