Citing an “unbreakable bond” with Israel, Obama vowed to extend the billions in annual U.S. aid. He also made no mention of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Earlier today, a pair of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip hit the Israeli town of Sderot, damaging property but causing no injuries.
President Obama is now in the West Bank for talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Ahead of Obama’s visit, a group of Palestinian activists erected a new tent camp aimed at stopping the expansion of West Bank settlements. The camp falls within the E1 settlement zone, which bisects the West Bank and cuts off Palestinians from their own land. Israeli forces dismantled previous encampments earlier this year. Addressing Obama, Palestinian lawmaker Mustafa Barghouthi said the protests will continue until Palestinians win their freedom.
Mustafa Barghouthi: “We are here to rebuild the village that Israel has destroyed on our land. We are here to send a message to President Obama: Our struggle, our nonviolent, peaceful resistance will continue ’til we are free. And it is his duty not to shy away and to see the Palestinian struggle for freedom. It is his duty to see the Israeli apartheid system and the system of segregation that his ancestors suffered from. It is his duty to tell the Israelis enough is enough, and double standard is unacceptable, settlements have to be removed, and Palestinian freedom has to be achieved.”
It’s unclear if Israeli forces will raid the encampment while Obama visits the West Bank or wait until he leaves. One sign at the camp addressed to Obama reads: “You promised hope and change, you gave us colonies and apartheid.”
World leaders are vowing to investigate the latest allegations of a chemical weapons attack in Syria. Both sides of the Syrian conflict accused the other of responsibility for an incident in Aleppo, although no evidence has emerged chemical weapons were involved. On Wednesday, both rebels and the Syrian government called for a U.N. probe. Speaking during his visit to Israel, President Obama expressed caution about the chemical weapons claims but renewed his call for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
President Obama: “We intend to investigate thoroughly exactly what happened. Obviously, in Syria right now you’ve got a war zone. We have information that’s filtered out. But we have to make sure that we know exactly what happened, what was the nature of the incident, what can we document, what can we prove. The Assad regime has lost all credibility and legitimacy. And I think Assad must go, and I believe he will go.”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has backed down on his call for banning U.S. troops in the province of Wardak. Karzai ordered U.S. special forces out of the province over allegations of the abuse and disappearance of nine Afghan prisoners. But after the U.S. ignored the order, Karzai and the U.S.-led NATO occupation force announced Wednesday they had struck a vague compromise for a limited handover of control to Afghan forces. Under the agreement, NATO forces will reportedly withdraw from the small district of Nerkh in the coming days.
North Korea has threatened a new attack on the U.S. military over its ongoing training drills with South Korea. Earlier today, the North Korean regime said it could hit U.S. military bases in Japan after the United States flew nuclear-equipped B-52 bombers. North Korea called the B-52 flight an “unpardonable provocation.” It was the latest in a series of threats from North Korea following passage of a U.S.-backed Security Council resolution earlier this month in response to North Korea’s most recent nuclear test.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed legislation enacting some of the toughest gun control laws in the country. Colorado’s new gun law limits ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, expands background checks, requires domestic abusers to surrender their guns, and bans concealed-carry permits online. At the signing ceremony, Hickenlooper was joined by the relatives of gun violence victims, including those killed in last summer’s shooting rampage at a movie theater in the Colorado town of Aurora.
On the eve of the gun law signing ceremony, the head of Colorado’s prison system, Tom Clements, was shot dead in his own home. Clements was killed by an unknown assailant after answering his doorbell. Police say they do not believe the shooting was random.
The Pentagon has acknowledged the number of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay has nearly doubled to 24. The figure is far less than the dozens of prisoners cited by Guantánamo defense attorneys. The military says at least eight prisoners are being force-fed through feeding tubes. Testifying before Congress on Wednesday, the commanding officer for Guantánamo, Marine Corps General John Kelly, said prisoners are revolting against President Obama’s failure to close the prison. General Kelly said: “They had great optimism that Guantánamo would be closed. They were devastated … when the president backed off.”
The Justice Department has unsealed terrorism charges against a Saudi Arabia-born Nigerian citizen accused of belonging to al-Qaeda. Ibrahim Suleiman Harun is accused of seeking to attack U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and Nigeria as well as providing material support to al-Qaeda. His arraignment in a New York civilian court follows that of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, earlier this month.
A small United Methodist church in North Carolina has announced it will no longer hold weddings for heterosexual couples until the Protestant denomination ends its ban on same-sex marriage. In a statement announcing the decision, the Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem said: “At Green Street Church, we claim the committed same-sex relationships as no less sacred in their ministry to us and the community.”