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Chart showing National Debt & Annual Deficits with Presidents. Democrat administrations are blue, Republican in Red. Green reflects projected Bush debt. Click chart for larger image.

2008 update (10.14.08)

The Chart Showing the National Debt above is far more than projected, of about $11.3 trillion. See "The debt to the penny," publicdebt.treas.gov.
The Deficit for 2006 was $423 Billion; 2007 was $354 billion; 2008 is $451 billion
OMB Budget FY2005>>
Interest on Debt 2008
Federal Debt 2003-09 (estimated in 2004)
Fed. Budget Summary 2003-2009, as estimated

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01.07.09 Terrorists ordered by phone to kill

MUMBAI (AFP) January 7 - Militants who attacked Mumbai were urged to kill their hostages in cold blood and fight to the death in the name of Islam, according to transcripts of intercepted telephone calls that have been made public. In one exchange, one of the two attackers who stormed the luxury Oberoi-Trident hotel was told to "inflict the maximum damage" and to "kill all hostages, except the two Muslims" they were holding. "We have three foreigners, including women," the attacker identified as Fahadullah said. "Kill them. Keep your phone switched on so that we can hear the gunfire," he was told.

The transcript then said the two attackers were heard to tell the two Muslims to step aside and order the hostages to stand in a line. Gunfire was heard, then cheering. Details of the attackers' conversations, allegedly with their six "Pakistan-based handlers," are contained in a dossier of evidence that India says "unmistakably [unmistakenly]" points to elements in Pakistan being behind the attacks. The document puts the official death toll at 165 civilians and security personnel
two more than previously plus nine of the 10 attackers. [>news.com.au]

01.07.09 Heavy shelling reported as IDF steps up anti-tunnel ops

January 7 - Heavy shelling was reported in Rafah on Wednesday night as the IDF stepped up its operations against weapons smuggling tunnels along the Philadelphi Corridor. The army had earlier dropped flyers on Rafah urging residents of the town living near the corridor to vacate the area. "Because Hamas uses your houses to hide and smuggle military weapons, the IDF will attack the area, between the Egyptian border until the beach road," the flyer said, according a local UN official. After the flyers were dropped, about 5,000 people fled to two UN schools turned into temporary shelters, the official said.

Tunnel openings are frequently hidden inside houses and Palestinians reported that by 9 p.m., 30 homes had been destroyed. According to Channel 10, the army said that anti-tunnel operations would continue through the night. Also Wednesday night, Palestinians reported that a mosque in the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood of Gaza City had been struck. The army has hit mosques on five previous occasions during Operation Cast Lead, after discovering that terrorists were hiding weapons and explosives inside.

..The IDF said it would scale back its Gaza operations for a few hours at least every other day to allow in aid supplies. Military spokesman Peter Lerner says the opening of a "humanitarian corridor" would depend on security concerns. IDF liaison officer Col. Moshe Levi told reporters Wednesday it would be done "on a daily basis." The Prime Minister's Office said in a statement Tuesday that the humanitarian corridor idea came from the UN Security Council, and that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accepted it.

01.07.09 Russia forced to end gas supplies to Ukraine

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) January 7 - Russian energy giant Gazprom halted on Wednesday gas supplies to Ukraine for transit to Europe. A final check established that Ukraine was not carrying any gas to Europe despite Russia's move to continue gas supplies to Ukraine through the Sudzha station. Earlier in the day, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned his Czech counterpart that Gazprom would be forced to cut gas supplies to Ukraine unless Kiev cancels its decision to close all four pipelines carrying Russian gas to the EU. [More>>en.rian.ru]

01.07.09 Troops kill 32 insurgents in east Afghanistan: US

KABUL (AP) January 7 - Forces from the US-led coalition killed 32 armed insurgents during a clash in eastern Afghanistan, the military said Wednesday. The firefight broke out Tuesday during a strike on a Taliban bomb-making cell in Laghman Province, the military said in a statement. As many as 75 armed militants converged on the troops, shooting at them from rooftops and alleyways, the statement said. The 32 insurgents were killed when coalition troops returned fire. The troops also destroyed two caches of weapons and roadside bomb-making materials that were too unstable to move to another location, the statement said. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

01.07.09 Report: US $1.2 trillion in the hole

January 7 - The US federal budget deficit will hit an unparalleled $1.2 trillion for the 2009 budget year, according to a Capitol Hill aide briefed on new Congressional Budget Office figures. The aide says the CBO also sees a $703 billion deficit for 2010. The dismal figures come a day after President-elect Barack Obama warned of "trillion-dollar deficits for years to come." CBO's figures don't account for the huge economic stimulus bill that Mr. Obama is expected to propose soon to try to jolt the economy. At the same time, they do not reflect the immediate cost of the Wall St. bailout. [More>>cbsnews.com]

Editorial note:
Maravot News had been forcasting a $1.3 trillion deficit at the moment President-elect Obama takes office in January 2009. See Maravot News 9.13.08 article and editorial note: 9.09.08 Federal deficit estimated at near-record $407 billion :

"....Since 2004 Maravot News has featured a graph on the Federal National Debt with links to US government sites giving details on the US budget and deficits, including the cost to service the national debt which, by the end of the Bush administration, is expected to approach $10.3 trillion. The debt inherited by the Bush administration from the Clinton administration was $5.6 trillion. The annual cost to service the debt (interest) during the Bush administration is: (See treasurydirect.gov)

2008: $431.27 billion (projected)
2007: $429.98 billion
2006: $405.87 billion
2005: $352.35 billion
2004: $321.56 billion
2003: $318.15 billion
2002: $332.54 billion
2001: $359.51 billion

Total interest expense paid by taxpayers: $2.95 trillion. A major component of the annual "deficit" is interest which is the highest single outlay in the US budget."

That the US government and media seem shocked at the $1.3 trillion deficit seems disingenuous, since anyone computing interest on a $11.3 trillion national debt — it was ~$10.3 trillion in the fall of 2008 — (using historic interest rates applied to the US debt, which have been ~5%) will arrive at the conclusion that 11.3 trillion x 5% interest = $565 billion + the $700 billion bailout = $1.265 trillion. This is probably a conservative number, compared to what may be confessed in the future. Government officials tend to suggest that borrowing and increasing the national debt (public debt) is in effect — for this generation — free money, since we are told "We are putting our debt onto our children." The truth is the national debt is an accrued debt (most of which originated in the Reagan-Bush administrations) that carries service (interest) costs.

The 'deficit' we always hear about represents the shortfall in the immediate budget year. In late 2007 the deficit was $354 billion. Note that the interest expense for 2007 was ~$430 billion. The deficit for 2008 was $451 billion and the interest expense was $451.154 billion* Because the cost to service (interest expense) the public debt has tended to equal the deficits each year, we should not be surprised to see an early 2009 interest expense outlay of $1.2 trillion. There is always a cost to borrowing, as most credit card holders know.

P.S.The chart showing the National Debt and Annual Deficits on this site will be updated when credible information is released by the US government.
* In our editorial note of September 9, 2008, we showed from the OMB an interest outlay of $431.27 billion; the present report from the OMB shows $451.154 billion.

Mel Copeland

01.07.09 4.3 lakh birds culled in Assam: Minister

GUWAHATI, India, January 7 - The bird flu situation in Assam was 'stable' and nearly 4.34 lakh birds, including commercial and backyard poultry, were culled till December last, state veterinary minister kher Sing Engti [said] on Wednesday...Of the total birds killed, 3.32 lakh were from 250 commercial farms and rest from backyard poultry farms, Engti said. [Full story>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; wikipedia.org: 1 lakh = 100,000]

01.07.09 The big question: Why is Braille under threat, and would it really matter if it died out?

January 6 - (Article by Jeremy Laurance)

Why are we asking this now?

This week marks the 200th anniversary of Louis Braille's birth on 4 January 1809. He was the inventor of the embossed system of type that is now used for reading and writing by blind and partially sighted people all over the world. Texts from almost every known language have been translated into Braille from Albanian to Zulu.

So what is the problem?

Braille is under threat from new technologies such as voice recognition and talking computers that can "read" text. It is not being taught widely in schools, is not popular with parents of blind children, and social services departments often do not have the budget to help adults learn. It is feared that, without a campaign to save it, Braille could become redundant.

Why does this matter?

The more blind you are, and the longer you have been blind, the more essential it is. Experts liken the invention of Braille for the blind to the invention of the printing press for the sighted. Although computers and the internet are now the tools of choice for millions of sighted readers, none has yet dispensed with pen and paper. Of 500,000 people in the UK who are registered (or registrable) as blind, around 50,000 have no alternative to Braille, i.e., their sight is so bad that they cannot manage with large-print books. Of these an estimated 18,000 are current users of Braille. [More>>independent.co.uk]

01.06.09 30 reported killed in blast at UN school

January 6 - At least 30 people were reportedly killed and 53 wounded in an explosion in a UN-run school in the town of Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip, according to Palestinians. The IDF issued a statement saying the school grounds were used by terrorists to fire mortar shells at the troops. According to the IDF, among the dead were members of a Hamas launching cell, including operatives Immad Abu Askar and Hassan Abu Askar.

The infantrymen returned mortar shell fire into the school grounds, the army said. Defense officials told The Associated Press that booby-trapped bombs in the school triggered the secondary explosions which killed scores of Palestinians on the site. The IDF released a video taken by a UAV in the end of 2007 showing terrorists firing mortar shells from right outside the school. "Hamas has in the past fired at Israel and at troops from inside schools, cynically using civilians, as is proven by UAV footage," the army said. [More>>jpost.com; See other reports and details, some of which appear to have an "inciteful" bias:

haaretz.com, January 6, "At least 30 Gazans killed ins trike on UN school; IDF: Troops fired in self-defense" :
Israel Defense Forces tank fire killed at least 30 Palestinians at a United Nations school in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, UN officials and medical sources and at two hospitals said. Palestinian officials had initially said that 40 people were killed in the attack, but UN sources put the number at 30 killed and 55 wounded. An IDF spokesman said that troops had fired mortar rounds at the school, after militants barricaded inside shot mortar shells at the Israeli forces. "Initial checks ... show that from inside the school mortars were fired at Israeli forces," a spokesman said. "In response, the forces fired a number of mortar rounds into the area."

The army said that the bodies of numerous Hamas militants were found inside the school following the attack. The attack brought the Palestinian death toll to nearly 600 in Israel's 11-day offensive on the Hamas-ruled coastal territory. Two tank shells exploded outside the Gaza school, spraying shrapnel on people inside and outside the building, where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge from fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants. In addition to the dead, several dozen people were wounded, the officials said...

nytimes.com, January 6, "Israeli strike reportedly hits United Nations school in Gaza" : JERUSALEM - The Israeli military struck near a United Nations school in Gaza on Tuesday, killing at least 30 people among hundreds who had sought refuge at the school from the fighting in the beleaguered territory, the United Nations and hospital officials in Gaza said. The officials said those killed included men, women and children. The Israeli military, in a statement, confirmed it had carried out a mortar attack on the school, saying an initial investigation suggested its forces had responded to mortar fire coming from the school. The United Nations has opened its schools in Gaza to provide shelter and gave the Israelis the coordinates of those locations. John Ging of the United Nations relief agency said.

Barack Obama, the United States president-elect, broke his silence about the Israeli assault on Gaza on Tuesday, saying “the loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me." He did not comment more, repeating his statement that the United States has only one president at a time. The number of those killed at the United Nations school could not be immediately independently confirmed.

According to Mr. Ging, 30 people had been killed in the strike near the school, where 350 people were taking shelter and which is in Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. Another 55 were injured, five of them critically, he said. Most of the casualties occurred outside the school rather than in the building itself, Mr. Ging said, describing the neighborhood as a built-up area. But in Gaza, three hospital officials at Shifa hospital, where some of the wounded from the school were taken, said at least 42 people were killed and that the number of dead was likely to rise. Despite mounting diplomatic pressure to end its offensive in Gaza, Israel's military onslaught unfolded for an 11th day on Tuesday. Since launching its ground offensive, Israel has killed 130 Hamas fighters, Israeli officials say. Hamas has killed five Israelis by rocket fire and in combat...

timesonline.co.uk, January 6, "Gaza school strike forces Barack Obama to break his silence" : The death of forty-two people in an Israeli attack at a UN-run school in Gaza today finally forced Barack Obama to break his silence over the conflict. "The loss of civilian life in Gaza and Israel is a source of deep concern for me," the US President-elect said. He would not be drawn further, promising to abide by his principle that only George W. Bush would speak for American foreign policy while he was still President of the United States. Mr. Obama added that would have plenty more to say after his inauguration on January 20. Gordon Brown said that the recent fighting marked the "the darkest moment yet for the Middle East."

The attack, which appeared to come from an air strike from two Israeli F16s, happened at the al-Fakhora school in Jabaliya refugee camp, causing carnage inside and outside the building, where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge from fighting between Israeli soldiers and Hamas militants. Initial reports had said the devastation was caused by a tank shell exploding. Bodies lay scattered on the ground in pools of blood amid shredded clothing and shoes after the attack, in which several dozen people were also wounded...Dana Perino, spokeswoman for the White House, said: “I saw the reports about the school. I don't have any information about that. I think that we should not jump to conclusions and we should wait to find out what the evidence says. "What we do know is that Hamas often hides amongst innocents and uses innocent people, including children, as human shields."..

aljazeera.net, January 6, "Scores killed as Gaza school hit" : Israeli strikes have killed at least 40 people who took refuge inside a UN school in the Gaza Strip, medics have said. The strike on Tuesday hit a school run by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, in the northern town of Jabaliya. Medical sources at two Gaza hospitals said two tank shells exploded outside the school, where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge from the Israeli attacks. The toll quickly rose as rescuers struggled through the rubble. In addition to the dead, several dozen people were wounded, the officials said. Doctors said all the dead were either people sheltering in the school or residents of Jabalya refugee camp, in the north of the Gaza Strip.

John Ging, director of operations in Gaza for Unrwa, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, said three artillery shells landed near the school where 350 people were taking shelter. Ging said Unrwa regularly provided the Israeli army with exact geographical coordinates of its facilities and the school was in a built-up area. "Of course it was entirely inevitable if artillery shells landed in that area there would be a high number of casualties," he said.

"The initial findings... are that there was hostile fire at one  of our units from the UN facility," Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister, said. "Our unit responded. Then there were explosions out of  proportion to the ordnance we used," he said. Avital Liebowitz, an Israeli military spokesperson, told Al Jazeera that Hamas had "booby-trapped" installations in Gaza and Israel had "no choice but to retaliate. This is how it is in wars, we did not choose to be in a war. However, Hamas chose to target Israelis, we did not force them to do anything, and Hamas chose terror." But Azmi Bishara, a former Arab member of the Israeli Knesst, told Al Jazeera that Hamas' rockets were a "protest shout" against a "an occupying power."

turkishpress.com, January 6, "As babies are being slaughtered, where are the Western human rights advocates?" .The recent images in newspapers and on TV are inhuman. This shouldn't be happening in the 21st century. Innocent people, including children and the elderly, are being slaughtered. As Israel is hitting civilian targets, the world is watching. As usual, the Arab states are keeping their silence. These undemocratic countries are just watching this slaughter in a neighboring Muslim country, and they have no idea of human rights. But what about the so-called democratic defenders of human rights in European countries? As they see all this, are they just averting their eyes, as the situation doesn't affect them? Just weeks before he is set to take office, US President-elect Barack Obama, whose father was Muslim, is also staying silent...

alarabiya.net, January 6, "Israeli army fire kills 52 civilians in an hour"
: DUBAI - Tanks shell UN school, airstrikes target family home. The Israeli military killed up to 40 Palestinians seeking refuge in a United Nations school in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday less than an hour after a family of at least 12 people, including seven children, were killed in an air strike on their house. Two Israeli tank shells exploded outside the school for refugees, spraying shrapnel on people inside and outside the building, where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge from Israel's deadly assault on the strip. In addition to the dead, several dozen people were wounded, officials said, adding all the dead were either people sheltering in the school or local residents. The attack was the third involving UN schools on the same day.

Meanwhile, less than an hour earlier an Israeli airstrike wiped out a family of 12 people and turned their home into rubble, medics at the scene said, as the bodies of the Daya family
seven children aged one to 12 years, three women and two men were pulled from the ruins. The death toll hit 635, a number expected to rise, as Israeli tanks and helicopter gunships went blazing into towns across Gaza in day eleven of "Operation Cast Lead."...

alarabiya.net, January 6, "Rights groups slam Israel's attacks on press"
: Call for probe to investigate deaths and bombings. Israel deliberately targeted Hamas-run media installations in its bombing campaign on Gaza and is practicing media censorship, according to international journalist and human rights groups, which called Monday for Israel to allow journalists and human rights monitors access to Gaza. The Israeli army has targeted several Palestinian media installations including al-Aqsa TV and Al-Resalah newspaper, which were destroyed by Israeli bombing on Dec. 28 and Jan. 3 respectively, according to the non-governmental Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)...

alarabiya.net, January 6, "Gaza prayer turns deadly as Israel hits mosques" : 14 mosque attacks considered war crimes. Praying in Gaza has become a deadly pastime in as Israel has deliberately targeted mosques in its nearly two-week assault on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Israeli air strikes have targeted at least 14 mosques, with the latest destroyed Saturday by a half-ton bomb dropped from an F-16. Sixteen people were killed and dozens wounded while performing the sunset prayers in Ibrahim al-Maqadna Mosque in Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza. The massacre prompted many Palestinians to stop praying in mosques. Israel alleges that Hamas uses mosques as training camps and to hide weapons, the London-based newspaper Asharq al-Awsat reported Monday. Attacks against places of worship are considered "grave breaches"
which are war crimes against the Geneva Convention. Not all Palestinians have given up on praying in mosques, despite the risk. Osama Salman, 42, still prays in al-Muhajereen mosque in Berket al-Waz and says that praying at home is not safe either....

01.06.09 Bird flu patient in Beijing dies, investigation ongoing

BEIJING, January 6 - Beijing municipal health authorities confirmed Tuesday a 19-year-old woman was infected with bird flu and died in Beijing Monday. Huang Yanqing died at 7:20 a.m. on Monday. This was the first human bird flu case reported in Beijing since 2003, according to the municipal health bureau. Huang fell ill on Dec. 24. Her condition deteriorated and she was admitted to hospital Dec. 27. Experts with the Beijing Municipal Center for Diseases Control and Preventive Medical Research and the Academy of Military Medical Sciences launched examinations on the samples from Huang. Both tested the samples positive for the H5N1 bird flu strain. Ministry of Health experts determined that Huang was infected with bird flu.

Huang, a native of east China's Fujian Province who lived in Chaoyang District in Beijing, bought nine ducks at the Yanjiaoqingong Market in Langfang City of Beijing's neighboring Hebei Province on Dec. 19 along with two town fellows. She cleaned the ducks' internal organs, according to the Beijing Municipal Health Bureau. She gave three ducks to her father, uncle and a friend and kept the other six ducks. "According to the initial investigation, a total of 13 people have eaten the duck and Huang is the only one who fell ill," said Zhao Qingchao, an official with Langfang Municipal Government.
[More>>xinhuanet.com; See related bird flu story,

thenews.com.pk, January 6, "Bird flu triggers alert in Nepali border areas" : KATHMANDU: Following the reported outbreak of Avian Influenza in bordering Indian state of West Bengal a few days ago, Nepali Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives directed local administrations in the areas bordering the Indian state to fully prohibit the import of birds, ducks and poultry products from India, media sources reported on Tuesday. The Ministry called on all people concern[ed] to be on high alert to prevent a possible outbreak of the deadly disease in Nepal. The outbreak of bird flu was reported a few days ago in Darjeeling and Malad in West Bengal. Darjeeling is merely 13 km away from Nepal. The ministry has also directed [the] local administration to take action against anyone violating the government's instruction.[end]

01.06.09 Russia cuts gas supplies to Europe

KIEV, Ukraine (AFP) January 6 - Russia had drastically cut gas supplies to Europe, the Ukraine Government says. Ukraine warned of "problems" ahead as several European countries reported that deliveries of Russian gas had stopped. Russian state-run energy giant Gazprom slashed deliveries of gas bound for Europe by nearly 60 per cent, its Ukrainian counterpart Naftogaz said, as a six-day stand-off between the two countries deepened. The announcement came a day after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered Gazprom to start cutting supplies bound for Europe via Ukraine in retaliation for Ukraine's alleged theft of Russian gas.

Ukraine denies siphoning off Russian gas and has accused Moscow of engineering the crisis. Meanwhile officials in Sofia reported that deliveries of Russian gas to Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia and Turkey had been halted overnight in the latest sign that the dispute is affecting downstream customers in the European Union, and beyond. Austria said that deliveries of Russian gas had fallen to 10 per cent of the expected amount. Hungary and the Czech Republic have also reported shortfalls. An EU delegation is in Kiev to discuss the crisis with senior Ukrainian officials. The 27-member bloc has yet to take sides in the stand-off, which stems from a bitter payment dispute between the two ex-Soviet countries.
[More>>news.com.au; See also:

en.rian.ru,(RIA Novosti) January 6, "Europe a hostage to Ukraine's heedless behavior" : BERLIN - Europe has become a hostage to Ukraine's heedless behavior, a first deputy CEO of Russian energy giant Gazprom said Tuesday. "We have faced an undisguised theft of Russian gas by Ukraine," Alexander Medvedev told journalists, adding that an independent international company has registered the theft. "We are forced to use such terms as 'gas theft' as these facts have been registered by an independent international company. Despite Ukraine preventing specialists from accessing its gas measuring stations, measurements of incoming and outgoing gas [volumes] have led us to this conclusion," he said.

Medvedev said Ukraine has to observe the Russian gas transit contract valid for three more years. "There are no grounds to revise the transit contract," he said. "There is only one way out
the lacking contracts on gas deliveries should be signed and Ukraine should ensure transit," he said. "We are still ready to continue talks day and night. But even in this crisis situation, we don't see the Ukrainian side's desire to return to the negotiating table," Medvedev said...

01.06.09 Tossing iron powder into ocean to fight global warming

NEW DELHI, January 6 - Can tossing tones of iron powder into the ocean help the world fight global warming? A team of Indian scientists, along with their counterparts from Germany and elsewhere, is embarking on an ambitious 70-day ocean expedition on Wednesday to find answers to that question. Twenty-nine scientists from India, eleven from Germany and ten others will board German research vessel, Polarstern, in Cape Town and head to the experiment site in southwest Atlantic near Antartica. They will stay in the cold and notoriously stormy waters for nearly two months to test a controversial hypothesis that, experts say, has the potential to clean up as much as 1 billion tonne (1 Gt) of CO2 from the atmosphere every year and store it below the ocean for centuries.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas chiefly responsible for global warming. According to current estimates, world emits 7 Gt of carbon into the air every year...During the $2 million experiment, scientists will throw 20 tones of dissolved iron sulphate in 300 sq km of ocean. The iron is expected to stimulate a rapid blooming of phytoplankton, a microscopic algae that grows on the ocean surface. Like all plants, phytoplankton takes up CO2 from air and converts it to carbon compounds like carbohydrates. The plant quickly dies and starts sinking, taking the carbon with it. What happens thereafter is the key to the technique's efficacy: If it sinks well below the ocean surface, the carbon would effectively have been put away for a long period.
[Full story>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

01.05.09 Hamas won't stop rocket attacks on Israel

GAZA CITY, January 5 - Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into southern Israel on Monday despite a 10-day Israeli military campaign that reportedly has left more than 500 Palestinians dead. Neither Israel nor the Hamas leaders in Gaza showed any sign of considering a cease-fire in the face of continuing international pressure to do so. "I can understand the eagerness of the international community to see the return to calm," Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told European foreign ministers in Jerusalem. "This is our dream as well. This is what we are looking for. Unfortunately, there are those who cannot accept the idea of living in peace in this region."

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for Hamas' military wing, warned Israel that Izzedine al Qassam Brigades will continue rocket strikes "for many months" and vowed to strike deeper into Israeli territory. He spoke on Hamas' Al-Aqsa TV. Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar also gave a televised address Monday, saying that the leadership in Gaza salutes "the resistance men" and that their actions were justified because of what Israel has done. "They [Israeli forces] shelled everyone in Gaza. ... They shelled children and hospitals and mosques," he said. "And in doing so, they gave us legitimacy to strike them in the same way."
[More>>cnn.com; See related stories:

aljazeera.net, January 5, "Gaza battle intensifies" : Heavy fighting has erupted in and around the Gaza City with Hamas fighters putting up a stiff resistance to advancing Israeli ground forces. Large explosions and intense gun battles were reported from the Shejaiya neighbourhood of eastern Gaza City late on Monday. Flares lit up the skies as Israeli helicopter gunships and fighter jets flew low over the the city. A spokesman of the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement, told Al Jazeera that Israeli tanks were trying to move into Gaza City.

Al Jazeera's Alan Fisher, reporting from the Israel-Gaza border, said Israeli officials were saying that a major battle was taking place on the outskirts of Gaza City. Earlier, Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, told members of parliament that Gaza City was partially surrounded...Israeli officials says its assault on Gaza is aimed at stopping Hamas rocketfire into southern Israel. Al-Zahar warned that Israel's war on Gaza had opened it up to retribution by Palestinian fighters. "They have legitimized the murder of their own children by killing the children of Palestine," he said. "They have legitimized the destruction of their synagogues and their schools by hitting our mosques and our schools."...

haaretz.com, January 5, "Israeli troops trade heavy fire with Hamas gunmen in northern Gaza" : Israel Defense Forces infantry units engaged in heavy exchanges of fire with armed Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip Monday evening. The IDF unleashed massive artillery fire to provide cover for soldiers who are penetrating deeper into the coastal territory. Israel Air Force warjets on Monday evening struck dozens of southern Gaza tunnels used by Hamas militants to smuggle weaponry into the strip from Egypt. The tunnels, along the Philadelphi route which runs parallel to the Gaza-Egypt border, have been a frequent target for Israel Air Force strikes since the start of Operation Cast Lead 10 days ago.

...Channel Two reported on Monday evening that the total number of armed Palestinians killed in gunbattles with the IDF reached 100. The IDF said that the targets hit overnight included a mosque used for storing weapons, an underground bunker in Gaza City stocked with explosives which set off secondary explosions, a number of Hamas-operated tunnels near Rafah in the southern Strip, a rocket launcher, four homes of militants, and a suspected anti-aircraft missile...

abcnews.go.com, "45 Photos: Israel launches ground assault."

01.05.09 India hands over Mumbai evidence to Pakistan

NEW DELHI, January 5 - India on Monday handed over to Pakistan evidence about involvement of elements based in that country in the Mumbai Terror attacks and asked Islamabad to implement its commitments. Stepping up the diplomatic offensive, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said he has written to his counterparts around the world and that countries are being briefed separately giving details of the Mumbai attacks and its links in Pakistan. "We have today handed over to Pakistan evidence of the links with elements in Pakistan of the terrorists who attacked Mumbai on November 26, 2008,"

Mukherjee told reporters in New Delhi...The evidence includes confession of Ajmal Amir Kasab, the lone Pakistani terrorist held during Mumbai terror strikes, records of GPS and satellite phones used by the attackers and transcript of conversations between the attackers and their handlers in Pakistan. It also includes details about weapons and other articles recovered. "This material is linked to elements in Pakistan...."
[Full story>>indianexpress.com]

01.05.09 Baghdad bombs kill two, wound dozens

BAGHDAD (AFP) January 5 - Two people were killed and dozens more wounded in Baghdad on Monday by multiple roadside bombings and one car bomb, security forces told AFP on Monday. "Two people were killed and six others were injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) targetting a police patrol blew up in central Baghdad," the police said. They said another 20 people were wounded in four separate roadside attacks in various areas of Baghdad. In addition, a car bomb in south western Baghdad injured five, according to security forces. [>khaleejtimes.com]

01.05.09 US sending emergency aid to Darfur

WASHINGTON, January 5 - President Bush has authorized an immediate airlift of vehicles and equipment to bolster the international peace-keeping mission in the conflict-torn Darfur region of western Sudan, the White House announced on Monday. Because of the urgency of the situation, the president is waiving the normal 15-day period to notify Congress of his intentions “because failing to do so would pose a substantial risk to human health and welfare,” Stephen Hadley, the president's national security adviser, said in a statement.

The airlift to aid the peace mission, formally known as the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, is a significant step up in American involvement in the region, even though it will not involve military action. The region has long been riven by ethnic and sectarian strife, which has claimed thousands of lives. Details of the airlift, like how many planes will be used and from what bases, and how much cargo they will carry, were not announced. [More>>nytimes.com]

01.04.09 Six European countries hit by shortages as Russia-Ukraine gas row deepens

MOSCOW, January 4 - Ukraine and Russia's acrimonious gas dispute was blamed today for disrupting supplies across Europe, with six countries reporting reductions, in the middle of a New Year’s cold snap. As Russia’s state gas company Gazprom hardened its position by threatening to increase the gas price to Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Turkey today reported falls in their supplies in addition to Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria.

The Czech Republic said its supplies had dropped by 5 per cent. Romania said its supplies from Russia were down 30 per cent, while Poland recorded a fall of 11 per cent. Bulgaria said deliveries were down by between 10 per cent and 15 per cent. The customers are all casualties of the dispute triggered on New Year’s Day when Gazprom cut Ukraine’s gas supply after their existing contract expired and the two sides failed to reach agreement on a new deal. {
More>>timesonline.co.uk; See also:

en.rian.ru (RIA Novosti) January 4, "Gazprom offers gas to Ukraine at $450 per 1,000 cu m" : MOSCOW, January 4 - Russian energy giant Gazprom offers its natural gas to Ukraine at $450 per 1,000 cubic meters and hopes the proposal will prompt the country's energy company Naftogaz to resume talks, the Gazprom CEO said Sunday. "Let us hope the proposal... will return Naftogaz to the negotiating table as soon as possible," Alexei Miller said. Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine on Thursday after last-ditch talks on Kiev's outstanding $2-billion gas debt and a new contract for 2009 failed late on New Year's Eve...

01.04.09 Israeli forces bisect Gaza and surround biggest city

(AP) January 4 - Israeli ground troops and tanks cut through the Gaza Strip early today, cutting the coastal territory into two and surrounding its biggest city as the new phase of a devastating offensive against Hamas militants gained momentum. The military used overwhelming firepower from tanks, artillery and aircraft to protect the advancing soldiers, and Gaza officials said at least 31 civilians were killed in the onslaught. The military said troops killed several dozen militants, but Gaza officials could confirm only four dead — in part because rescue teams could not reach the battle zones. One Israeli soldier was killed.

The ground invasion and live images of the fighting in Gaza drew international condemnations and dominated news coverage on Arab satellite TV stations, many of which aired footage of wounded Palestinians at hospitals. Hamas threatened to turn Gaza into an Israeli "graveyard." Thousands of soldiers in three brigade-size formations pushed into Gaza after nightfall Saturday, beginning a long-awaited ground offensive against the area's Hamas rulers after a week of intense aerial bombardment. Black smoke billowed over Gaza City at first light as bursts of machine gun fire rang out. The ground operation is the second phase in an offensive that began as a weeklong aerial onslaught aimed at halting Hamas rocket fire that has reached deeper and deeper into Israel, threatening major cities and one-eighth of Israel's population.
[More>>independent.co.uk; See related stories:

jpost.com, January 4, "Hamas moves on Fatah 'collaborators' " : The Hamas government has placed dozens of Fatah members under house arrest out of fear that they might exploit the current IDF operation to regain control of the Gaza Strip. The move came amid reports that the Fatah leadership in the West Bank has instructed its followers to be ready to assume power over the Gaza Strip when and if Israel's military operation results in the removal of Hamas rule. Fatah officials in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that Hamas militiamen had been assaulting many Fatah activists since the beginning of the operation last Saturday. They said at least 75 activists were shot in the legs while others had their hands broken...

haaretz.com, January 4, "Four lightly wounded as 50 Gaza rockets pound southern Israel."

france24.com (AFP) January 4, "Hamas shares responsibility for civilian suffering: Sarkozy" : Hamas "bears a heavy responsibility in the suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza," French President Nicolas Sarkozy told Lebanese newspapers in an interview out Monday. While condemning the Israeli ground offensive itself, Sarkozy told the newspapers: "I want to say again here that we condemn with the same firmness (Hamas') continuing rocket fire, which is an unacceptable provocation.

"Hamas, which decided to break the truce and to resume rocket fire on Israel, bears a heavy responsibility in the suffering of the Palestinians of Gaza," he added. Sarkozy's interview with the three dailies, An Nahar, As Safir and L'Orient le Jour, came ahead of a two-day tour of the region. Sarkozy will travel to Israel, the West Bank and Egypt on Monday before heading to Syria and Lebanon on Tuesday to try to push for a[n] end to the violence...

01.04.09 British reporter freed in Somalia

January 4 - Somali kidnappers have released a British journalist and Spanish photographer, according to officials. Sunday Telegraph chief foreign correspondent Colin Freeman, 39, and Jose Cendon, 34, were seized on 26 November in the country's north-east. They had been investigating piracy in the Gulf of Aden but were captured by gunmen after leaving their hotel for Bosasso airport. The UK Foreign Office and Spanish government confirmed their release. [More>>bbc.co.uk; See related story, france24.com, "France foils two Somali pirate attacks."]

01.04.09 Woman suicide bomber kills 35 by Baghdad shrine

BAGHDAD (AFP) January 4 - A female suicide bomber killed at least 35 people, including women and children, and wounded 65 others on a religious march near the holy Kadhimiyah shrine in northern Baghdad on Sunday. The woman blew herself up at a checkpoint as pilgrims commemorating the Muharram ceremonies converged on the mausoleum of Iman Mousa al-Kadhim, the most important religious site in Baghdad for Shiite Muslims, officials said.

"A woman wearing an explosive belt blew herself up near one of the gates of the shrine," Major General Qassim Atta, who is Iraqi spokesman for security operations in Baghdad, told AFP. "According to our first preliminary report 35 were killed and 65 injured. Most of them were Iranian pilgrims and women and children,"  said Atta. He described the force of the blast as "very big." An interior ministry official put the death toll at 40, including 17 Iranian pilgrims. The US military said it was aware of the bombing but was awaiting a casualty report.

01.04.09 Taliban bans co-ed in Pakistan tribal area

ISLAMABAD, January 4 - After banning girls' education in [the] Swat district of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan, Taliban militia on Sunday imposed restrictions on co-education in tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. Pamphlets attributed to the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were distributed in the restive tribal areas of the country, asking school owners and teachers to close down all institutes offering co-education even at the pre-school level. The pamphlets in Urdu asked the government to stop issuing identity cards to women "with or without pictures". According to Pakistani rules, every adult above 18 years of age has to have an identity card with his/her photo pasted on it. [More>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

01.04.09 Suicide jackets, explosives recovered in Khyber Agency

BARA, Pakistan - Security forces arrested nine suspected persons and recovered a huge quantity of explosives from their possession in Khyber Agency on Sunday. According to reports, security forces raided a home in Shalobar area in Bara and seized explosive-laden vehicle, three suicide vests, Ids, 29 hand grenades, 12 RPG rockets and six light gun machines. Nine suspected persons were also held by security forces and were later shifted to some undisclosed location for interrogation. [>thenews.com.pk; See related story,

khaleejtimes.com, January 4, "Seven dead in NW Pakistan blast: official" : PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN - Seven people were killed and 28 wounded Sunday in a suspected suicide attack targeting police in northwest Pakistan near the Afghan border, a local government official said. The attack took place on a busy road in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, where police had been called to investigate a minor explosion, district coordination officer Syed Mohsin Shah told AFP. Five police and two civilians were killed, Shah said...

01.04.09 Several die in Kashmir fighting

January 4 - At least seven people have been killed in a gun battle between government forces and armed separatists in Indian-administered Kashmir, the local police say. Four suspected fighters, two army soldiers and one police officer were killed, K Rajendran, an inspector-general of police, said on Sunday. "We have killed four suspected militants but their bodies are yet to be recovered because of the continuing exchange of gunfire," Rajendran added. Government forces and the fighters had been engaged in fierce fighting since Thursday near the village of Bhatidhar, about 180km southwest of Srinagar. [More>>aljazeera.net]

01.03.09 World stock markets open 2009 on high note

HONG KONG, January 3 - World stock markets opened 2009 on a high note, with Hong Kong’s index up more than 4 percent, as investors shrugged off more dreary economic news to focus on government moves to ease the global slump. With most investors away for the holidays and more than half the region’s markets still closed, trading volumes were extremely light, which exaggerates price moves. Chinese telecom firms surged after Beijing approved next-generation mobile licenses, and commodity companies were lifted by stronger prices for raw materials.

European benchmarks followed Asia higher in early trade. But many analysts found little reason to be optimistic about the world economy as a whole. After one of the worst years ever for global equities, many expect more volatility in the first half as the effects of falling exports and higher capital costs start showing up on company balance sheets.

..Across Asia there were signs of further deterioration in local economies. Singapore said Friday its economy shrank for a third consecutive quarter, by 12.5%, and lowered its 2009 growth forecast, saying the economy could contract as much as 2% or in the best case scenario grow just 1%. China’s manufacturing sector, which accounts for 43% of the economy, contracted for a fifth straight month in December, according to a CLSA survey. South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, suffered a trade deficit for 2008 — its first in a decade.
[Full story>>japantoday.com; See also cnn.com, January 3, "Dow tops 9,000 in classic late-December / early January rally. But now the harder work begins." :

01.03.09 Europe shivers as gas row widens

MOSCOW, January 3 - Russian gas flows to four European Union countries were below normal levels yesterday after Moscow cut off supplies to Ukraine in a pricing dispute, and there were no talks in sight to resolve the dispute. With temperatures below zero overnight in Europe, Bulgaria's Bulgargaz operator joined energy firms in Poland, Romania and Hungary in saying they had noted falls in supply, though flows to Europe's biggest economy, Germany, were not affected.

The European Union, which gets a fifth of its gas from pipelines that cross Ukraine, said it would call a crisis meeting of envoys in Brussels on Monday and demanded that transit and supply contracts be honoured. Three years after a similar dispute briefly disrupted supplies, European fears of gas flows dropping off in the dead of winter were once again becoming a reality — and Russia's reputation as a reliable gas supplier was under new scrutiny. [
More>>news.com.au; See also

en.rian.ru (RIA Novosti) January 3, "Ukraine and Rssia swap accusations as gas dispute continues" : MOSCOW - The gas dispute between Russia's Gazprom and Ukraine's Naftogaz is set to continue with both sides swapping accusations on Saturday as EU states reported drops in Russian gas deliveries via Ukraine. As temperatures plummeted across Europe, a number of EU countries reported decreases in Russian supplies after Russia's Gazprom cut gas deliveries supplies on Thursday to Ukraine amid a long-standing dispute over a $2 billion unpaid debt and gas prices for 2009...

Editorial note: Because of the previous pipeline shutoff, the EU sought the development of pipelines that did not pass through Russia. The pipeline from Baku to Turkey's Ceyhan port on the Mediterranean ("Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline,") was a solution to the problem until Russia defended the breakaway South Ossetia region of Georgia in response to a Georgian military attack to regain the region. A week prior to the invasion(s) of South Ossetia Russia persuaded Turkmenistan to reroute it's planned "Nabucco" pipeline to the EU across the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan and Turkey and into Eastern Europe — through Russia. A background on the Nabucco pipeline is described at Maravot News 8.18.08, article 8.15.08 War casts cloud over pipeline route. This is not the complete story, however, since intermixed with control of the pipelines is the US desire to establish a missile shield in Europe, including Ukraine. This aspect of the pipeliine crisis is also in Maravot News 8.18.08, articles and editorial notes, 8.15.08 US missile shield in Europe targets Russia - Medvedev. and 8.14.08 Gates: Russia must step back from 'aggressive posture.'

Thus, a freezing Europe and the Bush administration plans for a "missile shield" against rogue states (sic. Iran) are interrelated. A possible solution to the "missile shield" problem might be for the upcoming Obama administration to take Russia up on its offer to use its radar in Azerbaijan as a joint US-Russian "missile shield." Bush launched us into a new "Cold War," beginning with withdrawel from the ABM Treaty and subsequent "missile shield" plans that is literally turning cold, as reviewed in our editorial of 8.14.08 to the article, "Gates, Russia must step back from 'aggressive posture.' " Here we also discuss not only the rearming of Russia to counter the Bush administration's "missile shield" plans but the connection this has to
Russia's sale of a state-of-the-art S-300 "anti-missile" system to Iran that is a threat to Israel. Iran supports Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. The fates of Georgia, Ukraine and Gaza, Europe's oil and gas stability and the world's economic woes are now irretrievably tied to the Bush administration's legacy.

Mel Copeland

01.03.09 Use oil as weapon to help end Gaza bombing, Bahraini MPs

MANAMA, January 3 - Bahrain's MPs have called upon the Arab states to use the oil weapon and their investments in the West as bargaining chips to help end the Israeli bombing campaigns on Gaza. The MPs also piled up pressure on the government by asking it to freeze its bold initiative for peace with Israel and the reopening of the anti-Israel office it closed in 2005. "As we condemn the Israeli ruthless attacks and criminal acts that violate all international agreements and covenants, we demand that all retaliation options remain open for Arab governments," the lower house said. "These include using the economic weapons such as oil and the huge investments and funds that Arabs have in the West. Such options should influence the current situation on the ground and lead the West to reconsider their biased attitudes against the Palestinians," the MPs said during a meeting with Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa, the Foreign Minister, to discuss Bahrain's actions regarding the raids. [More>>gulfnews.com]

01.03.09 World rallies against, for Gaza airstrikes

(CBS / AP) January 3 - As Diplomacy Fails To Halt Israeli Offensive, Protestors Lash Out Against Both Attacks On Hamas, Palestinian Rockets. Protests against Israel's airstrikes on Gaza continued around the world, as calls for a ceasefire were raised - along with cries for revenge. Meanwhile, thousands of Jews and Christians are expected at demonstrations to be held this weekend in New York, London, Toronto, Miami, Washington, Los Angeles and Tel Aviv to protest Hamas' rocket attacks from Gaza. Some activists are billing the demonstrations as counter-rallies against what they call "assemblies of hatred for Jews and Israel." [More>>cbsnews.com; See related stories:

aljazeera.net, January 3, "Worldwide protests denounce Israel" : Angry protests against Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip have continued throughout the world, with two of the largest demonstrations taking place in London and in Sakhnin in northern Israel. Other large demonstrations were staged in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir, Lebanon, Turkey and the West Bank...

khaleejtimes.com, January 3, "Top Saudi lawyer says pro-Gaza protests 'corrupt' " : RIYADH - A top Saudi cleric and justice official has branded protests in support of Gaza's Palestinians as corrupt, saying they only serve to foment anger and aggression, a newspaper reported on Saturday. Sheikh Saalih al-Fawzaan, chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Council and one of the country's top scholars of Islamic shariah law, said the protests represent "corruption on Earth, and not righteousness or reform," according to Al Hayat daily...

01.03.09 Soldiers exchange fire with Hamas gunmen inside Strip

January 3 - For the first time since the start of Operation Cast Lead, IDF ground troops entered the Gaza Strip on Saturday evening, exchanging fire with Hamas gunmen. The IDF said that a large amount of troops from the Armored Corps, Engineering Corps and Infantry Corps entered the territory with the purpose of destroying Hamas infrastructure and preventing rocket fire by taking control of launching pads "in order to greatly reduce the quantity of rockets fired at Israel and Israeli civilians." The IDF warned that terrorists using civilians as human shields would bear full responsibility for their fate. The IDF spokesperson emphasized that "anyone who hides a terrorist or weapons in his house is considered a terrorist," adding that "the residents of Gaza are not the target of the operation."

... Warplanes, gunboats and artillery units blasted more than 40 Hamas targets throughout Saturday, including Hamas's central intelligence headquarters in Sha'ati, weapons storage facilities, training centers and Hamas leaders' homes. Air strikes that had waned during the day gathered pace after dark. One raid hit a mosque in the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, killing 14 people and wounding 33, seven critically, according to a Palestinian health official. Other Palestinian reports claimed that the mosque was hit by an artillery shell.

The IAF also hit the home of senior Hamas commander Abu Zacharia Al-Jamal. A Hamas spokesman announced that al-Jamal was killed in the attack, which would make him the third senior operative in the group to be targeted in the past three days...In Saturday morning attacks, the army struck the homes of two Hamas operatives, saying the buildings were used to store weapons and plan attacks. Hamas outposts, training camps and rocket launching sites also were targeted, it said. The army also struck the American International School, the most prestigious educational institution in Gaza. The school is not connected to the US government, but teaches an American curriculum in English...[Full story>>jpost.com]

01.03.09 Baghdad bomb blast kills two, wounds eight

BAGHDAD, January 3 - Two civilians were killed and eight others were injured in a bomb explosion on Saturday in a neighbourhood in southern Baghdad, a security forces official told reporters. "At least two civilians were killed and eight others were injured when an improvised explosive device (IED) exploded near an Ashura mourning procession in southern Baghdad, heading to the southern city of Karbala," the official added. The annual Ashura ceremonies in Karbala, attended by millions of pilgrims, are characterized by processions of wailing men beating their chests and engaged in devotional self-flagellation. [>thenews.com.pk]

01.03.09 Pakistan arrests former Taliban spokesman

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) January 3 - Security officials say Pakistan has arrested a former Taliban spokesman released by Afghanistan in 2007 in exchange for a kidnapped Italian journalist. An intelligence official says authorities detained Ustad Mohammed Yasir in Peshawar near [the] Afghanistan border. He says Yasir was Taliban leader Mullah Omar's spokesman after the regime's fall in Afghanistan in 2001. The official said that Pakistan first arrested Yasir in 2005 and sent him to Afghanistan, where he was released along with four other Taliban figures for journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo. A Peshawar police official confirmed the arrest. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. [>timesofindia.indiatimes.com; See related story:

indianexpress.com, January 3, "Chidambaram to visit US with dossier on Mumbai terror" : NEW DELHI - As part of efforts to drum up international pressure for nailing Islamabad's lies, Home Minister P Chidambaram will travel to the US next week armed with evidence about involvement of Pakistan-based terrorists in the Mumbai attacks. "I will be going to the US next week. The dates are being finalized," Chidambaram said. Asked about his mission, he said the Ministry of External Affairs has prepared dossiers on evidence relating to Mumbai attacks and he would discuss them with his interlocutors in Washington. Details are being finalized, Chidambaram said...External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said India will share evidence regarding the role of Pakistan-based elements with the world community, which he feels should do more to ensure that perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks are brought to justice.

01.03.09 Cuba offers direct talks with US

January 3 - Cuban President Raul Castro has said he is ready to hold direct talks with US President-elect Barack Obama, but played down any quick breakthrough. Mr. Castro described Mr. Obama as an "honest man," but said his election had given rise to "excessive hopes." Mr. Castro, who took over from brother Fidel in 2008, was speaking a day after Cuba marked the 50th anniversary of its communist revolution. Mr. Obama has pledged to ease the 46-year-old US trade embargo against Cuba. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

01.02.09 UK: Mortgage lending falls to new record low

LONDON, January 2 - The home loans drought has deepened with mortgage borrowing activity dropping to another record low in November and banks further restricting access to loans over the past three months. The Bank of England reported this morning that the number of new home loans agreed in November fell to the lowest level since records began a decade ago. Just 27,000 mortgages for house purchase were approved by banks and building societies, down from a revised 31,000 in October, the Bank's figures revealed. The worse-than-expected total was the lowest since the Bank's data began in 1999. [More>>timesonline.co.uk; See related story,

news.sky.com, January 2, "House prices: Record fall in 2008" : House prices fell by 16.2% during 2008 the biggest drop for a calendar year on record, Halifax has said. Britain's biggest mortgage lender added that the typical price of a property now stood at £159,799, back to August 2004 levels. Halifax's figures were released shortly after it was revealed that the number of mortgages approved for house purchase slumped to a record low during November. Just 27,000 loans were arranged for people buying a new property during the month, only a third of the number arranged in November 2007, according to the Bank of England. Earlier, Nationwide Building Society brought further bad news for homeowners after it announced it would not pass on any further interest rate cuts to the majority of its tracker mortgage customers...

01.02.09 Russia looks to re-route EU gas

January 2 - Russian gas giant Gazprom says it can no longer depend on Ukraine as a transit route to the EU and is looking to develop alternatives. In a BBC interview, the deputy chairman of Gazprom, Alexander Medvedev, said he hoped EU countries would back the move. Gazprom cut off Ukraine's gas supply on Thursday in a row over payment. The firm has since accused Ukraine of stealing gas, however Ukraine's state energy firm said Russia was not sending enough gas to ensure the EU supplies. Ukraine's state gas company, Naftogaz, denied illegally siphoning Russian gas, saying it was ensuring the export supply. [More>>bbc.co.uk]

01.02.09 Manufacturing reports show depth of global downturn

January 2 - From Australia, to Asia and Europe and the United States on Wednesday, the message in the latest economic reports was clear: manufacturing continued to slump amid the worst slowdown since the Great Depression. In the United States on Friday, a crucial measure of manufacturing activity fell to the lowest level in 28 years in December. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, said its manufacturing index was 32.4 in December down from 36.2 in November.

"Manufacturing activity continued to decline at a rapid rate during the month of December," said Norbert J. Ore, chairman of the Institute for Supply Management Manufacturing Business Survey Committee. This index was at the lowest reading since June 1980 when it was 30.3 percent. "This report indicates that the US economy was on even weaker footing than commonly believed as 2008 came to a close," said Joshua Shapiro, chief United States economist at MFR. "Moreover, the signal from the export orders index is that the rest of the world is right there with us. Hardly a signal for economic recovery anytime soon." In addition, Mr. Ore said, "New orders have contracted for 13 consecutive months, and are at the lowest level on record going back to January 1948."

01.02.09 IAF strikes 35 targets in Gaza Strip

January 2 - There was no sign of respite in IAF air raids on the seventh day of Operation Cast Lead on Friday, as aircraft destroyed the Gaza homes of more than a dozen Hamas terror operatives, a day after one of the group's top five leaders, Sheikh Nizar Rayyan, was killed in a northern Gaza air strike. A Hamas television station said that the IAF on Friday night bombed an airport in the Gaza Strip, Israel Radio reported. One person was reported dead in the attack, and five wounded. Throughout Friday, IAF planes attacked 35 targets in the Strip, including homes of Hamas terrorists, weapons caches, and smuggling tunnels, according to Israel Radio.

In an earlier strikes, the IAF hit the house of top Hamas terror operative Imad Akel on Friday afternoon. It was unclear if Akel was home at the time, but secondary blasts were heard, indicating the presence of weapons and explosives in the home, the IDF said...Overnight Thursday and early Friday, as Operation Cast Lead entered its seventh day, IAF and naval forces attacked some 20 Hamas targets throughout the Gaza Strip. The army said that among the sites targeted was a mosque in Jabalya used as a terror hub by Hamas.

The IDF said in a statement that the mosque was used as a storage site for a large amount of Grad missiles and additional weaponry. The strike set off a lengthy series of secondary explosions and a large fire, caused by the munitions stockpiled in the mosque, continued the statement, adding that the mosque was also used as a center of Hamas operations, as a meeting place for its terror operatives and a staging ground for attacks. The mosque was identified with Rayyan.
[Full story<<jpost.com]

01.02.09 Iraq suicide bomber kills 23 at tribal lunch

BAGHDAD (Reuters) January 2 - A suicide bomber struck a lunch gathering of Sunni Arab tribal leaders on Friday in a town south of Baghdad, killing at least 23 people and wounding 42 others, security spokesman Major-General Qassim Moussawi said. The US military said its initial reports said 21 were killed and 44 were wounded. An Iraqi security source said as many as 30 people died and more than 100 were hurt. Moussawi said Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah Salih, a leader of the Sunni al-Qaraghouli tribe, hosted the lunch for tribal leaders at his home. The bomber, a relative of the host named Amin al-Qaraghouli, entered through the rear gate of the house and blew himself among the guests, Moussawi said. The sheikh was among the wounded. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

01.02.09 More than 30 terrorist outfits operating in Pakistan: India

NEW DELHI, January 2 - The war of words intensified on Friday with India pointing out to Pakistan that ‘more than’ 30 Terror outfits are ‘still operating’ in that country while making it clear that it was Islamabad's responsibility to act firmly against militant groups assuming new names to evade UN sanctions. With Islamabad dilly-dallying on taking action, two senior ministers talked tough saying there was 'no noticeable change' in Pakistan's attitude and Indian forces will have to remain alert. "More than 30 terrorist outfits are still operating in Pakistan. There is no improvement or any change in their attitude," Defence Minister A K Antony said...Mukherjee's remarks came on the move by JuD to rename itself as 'Tehreek-e-Hurmat-e-Rasool' (Movement for defending the honour of God) to avoid restrictions which Pakistan could be forced to impose on it because of UNSC sanctions in the wake of the Mumbai attacks. [Full story>.indianexpress.com]

01.02.09 Girls to marry militants, orders Taliban

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, January 2 - On the heels of their crusade against girls going to schools, the Taliban have now issued [a] new dictum in the areas under their sway asking parents of the grown up daughters to marry them to militants or "face dire consequences." This new force-marriage campaign is being run in most of the areas in the Pakistan's troubled NWFP through regular announcements made in mosques to congregations. Such instances have come to light recently through some of the affected women daring to go to authorities for justice rather than meekly surrender to the militants' dictates. Salma, who teaches in a primary school in Peshawar, told the Dawn newspaper that Taliban have told families to declare in mosques if they have unmarried girls so that their hand could be given in marriage, most probably to militants.

If they did not do so, the girls would be forcibly married off, the newspaper quoted the 30-year-old widow as saying..."I have heard that Taliban have announced that if a girl above the age of seven is found outside her house, she would be slaughtered," Salma said...Once an avid listener of Pakistani Taliban commander Maulana Fazlullah's FM radio station, Salma doesn't tune in to the channel any more...Fazlullah, also known as Mullah Radio for the fiery sermons he broadcasts on his illegal FM station, leads a campaign by Taliban militants to enforce Shariat or Islamic law in Swat.
[Full story>>timesofindia.indiatimes.com]

01.02.09 Teen trained to be suicide bomber feels tricked

KABUL, Afghanistan, January 2 - A 14-year-old who was trained to kill by radicals in the tribal regions of Pakistan now sits in a crowded classroom at a detention facility in Kabul. His only wish is to see his parents again. "I miss my parents, my mom and dad," Shakirullah says in soft tones. Like others in tribal regions, he goes by one name. Shakirullah is already a convicted terrorist for planning to carry out a suicide bombing. He says Muslim radicals lied and tricked him into becoming a would-be bomber. "I have been detained for trying to commit a suicide attack," he says.

He says his recruiters told him it was his mission as a Muslim to kill British and American soldiers because they were killing Muslims. They told him that once he blew himself up he wouldn't die because God would save him for being a true Muslim...Three boys like Shakirullah are here, all guilty of planning to kill themselves and others after being recruited by terrorist groups...His was a life of farming and tranquility in Pakistan, he says. It was also a life that took a drastic turn when his father decided to send Shakirullah for studies at a madrassa.

...In the madrassa, Shakirullah learned to recite the Quran in Arabic, not his native language. He relied solely on the fanatical interpretations the mullahs were giving him. "When I finished reciting the Quran, a mullah then came to me and told me, 'Now that you have finished the Quran, you need to go and commit a suicide attack.' That I should go to Afghanistan to commit a suicide attack," he says.
[Full story>>cnn.com]

01.01.09 Russia cuts off gas to Ukraine, ups supplies to Europe

MOSCOW (RIA Novosti) January 1 - Russia cut off natural gas supplies to Ukraine on Thursday after last-ditch talks on a 2009 contract failed late on Wednesday, but increased shipments to other European states, gas monopoly Gazprom said. A similar dispute between the two ex-Soviet neighbors resulted in a brief cutoff of supplies to Ukraine in 2006, when shortages were reported in some Eastern European countries. Russia accused Ukraine of siphoning off Europe-bound gas. "Deliveries to Ukraine were cut in full at 10:00 a.m. on January 1," Gazprom said.

Speaking at a news briefing at Gazprom's central office, spokesman for the state-controlled energy giant Sergei Kupriyanov said supplies to European consumers via Ukraine had been increased by 20 million cubic meters to 326 million a day, while supplies to Ukraine had been cut by 110 million cu m. Kupriyanov said shipments via Belarus, another major transit country for Russian gas, had also been increased by 20 million cu m a day...Frequent gas disputes between Moscow and Kiev have raised concerns in Europe about the reliability of Russia as a supplier. Ukraine transits about 80% of Russian gas, a major source of revenue for Moscow, bound for the EU. Europe buys a quarter of its gas needs from Gazprom.
[Full story>>en.rian.ru]

01.01.09 On eve of his death, Hamas leader Nizar Rayan predicted victory

(AFP) January 2 - The day before a powerful blast sent his headless body flying out of his Gaza home, senior Hamas leader Nizar Rayan predicted that the Islamist movement would defeat Israel. "God willing, Hamas will win," Rayan said in a vitriol-laden speech that the movement's television broadcast just after he, his four wives and two of his daughters were killed in the Israeli blitz of the Gaza Strip on Thursday. Rayan, who was 51, is the most senior Hamas leader killed since Israel unleashed its massive bombardment on Saturday in response to persistent rocket fire from the enclave. Israeli F-16 jets fired two missiles at Rayan's five-storey house in the Jabaliya refugee camp in northern Gaza.

The powerful explosion hurled his decapitated body out into the street, according to witnesses. "It was like an earthquake," a neighbor said of the massive blast. A dozen neighboring houses were destroyed or damaged in the explosion which killed 12 people in all and brought to 414 the death toll since "Operation Cast Lead" started. The Israeli air force said the secondary blasts demonstrated the house was used for weapons storage, and claimed it was also a communication centre. "In addition, a tunnel was located under the house and was used for the escape of terror operatives," it said.
[More>>news.com.au; See more details,

jpost.com, January 1, "Top Hamas leader killed in Gaza strike" :...Palestinian medics said that nine people were killed, including two of Rayyan's four wives and four of his 12 children, and around 30 were wounded in the air strike...Security officials said that Rayyan was not only the religious leader of Hamas's military wing, Izzadin Kassam, but also one of their military commanders. He was often seen in uniform, and participated in military exercises. He was considered one of the most fanatical Hamas commanders, and was said to be close to Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh, who was killed by the IAF in 2002...Rayyan was the fourth senior terror figure to be killed in air strikes Thursday as the air force appeared to step up the pressure on the leaders of Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip...

01.01.09 Egypt FM: Hamas gave Israel the excuse to launch Gaza offensive

(AP) January 1 - Egypt's foreign minister said Thursday that Hamas must ensure rocket fire stops in any truce deal to halt Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip, criticizing the Palestinian militants for giving Israel an excuse to launch the bombardment. Ahmed Aboul Gheit's comments came as Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, part of a tour by the Turkish leader to work out an Egyptian-Turkish initiative to end the violence.

The initiative calls for a halt to Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip, a return to a Hamas-Israel truce and an international mechanism to ensure the opening of Gaza border crossings. Erdogan met a day earlier with Syrian President Bashar Assad and was expected to head to Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Aboul Gheit said any eventual truce agreement should include a mechanism to oversee that everything proceeds without one side causes problems with the other. He told journalists that the mechanism could involve international forces or Arab forces or just observers.

01.01.09 'US has already shared evidence with Pakistan'

NEW DELHI, January 1 - The US has shared with Pakistan "strong evidence" about involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the Mumbai attacks, External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee said today and asked Islamabad to hand over the perpetrators for which an Extradition Treaty is not required. "We have been told that there is some strong evidence available with [the] FBI and they have shared it with Pakistan. We expect that Pakistan will act on them and hand over the perpetrators of Terror attack in Mumbai to us," said Mukherjee. The Minister said it was expected of Pakistan to take action against the perpetrators of terror attacks in the wake of evidence provided to them and various international conventions pacts to which Islamabad is party to.

Asked whether an Extradition Treaty was needed for Islamabad to hand over the attackers, he said, "it is not required to take action on these matters" as Pakistan is party to various international conventions and arrangements starting from SAARC to various international conventions against taking hostages, conventions against bombings. Mukherjee said "tangible" results about Pakistani cooperation on the Mumbai terror attack is "yet to be achieved." His comments assume significance as these came a day after media reports in the US said that top LeT commander Zarar Shah has confessed the group's involvement and the US provided Islamabad with the tape of a conversation his associate Zakiur Rahman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind, had with the gunmen.
[>indianexpress.com; See related story,

timesofindia.indiatimes.com, January 1, "12 Pakistani nationals wanted in Mumbai attack: Police": MUMBAI - At least 12 Pakistani nationals are wanted for their alleged involvement in funding and assisting the perpetrators of last month's terror attacks, a senior police official said here on Thursday. During the course of interrogation of Mohammed Ajmal, he has revealed that around 12 Pakistani nationals had assisted, financed and communicated with the terrorists during the three-day attack, Rakesh Maria, Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime), said. "They have assisted, financed and communicated with the terrorists during the attacks. We have their names. We are examining the role of each persons," Maria said. However, Maria declined to say whether Dawood Ibrahim, declared a global terrorist by the US, was among the 12.

The crime branch of the police probing the Mumbai terror strikes has established the links of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), its founder Hafiz Saeed and functionaries Zakiur Rehman, Abu Hamza and Kahfa who played prominent roles in hatching the conspiracy, training the terrorists and executing the attacks. The police also suspect that the top LeT commander Zarar Shah, reportedly captured in the crackdown on militants earlier this month in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, acted as Public Relations Officer for LeT and had basically dealt in communication. Saeed, the founder of the LeT and charity organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa, allegedly gave motivational and emotional speeches to the group of ten terrorists when they were training in Muridke...

01.01.09 Blazing new year as Paris cars torched

(Reuters) January 1 - At least 445 cars were torched over the night of New Year's Eve in France, a 20-percent rise on last year, but there were relatively few clashes with police, the Interior Ministry and police said today. Car burnings are regular occurrences in France but the registering [of] the New Year's Eve total has become something of a tradition since they achieved symbolic status in the violent rioting that shook many of the country's poor suburbs in 2005. With riots in Athens heightening worries that the economic crisis might spark a resurgence of the violence seen in the run-down "banlieues" then, 35,000 police were mobilized on New Year's Eve, some 7,000 more than last year.[More>>independent.co.uk]

01.01.09 Somali pirates hijack Egyptian cargo ship

CAIRO (AFP) January 1 - Somali pirates hijacked an Egyptian cargo ship with a crew of 28 near the coast of Somalia, the Egyptian foreign ministry said on Thursday. bout 15 pirates, some of them heavily-armed, attacked the Blue Star, which carried 6,000 tones of fertiliser, near Bab al-Mandab at it was headed east, said foreign ministry official Ahmed Rizq. [More>>khaleejtimes.com]

01.01.09 20 Afghan police killed in Taliban ambush

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) January 1 - Taliban militants ambushed a group of Afghan police while they were eating lunch in a remote and dangerous part of southern Afghanistan, killing 20 officers and one of the policeman's mother, an Afghan official said Thursday. A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousef Ahmadi, said two Taliban were killed and four wounded during the ambush. Ahmadi claimed 32 police were killed, but that number had not been confirmed by Afghan officials. The attack came Wednesday in the small village of Shaghzay in the district of Kajaki in Helmand province, said Daud Ahmadi, spokesman for Helmand's governor. He said 20 police bodyguards for the district chief of nearby Musa Qala were killed.

Musa Qala for many months of 2007 had been held by Taliban fighters. The mother of one of the police pleaded with the militants to spare her son's life, and she was also killed, Ahmadi said. The region between Musa Qala and Kajaki is filled with Taliban militants, and the Afghan government has little control outside of main district centers. Taliban fighters operate their own parallel government in the region, sometimes called a shadow government. The Taliban's shadow police chief for Helmand province, Mullah Mohammad Qassim, claimed in a call to The Associated Press that one of the policemen in the group of bodyguards was a Taliban sympathizer and had helped set up the ambush. There was no way to confirm the claim.

01.01.09 10 militants arrested in Mohmand agency operation

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, January 1 - Security forces arrested 10 militants in an operation in Tehsil Lakro, Mohmand Agency while a woman was killed as a result of a shell landing on a house. According to sources, the security forces arrested 10 militants during a search operation in Kandharo area of Tehsil Lakro and recovered 2 jackets used in suicide attacks, an improvised bomb and other explosives. Security forces also demolished 25 houses in another action. [>thenews.com.pk]

01.01.09 Suspected US missile strike kills 3 in Pakistan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan, January 1 - A suspected US missile strike by a drone aircraft destroyed a vehicle in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least three foreign militants, said intelligence officials. At least one local militant was wounded in the attack in the South Waziristan tribal region near the Afghan border, said the two officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media...The three militants killed Thursday were from a Central Asian country, said the officials without providing further details. [Full story>>japantoday.com]

01.01.09 Heart of US occupation reverts to Iraqi control

BAGHDAD, January 1 - The Green Zone, for nearly six years the headquarters of the American occupation of Iraq, passed from American to Iraqi control on Thursday, in a handover that was marked by two ceremonies of speeches, poems and music on a blustery cold day in Baghdad. The Iraqi flag was raised during a small ceremony at what had been the Republican Palace of Saddam Hussein attended by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. In a speech broadcast on state television, Mr. Maliki said that the handover had a special meaning for Iraqis. "It means we have gotten rid of the most dangerous remains of the policies that the former regime adopted," he said.

Later, on a street elsewhere in the 5.6-square-mile Green Zone, a second ceremony was attended by senior Iraqi security officials, including the defense minister, and senior American Army officers, including Lt. Gen., Lloyd J. Austin III, the second-highest ranking United States commander in Iraq. At that ceremony, there were speeches about Iraq's readiness to take over responsibility of the Green Zone, children sang songs and a poem was read about Iraqi unity. An Iraqi marching band — with bagpipes — played the country's national anthem.

01.01.09 Grape extract could fight cancer

January 1 - A supplement made from grape seeds can destroy leukaemia cells, according to scientists at the University of Kentucky in Philadelphia. In laboratory experiments, grapeseed extract forced the cancer cells to self-destruct. Within 24 hours, 76 percent of leukaemia cells exposed to the extract died through a process called apoptosis. Healthy cells were unharmed. The researchers believe the discovery could lead to promising new treatments, but warned it was too early to justify recommending that people take grapeseed extract to stave off cancer. [More>>independent.co.uk]


09.11.05 When a nation lacks a competent leader it invites disaster – the legacy of Bush
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