the latest reports on Israel-Palestine, Darfur, Iraq, attorney firings, Iran, Guantanamo trial, slavery, Colombia, gays and lesbians and the church, and Big Brother

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Israel-Palestine. Israel agrees to talk terms of Palestinian state – “United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to meet biweekly, holding talks that could include discussions about the formation of a Palestinian state.” Mideast Talks to Begin With Confidence-Building Measures – “The biweekly meetings between Israeli and Palestinian leaders announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday are intended to be the first step in rebuilding an active peace process…” Mideast Leaders Agree to Meet Biweekly – “The twice-monthly talks which Mr. Olmert agreed to will focus on day-to-day concerns like movement and access for Palestinians into and out of Gaza and the occupied West Bank, and security issues like arms-smuggling into Israel and rocket fire from Gaza. Ms. Rice said that the United States would work with the Israelis and Palestinians to establish benchmarks to measure progress.”

Darfur. Blair threatens force over Darfur – “Tony Blair is pushing the United Nations to declare a no-fly zone over Darfur, enforced if necessary by the bombing of Sudanese military airfields used for raids on the province…. The controversial initiative comes as a classified new report by a UN panel of experts alleges Sudan has violated UN resolutions by moving arms into Darfur, conducting overflights and disguising its military planes as UN humanitarian aircraft.” Aid to Darfur Is Imperiled, Officials Say – “Violence and bureaucracy are threatening to derail what has been perhaps the only success of the Darfur conflict: the humanitarian effort. … In the past year, a dozen aid workers have been killed, dozens of vehicles stolen, compounds robbed and workers beaten, harassed and sexually assaulted.”

Iran. U.S. hawks see strikes on Iran as less likely now – “Despite tough rhetoric from both sides and increased tension over Iran’s move to detain 15 British sailors last week, a variety of influential thinkers who championed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq are now saying that containment, not confrontation, is the best approach to Iran.” UK in ‘discreet talks’ with Iran – “The government is attempting to ‘discreetly’ talk to the Iranians to secure the release of 15 Royal Navy personnel, Downing Street has said. Tony Blair’s spokesman said that if the talks were unsuccessful, the government may have to become ‘more explicit.'”

Iraq. Widening schism in Iraq between Sunni insurgents, Al Qaeda – “As some Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups report growing disaffection – and in some cases direct fighting – with Al Qaeda in Iraq, US and Iraqi officials are reaching out to former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party in an effort to turn them away from militantism and toward reconciliation.” Iraqis Announce New Steps Aimed at Reconciling Sunnis and Shiites – “Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani announced Monday that they plan to introduce a proposal that would allow thousands more former members of Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party to serve in the government. The plan, if it were to gain approval, would be an important step toward reconciling Iraq’s warring Shiites, who lead the government now, and Sunnis, who dominated the Hussein government.”

Attorney firings. Aide to Gonzales Won’t Testify About Dismissals – “An aide to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales on Monday invoked her constitutional right to refuse to testify before a Senate panel investigating last year’s removal of eight United States attorneys, her lawyer told the committee.” Counselor Cites Fifth Amendment Right in Refusal – “Monica M. Goodling, who has taken an indefinite leave of absence, said in a sworn affidavit to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she will ‘decline to answer any and all questions’ about the firings because she faces ‘a perilous environment in which to testify.'”

Guantanamo trial. Australian’s Guilty Plea Is First at Guantanamo – “Australian David M. Hicks pleaded guilty to one charge of material support for terrorism during a brief military hearing Monday night, becoming the first Guantanamo prisoner to officially accept criminal responsibility for aiding terrorists since the detention facility opened more than five years ago.” Guilty plea from detainee Hicks – “The 31-year-old Muslim convert was accused of attending al-Qaeda training camps and fighting with the Taleban. The plea means that Hicks, who has been at the camp for five years, is likely to return home to serve his sentence.”

Slavery. Church considers slavery payments – “The Church of England is considering whether it should pay reparations for its role in the slave trade, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said. … The Church, which owned slaves on plantations in the Caribbean, apologised for its role last year.” Jamaican anger over slave trade – “There is unease here that British commemorations marking the end of the slave trade are too focused on white abolitionists like William Wilberforce and they do not acknowledge the effect on the morale of the British of numerous slave rebellions. Many Jamaicans believe Britain wants to play up its role in helping to end the trade and downplay its role in slavery itself. “

Colombia. Scandal engulfs Colombia’s elite – “Accusations of alliances with drug-trafficking death squad leaders who effectively controlled swaths of the country have engulfed Colombia’s political, military and business elites. They increasingly threaten to touch the president’s office, and while the Bush administration’s support for its only ally in the region has been unwavering, the US Congress is increasingly questioning the multimillion dollar military aid packages handed out to the Bogotá government in the so-called ‘war on drugs.'”

Gays and Lesbians and the Church. For Some Black Pastors, Accepting Gay Members Means Losing Others – Some black ministers, like their white counterparts, said they had been moved to reconsider biblical passages about same-sex relations by personal events, like finding out that a friend or relative is gay.

Big Brother.

2602088.html">Ordinary Customers Flagged as Terrorists – “Private businesses such as rental and mortgage companies and car dealers are checking the names of customers against a list of suspected terrorists and drug traffickers made publicly available by the Treasury Department, sometimes denying services to ordinary people whose names are similar to those on the list. … ‘The way in which the list is being used goes far beyond contexts in which it has a link to national security … The government is effectively conscripting private businesses into the war on terrorism but doing so without making sure that businesses don’t trample on individual rights.'”
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