Current Events

A New Middle East Being Born?

Newsweek reported on July 28:

“A New York Times/CBS News poll found a strong isolationist streak emerging, with 58 percent saying the United States has no responsibility to resolve the conflict between Israel and other countries in the Middle East, and 56 percent supporting a timetable for getting out of Iraq. A substantial majority of 62 percent say the Iraq war has not been worth it in terms of lives lost and dollars spent… Dale Bishop… taught Iranian studies at Columbia University and for 20 years served as Middle East area executive for the United Church of Christ. He spent much of his time reminding us of Lebanon’s bloody history and how Iraq seems destined to go down the same path.

“Both countries are artifacts of the colonial era. Winston Churchill drew the border lines for Iraq. The first Iraqi king was a Saudi-born royal who had not set foot in the new nation until he was installed. Lebanon was carved out of Syria by the French, who wanted a place for the Christian population… Lebanon has 17 sects, including a variety of Christians, Shiite and Sunni Muslims and Druze, and they fought a prolonged civil war that didn’t end until 1991. It was said that the fighting would continue until only a single Lebanese was left, and he would look at himself in the mirror and shoot the mirror. U.S. troops were in the middle of that mess until 241 American servicemen were ambushed and killed in their barracks in 1983. That was enough for President Reagan. He pulled out U.S. troops…

“The Lebanese continued to fight it out without U.S. forces, an outcome Bishop believes will eventually happen in Iraq. ‘And it’s not going to be pretty,’ he says. ‘We walked into a huge mess, and we’re not going to achieve a military victory—and our pride prevents us from just leaving… it’s a new Middle East that’s being born…”

“Hezbollah Are Cowards”

On July 31, News Herald Sun published several pictures showing that Hezbollah terrorists are using Lebanese civilians as “human shields” in their fight against Israel. The article stated:

“The images… show Hezbollah using high-density residential areas as launch pads for rockets and heavy-calibre weapons. Dressed in civilian clothing so they can quickly disappear, the militants [are] carrying automatic assault rifles and ride in on trucks mounted with cannon… The images include one of a group of men and youths preparing to fire an anti-aircraft gun metres from an apartment block with sheets hanging out on a balcony to dry. The release of the images comes as Hezbollah faces criticism for allegedly using innocent civilians as ‘human shields’. [UN’s humanitarian chief Jan] Egeland blasted Hezbollah as ‘cowards’ for operating among civilians. ‘When I was in Lebanon, in the Hezbollah heartland, I said Hezbollah must stop this cowardly blending in among women and children,’ he said.”

Christ’s Return in Our Lifetime?

On July 28, published an interview with Tim LaHaye, coauthor of the popular “Left Behind” series. In the interview, LaHaye stated the following:

“Biblically speaking, the very nations that are mentioned in prophecy—and have been mentioned for 2,500 years as occupying the focus of the tension of the last days—are the very nations that are involved in the conflict [in the Middle East] right now. That may be one of the reasons there’s a sudden interest in bible prophecy because all of a sudden they realize end-time events could possibly take place and break forth right now… I have often said that no one knows the day nor the hour that Christ will come, but no generation has had so many signs of the times as our generation. We have more reason to believe that Christ could come in our lifetime than any generation before us…

“We believe that the Bible should be understood literally whenever possible. The next big event is the second coming of Christ. That’s preceded by a number of signs. And some of those signs could be stage-setting right now. They’re not going to come out of nowhere. For example, the Bible predicts when the antichrist comes and sits at his kingdom…, he’s going to have one world economy and one world government and one world religion. We’re already moving rapidly in the direction of those very things.”

Extreme Worldwide Weather Conditions

The Sunday Times reported on July 30:

“It looks like being the hottest July on record but Britain is not alone in experiencing extreme conditions… Hot, arid weather is afflicting millions in America and in dozens of countries across Europe and parts of east Asia. The phenomenon has surprised meteorologists who are used to seeing drought as a regional, not global, problem. This weekend they said early analysis of the hot weather, together with the size of the areas affected, suggested it was linked to global climate change…

“In California the temperature in Death Valley reached 56.5C and in many west coast towns it exceeded 40C. An estimated 130 people have been killed by the heat and demand for power to run air-conditioning overloaded power stations, leaving some areas without electricity for up to three days. In South America, mid-winter temperatures in Uruguay, Argentina, Chile and Brazil are up to 7C higher than average. The accompanying drought has reduced the giant Iguazu falls on the Brazil-Argentina border to a trickle. Temperatures are averaging 7C higher than usual across southern England and Scotland… Even Mediterranean countries were caught unawares. Last week Spain and France, hit by temperatures 7-9C above average, had to shut down nuclear power stations as the rivers supplying water for cooling became too warm.

“Pakistan, Bangladesh and southern India hit 3C above normal and much of central China was up by 5C. A drought, the worst for 60 years, is affecting the Chongqing region, leaving 2m short of water.”

Iran and Venezuela–Kindred Spirits?

The Guardian Unlimited reported on July 30:

“The presidents of Iran and Venezuela, leading U.S. critics, pledged Saturday to support one another in disputes with Washington… Iran’s president… said he saw in the Venezuelan president a kindred spirit. Chavez… said he admired the Iranian president for ‘his wisdom and strength.’ He invited Iranian oil companies to invest in Venezuela… Earlier this week [Chavez] secured an arms agreement with Russia that prompted U.S. criticism. Chavez boasted in Moscow on Thursday that Russia had helped his country break a U.S.-imposed ‘blockade’ by agreeing to sell fighter planes and helicopters worth billions of dollars to Venezuela… During his visit to Qatar, which began Friday, Chavez said Venezuela could eventually export guns and ammunition to Bolivia and other allies once these plants were built…”

Haider’s Strong Words

The Austrian Press reported on July 30 about Joerg Haider’s outspoken comments about and strong reaction to the crisis in the Middle East. According to Networld, Haider was quoted as saying in an interview with APA:

“The USA doesn’t fight the axis of evil–they ARE the axis of evil… [As was the case in Iraq] so they want a war in Lebanon at any cost…”

The article continued to point out that Haider remarked that European peace-keeping troops ought to replace the American military in Iraq and Afghanistan; that America is motivated by its interests in oil; and that it is willing to sacrifice the lives of innocent civilians for those interests. He insisted that Austria protest officially against “Israel’s aggression in Lebanon” and he demanded to “dismiss Israel’s ambassador in Austria.”

EU Condemns Israel

On July 31, The Associated Press reported about Europe’s reaction to Israel’s airstrike on the Lebanese city of Qana. The article stated:

“… officials from the Finnish EU presidency, the European Commission as well as EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana agreed to condemn the bombing as ‘unjustifiable.’… Solana declared that ‘nothing can justify’ the attack and the death of innocent civilians in Qana… The leaders of the UK and Germany, prime minister Tony Blair and chancellor Angela Merkel, in a joint statement after the Qana attack stressed the ‘urgency of the need for a ceasefire as soon as possible,’ but refrained from using the word ‘immediate.’ ‘It is now necessary to work in New York on the preconditions for such a ceasefire,’ the Blair-Merkel statement said.”

The Turning Point in Qana

Der Spiegel Online reported on July 31 about the reaction of the German press to Israel’s attack on Qana. The overall consensus was that the incident in Qana hurt Israel and helped Hezbollah. The article stated:

“At the start of Israel’s siege on militants in Lebanon, world opinion tilted toward Jerusalem — even some Arab governments made hushed noises against Hezbollah. But after an attack on a Lebanese village killed over 50 civilians on Sunday, that honeymoon is well and truly over, writes the German press. The deadly strike on the village of Qana on Sunday by Israeli planes has marked a sea-change in the almost three-week war in Lebanon: Not only did Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora publicly [uninvite] Condoleezza Rice to Beirut for peace talks; not only did Lebanese protesters smash windows at the UN building in Beirut; now world opinion seems to have shifted against Israel, and the violence threatens to hand Hezbollah militants a propaganda coup… At least 56 people died in the raid, including 37 children. Israel said it was unaware civilians were in the basement of a building when its planes bombed the village. But the strike outraged Lebanese people who remember a similar attack in Qana ten years ago, when Israel bombed a UN compound there during its so-called ‘Grapes of Wrath’ operation, killing 102 civilians…

“German editorial pages on Monday unanimously argue that the war has moved into a dangerous and perhaps unwinnable phase. The right-wing daily Die Welt suspects that Israel’s military ‘doesn’t know which strategy to take. It attacks, then it retreats.’ The lack of strategy leads to politically ‘tragic mistakes,’ and even an ‘immediate ceasefire’ now may give the terrorists a ‘world-shuddering victory — a victory which would also be expensive for us (in Europe)’… the left-wing daily Die Tageszeitung argues that it’s now too late for a sudden peace… ‘An immediate unconditional cease-fire will be the same as a victory for Hezbollah.’ The paper argues that Israel and the US have already lost ‘on the field of diplomacy,’ and that absent a quick military success, ‘Qana in 2006 will be what Qana in 1996 became: the writing on the wall that led to Israel’s retreat from Lebanon.’

“The Financial Times Deutschland… agrees with other papers that a retreat or a cease-fire will do no good. The last time Israel retreated from Lebanon, in 2000, it was ‘celebrated as a triumph for Hezbollah, and established its mythic status. As everyone can see, it didn’t serve the cause of peace.’ The paper isn’t optimistic about continued fighting, either, because the violence has already hurt Israel’s standing as a diplomatic negotiator. ‘The unprecedented criticism that Arab governments from Egypt to Saudi Arabia expressed against Hezbollah at the start of the current war has gone mute again.’ Although many leaders in the Middle East hate the idea of Iran spreading its influence through Hezbollah, the paper writes, now they have to show ‘solidarity’ with the Lebanese.”

The Pope Condemns Israel

According to an article in the German paper, NetZeitung, dated July 30, the Pope condemned Israel’s attack on Qana and stated: “In the name of God I am asking all responsible for this spiral of violence to immediately put down their weapons.” He continued to state that we “cannot build a new world order and peace with the vehicle of violence.” He asked, in German, to “pray to Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, that the hardness of our hearts would cease and that the weapons would finally be silenced.”

Peacekeeping Force in Lebanon?

The Associated Press reported on August 2:

“Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Wednesday that Israel’s three-week-old offensive in Lebanon will stop only after a robust international peacekeeping force is in place in southern Lebanon… His comments on the international force were his clearest indication to date that Israel would resist European pressure for an immediate cease-fire. It’s not clear how long it will take to put such a force together… Turning to Syria to help solve the crisis would be useless, he said.”

In a related article, The Associated Press reported on August 2:

“Dealing a blow to a U.S.-backed strategy for Lebanon, France has refused to participate in a meeting of nations that could send troops to help monitor a cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah, even though it may join–and possibly even lead–such a force. The French refusal to take part in the meeting, set to take place at the U.N. on Thursday, reflects a wide divergence in views between Washington and Paris about how to impose a lasting peace after three weeks of war between Israel and Hezbollah. France doesn’t even want to talk about sending peacekeepers until fighting halts…

“France, Italy, Germany, Ireland and Turkey have said they are considering joining a multinational force, and France, which has taken a prominent role in diplomacy over Lebanon, could lead it.”

However, according to other news, Germany’s Chancellor, Angela Merkel, told German tabloid Bild am Sonntag over the weekend that her country’s military capacities are “largely exhausted” with Berlin already providing peacekeeping contingents to Congo, the western Balkans and Afghanistan.

“The EU Must Act”

On July 29, the EUOberserver wrote a remarkable article, titled, “The EU Must Act.” In the article, it was stated:

“The international conference in Rome on July 26 offered hope that a consensus could be reached on a plan that would end the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah. But the conference ended without a resolution, and the members of the European Union are scrambling to salvage their first diplomatic attempt to end the current crisis. The EU should not be discouraged; it is capable of conducting a pro-active foreign policy and has the ability to commit the necessary financial, diplomatic, and military resources to bring stability and peace to the region. The EU must act decisively as a counterbalance to US unilateralism by proposing a European solution to the current crisis…  the chief problem is that the EU, which has an unprecedented opportunity to bring regional stability and an end to the deadly conflict between Israel and its neighbours, is holding back, as if it needs a permission slip from the United States before it can act.

The article continued:

“Unlike the US… the EU is still a credible broker in the region; Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority are members of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP)– their relationship yields more than $45 billion in trade annually… The European Union should consider the immediate dispatch of its EU Rapid Reaction Force (RRF)… to southern Lebanon. The RRF is a European military force that can be ‘triggered in situations of crisis and armed conflict’… Its development was predicated on the idea that the EU needs a force that can act independently of US-led NATO missions… The case for an EU force must also take into account Europe’s refusal to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, which opens the door for direct negotiations with hopes for the possibility that an EU force can maintain the peace without firing a shot.”

Opposition in Israel to the War in Lebanon

News Haaretz reported on July 31:

“The first person to refuse to do army service during the current fighting was sentenced Sunday to 28 days in a military prison. According to the refusal organization Yesh Gvul, which issued a public statement Sunday urging others to follow in Amir Fester’s footsteps, more than 10 other people have contacted the organization about the possibility of refusing to serve… Sunday’s bombing in Qana sparked an immediate surge in Israeli opposition to the fighting in Lebanon. Spontaneous demonstrations and petitions were organized within hours, and drew more people than the organized demonstrations of the previous two weeks…

“More than 600 people… have signed an international petition calling for an immediate, unconditional cease-fire in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank… Thousands of Israeli Arabs took to the streets of Umm al-Fahm on Sunday evening to protest the war in Lebanon following the bombing of the village of Qana.”

IRS Warns Churches

The Associated Press reported on July 18:
“The Internal Revenue Service has been warning churches and nonprofit organizations that improper campaigning in the upcoming political season could endanger their tax-exempt status. In notices to more than 15,000 tax-exempt organizations, numerous church denominations and tax preparers, the agency has detailed its new enforcement program, called the Political Activity Compliance Initiative… Under the initiative, the IRS plans to expedite investigations into claims of improper campaigning, no longer waiting for an annual tax return to be filed or the tax year to end before launching a probe. A three-member committee will make an initial review of complaints and then vote on whether to pursue the investigation in detail.”
The article continued:

“Since 2004, the IRS has investigated more than 200 organizations, including All Saints Church in Pasadena. Two days before the 2004 presidential election, the Rev. George F. Regas, the church’s former rector, delivered a guest sermon that pictured Jesus in a debate with George W. Bush and John Kerry. Although Regas didn’t endorse a candidate, he said Jesus would have told Bush that his pre-emptive war policy ‘has led to disaster.’ The church drew national attention when the Rev. Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints, disclosed the IRS investigation and later said the agency believed the church had violated federal tax code barring tax-exempt organizations from intervening in political campaigns and elections. Church leaders have not heard from the IRS since October, when the agency said the investigation was being taken to a higher level, according to Regas. The IRS has not confirmed whether the investigation is still ongoing…

“This month, OMB Watch, a Washington-based nonprofit government watchdog group, issued a report criticizing the IRS enforcement program and said the program could prompt retaliatory and harassment complaints unless the agency develops clear guidelines.”

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