Monday, January 5, 2009

Thousands march through New York City as Israel invades Gaza

Thousands march through New York City as Israel invades Gaza

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Thousands of people demonstrated in New York City Saturday, just as Israeli forces launched their ground assault on Gaza after a week of aerial bombardment that claimed the lives of nearly 500 and left more than 2,000 wounded.

demonstration in NYC against Israeli assault on Gaza
The demonstration in New York City against the Israeli assault on Gaza

The protest was the largest of a number of demonstrations that have taken place across the US in recent days. These have included a march of thousands outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., as well as a vigil held by dozens at the entrance to President-elect Barack Obama's vacation home in Hawaii. Thousands also took to the streets in Los Angeles, and protests and rallies were organized in many other American cities.

Saturday's protest, held in bitterly cold weather, saw several thousand gather in New York's busy Times Square, filling up several blocks, before marching to the Israeli consulate on Manhattan's East Side.

demonstration in NYC against Israeli assault on Gaza
Demonstrators in New York

Groups of Arab and Muslim families with young children, working people and students were joined by New Yorkers of all ages and nationalities, many of whom wore keffiyeh scarves in solidarity with besieged Gaza. Chanting "Free, free Palestine" and carrying signs that called for an end to the siege and to the killing of innocent civilians, the demonstrators attracted widespread support from passersby.

Many carried homemade signs opposing the Israeli attack. One read, "Give Israel the shoe"—referring to the shoes thrown by an Iraqi journalist at President Bush last month—another, "Genocide is not self-defense."

Others denounced Arab regimes, particularly Egypt, for their direct or tacit complicity in the bloodshed. "Axis of Dirt" read one sign showing Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert

Sign at Times Square rally protests Arab regimes' complicity in Israeli attacks on Gaza.
Sign at Times Square rally protests Arab regimes' complicity in Israeli attacks on Gaza.

The demonstration reflected the growth and diversity in the Middle Eastern population in New York's greater metropolitan area. According to a report by the Center for Immigration Studies, California has the highest Middle Eastern population of any state, with more than 400,000. However, of states with the most Middle Eastern immigrants, New York has one of the fastest growing populations, after Virginia and Michigan (WorldNet Daily, January 4, 2009).

A report released by the Department of City Planning used the 2000 Census number to track languages spoken at home, illustrating the distribution of Arab-speaking New Yorkers by neighborhood. Brooklyn has by far the largest number of the five boroughs: approximately 24,000 of its 2 million residents are Arab speakers. They are overwhelmingly concentrated in the Bay Ridge area but reside in neighborhoods across the greater metropolitan area.

A small counter-demonstration assembled across Seventh Avenue at the start of Saturday's rally, with fewer than 50 people waving Israeli and US flags and carrying placards denouncing Hamas and supporting the Israeli assault on Gaza. Those participating in this Zionist rally were far outnumbered by Jewish demonstrators protesting against Israel's actions, some of whom carried signs with slogans such as "Another New York Jew against Israeli apartheid."

A WSWS reporting team distributed 700 leaflets of "The Gaza crisis and the perspective of permanent revolution" and spoke to demonstrators.

A group of students from Al-Ghazaly high school had traveled from Teaneck, New Jersey, to the rally with their teacher, Huweda.

Students from Al-Ghazaly High School at Times Square protest
Students from Al-Ghazaly High School at Times Square protest

With close family in the Gaza Strip, Huweda said she was not a supporter of Hamas, but that the recent Israeli onslaught has outraged her. Asked who bore responsibility for the outbreak, she included the US as well as other Arab regimes.

"The people of all countries, in their hearts, are with the Palestinians, but their governments have other priorities. Even Jews are against this killing."

One of her students, a high school senior born in the US, felt there was no sign President-elect Barack Obama would be better than Bush. Whether or not Obama had been notified in advance by the Israeli government of the preparations to attack Gaza, "he doesn't need anyone to tell him what he could see on TV like anyone else," she said. "No matter what, he should say to stop killing children. But he hasn't said this."

Yussuf, a Muslim of African descent, came with his wife to the rally from Brooklyn. Carrying a hand-made sign that said, "This is not warfare, it is genocide," he expressed some hope that Obama would be more fair-minded, but added that "the US is pro-Israel no matter what, and Obama will need to keep the status quo."

Chris, a young man who works at the United Nations, said he was born in the US, but he maintained close ties to the Middle East and his family in Syria.

"I am not a nationalist. Pan-Arabism is dead, and religion is used as a tool politically. People are really just one heterogeneous group, but it is the people with power that bear responsibility for these conflicts, which go back to the legacy of World War I and the nation-states created by the British."

Asked how he thought the attacks on Gaza could be stopped, he said they could be ended quite simply.

"Give the Palestinian people land, food, decent homes, free access to jobs and infrastructure, and you'll have peace," he said. "The Middle East is actually a very wealthy area that could be stable and prosperous for all." He agreed that the same could be said about the US, where it is social inequality under capitalism that is at the root of the problem.

The demonstrators began to move toward the Israeli Consulate, just as news of the Israeli ground assault was announced and appeared over the Times Square news monitor.

A woman who had come with her husband and another couple in their twenties said, "My husband's family live in the Gaza. We were able to speak to them. In the daytime, a bombing happened in their area. They are scared. Their kids are terrified. The food and electricity is day-to-day. They are afraid there may not be food or electricity. Two days ago, there was some food in the market but not now. It will be more killing, heartache, people losing their kids. But it has been like this for years now. I do not think this demonstration will change it."

Civilian casualties mount as Israeli army slices through Gaza

Civilian casualties mount as Israeli army slices through Gaza

By Chris Marsden

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Israel is engaged in direct conflict with Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip, after its long-expected ground invasion began Saturday. Verifiable accounts of the fighting are scarce, because Israel continues to refuse access to foreign journalists even after its Supreme Court issued a ruling that allowed a "limited number" into Gaza.

The attack began on Saturday night when Israeli military convoys supported by attack helicopters crossed into northern Gaza at four points. Thousands of soldiers in three brigade-size formations then pushed into Gaza. Since then, Israeli tanks have been reported around Gaza City and the northern towns of Beit Lahiya and the Jabaliya refugee camp.

The territory has been cut in three, with the northern town of Beit Hanoun surrounded and clashes also reported in Rafah, on the southern border with Egypt. Gaza city, with a population of 400,000, is surrounded after an armoured force took over the abandoned Jewish settlement of Netzarim. This gives Israel control of the main north-south road.

At least 63 Palestinians have been reported killed by Israeli tank shells or missiles since the start of the ground offensive Saturday. The real death toll, however, may be far higher, as emergency medical personnel are not able to reach the areas where fighting is taking place.

The total official death toll since Israeli began bombarding Gaza and its 1.5 million people has risen to at least 512, with 87 of those killed children.

An Israeli bombardment of Gaza overnight targeted 40 sites and resulted in more than 20 deaths and many more injuries. Palestinian medics reported that just 3 of the 23 Palestinians killed were Hamas fighters and the rest civilians. Earlier on Saturday, at least 13 people were killed when a missile struck a crowded mosque in Beit Lahiya. Israeli forces also attacked the American school in Gaza, killing a guard. An Israeli spokeswoman declared blithely, "The school...was a site for launching rockets."

A tank shell fired in northern Gaza Sunday reportedly killed 12 people, mostly civilians. And a school in Beit Lahiya and a shopping centre in Gaza City were shelled, killing 5 people and seriously injuring dozens more.

Among those killed in the Israeli ground assault Sunday was a mother and her four children, whose home in the At-Toufah neighborhood of Gaza City was targeted by tank fire, Palestinian medical personnel in Gaza reported. One of the children was only a year old, while another was two.

Also killed in the Israeli attack were three ambulance workers who were struck by a missile as they were aiding wounded civilians.

The ground assault has dramatically intensified the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, cutting off electricity, while food stocks are dwindling fast. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has closed off its Rafah border crossing to Gaza, preventing aid columns from getting in and the wounded from getting out. The crossing was a lifeline for those seeking medical treatment for wounds suffered in the attacks, as Gaza's own hospitals have become so overwhelmed that they are near breakdown. Medical personnel report running short of critical medicine, while power is maintained only by means of aging generators.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) Sunday rebutted the cynical claims by Israeli officials that they are determined to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

"Bread and wheat are going to run out extremely rapidly, and people are going to start getting extremely hungry," said UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness. "Medical supplies are in critically short supply. When you have a situation where houses are being blown up and women and children are being maimed, I would say that's a humanitarian crisis."

Meanwhile, the Israeli army has given its forces carte-blanche for killing civilians, declaring Saturday, "Anyone who hides a terrorist or weapons in his house is considered a terrorist."

This is only the beginning. There are still around 10,000 Israeli troops and hundreds of tanks massed on the Gaza border, and the government made an urgent call-up of "tens of thousands" more military reservists. Defence officials said this could enable a broader ground offensive in the operation's third phase.

This is likely to target Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. Israeli warplanes have engaged in continuous incursions into Lebanese airspace over the past week. Two weeks after the last major Israeli offensive against Gaza, in June 2006, a cross border raid by Hezbollah became a casus belli for a brutal month-long assault that killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians. Israel's Defence Minister Ehud Barak said on Saturday, "While we are fighting in Gaza, we will keep an open eye on the sensitive situation on our northern border...we are ready and alert to face any unwarranted development in that area."

In contrast to the Palestinian death toll, the Israeli army said one of its soldiers had been killed by a mortar shell and 30 soldiers have been wounded in the ground offensive, two of them seriously. Rockets fired at southern Israel have left four dead in total.

The ground invasion was green-lighted by US President Bush, who on Friday took the extraordinary decision to release the transcript of his Saturday radio broadcast in which he declared that a ceasefire was only possible if it prevented Hamas from re-arming. "Another one-way ceasefire that leads to rocket attacks on Israel is not acceptable," he said.

The US blocked a cease-fire motion at an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council Saturday night.

Global wave of protest

Demonstration in London against the Israeli assault on Gaza.
Demonstration in London against the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Israel's bombardment and ground invasion of Gaza have unleashed a global wave of protest.

The most important and sizeable protest took place in Sakhnin, a Palestinian town within Israeli boundaries. The 1.4-million-strong Arab community makes up about 20 percent of Israel's population and has organised several protests in recent days. But the protest organised by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee was one of the largest held by Israeli Arabs since October 2000. Organisers estimated that at least 100,000 people took part in protest, which stretched throughout the Sakhnin.

Crowds waving Palestinian flags and brandishing pro-Palestinian placards chanted, "Gaza will not surrender to the tanks and bulldozers!" and "Don't fear, Gaza, we are with you!" Some protesters called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak a "coward" and accused him of "collaborating with the Americans."

Thousands of police were deployed on the outskirts of the town and across northern Israel.

Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset were present from several parties. Hadash Chairman Mohammad Barakeh MK said, "There are three clear objectives: the first is solidarity with the people in the Strip who are suffering from seven days of major Israeli attacks.

"The second objective is to the Israeli government urging it to stop the unjust aggression.... We are also saying to the Palestinian people, to all of us, it is time for reconciliation. There is no place for division when facing this level of attack."

Following a minute's silence, Sakhnin Mayor Mazem Ghanaim called for an immediate halt to the Gaza offensive. "The Israeli occupation force is conducting crimes in Gaza before the eyes of the international community," he said. "This is the biggest procession in the history of the Palestinian people in Israel. The level of crowdedness in Gaza is one of the highest in the world, and yet the Israel Air Force jets are bombing and murdering innocent people. I call on Israel to end the war immediately and lift the siege."

Wassil Taha MK (Balad) said, "This is one of the greatest demonstrations we have seen because it affects each and every family. People seek to express their pain by showing solidarity with the members of our nation."

Ibrahim Zabidat, who led the rally, said, "The Israeli killing machine must stop. I call from here to the people in Gaza and say: Don't be afraid, don't give up, block them with your blood in order to build the state of Palestine, whose capital is Jerusalem."

The chairman of the Balad Party, MK Jamal Zahalka, said there is a need to "try Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi in an international war crimes tribunal for their role in the killing of civilians in the Gaza Strip."

There was also a large protest by Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron.

Thousands demonstrated in Tel Aviv on Saturday, with police forces struggling to separate anti-war protesters from right-wing counter demonstrations.

Peace protesters in Rabin Square waved Palestinian flags and shouted, "Barak, Barak, Defence Minister, how many children have you murdered today?" "Stop the bombing, stop the killing."

Hundreds of thousands also protested across Europe.

In Paris, police admit to 21,000 demonstrators marching through the city's luxury shopping district shouting, "We are all Palestinians" and "Israel assassin." The protest was prevented from reaching the Israeli embassy.

CRS riot police clashed with 400-500 youths wearing Palestinian flags and kaffiyehs in the evening. Protesters reportedly set cars on fire, and several luxury store windows, such as the Louis Pion watch store, were smashed and looted.

A section of the London protest
A section of the London protest

Massive pro-Palestinian protests took place simultaneously in other major French cities.

In London, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched. (See "Video: London demonstrators protest Israeli assault on Gaza") Many of them threw shoes in front of the Downing Street residence of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as they made their way along Whitehall in homage to the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoe at President George W. Bush during a press conference last month.

Several people were injured when riot police began hitting and kicking protesters in an underpass in Piccadilly. In the evening, police officers penned in several thousand demonstrators who were protesting outside the Israeli embassy and began hitting them with shields and batons, leaving even more wounded. (YouTube video)

Protesters on the London demonstration
Protesters on the London demonstration

Organisers made an official complaint to the Metropolitan Police, saying officers provoked the crowd by charging at them.

In the afternoon, speakers at Trafalgar Square drew attention to the terrible plight of the Palestinian people, but the perspective promoted by the march organisers—the Stop the War Coalition, Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Muslim organisations—was largely one of putting pressure on governments or the United Nations to intervene.

Former Labour MP Tony Benn condemned the Bush government for its full support of Israeli aggression and the way the US uses Israel to control the Middle East. He said it was necessary to "mobilise world opinion" for a free Palestine and an end to Western domination.

Respect MP George Galloway likened the Palestinian people to those in the Nazi ghettos saying, "those who are murdering them are the equivalent of those who murdered the Jews in Warsaw in 1942." He singled out the Egyptian regime for special mention as jointly responsible for the situation in Gaza and declared its President Hosni Mubarak an international criminal. He called on the "great people of Egypt, the heroic armed forces of Egypt...to rise up and sweep away this tyrant."

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone criticised the Israeli government for using the invasion as a means of gaining votes in the upcoming elections. He appealed to the British government to intervene, saying, "I heard Gordon Brown denounce apartheid [in South Africa] year after year, I want him to denounce the attacks on the Palestinian people."

The singer Annie Lennox, warned of an Israeli ground invasion within hours, adding, "We call on ministers of all nations to take responsibility, speak out and demand an immediate ceasefire now"

Comedian Alexei Sayle said that "Israel purports to speak in our name, purports to somehow give us a home or provide protection" but said that the Israeli government "does not act in my name." He criticised the way the way the government condemns any criticism of Israel as anti-semitism. "I want to be proud of my people. If only Jewish people could turn away from violence, what an amazing thing that would be."

Human rights activist Bianca Jagger called on Barack Obama to "express an opinion on what is happening and demand an immediate halt to the shelling against the civilian population in the Gaza Strip." She called on the international community to "ensure the immediate cessation by Israel of the use of excessive and unlawful and disproportionate force."

Smaller rallies were held in other British cities, including Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow

In Germany, 7,000 people gathered in freezing temperatures in Berlin for a march along Unter den Linden boulevard. More than 4,000 people demonstrated in Duesseldorf, and some 5,000 in Frankfurt. Protesters carried banners declaring, "Germany, look! Where is your sense of justice?"

In Austria, 2,500 people demonstrated in Salzburg. In Spain, there was a protest outside the Foreign Ministry in Madrid.

In the Turkish capital of Ankara, 5,000 demonstrators shouted "Killer Israel!" at a rally in the city centre. Demonstrations were also held Sunday.

In Athens, Greece, 5,000 protested, and there were clashes with police outside the Israeli embassy. In Cyprus, about 2,000 people demonstrated, and some pelted riot police with rocks, sticks, shoes and oranges near the Israeli embassy in Nicosia.

In the Netherlands, thousands marched through Amsterdam. One banner read, "Anne Frank is turning in her grave."

Hundreds more marched in the Swedish cities of Malmo and Uppsala, while in Oslo, Norway, demonstrators marched from the parliament to the Israeli Embassy.

Israel rains fire on Gaza with phosphorus shells

Israel rains fire on Gaza with phosphorus shells



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Israel is believed to be using controversial white phosphorus shells to screen its assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip yesterday. The weapon, used by British and US forces in Iraq, can cause horrific burns but is not illegal if used as a smokescreen.

As the Israeli army stormed to the edges of Gaza City and the Palestinian death toll topped 500, the tell-tale shells could be seen spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance. “These explosions are fantastic looking, and produce a great deal of smoke that blinds the enemy so that our forces can move in,” said one Israeli security expert. Burning blobs of phosphorus would cause severe injuries to anyone caught beneath them and force would-be snipers or operators of remote-controlled booby traps to take cover. Israel admitted using white phosphorus during its 2006 war with Lebanon.

The use of the weapon in the Gaza Strip, one of the world’s mostly densely population areas, is likely to ignite yet more controversy over Israel’s offensive, in which more than 2,300 Palestinians have been wounded.

The Geneva Treaty of 1980 stipulates that white phosphorus should not be used as a weapon of war in civilian areas, but there is no blanket ban under international law on its use as a smokescreen or for illumination. However, Charles Heyman, a military expert and former major in the British Army, said: “If white phosphorus was deliberately fired at a crowd of people someone would end up in The Hague. White phosphorus is also a terror weapon. The descending blobs of phosphorus will burn when in contact with skin.”

The Israeli military last night denied using phosphorus, but refused to say what had been deployed. “Israel uses munitions that are allowed for under international law,” said Captain Ishai David, spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces. “We are pressing ahead with the second stage of operations, entering troops in the Gaza Strip to seize areas from which rockets are being launched into Israel.”

The civilian toll in the first 24 hours of the ground offensive — launched after a week of bombardment from air, land and sea— was at least 64 dead. Among those killed were five members of a family who died when an Israeli tank shell hit their car and a paramedic who died when a tank blasted his ambulance. Doctors at Gaza City’s main hospital said many women and children were among the dead and wounded.

The Israeli army also suffered its first fatality of the offensive when one of its soldiers was killed by mortar fire. More than 30 soldiers were wounded by mortars, mines and sniper fire.

Israel has brushed aside calls for a ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged territory, where medical supplies are running short.

With increasingly angry anti-Israeli protests spreading around the world, Gordon Brown described the violence in Gaza as “a dangerous moment”.

White phosphorus: the smoke-screen chemical that can burn to the bone

— White phosphorus bursts into a deep-yellow flame when it is exposed to oxygen, producing a thick white smoke

— It is used as a smokescreen or for incendiary devices, but can also be deployed as an anti-personnel flame compound capable of causing potentially fatal burns

— Phosphorus burns are almost always second or third-degree because the particles do not stop burning on contact with skin until they have entirely disappeared — it is not unknown for them to reach the bone

— Geneva conventions ban the use of phosphorus as an offensive weapon against civilians, but its use as a smokescreen is not prohibited by international law

— Israel previously used white phosphorus during its war with Lebanon in 2006

— It has been used frequently by British and US forces in recent wars, notably during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Its use was criticised widely

— White phosphorus has the slang name “Willy Pete”, which dates from the First World War. It was commonly used in the Vietnam era

Thousands protest in Europe at Gaza offensive

Thousands protest in Europe at Gaza offensive

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Thousands of chanting, banner-waving demonstrators marched in cities across Europe on Saturday to demand a halt to Israeli bombing in the Gaza Strip.

Protests were held in Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Turkey as the Israeli offensive entered its second week, and before Israel confirmed ground forces had entered Gaza.

Israeli Arabs held a protest march, Kuwaitis also took to the streets, a day after bigger Middle East rallies, and peaceful pro- and anti-Israel protests were held in New York.

In Paris, police said more than 21,000 demonstrators, many wearing Palestinian keffiyeh headscarves, marched through the city center chanting slogans such as "Israel murderer!" and waving banners demanding an end to the air attacks.

Groups of protesters clashed with police. At least three cars were set alight and about 20 overturned by demonstrators as the march ended near some of the biggest department stores in the French capital.

In London, police said more than 10,000 people staged a march and rally to urge an end to the Israeli offensive against Hamas militants that has killed at least 446 Palestinians.

Similar protests were planned in some 30 other towns.

In many cities people waved shoes -- recalling the action of an Iraqi journalist who hurled footwear at U.S. President George W. Bush in Baghdad last month in a symbolic insult.

British demonstrators threw dozens of shoes into the street as they passed the gated entrance to Downing Street, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown lives, and shouted angrily at a line of 40 police officers on guard there.

"Come to get your shoes Gordon," one woman shouted as other marchers directed chants of "Shame on you" at Brown.

A spokesman said Brown had spoken again to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Saturday and was pressing hard for an immediate ceasefire.

Leading the march were singer Annie Lennox, politicians Tony Benn and George Galloway and comic Alexei Sayle.

Demonstrators carried Palestinian flags and placards with slogans such as "End the siege on Gaza" and "Stop the massacre."

Israel says rocket attacks from Gaza by Hamas Islamists must stop before it halts operations, but the attacks continued on Saturday. Four Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets since the offensive began.

ANGER AT WESTERN REACTION

Paul Mukerji, 42, from Birmingham, acknowledged Israel had security reasons but called its action disproportionate.

"The best way for peace for Palestinians and Israelis is to end the occupation," he said.

Ali Saeed, 24, from Luton, said Western governments had failed to condemn Israel's actions.

"What's going on in Gaza is not right ... It's not a coincidence that it's going on in Iraq, in Chechnya, in Kashmir. It's just about going on everywhere. It's almost a direct insult to every single Muslim," he said.

Greek police said they fired teargas at protesters outside the Israeli embassy in Athens. Protesters burned flags and effigies, hurled stones at the embassy and clashed with police during a march by about 5,000 people, they said.

Tens of thousands of people marched in the town of Sakhnin, northern Israel, on Saturday in one of the biggest rallies held by Israeli Arabs in recent years, Israeli media reported. Calling Israeli leaders "war criminals," the demonstrators demanded an end to the onslaught on Gaza, they said.

About 3,500 people marched in Berlin and 4,000 in the western city of Duesseldorf, police said.

Hundreds joined a protest in central Dublin.

Several thousand people demonstrated in Ankara in a second day of protests in Turkey. In smaller protests in Istanbul, demonstrators carried baby dolls smeared with fake blood.

In New York, several hundred pro-Palestinian demonstrators rallied near Times Square in a peaceful protest, calling for an immediate end to the Israeli offensive.

A few dozen pro-Israel counter-protesters gathered just across the street, but there were no clashes between the opposing groups and police reported no arrests.

More than 1,000 demonstrators marched through Kuwait City, with banners reading "Gaza will not die" and "We want a free Gaza." Other protests of at least 1,000 people took place in Madrid, Amsterdam, Milan and Turin.

Egyptian authorities clamp down on Gaza protests

Egyptian authorities clamp down on Gaza protests

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Demonstrators gathered across the Muslim world Friday in fresh protests against the Israeli offensive in Gaza, while Egyptian authorities again used force to silence protesters in Cairo.

Thousands of demonstrators, many waving Palestinian flags and chanting anti-Israeli slogans, marched in cities from Amman, Jordan, to Karachi, Pakistan - as well as in Malaysia, the West Bank and parts of Europe and Australia - following afternoon prayers on what's traditionally the Muslim day of rest.

The protests, the largest in several days, came after the militant Islamic group Hamas, which controls Gaza, called for "a day of wrath" in opposition to the Israeli bombardment. More than 400 Palestinians have been killed in seven days of airstrikes that Israel says are aimed at stopping Hamas from firing rockets into Israeli territory.

The airstrikes have fueled intense anger among Arabs, not just at the Israeli military and its chief patron, the United States, but also at Egypt, the only Arab nation that shares a border with Gaza. Egypt occupied Gaza from the 1948 Arab-Israeli war until Israel conquered it in 1967.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, a U.S. ally who fears the rise of militant Islam in his country, has kept the Gaza border crossing in the town of Rafah sealed even as television images show bloodied Gazans being carted away from blast sites.

Egypt has allowed in scores of wounded Gazans to receive medical treatment, but officials have blocked journalists from entering Rafah, and many Egyptian convoys carrying aid to Gaza have been turned away.

Authorities blocked a protest called at Cairo's Al Fateh Mosque on Friday by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that has ideological ties to Hamas and is a frequent government target. Authorities detained 40 Muslim Brotherhood members, according to Egyptian news reports, although smaller protests were allowed in Alexandria, El Arish and other towns.

Egypt has been a key mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but analysts say that its response to the fighting in Gaza has badly strained relations with Hamas, which accuses Mubarak of collaborating with Israel and of failing to invite the Syrian-based Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, to Cairo for talks.

As other Muslim nations, chiefly Turkey, have taken a greater role in trying to broker a truce this week, some Hamas leaders have questioned whether Egypt can continue in its role as the main go-between.

A visit to Cairo by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni the day before the onslaught began fueled that perception. In the Middle East's swirling rumor mill, images of Livni and Mubarak shaking hands provided all the proof that Egyptian critics needed that Mubarak was warned of the Israeli military campaign and might even have signed off on it.

Egypt's response to Gaza has been "very depressing," said Mohammed Nahas, a 42-year-old Cairo sculptor, who called it the latest example of Mubarak's tightly controlled regime prioritizing security concerns above all else.

"We're not being asked to fight, but at least let's be fair," Nahas said. "Europeans and even progressive Jews have sent humanitarian supplies to Gaza, and we as Muslims and Arab neighbors haven't done much."

The gap between pro-Western regimes in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and their citizens in the "Arab street" has widened over the Gaza conflict, just as it did during the 2006 war between Israel and the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah. Egypt criticized Hezbollah - whose popularity was surging as it stood up to Israel - for provoking a conflict, just as it's done with Hamas.

Then, as now, anger among Egyptians and workaday Arabs flared. However, experts say that protests have little effect on a regime as authoritarian as Mubarak's.

"In terms of domestic unrest, no doubt that Egypt looks very bad and you can expect more demonstrations," said Issandr El Amrani, a Cairo-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, a research center. "But whether this can bring any serious threat to the regime is unlikely. This country is very tightly policed, and security forces have experience at controlling dissent."

Civilian casualties rise as Israel presses in on Gaza City

Civilian casualties rise as Israel presses in on Gaza City

Dion Nissenbaum

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Israel’s military push to cripple Hamas rulers in the Gaza Strip claimed more civilian lives Monday as European leaders renewed a push to bring the 10-day-old conflict to a swift end.

Israeli soldiers tightened their hold on the Gaza Strip in the second full day of a ground offensive that's so far faced lighter-than-expected resistance from Palestinian militants.

Israeli tanks, armored personnel carriers and special forces began to close in on Gaza City methodically after encircling the Gaza Strip’s largest city in the first hours of the ground offensive.

Israeli soldiers advancing on Gaza City warned families in outlying towns and neighborhoods to flee as the military pressed forward with its attempt to undermine Hamas and curb the rocket fire that's traumatized southern Israelis for years.

The ground operation is taking an increasingly deadly toll on Palestinians in Gaza, who have few ways to escape the fighting.

Medical officials in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip said Monday that Israeli attacks had killed 523 Palestinians, including 111 children. Israel has barred international news media from Gaza since the operation began, and the numbers couldn't be verified.

If they're confirmed, that would mark a dramatic spike in civilian casualties from the early days of Israeli airstrikes that primarily targeted Hamas-controlled police stations, the homes of Hamas leaders, government buildings and mosques that the Israeli military said were being used to store weapons.

Eleven members of one family, including five children, were killed in a northern Gaza City neighborhood early Monday morning after Israeli forces ordered them to leave their home, medical officials said. The family members said they'd sought safety in another apartment that was then hit by an Israeli strike.

Civilian deaths are likely to rise as the Israeli forces move in on the narrow city streets and refugee camp alleys where Gaza militants have taken up positions.

“Usually you have people trying to flee the area of conflict,” said John Ging, the head of the United Nations refugee agency in the Gaza Strip. “But they don’t have this choice in Gaza because they are trapped in a very, very densely populated area.”

Palestinian militants continued Monday to fire sporadic volleys of rockets and mortar rounds into southern Israel, even as Israeli soldiers sought to seize areas of the Gaza Strip from which they're routinely fired. Palestinian rocket attacks have killed four Israeli civilians in the past 10 days.

European leaders are making a new push to broker a cease-fire.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to arrive in the Middle East on Monday evening for separate emergency meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

In parallel, a three-person European Union delegation met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni on Monday to call for an immediate cease-fire.

“The European Union insists on a cease-fire at the earliest possible moment,” said Karel Schwarzenberg, the foreign minister for the Czech Republic, which became the leader of the 27-member body last week. “We are not sharing the view that the cease-fire is only possible if all possible aims of the Israeli action are achieved.”

Israeli officials rebuffed an early attempt by Sarkozy to broker a 48-hour truce, but are beginning to outline the parameters for ending the fighting.

A senior Israeli official said the government was exploring ways to marginalize Hamas in any peace deal. Israel has three major objectives, said the official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the talks: substantially curbing Palestinian rocket fire from Gaza, boosting Israel’s image as a feared Middle East military power by severely damaging Hamas' military capabilities, and ensuring that Palestinian militants aren't able to continue rearming by using smuggler tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border.

While Israeli soldiers were preparing for a fierce fight, they've so far faced lighter-than-expected resistance from Gaza militants. So far, only one Israeli soldier has been killed in the fighting.

Some analysts suspect that Hamas fighters are trying to draw Israeli soldiers into densely populated urban areas, where street battles would be more difficult for the Israel Defense Forces.

“Hamas’ glorious fighters have disengaged from the IDF, leaving their bombs behind them as they fire mortar shells on the fly,” Israeli columnist Ben Caspit wrote in Monday’s edition of the newspaper Maariv. “It turns out that there’s a real difference between the ridiculous parades they put on in their camouflage uniforms and the dramatic shows of military prowess that get broadcast on TV and between the real thing.”

He warned that a tougher fight may still be ahead, however.

“True, Israel overestimated Hamas’ strength and capabilities, but we mustn’t now fall into the trap of underestimating them,” Caspit wrote. “All of the explosives that were packed into the rockets that were fired at Israel could be fit into just two bombs that the IAF (the Israel air force) dropped on them. And the IAF has already dropped a thousand such bombs on them.”

Curbs May Be Eased on Paving in Forests

U.S. Forest Policy Is Set to Change, Aiding Developer

Shift Would Let Firm Pave Logging Roads

By Karl Vick

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The Bush administration appears poised to push through a change in U.S. Forest Service agreements that would make it far easier for mountain forests to be converted to housing subdivisions.

Mark E. Rey, the former timber lobbyist who heads the Forest Service, last week signaled his intent to formalize the controversial change before the Jan. 20 inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama. As a candidate, Obama campaigned against the measure in Montana, where local governments have complained of being blindsided by Rey's negotiating the policy shift behind closed doors with the nation's largest private landowner.

The shift is technical but has large implications. It would allow Plum Creek Timber to pave roads through Forest Service land. For decades, such roads were little more than trails used by logging trucks to reach timber stands.

But as Plum Creek has moved into the real estate business, paving those roads became a necessary prelude to opening vast tracts of the company's 8 million acres to the vacation homes that are transforming landscapes across the West.

Scenic western Montana, where Plum Creek owns 1.2 million acres, would be most affected, placing fresh burdens on county governments to provide services and undoing efforts to cluster housing near towns.

"Just within the last couple weeks, they finalized a big subdivision west of Kalispell," said D. James McCubbin, deputy county attorney of Missoula County, which complained that the closed-door negotiations violated federal laws requiring public comment because the changes would affect endangered species and sensitive ecosystems. Kalispell is in Flathead County, where officials also protested.

The uproar last summer forced Rey to postpone finalizing the change, which came after "considerable internal disagreement" within the Forest Service, according to a U.S. Government Accountability OfficeJon Tester (D-Mont.). The report said that 900 miles of logging roads could be paved in Montana and that amending the long-held easements "could have a nationwide impact." report requested by Sen.

Tester and Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, then asked for an inquiry by the inspector general of the Agriculture Department, which includes the Forest Service.

"I think we need another set of eyes on it," Tester said Friday. "I don't think that's running out the clock. If this is a good agreement, then what's the rush? Why do it in the eleventh hour of this administration?"

Probably because the proposal would die after Jan. 20. Obama sharply criticized Rey's efforts during the presidential campaign, seizing on concerns that a landscape dotted with luxury homes would be less hospitable to Montanans accustomed to easy access to timberlands.

"At a time when Montana's sportsmen are finding it increasingly hard to access lands, it is outrageous that the Bush administration would exacerbate the problem by encouraging prime hunting and fishing lands to be carved up and closed off," Obama said.

Rey vows to act soon. In a Dec. 12 letter to Tester and Bingaman, he repeated his logic for granting Plum Creek the changes it requested, then closed with a promise to schedule briefings "to describe how we plan to proceed."

In a phone interview Wednesday, Rey said he will act immediately after the courtesy meetings with the lawmakers. "That will probably be in the next week or so, before this goes forward," he said. Tester said he has not yet heard from Rey's office to arrange a meeting.

On environmental questions, the Bush administration has a checkered record of following through on promised eleventh-hour changes, said Robert Dreher, a lawyer with Defenders of Wildlife.

"I suppose it's a legacy issue," Dreher said. "They've already backed off on a couple of things they said they were going to do," including proposed changes on marine fisheries and industrial emissions.

On the other hand, the Bush White House went ahead with controversial changes to the Endangered Species Act, despite opposition from environmentalists.

The Plum Creek deal could be accomplished with the stroke of a pen. Because it amends existing easements, the change involves no 30-day waiting period. But the step carries a political cost that the administration evidently has been assessing since June, when Rey said he expected to formalize within a month the change, which half a year later is still hanging fire.

"It's conceivable they don't want to leave office looking like bad guys," Dreher said. "There's been a lot of concern about the nature of the process and the lack of inclusiveness. You've got the county government in Montana angry over it. If they do this walking out the door, they're kind of ramming it down their throats."

Most job losses in US last year since 1945, with more to come

Most job losses in US last year since 1945, with more to come

By David Walsh

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Economists are estimating that the US lost 2.4 million jobs in 2008, which would be the most lost in any year since the end of World War II, according to a survey conducted by Bloomberg.com. Other analysts are predicting the elimination of as many or more jobs in 2009.

The Bloomberg survey came in advance of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report on unemployment for December due out January 9. The economists polled estimate that US payrolls fell by 500,000 last month and that the official jobless rate will reach its highest level since 1993.

Manufacturing is expected to have lost another 100,000 or more jobs as factory production declined in December at the fastest rate in 28 years.

Bloomberg cites the comments of Michael Feroli, economist at JPMorgan Chase: "We're continuing to lose massive amounts of jobs. The negative momentum carrying over into the first half of 2009 will hold down the economy regardless of policy."

Indeed, in the opinion of many observers, the worst is yet to come. Douglas McIntyre, an editor at 247wallst.com, commented January 4: "Many large industries may only be at the beginning of their layoff cycles. That is certainly true of retail. Some estimates are that another 70,000 stores will close in the U.S. this year. The auto industry will cut more jobs either to please Congress or due to outright bankruptcies. Small business has almost no access to capital, so that part of the economy is likely to eat through jobs as well.

"Unemployment almost certainly went above 7 percent in December. Retail layoffs could push that toward 8 percent all by themselves. The idea that the entire economy could drop another three million jobs this year is entirely possible."

In a report issued in late December, the executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas predicted that more than 1 million jobs would be cut in 2009. CNNMoney.com added, "Last week, consulting firm Watson Wyatt (WW) said that 23 percent of companies surveyed in early December plan layoffs in the next year. The report also said that 39 percent had already cut their work force—up from 19 percent in October."

December 28, in an article headlined "Outlook for 2009 is grim," the Boston Globe commented: "Employers, who have slashed nearly 2 million jobs in the last year, are projected to cut at least that many more jobs in the next year, according to several economic forecasts.

"The US unemployment rate, now at 6.7 percent, is forecast by many economists to rise above 8 percent—or even higher. IHS Global Insight, a Waltham [Massachusetts] forecasting firm, projects the jobless rate will hit 9.4 percent by the end of 2009, a level not seen since 1982, when unemployment hit a post-World War II high of nearly 11 percent."

The Globe continues: "Some analysts expect the economy to shrink at an annual rate of as much as 6 percent in the last quarter of this year, then at about a 4 percent pace in the first three months of 2009 before the decline flattens. Even in the worst quarters of the last two recessions—1990-91 and 2001—the economy contracted at no more than a 3 percent annual rate."

By the time all the calculations are done, the 2008 holiday shopping season is expected to have been the worst in four decades. In an expression of the sharp contraction in consumer spending, Electronic Arts, a video-game publisher, recently announced plans to lay off 1,000 workers, or 10 percent of its workforce, and close or consolidate nine studio and publishing locations.

In relation to retail, Burt Flickinger III, managing director of New York consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, predicts the closure of at least 200,000 stores and 2,000 to 3,000 malls in the US this year, most of them in the next few months.

"In the more marginal malls, a quarter to a half of the space will have the lights turned off, and then you'll see whole abandoned shopping centers," he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

According to Forbes magazine, nearly 200,000 workers have been laid off from Fortune 500 companies since November. More than 1.2 million Americans were hit by temporary layoffs in November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Considered an indicator of economic development, the US steel industry is undergoing a deep crisis. The New York Times commented January 1 "As steel production goes—and it is now in collapse—so will go the national economy." American steel production, decimated in the 1980s and reduced to a fraction of its former dimensions, has plunged 50 percent since September. Output in December was down to 1.02 million tons a week from 2.1 million tons in August. The price of a ton of steel has also been halved.

Ten thousand steelworkers have already been temporarily laid off, and the United Steelworkers anticipates another 20,000 workers to be on furlough early in 2009.

The Times comments: "The sharp slide in steel production has several causes. Construction and auto production have fallen sharply; between them, they account for 57 percent of the steel bought each year in the United States, according to the Iron and Steel Institute. Appliances, machinery and other electrical equipment account for an additional 13 percent, and the fall-off in production of these goods has also reduced steel orders."

Dozens of firms and government departments or agencies are announcing layoffs on nearly a daily basis. The Wall Street Journal reported December 30 that many firms priding themselves on never laying off workers are changing their policies, in the face of an economic slump unprecedented in the modern era.

The Journal cites the case of Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which has weathered past recessions over the past half-century and even the September 11 crisis without laying off employees. This autumn Enterprise laid off 1,000 workers, as the number of Americans driving and flying has fallen. The company's vice president explained, "These types of declines are unprecedented."

The newspaper continued, "The deepening recession is prompting layoffs at long-established employers that avoided job cuts in previous downturns. These layoffs demonstrate both the severity of the current recession and the continued erosion of workplace norms that once shielded many US workers from permanent job loss."

For example, Gentex Corp, a Zeeland, Michigan auto parts suppliers, carried out its first layoffs in 34 years in December. The company, "which makes rear-view cameras and other gear for cars and airplanes, earlier this month dismissed about 370 employees, or roughly 15 percent of its staff, in its first layoffs.

"A world-wide decline in car sales finally forced the company's hand. In the third quarter, sales fell 6 percent and profit dropped 49 percent.... Other parts makers have cut back, too. Employment at part makers fell 12 percent in October, compared with a year earlier."

Duke University and CFO Magazine reported in December that "Chief financial officers in the United States and around the world are more pessimistic than at any time" in the history of their Global Business Outlook Survey. "The majority of chief financial officers in the U.S. and Europe say their firms will slash spending and employment in 2009, and their firms will post losses."

A record 81 percent of US CFOs are more pessimistic about the economy this quarter (twice as many as last quarter), and 85 percent of European and Asian CFOs are more pessimistic.

Why Big Finance Is Laughing All the Way to the Bank

Why Big Finance Is Laughing All the Way to the Bank

By Rob Larson

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The country's financial markets have collapsed, as they tend to do when left without adult supervision, and they're taking our economy with them. With the large banks refusing to make loans after losing billions on worthless subprime derivatives, the government stepped in and agreed to October's financial bailout package.

The $700 billion legislation was meant to buy banks' "troubled assets" for cash, and thus improve banks' balance sheets to the point that they would lend again. This would mean credit for struggling businesses and households and could encourage expansion and hiring, thus pulling us out of recession.

But it turns out the banks haven't held up their end of the bargain. All they're holding up is a glass to a government that would rather shovel cash into the largest banks than take the edge off the recession.

The bailout was highly unpopular, despite a heavy push by the U.S. political leadership. Most citizens apparently couldn't figure why we should give money to the banks that caused this crisis by buying deeply into the housing bubble. Especially when foreclosures and bankruptcies among regular homeowners are out of control -- the Mortgage Bankers Association reports that "a record 1 in 10 American homeowners with a mortgage was either at least one month behind on their payments or in foreclosure at the end of September." But the plan has not been carried out as advertised -- rather than buying the subprime securities from the banks, the government has instead decided to "recapitalize" them. Meaning, invest money in the big banks for some equity, money which the banks could then loan to the staggering economy. Well, at least the part where we give them money went well.

The fact is that the banks are not making loans -- the "credit crunch" goes on, and the economy is the worse for it. After so many of Wall Street's great investment banks went bankrupt, or were bailed out by the government, or were bought by competitors, the banks want to "hoard cash" to avoid a similar fate. But besides shoring up their own finances, the banks are putting our public bailout money to another purpose -- buying up their smaller competitors.

Mergers and acquisitions have been a major part of the government's strategy to deal with the crisis since its beginning. Bear Stearns, the first respectable Wall Street powerhouse to approach bankruptcy, was sold to the larger bank Chase in a shotgun marriage arranged by the Federal Reserve. Since then, the government has arranged for a tanking Merrill Lynch to be sold to Bank of America, a heavily leveraged Wachovia to Wells Fargo, and a failing Washington Mutual to Chase, again. The Treasury Department would say that the damage to the economy can be limited if larger, more stable banks buy their struggling rivals.

Of course, some of these largest banks, such as Citigroup, are not so secure themselves. But more than that, the money used by the larger banks to acquire the others is capital that could have been used to make the loans our economy is desperate for -- and of course, that's what they were supposed to do with the public money in the first place. But most importantly, remember that the reason we're paying to bail out these banks at all is that they are "too big to fail," in the language of the business press -- in other words, if these huge banks go under, the loss of employment, lending and tax revenue could do profound damage to the greater economy. So if these banks were too enormous to allow to die in the first place, why in God's name would we be paying them to get even larger?

The mergers are large-scale -- the Financial Times calls them a "wave of consolidation as banks scramble to use the cash on takeovers and bolt-on acquisitions." BusinessWeek reports "what could emerge is a barbell-shaped system with megabanks, small banks and little in between." The business reporters for the New York Times describe the Treasury Department as "using the bailout bill to turn the banking system into the oligopoly of giant national institutions." An oligopoly is a market, such as banking, dominated by a few very large companies.

If any doubt remained, it was put to rest by the minor scandal that has emerged over a quiet change to the tax code made by the Treasury Department. This change allows banks to apply the losses of other banks they buy against their own taxes. In other words, when a bank buys a struggling smaller bank, the buyer can deduct the money lost by the struggling bank against its own tax bill. This is clearly meant to further encourage merger activity -- for example, when Wells Fargo bought Wachovia, it paid $15 billion. But Wachovia's losses total over $19 billion. Meaning, Wells Fargo was paid by the government for buying a highly valuable bank, for a profit of $4 billion, at our expense.

By way of comparison, the SCHIP program granting health insurance to children in low-income families cost about $5 billion in 2007.

In fairness to the Treasury Department, Secretary Henry Paulson has been urging banks to use our public money to lend more. But tax breaks speak louder than words. It also might be pointed out that in Britain, banks are being recapitalized in a similar way as here, but the U.K. requires banks to formally agree to make loans with the public money. The American situation was described by David Walker, former U.S. comptroller: "It is the government's responsibility to set the terms and conditions on this money…They're giving it out with no rules."

This tax change may be undone if Congress confronts the Treasury, since the legislative branch is supposed to be in charge of the tax code. But the intention of the Treasury Department to encourage mergers at the top of the banking world is very clear.

In fact, the government is going to great lengths to avoid doing what little the Brits have done. Rather than require our banks to make loans with the bailout money, our central bank, the Federal Reserve, "has already started a campaign to lend directly to damaged financial markets and companies -- nearly anyone with collateral … officials have effectively concluded that if banks and financial markets won't extend credit, it will do part of the job for them." This is according to the Wall Street Journal, which also reports that Paulson "acknowledged that banks aren't lending enough money despite the government infusion, but said the U.S. didn't want to nationalize the industry and dictate the loans banks make." Our government will do anything, even supply the economy with credit itself, before it will tell our huge banks what to do.

So to summarize, after creating a national economic crisis by wildly overinvesting in securities representing bad loans, the banks are being paid, by us, to become even larger. In spite of their being too big to fail in the first place, and even if that means the government has to do the banks' job for them. Of course, with 1 in 10 mortgages in delinquency and job losses mounting, it's easy to come up with some better uses of our tax money. But it would take a whole lot of us putting down the snack chips, turning off "When Celebrities Attack" and organizing ourselves to put pressure on the government and change the economic system. The "megabanks" of our "oligopoly of giant national institutions" aren't going to overthrow themselves.

And you can take that to the bank. The one remaining bank.

More Groups Than Thought Monitored in Police Spying New Documents Reveal Md. Program's Reach

More Groups Than Thought Monitored in Police Spying

New Documents Reveal Md. Program's Reach

By Lisa Rein and Josh White

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The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists -- activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.

Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation.

One of the possible "crimes" in the file police opened on Amnesty International, a world-renowned human rights group: "civil rights."

According to hundreds of pages of newly obtained police documents, the groups were swept into a broad surveillance operation that started in 2005 with routine preparations for the scheduled executions of two men on death row.

The operation has been called a "waste of resources" by the current police superintendent and "undemocratic" by the governor.

Police have acknowledged that the monitoring, which took place during the administration of then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R), spiraled out of control, with an undercover trooper spending 14 months infiltrating peaceful protest groups. Troopers have said they inappropriately labeled 53 individuals as terrorists in their database, information that was shared with federal authorities. But the new documents reveal a far more expansive set of police targets and indicate that police did not close some files until late 2007.

The surveillance ended with no arrests and no evidence of violent sedition. Instead, troopers are preparing to purge files and say they are expecting lawsuits.

The effort, made public in July, confirmed the fears of civil liberties groups that have warned about domestic spying since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Interviews, e-mails, public records and an independent state review reveal that police in Maryland were motivated by something far narrower: a query about death penalty activism directed to a police antiterrorism unit that was searching for a mission.

But some observers say Sept. 11 opened the door. "No one was thinking this was al-Qaeda," said Stephen H. Sachs, a former U.S. attorney and state attorney general appointed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) to review the case. "But 9/11 created an atmosphere where cutting corners was easier."

Maryland has not been alone. The FBI and police departments in several cities, including Denver in 2002 and New York before the 2004 Republican National Convention, also responded to the threat of terrorism by spying on activists.

Sachs's review, released in October, condemned the Maryland spying as a severe lapse in judgment. No one has been reprimanded or fired, and the undercover trooper has been promoted twice.

To date, the activists listed as terrorists are not known to have experienced any related limits in their travel, employment or financial transactions.

State police officials have provided only glimpses of their intelligence-gathering and have defended some of it as necessary to ensure public safety at potentially contentious protests. Although they have provided related documents to the American Civil Liberties Union and Maryland lawmakers, they have not given the same records to The Washington Post under the Public Information Act.

The department declined to make the officers involved available to answer questions. Some sources spoke on condition of anonymity because of the case's sensitivity. Ehrlich also has declined to comment; senior police officials say he was never briefed on the program. The newly discovered documents do, however, reveal for the first time the stated purpose of the operation: "To assess the threat to public safety by various protest groups, and identify high threat groups for continued monitoring."

* * *

The documents and law enforcement sources say the operation began in 2005 with a simple request from Maj. Jack Simpson, a field commander in special operations. In late February, he called Lt. Greg Mazzella in the intelligence division and asked for a threat assessment of protests expected before the scheduled execution dates for two men on Maryland's death row.

After trawling the Internet, an analyst reported a "potential for disruption" at both executions. Mazzella dispatched a corporal who needed experience in undercover work to the Electrik Maid community center in Takoma Park, where death penalty foes were organizing rallies.

At a rally to save Vernon Evans Jr. outside the Supermax prison in Baltimore a few weeks later, the woman who said her name was Lucy McDonald asked veteran activist Max Obuszewski how she could learn more about passive resistance and civil disobedience.

The activists recall that she had a genial disposition and refreshing curiosity, and she quickly became a fixture at meetings and rallies of death penalty opponents and antiwar activists. She used a laptop computer at meetings, but the activists say no one was alarmed. "Maybe I wondered what she was typing," said Mike Stark of Takoma Park. "But you always check yourself. In our movement it's very important to be outward and not paranoid."

The trooper provided weekly reports to her bosses, logging at least 288 hours of investigative time. She did not return phone calls seeking comment, and The Post is not identifying her because of concerns about compromising her cover in other possible operations.

The logs described silent vigils outside the prison and a ceremony of poetry and songs to commemorate the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan. The activists pledged nonviolence. Yet she closed several entries this way: "Due to the above facts, I request that this case remain open and updated as events warrant."

The woman's bosses considered her surveillance a low-risk training exercise; it quickly expanded to the antiwar movement as she met activists whose causes overlapped, police said.

Intelligence commanders discussed the spying at their daily briefings and made Lt. Col. Thomas Coppinger, then the chief of the intelligence bureau, and Superintendent Timothy Hutchins aware of it, law enforcement officials said. Coppinger and other officers involved in the case declined to comment.

The program emerged after the antiterrorism squad had been whittled from almost 65 to a dozen.

Hutchins's predecessor, Ed Norris, a hard-charging former Baltimore police commissioner, had built up the division after the Sept. 11 attacks to fight terrorist threats.

But when Norris was forced out by corruption charges in 2004, the unit was gutted. Most of the computers and other high-tech equipment for intelligence troopers were literally ripped out of the walls, law enforcement sources said.

"We concentrated on what we could do best, rather than a little bit of everything," Hutchins said.

When Simpson called, the unit finally had a mission.

Greg Shipley, a police spokesman, said the undercover operation spanned months as the death penalty cases saw their timelines grow and the executions delayed.

Other intelligence gathering was prompted by planned protests largely to ensure that no violence occurred, Shipley said. Investigators had concerns about the potential for "counter-demonstrations" to planned protests, he said.

Current Superintendent Terrence Sheridan said in a Nov. 25 letter to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery) that police had a right to monitor activists in public forums.

"Presence at a rally, a demonstration, gathering information from open sources such as the Internet, etc. are all part of the collection of the knowledge and information crucial" to police work, Sheridan wrote.

* * *

The undercover trooper's early moves were sometimes clumsy. She sent e-mails from a domain linked to the state police that could easily have been uncovered with an Internet search. She sprinkled truth across her cover story, once revealing her home county. She suddenly changed her name to Lucy Shoup and offered a new e-mail address, claiming a change in marital status. She asked lots of questions but never shared her thoughts, activists say. She also tried to use her new friendships to learn more about other groups.

Then, with Evans's execution stayed, the woman disappeared. "Lucy was no more," Obuszewski recalled.

Meanwhile, the intelligence-gathering expanded in other directions, to activists in New York, Missouri, San Francisco and at the University of Maryland. Shane Dillingham's primary crime, according to the six-page file classifying him as a terrorist, was "anarchism." Police opened a file on the doctoral student in history a week after an undercover officer attended a College Park forum featuring a jailhouse phone conversation with Evans.

Investigators also tracked activists protesting weapons manufactured by defense contractor Lockheed Martin. They watched two pacifist Catholic nuns from Baltimore. Environmental activists made it into the database, as did three leaders of Code Pink, a national women's antiwar group, who do not live in Maryland.

PETA was labeled a "security threat group" in April 2005, and by July police were looking into a tip that the group had learned about a failing chicken farm in Kent County and planned on "protesting or stealing the chickens." A "very casually dressed" undercover trooper attended a speech by PETA's president that month and waited afterward to see whether anyone talked about chickens. Nobody did.

Police had turned to the database in a low-cost effort to replace antiquated file cabinets. The Washington High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a regional clearinghouse for drug-related criminal information, offered its software for free.

But the database did not include categories that fit the nature of the protest-group investigations. So police created "terrorism" categories to track the activists, according to the state review. Some information was sent directly to HIDTA's main database as part of an agreement to share information.

Putting the activists into the database was "a function of nothing more than the insertion of a piece of paper in a paper file in a file cabinet," Sheridan wrote. But labeling them "terrorists," he said was "incorrect and improper."

The activists fear that they will land on federal watch lists, in part because the police shared their intelligence information with at least seven area law enforcement agencies.

HIDTA Director Tom Carr said his organization's database became a dead end for the information because law enforcement agencies cannot access the data directly. The database instead acts as a "pointer": Investigators enter case information and the database indicates whether another agency has related material and instructs investigators to contact that agency. The activists were not a match with any other data, Carr said, and their information has since purged.

"The problem lies in the fact that once [the state police] checked it out and found it was not accurate, they should have removed it from the system," Carr said. "And they did not do that."

* * *

The surveillance program became public largely because of documents released during a trespassing trial for Obuszewski, the nuns and another activist arrested during an antiwar rally at the National Security Agency. The documents showed that Baltimore intelligence officers were tracking them. The American Civil Liberties Union then filed public records requests with several law enforcement agencies. When the state police refused to release what they had, the ACLU sued.

O'Malley condemned the monitoring as a politically motivated mistake and moved quickly to seek answers. He appointed Sachs, who had prosecuted Catholic activists for raiding a Selective Service office in 1968.

Sachs called the spying a "systemic failure" that violated federal regulations and said police were oblivious to the activists' rights to free expression and association.

The Maryland State Police have changed their policies and plan to solicit advice from the ACLU, the General Assembly, prosecutors and police about regulations that would raise the bar for intelligence-gathering to "reasonable suspicion" of a crime.

Some activists have responded by redoubling their efforts.

Pat Elder, a Bethesda advocate who organizes a demonstration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the gates of Lockheed Martin's headquarters, sent a public message to police last month on a local Web site.

"Did it ever occur to you that we're on the side of the good guys and you're not?" Elder wrote in an open letter to the NSA, the Maryland State Police and Montgomery police. "How do you think it makes us feel to know you're looking over our shoulders this way?"