Israel, Hamas are accused of war crimes
Israeli forces killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians and destroyed thousands of Gaza Strip homes in attacks that amounted to war crimes, Amnesty International charged today, in the first in-depth human rights group report on the recent war in Gaza. Amnesty called on Israel to publicly pledge not to use artillery, white phosphorus and other imprecise weapons in densely populated areas, and urged Gaza's militant Hamas rulers to stop rocket fire against Israeli civilians — attacks it also described as war crimes. Amnesty — which first accused Israel of war crimes shortly after the fighting ended on Jan. 18 — said "disturbing questions" remain about why high-precision weapons like tank shells and air-delivered bombs and missiles "killed so many children and other civilians." The U.N. is examining the conduct of both sides to the conflict. Israel conducted its own internal investigation earlier this year and cleared the military of wrongdoing.
Marines launch major operation
Almost 4,000 U.S. Marines, backed by helicopter gunships, pushed into the volatile Helmand River valley in southwestern Afghanistan early today. The Marines are trying to take back the region from Taliban fighters, whose control of poppy harvests and opium smuggling in Helmand provides major financing for the Afghan insurgency. The Marine Expeditionary Brigade leading the operation represents a large number of the 21,000 additional troops that President Barack Obama ordered to Afghanistan earlier this year. The operation is billed as the first major push in southern Afghanistan by the newly bolstered U.S. force.
New law restricts public smoking
Europe's most nicotine-addicted nation adopted a new public smoking ban Wednesday in a bid to stub out the Greek habit of lighting up practically everywhere. Exceptions have been made for mental patients and gamblers. Unrestricted indoor smoking in restaurants, bars, coffee shops and workplaces is now against the law, in the third ban Greece has tried to impose over the past decade. European Union figures show that 37.6 percent of Greeks aged over 15 smoke on a daily basis — the highest level in the 27-nation EU. According to the Greek Health Ministry, the habit kills 20,000 Greek smokers every year, and another 700 die as a result of passive smoking.
Qatar: As many as 30 people are feared dead after the MV Demas Victory capsized and quickly sank in choppy Persian Gulf waters off the Qatari capital Doha, the vessel's operator said Wednesday.
Rio de Janeiro: Brazilian officials say they've identified the remains of 21 more people who were aboard Air France flight 447 when it plunged into the Atlantic Ocean June 1. Authorities say 17 were foreign and four were Brazilian.
Panama: Businessman Ricardo Martinelli was sworn in as Panama's new president on Wednesday, and promised to make the nation of 3.3 million inhabitants the best place to do business in Latin America.
Bolivia: President Evo Morales on Wednesday accused Barack Obama of lying by pledging to change America's historically heavy-handed relationship with Latin America and then halting $25 million in annual trade benefits for Bolivia.