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Jan. 7, 2009 at 5:00 PM   |   Comments

Israel suspending bombing every other day

GAZA, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- The 12th day of Israel's military campaign in Gaza abated for several hours Wednesday to permit humanitarian aid to reach citizens caught in the battle zone.

On the diplomatic front, French and Egyptian officials said their cease-fire proposal has been accepted by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, The New York Times reported. While Israel said it thanked France and Egypt for their cease-fire document, Israeli officials said talks continued.

Israel also was expected to send officials to Cairo for more discussions.

Besides the humanitarian lull in fighting, and work on a cease-fire, the Israeli security cabinet postponed a vote authorizing an escalation of the ground operation, the Times said.

Israel said the 3-hour lull would be repeated every other afternoon to allow Gaza's population to seek medical help, buy food, bury their dead and receive humanitarian supplies.

International relief organizations called the humanitarian situation in Gaza dire, as food, water, medical supplies, fuel and electricity are in short supply.

John Ging of the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said the pause was "not a solution but it's a first step."

Israel has said it will not end the operation in Gaza until it has crushed Hamas's ability to fire rockets at Israeli targets. Since the campaign began Dec. 27, 600 Palestinians have died, Palestinian medical personnel said. Seven Israeli soldiers and three civilians have been killed.


Bush hosts Obama, three ex-presidents

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. President George Bush said he and the former commanders in chief all want President-elect Barack Obama to succeed when he becomes the 44th president.

"One message I have, and I think we all share, is that we want you to succeed," Bush said before a power lunch of former, current and future presidents at the White House. "Whether we're a Democrat or Republican, we care deeply about this country."

Former presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter also attended the lunch.

To the extent they could, "we look forward to sharing our experiences with you," Bush said. "All of us who have served in this office understand that the office itself transcends the individual."

Obama thanked Bush for hosting the lunch, calling it "an extraordinary gathering."

"All of the gentlemen here understand both the pressures and possibilities of this office," Obama said. "And for me to have the opportunity to get advice, good counsel, and fellowship with these individuals is extraordinary. And I'm very grateful to all of them."


Obama signals Burris deal

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. President-elect Barack Obama signaled Wednesday the Senate will seat former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris as the junior senator from Illinois.

Controversy has swirled around the Burris appointment to fill the seat vacated by Obama when he was elected the 44th U.S. president. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, has been accused of attempting to sell Obama's Senate seat for personal gain.

During a news conference to appoint Nancy Kellefer as the nation's first chief performance officer, Obama declined to insert himself into the Burris controversy, saying it is "a Senate matter."

But, he added: "I know Roland Burris. ... He is a fine public servant."

Burris, 71, met with Capitol Hill officials Wednesday after being turned away at the Senate door Tuesday because he didn't have the proper paperwork certified.

Also Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid explained the deliberate pace on seating Burris as Illinois' junior senator was brought about because Blagojevich appointed him. Reid, Burris and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., met Wednesday to discuss the appointment, the denial of Burris' entry to the chamber and next steps.

Once the properly signed certification is presented and Burris's scheduled testimony before an Illinois House panel considering impeaching Blagojevich, Reid said the Senate Rules Committee would review the facts and offer recommendations.

Reid said "without any question" the full Senate would vote on the appointment.

Burris told a news conference a reported arrangement for him to serve of the last two years of Obama's term and then not seek re-election never came up in his meeting with Reid and Durbin.


Blago panel to probe hiring allegations

SPRINGFIELD, Ill., Jan. 7 (UPI) -- A panel of Illinois state lawmakers considering the impeachment of Gov. Rod Blagojevich will investigate alleged unethical hiring practices, members say.

The panel met Wednesday, beginning a crucial period when they will decide whether recommend impeaching the governor to the full Illinois House of Representatives, perhaps by the end of the week.

The panel was also preparing for Thursday's testimony by former Illinois Attorney Gen. Roland Burris, who was expected to discuss Blagojevich's appointment of him to fill President-elect Barack Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat.

Lawmakers said they will carefully look at a confidential 2004 report authored by Blagojevich's executive inspector general alleging that politics drove his state agency hiring decisions, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Even though most attention has been focused on Blagojevich's arrest last month on charges he attempted to "sell" the vacant U.S. Senate seat in exchange for political and personal favors, the 2004 report may become a "big piece" of the committee's findings, state Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, told the newspaper.

Another panel member, Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, told the Tribune the inspector general's report could underscore concerns that hiring under Blagojevich sometimes was unfair.


Obama to scrutinize budget entitlements

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. President-elect Barack Obama Wednesday said taming entitlement programs will be part of the process in trimming the nation's budget deficit.

During a Washington news conference to introduce Nancy Killefer as his choice for the nation's first chief performance officer, Obama noted he will inherit a $1.2 trillion budget deficit at a time when the economy is in deep trouble.

Last April, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., estimated entitlements make up 62 percent of the federal budget with Social Security and Medicare accounting for half that total.

Obama said budget discussions are under way and he expects to unveil his approach next month.

"Discussion around entitlements will be a central part of those plans," he said.

Obama said he plans to make "change and reform" a reality, not just election-year rhetoric.

"Even in good times, Washington cannot afford to continue these bad practices," he said, adding he intends to restore confidence in federal spending.


Judge classifies much of Sept. 11 trial

WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- A U.S. military judge's order could keep much of the evidence in the trial of four men accused of planning the 2001 attacks from public scrutiny, lawyers say.

Stephen R. Henley, an Army colonel who is presiding over the trial, signed the order on Dec. 18, the Washington Post reported Wednesday. In addition to protecting classified information, it presumptively classifies any evidence referring to the FBI, CIA or State Department and any statements made by the defendants.

The court would even be able to classify some information already publicly released, the newspaper said.

Three of the defendants, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, are representing themselves, and any statements they make would be classified.

"These rules turn the presumption of openness on its head, making what is perhaps the most important trial in American history presumptively closed to the public and the press," said Jennifer Daskal, Human Rights Watch senior counterterrorism counsel. "If these rules applied in all cases, there would be no such thing as an open trial in America."

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