Obama honors Sept. 11 victims
NEW YORK, May 5 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama laid a wreath at Ground Zero in New York City Thursday, just four days after ordering the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
The president did not deliver a speech, just bowed his head in silent prayer as hundreds of camera shutters clicked to record the event. Then he went off for a private meeting with some of the families of victims and survivors of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on the World Trade Center.
The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people at the center, at the Pentagon and in an airliner forced down by passengers in a Pennsylvania field. Bin Laden, the founder and leader of al-Qaida, ordered the attacks.
Aboard Air Force One on the way to New York, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president "believes it's appropriate and fitting to travel to New York this week, in the wake of the successful mission to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, in order to recognize the terrible loss that New York suffered on 9/11, and to acknowledge the burden that the families of the victims, the loved ones of the victims, have been carrying with them since 9/11, almost 10 years, and in an effort to perhaps help New Yorkers and Americans everywhere to achieve a sense of closure with the death of Osama bin Laden.
Before laying the wreath, Obama visited the Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 Fire Station, which lost 15 firefighters among the 343 New York firefighters killed trying to evacuate the Twin Towers.
"This is a symbolic site of the extraordinary sacrifice that was made on that terrible day almost 10 years ago," the president told the firefighters and other first responders. "Obviously we can't bring back your friends that were lost, and I know that each and every one of you not only grieve for them, but have also over the last 10 years dealt with their family, their children, trying to give them comfort, trying to give them support.
Group may sue to get dead bin Laden photos
WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- A conservative U.S. legal watchdog group said it may sue to force the Obama administration to release photos of a dead Osama bin Laden.
The group, Washington-based Judicial Watch, has already filed under the Freedom of Information Act for the pictures, and has sued the government many times in the past for the release of documents.
"We are prepared to sue if they don't respond as they are supposed to under the law," JW President Tom Fitton told The Hill. "I have not heard anything from the president that would provide a lawful basis for not providing the photos. Not wanting to be seen as 'spiking the football' is not a lawful reason to withhold documents under FOIA."
Judicial Watch filed the FOIA request Tuesday with the Defense Department. The filing requests photos and videos of bin Laden on the day of the U.S. military raid on his compound Sunday in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The group also filed a FOIA request for the photos Wednesday with the CIA, Judicial Watch said on its Web site.
The administration has 20 days to respond to the FOIA requests. If the requests are turned down, The Hill reported, the group can file an appeal and then a lawsuit for the photos.
President Barack Obama Wednesday ruled out disclosing them.
House passes GOP drilling proposal
WASHINGTON, May 5 (UPI) -- The U.S. House voted 266-149 Thursday to approve one of two Republican proposals for loosening restrictions on offshore oil drilling.
The legislation, the Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act, was one of two Republican initiatives slammed by the White House earlier Thursday. It would still have to pass the Democrat-dominated Senate to become law.
Both proposals were put forward by U.S. Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings, R-Wash.
The Restarting American Offshore Leasing Now Act, H.R. 1230 with 67 sponsors, and the Putting the Gulf of Mexico Back to Work Act, H.R. 1229, with 70 sponsors, would hurt safety and environmental reforms "the administration implemented in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill" in the Gulf of Mexico, the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement of administration policy. "These reforms strengthen requirements for issues ranging from well design to workplace safety to corporate accountability, and they require operators to show that they can contain a subsea oil spill like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The administration opposes H.R. 1230 and H.R. 1229 ... both of which would undercut these critical reforms."
Mass arrests reported in Damascus suburb
DAMASCUS, Syria, May 5 (UPI) -- Human rights groups said Syrian authorities rounded up scores of people Thursday in a crackdown on anti-government protests.
Security forces backed by tanks moved into the town of Saqba one day before a nationwide protest was scheduled to take place, activists told The New York Times.
The reports could not be immediately confirmed because journalists are barred from the area. Rights groups have estimated the number of arrests in Saqba at 286.
The Times said Saqba was the scene of a major demonstration last week against President Bashar al-Assad.
Anti-government protesters earlier called on supporters to join nationwide protests Friday.
On its Facebook page, Syrian Revolution 2011, the organizing force behind the 7 weeks of protests in which hundreds have been killed, wounded and imprisoned, posted a poster that read "Freedom is near," and "The people want to get rid of the regime," Yalibnan.com said.
The official news agency SANA said Wednesday a special committee had been formed to investigate the recent deaths.
Judge Mohammad Dib al-Mokatren was appointed to head the committee charged with investigating the "the recent events that led to the loss of lives," SANA said.
Hamas supports two-state solution
CAIRO, May 5 (UPI) -- The day after Fatah and Hamas signed a unity accord, the leader of Hamas said Thursday he supports a two-state solution.
"The whole world knows what Hamas thinks and what our principles are," Khaled Meshaal told The New York Times in Cairo. "But we are talking now about a common national agenda. The world should deal with what we are working toward now, the national political program."
Meshaal said he envisions "a Palestinian state in the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital, without any settlements or settlers, not an inch of land swaps and respecting the right of return" of Palestinian refugees to Israel.
The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation must advance peace prospects and not undermine them, Washington said after the Palestinian factions formalized their accord.
The rival parties signed an agreement in Cairo Wednesday, promising to end a four-year rift that left Palestinians under rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
"We announce ... to our Palestinian people that we turn forever the black page of division," Fatah leader and Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a ceremony at Egypt's intelligence agency headquarters.
Fatah is the largest Palestine Liberation Organization faction. The Palestinian National Authority is the administrative organization established to govern parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abbas promised he would soon visit Hamas-ruled Gaza, where he has not set foot since the militant Islamist group seized power in 2007 after a factional war.