Wednesday, July 19
Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Daylight.
DHR readies airports as travelers return from Lebanon Thursday
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Customs and Border Security are pulling in more airport screeners in anticipation of the hundreds of travelers reentering the country Thursday following their evacuation from Lebanon and Cyprus, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security senior spokesman told CNN.
The Transportation Security Administration sent 50 additional screeners to Baltimore-Washington International Airport Thursday to speed up lines for travelers making connecting flights, the spokesman said. TSA officials also said the agency is working closely with federal and international partners to ensure efficiency and security when screening passengers. (Posted 2:52 a.m.)
Brother, sister defend doctor charged in Katrina hospital deaths
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- The family of a doctor charged with murder this week in connection with the deaths of four hospital patients in the days following Hurricane Katrina has publicly come to her defense for the first time, CNN's Drew Griffin reported.
In an exclusive CNN interview, Peggy Perino and Michael Pou, the sister and brother of Dr. Anna Pou, said casting their sister as a murderer belies her career as a committed, caring physician.
Pou and nurses Lori L. Budo and Cheri Landry were arrested late Monday and booked on second-degree murder charges, accused of injecting four patients with lethal doses of drugs at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center, Louisiana's Attorney General Charles C. Foti said Tuesday. (Posted 2:49 a.m.)
Fighting erupts for a ninth day in Lebanon
BEIRUT (CNN) -- Fighting broke out in two separate incidents Thursday in western Lebanon as clashes between Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah guerillas continued for a ninth day, Israel Defense Forces said.
In southern Beirut, CNN's Nic Robertson described hearing a "huge" blast shortly after daybreak Thursday. Lebanese TV showed a large plume of smoke over the city skyline.
It was not immediately clear what had been targeted or hit. (Posted 12:58 a.m.)
U.S. Marines to evacuate Americans from Lebanon
BEIRUT (CNN) -- U.S. Marines touched Lebanese soil for the first time in over 22 years to begin the evacuation of American citizens from the war-torn country, CNN's Barbara Starr reported Thursday.
As the American ship USS Nashville stood vigilant nearby off the Lebanese coast as a naval landing craft with 40 Marines came ashore near Beirut.
"They made their way up a small hill near the port with their equipment and are here to go and greet Americans waiting to be taken out of Lebanon," Starr said.
(Posted 12:55 a.m.)
Tropical storm meanders in Atlantic; warning issued for Mass. coast
MIAMI (CNN) -- After forecasts showed Tropical Storm Beryl likely shifting further off the North Carolina coast than initially thought, the National Hurricane Center on Wednesday canceled a tropical storm watch for the region but added a new one for southeastern Massachusetts.
The second storm of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, with top sustained winds near 60 mph, was 265 miles south of New York City and about 335 miles southwest of Nantucket, the NHC said in its 11 p.m. advisory. It was moving north-northeastward at near 9 mph. The motion was expected to continue overnight, with a turn to the northeast by late Thursday. (Posted 11:56 p.m.)
U.S. calls on Islamic courts, Somalis to 'immediately cease hostile action'
(CNN) -- The United States on Wednesday urged the Islamic Courts Union militia and all Somali parties to "immediately cease hostile action" and resume a dialogue, with the U.S. State Department saying it was concerned by reports that militias were advancing toward Baidoa, the interim location of the country's Transitional Federal Institutions.
"This continued expansion contradicts previous statements by the Islamic courts regarding their intentions," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in a statement.
"The Somali people have made it clear that reconciliation and the reestablishment of governance must begin in earnest. The Transitional Federal Charter and Transitional Federal Institutions provide the framework for the reestablishment of governance leading to an elected, representative government by the end of the transitional political process in 2009." (Posted 11:32 p.m.)
Poll: Americans want U.S. to stay out of Mideast conflict
(CNN) -- Nearly two-thirds of Americans responding to a poll on the Mideast crisis said they believe the United States should stay out of the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, according to a poll conducted and released Wednesday by Opinion Research Corporation for CNN.
Sixty-five percent of 633 adults responding to the telephone poll said the United States should not play an active role in attempting to solve the issue. And 45 percent said they disapprove of the way President Bush has handled the conflict, compared to 38 percent who approve and 17 percent who said they were unsure.
But 57 percent of poll respondents said their sympathies lay with Israel, compared to 4 percent who sympathized with Hezbollah. Another 20 percent said they did not sympathize with either, 15 percent had no opinion and another 4 percent said they sympathize with both Israel and Hezbollah. (Posted 11:18 p.m.)
US says Saudis making promise on textbooks and promise more steps
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saudi Arabia has promised a comprehensive review of all of its educational text books and to remove all language promoting intolerance, the State Department's ambassador for religious freedom said Wednesday.
Ambassador John Hanford said Saudi Arabia is already making sincere progress in cleansing its textbooks from bigoted references and added "the Saudis agreed the language is inexcusable."
However, there were still some "repugnant references" in the textbooks targeted at both non-Muslims and Muslims who don't follow the Saudi version of Islam, called Wahabism, he said. (Posted 9:11 p.m.)
Tropical storm meanders in Atlantic; warning canceled for N.C. coast
MIAMI (CNN) -- After forecasts showed Tropical Storm Beryl likely shifting further off the North Carolina coast than initially thought, the National Hurricane Center on Wednesday canceled a tropical storm watch for the region but added a new one for southeastern Massachusetts.
The second storm of the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, with top sustained winds near 60 mph, was 290 miles south of New York City and about 365 miles southwest of Nantucket, the NHC said in its 8 p.m. advisory. It was moving northeastward at 9 mph.
The new tropical storm watch covered the area from Plymouth, Mass., to Woods Hole, including Cape Cod, Nantucket Island and Martha's Vineyard. Beryl was not forecast to make landfall, but the latest projections show the storm paralleling the coast to the northeast. (Posted 8:07 p.m.)
Heat wave puts nation's power grid under scrutiny
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A smothering nationwide heat wave, which caused major power failures and affected major transportation centers in New York and California, has also called into question the reliability of the nation's power grid system.
Officials from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, attributed power failures that caused disruptions at major airports like Los Angeles International and LaGuardia to a record level of demand for electricity but also to a "chronically underinvested transmission system" that weakens the nations power grid. (Posted 7:43 p.m.)
Lebanese leaders call for unity during Israeli strikes
BEIRUT (CNN) -- Prominent leaders in Lebanon's notoriously fractious politics called for the country to stay united in the face of an eight-day Israeli bombardment Wednesday, a call joined by the son of slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
"The ship is sinking and all of us, the Lebanese, should stick together and work together to stop the Israeli aggression," former President Amin Gemayel, a Maronite Christian who served as president from 1982 to 1988, told the Arabic-language news network Al-Jazeera.
Israeli artillery, warplanes and ships have pounded Lebanon since July 12, when the Lebanese guerrilla movement Hezbollah kidnapped two soldiers in a cross-border raid. Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim militia which holds seats in the Lebanese parliament and cabinet, has responded by firing volleys of rockets into northern Israel. (Posted 6:53 p.m.)
Conn. prosecutors indict British man on terrorism charges
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A British man was indicted Wednesday on charges he conspired to "provide material support to terrorists ... and conspiracy to kill, maim or injure persons or damage property in a foreign country."
Syed Talha Ahsan, 26, was arrested at his home in London Wednesday by Metropolitan Police.
Connecticut U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor said Ahsan helped run terrorism funding Web sites, set up terrorists with temporary housing in England and possessed a classified U.S. Navy document with information detailing troop movements. (Posted 6:48 p.m.)
NYPD: Mumbai bombs placed in overhead racks
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The explosives in the recent Mumbai bombings caused deadly head wounds because the bombs were placed in overhead racks above the doors of the commuter trains, according to a New York Police Department lieutenant on the scene.
In a written statement on Wednesday, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne said the unidentified lieutenant who works for NYPD's intelligence division described how the bombs were placed in burlap bags commonly carried by Indian commuters, left by the doors and timed to go off when the trains arrived at the station during rush hour, causing the maximum number of casualties. The placement also allowed the bombers to escape undetected.
The intelligence officer's assessment was part of an in-depth police department briefing on homegrown terrorism provided periodically to heads of security of New York-based corporations, banks and other institutions. (Posted 6:43 p.m.)
Israel says it hit Hezbollah bunker with 23 tons of bombs
BEIRUT (CNN) -- Israeli warplanes struck a south Beirut bunker used by top leaders of Lebanon's Hezbollah militia late Wednesday with what Israeli military sources said were 23 tons of bombs. There was no immediate report of casualties.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed it had struck a Hezbollah bunker about 11:30 p.m. (4:30 p.m. ET). Military sources said dozens of warplanes dropped bombs on the target.
But there was no immediate report of damage or casualties from the reported raid, and CNN crews in Beirut said no explosions or the sound of jets were heard at the time the strike was said to have occurred. (Posted 6:02 p.m.)
Dow does well after Bernanke's comments
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Stocks surged Wednesday, with the Dow scoring its best day of the year, as investors bet that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments mean the central bank's two-year interest-rate hiking campaign is nearing an end.
The Dow Jones Industrial average was up 212.19 to 11,011.42, or nearly 2 percent. That pushed the blue-chip average back above the key 11,000 mark.
The advance gave the Dow its best day of the year, on both a point and percentage basis. (Posted 5:42 p.m.)
U.S. considering sending Marines deep into southern Lebanon to rescue Americans
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States is considering sending U.S. Marine helicopters deep into Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon to extract Americans if they cannot get safely to coastal evacuation points, a senior defense official told CNN Wednesday.
Publicly, U.S. commanders are hesitant to talk about what could be a risky mission over territory controlled by an organization labeled a terrorist group by the U.S. government.
But Rear Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of the U.S. 5th Fleet, told CNN that one reason he is moving the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group and the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit to Lebanon is to give him the ability to get Americans out of other parts of Lebanon, if necessary.
"The idea is that we have the capability to extract people, no matter where their location is. Without getting into a lot of detail, we'll -- that's part of our planning effort now," Walsh said in an interview with CNN's Kyra Phillips on Wednesday. --From CNN Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre (Posted 5:16 p.m.)
Structural, human failures cited in Sago Mine deaths
(CNN) -- A series of structural and human failures contributed to the deaths of 12 miners in the Sago Mine, says an independent report released by the West Virginia governor Wednesday.
Foam blocks that were referred to as being "explosion-proof" actually were built only to withstand an explosive force of up to 20 pounds per square inch. The initial explosion on Jan. 2, exceeded that, the report said, and the seals failed, allowing deadly carbon monoxide gas to seep into the area of the mine where the men who survived the blast were stranded.
Among other factors, the report said, were:
-- Rescuers also had no way to communicate with the miners. "The mine's phone system -- an outmoded, vulnerable system typical of underground mines -- was knocked out by the explosion."
-- Rescuers were not sent into the mine right away, and the absence of a gas chromograph for much of the first day meant that toxic gases could not be measured quickly and efficiently. (Posted 5 p.m.)
Israeli offensive inflicts 'immeasurable loss' on Lebanon, Siniora says
BEIRUT (CNN) -- A week of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas has inflicted "immeasurable loss" on Lebanon, with more than 300 dead and half a million people displaced, the country's prime minister said Wednesday.
Israeli troops and Hezbollah clashed inside southern Lebanon on the eighth day of a Israeli offensive aimed at pushing the Lebanese-based Shiite militia back from its borders and rescuing two soldiers kidnapped by the guerrillas last week. Two Israeli soldiers died in heavy fighting, and two Israeli children were killed by Hezbollah rockets that pounded northern Israel throughout the day, military officials and police reported.
Official figures from Lebanese security forces late Wednesday said 216 civilians had been killed and 524 injured by the Israeli bombardment. But in a speech to diplomats in Beirut, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the death toll was more than 300, and he repeated his government's call for a cease-fire.
"Your excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, we Lebanese want life," he said. "We have chosen life. We refuse to die. Our choice is clear. We have survived the wars and destruction over the ages. We shall do so again. I sincerely hope that you will not let us down this time." (Posted 4:02 p.m.)
Palestinian sources: 10 dead in central Gaza clashes
GAZA CITY (CNN) -- Fierce clashes Wednesday between the Israeli military and Palestinian gunmen have killed 10 Palestinians in central Gaza, according to Palestinian medical sources.
The latest death was the result of Israeli tank shelling, the sources said.
Overnight Tuesday, Israeli troops moved into the central Gaza refugee camp of Maghazi and clashed with militants there, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Six Palestinians were killed in the initial gun battle and three others died from aerial attacks carried out by unmanned drones, the Palestinian sources said.
Israel's ongoing military campaign inside Gaza, which has stepped up in recent days, has been overshadowed by the conflict on the Israel-Lebanon border. (Posted 3:05 p.m.)
Coast Guard says initial investigation shows cruise ship listed at 15 degrees
PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. (CNN) -- The U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday that an initial investigation shows that the Princess Cruise Lines ship that listed at sea Tuesday -- injuring as many as 101 people -- leaned at a 15-degree angle.
An earlier report from a passenger on the ship -- a nurse who helped treat some of the injured -- said she was told by a crew member that the vessel listed to a 38-degree angle.
Two people were seriously hurt in the incident, including a young girl who may have had a broken femur, and a man with a punctured lung, according to the nurse.
A spokesman for Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital said the girl has already been released from the facility, and her injuries were not as serious as initially thought. (Posted 2:47 p.m.)
Judge rejects Wal-Mart benefits law
(CNN) -- A federal judge in Baltimore has overturned a new Maryland law that would have forced Wal-Mart to provide more employee health-care benefits, according to court documents.
Judge J. Frederick Motz said the law, which required Wal-Mart to spend 8 percent of its payroll in the state on medical benefits or pay the difference in taxes, would have hurt the company. He said it would be unfair to force the company to handle benefits in Maryland differently than it does in other states.
The law was the first of its kind in the country. (Posted 2:34 p.m.)
Rice to be briefed on Mideast crisis by U.N. team Friday
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be briefed Friday on the latest in the Mideast situation by a U.N. team that recently returned from the region, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters Wednesday.
She will arrive in New York Thursday evening and have dinner with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana ahead of Friday's briefing.
The U.N. diplomatic team, under the direction of Annan, also will present its findings to the Security Council after its meetings with Israeli and Lebanese officials in recent days about the ongoing crisis.
Washington remains opposed to a cease-fire, which the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton described as a "simplistic" solution to the problem.
He said he would clarify the U.S. position on the crisis after the U.N. team presents its findings. (Posted 2:16 p.m.)
Bush vetoes stem-cell research bill
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday vetoed the embryonic stem-cell research bill passed Tuesday by the Senate, his first veto since taking office.
"It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect, so I vetoed it," he told an audience that included children and supporters.
"These boys and girls are not spare parts," he said of the children in the audience. "They remind us of what is lost when embryos are destroyed in the name of research. They remind us that we all begin our lives as a small collection of cells."
He added, "If this bill were to become law, American taxpayers would, for the first time in our history, be compelled to fund the deliberate destruction of human embryos, and I'm not going to allow it." (Posted 2:12 p.m.)
Court denies Jefferson motion on return of seized documents; appeal expected
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge Wednesday denied a request by Congressman William Jefferson, D-La., to block the FBI from reviewing materials seized in the unprecedented search of his Capitol Hill office while he pursues appeals in the case.
"The government's ongoing investigation would be prejudiced by the delay," said U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan in rejecting the motion. "Congressman Jefferson has not demonstrated that he would be irreparably harmed absent a stay."
Attorneys for Jefferson, who is under investigation for bribery, had anticipated the ruling and informed the Justice Department last week they would promptly appeal a negative decision.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales told reporters last Thursday he has ordered investigators not to begin reviewing the disputed materials for two weeks while Jefferson pursues a court order to block the review. --From Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 2:11 p.m.)
Iraqi killed as mortars target Green Zone
BAGHDAD (CNN) -- An Iraqi died and two others were wounded when two mortars landed inside Baghdad's Green Zone on Wednesday, the U.S. military confirmed.
The Green Zone, a limited-access area in the center of Baghdad, is where U.S. and Iraqi government offices are located.
Report: Lebanese president thanks Iranian support
(CNN) -- Iran's state-run news agency reported that Lebanese President Emile Lahoud met with Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohammad-Reza Sheybani and expressed thanks for Iranian support during the week-long Israeli air offensive in Lebanon
Islamic Republic News Agency said they met Wednesday in Lebanon's presidential palace. The report said Lahoud praised Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "character" and said that "convergence and unity is the only way to overcome the brutal aggression of the Zionist regime."
Iran, a largely Shiite Muslim nation, is a patron and supporter of Hezbollah, the Shiite militia and political movement in Lebanon. (Posted 11:49 a.m.)
U.N. rep in Iraq: 'Emerging phenomenon of Iraqis killing Iraqis nothing less than a catastrophe'
BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Ashraf Qazi, the U.N. special representative for Iraq, Wednesday called out for Iraqis to find a way to stop the killings in the war-torn country, calling them a "national tragedy."
Tuesday the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq issued a report saying more than 5,800 people were killed in May and June and more than 14,000 were killed in the first half of 2006.
"The emerging phenomenon of Iraqis killing Iraqis on a daily basis is nothing less than a catastrophe and a national tragedy for the people of Iraq," Qazi said.
He also urged citizens to cooperate with the legal authorities and urged restraint by multinational and Iraqi security forces to avert civilian casualties. (Posted 11:26 a.m.)
2 Israeli soldiers killed in southern Lebanon, IDF says
AVIVIM, Israel (CNN) -- Two Israeli soldiers were killed Wednesday during heavy fighting with Hezbollah militants in southern Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces said.
Nine others were injured -- none seriously -- in one of the fiercest battles between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli soldiers since the cross-border battle began last week.
There have been no reports so far of Hezbollah casualties in the fighting.
The gunfight Wednesday was one of the few direct engagement between the Israeli military and the Hezbollah militia, which occupies southern Lebanon. (Posted 11:25 a.m.)
IDF: Hezbollah strikes Nazareth; 2 children killed
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A Hezbollah rocket strike hit the Israeli town of Nazareth on Wednesday, killing two children, Israeli police said.
While Hezbollah rockets have hit Nazareth in recent days, it is the furthest south that Israeli casualties have been reported.
Israeli ambulance services said 12 others suffered minor injuries.
The attack happened sometime between 4 and 5 p.m. (9-10 a.m. ET).
Very few Jewish people live in Nazareth, which is populated with Muslims and Christians. (Posted 10:28 a.m.)
France sending humanitarian supplies to Lebanon
PARIS (CNN) -- French President Jacques Chirac on Wednesday announced that his country will send humanitarian relief supplies to help residents of Beirut cope with the damage caused by Israeli airstrikes.
Chirac said a cargo plane will leave later in the day for Cyprus carrying items requested by the Lebanese government, including water purifying equipment, generators for hospitals and medicine.
The cargo will be offloaded in Larnaca and will go to Beirut by ship, the president said. That ship will return to Cyprus with a load of French, Lebanese and other passengers who want to leave Lebanon.
French military transport is also going to Cyprus to be on hand to aid in evacuations between Lebanon and Cyprus, Chirac said. (Posted 10:25 a.m.)
Fed chairman predicts moderating growth, remains concerned about inflation
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Wednesday the U.S. economy is in "a time of transition."
In his semi-annual testimony to congress, the Fed chief noted that the first quarter growth rate of 5.6 percent has moderated, reflecting a cooling housing market and increased energy costs.
The Federal Reserve projects 2006 gross domestic product will increase 3.25 to 3.5 percent in 2006, and slightly less than that in 2007's 3 to 3.25 percent.
However, Bernanke warned that some inflation risks remain, and that the Fed "must take account of these risks in making its policy decisions." --From CNN's Scott Spoerry (Posted 10:21 a.m.)
Report: Iranian official slams silence of other Muslim nations over Israeli actions in Lebanon
(CNN) -- A top Iranian official Wednesday lashed out against what he called the silence of Islamic states regarding Israel's offensive in Lebanon, according to a report by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.
"How is it possible that a Muslim country is attacked and destroyed while others look on in comfort?" Expediency Council Chairman Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was quoted as saying during the second day of a conference on "Quranic convergence."
"Today the Zionists are attacking Lebanon with all kinds of modern weapons. How can the Islamic world, which is committed to Quranic precepts, remain indifferent and simply witness (the Zionist regime's crimes)?" (Posted 10:17 a.m.)
Unusual spending for Hurricane Katrina relief investigated by govt. auditors
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Government "purchase cards" were used to buy a beer brewing kit, an $8,000 63-inch Samsung plasma screen television, hundreds of laptop computers that are now missing, and 20 flat-bottom boats at greatly inflated prices, according to a government audit of spending associated with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.
The audit, which will be the topic of a Senate hearing Wednesday, is likely to give yet another black eye to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its parent agency, the Department of Homeland Security, already been bruised by a government audit showing that about $1 billion FEMA gave to Hurricane Katrina and Rita claimants were fraudulent.
The new audit, done by the Government Accountability Office, looks at purchases made by DHS employees during a five-month period beginning in June 2005 using "SmartPay" purchase cards, intended to give government employees a more flexible and efficient way to purchase goods and services. --From CNN Homeland Security Producer Mike M. Ahlers (Posted 10:04 a.m.)
U.S. retail prices rise more than expected
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Retail prices for goods other than food and energy rose more than expected in the United States last month, the government said Wednesday.
The Consumer Price Index, the government's main inflation gauge, rose 0.2 percent in June after climbing 0.4 percent in May, the Department of Labor said. The number was in line with estimates from economists polled by Briefing.com.
But core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, rose by a higher-than-expected 0.3 percent. Economists were looking for a 0.2 percent rise in the core CPI. (Posted 9:43 a.m.)
Orient Queen, carrying U.S. and British citizens, leaves Beirut
BEIRUT (CNN) -- The Orient Queen left the port of Beirut on Wednesday carrying about 800 U.S. and British citizens to Cyprus.
The vessel, a Greek ship chartered by the U.S. State Department, is expected to arrive in Larnaca around 6 a.m. Thursday (11 p.m. ET Wednesday). (Posted 9:18 a.m.)
At least 15 killings, more than 20 kidnapped, 10 bodies found in Iraq
BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Assaults and kidnappings raged in Iraq on Wednesday, a day after a U.N. report detailed the bloody anarchy the fractious country is facing.
A wave of assaults in Baghdad and Kirkuk killed at least 15 people, including a senior Interior Ministry employee and a family of four at a grocery store. A U.S. Marine death, as a result of a non-hostile incident on Tuesday, was reported Wednesday.
Kidnappers abducted more than 20 members of the agency that cares for Sunni religious sites nationwide. And police found 10 slain bodies dumped in the capital.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq said more than 14,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq over the first half of this year, and that more than 5,800 deaths occurred in May and June alone.
Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq's prime minister, addressed recent days of violence -- including the recent targeting of dozens of civilians at a day laborer gathering spot in a Kufa marketplace, at a marketplace in Mahmoudiya and at a cafe in Tuz Khurmato. He said the fact that al Qaeda in Iraq has resorted to hitting soft targets shows its weaknesses.
He also touted the national reconciliation plan that he unveiled recently is the "only bridge and the basic crossing to the shores of peace." A government committee will meet on Saturday to begin working on the plan, which al-Maliki said the insurgency wants to undermine. (Posted 9:04 a.m.)
Cruise ship returns to port with rudder problem; 101 passengers injured
PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. (CNN) -- At least 101 passengers aboard a Princess Cruise Lines ship were injured -- two of them critically -- Tuesday when the vessel developed a steering problem at sea and listed hard to one side, officials said.
The ship returned to Port Canaveral, its last port of call before the problem developed, and the two critically injured passengers were airlifted to a local hospital, said Bob Lay, the director of the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center.
The two critically injured were a female child and an adult male, Lay said.
Between 15 and 18 passengers suffered serious injuries, according to Port Canaveral CEO Stan Payne.
The victims were taken to six hospitals, Lay said. (Posted 9:02 a.m.)
Bush plans to veto stem-cell research bill; House will try to override
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday plans to veto the embryonic stem-cell research bill passed by the Senate on Tuesday, an administration official told CNN.
The veto is likely to come before a scheduled 2:15 p.m. event in which the president is expected to announce his move, the official said.
Tuesday, the Senate voted 63-37 to loosen Bush's ban on federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research.
The measure, which the House of Representatives passed in May, would allow couples who have had embryos frozen for fertility treatments to donate them to researchers rather than let them be destroyed. But neither chamber managed the two-thirds majority needed to override the veto the White House has threatened to deliver. (Posted 8:55 a.m.)
Hezbollah rockets hit northern Israel; 2 houses directly hit
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A barrage of Hezbollah rockets Wednesday struck northern Israel, directly impacting two homes, Israeli medical emergency sources and the military told CNN.
There were no injuries in the latest barrage, the medical sources said. Most residents in the area are staying in bomb shelters or have left the region.
The rockets hit the towns of Acre, Shlomi, Carmiel, Haifa and Tiberias.
The Israeli military confirmed that a house in Carmiel was directly hit by rocket fire. Another house in Tiberias was also hit, the medical emergency sources said. (Posted 8:35 a.m.)
After a week of violence, 212 killed in Lebanon
BEIRUT (CNN) -- Lebanese Internal Security Forces said Wednesday that 212 people have been killed and 498 injured since the start of hostilities on July 12. (Posted 8:06 a.m.)
Israeli soldiers battle Hezbollah fighters inside Lebanon
AVIVIM, Israel (CNN) -- Israeli soldiers Wednesday continued to battle with Hezbollah fighters inside southern Lebanon near the Israeli border village of Avivim, Israeli military sources said.
The Israel Defense Forces confirmed its ground troops launched what it described as a pinpoint operation inside southern Lebanon, but the IDF did not say where the incursion took place.
"Their mission is to destroy Hezbollah outposts," an Israel Defense Forces spokesman told CNN early Wednesday.
The spokesman, speaking from Jerusalem, declined to say how many Israeli troops were involved in the operation. He also declined to say how far Israeli troops had gone into southern Lebanon.
"This is in no way an invasion of Lebanon," Dan Gillerman, Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN. "We have no desire to enter Lebanon. We left it six years ago without any desire to go back. --CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report (Posted 8:03 a.m.)
Another earthquake hits Indonesia two days after tsunami
JAKARTA (CNN) -- An earthquake with a magnitude 6.2 struck west of Indonesia's capital Wednesday, two days after a major quake and tsunami hit the same region, leaving more than 500 people dead.
According to the national meteorology and geophysics agency in Jakarta, the latest quake was centered 192 km (120 miles) west of Jakarta in the Indian Ocean, at a depth of 48 km (30 miles).
Earlier Wednesday, officials said the death toll from Monday's earthquake and tsunami rose to 525, with 383 injured, according to the Indonesian National Disaster Management Coordination Board.
The government said 273 people were missing. More than 35,000 people were displaced following the incident, which destroyed hundreds of buildings. (Posted 8:01 a.m.)
Iraqi prime minister denounces Israeli airstrikes as 'operations of mass destruction of the infrastructure'
BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The Iraqi prime minister on Wednesday denounced the week-old Israeli air campaign in Lebanon, calling the daily strikes "operations of mass destruction of the infrastructure and in no way justified."
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, speaking after a Cabinet meeting, made these comments as the Iraqi Embassy in Lebanon works to evacuate Iraqi nationals and as the U.N. refugees' agency monitors the situation of Iraqi refugees and asylum-seekers in Lebanon.
Al-Maliki said Iraq is urging the international community "to take a quick and firm stance to stop this aggression against Lebanon, to stop the killing of innocent people and to stop the destruction of infrastructure."
"I have strongly condemned what Israel is doing and condemned these operations. And, I called on the Arab foreign ministers meeting to take a frank and clear position against this; because what is happening is an operation of mass destruction and mass punishment and an operation using great force that Israel has and Lebanon does not," he said. (Posted 7:59 a.m.)
Computer error leads to thousands of dollars in overcharges for Verizon customers
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A computer error in its billing system led Verizon to overcharge some 11,000 customers in the mid-Atlantic region in June, the company announced Wednesday.
The programming error led to overcharges ranging from $200 to several thousand dollars for some customers in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, according to Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell.
The company sends out 5.3 million bills a month in that region.
Verizon discovered the error June 26, one week after the problems began. The company said it will credit affected customers in the next billing cycle. --From CNN's Adam Levine (Posted 7:58 a.m.)
Coalition says it now controls 2 Afghan towns claimed by Taliban
(CNN) -- Afghan and coalition forces seized control of two small southern Afghan communities the Taliban said they held, the Combined Forces Command in Kabul said on Wednesday. The forces secured two areas near the Pakistan border in Helmand province.
"After securing the town of Nawa, the combined force moved toward the town of Garmser and received only limited small arms, rocket propelled grenade and mortar fire before arriving in the town early this morning, essentially unopposed," the command said.
Two Afghan National Army soldiers were wounded in the attack. Troops are hunting down "any enemy extremists who may still be in the area threatening the people of Garmser." (Posted 6:37 a.m.)
IDF reports bombing more than 100 targets in 24 hours
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israel Defense Forces reported Wednesday it carried out airstrikes on more than 100 targets in Lebanon in a 24-hour time span, targeting 75 sites they suspected Hezbollah militants used to launch missiles into Israel.
The IDF said it launched aerial attacks on trucks carrying weaponry, 12 access routes connecting Syria and Lebanon, terror cells attempting to launch missiles, terrorist-used tunnels, 10 Hezbollah weapons warehouses and six missile launchers. Four bridges and various structures IDF suspected were being used by Hezbollah militants were also bombed, the report said.
In the same time frame, IDF reported, Hezbollah militants launched more than 130 missiles into Israel, killing a civilian and wounding close to 30. (Posted 4:42 a.m.)
IDF: 'Wanted militants' arrested in West Bank
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli soldiers exchanged fire with Palestinian militants Wednesday as Israel Defense Forces charged and surrounded a building in Nablus, in the West Bank, to arrest "wanted militants," the IDF reported.
Palestinian sources said three people were killed and one was injured during the operation. IDF reported no Israeli soldiers were injured. --From CNN Producer Mihal Zippori (Posted 4:37 a.m.)
Ferry ride from Lebanon "really dirty" for U.S. students
LARNAKA, Cyprus (CNN) -- Dozens of American college students endured a grueling 11-hour voyage in a crowded, fly-infested car ferry, to escape the violence of Lebanon, arriving in Cyprus Wednesday morning. The Norwegian-chartered ship carried 1,100 Europeans but also made room for 127 U.S. citizens, including the students and several American families.
With their arrival in Cyprus, about 450 of the 25,000 U.S. citizens in Lebanon have been evacuated there since the war started last week. U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus Ronald Schlicher said 900 more Americans will arrive from Beirut Wednesday evening on the cruise ship Orient Queen -- a Greek ship chartered by the U.S. State Department. He said the embassy is expecting several thousand to pass through Cyprus.
Ashley Marinaccio -- a 20-year-old college student from Long Branch, N.J. -- said the ship was like a "floating refugee camp" with "tons of flies," few places to sit or sleep, just five toilets, a shortage of toilet paper and many people getting sick. "It got really dirty," Marinaccio said. (Posted 4:36 a.m.)
Death toll from Java tsunami rises to 525
JAKARTA (CNN) -- The death toll from a major earthquake off the southwest Java coast and the tsunami that followed stood at 525 as of Wednesday, with 383 injured, according to the Indonesian National Disaster Management Coordination Board. The government said 273 people were missing.
More than 35,000 people were displaced following the incident, which destroyed hundreds of buildings. Most of the deaths are believed to have been caused by the tsunami. Monday's quake generated waves up to 10 feet high.
Officials said the remaining victims likely died in the initial quake, as opposed to the aftershocks, or during the crowded rush for higher ground as the ocean waves approached, officials said. (Posted 4:34 a.m.)
McKinney faces runoff in Ga.; Ralph Reed concedes defeat
ATLANTA (CNN) -- Controversial Rep. Cynthia McKinney failed to get the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a runoff in Tuesday's Georgia Primary and so she must compete again in three weeks with challenger Hank Johnson for the Democratic nomination in Georgia's 4th Congressional District.
McKinney, who made headlines in the spring when she had an altercation with a U.S. Capitol Police officer, had 47 percent to challenger Hank Johnson's 45 percent, with 100 percent of the ballots counted. A grand jury failed to indict McKinney last month after a Capitol police officer alleged that she struck him when he didn't recognize her at a security checkpoint.
In another Georgia election of note, former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed conceded the race for the Republican nomination for Georgia lieutenant governor to state Sen. Casey Cagle. Reed, also known for his close ties with disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, had 44 percent of the vote to Cagle's 56 percent with 99 percent counted. (Posted 4:30 a.m.)
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