Thursday, March 15, 2012

Israeli aircraft hit Gaza in response to rockets

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli aircraft and Gaza rocket squads traded strikes across the border on Thursday as the Israeli prime minister blamed Iran for the violence from the Palestinian territory.
Benjamin Netanyahu, going a step further in his warnings to Iran, hinted that Israel didn't need Washington's blessing to go ahead and attack Iran's suspect nuclear program.
Thursday's cross-border violence tested a shaky truce Israel and Gaza militants reached earlier this week to halt a four-day flare in fighting. Since then, sporadic rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes have persisted.
Israeli aircraft struck two militant sites in Gaza before dawn Thursday in response to rocket fire a day earlier. Gaza gunmen retaliated by launching two rockets at Israel by midday, police said. No injuries were reported on either side.
In a speech to parliament on Wednesday, Netanyahu accused Iran of arming, financing and training Gaza militants, and giving them their marching orders.
"Gaza is Iran," Netanyahu declared.
Israel considers Iran to be its most fearsome enemy, in large part because it is convinced Tehran is developing atomic weapons technology, despite its claims its nuclear program is peaceful.
In the U.S. last week, where he met with President Barack Obama, Netanyahu was markedly more vocal about Israel's willingness to attack Iran's program, alone if necessary, though he said no decision had been made on whether to strike.
On Wednesday, he ratcheted up the tough talk, suggesting Israel would be ready to attack Iran's nuclear facilities even if the U.S. objected.
"Israel has never left its fate to others, not even the best of its friends," he said, citing Israel's 1981 attack on an unfinished Iraqi nuclear reactor, which at the time was condemned by the U.S.
Also Thursday, an Israeli soldier was stabbed on Jerusalem's light rail, and police apprehended a Palestinian suspect at a Jerusalem crossing into the West Bank, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. He had no further details on the suspect or a possible motive for the attack on the train, which went into service in August.
A hospital official said the soldier was in serious condition with stab wounds near her heart.
Train service was halted while a preliminary investigation at the scene of the attack was carried out, Rosenfeld

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Dissidents occupy Catholic church in Cuba

With a papal visit looming, dissidents occupied a Catholic church demanding Pope Benedict XVI press for political freedom in Cuba, religious and dissident sources said.
Cuba's Catholic church slammed the move as "illegitimate and irresponsible".
"This is a coordinated, planned strategy by groups in different regions around the country. It is not some whim... it was arranged apparently to create critical situations ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's visit," said a statement from the archdiocese led by Havana Cardinal Jaime Ortega.
The protesters, five women and eight men, are members of the outlawed opposition Republican Party of Cuba (PRC), group member Julio Beltran told AFP.
The group entered the Our Lady of Charity church in central Havana late Tuesday and spent the night. By late Wednesday, they were still on the scene.
Police stood guard in the area but did not intervene, and the archbishop's office said the authorities had promised not to enter the church.
The protesters' demands include unconditional freedom for political prisoners, an end to repression and persecution of regime opponents, access to uncensored news and freedom of travel.
Benedict is scheduled to visit Cuba -- the only one-party Communist ruled nation in the Americas -- from March 26-28, 14 years after Pope John Paul II's historic visit in January 1998.
Roberto Betancourt, a priest at the church, said he received a letter from the protesters, who promise to leave once they received a response from senior church clerics.
The local Roman Catholic church, led by Cardinal Ortega, has urged Cubans not to hold political protests ahead of or during the pontiff's visit. And church officials slammed use of the church for non-spiritual activities.
"Any acts that seek to turn places of worship into a place for political demonstrations, disregarding the authority of the priest or the right of most people who go there in search of spiritual peace or prayer time, certainly are illegitimate and irresponsible," the archdiocese statement said.
It also acknowledged that "similar situations" have developed around the Caribbean nation of 11.2 million "but occupiers already have left the churches."
A bishop's office source told AFP another group of demonstrators had occupied the cathedral in the northeastern city of Holguin on Tuesday but "left voluntarily".
Elizardo Sanchez, who leads a dissident group association, said of those protesters "they were thrown out" by Holguin bishop's office staff.
Some Cuban opposition members are critical of church cooperation with the Communist state, which has included mediating the release of political prisoners. But the church is the most influential non-state actor in a society overwhelmingly controlled by the government.
After decades of official atheism, the Cuban regime now has more cordial relations with the Catholic and other churches. Most Cubans, however, do not consider themselves practicing Catholics.
The pope is scheduled to fly to Santiago de Cuba on March 26, following a visit to Mexico, and celebrate mass in the same town square where John Paul II celebrated services. President Raul Castro will welcome him.
The pope will then make a private visit to El Cobre, just outside Santiago, Cuba's second largest city on its eastern end. This year marks the 400th anniversary of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, a statue of Mary found in the sea off the village and Cuba's patroness.
Government party officials said at a meeting over the weekend in Santiago that during the pope's visit "no political slogans, political signs, or audiovisual messages of any kind will be allowed."
Benedict will then fly to Havana, where Cardinal Jaime Ortega will greet him. The pope, 84, is to again meet the president, 80, and may meet his brother, longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 85.
The pope is scheduled to wrap up the visit on March 28 with a mass in Havana's sprawling Jose Marti Revolution Square, where government rallies are routinely held.

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Cuba dissidents occupy church in the name of freedom ahead of Pope's visit