ONE SOLDIER + 1,027 PRISONERS = JOY AND FURY
It’s already been a remarkable day of drama in Israel – and in Gaza, and the West Bank – and it’s not over yet. The long-awaited and carefully-choreographed prisoner swap is playing out today: Sergeant Gilad Shalit is back in Israel — just arrived at his home town of Mitzpe Hilla. Meanwhile the first 478 Palestinian prisoners (of 1,027 in all) are arriving in Gaza and the West Bank – greeted by huge celebrations. Just after 5am ET, we saw the first pictures of Shalit – looking dazed, thin and pale – as he emerged from a pickup truck under the escort of his masked Hamas captors and the Egyptian mediators who helped arrange the Israeli tank crewman’s release after more than five years in captivity. Shalit struggled to breathe in an interview with Egyptian TV minutes later, saying he had feared he would remain in captivity for “many more years”. “I am very excited,” Shalit said. “I hope this deal would contribute to the peace between Israel and Palestinians.” Some Palestinian prisoners are returning to families they haven’t seen in more than twenty years. “A heavy price,” Prime Minister Netanyahu called the exchange today. As Alex MARQUARDT reports, It’s been a highly tense morning, with very little room for error. The Israeli military has engaged in small clashes with Palestinians waiting to greet released prisoners in West Bank. MARQUARDT and team followed the release of Nael and Fahkari Barghouti – Palestinians freed after 34 years served for killing an Israeli Air Force officer. Their little West Bank village gave them a hero’s welcome as they were carried on shoulders amid a sea of flags, chanting and drums. Nael told us the Palestinian resistance would continue. Many Israeli families are furious over the release of so many Palestinians believed to have blood on their hands.
An American law student from Queens who also has Israeli citizenship and was arrested in Egypt in June, charged there with spying for Israel, is expected to be released in the coming days in exchange for scores of Egyptians held in Israel. The exchange for the student, Ilan Grapel, 27, who attends Emory Law School in Atlanta, would follow the high stakes Egyptian-brokered exchange between Israel and Hamas earlier today.
HILLARY CLINTON IN LIBYA: MISSION ACCOMPLISHED?
Martha RADDATZ reports from Libya: Hillary Clinton won’t say “Mission Accomplished”, of course, but it was something like a victory lap as the Secretary of State traveled to Libya today, seven months after the NATO mission began. Secretary Clinton pledged millions of dollars in new aid, including medical care for wounded fighters and additional assistance to secure weaponry that many fear could fall into the hands of terrorists. Clinton is undertaking the dangerous diplomatic mission as fighting is still raging in parts of Libya, and the country’s former leader Moammar Gadhafi is still on the run. The adminstration is concerned about the fate of 20,000 shoulder-launched missiles. Many of them were destroyed in NATO airstrikes, but some are now missing and could threaten commercial aircraft. There have been reports that some of these missiles have made their way to the Sinai Peninsula bound for Gaza. Clinton is offering Libya an additional $10 million on top of the $30 million already committed to help with the search and destruction of these missiles. The U.S. will increase the number of State Department contractors beyond the 14 who are now already helping to destroy the missiles.
LIBYA: CYBERWARFARE PLANS?
The New York Times reports that just before the American-led strikes against Libya in March, the Obama administration intensely debated whether to open the mission with a new kind of warfare: a cyberoffensive to disrupt and even disable the Gadhafi’s government’s air-defense system, which threatened allied warplanes.
BIG BLAST SHAKES SOMALIA’S CAPITAL
Residents say a large explosion has rattled Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu. An Associated Press reporter in Mogadishu says residents are reporting the blast occurred near the country’s Foreign Ministry. There was no immediate word from Somali officials on the cause of the blast; at least four people are believed to have been killed. Kenya’s ministers of defense and foreign affairs are in Mogadishu to meet with government leaders after Kenya on Sunday launched military operations in southern Somalia against al-Shabab militants. An AP reporter said Tuesday’s blast occurred several miles (kilometers) from where those meetings are believed to be taking place.
IRAN’S NUKE PROGRAM SUFFERING NEW SETBACKS
The Washington Post reports that according to two new reports, Iran’s nuclear program, which stumbled badly after a reported cyberattack last year, appears beset by poorly performing equipment, shortages of parts and other woes as global sanctions exert a mounting toll. The new setbacks are surfacing at a time when Iran faces growing international pressure, including allegations that Iranian officials backed a clumsy attempt to kill a Saudi diplomat in Washington.
SOUTH POLE RESCUE
Safe and sound, but the medical questions remain. Renee Douceur, the American engineer rescued from the South Pole has said she plans to remain in Christchurch for at least another two days. After undergoing a number of medical tests today, she will get those results back tomorrow and then we’ll know whether Douceur can return to the states or whether she must remain in Christchurch for additional tests. She is expected to seek treatment at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore once back stateside.
GLOBAL WOE$: CHINA’S GROWTH SLOWS, WORLD MARKETS DOWN, GREECE UNEMPLOYMENT SOARS
As European and Asian shares fell this morning, there’s a new concern for global investors: a growth slowdown in China. Until now China has been the leading engine of growth for the global economy. But just how bad is it really? China’s third-quarter gross domestic product rose 9.1% from a year earlier, that’s slower than nine and a half per cent annual growth during the spring. China’s industrial production during the summer rose 13 and a half per cent. In Europe, as investors look toward a Sunday meeting of European leaders for a sweeping solution to Europe’s debt crisis, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned against hoping that all the euro-zone’s debt woes would be resolved by then. Meanwhile, Greece’s jobless rate rose to 16.5 percent in July, its second-highest level on record, driven by EU/IMF-imposed austerity measures which have plunged the economy into its fourth consecutive year of recession.
GLOBAL HEALTH: MALARIA RATES DOWN
There has been a fall of nearly 40% in the number of deaths from malaria worldwide in the past decade, the World Health Organization says. A new report said that one-third of the 108 countries where malaria was endemic were on course to eradicate the disease within 10 years. Experts said if targets continued to be met, a further three million lives could be saved by 2015. Malaria has been eradicated from three more countries since 2007.
PUTIN COMPARES HIMSELF TO F.D.R.
From Alexandra NADEZHDINA in Moscow: Looking energetic and self-assured, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in a television interview that the public would have a chance to vote him out of office in the presidential election in March, and promised a huge reshuffle in the ruling United Russia party. Putin said he wanted to return to the presidency because he “liked to see things to their logical end” and cited Franklin Roosevelt, who served four terms as president. Regarding the U.S.-Russian “reset,” in response to a comment about his reputation as a ”hawk” that could threaten the relationship, he said that “the hawk is a nice birdie” and that Russia would continue to look for its own interests, but would do so “correctly.” Putin’s approval rating stood at 68 percent in September, according to the independent Levada Center poll.
JAPAN: MORE NUKES?
Akiko FUJITA reports: In yet another sign the Japanese government may be backtracking on a promise to no longer build nuclear plants, Prime Minister Noda has hinted that he may allow nuclear plants under construction, to restart their work. All existing construction was halted after the Fukushima disaster, but Noda told local papers “the construction of some nuclear plants has progressed to a great extent.” He was referring to the Shimane Plant, where 90% of the work has already been completed. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that while the anti-nuclear movement may be growing louder in Japan, towns closest to the reactors remain largely supportive of them.
SCRABBLE CHAMPIONSHIP SCANDAL?
The 2011 World Scrabble Championships in Warsaw were thrown momentarily into chaos when a 25-year-old Thai player, Chollapat Itthi-Aree, accused opponent Ed Martin, a 35-year-old IT-consultant from London, of palming a missing “G” tile. Itthi-Aree demanded judges accompany Martin to the bathroom and strip-search him, but they refused. Martin won the game by a single point. But the first place trophy went to Nigel Richards, a New Zealander, who scored 96 points playing the single word “omnified,” collecting the $20,000 purse with a final score of 476 to 336.
THAILAND FLOODS: CROCODILES
Akiko FUJITA reports that as the flood waters are rising in Bangkok, there’s a new danger: crocodiles. The Public Health Minister says the reptiles escaped from farms in the area, and they’ll award $33 for each crocodile caught alive. There are concerns that tigers and snakes may also be roaming/swimming free. The floods are now affecting some 8.79 million people and over two-thirds of the country, it’s the worst flooding that has hit the country in more than 50 years. The floodwaters have submerged rice fields and industrial estates, leaving over 100,000 workers idle, 260,000 without jobs and forcing over 6,530 businesses to close.
As Mike NOBLE notes, this penguin painstakingly searches out the largest stones he can find, one by one, to ensure that his nest is impressive enough to outshine his rivals and attract a mate. But as soon as his back is turned – in swoops a lazy, rival who sneaks over and cherry-picks the best rocks from his pile. The BBC footage was shot on Ross Island, Antarctica, for the new Frozen Planet documentary series – pretty fantastic still photos as well.