News in Brief: Israel Plans to Ease Its Land Blockade of Gaza, and More

Israel plans to ease its land blockade of Gaza, The Guardian UK reports, but the controversial naval blockade will remain in place. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s office, on the heels of a meeting with Middle East Special Envoy Tony Blair, announced plans for more products into Gaza, including all food products and construction materials for international projects, effective immediately. Israel’s move received a mostly lukewarm response. Oxfam, for instance, released a statement welcoming the move, but called it a “a far cry from the full lifting of the blockade that is urgently needed.” Israel has faced international scrutiny over its blockade of the Gaza Strip after its attack on a flotilla attempting to break the blockade in late May, killing nine activists and injuring a dozens others.

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Marine scientists are finding strange and potentially deadly patterns among marine Gulf Coast wildlife following the BP oil catastrophe, reports the AP. Wildlife fleeing the spill area are moving to shores across the Gulf, increasing the likelihood of overcrowding and mass die-outs, scientists studying the environmental effects of the BP oil spill say. Many of those scientists also say the death toll is surprisingly small: many animals have either fallen to the depths of the sea or been eaten by other animals. Greenpeace marine biologist John Hocevar notes that numbers also may be small because the “the impacts of this crisis … are just beginning.”

Meanwhile, an overlooked clause in the Clean Water Act allows for unlimited civil fines against BP, according to legal experts, Reuters reports. Amended after the 1990 Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska, the clause allows for the government to penalize BP in court for every barrel of oil spilled into the Gulf. Total liability, from civil to criminal to economic damages, could possibly result in penalties that “will run into the billions and may be in the tens of billions [of dollars],” says Professor David Uhlmann, director of the University of Michigan’s Environmental Law Program. If courts conclude that BP committed gross negligence in its handling of the facility up to the spill, fines could be up to $4,300 per barrel. While some estimate that 5,000 barrels a day are spilling into the Gulf, many estimate that rate to be at least ten times higher.

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Witnesses tell The Guardian UK that Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, Osh, where much of the recent violent uprising occurred, sits in ruins. While the source of the uprising is still being debated, the interim government and many experts in the area believe the provocation was not random, as originally reported, but well organized, possibly by recently ousted President Kurmanbek Bakiyev and his supporters. Bakiyev was ousted in April in a violent coup that politically divided the northern and southern regions of the country. Sam Kahn of The GlobalPost reports that, despite the speculation, observers and the government should remain cautious in their conclusions.

According to Democracy Now!, the International Red Cross and the interim government believe the original death toll of 180 is much higher in Kyrgyzstan. Nearly 200,000 people have been internally displaced and more than 75,00 have fled to neighboring Uzbekistan, the UN high commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) reports. A UNHCR spokesperson summarized the ethnic strife this way: “Given the ethnic patchwork in this part of Kyrgyzstan … with some eighty different groups just in the Osh region … this region is a potential tinderbox.”

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Final arguments concluded Wednesday in a lawsuit over California’s Proposition 8, The Christian Science Monitor reported. The lawsuit, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, contends that California’s Proposition 8, limiting marriage between a man and a woman, is a constitutional violation of the rights of gay and lesbian couples. “‘At issue is whether Proposition 8 … violates the Equal Protection Clause in the United States Constitution,’ says Jessica Levinson, adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School.” The case is expected to eventually hit the US Supreme Court, regardless of its outcome.

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The Hill reports that the Senate narrowly rejected a bill that would extend $140 billion in benefits to jobless Americans. The bill’s author, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Montana), believed the proposal would have helped the job market. But because it added $80 billion to the deficit, many senators voted in opposition. Baucus reintroduced a slimmer bill on Thursday.