Morning Report: August 15, 2005

"All frozen." Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of a tragic airplane crash near Athens, Greece that killed all 121 people aboard - including many children - on Sunday. The plane apparently suffered a loss of air pressure, and many of the bodies were frozen. CNN reports: 'All but two of the bodies have been recovered, a Greek government spokesman said Monday, and officials hope autopsies and cockpit recorders will hold clues to Sunday's crash of Helios Airways Flight 522. The autopsies were ordered to determine if the 115 passengers and six crew were already dead or oxygen-starved before the crash, the spokesman said. ... Akrivos Tsolakis, head of the Greek airline safety committee, said the plane's data and voice recorders were being sent to French air safety investigators for further examination, but that the voice recorder was badly damaged. "It's in a bad state and, possibly, it won't give us the information we need," The Associated Press quoted him as saying. "Both boxes will be sent to Paris where a French committee will help us and the foreign experts that are here to decode (it)." ... The Boeing 737, en route from Larnaca, Cyprus to Athens, crashed north of the Greek capital shortly after 12 p.m. (5 a.m. ET). The plane had been scheduled to continue from Athens to Prague, Czech Republic. A Cyprus government spokesman said all the passengers were Cypriots.' Debka says: 'Helios Airways grounds all its planes. Two flight recorders sent to Paris for analysis. Athens defense ministry source says bodies recovered from Cypriot airline crash were frozen solid. Investigators seek clues to cause of Helios Boeing 737 crash north of Athens killing all 121 people aboard, 49 of them children bound from Larnaca to Prague. One pilot and the passenger were reported unconscious, the second pilot absent, by the Greek air force F-16 jets sent up when the plane failed to respond to signals from Athens control tower. The two flight recorders have been recovered. They may answer some puzzling questions which explain why a terrorist hijacking was not ruled out by the Greek army chief and which sent Mediterranean airports on hijack alert. Early indications that sudden decompression caused the crash do not disclose how this breakdown occurred on an aircraft less than two years old. Where was the missing pilot, an experienced British flyer, minutes before touchdown at Athens? Why did he fail to signal Athens about a decompression problem? The fragmentation of the plane into small bits of widely scattered debris suggests a possible explosion. ...' (CNN, Debka)

Israeli army evicts Gaza settlers. In a dramatic and historic confrontation, the Israeli army began the sometimes forcible evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, under the provisions of the Bush/Sharon disengagement plan. The conflict between the "orange" (pro-settler) and "blue" (pro-government) factions is singular in Israel's modern history. The deadline for the settlers to leave the area coincided with the Jewish fast day of Tisha b'Av, a solemn commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in the year 70 CE. The settlers' motivations are both political and religious: like many right-of-center Israelis, they see Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories as tactically disastrous for the Jewish state; many also envision an Israel whose borders more closely match the boundaries of the ancient Jewish homeland ("Eretz Israel") than do the current 1948/1967 borders. The Jerusalem Post: 'IDF [Israel Defence Forces] Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz declared Monday that since the Disengagement Implementation Law went into effect at midnight Sunday, everything was going as expected. By 2:00 p.m. soldiers finished distributing eviction notices in Dugit, Nisanit and Pe'at Sadeh. In the Gaza settlements of Atzmona, Katif and Netzer Hazani, the army reached an agreement with the settlers by which notices were given to the settlements' secretariat to distribute. At 3:30, Morag and Gan Or had also received the decrees. Police said that by the end of the day Monday, they expected the northern Gaza settlements of Elei Sinai, Nisanit and Dugit and the southern Gaza settlement of Pe'at Sadeh to have emptied. Altogether, roughly 1,850 live in those four settlements. In those settlements, soldiers will spend the afternoon aiding the families in doing their final packing and transporting their belongings to their new homes and destinations. ...' Arutz Sheva: 'A woman in Morag threatens to employ violence against herself and her children -and Noga Cohen of Kfar Darom, three of whose children lost their legs in a terrorist attack, attempted to mollify her. The woman, named Ofrah, a 17-year veteran of Morag in southern Gush Katif, screamed at an army officer who arrived to deliver the expulsion notices: "By what right do you come and throw me out of my house? Did I hurt anyone? Did I do something? You're coming in the name of the law, in the name of the government - I'd like to see Ariel Sharon come here himself! He came here once and shook my hand and encouraged me to keep living here; I even have one child named Ariel and one named Sharon... In a chilling ending to the exchange, in which the army officer was barely able to respond, the woman then said, "I never hurt anyone, but I want to stay in my home. If I have to shoot myself and my children, I will." She then turned around and walked to the house.' Also from Arutz Sheva: 'Tense and charged stand-offs between soldiers/police and residents outside Chomesh, in the Shomron, as well as outside Gan-Or, Gadid, and Ganei Tal. Just south of N'vei Dekalim, the main Gush Katif road leads to a turnoff to the twin communities of Gan-Or and Gadid. At 7 AM this morning, the residents blocked the main gate leading to the two, and held a large prayer service. At around 9 AM, the local brigade commander, Col. Hagi Yehezkel, arrived. One eyewitness said, "Behind him was a long line of black-uniformed forces, which could not help but leave very unpleasant associations with Jewish history of several decades ago. The officer kept saying, 'We are coming in peace,' but many of the residents attacked him [verbally] very strongly. ...' Debka: 'Half a dozen Gaza and two West Bank communities bar soldiers handing out individual 48-hour eviction orders Monday amid heated verbal exchanges. Troops are not forcing their way in. No arms on either side. Neve Dekalim blocked 30 container trucks for removing belongings for hours. Israeli cabinet majority approves Stage B of evacuation operation – all of Gush Katif bloc communities - by sixteen ministers to 4 Likud dissenters.' MSNBC (AP story): 'Defiant and tearful Jewish settlers locked their communities’ gates and formed human chains to block troops from delivering eviction notices Monday, as Israel began its historic pullout from the Gaza Strip after 38 years of occupation. Police and soldiers waited patiently in the sweltering sun and avoided confrontation at the behest of their commanders. One sobbing settler pleaded with a brigadier general not to evict him before the two men embraced. “It’s a painful and difficult day, but it’s a historic day,” said Israel’s defense minister, Shaul Mofaz. ...' NOTE: For an excellent round-up of the disengagement debate, please see Kesher Talk. (various)

Bush on Iran: "All options on table." President Bush has refused to rule out military action on Iran. Via Free Iran: 'US President George W Bush refused to rule out the use of force against Iran over the Islamic republic's resumption of nuclear activities, in an interview with Israeli television. When asked if the use of force was an alternative to faltering diplomatic efforts, Bush said: "All options are on the table." "The use of force is the last option for any president. You know we have used force in the recent past to secure our country," he said in a clear reference to Iraq. "I have been willing to do so as a last resort in order to secure the country and provide the opportunity for people to live in free societies," he added. Bush was speaking from his ranch in Crawford, Texas to a reporter from Israeli public television. The Jewish state has accused Iran of seeking to acquire nuclear weapons and believes it is the prime target of the alleged arms program. ...' Also in the same thread: 'President George W. Bush yesterday raised the possibility of a U.S. military response to Iran's decision to restart its nuclear energy program. ``All options are on the table,'' Bush said in an Israeli television interview from his ranch in Crawford, Texas, according to a transcript provided by his staff today. He said military force would be a last resort. ``We've used force in the recent past to secure our country,'' Bush added, when asked to elaborate. ``It's difficult for the commander-in-chef to put kids in harm's way. Nevertheless, I have been willing to do so as a last resort in order to secure this country and to provide the opportunity for people to live in free societies.'' Iran reopened uranium conversion facilities at its Isfahan plant on Aug. 8, restarting a uranium enrichment program the oil- rich nation claims is needed for energy purposes. Material produced by the process, which Iran hopes to export, can fuel a nuclear power plant or a nuclear bomb. ...' (varous, via Free Iran)