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The Buzz

Need-to-know news

Issue: "Crossing borders," June 23, 2007

Gaza

Hamas fighters overtook Palestinian posts at the Egyptian border and stormed Gaza City's Fatah-controlled security compounds as the militant group, which refuses to recognize Israel, edged toward total control of the Gaza Strip. President Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the Palestinian Authority's government June 14 after fighting between rival parties Hamas and Fatah consumed the Gaza Strip. In an apparent Palestinian civil war, at least 80 were killed in last week's fighting.

Arab Christians worry that they are lumped with militants and terrorists by Israel, even if they are citizens, contributing to disaffection and impoverishment of Arabs living within Israel's borders.

Iraq

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Sunni mosques were attacked and burned June 14 in retaliation for the June 13 attack on Askariya Shrine in Samarra, a twin bombing that toppled two minarets simultaneously that had remained standing after the shrine's famed Golden Dome was bombed in February 2006. One of the oldest Muslim holy sites, the bombed-out Shiite mosque has become a symbol for Iraq's relentless Sunni insurgency.

Iran

As U.S. officials settled into talks with Iran over the conflict in Iraq, Democrat-turned-independent Sen. Joe Lieberman played the hawk to White House doves: "I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq," Lieberman told CBS June 10. "And to me that would include a strike over the border into Iran, where we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people to kill our soldiers."

Immigration

In an effort to revive a stalled immigration reform bill, President George W. Bush and a bipartisan coalition of senators, including Bush foe Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), have recast the proposed legislation in terms of national security. By allocating several billion dollars to tougher border enforcement, the group aims to shift focus away from the bill's offer of legalization for an estimated 12 million undocumented workers. But many conservatives-and legal immigrants- are concerned that the plan's Z visa provision would unfairly reward people for breaking the law.

Indonesia

Thanks to the efforts of international advocacy groups, three joyful Sunday school teachers walked free June 8 after serving only two years of their three-year prison sentences. Following threats and intimidation from radical Muslims in West Java, Rebekka Zakaria, Eti Pangesti, and Ratna Bangun were arrested and convicted in 2005 for allowing Muslim children into their classes, even though the children's parents gave permission. Prison officials released them at 6 a.m., three hours earlier than planned, to avoid busloads of Islamic extremists from turning up. The three women now have to report once a month to prison officers until 2009, a condition of their early release.

Death penalty

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a reprieve to death row inmate Cathy Lynn Henderson on June 11, two days before her scheduled execution for the death of a 3-month-old infant she was babysitting in 1994. Henderson, now 50, contends Brandon Baugh died after she accidentally dropped him. A medical examiner who testified the baby's death was not an accident says new tests might prove him wrong. After Brandon died, Henderson stuffed the infant in a wine cooler box, drove 60 miles north, and buried him in a field.

The death penalty is now on hold in at least 13 states, with judges citing concerns over the use of lethal injection. Some judges want physicians to provide more oversight at executions, but medical groups are pressuring doctors to refuse.

Guns

The House voted on June 13 to close a loophole in national background checks that allowed the Virginia Tech gunman to buy firearms despite his documented mental instability. The measure requires states to report lists of convicted criminals and mentally ill to the FBI. Existing law prohibits both groups from buying guns.

A report delivered to President Bush June 13 on the shootings found that schools, doctors, and police often do not share information about potentially dangerous students because they cannot figure out how to apply complex privacy laws. "People don't understand what they can share and what they can't share," said Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

Man Knows Not His Time

Ruth Bell Graham, 87-year-old wife of evangelist Billy Graham, slipped into a coma June 13 and died the following day in North Carolina. "I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side," Billy Graham said in a statement as his wife's condition worsened. "I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College." Mrs. Graham was notably absent late last month when the Graham museum and library was dedicated in Charlotte (where the Grahams are likely to be buried), an event attended by former presidents Carter, Bush, and Clinton. She came down with pneumonia at that time, had been diagnosed with osteoarthritis, and for some time had taken nourishment via a feeding tube.

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