Subscribe to updates

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Amnesty accuses Israel, Hamas of Gaza war crimes

JERUSALEM – Amnesty International accused Israel and Palestinian militants of war crimes Thursday in the most comprehensive report on the recent Gaza war. Both sides rejected the findings.

Israel used excessive force in violation of international laws of war, killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians and destroying thousands of Gaza homes, the human rights group claimed. And Palestinian militants committed war crimes each time they fired a rocket at Israeli civilians, it said.

Israel and Hamas both denounced the report as unbalanced. Israel charged that Amnesty "succumbed to the manipulations of the Hamas terror organization." Hamas accused the rights group of downplaying the scale of the destruction Israel left behind.

More than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed during the three-week offensive, according to Gaza health officials and human rights groups. Israel, which launched the war in late December to halt years of rocket and mortar attacks on its southern communities, put the death toll closer to 1,100.

Thirteen Israelis also were killed, including three civilians who died from rocket fire.

Amnesty's 117-page report said "disturbing questions" remained about why high-precision Israeli weapons like tank shells and air-delivered bombs and missiles "killed so many children and other civilians." And it called on Israel to stop using artillery, white phosphorus and other imprecise weapons in densely populated areas.

It also accused Israeli forces of using Palestinians as "human shields" and frequently blocking civilians from receiving medical care and humanitarian aid.

Amnesty counts some 300 Palestinian children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians among the Gaza dead. Thousands of buildings were also destroyed in what the rights group called sometimes "wanton and deliberate" Israeli assaults.

The Israeli military said the report did not properly recognize "the unbearable reality of nine years of incessant and indiscriminate rocket fire on the citizens of Israel." It also ignored the military's efforts to minimize civilian casualties in a battlefield where Hamas used residential areas, medical facilities, schools and mosques as cover to stage attacks, the military said in a statement.

"It presents a distorted view of the laws of war that does not comply with the rules implemented by democratic states battling terror," the statement said.

Amnesty said Israel did not respond to investigators' repeated requests for information on specific cases detailed in the report and for meetings to discuss the organization's findings.

The group's findings were based on physical evidence and testimony that a team of four researchers, including a military expert, gathered from dozens of attack sites in Gaza and southern Israel during and after the war, said Donatella Rovera, who headed the Amnesty field research mission.

It broke little new ground, concentrating on issues, cases and problems that have been dealt with before.

Among the Gaza cases cited were the well-documented shelling of a house where a family took refuge on soldiers' orders before 21 people were killed; an Israeli artillery attack near a U.N. school that killed dozens; and the shelling of a house that killed three daughters of a Gaza doctor who has worked in Israel for years and is a champion of coexistence.

The report also denounced Hamas for firing rockets into Israel.

"Such unlawful attacks constitute war crimes and are unacceptable," Rovera said.

Hamas called a news conference Thursday to criticize the report.

"The report equated the victim and the executioner and denied our people's right to resist the occupation," said spokesman Fawzi Barhoum. "The report ignores the scale of destruction and serious crimes committed by the occupation in Gaza ... and provides a misleading description in order to reduce the magnitude of the Israeli crimes."

Amnesty says Israel "wantonly" destroyed Gaza

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Amnesty International said on Thursday Israel inflicted "wanton destruction" in the Gaza Strip in attacks that often targeted Palestinian civilians during an offensive in December and January in the Hamas-run enclave.

The London-based rights group, in a 117-page report on the 22 days of fighting, also criticized the Islamist movement Hamas for rocket attacks on Israel, which it called "war crimes."

Among other conclusions, Amnesty said it found no evidence to support Israeli claims that Gaza guerrillas deliberately used civilians as "human shields," but it did, however, cite evidence that Israeli troops put children and other civilians in harm's way by forcing them to remain in homes taken over by soldiers.

Amnesty International said some 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Israel's Operation Cast Lead, including 300 children and hundreds of innocent civilians, a figure broadly in line with those from the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza and the independent Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

The Israeli military put the Palestinian death toll at 1,166 of whom 295 were civilians. Thirteen Israelis were killed, including three civilians, during the offensive Israel launched with the declared aim of curtailing cross-border rocket attacks.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said that in the Amnesty report, "things presented as facts are untrue and have no connection to reality."

"The report is tendentious and completely ignores the fact that for eight years Hamas carried out terror and crime against the residents of Israel," he said in a statement.

Accusing Israel of "breaching laws of war," Amnesty said: "Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate, and was carried out in a manner and circumstances which indicated that it could not be justified on grounds of military necessity."

Commenting on Amnesty's allegations, the Israeli military said it operated in accordance with international law. It said the report ignored "efforts made by the Israel Defense Forces to minimize, as much as possible, harm to non-combatants."

"In many cases, the Israel Defense Forces exercised measures of caution, including warning the civilian population before an attack," the military said. "The Israel Defense Forces directed its attack only against military targets."

A Hamas spokesman said the Amnesty report did not place enough emphasis on "crimes committed by Israel."

"This report equates between the aggressor and the victim and ignores international laws that guarantee resistance against occupation," the spokesman said.


Israel and Hamas have both rejected accusations of war crimes during the Gaza fighting. Israel has refused to cooperate with a United Nations inquiry that is now gathering evidence, accusing the investigators of prejudice against it.

Amnesty said although rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip rarely cause casualties, their use was "indiscriminate and hence unlawful under international law." The rockets often sow fear and panic.

It also accused Hamas and other armed groups of endangering the lives of the Palestinian civilian population in Gaza by firing rockets and locating military equipment near homes.

The report however dismissed Israeli claims that Hamas had used Palestinian civilians as "human shields."

Amnesty said it found no evidence that "Hamas or other armed groups forced residents to stay in or around buildings used by fighters, or that fighters prevented residents from leaving buildings or areas which had been commandeered by militants."

But the report said in several cases Israeli soldiers used Palestinian civilians, including children, as "human shields, endangering their lives by forcing them to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military positions."

(Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Richard Meares)

Obama Calls Today’s Jobs Report ‘Sobering News’

By Kate Andersen Brower

July 2 (Bloomberg) -- President Barack Obama praised innovative energy companies for creating jobs on a day of “sobering news” that employers shed 467,000 jobs in June.

“It took years for us to get into this mess, and it’s going to take us more than a few months to turn it around,” Obama said in a Rose Garden appearance after meeting with energy business leaders.

“These are folks whose companies are helping to lead the transformation towards a clean-energy future,” Obama said.

Among the leaders were chief executive officers John Berger of Standard Renewable Energy Group, Stephanie Burns Dow Corning and Amit Chatterjee of Hara Software, as well as FPL Group Inc. President and Chief Operating Officer Jim Robo, the White House said.

“The CEOs here told me that they’re looking to hire new people, in some cases to double or even triple in size over the next few years,” Obama said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kate Andersen Brower in Washington at

Obama finds hope amid 'sobering news'

Obama noted the number of jobs lost has been declining since the previous quarter. But, he added, "Obviously, this is little comfort to Americans who've lost their jobs."

Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, he urged patience sounding a familiar message.

"As I've said from the moment that I walked into the door of this White House, it took years to get into this mess, and it will take more than a few months to turn it around," he said.

Obama's comments came after he met with executives from energy companies, which he said would play a big role in creating jobs.

"As our economy adapts to the challenges of a new century, new ways of producing and saving and distributing energy offer a unique opportunity to create millions of jobs for the American people," he said.

Obama called energy a pillar of a "new foundation for lasting growth … essential both to our recovery and our long-term prosperity."

The president praised House lawmakers for passing energy legislation last week and urged senators to do the same.

Obama said the legislation would not only create millions of jobs, but also reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and lessen the consequences of climate change.

Opponents have said the higher taxes to pay for the energy plan and additional restrictions on industry would drive U.S. companies overseas.

Google AdSense Breaking News

People have been asking me three questions about the AdSense program, and their new terms of service and AdSense support team have now clarified all of these issues.

Question 1)

Does Google allow other ads to run on the same page as AdSense Ads?

Answer 1)

The official word is a qualified "yes".

You may not run ads that are designed to resemble AdSense ads. For example, Yahoo! Publisher Network ads look very similar to AdSense ads. While you can run YPN on your site, they may not appear on the same PAGES as AdSense ads.

However, contextual ads like those provided by Kontera, Intellitxt, Amazon and Chitika ARE allowed on the same pages as your AdSense ads!

While not the exact answer we were hoping for, this does clarify for us and opens many new options for publishers wishing to use others advertisements on their pages.

I have made a good deal of income with Kontera and Chitika, and am very glad to see that we may all apply for their programs and implement them on our pages without fear of losing our AdSense accounts.

Incidentally, I have written the ONLY book on making money with Kontera and am pleased to offer it to you today as a discount to celebrate this clarification from Google!

Question 2)

Google's recent "images next to ads" policy is confusing. Could you please clarify so all publishers know what is and what is not allowed?

Answer 2)

Google prefers that publishers avoid images that are lined up directly next to the ads so that it appears each ad is associated with an image. If the dimensions of the image are completely different than the dimensions of the ads, that's okay.

But if it appears to the user that the image is at all associated with the ads, that would be in violation of AdSense terms of service.

The general idea is Google does not want visitors clicking on ads because they have been deceived in believing the image is associated with the ad.

That leaves a lot of room for creative design, and it also means that AdSense graphic backgrounds and visual frames are within terms of service.

Question 3)

I occasionally see ads are actually placed by Google. Do publishers receive payment when those ads are clicked?

Answer 3)

Yes! Whenever you see an ad for a Google service, Google is paying the publisher for that ad just as they would for any other ad. They are bidding in the auction and the publisher will be paid according to those bids.

This is also good news for those who wondered if Google was attempting to score a "free ride" by placing their own ads on the network.

I am very encouraged by these clarifications in AdSense policy. I don't like being in the dark as to the terms of service and neither should you.

I hope you will take advantage of the opportunities to apply for Kontera and Chitika so you may generate additional revenue streams. Here are links to make signup easier.

World News

Soldier from Hempstead killed in Iraq and

To those who knew him, Sgt. Juan Carlos Baldeosingh was both carefree and dutiful, a fun-loving joker who found military service so fulfilling that he enlisted twice.

Baldeosingh, a National Guardsman who grew up in Hempstead, was among the last four soldiers killed in Baghdad on Monday, just before the U.S. pullback this week in Iraq.

He was also scheduled for a two-week leave next week.

"We thought he was coming back," his half-sister Diana Baldeosingh, 28, said tearfully yesterday at a relative's East Meadow home.

A former Marine, Baldeosingh, 30, was a U.S. Army National Guardsman serving with the Multi-Nation Division Baghdad when he was killed. His family said the Humvee he was in was hit by an improvised explosive device.

He was on temporary leave from Carteret General Hospital in Morehead City, N.C., where hospital officials said he served as director of the risk management and safety department.

He enlisted in the Marines right after high school and served as an infantryman from 1997 to 2004, including a tour in Afghanistan in 2003-04. He moved to North Carolina several years ago and had recently moved his mother from Long Island so she could be closer, his family said.

Baldeosingh enlisted last year in the National Guard. "He was proud of putting on the uniform," said his younger half-sister, Jennyfer Baldeosingh, 26, of East Meadow.

She said her brother called his mother nightly - and last talked to her on Sunday night, saying he had to go into Baghdad the next day.

"He knew he was going into hostile territory," Jennyfer Baldeosingh said.

He leaves behind his wife, Rebecca, and three young daughters - Emily, 2, and 5-year-old twins, Isabella and Kylie.

"I'm very devastated because I had bought the materials to make his welcome home sign for when we picked him up from the Raleigh airport," Rebecca Baldeosingh said by phone from their home in Havelock, N.C.

Baldeosingh was a graduate of Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, where the school Web site had a death notice.

A message posted with the notice read: "With sadness and gratitude, the Holy Trinity Community prays for Juan, his family, and all of our brave servicemen and women."

A ceremony will be held in North Carolina with burial to follow, though details were not finalized yesterday.

U.S. launches 'major operation' in Afghanistan

(CNN) -- Taliban resistance to a major U.S.-led offensive in southern Afghanistan has been light and sporadic, consisting of intermittent small arms fire, the Marines said on Thursday.

"Indications are the militants break away shortly after they make contact," said Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Abe Sipe, referring to what is regarded as the Taliban's habit of running and hiding after troops confront them.

U.S. military officials said Thursday that one Marine had been killed and several others wounded in the push, called Operation Khanjar.

Earlier, a Taliban spokesman said the group's fighters had killed 33 soldiers and destroyed several vehicles. CNN could not independently verify the Taliban claims because of safety and access reasons.

The operation is targeting militants in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold and poppy-growing region, and the forces are attempting to gain and hold ground in the perilous region.

Helmand's governor, Gulab Mangal, believes the operation will work and has assured the populace it will provide security for them. His spokesman also confirms that resistance so far has been minimal.

The assault has prompted Pakistani authorities to redeploy troops along the Afghan border to stop Taliban from escaping the push in Helmand, where more than 30 U.S., British and Danish troops have been killed since January, with the latest being a pair of British soldiers slain in Helmand on Wednesday.

About 1,000 Marines have been conducting helicopter and ground operations along several locations in the Helmand River valley, mainly in the Garmsir and Nawa areas.

They are part of an overall force of 4,000 American troops, mostly Marines. Several hundred Afghan security forces and British troops are also participating.

The push is the largest since the Pentagon began moving additional troops into the conflict this year, and it follows a British-led operation launched last week in the same region, the Marines said.

When President Barack Obama announced his strategy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, he said American soldiers and Marines "will take the fight to the Taliban in the south and the east, and give us a greater capacity to partner with Afghan security forces and to go after insurgents along the border."

He also said the bolstered deployment "will also help provide security" ahead of August presidential elections in Afghanistan. The Obama administration has moved about 21,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, the original front in the war launched after the 9/11 attacks.

It is also the first big move since U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal took over as the allied commander in Afghanistan in mid-June. In Washington, a senior defense official told CNN the size and scope of the new operation are "very significant."

"It's not common for forces to operate at the brigade level," the official said. "In fact, they often only conduct missions at the platoon level. And they're going into the most troubled area of Afghanistan."

The defense official said the operation is a "tangible indication" of the new approach that McChrystal -- a former chief of the Pentagon's special operations command -- is bringing to the nearly eight-year-old war.

"They're not just doing an offensive push to get bad guys, they're going in to hold the area and stay there," the official said. "This approach is indicative of McChrystal's philosophy: measuring success by the number of Afghans protected, not bad guys killed."

During his confirmation hearing in June, McChrystal told senators that the conflict requires a new focus on counterinsurgency to reduce violence and build support for the U.S.-led NATO alliance among Afghans.

"Although I expect stiff fighting ahead, the measure of success will not be enemy killed. It will be shielding the Afghan population from violence," he said.

The Islamic fundamentalist Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan before its allies in the al Qaeda terrorist network attacked New York and Washington on September 11, 2001. Though quickly toppled after the attacks, its leaders escaped and the movement regrouped in the Afghan countryside and across the border in Pakistan.

Helmand was once known as the breadbasket of Afghanistan, but the fertile land is now used for growing poppies. Afghanistan produces over 90 percent of the world's opium, with most of that coming from the poppies in Helmand.

The drug trade is an import source of income for the Taliban and major supply routes run through the province.

Swine flu is this year's dominant influenza

SWINE flu has become Australia's dominant influenza strain, with experts predicting that as many as four out of five flu suffers will have the H1N1 virus.

Testing results for swine flu in Victoria have revealed that the H1N1 virus has dramatically overtaken existing strains of seasonal influenza to become the dominant species of winter flu.

The World Health Organisation's Ian Barr, who is deputy director of the Collaborating Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza, said that in the latest sentinel test results, carried out by GPs across Victoria, as many as 99 per cent of people with influenza had tested positive to the swine flu virus.

Dr Barr said these results were high and while there is a variation in results from state to state, "the approximate figure would be closer to 50 to 80 per cent of people overall".

Dr Barr said more people appeared to be contracting swine flu than other influenza strands, but he said this might not be a trend in winters to come.

"It may peter out towards winter's end, or there is a possibility that, like previous influenzas, it may wipe out other flu species," he said.

While estimates from Victoria's Department of Human Services are more conservative, a DHS spokesman confirmed: "We would expect swine flu will become our major influenza this season."

A 45-year-old man has become the first person in NSW -- and the 10th in the country -- to die with the swine flu virus. The man, who collapsed at his home on Monday, had a pre-existing medical condition.

Meanwhile, the death of a three-year-old boy in Victoria, who had tested positive to the virus, is being investigated by the state coroner.

The child died at his home at Doveton, in Melbourne's southeastern suburbs, on June 26.

While experts say most cases of swine flu in children will be mild, a leading disease expert said twice as many children will die from swine flu than from regular influenza throughout the winter flu season.

Robert Booy, from The Children's Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, said in the next year, 10 to 12 children could die from the H1N1 virus, whereas in an average winter, three to six deaths would be expected. But he added that most of these deaths would occur when there was an underlying medical condition.

White House: VP Biden has traveled to Iraq

WASHINGTON – The White House says Vice President Joe Biden is in Iraq.

He's there to visit U.S. troops and meet with Iraqi leaders, including President Jalal Talabani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Biden headed to Iraq the same week as U.S. troops handed over security in cities and urban areas to Iraqis.

The White House says Biden will reiterate the U.S. commitment to carry out President Barack Obama's plan to withdraw combat forces. He also will press Iraqi leaders to make more progress toward political reconciliation. It's his first trip to Iraq as vice president.

Britain braces for 100,000 swine flu cases a day

LONDON – Britain faces a projected 100,000 new swine flu cases a day by the end of August and must revamp its flu strategy, the nation's health minister said Thursday.

Britain has officially reported 7,447 swine flu cases and three deaths, but officials acknowledge the real number of cases is far higher, since many with the virus have not been tested.

Britain is the hardest-hit nation in Europe amid the global swine flu epidemic. Many flu experts believe numbers could jump exponentially now that the virus is entrenched. Because swine flu, or H1N1, is a new virus, few people have any natural immunity, allowing the virus to spread rapidly."Cases are doubling every week and on this trend we could see over 100,000 cases per day by the end of August," Health Minister Andy Burnham told the House of Commons on Thursday.

Britain has been reporting several hundred new swine flu cases daily for the last several weeks. If that surges to 100,000 cases a day by the end of August, there could be 6 million people infected by the fall, or 10 percent of Britain's 60 million population.

Since flu spreads more quickly in densely populated areas, cases will probably be concentrated in cities like London, Birmingham and Manchester.

Britain had been trying to contain the disease by liberally giving out the drug Tamiflu to all suspected swine flu cases and their contacts. Yet many experts have criticized Britain's attempt to contain the outbreak, saying it wastes resources, drugs and could promote antiviral resistance.Burnham said Britain will now only give the antiviral to people believed to have the virus.

The World Health Organization has said that 2 billion people could eventually be infected with swine flu worldwide. Most cases are mild and require no medical treatment. More than 77,000 cases, including 332 deaths, have been reported worldwide.

Other countries including Australia, Japan and the United States initially tried to contain swine flu by giving out Tamiflu widely, but dumped the strategy within weeks.

Still, Britain's top medical officer defended the country's earlier approach.

"We've been fighting this pandemic very aggressively," Sir Liam Donaldson said during a press conference. "We're unapologetic about that."

Donaldson said Britain probably had the world's largest stockpile of Tamiflu. The antiviral can alleviate swine flu symptoms and shorten the course of illness by about a day if patients take it within 48 hours of getting sick.Earlier this week, health officials reported the first instance of Tamiflu resistance, in a Danish patient who had been taking the drug. Experts worry that if Tamiflu is given out widely — as per Britain's earlier approach — that could make it easier for the virus to develop resistance.

Burnham said people with swine flu symptoms should check health services websites or call flu hotlines to get help before seeing their doctors. He said patients should stay at home and have friends pick up drugs for them from designated community centers.

The sharp jump in Britain's numbers may also reflect the country's previous refusal to look for the disease. When swine flu arrived in the U.K., officials only tested people who had traveled to North America, where the epidemic began, or those in contact with a confirmed swine flu case.

That meant the testing system did not pick up the virus' spread into communities.

WHO's declaration in June that swine flu was a pandemic — a global epidemic — was made partly because the agency felt some countries, including Britain, were not accurately reporting their swine flu outbreaks.

Burnham also predicted the first doses of swine flu vaccine would arrive in Britain in August. Britain has ordered 60 million doses of vaccine, enough to cover the entire population.

Other experts, however, doubt the vaccine will be available that quickly, since it needs to be produced, tested in humans and meet regulatory approval — a process that may take longer than two months.

Mexico hosts key swine flu forum

Leaders and experts from 50 countries are meeting in Cancun, Mexico, to discuss the global swine flu outbreak.

The two-day event, starting on Thursday, is aimed at examining the response to the H1N1 virus and seeing what lessons can be learned.

The meeting is taking place as Paraguay reported its first swine flu death and some parts of Argentina have declared a public heath emergency.

It has been more than two months since the initial alert over swine flu.

Since then, the H1N1 virus has entered more than 100 countries, infected more than 70,000 people and killed more than 300 worldwide.


As the experts and leaders meet in Cancun, authorities across South America are becoming increasingly concerned as the peak flu season approaches.

Schools across Argentina have sent students home and pregnant women have been told they can take two weeks off work to avoid contracting the virus.

It is hoped the Cancun meeting will address many of the issues that might help slow the spread of swine flu.

However, many people are concerned that an effective vaccine has still not been developed.

Gene clues to schizophrenia risk

Scientists have identified thousands of tiny genetic variations which together could account for more than a third of the inherited risk of schizophrenia.

They also showed the condition is genetically similar to bipolar disorder also known as manic depression.

The findings came from work by three separate teams, who analysed DNA from thousands of people.

The studies - the biggest ever into the genetics of schizophrenia - appear in the journal Nature.

The findings suggest that schizophrenia is much more complex than previously thought, and can arise not only from rare genetic variants, but common ones as well.

It is hoped the work could lead to new diagnostic tests and treatments for the condition.

Schizophrenia is a common form of mental illness, affecting up to 1% of adults worldwide.

Symptoms tend to appear in late adolescence or early adulthood, and can include delusions, hallucinations, paranoia, and depression.

The cause of schizophrenia remains unclear, but it is thought that up to 90% of cases may be inherited.

Research linking the condition to specific genes was published last year, but it is thought they accounted for only a few cases.

Potentially, the findings of the latest studies could be much more significant.

The researchers say that individually many of the genetic variations they have identified play only a tiny role in raising the risk of passing schizophrenia down the generations.

Cumulative effect

However, Dr Shaun Purcell, from Harvard University, who co-led one of the three teams, said: "Cumulatively, they play a major role, accounting for at least one-third - and probably much more - of disease risk."

The researchers stress that more work is needed to establish exactly how the genetic variants translate into schizophrenia.

But researcher Dr Pamela Sklar, of Massachusetts General Hospital, said: "We fully expect that future work will assemble them into meaningful pathways that will teach us about the biology of schizophrenia."

All three studies highlight genes found on Chromosome 6 in area known as the Major Histocompatibility Complex, which plays a role in the immune system, and in controlling when other genes are switched on and off.

The researchers believe this might help explain why environmental factors also seem to affect risk for schizophrenia.

For example, there is evidence that children whose mothers contract flu while pregnant have a higher risk.

Bipolar disorder

In total the researchers identified 30,000 tiny genetic variants more common in people with schizophrenia.

A similar pattern was found in people with bipolar disorder - indicating a previously unrecognised overlap between the two conditions.

Dr Thomas Insel, of the US National Institute of Mental Health, said: "These new results recommend a fresh look at our diagnostic categories.

"If some of the same genetic risks underlie schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, perhaps these disorders originate from some common vulnerability in brain development."

The three research teams, who shared their data, were the International Schizophrenia Consortium, the Molecular Genetics of Schizophrenia consortium and SGENE.

In total, they analysed genetic data from 8,014 people with schizophrenia, comparing them to samples from 19,090 people who did not have the condition.

Paul Corry, of the mental health charity Rethink, said: "This exciting research brings us one step closer to understanding the causes of schizophrenia, but we are still a long way from a full explanation.

"Most of the genetic contribution to this illness is still unknown and it is crucial to realise that genes are only part of the picture - environmental and social factors, such as drug use or trauma, can exacerbate or even trigger schizophrenia."

Marines exchange fire with Taliban in searing heat

Associated Press Writer= NAWA, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Marines hiked through searing heat and took fire from small pockets of militants Thursday after landing in this Taliban-controlled southern region of tree-lined fields, mud homes and crisscrossing waterways in the first major operation under President Barack Obama's strategy to stabilize Afghanistan.

Elsewhere, the U.S. military announced that insurgents were believed to have captured an American soldier missing in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday. The missing soldier was not involved in Operation Khanjar, or "Strike of the Sword," under way in southern Afghanistan.

The southern offensive was launched shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday (4:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, 2030 GMT), as thousands of Marines poured from helicopters and armored vehicles into Taliban-controlled villages along roughly 20 miles of the Helmand River in Helmand province, the world's largest opium poppy-producing area. The goal is to clear insurgents from the hotly contested region before the nation's Aug. 20 presidential election.

The Marines have not suffered any serious casualties and have seen only a sporadic resistance, said Lt. Abe Sipe, a spokesman for the unit.

"The enemy has chosen to withdraw rather than engage for the most part," Sipe said. "We had a couple of heat casualties, but not deemed serious in nature at this time."

Officials described the offensive as the largest and fastest-moving of the war's new phase and the biggest Marine assault since the one in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. It involves nearly 4,000 newly arrived Marines plus 650 Afghan forces. British forces last week led similar, but smaller, missions to clear out insurgents in Helmand and neighboring Kandahar province.

"Where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces," Marine Corps Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson said in a statement.

Pakistan's army said it had moved troops from elsewhere on its side of the Afghan border to the stretch opposite Helmand to try to stop any militants from fleeing the offensive. It gave no more details, but U.S. and Pakistani officials have expressed concern that stepped-up operations in southern Afghanistan could push the insurgents across the border.

Transport helicopters carried hundreds of Marines into the village of Nawa, some 20 miles south of the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, in a region where no U.S. or other NATO troops have operated in large numbers.

The troops took many insurgents by surprise, dropping behind Taliban lines, said Capt. Drew Schoenmaker, from Greene, N.Y.

"We are kind of forging new ground here. We are going to a place nobody has been before," said Schoenmaker, 31, who commands Bravo Company of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment.

Several hundred Marines took positions in a freshly plowed dirt field at 3 a.m. The soft, deep dirt proved challenging for troops weighed down with days' worth of water, food and gear, and many frequently stumbled.

At daybreak the Marines walked along tree lines, and at 6:15 a.m. the company took its first incoming fire, likely from an AK-47 along a tree-line. The next three hours brought repeated bursts of gunfire and volleys of rocket-propelled grenades, sending deep booms across the countryside.

A small force of Afghan soldiers accompanying the Camp Pendleton-based Marines got into several scraps with an insurgent force of about 20 fighters. The fire came from a mud-brick compound, and the Marines, the Afghan soldiers and their British advisers surrounded the compound on the east and the south.

Before the mission, Schoenmaker, the company commander, said he would practice "tactical patience" as a way to avoid civilian casualties — an issue newly arrived Gen. Stanley McChrystal has underscored in recent weeks. Though troops in many similar circumstances have called in airstrikes on such a militant-controlled compound, Schoenmaker did not.

"We made the decision to isolate the compound and not destroy it because we couldn't confirm if civilians were inside," he said. The militants were believed to have escaped out the back.

A Cobra helicopter circling overhead for most of the day fired rockets at a tree line nearby. Other troops walked through fields of corn and past mud-wall homes. Only a handful of villagers dared to venture outside.

Helmand's deadly heat, well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, proved to be another enemy the Marines had to fight. Because soldiers were on foot, they had to carry all their own water and food. Forward observers and snipers spent the entire day under the cloudless sky.

"It's like when you open up the oven when you're cooking a pizza and you want to see if it's done. You get that blast of hot air. That's how it feels the whole time," said Lance Corp. Charlie Duggan Jr., 21, of Baldwinsville, N.Y.

The Marines trained for months in the heat of the Mojave desert for the deployment, and many appeared happy to be here.

At one point Thursday, some 50 Marines were relaxing in an abandoned and dilapidated mud brick compound, their dusty-brown uniforms stained with perspiration. Suddenly someone spotted an Afghan male who appeared to be watching them from a nearby road.

The Marines quickly threw on their flak jackets and Kevlar helmets.

"It sucks but it's what you've been training for your whole life," Lt. Chris Wilson, 25, of Ramsey, N.J., said with a smile as he held a radio with an eight-foot antenna. Thursday was Wilson's first mission into a combat zone.

Last summer, the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit took the town of Garmser — about 15 miles south of Schoenmaker's company — and helped provide security for an area U.S. commanders say is now relatively secure.

The U.S. would like to replicate the success in Garmser to the north and south. The strategic setting can help the military slow the opium poppy and heroin trade and interdict fighters coming from Pakistan.

Of immediate need is security for the country's Aug. 20 election.

Southern Afghanistan is a Taliban stronghold but also a region where Afghan President Hamid Karzai is seeking votes from fellow Pashtun tribesmen. Without such a massive Marine assault in this southern section of Helmand, the Afghan government would likely not have been able to set up voting booths to which citizens could safely travel.

The Pentagon is deploying 21,000 additional troops to Afghanistan in time for the elections and expects the total number of U.S. forces there to reach 68,000 by year's end. That is double the number of troops in Afghanistan in 2008 but still half as many as are now in Iraq.

The Taliban, who took control of Afghanistan in 1996 and were ousted from power following a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, have made a violent comeback, wreaking havoc in much of the country's south and east.

Thousands of British forces, fighting under NATO command, have been in Helmand since 2006 with broadly the same strategy, but security has deteriorated. They have encountered stronger resistance than had been expected from Taliban fighters bankrolled by the vast opium and heroin trade.

Reversing the insurgency's momentum has been a key component of the new U.S. strategy, and thousands of additional troops allow commanders to push into and stay in areas where international and Afghan troops had no permanent presence.

In March, Obama unveiled his strategy for Afghanistan, seeking to defeat al-Qaida terrorists there and in Pakistan with a bigger force and a new commander. Taliban and other extremists, including those allied with al-Qaida, routinely cross the two nations' border.

Obama told The Associated Press on Thursday that he will reassess the possible need for additional U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the August elections.

The president said the main U.S. goal is to keep al-Qaida from acquiring a haven from which it can train fighters and launch attacks on the United States or its allies. He said the U.S. and its allies also must build up the Afghan national army and police and enable Pakistan to secure its borders against terrorist movements.

Last year, NATO and Pakistani forces cooperated in a series of complementary operations on the border, but the overall commitment of Islamabad to Washington's aims in Afghanistan has long been questioned. Pakistan has frequently been accused in the past of failing to stop — and sometimes aiding — the movement of insurgents into Afghanistan from its side of the border.


Associated Press writers Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul, Nahal Toosi in Islamabad and Lara Jakes in Washington contributed to this report.

Inquiry Finds French Flight Struck Ocean Intact

PARIS — The Air France Airbus 330 that crashed into the Atlantic on June 1, killing all 228 people aboard, did not break up in the air but rather hit the water intact, French investigators said on Thursday.

But at a news conference at their headquarters at Le Bourget airport near Paris, officials from the French Office of Investigation and Analyses acknowledged that they still had no clear notion of the reason for the crash.

Analysis of autopsies and debris patterns in the weeks after the crash had seemed to bolster speculation that the plane had broken up in flight. But the investigators said that their examination of floating debris indicated that the plane hit the surface of the ocean on its belly, at very high speed and facing in the direction of its intended flight.

The plane,Air France Flight 447, was flying through an area of strong thunderstorms near the equator on its planned route from Rio to Paris when it sent a series of automated messages to a maintenance base. The messages were the last communications from the plane, and with the flight data recorders still being sought, remain the only direct information about what might have caused the crash.

One of the maintenance messages indicated a rapid change in cabin pressure, which might have meant depressurization. But depressurization could occur without breakup, experts said.

Alain Bouillard, who is leading the French investigation, said that “visual examination of the debris shows that the plane hit with the bottom of its fuselage with very strong vertical acceleration.” Shelves in the galley had compressed to the bottom, he said, among other evidence.

But investigators said that knowing how the plane hit the water did not tell them why. They are continuing an extensive search for signals from the “black boxes,” the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, which they believe would give them enough evidence to draw a conclusion.

Those boxes are equipped with “pingers,” battery-driven speakers that emit a sharp acoustic tone. The investigators said they would continue searching for the boxes until July 10, when the batteries that drive the pingers are expected to be exhausted. After that, they will continue the search with diving equipment and towed sonar.

The plane went down more than 600 miles off the coast of northern Brazil, in an area where the sea bottom is rugged and deep. Investigators hope to use sonar to locate the debris field, and then would try to zero in on the black boxes.

Outside experts said they expected that investigators would press forward with the search for months, if necessary. “If there’s any chance of efficacy of sonar, I’d keep going,” said William Voss, president and Chief Executive of the Flight Safety Foundation, an international group based in Virginia. The plane and the airline are under “a big cloud,” he said. “Airbus is in the worst imaginable position; any blogger with a theory is condemning them, and there’s no way to disprove it.”

Illustrating how little is known, investigators said that Flight 447 had flown for its final 39 minutes without radio contact with Brazilian air traffic control, leaving unclear whether it radioed a distress call.

Since the crash, much attention has been paid to another of the maintenance messages, one that indicated the plane’s speed-sensing mechanism had malfunctioned. Airbus, the manufacturer, had recommended replacement of a component of that system, called the Pitot tube, and Air France had replaced the tubes on some of its airplanes, but not the one that crashed. After the crash, they rapidly replaced all the tubes.

“The Pitot tubes are something strongly suspected” in the malfunctioning speed indicators, Mr. Bouillard said. “It is an element but not the cause,” he said.

In the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board is gathering information on two recent A330 flights in which the speed-sensing mechanism failed. But Mr. Bouillard said that without more information about the Air France flight, the relevance of the other planes’ malfunctions would not be clear.

Thus far, aviation regulators in the United States and Europe, who commonly take manufacturers’ recommendations and make them mandatory, have not done so for the Pitot tube replacement, because their role here is unclear.

The lack of a strong theory to explain the crash one month into the investigation has left open the door to a great deal of speculation about the cause and, more broadly, the safety of Airbus planes and the fleet of Air France-KLM, Europe’s largest airline. The fanning of safety concerns, analysts said, are particularly unwelcome heading into the peak of the summer travel season at a time when the global economic downturn is already eating into air traffic volumes.