Edwards Hosts Talk on Middle East

By Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 26, 2009

U.S. Rep. Donna F. Edwards (D-Md.) is hosting a community discussion tonight in Upper Marlboro on peace and security in the Middle East, which might earn her some brownie points among constituents concerned about her recent vote on a related issue.

Edwards broke ranks with the rest of the Maryland delegation last month and voted present on a House resolution that expressed support for Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas rocket attacks. Five House members voted against the resolution, 22 voted present and 390 voted for the resolution.

Edwards said at the time that she thinks Israel has a right to defend itself but that the resolution was not in the best interest of resolving the hostilities in Gaza.

When asked this week about the purpose of the community discussion, Edwards sent the following statement:

"The recent events in Gaza and Israel are important to many of my constituents throughout the 4th Congressional District. Internationally recognized experts will guide us in a discussion on peace and security in the Middle East, the connection with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the impact of U.S. foreign and domestic policy as they relate to our budget expenditures on foreign aid."

Joining Edwards on the panel will be Amjad Atallah, co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation; Heather Hanson, director of Public Affairs at the Mercy Corps, DC; Daniel Levy, co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation; Robert A. Pastor, co-director for the Center for Democracy and Election Management; and Mitchell Plitnick, director, U.S. office of B'Tselem.

The discussion will be at 7 p.m. in the Rennie Forum at Prince George's Community College in Largo.

Council Softens Ban On Single Cigar Sales

The Prince George's County Council introduced a bill this week that would amend a law it passed last year banning the sale of single cigars.

The bill, introduced by council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville), softens the language in the law, which is considered one of the most restrictive bans on cigar sales in the nation.

The bill would remove a clause that makes it illegal for someone to sell cigar products to a person younger than 18 and another that defines cigar products as a controlled dangerous substance.

The original bill was approved in November as part of an effort to reduce a growing trend among some young people who use hollowed-out cigars to smoke marijuana.

A cigar wholesaler, several retailers and a cigar enthusiast sued Prince George's, arguing that the county overstepped its legal authority when it adopted the ban on cigar sales in packages of less than five. Arguing that the law is unconstitutional and will hurt their businesses, the plaintiffs are seeking $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

"This won't eliminate the litigation," said Todd Turner, a legislative aid for the council. "But our counsel believes it addresses some of the issues."

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