Today's Papers

They’re Comin’ Round the Mountain

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal  world-wide newsbox each lead with Israel’s retaliatory strikes on Palestinian targets. Among the places hit: Yasser Arafat’s compound in the West Bank and a Palestinian Authority building in Gaza City. Arafat was in his office about 100 yards away from the missiles when they struck. Israel said it didn’t aim to hurt Arafat. It just wanted to get his attention. The attack in Gaza killed two, including a kid who was walking to school. Another 100 people were injured in the attack, 20 of them seriously. Israeli bulldozers also wrecked the runway at Gaza International Airport. The LAT, alone among the papers, reports late-breaking news of another suicide bombing in Jerusalem. The bomb apparently exploded prematurely, killing the carrier and slightly injuring three Israelis. The Washington Postleads with claims by anti-Taliban forces that recent U.S. airstrikes have killed at least 10 of Bin Laden’s top lieutenants. Among the dead may be Ayman al-Zawahiri, a 50-year-old Egyptian who is, perhaps was, the head of al-Qaida’s day-to-day operations. The Pentagon couldn’t confirm the report and the LAT says U.S. officials “privately voiced skepticism.” Meanwhile, the papers report that the Arab station Al Jazeera reported that al-Zawahiri was still alive, although his wife and three children had been killed in the bombings. USA Todayleads with, and everybody else fronts, word that anti-Taliban troops have headed into the mountains of Tora Bora in pursuit of al-Qaida forces and perhaps $25 million.

The NYT calls yesterday’s attacks by Israel “a significant intensification of the assault on Mr. Arafat.”

Arafat himself said he was finding it hard to work with all the commotion. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “doesn’t want me to succeed,” said Arafat. “He doesn’t want a peace process to start.”

The United States, though, took Israel’s actions in stride. “Prime Minister Sharon, as the elected prime minister, freely elected prime minister of a democratic nation, is responding in a way that he believes is appropriate to defend his people and to defend his country,” said Secretary of State Powell.

Not everybody was OK with Sharon’s moves. “Yesterday was the first time that the extreme right’s policy became the government’s policy,” said a top official from Israel’s Labor Party, a key part of Sharon’s governing coalition “If it becomes systematic policy, I would say the days of the Labor Party in the government are numbered.”

The papers go high with the U.S. government’s move to shut down the Holy Land Foundation, which the United States claims is a front group for Hamas. USAT notes that this is the first crackdown in the United States on an alleged terrorist-connected organization that doesn’t have links to al-Qaida. According to the paper, “U.S. officials said action against the charity was accelerated after Hamas claimed credit for last weekend’s bombings.”

USAT’s lead story, in a typically concise fashion, touches on nearly all of yesterday’s significant developments in Afghanistan: About 20 U.S. commandos along with anti-Taliban troops had a light skirmish with al-Qaida forces near Tora Bora. A U.S. soldier on patrol near Kandahar was shot in the shoulder. A Pashtun tribal leader claimed that Bin Laden’s top financial guy was killed in air raids on Kandahar. Finally, USAT, alone among the papers, reports that U.S. planes “are expected as early as Thursday” to start using the airport in Jalalabad, just 35 miles from Tora Bora.

The papers also report that the Marines have moved to cut off possible escape routes from Kandahar. 

Everybody reports that Afghan negotiators in Germany have reached a deal on the makeup of an interim government. Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun leader, busy at the moment fighting the Taliban near Kandahar, will head the new administration, which will be in place for six months. The agreement also calls for peacekeeping forces in and around Kabul and leaves open the possibility of them being deployed elsewhere in the country. Some members of the Northern Alliance are less than thrilled with the agreement’s stipulation that in areas were peacekeepers are deployed, militia units—aka the Northern Alliance—should turn in their weapons. The NYT notes that the local “police force”—whatever that is—will be allowed to stay intact.

The WP reports that one top anti-Taliban official in the Tora Bora region says that his group is still trying to negotiate with al-Qaida troops. “Our people are not yet in an offensive posture,” he said. “Right now we can also try to achieve a peaceful solution,” which he said would entail giving safe passage out of Tora Bora to all but the “prime suspects.” Many of his peers disagreed. “There will be a big attack,” said one.

The Pentagon continued to be skeptical of reports that U.S. airstrikes near Tora Bora have killed scores of civilians. “If we cannot know for certain how many people were killed in lower Manhattan, where we have full access to the site, thousands of reporters, investigators, rescue workers combing the wreckage, and no enemy propaganda to confuse the situation, one ought to be sensitive to how difficult it is to know with certainty, in real time, what may have happened in any given situation in Afghanistan, where we lack access,” said Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who added,  “and we’re dealing with world-class liars.”

Both USAT and the WSJ report that during an interview with Barbara Walters, President Bush said he was considering launching military strikes elsewhere in the world. “Strikes will be incredibly important, and there may be a need to use military troops elsewhere,” Bush said, according to both papers. But the fuller quote suggests it’s unclear what kind of strikes the president was referring to: “So financial strikes are going to be incredibly important. It will matter. Strikes will be incredibly important. And there may be need to use military troops elsewhere.” (Although the WSJ says the interview was broadcast last night, ABC’s Web site says it’s scheduled for tonight.)

USAT reports that Strom Thurmond celebrated his 99th birthday yesterday. Republican senators serenaded the old-timer with a rendition of Happy Birthday. Thurmond responded with a short speech. “I love all of you,” he said. “If you’re a woman, I love you even more.”