The papers again lead with the Israeli offensive against Yasser Arafat’s compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Israeli troops, backed by tanks and armored personnel carriers, made their way room by room through the two-building office complex where Arafat lives and works, according to the Washington Post. The Palestinian leader is holed up on the second floor, working by candlelight, machine pistol at his side. According to the Los Angeles Times, he vows not to be taken alive.
But Israel does not plan to take him at all, the papers report. Sharon’s stated goal is to “isolate” Arafat, though it’s unclear what that means. According to a New York Times news analysis, Sharon, when asked to explain, angrily repeated the word “isolate.” He has promised the U.S. that Arafat will not be killed or captured. Electricity to the compound has been cut off, and food is running low, but Arafat’s isolation is not complete: He gave several interviews via cell phone yesterday, according to the papers.
“Israel wants me dead, or a prisoner, or to expel me,” he told Al-Jazeera, as quoted in the WP. “I want to be a martyr, martyr, martyr, martyr.”
The U.S. response was muted, with the Bush administration giving Sharon “what could best be described as a yellow light,” in the words of the NYT analysis. All of the papers quote Colin Powell imploring Israel to “carefully consider the consequences” of the Ramallah operation, without specific indication of what those consequences might be. On the other hand, Powell seemed to downplay the gravity of the situation. “They are going in to find terrorists, to pick up weapons,” he says in the Post, “and it is not their intention to occupy those areas on a long-term basis.”
But the move on Arafat’s compound is the first step in Israel’s plan “to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure,” in the words of an Israeli spokesman in the WP. “We will do it also in other cities,” he says. According to the NYT, 20,000 Israeli reservists have been called up. “Israelis were reminded of scenes from the wars of 1967 and 1973 as Israeli television showed the citizen-soldiers reporting for duty.” The Times raises the possibility that the Israeli mobilization is intended to “bluff” the Palestinians into a ceasefire, and a quote in the LAT echoes this idea. “I think they’re trying to scare the Palestinian people to make us raise the white flag of surrender,” says a Palestinian civilian in Ramallah. “They’re saying, ‘This is your leader and we can kill him.’ … But it won’t work, because all of us have arrived at the point of no return.”
Friday’s offensive would seem to put at least a temporary hold on the work of U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni. The recent violence makes his efforts “seem like ancient history,” as the WP puts it, though Powell says Zinni will continue to try to mediate a truce.
The casualty count from the attack on the compound varies from paper to paper. Five Palestinians and one or two Israeli officers were killed, and the wounded, mostly Arafat’s bodyguards, probably numbered between 25 (LAT) and 50 (WP).
A LAT news analysis says the central problem in the current conflict is that neither Arafat nor Sharon is “a strong enough leader to make peace.” “U.S. officials express little or no sympathy for Arafat. In private, they describe the Palestinian leader as indecisive, evasive and exasperating. But they also blame Sharon for operating—in their view—with no apparent strategy beyond lashing out against terrorists and fending off internal political challenges.”
The NYT off-leads a raid by U.S. “law enforcement and intelligence officials” in Pakistan netting five Taliban soldiers and 25 Arabs with links to al-Qaida. Special Pakistani police joined in the operation, which was approved by the Pakistani government. “Until now,” the Times observes, “American help in pursuing terror suspects abroad has largely been limited to training and intelligence sharing.” It’s likely that at least some of those seized had slipped across the border from Afghanistan.
According to the WP off-lead, the whereabouts of a majority of al-Qaida and Taliban leaders on the Pentagon’s list of most-wanted terrorists remain unknown. Only six of the listed 27 senior Taliban have been killed or captured and only 12 of the 27 al-Qaida. Gen. Tommy Franks says hundreds of Bin Laden tips pour in everyday, but none have panned out. Nor have the hefty rewards offered by the U.S. inspired any breakthroughs. Donald Rumsfeld reasserted this week that U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan until the “masterminds” have been captured or killed.
Finally, some language—both surprising and refreshing, and almost unimaginable in the NYT or the Post—from the LAT’s bit on Eazy-E, the rapper who died seven years ago from complications due to AIDS and whose widow is releasing a CD and a documentary in his honor. “The Dominguez High dropout was a hustler who believed half of what he saw, some of what he heard. He was an autodidact and a petty criminal, and he brought street smarts to the mainstream like few before or since. Eazy-E was crack-era Southern California’s Selena, arguably the most purely gutter black man ever to sell tens of millions of records, and a real-time hero.”