The Washington Post’s lead reports that the Venezuelan military claims to have toppled President Hugo Chávez. The military took control of the country following anti-government protests, which killed at least 10 people yesterday. The protests followed a nationwide strike that cut off oil exports to the United States. The other papers’ leads, and the top story in the Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox announces that Secretary of State Colin Powell traveled from Jordan to Israel to continue what the Los Angeles Times story calls “his long-shot Middle East peace mission.” The New York Times reports that Powell will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Friday to have what the secretary called a “very long conversation” about Israel ending its military offensive in the West Bank. Powell will also insist that Israel move to resume discussions on a political settlement with the Palestinians, the paper says. On Saturday, Powell will see Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to demand again that he appeal, in Arabic, for Palestinians to stop terrorist attacks.
The papers say Sharon renewed his refusal to end his military operation: “We’re not about to leave Jenin, Nablus or Ramallah or any other place we’re in at present,” the NYT quotes him saying.
Powell told the NYT that he does not see Israel’s failure to stop its offensive as an affront to President Bush, who has demanded that Israel withdraw. The papers portray a serene secretary on the eve of his meeting in Israel. “I’m not concerned about [the mission],” he said in the LAT. An NYT news analysis notes he faces enormous risks, and not just to his professional prestige or to American strategic interests. Members of his party have been advised not to leave the hotel in order to avoid physical danger.
For his part, Jordan’s king expressed his fears to Powell as Jordan faced the threat of anti-Israeli and anti-American protests: “We are so worried that if you fail …” he said, his voice fading, the papers report.
The LAT reports that the American administration is backing off the idea of fostering relationships with other possible Palestinian leaders who might lead negotiations with Israel. Arab officials have persuaded Powell that only Arafat can exert leadership over the Palestinians and control violence, the paper says. However, the NYT notes, Sharon is “certain” to reject any negotiations that include Arafat, though he may talk to another Palestinian leader. Such difficulties inspired a State Department official, quoted in the LAT, to sum up the problems Powell will face in negotiating with Sharon and Arafat: “Even Mother Teresa would have a problem dealing with these guys.”
On the military front, the papers report a development that the LAT caught yesterday: Sharon’s forces have withdrawn from about two dozen villages and towns in the West Bank. They have entered two more. Operations are concluding in Jenin.
Israelis lifted a curfew in Jenin for a short time, and reporters filed dispatches on the aftermath of the fighting there. According to the NYT,Israeli officials say up to 200 Palestinians were killed, most of them being armed men. Palestinians say it was double that number and included civilians. Twenty-three Israeli soldiers died. The WP and LAT stories contain numerous accounts from Palestinians about the Israelis opening fire on civilians and bulldozing people’s houses. In fact, perhaps the papers’ reporters traveled together because they seem to have interviewed some of the same Palestinians. The LAT’s headline sums up the paper’s findings thus: ISRAELI ARMY ACCUSED OF ATROCITIES. The NYT, whose reporting doesn’t cover Palestinian claims of brutality as thoroughly as the WP’s and LAT’s, tells its readers that the curfew was briefly lifted, and reporters got into the city but “no one was able to make a detailed study of the aftermath of the fighting.”
The NYT front reports that Israel has given the U.S. government, as well as some news organizations, documents it found in West Bank raids that, Israel says, link Arafat to terrorism. Israeli officials say the documents include approvals of payments by Arafat for the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, which has carried out many suicide attacks. The NYT says a memo states that an official in the Palestinian office of preventative security, an office that the U.S. has supported in order to prevent terrorist attacks, coordinated one terrorist cell’s activities at the behest of his boss. The paper doesn’t find any American officials willing to say much about the contents of the documents or their authenticity.
Some of the documents are available online at www.idf.il, the Web site of the Israeli Defense Forces, as part of what the NYT calls an effort by the IDF to press its case. A visit to the IDF site reveals documents that appear tailored for American public consumption: The English translations (scanned next to their Arabic originals) include summaries of the material and parenthetical notations identifying key persons mentioned in the documents.
USA Today reports that Israeli officials are preparing to show Powell other documents found in the raids that demonstrate Saddam Hussein has donated money to the Palestinian Authority. The other papers don’t cover the documents Israel has given the U.S., at least not online as this column went to press.
The papers quote a Venezuelan general declaring that the government has “abandoned its functions.” The WSJ’s headline is confident Chávez is through—VENEZUELA’S PRESIDENT CHAVEZ IS OUSTED IN MILITARY UPRISING—while the other papers’ stories are more hesitant, saying that the military revolted and is claiming to be in charge of the country. The LAT catches word that according to a military official, Chávez is negotiating his resignation. Wire reports on the papers’ Web sites confirm this development.
The papers report that the Senate easily passed a bill to fund reform of voting procedures so the U.S. can avoid the problems that became apparent in the 2000 presidential election. The House has already passed a bill on the issue.
The papers go inside with news that an international court for war crimes officially became a reality when the last of the required 60 nations ratified its treaty. The American administration is strongly opposed to the court and may unsign its treaty.
United States Rep. James Traficant, a Democrat from Ohio, has been convicted on charges of bribery, corruption, and tax evasion, the papers report. The House could expel him, and he could face up to 63 years in prison. Still, USAT reports, he has said he plans to run for re-election.