Today's Papers

Israel’s Defiant Forces

Everybody leads with word that Israel kept up its operations in the West Bank despite U.S. demands that it should begin to pull out. (That’s USA Today’s lead online; its print version may be different.) “Israel is at the point of no return,” said the country’s prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Israel’s defense minister added, “We will not pull out only to return soon.” Still, he acknowledged, “our time is running out.”

Everybody notes Israel’s count of the casualties caused by the operation: About 200 Palestinians have been killed, while 11 to 13 Israelis have died. The Los Angeles Times, 13 paragraphs after it mentions the above stats, cites Palestinians saying that nearly 100 Palestinians have died in just the Jenin refugee camp, scene of some of yesterday’s heaviest fighting. (The Washington Post, meanwhile, says “at least 14 Palestinians and seven Israeli soldiers” have been killed in Jenin.)

The New York Times emphasizes that President Bush is peeved that Sharon hasn’t started pulling out troops yet. The president “was some steamed when he got off the phone” with the prime minister, said one “source.”

Citing “well-informed sources,” the WP says up high that Israel is preparing to launch operations into the Gaza Strip, which has so far been untouched in the current offensive.

The papers note that Bush’s demand for a pullout has caused friction in the Israeli government. One general warned that if he’s ordered to wrap things up by the time Powell comes late this week, “We won’t be able to finish the job, period.”

Everybody notes that Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon fired at soldiers in northern Israel, wounding six.  Syrian “President [Bashar] Assad is playing with fire,” said Israel’s Defense Minister, as quoted by the LAT. “Instead of controlling Hezbollah, Hezbollah is controlling him.”

The papers have late-breaking news that gunfire, and an actual fire, broke out at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where Palestinian gunmen are holed up. One Palestinian was killed, and two Israelis were injured.

Everybody takes note of National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s comments on a Sunday news show that while the president wants Israel to end its operations ASAP, he understands that the withdrawal “can’t be helter-skelter and chaotic.” The Wall Street Journal calls the statement an apparent “softening.”

The Post stuffs a tour of Bethlehem, where it says Israel inflicted “widespread damage.” The paper also mentions that human-rights groups say that Palestinian detainees have been abused, including having their toes broken.

The NYT notes in the 27th paragraph that Sharon has convinced two small right-wing parties to join his governing coalition. The paper says the move protects Sharon against the possibility that the center-left Labor party might leave the government in protest over the continuing operations.

A NYT news analysis ponders the protests in the world’s Arab capitals and concludes that Israel’s current operation is “radicalizing the politics of the region,” particularly among the young.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Powell, who arrives in the region today and in Israel on Friday, didn’t sound overly confident about his trip’s chances. “I am not going to come back at the end of this trip with a peace treaty in hand,” he said. “I’m not even sure I’ll have a cease-fire in hand, but that will be my goal.” The Post calls the statement part of effort to lower expectations.

The NYT quotes an Israeli newspaper’s assessment of the siege of Arafat: “Arafat is the victor. Sharon has turned him into the man who in his person embodies the suffering of the Palestinian people.”

The Times also mentions that Israeli troops allowed supplies to reach Arafat yesterday, including “40 boxes of halvah, his favorite confection.”

The WP fronts word that the Pentagon has quietly requested tens of millions of dollars to essentially hand out as foreign aid. As the Post notes, such expenditures have historically been handled by the State Department. The paper adds that these funds “would not be subject to existing limits on the State Department’s foreign assistance programs, including provisions relating to violations of human rights.” The Pentagon says that it decided it needed the program after it had trouble reimbursing Pakistan and the Northern Alliance for expenses incurred on the war on terrorism.

Everybody notes that unknown assailants fired two rockets at peacekeepers yesterday in Kabul. Nobody was hurt.

The WSJ goes high with British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s warning that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must allow U.N. weapons inspectors into his country “any time, any place the international community demands.”

Everybody notes that a car bomb exploded in Colombia yesterday, killing 12 people. Nobody claimed responsibility for the blast, but authorities said they suspect leftist rebels were responsible.

The LAT fronts word that improved airport security is costing much more than was expected. This year, it could cost triple of what was budgeted.  

The NYT editorial page is filled with good stuff. An editorial warns that an asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and has a 1-in-300 chance of hitting us. Don’t freak out, it’s not due for another eight centuries. Besides, as the paper points out, a targeted blast of sunlight may be able to knock the big rock off course.

Meanwhile, Times columnist Bill Safire, who has long argued that the U.S. should take down Saddam, says he has further evidence of Iraq’s links to al-Qaida. According to Safire, “Sixty Islamic terrorists, trained in Afghanistan by Osama bin Laden,” were dispatched by Saddam to assassinate Kurdish leaders in northern Iraq. One of them was captured and spilled the beans to Kurdish officials. Safire adds, the “intelligence seems of little interest to our C.I.A., which failed to inform members of the National Security Council of this incident until my query two days ago.”

The NYT’s business section reports that 60 Minutes stalwart Mike Wallace plans to cut his workload in half. The paper notes that Wallace, who turns 84 in May, has been the show’s most productive correspondent this year, appearing in 15 segments. Wallace urged viewers not to get too worked up about the change. “Let’s not kill Mike,” he said. “I’m not dying.”