Everybody leads with word that Israel will begin withdrawing from two towns in the West Bank but has said it will continue operations elsewhere. The Los Angeles Times is a bit of an exception; it mentions the pullout in its subhead, but headlines: DEFIANT SHARON PRESSES AHEAD IN WEST BANK. The pullouts happened in the towns of Tulkarm and Qalqilya, where there’s been relatively little fighting. “These are two places where we have finished the job,” one Israeli official told the New York Times.
The NYT notes up high that Israeli forces moved into the West Bank town of Dora.
Everybody says that President Bush seemed particularly irritated this morning that Israel hadn’t announced a pullout yet. “I meant what I said to the prime minister of Israel,” Bush told reporters. “I expect there to be withdrawal without delay.” A few hours later, Israel announced the withdrawals, which White House spokesman Ari Fleischer called “a start.”
Secretary of State Powell added, “Let us hope that this is not a little bit of this and a little bit of that but the beginning of the pullback.”
“I can’t say there will be a full withdrawal by Friday [when Powell is scheduled to arrive],” one Israeli diplomat told the Wall Street Journal.
The papers notice that Powell got a chilly reception in Morocco, the first stop on his Mideast tour. “Don’t you think it would be more important to go to Jerusalem first?” Morocco’s king asked Powell during a photo-op.
Everybody mentions that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the operations in the West Bank will continue “until the mission is completed.” Sharon also warned that even after Israeli troops withdraw, they’ll create “a buffer between Palestinian territories and our territories.” That buffer would likely be in Palestinian-held land and would thus constitute a de facto occupation, much like Israel’s former security zone in Lebanon.
The papers report that Israeli and U.S. officials agreed that Powell will likely meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
A frontpage LAT “news analysis” slams Israel’s current operation: “At its core, the offensive is a systematic attempt, fathered by Sharon and midwifed by his military commanders, to finish off the Palestinian Authority, any remnant of the landmark Oslo peace process and, most important, Arafat.”
The Washington Post cites aid agencies as saying that the operation into the West Bank has become a humanitarian disaster. “I cannot stress more strongly how serious the medical situation is,” said a spokeswoman for the Red Cross. “People who are sick, people who need dialysis, women who are giving birth need to get to the hospital.”
The Post also notes charges by an Israeli human-rights group that Israeli soldiers have used Palestinian civilians as human shields.
The WP notes the Israeli military’s estimate that about 100 Palestinians have been killed in Jenin. (The LAT reported this figure yesterday.)
The NYT’s lead story, as well as the paper’s summary of the conflict, states, “Casualties in Jenin today were called heavy, but exact figures were not available.” A stuffed article said the fighting has left “50 to 100 Palestinian fighters dead.”
The NYT says, “Palestinians say huge armored bulldozers knocked down homes on top of people living in them, to widen narrow alleys so tanks could pass.” In an inside story, the Times quotes a spokeswoman from an Israeli civil-rights group as saying, “We know that it has happened several times, not just once.”
In a stuffed story about Nablus, the NYT says, “The medics returned for the dead, or the martyrs, as they called them. Among the martyrs was a man nicknamed Hamseh.” Why is the Times referring to “martyrs” without using quotation marks?
The papers note that Hezbollah guerrillas fired again at Israel yesterday; nobody was injured.
The papers all report that a car bomb exploded near a motorcade carrying Afghanistan’s Defense Minister, missing him but killing at least four people.
The NYT says the bombing is “the latest evidence of a concerted effort to undermine the American-backed government.” The paper says that the attack might have been led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a longtime warlord who is opposed to the current government and is supported by Iran. The Times never mentions al-Qaida, even to just dismiss the notion that it might be responsible.
The NYT stuffs word that a preliminary Pentagon assessment has concluded that 75 percent of its bombs hit their targets in Afghanistan, by far the highest level of accuracy ever in a bombing campaign. Skeptics warned that those numbers haven’t yet been double-checked.
The WP goes inside with word—first reported by Newsweek—that the anthrax used in last year’s attacks was more advanced than the stuff “commonly used by scientists in the United States or any other country known to have biological weapons.” Nobody is really sure what that means in terms of suspects.
The WP and NYT both front newly released documents showing that the Boston Archdiocese helped arrange the transfer of a priest to new posts, even though it knew he had been accused of sexual abuse.
Everybody notes that Iraq announced it will suspend oil exports for a month, in protest of Israel’s current operations. Iraq currently supplies four percent of the world’s oil, and as everybody notes, other countries can take up the slack.
The WSJ nabs an interview with President Bush. The president warned, “The fact that we’re dependent upon unstable countries [for oil] is a reason why I do not believe that we’re out of the economic woods yet.”
NYT columnist Paul Krugman does something he rarely does in his column: He agrees with Bush. Krugman worries that a “third oil crisis” may be around the corner. He points out that while other countries can make up for the amount of oil Iraq has taken off the market, “the remaining slack in the system is just about equal to the combined production of Iran and Libya, which have also proposed an embargo.”