The Los Angeles Times and Washington Post lead with word that a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up yesterday near Tel Aviv, killing an 18-month-old girl and her grandmother and injuring more than 40 people. The Wall Street Journal tops its world-wide newsbox with President Bush’s Memorial Day address in Normandy, France, in which he compared the current alliance against al-Qaida to the one created during WWII to combat the Nazis. The Journal notes that Bush has made “little progress” in convincing allies to support an effort to overthrow Saddam Hussein, which the WSJ calls, “an emerging priority in the antiterrorism effort.” (Is overthrowing Iraq necessarily part of the “antiterrorism effort”?) USA Today leads with results from the latest insurance industry car-crash tests; for the first time, every car tested received a “good” rating. Just a few years ago, a third of the cars tested got a “poor” grade. The paper attributes the improvement to better overall engineering but also points out that car companies have designed cars specifically to do better on these tests, which rate only frontal crashes. The New York Times leads with word that “virtually the entire senior leadership of al-Qaida” is operating in Pakistan near the Afghan border.
The NYT’s lead is based on an interview with the commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Maj. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, who said that the al-Qaida forces are planning to launch terrorist attacks in Kabul to try to destabilize Afghanistan’s government and potentially disrupt the coming loya jirga council meeting. Hagenbeck also said that the U.S. will continue to rely on Pakistani troops to go after al-Qaida in Pakistan and likely won’t send in U.S. soldiers to do the job. (The article doesn’t mention, as a wire story posted today on the NYT’s Web site puts it, that “U.S. Special Forces troops have recently deployed to western Pakistan’s tribal belt to help Pakistani troops flush the militants out.”)
A wire story inside the WSJ notes India’s claims that many al-Qaida fighters have sought refuge in Kashmir.
The papers goes high with Pakistani leader Gen.Pervez Musharraf’s address to his nation yesterday in which he said that while Pakistan does not want war, “if war is thrust upon us, we would respond with full might.”
The papers emphasize that Musharraf’s speech was an attempt to please both domestic and international audiences, resulting in a mixed message. For example, he pledged to crack down on Islamic militants but also told those fighting against India’s control of Kashmir, “Pakistan will always remain by your side in your freedom struggle.”
Musharraf added,“A Muslim is not afraid and does not retreat, but with the cry of ‘God is great!’ he jumps into the battle to fight.”
The papers all say that India reacted skeptically, even angrily, to Musharraf’s speech. Specifically they took issue with Musharraf’s claims that he has already reined in Kashmiri militants. “I had believed there were still a lot of diplomatic options available to us,” one Indian minister told the Post. “But today he has closed down a lot of that space.”
The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades claimed responsibility for yesterday’s suicide attack, saying it was in revenge for the killing last week of one of its commanders. In fact, the NYT reports, “Palestinians said that the bomber was a relative of the slain leader.”
Everybody notes that the Palestinian Authority condemned the bombing.
Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers raided various towns in the West Bank yesterday (before the bombing) including Jenin. The NYT, in a separate article, notes that Israel said it will probably stay for a good chunk of time in Bethlehem, which it invaded a few days ago. The paper calls the raid “an indication that these new incursions are becoming bigger and more lasting.”
The same Times article notes that Israel arrested Ahmed Mughrabi, simply identified as “the local leader of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement.” Meanwhile, the NYT’s story on yesterday’s bombing identifies Mughrabi simply as “known locally as a leader of Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.” So, does he have both jobs?
In what the Post calls “asignificant evolution of administration thinking,” the paper says that the White House is considering “publicly detailing terms for a final Middle East settlement, including a negotiating schedule.” The Post emphasizes that the Bush administration hasn’t settled on the plan and points out that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would likely object to any proposal that suggests a specific timeline for statehood. The paper says that the plan could be decided on in a few weeks.
The Post’s piece mentions that the administration’s Mideast policy debate “no longer focuses as it did this winter” on the question of whether Arafat should be pushed out of power. A story three days ago in the NYT said that the administration has been locked in an “intense debate” about what to do with Arafat.
A piece inside USAT’s business section reports that Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading firm that lost 658 employees on Sept. 11, will start an ad campaign today featuring employees relating their feelings about the attacks. The paper asks, “Is it OK for the hardest-hit corporate victim of Sept. 11 to create an ad campaign around the tragedy?” Cantor has pledged to donate 25 percent of the company’s profits to the families of victims.
USAT goes inside with a report on what everybody has come to expect from a Russian space program building: “Rivets regularly snap off the building’s exterior skin. Vultures pick at the patches on the leaking roof. Rust flakes away from the 456-foot-tall doors that once opened to Apollo-era rockets.” The catch is that USAT is talking about the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where, “beset by money problems, NASA for years has skimped on maintenance.”