Today's Papers

Sprungtime in Ramallah

Everybody leads with word that Israel lifted its siege around Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah. The Israelis left after the six wanted Palestinians inside were transferred to jail under American and British supervision. Meanwhile, Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers exchanged gunfire at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, and a fire briefly broke out in the church itself. The New York Times calls it, “the worst skirmish since the siege began.” The papers say it’s unclear who started the shooting.

But Yasser Arafat had a guess. He emerged from his Ramallah compound enraged by what he saw as Israel’s bully tactics at the church. “These terrorists, racists, and Nazis,” Arafat blared. “I don’t care if this room I’m sitting in blows up. What concerns me is what is happening at the Church of the Nativity.”

The papers all report that U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, in the face of continuing resistance from Israel to an inquiry into Jenin, formally requested that the security council cancel the proposed investigation.

The Wall Street Journal briefly mentions that in the Gaza Strip yesterday four Palestinians—including a 2-year-old girl—were killed by Israeli army fire. The shooting happened after a roadside bomb exploded near an Israeli tank.

USA Today goes inside with an insightful piece saying that now that Arafat is free, he’s going to be under pressure from his own people to reform the corrupt and unresponsive Palestinian Authority. “What’s happened this month is an earthquake,” said one activist. “Now people have to have a say in policies. There have to be very serious reforms from today.”

The papers all report on the U.S. and allied operation going on in eastern Afghanistan, near Khost. The NYT says, “Senior American officers discounted any impending large-scale attack like the one in March.” Instead allied troops are looking for handfuls of al-Qaida fighters. Yesterday’s Washington Post   reported that a “major battle may be brewing.”

Meanwhile, USAT emphasizes that about 1,000 British soldiers, also around Khost, have begun a sweep for al-Qaida.

Everybody agrees that allied troops so far have come across very few al-Qaida fighters.

Today’s Post emphasizes that the unlike in previous battles, the United States is “relying little on Afghan militias” and is instead leaning “heavily on the Pakistani military.”

Everybody notes inside that somebody fired a rocket at a building in Pakistan that was housing U.S. Special Forces. The shot missed and nobody was injured.

The papers notice that fighting broke out between rival warlords in northern Afghanistan. At least six people have been killed. One of the squabbling warlords is Abdul Rashid Dostum, also known as Afghanistan’s deputy defense minister.

The Journal fronts an impressive investigative report: The paper says it has proof that Iraq has been illegally siphoning off money from its oil-for-food program. That money is supposed to be used only for humanitarian purposes. But the paper says that it has documents showing that Saddam has taken a chunk of it for his own purposes.

The WSJ’s piece says that “part of the blame” for the problem “lies with the U.N. itself, [which] gave Iraq extraordinary control over its oil sales.” And part of the blame, says the paper, lies with the American gas companies that end up buying half of Iraq’s oil.

The WP goes inside with word that Iraq and the U.N. are scheduled to begin negotiations today about the possible return of U.N. weapons inspectors. The paper suggests that Iraq is keen to strike a deal in the hopes that U.S. would lose international support for a potential invasion.

Everybody notes that yesterday President Bush met with Chinese Vice President Hu Jintao, who’s considered likely to eventually take over as China’s leader. The papers emphasize that the visit was mostly a meet-’n’-greet type deal, but they note that Hu did tell Bush that the United States was getting too cozy with Taiwan.

The NYT reefers an interview with Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn., in which the senator “leaves no doubt” that he wants his former running mate, former Vice President Al Gore, to keep out of the 2004 presidential race. “It’s a very big personal decision for him,” said Lieberman, when asked if Gore should give it a go. “So he’s got to make it. I don’t have an opinion on it.”

The papers all note that a million protesters in France held a May Day rally against far-right Presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen. On Sunday, France will have an election runoff between Le Pen and the current president, Jacques Chirac.

Everybody reports that scientists have rigged a bunch of rats to be operated by remote control. Essentially, the researchers created robots out of living creatures by planting electrodes in the rats’ brains. According to a researcher quoted in the Post, the rats dig it. “They get very tame,” he said. “They love to get picked up, and they don’t even have to be sacrificed because the longer we use them the better they get.”

The Los Angeles Times reports that a certain ex-president is tossing around the idea of hosting an afternoon talk show. Citing “several TV sources,” the paper says that former president Bill Clinton has had “preliminary” talks about doing the Donahue thing. One source told the paper that Clinton wants to be paid $50 mil and has aspirations “of becoming the next Oprah Winfrey.”