Today's Papers

Fidel’s Finale?

The Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox, and Washington Postall lead with Israel’s Cabinet approving an expanded ground offensive while Prime Minister Olmert said, “There is no cease-fire. There will not be any cease-fire in the coming days.” USA Todayfronts the war but leads with, and others front, the FDA suggesting it now wants to approve the Plan B “morning-after”pill for over-the-counter sales, as the FDA’s own expert panel recommended three years ago. The agency didn’t commit to the approval but said it hoped to wrap it up “in a matter of weeks.” No doubt coincidentally, the acting head of the FDA is scheduled for Senate confirmation hearings, oh, today.  

Israel said it was limiting airstrikes to support for ground troops and to “immediate threats,” such as rocket launchers. And indeed, as the LAT puts it, “airstrikes diminished considerably” yesterday. The Post agrees. Meanwhile, the NYT glides past that point: “ISRAEL PUSHES ON DESPITE AGREEING TO AIRSTRIKE LULL.” The Times gets to the slowdown in airstrikes in the 10th paragraph.

Everybody agrees Hezbollah largely held its fire. No rockets hit Israel yesterday.

Some aid was able to make it into southern Lebanon, but—slowed by busted roads, the lack of fuel, and the still occasional airstrike—it wasn’t a whole lot. “As the day unfolded we discovered that conditions weren’t much different than they were before,” said one aid worker. Lebanese officials also said the country is about two days away from running out of fuel for its power plants.

The WP and NYT both visit Bint Jbeil, scene of last week’s heaviest fighting. The Post’s Anthony Shadid describes the town center as “a forsaken panorama of destruction and devastation, nothing untouched.” What’s most haunting, though, is the accompanying photograph

Israel launched another apparently small thrust into Lebanon. The NYT notes that now, nearly three weeks into the offensive, “much of the fighting still took place within sight of the border.” 

As the Journal says, in Israel “the national mood is increasingly belligerent.” And as the LAT notes, Olmert’s “no-ceasefire” comments were made in a particularly domestic context. He was speaking in front a group of mayors from the north whose towns have been targeted by rockets. The mayors “responded with rousing applause.”

The WSJ says the “U.S. and Israel are diverging” over how much longer to keep up the offensive. The Post meanwhile sees “fissures” between the U.S. and its European allies: The U.S. and France have floated competing Security Council resolutions on a cease-fire, with France pushing for an “immediate” one.

The NYT mentions that a top Israeli columnist criticized Israel’s defense minister for “proudly [telling] how he relieved the army of restrictions on harming civilian population that lives alongside Hezbollah operatives.” If that’s true—that Israel military’s rules of engagement have been loosened, TP would like to hear details.

As the LAT fronts—and others catch wire reports of—Fidel Castro “temporarily” handing power to his brother, Raul, after undergoing surgery. In a letter purportedly written by Fidel and read last night on Cuban TV, Castro’s secretary said “a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding obligated me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure.”

Fidel said handing over power for now to his bro was the only wise path since Cuba, of course, is “under threat from the U.S. government.” The 75-year-old Raul has long been the head of Cuba’s military and considered a shoo-in as at least a short-term successor to Castro. (When Fidel fainted a few years ago, a top official quickly stepped up the podium and bellowed, “Viva Fidel! Viva Raul!“)  

The NYT reefers the U.S. formally handing NATO command of coalition forces in southern Afghanistan where the Taliban are centered. The Times says that in “anticipation of the transfer,” the insurgency has kicked up its offensive. Eight people were killed by a car bomb in one province yesterday.

Twenty-six Iraqis in a popular shopping district in Baghdad were abducted yesterday, including workers from the Iraqi-American Chamber of Commerce, by what at least looked like Iraqi security forces. “They looked very professional,” a shop-owner told the LAT. “We did not interfere,” added one cop. “We thought that they were security forces on a security mission.”

The NYT flags Iraqi leaders inveighing against Israel’s offensive, but the Times doesn’t notice what might be the most foreboding comment: Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani railed against Israel then said, in what sure seems to be a finger pointed at the U.S., “Islamic nations will not forgive the entities that hinder a cease-fire.”

The WP goes inside with two independent surveys showing that most seniors are actually happy with the Medicare drug benefit. “There have definitely been bumps in the road in the implementation of the law, but it hasn’t been the catastrophe that critics had predicted,” said the head of the foundation behind one of the surveys.

The Post fronts, “HILL DEMOCRATS UNITE TO URGE BUSH TO BEGIN IRAQ PULLOUT.” The new Page-One-worthy stance was detailed in a letter to President Bush from the House and Senate minority leaders and other top Democrats—a dozen total. They all agreed on … not a whole lot. As the WP notes, the letter had “no specifics about how many troops should be withdrawn or how rapidly.” Turns out, it’s basically the same stance most Senate Democrats took last month. Why again is it front-page news?