Today's Papers

Ground Control

The papers all lead with Israel sending “thousands” of troops into Lebanon. There have been firefights in a half-dozen towns near the border, and Israeli commandos raided a town north of Beirut (map) and reportedly tried to snatch a top Hezbollah commander from a hospital.

The raid, which was in a Hezbollah stronghold in the Bekaa Valley, happened late last night, so the U.S. papers have few details. Haaretz says Israel captured five or six low-level militants. Lebanese police said about a dozen civilians were killed in airstrikes connected to the raid. No Israeli soldiers were reported wounded.

Three Israeli soldiers were killed near the border, and Hezbollah acknowledged that a handful of fighters died yesterday. Just eight rockets landed in Israel yesterday.

The New York Timessaysup to 7,000 troops” crossed into Lebanon. The Los Angeles Timescounts “as many as 10,000.” The Washington Post says there “could be more than 18,000” Israeli soldiers in Lebanon now and, citing “military officials,” says the number “could soon triple.”

The LAT gives a glimpse of Israel’s latest strategy, saying some troops have gone 12 miles in, past the strategic Litani River, and have “sped past settled areas … in a bid to prevent Hezbollah from bringing in new fighters and arms.”

Israel said its 48-hour slowdown in air attacks is over, while the LAT says “humanitarian aid failed to reach many devastated Lebanese towns.”

A U.N. spokesman said Israel had tightened requirements for the travel of relief convoys. One convoy was cleared to head south. “They denied us the green light for the other convoys,” said a U.N. spokesman. Israel did OK the delivery of fuel for Lebanon’s power plants.

Secretary of State Rice said she sees a cease-fire coming in “days, not weeks.” Except, as the NYT puts it, there’s a “widening gap between the European and the American positions,” with the White House wanting troops ASAP but saying any cease-fire still has to wait for a plan to disarm Hezbollah.

France has led the push for a cease-fire first and foremost, a position EU members yesterday endorsed. “Bush can say, ‘Boys, let’s go,’ ” one European official told the NYT. “The only problem is that the boys are other countries’ boys.”

The NYT notices that in Lebanon the war has had the effect of “marginalizing the democratic forces” while “empowering President Émil Lahoud, a staunch ally of Syria.” The WP says the war has created a “national mood” in which speaking out against Hezbollah “seems impolitic and unpatriotic.”

Everybody fronts the confusion in Cuba, where another statement came out last night—again, purportedly written by Fidel—saying the surgery went, well, it went. “The most I can say is that the situation will remain stable for many days before a verdict can be given,” said the statement. Castro’s brother Raul, to whom Fidel reportedly handed power “temporarily,” has yet to make a public appearance.

The LAT announces, “CASTRO PRONOUNCES CONDITION STABLE.” The story echoes that, saying “Castro proclaimed himself” to be recovering. Of course, Castro didn’t “proclaim” squat. A statement supposedly by him was read by somebody else. Sure, it could’ve been Castro’s writing—or not. Does the LAT know something we don’t?

The White House said it won’t take a breather if Fidel is finally expired—it will still push for regime change. “We are actively working for change in Cuba,” said President Bush, “not simply waiting for change.”

If you haven’t seen it yet, last week’s New Yorker included a fascinating—and well-timed—piece on Castro’s twilight and what might happen once he’s gone.

Everybody goes inside with about 70 Iraqis killed—including about 45 soldiers in two big bombings. One Marine and one British soldier were also reported killed in separate attacks.

According to the AP, about 45 Shiites were kidnapped from buses near Ramadi while trying to leave the country.

The WP files from Ramadi, where the insurgency controls much of the town—there were 600 guerrilla attacks in the last month—but GIs along with Iraqi troops are trying to take it back a bit at a time. A sign in the U.S.’s local HQ reads, “Be polite, be professional, and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” The Post mentions far down that “every one of a dozen Ramadi residents interviewed” said they want GIs to leave the city.

The Post fronts and others go inside with a government auditor’s report concluding that as the U.S. is preparing to hand over reconstruction responsibilities to Iraq, the U.S. has no plan in place for doing so. “The Iraqis are going to have to develop their own system,” said the chief auditor. The Journal notices that corruption is so bad inside Iraq that U.S. officials said it constituted a “second insurgency.”

Three British soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan—one day after the U.S. handed NATO control for security in the region.

The Post says inside that Pentagon officials seem to have lied to the 9/11 commission about whether fighter planes scrambled in time to chase any of the hijacked planes. (They didn’t: The military didn’t even know about Flight 93 until after it crashed.) Some commission staff members were so ticked off about the whole thing they wanted to refer it to the Justice Department for potential prosecutions. “We to this day don’t know why [the military] told us what they told us,” said the Republican chair of the commission. “It was just so far from the truth.”