The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal’s world-wide newsbox, and New York Timesall lead with about 200 rockets hitting Israel and killing eight civilians. Another four soldiers died in fighting near the border after missiles hit their tanks. It was the deadliest day for Israel so far. The Los Angeles Timesand USA Todaylead with top generals telling senators that civil war sure is a possibility in Iraq. “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it,” said Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Mideast. “If not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.”
Everybody flags Hez chief Nasrallah’s TV appearance in which he said that if Beirut is bombed, “We will bomb Tel Aviv.” (Israeli airstrikes have mostly stuck to Beirut’s suburbs, which Israel hit again this morning.) Nasrallah also insisted that Israel’s offensive is being done with “American orders, American arms and American rockets.” Finally, he said Hezbollah will stop its rocket attacks if Israel stops its airstrikes.
In response, a “senior Israeli defense source” told Israeli TV, “If Tel Aviv is attacked, Lebanese national infrastructure will be destroyed.”
According to Haaretz, Israel’s defense minister is pushing to create a buffer zone all the way to the Litani River—about 15 miles north of the border—while Prime Minister Olmert reportedly isn’t into the idea.
Israel’s Cabinet already approved a four-mile-deep buffer zone, but the Post, citing U.N. observers, says Israel has a long way to go to actually control it: Its soldiers “appeared to be struggling,” says the paper. “Most of the day’s fighting took place within two miles of the frontier and sometimes only a few hundred yards from it.” U.N. officials said Israel was launching raids and not holding land. “It’s pinpoint activity,” said one official. “They’re not occupying territory.”
Most of Hezbollah’s rockets landed within one hour yesterday, which, as the Post suggests, is further evidence that Hezbollah units can still coordinate. (Hezbollah launched one volley, waited a bit, and then launched a much bigger barrage: Four Israelis who had left shelters assuming that the attack was over were killed.)
The Wall Street Journal says a Security Council resolution to end the fighting is “in sight.” The Post has a slightly different view, declaring the diplomacy “stalemated.” The various positions: France wants an international force, which it will likely lead, to come in after Hezbollah gives the nod. The U.S. wants a force that could go against Hezbollah. Israel said it’s sticking around until an international force replaces it. And Hezbollah now says it won’t go for a cease-fire until all Israeli troops leave Lebanon. Got it?
The NYT goes above-the-fold with a piece looking at the “question of prisoners held by Israel.” It’s a good thing to check out, since Hezbollah has long said one of its top aims is to free some of those prisoners. But the Times glides right by a key question: On what basis are the prisoners being held? What kinds of charges—if any—have most of them faced?
Eights Palestinians—five militants and three civilians, including a 12-year-old boy—were killed in fighting in southern Gaza.
The NYT calls the tone of the generals’ testimony “strikingly grimmer than the Pentagon’s previous assessments.” As the LAT notes, back in March Gen. Abizaid assured senators, “Iraq remains a long way from civil war.”
SecDef Rumsfeld also testified—after initially saying he was too busy—and called the sectarian killings “unfortunate” and “tragic.” He also said talk of leaving is, well, “We should consider how our words can be used by our deadly enemy.”
The NYT and LAT flags GIs killing two Shiite militiamen at a pro-Hezbollah rally. The men, who the military said fired at a base, were supporters of Moqtada Sadr. Sadr hasn’t fought the U.S. for a while, though that could change. Sadr has railed against Washington for supporting Israel, while the U.S. has recently arrested some of his aides. Today could be key. As USAT helpfully flags on Page One, Sadr has called for a mass demonstration today against Israel.
The Post goes inside with a dispatch from the town of Hit, where the residents want the U.S. to leave and at least some American commanders there agree. “Nobody wants us here, so why are we here? That’s the big question,” said Maj. Brent Lilly. “If we leave, all the attacks would stop, because we’d be gone.”
Ten people were killed by a bomb in central Baghdad. And the military announced that two Marines were killed in separate attacks in the Al-Anbar province.
Nobody fronts a big day of violence in Afghanistan, where a suicide bomber in one southern town killed 21 people and four Canadian troops were killed in two other attacks. Insurgents have obviously made a push since Monday, when the U.S. handed NATO control of security in the south—seven NATO troops have been killed—but it has yet to make it onto Page One.
Friedman Flips … With his “six-month window” for Iraq apparently now over, the Times’ Tom Friedman changes course and declares, “It’s time to start thinking about Plan B—how we might disengage with the least damage possible.” Friedman calls for a “last-ditch Bosnia-like peace conference,” in which the U.S. would “probably need” to promise to leave anyway. And if that’s a dead end? “We can’t throw more good lives after good lives.”