A day after yet another suicide attack in Israel, many newspapers predictably led with the hearings that began today at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the legality of Israel's separation wall in the occupied Palestinian territories. However, another weekend story was developing (despite the absence of any confirmation), namely a report that Osama Bin Laden had been spotted and surrounded in tribal portions of Pakistan.
The first newspaper to highlight the Bin Laden story was Britain's Sunday Express, which reported that the al-Qaida leader had been found and surrounded by U.S. forces in a border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. According to a report on the Express story by Australia's Sunday Telegraph, the British tabloid, "known for its sometimes colorful scoops," claimed Bin Laden "is in a mountainous area to the north of the Pakistani city of Quetta. The region is said to be peopled with bin Laden supporters and the terrorist leader is estimated to also have 50 of his fanatical bodyguards with him. … The claim is attributed to 'a well-placed intelligence source' in Washington, who is quoted as saying: '[Bin Laden] is boxed in.' " A subsequent story on the Express Web site qualified the initial report. The paper noted:
New operations aimed at cornering al-Qaeda and Taliban holdouts sheltering in the Pakistani tribal belt where Osama bin Laden may be hiding are soon to get under way. ... Bin Laden was not the immediate target of the operation, said one senior Pakistani intelligence official. But he said the hope was that the operation would net clues that would ultimately lead to the "biggest evil."
The Arabic press also picked up on the story. On Monday, the London-based Saudi newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat put a story on its front page under this neutral headline, "There Are Reports of Al-Qaida Leaders Being Surrounded." The story cited a U.S. Defense Department spokesman neither confirming nor denying Bin Laden's "location and whether he had been surrounded." The paper went on to say, much like the Express, that reports suggested "thousands of Pakistani troops" were preparing to attack border areas in Waziristan, near Afghanistan, "in the event of a refusal by the tribes [living in the areas] to hand over members of al-Qaida." Al-Hayat, another London-based Saudi newspaper, put the same story on its front page, noting that 8,000 Pakistani troops would join 4,000 others already in Waziristan, with the aim of capturing Bin Laden and former Taliban leader Mullah Omar.
Pakistan's Dawn quoted the country's information and broadcasting minister, Shaikh Rashid Ahmed, denying the Express story. According to the story, "[Ahmad] said the army had not started any operation. It [had] only strengthened its force to secure the borders of the country." However, it was fairly clear from the article that the minister was keen to avoid a sense that Pakistan was collaborating with foreign forces against his country's tribesmen: "Neither [Pakistani forces] will join any other country's force nor any other country's force will join them," he said.
In the more sedate surroundings of The Hague, the U. N. International Court of Justice was set to begin hearings on the legality of Israel's West Bank separation wall. Israel has protested the hearings, arguing that the wall is necessary for Israeli security, and will not be participating in the ICJ hearings in an official capacity.
The start of the hearings came a day after a suicide bombing killed eight people in a bus in Jerusalem. Reporting on the attack, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz noted that two guards had entered the bus but had been unable to spot the attacker, a 23-year-old man from a village near Bethlehem. Several officials linked the bombing to the ICJ proceedings, and the Jerusalem police chief, Maj. Gen. Mickey Levy, recognized this when he said, "There were no specific warnings about [the attack]; but because of the trial about the fence, this is a problematic week, and the preparations were in keeping with this."
As the ICJ hearings got underway, the Palestinian delegate was the first witness. According to the English-language Web site of Israel's Maariv: "Palestinian UN representative, Nasser al-Kidwa, was the first to address the court. In a scathing attack on Israel, al-Kidwa said: 'The wall will render the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict impossible.' " Kidwa was referring to the fact that Palestinians, and indeed many others, see the wall as an Israeli instrument for the de facto annexation of large swathes of Palestinian land in the West Bank. To get a sense of just what is at stake in terms of size, Al-Hayat published an almost-page-sized map of the West Bank showing the contours of the wall in its Monday edition. Whatever the wall's final path, many people, even Palestinians, will agree the bus attack did little to advance Palestinian arguments on the need to tear down the barrier.