Everybody leads with the Palestinian suicide bomber who killed himself and five Israeli citizens in Etanya, Israel, 20 miles north of Tel Aviv, and the prompt Israeli response: an F-16 airstrike that took the lives of at least nine Palestinians. It was, according to the New York Times, "the deadliest day of the year in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
The Islamic militant group Hamas claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing, saying that it was in retaliation for the killing of five Palestinian officers earlier in the week. The incident took place at the entrance to a crowded shopping mall, and more than a hundred people were wounded. The bomber, an 18-year-old "grocery store clerk" (NYT) or "part-time carpenter" ( Washington Post), aroused the suspicion of several onlookers, including a mall security guard, prior to the explosion, due to his unseasonably heavy clothing. Israeli police were apparently arriving at the scene when the bomb went off.
The papers differ somewhat in their portrayal of the Israeli response, which marked, as the WP has it, "the first time warplanes have been used to attack Palestinian areas since the 1967 Middle East War." The WP characterizes the raid as "swift and ferocious," while the Los Angeles Times has the warplanes "screaming into the skies." The implication in all the papers is that the Israeli response may have been unnecessarily harsh. Israeli Cabinet Minister Danny Nevah defends the attack in the LAT, saying that the Palestinians "must know that the military price they will pay for terrorism is very high."
The WP has a disturbing quote from the suicide bomber's brother, who said he was shocked but proud when he heard the news. "We are happy because he will now stand before his God," he says. "He has given his soul and body for the Palestinian people." The paper does a good job of capturing the depth of feeling on both sides of the conflict. "We should wait until 12 o'clock when they all go in to the mosques to pray, and then we should go in there and kill them all. Kids, mothers, it doesn't matter," is the quote from an Israeli citizen. A Hamas spokesman says, "Every time we bury a Palestinian martyr, you should expect another suicide bomber."
The WP and the NYT also quote from the suicide note left by the bomber alongside a box of chocolates he had bought for his mother. The note says, in part, "Whoever believes that God's religion will be victorious without holy struggle, without blood, without body parts, is living under an illusion."
The United States roundly condemned the violence, as one might expect, without explicitly taking sides or assigning blame. The WP notes that the planes used in the raid were U.S.-made, even though the United States specifically requires that "such equipment be used for defensive purposes only." A U.S. official said that Israel could argue that the attack was, in fact, defensive.
Elsewhere, in a natural follow-up to the unveiling of President Bush's energy plan, the NYT fronts a story on the polluting practices of U.S. oil refineries, over half of which are believed to be in violation of federal air-pollution laws. The paper breaks down the issues deftly and with barely concealed contempt for the feds. In essence, the EPA and the Justice Department, under orders from Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, may ease up on refinery regulation in order to encourage expansion and, in so doing, solve the country's energy problems. David Hawkins, formerly of the EPA, now with the Natural Resources Defense Council, has this: "Our fear is that they will waive the requirements for new source review for pollution-increasing projects at the refineries, and so you might get more production but you'll also get more pollution." Articles with a similar thrust are likely to become a Times staple in the months ahead.
The LAT also fronts its energy stories, one about California Gov. Gray Davis' attack on the Bush energy plan, and another, more interesting, piece on the California Public Utilities Commission's claims that "power generators scaled back electricity production and then benefited from the resulting higher prices." This behavior may have led to the state's current energy crisis.
The NYT goes above the fold with a story on the surprising level of violence now associated with the marijuana trade in New York. Once the province of dealers of more hard-core drugs like crack and cocaine, deadly violence is now part of the marijuana dealer's repertoire also. "Some people may think the drug is benign, but the distribution network certainly is not," says the commander of the Bronx Narcotics Division. One reason for the shift is that increasingly potent strains of the drug are selling for "prices that are higher than the price of gold."
The WP fronts "statins," a class of drugs considered to be "the all-time champ of unanticipated benefits." Just as minoxidil, a blood-pressure drug, inspired hair growth, statins, originally intended for the treatment of high cholesterol, seem to combat just about everything else as well, including stroke, heart attacks, diabetes, and Alzheimer's. Maybe cancer. "New evidence of their effects seems to tumble out of research laboratories every month."
Perhaps they will be of some help with the nation's energy crisis as well.