Bethlemayhem

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
April 1 2002 8:27 AM

Bethlemayhem

All of the papers lead with the two suicide bombings yesterday in Israel, and the Israeli military response. The stories all mention Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's declaration that Israel is now "at war" against terrorism, details of the army's ongoing exploits in Ramallah, where they have surrounded Yasser Arafat's headquarters, and the advance of Israeli tanks on at least two other West Bank towns. The later-closing  Los Angeles Times and USA Today are the most assertive on the whereabouts of new forces: both report tanks 500 yards from Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity, and mention troop deployment in other West Bank settlements.

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The New York Times says Sharon's statements presage a "new major assault on the West Bank and possibly for a raid into Mr. Arafat's office." The Wall Street Journal  sees his address as an attempt to link his efforts to the U.S. war on terrorism. The NYT and the LAT compare the situation to Israel's controversial 1982 invasion of Lebanon, when then-Defense-Minister Sharon's forces expelled Arafat from Beirut. They also note that Arafat himself invoked the Lebanon analogy in his comments yesterday, as a testament to his own resilience. 

The papers also note that around 40 "foreign" members of a pro-Palestinian group entered Arafat's compound, and most remained inside to serve as human shields in the event of a raid. Only the  Washington Post  notes that this group was led by Jose Bove, the French activist who gained fame smashing up a French McDonald's in 1999. Bove elected not to stay and shield Arafat, and was arrested by Israeli authorities upon leaving the compound.

The NYT,LAT and the WP underscore the irony that the more severe bombing (17 dead by the LAT's late count) took place in Haifa, "one of the few areas where Israeli Jews and Arabs live in relative harmony" (NYT), and say that Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed both Jews and Israeli Arabs.

The WP and the LAT note that the army ordered all foreigners, including reporters, out of Ramallah, about an hour before Boston Globe reporter Anthony Shadid was shot and injured there.

Everyone's coverage mentions that the Bush administration had little comment on yesterday's events. The LAT hits this point hardest with a one-column headline "BUSH SILENT AS PRESSURE RISES TO ACT ON MIDEAST" under its four-column headline about the bombings. The article says Bush was one of the few world leaders who did not comment publicly on the latest bombings, relaying his regrets through a spokesman instead.

The WP fronts the U.S. military's turnaround on laser eye surgery for its soldiers. Two years ago, people who had received the surgery were restricted from active duty, but a Defense Department review panel recently reversed its stance on the procedure, and Army hospitals have received $15 million from Congress to lase the eyes of thousands of troops in the coming years. Officials, the WP notes, are quick to point out that the service is voluntary.

The WP front also investigates measures backed by the Bush administration to encourage welfare recipients to wed. One proposals calls for $300 million in grants for state programs like one in Michigan that aims to use the birth of a child as a "magic moment" to steer unmarried welfare parents to the altar. It's unclear where the money will come from: the story says the administration wants a "recycling of funds that have been used for other welfare purposes," but one conservative source calls the proposal a "special subsidy" that wouldn't divert money from other programs.  The story's claim that "liberals, including women's groups, are horrified" by the proposal is undercut by another source, Rep. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), "one of the party's most influential members on the subject of welfare," who says of the plan: "I'm not ready to condemn it."

The NYT front says that American officials have "quietly abandoned" attempts to cut opium production in Afghanistan this year. Hamid Karzai, chairman of the Afghan Interim Administration, announced a new ban on opium cultivation in January, but "continuing upheaval" has stymied enforcement attempts, and some officials expect a bumper crop of poppies that could meet the demands of opium customers worldwide for two or more years.

Another NYT fronter taps rising prescription drug prices as a key domestic issue in both state and national elections this year. Bills dealing with the cost of drugs are currently under debate in 37 states.

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