The Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Washington Post all lead with the meeting between Yasser Arafat and U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni, and with continued fighting in the Mideast. All the papers' fronts feature some on-the-ground reporting, with the LAT running a story about life under siege in Ramallah, the NYT tucking man-on-the street reporting in Bethlehem into its lead, and the WP focusing on the Gaza Strip, where Al-Aqsa Martryrs Brigadiers showed the paper's reporters the preparations they are making for an Israeli attack on Gaza City, which they believe is imminent. The LAT and the NYT both front local investigations into the Catholic Church's ongoing sex abuse scandal. The NYT fronts (and the LAT reefers) the March unemployment count, which rose to 5.7percent, erasing January and February decreases.
The NYT says Zinni asked Arafat to appoint a committee to prepare for Secretary of State Powell's visit, and that the Israelis stymied Zinni's attempt to meet with this committee late Friday, according to Palestinian and American sources. Only the WP mentions the Israelis' denial that they prevented Zinni from meeting with anyone. The LAT emphasizes Israel's attempts to prevent any media coverage of Arafat, and all three papers note that soldiers fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at journalists near Arafat's Ramallah compound, and warning shots at journalists in Bethlehem that wounded a French cameraman.
The NYT says at least two Israelis and 40 Palestinians were killed in yesterday's fighting in the West Bank, including the Hamas leader suspected of masterminding the Passover suicide bombing that helped spark the current Israeli offensive. The LAT and NYT both say that one of the reported dead was a West Bank leader of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. But only the NYT has the detail that he was apparently killed when a bomb he was assembling exploded unexpectedly. The NYT and the WP also mention that Israel bombed targets in southern Lebanon in reprisal for yesterday's guerrilla rocket attacks.
The WP and NYT note that the attacks are shoring up domestic support for Sharon, citing a new poll of Israelis that says 62 percent believe Sharon can lead the country successfully. The Post calls this a "huge jump" from earlier polls but doesn't give any earlier numbers. The NYT helpfully names the paper that did the study and says that Sharon was polling 45 percent in March.
All of the papers cite Israeli sources who see Bush's Thursday address, which called for a halt to the Israeli attacks but issued no specific deadline for a retreat, as a tacit approval of continued attacks. But one NYT source says that Israel will be hard pressed to continue the attacks during Powell's visit, and that the offensive now had "days and not weeks" to meet its objectives.
The WP off-leads the Pentagon's plans to establish a contingency military command center in Qatar in the event that the current command center in Saudi Arabia "comes under attack or Saudi authorities attempt to deny U.S. access." The article attributes the move to the confluence of the Bushies' interest in possible action against Iraq with the Saudis' growing discomfort about U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and U.S. policy toward Iraq and Israel. Officials say that unlike the Saudis, the Qataris won't "place limits on rules of engagement or other things."
The WP and the LAT run front-pagers outlining Colin Powell's coming visit to the Mideast. Powell is scheduled to meet with rulers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Jordan, but White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that Powell has "no plans" to meet with Arafat. (Powell later remarked that a visit could still be planned "in due course.") Administration officials in both articles, echoing Bush's avowed mistrust of Arafat, stress the importance of involving of other moderate Arab leaders, who they say were neglected in Clinton-era initiatives, in the peace process.
The NYT unemployment story says the rise in joblessness effectively ended speculation that the Fed might interests rates this May, but said other indicators, including expanded payrolls, more temp workers and overtime pay, and fewer layoffs, suggested that the economy is still growing.
The LAT fronts (and the NYT reefers) the Bush administration's announcement that it will issue voluntary guidelines, not regulations, for employers to deal with repetitive stress injuries among workers. The guidelines will replace the Clintonian regulations repealed last year.
The Doctor Will See You … Later: The NYT front details the strain placed on the Veteran Affairs Department's health-care system by an increase in enrollments. As Medicare HMOs cut coverage, the number of veterans enrolled in the V.A.'s network has doubled to six million since the mid-1990s. In many states, applicants have to wait for months simply to enroll at a clinic, and at one V.A. medical center in Florida, over 4,000 veterans will have to wait until October 2005 to see a doctor.