The top story in the Wall Street Journal's world-wide newsbox and the lead at the New York Times announce that Israel rolled tanks toward the Gaza Strip and called up an unknown number of reservists in preparation for its military response to the recent suicide bombing in a pool hall. The Los Angeles Times lead, also reported in the WSJ and NYT top stories, is word that Palestinian fighters began leaving the Church of the Nativity early Friday after Cyprus offered to temporarily take in the 13 militants whose fate had stalled the negotiations repeatedly. From Cyprus, the men will be exiled to several other nations. Twenty-six more church hold-outs are on their way to Gaza and the remaining dozens of civilians are free to go. The Washington Post leads with the news that Maryland's governor has ordered a stop to executions until the death penalty can be reviewed for racial bias. Maryland is the second state, after Illinois, to issue a moratorium on executions because they may not be applied fairly. USA Today leads with a Department of Education report that reveals American high-school seniors have a "truly abysmal" understanding of U.S. history, according to an administrator of a test they took. For example, over half the students couldn't pick the U.S. ally at the beginning of World War II out of the following list: a) Germany b) Japan c) the Soviet Union and d) Italy. Scores haven't improved since the last time seniors took the test seven years ago.
According to the papers, Israel's foreign minister said that Israel's military objectives are to conduct isolated strikes on clusters of suicide terrorists. The WP says that according to Israeli officials, the military strike will be more narrowly targeted than the West Bank offensive, though the LAT points out that usually reservists being called up means big operations. Combat might be difficult in Gaza because it is so crowded, the papers agree. Gaza's one million residents stocked up on food and supplies in anticipation of the Israeli military's arrival.
After protesting its assigned role in the deal to end the Bethlehem standoff, Italy decided it would take in some of the Palestinian gunmen, and Spain, Austria, Greece, Luxembourg, Ireland, and possibly Canada will get the rest, the papers report. The exact terms of the deal—the conditions under which the men will live in exile and how long exile will last—have not been reported. An AP report in USAT says there is "no indication" that the men will be confined within their new countries and that the details of the exile arrangement will be decided by EU foreign ministers on Monday.
The papers tentatively concluded the standoff was over yesterday, but the deal was waylaid by a disagreement over whether a European monitor should stay with the 13 men until negotiators could find a place for them.
Everyone reports that in response to the latest suicide bombing, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat ordered the arrest of 16 members of Hamas. Hamas said those arrested were low-ranking. President Bush warned Arafat that he must keep the militants in jail. The WSJ and USAT remind that Palestinian fighters arrested by the Palestinian Authority historically don't stay imprisoned very long.
Bush denied reports that the White House wants to reform the Palestinian Authority by removing Arafat, the papers say. Senior American officials have said that Bush agreed that Arafat may have to take on a symbolic role to make way for a Palestinian leader who can negotiate a peace deal.
The WP reports that despite widespread support for suicide bombings among Palestinians, people in Gaza, and even the militant group Hamas, concede that some suicide attacks are inappropriate, namely, those committed by young teen-agers. After three 15-year-old Palestinians were killed charging Israeli soldiers recently, Hamas issued a statement forbidding attacks by teen-agers acting alone and told youngsters to turn in friends who were considering becoming suicide bombers.
The papers have details today on a bomb attack in a Russian town along the Caspian Sea. The explosion killed 34 and wounded 130 bystanders and participants in a parade commemorating the end of World War II. Russian President Putin suggested Chechen rebels were responsible.
The Senate and White House have agreed on a plan to give Bush "fast-track" authority to negotiate trade deals with other countries that Congress can only approve or reject, not change, the papers report. The president's ability to do this has not been renewed by Congress since 1994. Senate leaders expect the deal to become law.
The NYT reports on an enthusiastic anti-American protest in Arab countries: grass roots movements to boycott products associated with the United States. Arabs are discouraged from patronizing Starbucks (but not Dominos, perhaps because some people believe it is an Italian chain), and fast-food sales are down an average of 30 percent in Arab countries. One Saudi doughnut chain executive is trying to pass off doughnuts as a Saudi food—his logic being that they could be so, since he's been making doughnuts in Saudi Arabia for 21 years—and is offering $300,000 to anyone who can prove his enterprise is connected to the United States.