Everybody leads with word that Israeli troops began their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip while the main Palestinian militant groups announced a cease-fire. Israel is planning to leave the whole Strip except around settlements.
The militant groups set a series of conditions for the cease-fire, including the halting of so-called targeted killings and Israel's release of "all Palestinian and Arab prisoners," which the Washington Post guesses Israel is "unlikely to accept." Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they'll cease strikes for three months. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, connected to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction, had been waffling on the deal and finally signed on yesterday, saying they won't strike for six months.
Israeli officials said they weren't impressed. "Arrangements with terrorist organizations are not worth the paper they're written on," said a government spokesman, who argued that it's just going to give the groups time to regain strength. But Israel also agreed to halt attacks against militants and said even in the "ticking time-bomb" scenario they would give the U.S. a heads-up first and ask Palestinian security forces to act. The New York Times, citing an Israeli official, says that Palestinian cops in the past few days have stopped at least two planned attacks. As for the militant groups' motivations, one Israeli security official told the Wall Street Journal, "Hamas understands that the Palestinian people need a break, and they can't afford to be perceived as an obstacle to the possibility of a better life."
The NYT and Los Angeles Times both notice that Israel troops withdrawing from northern Gaza left, as the NYT puts it, "a trampled landscape of uprooted orange orchards, smashed sewer lines and demolished houses." (The NYT skips any stated defense from Israel.)
The LAT and NYT also both notice that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice criticized the construction of a security fence around the West Bank, which at points cuts deeply into Palestinian territory. She suggested it amounts to a unilateral border. Israeli officials seemed to dismiss her objections.
The papers have usually described the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades as an "off-shoot" of Arafat's Fatah section, but today they suggest a more direct connection, with the WP and WSJ both describing it as a "wing" of Fatah, while the NYT doesn't even mention the Brigades and just says that Fatah itself signed onto the cease-fire. What happened? Has the connection between the two recently become clearer?
The NYT and LAT front a series of raids in Iraq by U.S. forces—more than 20—trying to smash the growing guerrilla campaign. "We want to send a message: 'don't mess with us,' " said one American officer.
It's not a helpful message, Iraqi police officers told the Post. "No one is happy with the Americans, no one in this entire area," said one cop in the so-called Sunni Triangle, where the raids were concentrated. "They are occupiers, and they act as occupiers. It's a military force and we don't want to have any relations with them."
The NYT suggests that the ongoing raids haven't been particularly productive. The soldiers have only found a few AK-47s, but they did run across one man they suspect of being a recruiter for anti-American forces.
The Post notes that unnamed U.S. officials "acknowledged" that the Baathists might not be the only ones behind the guerrilla attacks. "Religious issues may have prompted at least some of the militant activity," says the paper. That's obviously intriguing, but the WP doesn't say anything more about it.
Meanwhile, attacks against U.S. soldiers continued. Two GIs were injured and an Iraqi civilian killed when their convoy was attacked near Baghdad.
The Post off-leads California's money troubles and the state legislature's inability so far to come up with a budget for the new fiscal year, which starts tomorrow. It's a bad situation, but the Post's headline screams a little too loudly: "CALIFORNIA NEAR FINANCIAL DISASTER; Hours Remain to Solve $38 Billion Shortfall." As the LAT notes, the legislators don't need to "solve" the whole shortfall today, they could pass a kind of place-holder budget.
The NYT fronts and others reefer the collapse of a porch at a party in Chicago on Saturday night, which killed 12 people and injured about 50.
The papers all Page One the death of film legend Katharine Hepburn, who was 96. She was nominated for a dozen best-actress Oscars and won four of them. Here is a complete list of her films. The NYT's Web site also includes the paper's original reviews of Hepburn's movies. And the Post has a series of her quotes including, "I don't believe in marriage. It's bloody impractical to love, honor and obey. If it weren't, you wouldn't have to sign a contract."
The Post's Style Inivtational yesterday featured a sniglet-esque contest in which readers were asked to take a word, add or subtract a letter, and then redefine it. Two entries: "Forkplay: A lavish dinner date, in the hope of getting lucky." And, "Calculust: Figuring out exactly how much to spring for forkplay."