Israel carries out first targeted assassination since Saturday and steps up cease-fire talks.

Israel carries out first targeted assassination since Saturday and steps up cease-fire talks.

Israel carries out first targeted assassination since Saturday and steps up cease-fire talks.

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
Jan. 2 2009 6:14 AM

Israel Kills Senior Hamas Leader

The Washington Postleads with the continuing Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, which killed a senior Hamas leader  yesterday. It marked the first time in the nearly weeklong bombing campaign that a Hamas leader was targeted and came at a time when Israel continues to amass troops and tanks along the Gaza border in preparation for a possible ground invasion. Israel also stepped up its diplomatic efforts in the face of mounting international pressure to bring an end to the punishing aerial campaign. The Wall Street Journal also leads its world-wide newsbox with Gaza andgets word that Israel is currently in discussions with Washington officials about the possibility of using international monitors to make sure Hamas stops its rocket attacks on Israel and that it's not able to rearm if there's a cease-fire.

The New York Timesleads with a look at how the steel industry "is emerging as a leading indicator of what lies ahead" for the economy. After achieving record profits in the first nine months of the year, the industry is now in collapse, and executives are hoping that the massive stimulus plan that is in the works will provide a much-needed jolt to American steel. USA Todayleads with the formal handover of control of the Green Zone to the Iraqi government, which marked the beginning of a year when the United States is set to decrease its presence in Iraq. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said he would push to make Jan. 1 a national holiday to mark the return of sovereignty. For now the move is mostly symbolic, but by the end of the year, U.S. presence in the Green Zone could be cut by 50 percent. The Los Angeles Timesleads with the grim outlook for Hollywood in 2009. More layoffs are seen as pretty much inevitable, and if a strike by the Screen Actors Guild materializes, it could prove devastating to the industry.

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The LAT says that yesterday's airstrike that killed Nizar Rayyan suggests that "the Jewish state could be reviving its practice of assassinating Hamas leaders." Rayyan is the most senior Hamas official to be killed since the group's co-founders died in airstrikes in 2004. The airstrike also killed Rayyan's four wives and nine of his 12 children. The LAT does the best job of explaining how Rayyan's death is a severe blow for Hamas since he was "uniquely popular" and was "a force in both the political and military wings of Hamas." He was such a strong advocate for suicide bombings that his own son died in such an attack. While most of Hamas' leadership went into hiding when the Israeli airstrikes began, Rayyan refused to leave his home.

The WSJ emphasizes that nothing has been decided yet in the talks between the United States and Israel, and the negotiations could easily fall apart. Regardless, the fact that the talks are even taking place seems to suggest "a significant softening in Israel's position." But it might prove difficult to reach an agreement with Israel at a time when politicians are keeping busy by supporting a wide variety of negotiating tactics in an attempt to gain favor with the public in advance of next month's general election.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was in France yesterday and said that a temporary cease-fire would be harmful to Israel. "There is no humanitarian crisis," she said, "and therefore there is no need for a humanitarian truce." The WSJ notes that the Israeli government has tried to brief President-elect Barack Obama and his top aides on the situation, but his team has refused.

The WP notes that Israeli military officials say a ground invasion could come at any moment. And while some see the threats as a negotiating tactic, the paper notes that the Israeli government is feeling pressured to continue the campaign, and perhaps topple Hamas. A ground operation would almost certainly be required in order to fulfill such an ambitious goal, and that would surely increase the death toll on both sides.

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The Big Three automakers were once seen as a bellwether of the U.S. economy, but now "steel has replaced autos as the industry to watch for an early sign that severe recession is beginning to lift," says the NYT. Since September, steel output has decreased by 50 percent, and production has reached its lowest point since the 1980s. Industry executives are now one of the main proponents of a massive public investment program that could lead to a surge of demand in steel to construct everything from highways to schools. "What we are asking," said the head of a giant steel maker, "is that our government deal with the worst economic slowdown in our lifetime through a recovery program that has in every provision a 'buy America' clause."

Some think that the ongoing recession could "force Hollywood to fundamentally change the way it does business," reports the LAT. Studios and production companies are already cutting back on their lavish ways in an attempt to save as much money as possible. It's not just that TV-ad revenue is down or that DVD sales have been on a downward spiral, but the credit crunch has also made it more difficult to obtain financing for expensive projects. As consumers continue to cut back on their spending as a result of the bad economy, some think studios will be forced to step up efforts to distribute their content via the Internet and other new outlets such as cell phones. "The recession will accelerate the transformation of the entertainment industry from traditional media to tomorrow's reality of new media," an economist said.

The NYT fronts a look at how corruption has seemingly seeped into every corner of Afgahnistan's government. "From the lowliest traffic policeman to the family of President Hamid Karzai himself, the state … often seems to exist for little more than the enrichment of those who run it," writes Dexter Filkins. Almost every public transaction seems to carry some request for a bribe or gift, and that is contributing to a decline in public confidence in the government and the rise of the Taliban. This poses a unique challenge to the incoming Obama administration, which "may be required to save the Afghan government not only from the Taliban insurgency … but also from itself."

After spending several years ignoring the question of whether combat in Iraq could have contributed to violent behavior that has been seen among some returning service members, the military is finally taking a look at the issue, reports the NYT. In Ft. Carson, Colo., the base commander is investigating the nine current or former members of Ft. Carsons' 4th Brigade Combat Team that have killed someone or were charged with killings within three years after returning from Iraq to find out if there's something the military could have done to prevent the violence. The secretary of the Army is now thinking about conducting a review of all soldiers who were involved in crimes since returning from service in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The WSJ hears word that the United Kingdom is the latest European country to be seriously considering receiving additional Guantanamo Bay inmates. Australia also said it is considering helping resolve what might be Obama's biggest obstacle in his goal of closing down the detention facility. Portugal has been pressing European governments to assist in the effort, but Germany is the only other country to have publicly acknowledged it is willing to consider the issue.

The WP's Charles Krauthammer writes that the Israel-Gaza war "possesses a moral clarity not only rare but excruciating." Israel works hard to prevent civilian casualties, while for Hamas "the only thing more prized than dead Jews are dead Palestinians," and it does everything to maximize the number of civilian deaths in order to get world opinion on its side. "The question is whether Israel still retains the nerve—and the moral self-assurance—to win."

In the WSJ, Alan Dershowitz also writes about how Hamas often deliberately puts civilians in the line of fire and says that it's "absurd" to claim Israel has violated the principle of proportionality. There is simply "no legal equivalence" between deliberately targeting combatants and deliberately killing civilians. In addition, proportionality should be measured by the deliberate risk posed to civilians rather than the raw number that are killed. "Until the world recognizes that Hamas is committing three war crimes—targeting Israeli civilians, using Palestinian civilians as human shields, and seeking the destruction of a member state of the United Nations—and that Israel is acting in self-defense and out of military necessity, the conflict will continue."

While Hollywood is preparing for a tough year, those who actually want to give their hard-earned money to the film industry are finding that it's not always an easy proposition. "Seeing all the films that may receive Oscar nods this season requires a single-mindedness bordering on mania," writes the NYT's David Carr. Even after choosing a movie, "the dogfight has only begun." If you manage to snag a precious ticket, you have to resign yourself to getting to the theater early to grab a good seat and pray that the people sitting next to you aren't more interested in their cell phones than the movie. If Hollywood expects people to leave their comfortable home entertainment systems, "it might want to think about the notion that sitting down and actually seeing the movie should not require investing huge chunks of time, sharp elbows or an even sharper tongue."

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.