Israel bombs Syrian post in Lebanon
Israeli warplanes destroyed a Syrian radar position deep inside Lebanon early today, killing at least three Syrian troops in Israel”s first attack on a Syrian army position in Lebanon since 1996.
Israel said the raid was in retaliation for attacks by the Islamic militant Hezbollah movement on Israeli positions. On Saturday, a Hezbollah rocket killed an Israeli soldier patrolling in a tank near the northern border.
The airstrikes were seen here as a serious escalation in Israel”s response to Hezbollah, because they raised the possibility of confrontation with Syria, which maintains 35,000 troops in Lebanon. There was no immediate response from the Syrian government.
But Lebanon immediately condemned the attack. Prime Minister Rafik Hariri called it a “serious aggression against both Lebanon and Syria.”
The attack came hours before Jordanian Foreign Minister Abdul-Ilah Khatib was due to arrive in Israel to formally present to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon an Egyptian-Jordanian plan for ending more than six months of Israeli-Palestinian violence and restarting peace talks.
Lebanese sources said that three waves of Israeli warplanes hit the Syrian radar position built on a hill near the main Damascus-Beirut highway, 22 miles east of Beirut.
The site, described as one of the Syrian army”s key posts in Lebanon, reportedly was reduced to a heap of smoking rubble. Lebanese sources said that a Syrian officer was among the dead and that at least five other people were wounded. A nearby Syrian military position reportedly also was hit.
In a statement issued after the raid, the Israeli government accused Hezbollah of carrying out eight “terror incidents” on the northern border since Israel ended its 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon in May. The statement noted that three Israeli soldiers have died and three have been abducted in Hezbollah attacks since the pullout.
Hezbollah and Syria have refused to accept the U.N.-demarcated northern border as final. Hezbollah maintains that a small area called the Shabaa Farms that Israel holds is Lebanese territory. Israel and the United Nations say the land was captured by Israel from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War and is therefore not part of any Israeli-Lebanese border dispute. But Hezbollah continues to attack Israeli troops patrolling the area.
Israel accuses Syria of encouraging the Hezbollah attacks as a means to keep pressure on Israel”s northern border as it continues to deal with the Palestinian revolt in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Mayor rolls back curfew after calm night
The mayor yesterday rolled back the city”s dusk-to-dawn curfew in response to a calm night following the funeral of a young black man whose shooting triggered a week of unrest.
Mayor Charles Luken said the curfew will start at 11 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. to allow families more time to celebrate Easter together.
“Hopefully today can be a day of prayer. A day of peace. A day of coming together,” Luken said.
The April 7 death of 19 year old Timothy Thomas led to three days of rioting in predominantly black neighborhoods that stopped when the mayor instituted the curfew on Thursday.
Overnight Saturday, police arrested 187 people for curfew violations.
“It was almost a boring night for us,” police Chief Thomas Streicher said.
He said there were calls about shots being fired, and sporadic instances of rocks and bottles being thrown at police cruisers.
Since Thomas” death, more than 700 people have been arrested for looting, arson, vandalism and curfew violations.
Thomas, who was wanted on 14 warrants for misdemeanors and traffic violations, was unarmed when he was shot while running from police. He is the fourth black man killed by police since November.
Stephen Roach, the officer who shot Thomas, is on paid administrative leave.
Hundreds of protesters marched through the riot-scarred Over-the-Rhine neighborhood after Saturday”s funeral.
Four people were injured by crowd-control bean bags shot by police and State Highway Patrol officers, but the march was otherwise peaceful. Police and the FBI were investigating why officers also shot bean bags at a group milling on streets shortly after the funeral ended.
“We don”t feel completely like this is over. We recognize that in certain parts of the city tensions still are a little high,” Luken said.
Cincinnati, a city of 331,000, is 43 percent black.
Time is up for tax procrastinators
The day of reckoning has arrived for the estimated 26 million taxpayers who have not finished their income tax forms.
The filing deadline for taxpayers in most parts of the country is midnight today. In parts of the Northeast, people have until midnight Tuesday because of the Patriot”s Day holiday in Massachusetts, home to an Internal Revenue Service center.
Getting that extra day are taxpayers in Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and in New York state north of Westchester and Rockland counties.
In their rush to file, tax procrastinators should double-check their math and take care to use the correct tax amount from the tax table, the IRS advises. One way to save possible headaches later on is to correctly list Social Security numbers, including those for dependents.
IRS spokesman Don Roberts estimated that roughly 37 million tax returns would be filed in the final two weeks before the deadline 11 million last week and 26 million postmarked or electronically filed on Monday. About 130 million individual returns in all are expected this year.
Many post offices around the country will be open late to handle returns. The IRS accepts a postmark as proof the return was filed on time.
Taxpayers can request an automatic four-month extension, but they should pay their estimated taxes on time. Otherwise, the IRS will assess a late-payment penalty and interest currently running at 8 percent.
Extensions can be obtained by phone by calling (888) 796-1074 some information from the 1999 return is needed to verify identity or with Form 4868.
Those who owe money should mail a check or money order made out to “United States Treasury,” rather than the IRS, and include a Social Security number, the year and the type of form filed. For most people this would be “2000 Form 1040.”
For people facing a big tax bill they cannot pay all at once, the IRS offers several options. One is credit-card payment through one of the two toll-free numbers: (888) ALL-TAXX or (800) 2PAYTAX.
The call is free, but the companies that run the services for the IRS collect a convenience fee for the transaction. The IRS points out that it gets none of this money, nor does it collect and store credit-card numbers.
The IRS also will most likely approve a request for an installment payment plan if the taxpayer owes less than $25,000 and can pay within a five-year period. To obtain such a plan, attach Form 9465 to the front of the return there is a $43 fee to set up an installment plan, which carries 8 percent interest and a penalty of 0.25 percent per month once it is approved by the IRS.
The IRS has a program for people with big debts they cannot possibly pay. Known as the offer-in-compromise program, it allows taxpayers to negotiate a lower settlement of their tax debt.
The program has become so popular that the IRS has a huge backlog. The General Accounting Office, which is the investigative arm of Congress, estimated that the number of offers grew from 32,300 in 1997 to 87,500 in 2000.
“That is actually one of our problem areas,” said IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti. “It”s going to take some time to get the backlog down.”
Skipper of sub may avoid court-martial
The three admirals on the Navy”s court of inquiry into the USS Greeneville”s sinking of a Japanese fishing vessel have unanimously recommended that the submarine”s skipper not be tried by a court-martial, The New York Times reported yesterday.
Instead, the skipper, Cmdr. Scott Waddle, is likely to face a lesser form of punishment such as a punitive letter or reprimand, the Times said, citing unnamed senior Pentagon officials.
A reprimand would effectively end Waddle”s career and could reduce his retirement benefits. But it would not result in a jail sentence, as a court-martial could.
The Navy”s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Stephen Pietropaoli, said yesterday that he could not confirm the report.
“I don”t know it to be true,” Pietropaoli said. “Am I surprised? No.”
Various media reports last week said that the panel was split in its recommendation, with one report saying it was unlikely Waddle would face a court-martial. Military officials did not comment on those reports.
On Feb. 9, the Greeneville surfaced beneath the Japanese fishing vessel the Ehime Maru near Honolulu while conducting a rapid-ascent drill for 16 civilian guests. Nine people on the boat were killed in the accident.
The collision strained relations between Japan and the United States, and prompted criticism of a Navy public relations program that allows civilians on submarines at sea. Sixteen civilians were on the Greeneville, two of them at key controls, during the collision.
A panel of three admirals delivered its findings and recommendations regarding the collision to Adm. Thomas Fargo, the commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, in a meeting at Pearl Harbor on Friday. The Navy said the report would not be made public until Fargo decides what discipline, if any, Waddle and the submarine”s other officers should face.
Waddle”s civilian attorney, Charles Gittins, said he does not expect to see the report until Fargo reaches a decision.
He said Friday he has told the Navy that the skipper would accept nonjudicial punishment and intends to retire from the Navy “as soon as the disciplinary issues have been resolved.” But he said Waddle does not deserve to be court-martialed.
Frail Pope delivers Easter sermon
Frail, and at moments even wobbly, John Paul II expressed hope yesterday that the message of Easter can inspire humanity to defeat evil and bring peace to the Middle East, the Balkans, Africa and other places plagued by violence.
“Men and women of the third millennium, the Easter gift of light that scatters the darkness of fear and sadness is meant for everyone,” John Paul said near the end of a two-hour ceremony in St. Peter”s Square, where close to 100,000 people braved unusually chilly weather for a Roman spring.
“Rediscover with joy and wonder that the world is no longer a slave to the inevitable. The world of ours can change: peace is possible even where for too long there has been fighting and death,” the pontiff said, naming the Holy Land, Jerusalem, the Balkans, Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Age and physical ailments have taken their toll on the pope, who turns 81 next month. As he made his way to the altar on the steps of St. Peter”s Basilica, John Paul at one point swayed and appeared to lose his balance. Two aides quickly grabbed his arms and steadied him.
Sunday”s late-morning Mass was the last in a series of taxing Holy Week appearances for John Paul that included a long, late night Saturday vigil service held in the basilica instead of in the square because of the rain.
For the first time, John Paul walked and carried a cross for only a very small part of the Good Friday ceremony at the Colosseum. Intervals between public ceremonies also were lengthened to give the pontiff more time to rest.
An arm tremor, a shuffling walk and slurred words symptoms of Parkinson”s disease have troubled the pontiff for several years. But on Sunday, his voice rang out strong and clear during his traditional Easter reflection on the world”s trouble spots. He prayed that “this commitment of ours will not falter, even when weariness slows our steps.”
He followed the “Urbi et Orbi” (Latin for “to the city and to the world”) Easter message by wishing the world happy Easter in 61 languages.
By the end of the ceremony, the crowd had swelled to about 100,000 as tourists and Romans spilled over from the square.
The square had a festive air, with the colorful flower arrangements and pilgrims clapping upon hearing Easter greetings in their native languages. The sun was strong, but the faithful had to keep moving to keep warm in the 45-degree chill when the Mass began.
John Paul prayed that mankind be supported “in our dedication to building a more human world.” He said strength was needed to “defeat the powers of evil and death, and to place all research and all technical and social progress at the service of a better future for all.”
Among the languages John Paul used in delivering the greetings were Greek, Maltese and Arabic.