Israeli tanks head for Hamas stronghold

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip

Israeli tanks entered Gaza City early today and headed for a neighborhood where leaders of the violent Islamic militant group Hamas live, witnesses said.

A Palestinian policeman was killed and four civilians, including a doctor, were wounded by Israeli gunfire, hospital officials said.

It was the first time Israeli forces moved on the Sheikh Radwan neighborhood in northern Gaza City. The incursion came after Saturday’s blast in northern Gaza, in which four Israeli soldiers died when their tank set off a huge bomb. Hamas claimed responsibility.

Early today, witnesses said about 35 tanks, accompanied by attack helicopters, moved into position around a five-story building in Gaza City where Ahmed Ghandour and his family live and blew it up. Palestinians said Ghandour is the top aide to Hamas bombmaker Adnan al-Roul, believed responsible for planning the attack on the tank.

Two Palestinians were wounded slightly by Israeli gunfire, hospital officials said. Israeli military sources, speaking on condition on anonymity, said an operation was underway in Gaza City but it was not a large-scale invasion.

Israeli military sources, speaking on condition on anonymity, said that an operation was underway in Gaza City, but it was not a large-scale invasion.

Witnesses said that after surrounding the building, soldiers ordered everyone out and took the men away. Then soldiers sent dogs inside to see if anyone was left behind.

Israel has been blowing up the houses of suspected militants for several months as a deterrent measure. Palestinians and human rights groups charge that innocent relatives are made to suffer, but the Israelis believe that might give militants second thoughts about carrying out attacks.

Greenspan’s comments complicate Bush plan

WASHINGTON

His pointed criticism of the Bush tax plan showed that Alan Greenspan, often taken to task for being too murky in his economic pronouncements, can be crystal clear when he wants to be.

The Federal Reserve chairman warned that further tax cuts should be paid for, leading Democrats to proclaim that Greenspan had delivered the ‘kiss of death’ for President Bush’s $1.3 trillion proposal.

GOP lawmakers fumed. Greenspan, himself a Republican, had stabbed them in the back, they said.

The White House went into damage-control mode, pointing out that Greenspan had endorsed the plan’s centerpiece, elimination of the tax on stock dividends.

Private economists saw the episode last week as remarkable given Greenspan’s deft touch, after more than 15 years on the job, in avoiding political mine fields. They wondered if Greenspan’s blunt words were a sign of a man no longer worried about his future. ‘It appears as though Greenspan either does not want to be reappointed as Fed chairman next year or has learned that he will not be reappointed,’ said Paul Kasriel, chief economist at Northern Trust Co. in Chicago.

Presidential aides quickly dismissed speculation that Greenspan’s comments indicated a serious rift between the Fed and Bush, or that the administration had decided on Greenspan’s successor.

‘His term is not even expired until the middle of next year, so it’s sort of silly to begin speculating about that,’ White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.

Greenspan’s latest comments certainly differed from his remarks about Bush’s first tax cut, a $1.35 trillion, 10-year reduction that Congress passed in 2001.

Greenspan came out in favor of a big tax cut that year and gave a major push to the new president. Greenspan reasoned that the 10-year projected surplus of $5.6 trillion gave Congress plenty of room to cut taxes and still accomplish his preferred goal: to reduce the national debt.

The surplus turned out to be illusory, however, eaten up by a recession, the fight against terrorism and the tax cut.

What was surprising about Greenspan’s congressional testimony last week was not so much the warnings against further tax cuts, now that budget deficits have returned, but rather the extent of his criticism of the Bush program.

Greenspan said future tax cuts should be paid for, either by spending cuts or tax increases. Bush does not propose that. The Fed chairman also raised doubts about one of Bush’s biggest selling points – that the economy needs another round of government stimulus.

Greenspan contended that once the uncertainty over war in Iraq passes, economic growth should accelerate without the need for additional tax cuts.

For good measure, he directly challenged the administration’s ‘deficits don’t matter’ school of thought and the contention that economic growth alone can take care of the revenue lost from the tax cuts.

Some saw Greenspan’s widespread critique as an effort to restore the credibility he lost on the deficit issue when he endorsed the 2001 tax cut. Others said Greenspan basically was doing what he always has done, calling it as he sees it, even at the risk of not being reappointed.

‘If he had wanted to stay for another term, he might not have said anything different, but he might have said a little less,’ said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s in New York.

Greenspan’s current term as chairman runs until June 20, 2004. Some think that Bush will nominate a replacement early next year so the Senate can confirm a successor to Greenspan before the presidential campaign gets into full swing.

One problem with that scenario is that unlike 1987, when Greenspan was Wall Street’s universal choice to succeed Paul Volcker, there is no front-runner this time.

Mentioned as possible choices are Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Reagan administration, and Peter Fisher, a Democrat who is Treasury’s undersecretary for domestic finance.

David Jones, who has written four books on the Greenspan Fed, said as long as Greenspan, who turns 77 next month, stays healthy, he may well stay on as chairman until Jan. 31, 2006, the date his 14-year term as a Fed board member expires. Current law makes him ineligible for another term on the board.

‘The administration is distracted by the war right now, and next year Bush will be up for re-election,’ Jones said.

‘I am betting that Greenspan will end up being asked to serve out his current term and then stay on for a year or two longer so that his replacement can be picked at the beginning of the next presidential term,’ he said.

Greenspan’s tough talk on tax cuts raises speculation about his future.

Shuttle investigation continues in factory

SPACE CENTER, Houston

The board investigating the Columbia disaster toured the Louisiana plant Saturday where the shuttle’s external fuel tank was built, while searchers scouring the mountains of New Mexico – west of where any debris has been found so far – were coming up empty.

Investigators also revealed that two more Columbia control jets, making at least four in all, continued to fire in a desperate attempt to stabilize the shuttle during its final minutes.

The jets fire when flaps on the shuttle’s wings and tail are inadequate to control any abnormal motions encountered at supersonic speeds. The information was coaxed from the final 32 seconds of ragged data sent from Columbia as it was breaking apart, investigators said.

The last voice communication from the shuttle’s seven astronauts came as Columbia streaked across New Mexico during re-entry on Feb. 1 before breaking apart about two minutes later.

People near New Mexico’s Sandia Mountains, east of Albuquerque, reported hearing a whooshing sound, said Peter Olson, a spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Public Safety. He said there also was radar evidence that debris could have fallen there, but he didn’t have details.

About 140 searchers concentrated Saturday on a rugged, two-square-mile area of Embudito Canyon, walking a few feet apart. Nothing was found as teams began wrapping up by afternoon; one picked up a small disc of melted metal that was later identified as part of a beer can. Two helicopters from White Sands Missile Range that criss-crossed the area also came up empty – except for a sardine can.

The Embudito Canyon search was expected to last only a day, but NASA could search elsewhere in the state, officials said.

A tile found about 20 miles west of Fort Worth, Texas, was the farthest point west of any debris found so far, Adm. Harold Gehman Jr., who is heading the now 10-member investigation board, said Saturday.

Most of the debris has been found in East Texas, where rain hampered the search again Saturday.

Search crews also found a turbopump from the shuttle’s 7,000-pound main engine in a crater outside Fort Polk, La., and one of the shuttle’s five general purpose computers, though the equipment was badly damaged.

‘General purpose computers have no hard drive, so investigators held out little hope of extracting additional information,’ a NASA statement said. The agency has said the computers, which were the brains of Columbia, might contain data that would allow investigators to reconstruct what was occurring aboard the spacecraft.

Some of the most significant finds so far have been parts of the shuttle’s left wing and landing gear, where sensors showed temperature rises in Columbia’s final minutes.

The investigation board has said the abnormal temperatures could only be explained by an intrusion of the superheated gases that enveloped the shuttle during re-entry.

The board’s newly named 10th member, Sheila Widnall, a former secretary of the Air Force and a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Saturday her ‘gut reaction’ was that it was that heat, and not aerodynamic stresses, that broke the shuttle apart.

How those gases – heated to 2,000 degrees and more by the friction of re-entry – could have penetrated Columbia’s thermal protection layer remains unclear.

The board is considering the possibility that a falling chunk of hard insulation foam stripped from the shuttle’s external fuel tank during liftoff might have breached the spacecraft’s skin. An analysis conducted during Columbia’s 16-day mission concluded the impact did not create a risk to the shuttle and its crew, but investigators are not ruling it out.

On Saturday, board members visited the Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. plant outside New Orleans where the external fuel tank was made.

Gehman said a smaller team would return in the next week to gather data. He stressed that the investigation would treat ‘all possible causes of the accident with equal vigor.’

Meanwhile, NASA continued to urged the public to come forward with any photographs or videotapes taken of Columbia from anywhere between Hawaii and Texas. The string of problems detected aboard Columbia began shortly after the shuttle entered the atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

World worries about ramifications of war

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

A war to remove Saddam Hussein would rid Washington of a longtime nemesis. But from Pakistan’s tribal frontier to the streets of Gaza, there are fears a conflict would unleash rage in a world already swimming in it, cripple struggling regional economies and endanger crucial U.S. allies.

Critics of Bush say that the consequences of war might be steep, causing new instability and bringing more conflict. Similar dire predictions preceded the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, and didn’t come to pass, but many feel this time will be different. Popular opposition is far greater, and the sympathy felt toward the United States in the wake of the Sept. 11 tragedy has all but disintegrated. More importantly, Iraq’s fortunes are far more intertwined in those of its neighbors than were Afghanistan’s.

The Jordanian monarchy, which depends on neighbor Iraq for all its crude oil and fuel, worries its debt-ridden economy could lose $1 billion in Iraqi trade. In the Philippines, Islamic rebels have vowed “sympathy attacks” if Iraq is invaded. Saudi leaders fear Islamic hard-liners would try to undermine the pro-U.S. royal family. Across the Muslim world, people warn anti-Americanism would worsen.

And the risks would only grow if fighting dragged on, some warn.

“If the war does not turn out as planned – taking a long time with many casualties – then the whole region could go up in flames,” said Shmuel Sandler, a political scientist at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University. “Radicals in the Arab world will begin by demonstrations and increased terror attacks and maybe even aim for revolutions changing the current regimes with fundamentalist Islamic ones.”

Opposition to attacking Iraq is near unanimous among ordinary people in the Islamic world. Governments are having to tread carefully to balance staying on Washington’s good side and keeping in step with their own people.

Nowhere is tension higher than in Pakistan, a key ally for Washington in the campaign to root out al-Qaida and Taliban fighters in neighboring Afghanistan.

A resurgent coalition of Islamic hard-liners in Pakistan won unprecedented support in October elections, largely on the force of a vehemently anti-American platform. The group won control of the two provinces bordering Afghanistan.

The coalition, called Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, criticizes President Gen. Pervez Musharraf for backing the Americans in Afghanistan and has organized demonstrations against an Iraq war. Militant groups have staged attacks on Westerners and minority Christians that have killed dozens.

“There will be a strong reaction in Pakistan, especially among religious-minded people,” said retired Gen. Talat Masood, a security analyst. “The government’s greatest problem will be how to contain the upsurge generated as a consequence of the attack on Iraq.”

Pakistanis also worry that nuclear rival India could take advantage of an Iraq war to ratchet up tension over the disputed territory of Kashmir, which both countries claim in its entirety. Tensions have been on the upswing recently, with both countries vowing to annihilate the other in case of a nuclear attack.

The possibility of war in Iraq is causing unease in Afghanistan as well. A shadowy alliance of al-Qaida fighters, Taliban stragglers and followers of renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar appears to be forming against the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai, and officials say a war in Iraq would only embolden them.

“Everyone knows that if there is war in the region it will affect other countries. Here in Afghanistan we have lots of enemies, and the United States has lots of enemies who we think will increase their activities,” Interior Minister Ali Ahmad Jalali told The Associated Press.

There are also worries an Iraqi war would stretch the capacity of the international aid community that is helping rebuild Afghanistan. Many aid groups are already shifting people in anticipation of a conflict in Iraq.

Many people fear fighting in Iraq could get entangled in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which most Arabs already consider the region’s top problem.

Iraq fired missiles into Israel during the 1991 Gulf War, but the Israeli government did not respond, to avoid causing problems for Washington with its Arab partners in the anti-Iraq coalition. But with hardline Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in power now, it is thought likely Israel would strike back this time, a move sure to make Arabs even angrier at America.

The effect of a war in Iraq would be profound for its neighbors – Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria and Iran.

In NATO-member Turkey, Prime Minister Abdullah Gul has been trying to convince his countrymen that allowing thousands of U.S. soldiers on Turkish soil for an invasion of Iraq is necessary.

But a large majority of Turks – up to 94 percent according to some polls – oppose a war, fearing it could be a heavy blow to their economy, which already is in a deep recession. Turkish leaders say the Gulf War and its aftermath cost Turkey at least $30 billion in trade with Iraq.

Turkish leaders also worry a war in Iraq could lead to the creation of an independent Kurdish state in northern Iraq, which they fear would encourage separatist aspirations among Turkey’s Kurdish minority. Washington insists it aims to keep Iraq intact as one country.

In Saudi Arabia, officials have desperately sought a solution to the Iraq crisis that would head off war. While Saudis do not publicly discuss the situation, analysts and intellectuals privately say they fear a war would strengthen the influence of Muslim extremists and threaten the monarchy.

It was the presence of U.S. troops on Saudi soil beginning with the 1991 Gulf War that bin Laden used to rally militants around him, including the 15 Saudis who were among the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers.

Even in Kuwait, where most people still feel thankful to the Americans for driving the Iraqi army out in 1991, there are signs of unrest. In recent months, suspected Islamic militants have killed two Americans in attacks on U.S. military personnel and businessmen.

Former gen. considers presidential race in ’04

WASHINGTON

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark said yesterday he’s thinking about challenging President Bush in 2004 because he’s concerned about the direction the administration is taking on international affairs.

“Well, I have thought about it,” the former NATO supreme commander said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“And a lot of people have asked me to think about it.”

Clark usually gives a standard line that he is not currently a candidate, not a member of a political party and is not raising money.

Clark, an Arkansas businessman, said that for him the question about running for president “is about ideas, it’s not about candidacies.” It was his first public acknowledgment that he’s considering a run.

‘We’re at a turning point in American history here. We are about to embark on an operation that’s going to put us in a colonial position in the Middle East following Britain, following the Ottomans,’ Clark said. ‘It’s a huge change for the American people and for what this country stands for.’

Clark was asked about a travel schedule that sent him to New Hampshire, Iowa and back to New Hampshire over the last couple of years, and also included a lunch with Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe.

Clark said he’s been ‘traveling all over this country’ since he left military service and he is concerned with how the administration has handled longtime allies, like those in Europe.

‘This is an administration which really hasn’t respected our allies,’ he said.

Clark said one thing he learned in the Kosovo campaign is ‘if you really want allies, you’ve got to listen to their opinions, you’ve got to take them seriously, you’ve got to work with their issues.’

If Clark decides to run, he would be joining a Democratic field that is about to grow to eight this coming week. Former Illinois Sen. Carol Mosely-Braun and Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich are preparing to file papers to run for president.

Already in the race are former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman and the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York.

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