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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 07:18 GMT
Blair's diplomatic setback leads papers
Many papers lead with what appears to have been an uncomfortable time for Tony Blair in Syria.

According to The Independent, President Assad's public criticism of the bombing campaign represented the first real setback for Mr Blair's shuttle diplomacy.

The paper says it was the day the prime minister's vision of a New World Order came up against cold political reality.

Both The Sun and The Mirror prefer to characterise Tony Blair's treatment at the hands of the Syrians as "a mauling in the lion's den".

The Times says Mr Blair's visit to Damascus brought him face to face with the full ferocity of Muslim opposition to the war.

The paper says his troubled visit to the Middle East is likely to get even bumpier on Thursday when he faces an Israeli government angered by his decision to visit Syria.

Wavering support

The Sun accuses the Conservative leader Iain Duncan-Smith, of "wobbling" in his attitude to the bombing campaign.

It says his criticism of Mr Blair for failing to win over hearts and minds contradicts his promise to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the prime minister.

The paper says the Tories are now appearing to oppose Mr Blair on the one thing on which they promised their support.

The papers continue their efforts to assess what effect the bombing campaign is actually having.

Living with war

There are vivid accounts of life in the Taleban stronghold of Kandahar where a small number of foreign journalists have been allowed to stay.

The Independent correspondent describes it as a ghost city where only those too poor, sick or old to flee are left behind.

He says that while the bombing raids have been eminently successful in levelling buildings once used by the Taleban leadership, they have also caused substantial death and destruction among the civilian population.

Wife's defence

The Daily Telegraph carries an interview with the wife of the Algerian pilot accused of training at least one of the suicide hijackers.

Lotfi Raissi was arrested in Berkshire 10 days after the attacks, but his wife Sonia, insists he has no connection to terrorism.

She says they watched in shock and disbelief as pictures of the atrocities were broadcast on television.

If her husband were a Muslim extremist, she asks, would he really marry a French woman from a Catholic family who used to be a dancer?

In at the deep end

Tony Blair's visit to the Middle East meant Wednesday's Prime Minister's Question Time was fielded by his deputy, John Prescott - an event cherished by the parliamentary sketch writers.

Simon Hoggart in The Guardian likens Mr Prescott to a tanned, if somewhat overweight Australian lifesaver who took a huge breath, dived into the waves and did not come up for air until the ordeal was over.

Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail says words spilled from his mouth like whizzing vegetables flying from the top of a high-speed food mixer.

But for Frank Johnson in The Daily Telegraph, the deputy prime minister held a steady course and was able to keep his skirmishes with the English language to a minimum.

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