1. Mideast battles and bombings
Israeli forces pounded Palestinian positions in Ramallah, Nablus, and even Bethlehem, where Palestinian gunmen took shelter inside the Church of the Nativity. A second front opened in the north, where Lebanon's Muslim Hezbollah fighters exchanged artillery and mortar fire with Israeli troops at the intersection of Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. Palestinians estimated at least 200 Palestinian fighters and civilians have been killed in the fighting. After days of pressure from President Bush, Israeli forces pulled back from two conquered West Bank towns, but insisted other attacks would continue "until the mission is completed." In a densely populated refugee camp in Jenin, Palestinian fighters led an ambush that killed 13 Israeli soldiers, the heaviest combat casualties Israel's army has suffered since the invasion of Lebanon two decades ago.
2. Bush's Mideast mediation
President Bush's dispatching of Secretary of State Colin Powell to negotiate a cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians marked a new high-profile attempt at U.S. diplomacy. Critics saw a blurring of the TeamBush line in the war on terror and the need for a cease-fire, but the White House insisted it was following the same policy of promoting conditions negotiated by former Sen. George Mitchell. U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni held a 90-minute meeting with Yasser Arafat in the Palestinian leader's crumbled compound. When Mr. Powell began his tour of the region, Morocco's King Mohammed VI pointedly asked him in public why he was not heading to Jerusalem sooner. Mr. Powell later said he would meet with Mr. Arafat to press for a truce that would be "instantly linked" to political talks.
3. Arab activism
Protests on the "Arab street" against Israel drew a lot of attention, with the message that the United States is alone among governments in supporting Israel's efforts to root out the Palestinian terror network. Palestinians in Ramallah complained of being held blindfolded without food or water in unpleasant outdoor conditions. Across the country, they expressed frustration at seeing the wounded die because of Israeli restrictions on ambulances, which have occasionally been found with bombs. Not all the focus on the Palestinians was positive. Some journalists reported evidence showing Yasser Arafat approved payments to terrorist efforts. Included was a bill from the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade (recognized by the U.S. as a terrorist group) requesting payment for components for 30 bombs: "We need about 5-9 bombs a week for our cells in various areas."
4. War on terror
Media coverage focused largely on reviewing the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and questions about when troops would depart. In October, top-ranking defense officials warned it would take until this summer to break the Taliban's hold on power, but it only took 49 days. The war relied heavily on special forces who organized ethnic opposition groups in the north and the south, in addition to providing targeting information that allowed pilots to fire guided bombs precisely at Taliban and al-Qaeda targets. Meanwhile, the Pentagon has prepared plans to move its military command post at Prince Sulatan Air Base in Saudi Arabia to the Al Udeid Air Base in the nation of Qatar in the event the Saudi facility comes under fire or Saudi authorities attempt to deny U.S. forces access to the post.Two thousand troops now populate a tent city in the tiny Arab enclave.
5. Catholics in crisis
Church documents revealed in a lawsuit showed the Archdiocese of Boston knowingly arranged the transfer of Father Paul Shanley, an accused serial pedophile, to posts in Massachusetts, New York, and California without informing those parishes of his history. Cardinal Bernard Law and his predecessor also cleared Fr. Shanley to serve as a priest despite knowing he spoke at a conference advocating sex between men and boys. The documents created more pressure for Cardinal Law to resign. A poll by The Washington Post, ABC News, and Beliefnet.com found 7 in 10 Catholics surveyed said sexual abuse by priests is a "major problem that demands immediate attention," and 66 percent disapproved of the way the church has handled the problem. Asked whether the scandal caused a re-examination of their personal faith, a vast majority said no.