President Barack Obama's special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, who arrived in Pakistan on February 9, met the next day with President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and army chief General Ashfaq Kayani during a three-day visit. "I am here to listen and learn the ground realities of this critically important country," the U.S. Embassy in Pakistan quoted Holbrooke as saying upon his arrival in Pakistan.
On February 5, we reported about the fate of the U.S. air base at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, which has played a key role in supplying the heavily American NATO forces in the ongoing military operation in Afghanistan — an operation that promises to expand into an ongoing war in the model of Iraq.
Kyrgyzstan's President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said on February 3 that his government had decided to shut down the U.S. air base at Manas. Manas air base has been the primary refueling and transport point from which U.S. flights into Afghanistan are dispatched, and its importance has grown as convoys supplying the U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan have increasingly been attacked while traveling over the Khyber Pass from Pakistan.
Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, announced on February 3 that on the previous day the Islamic nation had launched its first domestically produced satellite. (Although in October 2005, Iran's first satellite, the Sina-1, which carried photographic and telecommunications equipment, was placed in orbit by a Russian rocket.) Iranian state TV reported that the satellite was meant for telecommunication and research purposes.
For the second time in two days, the cease-fire between the Hamas Palestinian terrorist faction that controls Gaza and neighboring Israel was broken on February 2. On the previous day, Israeli aircraft — in retaliation for Hamas' Qassam rocket attacks against the Negev desert region of southwestern Israel — struck Hamas targets throughout Gaza. The exchange of fire continued on Monday, February 2, as Hamas fired mortar shells into Israel and the Israelis responded with missiles.
George J. Mitchell, the Obama administration's special Middle East envoy, traveled to Israel from Cairo on January 28 for a meeting with Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then on to Ramallah,West Bank, the next day to meet with Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders. However, Mitchell had no plans to meet with representatives of Hamas. The United States, Israel, and the European Union classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
In an announcement made to reporters in the Pakistani capital of Islamabad on January 20, General David Petraeus, the U.S. Central Command chief, stated that the United States has reached agreements with several Central Asian countries and Russia for opening new supply routes through their territories for the U.S. and NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan.
The world's attention remained focused on the Middle East during the week of January 25, as President Barack Obama met with his special envoy to the region, former Senator George J. Mitchell, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House on Monday. Obama also taped his first interview with an Arab television station, directed to the Islamic world, that day. The interview, taped in the White House map room, was broadcast on Tuesday on Al Arabiya, a 24-hour Arabic-language news channel in Dubai. As the interview was aired in the Muslim world, Mitchell arrived in Egypt to begin an eight-day foreign tour that will continue with Israel, Jordan, the West Bank, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia, before moving on to France and the United Kingdom.
General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command (USCENTCOM) in the Middle East, met Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace in Kabul on the night of January 20-21, after announcing that arrangements had been made to establish new transport routes into Afghanistan from Central Asia.
On January 18, the militant Hamas regime that rules Gaza agreed to a one-week cease-fire with Israel. With three weeks of military action by Israel against Hamas brought to a halt, observers are taking stock of the devastating conditions in Gaza and trying to determine if Israel has accomplished its objective of neutralizing Hamas, which is categorized as a terrorist organization by the United States, Canada, the European Union, Israel, and Japan.
Khaled Meshaal, a Hamas leader, told the attendees at an emergency Arab summit on the Gaza crisis being held in Doha, the capital of Qatar, on January 16: "I assure you: despite all the destruction in Gaza, we will not accept Israel's conditions for a cease-fire."