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YOUR WORLD TODAY

U.S. Troops in Iraq; Hezbollah in Lebanon; "Eye on the Middle East"; Chinese City's Water Supply Shut Off; U.S. Faces Holiday Traffic Crunch; Georgia Aquarium Opens

Aired November 23, 2005 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE: I suspect that the American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are there for all that much longer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCOR: Working on a timetable. How much longer will U.S. troops remain in Iraq?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: The U.S. image in the Middle East, its credibility, and the democracy debate.

HOLMES: And winter weather, high fuel costs hit millions in the U.S. as they head home for the Thanksgiving holiday.

VERJEE: It's noon in New York, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad.

I'm Zain Verjee.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes.

Welcome to our viewers throughout the world. This is CNN International. You're watching YOUR WORLD TODAY.

Well, welcome to everyone.

A Sunni sheik is gunned down in the latest violence in Baghdad just at the same time as the debate intensifies over when and how U.S. forces should leave Iraq.

VERJEE: The U.S. secretary of state weighing in on the timetable while some of the soldiers are just concerned about making it home alive.

HOLMES: Well, a Sunni tribal leader and four of his relatives are the latest casualties in Iraq. Witnesses tell police it was gunmen in Iraqi army uniforms that stormed the Baghdad home of Kadhim Sarheed Ali al-Dulami, killing him, three of his sons, also his son- in-law.

Al-Dulami was the leader of the Sunni Batta tribe. Neighbors say there were at least 10 Iraqi army vehicles parked outside the man's home when the attack happened. The eldest son of al-Dulami was killed just last month.

VERJEE: The debate over when U.S. troops should be pulled out of Iraq rages on. On Tuesday, the U.S. secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, added her voice to the debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE: I think what the president will want to assess is when can we safely bring down our level of forces so that Iraqis are really capable of achieving the results and the effects that you want, rather than having some artificial timetable. I suspect that the -- that American forces are not going to be needed in the numbers that they are there for all that much longer because Iraqis are continuing to make progress in function. Not just in numbers, but in their capabilities to do certain functions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Well, the debate over troop pullout is prevalent throughout the United States. You see it even on car bumper stickers. But some U.S. troops themselves are more worried, of course, if nearby cars will explode, not what political views their owners subscribe to.

Aneesh Raman filed this report. He is embedded with U.S. forces in central Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The best days in Iraq are the slow ones when there's no engagement with the enemy, when there's a chance to get some downtime. Killing time, killing flies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He ain't flying.

RAMAN: And for us, it's a chance to talk to soldiers about the war raging here and the debate about it raging back home.

CPL. JAMES PARSLEY, U.S. ARMY: Whatever they are fighting for over there, this is our fight. You know, we are trying our best. And pretty much soldiers, whether they want to be here or not, this is our focus.

CPL. CHARLES JOHNSON, U.S. ARMY: I think it's right for people to argue. In college and regular office days, argue about what we're doing over here. Hey, it might help our benefits get higher or something, you know?

I don't know. They just -- they just don't understand what it's like over here, what it's like driving down a road full of BB IEDs or IEDs, or something.

RAMAN: The fight in this part of Iraq just south of the capital remains a tough one. Roadside bombs found on a near daily basis. Car bombs detonated, insurgent groups operating among the civilian population. The soldiers are trained, though, to confront these dangers. But not the risks they can face back in the U.S.

JOHNSON: When I went home, you'd mention you were from Iraq and stuff, it's not the greatest thing to mention to a girl when you are at the club. It doesn't work.

Someone asks me what I do, I'm like, "I'm in the Army, in Iraq." You know? But something I try to avoid from saying just because it starts a whole conflict.

RAMAN (on camera): When you are out on patrols like this and you talk to the soldiers about the fight here, it's less about the war on terror or building a democracy in Iraq. It's much more about getting home.

(voice over): Over the past nine months, this squadron has lost 18 men. They know that number may rise every time they go out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't know when you are going to get shot at. It's very unexpected. Firefights coming from across canals, across open city areas and stuff where you can't get to.

RAMAN: But on slow days, it's rarely politics and strategy that pass the time. Sometimes a conversation turns to the worst of Army rations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't like the chicken breasts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love the jambalaya because I'm from Texas.

RAMAN: While in Washington, the arguments rage over whether America's soldiers are risking their lives for a noble goal or a hopeless cause, the distinction means little on the front line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most people out here probably wouldn't even want to say anything.

RAMAN: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to just do your job. The true story is not what happens behind a desk. It's out here every day.

RAMAN: Aneesh Raman, CNN, northern Babel province, Iraq.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: New clashes have broken out between Hezbollah and Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. It happened after an Israeli paraglider crash-landed just inside Lebanon. There are conflicting reports about whether Israeli troops crossed the border to help him.

Hours earlier, Israeli planes dropped thousands of leaflets denouncing Hezbollah over Beirut and the southern province. The Lebanese government condemned the drop saying that Israeli violations of Lebanese territory were a threat to peace.

HOLMES: Hezbollah has enjoyed wide support among the Lebanese people for its role in leading the guerrilla war against Israeli troops in southern Lebanon. That 18-year occupation ended, of course, with Israel's withdrawal five years ago. But the group's popularity has fallen off in recent months.

Our Brent Sadler has more on Hezbollah, branded as a terrorist group by the U.S. and Israel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRENT SADLER, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): An international call to disarm Hezbollah, Lebanon's radical Shiite Muslim party of god. Defying a United Nations demand to lay down weapons, obeying the orders of one man, Sayid Hassan Nasrallah (ph), Hezbollah's chief.

"Let's start a dialogue on how to protect Lebanon," he entreats this mass of die-hard loyalistists. "And judge," he says, "if Hezbollah's weapons are needed."

Weapons Hezbollah used to deadly effect against Israeli troops once occupying the southern tip of Lebanon. Weapons Hezbollah still retains five and a half years after Israel withdrew its forces under Hezbollah fire.

RAMI KHOURY, LEBANESE POLITICAL ANALYST: They will not unilaterally disarm according to an edict by the United States or the U.N. or the European Union. Nor will they disarm in a vacuum in which the security of Lebanon is not guaranteed.

SADLER: Nor will groups of Palestinian fighters living in a dozen Lebanese refugee camps agree to lay down their arms. Another part of the U.N. demand.

SOUHEIL NATOR, DEM. FRONT FOR PALESTINE: We have these light arms in accordance with the Lebanese authorities in the order to protect ourselves.

SADLER: A decade's-old agreement that's now wearing thin.

Palestinian fighters from rival groups have turned those weapons on themselves in bloody turf battles. And some Lebanese officials condemn Palestinian militants as traitors in terror, or guns for hire.

Hezbollah claims its weapons must fight Israeli occupation and protect Lebanon from Israeli threats. But protecting Lebanon, says the U.N., should not be in the hands of Hezbollah, labeled a terrorist group by America and Israel. Instead, security should be left to the Lebanese army, they say, recently deployed with tanks and infantry to a new position close to a now tense Syrian border. Exacerbated by the recent killing of a Lebanese contractor, shot, claim these distraught villagers, by militant Palestinians firing from Syria.

But it is the party of god fashioned by hard-line Iranian ideology that faces most of the U.S.-led international pressure.

(on camera): Hezbollah's heavy weapons are not on show here today. But behind this demonstration, they have a formidable arsenal of weapons, including rockets capable of hitting targets in northern Israel.

(voice over): So it would be an act of madness, says Hezbollah, to present its arch enemy Israel with a victory by disarming these fighters now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are very aware that they must engage in a process of reformulating their military and their political role in the country. And they are willing to do that when the time is right.

SADLER: Holding out a vague and uncertain prospect for possible disarmament as Hezbollah sticks to its guns.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Beirut.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: Coming up next, we'll take a closer look at the Middle East, its people and its special challenges.

HOLMES: Indeed. It's all part of our special "Eye on the Middle East" coverage this week.

Today we're going to focus on the U.S. image in the region. Critics say American credibility is at an all-time low.

Live pictures there from Amman. And a live report coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERJEE: Hello and welcome back. This is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

HOLMES: An hour of world news right here on CNN International.

Well, all of this week we have been keeping our "Eye on the Middle East," looking at the region, its people, cultures, the many challenges ahead.

VERJEE: Today we want to focus on the U.S. impact. Washington says that it wants to spread democracy in the Middle East. But critics, as you know, Michael, say that actions speak louder than words.

HOLMES: Our own Hala Gorani is in the Jordanian capital, Amman. Joins us now live with some reports.

Hi, Hala.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Michael. Hello, Zain.

Well, the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, the war in Iraq, all these factors that have contributed to damaging the image of the United States in this region. But some analysts are saying that despite all that, America could now be acting as a catalyst for change in the Middle East.

Our Cairo Bureau Chief Ben Wedeman filed this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF (voice over): Chaos and bloodshed in Iraq. American abuse of detainees in Abu Ghraib. Thousands of Palestinians killed in the intifada, often with American- supplied weapons.

Ask anyone here, and they'll be quick to say the United States has a serious image problem in the Arab world, making its self- appointed mission of fostering democracy in the region a difficult one. Critics say American credibility is at an all-time low.

ASHRAF BAYOUMI, POLITICAL ACTIVIST: The public, the common public, the uneducated Egyptians, know how uncredible the Americans look because they saw vividly the pictures of Abu Ghraib. They saw the torture in Guantanamo.

WEDEMAN: Despite the luggage, Washington has set in motion a process.

In Egypt, the evidence is abundant. Anti-regime protests are now commonplace. Old leaders no longer sacred.

In September, Egyptians voted in the country's first ever multi- candidate presidential elections. And now the country is holding a month-long multi-stage vote for parliament.

Some observers say this is the birth, messy, sometimes bloody of Arab democracy. With a little help from Washington.

SAADADEEN IBRAHIM, PRO-DEMOCRACY ACTIVIST: The region has been teeming with desires for change, with attempts to change, fighting for change. So the region was pregnant with all of these things, but the United States probably performed the role of a midwife. It helped to deliver the baby.

WEDEMAN: But this baby may not be as pretty as the U.S. had hoped.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood fiercely opposed to U.S. policy in the Middle East has scored dramatic gains in the parliamentary vote. Though the brotherhood is loathe to say their good fortune is thanks to the Americans.

ISSAM AL-ARYAN, MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD: Our success in the election is the result of the vote of the people. They are through (ph) Muslim Brotherhood. Not that Mr. Bush has give us a lift. No. The people give us the push.

WEDEMAN: While others warn Arab democracy will be stillborn as long as aging Arab autocrats remain in power, embodied in Egypt by 77- year-old president Hosni Mubarak. HISHAM QASSIM, EDITOR, "AL-MASRI AL-YOUM": There will never be democracy as long as Mubarak is in power. He is a military man who does not understand democracy and is not committed to it.

WEDEMAN: But even the most enduring leaders go in the end. Time waits for no one.

(on camera): A year ago there was a heated debate across the Arab world over whether or not American pressure for democracy amounted to interference. But the debate petered out. Arab democracy has taken on a life of its own, regardless of who its midwife was, or how it was born.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GORANI: Well, the White House at least appears to be concerned, or at least taking note of the fact that the United States' image has been damaged in this region. It's appointed a public relations czar for the region in the person of Karen Hughes in the U.S. Department of State.

Now, someone who works very closely with Karen Hughes, Dina Habib Powell, spoke to us a bit earlier. And she had this to say about how long it might take for the image of the United States to change with the people of the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DINA HABIB POWELL, U.S. ASSIST. SEC. OF STATE: Public diplomacy, Hala, is something that is not an overnight fix. And we can't come up with some secret weapon.

But what we can do is show that we are listening, that we do care about the concerns of the people in the region and that we share common goals with them about pursuing a much better future for the youth in the Middle East and all people in the -- in the Middle East.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GORANI: Dina Habib Powell there, assistant U.S. secretary of state.

And that's a look at this topic, at least in the region, which is something that's very widely discussed, how America is perceived among Arabs in the Middle East.

Back to you, Michael and Zain.

HOLMES: Hala, before I let you go, you've been there a few weeks now. I wish you'd come home.

What have you been hearing from ordinary people about the U.S. image? And you've traveled there a lot. How does that compare with years past? GORANI: You know, it's a topic you can't escape. It's something that comes up in practically every discussion with people in this region. Not only that the U.S.'s image is tarnished, but that they feel the U.S.' policy here is not necessarily helping everyone in the region.

You often hear in countries like Syria, in countries like Egypt, that America applies a double standard in the way it deals with certain countries. With the way, for instance, it's pressuring Syria -- I was in Damascus a few days ago -- and not pressuring other countries in the way sometimes that it supports regimes that might be autocratic like in Saudi Arabia, while then criticizing other regimes that might also be autocratic.

So this is something that you hear a lot. And Arabs in this region that are concerned with the way the United States is dealing with certain regimes versus others.

So yes, it is. And in the last few years, not just in the last few weeks, you feel that the image of the United states is taking a beating and that it's something that the White House is concerned with -- Michael, Zain.

HOLMES: Hala Gorani in Amman. Thanks, Hala. We'll check in with you later.

VERJEE: We're going to bring you more from the Middle East a little bit later, including a look at what analysts say has to happen to stabilize the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

HOLMES: Do stay with us.

Coming up, a check of the world financial markets.

VERJEE: Right.

And also in the news from business world, we are going to take a look at Vodafone's decision to kill its sponsorship deal with football club Manchester United.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has officially been declared the president- elect of Liberia. The National Election Commission made the announcement on Wednesday.

Johnson-Sirleaf's opponent, the formal football star George Weah, claims that the November 8 runoff was marred by fraud. An investigation into those charges continues, and Weah still refuses to concede the race. Nevertheless, the commission declared Johnson- Sirleaf, the victor, by a margin of nearly 20 percent -- Zain. VERJEE: Michael, Germany's new chancellor says her new government won't join NATO's training of Iraqi military inside Iraq. Angela Merkel's comments came after a meeting with the NATO secretary- general in Brussels.

Earlier, Mrs. Merkel made Paris the first destination of her official trip. In keeping with the tradition set by her predecessors, she met with the French president, Jacques Chirac, who thanked her for the honor and called for a truly solid Franco-German axis.

HOLMES: All right. Let's check in now on what's moving the markets in the United States.

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

HOLMES: Well, the former Chilean dictator Augosto Pinochet has been charged with tax fraud, passport forgery and other crimes as well. Court official say Pinochet, who turns 90 on Friday, is under house arrest pending trial. The charges related to an estimated $27 million he allegedly stashed in bank accounts abroad under false names.

In the last five years, courts threw out indictments in two human rights cases because of his failing health.

VERJEE: The former Soviet Republic of Georgia is taking stock of its progress since its Rose Revolution two years ago. At that time, thousands of protesters forced then president Edward Shevardnadze out of office. The new president, Mikhail Saakashvili, has cultivated closer ties with the West.

Opinion polls show support for him remains high, but so do unemployment and inflation.

HOLMES: A roundup of the main stories coming your way in just a moment.

VERJEE: Also ahead, planes, trains and automobiles. U.S. travelers head for a long holiday weekend. Will bad weather slow the holiday escape?

Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERJEE: Welcome back to YOUR WORLD TODAY on CNN International.

I'm Zain Verjee.

HOLMES: And I'm Michael Holmes.

Want to update you now on the top stories of the day.

Witnesses say men dressed like Iraqi soldiers gunned down a Sunni tribal leader and four of his relatives on Tuesday. They say at least 10 Iraqi army vehicles surrounded the sheik's home in western Baghdad. Gunmen then stormed the home and shot the men inside. Sunni officials have strongly condemned the killings.

VERJEE: As public debate over U.S. troop withdrawal in Iraq goes on, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice weighed in on the issue on Tuesday. Rice told CNN the number of U.S. troops is clearly going to come down as Iraqi capabilities increase. But she stopped short of saying how many troops or when.

HOLMES: New clashes have broken out between Hezbollah and Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. It all happened after an Israeli paraglider crash landed just inside Lebanon. There are conflicting reports about whether Israeli troops crossed the border to help him.

Hours earlier, Israeli planes dropped thousands of leaflets denouncing Hezbollah over Beirut and a southern province of the country. The Lebanese government condemned the drop.

VERJEE: Water supplies to China's northeastern city of Harbin have been shut off. Officials say a chemical plant explosion nearby polluted a river that serves as the city's main water source.

Our Beijing bureau chief Jaime Florcruz reports on the scramble for water.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAIME FLORCRUZ, CNN BEIJING BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Empty supermarket shelves in Harbin City, as residents horde water and food. Fear that the city's water supply could be contaminated.

Officials tried to pacify panicked buyers.

WANG LIMIN, HEILONGJIANG VICE GOVERNOR (through translator): You don't have to worry or get excited. We have huge amounts of water, and it won't stop coming. We'll control the price of water. We'll guarantee enough water for everyone. Just don't panic.

FLORCRUZ: But this resident is not taking any chances.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): This should last for four or five days.

FLORCRUZ: More bottled water is shipped into Harbin from other cities while technicians shut off the flow and begin testing the water.

Earlier this month, an explosion hit a petrochemical plant in the neighboring city of Jeilin (ph), killing at least five people and forcing tens of thousands to evacuate.

The sprawling plant sits right next to the Sonhuar (ph) River, Harbin's main source of water supply. Lab tests have confirmed that the toxic chemical benzene has leaked into the river.

ZHANG ZHUOJI, GOVERNOR, HEILONGJIANG PROVINCE (through translator): The contamination of the waters of the Sonhuar (ph) River has led to the shutdown of water supply to the city of a few million people. This is a matter we must not take lightly. Officials from the various authorities must treat this matter with utmost importance and see to it that we can resume our water supply to the city.

FLORCRUZ: It's also bad news for the city's tourism and other industries. Tourists flock to Harbin to see the annual ice festival, featuring sculptures carved out of ice.

For the city officials, however, the biggest toll of Harbin's water crisis will be the danger of losing public trust.

(on camera): In times of crisis in the past, Chinese citizens believed and followed government orders no questions asked -- not anymore. In the modern information age, concerned citizens like those in Harbin are asserting their right to know.

Jaime Florcruz, CNN, Beijing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: There is some growing concern in Russia about the pollution threat from the explosion in China. The border city of Khabarovsk is about 700 kilometers down river from Harbin. A city environmental official is advising people to build up a store of mineral water. The official also wants to create reserves of pure water from deep underground.

VERJEE: Back here in the U.S., for millions of American travelers this day before Thanksgiving holiday is historically the busiest travel day of the year.

Let's bring in our Alina Cho, who is measuring the pulse of the activity at New York's LaGuardia Airport.

Alina, what's it like?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Zain, I can tell you that they have just reopened a second of two runways here at LaGuardia. It was shut down for a bit this morning because of high winds here. But the weather has cleared up.

So on that front, no major delays to report here or at any of New York's three major airports.

It is actually unbelievably quiet here at LaGuardia, which is surprising considering that this is traditionally the busiest travel day of the year.

I am assured, however, this is simply a lull. Things will pick up around 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time and stay busy until 9:00 p.m. tonight. And travelers are ready -- they are coming to the airport prepared.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (voice-over): Elsy Smalls (ph) and her daughter Janice (ph) are headed to Charlotte, North Carolina for Thanksgiving. This year, they're packing patience.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing you can do about it so just relax. You get there when you get there safely.

CHO: They are among a record 37 million Americans who will travel 50 miles or more this holiday weekend. An estimated 600,000 will go by train, 30 percent more than normal.

Jody Robbins (ph) is headed to Maryland.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just tell myself that this is the way it has to be because I have to go home. I want good food.

CHO: 83-year-old Gladys Van Langen (ph) is going to see family in Boston.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I brought a good book.

CHO: A good idea.

There will be delays, especially in the Midwest where wintry weather will likely mean heavy traffic. Bad news for drivers.

High gas prices are a problem, too. At $2.29 a gallon on average, holiday travelers this year are carpooling and in some cases, changing plans.

ROBERT SINCLAIR, AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE ASSN.: They might be taking a Thanksgiving trip but it won't be as long as the one last year. They might be going to a relative that lives closer.

CHO: Not Joe and Linda Goldstein (ph).

They're flying from New York to Florida to see their grandchildren. Wherever they think about the crowds, they remember why they are going in the first place: family and food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Think of what's waiting on the other end. Just keep thinking of the turkey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: On a typical Wednesday, about 70,000 to 75,000 people passed through LaGuardia Airport. Today that number is more like 95,000 to 100,000. So of course there will be bigger crowds today.

One thing to keep in mind is that security is very tight here today. They won't talk about details, but the holidays are a big concern for authorities here. So you can expect lots of police presence here at LaGuardia and throughout the country -- Zain.

Alina Cho reporting for us.

Happy Thanksgiving, Alina. Thanks a lot.

CHO: Same to you. VERJEE: Well, you know, Michael, something like 37 million Americans will be traveling this year.

HOLMES: Amazing.

VERJEE: I know. But we'll be here.

HOLMES: We'll be here.

(LAUGHTER)

No holidays for us.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HOLMES: We're a bit sick. Just a little. All right. Don't go away.

Just ahead, more in our special coverage, "Eye On The Middle East."

VERJEE: Signs of possible progress between Israelis and Palestinians. We're going to look at leveling the playing field in Israel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone. This is YOUR WORLD TODAY.

VERJEE: An hour of world news here on CNN INTERNATIONAL.

Israeli political leaders have settled on March 28th for the next round of elections. That basically paves the way for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to seek re-election as head of a new centrist political movement.

Mr. Sharon's aides say he will campaign on the U.S.-backed road map for peace plan. Proponents in his old, hardline Likud Party are wasting no time in lining up to try and replace him.

HOLMES: Well, it has been three months since Israel completed its military withdrawal from Gaza, leaving that tiny strip of land under Palestinian control. But a broader piece remains elusive. And now both sides are focusing on domestic politics.

Guy Raz takes a look at where the peace process may be headed in this edition of "Eye On The Middle East."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the surface, things are looking up here. Israel has ended its 38-year presence in Gaza. The United States seems more engaged in mediation. And financial indicators suggest the Palestinian economy is growing for the first time in five years. MAHDI ABDUL HADI, PALESTINIAN ACADEMIC SOCIETY: This is in itself a first step to breathe, the first step to have access, the first step to develop the economy and the society itself.

RAZ: On Friday, Palestinians will take charge at an international border for the first time. This crossing between Gaza and Egypt has been manned by a succession of occupiers over the past century.

ARI SHAVIT, "HA'ARETZ" NEWSPAPER: One point three million Palestinians are experiencing something they never experienced before -- no foreign administration, no military control by Israelis, Egyptians, Brits, or Turks.

This is a new historical phase. True, this is not the final stages, it's not an overall agreement, it's not peace. But this is a dramatic change. No one can underestimate this achievement.

RAZ: Polls among both Palestinians and Israelis show wide agreement on the desire for a negotiated end to the conflict. But three months since the Gaza pullout, their leaders have yet to meet.

GIORA EILAND, RETIRED ISRAELI GENERAL: As far as the process is concerned, we, the Palestinians see the future not only on different terms, we see the future in completely opposite terms.

RAZ: The future for Israel means keeping its large settlement blocs in the West Bank. For most Palestinians, it means allowing millions of refugees and their descendants to return to their homes in what is now Israel.

(on camera): These may seem like irreconcilable differences, but most officials involved in the diplomatic process believe ultimately those differences can be resolved.

What matters now is what happens early next year when both Palestinians and Israelis go to the polls to elect new governments.

(voice-over): Israel is now witnessing a parallel political universe.

Ariel Sharon, long known as a hawk, is now seen as a possible peacemaker. He's ditched his right wing Likud Party to set up a brand new centrist coalition.

At 77 years of age, Sharon's biography is intimately intertwined with the history of the state.

Political analysts say Sharon doesn't trust the younger generations of leaders to secure the country's borders and has come to the realization that a two-state solution is a strategic advantage for both Israelis and Palestinians.

ARIEL SHARON, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): I am committed to the road map in its entirety as it exists. I have no intention of carrying out any other plan. RAZ: The U.S.-backed road map is the only official document that maps out the path toward Palestinian statehood. But there are still plenty of hurdles.

Israel says the Palestinian Authority must first disarm militias before progress can be achieved. Palestinians say diplomacy must come first before any disarmament happens.

The immediate test will be Gaza and whether the Palestinian Authority can establish control there.

HADI: If people will succeed today in Gaza, in managing Rafah borders and managing the election and the reforms and the security, it will be a clear message to the Israelis to have trust back in us.

RAZ: Trust, absent for the past five years, is a concept that may be making a comeback.

Guy Raz, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE: At times, conflict seems to just permeate every single aspect of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

John Vause takes a look at the potentially volatile nexus of politics and sport and the deeper issue driving complex competition.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sunday night at Jerusalem's Teddy (ph) Stadium, more than just football; this is a clash of cultures.

Jewish fans come for Jerusalem Batah (ph), Israeli Arabs cheer for Bade (ph) Sahnin, the only Arab team in the national league.

Forty minutes after kickoff, and some Jerusalem supporters are chanting "death to Arabs." Nineteen are arrested. Four Sahnin fans are taken away, also for yelling racial slurs.

Sahnin's captain, Abbas Suan, is also a star for the Israeli national team. Regardless, he's often the target for abuse.

ABBAS SUAN, FOOTBALLER: (INAUDIBLE) do not want to deal with the effect that there are Arabs and Jews in this country.

VAUSE: Sahnin is a small Israeli/Arab town in northern Israel. Here, football is king. They have their own stadium now, helped paid for by the Israeli government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a dream that came true.

VAUSE: Before, home games were played 30 miles away in the city of Haifa. (on camera): This new sporting facility means that for the first time in the club's history Sahnin is on an equal footing with almost all of the other teams in the national competition. But away from this ground, and most Israeli/Arabs complain that life is anything but an even playing field.

(voice-over): With high unemployment, decaying infrastructure, crowded classrooms, Sahnin is typical of many Arab towns.

On average, Israeli Arabs earn less than Israeli Jews, infant mortality is higher, and the government admits it spends less on Israeli Arabs.

OFES PAZ, ISRAELI INTERIOR MINISTER: I would say that we are closing the gaps. It's not enough. It's not sufficient. We should do much more. But I think that the process and the direction is OK.

VAUSE: But while conflict rages with the Palestinians, many Israeli Jews doubt the loyalty of Arab citizens.

And a recent poll found most Jews would like to encourage Arabs to leave the country. Proof, say Arab Israelis, that they are something less than equal.

JAFFA FARAH, MOWASSI CENTER: The first step is to accept the fact that we are full citizens of the state of Israel and that our rights should not be less than the right of Jewish immigrant.

VAUSE: For Arabs, there's the dilemma of seeking equality in a nation where the flag and the national anthem mean nothing to them.

GAZAL RAYA, ISRAELI ARAB: I don't find my culture and my dream and my vision in that flag. But I want to have my part in that flag.

VAUSE: Back at Tety (ph) Stadium, another loss for Sahnin and they face being relegated to second division. Being in second division is something most Israeli Arabs say they know all too well.

John Vause, CNN, Sahnin, northern Israel.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: And our special report "Eye on the Middle East" continues tomorrow.

VERJEE: You can find more of our special coverage on the Web. Just go to CNN.com/ime. You are going to find a link that's dedicated just to our special week and all this great coverage.

HOLMES: You are what?

VERJEE: IME.

(LAUGHTER)

HOLMES: Oh, I see. From penguins to whale sharks...

VERJEE: Ooh, yummy.

Still ahead, we're going to check in on sea creatures at the grand opening of the world's largest indoor aquarium.

Chad Myers is there for us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HOLMES: Welcome back, everyone.

The building looks like a giant ship breaking through a wave that looms over downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Inside, more than 100,000 fish swimming in eight million gallons of water.

VERJEE: The world's largest indoor aquarium makes a splash as it opens today and it's just minutes from here, the CNN Center.

HOLMES: Just down the road, yes.

VERJEE: Chad Myers joins us now live from the giant fish bowl.

Chad, what's it like? Are you having fun?

HOLMES: That's a lot of sushi.

(LAUGHTER)

CHAD MYERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They don't have fish and chips at the cafeteria; they only have hamburgers and pizza.

(LAUGHTER)

We're standing here by the penguin exhibit. Not the penguins that you think of from Antarctica, but these are the penguins here that are actually from South Africa. It's fairly tranquil and fairly moderate temperature in there, inside there only in the 50s, where if this was actually the big penguins, the giants, then it would have to be almost freezing or below for them to be comfortable.

The little guys swimming around here, they really do look like they're having a good time.

We do have some pictures of the whale sharks that we were looking at earlier. Those whale sharks very young, only about 10 years old in U.S. years. They have a lot of time to grow. But they have a lot of room to grow as well.

Six point one million gallons is that tank. That's 325,000 bathtubs.

Back to you.

HOLMES: That is amazing. It is a place of statistics, I guess, Chad.

First of all, a lot of criticism I've been reading in the papers here about how much it costs.

But tell us just a couple of things more, just briefly.

MYERS: Well, I just went and bought a diet Coke and it was $2.25 U.S., and to get in, an adult is $22. If you are over 3 and you are a child, that's still $17, so you do the math.

Family of four, you're $80 before you even get in the door. It was another $8 to park. And then to have a pizza at $6 or whatever and then a Coke for $2 more, you know, you guys are into $125 just for a family of four, easy.

HOLMES: Expensive.

Chad, good to see you. Enjoy the day.

You get all the good assignments. Well done.

VERJEE: When are we going to the aquarium?

HOLMES: Don't take a fishing line.

Got to go.

VERJEE: Stay with us.

You've been watching CNN. This has been YOUR WORLD TODAY.

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