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42 Killed After Car Bomb Explodes Outside Damascus Mosque; S&P Downgrades Cyprus Bonds To Junk Status; KPP Founder Calls For Dialogue

Aired March 21, 2013 - 17:00   ET


MAX FOSTER, HOST: Tonight, on the brink of bankruptcy, as Cyprus scrambles for a solution, we'll speak to a man who once faced the very same dilemma, the former prime minister of Iceland is our guest tonight.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN London, this is Connect the World.

FOSTER: Also ahead...


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.

FOSTER: President Obama renews his call for peace talks, but behind the rhetoric, plus the reality. Reaction from an Israeli and Palestinian coming up.

And, an illuminating look into the pope's past and his position on gay marriage.

More on those stories in a moment, but first it could be another sign the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad is slowly unraveling. At least 42 people were killed and more than 80 others injured when a car bomb exploded in Damascus. It happened just outside a mosque. And the target may have been a top Sunni cleric, a major Assad supporter. Alex Thomson from Britain's channel four news joins us on the phone from Damascus.

And it's a fact he was a Sunni and a supporter of Assad that makes this such an important story apart from the other deaths.

ALEX THOMSON, CHANNEL 4 CORRESPONDENT: It's hard to overestimate it in both those terms, though I'd stress it's the support as an Assadist that Mohammed al-Butri (ph) gave down the decades for Bashar al-Assad's father as well as Bashar al-Assad himself that made him very much the target.

But, yes, I mean, he's without question the most senior Sunni cleric, not just in Damascus, but in Syria itself. And he has been killed almost certainly by a suicide attack in the heart of his mosque. It wasn't the main mosque, he's actually the imam of the Imiad (ph) mosque, the grand mosque, the biggest mosque in the city where a very large funeral will be taking place tomorrow. So hard to overestimate.

This is the man who perhaps personified the kind of religions, theocratic justification given to Assad senior and Assad junior down the years from the pogroms and the mass killings of 1980, 1982, so on right up until today when he was killed.

FOSTER: And in terms of the damage this will do to the Assad government, how important is it?

THOMSON: As ever, never overestimate these things. The west was very quick to say this regime is on the point of crumbling when rebels many months ago not only got inside key defense building, but managed to kill a number of very high ranking defense officials. At that point, people were talking, not least the United Nations and western leaders, of a tipping point. They were wrong then. I would suggest they're probably wrong now.

What it means is that it is impossible to defend any city on the planet against suicide bombers. The Tamal Tigers found that out pretty quickly when they invented the technique many years ago now. The rebels in Syria are finding that out as well.

FOSTER: OK. Alex Thomson, thank you very much indeed for that.

Back to our top story now. And we're hearing that Cyprus is taking new steps to overhaul its failing banking sector. Cypriot officials submitted three new bills to parliament a short time ago aimed at raising funds to secure a European bailout. And the EuroGroup says it stands ready to talk.

The country has three days to save itself from further economic despair, that's when the European Central Bank says that without a bailout deal, it'll cut the emergency funding lifeline to Cypriot banks and a new blow tonight, the Standard and Poors ratings agency has downgraded Cyprus further to junk status.

Riot police have deployed outside the parliament in Nicosia tonight to deal with scuffles amongst the crowds. A limit has been placed on the daily amount of cash that can be withdrawn from bank cash machines. Cypriot banks in the country's stock exchange will remain closed until next week. So banks in Cyprus have now been shut for four days and will stay closed until next week. And some businesses are no longer accepting credit card payments.

If you're trying to keep your home and family in the basics, or keep a family run business afloat, life just got a lot harder and more uncertain.

So what happens if the banks run out of money? Tonight, we're looking at how ordinary Cypriots are coping. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is on the ground in the capital Nicosia. And it feels like things are moving on so fast anyway, but if you're living there your lifestyle is changing rapidly, isn't it Nick?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a real danger this country slips into freefall ahead of that Monday deadline. Just ordinary Cypriots trying to keep pace with this myriad of very confused potential solutions. That vote you were talking about is not going to happen tonight. It will, in fact, happen tomorrow. And it was to create a sort of magical national solidarity fund, perhaps out of money from the church and to introduce limits on how much money can be pulled out of bank accounts.

But you also saw those riots because of rumors the one bank was going to be closed. Their employees heading towards it. But for ordinary people here, they're finding it hard to get their hands on cash, long queues at ATMs. And some people are actually running out of cash themselves to simply feed their family.


PATON WALSH: Olga, a Russian single mother who taught herself Greek just to get work in an upscale hotel has always lived on a budget, but never like this.

She has no ATM card so closed banks mean there's no more money now for food. Here, how much it's left in her purse for her family to live off.

OLGA, HOTEL WORKER (through translator): Not even five euros. I took a loan from friends to get through the weekend, but I don't know when the banks open again. My son gets paid tomorrow with a check, but he can't cash it anywhere. We have money, but can't get at it maybe even for a week.

PATON WALSH: Her eldest two have grown and worked to pay for school, but little Elena always has questions.

OLGA (through translator): Mom, what will we do now, she asks? At school, even the little ones talk. She hears stuff in school and that's a problem. I can't put adult problems on a baby's shoulder. I explain. I say we can get through this. We will wait and something good, I believe, will come of this. I feel hopeless; fear, not just for my future, but for the future of my children. What can we do?

PATON WALSH: Across Nicosia there is that sense of despair in streets like this that would normally be bustling, but now are barren and empty. So many Cypriots waking up to hear that the solutions their government offered the day before have now been cast aside.

During Thursday, queues grew with ATMs. Gas stations asked only for cash. Shops stayed shuttered. Panic built.

Olga says her 1,000 euro savings are two years work for her, not something she can lose even two percent of.

OLGA (through translator): I feel like it's a million, because I worked for it, sweat for it. I saved this money. Not scared, not angry, it's desperation that grips your soul. A desperate situation and you cannot find your way out.

PATON WALSH: She jokes her life is like a fairytale. It gets scarier the longer it goes on.


PATON WALSH: It really is baffling, life here for many Cypriots. Rumors of food shortages and supermarkets, gas stations only taking cash. Think about the number of solutions they've been through. In the past few days alone they started with the idea of 10 percent levies on all savings accounts, then 6, then maybe 2, then the idea that Russia might come to their aid. That appears to be ebbing at this point. Now there's the idea of some national solidarity fund, capital controls. People really edging day by day through here, not really trusting any more their government to bring a solution knowing they're caught between the European Union who want them to pay some kind of price for this bailout and Russia who may come in and extract a longer-term cost from the people here.

Cypriots really on edge and some of them, as you saw just there, living day to day not quite sure how they're going to feed themselves. I spoke to one woman today who said a friend of hers was borrowing bread from a friend to feed their family, Max.

FOSTER: This is Cyprus. Nick, it's a great story. Thank you very much indeed.

Well, Cyprus has been brought to its knees by its oversized banking sector. This may sound like a case of deja vu. Think back to 2008 and another island in economic crisis. That was Iceland. Reykkjavik chose to let its banks fail.

Cyprus is facing a make or break deadline. Moscow offered a helping hand to Iceland. Russia if very keen on natural gas. And energy experts say the Arctic's continental shelf is loaded with it. Russia is also eager to get its hands on Cyprus's natural gas reserves.

Right now I'm joined live from Reykjavik by the man who was at the center of Iceland's financial storm. Geir Haarde is the former prime minister of Iceland from 2006 to 2009. Thank you so much for joining me. In very basic terms, what you did is protected domestic deposits, didn't you, but you let foreign creditors fail, or credit accounts, right?

We will be coming back to him once we get that communication link sorted out.

So now Russian businesses and individuals heavily invested in Cyprus as I've been saying in part for its appealing tax code. But the EU isn't keen to see the Kremlin come to Cyprus's aid.

I put this to Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin and got his reaction.


ALEXEI KUDRIN, FORMER RUSSIAN FINANCE MINISTER (through translator): I think that Russia could participate in joint actions with the EU. It could partially participate in providing a rescue package. It would be right for the EU, the whole world and Russia. Russia is hosting the G20. And it must participate in such programs. The EU needs to provide the whole sum of money to Cyprus if it doesn't consider Russia a partner in this issue.


FOSTER: Let's try to go back to Geir Haarde, the former prime minister of Iceland from '06 to '09. Hopefully you can hear me this time.

I was just describing effectively what you manage to do to get over your crisis. You effectively split not between good banks and bad banks, did you, you split the priorities between domestic deposits and foreign deposits?

GEIR HAARDE, FRM. PRIME MINISTER OF ICELANCE: Well, we called it old banks and new banks. But effectively we took emergency measures to make sure that the domestic banking system could continue to function. And there's an important difference between -- from the situation in Cyprus now is that our banks actually never closed. And all the time, credit cards were working and ATM machines were working and so on and so forth.

What we did was also very important is that refused to guarantee the external indebtedness of the private banks that were going bust. And another important difference, if I can continue, is that ours was a commercial banking crisis. And this financial crisis coming, you know, different shapes and sizes. No two are the same. But ours was not a sovereign debt crisis. Our sovereign was almost debt free. And that's a big difference. And was very important to us when all this happened.

FOSTER: There were some similar parallels with where you were at one point and where Cyprus is now, though, and that sort of crisis situation, wasn't there? And one of the advantages you had is that you weren't tied to the euro. So you didn't have those European restrictions placed upon you. And that is what's largely working against Cyprus right now, isn't it?

HAARDE: Well, it seems certainly that it's not helping them. You know, we have our own currency and still have and the flexibility, therefore, to adjust the value of the currency, you know, to reinforce and help our export industries. And that turned out to be very important in the macroeconomic picture. As we were working our way out of the crisis. Now, within the euro system, that's completely different of course.

FOSTER: Yeah, but in the end your exchange rate sort of took a lot of the pressure of you. The exchange rate obviously fell and that's allowed you to recover.

HAARDE: Yes. That's one of the reasons why we've come through this relatively easily, I should say. And our export industries have been doing well. I don't mean easily without sacrifices, but easily in a macroeconomic sense that we have been on a road to recovery since 2009, although I think we could probably have done even better.

FOSTER: And therein lies a possible ray of hope or a lesson for Cyprus, because if it looks like -- well, a lot of banking analysts and economists are saying that the economy is going to pretty much collapse anyway, whatever happens. And there probably will be a run on the banks even if they manage to get through this process. So surely the best option for them would be to leave the euro. And they could possibly benefit even more from a low exchange rate, because they've got this huge tourism industry, which you didn't have.

HAARDE: Well, we've had a big tourism industry which has been blooming since our crisis, doing better than any time earlier.

FOSTER: Yeah, because you've got the got this low exchange rate. That's a great advantage, wasn't it?

HAARDE: That was definitely an advantage. But you're asking me a question about the Cyprus membership in the euro system. And that's a question I really cannot give you an answer to. And I wouldn't even dare - - propose to know the answer to that difficult political question.

FOSTER: What, from your experience, could you offer in terms of advice to those in Cyprus over this weekend when they're heading towards what looks like economic calamity on Monday if they don't get a decision on the table?

HAARDE: Well, it's very hard to give advice from where I'm sitting. I can only show that -- point out our example is we were able to manage and move our way through the crisis. And actually we let the banks go bankrupt. And they have been in orderly bankruptcy procedures to this very day. And that has been an orderly process.

Obviously, creditors lost a lot of money on the way -- how this was done. And a lot of other people also internally lost savings and bond holders and so on, shareholders in the banks lost what they had. But still it was a formula in our case that worked. And, you know, I don't have a quick fix for the Cyprus situation.

And my old friend President Anastasiades, I know he is in a very difficult situation right now.

FOSTER: OK. Geir Haarde, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

Still to come tonight, an unprecedented expedition to Antarctica and why co-leader Ranulph Fiennes had to pull out.

And the UN hears from a football star and adds his voice to the global fight against racism in the sport. All that and much more when Connect the World continues.


FOSTER: You're watching CNN. This is Connect the World with me, Max Foster, welcome back to you. Now the U.S. President Barack Obama says Jewish settlements are, quote, counter productive to peace. Mr. Obama made the comments in a keynote speech to Israeli students just hours after meeting with Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. Settlement building has been a major stumbling block in the peace process.


OBAMA: And put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own.


FOSTER: Earlier in Ramallah, he urged Palestinians to drop their demand for a freeze in Israeli settlement building. After two days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Mr. Obama continues to stress that peace in the Middle East is possible.

Yet two rockets fired from Gaza hit southern Israel before his meeting with Mr. Abbas. And it was clearly timed to coincide with the U.S. president's visit to the region. A hard-line militant group has claimed responsibility.

After 30 years of bloodshed and tens of thousands of lives lost, an unlikely source is calling for peace between Turkey's government and Kurdish rebels. The founder of the outlaw Kurdistan Worker's Party made the plea from inside his jail cell. In a letter to the Turkish parliament, Abdullah Ocalan said now is time for dialogue with the government. What he didn't say is why.

Andrew Finkel reports.


ANDREW FINKEL, JOURNALIST: It's the first day of spring, a day celebrated as the New Year particularly in the Kurdish regions of Turkey. But in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of the country, the hope is that today will not just be the beginning of a new year, but of a new era.

Now the crowd there was listening to a speech delivered by an MP on behalf of Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK, a many who instigated an armed insurrection in Turkey in 1984. Ocalan's message was really that it was time for the peace process to begin. He said let the guns be silent, let's give ideas and diplomacy a chance.

This is an important message for his followers who are now being urged to suspend operations and withdrawal from Turkey, but it's also an idea addressed to Turkish public opinion which has to get used to the idea that Kurdish identity polis (ph), that politics that Mr. Ocalan himself, a man once lambasted as a baby killer, are somehow central to this process.

Now a Turkey at peace with itself, which is -- at a time when there's unrest in Syria, is -- will be a powerful force in the region. So everyone has an incentive to cooperate in this process. But of course pessimism is the default mode in Turkey, particularly on this issue.

However, today the New Year, at least it's a time to give optimism a chance.

Andrew Finkel for CNN in Istanbul.


FOSTER: Live from London, this is Connect the World. Coming up Pope Francis is known for his traditional approach to the Catholic church. We'll look into whether that holds true for his views on gay rights.


FOSTER: The world's 77 million Anglicans now have a new spiritual leader. Justin Welby was formally enthroned as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury today. He didn't address the contentious issue of same-sex marriage in his sermons, still in an earlier interview he expressed strong support for civil unions. But also said he supported the church's opposition to gay marriage.

Just two days ago, Pope Francis was formally installed as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Francis is known for his strict adherence to church doctrine and his traditional approach to theology, but a gay activist in Argentina is shedding more light on the pope's philosophy on same-sex marriage and gay rights.

Rafael Romo reports.


RAFAEL ROMO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A cordial Vatican meeting between the President of Argentina and the new pope, with the two Argentines exchanging gifts. But, their get together Monday was in sharp contrast to the war of words between the two leaders less than three years ago. In mid 2010, Argentina was polarized over a same same-sex marriage bill supported by Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, who called the church's actions against the measure, attitudes reminiscent of Medieval times and the Inquisition. Then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio blasted the bill, dubbing it a destructive attack on God's plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The church has asked Catholics to oppose this, and that's exactly what I'm doing as a Catholic.

ROMO: But some say the future pontiff was much more conciliatory than he appeared. Marcelo Marquez is a gay rights activist and former theology professor near at a Catholic seminary near the Argentine capita. He says Bergoglio told him in private in 2010, that he favored gay rights and went as far as saying he didn't oppose gay civil unions.

MARCELO MARQUEZ, GAY RIGHTS ACTIVIST (through translator): He told me that he understand that homosexual people should have their rights protected in society. He also said he believed that Argentina was not ready for a gay marriage law, but said he would favor a law granting civil unions.

ROMO: Marquez says the meeting happened after he sent Bergoglio this letter on behalf of gay Catholics supporting the same-sex marriage bill. The "New York Times" reported Wednesday at a private meeting of bishops, also in 2010, Cardinal Bergoglio advocated that the church in Argentina support the idea of civil unions for gay couples.

A senior Vatican official said the Roman Catholic Church could neither confirm nor deny the report at this point. The official added that while Pope Francis might have expressed such view while he was a cardinal, he should be given time to develop policy position as pontiff.

Marquez, who still describes himself as a devout Catholic says in a second meeting, the then cardinal gave him an autographed copy of a book titled "The Jesuit" based on his life and works as priest. Marquez says Bergoglio once again touched upon the topic of gay rights in Argentina. "Marcelo, first of all, I want you to know that I have always treated gay people with respect and dignity," the future pontiff said according to Marquez. "I have accompanied many homosexual people during my career to tend to their spiritual needs."

Rafael Romo, CNN Atlanta.


FOSTER: Well, in a major break with tradition, the Vatican has announced that the afternoon mass on Holy Thursday will be held in a chapel at a juvenile detention facility on the outskirts of Rome. And during the ceremony Pope Francis will wash the feet of 12 young inmates.

The latest world headlines are just ahead. Plus, Obama urges Israelis to see the world through Palestinian eyes. What an Israeli student and Palestinian activist had to say about that next?

In about 10 minutes, we hear from explorer Ranulph Fiennes on the moment he got frostbite in Antarctica and what he had to do to save his fingers.

And turning up the heat, a last minute comeback keeps the Miami Heat's record dreams alive.


FOSTER: This is CONNECT THE WORLD, the top stories this hour. Cyprus's parliament will postpone until Friday its vote of emergency legislation aimed at raising funds to secure a European bailout. Earlier, Cypriot officials submitted three new bills to parliament. The euro group says it is ready to discuss proposals with the government.

US president Barack Obama has received Israel's highest civilian honor. Barack Obama was presented with the Presidential Medal of Distinction during a state dinner hosted by Israeli president Shimon Peres. Earlier, Mr. Obama told a crowd of university students that peace with Palestinians is possible and urged Israelis to look at the world through their eyes.

A top Sunni cleric is reportedly among more than 40 people killed in a car bombing in Damascus. Mohammed al-Bouti was a major supporter of the Assad regime. Al-Bouti was a Sunni scholar speaking out against an uprising that's been largely led by Sunnis.

The leader of Turkey's banned Kurdistan Workers Party is making a plea for peace from his jail cell. Abdullah Ocalan is calling on his followers to lay down their arms. The Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, has been waging a nearly 30-year battle against the Turkish government.

Let's get more now on what US president Barack Obama had to say in his speech earlier to Israeli students. Senior international correspondent Sara Sidner reports now from Jerusalem.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Obama making his big speech here in Jerusalem. At times, it was quite impassioned. It lasted 45 minutes, there was a lot of applause, and a bit of heckling, which he said was good, that it made him feel at home, that he was used to it. In what we all know as a democracy, people don't always agree with everything that you say.

But he did very clearly stand with Israel, and stand with the idea of the Zionist dream for the state. Listen to this.



OBAMA: I believe that. I believe that peace is the only path to true security. You can be --


OBAMA: You have the opportunity to be the generation that permanently secures the Zionist dream, or you can face a growing challenge to its future. Given the demographics west of the Jordan River, the only way for Israel to endure and thrive as a Jewish and democratic state is through the realization of an independent and viable Palestine.


OBAMA: That is truth.

SIDNER: And as you heard there, that is where he got some of the biggest applause during his speech, and it pretty much goes in line with what the polls say, that Israelis do believe that they want a two-state solution, one for Israelis, one a Jewish state, and one for Palestinians. Two separate states that live in harmony.

And I think Israelis have also said time and again that that's the only time they believe that they will actually be able to live in peace.

President Obama also touching on some other subjects, certainly touching on the fact that settlements, he says, are a big impediment to peace. That is the line the Palestinians have been saying over and over again.

The Palestinians obviously watching this, because today, Mr. Obama spent time with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, where they talked of some of the stumbling blocks that are there to get this peace process started, both sides saying yes, we do want to see this peace process get started again. It's been stalled for several years.

We also know that the day before, he talked with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Peres about many issues, including the two-state solution, but also he spoke very clearly about Iran and the fact that it stands by Israel, that Iran should not be able to obtain any nuclear weaponry.

He also talked of Syria and said that if, indeed, some of the reports turn out to be true that chemical weapons were used inside Syria, that that could be a game-changer as far as the United States' response to what has been happening in Syria, where tens of thousands of people have died in the war that has gone on there now for two years plus.

Now, what we also heard from him, he talked to the students very much the same way he talked to the young people when he was doing his first campaign, saying if you want change in your country, you have to be the change. And sometimes that means you have to push your government to form the kind of country that you want to see.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Jerusalem.


FOSTER: Joining me now for reaction to Barack Obama's speech, Yoni Millo, an Israeli student in Tel Aviv, and Najwan Berekdar, a Palestinian activists in Nazareth, the biggest Arab city in Israel.

Yoni, first of all, seeing things through Palestinian eyes is a struggle for many Israelis, and Obama talked about that today. Is there progress there? Are people managing to do that more now?

YONI MLLO, ISRAELI STUDENT: I think they are. I think we understand the Palestinian struggle. Although I think we also understand that both peoples -- we understand both Israelis and Palestinians would like there to be peace and like to progress beyond the stagnation that exists today in Israel.

FOSTER: The suggestion, Najwan, from Mr. Obama was that Palestinians need to change their rhetoric, change their tactics to reflect the modern reality. Are Palestinians struggling to keep up with the modern environment and harking back too much?

NAJWAN BEREKDAR, PALESTINIAN ACTIVIST: I think that Palestinians realize that the tactics that would be more effective are the non-violent tactics, of course, are the most modern tactics. We are doing that. We are doing that.

I don't know if you have been following on the resistance -- the ways of resistance of Palestinians, but the youth in Palestine are doing something called Bab al Shams. They are going and they are building tents in occupied lands for Palestinians to show that these lands belong to us and to stop the settlements to try to stop the settlements from expanding.

We do as well try to work on international laws, most of the time through human rights organizations. Still, all of the pressure that we're trying to work on the international community to pressure Israel to stop building settlements, to stop the occupation --


BEREKDAR: -- and to stop the discrimination laws against Palestinians inside Israel. All of these pressures --


BEREKDAR: -- are not yet effective.

FOSTER: Well, let's listen to what Barack Obama had to say specifically on settlements today.


OBAMA: Palestinians must recognize that Israel will be a Jewish state and that Israelis have the right to insist upon their security.


OBAMA: Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that have to be drawn.



FOSTER: Yoni, this problem of settlements, it keeps coming back, and it's a major problem. Why not stop building them?

MILLO: I think it's part of the negotiation in the end. I think that mainly President Obama was trying to say, and he said, I think, in Ramallah and Mukataa as well, the most important thing is to get back to talking. We haven't talked -- the whole situation, the Israel-Palestinian situation has taken a back seat in this area, and sadly so.

I think he was trying to implore Israel to go back, Israelis and Palestinians to go back to the negotiation table and to negotiate. Negotiate the settlements and negotiate right of return for Palestinians and negotiate all those issues. But we have to get back to the table and really start to negotiate, talk it out. See it really move forward.

FOSTER: Najwan, does it help Barack Obama, addressing these issues head on when you're dealing with them all the time? Does it somehow freshen up the debate, at least, a bit?

BEREKDAR: I think that mentioning the settlements is not enough, because Barack Obama has been putting sanctions against Palestinians whenever they do violate any of the recommendations of the United States.

While the USA has been recommending to Israel to stop or to freeze the settlements, however Israel never responded to that recommendation, yet none of these occasions the USA has actually put sanctions on Israel.

And regarding the thoughts, I don't believe that the negotiations will bring any benefit at this moment, because we've been negotiating for 20 years so far, and meanwhile, Palestine was shrinking and more settlements were expanding.

I think when you negotiate, you need to be equal before you start negotiating. You need to -- actually, you realize that you need to stop the settlements and you need to stop the occupation before you start the negotiations.

FOSTER: And also --


BEREKDAR: Before you start --

FOSTER: OK. I also want to talk about something else a lot of people have picked up on following Obama's visit, and it's about his body language, really. And as young people in the region in Israel, I want to as you what you thought of this.

Barack Obama's relationship with Benjamin Netanyahu specifically never been particularly warm, but the pair certainly made an effort to -- during this visit to appear good friends, at least. When Mr. Obama's plane landed, he even shared a little secret with the Israeli prime minister.


OBAMA: It's good to get away from Congress.



FOSTER: Well, we've seen some friendly handshakes and the odd slap on the arm, and an embrace after the pair made statements to the press in Jerusalem. Earlier on Thursday when Mr. Obama and the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas shook hands, the pair then walked off the stage together.

Yoni, is this a convincing performance to you? Everyone obviously trying very hard, but is it convincing? Is it authentic?

MILLOS: It definitely brought the Israeli population, I can tell you that. It's -- we're treating him like a rock star since he got here to Israel. I think generally, and you can hear it in his speech and his general demeanor since he got to Israel and when he went Ramallah as well.

He's trying to take a very much positive light, a little bit more mature in the last time he was trying to deal with the situation here. He's trying to take a much more positive light, trying to push the people to actually move forward, to see that they can actually achieve a future for themselves.

He did the same in his speech, really, throwing the gauntlet to the Israeli people and the Palestinian people to move forward and try to really achieve peace because they can. He said it a few times in his speech.

FOSTER: Last one. Did you feel that Obama was more collaborative, and is that helpful?

BEREKDAR: I don't think it was helpful for Palestinians while the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian leadership did welcome Obama quite well, the Palestinian people were not welcoming of Obama's visit to Ramallah, specifically to Ramallah, but generally to Palestine.

Because they already know the USA policies towards Palestine. They know that whatever performance Obama is doing during his visit will not be effective for the Palestinians or convincing enough.

So, while the parade happened in al-Mukataa and Ramallah, people are resisting on the streets and in different -- in many popular village -- popular struggles in the villages of Palestine and not in Ramallah and not in al-Mukataa.

Palestinian people were prevented to actually protest next to al- Mukataa and show Obama that we truly do not want you there while you're still supporting the occupation and you're still providing weapons to Israel.

FOSTER: Najwan Berekdar, thank you very much, indeed, for joining us. Also, Yoni Millo, thank you both for joining in this debate for us today.

Live from London, you're watching CONNECT THE WORLD. Coming up, one of Antarctica's most revealing expeditions and why it had to end for co- leader Ranulph Fiennes.


FOSTER: This just in to CNN. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been charged with breach of trust by taking advantage of Lilianne Bettencourt, the L'Oreal cosmetic heiress. The former president was summoned to appear at a judge's office over whether Bettencourt and her son illegally helped Sarkozy during his 2007 presidential campaign. Mr. Sarkozy intends to appeal the ruling, according to local TV.

Earlier on Thursday, an expedition team set off on a long journey to cross Antarctica in winter. They'll be traveling for several months in temperatures as low as minus 90 degrees Celsius. If that wasn't challenging enough, it's also going to be completely dark.

Expedition co-leader Ranulph Fiennes was forced to pull out of preparations at the end of February after he got frostbite. He already lost several fingers during a previous trek or set of treks as an explorer.

I spoke to the British adventurer about the moment he realized he had to get help quickly or risk losing more fingers. We have to warn you, you will see one picture of his frostbitten hand, which some may find distressing.


RANULPH FIENNES, BRITISH EXPLORER: The ski bindings came loose, and there it came a time when my boots were sliding all over and I had to tighten them up. I took my big outer mitts off, but even with the inner mitts, I couldn't fiddle with the bindings to tighten them up, so I got rid of the inner bindings as well, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to peel a banana, for instance.

So, I had naked hands. The night before it was minus 33, but by then it was warmer, I think. And that's not a big temperature, really. I've had much worse in the past. There was a wind of about five to ten knots, which is not bad.

I didn't fiddle about with them for more than 15 minutes, certainly not 20, and at the end of it all, my right hand was fine, as normal. The left one, to my shock, had gone white all the way down to the hand.

FOSTER: So, you knew straight away you had a problem.

FIENNES: Yes, I've seen it before and had it before. And I needed to get back quick. And we've got a very good doctor with us, Rob Lambert, who did all the right things, put it in the right temperature of water, sucked out with a hypodermic all the fluid and so on. And so, I couldn't have had better treatment even if I'd been in civilization.

FOSTER: But a tragedy for you, of course, you had to leave the expedition. We'll speak to Brian Newham. He is actually on the expedition right now. He's there. Where are you right now, Brian?

BRIAN NEWHAM, TRAVERSE MANAGER (via telephone): Well, we're at the coast at Crown Bay.

FOSTER: What are the conditions like?

NEWHAM: Well, the conditions for the last four days have been really poor here. We've had very high winds and lots of drifting snow. And of course, the -- had quite a problem in our preparation to not have been able to work outside very much.


NEWHAM: Well, as you can see, the weather out here is not too good. It's blowing 35 knots and lots of drifting snow, and it's been like this for the last three days.

The Caterpillar vehicles over here, let's take a quick look at them. They're will drifted in now. And that's going to take a lot of digging before we can start moving again.


NEWHAM: Thankfully, this afternoon, the weather system has moved away. The winds have dropped and the clouds have broken, so we've had a very nice afternoon here in sunshine, and we should be able to make reasonable progress south with lights and loads and having already traveled the route twice. So, we should make good progress. So now you've got a first three or four weeks, I should think.

FOSTER: Brian, this is an extraordinary expedition. Just to describe to people, it's winter, which is what makes it such a challenge. Not just cold. It's also dark most of the time, isn't it?

NEWHAM: Within a month, we'll be in total darkness. By then, we'll be pushing south through 74 south, something like that. And then we will be in total darkness. And that darkness will stay with us for about four months until we start emerging on the other side of the pole and start heading for the coast from the other side.

So, yes, those four months, it's going to be very cold, very dark, and yes, we're definitely all going to have to look after ourselves

FOSTER: Brian, thank you very much. Very good luck. We'll be speaking to you on -- speaking to you during the expedition, but really good luck to you. It's an unbelievable challenge.

And Sir Ranulph, be honest with me, you must have concerns about the team out there.

FIENNES: Well, I spent five years of my life unpaid full time planning it, organizing it, and getting sponsors for it as well, arranging that -- which charity we would raise money for, so Brian and two others have huge experience of Antarctica, but not at minus 70 to minus 90.

FOSTER: Or in the dark.

FIENNES: Or in the dark. Although, of course, they have wintered down there, as I have, on the plateau. But wintering is one thing. Traveling is quite another thing. And the crevasses and the dark and the whiteouts and the blizzards, that's why no human being has ever done it before.

But my faith in Brian and the other four is that they are the best team in the world. The chief technician or mechanic we selected out of a total of 26 volunteers, he's from Alberta in Canada. Been ten years on the Caterpillar D6N vehicle at low temperatures.

Our doctor, who can perform peritonitis and kidney stone operations on the kitchen table in the caboose, take an eye out if necessary. So, totally self-contained, enough food and fuel for over a year.

The government, whether it's American or the UK or anyone, won't give you a permit to go down there in winter unless you take an awful lot of boxes.


FOSTER: Sir Ranulph Fiennes. Now, coming up after this short break on CONNECT THE WORLD, Italy and Brazil went head to head in Geneva tonight. We'll get the final score and the rest of today's sports news for CNN's "World Sport."


FOSTER: Football has, of course, been marred in recent months by incidents of racism on the pitch. Now, the UN is trying to help FIFA in their fight against racism. Mark McKay is at CNN Center. What have they got planned, then, Mark?

MARK MCKAY, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of discussion Thursday, Max, in Geneva, Switzerland. Thursday was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and there was a conference, the United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva.

Among those in attendance, Kevin-Prince Boateng. You remember back in January the Milan midfielder subject to racist abuse during a friendly match in Italy in January. He took the bold step of walking off the pitch, along with his teammates.

World football's governing body was also represented. A speech was made on behalf of FIFA president Sepp Blatter. And "World Sport's" Amanda Davis in Geneva sitting down with the UN's high commissioner for human rights.


NAVI PILLAY, UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: If someone, a fan, throws a banana at a player, it has reams of messages of -- which is deeply humiliating and hurtful. So, a call of monkey, this was even the cartoon man of President Obama.

So, this business of stigmatizing black people as the last ones to be civilized, the closest to apes, is deeply demeaning. We have to eradicate that kind of stigmatization.

AMANDA DAVIES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Do you think we can ever eradicate discrimination?

PILLAY: I think we can. We've eradicated slavery, we've eradicated apartheid. The world has stopped smoking. So, I think these enormous changes are possible. And mostly, they are driven by civil society. It's always civil society, NGOs, who take the first initiative. So, I do think that we're getting there.


MCKAY: Of course, sport has a way of eliminating or at least helping with change on a greater picture, and in that light, a match was played, a friendly match was played at the site of the United Nations meeting Thursday in Geneva.

It saw these guys, the next hosts of the World Cup, Brazil, taking on European giant Italy. Mario Balotelli, who has certainly had his share of racial abuse though the years, scored a goal. In fact, he scored what would be the last goal of the night in what turned out to be, Max, a very friendly and a very entertaining two-all draw there in Geneva.

FOSTER: And I have to ask you about Miami Heat as well, Mark. Got their 24th straight win. It wasn't easy, though.

MCKAY: No, and it was right back at a place that LeBron James knows all too well: Cleveland. The Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday in a game that saw -- it was delayed at the beginning because of condensation coming from the roof, delayed for about 45 minutes.

It saw the Miami Heat having to come all the way back from a 27-point deficit in the third quarter. Who is, of course, at the center of that? None other than LeBron James, who went out and scored a triple double.

So, it's another win for the Miami Heat, their 24th straight game. They're on their way, Max, and they certainly look good at tying if not surpassing the Los Angeles Lakers' all-time record of 33 straight wins set in the 1970s. We'll talk more sports coming up on "World Sport" in just a few minutes.

FOSTER: Way back in the 70s. Mark, thank you very much, indeed.

In tonight's Parting Shots, it used to be that the war on drugs was all about chasing smugglers, catching the fast boats and small planes as they traveled through the tropics. But now, with homegrown marijuana becoming more and more available, a local Crimestoppers group in London wants all good citizens to put their noses in the air and sniff out those illegal drug factories. Zain Verjee has the story.


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wake up and smell the - - marijuana?

London is a big city and it's not really that well-known for its farming, but people are doing exactly that, because they are growing weed in the heart of London. Police have come up with a way to stop it, and a charity called Crimestoppers has a cool method.

It looks like a lottery ticket. You can actually scratch and sniff. I'm going to do that right now. And ooh, it smells kind of familiar, but not quite.

ROGER CRITCHELL, DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS, CRIMESTOPPERS: No, because quite simply, that's when the growing stage and not when the smoking stage and the burning stage. And of course, there are other signs to look for, just not the smell, such as a lone person living in a house, never goes out, windows blackened out, high heat, condensation on the windows, et cetera.

VERJEE: And what about the people growing it. Is it mainly organized crime, or what?

CRITCHELL: That's why we're interested. Organized criminal groups into serious organized crime. We're not interested in somebody growing a pot plant on their window. This is about taking over houses, completely for the purpose of farming cannabis, as you said.

We don't want to know who you are. All we want is what you know, and we can guarantee we will not compromise your identity.

VERJEE: This scheme is being rolled up -- I mean, rolled out here in London. It's been successful elsewhere, but we have yet to see if this will even scratch the surface.


FOSTER: She likes her puns. We leave it there. Thank you for watching. That was CONNECT THE WORLD, I'm Max Foster.