Inside the Middle East
September 27, 2010
Posted: 1953 GMT

Hamas political leader vows to continue fight with Israel

CNN's Nic Robertson travelled to Damascus this past weekend  for a sit-down interview with Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal.  You can watch portions of the interview here and here or read the transcript after the jump.

Among other things Meshaal talks about why he believes why the current negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians are a "trick" that will fail, why he thinks Hamas is justified staging attacks against Israelis,  and comments on the status of captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, captured by Hamas and other Gaza based militants groups in a 2006 cross-border raid.

Transcript starts here:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Hamas •Israel •Jerusalem •Palestinians •U.S.

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September 24, 2010
Posted: 1457 GMT

Our team in Baghdad sent us these photos of the latest graduating class of Iraqi police cadets - over 500 of them, all set to become members of the  Iraqi Federal police.

The press corps along with American and Iraqi dignitaries were treated to a display of hostage rescue exercises, martial arts demonstrations, and crowd control techniques.

Iraqi federal police in riot gear

Our correspondent in Baghdad, Ben Wedeman, reports that while the multinational forces have put much  effort and resources into building up Iraqi's security apparatus, there is still real  concern about Iraqi force's human rights record.

A recent Amnesty International report estimated that more than thirty-thousand Iraqis are being held without trial and that torture is widespread.

Iraqi federal police showing off their martial arts skills

The Italian trainers of these Iraqi police say human rights awareness was a major component of the cadet's education and they think the formal training will make a difference.

"They taught us not to beat citizens" said newly minted officer Ali Abid.

A lesson that everyone hopes will not soon be forgotten.

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Filed under: Iraq •Pictures

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September 22, 2010
Posted: 604 GMT

Former United States president Bill Clinton sat down with CNN's Wolf Blitzer yesterday and waxed optimistic about the prospect for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians calling a deal "imminently doable".

Clinton cited "real support" from the Arab states and genuine worry from both sides about passing up another opportunity as reasons a deal is "slightly more likely to happen than not."

The former president expressed confidence in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  and his ability to influence right-wing factions in Israel including the Yisrael Beiteinu party of his foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman

"I know that Netanyahu can deliver" he told Blitzer "It may cost him his coalition. Lieberman and his crew will have a decision to make. But they trust him on security and they will vote with him in the end to ratify an agreement."

Clinton also laid  blame on the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for not making a peace deal in 2000...take a listen.

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Filed under: Clinton •CNN Coverage •Palestinians •U.S. •Video

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September 18, 2010
Posted: 2133 GMT

A view of the Yemenite city of Shibam (Dane Kenny/CNN)

*CNN Producer Gena Somra filed this report from Yemen*

Riding along the dusty road through Yemen's Hadramawt valley, I was curious how the day would unfold.

Shibam, the ancient skyscraper city, was only kilometers away. I had read about its rich history, and looked at photographs of its stately skyline, but when the road turned, the view took my breath away.

There before me, after a long and arduous journey, was the "Manhattan of the Desert, " I had heard so much about.

Magnificent, and majestic-the towering landscape reaches skyward, out from the barren earth, and into the hearts of all who are lucky enough to take it in.

Even though our visit was for work, I couldn't help but marvel at what I saw in front of me.

For a moment, I allowed myself to be an awestruck tourist, grateful to see this rich composition and to experience it first hand.

People once came from all over the world to see the splendor of Shibam with their own eyes.

But a single act of terror in 2009 struck more than the South Korean tourists and their guides that were killed when the suicide bomber attacked. Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Culture •General •Yemen

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Posted: 822 GMT

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Filed under: Culture •General •Israel •Judaism •Video

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September 17, 2010
Posted: 1305 GMT

Prayer vigil among Israelis and Palestinians in East Jerusalem (Kareem Khadder/CNN)

Dozens of secular Israeli Jews and religious activists stood silently in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. It's just before Yom Kippur and they have gathered in a display of solidarity with Palestinian residents who have been evicted from their homes by the Israeli government.

The neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah has become one of the latest fault lines in the decades old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over land.

In the past few years, dozens of Palestinians from three families, who have lived in the area since the 1950's, have lost their homes in court battles to Jewish Israelis who claimed the land was owned by them before the creation of Israel in 1948.

The evictions have given rise to a weekly protest movement in Sheikh Jarrah aligning leftist Israelis, international activists and local Palestinian residents.

Activist Rabbi Arik Asherman, from an organization called Rabbis for Human Rights, says Isareli Jews have come together this night ahead of Yom Kippur to recite prayers asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness, for what he says, is the injustice being carried out by the Israeli state against the Palestinian residents of the neighbourhood.

"...there are families who are not at their homes because the court did not review the evidence in the courts when expelling the families and that the Israeli legal system has sanctioned the expulsion based on suspect pre 1948 Jewish claims, while denying the expelled Palestinian families an equal opportunity to re-claim their 1948 homes in Israel proper. The Jewish tradition calls that eifah v'eifah, a double standard,"

Palestinian residents of the neighbourhood took part in the evening observance and recited hymns and prayers with their Jewish supporters. One Palestinian resident of the neighbourhood who had been evicted from his home, Maher Hanoun, said he appreciated the presence of the Israelis in supporting Palestinian claims on their homes.

Rabbi Asherman said the theme of the evening was taken from the poem "On the Day of Atonement" written by famed Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai in which an Israeli Jew engages in a silent conversation with an Arab shopkeeper in Jerusalem's Old City.

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Filed under: Israel •Jerusalem •Palestinians •Religion

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June 23, 2009
Posted: 1359 GMT

Johanna Fiore, a New York-based photographer, sent us this contribution after attending the Artists in Exile Exhibit in New York City by Iraqi artists living in Syria - see our original blog entry. Send us your feedback on Johanna's entry and let us know if you'll be attending any events.

At a church in New York City on June 20, a gentlemen sat at a large table measuring string to hang paintings. A few pieces were ready for hanging, leaning against the wall.

Artist Najim Chechen posing next to his pastel collage Dancing in the Clouds. Photo: Johanna Fiore
Artist Najim Chechen posing next to his pastel collage Dancing in the Clouds. Photo: Johanna Fiore
'Tea Drinking' by Amer Bader. Photo: Peter Spano
'Tea Drinking' by Amer Bader. Photo: Peter Spano
'The Leaving' by Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Karkhi. Photo: Peter Spano
'The Leaving' by Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Karkhi. Photo: Peter Spano
Photographer, composer and writer Gordon Parks 1912-2006. Photo: Johanna Fiore
Photographer, composer and writer Gordon Parks 1912-2006. Photo: Johanna Fiore
My friend and mentor Gordon Parks in a photo I call 'A Great Day in Harlem' Photo: Johanna Fiore.
My friend and mentor Gordon Parks in a photo I call 'A Great Day in Harlem' Photo: Johanna Fiore.

My first reaction surprised me. It was not an intellectual response; it was purely emotional. My breath was taken away. Here before me, were unbelievable works of art. I had to sit down.

The gentlemen, Mel Lehman, told me how he brought these paintings back from Damascus in a suitcase and met the artists in person. His organization, Common Humanity is committed to raising the awareness of Iraqi refugees and displaced persons within Iraq. He was interested in promoting “a human understanding.” I then knew I wanted to help in any way.

I spent that afternoon with the paintings. As I learned more about the refugee problem-many questions came to my mind. What is a country’s moral responsibility to the people of Iraq? What is my individual responsibility as an American citizen? We invaded their country, their homes were destroyed and many were forced to flee from their country. My immediate thoughts were that, as citizens, we have a moral responsibility to help in any way. I also realized that I had become numb to the images of war. As I learned more about the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and researched the plight of these artists and other refugees, it reinforced my determination to promote the show.

To explain why I was so moved, I need to tell you about Gordon Parks.

I spent the twenty most exciting years of my life working for master photographer, composer, director and writer Gordon Parks. He was my mentor and friend. His photographs taught me the power of images. His camera was his “Choice of Weapons.” Humble and kind, he lived a life free of prejudice and touched the hearts of many. I feel privileged to have been the recipient of his wisdom and time.

All that changed for me when Mr. Parks passed away in March 2006. My world crumbled before me. I lost my job, my grief consumed me, and my passion for life was gone.

I experienced the harsh realities of life. I hit a low I have never known. So, when a friend asked if I would like to see paintings by Iraqi refugees, I was interested.

After seeing the artwork and hearing their stories, my problems seem miniscule in comparison to what these artists face on a daily basis. Yer they are able to express their individual experiences on a canvas despite their horrendous hardships.

The hauntingly beautiful, complex works have a Western influence coupled with such raw emotion that I feel changed as a human being. My energy, creativity, and enthusiasm for life slowly grew as I spent more time with the paintings. What I had lost in March of 2006 was returned to me and for that I am truly grateful.

On opening day, June 20, 2009 many people expressed their appreciation and awe of the works. The exhibition space, the Second Presbyterian Church (6 West 96th Street, New York City), lends itself to the showing. The space represents the power of teamwork and commitment to others. Leslie Merlin, the pastor of the Church, works tirelessly for so many causes. The paintings have already been paid for and any additional funds raised will be donated to the refugees. It has been an inspiration for me to meet so many people who are trying to help others. Artists in Exile: is a true community effort.

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Filed under: Archaeology •Culture Contributors •Iraq •U.S.

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