Inside the Middle East
November 28, 2008
Posted: 1304 GMT


TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN) - The Israeli based Foreign Press Association - which represents international media organizations working in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip - sharply criticized a ban by the Israeli government on the entry of journalists into the Hamas ruled Gaza Strip.

Speaking at a news conference here, the Foreign Press Association's chairman Steven Gutkin said, "We believe it is essential that the foreign media be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip. The current denial of access amounts to a serious violation of freedom of the press and runs counter to Israel's own claim to be a democracy that respects media liberties." 

Gutkin, who is Jerusalem bureau chief for the Associated Press went on to say that "the denial of access sharply curtails the free flow of information from Gaza to Israelis and the rest of the world. " 

Israeli journalists have been denied access to the Gaza Strip as have all Israeli citizens since the start of the second Palestinian intifada or uprising which began in September of 2000, for their own safety, according to security officials. But the barring of international media into the Gaza Strip is unprecented.     

The official reasons given are that it is a security related ban. However members of the international media have had access to Gaza even during heavy combat in the past and some journalists are questioning the reasoning behind the Israeli ban.

A spokesman for Israel's Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, told CNN the ban had to do with the safety of the Israeli border workers, "this is not about journalists, this is not about diplomats, this is about the inability to operate when they come under direct fire and direct threat," he said.

He added "the border crossings are being directly targeted by Hamas and other groups which shoot rockets and mortars." 

 Thursday's news conference comes on the heels of legal action taken by the Foreign Press Association to Israel's Supreme Court. The court has given the Israeli government 15 days to explain what legal basis exists for the media ban, 13 days remain.

 It also follows a recent letter sent by the some of the world's largest media organizations to Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.       

 "We are gravely concerned about the prolonged and unprecedented denial of access to the Gaza Strip for the international media," the organizations wrote "we would welcome an assurance that access to Gaza for international journalists will be restored immediately in the spirit of Israel's long-standing commitment to a free press," the letter stated.

(File photo Getty Images)

Filed under: Gaza •Israel

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November 27, 2008
Posted: 1240 GMT


It's looking like Pope Benedict XVI will travel to Israel after all.

The Israeli President Shimon Peres had issued an open invitation, but the tension between Israel and the Vatican over accusations the World War II era pope did not do enough to stop the Nazi holocaust have so far prevented the trip.

The pope will also reportedly visit Palestinian controlled areas.

Filed under: Israel

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November 24, 2008
Posted: 2215 GMT


The rhetoric is heating up in Israel: Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told the Knesset today that Lebanese militant group Hezbollah's arsenal "has grown threefold since the Second Lebanon war."

Barak said Hezbollah's missiles can reach Israeli towns 200 kilometers away from the Lebanon-Israel border.

He also repeated the warning that if Hezbollah takes aim at Israeli cities, its response against civilian infrastructure would be harsher than in the summer of 2006.

Meantime, Lebanon's new president visited Iran, a country widely accused of financially and logistically supporting Hezbollah.

Referring to the 34-day conflict that pitted Hezbollah militants against the Israeli army, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinajad said that "the Lebanese disappointed the enemy forever and crushed the myth of the enemies' invincibility."

Lebanese president Michel Sleiman is on a two-day visit to Tehran with a group of ministers.

Quoted by the state-controlled Iranian news agency, Sleiman said: "We are grateful that the Islamic republic of Iran has always stood by the Lebanese people and government."

Filed under: Hezbollah •Iran •Israel •Lebanon

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November 20, 2008
Posted: 1516 GMT



Shooting in the gold market in Dubai. Thursday, November 20, 2008.

Filed under: Inside The Middle East

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Posted: 836 GMT

An interesting article in the Israeli daily Haaretz. Thanks to Jerusalem bureau chief Kevin Flower for bringing this to our attention:

The [Israeli} Foreign Ministry has launched a YouTube channel in Arabic which is meant to bypass Arab media and give Israel's version of current events directly to Arab viewers, Haaretz has learned.

The ministry's Arab media department chief Ofir Gendelman told Haaretz on Wednesday that they seek to reduce Israel's dependency on Arab media channels, who tend to give Israeli spokespersons relatively limited airtime.

He also said that the amount of coverage depends on Israel's fluctuating relationship with Arab channels. Thus, for example, Israeli spokespersons have recently shunned Al Jazeera over its allegedly unbalanced coverage of Middle East affairs.

"We have a problem reaching out to the Arab audience, and we need to take additional measures to maximize our exposure," Gendelman said. "The internet scene in Arabic is buzzing, and we wish to establish another communication channel for dialogue. We see it as complementing our current activity in the Arab media."

Filed under: Israel

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Posted: 825 GMT


JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel will boycott a United Nations conference on racism next year, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Wednesday, charging it would be biased against Israel and aim to delegitimize the Jewish state.

The next World Conference Against Racism is scheduled to take place next April in Geneva, Switzerland.

The U.S. and Israel walked out midway through the 2001 World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa, because of a draft resolution that singled out Israel for criticism and compared Zionism — the movement to establish and maintain a Jewish state — to racism. The resolution was not approved.

Critics said that conference mostly ignored other conflicts around the world and focused on Israel.

Livni said the 2009 gathering would be a repeat performance.

"The documents prepared for the (upcoming) conference indicate that it is turning once again into an anti-Israeli tribunal, singling out and delegitimizing the state of Israel, which has nothing to do with fighting racism," she said at a conference of North American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. "In view of this situation, I decided that Israel will not participate."

The U.S. has not yet decided whether to take part, but used a vote in the U.N. General Assembly last year to protest the conference. Canada has said it will not take participate, charging that the meeting would promote racism and not combat it.

Jewish participants at the 2001 Durban conference said they had been silenced and threatened by pro-Arab activists.

Livni called on the international community to stay away from the 2009 conference, which she said "seeks to legitimize hatred and extremism under the banner of the fight against racism." No comment from the organizers was immediately available.

Filed under: Israel

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November 17, 2008
Posted: 1539 GMT



–By CNN's Hala Gorani

The head of the UN's nuclear watchdog, Mohamed El Baradei, confirmed for the first time Monday that his agency found traces of "man-made uranium" at a site in Eastern Syria bombed by Israeli aircraft in September last year.

"Yes sure, yes there are some Uranium traces ," El Baradei said.

IAEA inspectors collected soil samples from the Al-Kibar site last June.

Mohamed El Baradei is due to release a report this week on his agency's findings, but told me exclusively today that he can confirm that processed uranium was indeed discovered at the site.

Al-Baradei added the findings do not necessarily mean the Syrians were building a reactor and cautionned against rushing to judgement. 

" (...) that doesn’t mean that the nuclear reactor was operating. We just need to know the sources of these low-level uranium or man-made uranium [traces]," El Baradei added.

In an effort to come to a definitive conclusion, he urged more "transparency" from the Syrian government in its dealings with the UN watchdog and deplored the "unilateral" Israeli bombing of the Syrian site.

"We are looking into these claims in depth, however it’s a complex task because as you know the reactor was bombed by Israel before informing the agency of their claims," he said. "The American and Israelis knew about it and it would have definitely been much easier for us to establish the fact that it was there."

Syrian authorities have reacted angrily to accusations they were building a nuclear reactor. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moualem suggested that any trace of uranium unearthed at the military site in eastern Syria came from Israeli bombs.

The official confirmation from the IAEA chief comes a few days after UN sources leaked some of the results of the watchdog's analysis of soil samples taken from the bombed Syrian site.

(Photo CNN's Victoria Brown)

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Filed under: Israel •Syria

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November 14, 2008
Posted: 1305 GMT


An update on a story that has prompted so many of you to post passionate comments.

Barack Obama's chief of staff appointee, Illinois congressman Rahm Emanuel, has issued an official apology for his father's disparaging statements about Arabs.

His office yesterday said: “Today, Rep. Emanuel called Mary Rose Oakar, President of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, apologized on behalf of his family and offered to meet with representatives of the Arab-American community at an appropriate time in the future."

Check out an update published in Israeli newspaper Haaretz below:

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel apologized to an Arab-American group on Thursday for comments disparaging Arabs made by his father.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee sent a letter to Emanuel calling on him to distance himself from remarks made by the elder Emanuel in an interview with an Israeli newspaper following his son's appointment last week.

In the interview, Benjamin Emanuel was reported as saying: "Obviously, he will influence the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn't he? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to clean the floors of the White House."

While some political analysts have said Rahm Emanuel, a veteran Democratic congressman, should not be held responsible for the actions of his father, there was also a sense that an apology was unavoidable.

"Today, Rep. Emanuel called Mary Rose Oakar, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, apologized on behalf of his family and offered to meet with representatives of the Arab-American community at an appropriate time in the future," a statement from his office said.

The committee, in a statement on its website, said Emanuel told Oakar it was unacceptable to make such remarks against any ethnic or religious group.

"From the fullness of my heart, I personally apologize on behalf of my family and me. These are not the values upon which I was raised or those of my family," the group quoted him as saying.

Oakar welcomed the apology, saying: "We cannot allow Arabs and Muslims to be portrayed in these unacceptable terms."

Some commentators in the Middle East have raised concern about the appointment of Emanuel, who has a pro-Israel record, suggesting he could use his position to influence Obama's policies in the region.

But political analysts and Emanuel himself this week dismissed such suggestions. The congressman said Obama did not need his influence to "orientate his policy toward Israel."

The chief of staff position serves as one of the closest advisers to the president and typically can decide who gains access to the president, while also developing administration policies.

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Filed under: Israel

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November 12, 2008
Posted: 1539 GMT

The chief UN nuclear inspector said he's taking allegations that Syria might be dabbling in nuclear weaponery seriously.

This comes a day after diplomats reportedly said there were traces of uranium found in samples collected from a site bombed a few months ago by Israeli aircraft.

From AP:

Syrian officials had no comment Tuesday. Syria has previously denied any covert nuclear programme. Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad has said Damascus would consider a request by the nuclear watchdog to revisit the bombed site.

Baradei, who spoke to reporters in the Czech capital after meeting Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, declined to comment on what the diplomats said, telling reporters only that his agency still has "a number of questions" linked to the allegations.

Indirectly criticising Israel for launching the strike more than a year ago, Baradei said "the fact that we were not allowed to investigate that issue before the facility was destroyed" had made the probe "much more complicated for us".

The US says the facility was a nearly completed reactor that – when on line – could have produced plutonium, a pathway to nuclear arms.

In the IAEA's Vienna headquarters, agency spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the latest findings on Syria are "still being drafted and our assessment and evaluation is still under way." "Once it is finished, the report will be submitted to the IAEA Board of Governors ahead of its next meeting, which is scheduled to take place on 27-28 November." For his part, Baradei urged "Syria to give us maximum transparency." "But I also continue to call on all these countries who have any information including satellite imageries to share it with the agency," Baradei said.

Filed under: Syria

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Posted: 1514 GMT


French film star Catherine Deneuve on stage on the last day of the Damascus International Film Festival in Syria today.

"The cinema is the best way to know the other and accept differences because knowing the other through films helps opening up new horizons," the 65-year old actress told reporters in the Syrian capital.

(AP Photo)

Filed under: Syria

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