Inside the Middle East
August 31, 2010
Posted: 1252 GMT

There are unconfirmed reports that the Saudi Arabian Interior Ministry has arrested the sponsor of a Sri Lankan maid who has been in the news lately after doctors in her home country found 24 nails and needles inserted into her skin allegedly by the Saudi couple she worked for.

The 49-year-old woman who moved to Riyadh in March said the torture was her employers' way of punishing her when she didn't do the work they demanded by inserting pieces of metal into her arms, legs, hands and forehead.

She returned to her country for treatment and the story has gained momentum, incurring indignation in Sri Lanka, including protests outside the Saudi embassy in Colombo, and widespread demands for the Saudi government to take action. Read the latest on this story in the Saudi English-language daily Arab News.

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Filed under: Human Rights •Saudi Arabia

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August 30, 2010
Posted: 652 GMT

Shocking words have come from the spiritual leader of Israel's ultra-orthodox political party, Shas. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef denounced the upcoming direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians in Washington this week and was quoted by Israel Army Radio as saying of the Palestinian President, "Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world... God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."

Instant condemnation of his weekly sermon came from the Palestinian government. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat called it incitement, saying in a statement: "The spirtual leader of Shas is literally calling for a genocide against Palestinians," adding that, "He is particularly calling for the assassination of President Abbas (Abu Mazen) who within a few days will be sitting face to face with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Is this how the Israeli government prepares its public for a peace agreement?"

The Shas party is part of Netanyahu's coalition and has issued no official statement. Netanyahu's office issued this statement: "These things do not reflect PM Netanyahu's approach nor that of the Israeli government. Israel comes to the negotiations with a will to advance towards an agreement that would put an end to the conflict and guarantee peace, security and good neighboring relations between the two nations."

In his weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he is aware of the difficulties of the upcoming direct talks, but the Israeli side is willing to advance towards peace.

Ahmed Tibi, an Arab Israeli and deputy speaker of the Israeli parliament says: "The Rabbi... has long been the leader of the unjust and evil, he speaks from hatred and calls for murder and death and this is a far cry from the values held by all heavenly religions."

This is not the first time the Shas spiritual leader has caused controversy with his sermons. Israeli media says in 2001 he called the Palestinians "evil and damnable" adding: "You must send missiles to them and annihilate them."

There's been widespread condemnation of the comments across the Arab media - coming just three days before the Israeli and Palestinian leaders meet to talk peace.

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Filed under: Israel •Palestinians

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August 29, 2010
Posted: 850 GMT

Bahrain has begun investigating the case of Shiite activist and spokesman of Al Haq political movement Abduljalil Al- Singace, according the Emirati newspaper Gulf News.

This comes amid reports that the kingdom's prosecutor has issued a gag order on the media from further reporting on the case.

"Based on the requirements for discretion in order to reach facts and in line with Bahrain's public order, Dr Ali Al Buainain, the public prosecutor, has issued a gag order on publishing, through print, audio, video and online media, news or details on the case of the terror network," the Gulf News quotes a Bahraini public prosecution source as saying.

"No details or hints about the investigations should be published and violators of the gag will be imprisoned for up to one year or fined. The only exception is the statements issued by the public prosecutor."

Al Singace's arrest on August 13 upon his return from London and subsequent detention of other Haq supporters intensified clashes between rioters and security forces.

The New York Times reported on what seems to be a widespread crackdown on Shiite activists in the wake of the heightened tension.

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Filed under: Bahrain •Human Rights •Media

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August 26, 2010
Posted: 1747 GMT

Heavy-handed behavior by Palestinian Authority security forces is not a new phenomenon. In the past, protests against the government have been broken up with force.

One Palestinian human rights group said in a statement it happened again on Wednesday.

The West Bank-based Al-Haq said political activists and members of civil society groups who oppose direct talks with Israel were in the process of convening when security personnel broke up the gathering and roughed up some people.

Al-Haq employees, who work across the street from the meeting location, said the meeting hall was filled with plainclothes police “who effectively disrupted the event." And, when the conference attendees left the hall to gather in front of the entrance in protest, they were surrounded by the officers, who started fights.

An Al-Haq staffer who tried to videotape what was going on was grabbed by the neck and had his camera seized. A co-worker who tried to assist him was injured and sent to the hospital.

Al-Haq threw a rhetorical counter punch. It called the actions of the West Bank government’s security forces an "example of the increasing climate of violence and intimidation that is effectively transforming Palestinian society into a “police state.”"

We could not reach anyone from the Palestinian Authority to comment on what transpired, but the authority-run WAFA news agency reported that President Mahmoud Abbas had ordered an investigation into the matter.

In a statement released Thursday the Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights Points expressed its concern about "attacks the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to peaceful assembly" which it said were rights guaranteed by Palestinian law.

One thing is certain: The incident underscores just how controversial and sensitive the topic of negotiations is among Palestinians, many of whom do not support the terms under which the talks are to be held.

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Filed under: General •Human Rights •Palestinians •Protests •West Bank

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Posted: 1027 GMT

An injured woman is seen in her home following a car bomb in a residential neighbourhood in the southern holy city of Karbala (MOHAMMED SAWAF/AFP/Getty Images)


Wednesday was a bloody day in conflict-worn Iraq.  Just days after the much hyped drawdown of American combat brigades at least 48 Iraqis were killed in bomb attacks in 13 cities spread throughout the entire country. 

The spike in violence is no surprise to many Iraqi citizens, who, as our Baghdad correspondent  Arwa Damon reports, are increasingly  fearful of a return to the "dark years" 

 Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) – "It's so bad, the security situation is so bad in Baghdad, Arwa, it really is you have to believe me," one of our maintenance staff said to me, his eyes welling with tears. 

In all my years here, even when the violence was at its worst, I have never seen him so distraught.... 

Full story here 


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Filed under: Iraq

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August 25, 2010
Posted: 827 GMT

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Filed under: Culture •General •Turkey •Video

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August 24, 2010
Posted: 1553 GMT

The Israeli Embassy to the United States in Washignton D.C. (David Jenkins/CNN)

Imagine you are the leader of your country making an important diplomatic visit to another country. You would expect, as is custom, to be met on the ground by personnel from your embassy who would assist with all of the complicated logistics and protocol of a state visit.

Pretty standard stuff that usually gets taken for granted in the world of international diplomacy, but not if you are Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and your foreign ministry staff  is on strike.

report in Tuesday's Haaretz describes  that the latest salvo by the union representing Israel's foreign ministry workers in its ongoing battle with the finance ministry over wages will be fired when Netanyahu visits Washington in September for the start of peace talks with the Palestinians.

Per Haaretz, after meeting Tuesday the union announced that embassy workers in Washington "will refuse to assist in any administrative aspect of the visit, including hotel reservations, organizing transportation for the Netanyahu or his staff, and the prime minister's arrival at the airport"

The labor dispute has been going on for a number of weeks and a speedy resolution does not appear to be in sight. Visitors to the Foreign Ministry website are greeted by a large red banner announcing  "As part of the sanctions announced by the Israel Foreign Ministry workers' union, the Consular Department will not provide services to the public and telephone calls will not be answered"

The English website for Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aronoth describes how foreign ministry employees have already stopped offering services to diplomats visiting the Jewish State and will stop holding meetings in its embassies and consular offices abroad.

Barring a resolution Netanyahu's office will have to handle all the arrangements of his visit  to the United States along with the help of the White House.

We contacted  a foreign ministry spokesman for their reaction but,  perhaps unsurprisingly, he was not answering the phone when we called.

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Filed under: General •Israel •Netanyahu

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Posted: 844 GMT

Israel is best known for its religious sites connected to Judaism, Christianity and Islam. But in the coastal city of Haifa stands the main temple of the Baha'i faith. CNN's Michael Schwartz shows us around the shrine

Filed under: Israel •Religion •Video

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August 23, 2010
Posted: 836 GMT

By Kevin Flower

"We are coming to talks from a real desire to achieve a peace agreement between the two peoples."

So pledged the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to his cabinet Sunday after agreeing earlier in the week to participate in direct peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

"I know that there is a considerable skepticism after 17 years having passed since the beginning of the Oslo process." he said. "It is possible to understand why this doubtfulness exists. We are seeking to surprise the critics and the skeptics"

If this latest round of negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians delivers an agreement within a year as proposed those critics and skeptics will not only be surprised - they will likely be stunned beyond belief. It is, of course, easy to wager against the prospects of such talks; 60 years of history is on the side of the naysayers. But as wonderful as it would be to say that this time will be different it is difficult seeing an end to the current state of deadlock.

Despite the time, money and careers invested in the "peace process" there is very little in this latest diplomatic initiative to offer hope that these talks will not come to the same ignominious end of peace talks past. Remember Madrid? Oslo? Wye River? Annapolis? 

Read full story

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August 21, 2010
Posted: 2053 GMT

A story that has been creating a stir in the region lately involes the case of a man in Saudi Arabia accused of paralyzing another man after attacking him with a knife.

According to local Saudi newspaper Okaz, the victim in the attack asked the judge hearing the case to submit his attacker to the same fate based on the precepts of Sharia law.  The judge,  says the paper, responded by sending letters to several hospitals in Saudi Arabia asking if they could sever a man's spinal cord.

CNN's Mohammed Jamjoom and Amir Ahmed have the rest of the compelling story here.

Filed under: General •Human Rights •Saudi Arabia

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