Inside the Middle East
December 30, 2010
Posted: 1154 GMT

Beginning in January, Canadian citizens visiting the United Arab Emirates will have to pay as much as 1,000 Canadian dollars to obtain a visa, according to the website of the UAE Embassy in Ottawa.

This major change in policy is the most recent development in the ongoing altercation between both countries over airline landing rights.

Canadians, who until now have been allowed entry into the UAE without a visa and free of charge, will not only be required to pay for a visa starting next month, they'll also have to apply for one at least 15 days before departure. According to the embassy, Canadians will be charged 250 Canadian dollars for a 30 day visa, $500 Canadian for a three month visa, and $1,000 Canadian for a six-month multiple entry visa. (The Canadian dollar is almost exactly equivalent in currency value to the U.S. dollar.)

At the heart of the dispute are the number of flights per week that UAE airlines are able to make into Canada. The UAE maintains that the current level of six weekly flights for its carriers, Ettihad and Emirtaes, simply doesn't come close to meeting rising demand. Read more...

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •Dubai •UAE

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December 27, 2010
Posted: 1059 GMT

Despite overtures from Turkey, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday that his country will not apologize to Turkey over the deaths of nine Turkish activists aboard an aid flotilla headed for Gaza in May.

Israeli troops board a ship in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea on May 31.
Israeli troops board a ship in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in the Mediterranean Sea on May 31.

"The ones who need to apologize is the Turkish government for supporting terror regarding the IHH (a Turkish charity tied to the flotilla), Hamas and Hezbollah," he told a gathering of Israeli ambassadors from around the world.

"There will be no apology, and if there is one, we are expecting it from Ankara and not vice versa," he added.

A day earlier, Turkey's foreign minister continued to press for an apology from Israel over the incident, as the boat that set off the row between the two countries was scheduled to arrive in Istanbul. Read more...

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Filed under: Gaza •Israel •Palestinians

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December 26, 2010
Posted: 735 GMT

Ecuador is the latest country to recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Ecuador recognizes Palestine as an independent state within its borders.
Ecuador recognizes Palestine as an independent state within its borders.

The government said on Friday that President Rafael Correa recognized "the Palestine State as free and independent within its borders since 1967."

Others countries - such as Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay - recently made the same move. These diplomatic initiatives come after the breakdown of direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Palestinians have been seeking international recognition of an independent state, a strategy to achieve statehood outside the framework of talks with Israel.

"Sadly, the Middle East continues to face wars and violent events that have led to the death of many innocent people, a situation contrary to the humane and pacifist position established by the Ecuadorian Constitution. This recognition is meant to reinforce the valid and legitimate wish of the Palestine people to have their own free and independent state," the Ecuadorian government said. Read more...

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Filed under: Jerusalem •Palestinians

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December 22, 2010
Posted: 1300 GMT

Nouakchott, Mauritania (CNN) - Mahjouba was raped in March on the nighttime streets of Mauritania's capital, but she will not bring charges against the man she says did it since she may be the one who ends up in prison. The 25-year-old says the legal advice she received was to not go to court, leaving her to suffer in silence.

There is no law in Mauritania that defines rape.

According to a local U.N.-funded group working with the victims, the law criminalizes the women instead of their rapists - and society ostracizes the women.

Mahjouba, who asked not to use her real name, said: "I am sure that if I raise my voice I'm going to be criminalized by my society and I will pay the price harshly ... and as a result I may stay single for the rest of my life."

She added: "I consulted a lawyer secretly, and he advised me sincerely not to seek justice because that would throw me in jail. I know what happened to other girls who decided to go to court and face the community. Their lives were destroyed completely forever. So I already know what would happen to me if I had to follow that path.

"This Islamic republic has no place for rape victims like me." Read more...

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Filed under: Women

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December 20, 2010
Posted: 824 GMT

The dance of the Whirling Dervishes is not only a sight to behold for spectators, it is a sacred ritual for followers of this mystical and philosophical strand of Islam.

The Order of Mevlevi, as the Whirling Dervishes are officially known, is a Sufi movement founded in the 13th century after the death of poet and philosopher Mevlana Rumi.

Their spiritual home is Konya, in the central Anatolian region of Turkey, where the Mevlana Museum contains the tomb of Rumi and his son.

Every December, crowds flock to Konya to commemorate Rumi and watch the Whirling Dervishes perform their iconic dance.
The dance is performed in a symbolic costume of white robes and a conical hat, called a sikke. Accompanied by a reed pipe, the dancers raise their arms towards heaven and whirl in a counter-clockwise direction.

Also known as the sema ceremony, the dance is a central part of the Mevlevi philosophy and has been added to UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Read more...

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Filed under: Culture •Turkey •Video

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December 16, 2010
Posted: 856 GMT

Worth $11 million, standing 13 meters high and draped with jewellery, silver and gold colored balls and white lights, the tree at Emirates Palace hotel in Abu Dhabi is the world’s most expensive Christmas tree ever – or so the hotel hopes.

The tree is fake, but the jewels are not. There are 181 pieces of jewellery including diamonds, emeralds, rubies and pearls, according to Khalifa Khouri the owner of Style Gallery, which dressed the tree. There is a mix of rings, earrings, necklaces and bracelets. The most expensive item on the Christmas tree is a diamond set worth 3.5 million Dirhams, nearly $1 million.

The hotel will soon make a bid for an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records, says Hans Olbertz, General Manager of Emirates Palace.

The Christmas tree has been at the hotel since its opening. It has been decorated differently every year to try to give visitors the Christmas feeling when they are away from home. This year the hotel decided to elevate the decorations, according to Mr. Olbertz – an understatement. “We wanted to have another record to coincide with the luxury of the palace.”

It is not what is under this tree that counts, but what is on it. The items are insured for 100 percent of their value and security monitors the tree 24 hours a day. Emirates Palace already has a gold ATM and holds a Guinness record for the most expensive alcoholic shot, a cognac which would set a visitor back a couple of grand, according to Mr. Olbertz.

Mr. Khouri, who celebrates his own birthday on December 25, said “with this tree we are saying Merry Christmas to everyone.”

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Filed under: Abu Dhabi •UAE

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December 10, 2010
Posted: 1928 GMT

An Israeli confectionery company seems to have gone one step too far in an unusual, aggressive attempt to market a new chocolate bar.

An anonymous letter sent to dozens of Israeli women this week stated: "I saw you at lunch break next to the elevator, yielding for something new, original and unexpected. Ever since then, I have been imagining our first date at midday, I can't wait!" reads the hand written message, Haaretz daily newspaper reports.

"I don't know how to tell you this so I will be direct: let's meet over coffee for lunch or maybe for a different sort of meeting in the evening. But remember: if you don't come to me, I will already get to you," the letter concludes.

Among the women who received the mysterious note was parliament member Miri Regev who filed a compliant against the anonymous stalker.

"This was a very unpleasant thing to read" she told CNN.

Regev only found the message to be a commercial hoax when police investigation traced an advertising company as the sender.

"The revelation left me outraged. This is simply unacceptable, to be used as a woman just in order to market a product in such a manner that crosses all the red lines," she said.

Police are still investigating the story and have yet to decide whether to press charges against the creative writers and the confectionery company.

EDK advertising, who was responsible for the controversial idea told Haaretz: "The mere fact that the media is talking about the campaign means that it was a success. In any case, this is not a criminal offense."

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Filed under: General •Israel

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December 9, 2010
Posted: 1234 GMT

"The full range of worldly temptations and vices are available - alcohol, drugs, sex - but strictly behind closed doors."
If you want to get your readers' attention, it's not a bad way to start. The language comes from a short but tantalizing U.S.

The cable suggested a thriving nightlife beneath the conservative city of Jeddah.
The cable suggested a thriving nightlife beneath the conservative city of Jeddah.

diplomatic cable sent last year from the consulate in Jeddah in Saudi Arabia - where alcohol is banned and carnal relations strictly regulated.

"Behind the facade of Wahabi conservatism in the streets, the underground nightlife for Jeddah's elite youth is thriving and throbbing," the cable begins.

In evidence, then Consul General Martin Quinn refers to a Halloween party last year. The redacted cable reads: "Along with over 150 young Saudis (men and women mostly in their 20s and early 30s), ConGenOffs accepted invitations to an underground Halloween party at Prince XXXX residence in Jeddah on XXXX. " Read more...

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Filed under: Saudi Arabia

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December 8, 2010
Posted: 842 GMT
Palestinian children play on one side of a barrier wall.
Palestinian children play on one side of a barrier wall.

A letter signed by 50 state-appointed rabbis telling Jews not to rent or sell property to non-Jews prompted widespread condemnation Tuesday from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and human rights groups.

The letter warned that those who defied the religious ruling should be "ostracized."

"In answer to many questions, we reply that it is prohibited by the Torah to sell a house or field in Israel to a gentile," the letter reads.

The letter is to be published in religious newspapers and distributed in synagogues across the country later this week, according to the Israeli news website Ynet.

It contends that "those who sell or rent out in an area which Jews live cause great damage to his neighbors. ... For their way of life is different to Jews. Read more...

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Filed under: Israel •Judaism •Palestinians

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December 7, 2010
Posted: 1116 GMT

A series of U.S. diplomatic cables from early this year directly accused Syria of supplying advanced weaponry, including SCUD ballistic missiles, to the Shiite militia Hezbollah in Lebanon.

U.S. protests to Damascus met with persistent denials, according to the cables, which were published by the WikiLeaks website.
At a meeting in February, according to one cable, a senior U.S. diplomat stressed Washington's concerns directly with Syrian President Bashar Asad, "who bluntly stated that he knew of no new weapons systems going to Hezbollah."

But just a week later, an urgent note from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus said the United States had learned of Syrian plans to supply Hezbollah with SCUD-D ballistic missiles, which would magnify its threat to Israel.

Clinton wrote: "I must stress that this activity is of deep concern to my government, and we strongly caution you (Syria) against such a serious escalation." To reinforce the point, the cable continues: "Your interest in avoiding war should require you to exert maximum restraint, including restraining Hezbollah and preventing the group's acquisition of such lethal, long-range weapons." Read more...

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Filed under: Clinton •Hezbollah •Syria •U.S.

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