Inside the Middle East
May 26, 2011
Posted: 1502 GMT

By Jenifer Fenton, CNN

Bahrain plans to lift its state of emergency on June 1. Two days later, the country will learn if it can reschedule its Formula 1 Grand Prix, which was cancelled due to the unrest.

The Gulf Kingdom is hoping for a return to business as usual, but the county’s trials and continued detentions are cause for concern to many.

Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al-Khalifa met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Wednesday.

“Bahrain’s recent unrest is distinct in that the protests ultimately divided and polarised society rather than uniting it,” Prince Salman said in a statement released by his office. “Undoubtedly, mistakes have been made by all sides during the recent period, but lessons are being learnt.”

Also Wednesday, four were sentenced in a Bahraini national military court to one year in prison for taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations that began in mid-February, according to Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights.

In a speech addressing the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama said that “mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.” Calling for dialogue, he added, “You can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.”

This week, Bahrain said it had released 515 detainees since the state of emergency went into effect. It is unclear how many are still being held in custody.

A prominent Bahrain human rights activist said he doubts the government’s figures. At least 1,100 are still believed to be in detention, Nabeel Rajab said. He believes the true number is much higher. The arrests have also continued, Rajab added.

Among those still detained are 46 medical employees, including six women, according to Information Affairs Authority President Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa. Twenty-nine are facing criminal charges and 17 are accused of committing misdemeanours, Al-Khalifa said on the state news agency's website this week.

Hassan Ali Mushaima, the leader of the hard-line Shiite opposition group Haq, Ibrahim Sharif, the leader of the secular Waad party and Abdulhadi al Khawaja, a leading human rights activist, are also among those on trial accused of attempting “to topple the regime forcibly in collaboration with a terrorist organization working for a foreign country,” according to Bahrain’s news agency.

Others have disappeared. At least two senior members of Al Wefaq, the main Shiite opposition group are missing. Matar Ebrahim Matar, 35, a former Al Wefaq MP, was taken from his car by armed men in mask on May 2, according to a family member. He has not been heard from him since. Bahrain has not responded to queries about Matar from his family or from CNN. His family is not aware of any charges against Matar. Matar represented the biggest constituency in Bahrain, approximately 16,000 people.

According to Human Rights Watch Jawad Fairuz was also taken on May 2. Matar and Fairuz won seats in Bahrain’s lower house of Parliament in October 2010. The two, along with 16 other Al Wefaq members resigned their position in protest of the government’s crackdown.

On Sunday, Bahrain upheld the death sentences of two men in connection with the killing of two police officers during anti-government protests. Two other men had their sentences commuted to life in prison. Approximately 30 people have been killed since the protest began on February 14.

Bahrain is a key ally of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf and the home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet

What will change when Bahrain’s state of emergency is lifted on June 1 remains to be seen. “It is more a decision to attract back businesses that left the country and attract Formula 1.” Rajab said. “I don’t think that it is going to change anything on the ground, it is more cosmetic.”

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May 22, 2011
Posted: 1414 GMT

Bahrain upheld the death sentences Sunday of two men in connection with the killing of two police officers during anti-government protests earlier this year.

The National Court of Appeal confirmed the sentences of Ali Abdullah Hassan Alsingace and Abdul Aziz Abdul Redha Ibrahim Hussein, according to the Bahrain News Agency, which did not mention when the executions will be carried out. The defendants have another opportunity to appeal the decision.

Two other men who had been sentenced to death have had their sentenced commuted to life in prison. They are Qassim Hassan Mattar and Ahmad Saeed Abdul Jalil Said.

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May 20, 2011
Posted: 1128 GMT
A rabbi drinks a glass of fig alcohol at the 2010 pilgrimage to Derba, a Tunisian island
A rabbi drinks a glass of fig alcohol at the 2010 pilgrimage to Derba, a Tunisian island

By Joe Sterling, CNN

(CNN) – The political tension bubbling across Tunisia, Libya and the rest of North Africa has forced the cancellation of an annual Jewish pilgrimage to a historic synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba.

Roger Bismuth, a leader in the Tunisian Jewish community, said the community is concerned about the possibility of disruptions amid the ferment in Tunisia and the warfare in nearby Libya.

"We are scared people will take the opportunity to do something," said Bismuth, leader of a community that endured a deadly 2002 al Qaeda truck bombing in Djerba. "It's irresponsible to do it."

The annual pilgrimage is always held around the Jewish holiday of Lag B'Omer, which comes this weekend, and it is centered on La Ghriba, a revered and iconic synagogue in the heart of the island. It was targeted in the 2002 attack, which killed 21 people, including German tourists.

According to legend, Jews came to Djerba after the destruction of the first temple in Jerusalem, destroyed in 586 BCE, and the synagogue has foundation stones from that edifice.

read the rest of the story here on CNN's Belief Blog

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Filed under: General •Judaism •Religion •Tunisia

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May 17, 2011
Posted: 1220 GMT
Palestinian protesters infiltrate the Israel-Syria border on May 15 near the Druze village of Majdal Shams. Reportedly at least twelve were killed and several injured when Israeli soldiers opened fire on protesters AFP/ Getty Images.
Palestinian protesters infiltrate the Israel-Syria border on May 15 near the Druze village of Majdal Shams. Reportedly at least twelve were killed and several injured when Israeli soldiers opened fire on protesters AFP/ Getty Images.

Clashes between pro-Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces erupted along Israel's borders and occupied territories Sunday, leaving at least 12 dead on a Palestinian mourning day marking the birth of the Jewish state.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried what he called "violent demonstrations" aimed at undermining Israel's existence.

"We hope for the peace and restfulness to return quickly, but no one should be mistaken - we are determined to defend our borders and our sovereignty," Netanyahu said.

The conflicts broke out on "Nakba Day." Nakba - Arabic for "catastrophe" - marks the period when more than 700,000 Arabs were displaced from their homes during fighting that followed the creation of Israel in 1948.

Two protesters were killed and 170 were wounded Sunday when fighting broke out in the Golan Heights area, the Syrian Arab News Agency said. And at least 10 were killed and 112 others were injured in clashes along the line of demarcation with Lebanon, Lebanon's state news agency reported. Read more...

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Filed under: Israel •Lebanon •Netanyahu •Palestinians •Syria

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May 11, 2011
Posted: 1048 GMT
Amal al-Sadah's passport, which a relative said was obtained for the purpose of marrying bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2000.
Amal al-Sadah's passport, which a relative said was obtained for the purpose of marrying bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2000.

When 18-year-old Amal al-Sadah became the fifth wife of 43-year-old Osama bin Laden in 2000, she was "a quiet, polite, easygoing and confident teenager" who came from a big, conservative family in Yemen, a relative told CNN in an exclusive interview.

The relative, Ahmed, who knew al-Sadah growing up, said she came from a traditional family in Ibb, Yemen - established and respectable but certainly with no militant views paralleling the al Qaeda leader's terrorism.
The family had no connection to al Qaeda prior to the arranged marriage, Ahmed told CNN during an interview in Ibb on Friday.

While some accounts say a matchmaker put the couple together, the relative wasn't sure of that report, adding he heard many stories about how the two were betrothed. Read more...

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May 6, 2011
Posted: 840 GMT


ZAIN VERJEE, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Will Osama bin Laden's death weaken extremists? Or does it make the region more dangerous, especially for Israel?

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: No, it weakens extremists. When the world's number one terrorist, a man who's responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people is brought to justice and is eliminated, it tells terrorists everywhere there's a price and you will pay it and that's good.

VERJEE: Was President Obama right not to release the photo?

NETANYAHU: Probably.


NETANYAHU: He probably has his reasons. I haven't seen the photos but I think it's immaterial (ph). I don't think that anyone really questions the fact that Osama bin Laden has been killed. I think that's a safe fact.

VERJEE: Who would you consider today, the world's most dangerous man, the biggest threat to the world's security after bin Laden?

NETANYAHU: The biggest threat is the possibility of the militant Islamic regime will acquire nuclear weapons or that nuclear weapons will acquire a militant Islamic regime. The first is called Iran. If the Iranian regime gets atomic bombs, it'll change history.

VERJEE: Do you think Ahmadinejad is the biggest threat?

NETANYAHU: I think he's a big threat. I think his boss, Khamenei is a bigger threat. Iran is (ph) the country and he's infused with fanaticism - he wants to get the whole lot – he calls us Israel, "the little Satan" because America is "the great Satan" and I hope that Europe and Britain aren't offended because they're a middle-sized Satan. So all these statements have to be eliminated and, if necessary, they're developing atomic bombs for that affair (ph).

VERJEE: So why haven't you taken action, a targeted action against Iran if you're convinced it needs to be eliminated?

NETANYAHU: Well, because one of the things that we've looked at is the leadership of the international community, led by the United States, to force that regime to stop its nuclear bombs program. I think the sanctions might work if the international community makes it clear that there's a credible military option if the sanctions don't work. And I think that the coupling of those two things - economic sanctions and a military option if sanctions don't work - that's the only thing that will make this regime stop. And I hope to see that determination (ph) in place.

VERJEE: There's a government now that represents all Palestinians in a unity government. Why won't you accept that?

Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Hamas •Iran •Israel •Netanyahu •Palestinians •Video

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May 4, 2011
Posted: 1053 GMT

By Jenifer Fenton

The justice ministry in Bahrain said 47 medical professionals will be tried for crimes that include incitement to overthrow the regime, deadly assault and refusal to help persons in need.

Twenty-four doctors and 23 nurses and paramedics have been charged.

During the protests in the Gulf kingdom, witnesses say security forces in Bahrain stormed the Salmaniya Medical Complex in Manama beating doctors and demonstrators. Bahraini officials deny those accounts.

Activists and human rights groups have alleged that medical personnel have been targeted by Bahraini officials for treating protestors.

“We found doctors were simply providing ethical and life-saving medical care to patients whom Bahraini security forces had shot, detained and tortured,” wrote Richard Sollom, Deputy Director of Physicians for Human Rights, in an email to CNN.

“We documented a systematic attack on medical staff in Bahrain including the beatings, torture and disappearances of more than 30 physicians,” Sollom wrote.

Approximately 30 people have been killed since the protest began on February 14. Hundreds have been detained.

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May 3, 2011
Posted: 1312 GMT

By Jenifer Fenton

The United Arab Emirates dissolved the elected board of directors of the Teachers’ Association on Monday, according to activist Mohammed al-Mansoori. The 11 members of the board were replaced by five state appointees.

The decree signed by Social Affairs Minister Mariam Mohammed Khalfan Al Roumi said the Teachers’ Association violated the UAE’s Law on Associations, which bans nongovernmental organizations from interfering "in politics or in matters that impair State security and its ruling regime," according to Human Rights Watch.

Last month, the UAE dissolved the elected board of directors of the Jurist Association, also replacing the board with state appointees. The two groups signed a petition to President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the members of the Supreme Council of the seven Emirates on March 9 asking for direct elections. The petition also asked that the Federal National Council be granted legislative powers. The body is only an advisory one.

In April, Emirati authorities arrested a prominent human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor and four others on accusations that included opposing the government. The five were "held in preventative custody" on accusations that they committed crimes that include undermining the public order, opposing the government system and insulting the president, vice president and crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the state-run WAM news agency reported.

Mansoor is a "leading human rights activist who had publicly called for political freedoms and an elected parliament," Human Rights Watch said. Mansoor, who signed the petition to the UAE president, is also a member of Human Rights Watch's Middle East advisory committee

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May 2, 2011
Posted: 824 GMT
Here write the text for the caption under the photo.
Here write the text for the caption under the photo.

The mastermind of the worst terrorist attacks on American soil is dead, U.S. President Barack Obama announced late Sunday night, almost 10 years after the attacks that killed about 3,000 people.

Osama bin Laden - the founder and leader of al Qaeda - was killed by U.S. forces Sunday in a mansion in Abbottabad, north of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad, along with other family members, a senior U.S. official told CNN.

In an address to the nation Sunday night, Obama called bin Laden's death "the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda."

Today, at my direction, the United States launched a targeted operation against that compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan," Obama said. "A small team of Americans carried out the operation with extraordinary courage and capability. No Americans were harmed. They took care to avoid civilian casualties. After a firefight, they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body."

A congressional source familiar with the operation confirmed that bin Laden was shot in the head. Read more..

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Welcome to the Inside the Middle East blog where CNN's journalists post news, views and video from across the region. This is also a place where you can start the discussion so please keep your comments coming. We highlight not only current news stories but also anecdotes and issues that don't always make the top of the headlines.

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