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from Photographers' Blog:

Meeting Mrs. Arafat

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Sliema, Malta

By Darrin Zammit Lupi

With the body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat being exhumed as part of an investigation into whether he was murdered eight years ago, it was pretty clear that we were going to need some reaction from his widow Suha, who has lived in Malta for the past few years. A journalist from The Times, the local paper I also work for, and I fixed an appointment to meet her at her apartment in the seaside town of Sliema, a short drive from the capital Valletta. Coincidentally it's only some hundred or so meters away from the spot where Fathi Shaqaqi, the founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, was assassinated by Israeli Mossad agents in 1995.

Ms Arafat welcomed us into the bright and spacious seafront apartment. Sideboards and tables were full of framed photos of Yasser Arafat - some showing him with world leaders, others depicting him as a family man playing with his young daughter. She asked that I shoot the photos I needed before we started the interview, so my eyes immediately settled on a large painted portrait of her late husband, which I felt would make an ideal background.

Conversation was relaxed and friendly. I had the pictures I needed after shooting for a minute or two, so I sat down, enjoyed an exquisite cup of Arabian coffee prepared by her personal assistant, and listened in on the interview. The plan was to then get a brief comment from her on video afterwards.
She talked at some length about her memories of her husband and wanted to set the record straight that, contrary to what had been widely reported in the build-up to the exhumation, she had refused to allow an autopsy to take place in 2004, that she was never asked for permission and that his body was never in her possession, but that it was with the Palestinian Authority and was taken to Ramallah and buried there.

The interview was interrupted intermittently by her ringing phones – "they hadn’t stopped all morning," she sighed.

from FaithWorld:

Israel targets top rabbis for anti-Arab incitement backing “King’s Doctrine”

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(Israeli policemen, mounted on horses, try to control a group of right-wing Israeli protesters during clashes at a protest in Jerusalem June 27, 2011, against the arrest earlier on Monday of their Rabbi Dov Lior/Ronen Zvulun )

Israeli police briefly detained a leading rabbi Sunday as part of a widening probe into a treatise suspected of inciting the murder of Arabs. The investigation has pitted authorities in the Jewish state against far-right West Bank settlers and has led to scuffles outside government institutions in Jerusalem and a sit-down protest that choked off the main highway to Tel Aviv.

from Tales from the Trail:

Washington Extra – The choice

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President Barack Obama wants the "Arab spring" to bloom.

And that means having choice. The United States supports "the right to choose your own leaders -- whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran," he said in a much awaited Middle East speech.

For Syria: "President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way."

from FaithWorld:

Jerusalem bishop appeals Israel’s residency denial

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jerusalem

( Jerusalem, September 14, 2010/Darren Whiteside )

Jerusalem's Anglican bishop, a Palestinian, is engaged in a legal battle with Israel over its refusal to extend his residency permit. An Anglican official, who declined to be named, said Israel's Interior Ministry had written to Bishop Suheil Dawani and accused him of improper land dealings on behalf of the church and the Palestinian Authority, allegations he denies. A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry declined to comment, citing an upcoming court hearing.

Dawani was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem in 2007, and as a non-Israeli was required by Israeli authorities to obtain temporary residency permits. These were granted to him in 2008 and 2009, but not last year.  Born in Nablus in the occupied West Bank,  Dawani lives with his family in East Jerusalem. Both areas were captured by Israel in a 1967 war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the conflict in a step that is not internationally recognized.

from FaithWorld:

Exorcisms and charlatans flourish in impoverished Gaza

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gaza koran

(A man reads a Koran in Gaza, 3 Dec 2010/Suhaib Salem)

The shabby room in a one-story house in suburban Gaza was shrouded in darkness, and only the mutterings of a bearded exorcist broke the silence. A man lay stretched on a grubby mattress, writhing, as the faith healer recited Koranic verses to chase away an evil spirit. "Get out, you demon," the exorcist, who calls himself Sheikh Ali, threatened the spirit. "Get out or I will burn you."

There are a lot of demons to chase in this poverty-riddled Palestinian enclave, say a growing number of Koranic exorcists who have set up shop in Gaza, offering to end the torments of their sometimes highly disturbed patients. The growth of exorcist clinics is seen by some as a sign of rising religious fervour among ordinary Palestinians. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that runs Gaza, however, is increasingly concerned that many exorcists are simply charlatans.

from FaithWorld:

Palestinians ask U.N. recognition for Bethlehem’s Nativity Church

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nativity

(An Armenian priest in the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, January 18, 2008/Nayef Hashlamoun)

Unlike the Sydney Opera House or the Statue of Liberty, the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the holiest places in Christendom, is not on UNESCO's list of World Heritage sites. It lies inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank, where Palestinians, with no state of their own, do not enjoy the full U.N. membership to secure United Nations recognition.

from FaithWorld:

Amid row with Israel, Turkish officials attend Istanbul Holocaust Day

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Chief Rabbi Isak Haleva and Istanbul Governor Avni Mutlu light a candle at Neve Shalom Synagogue to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day/Murad Sezer

In a rare show of unity with Istanbul’s dwindling Jewish community, government officials attended the country’s first official commemoration of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Nazi concentration camps.

from FaithWorld:

European far right courts Israel in stepped-up anti-Islam drive

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street prayers (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers  in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

Far-right political parties in Europe are stepping up their anti-Muslim rhetoric and forging ties across borders, even going so far as to visit Israel to hail the Jewish state as a bulwark against militant Islam.

Marine Le Pen of France's National Front has shocked the French political elite in recent days by comparing Muslims who pray outside crowded mosques -- a common sight especially during the holy month of Ramadan -- to the World War Two Nazi occupation. Oskar Freysinger, a champion of the Swiss ban on minarets, warned a far-right meeting in Paris on Saturday against "the demographic, sociological and psychological Islamisation of Europe". German and Belgian activists also addressed the crowd.

from FaithWorld:

Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Christmas season Bethlehem

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bethlehem 1 (Photo: A decorated Christmas tree next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, December 15, 2010/Ammar Awad)

The birthplace of Jesus is hardly an easy "weekend getaway" spot, but for a taste of how today's Holy Land feels, this hospitable Palestinian town draped over the steep hilltops outside Jerusalem is an essential place to visit.

Most foreigners fly into Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, an hour away from Jerusalem, and enter via Israeli checkpoints into the occupied West Bank. Security remains tight but there is currently no tension to deter the hardy traveler.

from FaithWorld:

Pope seeks Mideast religious liberty, bishops criticise Israel

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synod 1 (Photo: Bishops at Mass marking the end of the synod of bishops from the Middle East in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican October 24, 2010/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Pope Benedict called on Islamic countries in the Middle East on Sunday to guarantee freedom of worship to non-Muslims and said peace in the region was the best remedy for a worrying exodus of Christians.

He made his a appeal at a solemn mass in St Peter's Basilica ending a two week Vatican summit of bishops from the Middle East, whose final document criticized Israel and urged the Jewish state to end its occupation of Palestinian territories.

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