Mideast needs two-state solution, Pope says in Christmas message

A Palestinian dressed as Santa Claus argues with an Israeli border police officer during a protest in the Occupied West Bank city of Bethlehem. (AP)
Updated 26 December 2017
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Mideast needs two-state solution, Pope says in Christmas message

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis used his traditional Christmas address on Monday to call for peace in Jerusalem and highlight the plight of children scarred by conflict.
Tens of thousands of worshippers gathered at the Vatican to hear the pope’s fifth “Urbi et Orbi” (to the City and the World) message.
“We see Jesus in the children of the Middle East who continue to suffer because of growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said.
“Let us pray that the will to resume dialogue may prevail between the parties and that a negotiated solution can finally be reached, one that would allow the peaceful coexistence of two states within mutually agreed and internationally recognized borders.
“May the Lord also sustain the efforts of all those in the international community inspired by goodwill to help that afflicted land to find, despite grave obstacles, the harmony, justice and security that it has long awaited,” the pope said.
He also mentioned other global flashpoints such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, South Sudan and Venezuela, and said the “winds of war are blowing in our world. Let us pray that confrontation may be overcome on the Korean Peninsula and that mutual trust may increase in the interest of the world as a whole,” the 81-year-old said.
Earlier, celebrating midnight mass in Jerusalem, Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, attacked the wars that “the Herods of today fight every day to become greater, to occupy more space.”
In a criticism of the US recognition this month of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the archbishop said: “Jerusalem is a city of peace, but there is no peace if someone is excluded. Jerusalem should include, not exclude.”
Meanwhile, both Christians and Muslims throughout the Middle East celebrated the day. In the central Syrian city of Homs, there was great fanfare for the first time in years after the end of battles between regime and opposition forces — with processions, shows for children and even decorations among the ruins.
In Iraq, too, this year marked a positive turning point for the Christian community in the northern city of Mosul.
Muslims in Pakistan not only took part in Christmas festivities, but also hosted celebrations for their Christian friends and neighbors.
Throughout the country, Christian residential areas were bedecked with Christmas trees, stars and baubles. The bazaars in major cities, adorned with festive wreaths, were buzzing with last-minute shoppers.
Pakistan civil and military leaders extended greetings to the Christian community, and said the day underscored the teachings of patience, tolerance and kindness.


Daesh releases six of 27 Druze hostages held in southern Syria: monitor

Updated 20 October 2018
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Daesh releases six of 27 Druze hostages held in southern Syria: monitor

  • Two women and four children were released by Daesh in the province of Sweida
  • Negotiations between the government’s Russian ally and the militants for the release of the captives had stalled

BEIRUT: The Daesh group has released six of 27 Druze hostages it seized during a deadly July attack in Syria’s Sweida province in exchange for a prisoner swap and ransom, a monitor said Saturday.
“Two women and four children from the province of Sweida were released last night,” Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor group, told AFP.
He added that the releases were the “first wave” and part of an agreement sealed with the Syrian government to exchange all the hostages for “60 Islamic State prisoners held by the regime and a ransom of $27 million.”
The Daesh group abducted around 30 people — mostly women and children — from Sweida in late July during the deadliest attack on Syria’s Druze community of the seven-year civil war.
During the coordinated assaults on July 25, Daesh waged a series of suicide bombings, shootings and stabbings that left more than 250 people dead across the southwestern province, most of them civilians.
Sweida province is the heartland of the country’s Druze minority, which made up around three percent of Syria’s pre-war population — or around 700,000 people.
Daesh executed a 19-year-old male student among the captives in August and then a 25-year-old female captive in early October. The group said a 65-year-old female captive also died from illness.
Families of those kidnapped held protests to demand action by the Syrian government to free them.
Negotiations between the government’s Russian ally and the militants for the release of the captives had stalled.
Government forces have battled Daesh in the volcanic plateau of Tulul Al-Safa in the east of the province since the July attack.