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.


‘Deal reached to evacuate pro-regime Syria towns’

Syrian government forces and Syrian Arab Red Crescent oversee the evacuation by buses of opposition fighters and their families from the southern province of Daraa, Syria, in this July 15, 2018 photo. (AP)
Updated 18 July 2018
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‘Deal reached to evacuate pro-regime Syria towns’

  • The deal provides for the total evacuation of residents in the two towns, which are besieged by the rebels
  • Airstrikes killed 14 civilians in Ain Al-Tina village on Quneitra’s border with Daraa

BEIRUT: Thousands of people will be evacuated from two besieged pro-regime towns in Syria in exchange for the release of prisoners held in regime’s jails, a monitor said on Tuesday.
Under a deal brokered by regime ally Russia and Turkey, Fuaa and Kafraya, the last besieged towns in the country, will be fully evacuated after three years of encirclement, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The deal provides for the total evacuation of residents in the two towns, which are besieged by the rebels and Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, to regime territory in nearby Aleppo province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
“In exchange, hundreds of detainees will be released from regime prisons,” Abdel Rahman told AFP.
Syrian state media reported on Tuesday on preliminary information on a deal to free “thousands” of people in Fuaa and Kafraya.
Fuaa and Kafraya, the only two places in Syria currently designated as besieged by the UN, are home to an estimated 8,100 people, most of them Shiite Muslims.

15 civilians killed
Airstrikes on Tuesday killed more than a dozen civilians in parts of Syria’s south near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a war monitor said.
The regime has been pounding the southwestern province of Quneitra since Sunday in a bid to retake it from the opposition, after winning back most of the neighboring governorate of Daraa in less than a month.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said airstrikes killed 14 civilians in Ain Al-Tina village on Quneitra’s border with Daraa which had reportedly been taking shelter in a large building.
“They were all displaced from other areas. They included five children and three women,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
Two bodies were so charred they were unrecognizable. It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were carried out by the regime or its Russian ally, the Britain-based monitor said.