Egypt prosecutors probing monk’s death in desert monastery

In this Feb. 5, 2013 file photo, clergymen walk through the gate of the historic al-Muharraq Monastery, a centuries-old site in the province of Assiut, Egypt. (AP)
Updated 26 September 2018
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Egypt prosecutors probing monk’s death in desert monastery

  • The monk’s death was announced in a brief statement issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church
  • It said the cause of his death at the Al-Muharraq monastery in southern Egypt remained unknown

CAIRO: In an incident that brought the woes of one of the world’s oldest churches back under the spotlight, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church said on Wednesday that prosecutors are investigating the death of a monk who had until recently served in a monastery northwest of Cairo where the abbot was killed in July.
Two monks — one of whom has been defrocked — are on trial for the death of the abbot, Bishop Epiphanius. The trial opened Sunday and was scheduled to resume Thursday when, according to security officials, the deceased monk was to give his testimony.
The monk, identified by the church by his monastic name Zeinoun Al-Maqari, was the “confessional father” of one of the monks on trial, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.
The monk’s death was announced in a brief statement issued by the Coptic Orthodox Church. It said the cause of his death at the Al-Muharraq monastery in southern Egypt remained unknown. However, security and medical officials said they could not rule out suicide. An initial examination of the body suggested that poisoning might have been the cause of death, they said.
A full autopsy to determine the cause of death was due to be performed, they said.
The body was kept under tight security in a hospital in Assiut, the nearest city to Al-Muharraq monastery where the monk served since August. The monastery was also sealed off by police and security officers who were reviewing footage from its security cameras.
The church statement said Zeinoun was transferred to Al-Muharraq monastery following Epiphanius’ death. That suggested the monk may have been involved in a now-publicized disciplinary dispute between the abbot and several monks at St. Macarious, which required the intervention of the spiritual leader of the church, Pope Tawadros II.
The security officials said Zeinoun’s name also came up as a possible accomplice in the abbot’s killing during lengthy questioning of witnesses by prosecutors.
Zeinoun was one of six monks transferred out of St. Macarious monastery as part of efforts to instill greater discipline. At the time, the church slapped a yearlong suspension on the admission of novices, threatened to expel monks found to have established “illegal” monasteries and gave monks a month to shut down social media accounts. It also forbade unauthorized media interviews.
Epiphanius’ killing has shaken Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, which introduced monasticism to the faith, but its monastic desert traditions had largely vanished before being revived over the past century.
The July killing took on added significance because monks were the main suspects. It also exposed a side of the church that few in Egypt — Muslim or Christian — knew existed, including the growing power and independence of monks in remote monasteries who appear to be at odds with Tawadros and the church’s central leadership.
The security officials said Zeinoun was dying when monks went to his cell in the small hours to fetch him for vespers. He was rushed to hospital but died before he arrived there, they said. A photo of him released by the church suggests he was in his 30s or early 40s.
News of Wednesday’s death broke at a time when the church was in the spotlight again.
An embarrassing video widely shared on social media networks surfaced this week, showing US-based Coptic Bishop Ioannis offering Egyptian Christians in New Jersey free transportation, sandwiches and sodas to travel to New York to cheer visiting President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.
“Come out for the sake of God, for the sake of the church and your families,” he told a gathering assembled at a New Jersey church. “The buses will be free, so come, it would be a change of weather and a chance to see New York. We will also bring you sandwiches and sodas.”
El-Sisi is in New York to attend the annual UN General Assembly and meet world leaders on the sidelines. Video footage of him in New York show several dozen Egyptian expatriates waving flags and carrying images of the Egyptian leader.
“We need two buses. God will bless them and when they are video graphed they will look like they are 10,” he said.


Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

Updated 16 June 2019
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Syria flare-up kills 35 fighters, including 26 pro-regime forces

  • Russian-backed regime forces try to retake villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters
  • The clashes also left 26 pro-regime forces dead in the north of Hama province

 

BEIRUT: At least 10 civilians and 35 combatants, mostly pro-regime forces, were killed on Saturday in clashes and airstrikes that erupted at dawn in northwestern Syria, a war monitor said.

The flare-up came as Russian-backed regime forces tried to retake two villages seized by opposition forces and allied fighters earlier this month, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

“Since this morning, the Syrian regime and allied fighters have launched five failed attempts to regain control of Jibine and Tal Maleh in northwestern Hama province,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

Syrian regime airstrikes killed nine opposition fighters, the war monitor said.

Ensuing clashes in the north of Hama province left 26 pro-regime forces dead, including eight who were killed in a mine explosion, the Observatory said.

In neighboring Idlib, regime airstrikes killed 10 civilians, including three children, the Observatory said.

The strikes hit the towns of Maaret Al-Numan and Al-Bara as well as the village of Al-Ftira, according to the war monitor.

The Idlib region of some 3 million people is supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.

But it was never fully implemented, as opposition refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarized zone.

In January, the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.

The Syrian regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing nearly 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.

Turkey said on Friday that it did not accept Russia’s “excuse” that it had no ability to stop the Syrian regime’s continued bombardments in the last opposition bastion of Idlib.

“In Syria, who are the regime’s guarantors? Russia and Iran,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told state news agency Anadolu in a televised interview.

“Thus we do not accept the excuse that ‘We cannot make the regime listen to us’,” he said.

His comments came as Turkey disagreed with Russia earlier this week after Moscow claimed a new cease-fire had been secured in the province following weeks of regime bombardments — a claim that was denied by Ankara.

Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-regime protests.

Russia launched a military intervention in support of the regime in 2015, helping its forces reclaim large parts of the country from opposition fighters and militants.