Pompeo praises Egypt ‘freedoms’ during church and mosque visit

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Mike Pompeo tours the newly inaugurated Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque, in Egypt's New Administrative Capital. (Reuters)
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Mike Pompeo and his wife Susan pose for photo as they tour the newly inaugurated Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque. (Reuters)
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Security waits for the departure of Mike Pompeo, after his visit to the newly inaugurated Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of the Nativity Christ, in Egypt's New Administrative Capital. (Reuters)
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The US Secretary of State leaves the newly inaugurated Cathedral of the Nativity Christ, in Egypt's New Administrative Capital. (Reuters)
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A member of the US Diplomatic Security takes a position as Mike Pompeo tours the newly-inaugrated Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019
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Pompeo praises Egypt ‘freedoms’ during church and mosque visit

NEW ADMINISTRATIVE CAPITAL, Egypt: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday praised Egypt’s religious freedoms as he visited a vast cathedral and a mosque in the country’s new capital east of Cairo.
Washington’s top diplomat, who describes himself as an evangelical Christian, is on a tour aimed at reassuring regional US allies after Washington’s shock decision to withdraw US troops from Syria.
On Thursday evening he visited the Cathedral of the Nativity of Christ and the Al-Fattah Al-Alim mosque in Egypt’s New Administrative Capital, 45 kilometers east of the capital.
At the mosque, he praised Egypt’s “freedoms here in this houses of worship, these big, beautiful, gorgeous buildings where the Lord is clearly at work.”
The two buildings were inaugurated by President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Sunday, a day after a deadly bomb blast near a church in the country where extremists have repeatedly targeted Christians.
“This is a special country where President El-Sisi clearly made a point by putting this, this largest cathedral in the Middle East here in this place,” Pompeo said, calling the building “a great symbol of hope.”
The cathedral’s inauguration was hailed by US President Donald Trump, who wrote on Twitter that he was “excited to see our friends in Egypt opening the biggest Cathedral in the Middle East.”
“El-Sisi is moving his country to a more inclusive future,” Trump said.


UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

The UN Relief and Works Agency provides food assistance to 1 million people in Gaza every three months, which is half of the area’s population. (AFP)
Updated 9 min 52 sec ago
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UN agency to donors: Back Palestine efforts anew, keep funding at 2018 levels

  • ‘Exceptional’ contributions enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion
  • ‘Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution’

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the UN agency that helps 5.3 million Palestinian refugees on Monday urged donors who filled a $446 million hole in its budget last year after the Trump administration drastically cut the US contribution to be equally generous this year.
“Last year we had an extraordinary crisis and an out of the ordinary response,” Pierre Krahenbuhl said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Our humble request to all the donors is: Please keep your funding levels at the same level as 2018.”
He said he has been thanking donors for their “exceptional” contributions that enabled the UN Relief and Works Agency to fund its entire 2018 budget of $1.2 billion.
Krahenbuhl said the agency, known as UNRWA, also adopted a $1.2 billion budget for 2019, and this year it is getting nothing from the United States. Last year, the Trump administration gave $60 million, a dramatic reduction from the $360 million it provided in 2017, when the United States was the agency’s largest donor.
US President Donald Trump said in January 2018 that the Palestinians must return to peace talks to receive US aid money — a comment that raised alarm from leaders of 21 international humanitarian groups, who protested that the administration’s link between aid and political objectives was “dangerous.”
Krahenbuhl said the campaign that UNRWA launched immediately after the US slashed its contribution succeeded as a result of “very important donations,” starting with the European Union, which became the agency’s biggest donor. He said 40 countries and institutions increased funding to UNRWA, including Germany, United Kingdom, Sweden, Japan, Canada and Australia. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait each gave $50 million, he said.
“Countries that supported us last year I would say were extremely proud to contribute to the solution,” Krahenbuhl said.
Last year, he said, the number of multi-year funding agreements with donors rose to 19.
So UNRWA right now is in “a somewhat better position” than it was last year, with a shortfall of just over $200 million, Krahenbuhl said.
So far this year, the agency has received $245 million and is expecting $100 million more, he said, which means it should be financially OK until about May.
“But from then on we’ll start to ... reach some crisis points,” Krahenbuhl said.
He said UNRWA is thinking about holding some events in the next two or three months “to collectively mobilize the donor community.” In June, he said, there will be a pledging conference at which the UN and donors will take stock of the agency’s financial situation.
Krahenbuhl said he is committed to making up for the $60 million that UNRWA is losing from the United States this year through internal cost saving measures to reduce the agency’s expenditures.
“That’s going to hurt, but that’s where we feel our financial responsibility, so that we preserve the trust that was generated by the level of donors,” he said, noting that UNRWA last year saved $92 million.
Krahenbuhl said donors recognize the agency does important work. He pointed to the 280,000 boys and girls in UNRWA schools in Gaza and the food assistance the agency provides to 1 million people there every three months. “That’s half of Gaza’s population,” he said.
The UNRWA chief also said that continuing the agency’s services to Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and elsewhere in the Mideast “is in everybody’s interest” and important for stability in the region.
“If you take Gaza right now ... it’s continuously at the razor’s edge,” Krahenbuhl said, stressing that any shift in humanitarian assistance or conditions that people live in “can trigger the need for justification, or the excuse ... to go back to war.”
Noting his own experience in the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, which controls Gaza, Krahenbuhl said, “this is absolutely devastating and needs to be avoided.”