Pope Francis meets Muslim leaders in Abu Dhabi on historic UAE visit

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Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with the Muslim Council of Elders at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. (Reuters)
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Pope Francis walking alongside Egypt's Al-Azhar Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb as they arrive at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi. (Vatican via AFP)
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Pope Francis greets Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt's Al-Azhar, after an Interreligious meeting at the Founder's Memorial in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Monday, Feb. 4, 2019. (AP)
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Pope Francis (R) poses for a picture with Egypt's Azhar Grand Imam, Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, as they arrive at Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi on February 4, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 05 February 2019
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Pope Francis meets Muslim leaders in Abu Dhabi on historic UAE visit

  • Pope tours the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque where he met the Muslim Council of Elders
  • Earlier the pontiff arrived at Abu Dhabi's presidential palace where he met Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed

ABU DHABI: Pope Francis met with Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of Al-Azhar, and Emirati leaders on Monday during his historic visit to the United Arab Emirates.

In a trip laden with interfaith symbolism and messages of religious tolerance, the Pope began his day at the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi and ended with the signing of an agreement pledging to make efforts to strive for peace. 

The day’s tour of key locations in Abu Dhabi, both religious and political, marked the end of a two-day conference – the Human Fraternity Meeting – in which religious leaders from many faiths, both Abrahamic and non-Abrahamic discussed the importance of tolerance.

At the end of the day - giving thanks to his hosts, Pope Francis said: “I have welcomed the opportunity to come here as a believer thirsting for peace, as a brother seeking peace with the brethren.

“We are here to desire peace, to promote peace, to be instruments of peace.”

Pope Francis also urged religious leaders to work together to reject war and strongly denounced violence committed in God's name.

The Human Fraternity Meeting was also attended by Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar mosque and university, and he called on Muslims in the Middle East to "embrace" local Christian communities.

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Click here for all our coverage of Pope Francis' trip to the UAE

Breathtaking images from the first day of the pontiffs visit

Pope Francis and Al-Azhar’s Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb sign declaration of fraternity in Abu Dhabi

OPINION: Pope’s visit shines light on state of Christianity in the Middle East

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He addressed Muslims saying: "Continue to embrace your brothers the Christian citizens everywhere, for they are our partners in our nation," he said during the televised speech from the ceremony in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi.
Then he addressed Christians saying: "You are part of this nation. You are citizens, you are not a minority.. You are citizens with full rights and responsibilities."
Sheikh Tayeb also called on Muslims in the west to integrate in their host nations and respect local laws.

Pope Francis and Sheikh Tayeb signed the Human Fraternity Document during the ceremony, and they were presented with the inaugural Human Fraternity Award for their efforts to spread international peace.

Earlier at the Presidential Palace he was met by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces and Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum vice president and prime minister of the UAE.

Soldiers marched to the square inside the presidential palace grounds, led by a military band.

A fly past saw jet planes leaving a trail of white and yellow smoke – the colors of the Vatican’s flag - and in the background the thundering noise of a 21-gun salute could be heard echoing from behind the palace buildings.

They stood for the national anthems and then the Pope was introduced to members of the UAE government.

Then it was the turn of members of the Vatican to shake hands with the two Emirati leaders. The Pontiff was then taken in a simple Kia car to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi where he and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb met the Muslim Council of Elders.

It was a short visit and within an hour the convoy of Emirati and Vatican staff and security drove to the final and most significant part of the day which was at the Founder’s Memorial, a tribute to the UAE's founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

Sheikh Mohammed said on Monday that UAE rulers were “delighted” to meet the pontiff “in our homeland of tolerance.”

“We discussed enhancing cooperation, consolidating dialogue, tolerance, human coexistence and important initiatives to achieve peace, stability and development for peoples and societies,” he tweeted.

Pope Francis, who touched down in Abu Dhabi on Sunday night, said he came “as a brother, in order to write a page of dialogue together, and to travel paths of peace together.”

The pontiff offered the crown prince a framed medallion of the meeting between St. Francis Assisi – the pope’s namesake – and the Sultan of Egypt Malek al-Kamel, in 1219. Sheikh Mohammed, in turn, offered a deed for the plot of land on which the first church in the UAE was built.


Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

Updated 19 February 2019
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Yemen govt, Houthis to start first phase of Hodeidah pullout

  • The UN statement said both sides ‘made important progress on planning for the redeployment of forces as envisaged in the Hodeidah agreement.’
  • Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil.

NEW YORK: Yemen’s government and the Houthi militias have agreed on the first stage of a mutual pullout of forces from the port city of Hodeidah, a key entry point for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said.

The Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the government agreed in talks in December to withdraw troops by Jan. 7 from Hodeidah under a truce accord aimed at averting a full-scale assault on the port and paving the way for negotiations to end the four-year-old war.

“The parties reached an agreement on Phase 1 of the mutual redeployment of forces,” the UN spokesman’s office said in a statement without giving details on what was agreed.

Under Phase 1, the Houthis would withdraw from the ports of Hodeidah, Saleef, used for grains, and Ras Isa, used for oil. This would be met by a retreat of Saudi-led coalition forces from the eastern outskirts of Hodeidah, where battles raged before a cease-fire went into effect on Dec. 18.

The Houthis occupy Hodeidah, the main entry point for the bulk of Yemen’s commercial and aid imports, while Yemeni government forces loyal to President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi are massed on the outskirts.

The UN statement said the two sides also agreed “in principle” on Phase 2, entailing full redeployment of both parties’ forces in Hodeidah province.

Two sources involved in the negotiations said both sides had yet to agree on a withdrawal timeline or on a mechanism for local forces to take over security at the ports and city.

“The UN is still discussing how to reduce the gap between the two sides on how to choose the forces that will control the city,” one source told Reuters.

The parties could decide within 7-10 days on where they would reposition forces, said the other source, adding that Houthi fighters could pull back as far as 20 km from the port.

Disagreement on withdrawal had delayed opening humanitarian corridors in Yemen.

Under the first phase, the two sides agreed to reopen main roads linking Hodeidah to the Houthi-occupied capital Sanaa and in Yemen’s third city of Taiz, said a UN source.

They also agreed to enable access to Red Sea Mills, which holds some 50,000 tons of World Food Program grain, enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month, the source said. Access to the site has been cut off since September due to fighting.

The Hodeidah truce has largely been respected but there have been intermittent skirmishes in flashpoints on the city’s edges.

Hodeidah became the focus of the war last year when the coalition twice launched an offensive to seize the port and weaken the Houthis by cutting of their main supply line.