Iraqi cities preparing for large Christmas celebrations

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Members of the Nineveh Protection Units stand guard outside the Church Mar Eddie the Apostle during Christmas mass in the predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh. (AFP)
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Iraqi Christians attend mass on Christmas eve at the Grand Immaculate Church in the predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh. (AFP)
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Iraqi Christians attend a mass on Christmas Eve at the Grand Immaculate Church in al-Hamdaniya, near Mosul, Iraq December 24, 2018. (Reuters)
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A member of the Nineveh Protection Units stands guard outside the Church Mar Eddie the Apostle during Christmas mass in the predominantly Christian Iraqi town of Qaraqosh. (AFP)
Updated 24 December 2018

Iraqi cities preparing for large Christmas celebrations

  • With security threats at their lowest level in five years, Iraqi cities are preparing for largescale Christmas celebrations
  • Local authorities nationwide have set up large decorated Christmas trees in main squares

BAGHDAD: With security threats at their lowest level in five years, Iraqi cities are preparing for largescale Christmas celebrations, Christian clerics and officials told Arab News on Sunday.
Local authorities nationwide have set up large decorated Christmas trees in main squares. Shops in Kardaa, a neighborhood in southern Baghdad that includes many churches, are filled with Christmas decorations and accessories.
Celebrations this year follow the declaration of the defeat of Daesh in Iraq. The terrorist group had killed and displaced Christians in the north of the country following its sweeping territorial gains in June 2014.
Some cites such as Ramadi, capital of the Sunni-majority Anbar province in western Iraq, is celebrating Christmas for the first time since 2003, locals told Arab News.
“The security situation this year is the most stable in a long time, thank God,” Ara Badalian, pastor of the Evangelical Baptist Church in Baghdad, told Arab News.
“We’re more relaxed and free to practice our ritual ceremonies this time compared to previous years, and we’ve extended our celebration hours to 10 p.m. instead of 8 p.m.,” he said.
“The number of festivals we’ve planned is the most in many years, and participation is much wider and not limited to Christians, as our friends from other sects are keen to participate in our celebrations.”
Baghdad and other cities have witnessed a significant drop in the number of terrorist attacks in the past three years.
The number of casualties across the country in November was the lowest in six years, according to statistics from the UN Mission in Iraq.
Troops have been deployed near churches, malls and main squares to guard against potential terrorist attacks.
After Christmas, Iraqis see in the new year with street celebrations accompanied by music and fireworks.
Many clubs, cafes and malls hold free parties with famous singers throughout the last week of December.
“It’s an occasion to see all my family members to celebrate New Year’s Eve and enjoy time with them,” Rawaa Abdulridha, a young lawyer, told Arab News.
“We’re hungry for joy. We’re exhausted because war and death have dominated our streets for many years, so the time has come for some joy.”


Fatah and Hamas blame each other for reconciliation failure

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
Updated 18 February 2020

Fatah and Hamas blame each other for reconciliation failure

  • Sources said Fatah wanted to exclude three factions — the Liberation Movement, the Mujahideen Movement and the Popular Resistance Committees — whereas Hamas wanted them to participate because of their loyalty

GAZA CITY: Fatah and Hamas have blamed each other for their lack of reconciliation following the release of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.
The Trump peace plan, supported by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calls for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state that excludes Jewish settlements built in occupied territory and is under near-total Israeli security control. It also proposes US recognition of Israeli settlements on occupied West Bank land and of Jerusalem as Israel’s indivisible capital, along with Israeli annexation of the Jordan valley.
It has been trashed by the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation as well as the Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called on all factions to unite and develop a common strategy to counter the peace deal and there were hopes he would send a PLO team to Gaza to reconcile with his political rivals at Hamas, ending 13 years of internal division. But the meeting has yet to materialize, with each side accusing the other of obstruction and exclusion.
Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip by force from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in 2007, with the takeover leaving Palestinians divided between two governments. Hamas controls Gaza and the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority governs autonomous areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The two sides remain bitter enemies.
The PLO’s Saeb Erekat, who is executive committee secretary, said the organization’s factions were ready to go to the Gaza Strip. “It is Hamas that is delaying the visit, by refusing to invite the factions to hold a meeting that includes all the factions in Gaza,” he told Arab News. “We do not see any reason for Hamas to delay issuing invitations to the Palestinian factions to respond to what was agreed upon in holding a factional meeting in Gaza, until a reconciliation agreement is reached and ending
the division.”
Azzam Al-Ahmad, a member of the Fatah central committee, said the group was not waiting for the approval of any party to go. It was waiting for an official date from Hamas in order to hold the factional meeting in Gaza.
In 2017 Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation agreement after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing.

The deal was brokered by Egypt and helped bridge the gulf between the two Palestinian parties — the Western-backed Fatah and Hamas, which is viewed as a terrorist organization by several countries including the US.

HIGHLIGHT

Mahmoud Abbas called on all factions to unite and develop a common strategy to counter the peace deal and there were hopes he would send a PLO team to Gaza to reconcile with his political rivals at Hamas, ending 13 years of internal division. But the meeting has yet to materialize.

Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said there was no need for hiding or “evasion” as the group’s stance was clear about representation and delegations. “It (Hamas) has repeatedly welcomed the visit of the delegation to achieve reconciliation, the brothers in Islamic Jihad and the popular and democratic fronts approved that,” he told Arab News. Fatah, he said, opposed the inclusion of “resistance forces.”
“The problem lies in the political thought of Abbas and his team, who do not believe in real partnership on the ground, and they like to exclude the resistance factions that have presented hundreds of martyrs,” he added.
Sources said Fatah wanted to exclude three factions — the Liberation Movement, the Mujahideen Movement and the Popular Resistance Committees — whereas Hamas wanted them to participate because of their loyalty.
A Fatah delegation visited Gaza last week without meeting Hamas. Radwan said there was no meeting because the delegation insisted on holding a “bilateral meeting” with Hamas only.
“We welcomed the arrival of the delegation of the Palestinian Authority in the hope that it would be a prelude to a meeting at the level of general secretaries or a scheduled national meeting, but unfortunately Fatah started with obstacles, the first of which was the refusal of the national and factional presence at this meeting,” he said.
Ibrahim Abrash, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said there was no reconciliation agreement in sight. “What happened after the announcement of the deal of the century is an emotional state without real intentions on both sides of the division,” he told Arab News. Mutual accusations and the justifications for the visit’s failure were “trivial,” he added.