Egypt on high alert for Christmas

In Egypt, Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, while Copts mark the occasion on Jan. 7. 
Updated 25 December 2018

Egypt on high alert for Christmas

  • In Egypt, Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25
  • The Coptic Christmas is a national holiday in Egypt

CAIRO: Egyptian Christians marked Christmas this year with a mixture of joy and apprehension, as the Interior Ministry issued a high security alert and deployed forces in strategic areas and churches nationwide.

“It’s that time of year when our alertness and efforts significantly increase. I have continuous shifts until mid-January,” a police officer in Cairo told Arab News.

In Egypt, Catholics and Protestants celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25, while Copts mark the occasion on Jan. 7. 

A day ahead of the Christmas celebrations, many Christians in Egypt take time off to prepare for the festivities. 

Brig. Gen. Khaled Okasha, a member of the Supreme Council for Combating Terrorism, said there is very tight security in place to thwart potential terrorist acts.

Fady Atef, a Copt who works as a salesman in Cairo, told Arab News: “We’re ready for the celebrations without fear. We don’t fear terrorism. We celebrate Christmas and we use faith to overcome fear.”

He added: “I think all Christians will go to church without fear. We trust our security apparatus and we feel secure.”

But on social media, other Copts expressed fear and anger about the loss of loved ones in previous years. 

Some blamed the Muslim Brotherhood, some blamed foreign enemies, and others blamed the government for failing to provide adequate security.

“Fear and threat, this is how we feel when we approach such holy days,” said one Copt on social media.

Last month, terrorists ambushed a bus carrying Christian pilgrims on their way to a remote desert monastery in Minya governorate, killing seven and wounding 12.

In December 2017, two terrorists attacked the Mar Mina Church in the city of Helwan, killing nine people and injuring 10.

In December 2016, an attack on the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Cairo killed 27 people.

The Coptic Christmas feast ends a 43-day fast that begins in November. During the fast, Copts abstain from eating any food that comes from animals.

The Coptic Christmas is a national holiday in Egypt. According to government statistics, Christians make up 10 percent of the total population of nearly 100 million.

US reaches ceasefire deal with Turkey in northern Syria

Updated 25 min 29 sec ago

US reaches ceasefire deal with Turkey in northern Syria

  • Truce announced by Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkey’s President Erdogan
  • Turkey will control strip of Syria more than 30km deep after YPG withdrawal

ANKARA: Turkey agreed on Thursday to pause its offensive in Syria for five days to let Kurdish forces withdraw from a “safe zone” Ankara had sought to capture, in a deal hailed by Washington but which Turkish leaders cast as a complete victory.
The truce was announced by US Vice President Mike Pence after talks in Ankara with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, and was swiftly hailed by President Donald Trump, who said it would save “millions of lives.”


But if implemented it would achieve all the main objectives Turkey announced when it launched the assault eight days ago: control of a strip of Syria more than 30 kilometers deep, with the Kurdish YPG militia, formerly close US allies, obliged to pull out.
“The safe zone will be primarily enforced by the Turkish Armed Forces,” a joint US-Turkish statement released after the talks said.
A Turkish official told Reuters Ankara got “exactly what we wanted” from the talks with the United States. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu described it as a pause, solely to allow the Kurdish fighters to withdraw.


Kurdish fighters would be forced to give up their heavy weapons and their positions would be destroyed, Cavusoglu said. He declined to call the agreement a “cease-fire,” saying cease-fires could be agreed only by legitimate sides, and not by the Kurds that Turkey considers terrorists.
Pence said Washington had already been in contact with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which had agreed to withdraw and were already pulling out.
Trump tweeted: “Great news out of Turkey.”
“Thank you to Erdogan,” Trump said. “Millions of lives will be saved!“
“Today the United States and Turkey have agreed to a cease-fire in Syria,” Pence told a news conference after more than four hours of talks at the presidential palace in Ankara.
“The Turkish side will pause Operation Peace Spring in order to allow for the withdrawal of YPG forces from the safe zone for 120 hours,” Pence said. “All military operations under Operation Peace Spring will be paused, and Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely on completion of the withdrawal.”
The deal struck with Erdogan also provided for Turkey not to engage in military operations in the flashpoint Syrian border town of Kobani, Pence said. Cavusoglu said Turkey had given no commitments about Kobani.
Pence added that he had spoken to Trump after the talks and that Trump had expressed his gratitude for the cease-fire accord. Washington’s main goal had been to halt the violence, and it had succeeded, Pence said.
The Turkish assault has created a new humanitarian crisis in Syria with 200,000 civilians taking flight, a security alert over thousands of Daesh fighters abandoned in Kurdish jails, and a political maelstrom at home for Trump.
Trump has been accused of abandoning Kurdish-led fighters, Washington’s main partners in the battle to dismantle Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in Syria, by withdrawing troops from the border as Ankara launched its offensive on Oct. 9.
Trump had defended his move on Wednesday as “strategically brilliant.” He said he thought Pence and Erdogan would have a successful meeting, but warned of sanctions and tariffs that “will be devastating to Turkey’s economy” otherwise.