Palestinians mark Christmas amid Israeli restrictions

In the last fortnight, the Israeli military imposed roadblocks in the West Bank and stormed several Palestinian towns and villages. (Reuters)
Updated 25 December 2018

Palestinians mark Christmas amid Israeli restrictions

  • The city’s markets are usually bustling over Christmas, with thousands of foreign tourists attending religious celebrations and midnight mass, but this year traders complained that business was down

BETHLEHEM: Palestinian Christians celebrated Christmas despite Israeli restrictions. The city of Bethlehem adorned a Christmas tree in Manger Square, where the Church of the Nativity is located. 

The square hosted a number of activities, including the establishment of Santa’s Village and celebrations for children and families. 

The city’s markets are usually bustling over Christmas, with thousands of foreign tourists attending religious celebrations and midnight mass, but this year traders complained that business was down.

In the last fortnight, the Israeli military imposed roadblocks in the West Bank and stormed several Palestinian towns and villages in search of Palestinians who opened fire on its forces. 

Marwan Salibi, a salesman at an antiques shop in Bethlehem, told Arab News: “We rely on the holiday period mainly, but this year we’re witnessing weak business activity. Insecurity is one of the important reasons.”

At this time of year, the city is visited by Christians from elsewhere in Palestine. “We visit Bethlehem every year, once or twice,” Sally Awwad, from the village of Zababdeh near the city of Jenin in the northern West Bank, told Arab News.

“I used to visit with my family, but now I’m with my friends from different cities. We buy souvenirs and pray in the Church of the Nativity,” she said.

“I always hope that Bethlehem, the place where Jesus was born, becomes a free place to be visited by Christians from all over Palestine and the world. This doesn’t happen because we live under occupation.” 

In the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the YMCA on Saturday lit up a Christmas tree for the first time in years at a ceremony attended by Christians and Muslims.

“After years of not lighting the Christmas tree in Gaza, we decided this year to celebrate with the Palestinians in Gaza in a small ceremony,” said Hani Farah, director of the YMCA.

Every year, Israel issues permits for some Christians in Gaza to travel to Bethlehem, but hundreds are prevented from attending midnight mass in the city. There are an estimated 1,000 Christians living in Gaza.

In early December, the city of Ramallah lit up a Christmas tree in a joyous atmosphere in Yasser Arafat Square.

“How wonderful to meet all of our great Palestinian people, to celebrate one of our national holidays in which we shine the glorious Christmas tree, to affirm our love for each other and that we’re people of peace in Palestine and Jerusalem, which includes Christian and Islamic holy sites,” said Archimandrite Elias Awad, patron of the Greek Orthodox Church in Ramallah.

“We want to send a message to the world that we’re a people who want peace, we have our rights, we look forward to the independence of our state, we salute our national and religious days without barriers and occupation.”

The YMCA lit up a Christmas tree in Jerusalem in early December, marking the start of celebrations.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a message to the world on the occasion of Christmas: “We want (Jerusalem) to be an open city for worship for all believers and followers of all religions… and for our people to exercise their right to freedom of worship in their Christian and Islamic holy places.”


Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

Updated 4 min 44 sec ago

Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

  • Reports are credible, expert tells Arab News
  • Hospitals report spike in burns victims

ANKARA: Accusations that Turkey has used banned incendiary weapons against civilians in its invasion of northern Syria are credible, a leading security analyst told Arab News on Saturday.

Kurdish leaders said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fighter jets had dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus on civilian targets in the border town of Ras Al-Ain, a key objective for Turkish troops.

“The Turkish aggression is using all available weapons against Ras Al-Ain,” the Kurdish administration said. “Faced with the obvious failure of his plan, Erdogan is resorting to weapons that are globally banned, such as phosphorus and napalm.”

Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for New American Security, told Arab News: “There are now multiple credible reports that Turkey has used white phosphorus munitions in its campaign in northeast Syria, and especially against the stubborn defenders of the city of Ras Al-Ain.”

The attacks on Ras Al-Ain are being investigated by UN chemical weapons inspectors, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Human Rights Watch. 

OPCW said it had “not yet determined the credibility of these allegations,” and its inspectors were monitoring the situation.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Erdogan’s jets ‘dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus in Ras Al-Ain.’
  • The attacks are being probed by UN chemical weapons inspectors and Human Rights Watch.
  • A video posted on social media shows children with burns that a doctor says were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

If the use of banned incendiary weapons were proved, it would be a grave violation of Turkey’s pledge to wage war with concern for civilian lives, Heras said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there had been a spike in burn wounds treated at the Syrian-Kurdish hospital at Tal Tamir, mostly casualties brought in from the Ras Al-Ain area. 

The Kurdish Red Crescent said at least six people were being treated in hospital for burns. 

Kurdish officials posted a video on social media showing children with burns that one doctor in Hasakeh province said were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, told the UK newspaper The Times that the burns appeared to have been caused by white phosphorus.

The substance may be used to create a smoke screen, or as a battlefield marker, especially at night, but its use as an incendiary weapon is prohibited under international law.

Since 1997, Turkey has been a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

Dr. Willem Theo Oosterveld, a senior fellow at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, said the deployment of white phosphorus was not explicitly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. 

However, he said, under humanitarian law “the use of means and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is prohibited.”