DUBAI: A US aircraft carrier ordered by the White House to rapidly deploy to the Mideast over a perceived threat from Iran has transited the Strait of Hormuz for the first time since its deployment.
The US Navy says the USS Abraham Lincoln transited the strait on Tuesday, making its way to the Arabian Gulf. The carrier left Norfolk, VA, in April and was diverted to the Middle East in May, but it had remained in the Arabian Sea, avoiding passage through the strait that borders Iran.
American aircraft carriers have for decades sailed through the international oil shipping route in what the US describes as “defensive” operations aimed at keeping the strait open.
The Trump administration deployed the Lincoln to the Arabian Gulf amid a spike in tensions with Iran.
Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history
Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,”
Updated 43 min 49 sec ago
NAJAF, Iraq: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the authority for most of the world’s Shiite Muslims, told Pope Francis in a historic meeting in the Iraqi city of Najaf Saturday that the country’s Christians should live in “peace.”
The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history.
Pope Francis is defying a second wave of coronavirus cases and renewed security fears to make a “long-awaited” trip to Iraq, aiming to comfort the country’s ancient Christian community and deepen his dialogue with other religions.
The meeting between the two elderly men lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s office putting out a statement shortly afterwards thanking Francis, 84, for visiting the holy city of Najaf.
Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,” it said.
His office published an image of the two, neither wearing masks: Sistani in a black turban with his wispy grey beard reaching down to his black robe and Francis all in white, looking directly at the grand ayatollah.
Sistani is extremely reclusive and rarely grants meetings but made an exception to host Francis, an outspoken proponent of interreligious dialogue.
The Pope had landed earlier at Najaf airport, where posters had been set up featuring a famous saying by Ali, the fourth caliph and the Prophet Muhammad’s relative, who is buried in the holy city.
“People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity,” read the banners.
The meeting is one of the highlights of Francis’s four-day trip to war-scarred Iraq, where Sistani has played a key role in tamping down tensions in recent decades.
It took months of careful negotiations between Najaf and the Vatican to secure the one-on-one meeting.
“We feel proud of what this visit represents and we thank those who made it possible,” said Mohamed Ali Bahr Al-Ulum, a senior cleric in Najaf.
Pope Francis, a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, has met top Sunni clerics in several Muslim-majority countries, including Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Sistani, meanwhile, is followed by most of the world’s 200 million Shiites — a minority among Muslims but the majority in Iraq — and is a national figure for Iraqis.
“Ali Sistani is a religious leader with a high moral authority,” said Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a specialist in Islamic studies.
Sistani began his religious studies at the age of five, climbing through the ranks of Shiite clergy to grand ayatollah in the 1990s.
While Saddam Hussein was in power, he languished under house arrest for years, but emerged after the US-led invasion toppled the repressive regime in 2003 to play an unprecedented public role.
In 2019, he stood with Iraqi protesters demanding better public services and rejecting external interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs.
On Friday in Baghdad, Pope Francis made a similar plea.
“May partisan interests cease, those outside interests who don’t take into account the local population,” Francis said.
Sistani has had a complicated relationship with his birthplace Iran, where the other main seat of Shiite religious authority lies: Qom.
While Najaf affirms the separation of religion and politics, Qom believes the top cleric — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — should also govern.
Iraqi clerics and Christian leaders said the visit could strengthen Najaf’s standing compared to Qom.
“The Najaf school has great prestige and is more secular than the more religious Qom school,” Ayuso said.
“Najaf places more weight on social affairs,” he added.
In Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Pope met Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and a key authority for Sunni Muslims.
They signed a text encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue, which Catholic clerics hoped Sistani would also endorse, but clerical sources in Najaf told AFP it is unlikely.
While the Pope has been vaccinated and encouraged others to get the jab, Sistani’s office has not announced his vaccination.
Iraq is currently gripped by a resurgence of coronavirus cases, recording more than 5,000 infections and more than two dozen deaths daily.
Following his visit to the grand ayatollah, the pope will head to the desert site of the ancient city of Ur — believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, common patriarch of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths — where he will host an interfaith service, with many of Iraq’s other religious minorities in attendance.
Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo
Updated 48 min 17 sec ago
CAIRO: A trailer-truck crashed into a microbus, killing at least 18 people and injuring five others south of the Egyptian capital, authorities said.
The country’s chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement the crash took place late Friday on a highway near the town of Atfih, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Cairo.
The Cairo-Assiut eastern road, located on the eastern side of the Nile River, links Cairo to the country’s southern provinces and is known for speeding traffic.
Police authorities said the truck’s tire exploded, causing it to overturn and collide with the microbus. The victims were taken to nearby hospitals, the statement said. The truck driver was arrested.
Traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
The country’s official statistics agency says around 10,000 road accidents took place in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.
Israel to further ease its coronavirus restrictions from Sunday
Green passport holders can enter cafes and restaurants and choose to sit indoors or outdoors
At the airport, Israel will only allow 3,000 Israelis to enter the country per day
Updated 06 March 2021
Arab News AFP
DUBAI: Israel announced it will further ease its coronavirus measures from Sunday, national daily The Jerusalem Post reported.
Students between grades seven and 10 will attend classes physically in green, yellow and orange cities, the report said.
The country’s “traffic system” has identified “green” cities as those with lowest COVID-19 cases, while the second lowest infection rates are “yellow,” followed by “orange” and “red.”
Israel had also required people entering cafes, restaurants and hotels to submit a green passport, which can be obtained through the health ministry for anyone who has taken the two shots of the coronavirus vaccine for at least a week.
But “children below the age of 16, who are not allowed to be vaccinated, will not be able to accompany their vaccinated parents,” the report added.
Green passport holders can enter cafes and restaurants and choose to sit indoors or outdoors.
Non-vaccinated people can only sit outside. Hotels will also reopen, allowing holders of the passport to access a wide range of activities.
At the airport, Israel will only allow 3,000 Israelis to enter the country per day.
New arrivals will be required to quarantine and must present a negative COVID-19 test result and be tested on arrival.
Meanwhile, the Coronavirus Knowledge and Information Center has warned that the country may witness another outbreak, as around 5 percent of Israel’s population have tested positive each day.
The health ministry said more than 4.9 million people have taken at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, including 3.6 million who have already taken their second shot.
More than half of the country’s 9 million-strong population have already received the two recommended doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine since the inoculation drive began in December.
Israel has registered more than 796,000 cases of Covid-19, including over 5,800 deaths.
LIVE: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani on day two of Iraq visit
Pope’s visit comes as Iraq attempts to claw its way to stability
Updated 5 min 45 sec ago
DUBAI: Pope Francis has left the home of Iraq’s top Shiite cleric in southern Iraq on Saturday after the first meeting between the leaders of Roman Catholicism and Shiite Islam.
The Shiite cleric, Ali Al-Sistani, met the Pope at his home in Najaf, the seat of the Iraqi Shiite clergy, on the second day of the pontiff’s historic tour of Iraq.
Pope Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday and made a speech in which he called for an end to extremism, violence and corruption.
The head of the Catholic church began the first-ever papal trip to the country by meeting government officials in Baghdad, before traveling to a church where Christians were massacred by militants in 2010.
Pope Francis was greeted at the airport by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi before meeting with President Barham Salih at the Presidential Palace.
His visit comes as Iraq attempts to claw its way to stability after years of sectarian conflict, the Daesh occupation, chronic corruption, and widespread anger at government officials for failing to provide basic services.
At Our Lady of Salvation church, he paid tribute to the 58 people who were killed in an extremist attack in 2010, one of the deadliest targeting Christians.
Follow live coverage of his second day itinerary below... (All times GMT)
0908: Pope Francis condemned violent religious extremism Saturday during an interfaith prayer service at the site of the ancient city of Ur, where the Prophet Abraham is thought to have been born.
“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” he told the congregation, who included members of religious minorities persecuted under the Daesh’s three-year rule of much of northern Iraq.
0805: Pope Francis attends an interreligious meeting at the Plain of Ur during day two of his apostolic tour of Iraq.
Al-Sistani ‘affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,’ the statement office said.
For its part, the Vatican said Francis thanked Al-Sistani and the Shiite people for having “raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history.
He said Al-Sistani’s message of peace affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.”
0700: Pope Francis leaves the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf after meeting with him. He is expected to depart for Nassiriya to lead an interreligious meeting at the Plain of Ur in southern Iraq which is revered as the birthplace of Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Pope will afterwards return to Baghdad.
The visit was carried live on Iraqi television, and residents cheered the meeting of two respected faith leaders.
“We welcome the pope’s visit to Iraq and especially to the holy city of Najaf and his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani,” said Najaf resident Haidar Al-Ilyawi. “It is an historic visit and hope it will be good for Iraq and the Iraqi people.”
0505: Pope Francis arrives in Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s home Najaf.
The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity, just as he did with Sunni Islam’s influential grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, based in Egypt.
0345: Pope Francis departs from Baghdad and will travel by plane to the cities of Najaf and Ur.
- with agencies
Go to Arab News’ dedicated In Focus section on the Pope's visit to Iraq for coverage of the historic trip. Click here.