US sees Cyprus as key player in east Med energy

US Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Francis Fannon and Cyprus' Minister of Energy Yiorgos Lakkotrypis talk to media during a meeting of the 3+1 Technical Group (Cyprus, Greece, Israel and USA) for offshore oil and gas operations in Nicosia, Cyprus February 5, 2020. (Reuters)
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Updated 05 February 2020

US sees Cyprus as key player in east Med energy

  • Fannon’s visit coincides with Turkey pushing ahead with drilling activity in Cyprus’s designated exclusive economic zone
  • The US official said energy resources were a “catalyst for cooperation”

NICOSIA: Washington sees Cyprus as a key player in eastern Mediterranean energy supplies, a visiting senior US official said Wednesday, while warning against further instability in the region as tensions rise over Turkey’s drilling activities off the divided island.
“Cyprus has an incredibly important role to play in this new energy corridor that is still developing throughout the region,” said US Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Francis Fannon.
“We urge all parties to not take any provocative actions that could create any further instability. And we’re steadfast on that,” he added.
He made the comments before a gathering of Israeli, Greek and Cypriot technical experts gathered in Nicosia to discuss ways to boost safety and security in offshore gas drilling.
Fannon’s visit coincides with Turkey upping the ante by pushing ahead with drilling activity in Cyprus’s designated exclusive economic zone (EEZ) despite EU threats of sanctions against Ankara.
The US official said energy resources were a “catalyst for cooperation” and that the United States remained committed at the highest level.
“We support the Republic of Cyprus to develop its resources in its EEZ,” said Fannon.
Fannon welcomed the involvement of American companies in regional cooperation, including their role in developing new energy pathways.
Last year, US energy giant ExxonMobil and Qatar Petroleum discovered the largest natural gas reserve off Cyprus holding an estimated five to eight trillion cubic feet (up to 224 billion cubic meters).
Italy’s ENI and Total of France are also heavily involved in exploring for oil and gas off the island.
Greece, Cyprus and Israel last month signed an agreement to move ahead with construction of an ambitious 6-billion-euro ($6.6 billion) undersea EastMed pipeline to deliver gas to European markets.
Cyprus Energy Minister George Lakkotrypis said that US support in creating an Eastern Mediterranean corridor was “profound and solid.”
“Cooperation among our three countries (Cyprus, Greece, Israel) plus the US is very important,” Lakkotrypis said.
“In contrast to this positive outlook, Turkey acts as a spoiler through its continued illegal exploration activities in the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus, escalating since last May and clearly violating international law,” he told the Nicosia gathering.
Turkey insists the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus — recognized only by Ankara — has the right to explore around the entire island.
UN-sponsored talks on reunifying the island as a bizonal, bi-communal federation collapsed in July 2017 and have not resumed, in part because of deep divisions over offshore gas.
The Cyprus government has no diplomatic relations with Turkey, which dismisses it as an exclusively Greek Cypriot administration
Cyprus is divided between the Greek Cypriot south — an EU member state — and the Turkish Cypriot north which has been occupied by Turkey since 1974 in response to an Athens-engineered coup.

Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

Updated 26 May 2020

Muslims in Italy follow rules while celebrating Eid Al-Fitr

  • Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures

ROME: Italy’s Muslims gathered in parks and public squares to celebrate the end of Ramadan, as many of the country’s mosques remained shut because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Islamic places of worship have been going slow on welcoming back congregations, despite an easing of a months-long lockdown, in order to guarantee social distancing and other preventive steps required under an agreement between Muslim communities and the government.

Mosques and prayer rooms will have to respect the same strict rules which have been imposed on Catholic churches. Halls will have to be sanitized before and after every prayer and a maximum of 200 people will be allowed, even in the biggest places of worship. For outdoor prayers a limit of 1,000 people has been set and each worshipper must be spaced at least one meter apart from the next. Those with a temperature above 37.5 degrees cannot enter.

Italian media reported that Muslims gathered to perform Eid prayers in compliance with anti-coronavirus measures.

“Happy Eid Al-Fitr to all Muslims in Italy as they have two reasons to celebrate,” Yassine Lafram, president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), said in a message. 

“This is not the only festivity closing the holy month of Ramadan, it matters even more to us all this year in Italy as it finally marks the return of our faithful to the mosque after several months of lockdown due to coronavirus. The Muslim faithful all over Italy now pray to God to accept the fasts, prayers and every good deed carried out during this holy  month and bring peace and blessing to our homes, so that phase two in the fight against COVID-19 in Italy will start in the best way possible.”

Many Muslims celebrated Eid at home with immediate family members. Those who decided to meet and pray together outside their households did it while “strictly respecting” health protocols and social distancing to avoid risk of infection, UCOII said. The organization asked people to display the same “utmost prudence and responsibility” when entering every place of worship from now on.

At Milan’s Al-Wahid Mosque Imam Yahya Sergio Pallavicini set up spacing for 140 new prayer mats. There are different entry and exit points for men and women, along with dedicated courtyards. 

Sanitization is carried out regularly while detergents, disinfecting gel and personal protective equipment are being offered by city authorities. “We pray for the inner and outer health of believers and Italian people,” Pallavicini said at the start of Eid prayers.

Almost 200 people gathered to pray in Rome’s Piazza Vittorio Emanuele. Muslims arranged their prayer mats and moved about in line with social distancing rules. Posters in Italian and Arabic told people that hugging was not allowed. 

“Even if we are in an outside space, nobody has to get too close,” the imam told his flock before prayers commenced. “It is mandatory and for the sake of everyone’s health.” There were children in the congregation too, and everyone wore face masks.

“I am so happy that I am finally meeting my friends for this prayer, but we have to stay apart,” 13-year-old Samir told Arab News. “We will have time to embrace, to play together in the future, when the virus will be gone.” He said he had missed going to his mosque, near Furio Camillo station, during the lockdown. 

“I prayed with my father, of course we were following prayers on YouTube and on Facebook. But it was not the same. Here I really feel part of a group sharing a faith. And it is great to be together again,” he added.

In Piazza Re di Roma, in the southern part of the city center, 250 Muslims gathered to pray. “We just prayed together, and stayed in the square for an hour only,” 31-year-old Latif told Arab News. “The celebration will be with our families later on.”

An outdoor celebration took place in the Sicilian capital Palermo with Mayor Leoluca Orlando also joining in. “We are happy for this celebration which marks another sign of the return to normality of our communities,” he told Arab News. “Being able to pray together is one of the most important needs for a religion as that improves the sense of community. Now we can do it again together: and that’s a great sign not only for the Muslim community but for the entire population of Palermo.”