UK envoy slams Russian ‘lack of humanity’ in Syria

UK envoy slams Russian ‘lack of humanity’ in Syria
Russia has been accused of a “lack of humanity” in the Syrian conflict by the UK’s Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce after it was revealed that more than half of displaced people in Idlib province are children. (AFP)
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Updated 21 February 2020

UK envoy slams Russian ‘lack of humanity’ in Syria

UK envoy slams Russian ‘lack of humanity’ in Syria
  • Nearly 1 million people forced to flee Idlib since Dec. 1 amid regime attacks supported by Russia
  • 60 percent of that number are children

LONDON: Russia has been accused of a “lack of humanity” in the Syrian conflict by the UK’s Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce after it was revealed that more than half of displaced people in Idlib province are children.
Pierce said the UN had recently been given a “sobering and frightening” briefing about the humanitarian crisis in Syria, where nearly 1 million people have been forced to flee Idlib since Dec. 1 amid attacks by regime forces supported by Russia.
She added that the report had revealed that more than 900,000 people were in “grave danger” as they escaped from the attacks in freezing winter conditions. Around 60 percent of that number are children.
Pierce, the UK’s ambassador-designate to the US, has been consistently critical of Russia’s involvement in the conflict, and accused Moscow of abusing the UN veto system to protect and help Syrian President Bashar Assad, who she said was “attacking his own people.”
She called on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad to “end indiscriminate and inhumane attacks” in the northwest of the country, which have led to innocent civilian casualties.
Pierce told Sky News: “I think it’s cynical of the Russians. I think it shows the lack of humanity. They would’ve seen the same footage and the scenes you’ve just shown your viewers, and yet they don’t want to do anything to try to protect civilians.”
She said the UN was ready and willing to back a cease-fire, but it could not happen until Moscow agreed to back it too.
“The UN wants to act and 13 members of the Security Council want to act, but we’re stopped from acting because of Russia, supported by China,” Pierce added.
“That’s the main thing — to get the Russians to restrain the Syrians and stop aiding them in the bombings that they’re doing, including the bombing of hospitals, which is against the Geneva Convention. Russia and the Syria regime don’t really care what price has to be paid by civilians.”
She also accused Assad of using the blocking of vital medical supplies to those in need as leverage in an attempt to regain control of rebel-held areas of the country.
“If Assad can’t put right the problems that led to the crisis in 2011-2012, then Syria will never be stable and the government of Syria will never be able to govern the whole of Syria,” Pierce said.
“So there are some very pressing, long-term questions to sort out as well as these immediate short-term needs.”
Her comments came after Russia on Friday proposed a summit on Syria that would include French, German and Turkish officials.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said “concrete support” from France and Germany would be needed to bring an end to the conflict, and confirmed there would be no Turkish troop withdrawal from Idlib.


Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani

Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani
Updated 04 March 2021

Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani

Preparations in full swing for pope’s meeting with Ali Al-Sistani
  • The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity

BAGHDAD: Pope Francis and Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, a preeminent Shiite figure, are to meet on Saturday for at most 40 minutes, part of the time alone except for interpreters, in the cleric’s modest home in Najaf. 

Al-Sistani is notoriously reclusive and has not left his Najaf home in years. He does not make public appearances and his sermons are delivered by representatives. He rarely receives foreign dignitaries.

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.

The signature was among many elements the two sides negotiated over extensively. In the end, Shiite religious officials in Najaf told the AP a signing was not on the agenda, and Al-Sistani will issue a verbal statement instead.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy will pull up along Najaf’s busy column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates at the Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in the world for Shiites.

To the side is an alleyway too narrow for cars. Here, Francis will walk the 30 meters to Al-Sistani’s modest home, which the cleric has rented for decades. Waiting to greet him at the entrance will be Al-Sistani’s influential son, Mohammed Ridha.

Inside, and some steps to the right, the pontiff will come face to face with the ayatollah.

Each will make a simple gesture of mutual respect.

Francis will remove his shoes before entering Al-Sistani’s room.

Al-Sistani, who normally remains seated for visitors, will stand to greet Francis at the door and walk him to an L-shaped blue sofa, inviting him to take a seat.

The pope will be offered tea. Gifts will be exchanged.

Francis will almost certainly present Al-Sistani with bound copies of his most important writings, top among them his latest encyclical “Brothers All.”


Arab ministers consider ways to tackle Iran’s interference in region

Arab ministers consider ways to tackle Iran’s interference in region
Updated 04 March 2021

Arab ministers consider ways to tackle Iran’s interference in region

Arab ministers consider ways to tackle Iran’s interference in region
  • Discussions included enhanced efforts ‘to confront Iranian terrorist practices’
  • Stressed the need to work with international community to halt Tehran’s nuclear program

LONDON: The Arab Ministerial Quartet Committee met on Wednesday to discuss developments in the crisis with Iran and ways to address interference by Tehran in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
Osama bin Ahmed Naqli, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Egypt and permanent representative to the Arab League, represented the Kingdom on behalf of Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan.
The meeting, which took place in Cairo on the sidelines of the 155th session of the Arab League Council, was chaired by UAE Minister of State Khalifa Shaheen Al-Marar. The other participants included Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry, and Bahrain’s Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Al-Dossary.
They discussed “ways to enhance cooperation and joint coordination to confront Iranian terrorist practices and combat its terrorist arms that spread havoc and destruction, disrupt development and prosperity, and threaten regional and international security and stability,” the Saudi Press Agency reported.
They also reviewed “the importance of strengthening work with the international community to stop the Iranian nuclear program, which threatens international peace and security in the region and the world.”


Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders
Updated 03 March 2021

Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders

Fatah committee member sets up separate electoral list, defies leaders’ orders
  • Nasser Al-Qudwa launched the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with 230 prominent Palestinians attending
  • Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation
AMMAN: Nasser Al-Qudwa, a member of the Fatah Central Committee announced on Tuesday that he has set up a separate electoral list for the upcoming legislative elections, in defiance of orders from the party’s leaders. Al-Qudwa could still support a Fatah-nominated government, however. Al Qudwa held an online meeting on Tuesday to announce the launch of the Palestinian Democratic Forum, with a number of key figures in attendance. The forum attendees included 230 prominent Palestinians from Gaza, the West Bank, and the diaspora. Participants called on imprisoned Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti to join them too. Committees dealing with media, legal affairs, management, and candidacies were formed and it was agreed that members of these committees should not be on the electoral list. It was also agreed that there would be strict guidelines regarding candidates’ donations. Hani Al-Masri director-general of Ramallah’s Masarat think-tank, told Arab News that Al-Qudwa’s move could be a game-changer. “Al-Qudwa combines clean hands, respected national presence, and popular support, it will be a game-changer if Barghouti supports the list,” he said. Al-Qudwa is a nephew of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and runs the Yasser Arafat Foundation. He resigned from the Fatah Central Committee in May 2018, but his colleagues in the committee soon convinced him to withdraw his resignation. He has never served time in an Israeli jail. The backing of Barghouti would strengthen his credentials in the eyes of many Palestinians. In a poll conducted in September by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research, Barghouti received 61 percent of the vote versus 32 percent for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, although Haniyeh still defeated Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by three points in that poll. In a subsequent December poll, Barghouti again beat the Hamas leader convincingly. Hamas is unlikely to challenge in the presidential race scheduled for July 30. Al-Qudwa stated in the meeting that he has no issue with rank members of the reform faction loyal to former Fatah leader Mohammad Dahlan being involved in the Palestinian Democratic Forum, even though he has been critical of Dahlan. “The new group is intended only to be a forum and not a vehicle to solve Fatah’s many problems,” he said. “We are creating a list and our aim is not to cause a crisis.” Al-Qudwa provided a 22-point initial program for the forum and said that the new body “is open for engagement and discussion in the coming meeting scheduled for March 4.” In addition to laying out ideas about how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, the program calls for unity between Gaza and the Wes Bank, the rebuilding of the PLO, and government efficiency, as well as addressing issues including democracy, the rule of law, fighting corruption, and gaining national independence for the Palestinian state using the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. The wide-ranging meeting also discussed negotiations, the Oslo Accords, Israeli settlements, how to protect and reclaim Palestinian land, women’s and children’s rights, and Palestinian martyrs and prisoners.

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed
Updated 03 March 2021

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed

Arab League chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit reappointed
  • The 78-year old, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016
  • Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990

CAIRO: Egypt’s Ahmed Aboul Gheit was reappointed for a second term Wednesday as secretary general of the 22-member Arab League, a diplomatic source said.
The 78-year old, who served as Egyptian foreign minister between 2004 and 2011, was first elected to lead the Cairo-based pan-regional body in 2016.
“Arab foreign ministers unanimously decided to approve Egypt’s request to reappoint Arab League secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit for a new five-year term,” the source said.
Since its founding in 1945, the Cairo-based league has chosen an Egyptian diplomat as its chief, apart from 1979 to 1990, when a Tunisian was appointed and the headquarters moved to Tunis, after Egypt signed a peace deal with neighboring Israel.


Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes
Updated 03 March 2021

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes

Egypt’s fostering campaign helps orphans find homes
  • In 2020, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees
  • A social media campaign encouraging both taking children home and financing them has also helped spark change

CAIRO: Yasmina Al-Habbal always wanted to take in an orphan but only did so last year after Egypt’s government eased regulations over who could do so and campaigned to change public attitudes, enabling her to take home baby Ghalya.
Formal adoption — where people permanently adopt a child, give them their surname and make them their legal heir, is not accepted in Islam due to the importance of respecting lineage, and not practiced in Egypt, although people are encouraged to sponsor children or foster them.
Complexities around Islam and adoption prevented some people from fostering and instead people chose to support children who remained in the full-time care of orphanages.
In January 2020 however, Egypt broadened the rules for who can foster a child to include single women over 30 and divorcees, and reduced the minimum level of education required, hoping that by increasing the pool of prospective foster parents it could make fostering more widespread and socially accepted.
A social media campaign “Yala Kafala” (Let’s sponsor a child) encouraging both taking children home and financing them, started by an Egyptian woman, has also helped spark change.
Habbal, 40 and unmarried, had always dreamt of having a daughter and said she faced social pressure when choosing to care for now seven-month-old Ghalya.
“My friends said to me: ‘how will you face society? What are you going to tell people? Are you going to tell Ghalya that she isn’t your child? Are you going to tell everyone else?’.”
Habbal assured her friends she would respond by telling people their prejudiced views were wrong, and she would tell Ghalya it didn’t matter where she came from.
“I’m going to tell Ghalya... ‘what is important is the positive change you’ve made to so many people’s lives’.”
She added she has a seen a change in attitudes to fostering, and her experience is encouraging others to apply.
“In this past year, the number of families who have applied to sponsor orphans shows just how much people have accepted it. People used to be afraid of it, but now, Egypt’s highest religious authority Al-Azhar, civil society organizations and the ministry of social solidarity are all trying to make the idea more widespread,” she said.
Reem Amin, a member of Egypt’s social solidarity ministry’s alternative families committee said its main goal was to remove the need for orphanages by 2025.
“An orphanage’s main goal is as a stopover point before the child moves to a foster home,” she said.
The ministry’s legal adviser Mohamed Omar said around 11,600 families have taken in orphans since January 2020 and another 11,000 orphans needed homes.
In the second half of 2020 as restrictions due to the pandemic began to ease, the ministry received 1000 requests from families wanting to sponsor orphans.
Cairo couple Mohamed Abdallah and his wife had initially failed to conceive a child of their own and decided to take in an orphan instead.
Months later, Abdallah’s wife Merna became pregnant and now they are raising their biological son Soliman and Dawood, their foster child. “I have a dream that they will be an example for a normal society — two brothers who love each other, even though they are not related by blood,” said Abdallah.