Iran’s foreign minister arouses Afghan anger

Iran’s foreign minister arouses Afghan anger
File photo shows members of Iranian-backed Afghan militia Al-Fatemiyoun brigade on Dec. 10, 2016 during their posting in Syria. (Tasnim News Agency)
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Updated 21 December 2020

Iran’s foreign minister arouses Afghan anger

Iran’s foreign minister arouses Afghan anger
  • Afghans say Tehran provoking sectarianism by suggesting Fatemiyoun militia ‘help’

KABUL: Senior Afghan analysts on Sunday criticized comments by the Iranian foreign minister, where he suggested fighters from Fatemiyoun, an Iranian militia made up of Afghan Shiite migrants, could help in Kabul’s fight against Daesh.

The Fatemiyoun Division is considered to be under the Quds Force, the branch of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) responsible for overseas operations, which the US and many other countries consider a terrorist organization.

Tabish Forugh, an Afghan scholar based in the US, said Afghanistan should not “risk provoking unnecessary sectarian violence in the country.”

He added that Kabul could not under any circumstances recruit IRGC militias used as mercenaries in the wars of the Middle East.

Speaking on a local Afghan TV channel Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “These (Fatemiyoun) are the best forces. If the Afghan government so decides, they can help the Afghan government to fight against Daesh.”

Afghan government officials refused to comment on Zarif’s interview, which follows a series of bloody attacks claimed by Daesh in Kabul in recent months in which scores of people, many of them Shias, have been killed.

Zarif’s comments come amid peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban in the face of a planned withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by next spring.

He defended the creation of the Fatemiyoun network by the Iranian regime, which is accused of bringing in tens of thousands of Shiite fighters from countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight in Syria. Iran denies this.

 The Fatemiyoun Division was sanctioned by the US last year.

 “We need peace, not overtures for the use of mercenaries,” Shafiq Haqpal, an analyst, told Arab News.

“Suggesting such an idea is like adding fuel to a flame that can become a big fire eventually. We do not want Afghanistan to become another Syria or Iraq.”


In California, Christians who fled Iraq watch pope visit from afar

In California, Christians who fled Iraq watch pope visit from afar
Updated 04 March 2021

In California, Christians who fled Iraq watch pope visit from afar

In California, Christians who fled Iraq watch pope visit from afar
  • A community of Chaldean Catholics in California keenly await Pope Francis’s arrival in Baghdad
  • Visit stirs difficult memories and mixed emotions for congregation in El Cajon

El Cajon, CALIFORNIA: As Pope Francis begins his historic visit to Iraq on Friday, his journey will be closely watched by a community of Christians thousands of kilometers away in southern California.

El Cajon, near San Diego, is home to one of the largest populations of Iraqi Chaldean Catholics in the US.

As increasing numbers of Christians left Iraq in recent decades, fleeing violence and persecution, many Chaldeans arriving in America relocated to the city.

There are an estimated 15,000 Chaldeans living in El Cajon.

Emad Hanna Al-Shaikh, Rev. Msgr. of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church in El Cajon, tends to a shrine to those killed in a 2010 Baghdad church attack. (Screengrab)

For many, the pope’s visit to Iraq is a time to reflect on their past lives and pray for the community still living there.

“This is a visit of love and support to Iraq as a whole and specifically to the Christians of Iraq,” Emad Hanna Al-Shaikh, Rev. Msgr. of Our Mother of Perpetual Help Church in El Cajon, told Arab News. 

“Enough with the rage and displacement. We need to have love among us and we look forward to his visit where we wish for love and peace to prevail in all religions and nationalities.”

Like many Catholic Christians around the world, the community in El Cajon has planned celebrations in support of the visit.

There are an estimated 15,000 Iraqi Christians in El Cajon, California. (Screengrab)

“We have a program that will start on Friday,” Al-Shaikh said. “We will do preparations for a small sort of festival especially this Sunday. We will have a celebration, prayers and hymns in the front yard.”

One parishioner, Hadeel Albert, told Arab News that he wished he could be back in his old country to see the pope.

“Since we are in the diaspora, we wish we were in Iraq to witness the decrees,” he said.

Another member of the congregation, Wameedh Tozy, said: “It will be a great dialogue between religions. It is an open message that we all believe in God and practice religions freely and in one brotherly relationship.”

The pope’s visit to Our Lady of Salvation Church, the same church in Baghdad where 58 people were killed in a horrific suicide attack, will have added significance for the community in California. There is a memorial for the victims of the 2010 massacre inside the church in El Cajon.

“Of course we would like to announce that we have a shrine for the church of the martyrs,” Al-Shaikh, who has met Pope Francis, said.


Danish PM under pressure for working with Israel on vaccines

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is under pressure to stop working with Israel on acquiring coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. (AFP/File Photos)
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is under pressure to stop working with Israel on acquiring coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 03 March 2021

Danish PM under pressure for working with Israel on vaccines

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is under pressure to stop working with Israel on acquiring coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Frederiksen’s political allies say COVID-19 vaccine surplus should be given to Palestinians instead

LONDON: Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen is under pressure to stop working with Israel on acquiring coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccines, it was reported on Wednesday.

Frederiksen’s political allies demanded that Israel’s vaccine surplus should be given to Palestinians instead.

She is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday along with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to discuss a joint vaccine production project to battle future COVID-19 variants.

Copenhagen and Vienna both criticized the European Union’s rollout of the vaccines as being “too slow,” so Frederiksen is looking at other options.

Before she left for Tel Aviv, Frederiksen said she planned to talk with Netanyahu about the possibility of financing new factories and purchasing surplus doses from Israel’s vaccination program, the Guardian reported.

“I do not rule out any ideas, not even to build factories,” Frederiksen said. “We are happy to buy vaccines from countries that cannot use them, either because they do not have time to roll them out at the same rate as us or for other reasons.”

Israel’s vaccine rollout has been praised internationally as more than half of all adults have received a dose. However, Netanyahu was criticized heavily for only approving doses for Palestinians last Sunday.

Human rights groups pointed out that international law requires Israel to provide Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza the same access to vaccines as Israeli citizens.

The Palestinian Authority said it has received only 2,000 doses from Israel and another 10,000 from Russia.

Frederiksen is facing pressure in Denmark to step back from dealing with Netanyahu.

Søren Søndergaard, an MP with the country’s Red-Green Alliance Group, which supports Frederiksen’s minority Social Democrat government, said: “We should not rely on Israel to produce vaccines for us.

“It would be a historic mistake for Denmark to cooperate with Israel as long as it does not live up to its obligations under international law. Instead, we should demand that Israel provides the Palestinians with the vaccines, which they have a rightful claim to.”


Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany

Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany
Updated 03 March 2021

Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany

Immigrants ‘overrepresented’ in severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany
  • Ethnic minorities need support due to additional pressures, researcher tells Arab News
  • Number of Muslim intensive care patients above 50% despite making up 5% of Germany’s population

LONDON: More than 90 percent of severely ill COVID-19 patients in Germany have a “migrant background,” a leading doctor has said, amid concerns that minority ethnic groups require more support in the fight against the virus.

Thomas Voshaar, a top doctor at a German lung hospital, said a survey of leading medics had found that many of the most gravely ill patients were what he described as “patients with communications barriers.”

Saloni Dattani, a science writer and researcher at OurWorldInData, told Arab News: “The reasons that ethnic minorities are more likely to develop severe disease are well-understood. In the UK and the US, ethnic minorities are more likely to live in geographical areas that are hard hit, more likely to work in essential services where they come into contact with more people, more likely to live in dense areas, and more likely to live in multigenerational households.”

She added: “In sum, a greater proportion of severely ill patients are from ethnic minority backgrounds because a greater proportion of all COVID-19 patients are from ethnic minority backgrounds.”

The head of Germany’s top diseases institute, Lothar Wieler, said the number of intensive care patients with a Muslim background was “clearly above 50 percent,” despite making up just 5 percent of Germany’s 83 million population.

Voshaar told a conference call of journalists that government warnings about the dangers of the virus are “simply not getting through” to migrant communities.

Jonathon Kitson, a fellow at the London-based Adam Smith Institute, told Arab News: “This shows the need for an acceleration in Germany’s vaccination program to reach all members of society.”

He added: “Although vaccine acceptance rates in the UK amongst BAME (black, Asian and ethnic minority) people have initially been lower than the rest of the population, thanks to outreach and personal testimony this is beginning to change.”

Wieler said doctors had compiled figures from intensive care wards toward the end of 2020 and the start of 2021, the peak months of the second wave.

“According to my analysis, more than 90 percent of the intubated, most seriously ill patients always had a migrant background,” he said.

“We agreed among ourselves that we should describe these people as ‘patients with communications barriers.’ We don’t seem to be getting through to them,” he added.

“There are parallel societies in our country. You can only put that right with proper outreach work in the mosques, but we’re not getting through. And that sucks.”

Minority groups have been hit disproportionately hard by COVID-19 in many countries, including in the UK, where studies have shown a higher mortality rate among black and Asian people.

But Germany does not publish official figures on infection or death rates among different ethnic groups.

“Since it’s more difficult for ethnic minorities to self-isolate and protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19, it’s all the more important to vaccinate and provide support for ethnic minorities,” Dattani said.
 


Eight injured in ‘suspected terrorist’ stabbings in Sweden: Police

Eight injured in ‘suspected terrorist’ stabbings in Sweden: Police
Updated 03 March 2021

Eight injured in ‘suspected terrorist’ stabbings in Sweden: Police

Eight injured in ‘suspected terrorist’ stabbings in Sweden: Police
  • The assailant was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police when he was taken into custody
  • In Sweden, the intelligence services consider the terrorist threat to be high

STOCKHOLM: A man attacked eight people with a "sharp weapon," seriously injuring two, in the Swedish city of Vetlanda on Wednesday, police said, in what they called a suspected terrorist crime.
The assailant was taken to hospital after being shot in the leg by police when he was taken into custody, following the attack in the southern Swedish city in mid-afternoon.
Speaking to AFP, police said the man in his twenties had used a "sharp weapon," while local media reported the man had brandished a knife.
Police originally treated the incident as "attempted murder" but later changed it, in a statement, to a "suspected terrorist crime," without giving further details.
A press conference was announced for 8 pm local time (1900 GMT).
In Sweden, the intelligence services consider the terrorist threat to be high.
The Scandinavian country has been targeted twice by attacks in recent years.
In December 2010, a man carried out a suicide bomb attack in the centre of Stockholm. He was killed but only slightly injured passers-by.
In April 2017, a rejected and radicalised Uzbek asylum seeker mowed down pedestrians in Stockholm with a stolen truck, killing five people. He was sentenced to life in jail in June 2018.


Macron admits France murdered Algerian independence figure

Macron admits France murdered Algerian independence figure
Updated 03 March 2021

Macron admits France murdered Algerian independence figure

Macron admits France murdered Algerian independence figure
  • Macron met four of the grandchildren of Ali Boumendjel and admitted “in the name of France” that the lawyer had been detained, tortured and killed in Algiers on March 23, 1957
  • Boumendjel was a French-speaking nationalist lawyer and intellectual who served as a link between the moderate UDMA party and the National Liberation Front (FLN)

PARIS: President Emmanuel Macron has admitted for the first time that French soldiers murdered a top Algerian independence figure then covered up his death in the latest acknowledgement by Paris of its colonial-era crimes.
Macron met four of the grandchildren of Ali Boumendjel and admitted “in the name of France” that the lawyer had been detained, tortured and killed in Algiers on March 23, 1957, his office said Tuesday.
French authorities had previously claimed that he had committed suicide while in detention, a lie that his widow and other family members had campaigned for years to see overturned.
“Looking our history in the face, acknowledging the truth, will not enable us to heal all of the still open wounds, but it will help to create a path for the future,” the statement from Macron’s office said.
As the first French president to be born in the post-colonial era, Macron has made several unprecedented steps to face up to France’s brutal fight to retain control of its north African colony, which won independence in 1962.
In 2018, he admitted that France had created a “system” that facilitated torture during the war and acknowledged that French mathematician Maurice Audin, a Communist pro-independence activist, was also murdered in Algiers.
In July last year, he tasked French historian Benjamin Stora with assessing how France has dealt with its colonial legacy.
Stora’s report in January made a series of recommendations, including acknowledging the murder of Boumendjel and creating a “memory and truth commission” that would hear testimony from people who suffered during the war.
It did not suggest a formal state apology, however, and Macron has said there would be “no repentance nor apologies” but rather “symbolic acts” aimed at promoting reconciliation.
Boumendjel was a French-speaking nationalist lawyer and intellectual who served as a link between the moderate UDMA party and the National Liberation Front (FLN), the underground resistance movement.
Macron praised his “humanism” and his “courage” in his statement, adding that Boumendjel had been influenced by French Enlightenment values in his fight against “the injustice of the colonial system.”
In 2001, the former head of French intelligence in Algiers Paul Aussaresses published a book called “Special Services 1955-1957” in which he described how he and his “death squad” tortured and killed prisoners, including Boumendjel.
Aussaresses wrote that the government, notably the then justice minister Francois Mitterrand, who later became president, was informed about and tolerated the use of torture, executions and forced displacements.
Last month, Boumendjel’s niece Fadela Boumendjel-Chitour denounced what she called the “devastating” lie the French state had told about her uncle, which had never been officially corrected.
Macron also said on Tuesday that he would continue to open national archives and encouraged historians to continue researching Algeria’s independence war, which saw atrocities committed by all sides.
Paris ruled Algeria for more than a hundred years and the independence war from 1954-1962 left 1.5 million Algerians dead, leaving deep scars and a toxic debate about the legacy of colonization.
During his 2017 election campaign, Macron declared that the occupation of Algeria was a “crime against humanity” and called French actions “genuinely barbaric.”
But despite his outreach efforts, he has been criticized for ruling out a state apology, with the Algerian government calling the most recent report by Stora “not objective” and “below expectations.”
On France’s right and far-right, many politicians object to raking up the past, with French colonialism still defended as a “civilising” enterprise that helped develop occupied territories.
During his presidential run in 2017, Macron’s comments on Algeria were denounced by his defeated right-wing rival Francois Fillon as “this hatred of our history, this perpetual repentance.”