Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman

Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman
A member of the Iraqi forces walks past a mural depicting Pope Francis waving next to an Iraqi national flag drawn on a blast wall outside the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Deliverance in Baghdad on March 1, 2021. (AFP)
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Updated 02 March 2021

Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman

Pope will likely use armor-plated car in Iraq: Spokesman
  • This papal trip ‘will be different from those made in the past due to the pandemic’

ROME: Pope Francis will probably use an armor-plated car during his first trip to Iraq on March 5-8, and he will be accompanied throughout by a Vatican nurse.

“An armor-plated car is always available for the pope’s trips, and in this trip it’s very likely to be used,” Vatican press spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a briefing attended by Arab News.

The pope will use a closed car in all his visits to Iraqi cities, Bruni added, apart from Erbil stadium on Sunday, when he will use an open car and will celebrate Mass.

This papal trip “will be different from those made in the past due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Bruni said.

No meetings with crowds are scheduled except for Mass in Erbil; only 10,000 faithful will be allowed there in order to respect social distancing.

This will be the pope’s first trip abroad in about 15 months due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent restrictions on movement. It is also the first-ever papal journey to Iraq.

He will be accompanied by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin; the prefect of the Congregation for the Oriental Churches, Cardinal Leonardo Sandri; and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, secretary for relations with states.

Seventy-five embedded journalists will also travel aboard the special flight that will take the leader of the Catholic Church from Rome to Baghdad — almost double the number normally allowed on a papal flight.

Parolin described the pope’s visit as a sign of his “closeness to the Catholic Church” in Iraq and to the country’s dwindling Christian communities.

“We know that the Church (in Iraq) has suffered a lot,” Parolin said. “It has lost many Christians who have left Iraq for other countries.”

Therefore, the Church needs the pope’s presence “to be encouraged and to continue her mission of witnessing Jesus Christ and the Gospel in the difficult situation in which she finds herself,” Parolin added.

The pope’s visit will also “boost the efforts that have already started to reconstruct the country,” Parolin said, adding that it will be an occasion of “interreligious dialogue, collaboration, understanding and fraternity between Christians and Muslims for the good of the country and its brighter future.”

The pope will fly to Baghdad on Friday, and will be welcomed at the airport by Iraq’s prime minister.

On Saturday, the pope will go to the city of Najaf, where he will meet Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiite Muslims.

Bruni said this will be the first face-to-face meeting between a Catholic pontiff and a Shiite ayatollah.

The pope will then visit the ancient city of Ur, considered by the Bible to be Abraham’s birthplace.

On Sunday he will fly by helicopter to Mosul, which from 2014 to 2017 was the de facto capital of Daesh’s self-proclaimed caliphate.

There, Buni said, the pope will have “a moment of intimate prayer to honor the victims of this land.”

He will then fly to Qaraqosh, a Christian-majority city where in 2014, about 45,000 people were expelled by Daesh, before heading to Erbil for a mass at Franso Hariri stadium.


Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings
Updated 21 April 2021

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings
AMSTERDAM: Syria on Wednesday was stripped of its voting rights at the global chemical weapons watchdog by member states after its forces were found to have repeatedly used poison gas during the civil war.
A majority of nations voting at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) supported a decision to immediately revoke Syria’s privileges at the agency.

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media
Updated 21 April 2021

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

Syrian President Assad to run for re-election in May — state media

AMMAN: Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday submitted documents to run for a third term in an election scheduled for May 26, parliament’s speaker said on state media.
Parliament announced the election on Sunday. Washington and the Syrian opposition have denounced it as a farce designed to cement Assad’s authoritarian rule.
Assad’s family and his Baath party have ruled Syria for five decades with the help of the security forces and the army, where his Alawite minority dominate.
This year is the 10th anniversary of a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which triggered a civil war that has left much of Syria in ruins.
The multi-sided conflict has sucked in world powers, killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more, but is now nearing its end with Assad, supported by Russian and Iranian allies, back in control of most of the country.
Candidates must have lived in Syria for the last 10 years, which prevents opposition figures in exile from standing.


Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 21 April 2021

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines

Syria’s Idlib to get first batch of COVID-19 vaccines
  • The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program
  • 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination

BAB AL-HAWA: A first batch of COVID-19 vaccine doses was expected to arrive Wednesday in war-torn northwestern Syria, where millions of people live in dire humanitarian conditions, a UN official said.

The 53,800 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were dispatched to the rebel-dominated region as part of the Covax facility, which ensures the world’s poorest economies get access to jabs for free.

“Once the vaccines arrive, we are prepared to start vaccination to priority groups through our implementing partners,” said Mahmoud Daher, a senior official with the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO).

The delivery will be the first to Syria as part of the Covax program, which has already sent vaccine doses to more than 100 different territories worldwide.

The vaccine doses are intended for the extended northwestern Syrian region, which includes the jihadist-dominated Idlib enclave.

The first categories of people to be vaccinated in the coming days in the Idlib region will be medical personnel involved in the battle against the pandemic and first aid responders.

The next group will be people above the age of 60, followed by people from younger age groups with chronic diseases, said Daher, who is based in the Turkish city of Gaziantep.

Much of the Idlib enclave is controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham, a jihadist organization that includes ex-members of Syria’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.

Other regions of Syria will also receive vaccine doses through Covax, under which 92 countries are eligible.

Imad Zahran, a media officer for the Idlib region’s health department, told AFP that the vaccination campaign was expected to begin early next month and would last approximately three weeks.

According to the WHO, a separate 912,000 doses have been allocated to Syria for a first phase of vaccination in regime controlled and semi-autonomous Kurdish areas.

The aim is to vaccinate 20 percent of the population by year’s end.

Vaccination for health workers has started in government-controlled areas but not with doses received as part of the Covax program.

The official COVID-19 death toll in Syria is low compared to some other countries in the region but credible data collection across the conflict-ravaged country is almost impossible.

Syria’s war has killed more than 388,000 people since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests.


UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states

UAE receives Israeli envoy to Gulf states
  • Both sides discussed mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism
  • The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout

RIYADH: The UAE received Zvi Heifetz, Israel’s special envoy to the GCC states, in Abu Dhabi as both countries reviewed the progress of their bilateral relations since signing a peace agreement last September.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, welcomed the Israeli official to explore further UAE-Israeli relations and mutual cooperation in areas such as trade, investment and tourism, state news agency WAM reported on Wednesday.

The two countries lead the COVID-19 vaccination rollout and during the meeting underlined the importance of accelerating efforts to ensure recovery from the crisis.

Last month, the UAE established a $10 billion fund to invest in strategic sectors in Israel that include energy, manufacturing and healthcare.

Since the signing of the Abraham Accords, both countries have established reciprocal diplomatic missions, launched direct flights and held several trade visits – with the UAE attracting over 50,000 Israeli tourists.


UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
Updated 21 April 2021

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines

UAE mulls movement restrictions on residents without COVID-19 vaccines
  • The UAE reports 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities
  • Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine

DUBAI: The UAE is considering imposing movement restrictions on individuals who remain hesitant to have themselves vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Dr. Saif Al-Dhaheri, spokesman for the National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority.

“The vaccine is our best means to recover and return to a normal life … Delaying or refraining from taking the vaccine poses a threat to the safety of society and puts all groups, especially those most vulnerable to infection, at risk,” Dr. Al-Dhaheri said in reports from local media.

“Strict measures are being considered to restrict the movement of unvaccinated individuals and to implement preventive measures, such as restricting entry to some places and having access to some services, to ensure the health and safety of everyone,” he added, as he urged residents aged 16 and above to get vaccinated.

The UAE reported 1,903 new coronavirus cases and three fatalities related to the highly transmissible disease overnight, amid the government’s continued inoculation program for citizens and residents.

The country’s COVID-19 caseload now stands at 500,860 while total fatality count is at 1,559, a report from state news agency WAM said.

Health officials said that 113,621 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the past 24 hours, bringing the number of jabs given provided to 9,788,826 for a distribution rate of 98.97 doses per 100 people.

Abu Dhabi earlier approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the second COVID-19 shot to be made available in the emirate after beginning a mass campaign using the Sinopharm vaccine that was trialed in the country.

Pfizer obtained emergency approval in the UAE in December and Dubai rolled out the vaccine during that month.