Pope sends defiant message of peace, hope and prayer to Iraq

Pope sends defiant message of peace, hope and prayer to Iraq
A Security man stands next to a poster of Pope Francis, ahead of his planned visit to Iraq, in Baghdad, Iraq, March 3, 2021. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 March 2021

Pope sends defiant message of peace, hope and prayer to Iraq

Pope sends defiant message of peace, hope and prayer to Iraq
  • Francis vows first papal visit will go ahead despite new rocket attack on air base
  • “For a long time I have wanted to meet these people who have suffered so much,” pope told weekly audience

ROME: Pope Francis sent a message of hope and peace on Wednesday to the people of Iraq, and a message of defiance to terrorists trying to rip the country apart.

After 10 rockets landed on an air base that hosts US, coalition and Iraqi forces, Francis vowed that the first papal visit to Iraq would begin on Friday as planned.

“The day after tomorrow, God willing, I will go to Iraq for a three-day pilgrimage. For a long time I have wanted to meet these people who have suffered so much,” the pope told his weekly audience in the Vatican.

“The Iraqi people await me. They also waited for St. John Paul II but he was forbidden to go. One can’t disappoint a people a second time. Let us pray that this journey will be successful.” A planned trip in 2000 by Pope John Paul II was cancelled by Saddam Hussein.

The visit is going ahead despite Wednesday’s attack on Al-Asad air base in Iraq’s western desert, during which a US civilian contractor died from a heart attack while sheltering from rockets.

Pope Francis is not scheduled to visit that part of the country, but he will spend time in Baghdad and Irbil, both hit by rocket attacks last month. He will also visit the former Daesh stronghold of Mosul, where churches still bear the signs of conflict.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope may travel by armored vehicle, and will not be meeting crowds except for Mass at Irbil stadium on Sunday, where 10,000 people are expected.

“This is a particular situation. That’s why transport will be in a closed vehicle, meaning it will be difficult to see the pope on the street,” Bruni said. “There will be a number of meetings, but none will be more than a few hundred people.”

Francis, 84, will take part in a historic meeting on Saturday with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, 90, at the powerful Shiite cleric’s home in Najaf. Sistani is one of the most important figures in Shiite Islam, both within Iraq and beyond. He commands a vast following among Iraq’s Shiite majority and wields considerable influence over politics and public opinion.

The pope said: “Together with other religious leaders, in the birthplace of Abraham we’ll also move another step forward in the brotherhood of believers. I ask you to accompany this apostolic journey with your prayers so that it may take place in the best possible way and bear the hoped-for fruits.”

Pope Francis has long campaigned for inter-religious dialogue, peace and tolerance. Two years ago in Abu Dhabi, he met Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar, the center of Sunni Muslim learning. The two religious leaders signed a document on “human fraternity for world peace” and made a joint appeal for freedom of belief.


Netanyahu says Israel firmly rejects pressure not to build in Jerusalem

Netanyahu says Israel firmly rejects pressure not to build in Jerusalem
Updated 54 min ago

Netanyahu says Israel firmly rejects pressure not to build in Jerusalem

Netanyahu says Israel firmly rejects pressure not to build in Jerusalem
  • Pope Francis has also called for an end to the violence in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM: Israel “firmly rejects” pressure not to build in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday following spreading international condemnation of planned evictions of Palestinians from homes in the city claimed by Jewish settlers.
Meanwhile, Pope Francis expressed his concern at the unrest in Jerusalem, saying: “Violence only generates violence. Let’s stop these clashes.”
“I pray so that this might be a place of encounter and not violent clashes, a place of prayer and of peace. I invite everyone to seek shared resolutions so that the multireligious identity and multiculture of the holy city might be respected and so that fraternity might prevail,” he said after reciting the Regina Caeli prayer.


Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
Updated 09 May 2021

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery

Syria says fire erupts in main Homs refinery
  • The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station
  • There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year
AMMAN: Syrian authorities are working on extinguishing a fire that erupted in its main Homs refinery in the west of the nation, state media said on Sunday.
The fire erupted in a distillation unit due to a leak in a pumping station, it said without elaborating.
State television showed live footage of fire engulfing parts of the refinery with black smoke plumes in the distance as firefighters tackled the flames.
There was a large fire and blast at Homs in January this year involving a nearby crude oil loading station and dozens of trucks that transport petroleum products across the country.
Both Homs refinery and Banias on the Mediterranean coast have faced supply shortages in recent months due to erratic supplies of Iranian crude oil to the sanctions-hit country that relies mainly on Tehran for its energy needs.
Syria has over the past year two years faced months of gasoline and fuel shortages, forcing it to ration supplies distributed across government-held areas and to apply several rounds of steep price hikes.

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
Updated 09 May 2021

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses

UAE administers over 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses
  • UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445

DUBAI: The UAE has administered 11,126,889 COVID-19 vaccine doses so far with an additional 78,342 jabs provided to residents overnight, bringing the country’s distribution rate to 112.50 doses per 100 people.

Health officials have embarked on a rapid vaccination campaign to stem the spread of coronavirus, and the country has one of the highest proportions of the population inoculated

The Ministry of Health and Prevention (MoHAP) said the vaccination program was in “line with plan to provide the COVID-19 vaccine to all members of society and efforts to reach acquired immunity resulting from the vaccination,” a report from state news agency WAM said.

This will help reduce the number of cases and control the COVID-19 virus, the reported added.

Meanwhile, the UAE announced 1,735 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of recorded cases to 534,445, as well as three new deaths overnight.

The number of coronavirus-related fatalities is now at 1,610.

The MoHAP also noted that an additional 1,701 individuals had fully recovered from COVID-19, bringing the total number of recoveries to 514,769.


Algeria remembers victims of French rule

Algeria remembers victims of French rule
Algerian youths pose beneath a street name plaque honouring an Algerian lawyer killed by the French during the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence in Algiers. (AFP file photo)
Updated 08 May 2021

Algeria remembers victims of French rule

Algeria remembers victims of French rule
  • The crackdown led by French General Raymond Duval left as many as 45,000 dead, according to Algerian official figures

ALGIERS: Algeria on Saturday honored thousands killed by French forces in 1945, as the North African country waits for Paris to apologize for its colonial era crimes.
Pro-independence protests broke out after a rally on May 8, 1945 marking the allied victory over Nazi Germany.
The rioting triggered two weeks of bloody repression in which French troops massacred thousands of mostly unarmed Muslim civilians, a key chapter in Algeria’s long independence struggle.
On Saturday, thousands of people took part in a march of remembrance following the same route through the northeastern city of Setif as the May 8 rally 76 years ago, official media reported.
Led by scouts, participants laid a wreath at a monument to Bouzid Saal, a 22-year-old man shot dead by a French policeman in 1945 for refusing to lower his Algerian flag — the first casualty of the violence.
The crackdown led by French General Raymond Duval left as many as 45,000 dead, according to Algerian official figures.
French historians put the toll at up to 20,000, including 86 European civilians and 16 soldiers killed in revenge attacks.
The killings had a transformative impact on the nascent anti-colonial movement, setting the scene for a full-blown independence war nine years later that finally led to independence in 1962.
Algerian officials have continued to call for a full apology from France for its colonial era policies, and President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has described the 1945 killings as “crimes against humanity.”
Government spokesman Ammar Belhimer repeated that demand on Saturday, calling for “the official, definitive and comprehensive recognition by France of its crimes (along with) repentance and fair compensation.”
He also called for help dealing with the toxic waste left behind by 17 nuclear tests France carried out in the Algerian desert in the 1960s.

 


Militias briefly take over Tripoli government headquarters

Militias briefly take over Tripoli government headquarters
Members of the Tripoli Protection Force, an alliance of militias from the capital city, patrol an area south of the Libyan capital. (AFP file photo)
Updated 09 May 2021

Militias briefly take over Tripoli government headquarters

Militias briefly take over Tripoli government headquarters
  • The takeover underscored the tough road ahead for the interim government, which has been tasked with steering Libya through general elections due at the end of the year

CAIRO: In a show of force, armed militiamen briefly took over a hotel in the Libyan capital of Tripoli that serves as headquarters for the interim government, officials said Saturday.
Friday’s development came after the three-member presidential council earlier this week appointed a new chief of the intelligence agency, Libya’s version of the CIA. The militias, which control Tripoli, were apparently unhappy with the choice of Hussein Khalifa as the new spy chief.
Presidential council spokeswoman Najwa Wheba said no one was hurt in the takeover of Hotel Corinthia, in the heart of Tripoli. The hotel was mostly empty on Friday, the Muslim weekend.
After a while, the militias left the hotel, according to an official at the Interior Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity under regulations. Khalifa and the militia leaders were not immediately available for comment on Saturday.
The takeover underscored the tough road ahead for the interim government, which has been tasked with steering Libya through general elections due at the end of the year. The government has struggled to unite the conflict-stricken nation ahead of the vote.
Wheba said the presidential council has no permanent headquarters and that the hotel is one of the places where the council convenes. Videos circulating on social media show militiamen at the entrance of the hotel.
On Monday, Najla Al-Manqoush, the foreign minister of Libya’s interim government called for the departure of all foreign forces and mercenaries, including Turkish troops, from the oil-rich North African country. That was seen as a rebuke to Turkey and angered pro-Turkey factions in western Libya.
UN Security Council diplomats say there are more than 20,000 foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya, including Syrians, Sudanese, Chadians and Russians.
Libya was plunged into chaos when a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 toppled longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi, who was later killed.