AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis arrives in Iraq

AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis arrives in Iraq
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Pope Francis greeted by Iraq prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are greeted by traditional dancing shortly after the pontiff's arrival in Iraq. (@IraqiPMO)
Pope Francis and the Iraqi prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are greeted by traditional dancing shortly after the pontiff's arrival in Iraq. (@IraqiPMO)
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Pope Francis and the Iraqi prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are greeted by traditional dancing shortly after the pontiff's arrival in Iraq. (@IraqiPMO)
Pope Francis during an official welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Baghdad, where he met with President Salih. (AFP)
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Pope Francis during an official welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Baghdad, where he met with President Salih. (AFP)
Pope Francis is in Iraq on Friday for the start of a historic trip to the war-battered country, defying security fears and the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot)
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Pope Francis is in Iraq on Friday for the start of a historic trip to the war-battered country, defying security fears and the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot)
Pope Francis is in Iraq on Friday for the start of a historic trip to the war-battered country, defying security fears and the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot)
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Pope Francis is in Iraq on Friday for the start of a historic trip to the war-battered country, defying security fears and the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot)
Pope Francis is in Iraq on Friday for the start of a historic trip to the war-battered country, defying security fears and the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot)
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Pope Francis is in Iraq on Friday for the start of a historic trip to the war-battered country, defying security fears and the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot)
Pope Francis is in Iraq on Friday for the start of a historic trip to the war-battered country, defying security fears and the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot)
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Pope Francis is in Iraq on Friday for the start of a historic trip to the war-battered country, defying security fears and the coronavirus pandemic. (Screenshot)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis arrives in Iraq
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Heavy security has been implemented in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad for Pope Francis’s first visit to the country. (AFP)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis arrives in Iraq
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Christian families gather outside St. George Chaldean Church as they wait for the arrival of Pope Francis in Baghdad on March 5, 2021. (Reuters)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis arrives in Iraq
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Iraqi Christians gather at the Church of the Virgin Mary before going to the airport to welcome Pope Francis in Baghdad on Friday, March 5, 2021. (AP)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis arrives in Iraq
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Iraqi Christians prepare posters welcoming Pope Francis to St. Joseph’s Chaldean Church in Baghdad on March 2, 2021. (AP)
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Updated 05 March 2021

AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis arrives in Iraq

Pope Francis greeted by Iraq prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are greeted by traditional dancing shortly after the pontiff's arrival in Iraq. (@IraqiPMO)
  • Holy Father’s first public event will be with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps

DUBAI: Pope Francis called for an end to extremism and violence in his opening address Friday on the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, long scarred by war and now gripped by coronavirus.

The 84-year-old pontiff, who said he was making the first-ever papal visit to Iraq as a ‘pilgrim of peace,’ will also reach out to Shiite Muslims when he meets Iraq’s top cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani.

The Pope landed in the afternoon at Baghdad's International Airport, where he was greeted by Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, as well as groups showcasing Iraq's diverse folklore music and dance.

He then met with President Barham Saleh, who had extended the official invitation to the pontiff in 2019, as well as other government and religious figures.

“May there be an end to acts of violence and extremism, factions and intolerance!” he urged in the stirring address, his first after arriving in the country.

Follow live coverage of his first day itinerary below... (All times GMT)

16:30 - WATCH: Before the 2003 US invasion, there were an estimated 1 million Christians living in Iraq, but now their numbers are believed to be in the low thousands or even the hundreds. 

Rev. Nadhir Dako of Baghdad’s St. Joseph’s Cathedral, which the Pope will visit during his trip, explains in the video below why so many Christians continue to leave.

 

15:00 - That concludes the public engagement of the Pope on the first day of his trip.

On Saturday, Pope Francis will travel by plane to the cities of Najaf and Ur, where he will meet Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites.

READ MORE

Go to Arab News' dedicated In Focus section on the Pope's visit to Iraq for coverage of the historic trip. Click here.

 

14:15 - During his flight from Rome to Baghdad, the Pope sent telegrams while flying over Palestine, Israel, and finally Jordan, to each of the respective heads of state.

Overflight Palestine

HIS EXCELLENCY MAHMOUD ABBAS - PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF PALESTINE

AS I FLY OVER PALESTINIAN TERRITORY ON MY APOSTOLIC JOURNEY TO IRAQ, I EXTEND CORDIAL GREETINGS TO YOUR EXCELLENCY AND YOUR FELLOW CITIZENS, AND I PRAY THAT THE MOST HIGH GOD WILL BLESS ALL PALESTINIANS WITH PEACE AND WELL-BEING. FRANCISCUS PP.

Overflight Israel

HIS EXCELLENCY REUVEN RIVLIN - PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL

ENTERING ISRAELI AIRSPACE ON MY APOSTOLIC JOURNEY TO IRAQ, I SEND WARM GREETINGS TO YOU AND THE PEOPLE OF THE NATION, PRAYING THAT ALMIGHTY GOD WILL BLESS ALL WITH HIS GIFTS OF HARMONY AND PEACE. FRANCISCUS PP.

Overflight Jordan

HIS MAJESTY ABDULLAH II - KING OF JORDAN

I OFFER CORDIAL GREETINGS TO YOUR MAJESTY, THE MEMBERS OF THE ROYAL FAMILY AND THE PEOPLE OF JORDAN AS I FLY OVER JORDANIAN AIRSPACE ON MY APOSTOLIC JOURNEY TO IRAQ. UPON THE ENTIRE NATION, I INVOKE THE ABUNDANT BLESSINGS OF THE MOST HIGH. FRANCISCUS PP. 

14:00 - Next, Pope Francis visits Our Lady of Salvation Syro-Catholic Cathedral in Bagdhad, where he will meet with worshippers, bishops & religious figures. Video below.

13:45 - WATCH - ICYMI: Pope Francis and the Iraqi prime minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi are greeted by traditional dancing shortly after the pontiff's arrival in Iraq.

 

13:30 - Pope Francis' address at the Presidential Palace touches upon the need for Iraq's internal differences to be resolved and how its institutions fighting corruption must be strengthened.

13:00 - After a brief discussion, and exchange of symbolic gifts and a look at some of the artifacts of the Presidential Palace, Pope Francis and Salih now hold a short briefing.

12:15 - President Barham Salih greets the Holy Father and, as a symbol of peace, doves are released into the Baghdad sky...

12:00 - Next on the Pope's agenda is an official welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Baghdad, where he will meet with President Salih in the private office of the palace.

11:30 - Following a brief discussion with the Iraq prime minister, the Pope will head to the Presidential Palace for a reception with President Salih. On leaving the airport, the Pope was treated to traditional Iraqi dance.

11:15 - Pope Francis and Al-Kadhimi now head into a VIP hall within the airport for an official reception and welcome.

11:00 - The Pope touches down at Baghdad International Airport, where he will receive an official welcome and meet with Iraqi prime minister Al-Kadhimi.

09:45 - Here is what to expect during his four days of stay in Iraq:

Day 1: Baghdad

Upon arrival in Iraq, Pope Francis will meet privately with Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi.

Then, following an official welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace, Pope Francis will visit President Barham Salih. The Holy Father’s first public event will be with authorities, civil society and the diplomatic corps at 3:45 p.m. in the Presidential Palace.

Afterwards, he will travel to the Syriac-Catholic Cathedral of “Our Lady of Salvation” and meet with Bishops, priests, religious persons, seminarians and catechists.

READ: Massive security preparations in Iraq to protect Pope Francis during his four-day visit

Day 2: Najaf, Ur, Baghdad

On Saturday, Pope Francis will travel by plane to the cities of Najaf and Ur, before returning to Baghdad.

The Pope’s first event of the day is a courtesy visit in Najaf to Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq’s Shiites.

He will then depart for Nasiriya to lead an interreligious meeting at the Plain of Ur.

The Pope will then return to Baghdad, where he will celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph.

WATCH: Preparations for Pope Francis’s Holy Mass at the Chaldean Cathedral of Saint Joseph, video below

READ: Pope Francis’ visit to give hope and comfort to Iraqis of all faiths

Day 3: Irbil, Mosul, Qaraqosh

On Sunday, his third day in Iraq, Pope Francis will travel to Irbil, Mosul and Qaraqosh.

He is due to be welcomed upon his arrival in Irbil by the President of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan and the civil authorities of the region.

He will then meet with Nechirvan Barzani and Masrour Barzani, respectively President and Prime Minister of the autonomous region, privately, before departing by helicopter for Mosul.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

In Mosul, Pope Francis will lead a prayer of suffrage for war victims at Hosh Al-Bieaa.

He will then travel to Qaraqosh where he will visit the faithful at the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Afterwards, he will return to Irbil where he will celebrate Holy Mass at the ‘Franso Hariri’ stadium. The Pope will then travel back to Baghdad after the Holy Mass.

WATCH: Iraqi Christians in California watch Pope Francis’s visit from afar, video below

READ: Papal visit brings joy and sadness for Iraq’s dwindling Christian community

Day 4: Baghdad, Rome

Pope Francis will depart from Baghdad International Airport following a brief farewell ceremony. He is expected to arrive at Rome’s Ciampino Airport at late evening.


Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
Updated 5 min 41 sec ago

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval

Lebanon’s president says new maritime claim needs government approval
  • Aoun's decision could significantly delay the process
  • Israeli Energy Minister said Monday Lebanon's expanded claim would derail talks

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s president said on Tuesday a draft decree expanding its maritime claims in a dispute with Israel must be approved by the caretaker government, rejecting a request to grant it swift presidential approval.
The dispute with Israel over the maritime boundary has held up hydrocarbon exploration in a potentially gas-rich area of the eastern Mediterranean.
The decree, approved by Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, defense minister and minister of public work on Monday, would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean claimed by Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s office said the decree should be approved by President Michel Aoun so that the new maritime coordinates setting out Lebanon’s claim could be submitted to the United Nations.
But the presidency said it should be approved by Diab’s full cabinet, even though the government resigned eight months ago following a devastating explosion in Beirut, because of the gravity of the issue.
The draft decree “needs a collective decision from the council of ministers..., even under a caretaker government, due to its importance and the consequences,” a statement from Aoun’s office said.
Aoun’s decision could significantly delay the process. Since the government resigned in August it has referred all issues for exceptional approval by the president, leaving them to get formal endorsement when a new government is finally agreed.
Negotiations were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute with Israel yet the talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
Israel already pumps gas from offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday Lebanon’s expanded claim would derail the talks rather than help work toward a common solution, warning that Israel would implement “parallel measures.”
Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war. But political leaders have failed to bridge their differences and form a new government.


Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions
A woman checks Ramadan decorations at a shop ahead of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, in Sidon, Lebanon, April 10, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 10 min 30 sec ago

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions

Ramadan in Lebanon limited due to high inflation, virus restrictions
  • Iftar events banned as new curfew goes into effect and donations are fleeting during the holy month

BEIRUT: The social events, traditions and gatherings usually celebrated during Ramadan will be very different this year in Lebanon as the country continues to grapple with unprecedented economic collapse and a coronavirus (COVID-19) surge.

Leading up to the holy month, preparations for Ramadan were slight in Beirut as only a few signs reminding people to donate could be seen in the city’s main streets. Charity foundations usually rely on the month of Ramadan every year to collect donations but the country’s ability to give is fleeting.

“More than 50 percent of the Lebanese now live under the poverty line,” World Bank Group Vice President for Middle East and North Africa Farid Belhaj said on April 4.

In an attempt to combat the spread of the virus, the National Disaster Management Operations Room imposed a new curfew that applies during Ramadan from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. It has also banned all iftar events.

Charitable organizations can distribute food to houses, but only after obtaining a permit from the electronic platform. The capacity of worshippers at mosques will be limited to 30 percent while restaurants and cafes, which have already endured several months of lockdown, will be closed again during the holy month.

The price inflation has become a daily nightmare for the Lebanese, and with the arrival of Ramadan, the prices of essential goods, like vegetables and fruits, have increased even further due to the high demand.

“The price of one kilo of beef has increased to between 60 and 70,000 pounds and a kilo of taouk chicken was sold at 50,000 pounds on the first day of Ramadan,” Abbas Ali Salim, a butcher shop owner in Beirut’s southern suburbs, told Arab News.

“People ask me about the prices, and when I answer, they seem very unhappy. Some even beg me to give them lower prices. But the truth is, I am one of these people. I am suffering just like them. The black market is trading the state-subsidized meat, monopolized by traders who are controlling the prices.”

Due to inflation, the cost of a typical iftar meal — lentil soup, fattoush salad, a main dish of chicken and rice, a half a cup of yogurt and a single date — has reached more than 60,000 Lebanese pounds, according to the crisis observatory at the American University of Beirut.

By those estimates, a full month of iftar meals for a family of five would cost 1.8 million pounds, which is much higher than the Lebanese minimum wage of 675,000 pounds. This cost does not even cover the juices, desserts, gas, electricity or cleaning material used for cooking.

Researchers at the observatory said a fattoush salad for a small family that cost 6,000 pounds during Ramadan last year, now costs 18,500 pounds. This means that the cost of a daily salad during this year’s Ramadan would be about 82 percent of the minimum wage.

The observatory feared that families might cope with the inflation by “cutting quantities or opting for cheaper alternatives to replace vegetables and meat, which would result in malnutrition.”

Mohammad Chamseddine, a researcher from the independent studies and statistics company Information International, said: “The prices of basic goods in Ramadan have increased by between 25 and 100 percent, with a significant reduction in sales, as the purchasing power of the Lebanese, especially those getting paid in Lebanese pounds, has eroded.”

Ramadan has also been affected by the country’s slow COVID-19 vaccination plan, which started in February. Lebanon's Health Minister Hamad Hassan said on Tuesday that “over 20 percent of the Lebanese people have developed immunity, either through infection or vaccination.”

 


Russia backs Egypt on Nile water rights

Russia backs Egypt on Nile water rights
Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a meeting in Cairo, Egypt April 12, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 42 min 6 sec ago

Russia backs Egypt on Nile water rights

Russia backs Egypt on Nile water rights
  • Sergey Lavrov: Russia is looking forward to reaching a solution for all parties, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, on the filling and operation of the dam through negotiations

CAIRO: Visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has told Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi that Moscow will oppose any interference in Egypt’s historical water rights in the Nile.

Ethiopia is building the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile River’s main tributary, which Egypt and Sudan deem a major threat if it is filled and operated without a legally binding agreement.

In a meeting with the Egyptian leader on Monday, Lavrov highlighted Russia’s firm position rejecting any interference in Egypt’s historical water rights in the Nile, and rejected unilateral actions in this regard.

He also voiced appreciation for Egypt’s efforts to resolve the issue.

Lavrov said that Russia is looking forward to reaching a solution for all parties, Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, on the filling and operation of the dam through negotiations.

El-Sisi said the lack of resolution of this issue would affect the security and stability of the region.

El-Sisi also discussed the Egyptian efforts to support the new interim government in Libya at various bilateral, regional and international forums, stressing the need to clear Libya of mercenaries.

Illegal foreign interference in Libyan affairs is fueling the crisis, he said.

Lavrov underlined Cairo’s role, especially the president’s personal efforts, to prepare a political pathway in Libya.

He said that this underlined Egypt’s role in regional security and stability, adding that Russia seeks to continue cooperation and coordination with Cairo on the issue.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry briefed Lavrov on the recent consultations over the dam held in Kinshasa in the presence of the foreign ministers of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.

He said that communication will continue with Russia over the issue as it is an active member of the UN Security Council, and because of its diplomatic capabilities and its impact in the international arena.

 


Italian politicians slam Libyan release of alleged human trafficker

Italian politicians slam Libyan release of alleged human trafficker
Updated 13 April 2021

Italian politicians slam Libyan release of alleged human trafficker

Italian politicians slam Libyan release of alleged human trafficker
  • UN considers Abd Al-Rahman Milad one of Libya’s most wanted human traffickers
  • His release is ‘disturbing news,’ says head of Sinistra Italiana party

ROME: Members of left-wing political party Sinistra Italiana expressed their dismay at Libyan authorities’ decision to release a man considered by the UN to be one of the country’s most wanted human traffickers.

Abd Al-Rahman Milad, known as Bija, was arrested on suspicion of being part of a criminal network operating in northwest Libya.

He was released less than four months after his arrest in Tripoli. The city’s military attorney general dropped the charges against him “for lack of evidence.”

Italian newspaper Avvenire reported that Bija and five other Libyans were placed under sanctions in 2018 by the UN Security Council for being directly involved in the sinking of migrant boats.

The newspaper reported that Bija had attended official meetings in Rome with Italian authorities during negotiations over illegal migrants. He was introduced there as “a commander of the Libyan coastguard.”

Bija’s release “is disturbing news,” Sinistra Italiana leader Nicola Fratoianni said in Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, asking the government to “clarify this obscure situation.”

He added: “This man is accused of torture and other cruel criminal acts on human beings. The relationship between Italian institutions and this man, who was freed only a few days after the visit to Tripoli of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, must be fully clarified.” 

Fratoianni told Arab News: “In Libya, migrants live in inhumane and atrocious conditions, as confirmed by all international organizations. The Italian government must do something.”

Marco Minniti, Italy’s interior minister at the time of the meetings attended by Bija, has denied any wrongdoing, saying Rome was unaware of the allegations against the Libyan.

Nello Scavo, the Italian journalist who first reported for Avvenire on Bija’s presence in Italy, and Nancy Porsia, the freelance reporter who first wrote about the Libyan’s suspected criminal activities in 2016, were given police protection after receiving threats.

In recent years, the EU has partnered with Libya’s coastguard and local groups to try to halt the dangerous sea crossings via the Mediterranean to reach Italian shores.

Several NGOs, however, say those policies leave migrants at the mercy of armed groups or confined in squalid detention centers rife with abuse.

An Associated Press investigation in 2019 revealed that militias tortured, extorted and abused migrants for ransom in detention centers under the nose of UN officials, often in compounds that receive millions in European money, paid to Libya’s government to slow the tide of migrants crossing the Mediterranean.


Israeli media report Israeli-owned ship attacked off UAE coast

Israeli media report Israeli-owned ship attacked off UAE coast
Updated 13 April 2021

Israeli media report Israeli-owned ship attacked off UAE coast

Israeli media report Israeli-owned ship attacked off UAE coast

An Israeli-owned ship was attacked off the coast of the UAE, Israel's Channel 12 TV reported.

Unnamed Israeli officials told the channel that they blamed Iran for the attack. There were no casualties in the attack, the report said.

Ship tracking websites showed the Hyperion Ray was on its ways to Fujairah, on the UAE's Arabian Sea coast.

More to follow ...