AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani

AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
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Shiite cleric, Ali Al-Sistani, met the Pope at his home in Najaf, the seat of the Iraqi Shiite clergy, on the second day of the pontiff’s historic tour of Iraq. (Office of Shiite cleric, Ali Al-Sistani)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
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Pope Francis arrives to meet Iraq top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in the holy shrine city of Najaf on March 6, 2021. (AFP)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
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Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Perolin, third left, arrives with a delegation to the House of Abraham in the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq ahead of Pope Francis’s visit on March 6, 2021. (AFP)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
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Pope Francis called for an end to extremism, violence and corruption as the pontiff’s historic visit to Iraq got underway on Friday. (AFP)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
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Pope Francis signs the guest book at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad on March 5, 2021. (AFP)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
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Pope Francis delivers a sermon at the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation Baghdad at the start of the first ever papal visit to Iraq on March 5, 2021. (AFP)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
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Musicians play traditional instruments as Iraqi President Barham Salih welcomes Pope Francis at the presidential palace in Baghdad’s Green Zone on March 5, 2021. (AFP)
AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
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Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi receives Pope Francis upon his arrival in Baghdad. (Iraqi prime minister’s office Facebook page via AFP)
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Updated 07 March 2021

AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani

AS IT HAPPENED: Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani
  • Pope’s visit comes as Iraq attempts to claw its way to stability

DUBAI: Pope Francis and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric delivered a powerful message of peaceful coexistence on Saturday in a historic first meeting between the leaders of Roman Catholicism and Shiite Islam.

The Shiite cleric, Ali Al-Sistani, met the Pope at his home in Najaf, the seat of the Iraqi Shiite clergy, on the second day of the pontiff’s historic tour of Iraq.

Pope Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday and made a speech in which he called for an end to extremism, violence and corruption.

The head of the Catholic church began the first-ever papal trip to the country by meeting government officials in Baghdad, before traveling to a church where Christians were massacred by militants in 2010.

His visit comes as Iraq attempts to claw its way to stability after years of sectarian conflict, the Daesh occupation, chronic corruption, and widespread anger at government officials for failing to provide basic services.

At Our Lady of Salvation church, he paid tribute to the 58 people who were killed in an extremist attack in 2010, one of the deadliest targeting Christians.

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

17:00 - With the mass finished, that concludes the Pope's public engagements on the second day of his visit. Remember to check back on arabnews.com for coverage of Sunday's events, the highlight of which will be a meeting with the president and the prime minister of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Erbil.

Pope Francis will also visit and make a speech at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh and deliver a mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil.

15:00 - Now, the Pope delivers a mass at the Chaldean Catheral of Saint Joseph. Watch it live below...

14:30 - Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib wrote about how the visit of Pope Francis begins a new chapter not only for Christians in Iraq but for all Eastern Christians. Read her opinion piece below.

Opinion

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

14:00: In case you missed some of the fantastic images from the first day of the Pope's visit, you can check out our gallery here...

 

13:00 - ICYMI: Lebanese President Michel Aoun welcomed the pope’s arrival in Iraq on Friday, saying he hoped it would be a “push toward establishing the genuine peace” that people in the region needed. To read more, click here.

09:34: Pope Francis is set to return Baghdad after attending an interfaith meeting at the ruins of Ur in southern Iraq, the traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, father of Muslim and Christian faiths.




Above, a general view of the ancient archeological site of Ur, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, in Ur near Nassiriya, Iraq. Iraqiya TV/Reuters TV via Reuters

09:08: Pope Francis is urging Iraq’s Muslim and Christian religious leaders to put aside animosities and work together for peace and unity during an interfaith meeting in the traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, father of their faiths.

He told the gathering: “This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbor.”

Francis traveled to the ruins of Ur in southern Iraq on Saturday to reinforce his message of interreligious tolerance and fraternity during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, a country riven by religious and ethnic divisions.




Pope Francis said that he prays for ‘peace, unity’ in the Middle East ‘especially Syria’ during the interreligious meeting. (AFP)

Francis told the faith leaders that it was fitting that they come together in Ur, “back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions” to pray together for peace as children of Abraham, the prophet common to Muslims, Christians and Jews.

He said: “From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters. Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion.”

He said there could never be peace as long as Iraqis viewed people of different faiths as the “other.”

He said: “Peace does not demand winners or losers, but rather brothers and sisters who, for all the misunderstandings and hurts of the past, are journeying from conflict to unity.”

08:05: Pope Francis attends an interreligious meeting at the Plain of Ur during day two of his apostolic tour of Iraq.

The meeting takes place in the shadow of Ur’s magnificent ziggurat, the 6,000-year-old archaeological complex near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.




Pope Francis attends an interreligious meeting at the archaeological site of Ur near Nasiriyah, southern Iraq on March 6, 2021. (AFP)

07: 28: Top Shiite cleric Ali Al-Sistani has told Pope Francis that Iraq Christians should live in ‘peace’, a statement from his office said.

Al-Sistani ‘affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,’ the statement office said.

For its part, the Vatican said Francis thanked Al-Sistani and the Shiite people for having “raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history.

He said Al-Sistani’s message of peace affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.”




Doves are released to mark Pope Francis’s private meeting Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani at his home in Najaf. (Vatican Media)

07:00: Pope Francis leaves the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf after meeting with him. He is expected to depart for Nassiriya to lead an interreligious meeting at the Plain of Ur in southern Iraq which is revered as the birthplace of Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Pope will afterwards return to Baghdad.

The visit was carried live on Iraqi television, and residents cheered the meeting of two respected faith leaders.

“We welcome the pope’s visit to Iraq and especially to the holy city of Najaf and his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani,” said Najaf resident Haidar Al-Ilyawi. “It is an historic visit and hope it will be good for Iraq and the Iraqi people.”




Pope Francis leaves the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf after meeting with him. (Screenshot)

05:05: Pope Francis arrives in Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s home Najaf.

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.

03:45: Pope Francis departs from Baghdad and will travel by plane to the cities of Najaf and Ur.

- with agencies

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.

 


Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings

Syria loses chemical weapons watchdog voting rights after poison gas findings
Updated 5 min 18 sec ago

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 22 min 36 sec ago

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 32 min 20 sec ago

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.