Top Shiite cleric Al-Sistani: Christians in Iraq should live in ‘peace, security’

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)
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)
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Updated 06 March 2021

Top Shiite cleric Al-Sistani: Christians in Iraq should live in ‘peace, security’

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)
  • Pope met with top Shiite cleric in latter’s home in Najaf for 50 minutes
  • Francis: ‘Hostility, extremism, violence have nothing to do with faith — they are betrayals of religion’

ROME: Christians in Iraq should live in “peace and security,” Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, one of Shiite Islam’s top clerics, told Pope Francis in a historic meeting on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to the country.

The 84-year-old pope and 90-year-old Al-Sistani spoke for 50 minutes at the latter’s home in Najaf, the third-holiest city for Shiite Muslims after Makkah and Madinah — a landmark moment in modern religious history, and a milestone in the pope’s efforts to deepen interfaith dialogue, Vatican sources told Arab News while expressing satisfaction with the meeting.

Al-Sistani, according to a statement issued by his office, was grateful to the pope for his visit, and “affirmed … that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights.”

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said the pope “stressed the importance of cooperation and friendship between religious communities in contributing, through the cultivation of mutual respect and dialogue, to the good of Iraq, the region and the entire human family.”

Bruni added that the meeting was an occasion for the pope to thank Al-Sistani “for speaking up, together with the Shiite community, in defense of those most vulnerable and persecuted amid the violence and great hardships of recent years, and for affirming the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.”

The pope, said Bruni, “stated that he continues to pray that God, the Creator of all, will grant a future of peace and fraternity for the beloved land of Iraq, for the Middle East and for the whole world.”

After the meeting, the pope flew to the city of Nassiriya. He then traveled by car to the Plain of Ur, where Abraham is believed to have been born, for a meeting with representatives of Iraq’s religious communities, including Christians, Sunnis, Shiites, Yazidis, Mandeans, Kakais, Bahais and Zoroastrians, each wearing their traditional religious garb.

Freedom of conscience and religion are “fundamental rights” that should be respected everywhere, said the pope.

“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion and sows hatred,” he added, in a message of solidarity with minorities persecuted by Daesh.

He also called for “unity,” adding: “Let us ask for this in praying for the whole Middle East. Here I think especially of neighboring war-torn Syria.”

He said: “The most blasphemous offense is to profane God’s name by hating our brothers. Hostility, extremism and violence have nothing to do with faith — they are betrayals of religion.”

The pope then celebrated his first Mass in Iraq in the Chaldean Cathedral of St. Joseph in central Baghdad.

Only a small crowd was allowed in the church in order to guarantee social distancing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Sunday, the pope will celebrate Mass in Erbil, capital of the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, where 10,000 faithful will be allowed.


Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt

Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt
Updated 41 min 32 sec ago

Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt

Deals signed to make coronavirus vaccine in Egypt
  • The plan is to take advantage of the vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac
  • Sinovac will provide technical support and assistance to Vacsera in building and equipping manufacturing facilities to meet the required standards

CAIRO: Two agreements have been signed between the Egyptian Holding Company for Biological Products and Vaccines (Vacsera), and the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech for biopharmaceuticals, to manufacture the coronavirus vaccine in Egypt.
The signing of the agreements comes as part of efforts to achieve technical cooperation in this vital field.
The plan is to take advantage of the vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac, a leader in research, development, production and marketing in pharmaceutical preparations, and exchange experiences to support Vacsera, a specialist in the manufacture of vaccines in Egypt.
The move is expected to contribute to limiting the spread of the virus.
Both agreements were signed by Heba Wali, Vacsera head and Sinovac Biotech vice president.
The first agreement concerns the manufacturing technology for the coronavirus vaccine, Egyptian Health Minister Hala Zayed said.
Under this deal, the Chinese company Sinovac gives Vacsera a limited license to use manufacturing technology and technical knowledge for the purpose of manufacturing the local final product of the COVID-19 vaccine, in Vecsera’s manufacturing sites inside Egypt — using the ready-made product of the vaccine provided by Sinovac.
This agreement also stipulates that the Chinese company will provide Vacsera with all technical information related to the vaccine and provide technical assistance.
It includes examining the manufacturing places of Vacsera, and manufacturing the local final product using the ready-made product provided by Sinovac.
This is in addition to testing the local end-product, manufacturing methods and technical processes used, as well as equipment, tools or machines, repair and maintenance of Vacsera’s manufacturing facilities.
Quality management and quality control are also part of this process.
The second agreement relates to the local manufacture of the COVID-19 vaccine, Zayed said.
It provides for the Chinese company, Sinovac, to grant a permit to Vacsera to refill, package and manufacture the local final product of the COVID-19 vaccine in Vacsera’s own facilities.
It provides for Vacsera obtaining regulatory approvals, manufacturing technology and technical knowledge for the use of the ready-to-fill product provided by Sinovac, Zayed added.
The agreement stipulates that Vacsera will equip its current facilities or construct, build and equip new facilities to serve as manufacturing facilities.
An effective quality-management system will be set up for each step of production.
It enables the local manufacturer to meet the requirements, specifications and standards of operating procedures of Sinovac.
Sinovac will provide technical support and assistance to Vacsera in building and equipping manufacturing facilities to meet the required standards.
The agreement also stipulates that Sinovac is ready, at the request of Vacsera, to provide the necessary training for Vacsera employees in manufacturing facilities in Egypt or at its own facilities in Beijing, regarding final packaging and final quality-control operations.


Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem

Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem
Updated 49 min 33 sec ago

Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem

Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem
  • Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police amid dispute over gatherings at Damascus Gate after iftar
  • Israeli police fired stun grenades and sprayed foul-smelling skunk water to disperse Palestinians, who discharged fireworks

JERUSALEM: Nightly clashes and other violent incidents between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem during Ramadan have laid bare simmering tensions in the holy city.
Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police amid a dispute over evening gatherings at Damascus Gate after iftar, the breaking of the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month.
Meanwhile, a video on social media app TikTok purporting to show a Palestinian slapping an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on Jerusalem’s light rail train has drawn protests by Israelis and calls by some right-wing politicians for tougher police action.
The incidents, which followed the start of Ramadan on April 13, threaten to break a sustained period of relative quiet in a contested city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Palestinians say police have tried to prevent them from holding their usual Ramadan evening gatherings outside Damascus Gate, a historic landmark on the north side of Jerusalem’s walled Old City.
Israeli police have fired stun grenades and sprayed foul-smelling skunk water to disperse the Palestinians, who in turn have discharged fireworks toward them.
“Palestinians love to relax in this area after evening prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque, but the occupation (Israel) doesn’t like it. It’s a matter of sovereignty,” said Jerusalem resident Mohammad Abu Al-Homus, pointing to metal barricades thrown up by police in the area outside Damascus Gate in recent weeks.
Israel’s police have not said why they erected the barriers, and a spokesman did not immediately respond to Reuters’ repeated requests for comment.
In statements issued over the past week, the police said they had arrested several Palestinians for throwing stones and attacking officers.
There have also been some street skirmishes between Palestinian and Israeli civilians. Police arrested four people in one such fight on Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem on Wednesday night, Israeli media reported.
“Jews won’t be scared to walk around Jerusalem!” said a leaflet distributed on WhatsApp calling for Jewish protests at Damascus Gate on Thursday night.
Israel claims all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as its capital.
Palestinians seek to make East Jerusalem, including its Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites, capital of a future state.


Jordan releases 16 defendants in ‘sedition’ case

Updated 48 min 5 sec ago

Jordan releases 16 defendants in ‘sedition’ case

Jordan releases 16 defendants in ‘sedition’ case
  • Bassem Awadallah and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid were not among those released

LONDON: Jordan announced on Thursday that it had released 16 defendants involved in a sedition case.
Several people have been arrested since the beginning of April following recent events that threatened to undermine the kingdom’s stability.
More to follow...


Lebanese president urges calm after judicial dispute

Lebanese president urges calm after judicial dispute
Updated 22 April 2021

Lebanese president urges calm after judicial dispute

Lebanese president urges calm after judicial dispute
  • Lebanese President warns against property destruction after removing judge from a financial corruption probe
  • Judge Aoun stormed the offices of a foreign exchange dealer, took folders and computers out

BEIRUT: Lebanese President Michel Aoun warned against the destruction of property on Thursday after removing a judge from a financial corruption probe last week prompted her and her supporters to storm a currency exchange bureau.
Aoun made the remarks in a statement after a security meeting that included caretaker prime minister Hassan Diab, the interior minister and other officials.
On Wednesday, judge Ghada Aoun and others had stormed the offices of a foreign exchange dealer in defiance of her removal from the investigation, with some of them breaking down doors, local media reported.
It was the second such attempt to enter the bureau by judge Aoun, who is not directly related to the president and whose supporters appeared largely to back President Aoun’s party.
Judge Aoun, chief prosecutor of the Mount Lebanon region, took folders and computers out of the building with her, the state news agency reported.
Security forces deployed to the scene.
Aoun, who had also sought to question central bank chief Riad Salameh, has objected to her removal from financial crimes cases last week by Lebanese public prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat.
The row has spilled out into the streets and all over local media, with critics saying it laid bare the political grip on the judiciary in a country battered by a financial crisis rooted in graft and debt.
The collapse has sunk the currency, paralyzed banks and trapped savers out of their deposits.


Pope Francis confirms intention to visit Lebanon

Pope Francis confirms intention to visit Lebanon
Updated 22 April 2021

Pope Francis confirms intention to visit Lebanon

Pope Francis confirms intention to visit Lebanon
  • Spokesman: Pontiff ‘reiterated his closeness to the Lebanese people’
  • Pope met with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri in the Vatican

ROME: During a private audience in the Vatican with Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, Pope Francis on Thursday confirmed that he wants to visit the country as soon as possible.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni told a press briefing attended by Arab News that the pope “reiterated his closeness to the Lebanese people, who live in a time of great difficulty and uncertainty.”
Bruni said the pope confirmed to Hariri his desire to visit Lebanon “as soon as the conditions will allow it,” and expressed his wish that the country, “with the help of the international community,” will once again be a land of “coexistence and pluralism.”
Pope Francis announced his intention to visit Lebanon on his return flight from Iraq last month.
Hariri was tasked nine months ago with forming a government that is supposed to allow Lebanon to negotiate with the West long-awaited financial aid to overcome the country’s economic crisis.
A source in the Vatican told Arab News that Hariri asked the pope to intercede with Lebanese President Michel Aoun to help him form a new government.
Cardinal Bechara Rai, the Maronite patriarch of Lebanon, has called for an international conference to save the country from financial collapse.
Hariri also met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state, and with Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who is in charge of its relations with states.
On Thursday night, Hariri is expected to meet with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio.