Rome to host Palestinian Christmas Bazaar

Rome to host Palestinian Christmas Bazaar
Workers put up decorations on the annual Christmas tree on Dec. 05, 2021 at Piazza Venezia in central Rome. (AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Rome to host Palestinian Christmas Bazaar

Rome to host Palestinian Christmas Bazaar
  • Two-day event will showcase traditional Palestinian culture and crafts
  • Organizers hope bazaar can ‘create a bridge between the diaspora and the motherland’

ROME: Italy’s capital city will host the Palestinian Christmas Bazaar this weekend, with food, live music, folk dancing, free workshops and traditional handicrafts on offer.  

The event takes place Dec. 11 and 12 at the Container, a huge venue in the popular San Lorenzo neighborhood — one of Rome’s liveliest areas.

An exhibition of work by Palestinian photojournalist Issam Rimawi, entitled “Roses Bloomed at Christmas,” will be on display at the bazaar, and Palestinian chef Hanan Samara will prepare a special hummus dish followed by dinner with typical Middle Eastern drinks on Saturday. On Sunday, a Palestinian Christmas brunch will be served.

Palestinian cinema will feature heavily on Sunday, with screenings selected by director Kami Fares, while actresses Dalal Suleiman and Hanin Tarabay are also involved in the event. Tarabay will present a traditional Christmas tale, and will also recite some of Najwan Darwish’s poems in Arabic.

Traditional handicrafts on sale will include pottery; holiday-themed decorations made from olive wood; fabrics that have been hand-embroidered in the local ‘tatreez’ style; soap made in Nablus; incense and essential oils; traditional keffiyeh headdresses and more.

All proceeds from the sale of these items will go directly to Palestinian artisans, according to the organizers of the bazaar — Rania Hammad, Nasmia Mallah and Sara Alawia, founders of the Falastin Festival and the startup project Ya Amar, which is funded by the European Commission.

They hope that such events can promote the work of Palestinian women and artisans “by creating a bridge between the diaspora and the motherland, strengthening community and solidarity, and promoting Palestinian cultural heritage and female empowerment.”


Biden to address US crime wave in New York visit

Biden to address US crime wave in New York visit
Updated 27 January 2022

Biden to address US crime wave in New York visit

Biden to address US crime wave in New York visit
  • Biden faces pressure from the right, which blames him for presiding over rising disorder

WASHINGTON: President Joe Biden will address the soaring US crime wave during a trip next week to New York, where five police officers have been shot this year, the White House said Wednesday.
Rising urban violence is a major political liability for the Democrat, with a January study by the Council on Criminal Justice showing homicides in 22 cities increased five percent in 2021 — and a whopping 44 percent over 2019 levels.
Biden will meet next Thursday with Mayor Eric Adams, who took over the Big Apple at the start of the year and was immediately confronted with a spate of high-profile crimes. Two police officers have been killed and three others wounded just this month.
And the city has been unsettled by a series of other violent crimes this month, including another shooting in which a 19-year-old Puerto Rican woman was killed at the fast food restaurant where she worked.
They will “discuss the administration’s comprehensive strategy to combat gun crime, which includes historic levels of funding for cities and states to put more cops on the beat and invest in community violence prevention and intervention programs, as well as stepped up federal law enforcement efforts against illegal gun traffickers,” the White House said.
The crime wave — which still leaves US cities far safer than they were in the 1990s — has been connected by experts to a combination of social disruption linked to the Covid-19 pandemic and fallout for police departments in the aftermath of a spate of botched arrests in which Black people were killed or badly injured.
Biden faces pressure from the right, which blames him for presiding over rising disorder, and from the left, which has campaigned for police reforms — at times, going as far as the “defund the police” movement.
Biden has stressed the need to control the flow of unregistered weapons, such as so-called ghost guns that cannot be traced after use in a crime.
Adams, himself a former police officer, said in a statement also posted to Twitter Wednesday, “Public safety is my administration’s highest priority, and we welcome the opportunity to display to President Biden how federal and local governments can coordinate and support each other in this fight to keep New Yorkers safe.”
And he echoed Biden’s message earlier this week when he called gun violence “a public health crisis.”
The mayor, a Democrat, has proposed more aggressive policing, with deployment of undercover officers.
According to a Pew Research poll last year, some 30 percent of Americans say they own a firearm.


Moderna begins trial of omicron-specific vaccine booster

Moderna begins trial of omicron-specific vaccine booster
Updated 27 January 2022

Moderna begins trial of omicron-specific vaccine booster

Moderna begins trial of omicron-specific vaccine booster
  • The booster specifically targeting omicron will therefore be evaluated as both a third and a fourth dose

WASHINGTON: US biotech company Moderna announced on Wednesday that it has begun clinical trials of a booster dose of vaccine designed specifically to combat the omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The trials will involve a total of 600 adults — half of whom have already received two doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine at least six months ago, and half of whom have received two doses plus the previously authorized booster dose.
The booster specifically targeting omicron will therefore be evaluated as both a third and a fourth dose.
The company also reported results on the efficacy against omicron of the booster that has already been authorized.
It said that six months after the booster injection, the levels of neutralizing antibodies against omicron were reduced by six times from the peak observed 29 days after the injection — but remained detectable in all participants.
These data were obtained by studying the blood of 20 people who received the 50 microgram booster, half the amount of the first two injections.
“We are reassured by the antibody persistence against omicron at six months after the currently authorized” booster, Moderna chief executive Stephane Bancel said in the statement.
“Nonetheless, given the long-term threat demonstrated by omicron’s immune escape, we are advancing our omicron-specific variant vaccine booster candidate and we are pleased to begin this part of our Phase 2 study,” Bancel continued.
Moderna’s statement came the day after rivals Pfizer and BioNTech said they had begun enrollment for a clinical trial for an omicron-specific vaccine.
Both vaccines are based on messenger RNA technology, which makes it relatively easy to update them to keep up with mutations specific to new variants.
Several countries, including the United States, have begun to see a decline in cases associated with the infection wave caused by omicron, the most transmissible variant detected so far, but the number of infections worldwide continues to rise.


Muslim boy referred to UK government anti-extremist program

The boy, who was struggling with his homework, was referred to Prevent anti-extremism program after he was overheard saying he wished school would burn down. (Shutterstock)
The boy, who was struggling with his homework, was referred to Prevent anti-extremism program after he was overheard saying he wished school would burn down. (Shutterstock)
Updated 27 January 2022

Muslim boy referred to UK government anti-extremist program

The boy, who was struggling with his homework, was referred to Prevent anti-extremism program after he was overheard saying he wished school would burn down. (Shutterstock)
  • Mother criticized decision and said: ‘Being a brown, Muslim, Asian boy does not make you a terrorist’
  • An investigation into the incident found no evidence of links to extremism and no further action was taken

LONDON: An 11-year-old boy from a Muslim family was referred to a UK government anti-extremism program, called Prevent, after telling a friend that he hoped his school would burn down.

His mother told The Guardian newspaper: “Being a brown, Muslim, Asian boy does not make you a terrorist.”

She admitted that her son’s comments were unacceptable but added that they were “isolated” and the result of stress. The child is said to suffer from anxiety.

An investigation by the boy’s school into the incident found no evidence of any links to extremist groups or prior instances of radical rhetoric.

“Prevent guidance places clear emphasis on appropriateness and proportionality,” his mother said.

The Prevent officer who examined the case decided not to take any further action but, as per protocol, the boy’s personal information was due to be logged for six years in a police counterterrorism database until his mother intervened.

She also complained to the school, in the north of England, that she had not been informed about the incident or the referral, and is set to receive an apology.

“I was told by the Prevent officer that the matter would not be taken any further as it looked like a matter related to an 11-year-old boy struggling with school,” she said. “My son had become so unhappy and stressed about the demands placed on him relating to homework.”

She added that she had to fight to have her son’s name removed from the counterterrorism database, she added.

“I’ve achieved a partial victory because the police have agreed to remove his name from their database but I am seeking further information from his files, which are held by the UK Home Office,” she said.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Prevent is a safeguarding program helping people to turn away from radicalization. Prevent referral data is only held temporarily by the police, and parents or carers can request for it to be deleted sooner, where appropriate.

“All data is kept completely confidential, other than where a serious security risk emerges. Information and guidance on the use of, and access to, the central Prevent referral database is owned by the police and not by the Home Office.”


France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law

France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law
Updated 26 January 2022

France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law

France targets groups, websites with expanded powers under anti-terror law
  • Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would shut down "Nantes Révoltée", a local media platform, which had relayed information about the protest
  • The government has been making increasing use of powers to shut down organisations or groups

PARIS: The French government said this week it was closing down an activist-run media outlet and a Muslim website deemed at odds with “national values“
This is the latest in a series of steps that rights groups and lawyers say infringe on democratic freedoms.
Following a violent protest against the extreme right in Nantes, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said he would shut down “Nantes Révoltée,” a local media platform, which had relayed information about the protest.
Days earlier, he had announced plans to close the website “La Voie Droite,” which publishes Islamic religious content.
The government has been making increasing use of powers to shut down organizations or groups. In the last two years, there have been 12 such shutdowns, an uptick from seven between 2016 and 2019, according to French public records.
Before dissolving an association, the Ministry of Interior informs the concerned party, which has 15 days to reply with its counter-arguments. Then, once the decree is published, the organization can take the case to the Council of State, an administrative court.
To date, Nante Révoltée says it has not received any communication from the Ministry of Interior regarding its closure.
Of the organizations shut by decree since January 2020, seven are Muslim-related, including associations to run mosques, a humanitarian organization and anti-Islamophobia groups, the records show. Three far-right groups have been closed.
Announcing the plan to close “Nantes Révoltée” to MPs in the French parliament on Tuesday, Darmanin described it as an “ultra-left” group that had repeatedly called for violence against the state and the police in the run-up to the weekend protest, at which three people were arrested, shop windows were broken and fights broke out.
Raphael Kempf, a lawyer for Nantes Révoltée, said that a website sharing information on an event could not be held responsible for what happens there.
“We are seeing a government that is using this legal tool to attack voices that criticize them,” says Kempf, adding that the government now has enhanced powers under 2021 legislation that makes inciting violence grounds for dissolution. Previously the groups had to themselves be armed or violent.
CRITICAL VOICES
The 2021 legislation was introduced in response to violent attacks that France has seen in recent years, including the beheading of schoolteacher Samuel Paty in 2020 and the 2015 attacks on Paris that killed 130 people.
But some lawyers and campaign groups say the authorities are overreaching to muzzle critical voices and target anyone practicing a form of Islam not approved by the state.
During a TV interview on Sunday, Darmanin announced the Islamic website “La Voie Droite” would be closed using the 2021 legislation for “content inciting for hatred and calling for jihad.”
La Voie Droite denied publishing such content, saying in a statement that “when we encourage Muslims to respect the texts, it is opposed to any type of threat or legitimation of violence.”
The French Interior Ministry did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.
In another step that has alarmed some rights groups, the French government has ramped up censorship of content on the Internet deemed to be terrorist-related or justifying violence under a 2014 law. Officials say that is necessary to stem violent attacks.
Noémie Levain, a lawyer with digital rights organization La Quadrature du Net, said these powers were open to abuse.
“The decision-making process is opaque,” she said. “[The police] can designate something Muslim as problematic even if it is not violent, they can do the same with something activist that is calling to protest.”


Pakistani family reunion shattered after dad killed in Houthi attack on UAE

Pakistani family reunion shattered after dad killed in Houthi attack on UAE
Updated 26 January 2022

Pakistani family reunion shattered after dad killed in Houthi attack on UAE

Pakistani family reunion shattered after dad killed in Houthi attack on UAE
  • Mamoor Khan died in Iran-backed Houthi drone, missile strike on Abu Dhabi
  • Family was awaiting his homecoming for January vacation

Mamoor Khan’s family members had been eagerly awaiting his homecoming to the northern Pakistan town of Mir Ali. But days before the planned reunion, his body arrived from the UAE, leaving relatives numbed by shock and grief.

Khan and two Indian nationals were killed when drone and missile strikes launched by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen hit fuel trucks near storage facilities of state oil giant ADNOC in Abu Dhabi on Jan. 17. Khan had been working as a driver for an ADNOC contractor.

“We were preparing for his homecoming,” Khan’s younger brother, Manzoor Ahmad, told Arab News. “But we received his dead body instead.”

Khan, 49, is survived by his parents, wife, and eight children, who were looking forward to his return for a vacation at the end of this month.

His second brother, Javed Khan, also a driver in the UAE, was the first to learn about his death. An ADNOC employee had called him to say he had suffered injuries in the attack and was in hospital in Abu Dhabi.

“I still didn’t know what had happened, but the site where my brother was working was on fire,” he said. “I asked the caller to tell me clearly if my brother had died. The caller replied in a choked voice, ‘yes,’ and that his dead body was in the hospital.”

Khan was the main support of his family in North Waziristan, an impoverished tribal district on the Pakistan-Afghan border, where years of militancy and security operations have thwarted social and economic development.

A week after Khan’s funeral, his father, who sent him to the UAE more than two decades ago to find a better life, told Arab News he was still struggling to talk about the loss of his son.

“I felt like I was stepping over raging fire when I received the news about my son’s death,” he said.

Khan’s mother has been on tranquilizers since receiving the tragic news.

“At home, we have suffered a lot due to militancy, and when Mamoor left for the UAE, we were sure that he would enjoy a safe life there,” his neighbor and friend Munawar Shah Dawar said. “His death has left us devastated, as he fell prey to a terrorist attack there too.”

Yasir Ahmad, Khan’s eldest son, said he and his father had many plans for the family’s future and would often discuss them over the phone. One of those plans, to set up a small business, was to have been put into action during Khan’s home visit this month. The idea was that the business would have later allowed him to return to Mir Ali for good.

One of Khan’s priorities had been to ensure his younger children received an education, something he had asked Ahmad to oversee.

“My father wanted my younger brother to become a doctor, so that he could come back and spend the rest of his life with us.

“We’ve nothing left now, and even the education of my brothers will suffer because I’m a daily wage laborer, earning 600 rupees ($3.40) a day, which isn’t enough.”

Khan’s body was repatriated to Pakistan and buried on Jan. 20.

Mustafa Haider, director general of the welfare division at the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation, told Arab News that death benefits would be paid to the family and the foundation was also considering financial support from its own funds.