Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, Arab League, Egypt condemn burning of Muslim holy book in Stockholm

Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, Arab League, Egypt condemn burning of Muslim holy book in Stockholm
Protesters burn a portrait of Rasmus Paludan in front of the Consulate General of Sweden in Istanbul, Turkey, on January 22, 2023, after the rightwing extremist burned a copy of the Qur'an near the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm. (AFP) 
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Updated 22 January 2023

Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, Arab League, Egypt condemn burning of Muslim holy book in Stockholm

Al-Azhar Al-Sharif, Arab League, Egypt condemn burning of Muslim holy book in Stockholm

CAIRO: Al-Azhar Al-Sharif — Sunni Islam’s oldest and foremost seat of learning — strongly condemned the burning of the Holy Qur’an by Swedish extremists.

It said on Sunday that the Qur’an will “remain in its glory” as a “guiding book for all humanity, guiding them to the values of goodness, truth and beauty.”

The repeated incident “indicates the complicity of Swedish authorities” with far-right figures in an attempt to “repeatedly and deliberately offend religious sanctities and provoke Muslims around the world,” it said.

Right-wing politician Rasmus Paludan burned the holy book outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm during a demonstration on Saturday, sparking protests.

The “criminal acts of savagery” will not undermine the sanctity of the Holy Qur’an in the heart of a civilized person, Al-Azhar said.

It added that the “grudges of the misguided criminals and the actions of the promoters of fanaticism and sick souls, who have black records in the history of fanaticism, hatred, and wars of religion, will not affect the sanctity of the Holy Qur’an.”

Al-Azhar called on the international community to stand up to attempts to” tamper with religious sanctities,” urging the condemnation of those behind the burning and an immediate investigation into the incident.

Allowing the burning “impedes efforts to promote peace, interfaith dialogue and communication between East and West, as well as between the Islamic world and the West,” it said.

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit and the Egyptian government joined the condemnation.

Aboul Gheit said on Twitter: “I condemn in the strongest terms the burning of the Holy Qur’an by an extremist in Stockholm, Sweden.”

He added: “Such extreme and abnormal acts should be condemned and denounced by everyone, especially in Sweden."

“Freedom of speech should not be a pretext for extremists to ignite the fire of hatred between followers of different religions,” said Aboul Gheit, who mentioned the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Twitter account in his tweet.

Egypt expressed its strong condemnation of the Stockholm incident.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs described it as a “disgraceful act” that provoked the feelings of hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world.

Egypt warned of the dangers of fueling hate speech and violence.

It called for upholding the values of tolerance and peaceful coexistence, and preventing offense to all religions through extremist practices. 

 

 


Hopes fade for finding more Turkiye-Syria quake survivors as toll climbs

Hopes fade for finding more Turkiye-Syria quake survivors as toll climbs
Updated 09 February 2023

Hopes fade for finding more Turkiye-Syria quake survivors as toll climbs

Hopes fade for finding more Turkiye-Syria quake survivors as toll climbs
  • Hundreds of thousands left homeless in middle of winter
  • Syrian rescuer says toll expected to climb much higher

ANTAKYA, Turkiye/JANDARIS, Syria: The death toll from earthquakes that struck Turkiye and Syria this week neared 16,000 on Thursday as hopes faded of many people being found alive 72 hours since the disaster and frustration simmered over the slow delivery of aid.
A Turkish official said the disaster posed “very serious difficulties” for the holding of an election scheduled for May 14 in which President Tayyip Erdogan has been expected face the toughest challenge in his two decades in power.
On the ground, many people in Turkiye and Syria spent a third night sleeping outside or in cars in freezing winter temperatures, their homes destroyed or so shaken by the quakes they were too afraid to re-enter. Hundreds of thousands of people have been left homeless in the middle of winter.
The number of people killed by the quake, which struck in the dead of night and was followed by powerful aftershocks, is on course to be larger than in 1999 when a similarly powerful tremor killed 17,000 people in Turkiye’s more densely populated northwest.
In Turkiye, footage emerged late on Wednesday of a few more survivors being rescued, including Abdulalim Muaini, who was pulled from his collapsed home in Hatay, Turkiye where he had remained since Monday next to his deceased wife.
Rescue workers pulled an injured 60-year-old woman named Meral Nakir from the rubble of an apartment block in the city of Malatya, 77 hours after the first quake struck, state broadcaster TRT showed in live coverage on Thursday.
The death toll in Turkiye jumped to 12,873 by Thursday morning. In Syria, already devastated by nearly 12 years of civil war, more than 3,000 people have died, according to the government and a rescue service in the rebel-held northwest.
In the devastated Syrian town of Jandaris, Ibrahim Khalil Menkaween walked in the rubble-strewn streets clutching a folded white body bag. He said he had lost seven members of his family including his wife and two of his brothers.
“I’m holding this bag for when they bring out my brother, and my brother’s young son, and both of their wives, so we can pack them in bags,” he said.
“The situation is very bad. And there is no aid.”
Aid officials hope to deliver aid into northwest Syria from Turkiye on Thursday, using a crossing that had been closed since the quake.
In Turkiye, many have complained of a lack of equipment, expertise and support to rescue those trapped — sometimes even as they could hear cries for help.
Further slowing the relief effort, the main road into the Turkish city of Antakya was clogged with traffic as residents who had finally managed to find scarce gasoline sought to leave the disaster zone and aid trucks headed into the area.
At a gas station near the town of Kemalpasa, people picked through cardboard boxes of clothes dropped off as donations.
After facing criticism over the response, Erdogan said on a visit to the disaster zone on Wednesday that operations were now working normally and promised no one would be left homeless.
The Turkish official told Reuters it was now too early to discuss elections given 15 percent of Turks lived in the affected area. “At the moment there are very serious difficulties in holding an election on May 14,” as had been planned, he said.
Across a swathe of southern Turkiye, people have sought temporary shelter and food in freezing winter weather, and waited in anguish by piles of rubble where family and friends might still lie buried.
23 million affected
In Syria, relief efforts are complicated by the conflict that has partitioned the nation and wrecked its infrastructure.
“There are a lot of people under the rubble there are no heavy equipment to pull them out and the voluntary teams are not able to work with light equipment,” said Yousef Nahas, a resident of Salqeen in Syria’s northwest, contacted by phone.
Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations admitted the government had a “lack of capabilities and lack of equipment,” blaming more than a decade of civil war in his country and Western sanctions.
El-Mostafa Benlamlih, the senior UN aid official in Syria, said 10.9 million people had been affected by the catastrophe in the northwestern governorates of Hama, Latakia, Idlib, Aleppo and Tartus.
Turkish officials say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area spanning roughly 450 km (280 miles) from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east. In Syria, people were killed as far south as Hama, 250 km from the epicenter.
Erdogan, who declared a state of emergency in 10 provinces and sent troops to help, visited Kahramanmaras on Wednesday, where he said there had been early problems with roads and airports but “we are better today.”
Nevertheless, the disaster will pose an additional challenge to the long-ruling president in the election.
Any perception that the government is failing to address the disaster properly could hurt his prospects. Conversely, analysts say he could rally national support around the crisis response and strengthen his position.
Twitter was temporarily restricted in Turkiye on Wednesday, just as the public had come to “rely on the service” in the aftermath of the disaster, the Netblocks Internet observatory said.


First UN quake aid convoy reaches Syria as envoy says needs immense

First UN quake aid convoy reaches Syria as envoy says needs immense
Updated 33 min 31 sec ago

First UN quake aid convoy reaches Syria as envoy says needs immense

First UN quake aid convoy reaches Syria as envoy says needs immense
  • UN special Syria envoy Geir Pedersen earlier said people impacted by the earthquake needed “more of absolutely everything”
  • UN envoy called for assurances there would be no political hindrances to getting aid

GENEVA: The first United Nations convoy carrying aid to Syrians stricken three days ago by a deadly earthquake crossed from Turkiye on Thursday, witnesses and a border crossing official said.
The convoy entered Syria at the Bab Al Hawa crossing, the sources said. Turkish authorities said they would open other crossing points in two days if security was sound.
The UN envoy to Syria earlier said “absolutely everything” was needed in terms of aid following Monday’s huge earthquake, which devastated swathes of southern Turkiye and northern Syria.
It struck at night and was followed by powerful aftershocks. The death toll from it neared 16,000 on Thursday as frustration simmered over the slow delivery of aid.
The United Nations has described Bab Al-Hawa as a lifeline for accessing the opposition-controlled area of Syria, where it says some 4 million people — many displaced by the country’s 12-year conflict there — were already relying on humanitarian assistance before the quake struck.
“We need lifesaving aid,” UN envoy Geir Pedersen told reporters in Geneva.
“It’s desperately needed by civilians wherever they are, irrespective of borders and boundaries. We need it urgently through the fastest, most direct and most effective routes. They need more of absolutely everything.”
Pedersen called for assurances that there would be no political hindrances inside Syria to getting aid to where it was most needed.
“We had a problem because the roads leading to the border crossing (between Turkiye and Syria) had been destroyed,” Pedersen said. “But we were assured that we will be able to get through the first assistance today.”
Rescue workers said the United Nations’ efforts were insufficient and what was most in need was heavy equipment for search-and-rescue operations where many people are believed to be still buried under debris.
“The UN are not delivering the aid that we are in most need of to help us save lives with time running out,” Raed al Saleh, who leads the main volunteer rescue group known as the White Helmets, told Reuters.
Volunteers and rescue workers were relying on simple tools and old cranes in towns and cities that have seen whole neighborhoods wiped out, charities and rescuers said.


UAE rescue team saves Syrian family trapped under rubble in Turkiye

UAE rescue team saves Syrian family trapped under rubble in Turkiye
Updated 09 February 2023

UAE rescue team saves Syrian family trapped under rubble in Turkiye

UAE rescue team saves Syrian family trapped under rubble in Turkiye
  • The mother and her children rescued in operation that lasted more than five hours
  • UAE rescue teams evacuated three injured Emirati citizens from quake-hit Turkiye

DUBAI: An Emirati rescue team have pulled a Syrian family of four from under the rubble of their home in Turkiye after two devastating earthquakes killed more than 16,000 people.  

The mother and her children, who lived in Kahramanmaras province, the closest city to the quake’s epicenter, were rescued in an operation that lasted more than five hours, Emirates News Agency (WAM) reported.

They received immediate healthcare before being transferred to the hospital for further treatment.

 

 

The rescue was part of the “Gallant Knight/2” operation that the UAE launched earlier this week to aid those impacted by the earthquakes in southern Turkiye and Syria.

Earlier, the UAE pledged $100 million aid to the two impacted countries, sending relief flights to help with the search and rescue operations and supply urgent aid to those in need.

The UAE rescue teams on Wednesday also evacuated three injured Emirati citizens from quake-hit Turkiye.

The operation was carried out in coordination with the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation and the Ministry of Defense.

 

Countries around the world have rushed to send aid and rescue workers to save people impacted by the earthquakes, which flattened thousands of buildings and left thousands homeless.

Rescue operations continue as hope started to fade in finding more survivors amid freezing winter temperatures.


Turkiye, Syria rescue hopes fade, anger rising as death toll passes 16,000

Turkiye, Syria rescue hopes fade, anger rising as death toll passes 16,000
The death toll topped 15,000 early on Thursday, thousands more injured or missing. (AFP)
Updated 09 February 2023

Turkiye, Syria rescue hopes fade, anger rising as death toll passes 16,000

Turkiye, Syria rescue hopes fade, anger rising as death toll passes 16,000
  • Erdogan admits Turkiye response ‘inadequate’ but insist it was improving
  • Saudi Arabia’s KSrelief opens air bridge to bring medicine, food to survivors

ANKARA: The death toll from the Turkiye-Syria earthquakes passed 16,000  Thursday as hope faded of finding more survivors among the rubble of devastated towns and villages.

Across a swathe of southern Turkiye, people sought temporary shelter and food in freezing winter weather, and waited in anguish by piles of rubble where family and friends might still lie buried.

Rescuers were still finding some people alive. But many Turks have complained of a lack of equipment, expertise and support to rescue those trapped — sometimes even as they could hear cries for help.

Authorities have only reached 2-3 percent of collapsed buildings in some affected areas, sources said.

“Where is the state? Where have they been for two days? We are begging them. Let us do it, we can get them out,” Sabiha Alinak said near a snow-covered collapsed building in the city of Malatya where her young relatives were trapped.

In Antakya, dozens of bodies, some covered in blankets and sheets and others in body bags, were lined up on the ground outside a hospital. One survivor, Melek, 64, said she had seen no rescue teams. “We survived the earthquake, but we will die here from hunger or cold.”

There were similar scenes in northern Syria, which was also hard hit by Monday’s two huge quakes. Syria’s ambassador to the UN admitted the regime in Damascus had a “lack of capabilities and lack of equipment,” which he blamed on Western sanctions.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted that his government’s initial response to the disaster had been inadequate, but insisted it was improving.

“We will be better tomorrow and later. We still have some issues with fuel ... but we will overcome those too,” Erdogan said on a visit to Kahramanmaras to view the damage and see the rescue and relief effort.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan toured the site of destroyed buildings during his visit to the city of Kahramanmaras. (AFP)

Entire streets in Kahramanmaras, closest city to the quake’s epicenter, were reduced to rubble, with plumes of smoke rising from fires. Hundreds of tents were set up as shelter in a sports stadium. About 50 bodies draped in blankets lay on the floor of a sports hall.

Death toll sure to rise

As search and rescue operations continued, the World Health Organization warned that the final death toll could exceed 20,000.

A similar earthquake in the region in 1999 killed at least 17,000 people.

Turkish officials say some 13.5 million people were affected in an area spanning roughly 450 km from Adana in the west to Diyarbakir in the east. In Syria, people were killed as far south as Hama, 250 km from the epicenter.

Some who died in Turkiye were refugees from Syria’s war. Their body bags arrived at the border in taxis, vans and piled atop flatbed trucks to be taken to final resting places in their homeland.

More than 298,000 people have been made homeless and 180 shelters for the displaced had been opened, Syrian state media reported, apparently referring to areas under government control, and not held by opposition factions.

In Syria, relief efforts are complicated by a conflict that has partitioned the nation and wrecked its infrastructure.

The delivery of UN humanitarian aid via Turkiye to millions of people in northwest Syria could resume on Thursday after the long-running operation was halted by the quake, UN officials said.

In the Syrian city of Aleppo, staff at the Al-Razi hospital attended to an injured man who said more than a dozen relatives including his mother and father were killed when the building they were in collapsed.

Press for aid

Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to be seeking political advantage from the quake, pressing for foreign aid to be delivered through his territory as he aims to chip away at his international isolation, analysts said.

A US-based NGO, Global Empowerment Mission, mobilized about $10 million of relief aid in the past 24 hours for earthquake victims.

On Wednesday, Erdogan visited affected Turkiye regions to inspect quake damage and speak to survivors.

“Initially, 10,000 Turkish liras ($500) will be allocated to each citizen affected by the earthquake,” he said.

In the wake of the disaster, search and rescue workers, as well as medics, have arrived in Turkiye and Syria from all corners of the globe.

Turkish municipalities have deployed hundreds of their own rescue personnel.

 

 

Though domestic rescue efforts have been criticized as insufficient by local residents, the rapid international response to the disaster has been praised.

Saudi Arabia’s leadership directed the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center to operate an air bridge, bringing medical supplies, shelter, food and logistical assistance to victims.

A UN emergency fund allocated $25 million to the humanitarian response in the region.

Despite a growing diplomatic crisis between Greece and Turkiye, Greek TV opened a morning news session with images and videos from the quake zone, with lyrics from a folk song in the background saying: “I let the whole world know that I love you.”

The rubble of toppled buildings in Hatay village. (Supplied)

Several refugee children were also rescued by firefighters and mine workers on Tuesday, while a “miracle” newborn baby was dragged from rubble in northern Syria.

Turkiye’s Association for Solidarity with Asylum-Seekers and Migrants has sent a team of 300 workers and volunteers to Antakya and Hatay, as well as translators and rescue dogs. Migrant survivors will be offered psychological support through the association.

Baris Sakir, an Urfa resident, survived the quake thanks to the modern design of his home.

“However, there are still some cracks inside the house and we don’t have the courage to go back inside. We are now living in the fine arts school where I was teaching piano lessons. My little son still faces post-trauma,” he told Arab News.

Restaurants and hotels are offering free meals and accommodation to those left homeless by the earthquake, with Turkish celebrities and municipalities sending food containers to locals as well as paying for their accommodation.

Meanwhile, Istanbul municipality intervened to stop a fire in Iskenderun port on Wednesday, while Ankara municipality started repairs on damaged Hatay airport. Communication channels have been significantly disrupted by the quake.

In Hatay, more than 2,000 buildings were destroyed, with just 2-3 percent being reached by rescuers, according to the latest reports.

The dead are being held in makeshift morgues in sports halls. (AFP)

Authorities have warned that growing numbers of rescued children have been left unaccompanied in local hospitals, with precautions being taken to prevent abductions.

“Nature gave us exactly 23 years after the 1999 earthquake,” said Cem Say, a prominent Turkish computer scientist, referring to the major quake in the country’s northwest in 1999.

Last year, Turkey spent about $1.3 billion on programs for disaster management — some 0.5 percent of central government budgetary spending. But experts have described the funding as insufficient.

Ismail Yolcu, a survivor of the earthquake in southeastern Adiyaman province, said that the homes of some relatives were completely destroyed.

He told Arab News: “There is no electricity. There is no heating. It is rainy and extremely cold. We are sleeping in the streets. We are waiting for the tents to be established. But the situation is terrible.”

Sermet Cuhadar, president of the Journalists Association in Kahramanmaras, said that the situation had “slightly improved” in the province.

“We had to drink melted ice because there was no water in the city. Our eight-storey building collapsed during the first quake. Fortunately I was not in the building at that time. Only three people were rescued,” he told Arab News.

The hope of finding more survivors reduces with every hour. (AFP)

Kamil Cuhadar, former mayor of Pazarcik village of Kahramanmaras, suffered a fractured skull during the first quake when a stone fell on his head.

“The supportive columns were strong in the building in Pazarcik. However, there is no standing building left in the village. The rescue efforts were insufficient.

“They began today in the early morning, but it is already too late. The weather is so cold, it was minus 7 degrees Celsius yesterday when everybody was lying on the streets.

“There is no sufficient equipment to remove the debris. There is no lifting instrument,” he told Arab News.

There are reports that the government of Turkiye has blocked Twitter in some areas. (Supplied)

Naile Islek, from Dulkadiroglu village in Kahramanmaras, saw her neighbor’s home collapse during the quake, and ran to take shelter in her mother’s house.

“We have electricity but still no water. Some people who benefit from this chaos are selling small bottles of water at double and sometimes triple prices. We didn’t have enough equipment to remove the debris. Men could barely remove it with their hands,” she told Arab News.

Several municipalities from western Turkiye sent mobile kitchens and container pharmacies to the disaster zone, and launched programs to distribute biscuits, bread and medicine to survivors.

Several sources told Arab News that the immediate rescue efforts were “minimal,” but have intensified in the last two days.

Volunteers have attempted to fill the manpower gap, while several prominent activists as well as chefs have traveled to affected regions to help local residents.

Tent cities were established in several regions while commando forces were deployed to the earthquake zone to aid in rescue efforts. 

In the wake of the disaster, Turkiye’s stock exchange also suspended trading for the first time in 24 years.

(With agencies)


Iranian prosecutors covered up rapes by Revolutionary Guards, official document shows

Iranian prosecutors covered up rapes by Revolutionary Guards, official document shows
Updated 09 February 2023

Iranian prosecutors covered up rapes by Revolutionary Guards, official document shows

Iranian prosecutors covered up rapes by Revolutionary Guards, official document shows
  • Two members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps sexually abused two women who were arrested in September during the public protests in the country
  • The author wrote that ‘considering the problematic nature of the case’ and the risk of social media leaks ‘it is recommended the necessary order (is) issued for it to be filed top secret’

DUBAI: Iranian state prosecutors stand accused of covering up rapes by two members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

According to an internal judicial document, the IRGC members allegedly raped two women, ages 18 and 23, in a van in Tehran last September, The Guardian newspaper reported on Wednesday. They had been detained during the protests that began that month following the death of Mahsa Amini after she was arrested by Iran’s “morality police.” The women were accused of acting suspiciously and their phones were examined for any evidence that they had taken part in the protests.

The judicial document was reportedly initially leaked to news channel Iran International by hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali (Ali’s Justice). It is the first internal document to surface and expose a specific case of this kind, although activists have long suspected that some female detainees were sexually abused by security officials during the protests.

Dated Oct. 13, 2022, the document was written by Mohammad Shahriari, the deputy prosecutor and head of the prosecutor’s office in Tehran, and addressed to Ali Salehi, the general and revolution prosecutor. A report on a collection of witness statements, it states that two named women were assaulted by two named male security officials.

The case came to the attention of prosecutors after one of the IRGC officers called one of the victims after the assault. She recorded the conversation and filed a complaint. The officer initially denied the charges but later changed his story to claim the women had consented to sex. He reportedly was detained, with his father, at their home in Tehran. The other accused officer was arrested separately and taken to a police intelligence unit prison.

The report details how the two men eventually admitted having intercourse with the women, which the document describes as rape. The first officer said they had detained the two women near a gas station while deployed on Sattarkhan Street in western Tehran. The officers initially took them to the Revolutionary Guard’s headquarters but left when they were told it was not possible to process the accused women there.

The document continues: “Considering the problematic nature of the case, the possibility of the leaking of this information into social media and its misrepresentation by enemy groups, it is recommended that the necessary order (is) issued for it to be filed top secret.

“Since no complaint has been registered and the defendants have been dismissed, the accused should be dismissed without mentioning their names.”

It added the case should be closed without any reference to the military institution involved.