Iraq’s top Christian leader reinstated as head of church

Iraq’s top Christian leader reinstated as head of church
Cardinal Louis Sako addresses the faithful during the Palm Sunday service at Mar Youssif Church in Baghdad. (AP/File)
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Updated 12 June 2024
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Iraq’s top Christian leader reinstated as head of church

Iraq’s top Christian leader reinstated as head of church
  • Sako, in turn, said the parliamentarian aimed to gain legitimacy as the sole representative of the Christian community

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s prime minister reinstated Cardinal Louis Raphael Sako as the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic church, paving the way for his return to Baghdad a year after a dispute with the president.
Sako, Iraq’s top Christian leader and the architect of Pope Francis’ historic visit to the country in 2021, is a key interlocutor between the Iraqi government and its Christian minority.

In July last year, Sako left Baghdad and settled in the autonomous Kurdistan region in northern Iraq after President Abdul Latif Rashid canceled a decree recognizing him as head of the Chaldean church.

But the church on Tuesday published a recent decree by Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani naming Sako as the patriarch, adding that he “will be responsible” for the church’s endowment and properties.
“I will return to Baghdad,” Sako told AFP.
“I am very pleased because the rule of law prevailed, which gives more hope to Christians about the respecting of their rights,” added the cardinal, who met Sudani in April during a rare visit to Baghdad.
For several months before the presidential decree last year, Sako had been embroiled in a war of words with a Christian lawmaker, Rayan Al-Kildani.
Kildani is the leader of the Babylon Movement, whose armed wing is part of Hashed Al-Shaabi — a network of largely pro-Iran paramilitaries that were integrated into Iraqi security forces in recent years.
In a country ravaged by repeated conflicts and plagued by endemic corruption, Sako and Kildani both accused each other of illegally seizing Christian-owned properties.
Kildani, who has been under US sanctions since 2019, accused the cardinal of assuming a political role beyond his religious mandate.
Sako, in turn, said the parliamentarian aimed to gain legitimacy as the sole representative of the Christian community.
Iraq’s Christian population has drastically declined since the 2003 US-led invasion that toppled strongman Saddam Hussein, dropping from more than 1.5 million people to around 400,000 today.
Many have fled the violence that has plagued the country over the past 20 years.


Israel’s Gaza violations in spotlight as Russian foreign minister chairs UN Security Council meeting 

Israel’s Gaza violations in spotlight as Russian foreign minister chairs UN Security Council meeting 
Updated 6 sec ago
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Israel’s Gaza violations in spotlight as Russian foreign minister chairs UN Security Council meeting 

Israel’s Gaza violations in spotlight as Russian foreign minister chairs UN Security Council meeting 
  • Israeli envoy warns council that if full-scale war breaks out between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran will be to blame 
  • Minister Sergey Lavrov talks of hopes for rapprochement among Gulf states, to overcome their differences and work together to help the Palestinian people 

NEW YORK CITY: Speaking on behalf of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday, his chef de cabinet, Courtenay Rattray, called for the violence in Gaza to end and all parties involved in the conflict to “reach a deal, now.” 

He said the humanitarian situation in the territory has become “a moral stain on us all,” and added: “Amid continued reports of serious abuses against Palestinians in Israeli custody, I reiterate that all detainees must be treated humanely and those held without lawful cause must be released. And this terrible war must end.” 

Speaking during a meeting of the Security Council to discuss Palestine, he underscored the importance of “ensuring that governance is restored in Gaza under a single, legitimate Palestinian government,” support for which is “critical.” 

Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s permanent observer at the UN, accused Israel of killing those people most deserving of protection, “including children, humanitarians, doctors (and) journalists,” and of defying “every nation on earth” and “every organ ever set up to uphold the most fundamental rules.” 

Riyad H. Mansour, permanent observer of Palestine to the United Nations, addresses delegates during a meeting of the UN Council in New York City on July 17, 2024. (Reuters)

He said: “What is happening in Gaza will go down as the most-documented genocide in history. How cruel could you be? How criminal must you be to bomb the same population, over and over and over again? 

“Israel has manufactured a humanitarian catastrophe with famine as its core, starvation, dehydration and the spread of diseases as ultimate weapons. 

“(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu does not care about Palestinian lives or even the hostages’ lives. He does not care about international law or human decency. He only cares about his own political survival. So what will you do to ensure this lunatic is not the one calling the shots, continuing this genocidal war against the Palestinian people?” 

The Palestinian envoy vowed that his people would live “in freedom and dignity on their ancestral land. They will accept nothing less, they will accept nothing else but fulfilling this right. 

“Being killed, maimed, oppressed, detained, starved, displaced is not our fate. There is a path to peace and prosperity.” 

Mansour called on the Security Council to “strengthen those who seek peace rather than arm those who seek extermination; sanction those who colonize rather than allowing them to punish those who oppose the uprooting and displacement of communities; protect the victims rather than the perpetrators; recognize the state of Palestine rather than witness the destruction of the two-state solution.” 

In his speech to the council, Israel’s envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, focused solely on Iran, accusing the regime in Tehran of being “obsessed with killing Jews everywhere, not only in Israel.” 

He said: “Iran has a global reach and it’s exporting its bloodshed and destruction to the four corners of Earth. 

“If one looks at all of the major conflicts in the Middle East, one finds the nefarious fingers of Iran. The people of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and many others have all suffered because of Iran’s attempts to inflame the region.” 

Erdan said that since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas last year, Israel has also come under assault from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and that “all of the terrorist groups targeting us have one thing in common: they are directed from Tehran.” 

He warned: “If we reach a situation of full-scale war in Lebanon, it is only because Hezbollah has shot thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians with the support and funding of Iran. You cannot say you didn’t know.” 

Erdan also warned the regime in Tehran that if it continues to threaten the region “it will find that its days are numbered. The proud Iranian people have had enough. The good people of the Middle East have had enough and so have we.” 

Russia holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council this month and the meeting was chaired by Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister. He said a “frank and honest conversation” is needed about how best to immediately stop the bloodshed in Gaza and move toward the long-term settlement of “both long-standing and relatively new conflicts in the region.” 

He added: “From the outset, we have highly valued the constructive potential of the Arab Peace Initiative launched by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 2002. At the same time, we respected the decision of a number of Arab states to normalize relations with Israel prior to the resolution of the Palestinian question.” 

Lavrov accused the US of becoming a direct accomplice in the conflict in Gaza “by providing diplomatic cover for Israel's actions and supplying (it with) arms and ammunition, just as it has done with the situation in Ukraine. 

“If the US were to end its support, the bloodshed would stop but the US is either unwilling or unable to do so. It seems its goal is not saving human lives but various maneuvers that would help to score more points during the election campaign.” 

He highlighted the important role the Gulf states can play and said the recent Iranian elections, and initial statements by the country’s new president, Masoud Pezeshkian, give “hope for rapprochement among all the countries of the Gulf in the interests of overcoming long-standing differences and mistrust, and joining efforts to determine the parameters of their own mutual security without external interference, and to speak with one voice to realize the aspirations of the Palestinian people and generally build an architecture of stability and good neighbors.” 

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US representative at the UN, said progress is being made on a ceasefire deal. Israel and Hamas have both agreed to the framework for an agreement, which was endorsed by the Security Council in its adoption of Resolution 2735 on June 10, although there are still gaps to be closed, she said as she called on council members to maintain pressure on Hamas to accept the deal and begin implementing it “without delay and without conditions.” 

She added: “We’re hopeful that a ceasefire in Gaza would assist diplomacy aimed at deescalating the situation along the blue line, which is necessary to enable displaced people in Israel and Lebanon to return home.” 

Thomas-Greenfield condemned in “the strongest terms” the significant increase in deadly violence against Palestinian civilians by extremist settlers in the West Bank, and reiterated Washington’s concern about a recent announcement by Israeli authorities of settlement expansion, which she said is “inconsistent with international law and detrimental to the two-state solution.” 

Slovenia’s envoy, Samuel Zbogar, said: “There is no moral equality between Israel and Hamas. However, the conduct of both actors against civilians is deplorable and constitutes a crime. 

“Neither Hamas nor Israel care about civilians. Hamas is hiding among IDPs (internally displaced persons) and thus endangering lives of their fellow Palestinians, while Israel is showing complete disregard for the suffering of civilians, in (its) pursuit of Hamas.” 


What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?

What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?
Updated 23 min 41 sec ago
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What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?

What is behind the recent spike in attacks on Arab visitors and Syrian refugees in Turkiye?
  • A Turkish man was arrested in Istanbul earlier this month after threatening a group of Saudi tourists with a knife
  • The incident occurred against the backdrop of a fresh wave of violence against Syrians living in Turkiye

LONDON: A spike in the number of violent assaults on Arabs in Turkiye in recent times has raised concern about the safety of foreigners in a country visited by tens of thousands of tourists from Middle East countries and which hosts millions of Syrian refugees.

Earlier this month, a Turkish man was arrested in Istanbul after threatening a group of Saudi tourists with a knife while seemingly hurling derogatory epithets at them, Al-Arabiya reported.

A video of the attack quickly circulated on social media showing the man making a hand gesture associated with the Gray Wolves — an ultranationalist and pan-Turkic group established in the late 1960s as the youth wing of the Nationalist Movement Party.

Turkish man threatening to attack Saudis in a cafe in Turkiye. (Twitter photo/File)

The Gray Wolves have long been associated with violent acts, including attacks on leftists, Kurds and other minority groups. Despite their controversial reputation, they remain influential in Turkish society.

Turkiye is a popular destination for Saudi tourists, with 650,000 of them visiting from January through August last year, according to Turkish tourism officials.  An outburst of hostility toward Arabs could dent Saudi visitor numbers.

WHO AREGRAY WOLVES?

Turkish ultranationalist and pan-Turkic group.

Paramilitary wing of the Nationalist Movement Party.

Believes in the supremacy of the Turkish race and nation.

Rose to prominence in the late 1970s.

Outlawed for hate speech in France in 2020.

This was of course not the first time that clips of attacks on Arab tourists in Turkiye went viral online. Incidents involving fistfights and xenophobic insults were uploaded to social media platforms last year by users from the Gulf states and Egypt.

The knife-brandishing incident occurred against the backdrop of a fresh wave of violence against Syrians in Turkiye, following the arrest of a 26-year-old Syrian man on charges of sexual assault against a minor in Kayseri, Central Anatolia.

Riots broke out overnight on June 30 across Kayseri after news spread on social media about a Syrian man who was allegedly caught abusing a 7-year-old female relative in a public restroom in the Melikgazi district, according to a Reuters report.

Turks burned Syrian refugees' houses, cars & shops in Kayseri. Photo: Twitter

The rioters attacked and vandalized dozens of Syrian-owned businesses, homes, and vehicles, following which the violence spread to other parts of Turkiye, including Gaziantep, Bursa, and Hatay, where a Syrian grocery store was set on fire.

Ali Yerlikaya, the Turkish interior minister, said the assault was being investigated and condemned the rioters’ actions as “illegal” and contrary to the nation’s values.

He said in a post on X that local authorities had detained 67 of the protesters, stressing that it was “unacceptable for our people to harm the environment without considering public order, security and human rights.”

In a separate post, Yerlikaya said authorities were investigating several X accounts that had helped to stoke the violence, with 10 referred to the prosecutor’s office.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also condemned the violence, saying: “Nothing can be achieved by fueling xenophobia and hatred of refugees in society.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shows a photo of a Syrian refugee camp in his country while addressing the 77th session of the UN General Assembly in New York on Sept. 20, 2022. (AFP)

A few days after the Kayseri incident, the personal data of some 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkiye was leaked online, sparking fears of an eruption of xenophobic violence.

The Turkish Interior Ministry confirmed that the personal details of Syrians under temporary protection were shared from the social media account “Uprising#Turkey,” which is run by a 14-year-old.

“The necessary action was taken against E.P. (the account admin) by the Istanbul Children’s Branch Directorate,” the ministry said in a statement.

UK-based Syrian activist Lana, whose name has been changed to protect her anonymity, told Arab News that her family in Gaziantep “went through hell for at least two weeks following the Kayseri incident.”

This picture taken on oAugust 11, 2022, shows a bazaar at the historical district of Gaziantep in southeastern Turkiye, where many Syrian refugees reside. (AFP/File)

She said: “In the few days following the riots, they couldn’t even leave the house to buy bread. They were gripped by fear and paralyzed by the uncertainty created by the recent developments, including talk since June (regarding the) end of normalization of Turkish ties with President Bashar Assad.”

Marwah, a Syrian who lives in Bursa and works in human resources, thinks social media was responsible for blowing the situation out of proportion.

“While following the news, I felt like I’d be killed for my identity if I stepped outside my house, but this has not been the case,” she told Arab News.

Still, the news and footage of the riots have caused panic among Syrians. “Some have frantically sold their possessions or borrowed about $8,000 to flee Turkiye while others have contemplated returning to Syria,” said Marwah.

“Even my colleague who has Turkish citizenship was inquiring about relocating to Egypt despite not having witnessed any of the violence.”

FASTFACT

3.6 million

Registered Syrian refugees in Turkiye. (UNHCR)

UN agencies and several human rights bodies, including Amnesty International, have concluded that Syria remains unsafe for refugee repatriation.

Marwah explained that although violence against Syrians has not been unusual in Turkiye since the outbreak of civil war in 2011 sent millions fleeing abroad, “Kayseri is a place where Syrians and Turks have coexisted peacefully, with 48 percent of workers being Syrian.

“Apparently it was not easy to incite strife between Syrians and Turks in Kayseri, so it had to be done through something related to common values, as the people of Kayseri are generally conservative,” said Marwah.

She said she heard from locals that “groups of thugs were brought to Kayseri in buses to stir up violence.

“Turks in Kayseri, which is an industrial city, typically retire early, so it is unlikely the locals were the ones who engaged in the violence against Syrians,” she said, stressing that “anyone living in Turkiye for years would know that those riots — and their social media coverage — could not have erupted spontaneously, without prior planning.”

Anti-Arab sentiments may have already put a damper on the Turkish tourism industry’s ambitions.

According to the news website Hurriyet Daily, the number of tourists visiting Turkiye from Bahrain, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait and Jordan dropped in 2023 respectively by 34 percent, 17 percent, 24.2 percent, 24.4 percent and 22.2 percent.

UK-based Syrian activist Lana said that “while heightened anti-Arab racism in recent years has caused a decline in Arab tourism to Turkiye, the biggest impact is felt by Syrian nationals, who for the last three years have been pursuing onward migration to Europe.”

She believes the hostility has been encouraged in part because Syrian refugees have been used as a “political pawn” in local elections and “are not included in any discussions related to their status and future.”

In this 2017 photo, Syrian refugees are allowed to return to Syria at the Oncupinar crossing gate near the town of Kilis, south central Turkey, to attend al-Adha festivities. (AFP/File)

Enass, a France-based Syrian journalist who also requested anonymity, believes “Turkiye, like other neighboring countries, has profited from hosting Syrian refugees.

“There was a clear agreement to increase EU support for Turkiye in exchange for curbing the influx of refugees to European countries in 2015,” she told Arab News, emphasizing that most of Syria’s neighbors “addressed the refugee crisis as an emergency rather than a permanent situation.”

In 2016, an agreement was reached between the European Commission and Ankara to control the flow of irregular migrant boats to Greece. Turkiye agreed to tighten border security at its shores in exchange for 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion).

“The government’s management of the refugee issue has been both political and economic, aimed at serving the national interest, while the public has often been misled about how their country benefited from hosting Syrian refugees,” said Enass.

She added that many Turkish politicians, particularly during election campaigns, “have employed an anti-refugee rhetoric” that “has contributed to inciting violence against vulnerable Syrian communities across the country.

“For years, competing political parties in Turkiye have spread misleading information about the support provided to Syrian refugees. This has led Turkish citizens to believe refugees were entitled to services and support, which in turn has contributed to economic inflation. This isn’t true,” Enass said.

“Opposition parties capitalized on this misinformation to stoke anger among the Turkish populace.”

Syrian entrepreneurs in Turkiye wholly or partly owned at least 10,000 businesses as of 2019, according to a study by the Economic Research Foundation of Turkiye. Those enterprises employ around 44,000 Syrians as well as thousands of Turkish nationals.

Enass said the changing political and economic landscape “is prompting the Turkish government to take new measures that encourage Syrians to ‘voluntarily’ return, but this is a form of unjustified deportation of individuals holding valid permits.”

She added: “The delay in addressing security incidents against Syrians in Turkiye undermines the interests of Syrians and contributes to the rise in hate speech.”

Erdogan has said he sees no reason not to restore diplomatic relations with Damascus, but the Syrian leadership has conditioned normalization on the withdrawal of Turkish forces from Syrian territory.

A rapprochement would see the opening of a crossing between government-held areas and those controlled by Turkish-backed opposition forces in Aleppo province.
 

 


PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday

PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday
Updated 17 July 2024
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PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday

PM: Egypt will halt power cuts on Sunday

DUBAI: Egypt will halt load-shedding power cuts during the summer as of Sunday, after some natural gas shipments arrived, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly said on Wednesday, in a bid to end a crisis that inconvenienced a population of 106 million.

The North African country has been grappling with power shortages as high cooling demand during summer drives up consumption. Egypt generates most of its electricity from burning natural gas.

Load-shedding refers to rotating power cuts in parts of the electricity grid to prevent failure of the entire system when demand exceeds capacity.

Egypt’s daily power consumption has exceeded 37 gigawatts, up 12 percent from last year, Madbouly said in a televised press conference.

It has received five cargoes containing 155,000 cubic meters of liquefied natural gas out of 21 cargoes that it contracted for, the Petroleum Ministry said on Monday.


Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command

Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command
Updated 17 July 2024
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Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command

Daesh ‘trying to reconstitute’ in Iraq, Syria, says US Central Command
  • Attacks double compared to 2023

BAGHDAD: The US Central Command said on Wednesday that the Daesh group is trying “to reconstitute” as the number of attacks in Syria and Iraq is on track to double this year, compared to the year before.

Daesh claimed 153 attacks in the two countries in the first six months of 2024, CENTCOM said in a statement. 

According to a US defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t allowed to speak publicly on the matter, the group was behind 121 attacks in Syria and Iraq in 2023.

“The increase in attacks indicates Daesh is attempting to reconstitute following several years of decreased capability,” CENTCOM said.

In northeastern Syria, Kurdish-led authorities issued a general amnesty on Wednesday that would include hundreds of Syrians who have been held by the main US-backed force over their roles within IS.

The US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, are holding over 10,000 captured Daesh fighters in around two dozen detention facilities — including 2,000 foreigners whose home countries have refused to repatriate them. The SDF captured the last sliver of land in Syria from Daesh in March 2019.

The Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria said a life sentence will be reduced to 15 years in jail, while those detainees serving life sentences who have incurable diseases will be set free, as will those who have reached the age of 75. 

It said the amnesty will not include Daesh officials and members who fought against the SDF, nor those who carried out attacks with explosives that killed people. Legal expert Khaled Jabr said the amnesty will include some 600 Syrian citizens who are held on terrorism charges and links to Daesh, as long as their hands are not tainted with blood or they were detained while fighting SDF members. The announcement comes just after the 10-year mark since the militant group declared its caliphate in large parts of Iraq and Syria. 

At its peak, the group ruled an area half the size of the UK where it attempted to enforce its extreme interpretation of Islam, which included attacks on religious minority groups and harsh punishment of Muslims deemed to be apostates.


Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis

Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis
Updated 17 July 2024
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Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis

Tunisia urges EU to increase aid to tackle migration crisis

TRIPOLI: Tunisia’s prime minister urged European countries on Wednesday to increase financial assistance to his country and others to help tackle the flow of migrants from sub-Saharan Africa.

Tunisia has faced protests by local residents and extra financial costs over migrants arriving from other countries in the hope of traveling on to Europe by sea, risking perilous journeys on what in many cases are dilapidated boats.

Thousands of migrants are now concentrated in southern Tunisian towns such as Amra and Jbeniana, many of them fleeing poverty and conflict in Africa and the Middle East in the hope of a better life in Europe.

“More assistance must be provided to countries such as Tunisia. The aid provided is insufficient to address the problem,” Tunisian Prime Minister Ahmed Hachani told a migration conference in Tripoli.

He said Tunisia was a victim country and was exhausting its public finances on efforts to deal with the migration crisis, which is an additional burden for a government that was already facing other problems.

“There are towns that have absorbed migrants beyond their ability,” he said, referring to Amra and Jbeniana.

“There has been money spent for 10 or 50 years on this problem, and this problem has not been solved,” Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh told the conference. “This money must be spent there (in the countries of origin) and not in detention camps, whether in Libya or Europe.”

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told the conference that the situation could not be resolved without tackling the problem in the countries of origin.