that Egypt s Orthodox, Evangelical and Catholic sects agreed Monday on a new unified personal status draft law for non-Muslims, with the draft set to be submitted to Egypt s Justice Ministry in March for revisions before passing it to the House of Representatives, Legal advisor to the Coptic Orthodox Church Monsef Soliman said. Soliman said that there had been “some points of disagreement” regarding the wording of the draft law but not over its principles, explaining that the Catholic side was set on sticking to certain points in the draft law s language. He commented that although the disagreements between the Evangelical and Coptic sides were minimal, the Justice Ministry and the House of Representatives has been asked to redraft the law, so that any amendment would be enforced from the top down and not from the Catholics, which are bound by the regulations set by the Eastern Churches. Moreover, given the Catholic Church in Egypt is under the authority of the Vatican, the draft law cannot be signed without the approval of the Roman Catholic Church. He also requested a translation of the draft law in Latin. “There are some points of disagreement from (the) Catholics regarding the wording (of the draft law). (The) Orthodox Church wanted to add pastoral texts regarding marriage and others that we respect. However, (the) Catholics refused it under the pretext that (these issues) are included in the regulations (in different words).” Soliman said that there is no disagreement on principle issues of belief, but that some points of contention revolve around the wording of the draft law. He explained, for example, that Catholics refer to divorce in the Orthodox Church as annulment of marriage because there is no divorce in Catholicism. The main point of disagreement was divorce, according to Soliman, who explained that divorce exists in the Coptic Church, whereas only separation is recognized by Catholics. All the sects, however, managed to agree on other points concerning marriage, such as the terms of marriage and engagement. Mohsen George, a member of the Coptic Church s Congregation Council in Alexandria, which represents the laity of the church as opposed to clergy, also commented that the church will continue to adhere to religious rather than civil marriage. The draft law aims to preserve the doctrinal constants of the Orthodox, Evangelical, and Catholic churches, George said. The Coptic Orthodox Church has sought to have a unified personal status law for non-Muslims since 2011, aiming to prevent a possible crisis between the Church and the judiciary and to address the problem of Copts seeking a divorce, with the Church having only recognized apostasy and adultery as reasons for granting divorce. Catholic bishops, meanwhile, reject divorce on principle, even in the case of adultery, with couples advised to separate only if one partner has committed adultery. Yousef Talaat, the legal advisor to the Evangelical Church, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that all of the demands of the Evangelicals, especially those related to divorce, have been addressed in the final draft of the personal status law, pointing out that the evangelical church only recognizes two reasons for divorce — adultery and conversion to Islam or Judaism. The Evangelical Church did not expand upon the reasons for divorce in the draft law, according to a representative from the church. Meanwhile, spokesperson for the Roman Catholic Church in Egypt Father Hani Bakhoum said that the three sects had agreed during a session on January 19th, 2020 on the final text of the draft law, commenting that each sect contributed its views to the draft. Egypt s three Christian sects had embraced the draft law, but priests from the Evangelical Church did not recognize the signature of the head of their church, Safwat al-Bayady, and insisted on the application of the 1938 bylaws, which apply less stringent rules on divorce.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Gaza militants resumed their intense bombardment of southern Israel on Monday, with some rockets slipping through Israel s Iron Dome defense system and one landing in the yard of a kindergarten. There was no word of casualties, but the second day of violence threatened to unleash a new round of hostilities just a week before Israel heads to elections. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened Gaza s Hamas rulers with a “war” if the new round of rocket fire continued, ramping up his rhetoric amid the final stretch of his campaign. Speaking to Israel s Army Radio, Netanyahu said he d conveyed a message to Hamas that if it did not stop Gaza militants behind the attacks, Israel would target Hamas directly. “If you don t shoot them, we will shoot you. I m talking about a war,” he said. “I only go to war as a last option but we have prepared something you can t even imagine.” Netanyahu s interview was interrupted with news of fresh air raid sirens warning of incoming rockets, as Palestinian militant fire resumed midday after a morning lull. The Israeli military said it identified 14 rockets fired in the hour-long spree, of which it intercepted 12. Shortly after, the military began striking militants sites in Gaza. The Islamic Jihad militant group fired at least 20 rockets on Sunday after Israeli forces killed a Palestinian militant who had tried to place a bomb along the Israel-Gaza barrier fence, and then removed his body with a bulldozer. The image outraged Palestinians who fired rockets. Israel responded by striking militants targets in Gaza and Syria. As a precaution, schools were closed in Israeli areas adjacent to Gaza and restrictions placed on outdoor public gatherings. Israel and Hamas have engaged in three wars between 2008 and 2014 and several intense rounds of violence after that. Israel and the Islamic Jihad group engaged in a heavy round of fighting last November after the Israeli military killed a top Islamic Jihad commander. Since then, Israel and Gaza s more powerful Hamas group have been working through Egyptian mediators to cement an informal cease-fire. But Islamic Jihad has continued to try to carry out attacks. The sudden exchanges after months of relative calm put Israel s tense security situation back on the agenda a week before the the country s third election in less than a year. The campaign has thus far largely focused on domestic issues and Netanyahu s precarious legal situation after he was indicted on corruption charges. Despite the tough talk and a typical preference to highlight his national security credentials, Netanyahu appears to have little appetite for a major confrontation as he fights for re-election. “Israel didn t seek escalation in Gaza. On the contrary, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered the crucial stage of the battle for his political life, it seems the last thing he needed was a violent eruption in the strip,” wrote Amos Harel, the military affairs commentator for the Haaretz daily. “An uncontrolled upsurge at this time could actually hurt Netanyahu s chances more than it would help him.”
BARI, Italy (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Sunday warned against “inequitable solutions” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying they would only be a prelude to new crises, in an apparent reference to US President Donald Trump s Middle East peace proposal. Francis made his comments in the southern Italian port city of Bari, where he traveled to conclude a meeting of bishops from all countries in the Mediterranean basin. “The Mediterranean region is currently threatened by outbreaks of instability and conflict, both in the Middle East and different countries of North Africa, as well as between various ethnic, religious or confessional groups,” Francis said. “Nor can we overlook the still unresolved conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, with the danger of inequitable solutions and, hence, a prelude to new crises,” he said. The participants included Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the head of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, whose jurisdiction includes Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan. It was believed to be the first time the pope, who has often defended both Palestinian rights and Israel s need for security, has spoken in public about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since Trump announced the plan on Jan. 28. The plan would recognize Israel s authority over West Bank Jewish settlements and require Palestinians meet a series of conditions for a state, with its capital in a West Bank village east of Jerusalem. Although Trump s stated aim was to end decades of conflict, his plan favored Israel, underlined by the Palestinians absence from his White House announcement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side. The Palestinians and Arab League foreign ministers have rejected the plan and the Palestinian Authority has cut all ties with the United States and Israel. Palestinians, with broad international backing, want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state, while Israel views the whole city its “united and eternal” capital. The pope expressed concern in 2018 when the United States announced the moving of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying the city s “status quo” should be respected. Francis has called for all to honor U.N. resolutions on the city. “There is no reasonable alternative to peace, because every attempt at exploitation or supremacy demeans both its author and its target. It shows a myopic grasp of reality, since it can offer no future to either of the two,” Francis said, speaking in general about the Middle East. Francis again warned against populist politicians who he said used “demagogic terms” such as “invasion” when talking of migration. “To be sure, acceptance and a dignified integration are stages in a process that is not easy. Yet it is unthinkable that we can address the problem by putting up walls,” he said.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey-backed opposition forces attacked government troops in a village in northwest Syria on Thursday, triggering violent clashes between the two sides, Turkish state-run media and Syrian opposition activists said. The fighting came amid faltering talks between Turkish and Russian officials on restoring calm to the Idlib area. Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in Syria s civil war. The Syrian government s crushing military campaign against the rebel-held Idlib stronghold, backed by Russia, has strained cooperation between Moscow and Ankara and led to direct clashes between Syrian and Turkish troops on several occasions in recent weeks. Turkey s state-run Anadolu Agency said opposition fighters attacked Syrian government forces and entered the the village of Nairab, which the troops had captured Feb. 3. It said the opposition forces began advancing toward Nairab after Syrian government targets there were hit with artillery fire. They destroyed a tank and an armored personnelcarrier belonging to Syrian government forces and seized a second tank, according to the report. Syrian opposition activists confirmed the report, saying Turkey-backed insurgents stormed the village of Nairab near the strategic town of Saraqeb, both of which were captured by Syrian troops earlier this month. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Syria war monitor, reported casualties on both sides. It wasn t immediately clear if Turkish troops were participating in the attack. Syrian state TV reported that government forces have repelled the attacks on Nairab. Syrian government forces have, for weeks, been conducting a crushing military campaign to recapture parts of the last rebel-held areas in Idlib province as well as the countryside of neighboring Aleppo province. The swift advances on multiple fronts have triggered the largest single wave of displacement in the nine-year civil war, with nearly 1 million people driven from their homes toward the Turkish border. The advance has angered neighboring Turkey, which backs the opposition fighters seeking to topple President Bashar Assad and maintains observation posts in northern Syria that were set up to monitor an earlier cease-fire agreement reached with Russia. Turkey sent in thousands of additional troops and armored vehicles in recent weeks and threatened to attack Assad s forces unless they retreat. “We are delivering our final warnings. We have not reached the desired results as yet,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday. “The operation in Idlib is a matter of time. We could enter (Idlib) suddenly one night.” Erdogan spoke a day after a top Turkish official said talks in Moscow between Russian and Turkish representatives to reduce tensions in Idlib did not yield a “satisfactory result” for Ankara. The official said however, that the sides agreed to continue discussions. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Russian and Turkish delegations would hold further talks on how to reduce tensions in Idlib province and that the Turkish and Russian leaders could meet too, if necessary. “It is true that at the moment, there are differences in the (two sides ) positions,” Cavusoglu told state television TRT. The delegations narrowed their differences a bit but “are not yet at the point we want” to be, he said. Turkey and Russia have closely coordinated their moves in recent years in Idlib province. A truce reached between the two countries collapsed in late 2019, leading to the current Syrian offensive, backed by Russia. Russian officials have said they hold Turkey responsible for the collapse of the cease-fire deal struck in Sochi, Russia in September 2018, saying Ankara had not held up its end of the deal to rein in militants in Syria who continued attacking Syrian and Russian targets.
Before sunrise, thousands of Palestinians streamed toward the mosque in Nablus s Victory Square, swelling the usual crowds of morning worshippers to launch a new front in their protests against Israel and the United States. The scene has been repeated elsewhere in the West Bank, where people have begun turning out for early prayers in unprecedented numbers, forsaking the usual protest sites where they risk arrest and channeling their anger into a mass expressions of faith. “This is the most peaceful way to get the message out,” said restaurant owner Saif Abu Baker, as the Nablus crowds spilled out of the mosque into surrounding alleyways and courtyards. Political slogans including “For the sake of God, we have risen up” echoed through Nablus s Old City after the calls from the muezzin and the murmured recitations of the faithful. “I would hope that it is a new form of channeling the way the message is being sent out there,” said Abu Baker. “Because we have tried protesting and it did not work because we don t have enough power. It s the safer way for everyone.” Much of the crowd s message at Friday s fajr (dawn) prayers - the day when most people turn out - was a rejection of the perceived pro-Israel bias of U.S. President Donald Trump s Middle East peace plan. There have only been small regular street rallies since that plan was launched last week. Few have responded to calls by President Mahmoud Abbas s Palestinian Authority for Days of Rage . Instead many have begun heeding calls on Facebook and other social media sites to attend what is becoming known as the Great Fajr Campaign - described as a show of solidarity against Trump and what they see as Israeli threats to Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron. Those two cities have also seen larger turnouts in the past few weeks. The first calls for a surge in attendance were from Fatah, Abbas s nationalist political faction that dominates the Palestine Liberation Organization. Numbers grew after the campaign gained support from the Islamist group Hamas, which holds sway in mosques, especially in cities where it has a sizeable following. Knights Of The Dawn Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, in Gaza, told Reuters the campaign was a bid to alert Palestinians to the Trump plan, and to Israel s plans to annex its West Bank settlements. In Nablus - where crowds surged to several thousand on Friday, from around 2,000 the week before - worshippers insisted there was no single group behind the drive, describing it as a grassroots movement still finding its feet. But the streets echoed with chants popular at Hamas rallies, including: “A nation with the leadership of Muhammad will not be defeated”. The event appeared to be organized - extra prayer carpets were rolled out, food and water were available in abundance and the gathering was supervised by stewards wearing fluorescent jackets proclaiming them Knights of the Dawn, and bearing the stenciled image of the nearby al-Nasr (Victory) mosque. The crowds have been much smaller than the numbers that attended the Great March of Return protests at the Gaza border fence when that campaign started nearly two years ago. In those Gaza demonstrations, 215 Palestinians were killed and several thousand injured in confrontations with Israeli troops. One Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper. In Nablus the crowds at dawn prayers have been peaceful, with little sign of any heightened security. Hani Al-Masri, a Palestinian political analyst, said the campaign reflected Hamas s cautious approach to operating in the West Bank, where, unlike Gaza, it faces Israeli troops and Palestinian Authority forces intent on stopping Hamas from inflaming the streets and seizing control. “Hamas s organization in the West Bank is not in good shape because of crackdowns by the Palestinian Authority and by Israel,” he said. “Fajr prayers is the most that Hamas can do.” Asked whether Israel was aware of the enlarged dawn prayer meetings, an Israeli military spokesman and the Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency had no immediate comment.
SANAA, Yemen (AP) — At least three dozen people, including 26 children and six women, were killed in airstrikes by Saudi-led forces in Yemen over the weekend, Yemen s Huthi rebels said, raising the death toll. The Iranian-backed rebels have said the Saudi-led coalition carried out retaliatory airstrikes early on Saturday in the mountainous northern province of Jawf, after their fighters shot down a coalition warplane there the previous day. The coalition said it was investigating “possible collateral damage” following an operation to rescue the Tornado fighter jet s two-man crew. It said that the whereabouts of the two pilots remains unknown. The Saudi-led coalition of mostly Arab states has been fighting the rebels since early 2015, when it intervened to restore the collapsing authority of the internationally recognized government headed by Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. A statement by the Huthi-run health ministry on Monday said the airstrikes hit civilian houses in al-Maslub district. The attack killed at least 35 people and wounded 23 others, including 18 children and a women. The Saudi-led coalition has said some of the injured have been transported to Saudi Arabia for medical treatment. Local residents said the coalition was targeting Huthi fighters, who had taken cover in a residential area near the crash site. At least three houses were destroyed in the coalition airstrikes, killing all people inside, they said. The Associated Press could not confirm if there were Huthi fighters among the casualties. The local residents spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. Col. Turki al-Maliki, a spokesman for the coalition, said Saturday that the pilots managed to eject safely before the crash. He said the Huthi rebels were responsible for the pilots “life and safety.” The weekend crash and airstrikes came amid heavy clashes between Yemeni government forces and Huthis in the provinces of Marib, Jawf and Sanaa. Hundreds of people, mostly fighters, were killed in the recent clashes that have also forced at least 4,700 families to flee, according to the U.N. In a relentless campaign, Saudi-led airstrikes have hit schools, hospitals and wedding parties and killed thousands of Yemeni civilians. The Huthis have used drones and missiles to attack Saudi Arabia. The war has killed over 100,000 people, including fighters and civilians, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, which tracks violence reports in Yemen. The war also created the world s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical shortages.
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria s military announced on Monday that its troops have regained control of territories in northwestern Syria “in record time,” vowing to continue to chase armed groups “wherever they are.” The announcement came hours after troops consolidated the government s hold over the key Aleppo province, capturing over 30 villages and hamlets in the western countryside in one day and securing the provincial capital that had for years remained within range of opposition fire. Troops were removing barriers and roadblocks on Monday in villages and districts that were earlier controlled by Syrian rebels, state TV reported. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitoring group, reported clashes in Jabal Sheik Akeel, northwest of the city of Aleppo, the provincial capital. The armed opposition was driven out of the city s eastern quarters in late 2016, which they had controlled for years while battling government forces in charge in the western section. However, rebel groups continued to target government forces from outside the city with mortar rounds. They also controlled large parts of western rural Aleppo, territories that linked them to Idlib province, the opposition s last major stronghold. The new advances, along with securing a key highway that ran through rebel territory, are set to facilitate movement between northern and southern Syria, including the city of Aleppo, Syria s commercial center before the war. The Shaam Network, an opposition media platform, said the advances cut the rebels supply line, effectively driving them out of the area. The developments sparked late night celebrations in the city, with state media showing images of residents waving flags and dancing in the streets packed with vehicles. Since December, Syrian troops have been on the offensive, biting bit by bit at the crowded rebel enclave, home to over 3 million people. The offensive displaced more than 800,000 people, sparking one of the largest humanitarian crisis in the nine-year war. Gen. Ali Mayhoub, spokesman for the Syrian Armed Forces, said in a televised speech that Syrian troops were continuing their ground advances to “eradicate what is left of terrorist groups” in Syria, congratulating the soldiers for the swift advances in “record time.” The armed opposition is now squeezed into a shrinking area of nearby Idlib province, where the government is also on the offensive, as well as the sliver of adjacent territory in western Aleppo. Also, parts of northern Aleppo region, which straddles the border with Turkey, is administered by Turkey and allied Syrian factions. Another segment of the province further west is controlled by Kurdish-led forces, allied with the United States. Those two parts have not been part of the government offensive. Turkey, which backs the opposition, has sent thousands of troops and equipment into the opposition enclave, in an attempt to stall the Syrian government s advance. Ankara has also called for an end to the Syrian government offensive. Already home to more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees, Turkey fears a new wave may overwhelm its borders. The United Nations has also called for a cease-fire. Support from Russia and Iran has enabled Syrian troops to regain control of much of the territories they had lost to armed groups who worked to topple Assad. Over 400,000 people have been killed and half of Syria s population displaced since peaceful protests in 2011 turned into a civil war.
The Israeli military on Sunday said it has thwarted an attempt by the Hamas militant group to hack soldiers phones by posing as young, attractive women on social media, striking up friendships and persuading them into downloading malware. Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters that the phones of dozens of soldiers had been infected in recent months, although he said the army detected the scam early on and prevented any major secrets from reaching the Islamic militant group. ``We do not assess there is any significant breach of information, the military spokesman said. Conricus said this was the third attempt by Hamas to target male soldiers through fake social media accounts, most recently in July 2018. But he said this latest attempt was by far the most sophisticated. He said Hamas used a number of social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram and Telegram, to make contact with unsuspecting soldiers. Posing as young women on social media, the group struck up friendships with the soldiers, sending photos, texts and voice messages to them. The ``women claimed to be new immigrants to explain their poor Hebrew, and even claimed to be deaf or hard of hearing as an excuse for texting, instead of speaking directly on the phone, Conricus said. The profiles appeared on multiple platforms, and he said the photos were disguised to make it difficult to ``reverse track them, giving the accounts additional authenticity. ``We see that the level of social engineering is much higher and much more advanced and sophisticated when compared to previous attempts done by Hamas, he said. ``We see that they re of course learning and upping their game. Eventually, they sent the soldiers links to ``seduce them into downloading what they said was a Snapchat-like app to exchange photos that could quickly disappear, Conricus said. In reality, the links were to three malware programs _ Catch&See, ZatuApp and GrixyApp _ that allowed Hamas to gain access to the soldiers phones. He said it was ``very clear that Hamas was behind the effort. He said the malware linked to known Hamas servers and at least one of the profiles had been used in a previous Hamas scam. There was no immediate comment from Hamas Conricus declined to say how many soldiers had been targeted. But he said that dozens had downloaded the malware. He said soldiers had reported the suspicious activity relatively early on, allowing the army and the Shin Bet internal security service to monitor their phones. It is now in the process of removing the malware, he said. Israel and Hamas, an Islamic movement that seeks Israel s destruction, are bitter enemies that have fought three wars and numerous skirmishes since the group seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. The enemy sides have been holding indirect talks through Arab and U.N. mediators aimed at reaching a long-term truce under which Israel would ease a blockade on the Gaza Strip in exchange for Hamas assurances to maintain quiet. But low-level fighting has persisted. Early Sunday, Israel carried out a number of airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza in response to the firing of two projectiles from Gaza into southern Israel. No casualties were reported on either side.
BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon s finance minister said Thursday the country s new government is weighing whether to pay or default on its $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing next month, amid an economic crisis that has sparked months of unrest. Lebanon is facing a deepening liquidity crunch and a soaring public debt. Lebanese banks raised interests rates in a bid to attract foreign investments — but now the influx of foreign currencies has dried up and the Central Bank s foreign currency reserves are shrinking. “It is not easy,” Ghazi Wazni told reporters before the new Cabinet s first meeting. He was speaking after reviewing different options with the government s financial team. “This is an important decision for the country, depositors, banks, the economic sector and international institutions,” he said, adding that the search for the “right decision” was ongoing. The new government, headed by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, was voted into office earlier this week by Parliament and is facing snowballing political and economic crises. Anti-government protests have targeted the country s entire ruling elite, faulting them for widespread corruption and the failing economy. On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund said Lebanese authorities had requested its technical advice on macroeconomic issues facing the country. “IMF stands ready to assist Lebanon,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice tweeted Wednesday. “Any decisions on debt are the authorities , to be made in consultation with their own legal and financial advisers.” The government is widely expected to form a new committee to deal with the vexing financial crisis, which is the worst since the end of the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war. But the most immediate question is what to do about a $1.2 billion Eurobond that matures on March 9: default or pay? Lebanon has never defaulted on its debts. Defaulting could be very costly to the national economy and banking system, which until the recent financial crisis, was one of Lebanon s most profitable and reputable sectors. One option that has been floated in the local media is for the government to repay its foreign holders and swap holdings of local banks for longer terms bonds. Banks have already imposed informal capital controls on depositors, limiting their withdrawals of foreign and local currencies as well as transfers abroad. The limits have prompted protests against the financial institutions — including violent attacks on ATM machines and some bank branches. Security has been beefed up around banks while some branches have shut down their offices. On Thursday, Wazni said the government is working to streamline informal and irregular decisions by the banks regarding capital controls. “The banks can t deal with the depositors in an illegal and unclear way,” he said without elaborating. Lebanon s international backers have called on the government to institute swift and comprehensive reforms. Diab, who has vowed to devise an emergency plan to tackle the crisis, has urged the international community and local opponents to give his government a chance.
DAMASCUS (AP) — A Syrian was killed and another was wounded in a rare clash Wednesday between American troops and a group of government supporters who tried to block a U.S. convoy driving through a village in northeastern Syria, state media and activists reported. The state-run media said the killed man was a civilian. He was among residents of a village east of the town of Qamishli who had gathered at an army checkpoint, pelting the U.S. convoy with stones and taking down a U.S. flag from one of the vehicles. At that point, U.S. troops fired with live ammunition and smoke bombs at the residents, the reports said. A U.S. military spokesman said coalition forces conducting a patrol near Qamishli encountered a checkpoint occupied by pro-Syrian government forces. After coalition troops issued a series of warnings in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, the patrol came under small-arms fire from unknown individuals, coalition spokesman Myles Caggins said. “In self-defense, coalition troops returned fire. The situation was de-escalated and is under investigation,” he added in a statement, which did not refer to any deaths. The reported incident marks a rare confrontation involving U.S. and Syria troops in the crowded region where Russian troops are also deployed — and is sure to further escalate tensions. Hundreds of U.S. troops are stationed in northeastern Syria, working with their local partners from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to fight against the Islamic State group. The U.S. carries out patrols in northeastern Syria, but it was not immediately clear why the convoy drove into a government-controlled area. Syria s state SANA news agency said the incident occurred after Syrian troops stopped a U.S. convoy of four vehicles traveling on the road in the village of Khirbet Ammu, and hundreds of people gathered at the checkpoint to prevent it from continuing on its way. The U.S. troops opened fire and after a civilian was killed and another wounded, the residents attacked the convoy and damaged four vehicles, SANA said. State-run Al-Ikhbariya TV aired a cellphone video showing an armored vehicle flying a U.S. flag standing on a rural road while a car appeared to be blocking its way. Locals are seen walking past the U.S. armored vehicle, with at least two soldiers inside, one of whom steps down as civilians approach. One civilian is seen tearing a U.S. flag as he approaches the soldier. The TV said protests spread, preventing reinforcements from coming to help the U.S. convoy. The report said the wounded civilian and was being treated at the Qamishli hospital. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said residents and armed pro-government militiamen in Khirbet Ammu blocked the path of a U.S. The militia fired in the air, prompting U.S. troops to fire smoke bombs. Tension escalated and U.S. troops killed one person, the Observatory said. The Observatory, which has a network of activists on the ground, said it is not clear if the killed was a civilian or a militia member. The Observatory also said that a Russian convoy arrived on the scene to defuse the tension. The Syrian war, now in its ninth year, has pulled in international players including the U.S., Russia and Turkey. Russia has supported President Bashar Assad s government, while Turkey is the rebels main backer. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that Turkey will attack government forces anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier is hurt. He added that Turkey is determined to force the Syrian military back from the gains it has made in the north-western province of Idlib by the end of February. “As of today, in the event of any minor harm to our soldiers, I announce that we will strike regime forces everywhere without being bound to Idlib or the boundaries of the Sochi agreement,” Erdogan told a ruling party meeting in Ankara. Forces loyal to Assad, backed by Russian air cover, have been advancing into the last rebel-held areas of Idlib and nearby Aleppo countryside, seizing dozens of towns and sparking a large-scale humanitarian crisis. Under a 2018 agreement with Russia in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Turkey established a dozen military observation posts in Idlib, where it backs some opposition groups. Several of these posts have been surrounded by government forces in recent weeks. At least 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed by Syrian artillery fire this month. Erdogan said he had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone about the situation in Idlib.
A cabinet committee tasked with legalising the status of unlicensed Christian places of worship on Tuesday approved the legalisation of 82 churches and service buildings that had been operating without a permit, the cabinet said in a statement. This brings to 1,494 the total number of unlicensed Christian places of worship and service buildings that have been granted legal status so far, the cabinet said. Christians make up around 10 percent of the 100 million population of Egypt, a predominantly Muslim country. In 2016, Egypt s parliament approved a long-awaited law regulating the building and renovation of churches. The committee to legalise the status of unlicensed churches was established in 2017 by the prime minister. The 10-member committee comprises one Christian representative, six government officials from several ministries, representatives from the national security apparatus, the intelligence apparatus, and the administrative control body. During its meeting on Tuesday, the cabinet also reviewed the situation of security requirements for legalised churches.
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey s defense ministry said five Turkish soldiers were killed and five others were wounded on Monday as a result of “intense” shelling by Syrian government forces in Syria s northern Idlib province. A ministry statement said Turkish artillery immediately responded to the attack, destroying targets. The attack came as a Russian delegation arrived in the Turkish capital of Ankara for a second round of talks to discuss the rising tensions in Idlib, the last rebel stronghold in neighboring Syria. Eight Turkish military and civilian personnel and 13 Syrian soldiers were killed in an exchange of fire in Idlib last week. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group, reported that six Turkish soldiers were killed and seven were wounded when government forces shelled the Taftanaz air base in Idlib on Monday. It added that four Syrian rebels were also killed in the shelling. An airstrike in a nearby rebel-held region, meanwhile, killed nine people including children, opposition activists said. Syrian President Bashar Assad s forces, backed by Russian air cover, have been advancing into the last rebel-held areas of Idlib and nearby Aleppo countryside, seizing dozens of towns and sparking a large-scale humanitarian crisis with some 600,000 people fleeing from their homes toward safer areas near the border with Turkey. Most of the displaced are living in open-air shelters and temporary homes in freezing winter conditions close to the border. Half of the displaced are believed to be children. The fighting led to the collapse of a fragile cease-fire that was brokered by Turkey and Russia in 2018. The two countries back opposing sides in the Syrian war: Turkey supports the Syrian rebels, while Russia has heavily backed the Syrian government s offensive. Turkey sent hundreds of military vehicles and troops into Idlib province in the past week. The buildup and the continued government advances sparked a rare clash on Feb. 3 between Turkish and Syrian soldiers that killed eight Turkish military personnel and 13 Syrian troops. Turkey has warned Syria to retreat to the cease-fire lines that were agreed in 2018. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkish and Russian delegations exchanged proposals over the situation in Idlib during a first meeting in Ankara on Saturday. On Monday, the Russian team returned to Ankara from a visit to Jordan, for further discussions, he said. “If a compromise had been reached there would have been no need for today s meeting,” Cavusoglu told reporters. He said the Turkish and Russian leaders could step in if no compromise is reached. Syria s military has vowed to keep up its campaign. The early morning airstrike on the village of Ibbin in Aleppo province killed nine people, including six children, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Step news agency, an activist collective. At least 10 people were also wounded in the airstrike. The Syrian government s campaign appears to be aimed at securing a strategic highway in rebel-controlled territory for now, rather than seizing the entire province and its the densely populated capital, Idlib. The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media released a map of the area of fighting showing that Syrian troops only have 15 kilometers (9 miles) left from seizing full control of the strategic highway, know as M5. The highway links the national capital of Damascus with the country s north, which has for years been divided between government and opposition forces. Meanwhile, a car bomb exploded Monday in a Syrian town controlled by Turkey-backed opposition fighters, killing at least four people and wounding 15 others, Turkey s state-run Anadolu Agency reported. The attack was the latest in a series of explosions in Turkish-controlled regions that have killed and wounded scores of people. Turkey has blamed the attacks on on the Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People s Protection Units. The bomb went off on a main street in the town of Afrin, which Turkey took control of following a military incursion in 2018, Anadolu reported. It said some of the wounded were in serious condition, adding that the death toll was likely to rise. The Turkish offensive has aimed at pushing Kurdish fighters away from the border. Those Kurdish fighters had been key U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey.
CAIRO (AP) — Flights transporting Yemeni medical patients from rebel-held areas continued Saturday when a second plane carrying 24 patients took off from Sanaa bound for Jordan s capital, the UN health agency said. The UN flights, which began Feb. 3, are seen as a humanitarian breakthrough in the more than five-year-old conflict in the Arab world s poorest country. The conflict began with the 2014 takeover of the capital Sanaa by the rebel Huthis, who control much of the country s north. A Saudi-led military coalition allied with Yemen s internationally recognized government has been fighting the Iran-backed Huthis since 2015. The US-backed coalition closed the airspace and prevented any flights from leaving Sanaa, starting in August 2016. The Associated Press reported in November that Saudi Arabia and the Huthis are holding indirect, behind-the-scenes talks to end the war mediated by Oman, quoting officials from both sides. The talks are focused on interim agreements, such as re-opening Yemen s main international airport in Sanaa, which was shut down by the Saudi-led coalition in 2016. There has been no announced explanation for the medical flights but they could be a result of talks between Saudi Arabia and the Huthis. The first such flight since the air blockade carrying eight patients and their families left Sanaa on Feb. 3. Saturday s flight was originally scheduled to depart Sanaa the previous day. However it did not take off “for technical reasons,” the World Health Organization said Friday, without giving details. Twenty-four patients and their family members “have departed on the second flight today from Sanaa to Amman to receive the treatment,” the WHO tweeted. Among those who left Sanaa on Saturday was 30-year-old cancer patient Entisar. WHO said the cancer had spread all over her body. “The physical & psychological pain is unbearable; all I want is to feel better,” she was quoted as saying by the UN agency. Her last name was not given. Welcoming the arrival of the second flight to Jordan s capital, Amman, UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said the two flights transported patients to “receive life-saving medical care currently unavailable in Yemen.” The Huthi rebels criticized the UN for the delay of the second flight and for the small number of patients airlifted out of Sanaa. The rebel-run health ministry has said that 32,000 people are in need of urgent medical and surgical intervention, such as kidney transplants and heart surgeries. The grinding war in Yemen has killed more than 10,000 people and created the world s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
A Palestinian motorist slammed his car into a group of Israeli soldiers early Thursday, wounding 12 before fleeing the scene, the Israeli military said, while in the West Bank, two Palestinians died after clashes with Israeli troops, according to Palestinian hospital officials. The uptick in violence comes a week after President Donald Trump unveiled his long awaited Mideast plan, which greatly favors Israel and has been rejected by the Palestinians. The plan has sparked calls by Israeli nationalists for Israel to annex parts of the West Bank _ land Palestinians want for their hoped-for state _ and has set off tensions in the region. Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said one of the 12 injured soldiers in Jerusalem was seriously hurt, the others were lightly injured. Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the incident was being treated as a ``terror attack,`` and said Israeli forces were searching for the assailant. Palestinian hospital officials said a 19-year-old was killed in clashes in the West Bank city of Jenin. Six others were wounded in the confrontation. In a separate incident also in Jenin, a member of the Palestinian security forces who was shot by Israeli troops later died. That violence came just hours after Israeli forces shot and killed a 17-year-old Palestinian during clashes with demonstrators elsewhere in the West Bank on Wednesday. ``Attacks from Gaza, an attack in Jerusalem, signs of a rise in hostile activity in Jenin. Yesterday friction in Hebron. We are not trying to escalate the situation while understanding the complexity and sensitivity of the situation, Conricus said, stopping short of directly linking the spate of violence to Trump s plan. In the Jerusalem incident, the troops were out on a late-night ``educational heritage tour, walking near a popular entertainment district in Jerusalem when the motorist rammed his car into them and fled. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to have the assailant apprehended. ``It s just a matter of time _ and not much time, he said in a statement. Such acts of violence were common in Jerusalem during a low-level wave of near-daily attacks over the last decade, but they tapered off and car rammings have become infrequent in recent years. Conricus said troops were carrying out the demolition of a home in the West Bank belonging to a militant allegedly involved in a deadly attack. He said there was a ``sizable riot at the scene by Palestinians who threw Molotov cocktails at troops, who then came under sniper fire. Conricus said forces responded to the violence with their own sniper fire, saying a Palestinian shooter was killed. He could not confirm whether the 19-year-old was the sniper. He said there had been an ``uptick in intensity in the means used against Israeli troops in the West Bank. Jenin governor Akram Rajoub said the 19-year-old, a student at an academy that trains budding police officers, was throwing stones at the troops. Additionally, Conricus said an exchange of fire in Jenin wounded a member of the Palestinian security forces. Conricus said he did not know the circumstances behind the confrontation or whether the security forces member had fired on troops. He said the incident was being looked into. Rajoub said the man was not involved in clashes and that he was standing in front of a police station when he was hit by a bullet in the abdomen. Also Thursday, Israel struck Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip after three mortar shells were fired at Israel. There was no immediate report of injuries on either side. Unveiled last week at the White House with much fanfare, Trump s plan envisions a disjointed Palestinian state that turns over key parts of the West Bank to Israel. It sides with Israel on key contentious issues that have bedeviled past peace efforts, including borders and the status of Jerusalem and Jewish West Bank settlements, and attaches nearly impossible conditions for granting the Palestinians their hoped-for state. The plan was greeted ecstatically in Israel, with Netanyahu vowing to speed ahead with annexing parts of the West Bank. But under pressure from the U.S. administration he appears to be scaling back on that promise. The Palestinians dismissed the plan as ``nonsense and have promised to resist it. The Palestinians, as well as much of the international community, view the settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem _ territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war _ as illegal and a major obstacle to peace.
At least six people were killed in clashes in Iraq s southern city of Najaf on Wednesday after supporters of populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed an anti-government protest camp, medical and security sources said. The medical sources said at least 20 more were wounded in the violence but did not provide further details. The security sources said that supporters of Sadr, known as blue hats for the blue caps they often wear, had tried to clear the area of anti-government protesters, who in turn tried to stop them. Fights broke out between both groups, the blue hats threw petrol bombs at protester tents and live gunfire rang out shortly afterwards, wounding and killing six people, they said. Sadr has at different times both supported and abandoned Iraqi protesters who demand a removal of the entire ruling elite. He urged followers last week to help authorities bring "day to day life" back to Iraq s streets by clearing roads blocked by sit-ins and ensuring businesses and schools can reopen after months of protests in which nearly 500 people have been killed in clashes between protesters and security forces. Sadr has also urged the blue hats to allow protests to continue.
GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. envoy to Libya said on Tuesday there was a “genuine will to start negotiating” between rival military factions as they planned to meet for the first time for talks in Geneva aimed at securing a lasting ceasefire. However, Ghassan Salame told reporters that an arms embargo was being violated by both sides and that new mercenaries and arms were still arriving “by air and by sea” in Libya, where forces loyal to eastern based commander Khalifa Haftar have been trying to take the capital, Tripoli, for the past 10 months. The talks bring together five senior military officers from Haftar s Libyan National Army and five from forces aligned with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli. Fighting has continued on the ground despite a call for a truce by Russia and Turkey starting on Jan. 12 and an international summit on Libya in Berlin on Jan. 19 aimed at reducing international interference. Haftar has had material support from countries including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Jordan, and Russia, U.N. experts and diplomats say, while the GNA is backed militarily by Turkey. Salame deplored the presence of more than “20 million pieces of weaponry” in the country and said that he had asked the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution to reaffirm an existing arms embargo and pass measures to ensure it is respected. Talks between the two sides, who did not meet face-to-face in Geneva on Monday, were aiming “to bridge the gaps in their views on how the lasting, sustainable ceasefire can be organized on the ground,” Salame said. “We started yesterday to discuss with them a long list of points on our agenda, starting on an attempt to transform the truce into a more solid one, less often violated by either side and also to transform that truce into a real agreement on a lasting ceasefire,” he said. Haftar s offensive, which upended a previous U.N. peace plan, deepened the gulf between loose alliances that have competed for power from western and eastern Libya since 2014. The GNA was set up in 2016 from a previous U.N. peace push that Haftar and his backers spurned. The conflict that developed in Libya in the years since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011 has given space to militants and migrant smugglers and crippled Libya s oil reliant economy. A blockade of oil ports and fields by groups loyal to Haftar that began just before the Berlin conference has reduced oil output by about one million barrels per day (bpd). Asked if he would press Haftar to end the blockade, Salame said it was mainly an issue being pursued on the ground, urging foreign powers to back a broader U.N. bid to resume production.
KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A leaked recording of an exchange between an Iranian air-traffic controller and an Iranian pilot purports to show that authorities immediately knew a missile had downed a Ukrainian jetliner after takeoff from Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, despite days of denials by the Islamic Republic. Ukraine s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy acknowledged the recording s authenticity in a report aired by a Ukrainian television channel on Sunday night. In Tehran on Monday, the head of the Iranian investigation team, Hassan Rezaeifar, acknowledged the recording was legitimate and said that it was handed over to Ukrainian officials. After the Jan. 8 disaster, Iran s civilian government maintained for days that it didn t know the country s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had shot down the aircraft. The downing of the jetliner came just hours after the Guard launched a ballistic missile attack on Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for an earlier American drone strike that killed the Guard s top general, Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad. A transcript of the recording, published by Ukrainian 1+1 TV channel, contains a conversation in Farsi between an air-traffic controller and a pilot reportedly flying a Fokker 100 jet for Iran s Aseman Airlines from Iran s southern city of Shiraz to Tehran. “A series of lights like … yes, it is missile, is there something?” the pilot calls out to the controller. “No, how many miles? Where?” the controller asks. The pilot responds that he saw the light by the Payam airport, near where the Guard s Tor M-1 anti-aircraft missile was launched from. The controller says nothing has been reported to them, but the pilot remains insistent. “It is the light of (a) missile,” the pilot says. “Don t you see anything anymore?” the controller asks. “Dear engineer, it was an explosion. We saw a very big light there, I don t really know what it was,” the pilot responds. The controller then tries to contract the Ukrainian jetliner, but unsuccessfully. Publicly accessible flight-tracking radar information suggests the Aseman Airlines aircraft, flight No. 3768, was close enough to Tehran to see the blast. Iranian civil aviation authorities for days insisted it wasn t a missile that brought down the plane, even after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. officials began saying they believed it had been shot down. Iranian officials should have immediately had access to the air-traffic control recordings and Zelenskiy told 1+1 that “the recording, indeed, shows that the Iranian side knew from the start that our plane was shot down by a missile, they were aware of this at the moment of the shooting.” Ukraine s president repeated his demands to decode the plane s flight recorders in Kyiv — something Iranian officials had promised last month but later backtracked on. On Monday, Ukrainian investigators were to travel to Tehran to participate in the decoding effort, but Zelenskiy insisted on bringing the so-called “black boxes” back to Kyiv. “It is very important for us,” he said. Iranian authorities, however, condemned the publication of the recording as “unprofessional,” saying it was part of a confidential report. “This action by the Ukrainians makes us not want to give them any more evidence,” said Rezaifar, the head of the Iranian investigators, according to a report by the semiofficial Mehr news agency.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinians held demonstrations across the region Friday to protest President Donald Trump s Middle East initiative, while militants in the Gaza Strip fired rockets and mortar rounds at Israel, drawing retaliatory strikes. The Palestinians have rejected the Trump plan, which heavily favors Israel and would allow it to annex all of its Jewish settlements, along with the Jordan Valley, in the occupied West Bank. The Palestinians were offered limited self-rule in Gaza, parts of the West Bank and some sparsely populated areas of Israel in return for meeting a long list of conditions. Israel launched airstrikes on militant targets in Gaza early Friday, shortly after Palestinians fired three rockets into Israel, two of which were intercepted, the military said. It said that Palestinian militants had also launched “explosive balloons” toward Israel and that a sniper had shot an observation antenna. The military said it struck targets linked to the Hamas militant group in response, including “underground infrastructure used to manufacture weapons.” Throughout the day, Gaza militants fired several rounds of mortars and projectiles. An Israeli tank fired on a Hamas military post, and Israeli aircraft struck additional militant sites in Gaza early Saturday. No one was wounded in either exchange of fire, but an Israeli woman dropped her three-week-old baby while running into a bomb shelter during the rocket attack, according to the United Hatzalah rescue service. The baby was hospitalized and is in moderate condition. Gaza has been relatively calm in recent months as Egyptian and UN mediators have worked to shore up an informal truce between Israel and Hamas, which rules the coastal territory. Hamas has curbed rocket fire and rolled back weekly protests along the frontier that had often turned violent. In return, Israel has eased the blockade it imposed on Gaza after the Islamic militant group seized power from forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Hamas rejected the Trump plan and vowed that “all options are open” in responding to the proposal, but the group is not believed to be seeking another war with Israel. Thousands of people took to the streets after Friday prayers in neighboring Jordan to protest the plan. Jordan, a close US ally and key player in previous peace efforts, has warned Israel against annexing territory. Jordan and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have signed peace agreements with Israel. The protesters waved Jordanian and Palestinian flags and burned Israeli flags despite the rainy weather. They chanted “Trump is a coward” and “Here we are, al-Aqsa,” referring to a Jerusalem mosque on a site sacred to Jews and Muslims. In Lebanon, dozens of Palestinians gathered in the crowded Bourj al-Barajneh refugee camp after Friday prayers, carrying Palestinian flags and pictures of the al-Aqsa mosque. They chanted “We would die for Palestine to live” and “Revolution until we set Palestine free.” “Palestine is not for sale, even if it were for millions upon millions. If (Trump) gave all of his money we wouldn t sell to him,” said 58-year-old Fatima al-Khatib. The plan anticipates $50 billion of investment in the future Palestinian state and describes several ambitious development projects, without saying where the money would come from. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have held small, scattered protests in recent days condemning the Trump initiative, and thousands gathered in Gaza on Friday, where they burned U.S. and Israeli flags and portraits of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. At least 14 Palestinians were wounded by Israeli gunfire in scattered protests along the security fence surrounding Gaza, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent medical service. There were concerns that larger demonstrations and clashes would break out at the compound housing the al-Aqsa mosque, but Friday prayers there concluded peacefully. The Islamic trust that manages the site said an estimated 30,000 worshippers attended the weekly prayers. The site, known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, is the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. Jews refer to the site as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the First and Second Jewish Temples in antiquity. The hilltop shrine is managed by an Islamic trust under Jordanian stewardship, and day-to-day affairs are governed by informal understandings with Israel known as the “status quo.” Non-Muslims are allowed to visit during certain hours, but Jews cannot pray there. In recent years, increasing numbers of religious and ultra-nationalist Jews have visited the site, stoking fears among the Palestinians that Israel intends to one day partition it and igniting clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police. Israel has repeatedly said it has no intention of changing the status quo. The Trump plan, which heavily favors Israel, says the status quo should “continue uninterrupted.” But the plan also says “people of every faith should be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, in a manner that is fully respectful to their religion, taking into account the times of each religion s prayers and holidays, as well as other religious factors.” The site is part of the famed Old City in east Jerusalem, which Israel captured, along with the West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 war. The Palestinians view east Jerusalem as their capital and want all three territories to form their future state. Trump s Mideast plan would situate the Palestinian capital on the outskirts of east Jerusalem, beyond the separation barrier built by Israel. The rest of Jerusalem, including the Old City, would remain Israel s capital. “A lot of people are still in a state of shock over the proposal,” said Christian Saunders, the acting head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, which provides basic services to some five million Palestinians scattered across the region. “What will happen after that shock wears off, I don t know. We certainly have serious concerns that it will result in an escalation in clashes and in violence. We have contingency plans in place in order to support during such times of unrest.”
BEIRUT (AP) — Warplanes struck a town in a rebel-held enclave in northwestern Syria, killing at least 10 people, including some who were fleeing the attack, opposition activists and a rescue service said Thursday. The attack, believed to have been carried out by Russian warplanes backing a Syrian government offensive, also put a local hospital out of service, they said. The late Wednesday night assault on Ariha, a town in Idlib province, comes as the rebel-held enclave is under intense fire amid Syrian government advances on the area, which had been controlled by the opposition for nearly eight years. The Russian Defense Ministry rejected claims it was behind the attack, calling them a “provocation.” The ministry said Russian warplanes did not fly any combat missions in the area. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll from the airstrikes was at least 10 civilians. The rescue Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, said 11 people, including a child, were killed when the Russian warplanes hit a road used by displaced people trying to leave Ariha. Both the Observatory and the White Helmets said a local hospital and a bakery were struck. At least 24 people were wounded, including a doctor, a White Helmet volunteer, three women and two children, the rescuers said. An Associated Press video shows the damaged hospital in a residential area, with medical equipment broken, supplies strewn over the floor and windows and doors dislodged from their frames. At least six people, relatives of patients, were killed as they waited outside the hospital, said Zuheir Qarat, a surgeon. An anesthesiologist was critically wounded, Qarat said, and remained at the hospital for over an hour until rescuers were able to evacuate him after the raids ended, along with 15 patients. Hospital generators and one hospital car were burned, he added. No patients were hurt. Qarat described three raids before midnight, within minutes of each other. “It destroyed the hospital and put it out of service,” Qarat told the AP in a voice message from Ariha. “There were also people injured from neighboring buildings.” The Ariha hospital, also know as al-Shami, is the only medical facility in the area with surgical facilities. There are no government-run hospitals in opposition-held areas, where health and education services are based on donations and international aid. Footage from Ariha showed the main road blocked with rubble from destroyed buildings. The raids sparked several fires in residential apartments, said a rescuer, who gave only his nickname, Abdel-Karim, because of concerns for his safety. He added that his team of volunteers were going through the area to ensure no survivors remained buried under the rubble. Qarat said that “striking the hospital is a message … a warning to evacuate,” adding that Ariha residents started fleeing after the raids. The hospital was the third that Qarat had worked in, after the previous two were also bombed. The U.N. Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock described to the Security Council on Wednesday the dire conditions in the rebel-held areas. At least 20,000 people were displaced in the last two days, he said, adding that 115,000 left their homes in the past week, bringing total of those uprooted by the violence since December to 390,000. “Many families are moving multiple times. They arrive in a place thought to be safe, only for the bombs to follow, so they are forced to move again,” he said. “This cycle is all too familiar in northwest Syria.” In the Russian-backed offensive, Syrian troops captured Maaret al-Numan, one of the largest and most strategic rebel-held towns in Idlib province on Wednesday. The town, which had been in rebel hands since 2012, sits on the highway linking Damascus with Aleppo and is considered critical to President Bashar Assad s forces. It was mostly empty after intense bombardment in recent weeks. The government offensive now appears to be eyeing Saraqeb, a town to the north, which if captured, would secure the government s hold on the highway. The fighting in Idlib has driven hundreds of thousands of civilians from their homes, mainly toward the border with Turkey and other rebel-held areas. The push to control the highway has angered Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition and has deployed troops to observation points inside Idlib to monitor an earlier cease-fire negotiated with Russia. Turkey s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Russia is not loyal to agreements over Idlib and added that he is in contact with the Russians to urge them to stop the bombing in Idlib “or our patience will run out.” Farther north, government forces began an offensive on the western suburbs of Aleppo in an attempt to push insurgents away from Syria s largest city. Syria s nearly nine-year conflict has killed close to half a million people and displaced half of the population, including more than 5 million who are now refugees, mostly in neighboring countries.
Nine members of a religious order that was abruptly shuttered by the Vatican are under investigation for sex assault, the dioscese confirmed Wednesday, after allegations emerged linking the group to the abuse of two young brothers. Prato Bishop Giovanni Nerbini, who reported allegations against priests and lay members of the now defunct Disciples of the Annunciation community to police, pledged the church s cooperation in the case.
Egypt s Endowments Ministry Spokesperson Ahmed al-Qady has said that the ministry will respect the rulings of the judiciary, following the Supreme Administrative Court s decision yesterday upholding Cairo University s move to ban female faculty from wearing the niqab, or face veil. The court issued a ruling on Monday upholding a 2015 ban for female faculty members at Cairo University from wearing niqab in the classroom, a decision that was also upheld in court in 2016 amid protests likening the ban to religious discrimination. “The Endowments (Ministry) respects all judicial rulings. For the religious aspect, Dar al-Iftaa has to decide on it,” he said. Qady stressed the importance of developing religious discourse and engaging with communities in order to keep pace with modern day developments, adding that the Ministry is concerned with training imams and preachers and is following up on the public s response to ministry-sponsored seminars. Meanwhile, TV host Mohamed al-Baz has called for applying the niqab ban to all educational institutions across Egypt. Baz said during his program “90 Minutes,” which is broadcast on the al-Mehwar satellite channel, that the ruling issued by the Supreme Administrative Court does not apply to female employees at Cairo University, but applies only to female faculty members. He then called for filing a lawsuit to apply the ruling to all workers in educational institutions nationwide. He stressed that banning the wearing of the niqab does not contradict with the teachings of Islam and argued that even Al-Azhar, Egypt s premier Islamic institution, has said that the niqab was not representative of Sharia, or Islamic law. In its ruling on Monday, the court stated that individual choice of dress is among the “personal freedoms” guaranteed by the Egyptian constitution, adding that one should not be restricted by any limitations imposed by the administration. However, the court also said that this freedom is not without “limits,” stressing that personal freedoms should not contradict with what it called “public morals.” In 2015, Cairo University decided to ban female staff members donning a type of veil worn by a minority of Muslim women that covers the face entirely, except for the eyes. The university justified the decision to ban the face veil by arguing that niqab negatively impacts the ability of women who wear it to communicate. Other proponents of university campus niqab bans have cited security concerns. The court further explained that allowing the niqab at Cairo University would violate article 96 of the law regulating universities across Egypt, which binds university staff to university rules. In addition, the court asserted that professors should not have their faces hidden while dealing with students during academic lectures, underlining the importance of clear and direct communication between the academic staff and their students. Dozens of students and faculty protested in response to the ban in 2015, and university staff members who wear niqab published a statement that year condemning the step and describing it as “racist,” arguing as well that communication is not limited to facial expressions.
Every now and then, we hear Muslims sheikhs discussing if it is permissible to congratulate Christians on their feasts. The answer varies between acceptance as co-citizens and rejection as infidels. The latest version of this shameful discussion came about Dr. Magdy Yacoub, and if his many charitable works may lead him to enter the paradise. I wonder if the clergy in our country have found the sole keys for the ki