Category Archives: Middle East

Women march through desert for Israeli-Palestinian peace

Reuters
Reporting by Rami Amichai and Mustafa Abu Ghaneyeh, Writing by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff
October 8, 2017

Women celebrate inside a "peace tent" erected as part of an event organised by "Women Wage Peace" group calling for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, near the Jordan River, in the occupied West Bank
Women celebrate inside a “peace tent” erected as part of an event organised by “Women Wage Peace” group calling for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, near the Jordan River, in the occupied West Bank October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

October 8, 2017: JORDAN RIVER, West Bank (Reuters) – Thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women trekked through a biblical desert landscape on Sunday, converging on the shores of the Jordan River in a march for peace.

The women, many of them dressed in white, descended through the arid hills leading to the river, where they erected a “peace tent” named for Hagar and Sarah, scriptural mothers of Ishmael and Isaac, the half-brother patriarchs of Muslims and Jews.

“We are women from the right, the left, Jews and Arabs, from the cities and the periphery and we have decided that we will stop the next war,” said Marilyn Smadja, one of the founders of the organizing group, Women Wage Peace.

The organization was established after the 50-day Gaza war of 2014 when more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

Some 5,000 women participated in Sunday’s march, organizers said. It began last month at several locations across Israel and will culminate in a rally later in the day outside the Jerusalem residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

“Long March to Justice:” Appointed Judge to Investigate Syrian War Crimes

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
IPS (Inter Press Service)

street-Aleppo-629x462
What remains of a street in Aleppo. Credit: IPS

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 6 2017 (IPS) – A former French judge has been appointed as the head of an independent team tasked with investigating war crimes in Syria.

Catherine Marchi-Uhel was appointed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to lead a panel known as the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism which aims to gather, preserve, and analyze potential evidence of serious violations of international law committed in Syria since 2011 for use by courts or an international tribunal.

The legal team, established in Geneva, was created by the UN General Assembly in December 2015 after facing longstanding resistance from Russia which has used its veto power eight times in the Security Council to block investigations and action on the conflict.

Marchi-Uhel is the first head of the panel and has extensive experience in international criminal law, previously serving as an international judge with the UN mission in Kosovo and in Cambodian courts prosecuting leaders of the Khmer Rouge. She was the Head of Chambers at the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and worked in various legal positions at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with UN peacekeeping missions.

Most recently, Marchi-Uhel has been serving as the ombudsperson for the Security Council committee monitoring sanctions against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and al-Qaeda.

Many applauded the move, including Human Rights Watch who noted that the team is “critical” for the “long march to justice,” stating: “For victims who have known nothing but suffering, despair, and abandonment, the creation of this team represents a small step in the difficult struggle for justice, redress and an end to impunity that has marked the bloody conflict.”

Though the exact figure is uncertain, estimates of casualties from the 7-year long war range from 320,000 to over 400,000.

A UN International Commission of Inquiry has comprehensively documented atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict, including systematic attacks on hospitals and schools.

One of the deadliest attacks in Syria came in October 2016 when a series of airstrikes hit a complex of schools in Haas, killing a total of 36 civilians, 21 of whom were children between the ages of 7 and 17. Another 114 people were injured in the attack including 61 children. Afraid of future attacks, the school was closed.

“A Syrian Air Force attack on a complex of schools in Haas (Idlib), amounting to war crimes, is a painful reminder that instead of serving as sanctuaries for children, schools are ruthlessly bombed and children’s lives senselessly robbed from them,” the commission stated.

Such attacks in Syria are estimated to account for half of global attacks on schools from 2011 to 2015.

Several countries have already begun their own investigations into war crimes in Syria including Sweden which prosecuted a former Syrian opposition fighter for war crimes in December 2016.

The International Mechanism headed by Marchi-Uhel is expected to further these efforts around the world.

However, the team, funded by voluntary contributions, has only received half of the $13 million that its work is estimated to cost in its first year with 26 contributing countries as of June.

Netherlands, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, and Qatar are among the group’s top donors.

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Christians in Middle East call Pope Francis’s visit to Egypt a blessing

Dale Gavlak |May 2, 2017
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

PAPAL VISIT EGYPT
Pope Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, right, attend an ecumenical prayer service at the Church of St. Peter in Cairo April 28. (Credit: Paul Haring/CNS.)

Christian leaders in the region say Pope Francis’s April 28-29 trip to Egypt was a great success. The pope has backed Egypt’s efforts to tackle Islamic militancy, saying the country has a special role to play in forging regional peace as well as in “vanquishing all violence and terrorism.”

AMMAN, Jordan – Pope Francis’s historic, 27-hour visit to Cairo has left a profound mark on Egyptians, Catholic leaders said, as they anticipate increased ties with fellow Orthodox Christians and Muslims.

“The pope’s visit was a big blessing to the Egyptians, both Muslims and Christians. It boosted the morale of the Egyptian people, especially after the Palm Sunday blasts,” Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for the Egyptian bishops, told Catholic News Service by phone. “He gave a message of love, peace and hope.”

Greiche referred to a pair of terrorist attacks April 9 at two Egyptian churches. The Islamic State group claimed credit for the attacks, which killed at least 45 people, injured more than 100 others and shook the Middle East’s largest Christian community to the core.

“The pope’s visit for Catholics in Egypt was a great happening, very positive,” Jesuit Father Samir Khalil Samir, a noted Egyptian Catholic theologian and Islamic studies scholar, told CNS. The professor teaches at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and St. Joseph’s University in Beirut.

Even more important, he said, was the historic improvement in ecumenical ties between the Catholic and the Coptic Orthodox churches. Francis and Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II signed a declaration on common baptism.

“This was a big step,” said Father Samir.

“In Egypt, there are a lot of mixed marriages between Catholics and Orthodox,” Samir explained, citing the previous Coptic Orthodox requirement that new members joining the church – including those who had previously been baptized as Catholic – had to be baptized again.

“This was very unhappy,” he said. Now both churches agreed to recognize each other’s sacrament of baptism and pledged to continue working toward greater unity.

“In general, the ecumenical relations with the Coptic Orthodox Church made very good steps and can go further,” Samir predicted, citing a possible reconciliation over the celebration dates of Christmas and Easter.

He also said Francis and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi reached a better understanding. This is important for the country’s Christians, who are among the oldest communities in the Middle East, dating back to the apostle Mark.

“By meeting (el-Sissi) and having a normal, positive relationship, the pope is supporting the only one who can help the Christians,” the theologian said. “Being a very pious Muslim, el-Sissi is also the one trying to protect the Christians against ISIS.”

Francis has backed Egypt’s efforts to tackle Islamic militancy, saying the country has a special role to play in forging regional peace as well as in “vanquishing all violence and terrorism.”

Yet, Greiche said he believes it may be difficult to protect Christians and other Egyptians from growing acts of extremist violence.

“Criminal acts are designed in the heads of terrorists first. You cannot say that Christians are safe or anybody is safe from any terrorist attack. We pray and we ask for our Savior to help us and not to experience more than what we already have,” the priest said.

“We cannot say that Christians will be more safe (due to the pope’s visit), because terrorists are always there,” he added.

However, Francis’s call to expose extremist violence carried out in God’s name impacted Sheik Ahmad el-Tayeb, who heads al-Azhar University in Cairo. He hosted the International Peace Conference attended by Francis, Tawadros and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox churches.

Although “ISIS will not listen to whatever the pope says,” Francis has now put the Vatican’s relationship with al-Azhar on a stronger footing, said Father Samir.

As the world’s highest authority in Sunni Islam, al-Azhar trains Muslim clerics and scholars from around the world and has the potential to change the discourse.

Critics, including el-Sissi, complain the university is not doing enough to properly challenge Islamist extremists on theological grounds.

However, scholars also point to a dichotomy in the Quran in which Islam’s Prophet Muhammad at times espoused peaceful interactions with Christians and Jews and at other times violence.

By emphasizing nonviolence and that “only peaceful means are acceptable, it will help some Muslims to go along this line – to be nonviolent,” Samir said. “The main thing is change the mentality of Muslims, especially of the teaching of Islam, which is mainly the teaching in al-Azhar. “

Samir also pointed to another challenge.

“In the last five to six years, there is a new element, the militarization of radical Islam,” he said. The scholar blames the United States and some European countries for providing arms to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which allegedly finance radical Islamic movements.

“The problem is much larger. It’s a question of rethinking Islam,” Father Samir said.

Francis also met with Egyptian seminarians, priests and religious before wrapping up his Cairo visit, leaving a deep impression on them, too.

“He greatly encouraged us to live a life dedicated to Christ, the living hope. And to instill that hope in all we minister to: the disabled, the poor and disadvantaged,” Father Shenouda Andraos, the head of St. Leo Great Coptic Catholic Seminary, told CNS.

Western Powers Protect Arms Markets Ignoring Civilian Killings

InterPress Service
By Thalif Deen

peace-1UNITED NATIONS, Jan 14 2016 (IPS) – The West continues its strong political and military support to one of its longstanding allies in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia –- despite withering criticism of the kingdom’s battlefield excesses in the ongoing war in neighboring Yemen.

A Saudi-led coalition has been accused of using banned cluster bombs, bombing civilian targets and destroying hospitals – either by accident or by design—using weapons provided primarily by the US, UK and France.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week the armed conflict in Yemen continues to take a terrible toll on civilians, with at least 81 civilians reportedly killed and 109 injured in December. Continue reading Western Powers Protect Arms Markets Ignoring Civilian Killings

Smart Girls vs. Bombs

 An Afghan girl at school in Parwan Province. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times
An Afghan girl at school in Parwan Province. Credit Sergey Ponomarev for The New York Times

LAST fall President Obama slapped back at critics by citing what he called a foreign policy success: Yemen.

Oops. Yemen is now collapsing into civil war, with gains, so far, for both Al Qaeda and Iran.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney probably had places like Yemen on his mind when he described Obama a few days ago as “the worst president we’ve ever had” and —incredibly — hinted that Obama may be a traitor who is deliberately weakening our country through his foreign policies. Continue reading Smart Girls vs. Bombs