Lake Tiberias reveals mosque built by Prophet companions

One of the world’s oldest mosques has been uncovered by a team of archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on the shores of Israel’s Sea of Galilee. (Facebook: Tiberias/ Tiberiades Excavations)
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Updated 24 January 2021

Lake Tiberias reveals mosque built by Prophet companions

  • Religious site ‘could have been built by commander of Muslim army,’ expert says

LONDON: One of the world’s oldest mosques has been uncovered by a team of archaeologists on the shores of Israel’s Sea of Galilee.

The remains of the mosque were found beneath the ruins of a building originally identified as from the Byzantine period. It might have been constructed as early as A.D. 635 by a companion of the Prophet Muhammad who was a commander of the Muslim armies that conquered the Levant in the seventh century.

The mosque is located on the outskirts of the city of Tiberias in Israel’s north, which overlooks the western shore of the Sea of Galilee. The discovery was announced last week in an academic conference after 11 years of excavation by a team led by Katia Cytryn-Silverman of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The site was previously excavated in the 1950s when a colonnaded structure was found and identified as a marketplace from the late Byzantine period. However, later excavations revealed pottery shards and coins from the early Islamic period. Together with the multilevel structure of the building’s foundations, archaeologists have pointed to the site having Islamic origins.

Archaeologists had earlier identified the remains of an eighth-century mosque, but further digs revealed that the structure was in fact a century older.

Historians already know the location of older mosques, but they lie hidden beneath existing mosques where archaeologists cannot access them. The oldest known remains of a mosque were uncovered east of Baghdad in the ancient city of Wasit, and have been dated to A.D. 703.

However, the Israeli archaeologist team believes that the mosque uncovered in Tiberias was built decades earlier, and perhaps founded by Shurahbil ibn Hasana, a commander of the army that conquered the area.

“We can’t say for certain that this was Shurahbil’s,” said Dr. Cytryn-Silverman.

“But we do have historic sources that say he established a mosque in Tiberias when he conquered it in 635.”


Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani during Iraq visit

Updated 07 March 2021

Pope Francis meets Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani during Iraq visit

  • Pope's Iraq trip is his first international trip since the start of the coronavirus pandemic
  • He met Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani at the Shiite cleric's home in Najaf

DUBAI: Pope Francis and Iraq’s top Shiite cleric delivered a powerful message of peaceful coexistence on Saturday in a historic first meeting between the leaders of Roman Catholicism and Shiite Islam.

The Shiite cleric, Ali Al-Sistani, met the Pope at his home in Najaf, the seat of the Iraqi Shiite clergy, on the second day of the pontiff’s historic tour of Iraq.

Pope Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday and made a speech in which he called for an end to extremism, violence and corruption.

The head of the Catholic church began the first-ever papal trip to the country by meeting government officials in Baghdad, before traveling to a church where Christians were massacred by militants in 2010.

His visit comes as Iraq attempts to claw its way to stability after years of sectarian conflict, the Daesh occupation, chronic corruption, and widespread anger at government officials for failing to provide basic services.

At Our Lady of Salvation church, he paid tribute to the 58 people who were killed in an extremist attack in 2010, one of the deadliest targeting Christians.

Follow live coverage of his second day itinerary below (All times GMT)

17:00 - With the mass finished, that concludes the Pope's public engagements on the second day of his visit. Remember to check back on arabnews.com for coverage of Sunday's events, the highlight of which will be a meeting with the president and the prime minister of the autonomous region of Kurdistan in Erbil.

Pope Francis will also visit and make a speech at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh and deliver a mass at the Franso Hariri Stadium in Erbil.

15:00 - Now, the Pope delivers a mass at the Chaldean Catheral of Saint Joseph. Watch it live below...

14:30 - Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib wrote about how the visit of Pope Francis begins a new chapter not only for Christians in Iraq but for all Eastern Christians. Read her opinion piece below.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

14:00: In case you missed some of the fantastic images from the first day of the Pope's visit, you can check out our gallery here...

 

13:00 - ICYMI: Lebanese President Michel Aoun welcomed the pope’s arrival in Iraq on Friday, saying he hoped it would be a “push toward establishing the genuine peace” that people in the region needed. To read more, click here.

09:34: Pope Francis is set to return Baghdad after attending an interfaith meeting at the ruins of Ur in southern Iraq, the traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, father of Muslim and Christian faiths.

Above, a general view of the ancient archeological site of Ur, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, in Ur near Nassiriya, Iraq. Iraqiya TV/Reuters TV via Reuters

09:08: Pope Francis is urging Iraq’s Muslim and Christian religious leaders to put aside animosities and work together for peace and unity during an interfaith meeting in the traditional birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, father of their faiths.

He told the gathering: “This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbor.”

Francis traveled to the ruins of Ur in southern Iraq on Saturday to reinforce his message of interreligious tolerance and fraternity during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, a country riven by religious and ethnic divisions.

Pope Francis said that he prays for ‘peace, unity’ in the Middle East ‘especially Syria’ during the interreligious meeting. (AFP)

Francis told the faith leaders that it was fitting that they come together in Ur, “back to our origins, to the sources of God’s work, to the birth of our religions” to pray together for peace as children of Abraham, the prophet common to Muslims, Christians and Jews.

He said: “From this place, where faith was born, from the land of our father Abraham, let us affirm that God is merciful and that the greatest blasphemy is to profane his name by hating our brothers and sisters. Hostility, extremism and violence are not born of a religious heart: they are betrayals of religion.”

He said there could never be peace as long as Iraqis viewed people of different faiths as the “other.”

He said: “Peace does not demand winners or losers, but rather brothers and sisters who, for all the misunderstandings and hurts of the past, are journeying from conflict to unity.”

08:05: Pope Francis attends an interreligious meeting at the Plain of Ur during day two of his apostolic tour of Iraq.

The meeting takes place in the shadow of Ur’s magnificent ziggurat, the 6,000-year-old archaeological complex near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

Pope Francis attends an interreligious meeting at the archaeological site of Ur near Nasiriyah, southern Iraq on March 6, 2021. (AFP)

07: 28: Top Shiite cleric Ali Al-Sistani has told Pope Francis that Iraq Christians should live in ‘peace’, a statement from his office said.

Al-Sistani ‘affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,’ the statement office said.

For its part, the Vatican said Francis thanked Al-Sistani and the Shiite people for having “raised his voice in defense of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history.

He said Al-Sistani’s message of peace affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people.”

Doves are released to mark Pope Francis’s private meeting Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani at his home in Najaf. (Vatican Media)

07:00: Pope Francis leaves the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf after meeting with him. He is expected to depart for Nassiriya to lead an interreligious meeting at the Plain of Ur in southern Iraq which is revered as the birthplace of Abraham, father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Pope will afterwards return to Baghdad.

The visit was carried live on Iraqi television, and residents cheered the meeting of two respected faith leaders.

“We welcome the pope’s visit to Iraq and especially to the holy city of Najaf and his meeting with Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani,” said Najaf resident Haidar Al-Ilyawi. “It is an historic visit and hope it will be good for Iraq and the Iraqi people.”

Pope Francis leaves the home of Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani in Najaf after meeting with him. (Screenshot)

05:05: Pope Francis arrives in Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani’s home Najaf.

The Vatican’s hope was that Francis would sign a document with Al-Sistani pledging human fraternity, just as he did with Sunni Islam’s influential grand imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed El-Tayeb, based in Egypt.

03:45: Pope Francis departs from Baghdad and will travel by plane to the cities of Najaf and Ur.

- with agencies

READ MORE

Go to Arab News’ dedicated In Focus section on the Pope's visit to Iraq for coverage of the historic trip. Click here.

 


UN: Arbitrary detentions in Syria conflict may be war crimes

Updated 02 March 2021

UN: Arbitrary detentions in Syria conflict may be war crimes

  • 10-year Syrian conflict killed over half a million, displaced half the population and shattered nearly 5 million as refugees abroad, says UN report
  • UN Commission cites suspected human rights violations and abuses since the civil war erupted

GENEVA: Thousands of Syrian civilians were subject to multiple forms of war crimes, including torture and sexual violence, while others' fate remains unknown to date amid "arbitrary detentions" during the country’s 10-year conflict, said a UN commission report released Monday.
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has regularly reported on suspected human rights violations and abuses since the civil war erupted.
According to the report, the Syrian government arbitrarily arrested and detained individuals and committed “war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of detention.” Other parties in the conflict also committed crimes by unlawfully and arbitrarily depriving individuals of their liberty, it said.
Rival groups have been blamed for atrocities since Syria’s conflict broke out in March 2011 with anti-government protests that morphed into a civil war. They run jails where wide violations are reported against detainees.
The conflict has killed nearly half a million people, displaced half the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, including 5 million who are refugees abroad. Large parts of Syria are destroyed and tens of thousands still live in tent settlements.
The more than 30-page report is based on 2,658 interviews with victims and witnesses conducted from 2011 to the end of 2020, in addition to photographs, videos, satellite imagery, official documents and reports from multiple sources.
It is also based on investigations into more than 100 specific detention facilities, history documents and continued detention-related violations and abuses by nearly every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011.
“The wealth of evidence collected over a decade is staggering, yet the parties to the conflict, with very few exceptions, have failed to investigate their own forces,” said Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd.
“The focus appears to be on concealing, rather than investigating crimes committed in the detention facilities,” she added.
The report notes “massive scale of detention” and abuses perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and also lists detentions by insurgent groups, including Turkey-backed opposition fighters, other rebel groups and the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. It also examines the record of the Al-Qaeda-linked Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and the Daesh group — both designated terrorist organizations by the UN.
The fate of tens of thousands of civilians who were forcibly disappeared by Syrian government forces, many nearly a decade ago, remains unknown, the report said. Many are presumed to have died or been executed, while some are believed to be held in inhuman conditions of detention.
“Hundreds of thousands of family members have a right to the truth about their loved ones’ fate,” said the commission’s chairman, Paulo Pinheiro.
The commission also urged the government in Damascus to take urgent steps to reveal the fate of those missing. The report appeals on all parties to halt and prevent violations, immediately release specific groups of individuals, allow independent monitoring of detention facilities and provide support to victims.
The report is to be discussed by the UN-backed Human Rights Council, which set up the commission, on March 11, as part of its current four-week session.


The viral Instagrammer who rewards acts of kindness in Lebanon

Updated 26 February 2021

The viral Instagrammer who rewards acts of kindness in Lebanon

  • A Beirut-based viral video channel has built a massive following by filming and rewarding everyday acts of charity
  • Cab drivers and restaurant owners are stunned when their small acts of generosity are rewarded instantly with cash

DUBAI: No good deed goes unpunished, it is said. But thanks to one Beirut philanthropist, some good deeds end up being not only rewarded but also recorded.

The World Sucks (TWS) — a Lebanese social video channel devoted to documenting acts of kindness — was created just over a year ago to motivate the beneficiaries to pay it forward and give back to the community.

“As much as you try to help, you will never be able to solve all the problems,” the founder of TWS, who prefers to remain anonymous, told Arab News. “But a way to get close to that goal was to make videos to motivate people to either pay for someone’s food or offer them a free ride.”

In one of the channel’s earliest videos, the founder begs local cab drivers for a free ride, claiming to have no money. As a reward for their kindness, drivers who took pity on the “penniless” passenger were handed a large sum of cash — and their pleasant surprise caught on camera.

As a reward for their kindness, drivers who took pity on a “penniless” passenger were handed a large sum of cash. (Screenshot: YouTube)

“It was really fun,” he said, recalling the adrenaline rush of that first encounter. “I couldn’t sleep all night thinking about what happened.”

The first six videos were paid for out of the founder’s own pocket. But as the channel’s popularity grew, clocking up at least 31,600 Instagram followers and 5,200 YouTube subscribers, donations soon began flooding in, allowing TWS to go bigger and bolder.

“We always try to find different people to surprise, sometimes taxi drivers, sometimes cart vendors or random people,” the founder said.

“We then shifted to target hard-working or under-appreciated individuals, because times got really tough in Lebanon with the financial situation and the lockdowns due to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Although the channel began as a hobby, its creator, who is self-employed, says he has no plans to stop making videos. (Screenshot: YouTube)

To date, TWS has published 43 videos, all recorded in the past year. There are now plans to boost output from once a month to once a week.

Although the channel began as a hobby, its creator, who is self-employed, says he has no plans to stop making videos, which have earned a big following across the region and especially among the Lebanese diaspora.

“Doing it is a lot of fun,” he said. “People always send messages thanking me and we meet so many interesting people.”

When the channel first went viral, it was averaging monthly donations totaling around $500. Today, this has soared to $1,886, donated by 68 loyal contributors.

By May 2020, TWS had raised $15,000 from various non-governmental organizations to help the homeless.

When the channel first went viral, it was averaging monthly donations totaling around $500. Today, this has soared to $1,886, donated by 68 loyal contributors. (AFP/File Photo)

“The videos aren’t done to help someone specific but to remind people that there are people like these in every village and region,” the founder said. “Go down to the street and pay him directly — that’s the beauty.”

As word has spread of TWS’ philanthropy, local NGOs have also become beneficiaries of the resulting publicity. For instance, Beit El-Baraka, a charity which cares for the elderly, received donations worth $5,000 after reposting one of TWS’ videos. “They’re so ethical, they wanted to give us the money, but we asked them to spend it themselves,” the channel’s founder said.

“People in Lebanon are good. They deserve it because they work hard. People think 2020 was a hard year, but in Lebanon we wish we could have had the year others had. This isn’t just linked to what’s happening in Lebanon, but it’s a way to give back to the community.”

For TWS, copycats are welcome. The team behind it wants to start a chain reaction of kindness, the logic being that donating money to someone in need is a short-term solution, while offering someone a free service could be life changing.

By May 2020, TWS had raised $15,000 from various non-governmental organizations to help the homeless. (AFP/File Photo)

After rewarding the kindly taxi drivers of Beirut, the channel began looking at local restaurants. Posing as a hungry beggar, the channel’s founder asked one local eatery for free food. He says it was one of the hardest things he has ever had to do.

The owner’s selfless act quickly paid off when the TWS team returned the following day and bought the restaurant’s entire stock. Additionally, the publicity generated by TWS’s Instagram page led to a flood of new customers. “He’s a good person and he deserves to grow,” the channel’s founder said.

The COVID-19 pandemic made an already desperate situation for millions of Lebanese even harder. And just when they thought things had reached rock bottom, the Aug. 4 Beirut port blast leveled a whole city district.

Three days before the Lebanese government ordered lockdown measures to contain the coronavirus outbreak, the channel’s founder carried out an experiment. He approached 10 cab drivers for a free ride and 10 bakeries for free food. Although they all faced closures and a significant loss of business in the weeks ahead, every single one of them said yes.

The COVID-19 pandemic made an already desperate situation for millions of Lebanese even harder. And just when they thought things had reached rock bottom, the Aug. 4 Beirut port blast leveled a whole city district. (AFP/File Photo)

“It was unbelievable that before lockdown in a crisis, people are really there for each other, especially after the explosion,” he told Arab News.

“Lebanon deserves your help. The people here are good people. Maybe in most countries of the world people won’t offer free goods or services, but the beauty about Lebanon is that generosity.”

Most donations are paid in dollars from abroad to ensure no money is lost when converted to Lebanese pounds, the local currency which went into free fall last year. Monthly donors earn the title of “patron,” while those who wish to contribute from within Lebanon itself are advised instead to create their own community projects.

For others, watching, “liking” and subscribing is enough to help spread the good word. For its beneficiaries, the format is much more than wholesome online entertainment — it is a blessing.

A Lebanese youth waves a national flag in front of burning tyres blocking the Beirut-Tripoli highway in the coastal town of Ghazir, north of the port city of Junieh, during continuing anti-government protests across Lebanon on November 13, 2019. (AFP/File Photo)

“The surprise factor makes such a difference in somebody’s life or day and sometimes people experience a massive change in their life after that,” the founder said.

“Surprising them while giving them the money makes it an unforgettable experience for them.”

The element of surprise is one of the main reasons the channel’s founder wishes to remain anonymous. If he becomes too well recognized, the people TWS is trying to help will not be so easily fooled, spoiling the magic.

He also prefers to remain anonymous to maintain neutrality, in a society divided along confessional lines where one’s name can give away one’s religious or political background. “There is no room for politics nor gain on this page,” the founder said.

But above all, anonymity is an act of humility in a culture where “showing off” one’s charity is frowned upon.

“My sole aim and purpose,” he said, “is to give back to humanity.”

----------------------

Twitter: @CalineMalek


Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

Updated 25 February 2021

Qatar, Egypt to appoint envoys, resume work of embassies

  • Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them

CAIRO: Qatar and Egypt have agreed to appointment envoys and reopen their embassies in the wake of the AlUla agreement to mend relations with Doha.

The resolve came after delegations from both countries held talks in Kuwait to plan the normalization of links between the nations.

“The two parties agreed to resume the work of their diplomatic missions … followed by the appointment of an Egyptian ambassador in Doha and a Qatari ambassador in Cairo,” an Egyptian diplomatic source said.

Qatar’s permanent representative to the Arab League, Ibrahim Abdul Aziz Al-Sahlawi, was expected to become Doha’s envoy in Cairo, the source added.

During the meeting in Kuwait, Egypt was said to have set out its conditions for settling relations with Qatar, which included strict demands for Doha not to interfere in Egyptian internal affairs.

The AlUla agreement, signed on Jan. 5 during the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held in the ancient city, saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt restore ties with Qatar, ending a dispute which started in 2017.

A statement from the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said: “The two sides welcomed the measures taken by both countries after signing the AlUla agreement as a step toward building confidence between the two brotherly countries.”

The meeting discussed ways to enhance joint work and bilateral relations in areas including security, stability, and economic development.

Cairo and Doha thanked Kuwait for hosting the first round of talks between them and for its efforts to heal the rift and promote Arab unity.

Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently announced that Cairo and Doha had exchanged two official memoranda agreeing to restore diplomatic relations and on Jan. 18 flights between Egypt and Qatar resumed after having been suspended for more than three years.


Iran stops snap nuclear inspections, state-run daily urges caution

Updated 23 February 2021

Iran stops snap nuclear inspections, state-run daily urges caution

  • Iran’s envoy to International Atomic Energy Agency says implementation of Additional Protocol ended at midnight on Monday
  • The agreement allowed the IAEA to carry out short-notice inspections

DUBAI: An Iranian government newspaper warned on Tuesday that overly radical actions in the nuclear wrangling with the West may lead to the country’s isolation after Tehran ended snap inspections by United Nations inspectors.
Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, said it had ended implementation of the so-called Additional Protocol at midnight (2030 GMT) on Monday. The agreement allowed the IAEA to carry out short-notice inspections.
The state-run daily newspaper Iran criticized hard-line lawmakers who protested on Monday at Tehran’s decision to permit “necessary” monitoring by UN inspectors for up to three months, saying this broke a law passed by parliament in an apparent effort to pressure the United States to lift sanctions.
The law requires ending snap inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog from Tuesday if sanctions are not lifted.
“Those who say Iran must take swift tough action on the nuclear accord should say what guarantee there is that Iran will not be left alone as in the past ... and will this end anywhere other than helping build a consensus against Iran?” the daily Iran said.
To create room for diplomacy, the UN watchdog IAEA on Sunday reached a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of Tehran’s reduced cooperation and refusal to permit short-notice inspections.
On Monday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran might enrich uranium up to 60 percent purity if the country needed it, while repeating a denial of any Iranian intent to seek nuclear weapons.
Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, which it has been breaching since the United States withdrew in 2018, caps the fissile purity to which Tehran can refine uranium at 3.67 percent, well under the 20 percent achieved before the agreement and far below the 90 percent suitable for a nuclear weapon.
A US State Department spokesman said Khamenei’s comments “sounds like a threat” but reiterated US willingness to engage in talks with Iran about returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
Washington said last week it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord abandoned by former US President Donald Trump.
Tehran said last week it was studying a European Union proposal for an informal meeting between current members of the deal and the United States, but has yet to respond to it.
Iran, which has resumed enriching to 20 percent in an apparent bid to heap pressure on the United States, has been at loggerheads with Washington over which side should take the initial step to revive the accord.
Iranian leaders insist Washington must end its punitive campaign first to restore the deal, while Washington says Tehran must first return to full compliance.