19th century Iraq church holds first Mass since Daesh defeat

Iraqi Christians attend Mass at the Syriac Catholic Church of Mar Tuma in Mosul. The church received in September a new 285 kg bell, cast in Lebanon. (AFP)
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Updated 02 May 2022

19th century Iraq church holds first Mass since Daesh defeat

  • The Mar Tuma Syriac Catholic church, which dates back to the 19th century, was used by the jihadists as a prison or a court

MOSUL, Fallujah: Dozens of faithful celebrated Mass on Saturday at a Mosul church in northern Iraq for the first time since it was restored after its ransacking by Daesh terrorists.

Daesh swept into Mosul and proclaimed it their “capital” in 2014, in an onslaught that forced hundreds of thousands of Christians in the northern Nineveh province to flee, some to Iraq’s nearby Kurdistan region.

The Iraqi army drove out the jihadists three years later after months of grueling street fighting that devastated the city.

The Mar Tuma Syriac Catholic church, which dates back to the 19th century, was used by the jihadists as a prison or a court.

Restoration work is ongoing and its marble floor has been dismantled to be completely redone.

In September 2021, a new bell was inaugurated at the church during a ceremony attended by dozens of worshippers.

The 285-kg bell cast in Lebanon rang out on Saturday to cries of joy before the Mass got underway.

The service began with worshippers who packed the church chanting hymns as an organist played.

“This is the most beautiful church in Iraq,” said Father Pios Affas, 82, the delighted parish priest.

Affas also paid tribute to those behind the restoration work which, he said, had “brought the church back to its past glory, like the way it was 160 years ago.”

Inside the church, ochre and grey marble shone in the nave, where the altar and colonnaded arches were restored and new stained glass installed.

Jihadists had destroyed all Christian symbols, including the holy cross, and parts of the church were damaged by fire and shelling.

Artisans worked diligently to “clean the scorched marble” and restore it, Fraternity in Iraq, a French NGO that aids religious minorities, which helped fund the restoration work said earlier this year.

Outbuildings and rooms on the first floor, where windows have been broken and Daesh graffiti can be seen, are still due to be repaired.

Mosul and the surrounding plains of Nineveh were once home to one of the region’s oldest Christian communities.

Iraq’s Christian population has shrunk to fewer than 400,000 from around 1.5 million before the US-led invasion of 2003 that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Nineveh province was left in ruins after three years of jihadist occupation which ended in 2017 when Iraqi forces backed by US-led coalition airstrikes pushed them out. Several monasteries and churches are being renovated but reconstruction is slow, and the Christian population that has fled has not returned.

Meanwhile, two rockets targeting a base in western Iraq hosting US-led coalition troops on Saturday crashed near the complex without causing casualties or damage, security sources said.

“Two rockets fell outside the Iraqi base of Ain Al-Asad,” a security forces statement said, adding there were no “losses.”

The base, controlled by Iraq, is located in the desert in the western Anbar province and hosts foreign troops from the coalition fighting the Daesh group.

A coalition official said there was “no impact on the installation reported” and “no coalition personnel injuries reported.”

A previously unknown group calling itself “International Resistance” claimed the attack on a pro-Iran channel of messaging app Telegram.

Rockets and drones frequently target the Ain Al-Asad base.


France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

Updated 32 sec ago

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

  • Minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings
PARIS: France has repatriated 35 children and 16 mothers from camps in Syria where family members of suspected Daesh terrorists have been held, the foreign ministry said in Paris.
“France has today undertaken the return to the country of 35 French minors who were in camps in northeast Syria. This operation also includes the return of 16 mothers from these same camps,” a statement said, adding that the minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings.

Israeli PM to press France on Iran, warn Hezbollah ‘playing with fire’

Updated 05 July 2022

Israeli PM to press France on Iran, warn Hezbollah ‘playing with fire’

  • France is among world powers trying to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran
  • Iran has itself been in breach of the deal, ramping up projects with bomb-making potential

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid will press French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday for a tougher and time-limited tack on the Iranian nuclear negotiations, and warn that the Tehran-backed Hezbollah group is “playing with fire,” an official said.
Lapid’s visit to France, his first abroad since becoming caretaker premier last week, is also a chance to flex diplomatic muscles as Israelis gear up for a snap election in November.
France is among world powers trying to revive a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran that the previous US administration quit and which Israel opposed, deeming its caps insufficient.
As Lebanon’s former colonial administrator, France has additional clout in Beirut — whose economic crisis-hit leaders were jarred on Saturday when Israel shot down three Hezbollah drones launched toward one of its Mediterranean gas rigs.
“The French are very, very active on the Iranian issue,” a senior Israeli official told reporters.
“It is important for us to make our case ... Israel opposes a return to the JCPOA (2015 nuclear deal). In the same breath, we do not oppose a deal. We seek a very strong deal.”
Israel is not a party to the nuclear negotiations. But Western capitals have been attentive to its worries about its arch-enemy and worried it might take preemptive military action if it deems diplomacy a dead end.
Since the US walkout, Iran has itself been in breach of the deal, ramping up projects with bomb-making potential — though it denies having such designs. Its technical advancements have set a ticking clock on the so-far fruitless negotiations.
“We want an end to the unending talks,” said the senior Israeli official, calling for “coordinated pressure” on Iran and offering help on “drafting an appropriate framework” for that.
Israel has de facto front with Iran in Lebanon, home to Hezbollah. The senior Israeli official, alluding to Saturday’s shoot-downs, accused the group of “playing with fire.”
The official declined to elaborate on that warning, but said Lapid would share with Macron “new material explaining how Hezbollah is endangering Lebanon.”
Hezbollah and Israel fought a war across Lebanon’s border in 2006 but have been in a largely stable standoff since.
The Karish rig near Lebanon’s coast will produce gas not only for Israel, but eventually also for the European Union, the official said, tapping into EU countries’ quest to replace Russia as an energy supplier since it invaded Ukraine.


Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

Updated 04 July 2022

Egypt FM in London to inaugurate partnership council

CAIRO: Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed to London to inaugurate the first partnership council between his country and the UK.

The council will be co-chaired by Shoukry and British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. It will include political consultations and discussions on economic and trade issues, with the participation of British Trade Policy Minister Penny Mordaunt.

A spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry said the launch of the council comes in light of strengthening cooperation between the two countries in various fields.

While in London, Shoukry met with Lord Tariq Ahmad, British minister for South Asia, North Africa, the UN and the Commonwealth, to discuss bilateral relations.

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US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

Updated 05 July 2022

US offers cash rewards to curb Iran smuggling

  • Navy targets weapons and drugs in Arabian Gulf and Red Sea

JEDDAH: The US Navy is offering cash rewards of up to $100,000 for information leading to the interception of smuggled weapons and narcotics in the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea.

The initiative by the Bahrain-based 5th Fleet does not directly name Iran but analysts said it was clearly aimed at curbing the flow of Iranian arms to the Houthi militia in Yemen and restricting the lucrative regional drugs trade operated by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Any destabilizing activity has our attention,” 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins said. “Definitely we have seen in the last year skyrocketing success in seizing both illegal narcotics and illicit weapons. This represents another step in our effort to enhance regional maritime security.”
Operators fluent in Arabic, English and Farsi will staff a phone hotline, and the Navy will also take tips online in Dari and Pashto. Payouts can be as high as $100,000 or the equivalent in vehicles, boats or food for tips that include information on planned attacks targeting Americans.
Asked whether new seizures could increase tensions with Iran, Hawkins listed the weapons and drugs the Navy hoped to intercept under the program. “That’s what we’re after,” he said. “That’s not in the interest of regional stability and security.”

Opinion

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

The fleet and its allies seized $500 million in drugs alone in 2021, more than the four previous years combined, and intercepted the shipment of 9,000 weapons, three times the number in 2020.
Despite a UN Security Council arms embargo on Yemen, Tehran has long been transferring rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, missiles and other weapons to the Houthis in Yemen. UN experts have examined missiles aimed at civilian targets and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and traced the components back to Iran.
The rewards program is the latest initiative under 5th Fleet Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, who also launched a drone task force last year amid rising tension with Iran. The US Navy and Revolutionary Guard naval forces have had several encounters in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Houthis said last week they were monitoring increased US activity in the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.“Because of this, defense and confrontation options are open,” a spokesman said.


Al Jazeera reporter likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, US says

Updated 04 July 2022

Al Jazeera reporter likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, US says

  • Palestinian-American Shireen Abu Akleh was killed on May 11 during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank
  • Family “incredulous” after US reported it wasn't possible to determine whose gun fired bullet which killed her

WASHINGTON: Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was likely killed by unintentional gunfire from Israeli positions, but independent investigators could not reach a definitive conclusion about the origin of the bullet that struck her, the US State Department said on Monday.

Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American, was killed on May 11 during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank.

The US Security Coordinator (USSC), after summarizing investigations by both the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian Authority, concluded that gunfire from Israeli positions was likely responsible for Abu Akleh’s death, the State Department said.

“The USSC found no reason to believe that this was intentional but rather the result of tragic circumstances during an IDF-led military operation against factions of Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” the State Department said in a statement.

In forensic analysis by third-party examiners overseen by the USSC, however, ballistic experts determined the bullet was badly damaged which prevented a clear conclusion as to its origin, the State Department said.

Abu Akleh's family said Monday they were “incredulous” after the US reported it was not possible to determine whose gun fired the bullet which killed her.

“With respect to today’s announcement by the State Department — on July 4, no less — that a test of the spent round that killed Shireen Abu Akleh, an American citizen, was inconclusive as to the origin of the gun that fired it, we are incredulous,” the family said in a statement.

Palestinians have said the Israeli military deliberately killed Abu Akleh. Israel has denied this, saying she may have been hit by errant army fire or by a bullet from one of the Palestinian gunmen who were clashing with its forces at the scene.

The death of Abu Akleh, and feuding between the sides over the circumstances, have overshadowed a visit by US President Joe Biden due this month.