How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

The Dead Sea bordering Jordan and Israel recedes about a meter every year, leaving vast stretches of salt and mineral plains as a result of the water’s high salinity. (AFP)
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Updated 08 December 2022

How Israel, Jordan and Palestine can cooperate to slow Dead Sea’s demise 

  • Water levels have been falling over the past half century, endangering the salt lake’s very existence
  • Joint effort to revive the Jordan River and a canal to the Mediterranean Sea among potential solutions

AMMAN: From Greco-Roman times, the Dead Sea’s unique equilibrium was finely balanced by nature. Fresh water from nearby rivers and springs flowed into the lake, combining with rich salt deposits and then evaporating, leaving behind a brine of 33 percent salinity.

Now, owing to a combination of climatic and man-made factors, this balance has been disrupted. As a result, the Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century, endangering its very existence.




The Dead Sea has been receding at an alarming rate over the past half century. (AFP)

At the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, held in Egypt’s resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh in November, a joint Israeli-Jordanian agreement was signed to try to address the Dead Sea’s decline.

However, given that the deal excluded the Palestinians and was signed by an outgoing Israeli environment ministry official, some say that its chances of success are low.

Without sufficient funding, and in the absence of a three-way agreement, Jordan and Israel have instead decided to focus on cleaning up the Jordan River to help replenish the Dead Sea’s main water source.

What was signed by Israeli and Jordanian officials on the sidelines of COP27 was an agreement to this effect. But if the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater sources and to set aside political rivalries for the common environmental good.

No one knows exactly how the Dead Sea came into being. The Bible and other religious texts suggest this lifeless, salty lake at the lowest point on Earth was created when God rained down fire and brimstone on the sinful towns of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Russian experts have even tried excavating under the lake bed in the hope of finding evidence to support the Biblical tale. A nearby religious site called Lot’s Cave is said to be where the nephew of Abraham and his daughters lived after fleeing the destruction.

Scientists, meanwhile, point to the lake’s more mundane, geological origins, claiming the Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago.

Halfway through the 20th century, among the first big decisions made by the newly formed state of Israel was to divert large amounts of water by pipelines from the Jordan River to the southern Negev, in order to realize the dream of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion to “make the desert bloom.”




If the Dead Sea is to be rescued from impending oblivion, it is clear that far more needs to be done to undo the damage to its natural freshwater. (AFP)

In 1964, Israel’s Mekorot National Water Company inaugurated its National Water Carrier project, which gave the Degania Dam — completed in the early 1930s — a new purpose: to regulate the water flow from the Sea of Galilee to the Jordan River.

One result was that the share of water reaching the neighboring Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan fell drastically, thereby depriving the Dead Sea of millions of cubic meters of freshwater per year from its primary source.

Another potential contributing factor at present is the Israeli company behind Ein Gedi Mineral Water. The Ein Gedi bottling plant has monopolized the use of freshwater from a spring that lies within the 1948 borders of the state of Israel and which long fed into the Dead Sea.

However, not all the blame for the lake’s decline rests with one country. According to Elias Salameh, a water science professor at the University of Jordan, every country in the region bears some responsibility.

“All of us are responsible at different levels for what has happened to the Dead Sea,” Salameh told Arab News. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have all sucked up water intended for the Dead Sea in order to satisfy their own needs.

FASTFACTS

• The Dead Sea receives almost all its water from the Jordan River.

• It is the lowest body of water on the surface of the planet.

• In the mid-20th century, it was 400 meters below sea level.

• By the mid-2010s, it had fallen to 430 meters below sea level.

In 1955, the Jordan Valley Unified Water Plan, brokered by US Ambassador Eric Johnston, allowed Israel to use 25 million cubic meters of Yarmouk River water per year, Syria 90 million and Jordan 375 million.

“But not all countries abided by the commitments made to the American, Johnston,” said Salameh. “It was never signed because Arab countries had not recognized Israel and refused to sign any agreement with Israel. Syria took the biggest portion, getting away with 260-280 million cubic meters annually.”

In the 1970s, Jordan and Syria began their own diversion of the Yarmouk River, the largest tributary of the Jordan River, again reducing its flow. Another agreement, in 1986, gave Jordan the right to 200 million cubic meters. But, in reality, Jordan took barely 20 million.

According to the UN, Jordan is the second most water-scarce country in the world. The 1948 and 1967 Arab-Israeli wars, which led to the mass exodus of Palestinians, more than doubled Jordan’s population, making its water needs even more acute.

As a result of these deals and diversions, the Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating.




“Climate change has aggressively hit Jordan in the past two years,” said Motasem Saidan, University of Jordan professor. (Supplied)

During the first 20 years after 1976, the water level dropped by an average of six meters per decade. Over the next decade, from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, it fell by nine meters. In the decade up to 2015, it fell by 11 meters.

Some attribute this accelerating decline to man-made climate change. Climate scientists say global warming has already resulted in significant alterations to human and natural systems, one of which is increased rate of evaporation from water bodies.

At the same time, the waters of the Dead Sea are not being replenished fast enough.

Although the Dead Sea borders Jordan, Israel and Palestine, and despite the valiant efforts of such cross-border NGOs as Earth Peace, which includes activists from all three communities, no serious collective action has been taken to deal with the ecological disaster.

Cooperation is essential, however, to stave off the wider environmental consequences — most concerning of all being the rapid proliferation of sinkholes along the Dead Sea shoreline.

According to scientists, when freshwater diffuses beneath the surface of the newly exposed shoreline, it slowly dissolves the large underground salt deposits until the earth above collapses without warning.

Over a thousand sinkholes have appeared in the past 15 years alone, swallowing buildings, a portion of road, and date-palm plantations, mostly on the northwest coast. Environmental experts believe Israeli hotels along the shoreline are now in danger.

On the Jordanian side, too, the fate of luxury tourism resorts along the eastern shore of the Dead Sea face is in the balance.




Dead Sea is the product of the same tectonic shifts that formed the Afro-Arabian Rift Valley millions of years ago, scientists say. (AFP)

“The main highway, which is the artery to all the big Jordanian hotels, is in danger of collapsing if the situation is not rectified,” Salameh said.

Israel has developed a system that can predict where the next sinkhole will appear, based on imagery provided by a satellite operated by the Italian Space Agency, which passes over the Dead Sea every 16 days and produces a radar image of the area.

By comparing sets of images, even minimal changes in the topography can be identified before any major collapse.

Israeli officials have been searching for solutions to prevent a further decline in water levels and thereby stave off the spread of sinkholes. One suggestion is the construction of a Red Sea-Dead Sea canal.

A report compiled to assess the potential impact of transferring Red Sea water into the lower-lying Dead Sea found that a moderate flow could slow, but not halt, the retreat of the Dead Sea and reduce the number of new sinkholes per year.

Ironically, it found that too much Red Sea water could have the opposite effect. If the flow was significant enough to raise the level of the Dead Sea, the report predicted the sinkhole problem would be exacerbated.

Because the Red Sea is less salty than the Dead Sea, it would likely increase the dissolution of underground salt deposits and thereby speed up the appearance of sinkholes.

Although many solutions have been suggested to help address the Dead Sea’s decline, none has been implemented owing in large part to a lack of funding.




The Dead Sea receded from roughly 398 meters below sea level in 1976 to around 430 meters below sea level in 2015. What is more worrying, perhaps, is the decline has been accelerating. (AFP)

According to Salameh, the most logical solution proposed to date is the Med-Dead project, which would allow for a channel to run from the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea.

Two of the sites proposed for this channel are Qatif, near the Gaza Strip, and Bisan, north of the Jordan River in Jordan. However, such a plan would first require Jordanian and Palestinian approvals.

Jordan has also suggested a similar project establishing a channel from the Red Sea, but Salameh does not consider this feasible.

“The distance is long, and it is not a viable project,” he said.


Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

Updated 29 January 2023

Israeli guards kill ‘armed’ Palestinian near West Bank settlement

RAMALLAH: Israeli guards killed a Palestinian near a settlement in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian health officials said Sunday, with the Israeli military alleging he was armed.
Karam Ali Ahmad Salman, 18, was shot dead by “the Israeli occupation near the settlement of ‘Kedumim’,” the Palestinian health ministry reported.
Israel’s army said a “civilian security team” shot a person “armed with a handgun” near the settlement in the northern West Bank.
The Palestinian health ministry reported that Kedumim was built on privately-owned Palestinian land.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 Six-Day War and settlements are regarded as illegal under international law, a charge Israel disputes.
Salman is one of at least 32 Palestinians killed in the West Bank this month, including civilians and militants, according to an AFP tally based on official sources.
A Palestinian gunman killed seven people Friday outside a synagogue in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
In response to the deadly attack, the Israeli government announced a slew of measures including “steps to strengthen settlements.”
The latest violence follows a surge in killings last year.
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to AFP figures.


Sweden tells citizens to avoid crowds in Turkiye after Qur'an burning

Updated 28 January 2023

Sweden tells citizens to avoid crowds in Turkiye after Qur'an burning

  • Last week Turkiye suspended talks with Sweden and Finland on their applications to join NATO
  • "Swedes in Turkiye are asked to stay updated on the development of events and to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations," the foreign ministry said

STOCKHOLM: Sweden’s foreign ministry on Saturday warned Swedes in Turkiye to avoid crowds and demonstrations following protests there over the burning of the Qur’an by a far-right politician in Stockholm last week.
Last week Turkiye suspended talks with Sweden and Finland on their applications to join NATO after the protest at which Rasmus Paludan, leader of the Danish far-right political party Hard Line, burned a copy of the Qur’an outside the Turkish embassy in Stockholm.
Paludan’s actions have led to demonstrations in a number of Muslim countries as well as in Turkiye.
“Swedes in Turkiye are asked to stay updated on the development of events and to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations,” the foreign ministry said on its advice page for Swedes abroad.
“Continued demonstrations can be expected outside the embassy in Ankara and the consulate general in Istanbul in the coming days.”
After Paludan’s protest, Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said he supported freedom of speech.
“But what is legal is not necessarily appropriate. Burning books that are holy to many is a deeply disrespectful act,” Kristersson said on Twitter.
Sweden and Finland applied last year to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
They need support from all 30 members of the Alliance. Turkiye has said Sweden in particular must first take a clearer stance against what it sees as terrorists, mainly Kurdish militants and a group it blames for a 2016 coup attempt, in order for it to back NATO membership for the two Nordic countries.


New gun attack in east Jerusalem after synagogue mass shooting

Updated 29 January 2023

New gun attack in east Jerusalem after synagogue mass shooting

  • Police said the suspect was “neutralized” following the latest gun attack in the Silwan neighborhood
  • Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency response service identified the victims as two men, aged 47 and 23

JERUSALEM: An assailant shot and wounded two people in east Jerusalem on Saturday, Israeli medics said, hours after a Palestinian gunman killed seven outside a synagogue in one of the deadliest such attacks in years.
Police said the suspect was “neutralized” following the latest gun attack in the Silwan neighborhood, just outside Jerusalem’s old, walled city.
Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency response service identified the victims as two men, aged 47 and 23, both with “gunshot wounds to their upper body.” It did not identify those involved.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday that Israel's response to an attack by a Palestinian gunman attack that killed seven people on the outskirts of Jerusalem will be "strong, swift and precise" .
Netanyahu made the statement as he convened his security cabinet over Friday's attack. 
Police had earlier announced 42 arrests in connection with Friday’s synagogue attack.
The mass shooting unfolded as a 21-year-old resident of Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem drove up to the synagogue in the Neve Yaakov neighborhood and opened fire during the Jewish Sabbath.
The bloodshed, which unfolded on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, marked another dramatic escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It came a day after one of the deadliest army raids in the occupied West Bank in roughly two decades, as well as rocket fire from militants in the Gaza Strip and Israeli retaliatory air strikes.
There have widespread calls to de-escalate the spiralling violence, but tensions are rising.
Crowds shouted “Death to Arabs” as Netanyahu toured the scene of the synagogue attack late Friday.
Palestinians also held spontaneous rallies to celebrate the killings, in Gaza and across the West Bank, including in Ramallah where large crowds swarmed the streets chanting and waving Palestinian flags.
Several Arab nations that have ties with Israel-- including Egypt, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates — condemned the synagogue shooting.
The Lebanese group Hezbollah, one of Israel’s most prominent foes, praised the attack as “heroic,” voicing “absolute support for all the steps taken by the Palestinian resistance factions.”

The gunman at the synagogue was shot dead by police during a shootout that followed a brief car chase after the attack.
There has been no indication that he had prior involvement in militant activity or was a member of an established Palestinian armed group.
“The Jerusalem District Police and border police fighters arrested 42 suspects — some of them from the terrorist’s (immediate) family, relatives and (neighbors),” a police statement said.
“The police will thoroughly examine the connection between each of the arrested suspects and the terrorist who carried out the attack, as well as the extent of their knowledge and/or involvement,” it added.
In a separate statement, police said the force had been placed on the “highest level” of alert following the attack.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem following the 1967 Six-Day War. Palestinians claim the area as the capital of their future state.
Israel’s police chief Kobi Shabtai called the shooting “one of the worst attacks (Israel) has encountered in recent years.”

Nine people had been killed Thursday in what Israel described as a “counter-terrorism” operation in the Jenin refugee camp.
It was one of the deadliest Israeli army raids in the occupied West Bank since the second intifada, or Palestinian uprising, of 2000 to 2005.
Israel said Islamic Jihad operatives were the target.
Islamic Jihad and Hamas both vowed to retaliate, later firing several rockets at Israeli territory.
Most of the rockets were intercepted by Israeli air defenses. The military responded with strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza.
There were no injuries reported on either side, but Gaza’s armed groups vowed further action.
After the synagogue shooting, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the attack proved “the resistance knows how to find the appropriate response” to Israeli “crimes.”
Washington had announced Thursday that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken would travel next week to Israel and the Palestinian territories, where he would push for an “end to the cycle of violence.”
A US State Department spokesman confirmed on Friday that the visit would go ahead and said Blinken would discuss “steps to be taken to de-escalate tensions.”
At least 26 Israelis and 200 Palestinians were killed across Israel and the Palestinian territories in 2022, the majority in the West Bank, according to an AFP tally from official sources.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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Seven killed in synagogue attack as West Bank violence spirals

Updated 28 January 2023

Seven killed in synagogue attack as West Bank violence spirals

  • Gunman identified as a 21-year-old Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem who appeared to have acted alone
  • Attack comes amid escalating violence in occupied West Bank, including the shooting of 3 Palestinians by an Israeli land-grabber in Nablus

JERUSALEM: A Palestinian gunman opened fire outside an east Jerusalem synagogue Friday night, killing seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding three others before he was shot and killed by police, officials said. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis in years and raised the likelihood of more bloodshed.
The attack, which occurred as residents were observing the Jewish sabbath, came a day after an Israeli military raid killed nine people in the West Bank. The shooting set off celebrations in both the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, where people fired guns into the air, honked horns and distributed sweets.
The burst of violence, which also included a rocket barrage from Gaza and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes, has posed an early challenge for Israel’s new government, which is dominated by ultranationalists who have pushed for a hard line against Palestinian violence. It also cast a cloud over a visit by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the region Sunday.
Addressing reporters at Israel’s national police headquarters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had held a security assessment and decided on “immediate actions.” He said he would convene his Security Cabinet on Saturday night, after the end of the sabbath, to discuss a further response.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) visits the site of an attack in a settler neighborhood of Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem on Jan. 27, 2023. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP) 

Netanyahu declined to elaborate but said Israel would act with “determination and composure.” He called on the public not to take the law into their own hands.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US strongly condemned the attack and was “shocked and saddened by the loss of life,” noting it came on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
US officials said later Friday that President Joe Biden spoke with Netanyahu to offer US support to the government and people of Israel, calling the shootings “an attack against the civilized world.” “The President stressed the iron-clad US commitment to Israel’s security,” the White House said of the call.
Israeli police said the shootings occurred in Neve Yaakov, a neighborhood with a large ultra-Orthodox population, and that the gunman fled in a car. Police said they chased after him and after an exchange of fire, killed him.
Jerusalem police chief Doron Turjeman confirmed seven deaths, in addition to the shooter, and said three people were wounded.
Police identified the attacker as a 21-year-old east Jerusalem resident who apparently acted alone. Turjeman promised an “aggressive and significant” effort to track down anyone who helped him.
Police also released a photo of the pistol it said was used by the attacker.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant huddled with Israel’s military chief and other top security officials and instructed them to assist police and strengthen defenses near Jerusalem and for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
“Israel’s defense establishment will operate decisively and forcefully against terror and will reach anyone involved in the attack,” Gallant said.
Israel’s MADA rescue service said the dead victims were five men and two women, including several who were 60 or older. Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital said a 15-year-old boy was recovering from surgery.

The attack was the deadliest on Israelis since a 2008 shooting killed eight people in a Jewish seminary in Jerusalem, according to the Foreign Ministry. Given the location and timing, it threatened to trigger a tough response from Israel.
Overnight Thursday, Gaza militants fired a barrage of rockets into southern Israel, with all of them either intercepted or landing in open areas. Israel responded with airstrikes on targets in Gaza. No casualties were reported, and calm had appeared to be taking hold before Friday night’s shooting.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. In Gaza, Hazem Qassem, spokesman for the ruling Hamas militant group, said the attack was “a revenge and natural response” to the deadly military raid Thursday.
At several locations across the Gaza Strip, dozens of Palestinians gathered in spontaneous demonstrations to celebrate the Jerusalem attack, with some coming out of dessert shops with large trays of sweets to distribute.
In downtown Gaza City, celebratory gunfire could be heard, as cars honked and calls of “God is great!” wafted from mosque loudspeakers. In various West Bank towns, Palestinians launched fireworks.
The attack escalated tensions that were already heightened following Thursday’s raid in the town of Jenin, where nine people, including at least seven militants and a 61-year-old woman, were killed. It was the deadliest single raid in the West Bank in two decades. A 10th Palestinian was killed in separate fighting near Jerusalem.
Angry Palestinians marched Friday as they buried the last of those killed a day earlier.
Scuffles between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters erupted after the funeral for a 22-year-old Palestinian north of Jerusalem and elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, but calm prevailed in the contested capital and in the blockaded Gaza Strip for most of the day.

That suddenly dissolved with the east Jerusalem shooting, described as “horrific and heartbreaking” by Yair Lapid, the opposition leader and former prime minister.
Neve Yaakov is a religious Jewish settlement that Israel considers to be a neighborhood of its capital. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital, while the Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as a capital of their future state.
Blinken’s trip will probably now focus heavily on lowering tensions. He is likely to discuss the underlying causes of the conflict, the agenda of Israel’s new far-right government and the Palestinian Authority’s decision to halt security coordination with Israel in retaliation for the raid.
The Biden administration has been deeply engaged with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in recent days, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, underscoring the “urgent need here for all parties to deescalate to prevent the further loss of civilian life and to work together to improve the security situation in the West Bank.”
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and several smaller skirmishes since the militant group seized power in Gaza from rival forces in 2007.
Tensions have soared since Israel stepped up raids in the West Bank last spring, following a series of Palestinian attacks.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 2022, making it the deadliest year in those territories since 2004, according to leading Israeli rights group B’Tselem. Last year, 30 people were killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.
So far this year, 30 Palestinians have been killed, according to a count by The Associated Press.
Israel says most of the dead were militants. But youths protesting the incursions and others not involved in the confrontations also have been killed.
Israel says its raids are meant to dismantle militant networks and thwart attacks. The Palestinians say they further entrench Israel’s 55-year, open-ended occupation of the West Bank, captured along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.


Protests against Qur’an burning held across the Middle East

Updated 27 January 2023

Protests against Qur’an burning held across the Middle East

  • The protests in countries including Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon ended with people dispersing peacefully
  • Swedish officials have stressed that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Swedish Constitution

BEIRUT: Protests were held Friday in several predominantly Muslim countries to denounce the recent desecration of Islam’s holy book by far-right activists in Sweden and the Netherlands.
The protests in countries including Pakistan, Iraq, Iran and Lebanon ended with people dispersing peacefully. In Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad, police officers stopped some demonstrators trying to march toward the Swedish Embassy.
About 12,000 Islamists from the Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan party rallied in Lahore, the capital of the eastern Punjab province to denounce the desecration of the Qur’an in the two European countries. In his speech to the demonstrators, Saad Rizvi, the head of the TLP, asked the government to lodge a strong protest with Sweden and the Netherlands so that such incidents don’t happen again.
Similar rallies were also held in the southern city of Karachi and in the northwest.
Friday’s rallies dispersed peacefully. However, Tehreek-e-Labiak Pakistan in recent years has held violent rallies over the publication of caricatures of Islam’s prophet in France and elsewhere in the world.
In the Iranian capital of Tehran, hundreds of people marched after Friday prayers during which they burned a Swedish flag.
In Beirut, about 200 angry protesters burned the flags of Sweden and the Netherlands outside the blue-domed Mohammed Al-Amin mosque at Beirut’s central Martyrs Square.
Earlier this month, Rasmus Paludan, a far-right activist from Denmark, received permission from police to stage a protest outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm where he burned the Qur’an.
Days later, Edwin Wagensveld, Dutch leader of the far-right Pegida movement in the Netherlands, tore pages out of a copy of the Qur’an near the Dutch Parliament and stomped on them.
The moves angered millions of Muslims around the world and triggered protests.
On Friday, Paludan, who holds both Danish and Swedish citizenship, told Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet that he would replicate the protest in front of the Turkish Embassy in Copenhagen every Friday until Sweden is admitted into NATO.
Turkiye’s state-run Anadolu Agency said the Danish ambassador was summoned to the Turkish Foreign Ministry where Turkish officials “strongly condemned the permission given to this provocative act which clearly constitutes a hate crime.”
Swedish officials have stressed that freedom of expression is guaranteed by the Swedish Constitution and gives people extensive rights to express their views publicly, though incitement to violence or hate speech isn’t allowed. Demonstrators must apply to police for a permit for a public gathering. Police can deny such permits only on exceptional grounds, such as risks to public safety.
Iraq’s powerful Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr asked in comments released Friday whether freedom of speech means offending other people’s beliefs. He asked why “doesn’t the burning of the gays’ rainbow flag represent freedom of expression.”
The cleric added that burning the Qur’an “will bring divine anger.”
Hundreds of his supporters gathered outside a mosque in Baghdad waving copies of the Qur’an.