September 2, 2014

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VATICAN: Former Minister Describes Pope as a ‘Figure for Persecuted Christians’

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VATICAN CITY, AUGUST 29, 2014(CISA) - Dr Paul Bhatti, former Pakistani Minister for National Harmony and Minorities, in Pakistan whose brother, Shabhaz, was assassinated by Islamic extremists, termed Pope Francis “a father figure for persecuted Christians.”

Dr Bhatti was speaking after he and his mother – both Catholics – met and spoke briefly with The Holy Father at the conclusion of Wednesday’s  26 General Audience, reported Vatican Radio.

The former minister described his meeting with the Pope as “a special moment” and together with his mother invited the pontiff to visit Pakistan’s small Christian community.

Dr Bhatti further criticized the international community’s lack of speaking out against persecution of Christians and condemned the “abuse of children” who, he said, are sometimes “brainwashed” as early as age 6 to kill.

While praising the courage of some Muslims who defend Christians, he maintained the root causes of religious extremism and terrorism must be identified and tackled.

During the weekly General Audience, Pope Francis said that in a Christian community division is one of the worst sins because it comes not from God adding that the sins against unity, such as jealousy, envy, and antipathy come about when we place ourselves at the centre and even occur even in our parish communities. 

The Pope stressed that God’s will, “is that we grow in our capacity to welcome one another, to forgive and to love, and to resemble Jesus.” 

“While we, the members of the Church, are sinners, the unity and holiness of the Church arise from God and call us daily to conversion,” he told an estimated ten thousand pilgrims and tourists present in St Peter’s Square.

SYRIA: Bishop Appeals for International Peace Force to Hold Back IS

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ALEPPO, AUGUST 29, 2014(CISA) - The Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, Syria, Antoine Audo has appealed for an international peace force to hold back the onslaught of the Islamic State militants advancing in Syria and Iraq.

“We are a bit confused; no one knows exactly what is happening. As Christians, as Syrians, we hope to have a solution of reconciliation, of peace, with the help of the United Nations. An international peace force is needed,” Bishop Audo told Vatican Radio. 

On whether people are concerned about the possible arrival of Islamic State militants, Bishop Audo said:  “In the city, in the center of Aleppo where most Christians live along with others, there is no direct violent presence. We are under the protection of the government. Around the city there are many groups which attack and launch bombs. This is the situation.”

The bishop however said people have heard the horrific accounts of what happens to areas under the control of IS’s so-called caliphate.

“We’ve heard the news coming from Mosul and Raqqa. We hear the news that speak of strict forms of Sharia laws, of the way one has to behave, of the violence… and this generally makes the people afraid…We hope though, that these things aren’t true.

On Thursday August 28, the Islamic State (IS) claimed that it has executed at least 250 Syrian soldiers at an air base in the north-eastern city of Raqqa.

The group said on one of its official websites that it killed the soldiers on Wednesday August 27 and also claimed to have killed 600 government soldiers in the fight for the Tabqa air base since August 19, according to CNN. However the authenticity of the videos is yet to be confirmed by any security body.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, meanwhile, reported that 200 Syrian soldiers and 346 IS fighters died in the fight for the air base, which was considered the military’s last holdout in eastern Syria. Hundreds more were wounded, the London-based activist group said. 

ISRAEL: No One Wins by Destroying Each Other, Says Bishop

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JERUSALEM, AUGUST 29, 2014(CISA) - Bishop William Shomali, auxiliary bishop of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem on Wednesday August 27 cautioned that victory cannot come from violence and that compromise is vital on both sides for the new ceasefire in Gaza to last.

Each has “finally understood that no one can destroy the other” and that “there is a need for a compromise” as well as “a comprehensive solution to the problem,” Bishop Shomali told CNA.

“This time we are much more hopeful for one important reason,” he said. “No one is victorious after two months. Two are losers I believe, no one is victorious even if someone says ‘I won.’ No one won.”

Bishop Shomali further explained that after 50 days of intense fighting in Gaza, citizens are in dire need of humanitarian aid including medical needs for the wounded as well as capacity building for hospitals which are overcrowded.

“There is also the need for food nourishment for these people and in the future we need special psychological treatment for traumatized children,” he said.

Elsewhere, Catholic aid organisations are hopeful that the recent cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants that took effect on Tuesday August 26 will hold as they begin to assess the needs in Gaza, reported CNA.

The organisations have coordinated their aid efforts in conjunction with Caritas Jerusalem focussing on food and cash assistance while Catholic Relief Services is distributing non-food items and CNEWA is assisting with repairing damaged homes and institutions.

According to Fr Raed Abusahlia, director of Caritas Jerusalem, his agency will provide food to 2,000 families as well as a cash distribution of about $350 to all the Christian families in Gaza, with specific emphasis on those who lost all of their possessions and homes. 

Caritas also will provide all the necessary school supplies for the students of the five Christian schools in Gaza.

The ceasefire negotiated by Egypt ended seven weeks of conflict which has left at least 2,200 people dead, most of them civilians while about 11,000 have been injured according to UN officials.

Israel launched Operation Protective Edge in July 8 with the stated goal of ending rocket fire from Hamas.

LIBERIA: Ebola Outbreak Continues to Accelerate, says WHO

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MONROVIA, AUGUST 29, 2014(CISA) - The World Health Organization WHO on Thursday August 28 warned that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa “continues to accelerate” and could eventually exceed 20,000 cases but said it aimed to reverse the spread of the virus within three months.

In a new anti-Ebola plan to stop “all residual transmission within 6-9 months” by the UN health agency, it is assumed that in many hard-hit areas, the actual number of cases may be two to four times higher than is currently reported.

“The cases are increasing. I wish I did not have to say this, but it is going to get worse before it gets better,” Tom Frieden, the director of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told a news conference in Monrovia, reported AFP.

“The world has never seen an outbreak of Ebola like this. Consequently, not only are the numbers large, but we know there are many more cases than has been diagnosed and reported,” he said.

According to the latest figures from WHO, 1552 people have died from the killer virus from among the 3069 cases reported so far in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria adding at least 40 percent of the cases have been in just the last three weeks.

On Thursday August 28, health ministers from West African countries affected by Ebola gathered in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, to discuss responses to the epidemic. The meeting came as more airlines suspended flights to the crisis zone with Air France being the latest to have a “temporary suspension” of services to Sierra Leone.

The UN’s envoy on Ebola, David Nabarro, had earlier criticized airlines who have cancelled flights to Ebola-hit countries, saying the growing isolation “makes it difficult for the UN to do its work.”

Elsewhere, the first human trials of an Ebola vaccine will start next week in the United States to see if it is safe in people before it can be made available, scientists have said.

According to Reuters, the Vaccine involves a product made by Glaxo Smith Kline and US government scientists, and is being referred to as the NIAID/GSK Ebola vaccine candidate.

S SUDAN: Govt, Opposition Accuse Each Other of Violating Ceasefire Agreement

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JUBA, AUGUST 29, 2014(CISA) - The South Sudan government and the opposition have traded accusations over the recently signed ceasefire in a move that would jeopardize delivery of humanitarian aid.

On one hand the government has blamed SPLM/A in opposition for withdrawing signature from the matrix for cessation of hostilities agreement signed a few days ago. Information Minister Michael Makuei Lueth on Thursday August 28, told reporters in Juba that the opposition decision renders ceasefire agreement ineffective, Sudan Tribune reported.

Opposition’s Spokesperson, James Gatdet Dak, on the other hand dismissed the government’s claim, describing it as “misleading” and further accused the government of not implementing ceasefire agreement by withdrawing foreign troops as stipulated in the document, saying they would not sign the matrix without implementation of the clause.

According to the opposition Inter-Governmental Authority on Development or IGAD mediators presented a blank document to their leader to sign which he refused to do so without the text.

Opposition’s chief negotiator Mr Taban Deng Gai stated that no one from their side signed a ceasefire matrix, explaining that what they signed is a rededication to a document that they did not know.

Mr Gai said they told IGAD mediators that the matrix itself is an addition to the cessation of hostilities agreement, and added that IGAD mediators should accept that they are failing, adding that imposing unacceptable solution to crisis fuels the crisis, VOA reported.

Government Chief Negotiator Mr Nhial Deng Nhial however said the matrix was signed by both sides in an open environment.

According to IGAD “long-awaited” signing of the matrix means that the cessation of hostilities agreement that was signed on January 23 will finally be put into action and “the guns will be silenced and the senseless conflict in South Sudan will end.”