Lebanese Christian civil war foes shake hands, make up after 40 years

FILE PHOTO: Samir Geagea, leader of the Christian Lebanese Forces, speaks during an interview with Reuters at his home in the Christian village of Maarab in the mountains overlooking the seaside town of Jounieh, October 31, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Christian rivals from the Lebanese civil war, Samir Geagea and Suleiman Frangieh, shook hands with each other on Wednesday, marking a formal reconciliation to end more than four decades of enmity.

Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces (LF) political party, and Frangieh, head of the Marada party, have been foes since the early days of the 1975-1990 civil war.

The two parties had armed militias during the conflict that battled against each other. The war, which drew in regional powers, included fighting between the country’s main sects and rival factions within those sects.

The men, both Maronite Christians, met to reconcile at the seat of the sect’s Patriarch Bechara al-Rai in Bkerki, north of Beirut. They shook hands with Rai and then with each other after several failed reconciliation attempts over the years.

Geagea has been accused of leading a raid in 1978 on the home of Frangieh’s father, Tony Franjieh, a rival Maronite Christian chieftain, who was killed with his wife, daughter, and others. Geagea has said he was wounded before reaching Frangieh’s house and did not take part himself.

This is the second rapprochement of recent years between civil war Maronite Christian rivals.

In January 2016 Geagea endorsed then presidential candidate Michel Aoun for the Lebanese presidency, ending his own rival candidacy for the position, which must be held by a Maronite Christian under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.

Geagea and Aoun, who fought each other in the 1975-90 civil war, have been on opposite sides of the political divide since Syrian forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2005.

President Aoun is a political ally of the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, whereas Geagea is a staunch opponent of the group. Frangieh is a close ally of Syrian President and Hezbollah ally Bashar al-Assad.

Tony Frangieh, Suleiman’s son, said the reconciliation was a good thing for all Lebanese and was not connected to any presidential aims.

“We are looking forward to the future by achieving this reconciliation,” he told Lebanese broadcaster al-Jadeed at the ceremony.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Laila Bassam and Ellen Francis; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

YOUR VOTE MATTERS! Don’t forget Election Night Coverage on The Jim Bakker Show! LIVE Tuesday night at 7 PM!

By Kami Klein

Two years ago, Christians came en masse to vote for the future of this country.  Conservative values were being ridiculed. Our Constitution was being put to the test and our belief that God was the foundation of this country was ignored.  In a stunning turn-around, the Church made their voices known. NOW is the time to show we mean it. Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 6th, America once again goes to the polls to vote.  It is vital that you make your voice heard!

Voting is our power and it is the responsibility of all Americans to remember the importance of “We The People”.  You do not have to hold a sign or shout; you do not have to fight! In America, there is a way to let your feelings and beliefs be heard. This is your chance to speak!  Speak with YOUR vote!

For the last few months, our guests on The Jim Bakker Show have strongly encouraged us to not sit idly by but to get out and Vote.  The importance of mid-term elections has never been more paramount. The Church must be heard in this election. You must not throw your vote away!  

On election night we invite you to join The Jim Bakker Show LIVE at 7 pm CT as we watch the results come in on this extremely important time in America!  This exciting Live broadcast can be found on PTL Television Network on your Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV or by going to jimbakkershow.com or the PTL Television Network at Ptlnetwork.com.    

We would love for you to join us as we speak via Skype with some of our most influential prophetic guests such as Rick Joyner, General Boykin, Lance Wallnau, David Horowitz, Jim Garlow, Carl Gallups and more.

Speak this Tuesday on your voting ballot as we exercise our freedom to vote and send a message to the world that God is in control and we believe in His plans for us.  

Please, go vote and continue praying for our President, for our leaders, and for our nation!  The Church is the key to our future!

 

The Procedural Vote – Special Edition, Washington, D.C.

by Billye Brim | Oct 6, 2018

The Procedural Vote

Four of us left our hotel at 8 AM Friday morning and arrived early at the private entry door where we waited until 9 to get in.

Our special passes were issued by high-ranking Senators. Two of them, whose names are most-associated with these proceedings entered the room where 150 or so of us were gathered. They asked that we not record or take pictures. So—I will not reveal their names. But one of them said to us, “I believe in the power of prayer. Don’t pay so much attention to what is happening on the floor. But keep focused on prayer as you ask that the Lord’s will be done.”

Inside the Senate Gallery, there was decorum. No shouting. On both sides of the Gallery, people behaved with respect. The prayer on the Republican side where we sat was amazing. The people were amazing. We were instructed that we could not react to anything said on the floor. Nor could we react to the outcome of the vote. Everyone on both sides respected the place. The atmosphere was one of peace. Even before any speeches or any votes. I believe the powers of the air were bound and muted by the strong army of believers here in D.C. and there where you are. The Prayer Force all across America and even the world was in action.

The Mobs
and
The Prayer Force

I wasn’t going to give any “ink” to the mobs but I want you to see where the real power was—in the praying people. And this morning (Saturday, October 6,) I was reading in Acts and saw that the enemy’s M.O. has been operating in MOBS for centuries.

The rabble-rousers are not affecting things in the magnitude the media is portraying. Wherever they are, cameras are following them. The press is paying little or no attention to the many, many praying people who are here.

Max is here. He did not have a Gallery pass. He was praying in Grassley’s office on Friday with about 150 believers he said were from across America. He prayed closely with one family which consisted of a mother and her 15-year old son and his grandfather. The husband and father is overseas in the military serving our country. The family has a strong military heritage. They gave Max the shirt you see him wearing in the attached photograph.

When this family group decided to walk the halls praying, and wearing these t-shirts, the 15-year old said to Max, “Walk with me, Uncle.” The grandfather, the son, and Max followed the women in their little group. A scruffy looking man (Max’s description) walked up to the boy and hit him full force in the stomach. The young man fell to the ground in pain. The Capitol Police came up to arrest the man (and incidentally they want to be arrested). However, the mother said that she didn’t want to press charges and that they would pray for the man.

Greater Is He That Is In Us
Than he that is in the world.

On Thursday we met other praying people in Senator Grassley’s office when the mob decided to take over the halls. Hannah caught a video of the leader outside Grassley’s office door yelling that we didn’t have any black people inside (Facebook video – click here). She did not know that at that very moment, the Lord had anointed a young black woman inside to lead us in prayer. I was impressed by the Power of the Holy Spirit upon her as she led in a loud voice. Her words were those of Authority, Power, and Dominion. I was thrilled at who the Lord used so mightily to put to naught the accusatory words being shouted outside the door. The adversary knew what was happening inside and that he was defeated. (Instagram video – click here)

We are awaiting now (Saturday morning) word for when the vote will take place.

Again, the Lord is providing great Gallery seats for us. But as I said, wherever you are, we all meet at the Right Hand of the Father from where we operate.

Shalom and Blessings
Love in Him
Billye Brim

Anger, dismay as Indonesia says search for quake victims to end

People attend an outdoor church service in the earthquake damaged area of Jono oge village, in Sigi district, south of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

By Kanupriya Kapoor and Fathin Ungku

PALU, Indonesia (Reuters) – Relatives of hundreds of people missing after an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia reacted with anger, sadness and resignation on Sunday to a decision by the state disaster agency to end searches for bodies later this week.

The 7.5 magnitude quake on Sept. 28 brought down shopping malls, hotels and other buildings in the city of Palu, while tsunami waves smashed into its beachfront. But perhaps more deadly was soil liquefaction which obliterated several Palu neighborhoods.

No one knows how many people are missing but it is at least in the hundreds, rescuers say.

The official death toll has risen to 1,763 but bodies are still being recovered, at least 34 in one place alone on Saturday and more on Sunday.

“Many of us are angry that we haven’t found our families and friends and they want to give up?” said Hajah Ikaya, 60, who says she lost her sister, brother-in-law and niece in the Balaroa neighborhood in the south of the city. They are all missing.

Balaroa was one of areas particularly hard hit by liquefaction, which turns the ground into a roiling quagmire, destroying houses and dragging people under the mud and debris.

The disaster agency said earlier liquefaction destroyed 1,700 houses in one neighborhood alone with hundreds of people buried in the mud.

“We’re Muslim. We need a proper burial, in the Islamic way,” said Ikaya. “We don’t want this.”

Disaster agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho told a briefing in Jakarta some limited searching might continue but large-scale searches with many personnel and heavy equipment would cease on Oct. 11.

Debris would be cleared and areas hit by liquefaction would be turned into parks and sports venues. Surveys would be carried out and people living in vulnerable places would be moved.

“We don’t want the community to be relocated to such dangerous places,” Nugroho said.

Most of the dead from the quake and tsunami were in Palu, the region’s main urban center. Figures for more remote areas are trickling in but they seem to have suffered fewer deaths than the city.

Dede Diman, 25, a resident of Petobo, another neighborhood in Palu that was laid waste by liquefaction, said rescuers hadn’t even started searching where his sister was lost.

“We’re already angry,” said Diman, who is living in a shelter with his brother and another sister. Their mother was killed and her body found.

“We don’t agree with giving up. Even if they give up, we won’t. We want to find our sister.”

Graphic: Catastrophe in Sulawesi – https://tmsnrt.rs/2OqQlUo

PRAYERS

Mohammad Irfan, 25, got home to Palu on Sunday, as air services picked up, from his job on Bali island, to help search for his missing grandfather.

“I’d feel very sad if the search mission ends because there are so many still missing and buried,” he said.

A grieving father was resigned to the search ending without his two-year-old daughter being found.

“What’s the point anyway? At this stage, they’re not even recognizable,” said Ondre, 38, who makes toys for a living.

Villagers affected by the earthquake wave after an Indonesian military helicopter dropped aid in Lindu village south of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Villagers affected by the earthquake wave after an Indonesian military helicopter dropped aid in Lindu village south of Palu, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, October 7, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

His wife and two daughters were swept away in the tsunami that hit Palu’s seafront after the earthquake. He found the bodies of his wife and older daughter but is still looking for his younger daughter.

“I don’t want her to feel like her father never tried to find her. My soul wouldn’t rest,” he said by a mass grave atop a hill overlooking Palu’s bay as the sun set, where he had come to offer prayers.

Sulawesi is one of Indonesia’s five main islands. The archipelago sees frequent earthquakes and occasional tsunami.

In 2004, a quake off Sumatra island triggered a tsunami across the Indian Ocean that killed 226,000 people in 13 countries, including more than 120,000 in Indonesia.

Earlier on Sunday, dozens of Christians gathered outside ruined churches for services to give thanks for their survival and to mourn members of their congregation killed in the disaster.

Indonesia has the world’s biggest Muslim population but there are Christian communities throughout the archipelago, including in Palu.

“We are so relieved to be alive but sad because so many of our congregation died,” said Dewi Febriani, 26, after a service in a tent outside the Toraja Church in Jono Oge village, south of Palu.

Jono Oge was hit hard by liquefaction with dozens of teenagers at a nearby church and Bible camp killed. Many of lie buried in the mud.

(Additional reporting by Jessica Damiana in JAKARTA, Rozanna Latiff in PALU; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Why is the U.S. moving its embassy to Jerusalem?

A worker on a crane hangs a U.S. flag next to an Israeli flag, next to the entrance to the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem, May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

By Stephen Farrell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United States opens its new embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, a move that has delighted Israel and infuriated Palestinians.

On Monday, road signs directing traffic there went up around the neighborhood where it will be situated, and next week’s opening ceremony is timed to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

The initiative was driven by President Donald Trump, after he broke last year with decades of U.S. policy by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Trump said his administration has a peace proposal in the works, and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of America’s closest ally had “taken Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, celebrated Trump’s decision, but the move upset the Arab world and Western allies.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called it a “slap in the face” and said Washington could no longer be regarded as an honest broker in any peace talks with Israel.

Initially, a small interim embassy will operate from the building in southern Jerusalem that now houses U.S. consular operations, while a secure site is found to move the rest of the embassy operations from Tel Aviv.

WHY DID TRUMP RECOGNIZE JERUSALEM AS ISRAEL’S CAPITAL, AND ANNOUNCE THE EMBASSY WILL BE MOVED THERE?

There has long been pressure from pro-Israel politicians in Washington to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and Trump made it a signature promise of his 2016 election campaign.

The decision was popular with many conservative and evangelical Christians who voted for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, many of whom support political recognition of Israel’s claim to the city.

Trump acted under a 1995 law that requires the United States to move its embassy to Jerusalem, but to which other presidents since then – Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama – consistently signed waivers.

WHY DOES JERUSALEM PLAY SUCH AN IMPORTANT ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT?

Religion, politics and history.

Jerusalem has been fought over for millennia by its inhabitants, and by regional powers and invaders.

It is sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and each religion has sites of great significance there.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians feel equally strongly, saying that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

The city even has different names. Jews call it Jerusalem, or Yerushalayim, and Arabs call it Al-Quds, which means “The Holy”.

But the city’s significance goes further.

At the heart of the Old City is the hill known to Jews across the world as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount, and to Muslims internationally as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary. It was home to the Jewish temples of antiquity but all that remains of them above ground is a restraining wall for the foundations built by Herod the Great. Known as the Western Wall, this is a sacred place of prayer for Jews.

Within yards of the wall, and overlooking it, are two Muslim holy places, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was built in the 8th century. Muslims regard the site as the third holiest in Islam, after Mecca and Medina.

The city is also an important pilgrimage site for Christians, who revere it as the place where they believe that Jesus Christ preached, died and was resurrected.

WHAT IS THE CITY’S MODERN HISTORY AND STATUS?

In 1947, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the then British-ruled Palestine should be partitioned into an Arab state and a Jewish state. But it recognized that Jerusalem had special status and proposed international rule for the city, along with nearby Bethlehem, as a ‘corpus separatum’ to be administered by the United Nations.

That never happened. When British rule ended in 1948, Jordanian forces occupied the Old City and Arab East Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it.

In 1980 the Israeli parliament passed a law declaring the “complete and united” city of Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel. But the United Nations regards East Jerusalem as occupied, and the city’s status as disputed until resolved by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

DOES ANY OTHER COUNTRY HAVE AN EMBASSY IN JERUSALEM?

In March Guatemala’s president, Jimmy Morales, said that his country will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 16, two days after the U.S. move.

Netanyahu said in April that “at least half a dozen” countries were now “seriously discussing” following the U.S. lead, but he did not identify them.

In December, 128 countries voted in a non-binding U.N. General Assembly resolution calling on the United States to drop its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nine voted against, 35 abstained and 21 did not cast a vote.

WHAT IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN NEXT? HAS JERUSALEM BEEN A FLASHPOINT BEFORE?

Since Trump’s announcement there have been Palestinian protests and wider political tensions.

Arab leaders across the Middle East have warned the move could lead to turmoil and hamper U.S. efforts to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

More than 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops in Gaza during a six-week border protest due to culminate on May 15, the day after the U.S. Embassy move and when Palestinians traditionally lament homes and land lost with Israel’s creation.

Although the clashes have not been on the scale of the Palestinian intifadas of 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, violence has erupted before over matters of sovereignty and religion.

In 1969 an Australian Messianic Christian tried to burn down Al-Aqsa Mosque. He failed but caused damage, and prompted fury across the Arab world.

In 2000, the Israeli politician Ariel Sharon, then opposition leader, led a group of Israeli lawmakers onto the Temple Mount/al-Haram al-Sharif complex. A Palestinian protest escalated into the second intifada.

Deadly confrontations also took place in July after Israel installed metal detectors at the complex’s entrance after Arab-Israeli gunmen killed two Israeli policemen there.

(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; editing by John Stonestreet)

For one Catholic parish in China, division and confusion as historic deal looms

FILE PHOTO: A Catholic faithful holds a rosary during a mass on Holy Thursday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Beijing, China March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo

By James Pomfret

YINGTAN, China (Reuters) – Like many Chinese Catholics, Lin Jinqing was shocked when news trickled through to him of an impending deal between Beijing and the Vatican that would end a long dispute over control of the Church in China.

As a member of a so-called “underground” church – one that is not sanctioned by Beijing – in the southeastern province of Jiangxi, Lin and fellow parishioners have for years been attending clandestine Bible readings and services.

In recent years, as Chinese authorities cracked down on underground services as part of broader restrictions on religious groups, he has also started attending services at state-sanctioned churches in order to avoid trouble.

“The pressure on underground church members has been quite big,” said Lin, who lives in Yingtan, a gritty city of one million people in southeastern Jiangxi province.

Now, the deal between China and the Vatican is worrying him.

“Many of us don’t know what to think,” he said. He said that the underground churchgoers wanted more freedom to worship. “But at what cost?”

A senior Vatican source told Reuters last month that a framework accord was ready and could be signed in months. The expected deal would allow China to appoint bishops, in consultation with the Vatican, and eventually could lead to the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the two sides for the first time in seven decades.

Until now, China and the Vatican have not recognized most bishops named by each other. Underground Catholics like Lin have stayed loyal to Vatican-appointed bishops – and the Pope.

News of the impending deal has split communities of Catholics across China, according to some critics like Cardinal Joseph Zen in Hong Kong.

Some fear greater suppression should the Vatican cede greater control to Beijing, but others want to see rapprochement.

“We hope for an early establishment of ties. It will definitely bring advantageous policies, and greater openness to the Church,” said Father Pan Yinbao, a priest affiliated with the official Church in Yingtan, in an interview with Reuters. “There is a need for change. There is a need for adjustment.”

Lin’s apprehensions, meanwhile, are echoed in WeChat groups used by Catholics, and the few uncensored religious news sites still viewable in China like www.tianzhujiao.life – as is cautious criticism.

“Churchgoers stay hopeful on the Vatican-China deal, but no one wants to live in a bird cage or only fighting for a larger space in the bird cage,” read one post by a blogger named Priest Shanren. “People are born to be free.”

The Chinese Communist Party has long sought to control organized groups, including religious ones, whose devotees can only worship under the auspices of state-sanctioned bodies, like the Catholic Patriotic Association.

Of the 146 bishops now in China, about a third are affiliated with the underground church.

A source close to the Vatican based in Hong Kong said that there would be a tightening of religious freedoms following a restructuring of China’s religious affairs authority this year, to bring it directly under party, rather than state control.

A Chinese government statement explaining the move said it would help China “steadfastly persevere in the direction of Sinicizing our country’s religions”.

This week, Guo Xijin, a bishop in the southeastern province of Fujian was detained by authorities for refusing to officiate Easter services with an official bishop. Guo, who is reportedly one of two Chinese bishops the Vatican has asked to retire or accept demotion to make way for a Beijing-backed one, couldn’t be reached by Reuters for comment.

Some critics and Chinese Catholics say rapprochement between Beijing and the Vatican could drive an even deeper wedge between the faithful in China, and engender some bitterness toward the Vatican.

TORN LOYALTIES AND FACTIONS

Those divisions are evident in places like Jiangxi province, where there are factions even within the underground Church.

When the province’s then 92-year-old Vatican-appointed bishop, Thomas Zeng Jingmu, retired in 2012, one faction, led by a relative, split from another underground faction loyal to the Vatican’s appointed successor, Bishop John Peng Weizhao.

The faction loyal to Peng, which now has at least six priests leading underground Masses, is likely to remain opposed to any deal and lead to the erosion of the Vatican’s authority, according to a source with close ties to underground Catholics in Jiangxi’s three dioceses.

She said that some devout Catholics across China were prepared to cut ties with the Vatican over a deal. “If they’re abandoned by the Vatican they’ll pray to God themselves at home,” said the source who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the matter.

“The Vatican has done the calculations and they feel it doesn’t matter if they abandon the underground, because they are a relatively small group, and will sooner or later fade away.”

Peng, who was detained by authorities for six months in 2014, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s equivalent of a foreign minister, said at a conference on Chinese Catholicism in Rome, that while the faithful in China had experienced “great suffering” in the past, the country was seeking to regain a central position in the world and so efforts should be made to forge Catholicism with “Chinese forms”.

 

RELIGIOUS SPIN

While some dioceses in coastal Fujian and in inland Hebei have large clusters of underground Catholics, Jiangxi’s are less influential. Many in the area, including 62-year-old Liu Ande, have switched to the official Church.

“We are sons and daughters of God but for our country, we must listen to the leaders here,” Liu said after a Sunday Mass at the official Catholic church in Yingtan.

The church is a shabby building in need of paint wedged into a residential courtyard with several cracked windows, where 48 mostly elderly Catholics listened to a sermon by Father Pan.

After Mass, on the steps of the church, some of the tensions of the impending deal were laid bare.

Liu asked Pan to verify if the Vatican had asked another Bishop in southern China besides Guo, to step down.

“Is it true? We’ve heard it’s true? It should be true,” said Liu. “Everyone is opposed to this.”

But Pan, the official priest, now dressed in a blue fleece jacket after mass, disputed the standoff.

“Whether it’s true or not isn’t clear,” he told Liu, who began nodding. “There’s a lot of news on the internet.”

Another worshipper dressed in a pink coat, who would only give her surname as Li, said she would be praying for a better tomorrow.

“If you’ve done bad things, you must then try to do lots of good things,” she said. “There shouldn’t be tensions,” she added. “We are all just trying to save our own souls.”

(Additional reporting by Anita Li in Shanghai; Philip Pullella in Rome; Greg Torode, Venus Wu and Chermaine Lee in Hong Kong; Editing by Philip McClellan)

Landmine clearing near Jordan River baptism site begins before Easter

By Eli Berlzon

QASR AL-YAHUD, West Bank (Reuters) – On the western bank of the River Jordan, not far from the spot where Christians believe Jesus was baptized, experts have begun clearing thousands of mines from the ruins of eight churches and surrounding land deserted more than 50 years ago.

Once the anti-tank mines and other explosives are removed, the compounds containing a Roman Catholic church and seven Eastern Orthodox churches abandoned after the 1967 Middle East war can be re-opened, said HALO Trust, a Scottish-based charity organizing the endeavor together with Israel.

The mined area, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, is about a kilometer (half-mile) from Qasr al-Yahud, the baptism site which HALO said was visited by around 570,000 Christian pilgrims last year.

A team of Israeli, Palestinian and Georgian experts, using hand-held mine detectors and armored mechanical diggers, began clearing the church compounds and the surrounding desert shrubland shortly before the Christian Holy Week that precedes Easter.

A sign warning from land mines is seen on a fence near Qasr Al-Yahud, a traditional baptism site along the Jordan River, near Jericho in the occupied West Bank, March 29, 2018

A sign warning from land mines is seen on a fence near Qasr Al-Yahud, a traditional baptism site along the Jordan River, near Jericho in the occupied West Bank, March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Rusting barbed wire fences, with signs warning “Danger Mines!” in Hebrew, English and Arabic, run along a dusty road leading to the 100-hectare (27 acre) area. HALO says the land contains around 2,600 mines and an unknown number of other unexploded ordnance.

Some of the churches may be boobytrapped, the charity says.

In a safe zone at the riverside on Thursday, a family from Spain wearing white baptismal robes stepped into the water.

HALO has been raising funds for the project over several years and said in a statement it intends to complete work at the site by Christmas.

Israel’s Defence Ministry and its Israel National Mine Action Authority have contributed at least half the funding for the project, a ministry spokeswoman said.

HALO described the project as a rare example of multi-faith collaboration in the Middle East, involving Israel and the Palestinian Authority that administers limited self-rule in the West Bank, which welcomed the efforts.

The river area was once a war zone between Israel and Jordan. The two neighbors made peace in 1994 but it took many years before some mine clearing began.

Both claim that the site where John the Baptist and Jesus met is on their side of the biblical river. The Gospel of John refers to “Bethany beyond the Jordan” without further details.

In 2002, Jordan opened its site, showing remains of ancient churches and writings of pilgrims down the centuries to bolster its claim. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 2015.

A sapper belonging to the HALO Trust, an international landmine clearance charity, looks for old mines in an abandoned church property complex near Qasr Al-Yahud, a traditional baptism site along the Jordan River, near Jericho in the occupied West Bank, March 29, 2018.

A sapper belonging to the HALO Trust, an international landmine clearance charity, looks for old mines in an abandoned church property complex near Qasr Al-Yahud, a traditional baptism site along the Jordan River, near Jericho in the occupied West Bank, March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israel opened the baptism area on the western bank of the river in 2011. It has a modern visitor center and stairs for pilgrims to descend into the muddy water.

HALO, which has cleared landmines all over the world and was once sponsored by the late Princess Diana, said on Thursday that three of their staff members were killed and two injured by the accidental detonation of an anti-tank mine in Nagorno Karabakh.

The group were in a vehicle conducting a minefield survey when the explosion occurred in the separatist region in Azerbaijan.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

Pope says Mafiosi ‘carry death’, can’t call themselves Christian

Pope Francis leads the Wednesday general audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican, March 28, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi

By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis on Wednesday told members of the Mafia in Italy, where many go to Church and worship openly, that they cannot call themselves Christians because they “carry death in their souls”.

Francis’ improvised words before tens of thousands of people at his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square was his strongest attack on organized crime in nearly four years.

“So we don’t have to go far, let’s think about what happens right here at home (Italy),” he said while speaking generally about “fake Christians” who are corrupt while pretending to be righteous.

“(What about) the so-called Christian Mafiosi,” he said. “They have nothing at all in them that is Christian. They call themselves Christians but they carry death in their souls and inflict it on others.”

Many members of organized crime groups in Italy, such as Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and Calabria’s ‘Ndrangheta, see themselves as part of a religious, cult-like group.

Particularly in smaller towns and cities in the south, they take part in Catholic sacraments, go to church and in some cases have also found complicity by some churchmen.

The town of Oppido Mamertina in the Calabria region made headlines in 2014 when locals carrying a statute of the Madonna in a traditional religious procession diverted its route to pass by the home of local mob boss who was infirm.

They paused before the boss’ house and tilted the statue slightly as if to kneel in a sign of respect toward the clan boss.

When Pope Francis visited the Calabria region the same year, he accused organized crime members of practising “the adoration of evil” and said Mafiosi excommunicate themselves from the Church by their actions.

At the audience in St. Peter’s Square on Wednesday, Francis asked the faithful for prayers for Mafiosi, “so that the Lord touches their souls”.

In 1993 Pope John Paul sternly warned members of Sicily’s Cosa Nostra that they would “one day face the justice of God”. The crime group responded several months later with bomb attacks against several churches in Rome, including the Basilica of St. John’s, which is a pope’s church in his capacity as bishop of Rome.

In recent years, the Calabria-based ‘Ndrangheta has overtaken Sicily’s Cosa Nostra as the most feared and lucrative Italian crime group, making most of its money from drug trafficking. It has spread throughout the world.

(Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Peter Graff)

Israeli troops kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes

An Israeli border policeman takes up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man during clashes in the occupied West Bank on Friday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

An Israeli military spokesman said the man had been about to throw a fire-bomb at the troops, who were responding to an immediate threat when they shot him. He added that the incident in the city of Hebron would be reviewed.

U.S.-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014 and a new push by President Donald Trump’s administration to restart negotiations has shown little progress so far.

Tensions between the sides have risen since Trump declared on Dec. 6 that he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Outraged Palestinian leaders said Washington could no longer take the lead in peace efforts but Israel has said the United States should remain peace-broker.

Trump’s announcement and the planned move in May of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – home to sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians – reversed decades of U.S. policy on the city. Its status is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel says the entire city is its indivisible, and eternal capital.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Maayan Lubell; editing by David Stamp)

Turkey summons Dutch diplomat over Christian Armenian ‘genocide’ decision

A demonstrator holds a Turkish flag outside the Turkish consulate in Rotterdam where a crowd gathered to await the arrival of the Turkish Family Minister Fatma Betul Sayan Kaya, who decided to travel to Rotterdam by land after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu's flight was barred from landing by the Dutch government, in Rotterdam, Netherlands March 11, 2017. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey summoned the Dutch charge d’affaires on Friday to complain about the Netherlands parliament recognizing the massacre of as many as 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 as genocide, the Turkish foreign ministry said.

The parliamentary motion, which the Dutch government said would not become official policy, risks further worsening relations already strained over the Netherlands barring Turkish ministers from campaigning for a 2017 referendum that gave President Tayyip Erdogan more power.

A second motion called for a high-level Dutch government official to attend Armenia’s genocide remembrance day on April 24. In the past, the Dutch ambassador has attended.

Turkey accepts many Christian Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.

Turkey’s foreign ministry said the Dutch motions were “baseless decisions”. Nearly a dozen other EU countries have passed similar resolutions.

Talks to repair relations between the two countries have broken down and the Netherlands recalled its ambassador on Feb. 5.

(Reporting by Tulay Karadeniz; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Dolan and Robin Pomeroy)