Pope decries church’s ‘rigid ideological positions’

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Saturday, 23rd December 2023

Pope Francis has told members of the Vatican’s central administration that holding views that remain too rigid could be an obstacle to perceiving reality and moving forward. His comments came just days after he angered many Church conservatives by issuing a declaration allowing blessings of same-sex couples. During his traditional Christmas greetings to members of the Curia, the Pope said: “Let us remember the Christian faith is not meant to confirm our sense of security, to let us settle into comfortable religious certitudes, and to offer us quick answers to life’s complex problems.”

The annual greeting is a high-profile event to which all cardinals based in Rome are invited. Since becoming pontiff ten years ago, Francis, who turned 87 on Sunday, has made some steps toward more inclusivity in the Catholic Church, notably by expressing more tolerance of the LGBTIQ+ community than has previously been shown. The Vatican holds that LGBTIQ+ people must be treated with dignity and respect.

UN calls for urgent aid for Gaza but not a ceasefire

After days of postponements, the UN Security Council managed, with the abstention of the United States and Russia, to pass a text on the war on Gaza. However, it ignores the request for an immediate ceasefire. The resolution – the second approved in over two months of war – calls for “urgent” measures to allow “immediate, safe, and unhindered access of humanitarian aid” to the Strip and to “create the conditions for a sustainable cessation of hostilities” in an unspecified future. The previous wording of the draft, refined and amended for days to convince the US not to pose a new veto, instead called for “the urgent suspension of hostilities”, although not a real ceasefire. The approved text also deplores “every act of terrorism” as well as “attacks against civilians, and demands the “unconditional” release of all hostages. It does not include any explicit condemnation of the Hamas attack on 7th October.

US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said she was surprised and disappointed by the fact that the Security Council was not able to condemn the attack by Hamas on 7th October. “This resolution speaks of the gravity of the crisis”, she adds, underlining that “there is no more time to waste. We must work together to alleviate this immense suffering. We know that much more needs to be done” to address “this humanitarian crisis”. The US envoy added: “But let’s be clear: Hamas is not interested in lasting peace. We must work towards a future in which Israelis and Palestinians live side by side.”

Hamas judges the resolution on Gaza to be “an insufficient step” and accuses the US of having “emptied” the text. “For the past five days, the US administration has worked to empty this resolution of its essence and present it with this weak wording… which defies the will of the international community and the UN General Assembly to stop Israel’s aggression against our defenseless Palestinian people”, reads the statement released by Hamas, which Harretz reports on its website

Reacting to the vote, Palestinian ambassador to the UN, Riyad Mansour,  said that “Israel continues to ignore requests for a humanitarian ceasefire. Its siege is inhuman.”  Referring to humanitarian aid, he said: “The resolution is a step in the right direction but there is no way to stop the genocide without a ceasefire, when the death toll in the Strip has exceeded 20,000 and half a million people, according to the United Nations, risk dying of starvation.”

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said: “The real problem is that the way Israel is conducting this offensive is creating obstacles to the distribution of humanitarian aid in Gaza. A humanitarian ceasefire is the only way to meet the desperate needs of the people of Gaza.”

However, Israeli Ambassador Gilad Erdan immediately made it clear that the Council’s decision “maintains Israeli security authority to monitor and inspect aid entering Gaza. The Security Council’s decision that the UN guarantees a rationalisation in the transfer of aid and that it reaches its destination and not to Hamas is correct,” declared Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, who however warned: “Israel will continue the war until the release of all abductees and the elimination of Hamas in the Strip.”

Photo: Uki Iwamura/AP

Negotiations on hostage release stalled

The negotiations Israel and Hamas are conducting, with the mediation of Egypt and Qatar, for the release of the remaining Israelis held hostage by Hamas, appear to have stalled. After the Palestinian group said “no” to a proposal for a one-week truce against the release of 40 hostages, Israeli officials reportedly offered a two-week halt to hostilities in exchange for dozens of abductees. Hamas continues to repeat that it does not want to proceed with any release without “an end to the aggression” on Gaza, but sources reported by Kan TV have reported that the Islamic faction is “reflecting” on this second proposal.

In the meantime, Israel continues to strike the Strip. According to sources at the Yussef al-Najar hospital in Rafah, three people, including two minors, died and six others were injured in a car explosion in the city on the border with Egypt. Witnesses reported the car was hit by an airstrike in what appears to be a “targeted execution”.

Furthermore, according to an analysis by CNN and the New York Times, in recent weeks the IDF has also struck at least three locations to which it had ordered Palestinian civilians to evacuate for their “safety”. CNN also announced that, in over two months of conflict, Israel dropped hundreds of 2,000-pound (over 907 kg) bombs, many of which were capable of killing or injuring people more than 300 metres away. Marc Garlasco, a former US defense intelligence analyst and former UM war crimes investigator, said on US TV that the intensity of the first month of Israeli bombing in Gaza had “not been seen since Vietnam”.

On the northern front, the Israeli army announced the death of a 19-year-old soldier, Amit Hod Ziv, killed by rockets launched from Lebanon. But to prevent the conflict from spreading further, the New York Times reports, the Biden administration is reportedly negotiating with Israel, Lebanon, and Hezbollah intermediaries in an attempt to reduce tensions on the border.

The Palestine Red Crescent Society said it received 70 humanitarian aid trucks on Friday from the Egyptian Red Crescent through the Rafah border crossing. This followed 78 trucks on Thursday, it said, adding: “The trucks contain food, water, relief aid, and medical supplies.” Before the Hamas attacks in Israel on 7th October , an average of 500 trucks entered the Gaza Strip every working day.

Meanwhile, an Israeli-American hostage has died in Hamas captivity, the Hostages and Missing Families Forum has announced. Gadi Haggai, 73, and his wife Judith Weinstein Haggai, were taken hostage at Kibbutz Nir Oz during the cross-border rampage by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorists on 7th October. Judith remains among the 129 people still held by Hamas, 22 of whom Israel has declared dead in absentia. Twenty Israeli hostages in Hamas captivity have died and 134 hostages remain in Gaza. Haggai was one of an estimated eight American dual nationals reported to be in Hamas captivity and the first American hostage to die.

Photo: FABIAN BIMMER/AP2007

‘Iran involved in Red Sea attacks’ – US intelligence

Newly-declassified US intelligence suggests that Iran has been “deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea”, National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told CNN. The Iran-backed Houthi rebels have launched over 100 attacks against some dozen commercial and merchant ships transiting the Red Sea over the past four weeks, CNN previously reported. The newly-declassified intelligence suggests that “Iranian support throughout the Gaza crisis has enabled the Houthis to launch attacks against Israel and maritime targets, though Iran has often deferred operational decision-making authority to the Houthis,” Watson said.

Photo: Houthi Military Media

Russia warns over reports Ukraine may get its seized assets

The Kremlin has threatened Europe and the US with “serious consequences”, including tit-for-tat financial seizures or even a break in diplomatic relations, if Russian assets held abroad are given to aid the Ukrainian budget and war effort. A spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin told reporters on Friday that if the Biden administration and European leaders planned to seize Russian central bank assets believed to be in excess of $300bn (€275bn) that were frozen after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, they should “realise that Russia will never leave those who do it alone”.

France grounds flight for suspected human trafficking

France on Friday grounded a chartered flight carrying 303 Indians from the United Arab Emirates to Nicaragua on the suspicion of human trafficking. According to AFP, authorities have launched a judicial investigation into the conditions and purposes of the journey, after being tipped off by an anonymous informant that the flight was carrying passengers, including minors, “likely to be victims of human trafficking”. The Airbus A340 operated by Romanian charter company Legend Airlines had landed in France for a technical stopover. A unit specialising in organised crime arrested two men for questioning, the Paris public prosecution office said. The passengers may have planned to travel to Central America to try to illegally enter the United States or Canada, AFP quoted unidentified officials as saying.

Paramedics guilty of 2019 Afro-American’s death

Two paramedics have been found guilty of murder for the death of Elijah McClain, the Afro-American who died in 2019 after being stopped by the police and having been injected with a powerful sedative. The two paramedics administered it, causing him to overdose on ketamine. Their guilt was determined by a jury in Aurora, Colorado, at the end of a trial that lasted weeks. The young man resisted the policemen who wanted to search him to see if he was armed, saying he was anti-social and asking for respect for his limits. But the officers pinned him to the ground and held him around the neck. Paramedics later sedated him.

Photo: Hart Van Denburg/CPR News

UK hospitals urged to treat patients in corridors,

Fifteen UK hospitals are responsible for almost half of all ambulance delays and one in eight patients nationally now have to wait more than an hour outside the Emergency Department. Ambulance chiefs are urging hospitals to admit more patients to be treated in corridors, arguing that this is safer than leaving 999 callers waiting at home while emergency vehicles are backed up outside A&E. In 13 hospitals, the average wait for patients to be moved from ambulance to A&E is now more than an hour this winter, with patients in Plymouth waiting four hours. It comes on the second day of junior doctor strikes that NHS chiefs say are making it harder to unclog hospitals by getting patients home for Christmas.

Photo:  Newsquest

13 figurines form the Crib’ of Pompeii

Thirteen terracotta figurines, traces of an ancient rite, have emerged in Pompeii from a room in a domus, where an excavation, restoration and valorisation site is underway. The small sculptures, approximately 15 centimeteres high, including human figures, were found in an upright position on a horizontal plane. The environment that preserved them, probably the atrium of the house, also had some decorations that had only recently emerged on the walls. The tradition of nativity scenes dates back to more recent history, yet traces of ritual displays in homes can already be found in ancient times.

Photo: Parco Archeologico di Pompeii

Manchester City win FIFA Club World Cup

Manchester City added the Club World Cup to last season’s treble with an emphatic 4-0 win over Brazilian side Fluminense in Jeddah on Friday. Julian Alvarez struck twice, setting them on their way after just 40 seconds and wrapping up victory late on, while Phil Foden forced an own goal and grabbed the other himself. It was manager Pep Guardiola’s fourth triumph in the competition but one that came at a cost as influential midfielder Rodri was forced off in the second half with an injury. City, who were again without striker Erling Haaland due to a foot problem, now face an anxious wait over the Spaniard’s fitness ahead of the resumption of their Premier League title defence at Everton next Wednesday. Yet for now City can celebrate their fifth trophy of 2023, having also claimed the European Super Cup in August.

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