Daily Archives: April 20, 2014

President Bashar al-Assad Visits Maaloula on Easter Day

President Bashar Assad, center right, looking at the damaged interior of a monastery in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula  April 20, 2014

President Bashar Assad, center right, looking at the damaged interior of a monastery in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula April 20, 2014

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad visited the liberated town of Maaloula in Damascus countryside on Easter Day, wishing peace, security and amity to all of the country, state-run SANA news agency repoted.

During his visit to Maloula town, Assad inspected the Monastery of Saints Sergius and Bacchus and checked the damage and destruction caused to the monastery by the terrorist groups.

Syria's President Bashar Assad looking at icons as he visits a monastery in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula which his troops recently recaptured from rebels. April 20, 2014

Syria‘s President Bashar Assad looking at icons as he visits a monastery in the ancient Christian town of Maaloula which his troops recently recaptured from rebels. April 20, 2014

“No one, whatever their terrorism reached, can erase our human and cultural history,” Assad said as he was inspecting Mar Thecla Monastery.


“Maloula will remain, along with other Syrian human and cultural landmarks, steadfast in face of the obscurantism and barbarianism of all those who are targeting the homeland,” he added.

Maaloula was liberated on Monday after targeting Al-Manar TV crew, leaving three killed and two other wounded.

Four Syrian army soldiers were also killed in the attack.

3 Assad visits Maaloula 5

al-Assad Visits Maaloula 
Christians celebrate EasterIn Damascus

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‘Christ is Risen’: Christians celebrate Easter worldwide

Worshippers look on during an Orthodox Easter service at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, April 19, 2014.

Christians worldwide are celebrating Easter this Sunday, marking the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This year, the joyous day falls on the same date for both Eastern and Western churches.

Christians celebrate Easter to mark the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. It is the culmination of the Holy Week, preceded by Lent, a forty-day period of fasting.

Easter does not have a fixed date in relation to the civil calendar. The holiday is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon following the March equinox.

Western Christianity uses the Gregorian calendar to set the date for Easter, while Eastern Christianity sets the date in accord with the Julian Calendar. Orthodox Easter and Catholic Easter fall on the same date this year, though this is not always the case. The next time this happens will be in 2017.

The Russian Orthodox Church held its largest service by Patriarch Kirill at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. The service in the city’s landmark cathedral, where over 7,000 worshippers gathered, started at around 11:00 p.m. local time (19:00 GMT) and lasted for several hours. It was attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and acting Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (3rd L), Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev (L), Medvedev’s wife Svetlana (2nd L) and Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin (4th L) attend an Orthodox Easter service in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow April 20, 2014.

Shortly before the service, Patriarch Kirill received the Holy Fire that was delivered directly from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, where the flame miraculously emanates each year within Jesus Christ’s tomb on Holy Saturday. The Patriarch and worshippers lit candles from the Holy Fire.

Russian priests hold a ceremony celebrating Easter in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow early on April 20, 2014.

Believers receive the Holly Light during an Orthodox Easter service in Moscow, early on April 20, 2014.

“By the long-standing tradition, the Holy Fire has been put on the candles and lamps in the Cathedral [of Christ the Saviour] which are later taken to all parts of Russia, to the territory of entire historical Russia. The holy fire is then lit in thousands and thousands of churches and homes as a symbol of divine presence in our life and as a symbol of the invincible faith,” Kirill told the thousands of people who gathered for the service.

With their candles lit, worshippers led by Kirill walked across the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The procession climaxed when the Patriarch announced “Christ is Risen!” – the traditional Easter greeting signaling that the holy day has started. The worshippers welcomed it by all together replying: “He is Risen Indeed!”

For the 40 days following Easter Sunday, Orthodox Christians will greet each other with these words.

Russian Orthodox priests attend an Easter service in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, April 19, 2014.

Prior to the celebration, Patriarch Kirill addressed believers, reminding them that Easter is a holy day that “celebrates victory over man’s two biggest enemies – sin and death.”

This year, the Patriarch especially mentioned Ukraine, saying that the hearts of the followers of the Orthodox Church are aching for those suffering in the crisis-hit country.

Easter services are also being held at over 36,000 Russian Orthodox churches across the globe.

Georgian Orthodox believers attend a service as they celebrate an Orthodox Easter in a church in Tbilisi early on April 20, 2014.

Every Orthodox Church in Russia holds Paschal liturgies on the night of Holy Saturday that last well into Easter morning.

Festive celebrations are preceded by a long period of Lent, which this year started on March 3. From that date until April 19, believers abstained from meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products while spending time in prayer.

Preparations for Easter celebrations begin on the last day of Holy Week – known in Russia as Passion Week, the strictest week of Lent. During this week, believers paint eggs (usually red as a symbol of Christ’s blood). They also bake rich Easter cakes with raisins and nuts. The day before Easter, on Holy Saturday, they go to church to have their paschal cakes and eggs blessed by priests.

A Russian Orthodox priest blesses cakes and colored eggs during an Orthodox Easter ceremony in Moscow, on April 19, 2014, on the eve of the Orthodox Easter.

Easter Sunday is a day for believers to spend with their families after visiting a church service in the morning. Russia’s Easter traditions include exchanging colored eggs and carrying out the ritual of cracking them open.

Russian Orthodox priests attend an Easter service in the Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow, April 20, 2014.

At the Vatican, the heart of the Catholic Church, hundreds of thousands of worshippers gathered for Easter Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica and the adjacent square. Pope Francis made an Easter Sunday plea at an altar set up under a canopy on the steps of the basilica.

The Pope urged for peace and a speedy resolution of ongoing conflicts, including those in Ukraine and Syria.

He prayed that God would “enlighten and inspire the initiatives that promote peace in Ukraine, so that all those involved, with the support of the international community, will make every effort to prevent violence.”

Francis also prayed that all sides in the ongoing Syrian conflict would move to “boldly negotiating the peace long awaited and long overdue.”

The Pope spoke of Africa, where people are suffering from an epidemic of deadly Ebola, and urged a halt to “brutal terrorist attacks” on Christians in parts of Nigeria.

Francis also stressed that people must not forget about the needy close to home. He said that Easter’s joy means “leaving ourselves behind and encountering others, being close to those crushed by life’s troubles, sharing with the needy, standing at the side of the sick, elderly and the outcast.”

A general view shows the crowd during the celebration of the Easter mass on April 20, 2014 at St Peter’s square in Vatican.

Pope Francis delivering the traditional “Urbi et Orbi” blessing for Rome and the world from the balcony of St Peter’s basilica during Easter celebrations at St Peter’s square in Vatican on April 20, 2014

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Overnight Shootout in Ukraine’s Slaviansk – Victims and Calls to Send Russian Peacekeepers

A Pro-Russian militant walks past burnt cars near a checkpoint that was the scene of a gunfight overnight near the city of Slaviansk, April 20, 2014

MOSCOW, April 20 (RIA Novosti) – A curfew has been announced in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk after a group of unknown gunmen launched a deadly attack on a checkpoint near the city early Sunday as people were celebrating Easter.

Before the incident, unknown attackers opened fire in downtown Slaviank, injuring two local citizens. Both of them are in a satisfactory condition, doctors at the central city hospital said.

The leader of self-defense forces, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, known as “acting Slaviansk mayor,” said the attack came in violation of the cease-fire announced ahead of Easter celebrations across Ukraine on Sunday and called on Russia to send its peacekeepers to the region.

Ukraine’s Interior Ministry confirmed that three people, including two local citizens, were killed and three others were injured in the overnight shootout. Two of the injured received medical aid and refused to be admitted to hospital.

The attackers, estimated by the ministry at around 12, fled the crime scene and headed to the neighboring Kharkiv region, taking the injured and killed people with them.

Shells and foreign-made explosives, a map of Slaviansk, as well as insignia of the Ukrainian far-right movement Right Sector were reportedly found at the scene of the attack.

Self-defense forces have announced a mobilization as situation remains tense in the city.

The Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned the attack as “provocation” saying it shows Kiev’s reluctance to disarm nationalists and extremists.

Broken Truce

Ahead of the shootout, self-defense forces in the industrial region of Donbas announced the Easter cease-fire. Self-defense forces said now the cease-fire has been broken, condemning the deadly incident as “provocation.”

A senior commander of Donetsk’s self-defense forces, Sergei Tsyplakov, said the attack signals Kiev’s reluctance to fulfill its obligations under the Geneva deal reached on April 17.

In a bid to de-escalate the conflict, top diplomats from Russia, Ukraine, the United States and the European Union approved a set of measures in Geneva, including a call for constitutional reform. Kiev suspended the active phase of the special operation and taken on responsibilities to disarm militants.

“The Geneva agreements were immediately violated, the very same day,” Tsyplakov said claiming that several people were kidnapped and the Kiev regime continued its political repression against pro-federalization activists.

Moscow Outraged

Russia is outraged by the provocation in Slaviansk, which demonstrates the reluctance of Kiev to hold back and disarm nationalists and extremists, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Sunday.

“It is surprising that this tragedy happened after signing the Declaration on April 17 in Geneva as the result of the four-way talks with representatives of Russia, the US, the EU and Ukraine, which called to refrain from all acts of violence, intimidation and provocation,” the Foreign Ministry said.

Slaviansk Calls for Peacekeepers

The leader of self-defense forces, Ponomaryov, has asked the Russian leadership to send peacekeeping forces to protect pro-federalization protesters from the Right Sector and the National Guard of Ukraine.

“They are killing our brothers. They don’t talk to us, they just kill,” Ponomaryov said.

Ponomaryov said “today the city is under siege from the Right Sector,” and only Russia can protect the citizens, adding that he has asked President Vladimir Putin to send peacekeepers to the Donetsk and Luhank regions.

Moscow has not yet commented on the request.

During a Q&A session on Thursday, Putin said he hoped that he would not have to use the right to order the deployment of Russia’s military forces in Ukraine.

“I remind you that the Russian Federation Council has given the president the right to use the armed forces in Ukraine. I hope that I won’t have to use this right and that we will be able to solve all the pressing problems in Ukraine today by political and diplomatic means,” Putin said.

Federalization supporters in Kharkiv, Donetsk, Gorlovka, Slaviansk and Kramatorsk have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the current Ukrainian government and are urging interim authorities to hold referendums similar to the one held in Crimea last month, which led to the republic’s reunification with Russia.

In response, Ukrainian authorities launched a special operation to crack down on the protests.

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Algeria : Al Qaeda kills 14 soldiers in mountains


Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

ALGIERS (Reuters) – Islamist militants killed at least 14 Algerian soldiers in an ambush in mountains east of the capital Algiers at the weekend in one of the deadliest attacks on the military in years.

The troops were in the Tizi Ouzou region, 120 km (75 miles) east of Algiers, when they were attacked by al Qaeda‘s north African branch, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), state news agency APS and a security source said on Sunday.

The attack on Saturday night came just days after President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, was re-elected for a fourth term following a campaign that portrayed the ageing leader as the key to continued security for the North African OPEC state.

Since the end of its 1990s war with armed Islamists, attacks have been rarer in Algeria. But Algerian officials are concerned about spillover from the turmoil in neighbouring Libya, where fighters linked to al Qaeda take refuge in the southern deserts.

“On their way back from securing the presidential election, the unit… came under attack,” the defence ministry said in a statement posted by APS. Three militants were also killed.

Algerian security specialist Rahmani Anis told Reuters: “This attack is a response to setbacks for AQIM, which lost several of its militants in recent months. AQIM tried also to disrupt the election but it failed,”

AQIM is mostly based in the Sahel area which crosses southern Algeria. The army has killed 37 militants since January, according to the ministry, including several in the eastern mountains. Security sources say some have been found with weapons traced to Libya.


One of those believed to be hiding in the east is Abdelmalek Droukdel, a former chemistry student who become AQIM leader after fighting in Afghanistan.


Algerian forces last year killed two of Droukdel’s deputies in Bouira, a former stronghold of militants during the 1990s civil war.

In January last year, militants raided Algeria’s Amenas gas plant near Libya’s border, killing 40 oil contractors, most of them foreigners, in an attack that prompted British-based BP and Norway’s Statoil to pull their workers out.

That attack was led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran Algerian militant and former al Qaeda fighter whom the French have dubbed “The Uncatchable”. He was reported killed last year though recent reports say he may still be alive.

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