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Pope Francis Visits Middle East

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5 Feb 2019 (All day)
Pope Francis Visits Middle East
Pope Francis, leader of the Roman Catholic Church, became the first pontiff in history to visit the Arabian Peninsula when he landed in Abu Dhabi on Monday to take part in an inter-faith dialogue event hosted by Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Several Jewish rabbis also participated in the event, which received a great deal of positive coverage in Arab and international media outlets. Francis avoided making any overtly political statements during his visit, aside from an appeal for an end to the suffering in Yemen, Libya and Syria and a demand that religious leaders refrain from endorsing armed conflict for any reason. He also called for “the full recognition” of the rights of all people across the region, a comment some analysts said was a veiled reference to the Palestinians.

He also said he hopes for “concrete opportunities for [interfaith] meeting, not only here but in the entire beloved region, a focal point of the Middle East…I look forward to societies where people of different beliefs have the same right of citizenship and where only in the case of violence in any of its forms is that right removed.”

Before returning to Rome on Tuesday afternoon, Francis held a mass for approximately 135,000 Catholics, mostly expat workers from the Africa and Asia, at a sports stadium in Abu Dhabi, some of the estimated 2 million Catholic expat workers in the UAE and surrounding Gulf countries.

Israel’s AA Credit Rating Affirmed by S&P
The movement to Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Israel suffered another devastating defeat this week when credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s (S&P) announced that it is affirming the Jewish State’s AA rating, saying that “the stable outlook on Israel balances external and security risks against Israel’s solid economic growth prospects.” However, the statement added that Israel could potentially have an even higher rating if not for its “moderately high public debt burden” and “significant security and geopolitical risks” from conflict in neighboring countries.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said S&P’s announcement was “further proof of the strength of the Israeli economy and its global status.”

In related news, the Tourism Ministry issued a press release Monday saying it had recorded an 11% increase in visitors in January 2019 over the same month the previous year. “The rise in the number of tourists over several years is proof of the quality of the Israeli tourism industry," said Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. "I hope and believe that 2019 will continue this unprecedented momentum in tourism, that we have created in the past several years."

Here is a video about tourism in Israel

Iran Dismisses EU Concerns Over Missiles, Terrorism
Iran’s Foreign Ministry on Tuesday derisively dismissed a European Union statement issued the day before criticizing the Islamic Republic for its illegal ballistic missile program, domestic human rights abuses and plots to carry out terrorist attacks on European soil, saying the EU statement was "baseless" and "non-constructive." However, the Iranian Foreign Ministry had nothing negative to say about the other part of the EU statement which dealt with its recent inauguration of a mechanism for bypassing US sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its renegade nuclear program.

Austrian Delegation on Solidarity Tour of Israel
Austrian President Van der Bellen and his wife, along with a delegation of dignitaries and officials from Austria, are in Israel this week on a solidarity tour which took them to Jerusalem’s Grove of the Nations Monday to plant trees symbolizing the friendship between Israel and Austria. “I am honored to be the 109th leader to plant a tree in the Grove of Nations and become part of this tradition,” der Bellen said. “Planting a tree provides future generations with something that will succeed us when we are gone; may this tree I plant in the state of Israel grow in peace and serenity.”


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