Middle East Council of Churches

Unofficial news from the Middle Eastern Christian Ecumenical organization.

Maintained by Tom Scudder

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Saturday, April 26, 2003
Official site: Report from Northeast Syria on aid distribution

Lots of detail for aid geeks. (No, this isn't the end of the hiatus. Just a mid-hiatus hiatus).
posted by Tom at 1:46 PM

Thursday, April 24, 2003
Hiatus: There will be a temporary hiatus on updates for this site. We will return next Tuesday.
posted by Tom at 12:59 PM

Wednesday, April 23, 2003
Christian Aid: Iraq crisis: US can learn from Afghanistan April 23, 03:
As the war in Iraq cedes to peace, few concrete plans have emerged as to what will happen next. Christian Aid's emergency officer, Dominic Nutt, spent time in Afghanistan - both under the Taliban and after September 11, when American troops had overthrown the fundamentalist regime. He argues that George Bush has vital lessons to learn from his first war on terrorism.


After the Afghan war, Bush and Blair went on record promising to put Afghanistan on top of the political agenda. During the conflict, the Prime Minister said: 'To the Afghan people we make this commitment. The conflict will not be the end. We will not walk away as the outside world has done so many times before.'

Bush has made the same pledge to Iraq - a developed, oil rich country which is very different to Afghanistan. However, like Afghanistan, if serious plans to deal with the post-war situation are not made now, Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, could face horrific problems.

Yet Blair and Bush's post-war intervention in Afghanistan has been patchy, to say the least.


So the main lesson from Afghanistan is simply this: the US has a credibility problem. Whether deserved or not, many people across the world and certainly in Afghanistan and the middle East suspect the US has an agenda of its own, that it's not in Afghanistan to liberate the poor and that it's not in Iraq to free the people suffering at the hands of Saddam. Many feel the US is in Iraq for the oil, for the construction contracts and eventually to re-organise the whole Middle East country by country in its own interests.

posted by Tom at 3:56 PM

Action by Churches Together also has a new Situation Report from Iraq, covering all parts of the country.
posted by Tom at 3:51 PM

Action by Churches Together: Humanitarian aid delivered to Mawasi area in Gaza
East Jerusalem, April 18, 2003

There are significant and growing humanitarian needs in the West Bank and Gaza areas of the Palestine territories. In collaboration with other Christian organizations, the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is continuing to assess needs and to respond to areas that have unmet humanitarian needs. The most recent effort was to bring aid to the Mawasi area of Gaza.

LWF, as part of a coalition of Christian International NGOs distributed 1200 food kits and 1200 bags of flour to the Mawasi area in the Gaza strip. This is an area that is literally sealed off from the outside world by Israeli settlements and the Israeli Defence Force (IDF).

The 8,100 Palestinians who reside in the Mawasi area are surrounded by 14 Israeli settlements. The Israeli checkpoints in the area block access to and from Mawasi. Freedom of movement for Palestinians that live in Mawasi is highly restricted -- getting permission to leave or enter Mawasi and then crossing the checkpoints can take days, if not weeks.

It took the group of Christian INGOs almost 2 months to make arrangements to enter the Mawasi area to bring in the food provisions. Even with all of the proper arrangements, aggressive soldiers and being forced to unload the truck with the food and reload it onto another truck almost created a situation where all of the food did not get delivered.


The convoy was well prepared and fully coordinated with the Israeli authorities in the Gaza Strip. Nevertheless LWF, Catholic Relief Services, International Orthodox Christian Charities, World Vision, and the Mennonite Central Committee were not easily given access into the Mawasi area. The three trucks and several cars waited 3 hours at the checkpoint. The 2,400 packages and bags were unloaded at one side of the checkpoint and then carried by local workers and staff to the other side in order to be loaded in other trucks for transportation to a local warehouse before being distributed.

Later in the week, the entire population of the Mawasi area received the convoy food packages. There was no home in the area that did not benefit from the initiative. Even those who work in Mawasi, but reside outside the boundaries of the area, got their share of the packages. "At least for one day, the residents of Mawasi knew that they were in our thoughts and prayers."

"Those whose lives are under great pressure and whose livelihood is deeply jeopardised do realise that there are still people who care at the other side of the checkpoint."

posted by Tom at 3:49 PM

Action by Churches Together: Vignettes of courage and resourcefulness - with looters in the streets and graves in the garden by Jonathan Frerichs, ACT press officer:
Amman, Jordan, 22 April, 2003

While church aid contacts with co-workers inside Iraq are still minimal because of bad communications, some good humanitarian news is getting out. Stories just starting to reach Jordan tell of Iraqi health workers finding ways to do their jobs despite post-war disorder and strife.

posted by Tom at 3:45 PM

Action by Churches Together: Some of Iraq's tension spills into no-man's land near Jordan by Jonathan Frerichs (quoted in full):
Amman, 22 April 2003 -- Some of the unrest inside Iraq sent a small but sharp influx of refugees to the Jordanian border over the weekend and aid workers including an ACT sanitation specialist are scrambling to set up extra facilities.

A makeshift camp at Al Karama in no-man’s-land has more than doubled, from 500 people late last week to 1,100 people by Monday. The refugees include ethnic Kurds, dissident Iranians, expatriate Palestinians and Syrian refugees who have been living in Iraq.

"The new arrivals, particularly the Iranians and Palestinians, said they fled Iraq because they were threatened by armed Iraqis and felt unsafe, while others say they left due to the chaos and lawlessness," said Peter Kessler, spokesperson in Jordan for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

Now the different groups find themselves camped along a desert highway between the Iraq they just fled and a Jordan determined not to allow its neighbor’s crisis to spill over the border.

Tensions and crowding among the refugees is tangible for aid workers like sanitation engineer Jan Haug of ACT member Norwegian Church Aid (NCA). The sudden influx has taxed toilets he helped install just last week for 500 people. "There’s lots of trouble all of a sudden -- one group says the other is dirty or that they won’t share," he says. "20 people do have to share each unit." ACT-NCA will now move additional latrines from two large but almost empty camps it helped prepare before the war at Ruweishid 85 kilometers inside Jordan. Plans for Al Karama are being coordinated by Jordan’s official Hashemite Charity Organization.

Taxis with more refugees arrived today, Haug said. Tents will soon go up on both sides of the highway, he said, which will ease crowding in the camp. UNHCR counts 500 children among the refugees.

UNHCR’s Kessler urged authorities in both Iraq and Jordan to solve this refugee dilemma. "It is absolutely incumbent upon the occupying powers to ensure security for civilians inside Iraq and the equitable distribution of aid," he said. "We are also requesting the Jordanian authorities to permit those people in need of temporary protection into our refugee camp at Ruweishid" (the camp inside Jordan that ACT-NCA helped prepare.)

posted by Tom at 3:43 PM

Tuesday, April 22, 2003
Middle East Report Online: Shi'ite Religious Parties Fill Power Vacuum by Juan Cole

I'm trying not to put too much general-interest Middle East news on this site, but this is a comprehensive review of the different Shi'ite religious parties now jockeying for position inside Iraq, and is well worth a read.
posted by Tom at 11:13 PM

Official Site: General Secretary's Easter Letter:
This week or next, as all the world’s churches prepare to celebrate Easter, churches in the Middle East content themselves with conducting services of worship. They refrain from any expression of delight or gladness. We cannot be glad in this festival if we cannot see it to be a reality for our people.

Our family members in Iraq are still burying their dead and dressing the wounds their children sustained during the war launched against their country by the western alliance. They worry about their future in the midst of the violent chaos this oppressive war has left behind.

While the war against Iraq claims the world’s attention, the Israeli military machine continues to brutalize our Palestinian brothers and sisters. Is it possible for us to celebrate and exclaim, "Christ is risen! He has brought light to those in darkness and life to the dead," while some of our people are still carrying their cross, still climbing their Golgotha, with still no sign of a Resurrection Sunday dawn?

In spite of everything that drives us to sorrow, depression and despair, we nonetheless draw strength and hope from the One who is our strength and hope. He is the Lord of truth, of justice and of peace. In our worship we turn to Him so that he may be the defender of those ground down under the boot of hardship. He will transform their weakness into strength, their suffering into resurrection hope.

We pledge that we will continue to stand by them in their trials. They are the trials of us all. We will stand with them, a hand to help rebuild what has been broken down, a voice to rebuke the oppressor ... any oppressor. We stand in solidarity together and that gives us strength to bring peace. In the power of right, that peace will prevail.

This message has been somewhat garbled in its transmission by the media, in particular The Daily Star (Beirut) and Islam Online, both of which headlined it as calling for the cancellation of celebrations of Easter. Of the stories that showed up in a google search, only Ha'aretz got it right, with their headline: Middle East Christian Leader Calls for Low-Key Easter Celebration.
posted by Tom at 10:23 AM

Monday, April 21, 2003
Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia: Holy Week Pictures and Stories

Some good pictures and descriptions from Holy Week services at the Armenian Apostolic Catholicosal seat in Antelias, Lebanon.
posted by Tom at 3:26 PM

From Marthame Sanders: Latin Patriarchate School of Zababdeh (West Bank) needs volunteer teachers:
For over two years now, Marthame and Elizabeth Sanders have served as volunteers in the Palestinian Christian village of Zababdeh. While they have had varied tasks, their most important one has been that of volunteer teachers in the Latin Patriarchate School here. This will be their last academic year with us, and we are hoping to find a couple to join us in the Fall. Though they will remain with us until the end of the calendar year, they will not be teaching. However, they will be able to assist, particularly with adjustments, anyone who would be willing to come in the meantime.

The Latin Patriarchate School of Zababdeh is home to some seven hundred students, half of whom are Christian, half of whom are Muslim. The standard of education here is well-regarded throughout the northern region - thus the interfaith nature of both our student body and our faculty. The new school building was completed three years ago with a grant from the Spanish Consulate. We are hoping to update the computer lab soon, as well as adding a language laboratory. Three languages are taught here: Arabic, the native language of the students; French, as an elective for students from grades 5 to 8; and English, a required subject beginning in first grade. For the last two years, the Christian students in high school have also had the opportunity to learn religion in English from Marthame - a gift that has strengthened both subjects as a result. While we have many qualified English teachers here, the role of native speaking English teachers cannot be underestimated.

posted by Tom at 3:10 PM

Sunday, April 20, 2003
ICRC: Iraq Bulletin, April 19:

Iraq is at a crucial stage, where decisions must be taken swiftly to re-establish and maintain safety and public order. Such measures will also help to reassure the population about their future. There is a pressing need for direction and organization, as although most civil servants are committed to resuming their work they remain unclear about their situation in the absence of guidance from a civil administration.

The ICRC views the following as top priorities:

  • Protection by the Occupying Power (in areas under their control) of such vital facilities as water treatment plants, sewage installations, hospitals and health centres, to prevent further looting, destruction and sabotage. The need for protection continues once these facilities have been repaired and have started functioning again. Security and public order are essential if patients, staff and humanitarian workers are to have safe access to hospitals and health centres.
  • The restoration of essential services, especially electricity, water, sewage and health.
  • As an example, restoring electricity in Baghdad would double the amount of running water available. Water is now available again everywhere in the city, but all installations are running on back-up generators. As a result, extra water has to be transported by road, especially to hospitals and health centres.
  • The restoration of stability to the country as a whole. Public administration and the management of vital structures and services are either absent or at best functioning ad hoc. Few businesses have resumed their activities, although a few shops and market stalls have re-opened. This situation is creating confusion, rivalries and tensions, reducing the efficiency of vital services and affecting the lives of people in general. Many are technically without employment and have received no salary for several weeks. The sense of insecurity and frustration is rising. As many put it, "We don't know where our next meal is coming from."
  • This aspect of the situation goes beyond the role and capacity of the ICRC. However, what the ICRC will continue to do – if asked by both sides – is to facilitate contacts between Iraqi public service personnel and the Coalition forces so they can discuss and plan.

The ICRC will also continue to provide emergency health services and to help people re-establish contact with their next of kin.

posted by Tom at 6:37 PM

ReliefWeb (Agence France Presse): Pre-war life starts to return to Baghdad, by Luke Hunt:
BAGHDAD, April 19 (AFP) - Traffic jams and bustling crowds restored some of the pre-war life to Baghdad on Saturday as the US army replaced marines in the daunting task of rebuilding post-war Iraq.

With hopes rising for a resumption of public and commercial activity, hundreds of civil servants gathered around government buildings seeking news on when they could resume work and how they would be paid.

In another sign of the slow return to normalcy since the fall of Saddam Hussein 10 days ago, scores of traffic police returned to Baghdad's streets to ease the chaos that has crippled parts of the capital.

Saturday's bustle contrasted with more strident scenes a day earlier when more than 10,000 Iraqis, fired by anti-American sermons at Friday prayers, demonstrated their anger at the US occupation.

If most shops remained closed in the five-million-strong capital, groceries, bakeries, teashops and barbers started to reopen and sidewalk stands did a brisk business.

Thousands of people milled about in Shorjah, Baghdad's largest grains and food market. "It's close to normal," said a trader.

posted by Tom at 6:34 PM

ReliefWeb (Agence France Presse): Numbers of refugees stranded at Jordan-Iraq border nearly triples: UNHCR:
AMMAN, April 20 (AFP) - The number of refugees stranded in no-man's land on the Jordanian-Iraqi border waiting for permission to enter Jordan has more than tripled over the past 48 hours to over 600 people, the UN's refugee agency said Sunday.

"As of Sunday morning there are more than 600 people, mostly Iranian refugees of Kurdish ethnicity, who have fled the Al Tash refugee camp", west of Baghdad, UNHCR spokesman Peter Kessler told AFP.

"There are also more and more Palestinians coming in. They said they have been told by local Iraqi host communities that they are no longer welcome in Iraq," he said.

posted by Tom at 6:32 PM

Christ is Risen -- Christos Anesti -- Al-maseeh Qaam
posted by Tom at 6:17 PM