Somalia blast: Mogadishu hotel rocked by bomb

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At least 10 people have been killed in a huge bomb explosion at a hotel in the Somali capital Mogadishu.
A BBC correspondent in the city says a lorry was used to attack the Jazeera Palace Hotel near the airport.
Ambulances have been collecting the dead and wounded in what he describes as one of the worst scenes of destruction he has seen in Mogadishu.
Somali militant Islamist group al-Shabab has claimed responsibility for the attack.
The al-Qaeda linked group said it was responding to assaults by an African Union force and the Somali government.
The blasts came as President Barack Obama was leaving Kenya for Ethiopia, at the end of a trip during which he had discussions about dealing with the threat from al-Shabab.

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Soldiers from the African Union mission patrol the Somali capital

 

International diplomats often stay at Jazeera Palace Hotel, which has been targeted in the past. It also accommodates several embassies including those of China, Qatar and Egypt.
“A suicide car bomb exploded at the gate of Jazeera Hotel,” Major Nur Osoble, a police officer, told Reuters news agency.
A government security officer was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying hotel security guards were among the dead.
Al-Shabab is battling Somalia’s government for control of the country. While security in Somalia has improved, the group still attacks Mogadishu regularly.
On Saturday, a member of the Somali parliament and an official from the prime minister’s office were killed in separate attacks in the capital claimed by al-Shabab.
In recent days the group has lost two of its remaining strongholds – the south-western town of Bardere and the south-eastern town of Dinsor. Both had been under al-Shabab control since 2008.
The militants have also targeted neighbouring countries, killing almost 150 people in an assault on Garissa University College in Kenya in April.

Source: BBC News

Dozens killed as bomb blasts rip through Nigerian bus stations.

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Reports from Nigeria say at least two bombs ripped through two bus stations in the northern city of Gombe last night. At least 29 people have been killed in the blasts, a Red Cross official told the Reuters news agency.

Earlier in the day, suicide bombers killed at least 11 people in neighbouring Cameroon.
At least 49 people were killed in blasts at a market in Gombe last week. That attack was blamed on Boko Haram militants. The Islamist group, which often targets northern Nigeria, has stepped up attacks since President Muhammudu Buhari took office in May. No group has said it is behind Wednesday evening’s attacks, although Boko Haram has targeted bus stations in the city before.

It is feared that the Gombe death toll will rise with reports of dozens of people injured.
One witness told the AFP news agency that he had counted 30 dead bodies at one of the bus stations.

Last year, Boko Haram took control of a large area of north-eastern Nigeria and declared a caliphate (a state governed in accordance with Islamic law).
Nigeria’s military, backed by troops from neighbouring countries, including Cameroon, has recaptured most of the territory, but in recent weeks there has been an upsurge in suicide attacks.

Cameroon attack

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Security forces transport with a blanket the remains of some of the eleven victims of a double blast in the northern Cameroonian city of Maroua 22 July 2015. Bombers targeted a market in the heart of Maroua.

Hours before the attack in Gombe, suicide bombers targeted Maroua in northern Cameroon. The attack left at least 11 people dead and injured dozens more. A local source told AFP news agency the bombers were two young girls who had disguised themselves as beggars. One of the bombers detonated the explosives at the city’s central market, in what is the second such attack in the past week. The authorities have now extended a ban on wearing burkas to include the commercial capital Douala. Previously the ban had only been in place in the country’s Far North region, after two suicide bomb attacks there earlier this month.

The Cameroonian army uses the town of Maroua as the headquarters for its operations against Boko Haram, as part of a multinational force battling the militants in neighbouring parts of Nigeria.
President Paul Biya has described the attacks as “cowardly and ignoble”.

According to Amnesty International, at least 17,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since Boko Haram launched its uprising in 2009. The group is still holding many women, girls and children captive, including 219 schoolgirls it kidnapped from a school in Chibok in April last year.

Source: BBC

Priest says situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate

By Paul Jeffrey Catholic News Service

Palestinian baby receives medical attention in Gaza City

A baby looks around while the mother talks to a doctor in Gaza City. The clinic serves Palestinian refugees and is supported by the Pontifical Mission for Palestine and the Catholic Near East Welfare Association. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

 

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (CNS) — One year after a war with Israel that turned daily life here into a nightmare, a Catholic priest in Gaza said the situation in this besieged Palestinian territory has deteriorated even further.

“Compared with a year ago, we’re worse off. Although a truce stopped the war, the blockade of Gaza by Israel has grown more intense. This has direct consequences for the population,” said Father Jorge Hernandez, pastor of Holy Family Catholic Parish in Gaza City.

The priest said the war also served as a recruiting tool for Hamas, the Islamic party that has controlled Gaza since 2007.

“The war generated new activism throughout Gaza. The number of people willing to fight has multiplied, whether on behalf of Hamas or Islamic Jihad or the Salafists, and now even with the Islamic State. Despite that, the great majority of the people of Gaza is not aligned with one party or another. They just want to live a normal life,” Father Hernandez, an Argentine missionary of the Institute of the Incarnate Word, told Catholic News Service.

The 50-day war cost the lives of more than 2,250 Palestinians, 65 percent of whom were civilians, according to a June report from a U.N. investigation. The report said “the scale of the devastation was unprecedented.” It said the Israeli military launched more than 6,000 air strikes, 14,500 tank shells and 45,000 artillery shells into Gaza between July 7 and Aug. 26, 2014.

The war also “caused immense distress and disruption to the lives of Israeli civilians,” the U.N. said, reporting that nearly 4,900 rockets and more than 1,700 mortars were fired by Palestinian armed groups during that period. Sixty-six Israeli soldiers were killed, along with six civilians.

The report also cites as possible war crimes the conduct of Israeli operations in residential neighborhoods, as well as the killing of 21 suspected collaborators by Hamas’ armed wing.

Father Hernandez said militants came to his church compound twice looking for alleged spies among some 1,400 civilians who took shelter there. Church buildings were damaged when Israel bombed a neighboring house. At one point, Father Hernandez and several members of the Missionaries of Charity shepherded a group of 29 disabled children and nine elderly women into the open.

“We put them in the patio in front of church, a place that’s far from any homes. And then we prayed that Israel wouldn’t bomb the church,” he said.

Gaza’s children continue to be affected by the war, the priest said. Besides thousands who remain in temporary shelters, he said the overwhelming violence of the conflict has created discipline problems, with normal tensions in the family and on the street more quickly escalating into physical violence. And lingering stress generates health problems.

“Some kids continue to have problems with speech or bed-wetting, and now that there are rumors of another war — some are even talking about specific dates — one child’s hair has started to fall out again,” he said.

One Catholic leader in the region said that Gaza’s Christians have nonetheless adjusted to their perilous situation.

“When I came here immediately after the war, everyone I talked to pleaded for a one-way ticket out of Gaza. But I no longer hear that. They are resilient, this is their home, and they’re resolved that they’re going to make a contribution to society. They are proud to be both Christian and Palestinian, no matter the difficult conditions,” said Sami El-Yousef, regional director for Palestine and Israel of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association.

Of Gaza’s 1.8 million population, only about 1,300 are Christian. Catholics number fewer than 200. Relations between this small minority and the Muslim majority have been marred by discrimination.

“When one looks for work here, the first thing they ask is if you are a Muslim. If you are, then they ask if you support Hamas or Fatah. If neither, they ask which mosque you go to, because they want to know who you’re loyal to,” Father Hernandez said. “But if you’re a Christian, you won’t get asked those questions because you won’t get the job. The only way Christians can get jobs is through a Muslim friend who serves as an intermediary. No store or school or bank will give them a job, so they come to the church asking for help.”

There are occasional episodes of harassment of Christians on the street, Father Hernandez said, which is one reason he maintains good relations with Hamas officials.

“It’s important for me to have good contacts, because if there’s a problem I just call someone at a high level and immediately they respond and grab the responsible person. If I had to go to the police to file a report, and the police officer had a long beard, then nothing would happen,” he said.

Vatican support for Palestinians, which has strengthened under Pope Francis, has helped ease tensions on the ground, Father Hernandez said.

“We are treated by Israel as Palestinians, but at times other Palestinians don’t want to recognize us as Palestinians. What the pope has done has helped us a lot within our community. We are just as Palestinian as Hamas. And if they forget that, we remind them of what the pope has said and done,” he said.

Source: Catholic News Service

DEFENCE CLOSE THEIR CASE IN TRIAL OF SOUTH SUDANESE PASTORS

The defence team in the trial of South Sudanese pastors Rev Yat Michael and Rev Peter Reith closed their case after presenting two witnesses at the hearing in Khartoum, Sudan.

One of the witnesses was ex-army general and 2010 presidential candidate Abdul Aziz Khalid, who testified that the evidence presented by the prosecution was available to civilians and not classified; therefore the security and espionage charges against the pastors were without basis.

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The pastors have been charged with at least six crimes including undermining the constitutional system (Article 50); espionage (Article 53); promoting hatred amongst sects (Article 64); breach of public peace (Article 69); and offences relating to insulting religious beliefs (Article 125). Of the charges, Articles 50 and 53 carry the death penalty or life imprisonment in the event of a guilty verdict.

The next hearing is scheduled for 23 July, when the judge will hear closing statements. The verdict is expected on 5 August.

The pastors were once again denied access to their legal team ahead of the hearing, despite an earlier direction from the judge that they would be allowed 15 minutes with their lawyers. At the last hearing on 2 July, the judge permitted the defence team 15 minutes with the pastors in order to prepare their case. The pastors’ lack of access to their families and legal team is an ongoing concern. Despite repeated requests to the court and prison service, neither the pastor’s legal team nor their families have been given permission to visit them in Kober Prison.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said, “Today the court heard from a prominent expert witness that there is no basis for the charges against the pastors. We therefore renew our call for these unwarranted and extreme charges to be dropped and for Rev Yat Michael and Rev Peter Reith to be released unconditionally and without further delay. The ongoing denial of access to the pastors’ legal team is unacceptable and in violation of fair trial principles, as articulated in Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sudan is a party. The denial of family visits is a further measure to increase their mental and emotional distress; a cruel and unjust action on the part of the State. We urge the African Union in particular, and the wider international community, to challenge Sudan on its treatment of the pastors and its failure to protect and promote freedom of religion or belief and the right to a fair trial.”

Source: Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW)

S Sudan pastors speak to CBN from prison

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Reverend Yat Michael and Reverend Peter Yein are pastors with the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church. Both men were arrested by the National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) when they visited Khartoum last December and January and have been in prison since then. They’ve been charged with “inciting organized groups” and “offending Islamic beliefs,” as well as undermining the constitution and espionage, which carry the death sentence or life in prison.

They are currently being held at Kober Prison in North Khartoum. In an exclusive CBN News interview, Senior International Correspondent George Thomas talked to the two pastors via telephone from their Khartoum prison cell.

“There is zero evidence that either pastor undermined the constitutional system of Sudan, conducted espionage, promoted hatred, disturbed the peace, or blasphemed.”

– Tiffany Barrans, American Center for Law and Justice

Sudan has long been governed under strict Sharia law and archaic judicial punishments are often doled out among the accused. Stoning, flogging and even crucifixion are all considered acceptable. The country’s public order law allows police officers to publically whip women they consider to be guilty of public indecency.

Please continue to pray for these pastors.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. Heb 13:3 NIV

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