Greek patriarch boycotts Israeli Christmas party
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM (Reuters) — The Greek Orthodox Patriarch in Jerusalem boycotted an annual Israeli Christmas party on Thursday because the invitation failed to recognise him as the church’s new leader, a church official said. A clergyman sacked by the church over an alleged land deal in Arab East Jerusalem was invited to the reception as the current patriarch, while his successor was invited as a lower ranking personality, the official said. “The whole church did not attend. The church cannot be divided into two leaderships,” said Archbishop Aristarchos, chief secretary of the patriarchate. The church’s relations with Israel soured after it named Theophilos in August to replace the former patriarch, Irineos I. Jordan and the Palestinian Authority have recognised Theophilos, but Israel has not. Israeli newspapers have said that the government does not recognise the validity of Irineos’ removal and the Israeli Cabinet named a committee last month to look into the issue. Israeli officials could not be reached for comment on the issue, a sensitive one for the Jewish state which cultivates ties with all churches.

Policeman, civilian killed in Gaza gunfight

GAZA CITY (AFP) — A Palestinian policeman and civilian were shot dead on Thursday when an argument between a local family clan and security forces degenerated into a gunfight in Gaza City, security sources said. The disturbance broke out following a police operation to arrest suspects wanted in connection with drug trafficking and car theft, the sources said. A policeman and a relative of one of those arrested died of gunshot wounds in the shootout after the detainee’s family attacked a police station. After the clashes had died down, gunmen from Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas’ Fateh movement opened fire in the air near his Gaza residence after they recovered the dead policeman’s body from the local hospital. Abbas himself was not in Gaza, having left in the afternoon from his main West Bank base of Ramallah for Jordan.

Iraq shuts down largest oil refinery due to threats

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Iraq has shut down its largest oil refinery in the northern town of Beiji because of insurgent threats in the wake of government-ordered petrol price increases, the oil ministry said Thursday. The plant was closed on Dec. 21, ministry spokesman, Assem Jihad, said. “Threats were made to tanker-truck drivers” and they have stopped picking up fuel at the refinery which has stopped work, Jihad said. “Efforts are being made to convince the drivers to return to work.” The Beiji refinery normally produces 8.5-million litres of petrol per day, along with 7.5- million litres of diesel. The Iraqi government earlier this month announced a tripling of petrol prices in a bid to reduce its subdidies, a move that sparked angry protests in the country. Insurgents have repeatedly attacked oil installations across the oil-rich country.

Kuwait’s ruling family member urges succession reforms

KUWAIT CITY (AFP) — A leading member of Kuwait’s Al Sabah ruling dynasty has called for reforms to correct the constitutional “flaws” in the oil-rich emirate amid a succession crisis in the family. “I and a number of brothers are keen to review certain situations that are marred with some flaws and believe they need to be reformed,” said Sheikh Salem Al Ali Al Sabah, head of the national guard. “I am certain that Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah is equally keen for the same,” he said in a statement published in all local newspapers on Wednesday. Sheikh Salem, who ranks fourth in the family hierarchy after the emir, crown prince and prime minister, has been at the centre of a controversy over succession due to the illness of the emir and crown prince. In October, he openly called for a three-member committee to assist the ailing leadership, indirectly criticising the premier who has been running the daily affairs of the oil-rich Gulf Arab state. The call prompted the emir, Sheikh Jaber Al Ahmad Al Sabah, to publicly renew his “complete trust” in the prime minister and vow to swiftly resolve the family crisis.

Arab newspaper says it was banned by Syria for coverage of UN probe in Lebanon

CAIRO (AP) — Syria barred the distribution of the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Al Awsat because of an interview it published with the outgoing head of the investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, the paper’s editors said Wednesday. In the interview, published Dec. 17, investigator Detlev Mehlis, said he was confident that Syrian authorities were behind the bomb blast that killed Hariri on Feb. 14. An editor at the London-based Asharq Al Awsat told the Associated Press that the paper had not been distributed in Syria since Tuesday. “We received a letter from the Syrian government telling us that the newspaper will no longer be allowed to be circulated, citing editorial policies hostile to Syria,” Nishari Al Thayidi said. Syria demanded that the paper retract the interview with Mehlis, which Asharq Al Awsat refused to do, Al Thayidi said. He did not say how long the ban was expected to last.

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