Pope leads world prayers for peace in Syria

Pope Francis led a mass vigil for peace in Syria on St Peter's square as millions of Catholics worldwide were joined by other faiths in a day of fasting and prayer.

According to agencies, tens of thousands gathered in St Peter's Square for the four-hour event, with smaller gatherings held in churches and  mosques around the globe.

Francis has called for a "cry for peace" from humanity, firmly opposing all fighting including the military strikes against the Syrian government being pushed by the United States and France.

Earlier in the week he wrote to leaders of the G20 top world economies meeting in Saint Petersburg, Russia, urging them to "lay aside the futile pursuit of a military solution".

Vatican officials have warned international armed intervention could escalate the war into a wider conflagration that would further harm "Christian minorities" in the Middle East.

The pope has repeatedly called for peace negotiations to begin immediately and for a process of reconciliation, as well as a stepped-up humanitarian effort to ease the plight of civilians.

The Catholic Church, which counts 1.2 billion faithful worldwide, has mobilized and spread the pope's message through homilies in churches as well as through social media.

"Pray for Peace!" he tweeted on Saturday on his @pontifex account. In another tweet, he wrote: "All men and women of good will are bound by the task of pursuing peace."

The Vatican has even issued instructions for Catholic parents to prepare "sober" family meals with children and grandparents on Saturday that would be "rich in words".

The Vatican's Osservatore Romano daily published an interview with an Italian nun living in Syria who said fasting and prayer could "make one listen to a deeper wisdom".

"Prayer is not just a devotion, it is not just a retreat into peace. It is a powerful weapon, though also a peaceful one," Sister Marta Luisa Fagnani was quoted as saying.

When he announced the initiative on Sunday, Francis urged Christians from other denominations, faithful from other religions and atheists to join in.

Syria's Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun, called for Syrians to join in the prayers, and the patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox, also backed the call.

Muslims pray at the Paris' Grand Mosque, on September 6, 2013. Catholics worldwide are holding a day …

In Lebanon, the vice president of the(Shiite Higher Council), Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan, voiced support, as did Christian leaders across the Balkans and in Latin America.

The appeal has been particularly well received by "Christian minorities" in the Middle East, where often-divided leaders have been united in their concern about a possible spread of the crisis in Syria .

Traditionally pacifist and anti-clerical groups, like the Radicals and the Left, Ecology and Freedom party in Italy, have also said they are supporting the pope's appeal.

A giant peace flag will be raised in Assisi in Italy, the hometown of the patron saint of peace St Francis, whose name the Argentine pope adopted when he was elected in March.

At the start of the ceremony in the Vatican, a large icon of the Virgin Mary was carried across St Peter's Square by a group of Swiss Guards.

Prayers then alternated with moments of silences as a mournful pope bowed his head in silence.

The pope's call is not unprecedented -- previous popes have appealed against the Iraq war, the conflicts in the Balkans and the Vietnam War -- but it is rare and unusual.

The last time the Vatican called a similar day of prayer and fasting was under late pope John Paul II in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

"This cry from the pope distills the calls coming from the one big family that is humanity," French Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, who led multiple peace missions on behalf of John Paul II ahead of the Iraq war in 2003, told AFP.


Terrorists in Syria threaten humanitarian workers, kill 11 - top UN official

Armed groups openly threaten humanitarian workers in Syria,  said top UN official Valerie Amos on Friday. The UN humanitarian chief also stated that 11 UN staff members have already been killed in the country, and cited several cases of abductions,according to Voice of Russia.

Humanitarian abuses and violence are on the rise in Syria, Amos said after a trip to Damascus.

She argued that over the past few weeks and months, UN workers have faced threats from various armed groups. She added that a number of volunteers from Syria’s Red Crescent Movement have been killed, along with UN staff, totaling 11 individuals. Amos also cited cases of staff abductions.

Amos stressed that “we take all the threats seriously” and despite the “very difficult and dangerous conditions,” humanitarian aid will be continued, as all organizations remain committed to the task.

She also said that the UN has around 4,500 staff in Syria are working with non-governmental and community organizations .

Amos also stated that the UN has drawn up emergency plans for a military strike on Syria. "We continue to update and look at our contingency planning," she said, noting that the UN has great concern for its staff on the ground.

Amos added that she had “positive meetings” in Damascus on Thursday with officials from the Syrian  government about “challenges we have faced in getting approval for field operations, convoys and visas for humanitarian aid workers”.


Russia to help Syria in case of external military strike - Putin

"Will we be helping Syria? We will," Vladimir Putin said at a press conference following a G20 summit in St. Petersburg on Friday. The US and other countries will put themselves outside of law if they begin a military operation in Syria, Putin added, according to Voice of Russia

 "I presume that everything concerning the so-called use of chemical weapons is a provocation on the part of the "fighters", who expect assistance from the outside, I mean assistance from the countries that have supported them from the very start. This is the essence of this provocation," Putin said.

"The use of force on a sovereign state is only possible if it is done for self-defense, and, as we know, Syria is not attacking the US, or under a decision made by the UN Security Council," he continued.

"As one participant in our discussion said, those who act otherwise put themselves outside of law," Putin said.

"At this time, which is generally difficult for the world economy, it would be counterproductive to destabilize the situation in the Middle East, to say the least," Putin added.

"The United States, Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia and France" supported military operation against Syria, while Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Italy opposed the option at the G20 summit, President Vladimir Putin said.

"You said the vote was 50/50. This is not quite so. And I can tell you who was in favor of the military operations. As you know, these are the United States, Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia and France," he responded to a journalist who suggested that G20 were divided approximately 50/50 over the need for a military strike on Syria.

"The categorical objections were raised by Russia, China, India and Indonesia - and I would like to call your attention to the fact that this is the world's largest Islamic country in terms of the population - Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Italy," Putin said.

The Russian leader recalled that British Prime Minister David Cameron had spoken for a military operation in Syria but the national parliament voted down the option.

"The German federal chancellor is also extremely cautious. Germany is not going to get involved into any military operations," Putin said.

He said that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon opposed military operations against Syria, too. Putin also said he was surprised with the positions of certain G20 states on Syria. 

"The Indian prime minister unexpectedly said last night that he was categorically against any military operations. The position of the president of Indonesia, which is the largest Islamic country in the world with the population of, I think, 350 million, came as a surprise to me. The Brazilian president took an absolutely firm stand, and the South African president did, too," the Russian leader said.


Syrian chemical attack probe outcomes to be posted after scientific standards are met - Lavrov

Outcomes of the investigation of the suspected chemical attack in Syria will be posted after the experts meet every scientific standard,according to Voice of Russia.

"As [UN Envoy to Syria] Lakhdar Brahimi has said, there are certain scientific standards the experts are following," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters after the working lunch attended by Brahimi.

Geneva-2 conference at risk - Lakhdar Brahimi

As soon as the results of the examination on using chemical weapons in Syria are made public the UN Secretary-General will inform the Security Council and the world community, UN Special  Envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi said.

Brahimi said that neither he nor UN Secretary-General "do not express their opinions, but adhere to international law, according to which a military action without UN Security Council authorization is unacceptable." According to UN Special Envoy, the situation around Syria remains very dangerous.

Earlier, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented on the Syrian issue. The international community should do everything possible to prevent the use of force against Syria, he said.

Lavrov and Canadian FM discuss situation in Syria and bilateral cooperation – Russian FM

A meeting between Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Canadian counterpart John Baird has taken place on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St Petersburg, Russia’s Foreign Ministry reported.

"During a brief conversation, they discussed Russia-Canada cooperation in bilateral relations and international affairs, including the situation in Syria," the Ministry informed.


Congress may vote ‘No’ on Syria attack

While President Barack Obama attempts to drum up support overseas for a potential strike against Syria, lawmakers in the United States House of Representatives appear not all that likely to authorize the use of military force, according to Russia Today.

Obama is currently meeting with international leaders in Russia at the annual G-20 meeting, where he is reportedly lobbying foreign representatives to rally behind a US-led strike against Syria. As American politicians prepare to vote on whether or not they should authorize such an attack, however, Obama’s cause is quickly losing support in Congress.

According to analysis conducted Think Progress, lawmakers in the House are leaning towards a “no” vote with regards to approving a strike against Syria .

Compared to earlier in the week, lawmakers in the House are now more likely to vote against authorizing a strike. The website reported Thursday morning that 199 US representatives are expected to shut-down any strike against Syria, with 49 lawmakers in the House looking towards voting yes.

Think Progress says their latest research reveals a drastic change that has occurred literally overnight. According to their reporters, 30 new lawmakers are now likely to vote against a strike, while the group of those expected to approve military action has only accumulated three new representatives since the previous day.

The latest figures posted by Think Progress were updated Thursday morning, only hours after lawmakers in both the House and Senate discussed what action, if any, should be taken against Syria.

On Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-to-7 in favor of using military force in Syria, but the full chamber will have to weigh in before a strike is agreed upon. Meanwhile, the House isn’t expected to vote until next week, and at this rate the lawmakers in the Republican-controlled chamber of Congress are likely to reject a plan that would target Syria.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), a libertarian-leaning lawmaker with staunch isolationist views, said he opposes any use of force overseas. Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), another leading Republican in Washington, complained earlier this week that the latest plan of action isn’t aggressive enough.

According to Think Progress, 149 Republicans in the House are likely to disapprove a strike on Syria, while only 13 are expected to vote in favor of using force.

 “The numbers are a contrast to 2002, when Democrats in the House provided ‘the bulk of the opposition’ to President George W. Bush’s Iraq war resolution — though a majority of Democrats (61 percent) still backed war,” Think Progress reported. “Only six House Republicans voted against the Iraq war in 2002.”

At the same time, support isn’t all that rampant among the American public either. According to a poll conducted by the Washington Post in conjunction with ABC News that was released on Wednesday, only 36 percent of Americans say they’ll support an initiative that would involve launching missiles against the Syrian government.


US Strike on Syria Will Make Obama ‘War President’ – Russian Lawmaker

MOSCOW– Launching an attack on Syria would make US President, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Barack Obama “a war president” a senior Russian lawmaker wrote on Twitter Friday,according to RIA Novosti.

 “They said Obama does not want to go to war in Syria. This myth was demolished by Obama himself. He has eventually turned into a “war president,” a second [George W.] Bush,” said Alexei Pushkov, who heads the international affairs committee in the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, and who has earned himself a reputation as a prolific Tweeter.

Obama recently asked the US Congress to support a limited military intervention in Syria because of the government’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

The Senate's Foreign Relations Committee approved a motion backing a military strike Wednesday, with a final vote expected next week after Congress reconvenes Monday.

In another comment on Twitter last week, Pushkov said President Obama should be stripped of his Nobel Peace Prize if the United States carries out a military strike on Syria.



Pop star Madonna slams US plans for war on Syria

US pop star Madonna criticized the proposed American military intervention in Syria,according to Voice of Russia, RIA Novosti.

Madonna has appealed to the authorities not to carry out the operation in Syria.


Georgia rules out participation in military operation in Syria

Georgia's involvement in the crisis in Syria has been ruled out, Deputy Georgian Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani said,according to Voice of Russia, Interfax.

Georgian Defense Minister Irakly Alasania also excluded earlier on Thursday that Georgian may take part in a military operation in Syria.

"The issue of a military operation has yet to be solved, but according to preliminary data, our partners do not plan a ground operation. That is why we did not even consider this issue," Alasania told journalists.