PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE: Since 1997 © Copyright (PHNO) http://newsflash.org

FROM PHNO!: HAPPY, PEACEFUL, PROSPEROUS NEW YEAR!
WE MUST START TO BELIEVE THAT THE WORLD IS GETTING BETTER, THE WORLD IS WORKING TOGETHER VS TERRORISM.  THE TRUTH AND THE LIGHT WHICH ARE PEACE AND LOVE WILL REIGN!


PHNO HEADLINE NEWS THIS PAST WEEK
(Mini Reads followed by Full Reports below; pls. scroll down)

POPE FRANCIS CALLS IN CHRISTMAS MESSAGE FOR UNITY AGAINST MILTANT ATROCITIES


DECEMBER 25 -POPE FRANCIS asked God for peace in Syria and Lybia.
"The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.". VATICAN CITY, Pope Francis urged the world in his Christmas message on Friday to unite to end atrocities by Islamist militants that he said were causing immense suffering in many countries. Security was tight at the Vatican as Francis, marking the third Christmas since his election in 2013, read his traditional Christmas Day "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) address from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica. Tens of thousands of people had to have their bags checked as they entered the Vatican area and then go through airport-style screening if they wanted to enter St. Peter's Square. Counter-terrorist police with machine guns discreetly patrolled the area in unmarked vans with dark windows. After calling for an end to the civil wars in Syria and Libya, the pope said: "May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples." He was clearly referring to Islamic State militants who have carried out numerous attacks in those countries and destroyed many cultural heritage sites. In October, Islamic State militants blew up the Arch of Triumph, a jewel in the exquisite collection of ruins in the Syrian oasis city of Palmyra. BRUTAL TERRORISM The pontiff condemned recent "brutal acts of terrorism," including the Nov. 13 attacks by Islamist militants that killed 130 people in Paris, and the downing of a Russian plane over Egypt's Sinai peninsula that killed 224 people on Oct. 31. Both were claimed by Islamic State. "Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst," he said. "The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.". He called for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the area where Jesus was born. "Where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war. Yet precisely where the incarnate Son of God came into the world, tensions and violence persist, and peace remains a gift to be implored and built," he said. READ MORE...

ALSO: Syrian refugee family embraces Christmas spirit in Germany


Torn between fresh memories of loss, and hopes of a better future, the Habashiehs try to find their way in a strange new land
(AP Photo/Jens Meyer)NEWSROOM
ZWICKAU, Germany (AP) — Christmas carols sound in the medieval square, and the scents of hot spiced wine, anise cookies and beeswax candles waft through the air at Zwickau’s traditional Christmas market. The four children of the Habashieh family, Syrian refugees, wander from stand to stand, looking with big eyes at all the mouthwatering delicacies — filled with joy that they will be spending their first German Christmas in the warmth of their own home. Only weeks ago, Khawla Kareem, the matriarch, was so desperate about life in Germany that she said she would rather brave the bombs in Damascus than spend another day in a cramped shelter with no privacy, no school for her children and fear of racist attacks. Today, she couldn’t be happier: Following months in a succession of squalid asylum centers, German authorities found them an empty apartment where they could live with modest dignity. The Muslim family has joined in the Christmas spirit of their neighbors, decorating the door of their flat with glittery red bells and tree branches in green and gold. “We’re fully integrated now,” Reem Habashieh, the family’s oldest daughter, says with a twinkle in her eye. Her little sister Raghad, 11, even has a toy Christmas calendar like most German kids, where each date is a door that opens to reveal chocolate in the countdown to Christmas eve. The Habashiehs’ journey has been one of hardship and heartbreak: braving choppy Mediterranean waters in a dinghy to Greece; trekking through Balkan corn-fields with no water in scorching heat; jumping across barbed wire in fear of Hungarian border police; paying Romanian smugglers thousands of euros (dollars) to take them to Berlin in a minibus; spending countless sleepless nights in asylum centers with unspeakably filthy toilets. It all now feels like a bad dream. CONTINUE READING...

ALSO: Queen invokes verses from Bible to reflect on 'moments of darkness' in 2015
 

DECEMBER 25 -Queen Christmas message
Queen Elizabeth sits at a desk in the 18th Century Room at Buckingham Palace after recording her Christmas Day broadcast to the CommonwealthReuters The Queen quoted directly from the Gospel of John to reflect on 2015, a year with "moments of darkness", during her annual Christmas day speech. Striking an optimistic tone, Queen Elizabeth, 89, invoked the light of the Christian faith in the backdrop of various terrorist attacks which shook the world. 
During the address, she said: "It is true that the world had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services, 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.'" READ MORE...RELATED, President Obama calls for love and compassion 'to people of all faiths' in annual Christmas message ...

ALSO: Messages of hope as Australians celebrate Christmas


DECEMBER 24 -Koala Bon Bon celebrates Christmas PHOTO: Bon Bon, the 12-month-old koala, celebrating with Christmas decorations at the Rainforestation Nature Park near Cairns. (AAP/Tourism and Events Queensland)
Australians are celebrating in steamy conditions as religious leaders around the country offer Christmas messages of hope, love and generosity.
Melbourne's Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier said the Christian way should be one of love and peace this Christmas, to help "tilt the balance away from hatred". The world seems a real mess, a world in which peace just isn't possible, what Christmas says is peace is not only possible, it's the heart of all things. Brisbane Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge "The extent of cruelty in the world, the suffering of innocent people is something I think that we are all very aware of and in that situation it would be very easy to despair, but the Christmas message is one that hope wins over despair," he said. Brisbane's Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge said that Christmas was a time for the community to come together and embrace the spirit of togetherness. "This year the world seems a real mess, a world in which peace just isn't possible, what Christmas says is peace is not only possible, it's the heart of all things," he said. Adelaide's Anglican Archbishop Jeffrey Driver said it was a time to remember those less fortunate, including the people who lost homes in last month's Pinery bushfire in South Australia. "At Christmas time we find God not among the conquerers but among the victims," he said. "God's not on the side of the terrorists but amongst those who are terrified, the victims, the vulnerable, the defenceless. READ MORE...

ALSO: Syrian refugees celebrate 1st Christmas filled with hope in Canada


DECEMBER 25 A Scarborough (Ontario) bungalow is filled with hope and promise this Christmas as Christine Youssef and her mother, Sarah Asmar, celebrate with the first arrivals of 43 Syrian refugees they have sponsored. Share on Facebook Reddit this! Christine Youssef (back, second from left) sits in her living room with 13 Syrian refugee family members she sponsored with her mom at their home in Scarborough. MELISSA RENWICK / TORONTO STAR 
The sheer joy and exuberance of Christmas is palpable in the home of Christine Youssef and her mom, Sarah Asmar. Surrounded by 14 members of their family who have made the long journey as refugees from Syria to Lebanon and then to Canada, the mother and daughter are all smiles. And so are their newly arrived relatives. “It’s amazing,” says 26-year-old Youssef. “Surreal, actually.” Four-year old Jessica runs from one person to a next practising the only English she knows: “How are you?” she asks. “How are you?” Then she giggles and hides behind her extended family. In the tiny bungalow in Scarborough, a Christmas tree, decorated with red and white balls and tiny lights, dominates the living room. A sequined Merry Christmas sign hangs nearby. Above the dining room table, four red and white stockings are pinned to the wall. A real estate agent sits with Youssef and her mom as they arrange to rent a house for nine of the relatives who have arrived so they can make room for the others who are yet to come. Despite the numbers and the lack of privacy, the house feels full of love — what better sentiment to share at this time of the year. Youssef and her mom began the long process of sponsoring their family in January with the help of their church, St. Barsaumo Syriac Orthodox Church, and AURA, the Anglican United Refugee Alliance, one of the government’s sponsorship agreement holders. They remortgaged their house, took out a loan and maxed out their credit cards to bring their family members to Canada. In total, they will be sponsoring 43 people. “You can’t say: Yes, we’ll bring you, but we can’t bring you,” Youssef says. “It’s not fair, right?” So they’re sponsoring everyone. READ MORE...

ALSO: 'IS' leader al-Baghdadi releases alleged, unverified new voice recording


DECEMBER 27 -© 2015 DW.COM, Deutsche Welle
A purported audio message by the "Islamic State" (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said air strikes by Russia had failed to weaken the group. The authenticity of the voice recording could not be immediately verified.
In the audio recording, "IS" commander al-Baghdadi claims that his "caliphate" is doing "well" despite an unprecedented alliance against it. The message also directly threatens Israel, saying militants would attack the country. The authenticity of the 24-minute long message, posted Saturday on Twitter accounts that have published "Islamic State" statements in the past, could not be verified.
"...our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets," the voice attributed to al-Baghdadi said. READ MORE...RELATED, In War Against ISIS China Cooperating with Russia, US Denies Bombing Syrian Military AND Putin's boost in battle against ISIS: China preparing to 'team up with Russia in Syria' ...MORE......

ALSO: Iraqi forces 'enter Islamic State Ramadi stronghold'
[The operation to retake Ramadi is proceeding cautiously amid fear of booby traps]


DECEMBER 27 -From the section Middle East --Iraqi pro-government soldier watches smoke billowing from Ramadi's Hoz neighbourhood on 27 December 2015Image copyrightAFP
Iraqi forces have entered a former government compound in Ramadi, from where Islamic State (IS) group militants have been resisting an army offensive, sources have told the BBC. The source said troops had entered one building and were planning to push cautiously through the rest of the huge compound amid fears of explosives. IS militants are believed to have fled to the north-east of the city. The government has been trying to retake Ramadi for weeks. The mainly Sunni Arab city, about 55 miles (90km) west of Baghdad, fell to IS in May, and was seen as an embarrassing defeat for the army.
In recent days, troops have been picking their way through booby-trapped streets and buildings as they pushed towards the city centre, seizing several districts on the way.They were reported to be within a few hundred yards of the former provincial administrative headquarters on Saturday. When sniper fire from the compound stopped, and aerial surveillance detected no human activity, a group of Iraqi soldiers moved in, the source said.
They reportedly entered what used to be the city's department of health, housing a blood bank. The Iraqi military believes the militants have headed north-east; fighting meanwhile is reported to be under way to the south-west of the compound.The operation to recapture Ramadi began in early November, but has made slow progress, mainly because the government chose not to use the powerful Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped it regain the northern city of Tikrit, to avoid increasing sectarian tensions. Concern remains for the plight of hundreds of families who have been trapped on the frontline, the BBC's Thomas Fessy reports from Baghdad. THE FULL REPORT.


READ FULL MEDIA REPORTS HERE:

Pope calls in Christmas message for unity against militant atrocities


POPE FRANCIS asked God for peace and unity in the world this Christmas.
"The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.".

VATICAN CITY, DECEMBER 28, 2015
(REUTERS) BY PHILIP PULLELLA - Pope Francis urged the world in his Christmas message on Friday to unite to end atrocities by Islamist militants that he said were causing immense suffering in many countries.

Security was tight at the Vatican as Francis, marking the third Christmas since his election in 2013, read his traditional Christmas Day "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) address from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

Tens of thousands of people had to have their bags checked as they entered the Vatican area and then go through airport-style screening if they wanted to enter St. Peter's Square.

Counter-terrorist police with machine guns discreetly patrolled the area in unmarked vans with dark windows.

After calling for an end to the civil wars in Syria and Libya, the pope said:

"May the attention of the international community be unanimously directed to ending the atrocities which in those countries, as well as in Iraq, Libya, Yemen and sub-Saharan Africa, even now reap numerous victims, cause immense suffering and do not even spare the historical and cultural patrimony of entire peoples."

He was clearly referring to Islamic State militants who have carried out numerous attacks in those countries and destroyed many cultural heritage sites. In October, Islamic State militants blew up the Arch of Triumph, a jewel in the exquisite collection of ruins in the Syrian oasis city of Palmyra.

BRUTAL TERRORISM

The pontiff condemned recent "brutal acts of terrorism," including the Nov. 13 attacks by Islamist militants that killed 130 people in Paris, and the downing of a Russian plane over Egypt's Sinai peninsula that killed 224 people on Oct. 31. Both were claimed by Islamic State.

"Only God’s mercy can free humanity from the many forms of evil, at times monstrous evil, which selfishness spawns in our midst," he said. "The grace of God can convert hearts and offer mankind a way out of humanly insoluble situations.".

He called for peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the area where Jesus was born.

"Where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war. Yet precisely where the incarnate Son of God came into the world, tensions and violence persist, and peace remains a gift to be implored and built," he said.

READ MORE...

He asked God to bring consolation and strength to Christians who are being persecuted around the world and called for peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, South Sudan and Ukraine.


Screengrab: Pope, on Christmas, urges return to essential values


Screengrab:Hundreds attend Bethlehem Christmas mass

Francis said the human dignity of far too many people around the world was trampled on, including that of refugees and migrants.


Pope Francis waves during the 'Urbi et Orbi' (to the City and the World) Christmas message from the balcony overlooking St. Peter's Square at the Vatican December 25, 2015. REUTERS/OSSERVATORE ROMANO/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS

"Even today great numbers of men and women are deprived of their human dignity and, like the child Jesus, suffer cold, poverty, and rejection," he said.

"May our closeness today be felt by those who are most vulnerable, especially child soldiers, women who suffer violence, and the victims of human trafficking and the drug trade."

The Pope's words were echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Christmas Day address, in which the leader of the world's 80 million Anglicans said Christians in the Middle East faced extinction at the hands of Islamic State.

Archbishop Justin Welby said IS was "igniting a trail of fear, violence, hatred and determined oppression." He branded the group "a Herod of today", in a reference to the ruthless king of Judea at the time of the birth of Jesus Christ.

"They hate difference, whether it is Muslims who think differently, Yazidis or Christians, and because of them the Christians face elimination in the very region in which Christian faith began," he said.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Addison; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)


TIMESOFISRAEL.COM

Syrian refugee family embraces Christmas spirit in Germany BY KIRSTEN GRIESHABER December 11, 2015, 11:49


Torn between fresh memories of loss, and hopes of a better future, the Habashiehs try to find their way in a strange new land
(AP Photo/Jens Meyer)NEWSROOM

ZWICKAU, Germany (AP) — Christmas carols sound in the medieval square, and the scents of hot spiced wine, anise cookies and beeswax candles waft through the air at Zwickau’s traditional Christmas market.

The four children of the Habashieh family, Syrian refugees, wander from stand to stand, looking with big eyes at all the mouthwatering delicacies — filled with joy that they will be spending their first German Christmas in the warmth of their own home.

Only weeks ago, Khawla Kareem, the matriarch, was so desperate about life in Germany that she said she would rather brave the bombs in Damascus than spend another day in a cramped shelter with no privacy, no school for her children and fear of racist attacks.

Today, she couldn’t be happier: Following months in a succession of squalid asylum centers, German authorities found them an empty apartment where they could live with modest dignity. The Muslim family has joined in the Christmas spirit of their neighbors, decorating the door of their flat with glittery red bells and tree branches in green and gold.

“We’re fully integrated now,” Reem Habashieh, the family’s oldest daughter, says with a twinkle in her eye. Her little sister Raghad, 11, even has a toy Christmas calendar like most German kids, where each date is a door that opens to reveal chocolate in the countdown to Christmas eve.

The Habashiehs’ journey has been one of hardship and heartbreak: braving choppy Mediterranean waters in a dinghy to Greece; trekking through Balkan corn-fields with no water in scorching heat; jumping across barbed wire in fear of Hungarian border police; paying Romanian smugglers thousands of euros (dollars) to take them to Berlin in a minibus; spending countless sleepless nights in asylum centers with unspeakably filthy toilets.

It all now feels like a bad dream.

CONTINUE READING...


Kisses, Lego toys and cheers from German hosts

Now they are living a new German dream which is playing out to the tune of Yuletide cheer. At the Christmas market, there’s a long line in front of a stand with Dresden yeast bread which looks tempting, with its melted cheese and sour cream topping. But once the children discover it contains tiny bits of bacon — definitely not halal — they opt instead for a vendor selling gingerbread hearts, glazed apples and cotton candy.

Then, giggling and teasing each other, the four children begin to make wishes to Santa Claus.

“If I could make a wish,” says 19-year-old Reem, “I’d really love to go to university soon.”

“I wish and pray for peace in Syria,” says 18-year-old Mohammed, taking a drag on his cigarette.

Raghad’s wish is the same as countless German 11-year-olds: “I’d like a Barbie doll.”

These happy mornings, Khawla Kareem gets up before dawn, makes herself a strong Arabic coffee and listens to the tunes of Lebanese star Fairuz just like she did in Damascus — explaining that the start to her day would be incomplete without the legendary singer’s voice.

She then wakes up her children, and they all walk together to their nearby German class.

Khawla Kareem says it’s difficult going back to school after so many years of being a teacher in Syria herself. But the kids are thriving. Reem has taken on the role of teacher’s assistant, helping to translate instructions from English into Arabic for other refugee students.

Not all asylum-seekers have been as fortunate as the Habashiehs. The majority of the nearly 1 million migrants who have registered for asylum in Germany so far this year are still stuck in overcrowded reception centers, waiting for months to have their requests processed. Scuffles between different ethnic groups are increasingly common. And there are growing concerns about abuse of women and children in the camps by fellow refugees, security staff, or predators pretending to be volunteers to get inside the shelters.

Meanwhile, the mood in Germany toward the migrants has changed from a spirit of welcome to a more hostile attitude among many. Asylum shelters under construction are frequently vandalized or burned, and those in operation have also been attacked. Far-right parties organize protest rallies against the influx. And workers dealing with the arrivals — police, translators, city employees and social workers — say they’re exhausted.

The Habashiehs say they feel the rejection, too. Reem, in particular, says she has received hostile stares from locals because she covers her hair with a hijab, according to Muslim tradition.

The other day, when Raghad approached kids her age — to try out some new German vocabulary — the girls just turned away. “Do you think they will never like me here?” she sadly asked her big sister.

Only about 3,000 — a little over 2 percent — of Zwickau’s population of 90,000 are foreigners. Among those, Vietnamese and Russians, who moved to the east German town during communist times, comprise the two biggest groups. There are only 130 Syrians in Zwickau. That explains why a clerk at city hall registered the Habashiehs as having no religious affiliation: “Sorry, Islam does not exist in our computer system,” he told the family.

Despite the hardships, the Habashiehs were overjoyed when they learned of their latest turn of fortune: They will have their asylum interview on December 22, three days before Christmas.

“We have high hopes that we will receive refugee status soon,” says Reem. Almost all Syrian asylum-seekers get German residency for between one to three years after their interviews.


Syrian refugee Reem Habashieh stands in front of a Christmas traditional wooden pyramid at the Christmas market in Zwickau, eastern Germany on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

Once they are legally accepted as refugees, the family will be allowed to leave the town of Zwickau and move around freely in the country.

“Our big dream is still Berlin,” Reem says, fondly remembering the cosmopolitan city with its bustling immigrant community, where they spent their first two weeks in Germany. “The dream is blurry and vague and the colors keep changing, but that’s where we see our future.”

Yaman, the second son, suddenly stops in front of a big Christmas tree at the festive market. Ruffling his carefully gelled hair, he asks for a microphone — as German revelers looked on in bewilderment.

He starts to rap — to the rhythms of a Middle Eastern tune blaring from his cell phone — about what it feels like being a 15-year-old Syrian refugee in Germany:

“I still remember the sound of crowded Damascus, when I was saying goodbye to my friends,

I arrived in a new country and now I’m the foreigner,

Got up tired this morning but nobody is asking how I feel,

Can’t take it anymore, I’m looking for a warm country after my own one was destroyed!”

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.


IBTIMES (INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES) UK

Queen invokes verses from Bible to reflect on 'moments of darkness' in 2015
VASUDEVAN-SRIDHARAN By Vasudevan Sridharan December 25, 2015 18:55 GMT
 

Queen Christmas message

Queen Elizabeth sits at a desk in the 18th Century Room at Buckingham Palace after recording her Christmas Day broadcast to the CommonwealthReuters
The Queen quoted directly from the Gospel of John to reflect on 2015, a year with "moments of darkness", during her annual Christmas day speech. Striking an optimistic tone, Queen Elizabeth, 89, invoked the light of the Christian faith in the backdrop of various terrorist attacks which shook the world.

During the address, she said: "It is true that the world had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services, 'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.'"

READ MORE...

Britain's longest-reigning monarch, seated in front of a Christmas tree, said: "It's no surprise that such a human story still captures our imagination and continues to inspire all of us who are Christians, the world over. Despite being displaced and persecuted throughout his short life, Christ's unchanging message was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another."

Referring to her 90th birthday in April 2016, the Queen said: "I am looking forward to a busy 2016, though I have been warned I may have Happy Birthday sung to me more than once or twice." She also acknowledged the latest addition to the royal family, Princess Charlotte – her fifth great-grandchild.

Dressed in white and silver tweed dress, the Queen delivered her 62nd address from Buckingham Palace's 18th Century room.

She concluded her speech by saying: "There are millions of people lighting candles of hope in our world today. Christmas is a good time to be thankful for them and for all that brings light to our lives." She had earlier attended the traditional church service at Sandringham.

--------------------------------------------------

RELATED FROM MIRROR.CO.UK

President Obama calls for love and compassion 'to people of all faiths' in annual Christmas message 13:52, 25 DEC 2015 UPDATED 15:09, 25 DEC 2015 BY RICHARD WHEATSTONE


Message: The President and Michelle Obama making the annual Christmas address

Obama appeared to direct his message towards a country on edge following terrorist attacks in Paris and California by Islamic extremists in recent weeks

President Obama has called for love and compassion 'to Americans of all faiths' in his annual Christmas message.

Obama appeared to direct his message towards a country on edge following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California by Islamic extremists in recent weeks.

The message also comes in the wake of controversial campaigning by presidential candidate Donald Trump , who has called for all Muslims to be banned from entering the US.

Obama said: "Today, like millions of Americans and Christians around the world, our family celebrates the birth of Jesus and the values He lived in his own life.

Message: The President and Michelle Obama making the annual Christmas address
"Treating one another with love and compassion. Caring for those on society’s margins: the sick and the hungry, the poor and the persecuted, the stranger in need of shelter — or simply an act of kindness.

"That’s the spirit that binds us together — not just as Christians, but as Americans of all faiths.

"It’s what the holidays are about: coming together as one American family to celebrate our blessings and the values we hold dear."

READ MORE...

MSNBC/ Universal News And SportLocal TV images as Police are attending a shooting in CaliforniaHorror: 14 people were killed in an attack by Islamic extremists in California
The president was joined by wife Michelle Obama for the address, after billing her as a 'special guest'.

The US was recently rocked by the massacre of 14 people is a gun attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino by husband and wife Islamic extremists Tashfeen Malik and Syed Rizwan Farook.

The shooting and last month's terror attacks in Paris have dominated debate in the US presidential campaigns with Republican frontrunner Donald Trump calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the US 'until we can be sure what's going on'.

Getty ImagesRepublican presidential candidate Donald TrumpControversial: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has reacted to terror attacks by calling for a ban on Muslims entering America
Obama also paid tribute to US troops in the annual address.

He said: "During this season, we also honor all who defend those values in our country’s uniform.

"Every day, the brave men and women of our military serve to keep us safe — and so do their families.

"Let’s also take time to pay tribute to those who have given our country so much."


ABC.NET AU

Messages of hope as Australians celebrate Christmas Updated Thu at 11:05pm DECEMBER 24, 2015


Koala Bon Bon celebrates Christmas PHOTO: Bon Bon, the 12-month-old koala, celebrating with Christmas decorations at the Rainforestation Nature Park near Cairns. (AAP/Tourism and Events Queensland)

Australians are celebrating in steamy conditions as religious leaders around the country offer Christmas messages of hope, love and generosity.

Melbourne's Anglican Archbishop Philip Freier said the Christian way should be one of love and peace this Christmas, to help "tilt the balance away from hatred".

The world seems a real mess, a world in which peace just isn't possible, what Christmas says is peace is not only possible, it's the heart of all things. Brisbane Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge "The extent of cruelty in the world, the suffering of innocent people is something I think that we are all very aware of and in that situation it would be very easy to despair, but the Christmas message is one that hope wins over despair," he said.

Brisbane's Catholic Archbishop Mark Coleridge said that Christmas was a time for the community to come together and embrace the spirit of togetherness.

"This year the world seems a real mess, a world in which peace just isn't possible, what Christmas says is peace is not only possible, it's the heart of all things," he said.

Adelaide's Anglican Archbishop Jeffrey Driver said it was a time to remember those less fortunate, including the people who lost homes in last month's Pinery bushfire in South Australia.

"At Christmas time we find God not among the conquerers but among the victims," he said.

"God's not on the side of the terrorists but amongst those who are terrified, the victims, the vulnerable, the defenceless.

READ MORE...

"Our thoughts go out to those for instance who have their first Christmas without their family home, having had it destroyed in a bushfire.

"We think of people who are having their first Christmas in Australia as refugees."

Meanwhile in Rome, Pope Francis led the world's Catholics into Christmas with the traditional Christmas Eve midnight Mass.

Pope Francis, whose nearly three-year-old papacy has been marked by calls for sobriety and compassion for the less fortunate, said Christmas was the time to "once more discover who we are".

"In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this child calls us to act soberly ... in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential," he said.


TORONTO STAR (CANADA)

Syrian refugees celebrate Christmas filled with hope By: Debra Black Immigration Reporter, Published on Fri Dec 25 2015


A Scarborough bungalow is filled with hope and promise this Christmas as Christine Youssef and her mother, Sarah Asmar, celebrate with the first arrivals of 43 Syrian refugees they have sponsored. Share on Facebook Reddit this! Christine Youssef (back, second from left) sits in her living room with 13 Syrian refugee family members she sponsored with her mom at their home in Scarborough. MELISSA RENWICK / TORONTO STAR

The sheer joy and exuberance of Christmas is palpable in the home of Christine Youssef and her mom, Sarah Asmar. Surrounded by 14 members of their family who have made the long journey as refugees from Syria to Lebanon and then to Canada, the mother and daughter are all smiles. And so are their newly arrived relatives.

“It’s amazing,” says 26-year-old Youssef. “Surreal, actually.” Four-year old Jessica runs from one person to a next practising the only English she knows: “How are you?” she asks. “How are you?” Then she giggles and hides behind her extended family.

In the tiny bungalow in Scarborough, a Christmas tree, decorated with red and white balls and tiny lights, dominates the living room. A sequined Merry Christmas sign hangs nearby.

Above the dining room table, four red and white stockings are pinned to the wall. A real estate agent sits with Youssef and her mom as they arrange to rent a house for nine of the relatives who have arrived so they can make room for the others who are yet to come.

Despite the numbers and the lack of privacy, the house feels full of love — what better sentiment to share at this time of the year. Youssef and her mom began the long process of sponsoring their family in January with the help of their church, St. Barsaumo Syriac Orthodox Church, and AURA, the Anglican United Refugee Alliance, one of the government’s sponsorship agreement holders.

They remortgaged their house, took out a loan and maxed out their credit cards to bring their family members to Canada. In total, they will be sponsoring 43 people.

“You can’t say: Yes, we’ll bring you, but we can’t bring you,” Youssef says. “It’s not fair, right?” So they’re sponsoring everyone.

READ MORE...


Jessica Ahgeer, 4, is one of 43 Syrian refugees sponsored by Christine Youssef and her mother, Sarah Asmar, of Scarborough. MELISSA RENWICK

Like 4 million other Syrians, the new arrivals — the Obeid clan and their spouses and children — left their home because of the war, which has triggered the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War.

Since the crisis began five years ago, at least another 7 million have been internally displaced as well. Most of the family left Damascus and headed to Lebanon in September 2014, after one of Youssef’s cousins had been hit by rubble during an attack.

“He didn’t want to lose his son to the war,” explains Youssef. So he left. He and his family are still in Lebanon, but will be coming to Canada soon, she hopes.

In the Scarborough bungalow, the extended Obeid clan drift into the living room to have their photo taken to mark their first Christmas in Canada. Everyone is excited about being here, about Christmas and about the year ahead. Conversations melt into each other. The sound of Arabic flies back and forth across the room. Translations are provided.

Beginning in January there will be English classes and the prospect of jobs for the adults and school for the children.

Everyone is full of optimism and hope. Finally, they feel safe. They have brought little from home. Hanaa Obeid, a 23-year-old cousin of Youssef, points to a rosary she wears — a gift from her parents — as the most important thing she has brought from Damascus.

When they left Syria to make the trek to Lebanon they were allowed only one suitcase each. Children run after each other. They spin like tops. Their parents — with few words of English — express their gratitude to Canada and their Canadian family for sponsoring them. Some are feeling poorly.

They will be visiting the doctor later in the day. “We want to say, ‘Thanks Canada — thanks everyone,’” says George Ahgeer, a 35-year-old chef who is married to one of Youssef’s cousins, Hanadi, and has three children. “Thanks for helping us. We feel blessed and we appreciate it.”


John Obeid, 7, is spending his first Christmas in Canada, one of a group of 43 Syrian refugees sponsored by Christine Youssef and her mother Sarah Asmar, of Scarborough. MELISSA RENWICK

Adds Hanaa, who studied law in Syria: “Thank you, Christine and auntie, for having us here. We’re so happy. This is the first Christmas here with her. We’re so happy.” In Lebanon last year, Christmas celebrations were muted. There were no presents, no big meal, no joyous anticipation, only a solemn visit to church. But this year it is totally different.

“Canada is wonderful,” says Hanaa. “Everyone is helping us here. Toronto is amazing. All the people are so beautiful. So nice.” This Christmas there will be a turkey and all the fixings, plus a few Arabic dishes and presents for everyone. But perhaps the biggest gift will be something they can’t unwrap — a newfound freedom; a place to hang their hats and a new adopted country to call home. The family will attend Christmas services at St. Barsaumo.

They hope by then more relatives will arrive. Another cousin was to arrive the Monday before Christmas. The remaining 28 are to follow before March. For New Year’s, the family is planning another celebration.

They plan to roll out a carpet in the basement. “That’s our tradition,” explains Youssef. Then they will place food of all sorts — veggies, french fries and fruit — on the carpet and then gather mattresses on the edge to sit on.

They will eat, drink, listen to music and then watch the ball drop on television, to mark the beginning of 2016 and their new lives in Canada.


MSN.COM

'IS' leader al-Baghdadi releases alleged new voice recording 3/15 dw.com dw.com 18 hrs ago SHARE lotto


© 2015 DW.COM, Deutsche Welle A purported audio message by the "Islamic State" (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi said air strikes by Russia had failed to weaken the group. The authenticity of the voice recording could not be immediately verified.

In the audio recording, "IS" commander al-Baghdadi claims that his "caliphate" is doing "well" despite an unprecedented alliance against it. The message also directly threatens Israel, saying militants would attack the country.

The authenticity of the 24-minute long message, posted Saturday on Twitter accounts that have published "Islamic State" statements in the past, could not be verified.

"...our state is doing well. The more intense the war against it, the purer it becomes and the tougher it gets," the voice attributed to al-Baghdadi said.

READ MORE...

If the statement is verified, it would mark al-Baghdadi directly threatening Israeli Jews, saying that they "will hide behind trees and stones" from the "IS."

The militant Sunni Islamist group controls swathes of Iraq and Syria but has come under intensifying military pressure in recent weeks. In Iraq, government troops were pushing deeper into the heart of the last remaining district held by "Islamic State" militants in the city of Ramadi.

The last such online public message said to be by al-Baghdadi was posted in May. He has been reported injured or killed several times in fighting, apparently incorrectly. dr/se (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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RELATED FROM BREAKNGNEWS.ISRAEL

In War Against ISIS China Cooperating with Russia, US Denies Bombing Syrian Military By JNI Media December 10, 2015 , 9:30 am


SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE BY RT: First-hand look at Russian 'smart bombs' used in Syria against ISIS

“And you shall keep [them] and do [them], for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the eyes of the peoples, who will hear all these statutes and say, “Only this great nation is a wise and understanding people. ” (Deuteronomy Chapter 4:06)


A Chinese Su-27 Flanker fighter. (Photo: Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen / public domain / Wiki Commons)

China is cooperating with both Russia and the United States in the fight against international terrorism in Syria, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Chen Gopin said on Tuesday. “Talking about the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, several countries are coordinating their efforts in the fight against this terrorist organization Gopin said, adding that “concerning China’s participation in coordinating international efforts on fighting against international terrorism, China is also involved in this process. Comprehensive cooperation with US and Russia has been established.”

TASS reported on Tuesday that Moscow is concerned with reports about a coalition airstrike at Syrian government forces which killed civilians in Al-Hasakah, in the far north-eastern corner of Syria. The Russian Foreign Ministry announced on Tuesday that “Moscow is seriously concerned with new reports about the US-led coalition’s airstrike at Syrian government forces positions near Deir ez-Zor on December 6, as well as with consequences of the airstrike at wrong targets near the Al-khan settlement in the Syrian province of Hasaka that led to considerable losses among peaceful civilians.”

But the US military insisted on Monday that Russian warplanes were responsible for the attack on the Syrian army position. A US military official told The Washington Post that the Pentagon is “certain” that a Russian warplane carried out the attack. There was no response to that calim from either Syria or Russia.

The Third Jihad: Radical Islam's Vision for America

Meanwhile, according to Xinhua, Russia has been in touch with the government of Cyprus to discuss the use of military facilities as part of its campaign against the Islamic State. Russian ambassador to Cyprus Stanislav Osadchiy said on Monday Cyprus has offered similar facilities to France and Germany. “We are discussing the issue with the [Cypriot] foreign ministry,” Osadchiy said, “I think that we’ll find a way to get these facilities.”

Russia currently carries out its attacks against ISIS from an air base near Latakia in Syria. It needs military facilities in Cyprus as backup. Cyprus’ military cooperation agreement with France grants French planes use of an air base near the southwestern city of Paphos for refueling and maintenance.

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RELATED FROM EXPRESS.CO.UK

Putin's boost in battle against ISIS: China preparing to 'team up with Russia in Syria' By ROB VIRTUE PUBLISHED: 07:36, Thu, Nov 19, 2015 | UPDATED: 07:58, Thu, Nov 19, 2015

CHINA could be on the verge of teaming up with Russia to unleash its military might in Syria and destroy Islamic State (ISIS).


Chinese armyGETTY•IG

Reports from Russia and the Middle East have both said China's armed forces are on the way to Syria
Russia has carried out a series of deadly airstrikes against the terrorist group and Vladimir Putin has now sent the country's most elite special forces team into the war zone.

And speculation is heightening that offensive will be bolstered by the China's People's Liberation Army, following a number of reports of military movements in the region backed up by strong words from a senior government member at a United Nations meeting.

Reports emanating from the Middle East last week said China was planning on joining the fight against ISIS "in the coming weeks", according to a Syrian army official.

While Beijing insists it will abide by the United Nations (UN) in the region, hints of an action were backed up when it spoke strongly about a coordinated response to the rising terrorist threat.

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RELATED FROM CNN WORLD NEWS

Indian Prime Minister makes surprise visit, meets with Pakistani counterpart
By Harmeet Shah Singh and Sophia Saifi, CNN Updated 10:05 PM ET, Fri December 25, 2015


Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif greeted Indian PM at an airport in Lahore. Analysts call 'gesture of goodwill' a potential turning point in relations for the nuclear-armed rivals The Associated Press Posted: Dec 25, 2015 12:55 PM ET Last Updated: Dec 25, 2015 4:37 PM ET

CNN -The two leaders agree to "establish good neighborly relations," a statement says. Narendra Modi's visit to Pakistan is the first by an Indian prime minister in almost 12 years.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a surprise visit to Pakistan on Friday -- a significant sign the icy relationship between the two neighbors is thawing.

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif greeted him at an airport in Lahore during his short layover in the city while en route to New Delhi from Afghanistan. Sharif was accompanied by his brother Shahbaz, Punjab province's chief minister.

Modi met with his Pakistani counterpart at the official residence of the Sharif family in the Punjab town of Raiwind for impromptu talks. The Pakistan visit lasted about two hours.

"Both leaders expressed their desire to carry forward the dialogue process for the larger good of the people of the two countries," said a statement from Pakistan's foreign office.

"It was agreed to continue and enhance bilateral contacts and work together to establish good neighborly relations."


BBC UK

Iraqi forces 'enter Islamic State Ramadi stronghold' 2 hours ago


From the section Middle East --Iraqi pro-government soldier watches smoke billowing from Ramadi's Hoz neighbourhood on 27 December 2015Image copyrightAFP

Iraqi forces have entered a former government compound in Ramadi, from where Islamic State (IS) group militants have been resisting an army offensive, sources have told the BBC.

The source said troops had entered one building and were planning to push cautiously through the rest of the huge compound amid fears of explosives.

IS militants are believed to have fled to the north-east of the city.

The government has been trying to retake Ramadi for weeks.

The mainly Sunni Arab city, about 55 miles (90km) west of Baghdad, fell to IS in May, and was seen as an embarrassing defeat for the army.

In recent days, troops have been picking their way through booby-trapped streets and buildings as they pushed towards the city centre, seizing several districts on the way.

They were reported to be within a few hundred yards of the former provincial administrative headquarters on Saturday.

When sniper fire from the compound stopped, and aerial surveillance detected no human activity, a group of Iraqi soldiers moved in, the source said.

They reportedly entered what used to be the city's department of health, housing a blood bank.

The Iraqi military believes the militants have headed north-east; fighting meanwhile is reported to be under way to the south-west of the compound.

The operation to recapture Ramadi began in early November, but has made slow progress, mainly because the government chose not to use the powerful Shia-dominated paramilitary force that helped it regain the northern city of Tikrit, to avoid increasing sectarian tensions.

Concern remains for the plight of hundreds of families who have been trapped on the frontline, the BBC's Thomas Fessy reports from Baghdad.


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