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Holocaust Memorial Day: Pope Francis remembers millions of World War II Nazi Holocaust victims

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Remains of Victims in the Nazi Camp, Wikimedia

Vatican City, Jan 27, 2017: Pope Francis on Friday remembered the millions of victims of the Nazi Holocaust during the Second World War.

“Today I want to remember in my heart all the victims of the Holocaust,” Francis wrote on Holocaust Memorial Day. “May their sufferings and their tears never be forgotten,” read the tweet from his nine-language @pontifex account.

Events are taking place internationally on Friday to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in southern Poland by the Soviet army on January 27, 1945.

Eleven million people including six million Jews were killed by German Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust between 1941-45.

Besides Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the disabled and political and Church-based opponents were murdered. (IANS)

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Goodbye Holy Smoke, Vatican City bans Sale of Cigarettes

The Vatican, a tiny walled city-state surrounded by Rome, is one of the few states to ban smoking.

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The faithful gather in front of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. VOA

Vatican City, November 10, 2017 : Pope Francis has ordered a ban on the sale of cigarettes inside the Vatican from next year because of health concerns, a spokesman said on Thursday.

“The motive is very simple: the Holy See cannot be cooperating with a practice that is clearly harming the health of people,” spokesman Greg Burke said in a statement.

He cited World World Health Organization (WHO) statistics that smoking causes more than seven million deaths worldwide every year.

Cigarettes have been sold at a discounted price to Vatican employees and pensioners.

Vatican employees are allowed to buy five cartons of cigarettes a month. Many Italians ask their non-smoking friends who work in the Vatican to buy cigarettes for them because they cost much less than in Italy, where they are subject to heavy taxes.

Burke acknowledged that the sale of cigarettes has been a source of revenue for the Holy See, adding, “However, no profit can be legitimate if it is costing people their lives.”

The spokesman said the sale of large cigars would continue at least for the time being because the smoke is not inhaled.

The Vatican, a tiny walled city-state surrounded by Rome, is one of the few states to ban smoking. Bhutan, where smoking is deemed bad for one’s karma, banned the sale of tobacco in 2005. (VOA)

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Displaced Villagers Return to Old Mosul Only to Find Destruction, Danger and Dead Bodies; Returnees Claim ‘Even Soldiers Stay Indoors After Dark’

The wreckage from a few of the destroyed homes has been cleared away as a handful villagers visit their homes in Old Mosul, which has been completely destroyed following a battle against the ISIS

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Abd Elaam is one of the only people living in the Old Mosul in Iraq, where the destruction has been compared to World War II Dresden, Aug. 27, 2017.
  • Old Mosul has been completely shattered in the battle to recapture the city from Islamic State militants
  • About 900,000 people have been displaced by the battle for Mosul, and many neighborhoods have been completely destroyed by war
  • Areas around the village are slowly being re-populated, but many places are entirely without services like trash collection, electricity, and running water

Mosul, September 5, 2017 : “All you can hear at night is the sound of broken doors flapping in the wind,” says Abd Elaam, a 50-year-old furniture maker. “Even soldiers stay indoors after dark.”

Elaam is currently one of the very few civilians living in Old Mosul, an ancient neighborhood shattered by the battle to recapture the city from Islamic State militants. Like many families that survived IS rule, he says, his resources are completely exhausted by the war and he has nowhere else to go.

Other families trickle in by day, looking to repair their broken homes or recover the bodies of their dead loved ones. But even during daylight hours, the neighborhood is dangerous, riddled with bombs and an unknown number of militants hiding out in the vast network of tunnels under the tightly-packed buildings and piles of rubble. The level of destruction has been compared to World War II Dresden.

 

Old Mosul
About 900,000 people have been displaced by the battle for Mosul, and many neighborhoods like Mosul’s Old City have been completely destroyed by the war, July 9, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

“A IS militant came out of one those houses two weeks ago,” Elaam says, gesturing towards another dusty, broken street. “He blew himself up near two families. They were all injured and the bomber was cut in half.”

The militant’s body, like other fallen IS fighters in Old Mosul, was shoved under the rubble to reduce the smell of rot in the 45 degree-plus weather. When Iraq declared victory over IS in early July, the bodies of dead militants lay scattered in buildings and on the streets of nearly every block. Authorities searched through giant piles of concrete, once homes, for the remains of civilian families. But, they said, the only government department responsible for the IS bodies was garbage collection.

 

Old Mosul
Bodies of IS fighters lie in the rubble of Old Mosul on nearly every block, while the bodies of families killed in airstrikes have to be dug out from under the demolished buildings in Mosul, Iraq, July 9, 2017. (H. Murdock/VOA)

Old Mosul is far from re-establishing city services like trash pickup. There is no running water, electricity or businesses open. Yet other families are following Elaam’s lead, and plan to return to their homes as soon as possible.

“In a few days I will move back and bring my family,” says Ghanem Younis, 72, resting on a beige plastic chair in a sliver of shade. “If they provide electricity and water, everyone would come back.”

Younger men and children squat around Ghanem, recalling the isolation of the final months of the battle that began late last year. “We couldn’t go more than 50 meters from our front doors,” says Sufian, a 27-year-old unemployed construction worker. “We spent our time sitting right here with Uncle Ghanem.”

 

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Residents of Old Mosul say homes left standing after months of heavy fighting are often ransacked as soldiers search for bombs and IS fighters hiding in tunnels under the city. (VOA)

But it is not sentiment driving some families home despite the dangers, adds Elaam, as more neighbors join the conversation.

“People cannot stay with friends and relatives forever,” he says. Camps for those displaced are also crowded. “No one has anywhere else to go,” he adds.

Airstrike Damage

A few blocks away, outside the checkpoints that cut off the Old City, the Zanjelli neighborhood is slowly being repopulated.

Old Mosul
Areas around Old Mosul are slowly being re-populated, but many places are entirely without electricity, running water and other city services, like trash collection. (VOA)

 

Construction workers build a market to replace one destroyed in airstrikes, while the owners of what was once a shoe store paint the shelves, hoping to re-open in the coming weeks. The wreckage from a few of the destroyed homes has been cleared away, and the bodies of many of the dead are now buried in graveyards.

In less than five minutes of conversation, at least three people tell us about family members, including toddlers, killed in airstrikes in the last months of battle.

“There was an IS sniper firing from next to my house and the airstrike hit us,” says Youseff Hussain, 35. “Fifteen members of my family were killed.”

 

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Iraqi search parties looking for survivors and the remains of dead civilians in Old Mosul. (VOA)

Rebuilding the neighborhood, adds Hussain, is made doubly frustrating by the fact that it was Iraq’s allies, including the United States, who destroyed many of their homes as they battled IS from the air.

Many locals say the sacrifice of property and lives may have been necessary to prevent the city, then under siege, from total starvation. But after bearing the brunt of the war with IS, largely considered a global threat, residents say they thought the international community or the government would help them rebuild.

The only aid families here get right now, Zanjelli residents say, is Iraqi military rations, as soldiers share their food.

“There is nothing they can do to pay us back for what we have lost,” says Hussain. “But shouldn’t we at least get refunded for our property?” (VOA)

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A Massive Live Bomb Diffused In Germany’s Biggest Evacuation Since World War II

The massive bomb is believed to have been dropped by Britain's Royal Air Force during the 1939-45 war.

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A German couple during an evacuation of more than 60 000 people in Frankfurt, Germany on Sept. 3, 2017. VOA
  • Large number of live bombs and munitions continue to be found in Germany even 70 years after the end of World War II
  • Bomb experts successfully defused a 1.4 ton British bomb in Germany
  • Largest evacuation carried out in Germany since the end of World War II

Frankfurt, September 4, 2017 : German bomb experts successfully defused a massive World War II bomb in the financial capital of Frankfurt on Sunday after nearly 65,000 people were evacuated to safety.

The 1.4 ton British bomb was found at a construction site last week.

Police on Sunday cordoned off a 1.5 kilometer radius around the bomb, leading to the largest evacuation in Germany since the end of World War II.

Helicopters with heat seeking devices scoured the area before the bomb experts began their work.

Among the evacuees were more than 100 patients from two hospitals, including people in intensive-care.

Experts had warned that if the bomb exploded, it would be powerful enough to flatten a whole street.

More than 2,000 tons of live bombs and munitions are discovered each year in Germany, more than 70 years after the end of the war. British and American warplanes pummeled the country with 1.5 million tons of bombs that killed 600,000 people.

German officials estimate that 15 percent of the bombs failed to explode. (VOA)