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SYRIA

Global church group seeks Syria summit

Christian leaders from Syria and beyond are planning a summit involving Muslim representatives in a drive to use faith to spur peace efforts, the Geneva-based World Council of Churches says.

Global church group seeks Syria summit
WCC head Olav Fykse Tveit. Photo: Church of Norway

"We plan to have parallel consultations when the Geneva II meeting happens, so we can mobilize both Church leaders and other religious leaders for a commitment to a peace process in Syria," WCC head Olav Fyske Tveit told reporters on Thursday.
   
Asked whether he aimed to get Muslim clerics from inside Syria on board, he replied: "We'll see what's possible. But of course we'll invite them, and other major Muslim partners, who come from the opposition of course, but also from neighbouring countries."
   
The so-called Geneva II negotiations are meant to be based on talks in the Swiss city in June 2012, where world powers called for a Syrian transition government.
   
But the warring sides failed to agree on whether President Bashar al-Assad could play a role, and amid spiralling fighting the plan stalled.
   
In a renewed effort to hold Geneva II, UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi is to meet US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on September 28th.
   
Moves for a parallel faith summit followed talks among Church leaders, including from Syria, at a closed-door WCC meeting Wednesday attended by Brahimi.
   
Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully together in Syria for centuries, but fears are mounting for Christians as ultra-Islamists gain clout among the rebels fighting Assad.
   
The Christian community generally has been well-treated in the four decades since the Assad family — of the Alawite minority, a branch of Shia Islam — came to power.
   
That has fuelled claims by some Assad opponents that Christians support him as a group, making them targets, while he paints himself as a shield against militant Islam.
   
Syria's conflict erupted after a crackdown on anti-regime protests in March 2011.
   
It morphed into a sectarian war — Sunni Muslims dominate the rebel camp — which has claimed over 100,000 lives, driven two million refugees from the country, and displaced millions more within Syria.
   
"All communities in Syria have a certain fear, not only the Christians, a fear for the future," said Michel Nseir, head of the WCC's Middle East programme.

"Christians, as everybody else, are victims of this war."
   
The WCC groups 345 denominations — except Roman Catholics — representing a global congregation of 560 million.

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SYRIA

Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State

A 31-year-old woman from Winterthur who tried to travel to Syria to join Islamic State (IS) is standing trial under Swiss anti-terror laws.

Swiss woman stands trial for attempting to join Islamic State
The federal criminal court in Bellinzona. Photo: Swiss Confederation/OFCL

The alleged ‘jihadi tourist' appeared before Switzerland's federal criminal court in Bellinzona on Friday, the Swiss news agency SDA reported. 

In December 2015, the woman, accompanied by her four-year-old child, attempted to travel to Syria via Greece and Turkey in order to join IS, the authorities allege. 

Her intended destination was Raqqa, which was at the time an IS stronghold in Syria.

The woman was prevented from continuing her journey by the Greek authorities and was arrested at Zurich airport on her return to Switzerland in January 2016. 

The Swiss attorney general's office filed an indictment against the Swiss national for offences under the federal law that bans terror groups including Isis. 

According to the indictment, the woman radicalized herself through internet propaganda after converting to Islam in 2009.

It says the Swiss national believed it was the duty of all Muslims to support IS.

She said she rejected western values.

This is only the second case concerning a so-called ‘jihadi tourist' to go before Switzerland's federal criminal court. 

The first prosecution of its kind took place in 2016, when a 26-year-old man was found guilty of attempting to travel to join Isis and given an 18-month suspended jail sentence.

Islamic State has been banned in Switzerland since 2014.