- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009

JORDAN

Benedict to visit Talal Mosque

AMMAN | Pope Benedict XVI will visit Jordan’s largest mosque during his first papal tour of the Holy Land in May, a local Roman Catholic priest said Tuesday.

The pope’s stop at the Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman will be his second visit to a Muslim place of worship since becoming pope in 2005, said the Rev. Rifat Bader, a Catholic priest in Jordan who is the spokesman for the Jordanian leg of the pope’s Holy Land tour. In 2006, Benedict prayed at Turkey’s famous Blue Mosque in Istanbul.

The mosque, built in the outskirts of Amman nearly four years ago, is named after the late King Hussein, who died in 1999.

Jordan will be the pope’s first stop on the Holy Land tour from May 8-15, Father Bader said. He will also travel to Israel and the West Bank, making stops in cities including Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

JORDAN

Queen seeks aid for Palestinians

AMMAN, Jordan | Jordan’s Queen Rania appealed on Monday for urgent aid for the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), warning that lack of funds might stop its operations.

Rania, herself of Palestinian origin, called for urgent assistance to UNRWA, which cares for some 4.3 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The majority of Jordan’s nearly 6 million inhabitants are of Palestinian origin.

According to its Web site, the agency has unveiled a $345 million “quick recovery plan” for the Gaza Strip, where Israel’s 22 days of attacks in December and January caused massive destruction and killed more than 1,300 people.

IRAQ

German minister pledges to help

BAGHDAD | Germany’s foreign minister met with top Iraqi leaders in Baghdad on Tuesday in the latest high-level visit by a major Western nation that opposed the 2003 U.S.-led invasion but has promised to help Iraq rebuild now that security has improved.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s visit - the first by a German foreign minister since 1987 - comes on the heels of a similar trip by French President Nicolas Sarkozy a week ago. Germany and France were strong opponents of the war that toppled Saddam Hussein, but the governments in both countries have changed since 2003 and have sought greater roles in Iraq.

German and French companies could benefit from the change by striking lucrative Iraqi reconstruction contracts. Iraqi leaders appear eager to shore up their ties with European nations like Germany and France to ease their dependence on the United States.

Mr. Steinmeier, who is traveling with representatives from German companies and cultural institutions, met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani on Tuesday. He also plans to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, the German Foreign Ministry said.

MOROCCO

Frenchman jailed for cannabis stash

TANGIERS | A Frenchman has been given a five-year jail sentence by a Moroccan court after being caught in possession of 180 pounds of cannabis, the MAP news agency reported Tuesday.

Judges sentenced Serge Astroc, who plans to appeal, as part of a joint Franco-Moroccan effort “to infiltrate and break up a drug trafficking ring operating on an international scale,” MAP said.

Moroccan customs officers found the cannabis in 2007 after boarding a boat headed for France.

Diplomats in Morocco estimate 140 French nationals are currently imprisoned in Tangiers on drug charges.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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