Two nurses from Oman in Middle East visit Calvary Hospital  to learn  how best to care for advanced cancer patients

Nurses Saada Al Sinawi and Sumaiya Al Toobi have traveled more than 14,000 miles from home on a very special mission. The women are from the Sultanate of Oman, in the Middle East. And for the last month, they’ve been studying at Calvary Hospital’s Palliative Care Institute, where they are learning how to address the medical, psychological and mental needs of advanced cancer care patients and their families. “It is really amazing what they are doing here,” said Al Toobi, 25. Both women are nurses at the National Oncology Center at Royal Hospital in the capital city of Muscat. Back home, their hectic schedules rarely leave them time to focus on the patient’s or family’s well-being. And there’s very little in the way of support services. “It is a big challenge,” said Al Sinawi, 24. “You want to give them more.” The Omani nurses have been shadowing Calvary’s doctors and staff nurses, sat in on bereavement groups with social workers, and visited the hospice. For Al Toobi, it was the relationship between doctors and patients that stood out. “They are so close,” she said. “It’s not just the medical. It is amazing to see.” Al Sinawi agreed. “I have never seen a doctor hug a patient except here,” she said. They came to Calvary indirectly through the Middle Eastern Cancer Consortium, a program started by the Clinton Administration that brings together health professionals from six Middle Eastern countries to address growing cancer concerns in the region. Last year, while on a U.S. State Department-sponsored trip, a doctor from Royal Hospital visited Calvary Hospital. She recommended Al Toobi and Al Sinawi study palliative care there. “When visitors come here, we try to give them hands on time with all the different disciplines. Very little is taught in lectures,” said Dr. Robert Brescia, who heads Continue Reading

Trump pushes for Middle East peace, ‘one of the toughest deals of all’

JERUSALEM – Diving head-first into one of the most intractable conflicts in the world, President Trump continues his attempt to make progress on peace in the Middle East on Tuesday, traveling to Bethlehem to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.It's part of a carefully constructed theme of Trump's first foreign trip as president. By visiting countries that are the spiritual homes of Islam, Judaism and Catholic Christianity, Trump is seeking to bring a message of unity to people of faith, especially in the fight against terrorism. Trump also plans to visit Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, and then make a speech at the Israel Museum on Tuesday.Trump became the first sitting president to pray at Jerusalem's Western Wall on Monday, visiting a site with both religious and political significance as he attempts to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians.Wearing a black yarmulke, Trump stood quietly at the wall and slipped a customary prayer into its cracks.Trump said he was "deeply moved" by his visit to the wall, which came on the first day of his two-day visit to Israel. "Words fail to capture the experience. It will leave an impression upon me forever."First Lady Melania Trump and daughter Ivanka also prayed at the wall, but did so separately because worship there is segregated by gender.The geography of the wall, considered Judaism's holiest place of prayer, is fraught with controversy.During planning for Trump's visit, an American diplomat told Israeli officials that they weren't welcome to accompany Trump to the wall because it was in Palestinian territory — prompting an uproar in Israel. The Israeli government has considered the wall under its jurisdiction since it captured the Old City during the Six Day War in 1967. Muslims view the same compound, which holds the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque, as a holy site. Yet the U.S. has not recognized Continue Reading

Reporter held by Islamic State has passion for Middle East

Shortly before he was captured by terrorists in Syria, freelance journalist Steven Sotloff had enough peace of mind to share his wonder about the status of the center position of his beloved Miami Heat."How much of an impact with big man #GregOden have with #MiamiHeat next season?" the 31-year old Miami native tweeted on August 3, 2013. Then his Twitter feed went silent.The tone of the message stands in stark contrast to Sotloff's searing debut in the American public consciousness Tuesday, when his Islamic State captors released a video of him kneeling, presumably in a remote part of Syria. It was the same infamous video that included the beheading of James Wright Foley, another American journalist who was freelancing in the region.While media trucks and reporters camped out in the Sotloff family's house in Pinecrest, Fla., his parents — Art Sotloff and Shirley Pulwer — and family members have kept silent behind closed shutters and police patrols. Frank Castle, the boyfriend of Sotloff's sister, Lauren, has promoted an online petition urging government action to free him. His family presumably continues to work with the highest levels of the government in its attempt to seek his release. The congresswoman who represents their district, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said she has had multiple talks with the family.Sotloff's writings, social media clues and a few media interviews given by friends in the immediate hours after the video release reveal an up-and-coming reporter with a yearning for adventure abroad and an obvious passion for the region.Reporting voluntarily from Aleppo, Syria, near the Turkish border — Syria is now considered the most dangerous journalistic assignment — Sotloff filed stories on a freelance basis with numerous publications, including Time and Foreign Policy, and remained moderately active on social media. One video shows him on the streets of Aleppo as a bomber flies overhead.Like many freelancers in the Continue Reading

Vice President Biden urges Israelis, Palestinians to ‘take risks for peace’ in Middle East visit

JERUSALEM — The U.S. will back those willing to "take risks for peace," U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday during the highest-level visit to Israel by an Obama administration official. Biden said he was pleased that Israelis and Palestinians had agreed this week to resume indirect peace negotiations with U.S. mediation. His two-day visit to Israel seemed clearly aimed at assuaging Israeli concerns that President Obama has been less friendly to Israel than his predecessors, and Biden offered effusive praise. "Progress occurs in the Middle East when everyone knows there is simply no space between the United States and Israel," he said, a day after the U.S. announced Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to begin indirect peace talks, breaking a 14-month deadlock. The announcement of indirect talks, which will be held through a U.S. mediator, marked President Barack Obama's first diplomatic breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the new peace push is sure to face enormous challenges, including sharp divisions among the Palestinians and a hardline Israeli government seen as unlikely to make wide-ranging concessions. Biden said he hoped the beginning of indirect talks would be "a vehicle by which we can begin to allay that layer of mistrust that has built up in the last several years." "The United States will always stand with those who take risks for peace," Biden said standing beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He told the Israeli leader, "you're prepared to do that." Polls show that Israelis have come to see Obama as less sympathetic to Israel than previous presidents. Biden's comments appeared aimed at bolstering the administration's standing both among Israelis and their American supporters, whose backing is seen as crucial ahead of next November's congressional elections. The vice president also offered assurances that the U.S. remained committed to Israel's well-being, speaking of the administration's Continue Reading

Middle-East Piece: Editorial cartoonists draw attention to Israeli-Palestinian conflict with exhibit

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a group of famed editorial cartoonists hope the pen is mightier than the sword. A traveling exhibit of their work that promotes peace and reconciliation in the Middle East opened Thursday night in Manhattan. "Cartoons in Conflict: Editorial Cartoonists Explore Palestinian-Israeli Conflict" began its New York run in a Chelsea storefront at 6 West 26th St. and displays the works of 40 artists. "We are doing everything we can to spread our message of reconciliation," said Mazen Faraj, a member of the Parents Circle Families Forum (PCFF), one of the groups behind the exhibit. "The cartoons keep us connected to our history and help us learn from these experiences." Faraj, a Palestinian who grew up in a refugee camp near Bethlehem and participated in the first uprising, began a crusade against regional violence after his 62-year-old father was killed in 2002 by an Israeli soldier who mistook the groceries he was carrying for something else. "It's easy to forget the human side in this," Faraj said. "The cartoons help show the real face of the conflict. They help people realize that we are all in this together." After difficult discussions with friends and family, Faraj joined the PCFF - an organization made up of Israeli and Palestinian families that have lost loved ones to the regional conflict - where he met others with similar stories, who even in the face of loss and pain, were committed to peace. "Sometimes this work is like taking water out of the ocean with a teaspoon, but we're trying to create a person-to-person framework for reconciliation," said Robi Damelin, an Israeli who lost her 28-year-old son, David, to Palestinian sniper fire in 2002. "When people realize there are actual living people just like them who are affected by the conflict, they change."  The exhibit is one of the many educational programs that the organization supports, but the organizers and contributors believe Continue Reading

In Jordan, Pope Benedict urges Christians in the Middle East to keep faith

AMMAN, Jordan - The pope urged Middle East Christians Sunday to persevere in their faith despite hardships threatening their ancient communities as 20,000 people filled a Jordanian sports stadium where Benedict XVI celebrated the first open-air Mass of his Holy Land pilgrimage.The pope was welcomed at the stadium in Arabic by the Latin rite patriarch of Jerusalem, Archbishop Fouad Twal, who recalled that Jordan has taken in more than 1 million Iraqi refugees since the start of the war, some 40,000 of them Christians. According to Vatican statistics, Christians are less than 2 percent of Jordan's overwhelmingly Muslim population."The Catholic community here is deeply touched by the difficulties and uncertainties which affect the people of the Middle East," Benedict said, speaking in English at the Mass."May you never forget the great dignity which derives from your Christian heritage, or fail to sense the loving solidarity of all your brothers and sisters in the church throughout the world," he said.The pope's weeklong Holy Land pilgrimage is his first trip as pope to the Middle East - where he has faced sharp criticism by both Muslims and Jews.Benedict angered many in the Muslim world three years ago when he quoted a Medieval text that characterized some of Islam's Prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman," particularly "his command to spread by the sword the faith. When he arrived in Jordan on Saturday, Benedict expressed his "deep respect" for Islam and hoped the Catholic Church would be a force for peace.The pope will also have to tread carefully when he arrives in Israel on Monday for the final four-day leg of his tour, which will also bring him to the Palestinian territories. Earlier this year, Benedict sparked outrage among Jews when he revoked the excommunication of an ultraconservative bishop who denies the Holocaust.Catholics from across the Middle East attended Sunday's Mass. Many held up flags from Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and other countries. They Continue Reading

Swine flu spreads to Middle East, South Pacific; New Zealand reports 11 confirmed cases, Israel, one

MEXICO CITY — Swine flu spread to the Middle East and the South Pacific on Tuesday, as New Zealand reported 11 confirmed cases and Israel said it had one. World health officials raced to contain the outbreak, raising a global alert level as more deaths were reported in Mexico. Swine flu has already spread to seven countries and appears to be jumping borders via airplane flights. Those infected in New Zealand are a group of students and teachers who returned recently from a trip to Mexico, where the virus is suspected to have infected nearly 2,000 people and caused more than 150 deaths. Fifty cases — none fatal — have been confirmed in the United States. Six cases have been confirmed in Canada, two in Spain and two in Scotland. European Union officials reported Tuesday flu cases were also being probed in Denmark, Sweden, Greece, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Ireland, in addition to Spain and Britain. "At this time, containment is not a feasible option," said Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general of the World Health Organization, which raised its alert level on Monday. New Zealand Health Minister Tony Ryall reported 11 confirmed cases and said another 43 people were suspected of having the virus. All have been voluntarily quarrantined, along with their families. Israeli Health Ministry laboratory tests confirmed swine flu in a 26-year-old patient who recently returned from Mexico in the Israeli city of Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, according to Laniado Hospital's medical director. In Europe, Spain reported a second confirmed case and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the country's two swine flu patients were improving. "Both patients are in better health and ... one may leave the hospital today," Brown said on a visit to Poland. Brown urged people to consult a doctor if they have health concerns but stressed that Britain is "among the best prepared countries in the world" to fight the spread of the disease. Spanish Continue Reading

Boro’s caring shines in Middle East

In an area of the world where death could come at any moment, Prof. Michael Silbermann has been working to establish health care for the terminally ill, and for cancer patients living with pain. Silbermann traveled from Israel to Calvary Hospital last week for his first visit to the place where he has sent hundreds of doctors and nurses from the Middle East to learn about palliative care. "My first impression when I visit hospices is I feel the atmosphere of death," he said. "But when I came in here," he said, waving his arms, "everything is clean, it is not depressing. This is the right way to leave this world." In his part of the world, he said, cultural, religious and political differences have kept many cancer patients from treatment that could ease their pain and make their final days easier for them, and their families. Silbermann has been executive director of the Middle East Cancer Consortium (MECC) since its inception in 1996. It was founded by then-President Clinton and health ministers of six Middle Eastern nations. Silbermann said one of many cases that drives him in his work was that of an Arab woman he encountered in an Israeli hospital who was dying of breast cancer. She was not yet 40. She was receiving no drugs or special care. "She was in great suffering, and she said 'Allah decided this is my destiny, and I accept it,' " Silbermann said. In 2005, the National Cancer Institute designated Calvary an international center for training in palliative care, and the hospital began instructing doctors and nurses from the MECC member nations: Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority and Turkey. Calvary staffers have also traveled to those countries to train health care professionals. Dr. Robert Brescia, director of Calvary's palliative care institute, went to Israel and Jordan when the relationship began. This year, he and two nurses will travel to Turkey to train people in treating wounds suffered by the Continue Reading

Trump trip to Middle East, Vatican offers religious opportunities, pitfalls

JERUSALEM — President Trump has billed his visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican as a sort of triple pilgrimage to places deeply meaningful to adherents of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.But his first overseas trip as president also presents deep religious and political pitfalls.Whether his time abroad will appease faith groups upset by Trump’s proposed Muslim travel ban and his waffling over whether to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem — among other thorny issues — remains to be seen.He will meet with Pope Francis, who has made no secret of his disdain for Trump’s harsh rhetoric about immigrants and has reminded the president to remember the poor.Trump’s trip reflects the president’s belief “that we all have to be united and we have to be joined together with an agenda of tolerance and moderation,” according to national security adviser H.R. McMaster. Read more: Many in the U.S. and abroad find that assertion hypocritical, given Trump’s combative style and history of remarks deemed offensive to Muslims, Latinos, blacks, Jews, women and the disabled.But others see this trip as a chance for Trump — embroiled in Washington over his handling of a probe into alleged Russian ties to his presidential campaign — to prove that he can overcome his divisive reputation.In Saudi Arabia, Trump’s first stop, the president will share “his hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam” and “the need to confront radical ideology” during a meeting with officials from dozens of Muslim-majority countries, McMaster said.Trump will not be able to visit Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad and the world’s holiest Islamic city, because it is off-limits to non-Muslims.During the Israeli leg of the trip, Trump will likely score points with the 80% of white evangelical Christians in the U.S. who voted for him — many of Continue Reading

Middle East becomes the world’s new travel crossroads

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — It's 1 a.m. and the sprawling airport in this desert city is bustling. Enough languages fill the air to make a United Nations translator's head spin.Thousands of fliers arrive every hour from China, Australia, India and nearly everywhere else on the planet. Few venture outside the terminal, which spans the length of 24 football fields. They come instead to catch connecting flights to somewhere else.If it weren't for three ambitious and rapidly expanding government-owned airlines — Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways — they might have never come to the Middle East.ARCHIVES: New A380-only concourse opens at Dubai airport (Feb. 12, 2012)PHOTOS: New A380 concourse opens at Dubai airportFor generations, international fliers have stopped over in London, Paris and Amsterdam. Now, they increasingly switch planes in Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi, making this region the new crossroads of global travel. The switch is driven by both the airports and airlines, all backed by governments that see aviation as the way to make their countries bigger players in the global economy.Passengers are won over by their fancy new planes and top-notch service. But the key to the airlines' incredible growth is geography. Their hubs in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are an eight-hour flight away from two-thirds of the world's population, including a growing middle class in India, China and Southeast Asia that is eager to travel.In the past five years, the annual number of passengers traveling through Dubai International Airport — home to Emirates — has jumped from 28.8 million to 51 million, a 77% increase. The airport now sees more passengers than New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport."Everybody accepts that the balance of global economic power is shifting to the east. The geographic position of the Gulf hubs makes them much more relevant today," says Willie Walsh, CEO of International Airlines Group, the Continue Reading