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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

World leaders deliver Christmas messages 

Monarchs and presidents urge peace and tolerance.....and Trump congratulates himself on bringing back the traditional Christmas greeting

As millions of people around the world celebrated Christmas Day with their families and friends, millions more were trapped in conflict, hardship and suffering. And it was on them - for the most part - that world leaders around the world reflected as they delivered their Christmas messages.

In the UAE, residents celebrated their own kind of white Christmas as much of the country was shrouded in thick fog.

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Read more:

Dense fog that has caused travel disruptions to last days

The first Noël: 60 years of Christmas carols in Abu Dhabi

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In Iraq, the Christmas spirit returned to cities with a large Christian population, such as Mosul and Qaraqosh, both liberated this year from ISIL extremists.

Officials in Iraqi Kurdistan sent their Christmas greetings, including Falah Mustafa, Head of Department of Foreign Relations

Mr Mustafa extended his “warmest greetings and best wishes to all those celebrating Christmas around the world,” including the Christian minority of Iraq.

In a Christmas message to Christians around the world, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas called upon the world to “listen to the true voices of the indigenous Christians from the Holy Land. The same voices that strongly rejected the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital through their Heads of Churches.”

His message follows the US president Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Palestinians “will not accept any plan for the US side. The US chose to be biased. Their future plan for Palestine will not be based on the two-state solution on the 1967 border, nor will it be based on International Law or UN resolutions,” Mr Abbas said.

In Lebanon, which has one of the largest Christian populations in the Middle East, President Michel Aoun said, “We hope in this blessed night that the Gospel of Christmas is reflected in Lebanon and the Levant in every aspect of joy, love and peace.”

In Jordan, King Abdullah II sent his Christmas wishes to the Christian community, expressing hopes that the new year would “bring further prosperity and progress to all Jordanians, who continue to conquer challenges with their firm resolve.”

In Europe, the British prime minister Theresa May showed her gratitude towards those in the armed services who are away from home and loved ones this Christmas.

In 2017 the UK suffered multiple terrorist attacks and the tragedy of Grenfell Tower fire which killed more than 70 people.

Ms May recognised these tragedies in her address as she called for unity and said, “This Christmas, whatever our faith, let us come together confident and united in the values we share.”

On Monday, Queen Elizabeth II delivered her annual Christmas message, marking her 60th televised royal Christmas message.

In her speech, she paid tribute to her husband Prince Phillip for his “support and unique sense of humour”, as well as the heroes of the London and Manchester attacks.

Pope Francis began a week of Christmas ceremonies with the Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in which he highlighted the importance of respect for migrants across the world, and compared their struggle to the biblical story of Mary and Joseph.

“Christmas is the time for turning the power of fear into the power of charity,” the Pope said. On Monday, he delivered the “Urbi et Orbi” blessing, in which he urged for peaceful dialogue between Israel and Palestine regarding Jerusalem "that would allow the peaceful co-existence of two states." The "Urbi et Orbi" blessing is presented only twice a year for Christmas and Easter.

Throughout the week, the Pope will preside over the Feast of St. Stephen, Feast of St. John, the “Te Deum” prayer, and the nativity scene in St. Peter’s Square.

The Pope urged the separation of this year’s Christmas from any sort of “worldliness” as he reflected on the true meaning of Christmas which “is the beauty of being loved by God.”

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull sent his wishes encouraging people to celebrate Christmas “in that great Australian way.”

In similar vein to Britain's Theresa May, Mr Turnbull used his Christmas message to remember the security services who maintain the peace in Australia, as well as honouingr the country’s values and diversity.

Various German federal states continue to celebrate the Christmas spirit through a tradition in which federal courts release prisoners under amnesty to celebrate the holiday with their families. Although not all German states exercise this discretion, authorities in Berlin and North Rhine-Westphalia have released a total number of 791 prisoners ahead of the holiday.

On Christmas Eve, US president Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump took phone calls from children asking them what gifts they wanted from Santa Claus.

It has become the convention in the US for people to wish each other "happy holidays," even though Christmas is a Christian festival, supposedly to avoid excluding those of other faiths. Mr Trump proudly took the credit for bringing back the phrase, “Merry Christmas” to the American people.