Al-Qaeda wing merges with ISIL in border town

Updated 26 June 2014
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Al-Qaeda wing merges with ISIL in border town

BEIRUT: Al-Qaeda’s Syrian offshoot issued a loyalty pledge on Wednesday to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) at a tinderbox town on the Iraqi border, a monitor said.
The merger is significant as it opens the way for ISIL to take control of both sides of the border at Albu Kamal in Syria and Al-Qaim in Iraq, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
ISIL — which aspires to create an Islamic state that straddles Iraq and Syria — has spearheaded a lightning jihadist offensive that has captured swathes of territory north and west of Baghdad this month.
After months of clashes between the two sides, Al-Qaeda’s official Syrian arm, the Al-Nusra Front, “pledged loyalty to ISIL” in Albu Kamal, said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman.
“The pledge comes amid advances by ISIL in Deir Ezzor province” in eastern Syria on the Iraqi border, Abdel Rahman told AFP.
An ISIL jihadist confirmed the reports on Twitter, and posted a photograph showing an Egyptian Al-Nusra Front commander shaking hands with a ISIL leader of Chechen origin.

Tension could worsen
Although both ISIL and the Al-Nusra are rooted in Al-Qaeda, the two have been rivals for much of the time that ISIL has been involved in Syria’s civil war since spring last year.
“They are rivals, but both groups are jihadist and extremists. This move will create tension now with other rebel groups, including Islamists, in the area,” said Abdel Rahman.
An opposition activist in Albu Kamal told AFP via the Internet that “there is a lot of tension, and the situation is only going to get worse.”
Using a pseudonym for security reasons, Hadi Salameh also said the merger would “cause a big problem with the local tribes, who will not welcome this change.”
Another activist said the merger comes days after local rebel brigades who had been working with Al-Nusra Front signed a declaration excluding the official Al-Qaeda branch from the Islamic court, which acts as the de facto authority in many rebel areas of Syria.
“The loyalty oath (to ISIL) comes after tension between Al-Nusra and the local rebels,” said the activist, Abdel Salam Al-Hussein.
He also said hundreds of thousands of people, including displaced families from neighboring Iraq as well as flashpoint areas in Syria, are living in Albu Kamal, and that it would be a “catastrophe” if fighting broke out in the town.
Hussein said: “ISIL fighters are now positioned at the entry of Albu Kamal, on the Iraqi side.”
He added: “The situation is very sad. We have lost everything.”
Meanwhile, the Syrian air force carried out air raids targeting ISIL-controlled Raqa in the north of the country and Muhassen in the east.
President Bashar Assad’s regime has rarely targeted ISIL bastions, except in recent days after the group and other Sunni militants launched an offensive in Iraq, wresting control of Mosul and other parts of Iraq.
ISIL aspires to create an Islamic state that straddles Iraq and Syria.
A Syrian government newspaper reiterated frequent regime claims that the United States and Israel are behind the rising violence, and that they are vying to “divide Syria along sectarian and religious lines.”


Lebanese seek to save landmark concrete park from crumbling

Updated 19 min 32 sec ago
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Lebanese seek to save landmark concrete park from crumbling

  • An exhibition is ongoing at the site designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in a call to save it
  • Until Oct. 23, a show titled “Cycles of Collapsing Progress” seeks to celebrate the era that gave rise to the fairground

TRIPOLI, Lebanon: Close to the seafront in Lebanon’s Tripoli, giant curves of concrete stand testimony to dreams before the civil war, etchings of an exhibition park never finished but already cracking.
This month, a rare exhibition is being held at the site designed by legendary Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in a desperate call to save it from ruin.
Inside the vast grey grounds of the Tripoli International Fair in northern Lebanon, a palm tree throws its dark silhouette onto a giant concrete dome.
A thin arch sweeps high over a narrow footbridge, and a steep staircase spirals up vertically, onto a circular cement platform perched on a curvaceous pillar.
“It’s a futurist paradigm that is unique in Lebanon and the region,” said Lebanese architect Wassim Naghi.
“In its modernity, in its reliance on curves, it sums up the progress of architecture over a hundred years,” he said.
And with buildings dotted over an area the size of 70 rugby pitches, it’s among “Niemeyer’s largest works outside Brazil,” he said.
The Brazilian architect designed landmarks around the globe during a decades-long career that started in the 1930s and ended in the 21st century.
When he died six years ago aged 104, he left behind hundreds of buildings, in Brazil as well as in the United States, France, Malaysia, Algeria and Cuba.
But today his work in Lebanon is in urgent need of restoration.
“These buildings of reinforced concrete need to be restored rapidly. There are buildings being eaten away at, blocks falling down, and many cracks,” Naghi warned.
“We fear there will be unpleasant surprises, especially during the rainy season,” he said.
Until October 23, a show titled “Cycles of Collapsing Progress” seeks to celebrate the era that gave rise to the fairground, but also sound the alarm.
In the halls under the perched platform, visitors can admire a seabed of snaking rebar, or even an elongated white space rocket hanging from the cieling.
The show “documents a golden age in Lebanon’s modern history — the architectural, scientific and cultural dreams of the time,” said curator Karina Al-Helu.
During the 1960s, the tiny Mediterranean country had its own space program, successfully launching a small unmanned rocket into space.
When Niemeyer was first asked to design the outdoor space in 1962, there were plans for the rooms under the circular platform to house a space museum.
But dreams of outer-space exploration, and any museum to commemorate it, were indefinitely put on hold with the outbreak of the 1975-1990 civil war.
The exhibition aims to remind Lebanese visitors of this chapter of the country’s recent past, Helu said, but also shine a light on a landmark about to collapse.
In a country whose history goes back millennia to the Phoenician period, she urged the authorities to give equal attention to modern architecture.
“It’s great to restore buildings that show Lebanon’s ancient history, but we should also care about the landmarks of this country’s modern history,” she said.
Architect Naghi said he was not optimistic about any immediate intervention by the government.
“The current atmosphere of crisis in the country doesn’t bode well,” he said, referring to a months-long deadlock over forming a cabinet.
Any renovation should involve in-depth studies and specialized companies, he said, “and that would require a lot of money, as well as a government decision.”
Instead, Naghi and others hope that the site can be added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Brazil’s capital Brasilia and an outdoor center in the south of the country, both of which were designed by Niemeyer, are already featured on it.
Sahar Baassiri, Lebanon’s delegate to UNESCO, said efforts were now being made toward adding the concrete park to the list’s contemporary architecture section.
Akram Oueida, president of the fairground, said Lebanese officials have made promises of assistance, but none have yet materialized.
Getting the concrete park listed by UNESCO may help, Oueida said: “That could open the door to funding from donors.”