Mahmoud Abbas wins EU backing for Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, right, welcomes Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas upon his arrival at the EU Council in Brussels on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Monday that France wants the European Union to start work on an agreement on closer ties with the Palestinian territories, following U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
Updated 22 January 2018
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Mahmoud Abbas wins EU backing for Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem

BRUSSELS: Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Monday urged EU member states to “swiftly” grant official recognition to the state of Palestine as he arrived to meet foreign ministers from the bloc in Brussels.
“We truly consider the European Union as a true partner and friend, and therefore we call its member states to swiftly recognize the state of Palestine and we confirm that there is no contradiction between recognition and the resumption of negotiations,” Abbas told reporters.
The 82-year-old Abbas met EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini for one-on-one talks before joining the bloc’s 28 foreign ministers for lunch on the sidelines of their monthly meeting, after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a similar trip last month.
Abbas, who came to Brussels in search of European support, said the Palestinians were still committed to the stalled peace process.
“We are keen on continuing on the way of negotiations because we believe it is the only way forward to reach a negotiated solution and peace between us and Israel,” Abbas said before talks with Mogherini.
“Despite the hurdles we can find on our way toward the settlement of this issue we remain committed to fighting terrorism, violence and extremism locally, regionally and internationally.”
Last week Abbas denounced Trump’s peace efforts as the “slap of the century” and accused Israel of ending the Oslo accords that underpin negotiations — which have been effectively frozen since 2014.
But on Monday he said his side were still prepared to stick to past agreements.
“We are committed as well to continued compliance with treaties we signed with Israel but at the same time we call upon Israel to play its part and comply with those treaties,” he said.
Mogherini said the two sides needed “to show more than ever before their engagement with the international community” to work for peace.


Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

Updated 25 min 46 sec ago
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Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

  • Divers find pottery and stone in shipwrecks dating back 2,300 years
  • Diiscoveries are from Alexander the Great’s siege of Tyre in 332 BC

Forty meters down, on the Mediterranean seabed off the coast of Lebanon, the divers knew they were looking at history.

Among the shipwrecks they investigated this month at 11 sites south of the city of Tyre, they found pottery and stone that had been there for more than 2,300 years.

“The shape of the pottery confirms that it dates back to more than 332 BC,” said the Lebanese archaeologist Dr. Jafar Fadlallah.

Mohammed Al-Sargi, captain of the diving team that found the wrecks, is even more certain. “The pottery and stone found on these wooden ships indicate that they were part of the campaign of Alexander the Great, who in 332 BC attempted to capture the city of Tyre, which was then an island,” he said.

“According to the history books, Alexander built a causeway linking the mainland to the island. These vessels might have been used to transport the stone required for the construction of the road, but due to the heavy loads and storms, they might have sunk.”

UNESCO recognized the archaeological importance of Tyre in 1979, when it added the city to its list of World Heritage Sites. Lebanon’s Directorate of Antiquities, in cooperation with European organizations, has carried out extensive excavations since the 1940s to uncover its historical secrets. They have revealed that the ancient maritime city included residential neighborhoods, public baths, sports centers, and streets paved with mosaics. The discoveries date back to the Phoenician, Roman and Byzantine periods.

During the Phoenician era, Tyre played an important role as it dominated maritime trade. It contributed to the establishment of commercial settlements around the Mediterranean and the spread of religions in the ancient world. It also resisted occupation by the Persians and the Macedonians, choosing to remain neutral in the struggle between the two bitter enemies. However, Macedonian king Alexander the Great considered gaining control of the island and establishing a naval base there to be a key to victory in the war, and he set out in January 332 BC to conquer it at any cost.

The area in which the diving team discovered the wrecks is “an underwater desert with no valleys or seaweed, a few hundred meters from the coast of Tyre,” said Al-Sargi.

“We found 11 sites, some of them close to each other and others far apart. In each location, there were piles of stones and broken pots.

“We continued to explore the sites quietly to keep away fishermen and uninvited guests. We sought the help of archaeologists, who assured us that the discovery rewrites the history of the city, and specifically the campaign of Alexander the Great. So, we decided to put the discovery in the custody of the General Directorate of Antiquities for further exploration and interpretation.”

The most recent find, which Al-Sargi described as a “time capsule,” is only the latest important discovery made by the team in Lebanon.

“In 1997, the divers discovered the submerged city of Sidon,” Al-Sargi continued. “In 2001, we discovered the city of Yarmouta opposite the Zahrani area. In 1997, we discovered sulfuric water in the Sea of Tyre. We conducted studies on fresh-water wells in the sea off the city coast.

“We are not archaeologists and we cannot explain what we have seen. Our role is to inspect and report to the relevant Lebanese authorities and abide by the law.”

Fadlallah, an archaeologist with 40 years experience of working at Lebanon’s ancient sites, picks up the story to explain what he believes to be the significance of the discovery at Tyre.

“The sites are about 700 meters from where Tyre beach was when it was an island,” he said. “The piles of stones were 50 meters to 200 meters apart and the pots seemed to have been broken by a collision because there was not one left intact. This means that these stones and pots were on ships and there was a violent collision between them.”

He said that studies of the remains of the pots suggest that they are of Greek origin.

“There are various forms of them,” he said, “and it is clear that the ships that were carrying them were related to the ships of Alexander the Great during his campaign on Tyre, and they appear to have been hit by storms.”

There are, of course, always skeptics — among them Dr. Ali Badawi, director of archaeological sites in the south at Lebanon’s General Directorate of Antiquities. The pots alone did not constitute sufficient “evidence that the ships belonged to the campaign of Alexander the Great,” he said.

“What was published by the captain of the divers contains unclear details, and the subject should be based on scientific explanations. I think that the sea is wide and piracy was possible at the sites of the submerged ships.

“Exploration operations are taking place in the breakwater area, involving a French mission and Lebanese archaeologists. Before that, a Spanish expedition along with marine archaeologists participated in examining the remains of a ship dating back to the BC era.

“Ship exploration is very expensive, and the city of Tyre was subjected to numerous military siege campaigns and many ships sank. But this does not mean that we will not investigate this new discovery, according to the instructions of the minister of culture.”