Macron urges Putin to help end civilian suffering in Syria

French President Emmanuel Macron. (Reuters)
Updated 10 February 2018
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Macron urges Putin to help end civilian suffering in Syria

JEDDAH: French President Emmanuel Macron urged his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Friday to help ease civilian suffering caused by Syrian regime attacks on opposition positions.
In a telephone call, the French leader “asked Vladimir Putin to do everything so that the Syrian regime puts an end to the unbearable deterioration in the humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta and Idlib,” a statement said.
The opposition blamed Moscow, President Bashar Assad’s most powerful ally, for playing a dubious role. “There are parties in the Syrian conflict that are not interested in finding any solution or any decrease in tensions. Russia has taken the UN Security Council hostage without permitting any sort of penalty or punishment for the regime or stoppage of its violent raids,” Yahya Al-Aridi, opposition spokesman, told Arab News.
Russia, he said, is participating with its jets in attacks on markets and hospitals where civilians are being killed in their hundreds. “What we can do is once again call on the international community to stand up to the implementation of UN resolutions and stop aggressors from carrying out such brutal acts against civilians.” 
Russia has intervened alongside Syrian regime forces in the civil war and Putin is seen as the foreign leader with the most influence over Assad. Fresh airstrikes hit the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta on Friday, AFP correspondents reported, the fifth straight day in a bombing campaign that has killed more than 220 civilians.
Macron added that he was “worried about indications suggesting the possible use of chlorine on several occasions against the civilian population in Syria these last few weeks.”
Al-Aridi said: “With the situation turning into an international case, all sorts of conflicting interests are being settled in the Syrian arena. Russia is angry with the US. They just use the Syrian arena to settle such accounts with no attention being paid to civilians.”
Diplomacy is making no progress toward ending a war that is approaching its eighth year, having killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes, with millions forced out as refugees.
“We are very worried. The airstrikes need to end,” French Defense Minister Florence Parly said on France Inter radio. “Civilians are the targets, in Idlib and in the east of Damascus. This fighting is absolutely unacceptable.”
Russia said on Thursday a cease-fire was unrealistic. The UN called on Tuesday for a humanitarian truce of at least one month to allow for aid deliveries and evacuations of the wounded.
In the north-western province of Idlib, Daesh terrorists clashed with Syrian insurgent factions on Friday, an opposition commander said, accusing pro-regime forces of opening a corridor for the radical militants to reach the region.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said regime forces had allowed the Daesh fighters to leave a besieged pocket of territory at the intersection of Aleppo, Idlib and Hama provinces, and to go to southern Idlib.
Al-Aridi said: “We believe that the coordination between Daesh and regime forces has been going on for a long time.” 
He cited the example of Palmyra which was first taken by Daesh and then given back to the regime. 
“Many a time, Daesh fighters have been given protection or corridors by the regime to attack the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and civilians. This is done in order to reduce the degree of attention on the regime’s crimes, he said. “In Idlib too, the regime has opened a corridor in order to put the FSA face to face with Daesh and let the Daesh fighter do all sorts of atrocities against civilians.” 
Hasan Hajj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army, said his fighters were taking part in clashes with some 200 Daesh terrorists who had arrived in southern Idlib early on Friday.
“This morning at dawn we were surprised by the joint treachery by the regime and Daesh,” he told Reuters. 
Al-Aridi said the opposition has been calling on the UN to stop the carnage in Eastern Ghouta. “The Syrian Negotiation Commission (SNC) had a meeting with Staffan de Mistura, UN special envoy (for Syria), on Feb. 7 where the issue was discussed and the Security Council will also be updated next week,” he said. “But every minute counts in Syria and Syrian time is blood.”


Lebanese seek to save landmark concrete park from crumbling

Updated 20 min 34 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.”