Egypt’s fossilized forest given new lease on life

The Petrified Forest, 30 km from Cairo, has been given more protection after years of campaigning. (AN photo)
Updated 14 February 2018

Egypt’s fossilized forest given new lease on life

CAIRO: Environmentalists in Egypt have finally succeeded in putting a 30 million-year-old fossilized forest under special government protection.
The Petrified Forest — also known as Gabal Al-Khashab, or Hill of Wood is located outside Maadi district, 30 km from Cairo.
The area is a natural heritage site in a 7-km square area, which holds fossils, stems and trunks of trees that have been completely fossilized.
The forest was declared a protectorate in 1989. But for more than a decade, efforts led by environmentalists have failed to force the government to fully safeguard the site.
That was until a group of activists called “Narges Volunteers” managed to save it.
The group presented its vision for the forest two years ago and asked for support from the parliament and the forest administration to protect the area from neglect, looting, and dumping of garbage piles.
The first phase of the project for the forest was launched on Saturday at a cost of less than half a million US dollars, according to Minister of Environment Dr. Khaled Fahmy.
“When I came to learn about the treasures inside this forest, I decided to fight, with my neighbors, to protect it from looting. Our dream came true… it is now a destination for families”, said lead volunteer Noha Ezz.
More than a year ago, the government seized about one-third of the protected area, claiming it was no longer valuable — an act that enraged both residents and environmentalists.
The forest is not only holding petrified wood but also fossilized mammals, as well as plants, flowers and fruit from nearly every geological time period.
“This is the starting point, there is a long road ahead and we need to attract tourists, protect and develop the forest further,” said Dr. Ibrahim Hegazy, a member of parliament who has been leading volunteers in the transformation of the forest.
“This is a successful model of collaboration between residents, parliament and the government,” said Tamer Atef, one of the primary environmentalists of the project.
The Petrified Forest, which was once a branch of the Nile River, was formed over millions of years ago during the Oligocene era. Its rich geological heritage attracts tourists, scientists and students, and is home to rare plants, distinct reptiles, birds and animals such as the red fox.
Similar forests around the world — like the Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona, the US, or Curio Bay in New Zealand — receive hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

Destroyed buildings following an explosion on Aug. 12 at an arms depot in a residential area in Syria’s Idlib province city of Sarmada. (AFP)
Updated 16 August 2018

Jordan weighs up Russian offer for voluntary return of Syrian refugees

  • Russia has offered to repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 but Jordan does not want to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland
  • Jordan would benefit from reopening its border with Syria, but also carried risks of terrorists enter the country with fake IDs

AMMAN: Russia will help Jordan repatriate more than 150,000 Syrian refugees who fled fighting with the Assad regime in the country’s south, a Jordanian official said.

The official said Russia will repatriate the Syrians by the end of 2018 following the establishment of a center near the border with Syria to process their paperwork.

Jordan’s Minister for Media Affairs Jumana Ghneimat said the Russian proposal has been under discussion.

The Jordanian government refused to force displaced Syrians to return to their homeland, she said.

“It is up to the refugee to decide whether he wants to return, although the presence of large numbers of Syrians has become a burden for Jordan.”

The refugees are mainly from the war-ravaged provinces of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, the scene of fierce clashes between rebels and Assad government forces. 

Ghneimat said the establishment of a processing center nine kilometers from the border with Syria was part of Russia’s larger proposal for the return of the refugees.

Asked about the reopening of the Nassib border crossing, the minister said it was up to Syria to decide if the crossing would be operational.

The Assad regime had not asked Jordan to reopen the border, she said.

The Jordanian border crossing of Jaber is ready to operate and roads leading to the site are secure, Ghneimat said.

A technical team, including several ministry representatives, visited the crossing last week on a tour of inspection.

Jordan would benefit from reopening the border, which is an important avenue for trade with Syria, Lebanon, Turkey and several European countries, a transport ministry official said.

But reopening the border carried risks, including a fear that terrorists would enter the country with fake IDs, the official said.

The closure of the Jordan-Syrian border had severely affected Jordan’s transport sector, the head of the Syndicate of Jordanian Truck Owners said.

But he said that Jordanian trucks are ready to carry goods to Syria as soon as the border crossing is reopened. Before the Syrian crisis erupted in 2011, about 7,000 trucks drove through the crossing each day.