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
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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.


New envoy stresses need for UN-backed solution to Syria war

Updated 17 January 2019
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New envoy stresses need for UN-backed solution to Syria war

  • Pedersen is the fourth UN envoy to seek a solution to Syria's conflict
  • Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since the war started with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011

DAMASCUS: The new UN envoy to Syria ended his first visit to the war-torn country Thursday, stressing the need for a UN-brokered political solution to the eight-year conflict.
Geir Pedersen, a seasoned Norwegian diplomat, concluded his three-day visit and headed to the Lebanese capital Beirut, a UN source told AFP.
The new envoy on Twitter late Wednesday said he had a "constructive meeting" with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem during his stay in Damascus.
During it, he stressed the need for a "Syrian-led and -owned political solution facilitated by the UN", he added.
Pedersen, who started his new job last week, is the fourth UN envoy to seek a solution to Syria's conflict, after endless rounds of failed UN-brokered peace talks.
In recent years, UN-led efforts have been overshadowed by separate negotiations led by regime allies Russia and Iran, as well as rebel backer Turkey.
After Damascus, Pederson said he was off to meet the Syrian Negotiations Committee, Syria's main opposition group.
But he "agreed to come back to Damascus on a regular basis to discuss commonalities and progress on points of disagreement", he added.
On Tuesday, Muallem expressed Syria's "readiness to cooperate with him... in his mission to facilitate Syrian-Syrian dialogue with the objective of reaching a political solution to the Syrian crisis", a foreign ministry statement said.
Pederson takes over from Staffan de Mistura, a Swiss-Italian diplomat who stepped down at the end of last year over "personal reasons".
Officials in the government of President Bashar al-Assad had set the tone for the new envoy's tenure shortly after his appointment was announced in October.
"Syria will cooperate with the new UN envoy Geir Pedersen provided he avoids the methods of his predecessor," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad said.
De Mistura ended his four-year tenure with an abortive push to form a committee tasked with drawing up a post-war constitution.
Syria's war has killed more than 360,000 people and displaced millions since the war started with the repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
With key military backing from Russia, Assad's forces have retaken large parts of Syria from rebels and extremists, and now control almost two-thirds of the country.
A drive to bring the Syrian regime back into the Arab fold also seems underway, with the UAE reopening their embassy in Damascus last month.