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.

Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

Updated 20 min 51 sec ago

Assad backs down over law to seize refugee homes

  • ‘Law 10’ withdrawn, UN humanitarian aid chief Jan Egeland says
  • The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes

BEIRUT: The Assad regime has withdrawn a law that allowed authorities to seize property left behind by civilians who fled the war in Syria, the UN humanitarian aid chief in the country said on Thursday.

Under Law 10, Syrians had 30 days to prove that they own property in redevelopment zones in order to receive shares in the projects, otherwise ownership was transferred to the local government.

The law was a major impediment to the return of millions of refugees and internally displaced people who fled their homes. Regime officials have insisted the law would not result in the confiscation of property, but was aimed at proving and organizing ownership to combat forgery of documents in opposition-held areas.

Jan Egeland, who heads aid issues in the office of UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, said he had been told of the decision to withdraw the law by Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad’s key military ally.

“When Russia says that it is withdrawn and there were mistakes made ... it is good news,” Egeland said. “Hopefully this will now be reality on the ground. So diplomacy can win — even in Syria.”

Syrian politician Mohammed Kheir Akkam said the law had issued by presidential decree and he knew of no decree to abolish it. “These claims are not true so far,” he said.

Nevertheless, Syrian refugees across the border in Lebanon welcomed reports that the law had been withdrawn. “We have not heard the news yet, but this is an excellent move,” Abu Mohammed, who is from Al-Qusayr and is the former head the water department in Homs, told Arab News. 

“This move reflects the goodwill of the Syrian regime toward its displaced people abroad. Their discourse is no longer an escalation against us, but an attempt to re-establish trust between Syrian citizens and the Syrian regime.”

Khalid Melhem, from Qalamoun, said the withdrawal of the law was “a gesture of goodwill, on which trust can be built.”

Melhem, an interior designer in Syria, now lives in a tent in Arsal and works as a house painter.  “I own a 300-square-meter house in Damascus, but the authorities demolished it and acquired the land. I could not return to Syria to prove my ownership of the house because they want to lure me into the country and arrest me.”

The regime acquired the property, 600 meters from the barracks of the Scientific Studies and Research Center, in 2017. “They demolished all damaged houses surrounding the barracks and prevented anyone from approaching the property except for a few Alawites, who were allowed to rebuild and reclaim their homes,” Melhem said.