Saudi Arabia, UAE call on Syria to end Ghouta massacre

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People carry the body of Majid Santiha on a stretcher in the besieged eastern Ghouta town of Hamouriyeh near Damascus on Wednesday, February 21. (Reuters)
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A medic described the situation as ‘a systematic slaughtering of the Syrian people in front of the eyes of the international community.’ (AFP)
Updated 23 February 2018

Saudi Arabia, UAE call on Syria to end Ghouta massacre

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia called on the Syrian regime to halt its bombardment of Eastern Ghouta where the death toll on Thursday passed 400 since the devastating assault began. As international condemnation grew, aid agencies and doctors told Arab News of the dire conditions they are facing and pleaded for access to reach the injured. But the outcry appeared to be falling on deaf ears as the regime rained rockets and bombs on the opposition-held territory on the edge of Damascus for the fourth consecutive straight day. “We stress the need for the Syrian regime’s violence to end, and to have humanitarian aid and relief to enter Syria,” the Saudi Foreign Ministry said on Twitter. “The political path to the crisis solution must be taken seriously, in accordance with the agreed principles of the Geneva Declaration 1 and the UN Security Council Resolution 2254.” The UAE likewise “expressed its deep concern at the escalation of violence and its repercussions on the humanitarian situation and the safety of civilians.” Warplanes pounded the last rebel enclave near the Syrian capital for a fifth straight day on Thursday, as the UN pleaded for a halt to one of the fiercest air assaults of the seven-year civil war.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday night that the bombardment had killed 403 civilians, including 95 children. Forty-six people were killed in strikes and rocket fire on Thursday and the bodies of victims killed earlier in the week were also retrieved from the wreckage of destroyed buildings.Human rights monitors and aid agencies said Russian and Syrian planes have struck hospitals and other civilian targets. “This is really a systematic slaughtering of the Syrian people in front of the eyes of the international community,” Dr. Ghanem Tayara, chairman of the Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations, told Arab News. “There’s no access at all, not even the birds can fly over Ghouta now.” As the regime intensified its operations, residents huddled in basements as bombs flattened buildings, even hitting hospitals, AFP reported. Medicins Sans Frontieres said 13 of the facilities it supports in Eastern Ghouta were damaged or destroyed in three days, leaving remaining staff with very little to save the hundreds of wounded brought to them every day. In the hospital mortuary in Douma, the main town in the enclave where 400,000 people live, bodies wrapped in white shrouds were lined up on the floor, two of them children. Residents of Douma described plumes of black smoke billowing from residential areas after planes dropped bombs from high altitude. Searches were under way for bodies amid the rubble in the town of Saqba and elsewhere, said rescuers. Syrian Army helicopters dropped fliers over Eastern Ghouta districts that included instructions for civilians wanting to leave the enclave safely, according to a media unit run by Assad’s Lebanese Hezbollah ally. The fliers called on civilians to hand themselves over to the Syrian Army in order to save their own lives, with a passage highlighted on a map for a safe journey out of Eastern Ghouta. Residents and opposition figures say the Syrian government and its allies are deliberately destroying infrastructure and paralyzing life in what they describe as a “scorched earth policy” to force rebels to surrender.
The Syrian army accuse the rebels of causing deaths by firing mortars on the heavily defended capital.
“They want to break our will and turn Ghouta into another Aleppo but this is their dream,” said Yusef Dughmi, a resident in the devastated eastern Ghouta town of Arbin overnight.
Many residents have been sheltering in basements.
“Why is the regime targeting us we are civilians and the regime and Russia are only targeting civilians?” Khaled Shadid, a resident of Douma told Reuters by telephone as sounds of explosions could be heard.
Basema Abdullah, a widow who was huddled in a basement with her four children in Douma said: “We are in desperate need for your prayers,” before the connection was cut off.
Rescue workers said at least 40 people were killed during Wednesday’s heavy bombing of Kafr Batna, Saqba, Zamalka and Arbin and other towns in the opposition enclave. In the town of Haza, the bombing targeted a field hospital and a bakery, rescuers said.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said he hoped the Security Council would agree to a resolution calling for a ceasefire in eastern Ghouta, but warned it would not be easy.
President Bashar Assad’s main ally Russia, which wields a veto on the Security Council, said it could support a 30-day truce, but not one that included the militants it says the onslaught on Eastern Ghouta is meant to target. The council was considering a resolution, drafted by Kuwait and Sweden, that demands “a cessation of hostilities throughout Syria for all military operations except those directed at Daesh ... Al-Qaeda and Al-Nusra Front” for 30 days to allow aid deliveries and medical evacuations. Swedish UN Ambassador Olof Skoog said he hoped the council could vote on the resolution on Thursday. But Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he would propose amendments to the text for “it to be realistic.” Deputy US Ambassador to the UN Kelley Currie accused Russia of “appearing to be intent on blocking any meaningful effort” to halt the bloodshed in Eastern Ghouta. “The United States is ready to vote on this resolution right here and right now. There is no reason to delay,” Currie told the council. “What we need is a sustained cessation of hostilities and we need it desperately,” UN aid chief Mark Lowcock told the gathering. “Millions of battered and beleaguered children, women and men depend on meaningful action by this council.”

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

Updated 19 April 2019

Lebanon’s seabed yields its historic secrets

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

BEIRUT: 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.”