In Syria’s Yarmouk, a pigeon keeper and his dog held out through years of war

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Scores of residents have escaped or died, and only 16 people were left in the neighborhood. (AP)
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Palestinian Abu Nimr hopes to bring back life to the dilapidated district of Yarmouk in Damascus. (AP)
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Violence has turned the District into a ghost town. (AP)
Updated 14 October 2018
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In Syria’s Yarmouk, a pigeon keeper and his dog held out through years of war

  • The violence has turned the neighborhood into a ghost, with twisted metal and collapsed walls still blocking some streets town
  • Palestinian Abu Nimr wants to bring life back to Yarmouk and hopes people will be able to return soon

YARMOUK, Syria: The Yarmouk district in Damascus has switched hands many times in Syria’s war: from rebels, to Daesh militants, and back to government forces. But Abu Nimr did not budge.
He has remained in his family home with his dog through bombs, siege, and fierce battles for more than seven years, raising pigeons on his roof even as people fled in droves.
Since the army clawed back the enclave around five months ago, he has helped clear heaps of rubble from the streets and repair abandoned houses.
“My siblings and I lived in this building. They’re all married. They left so their kids could go to school,” Abu Nimr told Reuters in the Yarmouk Palestinian camp in the Syrian capital.
“I thought I’d stay here alone, keep an eye on the family property, and hoped things would be resolved within days. But seven years passed, God kept me patient.”
Abu Nimr, who is originally Palestinian, owned a shop selling sweets like baklawa before the conflict.
At the onset, he stored food from the empty houses of his relatives. As supplies dwindled, he often slept hungry.
“I took a decision seven years ago that weapons are not my thing. Bloodshed is not easy,” he said.
Abu Nimr, 36, did odd jobs over the years and spent time with his dog Balo. “He was my friend through the siege, and I relied on him to guard the house when I went out.”
When the fighting got too close, he would hide in the furthest room with a hammer in case he had to dig himself out.
The violence has turned his neighborhood into a ghost town, with twisted metal and collapsed walls still blocking some streets. Others are closed off with signs warning of land mines.
By the time the last battle came this year, after scores of residents had escaped or died, only 16 people were left in his neighborhood.
But he refused to leave. “The people fled? The warplanes dropped bombs? The militants entered? It doesn’t matter.”
Now, Abu Nimr wants to bring life back to Yarmouk and hopes people will be able to return soon.
Former neighbors and residents call him from other parts of Syria or abroad, asking him to check on their homes. They send him some money to clean up and repair damages.
State employees and volunteers have opened all of the main roads, he said. “We help with what we can.”
“Praise God, now things are much better.” If not for the war, Abu Nimr believes he would be married with kids now. “If people come back and it gets better, I will re-open a sweets shop right away.”


Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

A firefighting aircraft flies over a forest near Kibbutz Harel, which was damaged by wildfires during a record heatwave, in Israel May 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 May 2019
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Palestine, Egypt offer air support as Israel battles wildfires

  • Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes on Thursday as fires raged
  • The fires were fueled by high temperatures and dry condition

JERUSALEM: Egypt and four European countries sent aircraft to help Israel battle wildfires that have forced the evacuation of some small towns, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday, as a record heatwave looked set to worsen conditions.
At an emergency briefing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had appealed for international help to combat the fires, and that firefighting planes were coming in from Greece, Croatia, Italy and Cyprus.
Egypt, on the orders of President Abdel-Fatah El-Sisi, had also sent two helicopters to assist Israel, Netanyahu told reporters.
The Palestinian Authority and Russia had also offered help, Netanyahu said.
Israel braced for wildfires on Friday amid a major heat wave that shows no signs of abating.
Israel “really appreciates” the help, Netanyahu said, singling out El-Sisi for sending aid.
“I am deeply thankful for the readiness of neighbors to help us in a time of crisis, just as we help them,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service said blazes in a key corridor between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were mostly under control but difficult weather remained a conflagration risk.
“As of this moment, this (containment) is being done in the best possible way, but the challenge is yet ahead of us given the weather conditions, the winds and the extreme heat,” Netanyahu said.
Some 3,500 residents of small towns in the path of the fires were evacuated on Thursday, officials said. Dozens of homes have burned down.

Evacuations
Thousands of people were evacuated from towns and dozens of homes were burned on Thursday as fires raged, fueled by high temperatures and dry conditions. Over 500 acres of woodland have burned, said Nitai Zecharya, an Israeli official from the Jewish National Fund, known for planting forests in the country.
Zecharya said that while firefighters had brought most of the blaze under control, officials remained “very stressed” about strong winds fanning flames and “spreading fires to other fronts.”
The cause of the fires remains unclear, but they erupted following the Jewish festival of Lag Ba’Omer, which observers mark with bonfires.
A sweltering heat wave is pushing temperatures in parts of the country up to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, or 43 Celsius.