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.”


In letter to UN Security Council, Britain says Iran approached tanker in Omani waters

Updated 5 min 11 sec ago
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In letter to UN Security Council, Britain says Iran approached tanker in Omani waters

  • Letter says the Iranian action “constitutes illegal interference”
  • London paper says Britain to announce sanctions against Iran

NEW YORK/LONDON: Britain told the United Nations Security Council on Saturday that a British-flagged tanker Stena Impero seized by Iran was approached by Iranian forces when it was in Omani territorial waters and the action “constitutes illegal interference.”
“The ship was exercising the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait as provided for under international law,” Britain’s UN mission wrote to the Security Council. “International law requires that the right of transit passage shall not be impeded, and therefore the Iranian action constitutes illegal interference.”
The letter, seen by Reuters, was also sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
Friday’s action in the global oil trade’s most important waterway has been viewed in the West as a major escalation after three months of confrontation that has already taken Iran and the United States to the brink of war.
It follows threats from Tehran to retaliate for Britain’s seizure on July 4 of the Iranian tanker Grace 1, accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
“Current tensions are extremely concerning, and our priority is to de-escalate. We do not seek confrontation with Iran,” the letter read. “But it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to threaten shipping going about its legitimate business through internationally recognized transit corridors.”
Britain called on Iran to release the Stena Impero tanker and told the Security Council it was working to resolve the issue through diplomatic means.

In London, British ministers are making plans aimed at targeting Iran with sanctions in the aftermath of the Iranian seizure of the Stena Impero, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is expected to announce on Sunday diplomatic and economic measures, including potential asset freezes, as a response to the incident, according to the report.
Britain could push for United Nations and European Union sanctions to be reimposed on Iran after they had been lifted in 2016 following a deal on Iran’s nuclear program, the Telegraph reported.