Days after concert, Gaza’s grand piano seized by merchant

In this Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018. file photo, Japanese pianist Kaoru Imahigashi plays the piano during a concert to mark the debut of Gaza's only grand piano after it was rescued from conflict, at a theater nestled in the Palestinian Red Crescent Society's building in Gaza City. (AP)
Updated 28 November 2018
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Days after concert, Gaza’s grand piano seized by merchant

  • The instrument is now locked up in storage amid a bitter property dispute, inaccessible to the young students who had hoped to practice on it

GAZA CITY: A local businessman on Wednesday seized the Gaza Strip’s only grand piano, claiming he owned the instrument, just days after it made its public debut in a landmark concert following a complicated international restoration effort.
Sunday’s recital provided a lucky audience a rare opportunity to see a live concert in Gaza, whose cultural offerings have greatly dwindled since the Hamas militant group seized power in 2007. The Edward Said Conservatory, which sponsored the concert, had proudly showed off the piano, hoping to make it the centerpiece of Gaza’s only music school.
But the fanfare over the piano’s revival was short-lived. The instrument is now locked up in storage amid a bitter property dispute, inaccessible to the young students who had hoped to practice on it.
“The piano should return to the conservatory for the benefit of all students,” said Ismail Daoud, the director of the music school.
It was the latest twist in a long saga for the piano. Japan donated the black Yamaha 20 years ago — when Gaza was governed by the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority. It was housed in a theater at the Al-Nawras resort in northern Gaza.
Business slowed after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in 2000. After Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority in 2007, the resort eventually closed. The piano was nearly destroyed in Israeli airstrikes that badly damaged the theater during wars in 2008 and 2014.
The Belgian charity Music Fund sent foreign experts two times to Gaza, which is blockaded by Israel and Egypt, to renovate the piano. The mission finished last month. Gaza is a densely populated territory of 2 million people.
On Sunday, 300 fans filled a Gaza hall to watch Japanese and Palestinian artists perform around the piano.
Fayez Sersawi, the Culture Ministry official who received the Japanese gift in 1998, told the crowd Sunday that the piano “is returning to where it should be — the Edward Said Conservatory.”
But on Wednesday, local merchant Saed Herzallah took the piano from the conservatory and brought it back to the abandoned resort.
Herzallah said he bought the property in 2011 “with everything on it, including the piano.” He said he is renovating the resort and plans to put the piano in a wedding hall where students can come play on it.
Daoud, the music school director, said the resort is far away, hard to reach for students and its humid conditions will damage the piano.
Sersawi, whose ministry is still controlled by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, accused the businessman of “threatening” staff of the business school and committing “piracy.”
“We don’t accept this. This is an immoral act,” he said. “The ministry will do everything possible to bring the piano back.”


US-backed fighters closing in on Daesh gunmen in eastern Syria

Updated 16 February 2019
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US-backed fighters closing in on Daesh gunmen in eastern Syria

  • President Donald Trump said the White House will make an announcement about Syria on Saturday
  • Groups said that some 200 Daesh gunmen surrendered Friday

BAGHOUZ, Syria: A US-backed force in Syria is closing in on Daesh militants in a tiny area less than a square kilometer (square mile) in eastern Syria, and will soon declare the defeat of the militant group, a commander with the group said Saturday.
The capture of the last pocket still held by Daesh fighters in the village of Baghouz would mark the end of a devastating four-year global campaign to end the extremist group’s hold on territory in Syria and Iraq — their so-called “caliphate” that at the height of the group’s power in 2014 controlled nearly a third of both Iraq and Syria.
“We will very soon bring good news to the whole world,” said Ciya Furat, a commander with the Kurdish-led force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, speaking at a news conference at the Al-Omar Oil Field Base in the Deir Ezzor province.
President Donald Trump said the White House will make an announcement about Syria and the fight against Daesh by the end of Saturday.
“We have a lot of great announcements having to do with Syria and our success with the eradication of the caliphate and that will be announced over the next 24 hours,” Trump told journalists at the White House on Friday.
An Associated Press team in Baghouz Saturday, hundreds of meters away from the last speck of land where Daesh militants were holed up, saw several aircraft overhead and two airstrikes hit the area. SDF fighters said were fired by the US-led coalition.
The Syrian Democratic Forces declared the final push to capture the village a week ago after more than 20,000 civilians, many of them the wives and families of foreign fighters, were evacuated.
Since then, SDF commanders say they have been surprised to discover that there were hundreds more civilians in the enclave, after they were brought up by the militants from underground tunnels. Their presence has slowed down the SDF advance.
Furat, the SDF commander, said Daesh fighters are now besieged in an area that is about 700 square meters (840 square yards). He said that SDF fighters were able to liberate 10 of their colleagues that were held by Daesh.
Furat’s comments were carried by Kurdish news agencies, including Hawar News.
“We are dealing with this small pocket with patience and caution. It is militarily fallen but civilians are used as human shields,” SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali told The Associated Press. Bali added that the SDF believes that Daesh gunmen are also holding previously kidnapped Syrians in the area.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said SDF fighters are almost in full control of the area once controlled by extremists, adding that there might still be Daesh fighters hiding in a network of underground tunnels.
The Observatory said that some 200 Daesh gunmen surrendered Friday, days after about 240 others surrendered and were taken by SDF fighters and members of the US-led coalition.
“The defeat of Daesh will come within days,” Furat said. He added that after the physical defeat of Daesh, the SDF “will continue in its fight against Daesh sleepers cells.”
Despite the expected defeat on the ground, activists and residents say Daesh still has sleeper cells in Syria and Iraq and is laying the groundwork for an insurgency. The group has claimed responsibility in recent months for deadly attacks, mostly in Iraq, more than a year after the Iraqi government said the extremists have been defeated after losing the northern city of Mosul in 2017, the largest they held.