Damascus lights up its biggest Christmas tree

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Syrians say the security has begun to gradually return in the country, making it easier for them to mark the Christmas celebrations. (Reuters)
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Syrians say the security has begun to gradually return in the country, making it easier for them to mark the Christmas celebrations. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 25 December 2018

Damascus lights up its biggest Christmas tree

  • Both Christians and Muslims look forward to celebrating the occasion by decorating trees and taking photos
  • Thousands of people from across Damascus gathered in Abbasid Square to watch the 30-meter-tall Christmas tree being lit up

DAMASCUS: Damascus on Saturday night lit up its tallest Christmas tree in Abbasid Square amid joyous celebrations.

A Christmas scout band paraded through a number of the capital’s neighborhoods, ending in the square, which was repeatedly shelled by Daesh before the Syrian Army seized the terrorist group’s last stronghold in southern Damascus. 

The band played Christmas music, and the accompanying parade gave presents to children and passersby. 

Thousands of people from across Damascus gathered in Abbasid Square to watch the 30-meter-tall Christmas tree being lit up.




A Syrian couple poses for a picture while gathering around a Christmas tree in the capital Damascus' central neighbourhood of Qassaa. (AFP)

“My daughter was born in 2010 and has never seen Christmas in Damascus before,” Rita Shalhoub, who came with her family from the Jaramana district to witness the event, told Arab News. 

“We continued to celebrate the occasion at home during the past seven years, but our celebrations were overshadowed by the pain of war and the fear of death, in addition to long, depressing power outages,” she added.

“Daesh made sure they shelled Damascus during holidays, and joy was often stolen by the horror and deaths of civilians. The streets would be empty by the end of December as most of us feared leaving our homes during the holidays.”

In early December, streets, squares, shops and homes in the cities of Homs, Aleppo, Damascus, Latakia, Tartus and Hama were decorated with Christmas lights and ornaments in preparation for Syria’s first safe holiday season since 2011. 

Both Christians and Muslims look forward to celebrating the occasion, and many Muslim families decorated trees in their homes, prompting jokes on social media about Christians taking photos next to Muslims’ Christmas trees. 

“Our Muslim neighbors set up better decorations than we did,” said Meray, a Christian school teacher who lives in Al-Muhajirin district in Damascus. 

Electricity supply has improved so unlike previous years, people can now enjoy Christmas lights, she added.

Abu Ahmed, an electrical engineer whose son was killed three years ago in a mortar attack on Abbasid Square, said he did not think he would ever see open-air Christmas celebrations in any part of Damascus, let alone in this square, which was once one of the most dangerous parts of the city. 

Reem Youssef, a Damascus-based architect, said: “What makes this year special is the safety we’re enjoying in Damascus, especially in the neighborhoods known for their Christmas celebrations and decorations before the war. This year’s celebrations remind me of Christmas before the war.” 

She added: “Like Christians, Muslims in Syria anticipate this occasion and its atmosphere, and head to markets in December to shop in preparation to attend Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties in restaurants across the city.” 

She said: “I believe this atmosphere reflects the safety and security that has begun to gradually return to Syria. We hope the country will soon return to its state before the war.”


UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

Updated 22 August 2019

UN warns of severe aid cuts in Yemen without new funds soon

  • Donors have pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis
  • But UN humanitarian chief Lise Grande says less than half the amount has been received so far
UNITED NATIONS: The UN humanitarian chief in Yemen warned Wednesday that unless significant new funding is received in the coming weeks, food rations for 12 million people in the war-torn country will be reduced and at least 2.5 million malnourished children will be cut off from life-saving services.
Lise Grande said the UN was forced to suspend most vaccination campaigns in May, and without new money a “staggering” 22 life-saving programs in Yemen will close in the next two months.
At a UN pledging conference in February, donors pledged $2.6 billion to meet the urgent needs of more than 20 million Yemenis, but Grande said that to date, less than half the amount has been received.
“When money doesn’t come, people die,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
The conflict in Yemen began with the 2014 takeover of the capital, Sanaa, by Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebels who control much of the country’s north. A Saudi-led coalition that includes the United Arab Emirates allied with Yemen’s internationally recognized government has been fighting the Houthis since 2015.
The fighting in the Arab world’s poorest country has left thousands of civilians and created the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, leaving millions suffering from food and medical care shortages and pushing the country to the brink of famine.
UN deputy humanitarian chief Ursula Mueller told the Security Council on Tuesday that 12 million Yemenis have been assisted every month, “but much of this is about to stop” because only 34% of the UN’s $4.2 billion appeal for 2019 has been funded.
At this time last year, she said, 65% of the appeal was funded, including generous contributions from Yemen’s neighbors Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
The UN humanitarian office in New York said Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and the UAE each pledged $750 million to its Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan for 2019.
Grande said the UN is grateful to donors who have lived up to their promises, and in half the districts where people were facing famine “conditions have improved to the point where families are no longer at risk of starvation.”
But she said of the 34 major UN humanitarian programs in Yemen, only three are funded for the entire year. Several have been forced to close in recent weeks, Grande said, and many large-scale projects designed to help destitute, hungry families have been unable to start.
Without new funds in the coming weeks, she said, 19 million people will also lose access to health care, including 1 million women who depend on the UN for reproductive health services. In addition, Grande said, clean water programs for 5 million people will have to shut down at the end of October and tens of thousands of displaced families may find themselves homeless.
“Millions of people in Yemen, who through no fault of their own are the victims of this conflict, depend on us to survive,” she said. “All of us are ashamed by the situation. It’s heart-breaking to look a family in the eye and say we have no money to help.”