Farmer turns ferryman as river engulfs Syrian hometown

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Abu Ihab’s boat has provided the main way of getting around. (AFP)
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Abu Ihab’s boat has provided the main way of getting around. (AFP)
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Abu Ihab’s boat has provided the main way of getting around. (AFP)
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Abu Ihab’s boat has provided the main way of getting around. (AFP)
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Abu Ihab’s boat has provided the main way of getting around. (AFP)
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Abu Ihab’s boat has provided the main way of getting around. (AFP)
Updated 18 January 2019
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Farmer turns ferryman as river engulfs Syrian hometown

  • The father of four is working long hours each day paddling his boat around the streets helping stricken residents to get their children to school, do the shopping or check on relatives

DARKUSH, Syria: The alleyways of the Syrian town of Darkush are normally thronged with pedestrians but since the swollen Orontes River burst its banks, Abu Ihab’s boat has provided the main way of getting around.

The 49-year-old farmer normally takes a well-earned rest in January when winter frosts turn his fields as hard as rock.

But this year, days of torrential rain in the mountains of Lebanon has sent a deluge downstream, submerging the streets of his hometown under as much as 5 feet of water.

So instead the father of four is working long hours each day paddling his boat around the streets helping stricken residents to get their children to school, do the shopping or check on relatives.

“In winter, I don’t usually leave the house much as it is cold and it rains. But this year I felt that people needed me,” he says as he provides yet another ferry ride to grateful fellow townspeople.

Abu Ihab normally uses his boat for summer fishing on the Orontes to supplement his farm produce.

He is one of the few in the town to own one so he offers his services for free, delivering fresh bread from the bakery or ferrying excited children on an unaccustomed school run by boat.

“Today, people are staying at home. They can’t even get to the shops to buy food,” he says, wearing a woolly hat and jacket against the cold.

It is not the first year that he has provided his free boat service. “Most years there are spates but this year is a really big one because of the torrential rains,” he says.

The ground floors of houses close to the river have been inundated.

The Arab town close the Turkish border lies in Idlib province which is largely under the control of militants led by Al-Qaeda’s former Syria branch.

Across the province, the torrential rains have triggered flash floods that have caused widespread hardship, particularly in the vast tent cities set up for the displaced.

Civilians who have fled other parts of Syria recaptured by government forces make up around half of the resident population of Idlib and neighboring opposition-held areas.


Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

Updated 39 min 58 sec ago
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Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday suggested the mosque in Athens should open with minarets if the Greek premier wants to reopen a seminary in Istanbul.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was in Turkey this month and visited the disputed landmarks of Hagia Sophia and the now-closed Greek Orthodox Halki seminary.
Tsipras said during the visit to the seminary located on Heybeli island off Istanbul on February 6 he hoped to reopen the school next time with Erdogan.
Future priests of the Constantinople diocese had been trained at the seminary, which was closed in 1971 after tensions between Ankara and Athens over Cyprus.
Erdogan on Saturday complained that the Fethiye Mosque in Athens had no minarets despite Greek insistence that it would open.
The mosque was built in 1458 during the Ottoman occupation of Greece but has not been used as a mosque since 1821.
“Look you want something from us, you want the Halki seminary. And I tell you (Greece), come, let’s open the Fethiye Mosque,” Erdogan said during a rally in the northwestern province of Edirne ahead of local elections on March 31.
“They said, ‘we are opening the mosque’ but I said, why isn’t there a minaret? Can a church be a church without a bell tower?” he said, describing his talks with Tsipras.
“We say, you want to build a bell tower? Come and do it... But what is an essential part of our mosques? The minarets,” the Turkish president added.
Erdogan said Tsipras told him he was wary of criticism from the Greek opposition.
After the independence war against Ottomans began in 1821, the minaret is believed by some to have been destroyed because it was a symbol of the Ottoman occupation.
Ankara had returned land taken from the seminary in 1943 but there is still international pressure on Turkey to reopen it.
Erdogan has previously said that its reopening is dependent on reciprocal steps from Greece to enhance the rights of the Turkish minority.