US and UN slam heinous attacks in Aleppo

A Syrian civil defense volunteer, known as the White Helmets, carries an injured man on Saturday following a reported air strike on Aleppo's rebel-held neighborhood of Bab al-Nayrab. (AFP / AMEER ALHALBI)
Updated 20 November 2016
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US and UN slam heinous attacks in Aleppo

LIMA, Peru: US National Security Adviser Susan Rice condemned “heinous” bombings of hospitals in rebel-held eastern Aleppo Saturday, and top UN officials said they were “appalled” by the escalating violence.

Rice warned the Assad regime and its Russian backers they are responsible for immediate and long-term consequences.

“The United States condemns in the strongest terms these horrific attacks against medical infrastructure and humanitarian aid workers. There is no excuse for these heinous actions,” Rice said in a statement.

“The Syrian regime and its allies, Russia in particular, bears responsibly for the immediate and long term consequences these actions have caused in Syria and beyond.”

Rice indicated that the US government would use a summit of Asia-Pacific leaders in Peru to put pressure on Russia. President Vladimir Putin is attending the event.

“The United States again joins our partners, many of them gathering in Peru this weekend, in demanding the immediate cessation of these bombardments and calling on Russia to immediately deescalate violence and facilitate humanitarian aid and access for the Syrian people,” said Rice.


Extremely saddened

In a separate statement, UN officials urged immediate access to Aleppo, where government forces are waging a ferocious assault to retake rebel-held districts.

“The United Nations is extremely saddened and appalled by the recent escalation in fighting in several parts of Syria,” the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Syria Ali Al-Za’atari and regional humanitarian coordinator Kevin Kennedy said.

They called on “all parties to cease indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure.”

The comments came as government bombardment rocked rebel-held east Aleppo, where more than 250,000 people are living under regime siege.

The bombardment, which began on Tuesday, has killed nearly 100 people, according to a monitor, and forced hospitals and schools to close.

Za’atari, the most senior UN official based in Damascus, and Kennedy said the organization had a plan to provide east Aleppo with assistance.

“The UN has shared with all parties to the conflict in Aleppo and member states concerned a detailed humanitarian plan to provide urgently needed assistance to the inhabitants of east Aleppo, and conduct medical evacuations for the ill and injured,” they said.

“It is imperative all parties agree to the plan and allow us to secure immediate, safe and unimpeded access to provide relief to those most in need in east Aleppo, but equally in all other parts of Syria where there are people in need.”

The UN has not accessed east Aleppo since government forces surrounded the rebel-held side of the city in mid-July.

Moscow has organized several brief truces intended to encourage civilians and surrendering rebels to leave east Aleppo, but few have done so, and the UN has said it was unable to organize secure aid deliveries or evacuations within such short windows.

Russia is a key ally of the government in Damascus and has waged a military campaign to bolster President Bashar Assad’s government against rebels.

Moscow says it is not currently bombing Aleppo, though earlier this week it announced a “major operation” in neighboring Idlib province, as well as in central Homs province.

More than 300,000 people have been killed since Syria’s conflict began in March 2011, with anti-government protests.


Al-Nouri mosque restoration aims to revive spirit of Iraq's ruined Mosul

The gate of Al-Nouri Mosque lies in ruins. (AFP)
Updated 2 min 11 sec ago

Al-Nouri mosque restoration aims to revive spirit of Iraq's ruined Mosul

  • The 12th-century Iraqi monument was blown up by retreating Daesh fighters in 2017
  • Project is part of a $100 million UNESCO-led heritage reconstruction plan for Mosul

DUBAI: Government officials and NGOs are taking the initiative to restore vital historical sites across the Middle East after years of destruction by militant groups. The UN cultural agency UNESCO recently announced that the reconstruction of Al-Nouri Mosque — which was blown up by Daesh in June 2017 — in the Iraqi city of Mosul will start at the beginning of next year.
Launched in 2018, the mosque restoration plan will be the most eye-catching part of a $100 million UNESCO-led heritage reconstruction called “Revive the Spirit of Mosul.”
The timeline of the restoration plan for the 12th-century mosque, famed for its leaning minaret, was finalized during a meeting in Paris between UNESCO and Iraqi government officials.
“What they call the Arab Spring is really the Arab Fall because many historic sites in Iraq, Syria and Libya have been erased,” said Samir Saddi, founder and director of the Beirut-based architecture and design institute ARCADE.
“The destruction is very upsetting because it’s not only about heritage itself as much as it is about these monuments and their meaning in social and religious life.”
Saddi sees restoration in the Middle East as a costly, recurrent endeavor as extremists have repeatedly targeted historical monuments due to their importance to local communities.
“You can kill a person, but here you’re erasing centuries of cultural and religious meaning. It’s very important to restore these buildings,” he said.
“What’s also important is what should be done in terms of educating people and creating awareness on how to maintain these monuments.”
Saddi said the challenge for the Middle East is not only restoration but also how to make sure this kind of destruction does not happen again, and how to preserve monuments and  traditional architecture.
“It’s really the biggest subject because you can restore the mosque, but what about the daily destruction of heritage in terms of habitat and nature?” he said.
Daesh leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate from Al-Nouri Mosque in the summer of 2014, only for his own fighters to blow it up three years later as Iraqi government forces closed in.
The mosque was not the first victim of Daesh’s cultural nihilism. In January 2017, Daesh fighters destroyed the Roman theater in the Syrian city of Palmyra — a historical landmark dating back to the 2nd century AD — and other monuments in the area.

FASTFACT

● Mosul’s Al-Nouri Mosque dates back to the 12th century AD

● Daesh destroyed the mosque in June 2017

● UNESCO launched a restoration plan in 2018

● The heritage reconstruction of Mosul will cost $100m

The Great Umayyad Mosque in Syria’s largest city Aleppo was another target. The 8th-century mosque, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was demolished in April 2013.
“There are many sites across the Middle East and North Africa that are very rich in Roman, Greek, Byzantine and Islamic history,” Saddi said.
“Daesh fighters knew what they were doing. They selected prominent sites and systematically destroyed them because this is how you really make the most damaging impact on people.”
Al-Nouri Mosque is one of Iraq’s many war-devastated historical places. Others include the ancient Assyrian city of Nineveh, located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Mosul, and Nimrud, the first Assyrian capital from over 3,000 years ago.
“Restoring such sites is vital because they’re part of the history, culture and civilization of the area,” said Rashad Bukhash, chair of the Architectural Heritage Society in the UAE.
“Al-Nouri Mosque is very old and went through different stages of restoration. It’s important to keep these sacred buildings as part of Iraq’s culture and part of human history.”
The UAE is providing more than $50 million to finance UNESCO’s “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” project, focusing on the restoration of Al-Nouri Mosque, with the EU providing another $24 million.
In addition, the UNESCO initiative will make funds available for the rebuilding of churches, schools, and a street in Mosul’s Old City that was famous for its bookshops.
Bukhash said what will help in the restoration process is that Al-Nouri Mosque’s complete documentation, drawings and photos have survived.
“People who lived and worked on it will help to rebuild the mosque exactly as it was. As a mosque where people prayed, it’s important to restore it for history on the one hand, and to send a message to terrorists on the other hand that we’re building history back no matter what they do,” he said.
Saddi suggested an alternative to restoring devastated historical sites, such as building a museum nearby to tell their story.
“There is a continuous cycle of violence and reconstruction. The destruction of Al-Nouri Mosque is an act of extreme terror,” he said.
“The mosque is partially destroyed, and we can’t go back in time and pretend it didn’t happen,” he added.
“It should stay as it is today, but there should be a museum project to show what this mosque was, its history and relation to the community, when and why it was destroyed, who did this act of savagery and why, and how to avoid the repetition of these barbaric acts in the future.”
Saddi said a museum for Al-Nouri Mosque as the main “artefact” would represent a much stronger statement than rebuilding it to its original state, which he believes will never match its original form.
“In other words, there is before and after. The Mosul population should remember the destruction by seeing it, but also by learning and gaining knowledge, hence the idea of an Al-Nouri Museum,” he said.
Saddi spoke of the relevance of a project he is working on: A museum for changing times. “What’s happening in the Arab world is a complete change, both social and economic,” he said.
“My project is a museum for architecture in the Arab world — not modern but historical, traditional architecture that has disappeared,” he added.
“When you go to Palmyra, you see an old city but only stones or arches. However, in Syria and Iraq you have entire community settlements that are disappearing, not just because of war but also because of development and because people are moving from rural areas to cities.”
Saddi recommends preserving memories of such architecture, as well as research into their intrinsic value.
“We’re now living in a period where sustainability is the key word. People are emigrating from the Middle East to Europe, leaving behind a lot of knowledge and know-how, so something should be done in that sense,” he said.
“We should have a setup where you can understand how the built environment was done from Iraq to Morocco, the richness of our architecture and how it has been vandalized not only by war but also by modern developments. In other words, what’s the future of our past?”
Mosul’s future could well be riding on UNESCO’s restoration project. Two years after Daesh was ousted, it is a city in ruins, still struggling with basic services such as electricity, water and health care.
The UN is working to restore private houses in the historic Old City, but most of its residents still reside in camps.