Reconstruction of Aleppo’s Old City faces cultural, logistical challenges

People walk past the old customs buildings, left, and Peoria restaurant, right, near Aleppo's historic citadel, in the regime-controlled area of the city, last year. (File photo/Reuters)
Updated 04 December 2017

Reconstruction of Aleppo’s Old City faces cultural, logistical challenges

DAMASCUS: When Diana — a young woman from Aleppo, Syria, who now lives in London — saw the new facade of her family’s ancient home and others like it in Al-Siffahieh in the Old City of Aleppo, she was underwhelmed.
“(They) look really good, but they don’t feel like home,” she said. “We loved the vintage, washed-out stones because they were material evidence of the glorious past, which gave Aleppo’s ancient city an exotic air.”
Syria’s civil war, which erupted in 2011, has seen Aleppo’s Old City — a location of rich cultural heritage filled with significant archaeological sites, including the Great Umayyad Mosque and the Citadel, dating back as far as the 12th century — transformed into a battlefront for most of the four years from 2012 to 2016, with much of its historical wealth damaged or destroyed.
In January this year, a UNESCO-led mission reported, “Approximately 60 percent of the old city has been severely damaged, with 30 percent totally destroyed.” 
In May, plans were announced to renovate and restore around 250 buildings in Aleppo’s Old City. Tim Williams of the University College of London Institute of Archaeology warns that such processes often fail to take into account the needs and desires of local communities.
“The danger is that top-down, externally motivated projects will focus on the commercially attractive rather that what enables communities to feel that Aleppo is once more their city and home,” Williams said. 
“Aleppo is an example of the need for engaging with the needs of those communities to rebuild themselves, and to examine how heritage and archaeology can contribute meaningfully to that process.”
Mazen Samman, UNESCO’s associate program coordinator in Aleppo, said in August: “Our vision is to rebuild the Old City exactly as it was before the war, with the same stones where we can.” An admirable sentiment, but — Williams suggested — perhaps a misguided one.
“There will always be compromises in what can be rebuilt. Interiors will certainly change and there needs to be care that it is not a pastiche or just facadism, but a realistic attempt to rebuild communities, while also providing 21st century facilities,” he said. “There is a place for new design alongside historic reconstruction. Rather than considering individual buildings, the reconstruction needs to focus on capturing the sense of place of Aleppo and working toward restoring that — the feeling of distinct districts or the central souks, for example.” That would, he stressed, require “a holistic approach, working with local communities, to identify the priorities for reconstruction or repair.”
Williams highlighted one project that already offers hope for a sensitive, appropriate restoration of Aleppo’s Old City — a $648,000 heritage conservation program established by the World Monuments Fund (WMF) that will train Syrian refugees to rebuild historic heritage sites “with a thoughtful program that calls for the rehabilitation of the historic souk, in order to pave the way for the return of commerce to Aleppo and for the recovery of the sense of communal space that the marketplace once engendered.”
But Williams added that UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is concerned that rehabilitation and restoration works are taking place without quality control and stressed the need for detailed studies and extensive fieldwork before rebuilding begins.
“The pace of redevelopment is always problematic for heritage: Communities want to rebuild their shattered lives and spaces as soon as possible, understandably,” Williams said.
“Good historical reconstruction and repair often takes more time than tearing down the remnants and building anew. The heritage community needs to show that the additional process of good quality restoration and crafts skills are an essential part of building something that can draw communities together again.”
There have already been positive signs that that can happen. On Nov. 17, locals celebrated the completion of restoration work on the ancient Souk Khan El Gomrok — first built in the 16th century — with 100 stores resuming business after being shut for years; exactly the kind of project that Williams believes could result in a successful restoration of the Old City.
“If Aleppo is to become a destination for international visitors again — a vital part of its economy before the war,” he said, “it needs to place sustainable heritage conservation at the heart of a strategic vision.”


Saudi Aramco attack drone components linked to Iran and Houthis in Yemen

Updated 19 February 2020

Saudi Aramco attack drone components linked to Iran and Houthis in Yemen

  • Report: Iranian components make militia’s attacks more lethal
  • Research found matching components either originated in Iran or are linked to Tehran supply network

LONDON: A report by Conflict Armament Research (CAR) has linked the drones that targeted Saudi oilfields in September and Houthi drones in Yemen to Iranian drones recovered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Analysis from CAR linked the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) through a small instrument found in both devices.

The report, titled “Evolution of UAVs employed by Houthi forces in Yemen,” is based on field investigations by CAR teams that carried out physical analysis on nine UAVs and one engine recovered by the UAE’s Presidential Guard forces.

They were compared with Houthi bombs seized from the Iran-backed militia in Yemen and militants in Bahrain, as well as two varieties of Iranian UAVs.

By comparing the recovered items, CAR discovered that a significant number of Houthi UAV components were identical or similar to improvised explosive device (IED) parts recovered in Yemen.

The report finds that matching components either originated in Iran or are linked to Tehran-backed supply networks active in the region.

Investigators also found that Houthi UAVs had components that were identical to Iranian-manufactured equipment.

CAR found a gyroscope in a Houthi drone that shared an almost-exact serial number to a gyroscope recovered from an Iranian-made UAV picked up by Daesh militants.

In this February 2017 photograph provided by Conflict Armament Research, a gyroscope recovered from a Qasef-1 drone is displayed in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Such gyroscopes, a small instrument within drones that targeted the heart of Saudi Arabia's oil industry and those in the arsenal of Yemen's Houthi rebels, match components recovered in downed Iranian drones in Afghanistan and Iraq, two reports said. (AP/ File photo)

The gyroscopes are believed to be the same make as those found on drones that attacked Saudi Aramco oilfields.

A UN Security Council resolution prohibits arms transfers to the Houthis. Arab News contacted Iran’s mission to the UN for comment, but it did not respond.

A materiel and personnel exploitation expert, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Arab News that CAR’s findings make it “almost certain that Iran was involved in the attack on Saudi oilfields.”

The expert added: “CAR’s work is similar to counterterror bomb analysis. Governments use these techniques to find the source of a threat and neutralize it. It’s highly reliable and very rarely produces false links.”

Jonah Leff, CAR’s director of operations, said the increased sophistication of drones deployed by the Houthis allowed them to use UAVs “over longer distances and with greater explosive payloads.”

He added that analysis of Houthi drone components and other lethal items points to Iran as the “likely benefactor in their supply.”

UN: Houthis impeding humanitarian aid

Meanwhile, the US has threatened to cut aid to Houthi-held areas in Yemen amid UN claims that the militia is impeding the supply of medicines and food.

Documents obtained by the Associated Press reveal that the Houthis are only granting access to the UN on condition of a range of measures that aid agencies are rejecting because it would give the militia the ability to choose who gives aid, which could be exploited for terrorism.

A senior UN official said on condition of anonymity that the Houthis’ obstruction has hindered several programs that feed the near-starving population and protect displaced Yemenis.

Houthi rebels in Yemen have blocked half of the United Nations’ aid delivery programs in the war-torn country — a strong-arm tactic to force the agency to give them greater control over the massive humanitarian campaign, along with a cut of billions of dollars in foreign assistance. (AP)

Nutritional supplements have been denied to nearly 300,000 pregnant and nursing mothers and children aged 5 or under for six months.

Another UN official said this was because the Houthis “held beneficiaries hostage” to a demand that the UN gives the militia a 2 percent cut of its aid package.

On Tuesday, Washington’s envoy to the UN said the Houthis’ attempt to tax the UN and hinder aid projects could see the US cancel its funding to Sanaa and northern areas under the militia’s control.

Washington is “extremely concerned by mounting Houthi interference with the work of aid partners in northern Yemen, which limits the ability of the UN and other humanitarian organizations to deliver assistance to the most vulnerable Yemenis,” Kelly Craft said.