Putin needs to stop fighting Assad’s battles: Syrian opposition

Yahya Al-Aridi. (Courtesy photo)
Updated 17 December 2017
0

Putin needs to stop fighting Assad’s battles: Syrian opposition

JEDDAH: Russia needs to stop fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad’s battles and tell his regime to get to the negotiating table and talk peace, the Syrian opposition said on Saturday.
“As a permanent member of the Security Council, Moscow should be supporting Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, and not setting conditions,” opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News.
He was reacting to reports that Moscow has set five conditions for the resumption of negotiations between the regime and the opposition, and has again urged the opposition to drop the condition of a transition without Assad.
Assad “wouldn’t be able to besiege and bombard our people without the support of Russia’s air force, nor could he continue to sabotage the peace process unless (Russian President Vladimir) Putin allows it,” Al-Aridi said.
“While we’ve been fighting Daesh, Russia and the regime have been using most of their firepower against the Syrian people.”
Daesh “could never have captured a single town without Assad turning a blind eye,” Al-Aridi said.
Russia has been more interested in “using terrorism for propaganda than in helping to rid our country of Daesh,” he added.
Meanwhile, Moscow has asked the opposition to openly declare that it is willing to fight Daesh and join the international fight against Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham (JFS).
Bahia Mardini, a UK-based Syrian journalist and human rights activist who fled regime persecution, told Arab News that it is ridiculous to suggest that Syrians must choose between Assad and terrorist groups “because they’re both brutal.”
It is critical for Syria’s future that terrorist groups such as Daesh and JFS are defeated, she said, adding: “They have no place in Syria; they’re only there to manipulate the people to gain power.”
Defeating terrorism is fundamental to a peaceful future not only in Syria but across the world, “but it’s also absolutely necessary that we reach a peaceful agreement that sees Syrians free to elect our own leaders,” Mardini said.
“We must focus on reaching a political solution, and the international community must apply pressure on the regime to engage in the UN negotiations.”
The opposition, she said, is simply articulating the wishes of ordinary Syrians back home. “We want and deserve a future free from the persecution of Assad and from the violence of terrorism,” she added.
“The idea that we can only defeat terrorism through Assad is completely false.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the State Department said the US wants the regime’s supporters “to use their leverage to urge the regime to participate fully in tangible negotiations with the opposition in Geneva.”
The US “urges all parties to work seriously toward a political resolution to this conflict or face continued isolation and instability indefinitely in Syria,” Reuters quoted spokeswoman Heather Nauert as saying.
Regime forces on Saturday entered small parts of the north-western opposition-held province of Idlib in one of their deepest incursions into the area, where the regime has almost no presence.
Regime troops captured the village of Tal Al-Khanazeer on the south-eastern edge of Idlib, the Associated Press reported.


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

The gate of Al-Nouri Mosque lies in ruins. (AFP)
Updated 21 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.