Jewish artifacts disappear from Damascus in fog of Syria war

Youssef Jajati, a Jewish community leader in Syria, points out the Torah holy book preserved in a silver container in Joubar’s Synagogue which dates back to 718 BC. Artifacts removed from one of the oldest synagogues in the world have gone missing from the Syrian capital after neighborhood officials said they gave them to commanders of a rebel group who never returned them. (AP/Bassem Tellawi, File)
Updated 17 June 2018

Jewish artifacts disappear from Damascus in fog of Syria war

  • The main missing cache, they say, contained torahs written on gazelle leather as well as tapestries and chandeliers
  • Activists say the artifacts, moved from the now-destroyed Jobar Synagogue in Damascus’ eastern Ghouta suburb when it was taken by rebels

BEIRUT: Jewish artifacts, including ancient parchment torahs from one of the world’s oldest synagogues, have gone missing from the Syrian capital amid the tumult of ongoing civil war, with some precious items reportedly surfacing abroad.
Activists say the artifacts, moved from the now-destroyed Jobar Synagogue in Damascus’ eastern Ghouta suburb when it was taken by rebels, were allegedly put into safe keeping to avoid theft and damage in 2013, but twice since then local officials have discovered some are missing.
The main missing cache, they say, contained torahs written on gazelle leather as well as tapestries and chandeliers, and was given to a militia by a local council for safekeeping when rebels surrendered the neighborhood to government forces earlier this year. The armed group says it doesn’t have the items.


Syrian forces consolidate control of Aleppo, air strikes under way

Updated 17 February 2020

Syrian forces consolidate control of Aleppo, air strikes under way

  • The advances have sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing toward the border with Turkey
  • Government forces have been fighting since the start of the year to recapture the Aleppo countryside

BEIRUT: The Syrian army said on Monday it had taken full control of dozens of towns in Aleppo’s northwestern countryside and it would press on with its campaign to wipe out militant groups “wherever they are found.”
The advances were made after President Bashar Assad’s forces drove insurgents from the M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus, reopening the fastest route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years in a big strategic gain for Assad.
Backed by heavy Russian air strikes, the government forces have been fighting since the start of the year to recapture the Aleppo countryside and parts of neighboring Idlib province where anti-Assad insurgents hold their last strongholds.
Government air strikes on Monday hit Darat Izza, near the Turkish border about 30 kilometers north of Aleppo city, wounding several civilians and forcing two hospitals to close, according to hospital staff.
Witnesses also reported air strikes in southern areas of Idlib province.
The advances have sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing toward the border with Turkey in the biggest single displacement of the nine-year-old war.
It has also upset the fragile cooperation between Ankara and Moscow, which back opposing factions in the conflict.
Turkey and Russia began a new round of talks in Moscow on Monday after several demands by Ankara that Assad’s forces should back down and a cease-fire be put in place.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that militant attacks on Russian bases and Syrian positions have continued and “it is not possible to leave this unanswered.”
“Troops from Russia and Turkey on the ground in Syria, in Idlib, are in constant contact with each other, looking at changes in the conditions. They have a full understanding of each other,” said Lavrov.
However, the Syrian armed forces said in a statement they would push on with what they called their “sacred and noble task to rid what remains of terrorist organizations wherever on Syria’s geography they are found.”
They had taken full control of dozens of towns in Aleppo’s northwestern countryside, they said.
Syrian transport minister Ali Hammoud announced on Monday the re-opening of Aleppo’s international airport with the first flight, from Damascus to Aleppo, scheduled for Wednesday and flights to Cairo to be announced within days, state news agency SANA reported.
Pro-Damascus Al-Watan newspaper said the M5 highway, a vital artery in northern Syria, would be ready for civilian use by the end of the week. Aleppo city, once Syria’s economic hub, was the scene of some of the most vicious fighting of the war between 2012 and 2016.
The Syrian army had also opened the international roadway from northern Aleppo to the towns of Zahraa and Nubl toward the Turkish border, a military news service run by Lebanon’s Assad-allied pro-Damascus Hezbollah group said.
The insurgent forces arrayed against Assad include Western-backed rebels and jihadist militants.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said his military will drive back Syrian forces if they do not withdraw from Idlib by the end of the month. On Saturday, he appeared to move that date forward, saying Turkey would “handle it” before the end of the month if there was no pull-back.
Alarmed by the new refugee crisis on its border, Turkey has sent thousands of troops and hundreds of convoys of military equipment to reinforce its observation posts in Idlib, established under a 2018 de-escalation agreement with Russia.