Syria blasts evacuation of White Helmets as ‘criminal’

Syrian rescuers, known as White Helmets, recover bodies in Zardana, in the mostly rebel-held northern Syrian Idlib province, following air strikes in the area late on June 7, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 July 2018

Syria blasts evacuation of White Helmets as ‘criminal’

  • Israel said it had helped with the evacuation at the request of US President Donald Trump and other leaders
  • The Syrian government has accused the White Helmets, also known as the Syrian Civil Defense, of being agents of foreign enemies

DAMASCUS: The Syrian government on Monday condemned a multilateral operation to evacuate hundreds of rescue workers from the war-torn country as a “criminal process” intended to de-stabilize Syria.
Syrian authorities have long described the Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, which are popularly known as the White Helmets, as a terror organization.
The group rose to prominence as it filmed its operations to rescue civilians from Syrian government airstrikes in the country’s brutal civil war. The government has said the group stages videos. Damascus’s ally Russia has accused the group of staging chemical weapons attacks on civilians and blaming them on the government, a charge that has never been proven.
On Saturday, more than 400 rescuers and their family members were evacuated from Syria’s Quneitra province through Israel to Jordan, after the rebels surrendered the last areas they held in the southwestern province to the government.
Syria’s foreign ministry called it a “smuggling operation” that was evidence of a Western conspiracy to overthrow the government. The White Helmets have financial backing from the US, Britain, and other nations.
The unprecedented operation was spearheaded by the US, Canada, and Britain, The Associated Press reported on Friday.
The rescuers and their families are expected to be resettled in Europe and Canada.
Germany’s Interior Ministry confirmed on Monday the country would give asylum to eight rescuers and 39 family members.
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said on Sunday giving the rescue workers shelter “is a humanitarian obligation. More than 250 White Helmets have been killed in the war since 2013.”
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was quoted as saying that “the efforts of the White Helmets deserve admiration and respect.”
Germany has provided the group with 12 million euros ($14 million) in funding since 2016.
Also Monday, Israel said it fired a pair of missiles to intercept two missiles fired from Syria in Israel’s direction. It said the Syrian missiles landed inside Syrian territory just short of the Golan Heights, which have been occupied by Israel since 1967.
Hundreds of refugees returned to Syria from Lebanon, also on Monday, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.
It is the latest in a string of returns this year. President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement party has put refugee returns near the top of its political agenda.
The National News Agency said 850 Syrians living around the border town of Arsal were repatriated on Monday.
Close to one million Syrians are registered with the UN’s refugee agency in Lebanon. The agency, the UNHCR, says it is not organizing returns to Syria. It says refugees should not be coerced into returning.
More than 5 million people have fled the country during its seven-year-long civil war, according to the UN


Archaeologist Zahi Hawass: ‘There isn’t a country that doesn’t love Egyptian archaeology’

Updated 17 October 2019

Archaeologist Zahi Hawass: ‘There isn’t a country that doesn’t love Egyptian archaeology’

  • With only 30 percent of Egyptian monuments discovered, there is no rush to pursue the remaining 70 percent which remain hidden underground, says Hawass

 CAIRO: World-renowned Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass has affirmed the importance of Egyptian archaeology around the globe.

“There isn’t a country that does not love Egyptian archaeology,” Hawass, who was minister of state for antiquities affairs, told Arab News.

With only 30 percent of Egyptian monuments discovered, Hawass said there was no rush to pursue the remaining 70 percent which remain hidden underground.

“We don’t want to discover everything. We want to start by preserving and preparing the historical monuments which we have discovered, then start thinking about what is still undiscovered,” Hawass said.

So, restoration and preservation are the main goals for now.

With the new Grand Egyptian Museum still in the works, it seems likely that archaeology will be put in the spotlight once again, with more room for Egyptian artifacts to be showcased and appreciated rather than hidden, as in the old Tahrir museum.

“No one in the world doesn’t know Egypt. Egyptian archaeology is in the hearts of all people all across the world,” Hawass said.

This explains the immense popularity the new museum is expecting, located as it is, minutes away from the Pyramids of Giza.

Another reason behind its expected popularity is the attention ancient Egyptian figures have received across the years.

“Among the most famous ancient Egyptian figures, even for those who are not interested in monuments, we have King Kufu, who built the greatest pyramid, because that pyramid is something everyone talks about,” Hawass said.

He added that King Tutankhamun was popular because his coffin was restored whole, as was King Ramses II, the most famous of Egyptian kings, and Queen Cleopatra. Each of these figures gained fame due to popular tales and monuments attached to them.

Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass. (AFP)

Hawass plays a crucial role in drawing awareness about Egyptian archaeology around the world as well as focusing on the current situation in Egypt.

“I lecture everywhere (about archaeology)” he said. “Two to three thousand people attend each of my lectures. So I take advantage of to tell people everywhere that Egypt is safe and that Egypt is run by a president whom we have chosen. I am trying to change the perception about Egypt.”

As part of his efforts to promote Egypt and Egyptian culture, Hawass recently visited Japan.

“They (the Japanese) love archaeology. I would never have expected to be famous in Japan, but as a result of their love of Egyptian archaeology, they know me,” Hawass explained.

This is but a speck in the eventful career Hawass has led — which all started by accident.

“As a child I wanted to become a lawyer, so I enrolled in law school at 16 but realized that it wasn’t something I could do. So I left law and decided to study literature. There they told me about a new section called archaeology,” Hawass said.

After graduating Hawass went to work for the government, which he dreaded, until his first project came along. Workers came across a statue hidden inside a coffin which he had to clean. During the process he found his passion for archaeology. He went on to pursue his graduate studies on the subject.

“I went from failure to success thanks to one thing: Passion. When a person is passionate about something, he excels in it.”

Hawass did not point out his most successful or most preferred moment in his career, so full his life has been of memorable events.

“You cannot prefer one of your children over another. They’re all in my heart, all of the discoveries I have made.”