In Jordan’s ancient Petra, sirens warn of flash floods

Flash floods caused by heavy rain forced hundreds of tourists to seek higher ground in the kingdom’s ancient city of Petra. (AP)
Updated 18 November 2018

In Jordan’s ancient Petra, sirens warn of flash floods

  • Earlier this month, sirens blared minutes before a torrent fed by heavy rains approached the UNESCO World Heritage site
  • The last fatal flash flood struck Petra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a local guide were killed by rapidly rising waters

PETRA, Jordan: In ancient times, Arab tribesmen dug diversion tunnels to protect their low-lying trading post of Petra against desert flash floods. More than two millennia later, an alarm system warns visitors if flood water rushes toward what has become Jordan’s main tourist attraction.
Earlier this month, the alarms were activated for the first time, said Hussein Al-Hasanat of the Petra Development & Tourism Region Authority. Sirens blared minutes before a torrent fed by heavy rains approached the UNESCO World Heritage site carved into rose-hued rock face.
Hundreds of tourists were able to seek higher ground and were later evacuated, he said.
Amateur video posted online at the time showed visitors running through a steep, narrow canyon leading to the Treasury, Petra’s main draw, as guides urged them to hurry. Later, visitors were seen standing on a higher patch near the Treasury as knee-high water poured through the canyon.
Elsewhere in Jordan, such alarms are still missing. Thirty-four people were killed in flash floods in late September and early November.
The last fatal flash flood struck Petra in 1963 when 22 French tourists and a local guide were killed by rapidly rising waters. In response, Jordan’s Department of Antiquities built a dam to keep water from entering the canyon leading to the Treasury.
In 2014, the alarm system was installed as added protection, with sirens set to go off when flood water rises above four meters (yards).
On Nov. 9, the system was triggered for the first time, through a computer in the Petra Authority’s control room. The computer is connected to eight rain forecast systems and two water detection stations placed in the area, within 8 kilometers (5 miles) of Petra.
The network generates instant data allowing officials to measure possible danger and warn people by the time the water reaches Petra.
Omar Dajani, a meteorologist at the Arabia Weather company, said alarms should be installed in all vulnerable areas in Jordan.
He said urban sprawl has exacerbated the flood risk, which is particularly high in dry areas.
“Now towns have spread so much and many of them were not built with respect for the geography of the region, such as valleys for example, where the water has naturally caused floods for millions of years,” Dajani said.


Trump plan calls for Palestinian state with capital in eastern Jerusalem

Updated 55 min 47 sec ago

Trump plan calls for Palestinian state with capital in eastern Jerusalem

  • United States will recognize Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank
  • The absence of the Palestinians from Trump’s announcement is likely to fuel criticism that the plan tilts toward Israel

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Tuesday proposed creation of a Palestinian state with a capital in eastern Jerusalem, dependent on Palestinians taking steps to become self-governing, in an effort to achieve a peace breakthrough in their decades of conflict with Israel.
Senior administration officials, briefing Reuters on the plan the president announced at the White House, said that under Trump’s proposed Middle East peace plan the United States will recognize Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank.

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Read the full report here: Middle East peace plan

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In exchange, Israel would agree to accept a four-year freeze on new settlement activity while Palestinian statehood is negotiated.
“Today, Israel has taken a giant step toward peace,” Trump said as he announced the plan at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his side, saying he also sent a letter about it to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“This is a historic day,” Netanyahu said, comparing Trump’s peace plan to former President Harry Truman’s 1948 recognition of the state of Israel. “On this day, you became the first world leader to recognize Israel’s sovereignty over areas in Judea and Samaria that are vital to our security and central to our heritage,” he added, using the Biblical names for the West Bank.
While Israeli leaders have welcomed Trump’s long-delayed plan, Palestinian leaders had rejected it even before its official release, saying his administration was biased toward Israel.
The absence of the Palestinians from Trump’s announcement is likely to fuel criticism that the plan tilts toward Israel’s needs rather than those of the Palestinians.


Israeli-Palestinian talks broke down in 2014, and it was far from clear that the Trump plan will resuscitate them.
US officials said they were braced for initial Palestinian skepticism but hoped that over time they will agree to negotiate. The plan places high hurdles for the Palestinians to overcome to reach their long-sought goal of a state.
It remains to be seen also how Israel responds, given the pressures its right-wing prime minister, Netanyahu, faces going into his third attempt at re-election in less than a year.
The US plan represented the most dramatic and detailed attempt to break the historic deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians in several years, the result of a three-year effort by Trump senior advisers Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz and former adviser Jason Greenblatt.
Trump has endorsed a proposed map outlining the two states, the officials said. The Palestinian state would be double the size of land that Palestinians currently control and would be connected by roads, bridges and tunnels, the official said.
Trump briefed Netanyahu and his rival in Israel’s March 2 elections, Blue and White Party chief Benny Gantz, in talks on Monday.
Asked what Washington was prepared to do to advance negotiations, the officials said it was up to the Palestinians to come forward and to say they are prepared to negotiate.
They said both Netanyahu and Gantz had said they were willing to support the effort.
Israeli leaders have agreed to negotiate on the basis of the Trump plan and agreed to the map, the officials said. Israel’s agreement on statehood for Palestinians is dependent on a security arrangement to protect Israelis, they said.
Israel will also take steps to ensure Muslim access to Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and respect Jordan’s role regarding holy sites, the officials said.
Palestinian statehood would be dependent on Palestinians taking steps for self-government, such as respect for human rights, freedom of the press and having transparent and credible institutions, the officials said.
“In doing the map it’s incredibly difficult to try to create contiguity for a Palestinian state based on what’s happened over the past 25 years so if we don’t do this freeze now I think that their chance to ever have a state basically goes away,” said one official in reference to the growth of Jewish settlements.
“So what we’ve done is basically we’ve bought four more years for them to get their act together and try to negotiate a deal for them to become a state, and I think this is a huge opportunity for them,” the official said.
The official said the question for Palestinians is will they “come to the table and negotiate?“
If they agree to negotiate, there are some areas that can be compromised in the future, the official said without offering details.
Trump’s plan calls for Palestinians to be able to return to a future state of Palestine and creates a “generous compensation fund,” the official said.
About Israel retaining the settlements, a US official said: “The plan is based on a principle that people should not have to move to accomplish peace ... But it does stop future settlement expansion which we consider to be the most realistic approach.
“The notion that hundreds of thousands of people, or tens of thousands of people, are going to be removed either forcibly or not from their homes is just not worth entertaining,” the official said.
Before the Trump announcement, thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in Gaza City and Israeli troops reinforced positions near a flashpoint site between the Palestinian city of Ramallah and the Jewish settlement of Beit El in the West Bank.
A Netanyahu spokesman said the Israeli leader would fly to Moscow on Wednesday to brief Russian President Vladimir Putin on the proposals.
Palestinian leaders had said they were not invited to Washington, and that no plan could work without them.
On Monday Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said he would not agree to any deal that did not secure a two-state solution. That formula, the basis for many years of frustrated international peace efforts, envisages Israel co-existing with a Palestinian state.
Palestinians have refused to deal with the Trump administration in protest at such pro-Israeli policies as its moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, whose eastern half the Palestinians seek for a future capital.
The Trump administration in November reversed decades of US policy when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington no longer regarded the settlements on West Bank land as a breach of international law. Palestinians and most countries view the settlements as illegal, which Israel disputes.
Both Trump and Netanyahu face political challenges at home. Trump was impeached in the House of Representatives last month and is on trial in the Senate on abuse of power charges.
On Tuesday Netanyahu was formally indicted in court on corruption charges, after he withdrew his bid for parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
Both men deny any wrongdoing.