Damascus lights up its biggest Christmas tree

1 / 2
Syrians say the security has begun to gradually return in the country, making it easier for them to mark the Christmas celebrations. (Reuters)
2 / 2
Syrians say the security has begun to gradually return in the country, making it easier for them to mark the Christmas celebrations. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 25 December 2018

Damascus lights up its biggest Christmas tree

  • Both Christians and Muslims look forward to celebrating the occasion by decorating trees and taking photos
  • Thousands of people from across Damascus gathered in Abbasid Square to watch the 30-meter-tall Christmas tree being lit up

DAMASCUS: Damascus on Saturday night lit up its tallest Christmas tree in Abbasid Square amid joyous celebrations.

A Christmas scout band paraded through a number of the capital’s neighborhoods, ending in the square, which was repeatedly shelled by Daesh before the Syrian Army seized the terrorist group’s last stronghold in southern Damascus. 

The band played Christmas music, and the accompanying parade gave presents to children and passersby. 

Thousands of people from across Damascus gathered in Abbasid Square to watch the 30-meter-tall Christmas tree being lit up.

A Syrian couple poses for a picture while gathering around a Christmas tree in the capital Damascus' central neighbourhood of Qassaa. (AFP)

“My daughter was born in 2010 and has never seen Christmas in Damascus before,” Rita Shalhoub, who came with her family from the Jaramana district to witness the event, told Arab News. 

“We continued to celebrate the occasion at home during the past seven years, but our celebrations were overshadowed by the pain of war and the fear of death, in addition to long, depressing power outages,” she added.

“Daesh made sure they shelled Damascus during holidays, and joy was often stolen by the horror and deaths of civilians. The streets would be empty by the end of December as most of us feared leaving our homes during the holidays.”

In early December, streets, squares, shops and homes in the cities of Homs, Aleppo, Damascus, Latakia, Tartus and Hama were decorated with Christmas lights and ornaments in preparation for Syria’s first safe holiday season since 2011. 

Both Christians and Muslims look forward to celebrating the occasion, and many Muslim families decorated trees in their homes, prompting jokes on social media about Christians taking photos next to Muslims’ Christmas trees. 

“Our Muslim neighbors set up better decorations than we did,” said Meray, a Christian school teacher who lives in Al-Muhajirin district in Damascus. 

Electricity supply has improved so unlike previous years, people can now enjoy Christmas lights, she added.

Abu Ahmed, an electrical engineer whose son was killed three years ago in a mortar attack on Abbasid Square, said he did not think he would ever see open-air Christmas celebrations in any part of Damascus, let alone in this square, which was once one of the most dangerous parts of the city. 

Reem Youssef, a Damascus-based architect, said: “What makes this year special is the safety we’re enjoying in Damascus, especially in the neighborhoods known for their Christmas celebrations and decorations before the war. This year’s celebrations remind me of Christmas before the war.” 

She added: “Like Christians, Muslims in Syria anticipate this occasion and its atmosphere, and head to markets in December to shop in preparation to attend Christmas and New Year’s Eve parties in restaurants across the city.” 

She said: “I believe this atmosphere reflects the safety and security that has begun to gradually return to Syria. We hope the country will soon return to its state before the war.”

Libya Speaker urges action on Turkish intervention

Updated 1 min 20 sec ago

Libya Speaker urges action on Turkish intervention

CAIRO: Speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh, held talks on Monday with Egyptian officials and the US envoy on dealing with the Turkish intervention in Libya.

On the second day of his visit to Cairo, Saleh met with US envoy to Libya Richard Norland and agreed to meet with Western delegations in addition to the Egyptian leadership.

Saleh held talks with Norland on maintaining the cease-fire and reopening talks to end the crisis in the country.

He said that the parliament is adhering to the outcomes of the Berlin international conference and the Cairo initiative, and called for the withdrawal of reconciliation government militias from around the Sirte and Jufra oil crescent areas.

The Libyan parliament website said that Saleh and the US ambassador discussed developments in Libya and sought ways to reach a solution in the country according to the Cairo declaration and the outcome of the Berlin summit.

“The meeting discussed the steps taken to move forward with work on the initiative of Aguila Saleh, which culminated in the Cairo declaration according to the outcomes of the Berlin conference,” media adviser to the Speaker, Hamid Al-Safi, said, according to the Libyan News Agency in Benghazi. 

Al-Safi said the meeting reached an agreement to continue the cease-fire. 

The Libyan News Agency said that Norland explained his country’s view on the necessity of stopping the fighting in Libya and that there is no military solution to the crisis. 

Germany, France and Italy intend to push for European sanctions against Turkey, which violated the arms embargo on Libya.

EU sources said that the three countries have prepared a list of companies and individuals who harness ships, aircraft or other logistical services to transport weapons.

The list includes three companies from Turkey and Kazakhstan, as well as two Libyans.

Saleh arrived in Cairo on Sunday to resume a series of international and regional meetings as part of efforts aimed to resolve the Libyan crisis. He will also meet with Egyptian officials as well as the American ambassador in Cairo for talks on restructuring the Presidency Council.

US President Donald Trump’s administration is seeking a demilitarized solution in Sirte and Jufra, and to reopen the country’s oil sector with full transparency between the Libyan parties.

Parliamentary media adviser Fathi Al-Marimi said that Saleh also discussed the removal of armed forces in Sirte and Jufra with the US envoy.

In statements carried by Al-Arabiya Al-Hadath satellite channel, he added that Saleh highlighted the need for a fair distribution of wealth, while the US enjoy stressed the need for a peaceful solution in Libya.

Saleh visited Cairo in the beginning of June, where he met President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan Army, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, to announce a political initiative to solve the Libyan crisis, called the Cairo declaration.