How conflicts turned the Middle East into an organ-trafficking hotspot

How conflicts turned the Middle East into an organ-trafficking hotspot
Pakistan Mohamed Ijaz, 25, (2R), displays his scar along with brother Mohamed Riiz, 22, (R), and father Karm Ali, 65, (2L), as his wife Farzana Ijaz, 20, (L), looks on outside his house at a brick factory in Rawalpindi on the outskirts of capital Islamabad on November 18, 2009. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 10 July 2020

How conflicts turned the Middle East into an organ-trafficking hotspot

How conflicts turned the Middle East into an organ-trafficking hotspot
  • Over five million refugees in Middle East and North Africa are potential targets for organ trafficking
  • Human organ trade generated between $600 million and $1.2 billion annually before the pandemic hit

ABU DHABI: From Libya in the west to Yemen in the east, as conflicts wrack parts of the Middle East and North Africa, the growing population of the displaced and dispossessed are proving easy prey for traffickers in human body parts.

More than 5 million refugees in the Middle East are potential targets for this illicit trade.

Known as the “red market,” the global human organ trade generated between $600 million and $1.2 billion annually before the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit, according to Global Financial Integrity, a Washington-based think tank that produces analyses of illegal financial flows.

Refugees are the most vulnerable to organ trafficking as they are likely to battle hunger, poor living conditions and a deeply uncertain future owing to displacement.

This mixture of adversities makes many of them desperate to seek a way out of their predicament, even if it means selling their organs to provide for their families or fund their passage to more stable regions in the world.

Agents of traffickers are usually quick to spot this vulnerability and are known to even resort to coercing potential donors should they try to change their mind.

What has not proved a deterrent are the usual practices of traffickers: false promises of a safe journey to Europe; paltry payments to donors after organ removal; lack of proper medical facilities for organ extraction; and the absence of information on the risks and post-operative precautions.

Judging by the numbers, refugees and migrants continue to be lured by barter deals that promise a ticket to freedom and a bright future.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM), headquartered in Switzerland, reported its suspicions of organ trafficking in Syria as early as 2015, stating that this also included related operations in the neighboring countries.  

The protracted conflict in Syria has turned a refugee population of more than 2 million people into easy prey for sex trafficking, organ harvesting and forced labor, particularly in Turkey and Lebanon, which, along with Egypt and Libya, are among the region’s red market hotspots.


Organ trade

The annual illegal global trade in human organs before COVID-19 stood at $600 million - $1.2 billion.

With the exception of Libya, these countries have strict laws prohibiting organ donation to non-family members. 

According to emerging research, organ traffickers in Lebanon have begun to target refugee camps, where many residents are minors.

In an interview in early 2019, Nuna Matar, director of Triumphant Mercy Lebanon, an entity that works for the poor and displaced, said: “It was horrifying to hear that traffickers preyed on children, but it was not labor or sex trafficking. It was organ trafficking.”

Libya has been flagged as a country of particular concern for the red market as many of the refugees who fled due to the intensifying violence there were repatriated and placed in detention camps. The war-torn country is a hub for refugees from sub-Saharan Africa and the Horn of Africa seeking a route to Europe.

“There is hardly any data on organ trafficking in Europe,” Suzanne Hoff, international coordinator of La Strada International, a leading European platform against trafficking in human beings, told Arab News.

“While there is increasingly more attention for the vulnerability of refugees and migrants for human trafficking, adequate screening and identification generally lags behind. Moreover, most focus of attention remains on trafficking for sexual exploitation, which is probably also why organ trafficking is hardly identified.”

A 2018 report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that due to a law that criminalizes illegal migration and a lack of protections for trafficked victims, returning migrants and refugees have been reluctant to report abuse to Libyan authorities, perpetuating a vicious circle.

In this photograph taken on August 1, 2015, Bangladeshi villager Belal Hossian, 35, a victim of illegal organ trade, shows the scars from his illegal kidney removal operation in the village of Kalai some 300 kms (185 miles) northwest of Dhaka. (AFP)

The stories of refugees and migrants proving easy targets for traders of the red market in Libya are repeated in neighboring Egypt.

A 2019 study on the organ trade in Cairo shed light on the main drivers: legal marginalization and social exclusion of refugees and migrants. A Sudanese migrant put it this way: “If you cannot find work when you get to Egypt, you will not find mercy. This is why people sell their kidneys.”

The going rate for human organs in the Arab region is substantial. In Iraq, illegally obtained organs can sell for $20,000 apiece, while in Turkey a sale can be sealed for up to $145,000, according to reports.

In Yemen, which is not a signatory to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (which is a part of the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime), it has been difficult to obtain information on human trafficking since 2015 due to the conflict.

In this photograph taken on February 2, 2017, Maqsood Ahmed, who sold one of his kidneys, displays a scar in Bhalwal in Sargodha District, in Pakistan's Punjab Province. (AFP/File Photo)

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) point to Yemen’s protracted conflicts, general lawlessness and deteriorating economic conditions as factors that place the population at risk of being trafficked, including for organ harvesting.

What makes the illicit organ trade especially shocking is the meager gain for a typical donor. According to the UN Office of Drugs and Crime, the majority of organ donors, including migrants and refugees, do not end up improving their economic prospects.

On the contrary, as studies reveal, most victims are not adequately compensated — if they are compensated at all. Should they suffer from post-donation medical complications, their plight becomes infinitely worse.

None of this is to say the racket in human organs is a lost battle. Globally, many governments are combating the red market with the full force of the law.

Chinese doctor Wang Wenyi arrives to give a press conference in Arlington, Virginia about alleged organ harvesting by Chinese authorities on Falun Gong practitioners. (AFP/File Photo)

In the region, Bahrain is the only country to have reached the US State Department’s Tier 1 category status in the Trafficking in Persons report 2019. This means the Bahrain government has made efforts in consistently combating all forms of trafficking through laws, victim identification measures, partnerships with NGOs, and preventive measures. 

“We need to move beyond a shallow analysis of the situation in order to understand what factors contribute to trafficking,” Mohammed El-Zarkani, IOM Chief of Mission in the Kingdom of Bahrain, told Arab News.

“Within a conflict situation, there is an obvious vacuum of law and order. Traffickers capitalize on chaos, including health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Those most vulnerable to trafficking are those without legal protection.”

El-Zarkani said Bahrain has established the Regional Center for Excellence against Human Trafficking with the express goal of tackling trafficking at the local and regional levels.

“As first of its kind, the center aims to develop curricula for training government entities, private sector representatives, the general public, civil society associations, international and regional organizations, healthcare professionals and educators, in order to elevate the collective Gulf efforts against trafficking,” he told Arab News.

Looking to the future, El-Zarkani said: “Even though organ trafficking is not an immediate concern in the Gulf region, with the exception of the situation in conflict zones, developing training curricula that are specific to the region will be key in the overall holistic efforts of Gulf governments to combat all types of exploitation under human trafficking.”



Jerusalem conflict stokes fears of civil war in Israel

Jerusalem conflict stokes fears of civil war in Israel
Updated 22 min 31 sec ago

Jerusalem conflict stokes fears of civil war in Israel

Jerusalem conflict stokes fears of civil war in Israel
  • Discriminatory system based on a supremacist ideology ‘will not hold forever’

AMMAN: The fight over the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, clashes in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police,  and the exchange of rockets, shelling and airstrikes between Hamas and the Israel Defense Force could turn into a civil war between Israeli Jews and Palestinian citizens of Israel, experts fear.

Palestinians, living in mixed Arab and Jewish towns like Lydda, Ramleh, Bat Yam, Haifa and Yaffo, have come under repeated attack in the past few days, with much of it motivated by racism.

Right-wing Jewish mobs yelling “death to Arabs” have beaten up individuals, vandalized homes and targeted shops belonging to Arabs — who make up 20 percent of Israel’s citizenry.

Wadie Abu Nassar, an honorary Spanish consul based in Haifa and a political analyst, said his daughters, as well as their cars and home in Haifa, were targeted by an anti-Arab Jewish mob.

Speaking to a local radio station, Abu Nassar said while his daughters were shocked at what happened, the deeper wounds are not physical. “While my daughters suffered some physical injuries, the much deeper wounds are the emotional ones caused by the revelation of this racism, that had been hidden for years,” he said.

Abu Nassar, an advisor to Catholic bishops in Israel, Palestine and Jordan, added that what happened has been truly revealing. “I am a firm believer in nonviolence, but it is clear that the Israeli public is now seeing the depth of racism, and that has happened only due to the fact that they were forced to deal with something that Palestinians have been dealing with for years.”

Prof. Sari Nusseibeh, former president of Al-Quds University, told Arab News that he sees two faces to the sudden Palestinian public revolt in Israel; one expressing a dormant, if not often visible, disaffection with the state of Israel, and the other an identification with the Palestinian national struggle and religious affiliations.

“The breakdown of the ‘civil state’ into mutual distrust, lynching, and disorder should be a clear sign for Israel that a discriminatory system based on a supremacist ideology will not hold forever and must be rectified if a day of reckoning is to be avoided,” he said.

“In the meantime, the rockets from Gaza, however inferior to Israel’s nuclear and military might, should forewarn Israel that the Palestinian national struggle will not go away, and will continue to pose a mortal threat to Israeli lives, and a political challenge to Israel’s image in the world,” he added. “Israel is obligated to look into the mirror and come to terms with the fact that until justice is realized it will never achieve peace.”

Dan Shanit, a retired Israeli physician and former head of the medical program at the Peres Center for Peace, told Arab News that he is disappointed with corrupt politicians. “The responsibility lies with the corrupt wish to hang on to power at all costs while others are exploiting religious and nationalistic sentiments in order to gain the support of the street following failed elections. The mob seems to have an upper hand while civilian blood is being spilled,” he said.

The Haifa-based Mossawa organization called on the international community to work toward achieving an immediate ceasefire and stop strikes against Gaza.

In a statement, it demanded the preservation of the right to freedom of worship for all, the right to freedom of movement, protection of the right to express an opinion and demonstrate without being subjected to security oppression or persecutions, and the rejection of any attempts to seize the property of Palestinian citizens.

The statement added that settlers had organized themselves throughout Arab localities and mixed cities with the intent of inciting clashes with Arab protesters.

“Screenshots of right-wing settler group conversations via (the) Telegram application were leaked showing the intent to kill and physically harm Arabs, as well as video evidence of settlers using live ammunition to shoot at Palestinian protesters. Many clashes were provoked and police arrests were discriminatory toward one side,” it said.

Botrus Mansour, a Nazareth-based lawyer, told Arab News that while the last few days have been very painful to see, it could have a positive result in the long term.

“For years we have been talking about the problems in the Arab community — the increase in violence — and we have also been expressing our worries that the anti-Arab racism condoned by senior officials will one day show its result on the ground,” he said. “What we are seeing now is the proof of the argument that for too long the successive Israeli governments have ignored both internal Arab violence and the incitement against Arabs by right-wing extremists. Now the country has seen the results of that wrong policy.”

Jamal Dajani, a Jerusalemite and former head of communications to the Palestinian prime minister, told Arab News that the situation in Israel is very volatile and could easily escalate quickly “because it is encouraged by Kahanists (an extremist Jewish faction) in the Israeli Knesset and (the) government. 

“What we saw in the past 24 hours, with Jewish mobs lynching 48 Palestinians and attacking their businesses, is something to be very worried about, especially if the war on Gaza continues,” he added.

Former Palestinian Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi, meanwhile, said the events of the past few days have had a galvanizing effect, uniting Palestinians in the West Bank including Jerusalem, in Gaza and across the diaspora.

Biden speaks to Netanyahu, hopes violence ending ‘sooner than later’

Biden speaks to Netanyahu, hopes violence ending ‘sooner than later’
Updated 9 min 8 sec ago

Biden speaks to Netanyahu, hopes violence ending ‘sooner than later’

Biden speaks to Netanyahu, hopes violence ending ‘sooner than later’
  • Blinken calls Mahmoud Abbas to urge an end to rocket attacks from Gaza

WASHINGTON: US President Joe Biden said that Israel has a right to defend itself but after speaking with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu he hopes violent clashes with Palestinians will end quickly.

“I had a conversation with Bibi Netanyahu not too long ago,” Biden told reporters. “My expectation and hope is that this will be closing down sooner than later, but Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory.”

Biden said US diplomacy was in high gear with national security and defense staff “in constant contact with their counterparts in the Middle East — not just with the Israelis, but also with everyone from the Egyptians and the Saudis to the Emiratis.”

Biden spoke as calls grew internationally for a de-escalation of violence after intense hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians that have left dozens dead and hundreds injured.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had spoken by telephone with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, to urge an end to the rocket attacks.

The rockets are being fired by Hamas, but the US does not speak with the group, considering it a terrorist organization.

The conversation between the top US diplomat and Abbas was the first high-level call between the US and the Palestinians since Biden was sworn into office in January.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority broke off contact with the previous US administration of Donald Trump in 2017, when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“I spoke with President Abbas about the ongoing situation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” Blinken posted on Twitter. “I expressed condolences for the loss of life. I emphasized the need to end rocket attacks and de-escalate tensions.”

Earlier, Blinken announced that Hady Amr, the State Department official in charge of Israeli and Palestinian affairs, was leaving to the region to urge “de-escalation of violence.”

The diplomat also talked with Netanyahu, again pushing for both sides to step back from fighting.

Blinken “reiterated his call on all parties to de-escalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence,” said a State Department statement.

The Pentagon said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin had called his Israeli counterpart, Benny Gantz, and backed Israel’s “legitimate right to defend itself and its people” while also urging steps to restore calm.

Blinken described scenes of dead Palestinian civilians, including children, as “harrowing” but defended Israel’s assault on Gaza in response to rocket fire by Hamas militants.

The White House said that during his call with Netanyahu, Biden “condemned the rocket attacks by Hamas and other terrorist groups, including against Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. 

He conveyed his unwavering support for Israel’s security and for Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself and its people, while protecting civilians.”

Israeli army says troops have entered Gaza Strip

Israeli army says troops have entered Gaza Strip
Updated 14 May 2021

Israeli army says troops have entered Gaza Strip

Israeli army says troops have entered Gaza Strip
  • Israeli army spokesman John Conricus confirmed the escalation 
  • At least 103 people have been killed since Monday, and more than 580 wounded

JERUSALEM: Israel said Friday it sent ground forces into action and pounded Gaza in response to a new barrage of rocket fire from the Hamas-run enclave in a conflict that has now claimed over 100 Palestinian lives.
“Israeli planes and troops on the ground are carrying out an attack in the Gaza Strip,” the Israeli army said in a brief message.
The escalation was confirmed by army spokesman John Conricus, although he did not specify the scale of the operation.
As the violence intensified, Israel security forces scrambled to contain deadly riots between Jews and Arabs, with projectiles also fired on Israel from Lebanon.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington was “deeply concerned about the violence in the streets of Israel,” voicing support for a United Nations Security Council meeting “early next week” on the crisis.
“We believe that Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity,” Blinken said.
There were intense artillery exchanges Thursday night, and AFP reporters saw Israeli troops assembling at the security barrier.
Balls of flames rose high into the sky after strikes smashed into densely packed Gaza.
Dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza toward the southern Israeli coastal cities of Ashdod and Ashkelon, and in the vicinity of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport.
“We are prepared, and continue to prepare for various scenarios,” Conricus said, describing a ground offensive as “one scenario.”
In Gaza, AFP photographers said people were evacuating their homes in the northeastern part of the enclave ahead of possible Israeli attacks, with Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, warning of a “heavy response” to a possible ground incursion

With the conflict showing no signs of easing, Israel has been rocked by an unprecedented wave of mob violence, in which both Arabs and Jews have been savagely beaten and police stations attacked.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered a “massive reinforcement” to suppress the internal unrest.
The heavy bombardments coincided with the start of Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan, and saw the faithful pray at mosques and amid the rubble of Gaza’s collapsed buildings.
Israel’s air force launched multiple air strikes, targeting locations linked to Hamas, with the air force saying jets had struck a “military compound” of the group’s “intelligence headquarters.”
At least 103 people have been killed since Monday, including 27 children, and more than 580 wounded, the health ministry in Gaza said.
Heavy bombardments have brought down entire tower blocks.
Inside Israel, seven people have been killed since Monday, including one six-year-old, after a rocket struck a family home

The Israeli military said earlier it had hit targets in Gaza more than 600 times while 1,750 rockets were fired from the enclave.
Hundreds of rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system.
Three rockets were also fired from southern Lebanon toward Israel, landing in the Mediterranean Sea, Israel’s army said.
A source close to Israel’s arch-enemy Hezbollah said the Lebanese Shiite group had no link to the incident.
The military escalation was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
The disturbances, in which riot police had repeatedly clashed with Palestinians, has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of east Jerusalem.
The surging tensions sparked clashes in many of Israel’s mixed towns where Jews live alongside Arabs, who make up about 20 percent of the country’s population.
Nearly 1,000 border police were called in to quell the violence, and over 400 people were arrested.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said inter-communal violence in multiple towns was at a nadir not seen for decades, and that police were “literally preventing pogroms.”Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said police were increasing their use of force, warning of the “option” of deploying soldiers in towns.
Israeli far-right groups have clashed with security forces and Arab Israelis, with television footage Wednesday airing footage of a far-right mob beating a man they considered an Arab in Bat Yam, near Tel Aviv, leaving him with serious injuries.
In Lod, which has become a flashpoint of Arab-Jewish clashes this week with an Arab resident shot dead and a synagogue torched, a gunman opened fire Thursday at a group of Jews, wounding one.
Netanyahu said the violence was “unacceptable.”
“Nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews, and nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs,” he said, adding Israel was fighting a battle “on two fronts.”
Amid the rocket fire, Israel’s civil aviation authority said it had diverted all incoming passenger flights headed for Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport to Ramon airport in the south.
Hamas announced it had also fired a rocket at Ramon, in a bid to stop all air traffic to Israel.
Israeli media said the rocket missed its target, but a number of international airlines canceled flights amid the aerial onslaught.

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties
Updated 14 May 2021

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties

Turkey’s notorious mafia leader claims close state ties
  • Concern over criminalization of politics as opposition calls for parliamentary inquiry

JEDDAH: Turkish government officials entered into a war of words with the country’s well-known mafia leader, Sedat Peker, who released a series of videos about schemes within the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) involving some of its deputies.

The claims pushed opposition politicians to call for the truth behind the claims in order to fight against the criminalization of politics.

Ultranationalist convict Peker alleged that former interior minister, Mehmet Agar, and his son, Tolga Agar, who is currently a deputy for the AKP, were involved in the suspicious death of a 21-year-old Kazakh journalist, Yeldana Kaharman, two years ago, a day after she interviewed Tolga Agar.

Kaharman allegedly committed suicide, but it is claimed that the autopsy report shows otherwise. However, the case was quickly closed by the local prosecutors at the time.

Peker claimed that Agar was “the head of deep state” in Turkey.

Former justice minister of the ruling government and current member of the presidency’s higher advisory board, Cemil Cicek, urged the judiciary to investigate Peker’s claims about the Agar family.

“If even one-thousandth of these claims are true, this is a disaster and very problematic ... Turkey has had enough experience in the past concerning similar issues,” Cicek said on May 12.

“We should learn the necessary lessons. The relevant prosecutor needs to take action and do what is necessary,” Cicek said.

Mehmet Agar claims that the state can examine him whenever required.

The claims pushed opposition parties to try to make the government accountable for its ties with the mafia leader.

Last year, the Turkish government passed a controversial amnesty law that freed up to 90,000 inmates from Turkish prisons for nonpolitical crimes, but excluded dissident journalists and politicians.

The law resulted in the mass release of organized gang leaders, including Alaattin Cakici, a notorious mafia kingpin closely connected to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). During the time that Cakici was behind bars, his rival Peker consolidated his grip on the Turkish underworld.

The group deputy of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Ozgur Ozel, said that Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was the connection point between the AKP, its ally MHP and the mafia.

Ozel also claimed that the interior minister was closely tied to mafia leader Peker and that the government turned a blind eye to Peker’s previous actions in the northern city of Rize, where he threatened the dissident academics of the country, saying: “I will shower them with their own blood.”

In the latest video he released, Peker confessed that he had played a role in the support shown for Interior Minister Soylu when the minister decided to resign from his post in April 2020. Peker allegedly organized a Twitter campaign to object to Soylu’s resignation.

Since 2019, Peker has lived in Balkan countries where he regularly met Bosniak political leaders. He claimed that he had to leave Turkey because of a personal hostility with the Turkish president’s son-in-law and former finance minister, Berat Albayrak.

After being arrested earlier this year in North Macedonia with a fake ID and passport, he was deported to Kosovo where he had a business residence permit. He is currently believed to live in Dubai.

Peker, with a strong network in Istanbul’s underworld, was previously blamed by some politicians, such as Baris Atay of the Workers’ Party of Turkey, for using gangs to attack dissidents in the streets. Atay was seriously beaten up in a busy street of Istanbul after he was verbally targeted by Soylu.

The opposition now urges the government to form a parliamentary inquiry commission and inform the public about these allegations.

Ayhan Sefer Ustun, former head of the parliamentary Human Rights Commission and founding member of the breakaway Future Party that is led by the country’s former prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said the allegations should spark a serious campaign against “deep state” in Turkey.

“Turkey should launch a countrywide campaign against deep state and a widespread mafia structure that reached out to the inner circles of the state,” he told Arab News.

“A parliamentary commission should be established where each party at the parliament will be represented equally to investigate Peker’s claims,” he said.

“Any connection between the politics and public security should be put under broad daylight,” Ustun added, referring to the 1996 Susurluk scandal in Turkey where close ties between the state and the mafia were revealed after strong popular insistence.

Interior Minister Soylu will file a lawsuit against the allegations made by Peker, and he called on the mafia leader to surrender to Turkish justice.

Peker has been tried several times by Turkish courts over his involvement in criminal gangs.

He was sentenced to 14 years in jail in 2007 for establishing and leading a criminal organization, and for forgery.

His sentence, however, was later reduced to 10 years and he was released from jail in 2014.

The number of Peker’s damaging video releases are expected to reach 12 in total.

Eid prayers return to Mosul mosque ruined in Daesh war

Eid prayers return to Mosul mosque ruined in Daesh war
Updated 14 May 2021

Eid prayers return to Mosul mosque ruined in Daesh war

Eid prayers return to Mosul mosque ruined in Daesh war
  • Groups of men entered silently and sat down to listen to religious recitals in the building

MOSUL: As dawn broke over Mosul on Thursday, worshippers knelt between piles of rubble while Eid Al-Fitr prayers took place in the city’s oldest mosque for the first time since Daesh was driven out of the area in 2017.

Groups of men entered silently and sat down to listen to religious recitals in the building, which dates back to the Umayyad period in the 7th century and remains largely in ruins following heavy fighting in Mosul’s Old City.

“The message is clear. The Al-Masfi Mosque is the Islamic epicenter and symbol of the area. It is not only Islamic, but also a symbol of the city,” said Ahmed Najem, a local academic, after prayers.

The mosque was partially destroyed during the brutal occupation by Daesh, which proclaimed Mosul the capital of its self-styled caliphate, and an intense campaign of airstrikes to liberate the city from the militants.

Like many other heritage and religious buildings in the Old City, it has been left in disrepair, with collapsed walls and mounds of rubble. Local campaigners say this is due to insufficient public funding allocated to reconstruction in Iraq’s northern Nineveh province.

“We need to accelerate its reconstruction,” said Najem.

Volunteers from a local group campaigning for the renovation of the Old City swept the floor and put down rugs ahead of the prayers for Eid, a holiday which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

“We are happy about Eid and other celebrations, but there is also heartbreak because of great destruction in Mosul until this day,” said Ayyub Dhanun, one of the volunteers.

Volunteer groups have sprung up in Mosul since its liberation, with many campaigning for funds to rebuild the city’s architectural heritage and identity.

They have organized events at mosques, churches and recently Mosul’s Spring Theatre, cleaning and tidying damaged buildings as best they can, often with no financial or other support.

“This is an invitation to rebuild this monument and to compensate Mosul residents by rebuilding their houses in old Mosul,” said Dhanun after prayers at the Al-Masfi Mosque.