Blast destroyed landmark 19th century palace in Beirut

A team from the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief, assist Lebanese engineers in assessing building structure safety of Sursock Museum, following Tuesday's blast, in Beirut, Lebanon August 10, 2020. (REUTERS)
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Updated 11 August 2020

Blast destroyed landmark 19th century palace in Beirut

  • The Sursock Palace, built in 1860 in the heart of historical Beirut on a hill overlooking the now-obliterated port, is home to beautiful works of arts, Ottoman-era furniture, marble and paintings from Italy

BEIRUT: The 160-year-old palace withstood two world wars, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the French mandate and Lebanese independence. After the country’s 1975-1990 civil war, it took 20 years of careful restoration for the family to bring the palace back to its former glory.
“In a split second, everything was destroyed again,” says Roderick Sursock, owner of Beirut’s landmark Sursock Palace, one of the most storied buildings in the Lebanese capital.
He steps carefully over the collapsed ceilings, walking through rooms covered in dust, broken marble and crooked portraits of his ancestors hanging on the cracked walls.
The ceilings of the top floor are all gone, and some of the walls have collapsed. The level of destruction from the massive explosion at Beirut’s port last week is 10 times worse than what 15 years of civil war did, he says.
More than 160 people were killed in the blast, around 6,000 were injured and thousands of residential buildings and offices were damaged. Several heritage buildings, traditional Lebanese homes, museums and art galleries have also sustained various degrees of damage.
The Sursock Palace, built in 1860 in the heart of historical Beirut on a hill overlooking the now-obliterated port, is home to beautiful works of arts, Ottoman-era furniture, marble and paintings from Italy — collected by three long-lasting generations of the Sursock family.
The Greek Orthodox family, originally from the Byzantine capital, Constantinople — now Istanbul — settled in Beirut in 1714.
The three-story mansion has been a landmark in Beirut.

FASTFACT

The Sursock palace, built in 1860 in the heart of historical Beirut on a hill overlooking the now-obliterated port, is home to beautiful works of arts, Ottoman-era furniture, marble and paintings from Italy.

With its spacious garden, it’s been the venue for countless weddings, cocktail parties and receptions over the years, and has been admired by tourists who visit the nearby Sursock Museum.
The house in Beirut’s Christian quarter of Achrafieh is listed as a cultural heritage site, but Sursock said only the army has come to assess the damage in the neighborhood. So far, he’s had no luck reaching the Culture Ministry.
The palace is so damaged that it will require a long, expensive and delicate restoration, “as if rebuilding the house from scratch,” Sursock says.
Sursock has moved to a nearby pavilion in the palace gardens, but this has been his home for many years alongside his American wife, his 18-year-old daughter and his mother, Yvonne.
He says the 98-year-old Lady Cochrane (born Sursock) had courageously stayed in Beirut during the 15 years of the civil war to defend the palace.
His wife was just dismissed from hospital, as the blast was so powerful that the wave affected her lungs.
Sursock says there is no point in restoring the house now — at least not until the country fixes its political problems.
“We need a total change, the country is run by a gang of corrupt people,” he said angrily.
Despite his pain and the damage from last week’s blast, Sursock, who was born in Ireland, says he will stay in Lebanon, where he has lived his whole life and which he calls home. But he desperately hopes for change.
“I hope there is going to be violence and revolution because something needs to break, we need to move on, we cannot stay as we are.”


Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

Updated 01 October 2020

Revealed: How Iran smuggles weapons to the Houthis

  • Captured gang tells of route to Yemen through base in Somalia

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: A captured gang of arms smugglers has revealed how Iran supplies weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen through a base in Somalia.

The Houthis exploit poverty in Yemen to recruit fishermen as weapons smugglers, and send fighters to Iran for military training under cover of “humanitarian” flights from Yemen to Oman, the gang said.

The four smugglers have been interrogated since May, when they were arrested with a cache of weapons in Bab Al-Mandab, the strategic strait joining the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden.

In video footage broadcast on Yemeni TV, gang leader Alwan Fotaini, a fisherman from Hodeidah, admits he was recruited by the Houthis in 2015. His recruiter, a smuggler called Ahmed Halas, told him he and other fishermen would be based in the Somali coastal city of Berbera, from where they would transport weapons and fuel to the Houthis. 

In late 2015, Fotaini traveled to Sanaa and met a Houthi smuggler called Ibrahim Hassam Halwan, known as Abu Khalel, who would be his contact in Iran. 

This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, Security analyst

Pretending to be relatives of wounded fighters, Fotaini, Abu Khalel, and another smuggler called Najeeb Suleiman boarded a humanitarian flight to Oman, and then flew to Iran. They were taken to the port city of Bandar Abbas, where they received training on using GPS, camouflage, steering vessels and maintaining engines.

“We stayed in Bandar Abbas for a month as they were preparing an arms shipment that we would be transporting to Yemen,” Fotaini said.

On Fotaini’s first smuggling mission, his job was to act as a decoy for another boat carrying Iranian weapons to the Houthis. “The plan was for us to call the other boat to change course if anyone intercepted our boat,” he said.

He was then sent to Mahra in Yemen to await new arms shipments. The Houthis sent him data for a location at sea, where he and other smugglers met Abu Khalel with a boat laden with weapons from Iran, which were delivered to the Houthis.

Security analyst Dr. Theodore Karasik said long-standing trade ties between Yemen and Somalia made arms smuggling difficult to stop. “This is a complex network that requires constant monitoring, hence the focus on maritime security,” Karasik, a senior adviser to Gulf State Analytics in Washington, DC, told Arab News.

“The smuggling routes are along traditional lines of communication that intermix with other maritime commerce. The temptation to look the other way is sometimes strong, so sharp attention is required to break these chains.”